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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.

Does God Answer When Prayer Doesn't Look So Religious?

Monday, February 24, 2014

I don't think I talked to God more than I did when Allie was in a coma. My prayers weren't just quiet and they weren't religious.

I talked to God out loud - I'm sure I looked schizophrenic - while walking down the street or jogging through the park. I pleaded with Him demonstratively with sweeping hand motions. Sometimes I jumped up and down and yelled "PLEEEEEEEAZE!!"

I yelled at Him. I cussed.

I questioned why people thought He was wise.

I told Him how He should be running things. If I were running things, there sure wouldn't be a little baby lying in a bed with tubes in her mouth and nose and electric nodes taped to her head. I wouldn't be running things this way I told Him.

When I prayed, I warned people not to stand to close because there may be some inbound lightning. My prayers were not reverent.

I'm thankful that reverent, faith-filled and respectful people were praying, though. A lot of heavenly business was done on our behalf because you guys prayed.

The Charming and Beautiful Susan and I sipped coffee on our patio and spent time reflecting this past weekend. Some of the initial predictions about how life was going to be for Allie were dismal. One doctor, the first neurologist I ever met, was always extremely negative. When Allie was in a coma, he told me not to expect her to ever emerge from the coma. When she did come out of the coma, he told me to never expect that she would be much more than a vegetable. As Allie showed more and more promise, he expressed, reluctantly it seemed, surprise, but he told us to expect to have serious behavioral issues. He made sure we knew that life was going to be extremely difficult for us. There was a cadre of social workers and lawyers at the time working against us as we tried to take custody of Allie. They wanted to take her from us and put her into a group home for severely handicapped kids. They didn't think we could handle it.

So I prayed some more using the prayer style outlined above. And as others prayed, Allie continued to improve, and people with authority became our advocates. Prayers were being answered on so many levels.

Allie is now able to enjoy going to school and interacting with other students and teachers. She continues to exceed all expectations. Her behavior is continual joy-filled expressions of affection and contagiously positive personality. I wish that doctor could see how blessed our lives are now.

God has given us such an abundant life. We never thought we'd be able to just sit and enjoy coffee together, the Charming and Beautiful Susan and I, on a garden patio together, but God was pleased to see that it happen no matter how I prayed.

Über Christ Followers – Part 5 – John Chinelly

Monday, February 10, 2014

Originally posted November 7, 2005

I can't believe this post is eight and half years old.

Pastor John Chinelly has been a mentor in my life since 1994. Not only has he mentored me, together with his wife, Connie, they've mentored and poured their lives into thousands of couples. That is no exaggeration. Thousands of families have been changed by and benefitted from the ministry of this one, faithful couple.

I'm asking you to join me in prayer for this couple and their extended family as Connie faces serious health issues. 


Men of major influence and persuasion are seldom grand in stature or appearance. The Apostle Paul wrote to the church in Corinth, “I came to you in weakness--timid and trembling. And my message and my preaching were very plain. I did not use wise and persuasive speeches, but the Holy Spirit was powerful among you. I did this so that you might trust the power of God rather than human wisdom.”(1 Cor. 2:3-5) 

Pastor John Chinelly’s ministry in my life illustrates this perfectly. John taught me my most valuable lessons when I was young in ministry: the man of God is compassionate; the man of God is a wise manager; the man of God is a mentor.

John imparted something simple: God created me with one (1) mouth and two (2) ears.

“Slow down.”

“Shut up.”

“And listen.”

John never actually used those words, but that’s what he taught me. The man of God must slow down and listen. I can’t assume that I know where some one is going in a conversation. Quick-fix answers rarely repair a crisis and are not helpful to the hurting. The man of God shouldn’t be that impressed with himself.

God’s minister listens and prays and points people to the Word of God. Men can’t fix men. Only God has solutions to help men get through this life. Only God has the answers men need to hear. A man of compassion understands that the insight he possesses comes from God given wisdom.

John taught me that God’s minister manages his time wisely. It’s God’s time. Time is a resource that is given by God as a gift to accomplish all that God has called the men to do.

Pastor John taught me that a mentor supports the mentored. Pastor John has always been in my corner. That’s a man I can learn from.

Book Review: When God Intervenes

Wednesday, February 05, 2014

When God Intervenes: An Extraordinary Story of Faith, Hope, and the Power of Prayer 
Dabney Hedegard
Carol Stream, Tyndale House, 2013
273 pages

Dabney Hedegard believes in prayer. She has seen the results of answered prayer in the face of dire medical diagnosis and horrific physical circumstances.

When the author was six weeks pregnant, a tumor the size of a small football was found in her chest. Not the kind of news a woman in her early twenties is accustomed to hearing. The cancer had been growing for about six months to a year the doctor told her. The standard way of treating cancer like this in Dabney’s condition was to, one, perform an abortion, and, two, treat the cancer aggressively for six months to a year. 

Sounds simple enough. 

Not simple for a Christian, however, who believed her unborn child had as much of a right to live as the mother. Rather than terminate the pregnancy, could the doctor just cut out the cancer?

“Good question,” said the doctor. “But your growth is not one big mass. It consists of tiny pieces of cancer surrounded by scar tissue. It’d be like carving peanut butter out of Jell-O.”

That was the beginning of the fight for Dabney’s life. It was also the beginning of the fight for unborn Madison’s life.

What was unknown at the time was that this was the genesis of a ten year battle with health issues that, for this young couple, became a catalyst for faith that runs deep, a marriage with bonds of steel, and an exquisitely refined prayer life.

Not only do I have the privilege of knowing this author, my wife and I have watched this Dabney and Jason Hedegard walk through a trial that lasted for years. Their faith has been an inspiration, comfort  and example as we’ve experienced troubles of our own. 

This book is a must read. I promise the perspective you gain from reading this book will give you the attitude adjustment everyone around you has been praying for.

Allie's Big Move

Monday, February 03, 2014

The charming and beautiful Susan became very goal oriented about six weeks ago. She determined that Allie was going to start sleeping in her own room in her own bed.

Allie is seven and a half years old and has never slept apart from us since she was a year old. That’s when we became her foster parents. Allie is a severely handicapped child—a victim of shaken baby syndrome. She’s our granddaughter, biologically. She can’t roll over by herself or even self-sooth enough to fall asleep. So for the past six years, my wife and I have been rocking her to sleep, putting her to bed, and sleeping with her through the night so we can help her roll and reposition herself through the night.

That all ended about three weeks ago.

We sure didn’t know what to expect. We eased into it slowly by getting Allie’s room ready. We had been using the second bedroom in our apartment as a guest room. Susan decorated the room in a Minnie Mouse motif to celebrate Allie’s favorite cartoon character.

We got Allie’s room totally ready and then decided Allie needed her own bathroom and should take the master bedroom. Allie has a special bath chair and it makes sense to give her a bathroom that could stay set up for her use. So we un-decorated the guest room room and redecorated the master bedroom in Minnie Mouse. We added safety rails to the queen sized bed, pillow topped bed we have for her, and installed a video monitor so we can keep an eye on her through the night.

We began to prepare ourselves for separation anxiety. Susan and I take turns cuddling with Allie through the night so we braced ourselves for Allie to be upset for the first couple of weeks while she got used to the new set up. Susan ribs me because whenever I’m out of town, I miss sleeping with Allie so much that I can’t sleep. “You’re co-dependent on Allie,” she says. Susan was pretty indifferent. “I won’t need any time to adjust.”

Allie asleep under the watchful eye of a video monitor
Allie did fine the first night. And the second night. And the third. She sleeps for hours most nights, but sometimes wakes up in the middle of the night. She just lays there, her eyes incandescent in the freaky, infrared glow of her video monitor. She’s not scared one bit. I snooze until Susan sends me into her room to put her back to sleep and then I end up snoozing in Allie’s bed. But Allie sleeps, most nights, all by herself more soundly than she ever has. In fact, she’s become difficult to get up for school in the morning which is a total switcheroo from the way it was up until just a few weeks ago. When we were all in the same bed, Allie was the first one awake, ready to go at least forty-five minutes before the alarm went off. Now she’s a big sleepy head in the morning.

Susan is the one that suffers the most from separation anxiety.

Who's on top?

Monday, January 13, 2014

I was a terrible big brother. I picked on my sister and terrorized my little brother. I'd sit on the stairs in our house and not let my sister to the top of the stairs unless she gave me the "password." But there wasn't one. If she tried to get by, I'd push her down. I'm amazed she still speaks to me.

I have to keep up the tough guy act with my younger brother to this day otherwise he'll take revenge on me—well deserved revenge. I was alway much bigger than him but never mature enough to not pick on him. I fear that someday I will get a man's sized serving of what I used to dish out to him when we were growing up. We bullies have to sleep with one eye open.

James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, To the twelve tribes in the Dispersion: Greetings. Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. (James 1:1-4 ESV)

James grew up the kid brother of Jesus in a carpenter's house. But Jesus was not a bully like I was. On one hand, He was probably the big brother anyone could have. On the other hand, He never did anything wrong. I wonder how that was?

I didn't have a "good" brother or sister, but I wonder if I did, would I hold him or her in contempt? Did Mary say to James, "Jesus never has to be asked four times to take out the garbage!" Did Jesus make everybody else in the family look bad? Was there resentment like there was between the sons of Isaac–Jacob and Esau–or the sons of Jacob who sold their brother Joseph into slavery?

John 7 gives us a record of some kind of rift between Jesus and His brothers. They advised Him to go to Jerusalem to make Himself known. "Do some miracles," they said. But Jesus knew that there was a time, a place, and a purpose for that kind of exposure.

Jesus went to Jerusalem to honor tradition and He kept a low profile.

James adopts a low profile, too. James, in his ministry life, has put every hint of sibling rivalry behind him. And he doesn't try to ride on Jesus' coat tails either. When James could assert himself as the guy who grew up under the same roof as Jesus, he chooses a different approach. He doesn't drop a name. James calls himself a servant.

I've had to make many amends in my family. The most productive way to do this is to follow James' example and see myself as the one on the bottom rather than the one on top.

5 components to an Inductive Bible Study

Monday, December 16, 2013

One of the best moves I made in the past few years was jumping into a men's Bible study with a bunch of pretty rowdy, alpha males. All of us were at different places in our walk with Jesus. Between September and December, we worked verse by verse through the book of James using the Inductive Bible Study (IBS) method. The group was led by a man that has been a friend and mentor to me for nearly twenty years.

The IBS method is a great way to study the Bible whether in a group or on your own. It's not totally academic, but it can be. No matter what your level of Bible comprehension is, you pull nuggets of principles and truth from the text that you can immediately apply to your life. In fact, finding a way to apply what you read in the Bible is the purpose of the IBS method.

Here's how it works in five steps:

  • Pick a book.
  • Determine to read and study through the book chapter by chapter beginning with the first chapter.
  • Read a chapter then go back and start working through each paragraph.
  • Observe the paragraph. List your observations. If it helps, list your observations verse by verse.
  • Interpret your observations in context of the paragraph.
  • Apply it. If there is a way to apply what you've observed and interpreted to your life, write it down. Then do it. I list them as "action items."

As we studied through James in our group, I did my best to work ahead and study at home every week. But, admittedly, sometimes I jumped in and read the assigned text just a day or even a few hours before the meeting. I found that what I put into it is what I got out of it. 

Without fail when we as a group started discussing the scriptures and tossing out observations, all kinds of concepts and issues burst to the surface. Every session got super rowdy. It was awesome. Sometimes five guys were talking at once, each one louder than the other. The chaos was a thing of beauty. The Holy Spirit always spoke to my heart through the grid of the scriptures and the banter of the guys as they honestly grappled with the weighty concepts found in the book of James.

Over the next few weeks, I'm going to pull what I learned while working with this group. I've read the Book of James at least twenty times on my own, but I think I learned more in the non-academeic chaos of this group than I ever did before. My next few posts will be my attempt to recapture and process that energy for my own edification.

Feel free to drop in to see if there's anything there for you to gleen.