Sunday, May 18, 2008

New Green

I love this time of year. In Kentucky, it’s just getting to be the end of spring and the start of summer. I love the green colors you see everywhere. It’s not just any green, it’s "new green," it’s the fresh green of new life, not mold green, or snot green, or baby diarrhea green, or even the aged green of late summer (which is a great season as well, but different). But there’s something about the "new green" that’s exciting. Susie is not green at all (she’s only been green twice that I know of during her pregnancy). But she has that “new green” look to her, the look of expectancy and new life. I thought I was in love with her when I married her but the idea of a part of me living in her has only deepened my love and devotion for her and my attraction and attachment to her. She’s a hot mama! Tomorrow’s another doctor’s appointment, and then we get to have another ultrasound in a couple weeks.

Take 45 seconds and watch this video; you may have seen it before. It’s pretty funny. (Short disclaimer: I am not advocating the product being advertised or any improper actions that would necessitate the use of said product, it’s just a funny commercial.) I’ll get to my point after you’re done.

We’ve all seen (or maybe been a part of) a scene similar to this. Ironically, when I see something like this, I usually stick my nose up at the parent that’s with the kid. And a lot of the time the parent has the same look the guy in the video did – dumbfounded, bewildered, and embarrassed. But I’m about to be a parent, and there may come a day when I’m THAT parent. And as I started thinking about the possibility of being party to a public tantrum thrown by my own flesh and blood it made me wonder how I would react.

I’ve unfortunately seen too many parents lash out at a misbehaving child either verbally, physically, or both. I think a reaction like that has a lot to do with embarrassment. I can’t say I’d be smiling, but thinking about this makes me wonder about how much stock I put in what other people think about me. I mean, who are we making the effort to please here?

I’ve addressed this more thoroughly on a previous blog, that there is only so much Susie and I can do when we raise our child to ensure that he’s well-adjusted, polite, God-fearing, etc. A lot of it is ultimately up to our child and to God. I believe that we have a large affect on our child’s development and in no way do I shirk that responsibility, but at the end of the day, he’ll have to make his own choices. So what if one day that choice is to throw a tantrum in the mall?

I was reading through Galatians in an attempt to find an answer to a question my friend Sally had brought up about grace and the following verse jumped out at me. I had this blog subject on my mind and it’s amazing how God brings you to what He wants you to see if you’re faithful to read his word. Galatians 1:10 says, “Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ.” Wow, that’s extremely convicting. Who are we trying to please in the first place?

The word “still” indicates to me that we are predisposed to please men, that it’s part of our sin nature. I’m not saying we should disregard others; that flies in the face of Mark 12:29-31 and many other instructions Jesus gave us regarding loving other people. But is our focus on what others think? Does that drive our actions and thoughts and motives? I honestly can’t say that everything I do is with the intention of pleasing God over pleasing man. And this verse indicates that if I’m trying to please men, I’m not a servant of Christ and I'm living according to my sin nature.

So do I wash my truck and mow my yard because I want people to be impressed with what I have and to think I have it all together, or do I do those things because I am blessed and desire to take care of the material things that God has blessed me with? Do I go to the gym and exercise because I am concerned with my outward appearance or because I recognize that my body is the temple of the Holy Spirit as it says in 1 Corinthians 6:19? Do I play my guitar or speak at church because I want the spotlight and enjoy being in front of people or because I want to honor God with the talents that He has given me? These are just a few things, but they are ones that I continually ask God to help me keep in check because it’s so easy to let vanity drive action. It could be something completely different that you struggle with, but we all have something.

So when my kid acts up, am I embarrassed because people are looking at me and I feel like my kid’s behavior is a bad reflection on me as a parent and that’s the most important thing to worry about? Because if other’s impressions are paramount then my reaction to my kid’s disobedience is in danger of being a worldly and sinful reaction because it’s not rooted in grace and God’s desire to raise a child in righteousness. But if I understand that my identity is in Christ and not how people perceive me because of my kid’s actions then I can react in a Godly manner that will be beneficial in training my child in righteousness. Now….do I think that will be easy? Not in the least. But if I can go into this thing with prayer for God’s help to maintain that mindset, I will be more likely to react correctly.

Wow, kind of a deep one today. And I’m not claiming it to have it all figured out either. Far from it. I know there are parents out there reading this, and plenty of people wiser than me, so I’d appreciate any advice if you have any. Thank you for all prayers coming our way for a healthy baby and a healthy mommy. I praise God for this exciting “new green” time in our lives.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Delainey Grace Peach

So I’ve been mulling this over and editing it in my mind and on paper for over a week now because I want to make sure and get this right. I’ve had other things on my mind to blog about, but I wanted to write this first out of respect for the Estes family. Last week (the week of April 28th) was such a surreal, incredible, different, intense, difficult, heartbreaking week and it really is tough to put into words all the feelings and emotions, but I want to try.

We have some dear friends from church that went through something that I would never wish upon anyone, and their attitude and countenance reflected and continues to reflect the grace and love of God more than I would ever hope to under the same circumstances. I am in awe of God’s unfailing promise to sustain us in hard times after observing this family.

One of the first kids in the youth group here that Susie and I met and became attached to is a girl named Jaci Peach. She faithfully came to our house every week when we hosted a Bible study for 7th and 8th graders. Her mom and step-father, Denise and Jeff Estes, have also become close friends as well as her two older brothers Coy and Colton. Last fall we found out that Jaci was pregnant. Denise considered it important to tell us face-to-face because she knew that we had been trying to have a child of our own. The manner in which she handled that and was thinking of us and our feelings when her world was just completely turned upside-down blew me away. She wanted to make sure that we didn’t have any hard feelings toward Jaci or feel like it was unfair that a 15-year-old's irresponsible act had accomplished what we had been trying for. We assured her that we completely supported them and didn’t have any anger or feelings of injustice in our hearts. This act by Denise and Jeff made it a no-brainer of who in Owensboro we wanted to tell first when we found out Susie was pregnant. We shared hugs and tears and the common bond of pregnancy drew Susie and Jaci closer.

Over the course of Jaci’s pregnancy it was discovered that her baby, Delainey Grace, had a chromosomal disorder, which could manifest itself in any number of ways, including cleft palette, lack of muscular development, mental retardation, and a host of others. They also determined that Delainey’s heart had holes in it and one valve was leaking backwards. If that wasn’t enough, Delainey also had begun developing fluid in her abdomen and on her brain. The doctors told them that she probably wouldn’t live once she was born, if she made it that far. They gave her the option of terminating the pregnancy and Jaci never wavered in her decision to keep Delainey and to raise her no matter what her condition was.

Throughout the pregnancy the Estes family leaned heavily on their friends and family for support, but it was apparent that their strength came from God. I don’t know how many times I heard Jeff or Denise say that they would be going crazy if it weren’t for God’s sustaining grace. We had many conversations over the phone and over meals and just while spending time together. These conversations continued to amaze me. They were a true picture of faith and trust.

This situation hit especially close to home for Susie and I, especially after finding out about our impending arrival. For months this family and their circumstances occupied my mind and prayers probably more than anything else outside of Susie and our baby, and a lot of times probably more. It added more anticipation to each of our doctor’s visits and tests that Susie encountered, and all along the way I kept feeling incredibly blessed and spoiled to continually receive good reports about Susie and our baby.

Delainey faced one medical obstacle after another and somehow faithfully kept trucking on toward the due date. It was amazing to observe because somehow, against all medical odds, she was surviving and moving closer and closer to life outside the womb. The biggest fear was that because her heart had holes and leaks, it’s pumping wouldn’t be able to overcome the air pressure in her little lungs once she was born and took her first breath of air. The family continued to drive the three hours to Lexington weekly to receive specialized attention and undergo many tests to prepare for Delainey’s arrival.

The Cesarean was scheduled for Tuesday, April 22nd. I was out of town with work, but was having a hard time keeping my mind on task. Several people from our church went out to Lexington and we had a network of calls and text messages to keep us informed. Delainey Grace was born that afternoon. You can visit this link to see pictures of her and get the most accurate updates from Jeff and Denise. We were amazed at God’s miracle and praised Him for the new life.

Over the following weekend Delainey started weakening and the doctors presented the option of putting her on a ventilator or just letting her go. Jeff and Denise gave Jaci the decision to make and she was not going to give up on her daughter. However, over the next couple days she kept getting weaker and weaker. Finally, on April 29th, a week after entering this world, Delainey Grace flew home to Jesus.

Late that night we joined a number of church friends and family at the Estes’ house when they returned from Lexington. I was a little unsure whether Susie’s now large belly would be a source of grief for Jaci. Over the months of Jaci’s pregnancy one thing I continually prayed for was that no matter what happened, that she would become a more mature Christian and human being. When they got out of their car Susie and I both hugged Jaci at the same time. She buried her face in our chests and the first words out of her mouth were, “I can’t wait to love on your baby.” Once again I was completely blown away by how many ways those few words completely eased our hearts and showed the measure of maturity she had gained. Her heart was heavy with sorrow and yet she showed her true colors.

Denise came over to us and quietly said, “Everything is going to be alright, God has taken care of us and He’ll continue to take care of us. Everything is going to be alright.” Before we left early the next morning Jaci, in the midst of her grief, had made a pile of baby stuff she wanted us to have, and called us last weekend telling us they had another pile of clothes and furniture for us and our baby. It completely broke my heart; I didn’t want the stuff, I wanted Jaci to have her baby. I had a hard time coming to grips with accepting these things, but they repeated over and over that instead of taking them somewhere like Goodwill they wanted them to belong to a baby that they would love. I can’t begin to tell all the stories of times and situations where I was amazed by the spiritual maturity and growth this family radiated. It would take weeks to write them all down.

However, one notable story took place in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU), when Jaci was troubled and questioning why God would allow this to take place and allow her baby to be unhealthy and weak. These are natural questions for a human being. Denise told her that maybe God wanted to use this situation to bring people close to Him, and maybe God had someone special in mind that He needed to draw close to Him through this. As she finished saying this one of the NICU nurses walked over and said “I’m the one God is talking to in this story. I’m the one who’s attention He’s getting.”

Two days later Bridgepointe Church was host to an incredible time of grief, heartbreak, pain, healing, and hope. And today is Mother’s Day. Our pastor Steve spoke on 1 Samuel 1 and Hannah’s persistence and righteousness in praying for a son. My heart continues to hurt for Jaci and her parents, and I continue to uplift them daily whenever I think about them.

And over a week later I still have unresolved questions in my head: Why was this family chosen to bear this burden? Why was Delainey the one who was unhealthy while our baby continues to show signs of health and growth? We’ve had fun and stayed busy and yet these types of questions continue on and on in my mind like a skipping record, as well as others more specific to the situation. I’m sure they’ll continue. And do you know what I keep coming back to? I keep hearing the words to a song that we sang in church this morning that originated from Job. “You give and you take away, you give and you take away, yet my heart will choose to say, blessed be Your name.” Job had lost everything, from possessions to family to health, and he still chose to praise God. And at the beginning of Chapter 42, he essentially tells God that these things are “too wonderful for me to know.” He tells God that His ways are too wonderful to understand and as humans we can’t allow our circumstances to get in the way of awe of Him. When we’re blessed, we praise God. When we undergo times of grief, we praise God. Amazing. So many times do I allow temporal circumstances to govern my countenance.

I love Jeff and Denise Estes, I love Jaci Peach, I love her brothers Coy and Colton, and I love little Delainey Grace. This family has taught me so much about displaying true, Job-style faith and trust in God and His grace. I am blessed to called them my friends.