Tuesday, August 24, 2010

But Even If He Does Not...(Day of Life 192)

Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to the king, "O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king. But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up."
Daniel 3:16-18

I love this story from Scripture. You may remember that King Nebuchadnezzar had set up an idol to be worshiped by everyone in Babylon. Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were faithful Jews, serving in his palace. Their faith and trust in Yahweh prevented them from worshiping a false God, even in the face of the penalty of death. I've read this story to the kids many times, always as a story of great faith and how to stand up for righteousness even in dire situations. But when I read it this time, something else stood out about it to me.

When they told King Nebuchadnezzar that their God would rescue them, they quickly followed up with "But even if He does not, we...will not serve your gods". This is profound to me. I really think that they truly believed that their God could rescue them from their danger and eminent death. But standing there next to the furnace, they also realized there was a really good chance that they wouldn't be delivered and would perish in flames. And they wanted the heathen king to know that even if they weren't saved, their God was still good and true and worthy of all of their worship. Beautiful faith...not presumption in what God was GOING to do, but what He COULD do. We know the rest of the story, God the Son shows up in the fire, delivers them miraculously, and the king made a decree in Babylon that they or anyone else could worship the God of Israel.

We feel the same way. Our "blazing furnace", anencephaly, isn't threatening our lives, but that of our daughter. And even though it doesn't threaten to kill the rest of us, it does threaten to consume us. We believe deeply that God CAN heal and deliver us FROM this. But we also know that even if He doesn't, He will deliver us THROUGH it. Either way, we expect our Jesus to be walking with us in the flames. But regardless of what He chooses, we trust that He is good and worthy of our praise and worship...NO MATTER WHAT.

We had a 4-D ultrasound last Friday. Tonya's parents got to meet their granddaughter via the computer. The whole thing was more emotional than I expected it to be. We've seen Anastasha countless times on the ultrasound at my hospital after hours for fun, but something was different about going to a medical facility and doing it "officially". Everyone there knew about Anastasha's condition and were wonderful. Tonya cried on my shoulder before laying down for the test. It was, as she described it to a friend, "beautiful and painful". I agree. It was beautiful to see her moving around, full of life. But it was painful to see in three dimensions the details of the malformation that will likely take her from us.

Please pray for us. We are going away for a little while. Tonya is about 30 weeks pregnant now and, like all her other pregnancies at this stage, is contracting regularly. I'd REALLY rather not deliver this little one myself, 2 months premature, in Alabama or Florida. Pray that her contractions would settle down please and that she would be more comfortable as she has been having some increased amounts of "normal" pain lately.

And pray that our faith and trust in the goodness and sovereignty of God would be increased in this situation. There are days when our faith seems smaller than a mustard seed.


Anastasha's sweet little left foot, leg, thigh and hiney

Sunday, August 15, 2010

The List (Day of Life 183)

Within a couple weeks of finding out that Anastasha had anencephaly, I read an awesome book called I Will Carry You, by Angie Smith. It is the story of her daughter Audrey, who, like Anastasha, was given a terminal prenatal diagnosis. Angie and her husband Todd chose to carry their daughter to term, as we did. Audrey was born and lived just over 2 hours. Todd is the lead singer of the Christian group, Selah. You may remember me sending the song (with the same title as the book) that they recorded for Audrey. Both the book and the song have ministered to Tonya and I deeply.

Angie mentioned something in the book that we thought was a great way to minister to her kids, and we decided to use it with our own. We told them that Anastasha will likely not be with us for very long or be able to grow up in our house like the other kids. Since the only time we will have with her is right now when she is in Tonya's womb, we asked them if there were any special things that they wanted to do with her before she was born. They came up with "Anastasha's List", a compilation of several things they want to do with their sister. I thought I'd share a sample.

Here are some of the things we have ALREADY DONE:

• Go to one of Charis' baseball games (we checked this one off the list dozens
of times, including the Texas state championship game)
• Go on a family bike ride (this was interesting. see picture below)
• Go to the movies (saw Toy Story 3 three times)
• Go to the chocolate factory
• Make family pizza
• Go on a waterslide (it was in our backyard, but it counts for us since we'd never get Mommy to a water theme park)
• Fly on an airplane
• Ride the glass elevator at Embassy Suites
• Go swimming (okay, so this was really Tonya jumping in a friend's pool to save Caius who dove in. I probably shouldn't mention that she went in, shoes, jeans and all.)

I wouldn't mess with this biker gang - all 9 kids!

Here are some of the things that the kids STILL WANT TO DO with Anastasha:

• Go to the zoo
• Go bowling
• Go on a carousel
• Go hiking at the state park
• Take pictures with her at the beach (we've done this we each of our infants)
• Color with her
• Read her a book
• Go to Six Flags and ride a roller coaster (probably not gonna swing that one)

One of the items on this list, flying in an airplane, is happening as I type this. Tonya is returning from her annual "girl's getaway" weekend with some of her best friends from residency (they always follow Beth Moore wherever she is speaking). She left early Thursday morning and returns late Sunday. I always tell her that it is one of my favorite weekends of the year (and not to take that personally). I get the kids, uninterrupted, for the whole weekend. It is VERY good for me, and a LOT of fun for the kids. We pitch a tent and "camp" all weekend (in the living room...it was 105 deg this weekend!). We ate junk food, went to Walmart and Sam's, got snow cones, and watched way more movies than we should have. We even went to Pukey-E-Cheese (uh...Chuck-E-Cheese) for a treat. I did manage to get the whole crew to and from church AND clean out Mommy's van. Lest I try to sound too like to much of a martyr, you realize the reason we did all of the above is because that is WAY EASIER than doing real life. Tonya rocks. I'm no competition.

This year, by mistake, the kids had their semi-annual dentist appointments while Mommy was gone. Not one or two of them, mind you, but SEVEN of them. So that was how we kicked off the weekend. We have a very accommodating dentist with great staff, so the visit went surprisingly smoothly. We pride ourselves on having great dental hygiene (I realize how ridiculous that is as I type it). In fact, with all the kids, we've only had ONE SINGLE CAVITY so far...ever, which I think is rather impressive. So here was the cavity count on Thursday.

Ariana - 0
Charis - 0
Adoniyah - 0
Amalyah - 0
Corban - 0
Caelan - 0
Cale - 9

That last number is NOT a typo (even thought 9 and 0 are next to each other on the keyboard). He didn't have one or two. He had NINE CAVITIES. Wow. Our little guy has something wrong with his enamel it appears. I think the Lord is humbling us for judging all of our friends/acquaintances over the years whose kids have tons of cavities and drink soda/tea/juice all the time. The metal mouth is coming soon. I thought you might get a chuckle out of that.

I gotta run. We need to clean the house (again) before Mom gets home!


PS. Thank you so much for all the responses to my last email. I looked up every Scripture reference that was shared. And I appreciated the thoughts on anger. It is pretty amazing what a wide variety of responses there were among Christians on that one. But I appreciate them all. Please, if you feel like the Lord leads you to a portion of Scripture that would help us on the journey, share it with us.

My little campers (and, yes, that is hard wood under the tent and not grass)

Monday, August 9, 2010

The Work of God (Day of Life 177)

One of the graces that I've enjoyed in the last two and a half months has been time spent teaching the children from God's Word. I've asked the Lord to direct me to passages that will speak to their hearts, especially in regards to Anastasha.

A few nights ago we found ourselves in the ninth chapter of the Gospel of John. It’s a story that many of you know well. Probably the most well known healing in all of Scripture, the blind man.

As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?"
"Neither this man nor his parents sinned," said Jesus, "but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life. John 9:1-3

We discussed the fact that in Jesus' time many people viewed illness as directly correlated to sin or judgment from God. Jesus refuted this idea, instead stating that God intended this man's life long illness, in this case blindness, to occur in order to display "the work of God" in his life.

We all know what happens next. Jesus spits on the ground (my little boys love the fact that Jesus spits), makes mud, and rubs it on the man's eyes. After the man washes, he instantly sees. The man then gives glory to God.

We talked about Anastasha. We talked about the fact that she will be blind too. We discussed the fact that her anencephaly is NOT an accident. God intended it that the work of God might be displayed in her and our lives. This may be by healing, but likely won't be. Instead, God's glory may be revealed in another way.

The account in John continues...

Jesus heard that they had thrown him out, and when he found him, he said, "Do you believe in the Son of Man?"
"Who is he, sir?" the man asked. "Tell me so that I may believe in him."
Jesus said, "You have now seen him; in fact, he is the one speaking with you."
Then the man said, "Lord, I believe," and he worshiped him. John 9: 35-38

I believe that the "work of God" that Jesus spoke about was not just the healing, but the fact that his healing lead to WORSHIP. In regards to Anastasha, we of course desire her healing. But even more so, we desire that the result of her life will be to produce greater worship of God in our lives and others.

"So...Ariana, Charis, Niyah, and Amalyah, who sinned, Anastasha or her parents, that she has anencephaly?"

"Neither Anastasha nor Mommy or Daddy sinned. But this happened so that the work of God will be revealed in her life (and ours)."


Craig and Tonya

PS. Please pray for one of my older children who is really struggling with anger. I know this is a "natural" response to something this heavy, but that doesn't make it any easier to deal with. I don't struggle with anger towards God, and I'm thankful for that, but I really don't know how to shepherd this child through this struggle. I can deal with sadness, fear, even despair. But anger is a tough one that, quite frankly, scares me.

PSS. If any of you have any portions of Scripture that you think might be an encouragement for us as a family, PLEASE send them to us. God's Word has been our greatest source of day-to-day strength and joy.

The kids blessing Anastasha at bedtime

Monday, August 2, 2010

Brokenness (Day of Life 170)

One thing that has surprised Tonya and I as we’ve walked through our grief during the last 2 months is how easily others are willing to share their own sorrows with us. Many people we know (friends, patients) and many total strangers seem very comfortable pouring out their pains to us in all kinds of settings (doctor's office, grocery store, ball field).

We’ve heard story after story of women losing children, mostly through miscarriage, but sometimes older children too. I (Craig) have been struck by how painful a loss this can be, even decades later, having listened to patients recalling stillbirths from thirty or more years ago that they still remember daily. This is especially surprising in light of the fact that I think the general population doesn’t regard the pain of miscarriage to be very great. Many view it as something that a lot of women experience and, therefore, just a part of womanhood. It has challenged me to treat miscarriage as a very serious loss, even of those children that are too early to be seen or felt by the mommy.

I've probably had more real, deep ministry with patients in the last two months than I've had in the last two years combined.

Uh oh, I feel a sermon coming… :)

I think that the reason our journey with Anastasha has lead to so many people sharing their pain with us is because of our brokenness. We’re broken. There’s no hiding that. People see it in us, and I think are attracted to it because they are also broken. And guess what?

So are you.

Some of you know that all too well. You don’t need me to remind you that you are broken. You don’t hide the fact, and others know it too. I encourage you that this is a healthy place to be, because that is your true condition.

There are others of you that disagree. You’ve got it all together, or so you think. You don’t need God or anyone else. Maybe you aren’t walking through deep places of pain at the moment (although someday you will), and things seem to be going your way. I think this is a dangerous place to be, one that may ultimately lead to your destruction, both now and in the life to come.

But I suspect most of you are somewhere between the two. You know deep down that you are broken. You feel like a failure or maybe a hypocrite. Your marriage stinks; your job stinks; you're a lousy parent or friend. You think if anyone knew the true "you", they wouldn’t love you or even like you. So you hide it…from others, from God, and maybe from yourself. You might be using your money, your career, your family, your possessions, or even your religiosity as a guise.

My encouragement to you is to STOP. Stop living a lie. Stop pretending. See yourself for the condition you are really in – broken and in need of “fixin” (as any good Texan would say). It's okay to let others see it too. Then and ONLY then can you allow the Healer to fix your brokenness. Run to Him, as we have.

"The Lord is close to the broken hearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit" Psalm 34:18

The fact that many don’t believe or acknowledge that fact is really the foundation of pride. We pretend. We act like we have it all together. We work harder when the going gets tough. And when we hurt or screw up, nobody knows except us.

But your Father does.

Believe it or not, I firmly believe that the Lord LOVES our brokenness. I think He even DESIRES it. And that is because it is only in that place where we see our great need for Him. If we don’t know we are broken, we don’t acknowledge our need for help.

"A man's pride brings him low, but a man of lowly spirit gains honor." Proverbs 16:18

The gospel (the word literally means “good news”) is that there is a Fixer named Jesus. I need Him desperately. My whole family needs Him desperately. And so do you. And not just to fix our hurts and pains that come from this life, but to save us from Hell. Only He can do that. He's always loved messed up people. Even a cursory look through Scripture demonstrates that - swindlers, prostitutes, sailors, adulterers, liars - these were the people He chose to hang out with and change the world forever through. And the sooner you and I admit that we don’t have it all together, the sooner He can bring you and I to wholeness.

Brokenness is an awesome and terrible place to be. Terrible because it usually comes only through trials and pain. Awesome because it is probably the only time we are viewing ourselves and God in the right perspective. We remember all too well feeling this way almost a decade ago when Ariana had leukemia. Being broken was beautiful to us then, and it is again now. I only wish it didn't take earthly tragedy to lead us here again. One of my prayers is that we will be "given over to death for Jesus' sake, so that his life may be revealed in our mortal bodies." (2 Cor 4:11) - that as we die to ourselves, Christ would be glorified in us. And we pray for each of you that you would acknowledge the true state of your condition and come to know the Savior intimately as you put your trust and hope in Him.

Craig and Tonya

The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart, O
God, you will not despise.
Psalm 51:17

Father's Day 2010 (Anastasha’s the round one in the middle)