Friday, October 17, 2008

A Good Word on God's Will

Our good friends, Eric & Shelly, loaned us with high recommendation, The Jesus of Suburbia: Have We Tamed the Son of God to Fit Our Lifestyle? by Mike Erre. They sent us their copy just days after we arrived from Ukraine (with lots of other things for Dietrich and Josie, of course). With all of the other books that I brought home to read and study, I wasn't sure when, or even if, I was going to get to it. But I picked it up yesterday and haven't been able to put it down. I should be done by the close of the weekend. It's very readable but, at the same time, a strong challenge to some of our 21st century Western conceptions of Jesus and Christianity. It helps immensely to have had Mike as a classmate in seminary and to have seen his dynamic oratory style. Images of him preaching the text make it much more alive than it would otherwise be. In any case, the book confronts our culture with the cost of true discipleship and challenges people to put their faith in the Biblical Jesus, not in the mass-marketed, feel-good, meet-my-needs Jesus so prevalent today.

In chapter 2, there is a section about God's will. I think many Christians (including myself for a good stint of my adulthood), at some point, feel the anxiety of whether or not they are doing God's will, stress over how best to know God's will or fear what will happen if they do something outside of God's will. A deep trust in God's sovereignty and several attentive reads through Scripture should help relieve most of these anxieties, stresses and fears. That, and keeping in mind these words from Mike …

"God is more committed to having you walk in his will than you are … Pharaohs stood against God and failed; Nazis and communists have tried to stamp out God's movement and succeeded only in spreading it farther; Caesars and Herods have shaken their fists at God, but no one has ever been able to stop the purposes of God in history. Why then, if we believe God to be that powerful, do we think we can so easily miss doing his will? God is so good, so sovereign, and so caring that he will reveal his will to us if our hearts are open. There are no magic formulas to this, no seven-step lists to memorize, no guaranteed incantations. There is just the simple trust that God will lead us where he wants us to go and we cannot miss it if we simply keep our eyes open." (p. 30-31)

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Just to Wrap Things Up

For the 4th straight postseason appearance, the Angels have been embarrassing to watch. We've been demolished by the opposition — 3 of the 4 times by the Red Sox, hence the hatred — making commentators and critics talk about how much of a fluke it is that we were even in the playoffs. Our lineup and offensive approach get criticized, Mike Scioscia gets labeled an imbecile and Vladimir Guerrero goes home without a World Series ring. It's all very sad, especially when you're coming off the winningest season the Angel franchise has ever known. But, given the events of the previous post, this season's end isn't all that painful; my focus has been understandably elsewhere. I'm only now starting to sit down to watch the game with interest. Needless to say, I'm presently a raging fan of the Rays and yesterday's 9 to 1 victory over the Sox was delightful. Hail Tampa Bay! Of course, I'm already counting the days to next April and am hoping for a great start to the 2009 season for my beloved Halos. I must say, as frustrating as our postseason play has been since 2002, I prefer it to the postseasonlessness of my late 20th century Angels. Dashed hopes are better than no hope at all, in baseball life, at least.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Infinitely Greater Degrees of Everything

It’s not yet been a month and it seems like we’ve been through a year’s worth of experience. On September 16, we found out that the precious little baby that we were expecting, then 20 weeks old, had a 50 percent chance of having Trisomy 18, an almost always fatal genetic disorder. After an ultrasound and consultation with doctors and specialists, we decided to take our home service early and come to the States on September 27. It was discouraging to think about not being in Kyiv for the rest of the semester. I would miss meeting the new students for this year, miss two Talbot-Kyiv Extension sessions and would have to give my Theology IV class (covering pneumatology, ecclesiology and eschatology) to another colleague to teach. But being present for and participating in those things was not worth the prospect of miscarrying the baby in Ukraine and not being around family, friends and our own culture, were such a thing to happen. Heading home was a much easier decision to make than I expected it to be.

But then, on September 25, we went in for one last Ukrainian ultrasound for no other reason than to see the baby one more time before heading to the States. Our hearts were crushed to see our little baby motionless and without that wonderfully fast-paced and ever-so-comforting baby heartbeat. Exactly what we had been hoping and praying against had happened. Our baby had died and we had to deliver him in a Ukrainian hospital that didn’t have an adequate translator and that was thousands of miles from those with whom we would most want to be during a tragic time like this.

We cancelled our return tickets and got Josie settled into the hospital to start the birthing process. The days were long and tiring, especially the ones where I took Dietrich on a 3-4 hour roundtrip ride to see his mommy. God’s greatest blessing during this time was the presence of dear friends Jon and Andrea and their daughter, Joy, who happened to be headed to Kyiv when we heard the news. They graciously extended their stay by 5 days in order to care for Dietrich while I was with Josie in the hospital. (In Dietrich-speak they are now affectionately referred to as Dzat, Anana and Bwueah.) With the exception of the night that Josie gave birth, I made sure I was home in time to put Dietrich to bed, and I slept near him to make sure he was still able to get some dad time during the hard days without mom. It was so hard to lay down at night with Dietrich, knowing that Josie was on the other side of the city, grieving alone.

Then came the life-altering night of Andrei Elijah’s birth. When we went to bed Monday night, Josie’s contractions kept her from actually falling asleep, but I was out like a light. I was startled awake by Josie calling my name. The baby was coming and, being so small, he came very quickly, at about 1:00 AM on September 30. There were some necessary follow-up procedures that took place, followed by 30 of the most bittersweet minutes of mine on this earth. We spent these moments with little Andrei in tears and pain, but cherishing every one as they would be our only time physically and tangibly with him. Every part of him was so small and so full of possibility, but the life was gone. His little arms and littler hands, little legs and littler feet, and his beautiful, beautiful eyes had moved all they were going to. It was painful to give him back to the nurse, knowing that we wouldn’t see him again and knowing that our only memories of Andrei outside the womb would be those we had just had. Heart-wrenching, indeed. We said good-bye to our precious second son, called each of our parents to tell them what had happened and then cried ourselves to sleep at about 3:30 AM.

The days since Andrei’s birth have been indescribable, but I’ll do my best. We finally did wrap things up in Kyiv and made it back to the States on October 5. We’ve enjoyed setting up our temporary home in a trailer on Josie’s parents’ property and especially watching Dietrich have fun on the farm with goats, sheep, cows, Rosie the family dog and, of course, Baba and Papa Miller. He goes to bed exhausted from very active and fun-filled days. But then there are the things that remind us of Andrei, things that make immediately present the pain and loss. Some of these are expected, like when we sit down at the end of the day and look at the pictures that we have of him. Others come out of nowhere and blindside us. While driving home from the airport last Sunday night, the song “You Are My Sunshine” came on and everyone but me started to sing it in an attempt to keep Dietrich awake until we got home. For some reason, I burst into tears thinking about the sentiment of that song’s chorus in relation to sweet Andrei. Now I can’t even think about that song without tearing up. It’s too bad we sing it to Dietrich all the time.

So, we’ve experienced an excruciating month, however, our God has proven Himself close to comfort and ever faithful as we mourn the loss of Andrei. I’ve noticed 4 areas in particular where I’m recognizing, feeling and experiencing things that I’ve never recognized, felt or experienced before, at least not to this degree. Each of them comes from the Lord’s good Hand and it would be improper of me to mention the pain of our experience and not God’s provision in the midst of it all. Here they are, in no particular order:

The Pain of Death
This is an obvious one, but, until Andrei, I had not lost anyone really close to me in such a sudden manner. Cancer and old age have taken many a loved one, but they haven’t come as shockingly in my family as Andrei’s death has to me. Those first days when his death was only a possibility, I held out hope. We have an all-powerful, all-good God, and I had no doubt that He was in sovereign control of our baby. And I didn’t want to grieve without reason, so I prayed and waited expectantly. The Biblical teaching on prayer gave me no other option. Seeing him lifeless on the ultrasound hit me like a ton of bricks. Holding him after he was born hit me like a megaton. There was almost a physical pain that accompanied the emotional pain as we sat there holding a little boy who should be alive and still developing in his mother’s womb. The pain of death is tangibly real to me now.

Hatred of Sin
Sin is the ultimate reason for Andrei’s death. Not my sin or Josie’s sin in particular, but sin in general. We live in a sin-marred, pain-ridden world where dysfunction, death and decay should either not exist, or should not plague humanity the way they do (depending on your creation perspective). God’s handiwork longs for the day when things like genetic disorders will be eradicated and the world will function as it was originally designed (this is at the core of our millennial hope). That sin has manifested itself in taking the life of our son, and I hope to never think of sin in the same way again. As a result of creation’s rebellion against God, our world is cursed. And while God’s grace, salvation in Christ and the Holy Spirit’s indwelling presence allow us to fight against the curse in many ways, we still participate in death-causing rebellion every time we sin. The death of my son will be an ever-present reminder of how serious sin is and will stimulate and strengthen me in the moment-by-moment struggle against it.

Love for Family
As hard as it was to hold Andrei’s lifeless body in my hands, Josie held him inside her. For about 20 weeks she carried him as he grew and developed and was able to feel the first few kicks before he died. I will never know what this is like, but I do know that Josie has a connection with Andrei that I don’t, and that the pain is real to her in a dramatically different way than it is to me. To see her love and concern for Andrei deepens my love for her. The pain of losing him makes her presence that much more precious to me.

And then there is Dietrich. In the presence of a baby who has died, the life of a healthy baby takes on a whole new meaning. Every petty display of my impatience or frustration with Dietrich sickens me now that I have a sense of what life could be like without him. His every move and every word take on a whole new quality and character as manifestations of real life. And very few things are as hard as telling Dietrich how sorry I am about his brother’s death. Josie and I are not the only ones deprived of Andrei; Dietrich has lost someone too, even if he doesn’t yet comprehend it. Oh, how I love my wonderful little boy.

Trust in God
Finally, I am forced by this experience to bow, broken and humbled, before by my all-wise and all-controlling God, my only source of stability in the midst of such heartache. Only He can or will know why Andrei died and, because He is God and I am just a man, that has to be OK with me. And it is OK with me. My faith has been and will be tested as we struggle through the loss of Andrei but, at this point, I can say that God has proven Himself more trustworthy and poured out His lovingkindness on us more lavishly, not less, in the last month. I don’t question and am not angry about God’s decision to allow Andrei’s death. That doesn’t make the pain any less, but it does mean that, at the end of the day, I can say, as my wife did here, “It is well with my soul.” God is faithful, and this is especially important to believe when things are bad. I’m thankful that He is proving Himself such to us at this time.