“His name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The Mighty God, The Everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.”
Merry Christmas from the Jones Family!!
Your descendants shall gather your fruits. – Virgil
To use my dad’s words, my Grandpa Jones, my dad’s dad, is “passing away” and by the time you read this, his time with us in this life will most likely have come to an end. He isn’t sick, he doesn’t have a disease, he isn’t suffering any more so than anyone else would who is spending their final days confined to a bed after spending 80+ years in full pursuit of a joyous life. There is no specific cause that we are aware of, but his body is ever-so-slowly shutting itself off – he is too weak to eat, too weak to talk, can hardly open his eyes, his blood pressure is dropping, and his body is turning cold, starting at the feet and working its way up. Having made the decision to refuse a feeding tube some time ago, the hospice nurses are simply doing what they can to make my grandpa comfortable and to help him be at ease as he seems to be resisting his mind’s instincts for self-preservation and by sheer will, I believe, is forcing his body to let go. Grandpa is not battling to stay alive; he is tearing himself away from this life and delicately tipping his toes into the next, encouraged no doubt by the sound of his life’s love’s tender voice calling him home…
My grandpa’s biography is the type of biography we won’t be reading much more of in the obituaries of our times ahead. His life, as I said, is passing away and along with it, so is his breed. His life’s story represents a history of 20th century middle America, a history that was once the family portrait of a country on the rise, but that now, though it is still with us, hanging on to the fringes of a modern society, seems more like a relic of a time long forgotten.
Carve your name on hearts, not tombstones. A legacy is etched into the minds of others and the stories they share about you. – Shannon L. Alder
Born at the start of the Great Depression; raised in Centerville, Iowa, small town America that had its population peak in the early 1900’s. Son of a coal miner living in a coal mining town, a town which never regained its pulse once the country it helped support for so long found a new vein for its energy needs. Raised by a man who believed that indoor plumbing was for women and children – men’s place was outdoors, no matter the temperature or the depth of the snow on the ground.
Got his first job working on the railroads when he was 18, married at the age of 19, went to work in the factories for Alcoa at age 20, and bought his first home at the age of 31. The marriage lasted 44 years (cancer brought it to an early end), the job at Alcoa lasted 38, and that home was the only home he ever knew until fading health forced a move to an assisted care facility nearly 50 years later.
Maybe not. But maybe that’s how the world changes, Isaiah. One father, one child, at a time. – Barbara Samuel>The Sleeping Night
I was born in Iowa, but as the saying goes, I got to Texas as fast as I could. I was 4 years old when we moved to Texas and so my memories of Grandpas and Grandmas and aunts, uncles, and cousins were shaped by holiday and summer trips back home, RV visits from both sets of grandparents, and occasional connections at points in between when campouts, fishing trips, and other adventures brought our now separate families together again and again. My memories of Grandpa Jones were also crafted in the bleachers, on the sidelines, and under the Friday night lights of my youth – he and Grandma were there at soccer games, baseball tournaments, football games, and at whatever other activities my brother and I were engaged in.
But my best thoughts of Grandpa come from when we were up there – our summer trips to Iowa. For a couple of rambunctious little boys who loved adventure, there was no greater joy for me and my brother than running around in “the back forty,” RV trips to granny’s farm to chase the cows (which got us in deep trouble with Grandpa!), fishing on the banks of the Mississippi River, and ending our days on the front porch swing, sucking down as many red, blue, and purple Flavor Ice Pops as my mom would allow.
My grandpa and I were separated by at least 900 miles for most of my life, but I never felt the distance between us. I never felt it, that is, until much later in life when college took me further south and the start of a career in homebuilding and my own efforts at starting a family took the time that was at one time reserved for my Iowa family.
The songs of our ancestors are also the songs of our children - Philip Carr-Gomm
My grandpa loved Christ since before anyone can remember and he carried Christ’s joy with him wherever he went and in doing whatever it was he was doing. He shared this joy with anyone who would listen and oftentimes when I wanted to do anything but listen…every Sunday morning, the silence was broken early in the day by Grandpa walking through the house, singing in his booming baritone, “Oooohhh, it’s nice to get up in the morning, but it’s nicer to stay in bed…!” Didn’t matter that he was tone deaf (literally), the man loved to sing…just be careful not to sit next to him in church when the hymns are being sung! He loved the old time gospels, he loved his church, he loved his family…he loved and he loved and he loved and when he was happiest, he was on that porch swing taking it all in before proclaiming with loving pride that, “This is nniiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiicccee!!!!”
The mass of men worry themselves into nameless graves while here and there a great unselfish soul forgets himself into immortality. - Ralph Waldo Emerson
Take a moment to consider this life I just described. Do you see the same things I see? Railroad and factory worker, son of a coal miner…hard work, grit, determination. Kept a job for 38 years, a home for nearly 50, and a marriage for 44…loyal, principled. Didn’t allow the miles between us to stand against him being involved in the lives of his kids and grandkids…caring, engaged, committed. Christ follower…faithful, joyful, loving.
My dad likes to quote my grandpa as always saying, “Don’t tell me what you are going to do, show me. Talk is cheap, actions speak louder.” This is, I think, the enduring part of the legacy he leaves behind – Grandpa showed us a lot in his generation. Work hard and love fully. Keep your commitments. Work through your problems, don’t run from them. Commit to a cause and stand behind those commitments. Be faithful in Christ, faithful in marriage, faithful in love of your kids and family, and faithful in the way you live every part of your life. Live a life of significance, live a life that matters in the generation you have been given.
These aren’t just words, these aren’t empty platitudes he would use to lecture us with – my grandpa lived this life…he showed us. He showed us how to live, he showed us how to love. He showed us how to work and commit, to persevere and to stand strong. He showed us what it meant to follow Christ, how to love your wife, how to care for your family. He showed us what it means to live a life that matters, to live a life of significance. The picture of the way he lived his life is not just a fading photograph of a time gone by; the principles upon which he chose to stand – those aren’t just relics of a lost way of living. He showed us that generations, his and yours and mine………generations matter.
If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants. – Isaac Newton
And this is, I believe, what I am trying to say most of all about my grandpa; rather, this is, I believe, what his life is telling me – generations matter, principles matter, choices matter. His generation and the way he chose to live it mattered to his kids, matters to me…it will matter to my kids and it will matter to theirs. So it is also with you – your generation matters and what you choose to do today with your life matters to the generations that follow behind.
And the question for me is the same as it is for everyone, I think – what will I choose to do with the generation I have been given? What will I stand for and what will my generation tell the next…about love and life and faith and family and hard work and loyalty and commitment and care and joy…?
My grandpa lived a life of significance, he lived a life that mattered. My grandpa did well with the generation he was given. My life’s prayer is that I can honor his generation with the one that I have been given………………
*When I began writing this post, my grandpa had not yet passed away; before I finished it, he completed his journey home. Rest in peace, Carl Jones – you have fought the good fight, you have finished the course, you have kept the faith: February 2, 1930-November 10, 2012.
I am your creator. You were in my care even before you were born. Isaiah 44:2
One of the interesting things about this blog that I have never mentioned is that oftentimes, more often than not actually, I have no idea what I am going to write about when I sit down and begin to peck away. Sure, there are the obvious updates that I have done since this all began that more or less wrote themselves and had to be done to keep everyone up to date on the ups and downs of bringing five little lives into the world. But to be perfectly honest, the update posts are pretty mundane and are sort of boring for me to write. The ones that I really enjoy writing, though they are also the most challenging, are the ones that center around our faith in Christ and whatever difficulty he is helping our family to unpack at that very moment.
Such is the case with this post. I have no idea what I am about to write, but I know that the keyboard is calling out to me. Life has been less than easy lately and it is usually during those times that the Lord leads me to this place, sitting at my desk, staring at the screen on my laptop, and asking him what is on tap for today’s discussion. It starts with a prayer – “Lord, allow your light to shine through me and give me the words to fill the page. This is your blog, these are your words – help me to reflect your light in all that is written here.” – and it ends with whatever flows from that prayer…
Now I do not tell you this to say that I have some sort of special connection with Christ – no hotline to Jehovah exists that I am aware of and I do not hear the voice of God in my ear telling me that that sentence is too wordy or that I need to explain myself a little better in the last paragraph. It’s nothing like that, at least as far as I know. All I know is that I pray and then I write and it seems to work out pretty well when I do it that way.
Maybe that is the way God works with me, but then again maybe the prayer I say is nothing more than a mental trick to get me focused on the task at hand. Or maybe that is how it works when you are doing something you’ve been called to do. But then again, I do not have any publishers beating down my door to offer me a book deal so how could I possibly be called to a life of writing? I really don’t know why it works that way, I just know it does.
Come to me, all of you who are tired and have heavy loads, and I will give you rest. Matthew 11:28
I do not claim to know exactly how God works and what his methods are other than to say that I know better than to expect him to interact with us in a tidy and predictable pattern…no, life is way too messy (even for Christ-followers) for that to be the case. And isn’t that the case with all of us? Isn’t life too messy for each and every one of us to fully understand how God can possibly be in control of any of it (or maybe believe is a better word than understand?)? That is kind of how I have felt lately – it has been a rough month…messy, uncomfortable, confusing…messy. I don’t want to be overly dramatic, but messy is putting it lightly. I’ve found myself in a fight I did not see coming, I’ve watched a marriage and family reach the breaking point and begin the crumbling that in spite of our best efforts, we’ve all known has been a long time coming (not ours!), and I’ve watched a little girl face the harshness of life’s realities long before any of us could have seen it coming. Like I said, it’s been a rough one…
It is tough when things come at you one right after the other as they have for us these last few weeks. I know you know how it feels – the phrase, “when it rains, it pours” wasn’t created and copyrighted by the Jones family – we’ve all been the pinball in the arcade of life, unfortunately. We’ve all been there and we’ll all be there again someday though hopefully not any day soon. So what is that all about? Why does that happen? Is it just bad luck or is someone really out to get us? Is it karma – do we all just get back what we’ve dished out at some point along the way? If there is a God who loves us and protects us and only wants what’s best for us, shouldn’t he throw up some sort of bad-luck-road-block once one or two bad things happen to us? Shouldn’t he be sending in fresh troops to ward off future attacks from the evil one after the first few dominoes fall?
In church on Sundays we are often taught to think of Christ as our father – no, more than that – we’re taught to think of him as our perfect father – loving, patient, kind, peaceful, forgiving, protecting, etc, etc. So as a parent, when things go wrong in my life I try to think of how I would handle the situation if I were my father, my perfect father. I’ve got to be honest – I would handle things very differently if I were Him…….
Maybe I’m too young to understand how it all works…maybe I’m too naive, who knows? Maybe my children have not matured to the point at which I could stand by and watch as bad things and bad people hit them one after the other from every different angle and do nothing to stop it from continuing. Maybe, maybe not…again, I don’t know. I just know what I know now and that is that I would not sit on the sidelines and allow Eliot or any of my other kids to get hammered over and over again…I would do whatever it took to stop it and stop it immediately. And listen to me, bellyaching over a bad month! Are you kidding me? There are millions of people out there who have had a thousand bad months! Bad years, bad decades, bad lifetimes…there are plenty among us who can put their names down on those lists……
So why doesn’t God stop it?
Well, again, I don’t know. But I do have some thoughts on the subject…
You know how steel is forged, right? For those who don’t, here is a quick summary: first, take a piece of steel and heat it until it glows orange and red hot. Second, beat on it, hard, repeatedly, and with a very heavy hammer. Third, repeat steps 1 and 2 until the steel has taken the shape you wold like it to be. Fourth, put it in water to cool it off quickly.
Alright, sounds familiar…I can relate. If you’ve been around long enough, you know that our lives are forged in a very similar way as that piece of steel. God wants us to be as strong as steel so he forges us like a blacksmith forges a sword – with beatings and heat and pressure and sometimes sudden relief. I can buy that.
But wait, didn’t the Lord say that he would take away our heart of stone and give us a heart of flesh? Doesn’t he run the risk of turning our heart of flesh into a heart of steel with all of the beatings that come with the molding? So if the steel analogy can be true it can only be one part of the story, right?
I’ve heard it said that the eyes are a window to the soul and I believe that to be true. So if that really is the case then what are our eyes really designed for if not to see the world around us, to reach out to others, to recognize the need in another, and to respond when we see things that reach us on a soul level? I believe that God gave us eyes not only to see our feet step out in front of us and to keep us from crashing into everything in our path, but he also gave us eyes so that we could see into each others’ souls, to share each others’ hurts and strengths, to feed off of each others’ spirits, and to share each others’ longings for a better place and a better time and to help each other to get to that place and time without losing our own souls along the way.
But things just get messy when you dig into other peoples’ lives, don’t they? It’s hard to look into someone’s soul, to feel their hurt, and carry that burden as if it were your own…I know, I’ve been there and I avoid it as much as possible in my daily interactions with others…don’t we all? That actually isn’t entirely true what I just said about how I avoid it as much as possible. Truth be told, that’s the old me speaking…that’s how I used to be. Back before I fully committed to Christ it was me, me, me and more me all the time and I avoided other people’s hurts like politicians avoid the truth. And what I found when the inevitable crash came in my life is that I had no one to fall on and no one was there to pick me back up, tend to the wounds, and help me pick up the pieces and put them back together.
Things are different with me now, at least I try to be different…I don’t always succeed. Nonetheless, I learned things from the crash(es) that I carry with me today and help me to avoid a similar story from shaping my future just as it has scarred my past. I learned that in order to truly know people, to love them, and to be truly loved in return, that I had to allow things to get messy from time to time. I had to allow them to see the mess I had created and I had to take the time to look inside their world and help them clean up messes of their own making, if the need should arise. It is clear to me now after learning these things, and hopefully it is just as clear to you, that we were designed for community, for interaction, for love, and for getting messy, real messy if necessary, with those that we know and love.
For God has said, “I will never leave you, I will never abandon you.” Hebrews 13:5
But there is still something missing here. We’ve got the strength of steel, the eyes that peer into another’s soul, and the heart to feel the hurt, but there is still something that I’m leaving out here….Ah, yes, the obvious one that is always so easy to overlook. Aren’t we supposed to “trust in the Lord with all our heart and lean not on our own understanding”? And doesn’t God “in all things work for the good of those who love him, who are called according to his purpose”? And my personal favorite, doesn’t the Lord “give perfect peace to those who put their trust in him and keep their purpose firm”?
Oh yeah, that…that whole promise-of-God-Bible thing. Dangit! Gets me every time. And this is the point where I feel like a kid again, hopelessly crushed by my inability to see the logic and the beauty of the story that God is unfolding right there in front of me. Once again I have allowed daily circumstances to shape my vision of God instead of allowing God to shape my vision of daily circumstances…why is it so hard to break that habit?! It has to be this way, it simply has to be. We have to be strong for others, we have to help them grow, and we have to be tough when others cannot be. But we can’t do that unless we know the other inside and out and unless they know us in that way as well. And we need others to be strong for us and they have to help us grow and they have to be tough for us when we cannot be so. Yes, we have to be tough and strong for others, but we also have to allow ourselves to be weak for others to truly know us, inside and out. We have to go through the mess and the muck, not in isolation, but with a crowd. We have to do this if we want to get to the sweet stuff on the other side of life. We have to witness the hurt and experience the pain/joy/frustration/elation with others so that our hearts can be opened to the world of suffering/triumph/hopelessness/victories around us. We have to feel, firsthand, the isolation that is the result of building up walls around us and shutting others out. And we have to be still for once and know that He is God.
There is no other way. If one word of these Bible verses I’ve put on this page is true then there simply is no other way. For “in everything we do, we show that we are true ministers of God. We patiently endure troubles and hardships and calamities of every kind.” And thankfully, “God blesses the people who patiently endure testing. Afterward they will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.” God gave us his Word and by doing so, he gave us his word, his promise, that he would never abandon us, that he was with us, that he had plans to prosper us, that he loves us. If you believe as I do, then these words have to be true, they have to be strong enough for me to stand on when times are tough, they have to be there when the pinball plunger strikes and sends us careening into a world of chaos and frustration and pain…God’s word has to be there to restore peace and prosperity to our lives in the midst of the storm, not after it passes! God gave us the promise so it has to be true. There is simply…no…other…way…
*Post script in response to some of the questions and comments we have received since posting this blog entry:
We appreciate everyone’s prayers and support and would like you to know that our stress level has slowly begun to settle into a more normal level for our family. The marriage/family that I referred to in the post which is crumbling as we speak is absolutely, unequivocally not ours!! Casey and I have honestly never been in a better place than we are right now and our family is as strong as ever! (And even if we were in a rough spot with our marriage, there is no quit in this family!) There is nothing more that I “want you to know” (as ABE commented below) – I simply can’t give more details than I have because it would not be appropriate to the other people involved in the situations I mentioned. I hinted at those issues because those are the issues that we are working through and, as always with this blog and everything else in our lives, we are as open and honest with the people who support our family as we can possibly be.
I also mentioned those issues because it helped me to bring up something that I and others have often found difficult to face through a Christian faith perspective. It’s not so much why bad things happen to good people – I think I’ve wrestled with that one enough and am fairly at peace with the answers I’ve come up with. Rather, the question for me/us in this moment is why bad things happen successively to people and how are we as Christians supposed to glean from the hard knock lessons of life when they keep knocking us down over and over again.
For me, simply talking it out over the blog is a huge help in coming to grips with these types of questions as they arise. Hopefully for you, simply reading about someone else’s experience and knowing that someone is struggling with something similar as you is a huge help as well.
As always, thank you all for your support, prayers, and love!! God bless!
You may or may not know that my little crisis has officially come to an end…and hopefully not just for now. You are probably not aware that I actually wrote this entry a few days ago, but I was unable to post it to the blog when it was complete. The little crisis – I was hacked and the site was taken over by someone or something calling themselves “The Viper.” Creative, huh? What I do not know and probably never will know is if I was singled out for The Viper’s venomous assault or if I am just some unlucky web junkie who was randomly selected for an attack by an anonymous computer program designed to seek and destroy unsuspecting websites strewn far and wide across the web.
This site is my baby, one of our family’s great prides, and a huge part of what we consider to be our ministry so having it come under attack like this and having it rendered useless both to us and to you caused no shortage of strife in our little world. I don’t have a computer guy on speed dial and I don’t know much in the way of fixing them myself. I know homebuilding very well, along with kids and blogging and family and a few other things, but I don’t know computers in the least bit. The code in which they operate, the lines of seeming gibberish that run behind the curtains of any website you visit and which are actually responsible for everything you see, are complete nonsense to me – I’d have an easier time communicating with an illiterate Russian mime than I would a line of code. So when the hack attack commenced leaving me utterly useless to counter the assault and restore my baby to health I was frustrated, angry, and………let’s just leave it at that.
In a seemingly unrelated note, another little issue has had us feeling much the same way and at the same time (coincidentally?) has been playing out in our home, our heads, and our hearts. ‘Quints By Surprise’ is on the brink of being cancelled by TLC – a victim of…well, I don’t know exactly what it is the victim of. You can say that the ratings haven’t been as good as they needed to be (not true if they are held to the standard by which we were told they were being held to) or you could blame it on placement and promotion (I don’t know the TV world well enough to say one way or another). You could blame it on the dollars (‘Quints’ is not a cheap show to produce) and you could certainly make a case against society as the culprit (seems that clean and wholesome don’t live long on TV these days) or maybe the show just isn’t that good to most observers (our opinion doesn’t count unfortunately – we’re a little biased). You could blame the potential demise of our show on any of these things and probably a few more we could think up together and truth is it is probably a combination of all of them (except the part about the show not being very good… :-)).
But I have another thought. There is something out there that is possibly behind my little crisis, the struggle we are having with our little TV show, and just about everything else that doesn’t quite work out the way we hoped. This thing, this thought, this theory or belief or superstition or whatever you would like to call it doesn’t get much play these days, but it is a possible explanation despite the fact that it is often ignored, marginalized, mocked, or denied whenever it is brought up in most situations. I’m going to walk carefully through this one so y’all don’t think I’ve gone off the deep end so bare with me a bit. Here goes…
“Who, in their right mind, Kevin, could possibly deny the 20th century was entirely mine? All of it…all of it.” – John Milton (aka: the Devil) from “The Devil’s Advocate”
C.S. Lewis called this ground we walk on enemy-occupied territory and its master is described in Revelation as a “great dragon with seven heads and ten horns”. The Apostle Peter called him a roaring lion who is looking for someone to devour. And in Genesis he is nothing more than a snake in the tree, hissing his lies at the genesis of our kind. He is Satan and this is his playground. You know him well from books and Bible class and TV and movies, but do you know him on a personal level? Do you consider him to be your enemy, the ruler and master of a dark, unseen world or do you think of him more like how you think of the boogey man – just a harmless child’s story that you no longer believe in now that you’re a big boy or girl? Do you consider that the Bible teaches that he has declared war on this world and the sons and daughters of God who live in it? Or do you marginalize him as a myth or a metaphor, as anti-intellectual or nothing more than a scare tactic for overzealous Bible beaters?
We all know that this world is broken as are many, if not most of the people in it. I don’t need to recite the statistics or recount the stories of death, destruction, and depravity that permeate every aspect of our lives for you to believe that. Christians, Hindus, Jews, and Muslims alike can all find agreement on one thing: this world is a mess. Good grief, we don’t even need to consult the religious of our day for proof – atheists hold up the newspaper and highlight the headlines of war and disease and sex gone wrong, teen pregnancy, and the hypocrisy of the next fallen church leader as exhibit A in their trial against the existence of a benevolent being we call God. And while we’re at it, let’s consult the agnostics among us who honestly admit they do not know if there is a God or not and are simply trying to hold themselves to a high standard of conduct – if you know one ask them how they think the world is getting along these days. Save yourself the trouble and trust me, I’ve already given you their reply – this world is a mess.
But forget about the obvious signs of evil on display in our world today – you won’t find many to disagree when you proclaim that Osama Bin Laden or Jeffrey Dahmer are evil men who committed evil deeds. Let’s take it down to a more personal level – what about that boss of yours that continually marginalizes you in company meetings? What about that mean girl at school who always has something awful and loud to say about your hair or your clothes…or the way you breathe? What is the force behind their hatred of you? What about those dizzy spells that won’t go away and can’t be explained by the doctors? Or how about the chronic pain in your hands that prevent you from holding your grandbabies? And what about the flat tire you got on the way to lead your small group Bible study, the horrible night sleep you got the night before final exams, or the car accident you got into on the way to your performance in the high school play?
Are some of these simply examples of bad people living bad lives and doing bad things while the rest are just plain old bad luck? Or can we write it all off as an unfortunate fact of life – that it sometimes sucks and sometimes bad things happen to good people?
I think that it is safe to say that none of us have the answers to these questions. And I think it is also safe to say that anyone who has lived more than about 5 or 6 years in this world would concede that sometimes life is hard and no fun at all. In fact, I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that I think we can all agree that pain and suffering is universal, that bad things happen to good people because that is the way of this world, and that many times life and the people who live it are mean, cruel, jaded, embittered, and sometimes outright evil.
So why do we all, Christians and non-Christians alike, refuse to accept the possibility that there is a larger hand at play in the very brokenness we all agree exists and is progressing at unprecedented levels in spite of equally unprecedented attempts to stop it all (I just read somewhere that 2010 was a record year of giving for Americans)? If pain and suffering and cruelty and evil are among the few universal truths of this world, why is it so difficult to accept and acknowledge (or even consider!) that there is a common denominator, a single hand stirring the pot, an accuser, attacker, and advocate of evil, darkness, destruction, and death?
I know I know…I get it – it’s kind of weird to talk about angels and demons and supernatural intercession and interference into our lives. It’s kind of goofy, isn’t it? Talking about the Devil and his army of demons attacking you feels about as sane as talking about the latest sighting of Bigfoot or the Loch Ness Monster as real events that are proof of their existence. And it gets worse for us Americans – not only is it goofy, it is blatantly un-American. We are the Marlboro Man and John Wayne on steroids. We are self-made, individualistic, and we are responsible for our own destiny. We believe in hard work, freedom, and liberty, and we’ll be damned if someone thinks we’re going to let the Boogey Man hold us back from fulfilling our self-inspired and self-created destiny. We are masters of one and slaves to none… (And to that, I say yeah, right!)
Sidebar – now that I think of it, in a way, blaming the Devil for evil in this world is a very American pastime after all. Look at all of the evil and oppression and violence and hatred that has been spread in this country alone “in God’s name”. Could anything be more blatantly evil and dare I say, Satanic, than subverting the beauty and grace and love of Christ into something that is used to oppress and intimidate and destroy? Americans certainly do not have the market cornered in the economy of zealous authority, but we have certainly advanced the cause over the course of our history.
Look, I’m not saying that the Devil personally attacked my blog or is the puppet master holding the strings and controlling the players who are advocating that ‘Quints’ ends up on the TLC cutting-room floor. I do not look for the devil in every detail of my life, good or bad, and I do not suggest that you do either. And I am certainly not suggesting that you waste your time cowering under the covers or looking around every corner, constantly afraid of the next attack and seeing Satan’s hand in every harsh thing that happens in this world (any of y’all reading this have Saturday Night Live’s “Church Lady” in your head right now?). But still…I believe he’s out there and I know he’s up to no good. So if I am saying he is out there and he is plotting against you, but I am also saying that it really doesn’t matter because you can’t live your life in fear of him what exactly is it that I’m saying…?
Let me ask this, if you were a 10-year-old and your father ran a farm and he told you to go out to the barn and get a shovel for a ditch he needed dug, you’d do it right? Sure you would…you’d amble out to the barn, chase a few chickens along the way, hop up on a hay bale once you got into the barn, and declare yourself king of the mountain before grabbing the shovel and making your way back to your father, ready for some serious digging. Piece of cake and kind of fun, too…another day of hard work with your dad and a little adventure to the barn to liven things up a bit. But what if, while you were making your way across the chicken coop to get to that barn and the shovel within, your father hollered out, “be careful, there’s a snake in that barn and he’s been up to no good.”?
Gulp! What kind of snake exactly? How big is he and what kind of no good has he been up to?? And if there is one, wouldn’t there be others? Are there lights in the barn so I can see him if he comes after me? Can I have a weapon to protect and defend myself – a knife, a gun…a suit of body armor and a bazooka maybe???
That snake kind of changes the stakes of the game…kind of takes the gitty-up out of your get-along, doesn’t it little buddy? Instead of ambling, you’re creeping your way to the barn. And instead of chasing the chickens you’re cussing them for sneaking up on you and scaring the bejeezus out of you. You’re no longer king of the mountain – you’re the meekest of mice on the molehill. But you can’t let your father down so you summon the courage and convince yourself that he wouldn’t send you off to certain death; and with fierce resolve you make it into the demon’s den, retrieve the shovel…………………..then turn and run faster than your 10-year-old legs have ever carried anything in their young lives and get back to the task at hand, shovel-ready, digging away…all the while hoping your father noticed how bravely and dutifully you worked to fulfill the mission he set you out on.
You did it. You survived. You faced evil and evil did not win…not today, not on your watch.
But what really changed after your father warned you about the snake? It was just a warning, right, not a guarantee? Did knowing the snake was in there somewhere certify that you would be attacked, bitten, wrapped in his coils, and dragged off to the snake’s lair someone past the seventh gate of Hell? And if that is the case, why on Earth did you still go in??
The fact is that nothing changed; nothing at all. The snake was in there whether you knew he was there or not. It didn’t matter whether you knew he was there, were fully aware of his presence or were ignorantly bliss…or even if you denied his existence or presence in your life. And being a 10-year-old without a knife, a gun, or a suit of body armor and a bazooka at your disposal there probably isn’t a whole lot you could do if you found yourself face-to-face with the little devil anyway. Nothing you could do at all…other than run. Nothing to do other than run as fast as your 10-year-old legs have ever carried anything back to where you knew it was safe…back to your father.
But knowing the snake was there changed everything, didn’t it, If only in your mind. Sure, it didn’t change your capabilities or your strength; your ability to outwit or outmaneuver the snake wasn’t changed, either. But it changed your approach, didn’t it? You didn’t amble, you crept. And you didn’t play around, you prepared. You didn’t eye the top of the hay bale mountain and declare yourself king, you kept your eye out for the king of evil and declared yourself………defeated.
And then you ran. You ran back to your father, back to where it has always been safe. Because you know that your father has been there and he has faced the evil that you fear…and he has faced the evil that you deny. He has been to the barn and he’s been to the battlefield. He’s been to the boardroom and he’s been to your classroom. He’s faced the mean girls and he’s faced the mean boss. He’s faced the devil in all of those places and he’s faced him in places you haven’t and never will. He’s faced him in Heaven, he’s faced him on Earth, and he’s faced him in Hell.
But through it all, your father is still there watching over you and waiting on your return. And over the years he sends you out on many more missions to the barn and other places where evil lurks and you’ve managed to survive them all. Sure you’ve been scarred along the way, bumped your head a few times in your mad dash out of the serpent’s lair, but you’ve survived…every single time. And funny thing is, you’ve never seen the snake face to face, but you know he’s there. You’ve seen the destruction around you, you’ve heard his whispers, and you know his scent. But in spite of this you don’t run from the barn these days, you walk, confident and prepared…
So I guess that’s what I’m trying to say…evil is real. It is real and it is everywhere, it has a source, it has power, and it has you in its sites. You know the devil is out there so don’t deny him. Don’t deny him, don’t fear him, and don’t run from him. Be aware of him and be prepared for his inevitable assault. But above all, know that your father has been there where you are now and where you fear to go…and know that he is still there, watching over you, protecting you, and waiting on your return.
“As the deer longs for streams of water, so I long for you, O God.” Psalm 42:1
Soooooo…how’s it going? What to say, what to say? It seems like it’s been forever since we’ve spoken and I don’t know how to get “us” back in the groove. It really wasn’t that long ago it seemed like we were inseparable, speaking each others’ language, finishing each others’ sentences…we were clearly reading from the same playbook! But now things have changed and we can’t seem to connect…are you even trying? I know I am…trying, longing, aching for that connection, pining for that spark, that energy that you and I once shared.
Was it something I said? Something I did? Did I disappoint you or embarrass you in front of your people? I know, I know…I got busy and I didn’t put in the time like before. I had things that had to get done, things you asked me to do, you know. I didn’t ask for all of this, but I got it and I was just trying to do the best I could with what I was given. Did I take it too far and get too wrapped up in the “work” for your liking? Is that what this is all about? You know my heart never left you; you know it has always been and always will be for you and you alone. So why are you treating me this way? Why are you so…absent?
You know, I really could have used your help back there. I cried out for you over and over again, but got nothing in return. It was like I was under water, gasping for air and you were up above with your hand on my head, holding me down to see how long I could go before I gave up the fight. My older brother used to do that to me and I came to expect that sort of thing from him, but now you too? Never would have guessed it…but I guess I guessed wrong. You had it within you to end my pain, to take away the struggle and the fight and yet you did nothing…why? Were you trying to teach me a lesson…to earn my respect (or was it fear?)…were you trying to push me away?
I don’t get sometimes why you have to make it so hard, you know? Don’t you think that you’ve given me enough to deal with? Would it kill you to throw me a lifeline every once in awhile, to give me some relief? You say you love me, you say you’d die for me, you say you hurt when I hurt, but do you really? I’ve never even seen you cry. You say the hard times make us stronger and bring us closer together…you say the beauty of our relationship can only be seen on the other side of the storm. But are those just words, just a simple mind trick to keep me happy even when I have every reason in the world not to be?
Why would you treat me this way and let me hurt this way if you really loved me? You say I only have time for you when I need something from you, but isn’t it the other way around? Seems like all you want from me is praise and time and attention…it’s always all about you, isn’t it? And the moment (the moment!) I take my eyes off of you, you punish me like some kind of petulant school boy would do. Would a father get away with treating his daughter this way and expect her to love him unconditionally in the end? Would a wife treat her husband this way and hope to have a loving relationship with him?
Where is this thing going? Where are we headed? Is there a point to all of this or are we just killing time, waiting for our number to be called? You’ve made lots of promises, you’ve set the expectations higher than I could imagine…are you really going to come through? Or is this just another one of your mind games, another hit of medication to keep me happily sedated as I wander through this fog you call life? What does it all mean? Why are you so maddeningly cryptic all of the time?? Are you even listening to me?? God? Are you there?
“‘O God my rock,’ I cry, ‘Why have you forgotten me? Why must I wander around in grief, oppressed by my enemies?'” Psalm 42:9
Have you ever felt this way in one of your relationships? Maybe you’ve said many of these same things to your parents, maybe you’ve said them to your husband or your sister or the person you thought was your best friend, your girlfriend, or your mentor. Have you ever said them as I just did…to God?
If you have, you’re not alone. I can remember a time when I thought my mom was intentionally hurting me (don’t worry, Mom, I was as wrong as wrong gets!). There have been times when I knew without a doubt that others who should never wish me harm did exactly that and acted on their desires to see me suffer. Have you been there? And then there are those times when the person you think should be doing so much more to help you face your giants is the very person who is doing almost…wait, change almost to exactly…that’s better – they’re doing exactly nothing. You know how that one feels, right? The frustration, the confusion, the hurt, the hurt, the hurt. If you are like me, it isn’t easy to shrug those things off, to move on, leaving the hurt behind (or more likely covering it up). When hurt happens within my relationships, the knife cuts to the bone and the wounds don’t easily heal.
So what am I supposed to do when the relationship that is supposed to stand above all feels like it has vanished in a blink? How am I supposed to respond when the One who calls himself Father fails me, or at least seemingly so? You know the feeling – the prayers fall flat or ring hollow between your ears, the Bible verses that once gave you great comfort/joy/inspiration/insight/peace (choose as many as you like) now bring you none of those things, the praise songs become tired, and the luster in your world seems to have lost its glow.
“For you are my God, my only safe haven. Why have you tossed me aside?” Psalm 43:2
Where did it go – the glow, the easy praise, the comfort/joy/inspiration/insight/peace? Better yet, where did He go? And eventually I get around to the real question – where did I go? I’ll be honest, I’ve been spoiled…rotten to the core. I have no right to complain…none whatsoever. The good Lord has been exceedingly good to me. He has walked with me, talked with me, carried me, pushed me, challenged me…He has led me, very closely, up and over some dangerously steep climbs. I have asked; He has answered. I have poured my heart out; He has filled it right back up. I have screwed up big time; He has allowed me the grace to give it another go.
But now all of that is gone and my soul aches for its return. I know, I know…it’s all part of His plan, there are many different seasons to this life, the Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away (is that really in the Bible somewhere??), it’s all part of growing up, He is testing my faith…blah, blah, blah, yeah, yeah, yeah…tell that to somebody who is ready to accept it. Me? Not so much…not yet, not now. Has He forgotten that I’m still in the thick of battle? Doesn’t He know that we’re not out of the woods yet, that this life transformation he dropped on us isn’t complete and we aren’t yet ready to do this on our own? He may have pushed me out of the nest, but this little bird isn’t ready to fly!!! My training wheels have been removed, but this biker isn’t ready for the race……………..
Wait a minute. The bike, the training wheels…that reminds me of something…a memory from my childhood that suddenly seems much more important than it once was.
I’m the conservative type, always have been. I like to be prepared for whatever life may throw my way (my fraternity pledge brothers used to call me the Boy Scout, if that tells you anything). I don’t like to gamble, I stick as much money into savings accounts as I possibly can, and if I don’t recognize your number on my caller ID there’s a good chance I’m not answering. And what goes better with a be prepared, conservative attitude than a healthy fear of change, huh?? I can only blame God for any negative outcomes from this aspect of my personality as it appears I was born this way (right mom and dad?). Ok, on with the story…the training wheels and the bike. Given what I’ve just explained about my personality you can probably guess how thrilled I was when my parents decided I had held onto my training wheels long enough. I still say that just because I was going into junior high doesn’t mean I was too old for training wheels!!! Kidding, of course…I think I was…oh, let’s just forget how old I was, ok?!
So the wheels came off and my parents took me down to a deserted street in our neighborhood and stood something like five miles apart from each other and told me to start pedaling. Well, that was just plain mean if you ask me…mean, twisted, torturous behavior from two malevolent, ill-mannered, child-haters I called mom and dad. And given what you now know about my parents you know they didn’t take no for an answer. Nor did they take crying, wailing, kicking, begging, screaming, head-spinning objections from their youngest victim. So with the fear of the devil in me (which fit in nicely with that healthy fear of change that I just mentioned), I pedaled. And I cried. But I kept pedaling. And I kept crying. And the bike wobbled. And I cried. But I kept pedaling. And I got to my dad and I was too busy pedaling and crying to hit the brakes so I turned that bike around at a minimum of 60 or 70 mph and I headed back towards my mom who was standing at least six miles away at the other end of the street. And my dad cheered me on as I kept crying…and pedaling. And I got to my mom and I pulled the same u-turn I had pulled when I got to my dad as my mom cheered me on and I kept crying…and pedaling. And I trekked back and forth, u-turning at eye-dizzying speeds, crying and pedaling every moment, every mile (I think there were 80 laps or so for a total distance of about 400+ miles…probably more).
And my mom and dad cheered me on at every turn. And I kept pedaling. And I wasn’t even aware of it at the time, but I stopped crying. I stopped wobbling. I stopped fearing the road ahead of me and the ugly things it would do to my face when I smacked into it after flying over the handlebars. As a matter of fact, I stopped looking at the road and I started looking ahead. I stopped thinking about the change I was fearing and I stopped fearing the change I was at that moment experiencing. I started to hear my mom and my dad as they cheered me on and this time I could actually hear the words they were saying to me…you can do it, son!…I believe in you, son!…I am here for you, son…I’ll catch you if you fall…I’ll heal you if you hurt…keep your eyes on me, son, I’ll show you how this is done…I’ll always be here, son, to experience your joys with you when you succeed and suffer your hurts with you when you fail…to challenge you, to push you, to teach you, to love you no matter how far away from me you ever go…………..
“But each day the Lord pours his unfailing love upon me, and through each night I sing his songs, praying to God who gives me life.” Psalm 42:8
Why couldn’t I hear all of that before? Why didn’t I trust Him to protect me like He said He would? Why did I fear the change He was leading me through? Why didn’t I hear that before…why wasn’t I listening?
Aw, man…I really screwed this one up, didn’t I? I was too busy crying and wailing and kicking and begging and screaming…and doubting…I was too busy with all of that to listen, to hear, and to trust. The moment (the moment!) God didn’t answer, the instant he removed my training wheels, is the instant I began to doubt. And when He didn’t immediately put my training wheels back on is when I began to cry. And you know what came next – the wailing, kicking, begging, and screaming. I was so busy doubting and my eyes were blurry from the tears and my body and mind were so tired from the wailing, kicking, begging, and screaming that I couldn’t see Him standing there all along. I couldn’t hear Him cheering me on. I wasn’t listening. I was so focused on the wrong He had done to me that I didn’t hear him say those words, those same words my mom and dad were saying to me as I pedaled and cried and feared…you can do it, son!…I believe in you, son!…I am here for you, son…I’ll catch you if you fall…I’ll heal you if you hurt…keep your eyes on me, son, I’ll show you how this is done…I’ll always be here, son, to experience your joys with you when you succeed and suffer your hurts with you when you fail…to challenge you, to push you, to teach you, to love you no matter how far away from me you ever go…………..
“Why am I discouraged? Why is my heart so sad? I will put my hope in God! I will praise him again – my Savior and my God!” Psalm 43:5
I kept pedaling. I don’t know exactly why I did that, but I pedaled for all I was worth. I didn’t throw down my bike and walk away; I didn’t lay down in passive resistance. In spite of the tears, in spite of my doubts, in spite of my certainty of excruciating death by asphalt, I kept pedaling. And before I knew it, I was riding that bike like I had been born with it attached to my backside. I was riding and smiling and pedaling and u-turning and eventually I learned how to use those brakes, but for the time being I was as happy as any boy on the planet at that very moment…no fear, no doubts, no tears…I pedaled it all away.
Hmm…interesting. I seem to detect a parallel or two here. Seems to me there might be something God is trying to tell me, but I can’t quite make it out. It is possible that my little biking story could offer some insight into what I am currently experiencing in my spiritual walk with Christ. What is it that he is saying?? And what is that noise I keep hearing that’s drowning out what He’s saying? Oh, wait, I know what it is. I can hear him now…
Always keep pedaling…you can do it, son!…I believe in you, son!…I am here for you, son…I’ll catch you if you fall…I’ll heal you if you hurt………………………….always keep pedaling…………………………I’m outta here!!
Pedal on, my friends!! :)
Marleigh Kendal Sanders died today, 3-1/2 weeks after she was born. I don’t know much about her, I never met her, and I don’t know her family yet, somehow I was deeply touched by her story and her confounding, maddeningly short life. I do not know exactly what it was that afflicted her body and caused her to pass…from what I can tell on the Facebook updates I have been following, I don’t think the doctors who were working on her know either. And I do not know why I am not sleeping right now, why I haven’t been able to get little Marleigh and her family off of my mind since hearing her story, and I don’t know why exactly I am writing this right now. Nevertheless, here I am, typing away and pondering the life of a little baby girl I will never meet on this side of Heaven…
When Casey was pregnant with the quints obviously there were a lot of things that we could have chosen to worry about…and we selected our fair share among the choices we were offered. Casey’s immediate health was in danger and would only get worse as the pregnancy progressed. The health of the babies was a constant source of attention and they were carefully monitored, at times painstakingly so, to ensure there were no problems. The striking fear of premature labor ticked and tocked between our ears, constantly counting the minutes remaining before the unknown hour at which the babies would make their entrance into the world. Depending on how far along the pregnancy had gone before that time determined how worried we should be about the babies’ chances of survival. So we worried and we prayed and we asked for prayers…and we worried. And no matter how much we prayed and how many times people prayed for us, whether known to us or not, and no matter how much time we spent trying not to worry, our concern for the health of the babies would not allow us to stop worrying. The thought of one our babies suffering…or worse…was simply too big and our faith too small…and so we worried and we prayed…and we worried.
The Bible says not to worry…says it very clearly in fact. Jesus said, “That is why I tell you not to worry about everyday life – whether you have enough food and drink, or enough clothes to wear…Can all your worries add a single moment to your life? Why do you have so little faith? Don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today.” He was right, you know that by now in regards to our story and our babies. They all came into the world in perfect health for babies at their stage of development. All five of them, each individually wowed the doctors with how well they had developed in the womb and with how incredibly they were responding to their new world. I remember one of the NICU doctors telling me that they were all “at various stages of excellent!” I’m pretty certain the doctor got a hug from us that day…and I’m pretty certain Casey and I both cried tears of relief, joy, and pride. That’s right, tears of pride…but for what? Jesus was right. Our worry did nothing to breathe life into our babies. Our fear did nothing to ensure their health. When we wrung our hands, no healthy baby mojo or magic was produced! In fact, we did absolutely nothing that contributed to the vibrancy of our bundle of babies. Absolutely nothing…except pray, I’ll give you that. Prayer works, I believe it, and we did a lot of praying and we know that we were lifted up in prayer by people across the globe. We had an army of prayer warriors at our disposal and their services were in-disposable in ways we’ll never fully understand.
But didn’t Marleigh’s family pray as well? It seems very clear to me that yes, they did pray. And not only that, it seems very clear to me as well that they also had an army behind them praying for Marleigh’s health…prayers that apparently were in vain. God was silent on this one…he allowed Marleigh’s life to slip away today and he took her home with him in spite of the prayer and the worry and the wringing of hands no doubt done by her family and many, many others on her behalf. I don’t need to say it, but I will do so nonetheless: why? Marleigh Kendal Sanders is no less special than Brooklyn Faith, Britton Grace, Jack William, Lila Addison, or Ryan Elizabeth so why did they thrive while Marleigh had to fight for every last breath she took until she took her last? Only God knows if her family or ours is more faithful or said more prayers or whatever, but I really don’t think He is keeping score. Marleigh and her family deserve every good and wonderful thing that comes their way…so why didn’t the good and wonderful come this time?
No question I am not the first to ponder these thoughts and no doubt I will not be the last. And of course I do not have any answers for you…or them. Sure, we could recite all of the cliches that people utter in times like these…everything happens for a reason, God loved Marleigh too much to let her stay, etc, etc…and they would likely be true, but I don’t think that would help anyone right now. Not me and likely not her family either. At some point, all of those words will hopefully help and again they will likely be true, but right now they just seem hollow and empty. True or not, the cliches do not meet the most desperate desire of times like these…they do not tell us why, they do not give us understanding, they do not bring peace. Not now, not yet.
And so we do what I imagine Marleigh’s family is still doing right now…we pray. We pray for understanding and answers and for peace with those answers if and when they ever come. We pray because our spirit tells us to…we pray because Jesus prayed…and we pray because in those prayers, eventually, peace comes. And it comes to us in spite of the absence of understanding and answers. That’s what prayer does. It doesn’t solve the problems, it doesn’t answer the questions…not always anyway. It simply provides peace when there can be no answers and where there can be no understanding. Jesus wrestled and sweat blood in agony during the hours leading up to his crucifixion and horrendous death. But before it was all over he prayed, “not my will, but thine be done.” He prayed…he found peace. And so that is what I’ll be doing for Baby Marleigh and her family and I ask for you to do the same. Pray for their peace and pray for the peace of others that you know are struggling with the why’s of the world. At times, it is the only thing we can do. Much of the time, it’s the only thing we should do.
If you want to add – Marleigh died from Alveolar Capillary Dysplasia. A very rare disease that occurs in about 1 in 2 million births and there have been just over 100 cases known in the world. There is very little research being done about it but Baylor University and hospital are the biggest research base for it. it has 100% mortality rate. They think it is genetic but there is no way of testing for it right now. people can read her story at www.marleighonelove.com if they would like.