A Temporary Home

(Our Christmas letter generated enough comments that I decided to publish to a wider audience.)

Dear friends and family,

As most of you know, 2014 was a year of transition for our family. We sold our Mableton home and moved into a newly constructed home in Kennesaw, Georgia. We are so thankful to God for this new house. It has so many great features for Gwendolyn, like a roll-in shower and lots of hardwood floors for her to walk around on in her gait trainer. There is plenty of room for the boys, inside and outside. The location also puts us much closer to our fantastic church (Burnt Hickory Baptist) and great schools for all of our children.

But it was the in-between time, the time we were in a rental house, that I want to share about with you. We jokingly called it our “Acworth Exile.” The rental house was very small, had stairs to Gwendolyn’s bedroom, and was not ready for us when we arrived (no bathrooms were completely finished/working). We had to deal with lots of dust and bugs. And half the garage was full of the landlord’s stuff. It was temporary and a work in progress.

There were some good things, though. All the appliances were new. The location was close to Aidan’s school. We had access to a pool and basketball court. The lease was month-to-month. And, we knew it was temporary. Our new house was being built. We could go see the progress (though sometimes it seemed slow) and imagine what it would be like to move in. So, we crossed off the days on a Steelers calendar and made it work. It was just temporary.

Jesus, who is God Himself, left His forever home to temporarily make his home among us. He gave up His divine rights and power to become an infant, a child, then a man of no privilege. He became a servant to those whom He created and who could not fathom His purpose. We were not prepared for Him. He had to deal with dust and bugs. He left the grandeur and perfection of heaven to sweat, and cry, and hurt, and hunger, and ultimately to be rejected and killed. But He decided we were worth the temporary move. As it says in Hebrews 2:9, “But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.

1298 Hamilton Creek Drive is not our permanent home, either. As believers in Jesus, we trust Him when He said, “In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.” (John 14:2-3). Jesus is preparing a new heaven and a new earth as our forever home! So, while there is pain and heartache here — while there are temporary laughs and glimpses of eternity – while we gratefully accept our tasks and responsibilities for now – our real home is yet to come. We can’t always see the progress, and we don’t know how many days to mark on the calendar, but God is a builder we can trust. We can imagine (a little) what it will be like to move in. Throughout time, God’s people “desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.” (Hebrews 11:16)

Our prayer for your family is that Christmas will remind you of Jesus’ temporary home with us and then you will turn your faith toward that city which God is building for those who trust in Him.

May God bless your temporary home and prepare you for the eternal one!

When You Cannot Walk – A Gait Trainer Faith

Our daughter, Gwendolyn, cannot walk. She cannot even sit up on her own for very long. However, we have a device called a gait trainer to help her practice walking and strengthen her legs and torso. It has a saddle and a wide, chest belt to hold her upright. There are supports to keep her legs in line and rests for her arms. Finally it has wheels that make motion possible.

Last night I was helping her walk. I push her gait trainer along as she moves her feet and holds some of her weight. She is pretty good with her right leg, but she usually lets her left foot drag. Normally, she walks between the foyer and the kitchen, but we tried something new. We walked to her bedroom, which is down a fairly long hallway with a turn. She started giggling as we made it about halfway. She seemed to be excited about the journey. She did a good job of trying to keep her feet moving and holding up her weight. I was so proud of her that I gave her claps and kisses and cheers. Why? Because she did it all on her own? No, because she did what she could. I understand her weaknesses, and I want to help her along.

That made a Scripture come to mind: “For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin.” (Hebrews 4:15). Jesus, our high priest, is well-acquainted with my weaknesses. Weakness, in the original Greek, is astheneia. Helps Word Studies defines it as “an ailment that deprives someone of enjoying or accomplishing what they would like to do.” For Gwendolyn, her mitochondrial disease deprives her of mobility (among other things). Spiritually speaking, my weakness is sin, and it deprives me of the life I really want to live.

Jesus did not come to mock my weakness or to leave me in it. Instead, He came to walk me through it, with the power that He can provide. I certainly have my part to do, but, similar to Gwendolyn, my ability to walk the Christian life is severely hampered. I must have help. Thankfully, the indwelling Holy Spirit is there cheering me on: “In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words” (Romans 8:26). I may not even understand why I am struggling, but the Spirit knows exactly how to set my feet for the next step I need to take.

A gait trainer is designed so that the person using it may gradually walk on their own. Supports and restraints can be removed. The wheels can be loosened from a single direction to allow movement in all directions. However, it may also remain to allow for a degree of movement and freedom that someone like Gwendolyn might never achieve on her own. Paul saw this same dynamic at work in his faith. When God would not remove the “thorn” from his flesh, He told Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Paul, instead of wallowing in his weakness, proclaimed: “Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me” (2 Corinthians 12:9). Paul is not boasting about sin as his weakness here, yet, I think the principle still applies. It is when I accept God’s help with my weakness that I can fully understand (and proclaim!) His powerful grace toward me.

Disease and weakness are part of our world for now. And, they are actually important factors in shaping our faith. But, for the believer in Jesus, there is an even greater hope — resurrection: “So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown a perishable body, it is raised an imperishable body; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power” (I Corinthians 15:42-43). Gwendolyn and I will both be able to walk unaided in God’s presence one day!

Remade By Fire

Battered by the blows of life

The stone falls out of the ring of many promises

Scratched and dulled, it isn’t the gem we thought

Just man-made, weak, and without much value

The ring, once radiant and beautiful, is empty

Prongs reach for what used to be

What of the promise it once held?

 

In the hands of the master jeweler, there is hope

Strengthened with new gold,

Intricately woven designs

Showcase the glittering diamond

Remade by fire, a new ring is forged

Purer, stronger, uniquely designed,

Declaring its promise to all

 

Battered by the blows of life

The marriage falls from its many promises

Scratched and dulled, it isn’t the journey we expected

If only man-directed, it remains weak and without much value

The marriage, once radiant and joyful, is painful

Hearts reach for what used to be

What of the promises they each held?

 

In the hands of the Master Designer, there is hope

Strengthened with new purpose,

Intricately woven plans

Showcase the glittering of endurance

Remade by fire, a greater marriage is forged

Purer, stronger, uniquely designed, 

Declaring our promises restored in Him

 

With this ring, I thee wed

To have and to hold

Cherishing in joy or sorrow, want or plenty

Faithful to each other and to Him

Until death is allowed to part

 

Whom God has joined, let none separate

A poem for my wife on our 19th anniversary.

New Bible Translation (Humor)

Lincoln (my two year old) made this craft at church tonight. He was so excited to give it to me. In the course of catching him as he ran toward me, the man’s arm fell off. That’s when I decided this illustration could be used for the New Amputated Version of the  Bible.

If you groaned too much, I apologize.

Our Children Around the World

My wife, Melanie, and I have three biological children: Aidan (11), Gwendolyn (9), and Lincoln (2). Each one is a special blessing from God for our family. Aidan is our firstborn (aka guinea pig), an excellent student, a voracious reader, and about to go to middle school (eek!). Gwendolyn, you know, is our amazingly sweet and tough daughter who has a mitochondrial disease. Despite never speaking a word, she has taught us more about love and compassion than anyone we know. Lincoln, even in the throes of the “Twos”, is our injection of joy. He is also our living reminder to just trust God.

Uwimana - from Rwanda

Uwimana – from Rwanda

But Aidan was not our first child. Soon after we got married, Melanie and I sponsored Uwimana Emeline, an orphan from Rwanda through Compassion International. Her parents were killed in the genocide there. We sponsored her and prayed for her for over 12 years until she left the program. We even had the opportunity to send her a care package through some friends who went to Rwanda on a mission trip. We sent letters back and forth through the years. We don’t know what she is doing now, but we pray that God used our little bit of help to make a difference in her life.

In our family, the summer of 2009 is now “The Summer of Iliya.” At that point, with “only” Aidan and

Welcoming Iliya

Welcoming Iliya

Gwendolyn, we made ourselves available to adopt if we could find a birth mom interested in choosing our family for her child. We also decided to see if God would have us adopt internationally (even though we had no idea how we could complete the adoption with Gwendolyn). So, we joined up with New Horizons for Children, an Atlanta area orphan hosting ministry. They arrange for orphans from Russia, Latvia, and Ukraine (at that time) to spend 4-6 weeks with a host family in the US. Many of these children are eventually adopted here. We chose Iliya, a young boy about Aidan’s age, from Ukraine to spend 6 weeks with us. We were open to adoption. That was one tough, rewarding summer! Iliya had a hard time adjusting, and we had a hard time keeping him from just running into the road. He could be so happy and care-free, and then he could be very upset if he didn’t get his way. We read the Bible with him (he read in Ukrainian), prayed with him, held him when he rocked himself to sleep, and tried to show him what “family” is all about. By the end, he did not want to go back.

It was hard to let him go, but we knew that he was not God’s choice for our family. He got to come back with a family from Aidan’s school that Christmas. A third family tried to adopt him later. That fell through (long story), so we are not sure what is going on with him, either. Again, we trust that God will use the little we could do to make a difference. God used Iliya to change our hearts, though. We learned that any child we added to our family might have problems or concerns. We were ready to let God give us another biological child, even if s/he would be like Gwendolyn. He is the Author of Life and He is good.

Moses - Kenya

Moses – Kenya

After Uwimana left the Compaspassion, we decided to sponsor another child. We let Aidan have major input into our choice. We chose Ltalakwa Moses, from Kenya (also through Compassion). He is just a few days younger than Aidan which drew his interest. We are still getting to know him, but he seems to be a very happy boy.

We also have children out there we don’t even know. All through the year, Melanie prepares for Operation Christmas Child, a ministry of Samaritan’s Purse that sends shoe boxes of blessing to children all throughout the world. Each year we send four to seven boxes somewhere. They have gone to Ukraine, Bangladesh, India, South America, and more. Little blessings, but a big God to multiply them.

We have also had the privilege to serve in youth ministry, and we just finished spending three years on Wednesday nights with boys Aidan’s age helping them memorize Bible verses, pray in public, and enjoy church.

Why did I share this on a Bible blog? Because we believe the truth of God’s Word must be put into action. And we want to encourage you to do your part. If our family can reach dozens of children around the world in the name of Jesus, what could you do?

Religion that God accepts as pure and without fault is this: caring for orphans or widows who need help, and keeping yourself free from the world’s evil influence. James 1:27

There is Nothing Like a Daddy’s Love

I see my daughter, Gwendolyn, standing at the top of a staircase. She is dressed in a flowing white gown. Her strawberry blonde hair is swept up into teasing tresses. The aroma of fresh flowers drifts down to me. My heart is about to burst with love. It is her wedding day, and she is about to descend the stairs one last time before leaving her mother and me to start her new life and marriage.

Except that it won’t ever happen that way.

Gwendolyn has a mitochondrial disease. She can’t stand or walk. She can’t say, “I do.” Dresses are not wheelchair-friendly, especially when she wants to pull her legs up. She is nine years old, and it is likely that she won’t live to marriageable age. That’s the brutal reality I’ve had to mourn. But, even as I have let the wedding day dream die, I have discovered something greater from the heart of that dream — there is nothing like a Daddy’s love.

I can’t fix Gwendolyn. I am not going to discover the cure for mitochondrial diseases, no matter how many articles I read or doctors I meet. I can’t figure out what will motivate her to do something new in her therapy. I have no idea what tomorrow might bring for our family. But that’s OK.

There are times when Gwendolyn will only calm down if I take her in my arms and hold her close. She snuggles into my left shoulder just a certain way. At night, she needs me to sing her a hymn or two and whisper, “Daddy loves you” before she goes to sleep. Sometimes when I come home she just smiles and giggles. On fall Sundays, there is no place she would rather be than watching a Steelers game with me (before napping). I can bathe her, change her, brush her hair, and make her do her therapy. I can navigate a wheelchair, make her daily food, start her feeding pump, and administer her medications. I’m Daddy, after all. And there is nothing like a Daddy’s love.

My wife is tired. The daily grind is exhausting. I have a full-time job that pays the bills but demands my energy. Our other
children need Dad, too. I don’t know how we will pay for a wheelchair van or home modifications. I still don’t have that special needs trust in place. Our vacations are tougher, if we can take them. Life could be easier, right? But I am here to stay, for my children and my wife. They need me because there is nothing like a Daddy’s love.

My strength is sapped. I wonder what God is doing. Does God really care about what is happening to us? Then I realize I can climb into my Heavenly Father’s lap. He comforts me when no one else can. Even though I am broken seemingly beyond repair, He can fix my deepest needs. He provides our shelter, food, clothing, medicine, jobs, caring doctors and therapists, a fantastic church, and even occasional respite! If I stop to listen, through all the doubts and fears and questions, I can hear Him. He sings over me and whispers, “I love you.”

There is nothing like a Daddy’s love.

See how great a love the Father has bestowed on us, that we would be called children of God; and such we are. 1 John 3:1a

(Previously published in May-June 2013 FOCUS newsletter. Some editing done here.)

Daddy Gotcha!

Lincoln (age 1) and Daddy

My youngest son, Lincoln, turned two this past week. He is a delightful and expressive little guy. We have a new phrase to describe some of our adventures – “Daddy gotcha.” It started when I was holding him over the sink to wash hands. He was feeling a bit afraid of falling and was protesting and fussing a little. I said, “Lincoln, it is OK. Daddy has gotcha.” We were able to finish washing hands.

Later I was helping him put on his clothes. I said, “Lincoln, lean on Daddy. Daddy has gotcha.” He leaned his full weight on me and we finished getting his pants on.

Just yesterday, I had him up on one of those restroom changing tables at the circus. He wanted to sit up or stand or something seemingly dangerous. I said, “Lincoln, you need to lay down and stay still.” He said, “Daddy gotcha.” That’s when it hit me.

“Daddy gotcha” is his statement of absolute trust in me. He can lean on me, let me hold him precariously, or expect me to catch him before he falls. He has complete faith in Daddy’s love and protection.

Shouldn’t we have an even greater confidence in our heavenly Father? Read these familiar words again, and realize how safe Christians really are:

“Your life should be free from the love of money. Be satisfied with what you have, for He Himself has said, I will never leave you or forsake you. Therefore, we may boldly say:
The Lord is my helper;
I will not be afraid.
What can man do to me?” Hebrews 13:5-6

Daddy gotcha!