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Book Review: How God Became King

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Book title: How God Became King
Author: Tom Wright
Publishing information (place, publisher, year): New York, HarperCollins, 2012
Number of pages: 278

When we talk about Jesus we leave out most of the story. We talk about the virgin birth. We mention that he had a ministry that lasted three years (but that isn’t really essential in most of our conversations). We talk about his death on a cross and, of course, the resurrection. He went to heaven and is coming back.

There you go. That’s all you really need to know to believe the right stuff and go to heaven. Is there anything else we need to talk about?

“Matthew, Mark, Luke and John all seem to think it’s hugely important that they tell us a great deal about what Jesus did between the time of his birth and the time of his death,” writes author Tom Wright. So much of what we believe and shape our thought about Jesus are creeds. “The gospels were all about God becoming king, but creeds are focused on Jesus being God.”

This book focuses on Jesus inaugurating God’s kingdom. The public ministry of Jesus is told through four different narratives by four different voices all telling about the glory of God revealed in Jesus.

“When the church leaves out bits of its core teaching, it will inevitably overinflate other bits of it core teaching,” Wright says. How that plays out in practice and teaching is “churchgoers treat the gospels as the optional chips and dip” to snack on before a big plate of steak, potatoes and Pauline theology are served up. It’s as if the only nourishment a growing boy needs is a healthy diet of Paul. Our appetite for Jesus has been spoiled.

Here are some of of Wright’s main points:
  • Don’t look for theories about Jesus, pay attention to the story!
  • Live in the story of Jesus and allow it to shift the ground you’re standing on.
  • The church’s life and mission need to be rooted in the historical accomplishments of Jesus.
  • The gospels are far from “ordinary”.

Wright, as usual, makes a compelling argument. His style is respectful and tactful and forces the reader to think about the implications of Jesus being king here and now rather than some day way off in a hard-to-imagine future. He argues that we’ve mis-read the gospels. But even worse, we’ve made them “ordinary.”  That’s a trap that results in living an ordinary life. And that is a long way from what God intends for us as his image bearers.

This is definitely a book I’d recommend. Wright writes for audiences that range from academic to common (like me). This book is great for the regular church grower seeking to take their understanding of the mission of Jesus and the church to a deeper level. Wright helps you imagine that you can really live the life Jesus intended for you to live.

Lift 'em up

Sunday, October 19, 2014

I felt like my heart was going to burst. The Charming and Beautiful Susan and I spent time with Allie running around in our breeze way and side walk adjacent to our apartment. Allie grins and laughs and shrieks with joy. I don't really know what to do with my emotions so I just boss her around. "Lift 'em up, lift 'em up!" I shout in my nicest drill instructor voice.

What you'll see in the video below is this kid running around in a Pacer 502 gait trainer by Rifton. Allie needs coaching to help her focus on the job. She likes to just chill on the weekends but if I have to work, she has to work.

She has one of these rigs at school, too, and I'm pretty sure she's more responsive to her teachers and physical therapists than she is to mom and dad.

Kids are kids.

Happy Birthday, Baby

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

Is this cheating? I posted the following in honor of the Charming and Beautiful Susan's birthday. But as I read through it, I don't think I can top it.

Truly, this is the most amazing woman I know. She is the greatest mom, wife, and friend in the world. She has rescued me in so many ways.

"Your soul-mate doesn't exist. You don't find a soul-mate. You become soul-mates." That's the opinion of the Charming and Beautiful Susan, the woman that has become my soul-mate. Tomorrow, August 7, is her birthday.

I've known this woman for most of my life. More than half of it, anyway. We married before I was 21 years old. I don't know how to properly express how blessed I am to be with this woman.
She's a heroic woman. All she does is take care of other people. She takes care of Allie, our handicapped daughter. She takes care of me. She takes care of her sister who is losing her sight and can no longer drive. That's Susan's life. She constantly gives herself away and pours herself out for others. Susan is too busy to complain, and she wouldn't anyway. She's the most fulfilled person I know.

If you've followed our story at all [learn more here], you know that Susan has a huge heart. When Allie was hospitalized, Susan had one mission: take care of this little girl no matter what the cost. There was no discussion. We both knew that we were going to do whatever it took to take care of Allie. We were going to bring her home. It was my intention when I first got onto a plane headed for San Francisco where Allie was so tragically hurt, that I was going to bring Allie back home to Florida. Susan had boarded a plane with her one carry-on to join me a week later with the intention of bringing Allie home. We didn't know that it would be two years before the state of California would legally release Allie into our care and come back to Florida.

While we were figuring out our new life with a severely handicapped child on our hands, I was not a fun person to be around. I allowed myself to become bitter, biting. I was cynical and condescending in conversations, always taking the opposite side in an argument. I found it difficult to value others.
But the Charming and Beautiful Susan exudes grace. I can't think of anyone I'd rather partner up with and do this life with. God has used her in my life to tame me and shape me into a human being.
There's a reason we take vows when we get married. There has to be something stronger than mere words and romantic feelings. They both fade shortly after the wedding. Life is hard. For some reason we think a day will arrive when we get to coast. But that day never comes. But you can live wisely and satisfied with someone you can give yourself away to. That lightens the load, but nobody gets to live on Easy Street. That's why God sends each of us a helper - someone to do life with. You become soul-mates with that person.

I can't imagine doing life with anyone other than Susan.

Happy birthday, baby. I'm going to do my best to make this the best year you've ever had.

Book Review: Healing is a Choice: Ten Decisions That will Transform Your Life & Ten Lies That Can Prevent You from Making Them

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

Author: Stephen Arterburn
Nashville, Thomas Nelson, 2011
Number of pages: 480

“Creator of the universe is also the Healer of His universe. He is the ultimate decision maker as to how, when, and from whom we receive healing.” In the introduction of this book, author Stephen Arterburn gets right to the point with both the topic of the book and the source of the healing we are all so desparately in need of.

Arterburn points out that just like all the properties for physical healing are built into us by our Creator, so are the properties for the healing of our souls. But the choice to engage with the healing is our decision and often not an easy one to make.

No one can make you get healed. You have to want it. The fact that you're going to have to learn how to make it happen does not put healing out of reach. God will partner with you to see it through.

Arterburn looks back over the years he went through after a painful divorce to help the reader understand that his experience isn't simply academic. His experience is real and raw. He walked through a “decade of pain, insecurity, and loss.” It's from this process that he wants to help others find a future.

What Arterburn learned about healing from the pain of divorce was that he had to make a choice to forgive. The choice to forgive is not limited to a one time event, the choice to forgive presents itself over and over again.

Healing happens as a series of choices and that's how Arterburn lays out his book.
  1. The choice to connect your life
  2. The choice to feel your life
  3. The choice to investigate your life in search of truth
  4. The choice to heal your future
  5. The choice to help your life
  6. The choice to embrace your life
  7. The choice to forgive
  8. The choice to risk your life
  9. The choice to serve
  10. The choice to persevere
Each of the ten chapters names a lie determined to sabotage the work that needs to be done in your life and your relationships. Each chapter includes workbook questions to get you thinking about, writing down, and“[moving] you along [to] help you experience whatever healing God allows for your life.”

Throughout the book, Arterburn makes a strong argument without arguing. He is both a teacher and a cheerleader helping the reader gain perspective and see new possibilities for his life.

While Arterburn emphasizes our spiritual building blocks, solutions he offers are accessible, applicable, and bring value to repaired connections and hope for a future of sustainable relationships.

Personally, choosing to live in community has been the biggest challenge for me and the most important takeaway from the book. I need to quit thinking I can muscle my way through the challenges and roadblocks life throws up on my own. Seek to connect rather than correct. But, for a non-diplomatic, fight-about-the-details guy like me, that's a massive effort.

Reading and reviewing this book has been timely for me. It comes during a season when events in both my spiritual and professional life have inflicted personal pain and disappointment on me as well as many I am in community with. I definitely recommend this book for anyone in a similar season or someone carrying the heavy burdens of past broken relationships. I think that covers just about all of us. Get the book.

Book review: Pastrix - The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner & Saint

Friday, June 13, 2014

Book title:
Pastrix: The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner & Saint

Nadia Bolz-Weber

Publishing information (place, publisher, year):
New York, Jericho Books, 2013

224 pages

This is the most doctrinally un-orthodox book I've ever enjoyed.

It taught me that I'm not supposed to trust another person's faith or apparent "walk with Christ" more than my own.

Does that sound arrogant? Too bad. It isn't. If you haven't learned that lesson yet, you probably won't enjoy this book very much. And, warning: there are some hard lessons in store for you. It's time to wake up.

Nadia Bolz-Weber is the pastor of a Lutheran congregation in Denver called House for All Sinners and Saints. Her book is a memoir of a very unorthodox female pastor's story of ministry to a group of marginalized people that would typically not be welcomed "just as they are" at your church. I'm pretty sure they wouldn't.

Personally, I find myself in a cycle where I'm questioning my faith as well as the framework of faith that has nurtured it. This book made me question it even further but it also challenged me to love God and love people more than I currently do. So where does that leave my faith? I wish I knew. Strengthened I think. It's refreshing when a book strengthens your faith in an insightfully unorthodox way. I'm pretty sure that's what Jesus' modus operandi.

I haven't enjoyed a memoir as much as I enjoyed this one in years. (Watch your back Donald Miller.) Since I've invoked Donald Miller's name, I should say that if the author of Blue Like Jazz was a breath of fresh air for you, you'll enjoy this book, too. But beware; there is some adult language peppered through out. The author's self-effacing crankiness was not filtered out by the editting process. Praise the Lord for that.

Also, if you like Anne Lamott's writing, you'll dig, Pastrix. The writing is clear and compassionate and punches you in the face and comes straight from the heart of a pastor.

The Story of Allie

Monday, April 28, 2014

IMG_1723A pre-dawn phone call from my prodigal daughter wrenched me from sleep. “Dad!” she gasped. “You have to pray. Allie is in an ambulance. She’s not breathing.”

My wife Susan and I prayed. Then I called my close friend and begged him to wake his wife and pray too. I needed heaven to mobilize. We needed more prayer than I knew at the time. We didn’t know yet that horrible violence had been inflicted on our granddaughter. These acts against her mowed a wide swath of damage across every life that touched Allie’s.

Allie is my granddaughter, born to my daughter, Charity, when she was 19. In the summer of 2006, Charity brought Allie home to live with us. Allie brought new life and brightness into our house. Six months later, on an unusually cold day in January, our hearts were broken when Charity decided to leave our South Florida home to live in gray San Francisco with Paul, Allie’s biological father. They wanted to be a family.

Allie’s second call came an hour later. “Dad, Paul shook her. He shook her and squeezed her and she stopped breathing,” my daughter said. My knees buckled, but I couldn’t find a chair.

Charity had been at a girlfriend’s house after a late-night shift, and Paul had been home with Allie. That was the arrangement. One parent worked and the other watched Allie. Alternating shifts relieved them from the added financial strain of employing a babysitter. They lived in a fifth floor studio apartment in San Francisco's gritty Tenderloin District. The building was old and poorly maintained. The elevator was often inoperable, requiring tenants to hike up the stairs with armloads of groceries and babies.

10-21-2009 02;30;58PM When the paramedics arrived at Paul and Charity’s apartment, Allie’s vitals were crashing. She wasn’t breathing, and her pulse raced as her weakening heart attempted to pump precious oxygen to her organs. A paramedic tested Allie’s capillary refill. He pressed the flesh on her arm with his thumb and counted how long it took for his thumb print in her flesh to disappear. For a healthy person, it’s immediate. On Allie’s skin, the print lasted several seconds.

As the paramedics squeezed air into Allie’s lungs with a bag valve mask, the elevator door disengaged from the lock, leaving its occupants stranded between floors. The paramedics manhandled the door open and climbed out onto the level above with Allie and their equipment, scrambled down the stairs, and sped to California Pacific Medical Center. Nurses and doctors worked to stabilize her. Tubes were inserted into her throat and a machine inflated her lungs with oxygen. Ten-month-old Allie remained in a coma.

She was admitted with a broken collar bone, a broken rib, and a broken fibula. Each injury was in a different stage of healing, indicating several traumatic insults spread out over time. When questioned by the emergency room doctor, Paul calmly confessed to physically abusing Allie for over four months. He showed little emotion as he told the doctor. “He seemed relieved,” the ER doctor later told me. His confession elicited a strange peace in him.

I was in a daze the day after the phone call. It was Sunday so I went to church. As a pastor, it made sense to be with my church family as the crisis unfolded. The earliest flight I could get was on Monday. Time stood still. There’s a famous scene in the movie “Good Morning Vietnam” juxtaposing Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World” with scenes of explosions and people being mowed down by machine gun fire. This is how the first day was. It felt like somebody else’s tragedy was unfolding while I looked on.

1 I arrived in San Francisco on Monday. As my cell phone picked up the local signal, I noticed I had voice mail. It was from Jim, Paul’s father; Allie’s paternal grandfather. “Bryon, please call me when you get this,” the recording said. He answered my call and was frantic. “I can’t believe he did this! I hope he rots in jail!”

Those were my sentiments, too, but strangely, instinctively maybe, I told him, “Jim, if there’s anything Paul needs right now, it’s his dad. You need to be the best father to him you can be.” Out of nowhere, the pastor in me showed up. I was startled, quite frankly. I discovered early that I couldn’t hate Paul even if I wanted to, which was strange because many of my friends did not restrain their expressions of rage toward him. I wanted to keep an open door to his family. I didn’t want to blame them for the actions of their son. I couldn’t hate Paul because I didn’t want his family to become the accidental targets of my anger. My impression of Paul when I first met him after Allie was born was that of a bewildered kid in a big, frightening world. I felt sorry for him. After this happened to Allie, shock was added to deeper, inconsolable sorrow.

Another inmate beat Paul so badly his first night in jail; he had to have his jaw wired shut. He ate his meals through a straw. This news sickened me. Maybe if I was looking at this as an onlooker rather than a participant, I would call this justice. But I didn’t feel avenged, and I didn’t want the attacker as an ally. This perpetuated chaos. I felt neither vengeance nor vindication—only nausea. It didn't bring Allie out of her coma.

image I made my way to the pediatric intensive care unit at California Pacific Medical Center in San Francisco. A polite, serious nurse escorted me into Allie’s room. Allie’s head was completely wrapped in a bandage, turban-like. She lay under the glow of a heat lamp that maintained her body temperature. Tubes from machines for breathing, eating, and delivering fluids and medicines snaked from machines into her mouth, nose, and veins. I wasn’t met with excited giggling as I had been in the past. There was only the sad whir and beeping and pumping sounds of machines keeping her alive. I leaned in and kissed her, but she didn’t know.

San Francisco’s director of child protective services called Charity and me to a meeting. She was hard on Charity. “You should have known something was hurting your daughter,” she said, her words heavy with rebuke and warning. Charity told her she wanted to give custody of Allie to my wife and me. The director of child protective services looked me in the eye and told me there was no way I should expect to simply take custody of Allie. The director doubted my wife, Susan, and I were qualified to care for Allie medically if she ever left from the hospital.

In the same week, while Allie was still in a coma, doctors and I began to have conversations about removing the artificial breathing apparatus Allie depended on. Allie’s ability to breathe on her own needed to be tested. If she could not breathe long term without the equipment, we would have to have another conversation.

I plead with God to heal her, but doubt and despair towered over faith. If God had been unavailable to keep her safe, why would he be available to heal? I used faith-filled words in my prayers, but neither my faith nor my words had value.

image In the first week I was pummeled by information, decisions, and weighty conversations. The only improvement observed in the first week was her ability to maintain her body temperature without the heating lamp. This was not enough improvement for me. Anguish paralyzed me.

Somehow people from a local San Francisco church, Calvary Chapel San Francisco, heard about my situation. They visited me regularly in the hospital and brought me food and prayed with me and were quiet with me. My relationship with God was thin, but he made his presence known through the small band of new friends.

I did my best to be upbeat in my communication with our church family back home. I recruited people to pray for us. Perhaps God wasn’t hearing my prayers, but he definitely would work, I concluded, through the prayers of others.

At the end of the first week, doctors removed tubes from Allie’s throat. She began to breathe on her own, but she remained in a coma. Her first few breaths were labored, and throughout the first day and night breathing was hard work.

Susan arrived in San Francisco in the middle of the second week, and Allie started to respond and began to emerge from the coma. It was gradual, not like it happens in movies. Allie didn’t just wake up a little confused after too many days of sleeping. Only one eye fully opened the first day. The other slowly followed over the next few days. It was evident that she was in terrible pain.
image Susan’s prayer life also suffered. Whenever she prayed for relief for Allie, it seemed Allie’s pain and discomfort would immediately increase. Prayer seemed to have contrary effects; it made things worse. Susan quit praying in the early days of our ordeal. Our entire belief system was flipped upside-down. My wife and I have watched God answer prayer in our lives and the lives of our friends because we followed him; we obeyed him and lived for him. Weren’t those the things that guaranteed that God would bless our lives? Not only was I confused, I was discouraged. Thinking about it now brings to mind the story of Abraham and Isaac. Abraham watched God deliver what only God could: a son to a childless couple whose child-bearing years had come and gone decades ago. Abraham loved Isaac with all of his heart, and one day God required Abraham to sacrifice his son, Isaac. The Bible doesn’t give us the details, but I believe Abraham’s belief system was flipped upside-down, too. “What about your promises God?” Abraham must have cried in anguish. “Haven’t I followed you all these years?”

I was learning that God was doing something much deeper in our lives than we ever expected. God gave Isaac back to Abraham. This happened near the end of Abraham’s very full life, but it was only the beginning of God’s plan to redeem men’s lives. So, too, we were in the very early stages of the work God was doing in and through us to include us in the same plan; redeeming lives. The work he was doing would only be visibly evident from a not yet developed perspective. Why God would let all this happen to us we couldn’t explain. This is the point where we began to learn to trust God in day-by-day increments.

image We lived in the hospital for eight weeks with Allie until the day she was released. Susan learned how to care for Allie while we were there. She relieved the nurses from including Allie in their regular rounds. Meanwhile, the doctors in the pediatric unit became our biggest advocates in the bid to gain custody of Allie. Our case was turned over to a new social worker who was not antagonistic. In fact, Jack became our greatest ally and champion of our cause. In a stunning reversal, Allie's court appointed lawyer followed suit and began to make the case that awarding us custody was the best course of action for Allie.

On the same day Allie was released from the hospital, the courts awarded us custody of Allie. Becoming Allie’s foster parents came with two restrictions: we were not permitted to leave California, and Charity was only allowed supervised visits. She could not live in the same house with Allie. We decided to live with my sister in northern California, a six-hour drive north. We had to say goodbye to our house in Florida, my job as a pastor, and our 18-year-old son, Aaron, living in Florida.

That was the beginning of the hardest time in our lives. We didn't have the hospital to back us up. We didn't have doctors and nurses as ready resources. We didn't have a hospital keeping house and preparing our meals and getting medicine doses ready. We were totally on our own.

My wife and I went to war with each other over private moments of peace. Our days and nights were filled with battle, each claiming that the other wasn't doing his or her share. I was a selfless martyr and she was a slacker. We tore into each other like wounded animals. I wanted to leave.
“If you’re leaving, don’t wait,” Susan said. “If you’re going to do it, do it now so I can get on with figuring out how life is going to work.”

This wasn’t living. It wasn’t even surviving. I made a decision to serve my wife and Allie no matter what the cost. This was the only clear option. I couldn’t get Romans 12 out of my head. I needed to become a living sacrifice. The only way our little family unit would weather this was to serve selflessly, expecting nothing in return. This isn't personal piety and this isn’t an attempt at superior spirituality. It was the only rational thing I could do to survive. This is what God was waiting for me to discover. Being a living sacrifice isn’t just a mystical way of doing Christianity. It’s not a life of simply reading the Bible, memorizing a few verses, singing songs, going to church, and obeying a few rules. The way Christianity works was summed up best by Jesus when he said, “…whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it (Matthew 16:25 ESV).”

In his book, The Pursuit of God, A.W. Tozer wrote:
There can be no doubt that this possessive clinging to things is one of the most harmful habits in the life. Because it is so natural it is rarely recognized for the evil that it is; but its outworkings are tragic. We are often hindered from giving up our treasures to the Lord out of fear for their safety; this is especially true when those treasures are loved relatives and friends. But we need have no such fears. Our Lord came not to destroy but to save. Everything is safe which we commit to Him, and nothing is really safe which is not so committed.

This was the biggest step of faith I had ever taken because there were no guarantees and no way to survive a failure.

image Meanwhile, Charity was despondent after losing custody of Allie. Twice I talked her out of suicide. She went days without sleep. She became unemployable. She ended up homeless, a 99-pound 20-year-old living on the streets of San Francisco and Berkeley. She spent her nights up off the ground and out of sight in trees and on scaffolding of multi-story building projects. After about three months of living like this, she made friends at a local Alcoholics Anonymous chapter. They opened up their homes, allowing her to sleep here a few nights and there for a few more, giving her much-needed rest and security. Soon she was able to find work as a short order cook and rent a room.

My son, Aaron, involuntary discovered solitude. Everyone that was ever close to him has moved a continent away. Aaron was in school when everything happened. He wanted to come out to California, to do something, but I told him to stay put. There was nothing he could do. Allie was in a coma. Charity was in shock. Thinking back, it would have been nice to have the family back together even in this crisis. But having the family truly back together was not going to take a trip across the country, it was going to take a trip back in time.

Susan felt utterly abandoned. At first, there was an overwhelming response to our situation. Friends and family flew out from Florida to help Susan when work took me out of town. Over time, our needs changed little, but people got on with their lives. Friends promised to help and provide relief, but they took one look at how much work Allie is and slowly faded from view.

Now, three years later, Susan and I are back in Florida and have officially adopted Allie. Susan and I stick together like we never have before. We live near close friends that encourage us and help when they can. It has been healing for us. “Why me?” I complained to Joyce, a motherly lady in my life.
“Why not you?” she shot back. “You did a great job raising your first two kids, you’re visible in the community as a pastor, and you have a strong marriage. Why wouldn’t God give this child to you? Who else would he give her to?”

Those simple words pierced my heart and peace washed over me. She spoke like an oracle, completely shifting my perspective. At first, I couldn’t get my mind off of what had happened to this little girl, to us, and to me. My faith was strengthened as I shifted focus from our situation and to the Creator God who delights himself by including us in his plans to the great amazement of all who take notice. Once we felt abandoned by God, but now we sense his presence and see his wisdom. We couldn’t do this without each other and we couldn't do it without the preparation of our hearts over our lifetimes. My life is full now as hard as it is to take care of a special-needs child. Yet this child is the source and the recipient of all my love at the same time.
familyAllie’s medical challenges will be continuous. She has cerebral palsy and is a quadriplegic due to brain damage sustained from shaking and oxygen deprivation. Her little body grows incorrectly, requiring surgery to prevent painful deformed development. Bones and muscle grow at different rates causing joints to migrate out of socket. She eats only puréed foods preventing teeth from strong development. Brain damage has severely limited her vision. Doctors say that she will never walk or talk or play like a normal child.

Susan is the biggest trooper. She’s embraced the task and held on with a relentless, unyielding grip. It’s more than motherly instinct. It’s mission. Of all of us, she has most deeply recognized that God picked us for this task. That being selected by God for this mission at this time in our lives is the best thing for us. That God has shown himself to be wise to wait until this precise time in our lives to do this thing. She loves being a mom again even if it’s the hardest thing that has ever happened. I always hear her say to Allie, “I love being your mommy."

I don't think about Paul, Allie’s biological father, much. When I do, I try to pray for him. I see his mother often, but I don't think of her son at all except when Allie is having an unusually bad day. On those days my mind runs a feedback loop of blame. But I find myself allowing this pattern to run a much shorter course lately. I'm quicker to pray. I ask God to cause Allie's little life to somehow impact Paul's redemption.

We want Allie to grow up to be a hero whose life blesses victims and perpetrators alike. Nobody is vindicated or avenged. The Cross enthroned a dying savior who said, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.” Nor did they know what was coming: resurrection and new life. Death is the end of the road for offenders, but not for the forgiven. We want Allie to have such an understanding of the gospel that her repaired life is a signpost pointing to the redeemer who vindicates, justifies, and pours grace upon accusers, victims, and executioners alike.

Daily Increments Reworked

Monday, March 03, 2014

Phone calls
A phone ringing in the night wrecks the silence and with it, my peace. Like Pavlov's dog, that ringing sound has trained me. I don't salivate, though; I worry. The jangling noise jolts me and clumsily juggle my phone trying to decipher the names or numbers displayed in the little window while waves of unease wash over me. Is it one of the kids? What's happened? Who's area code is this? I don't want to answer it.

I have a right to worry. I think so, anyway. These days my mobile is the only way bad news is delivered. That horrible electronic chirp woke my wife and I eight years ago with news that would forever alter the course of our lives. I could only hear my my wife's side of the conversation and it was a little confusing at first, but as I put the pieces of what I heard together, I felt the weight of the ceiling come down on my chest. I was the father of a pregnant, eighteen year old, unmarried daughter.

A year and some months later, another late night phone call jarred me out of a sound sleep. My daughter's number appeared in the caller ID. Her chilling words will always haunt me: "Dad, you have to pray! The baby isn't breathing."

My little granddaughter, Allie, less than a year old at the time, was shaken and squeezed by her father and hadn't taken a breath for several minutes. Paramedics administered CPR in the back of the ambulance while she was rushed to the Emergency Room.

That night, Allie didn't regain consciousness. She remained in a coma on a machine that did her breathing for her for the next seven days. After that, she started breathing on her own but remained in a coma for several more days.

I traveled across country immediately to be with Allie in the hospital. My wife Susan joined us ten days later, and Allie began to emerge from her coma that day. She was released from the hospital eight weeks later. She has severe disabilities from brain damage resulting from the shaking and lack of oxygen. She is a quadripelic with cerebral palsy.

My wife and I adopted Allie. But to do it, we had to leave a good job, friends, and family and move to a different state.

As much as we wanted to adopt Allie, I also wished for an easy way to fix this. I wished I could wave a wand and make it all go away.

I can't run away no matter what my instincts tell me to do. There are no short cuts. I have to walk all the way through this situation. I've learned I don't have what it takes.

Am I allowed to feel this way? I used to be able to look at somebody else's tragedy and just say, "Trust Jesus. No trial will come upon you that is too big for you to handle." I look back on that and think I've been walking around with a foot stuck in my mouth.

I'm grateful David had the spiritual insight to write down what he experienced while wrestling with his understanding—or lack of it—of God. We call these themed writings "Psalms of Affliction." What's consistent is a sense of forsakenness and abandonment, isolation and loneliness.
I'm also grateful because through this experience, encouragement and love flowed from my friends through phone calls and emails. These friends were sent by Jesus, Himself, to lift my soul out of darkness.

You can't do this life on your own. The stuff the world shovels your way will bury you if you don't have friends around to help dig out.

Good days and bad
We have good days and not so good days.
Years ago, I worked in Northern California's Redwood forest as a tree faller. It was hard, dangerous work. Bringing monster trees to the ground can be daunting, dangerous, and stress-filled one day and unbelievably—euphorically—satisfying the next. My foreman had a saying: "sometimes you get the bear, and sometimes the bear gets you."

That's just the way it is.

My theology doesn't always answer the questions I ask. Instead, Jesus says, "don't worry about tomorrow... each day has enough trouble . . . " So we do what we can to make it through the day without having our deepest questions answered. That's all you can do.

Susan and I fight, we blame shift, and then when we feel better, we treat each other better. Not exactly textbook marriage therapy, but this isn't an hour on a pshycologist's couch, this is real life.
I wish I could say we handle the stress well. All I can say is that we're committed to seeing this through. If we think about the future or the past or what someone else has done to make this situation this situation, we're overwhelmed. It's too much information to process.

But there's grace for today. Today is all we're expected to handle; just today. I might have goals and expectations and hopes for the future, but I honestly think, according to a loose interpretation of Jesus words, we're only accountable for the moment. When you think about it, that's all we have control over anyway; this moment. The past has slipped away and the future isn't ours to control. It's scary.

But there's freedom in living this way.

God has been faithful to provide everything I need to daily live in grace and obedience. But I seem to only get enough for the day. I find when I want more, I'm neither graceful nor obedient.
There's no such thing as easy, but that doesn't mean this story can't be written with a happy ending.

This post is adapted from a combination of an article written for the Good News of South Florida in 2008 and a previous blog post.