My “Meme” | Sara Kate Mashaw

Meme2 My grandmother, Sara Kate Mashaw, or as I have always known her “Meme”, was diagnosed with cancer over a year ago and decided not to undergo any surgeries or aggressive treatments. She wanted to let things run their course and continue living her life as normally as possible for as long as possible.

We are now drawing close to the finish line.

This is one of those circumstances that make living far away from family very difficult. There are phone calls, texts and emails but none of those can actually put me by her side saying my goodbyes in person or sitting around the living room with family trading stories through laughter and tears.

Since I can’t be there in person right now. I wanted to take some time to write down a few thoughts and share them for my family and anyone else who would like to read them.

Meme is…

  • The most energetic human being I’ve ever met – Until recently I’ve rarely seen her sitting down for very long. Even when she was visiting us here in Florida a couple months ago and the sickness had clearly taken its toll on her body, she was stubbornly insistent on playing tennis with Kate (our 6 year old). I was terrified about how this was going to turn out but I couldn’t convince her otherwise so we we hit the courts. And formed, what I hope will be, a lasting memory for Kate.
  • A better golfer than I will ever be – Golf is the official past time of my dad’s side of the family. I’ll be honest and say I didn’t inherit their skills but I did pick up a lot from their trash talking abilities as we sat around the dinner table.
  • An adventurous spirit – My grandfather built a sailboat in his backyard (No joke! A really nice sailboat). And they sailed up and down the Eastern Seaboard from Virginia to the Keyes, the Bahamas, etc…. She LOVED the outdoors and travelled a lot, even after my grandfather (“Pops”) had died. She would tell us stories while we were together about her latest travels that always made me feel like my life is WAY to boring.
  • The Greenest of Thumbs – Meme has always loved to spend time getting her hands dirty and cultivating life in the many beautiful gardens and beds around the house. Some of my most vivid memories from childhood are playing in those hedges and trees with my brother and cousins. And as we’ve grown, those same hedges and trees have been a stunning backdrop for many of our most special occasions – weddings, receptions and bridal and baby showers. There is no more nostalgic place on earth for me than that beautiful yard.
  • A Tireless Servant – Meme volunteered at a thrift shop run by her church for as long as I can remember. Literally up until the day that she could no longer physically get around. “Lazy” has never been a word uttered in the same breath with her name. She is the energizer bunny of serving others.
  • A Passive-Agressive Gift Giver – If birthday and Christmas gifts were any indicator… she REALLY wanted her grandchildren to read. I’m pretty sure that every Meme1year of my childhood for birthday and Christmas I got a used book with one dollar bills stuck randomly between the pages. The idea was that we would eagerly read the book and collect the money as we went. What actually happened is we grabbed the book by the spine and shook it until the money fell out. I never read any of those books, but I do actually love to read now, so maybe she influenced me by suggestion.
  • A Humble Follower of Jesus – Meme was committed to Jesus and to her church. Her faith was not loud or self-righteous. It was steady, humble and visible through her compassion and service to others. But someone will say, ‘You have faith and I have works.’ Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. ” – James 2:18
  • A Terrible Liar – Meme would sometimes try to trick us into eating vegetables by disguising their identity, i.e. – serving Okra and telling us it’s french fries. For a while, I just thought she was really bad at making things like french fries but it didn’t take long to uncover the truth.
  • A Thrifty Spender – It was not unheard of for Meme to search the grocery store for damaged items and try to get a bargain price or to make dinner with food that was just a little expired.
  • A Never-wavering source of love and encouragement – As far as grandparents go, I can’t imagine someone more consistent. She was consistently quirky (in the most lovable ways), but most more importantly and more memorably she was consistently encouraging to us.

IMG_1566 I have a deep love and respect for Meme and the more I learn about her life the more that grows. I couldn’t be more proud that our daughter carries part of her name and I pray that our Kate will grow into the same kind of passionate, determined and loving woman as Sara Kate.

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Heavy Troubles & Weighty Mercies :: One Year Ago…

Twin BirthOne year ago today our twin boys were born. It was a beautiful, exciting and nearly tragic day. Just a few short hours after their birth, Erin was bleeding out on an OR table while I anxiously paced the hallways of Labor & Delivery praying with a desperation I’ve never felt before. It was an evening filled with darkness and light, despair and miracles, loneliness and friendship, abandonment and intimacy.

When I think back on that evening and the precarious days that followed, I’m struck by one overwhelming question… Did that really happen? It seems so far away from our reality now. I mean, for a good month or so it was so real I could almost taste it. It was always on the forefront of my mind or at the very least hanging onto the bottom of every thought like some barnacle on the hull of an old ship, showing it’s face for a moment and then diving quickly below the surface again. But now it seems distant, like a dream or something. Buried beneath six feet of diapers, bills and daily responsibilities.

I guess it’s just part of coping with heavy situations, like a defense mechanism or something. I imagine we’d hardly be able to move forward and get anything done if we were constantly aware of how fragile life is and how our entire world could change in the blink of an eye. It would be somewhat paralyzing. Perhaps our heads would explode from the pressure and so we have this little secretary in our brains that prioritizes the stuff that needs to be recalled quickly and moves the rest to the file cabinet in the basement to keep it out of the way.

But there are moments…. Moments when those memories flood back in like a tidal wave. Sometimes I’ll be holding Wyatt and I simply look into his eyes and they bring me right back to that delivery room when they were rolled Erin’s bed out to the OR. I was holding him, my arms were shaking and I couldn’t make them stop.

Sometimes, when I’m visiting someone in the hospital, I have a vivid memory of walking the halls between Labor & Delivery and the ICU in the middle of the night. There was an eerie sort of stillness…well, it may have been the stillness or it could have been the cardboard cut-out of that nurse at the end of the hallway that scared the crap out of me on more than one occasion.

Sometimes when I’m driving at night, I recall the exhaustion I felt while driving over to Winnie Palmer Hospital at 1 am after they loaded Erin into the ambulance.

And sometimes I remember that remarkable omelet I had the next morning from what has to be the greatest hospital food service in the history of health care.

Lately when those memories come back they don’t bring the same emotions they used to. Don’t get me wrong they still bring emotions, very strong ones. They’re just different. They used to be accompanied by feelings of utter gratefulness or sometimes anxiety. And while I still feel those things, they are buried under a different emotion. One I’ve had a hard time putting a finger on, but today I think I figured it out. It’s longing…

In some very strange way, I miss those days and long to go back. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like I’m sitting around thinking “Man, I wish my wife was dying again. That was awesome! I love facing the terrifying possibility of being a single dad of four kids…Good times!” I think that’s why I’ve had a hard time figuring out what I was feeling, it just seemed so odd and out of place. But now I’m starting to understand.

While the circumstances were unimaginably difficult, I have never in my life felt more loved and supported than I did during hours. It was one of the most healing experiences I could ever imagine. I long for the closeness I felt with Erin during those days and nights in the hospital, it was an unexplainable sort of intimacy. I long for the support of our friends and family that was both staggering and profoundly comforting. I long for the intimate and passionate dialogue that I had with God, the almost tangible feeling of being held in the very palm of his hand and the confidence that, even if my entire world came crashing down around, I could trust Him. It was beyond anything I had experienced before or since.

Charles Spurgeon helped me understand these feelings a little better. Not personally, since he’s been dead for quite some time and this isn’t “Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure,” but through his February 12th entry in Morning And Evening:

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“For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also aboundeth by Christ.”  2 Corinthians 1:5

There is a blessed proportion. The Ruler of Providence bears a pair of scales—in this side he puts his people’s trials, and in that he puts their consolations. When the scale of trial is nearly empty, you will always find the scale of consolation in nearly the same condition; and when the scale of trials is full, you will find the scale of consolation just as heavy. When the black clouds gather most, the light is the more brightly revealed to us. When the night lowers and the tempest is coming on, the Heavenly Captain is always closest to his crew. It is a blessed thing, that when we are most cast down, then it is that we are most lifted up by the consolations of the Spirit. One reason is, because trials make more room for consolation. Great hearts can only be made by great troubles. The spade of trouble digs the reservoir of comfort deeper, and makes more room for consolation. God comes into our heart—he finds it full—he begins to break our comforts and to make it empty; then there is more room for grace. The humbler a man lies, the more comfort he will always have, because he will be more fitted to receive it. Another reason why we are often most happy in our troubles, is this—then we have the closest dealings with God. When the barn is full, man can live without God: when the purse is bursting with gold, we try to do without so much prayer. But once take our gourds away, and we want our God; once cleanse the idols out of the house, then we are compelled to honour Jehovah. “Out of the depths have I cried unto thee, O Lord.” There is no cry so good as that which comes from the bottom of the mountains; no prayer half so hearty as that which comes up from the depths of the soul, through deep trials and afflictions. Hence they bring us to God, and we are happier; for nearness to God is happiness. Come, troubled believer, fret not over your heavy troubles, for they are the heralds of weighty mercies.

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In the middle of a trial like no other, I felt a consolation like no other. God and His church carried us when we were at the end of our rope. I am forever grateful to all of you and mostly to Him. I can honestly say I would not trade a minute of our story for anything. It is an inseparable part of who we are. I thank God for the “heavy troubles” and the “weighty mercies” that accompanied them.
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A Few Days In March | Our Story of life, love, heroes, healing, family, friends, providence and pain

72 Hours That Changed Everything

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Coffee Snobbery

Some say I have an unhealthy affection for coffee. I have even been labeled, by some of those people, a “coffee snob” for not joining them in drinking whatever coffee-looking product is being served at the moment. And after I finish shooting poisonous darts at them with my eyes, I calmly remind them that I don’t look down on others for drinking bad coffee, I just choose not to drink it myself. Not because I think I’m too good for that coffee, but simply because it tastes like storm drain water filtered over a pile of coffee-colored garbage. I’m not snobbish or arrogant about it. A snob modifies their behavior as a means of elevating themselves above others. They use their distinctives to put others down. I don’t sit around criticizing other people’s coffee or laughing at how weak it is. I don’t wear a “my coffee can beat up your coffee” t-shirt (although, if someone could produce that shirt, I may perhaps change my mind). I simply value the experience of a good cup of coffee too much to settle for inferior substitutes.

I sincerely believe that most people would feel the same but they’ve only ever had dried out, poorly ground, watered down coffee their entire life and have come to expect that flavor. People are weird like that. We’re all creatures of habit often to our own detriment. We get used to something, regardless of how true it is or how it genuinely makes us feel and we accept it as normal simply because of repetition and familiarity. We’re very slow to open the door to things that are different, even if they’re better. Sometimes even after we’ve been convinced that they are better.

I have, over the years, been something of a coffee evangelist.  Making sincere attempts to open the eyes of others up to what good coffee is supposed to taste like. Explaining how different coffee growing regions produce different flavor characteristics and how you can have entirely different experiences with different types of coffee. “There’s no such thing as simply a cup of coffee”, I’d say, with the soft, introspective inflection of an ancient Tibetan monk. “A cup of coffee is a doorway into another part of the world. It is a hot air balloon that can take you on an epic flavor adventure.” I usually lose them at the hot air balloon part. But if they stick with me and actually learn how to taste coffee, I mean to truly taste it, to let it roll around on their tongue until the different flavor characteristics leap out, then they start to get it. Some of you are beginning to roll your eyes right now. I can feel it. Stop it. It hurts my feelings. But, I understand. If you’ve never sipped a really good Central American coffee and had that bright, sparkly flavor dance on the tip of your tongue like a band of gypsy fairies around a flame, then you wouldn’t get it. You may even decide that it can’t be true. If you’ve never tasted a deep, full-bodied, Indonesian coffee and had the smooth, rich flavor surround your tongue like a warm sleeping bag on a cold night under the stars, then you may be tempted to say that I’m exaggerating. But I’m not. It’s true and it’s extraordinary.

I’m not saying that the first time you try good coffee it will hit you like this. It won’t. The first sip of properly brewed coffee, without the disguises of excessive cream and sugar, will seem overpowering. It will seem strong and offensive. You might even call it, even though I hate this word in relation to coffee…bitter. But I promise you, if you are patient. If you are consistent. If you learn, sip by sip, to appreciate the subtleties, the complexities and the depth it will open up to you a whole world that you never thought possible. It will be a kind of experience that will make you loose interest in that junk you were drinking before, not because you feel like you are better than that or those drinking it, but simply because you’ve tasted something far deeper and richer, something that adds to your life in a way that Folgers Crystals never could.

This is kind of how Christianity works too.

 

 

 

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Lessons in heroism from a six-year old

“I wonder why they’re called storm troopers? They don’t even make storms…” he says, staring up at me through those little glasses, his head resting on a pillow at the foot of the bed. Gavin has come to keep me company as I sit here in the bedroom, still resting and recovering from Wednesday’s surgery. He hasn’t stopped talking for about ten minutes straight, he’s hardly even breathed. The topic has seamlessly transitioned from Star Wars to the Avengers and back to Star Wars again. It’s really quite remarkable. It’s also quite remarkable that he hasn’t noticed the frozen peas that are currently resting in a most unusual place. Or, if he has noticed, he doesn’t seem to think it’s weird.

I love that boy. I love the seriousness in his eyes as he tells me about the Chick-fil-a comic book he just brought home. “See, he isn’t a super hero yet because he hasn’t been trained.” I love how his career goal is, as it has been for the past three years, to be a ninja. He’s constantly daydreaming of adventures, sword fights, super powers, villains and heroes. He wants so badly to be in an epic battle. He wants to save the day. He wants to be great.

In that way, he’s like the rest of us. Only, as we grown older, our adventures seem to have far less compelling story lines and heroes and villains become much harder to distinguish.

In his own innocent way, he reminds me that, while we are no super-heroes, we are all made to do something important. We are meant to leave the world different than we found it. We are called to leave our mark. And although, it seems it’s hard-wired into each and every one of us, we still need to be reminded every once and a while. We need to have those dreams reawakened again. We need to rediscover that sense of idealistic optimism, the child-like wonder that keeps our aspirations from being crushed under relentless waves of busyness, distractions and disappointment.

We are here for a reason. We have work to do. Important work. Work that can change the world, at least the parts of it that we have been entrusted to influence.

Thanks for the reminder buddy… and yes, I do think Wolverine is stronger than Hawkeye.

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Framing The Shot :: Thoughts on our selectively public lives…

On my drive to work I passed, what appeared to be, a photo shoot on the sidewalk of a rather unglamorous road with nothing but shabby looking, overgrown grass on the other side. I gathered it was an engagement photo shoot, from the couple in dressy casual clothes, awkwardly holding each other and trying to smile without laughing. My first thought was I cannot possibly imagine a worse location for a romantic photo shoot. Then I realized the truth that every good photographer already knows. The only scenery that matters is what you include in the frame of your shot.

If you frame the shot right, a pile of old junk becomes rustic charm, a dirty back alley becomes an urban paradise, a few yards of unkept grass becomes an endless golden field. When these photos are released they will tell a completely different story from the reality. It will be a beautiful story. A story of a couple in love watching the sunrise over the grassy hill. And no one besides them and their photographer will have any idea they were on a sidewalk beside Citrus Tower Boulevard a couple blocks from CVS.

It made me start thinking about how we frame up our lives in the same way. We present little snapshots of ourselves, our families, our careers, etc… through status updates, tweets, blogs, and brief surface conversations. All hoping to frame up the shot just right so that none of the ugly stuff makes it in. I’m not saying this in a condemning way, cause I don’t really want to read about or see pictures of everything that stinks about your life on facebook. Although some people do that too, which is really just a different way of framing the shot to get a different kind of response. No one’s life is all good or all bad. Each of us has a huge array of scenery to choose from and it only makes since that we choose the one that gets the reaction we’re looking for…admiration, envy, love, sympathy, whatever.

The problem is, our own lives may seem a little underwhelming when we compare it to the steady stream of perfectly cropped and edited photos unfolding on our computer screen. It can sometimes make us envious or discouraged about our reality because we know all of the good, bad and ugly of our own lives. We know our weaknesses and failures. We know all of the stuff that we try to keep out of the frame and away from the eyes of the world.

One of the things I love about the Bible is how it doesn’t frame up the shot very well on any of its so-called “heroes.” All of them, and I mean ALL of them (with the notable exception of the Son of God) were terribly flawed individuals with only small glimpses of glory mixed in. Abraham tried to give his wife away to save his own tail…twice. Noah went on an epic bender leaving him drunk and naked on the floor of his tent in front of his son. David had a dude killed and took his wife. Peter hid in shame and fear like a coward when Jesus was arrested and crucified. Paul participated in the persecution and murder of Christians before becoming one himself. All of these men and many, many more were tragically flawed. The Bible could have recorded their stories the way most ancient history did, by glossing over the blemishes and only mentioning the great stuff. But can you imagine the crushing weight that it would have put on us. To read stories about great, perfect men and know that we could never be like them. We could never do those things. We could never be that good, that dedicated, that compassionate.

But the Bible doesn’t do that. It shows us the whole scene with all of its glory and horror, whether we like it or not. And it does this to show us a simple yet beautiful truth. God’s love is not reserved for perfect people. It is for jerks, cowards, losers and adulterous murderers. It’s for me, the real me, with all the gritty, embarrassing junk that I keep behind the closed doors and dark hallways of my heart.

The only perfect man who ever lived chose to take the weight of my shame and imperfection on his own shoulders and offer me His perfection as a covering. I don’t have to frame up the shot for Him. He sees the whole thing anyway. I’m free to be weak because Christ was strong for me. I am free to be flawed because He is perfect for me. I’m free to be less than because He is more than enough.

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The Myth of Finding Time

I took a break from writing for a while. I’m sure all of my loyal, devoted readers…I mean reader (love you mom!), probably noticed. I would like to say there was a strategic reason for this lapse, but there wasn’t. I had every intention of writing and simply couldn’t make it happen. I kept telling myself, I’ll probably have more time next week, then I’ll start again.” Or maybe the next week, or the next week, etc…

I was buying into the myth of finding time.

You know that feeling when there’s something that you really should do. Something that you know you need in your life, that you just don’t seem to have time for.  And you keep telling yourself, “One day I’ll find the time to do that.” Well, I’m going to drop some hard truth on you… no, you won’t. You will never “find” time in your schedule for anything more than what you already do. In all of history no one in mankind has ever discovered extra hours to add into his day. No matter how long we live on this earth, we will continue to discover again and again that it still takes the earth 24 hours to spin on it’s axis, no more and no less.

I know people who are legitimately very busy and their lives are scheduled to the hilt. I also know people who do virtually nothing for most of their day. They will both tell you that they are very busy. The only difference is, the first may tell you while driving from one appointment to another and the latter will tell you from his couch while he watches The Price Is Right. But they will both tell you the same thing, “I couldn’t possibly fit anything else into my schedule right now.” And the weird thing is they both feel like it’s true.

Sometimes Erin and I will look back on those days before we had our first kid and we immediately think…what in the world did we do with all that time? But the truth is, we always felt like we had absolutely no time and that we were way over-stretched. And, now with four kids, we have about ten times more responsibilities at home and even more on our shoulders at work and have yet to “find” any additional hours to throw into our day. It turns out that the time to do all of this new stuff was there all along, it was just being filled by other things. Mostly less meaningful things.

About 2000 years ago a guy named Paul, who probably accomplished more in one day than most of us will accomplish in our lifetime, wrote this to the church meeting in Ephesus, ”Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.” In other words, don’t be stupid. Take control of your time or it will take control of you. And, since the world is bent in a way that naturally draws us away from God rather than towards Him, if you just go with the flow it will inevitably lead you away from the way you were made to live in relationship to God, others, ourselves and the world as a whole. It will lead you away from joy and fullness. It will rob you of life.

An empty hour is like a magnet that draws to itself every kind of nonessential, low-priority task that you can imagine. If you don’t plan on how you will spend them they will inevitably fill up with whatever is right in front of you, whether it’s important of not. So, it’s time to stop waiting around to find time and start making time for the things that really matter and are important to you.

Erin’s a planner, and as such, she’s is a big fan of doing practical things like a time budget. This is where you write out the hours that you put into various different things during the week so you can evaluate them and set goals and whatnot. That’s probably the responsible way to do this kind of thing. I prefer to just dive right in. If there’s something that I really believe should be part of my life, and it’s a high priority, I just start doing it and let it push my schedule around a bit. I usually end up reevaluating and making little adjustments here and there but nine times out of ten I find I still get to everything else in my schedule, at least all the things that I really needed to get to.

Every once and a while it will cost you something you enjoy. Something that you like to do that’s simply not as important as the thing you know you need to do. At that point it’s a decision about priorities. Be a grown up and make the sacrifices that you need in the short-term for your long-term health, growth and fulfillment. Maybe you’ll be able to add it back in later. But usually the things you lose are the things you hardly notice and won’t even miss…like a few extra hours of tv, facebook, daydreaming and feeling sorry for yourself because you “just can’t find the time” to do what you know you should…

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Meteor Showers At Midnight :: Thoughts on friends that change you…

I have a theory about friendship. I think we’re drawn to certain people, not just because we like certain things about them, but also because we like the way we are when we’re with them. You know how some friends bring out the funnier side of your personality, while others bring out the adventurous side. You may even have a friend that makes you feel smarter when you’re with them…by the way, you’re welcome. Anyway, I think all friends have the potential to change you in some way when you’re with them, that’s what makes friendship such as powerful force. But there are some friendships that run so deep that they fundamentally change who you are forever. They impact you on an irreversible level. So that for the rest of your life, whether you ever see them again or not, you are different because of them. This is a story about two of those friends.

Me, Paul, Ben & Kyle (with the coconut I yanked from a tree while standing on Kyle’s shoulders)

Paul and Ben were very different from me. They were both remarkably outgoing and seemed to enjoy having a captive audience. Later, I would realize that Ben was actually more of an introvert than I thought and could only keep that kind of thing up for a little while before He would need to withdraw and recharge a bit (something, I’m all too familiar with). Paul, on the other hand, could keep it going indefinitely. I’ve seen him single-handedly entertain a crowd for about two solid hours with, what could only be described as, an impromptu stand-up routine. He was much more of a risk taker than I was, which wasn’t too difficult to achieve. Honestly, when I first met them, during that first week of our Freshman year at Liberty U, I didn’t like them very much. Which is probably true of almost all of my closest friends. Weird, right? I think the things that made us different, made me uncomfortable and maybe even a little jealous. In an ironic way, they are the same things that I would grow to love about them in the years to come.

The following year we were roommates in the on-campus dorms. Paul was always trying to find ways to “make memories.” To do things we would one day want to tell our kids about, which led to some rather bizarre ideas, including the umbrella tree. The umbrella tree was a spontaneous art project inspired by an incredibly windy and rainy day. Hundreds of umbrellas that had been blown inside out and broken were lying all over the campus. It was kind of hilarious. Paul thought it would be great to hang up a ton of them in a really prominent tree alongside the main road through campus. It was a lot more work than I thought it would be and took the better part of our day. But it was worth it, since our tree actually made it in the university newspaper, an art student’s photography project and even earned a threatening announcement at Convo the next day about defacing school property. It was definitely memorable.

One cold morning we walked out of class and Paul saw a snow-capped mountain off in the distance and immediately decided that we had to go there. He had grown up in South Florida and had never seen snow before, at least not real, put on your boots and waterproof pants kind of snow. So, the three of us drove into the mountains until we reached the snow. We played like little kids for hours on that mountain. Throwing snowballs, making snow angels and, I think I even remember an attempt at a snowman.

I could probably fill a couple books with stories of spontaneity from those memorable years. But the most strikingly vivid memory of all was the night of the meteor shower. That morning we had heard there was going to be a meteor shower starting around midnight and that the sky was supposed to be really clear. It was one of those once-in-a-lifetime kind of things.

“Wouldn’t it be awesome to watch the meteor shower from the Peaks of Otter?” Paul said.

“Yeah, that would be awesome!” I said, not realizing what I had just committed myself too.

There were a ton of difficulties with this plan. The meteor shower wasn’t going to start until around midnight and wouldn’t be at it’s most visible point until around 1:30 in the morning. And since Liberty had a midnight curfew (yes, I went to a college with a curfew :-p) we were going to have to figure out a way to be in our rooms at midnight and then somehow get off campus with a car to get there. Not to mention, the hike to the summit of Sharp Top, one of the “Peaks of Otter” in the Blue Ridge Mountains, was about a mile and half long and quite steep. I had probably made the hike at least 4 or 5 times before, but doing it in pitch black darkness was going to be a completely different experience.

The curfew thing turned out to be pretty easy. We just made sure we were seen by our RA in the dorm around midnight and then made our way off campus to the car we had parked there earlier in the day. I don’t normally advocate this kind of dishonesty, but in pursuit of such an epic experience I don’t mind. The three of us loaded into Paul’s Mercury Topaz and took off for the Peaks. When we got there it was cold. Very, very cold! It was about this point when I realized how potentially stupid this plan was.  But I kept my pessimism locked away, pulled out my flashlight and started up the trail.

I think I hit my shins on about a thousand rocks and tree roots that night. I remember being worried about stepping on a snake or something. That is, until Ben reminded us about the potential of mountain lions and black bears that stay away from the busy trail during the day but probably don’t have the same fears after midnight. That was a bit concerning, but to be honest, I felt pretty confident I could take a bear if I had to. They’re so furry and soft. And since cats have always seemed to like me, I wasn’t realIy worried about that either. I was still more worried about the snakes.

If you keep a good pace it’s normally a little over an hour to hike to the top. Moving slowly through utter darkness with a couple flashlights took a bit longer. But we reached the top sometime around 2:30 and the meteor shower was in full effect. We laid there on that mountain for about an hour staring at those streaks of light. They looked so close you could touch them but also seemed so far as to make you feel infinitely small. We were freezing cold, exhausted and very much exposed to a mountain lion attack. But there was no place on earth I would have rather been. It was surreal.

For the trip back down we decided to walk the road that the buses take. It was twice as long but it seemed like we were far less likely to trip and slide down the side of the mountain that way, so we went with it. We had the most personal and revealing conversation we had ever had that night coming down that mountain. You know, the kind of talks you have when you’re descending a mountain at 4am in complete darkness.

We drove back to Lynchburg and slept in the Topaz at the Dollar Theatre parking lot for about an hour and a half. By then the morning classes were starting so we made our way back onto campus and crashed in our dorm until lunchtime. It was one of the most memorable nights of my life.

I thank God for the friends that He has brought into my life. Especially the ones, like Ben and Paul, that have pushed me out of my over-cautious and introverted comfort zone and made me a better and more balanced person. I needed that. I’ve been blessed to have a lot of these in my life. In fact, I married my favorite one 🙂

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Thirty-Three :: Thoughts on my “Jesus Year”

Today I’m 33. Well, today and the next 364 days. I’m pretty sure the 10-year old me would call me old, but he was a punk so I don’t really care much about what he thinks. I don’t feel old at all. It’s not like I’m 35 or something!

A British website did a survey a few months ago, asking a ton of people over forty at what age they felt the happiest. You would think that the majority would say they were happiest in their twenties or something. But 70% said 33. How random is that? It kind of puts a lot of pressure on me for this year. What am I going to do with the “happiest” year of my life? If this is the peak and everything else is downhill, where will I peak at?

Reading that reminded me of my friend Bryan. He turned 33 a couple years ago and someone told him it was his “Jesus year” so he could go wild and do whatever he wanted. We thought that sounded a little strange, since it didn’t seem to be what Jesus did with His “Jesus year.” In fact, it kind of seems like the opposite of what you should do with your “Jesus year.” Maybe your “Jesus year” should be the year of ultimate self-sacrifice. The year that you deny yourself things that you want and do the hard things you don’t want to do. Or maybe not…

Desire is a tricky thing. There are multiple levels to our desires and they’re often at odds with each other. There are surface desires – those things that we want right now that would make this moment in time more enjoyable. They’re typically short-lived and often promise more than they can actually deliver. Then there are deep desires – those things we desperately long for in the deepest parts of our soul. These usually take a lot of time and effort to cultivate. Things like the desire to know and be known, to love and be loved. The desire to raise our kids well and to have a great marriage. The desire to know God and make Him known. These are all deep desires. And to truly pursue these deep desires we’ll inevitably have to deny ourselves a lot of surface desires. We do this kind of thing all the time, or at least we know we should do kind of thing all the time. For example, you may have a strong desire to eat a Chick-Fil-A cookie everyday, because they’re so freakin’ delicious, but if you have a deeper desire to be healthy so you can live a longer and more fulfilling life, then you’ll probably want to check those daily cookie cravings.

The truth is you’ll have to kill a million lesser joys in pursuit of the truly great joys in life.

So, maybe I should “do whatever I want” and pursue joy with reckless abandon during my “Jesus year.” As long as I’m not selling myself short by settling for the thousands of little, short-term, pseudo-joys that will ultimately cost me the things that I want the most.

Actually that sounds a lot like what Jesus did…

“Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the JOY that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame…” (Hebrews 12:2)

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18 Years From Now…

Who will Luke and Wyatt be when they grow up, move out and hit the world on their own two feet (or four feet, collectively)? What passions will drive them? What character traits will define them? What mark will they leave on the world?

As a part of Baby Dedication at our church we challenge families to parent with the end in mind. So often we parent by reaction, making split second decisions based on whatever is going on right now. Whatever situation or need is directly in front of us. We rarely spend time reflecting on the long range goals that we want for our kids.

When we don’t have a long range picture in our mind, we tend to make decisions based on questions like: How can I make them happy right now? How can I keep them from being made fun of or being hurt? How can I make them think their dad is cool (who am i kidding…this one’s easy)? Or any other number of questions that seem very crucial and important in the moment but will inevitably prove to be far less significant in the long run.

The truth is, sometimes the greatest lessons they will learn will be through being hurt or being made fun of. Sometimes they will tell me that they hate me because I am more dedicated to guarding their heart than I am to being liked by them. Sometimes what will make them the happiest in the short term will make them miserable in the long term.

So, all that being said, here’s a brief list of a few things we are hoping, praying and aiming for as parents to Luke and Wyatt:

  • We hope that you will be able to sleep through the night and use the bathroom by yourself 🙂 (Okay so, this one’s not quite so long term…but it sure seems important)
  • We hope you will be deeply grounded in your faith and that your passion for following Jesus will challenge and push us, as your parents, to trust God more.
  • We hope you will learn from your mistakes and know you are deeply loved, even in your darkest and stupidest moments
  • We hope you will truly enjoy life. Being able to laugh at yourself and the situations you find yourself in.
  • We hope that your joy will run deeper than your circumstances. That you would see through the lies that this world will whisper in your ear, telling you that you need to be smarter, stronger, richer, more attractive, or more powerful. That you would find all that you truly need in the love and grace of Jesus.
  • We hope that you will be independent and courageous. Standing up for what is right and what is true even when it’s difficult and unpopular to do so.
  • We hope that you will know what it means to love, cherish and respect a woman and that you will be patient as you wait for the one you will walk through life with.
  • We hope that, as you grow and mature, that your relationships with your brothers and your sister would do the same. That you would laugh with each other when times are good and lean on each other when times are bad. That you would find, in each other some of your deepest and most significant friendships.
  • We hope that you will be the kind of Dad that your kids will be proud of. That you would live a life worth emulating, as they will certainly walk in your footsteps.

Really, most of these are not specific to Luke and Wyatt and are goals that we have for all of our kids. As they grow older and we begin to better recognize their distinct giftings and personalities, we hope to make more detailed and specific goals for each of them.

Hopefully reading this may spark some thoughts for your own family. I encourage you to write those things down and share them with others and even with your kids someday. I know I really look forward to handing our kids a ton of letters, blog posts, and notepads that we have written throughout their lives outlining all of the hopes and dreams Erin and I had in our hearts from each of them.

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A Few Days In March :: Our story of life, love, heroes, healing, family, friends, providence and pain

I’ve been planning on writing this for some time now but I knew I had to get the timing right. Letting enough time pass that I could actually tell the story in it’s entirety and not feel overwhelmed or crushed by it, but not letting so much time pass that I’d forget some of the experiences and feelings that were so defining during those uncertain days and nights.

Also, I‘m breaking the cardinal rule of blogging by posting something that is ridiculously long. It may be helpful to think of it more as a really, really short book as opposed to an absurdly long blog post. But this story, in all of its detail, has become very important to us and we wanted it written down so we could look back on it, remember how it changed us and, one day, share it with our kids. We also wanted to lay everything before all of you as we have been seeking to live transparent lives. There are parts of this story that do not shine brightly on me. They show me in my weakest and most frightened moments. I share them so that, in some way, my weaknesses will show Christ to be strong.

I hope that this story resonates with you. I hope it makes you grateful and helps you to see life differently, as it has done for us. But mostly I hope it points you to the God who has been so faithful and loving to us, each and every day of our lives, and not just in the shiny, happy ones.

Since it’s a little long, I’ve provided a PDF copy here – A Few Days In March – If you’d prefer to print it out and read it.

 _____________

Alone

It was sometime after 1 AM on Thursday. I’m not really sure when exactly. The room was completely dark, with the exception of the streetlights outside streaking through the blinds and across my face. I laid there, staring at the ceiling, my head on a stiff, hospital issue pillow that was now soaked from tears, sweat and any other fluids that accompany extreme emotion. There was a bitter taste in my mouth beginning to make me nauseous. I assume it had something to do with the adrenaline still coursing through my body after the horrific events of the last several hours. I was alone.

Just about 36 hours earlier, I was in the car listening to Fun’s Aim and Ignite album when one of my favorite tracks, “The Gambler,” came on. It’s a surprisingly beautiful and moving song in the middle of an otherwise upbeat album. It tells the story of a man and a woman who fall in love, get married, have children and grow old together. It’s a truly captivating song with a very dark and unexpected turn in the middle…

To think that I nearly lost you
When the doctors tried to take you away.
Like the night you took my hand beside the fire
30 years ago to this day

You swore you’d be here ’til we decide that it’s our time
Well it’s not time, you never quit in all your life.
So just take my hand, you know that I will never leave your side…

I haven’t been able to listen to that song since then. I didn’t know it at the time, but those lyrics would haunt me for the next several days. Providing a somewhat torturous soundtrack for the darkest moments of my life.

Mountains And Valleys

Tuesday afternoon, around 5 PM, Erin and I headed to the hospital. Her doctors had decided to induce labor because of some tests that had come back showing she was pre-eclamptic. We were excited and grateful since she was exhausted from carrying these two babies for the past 38 weeks and I was pretty tired of driving down to the hospital every couple days just to sit around for a few hours and be sent home. The excitement soon turned into extreme boredom, as the next 20 hours were rather uneventful. Although we did have a witty, extroverted nurse named Stacy to keep us company most of the day on Wednesday.

Extroverts are amazing in situations like that. I would be the worst nurse ever. I’m super-uncomfortable around new people, not to mention my medical knowledge extends about as far as my interest in cats. Just to be clear…not far.

Stacy kept telling us that she tries to never remember patient’s names because she doesn’t want to accidentally violate patient privacy laws…something about hippos. Not sure what the hippos will do to you, but I hear they are vicious animals and surprisingly agile. Anyway, Erin was determined to be remembered. So, it became a running joke throughout the day. Needless to say, Stacy remembers Erin now.

Around 1 PM the following day our twin boys, Luke and Wyatt, were born. It was really a remarkable event to watch. I’d seen the birth of both of our other children but this was something altogether different. It was like a choreographed group dance. There were a lot of people in the room, each playing specific roles and trying not to step on each other’s toes. We were really excited that Dr. Lewis-Boardman was able to be there. (Who, by the way, will henceforth be referred to as Dr. Lewis #1 for brevity’s sake and to avoid confusion in the storyline. But don’t call her that in person though, it would probably be weird.) Not only is she at the top of our favorite doctor list, she’s also quite experienced at turning babies in utero during twin births, which is exactly what we needed. Another Dr. Lewis, who we also like but only just recently met, was actually the one who delivered the babies. Luke came out first without a hitch. Then Dr. Lewis #1 was able to turn Wyatt, who was breech at the time, so both babies could be delivered without a C-section. In retrospect, this probably saved Erin’s life, knowing what we know now about DIC. Altogether the delivery was perfect. Well, Erin may not call it perfect since her epidural wasn’t really working and she was in excruciating pain. But I felt great, so from my perspective, it was perfect.

We were both breathing sighs of relief. We had made it through. All the things we had feared were behind us and now we could just relax and enjoy getting to spend some quality time with our boys. We returned to our room, introduced my parents to their newest grandchildren. And simply enjoyed our first few hours together. We were both exhausted. So my parents decided to go back to the house to let us get some sleep. And so we settled in to take a nap, completely unaware that all hell was about to break loose.

We never really got to sleep. Erin wasn’t feeling very good and what had started as a little more blood than expected was quickly becoming a much bigger concern. Dr. McLean came to our room to check things out for herself. Erin was dosed with a pretty hefty drug that sent her into a rather loopy/sleepy state for the examination. The doctor found, what seemed to me, to be an insane amount of blood clots that had formed. Shortly afterwards, she made the call to take Erin into the OR for a DNC procedure that would most likely get rid of whatever it was that was causing the bleeding and clotting. And while this wasn’t routine, it still seemed that the situation was under control and not too serious yet. At least it seemed that way to me, maybe I was in denial, I’m not totally sure. But, when they rolled the bed out of the room and left me sitting on that stiff hospital couch holding Wyatt in my arms with his brother in the crib close by, it almost seemed like someone whispered in my ear…”Brace yourself, this is not what you think it is.”

Waiting

My knees were shaking as I paced around the room. I was sure I was over reacting and just needed to relax. I kept telling myself that I didn’t need to be overly concerned yet. But that freakin’ song was cycling through in my head. My parents called and asked if they should come up to the hospital and I told them, yes. I really didn’t want to be alone at that point. Shortly after they arrived, we were transferred out of the Labor and Delivery room and over to a Postpartum room. It was eerily spacious and empty without a big hospital bed in the middle of it. We moved all our stuff, providing a brief distraction from the waiting, which I was grateful for. But I could still feel my heart racing. I just wanted to know something. I don’t know how long it had been but it felt like an eternity. And then the double doors in the hallway opened.

Dr. McLean walked out and when my eyes met with hers my heart hit the floor. I immediately saw from the look in her eyes that I was not going to want to hear what she had to say. She called me over and I could feel my hands beginning to shake. “She’s not doing well. It doesn’t look good.” Every word felt like a kick in the gut with a steel-toed boot. I remember feeling my whole body shaking and being unable to control it. As we sat down, she began to explain that Erin was losing blood very fast and that they had cleared out everything they could and it wasn’t stopping. She told me that they were replacing her blood with donor blood as fast as possible but it was just running straight through her because her body had exhausted all of it’s clotting factors. She explained that they had ordered plasma and all that they needed to replace the clotting factors but that the blood bank is in Orlando and they were still about 40 minutes out. I began to feel hopeful, thinking that 40 minutes wasn’t that long. But then she continued, explaining that unless something happened to stop or dramatically slow down the bleeding than she wouldn’t live that long. And then came the words that you know are true but you never want to hear from a surgeon…”We are doing everything we can but it’s in God’s hands.”

My head was spinning. I walked back into the room with my parents and began to try and explain the situation. I struggled to speak. I called Brian, my pastor and friend, and let him know what was happening. He told me they were on their way. I knew my next call had to be to her parents. This was the hardest phone call I’ve ever made in my life. How do you tell someone their daughter is dying? Especially knowing that her father had walked through the death of his own wife when she was the exact same age that Erin was now. Her mom answered the phone. I choked back tears as I tried to explain the situation to her. I could hear her crying as she passed the phone to Allen. He could tell the situation wasn’t good and I did my best to explain it to him but I was having a hard time holding it together. He began to pray for me. As he prayed I knew that his heart was breaking too but that he was being strong for me. He had been in my shoes and he knew how I felt. After he was finished, I began to pray for him. There was something powerful that happened during that phone call, something that grounded me.

From the moment I first heard the news from the doctor I knew that no matter how this turned out that it would be a defining moment for me, for my family and for so many that knew and loved us. I remembered the times when Erin and I had prayed that God would use us to show people what it means to trust in God and to walk in faith. How we had said that, no matter what the cost, we wanted to point to Him as our source of hope even if it meant suffering. I thought immediately about the many people that I’d had the privilege of watching in the midst of suffering and confusion. Those who had taught me what it meant to trust God when He really was truly all you had to hold onto. And I knew that this situation, no matter how it turned out, even if it cut me to the core of my soul, was going to be about God’s glory.

I walked back into the room with my parents and a close friend who had just happened to show up right in the midst of the storm and we began to pray. I pleaded with God to save her. For my sake. For our children’s sake. For all those that she has poured herself out for in ministry, in counseling and in friendship. I pleaded with Him to show His strength by reaching into her body and restoring it. I decided at that point that I needed to share the situation on Facebook and ask our friends to pray along with us. I had no idea the extent of the reach that decision would have and I wouldn’t really know until the next day just how far that request carried and how many thousands of people would be dropping to their knees that evening asking God to heal.

Strange Comfort

It was strange. I was surrounded by people who loved me but I still felt isolated and alone. It was surreal, like a dream. I felt like I was standing on the outside of the situation watching all these people walk through this together but I was actually somewhere else. Somewhere no one else could get to.

I remember detaching from the group and just walking around for a while, pacing the hallways. There were some things that I needed to voice to God that were much more private. I didn’t want everyone else in on this part. I needed it to be just He and I. I asked for the strength to make it through if she died. I asked that He would somehow provide for my children the father that they would need to get them through this, because I didn’t feel like I could do it. I began to think about what I would say when I had to tell Gavin and Kate that their mommy wasn’t coming home. I started to break down. I pushed the thought out of my mind. “We’re not there yet” – I kept telling myself. I began to wonder if I could stay in Clermont or if I would need to move closer to family. I thought about being a single dad of four kids, two of whom were infants. It seemed impossible and overwhelming. I began to think that I might never hear Erin’s voice again. I may never feel her arms around me again. I began to lose it.

And it was then that the Spirit began to speak into my heart. It was like He broke through into that space that I thought no one else could enter into. He brought to mind truths about God that I knew but had never really had to trust like this before. He reminded me that He was in control that evening. That He held Erin in his hands, along with me, and all of our children. That He “works all things according to the counsel of his will (Ephesians 1).” That this was not beyond Him. He reminded me that He had ordained all of my days before I ever knew one of them (Psalm 139:16). And “that in all things God works for the goodof those who love him (Romans 8:28).” All things! Even in this, God was working for my good. I knew that if she died that evening it would be because that was what God wanted. If she were taken from me, it would be God who took her. He was simultaneously my antagonist and my only hope. And knowing that, in a strange way, brought me extraordinary comfort. I needed to know that. I needed to know that this was not random. That this was not a situation that God could simply empathize with but ultimately do nothing about. That He was a God who, according to His own words, could and would ultimately work tragedy into joy…my joy…my children’s joy. That somehow, in some way, whatever happened would be what was best, whether I understood it or not.

That’s not to say that if she had died I would have responded with some Zen, stoic sense of “Well, that’s okay. I’ll get over it.” I’ll be honest, if she had died that night, there would have been some very deep, raw and emotional conversations between God and me. We would have had words about that decision. It may be His will but it was not mine and it would definitely take a while for me to come to terms with that. But even in that part of me that was starting to bow up against my Creator, I still knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that he held me in the palm of his hand and he would not let me fall. His sovereignty was a warm blanket for me that night. It was the only thing that gave me comfort and strength. It was all I had to lean on and I can tell you from experience that it was more than enough.

A new song began to run through my mind, Matt Redman’s “Never Once.” The melody and lyrics sank deep into my heart and comforted me that evening.

Heroes And Healing

I returned to the room and sat down and waited. Waiting to hear if my best friend was still alive, if I would ever speak to her again. Waiting to hear if my kids still had a mom. Waiting…

My pastor, Brian, and his wife, Tandy, showed up about this time. They prayed with me and with my family. It meant the world to me that they were there. That they had left in the middle of their Life Group discussion (on the issue of human suffering, of all topics) and rushed over to be with us.

A short time later, the doors opened again. I swear my heart stopped beating. It was the moment that I had been anxiously waiting for and dreading all at the same time. Dr. McLean and Dr. Texier, who had not even been working that evening but came in to assist when things started getting crazy, emerged into the hallway…with big smiles on their faces.

I felt a huge weight begin to lift as I came over to meet them. They walked me back through the hallways to the recovery wing to see her. On the way, they explained some of the details of what went down in that OR. At one point comparing it to the movie 300, trying to explain the amount of blood that was all over the room, the floor, and on the doctors and nurses. Dr. McLean then described what ended up saving Erin’s life. It’s called a Bakri Balloon, and as far as I can tell, it’s little more than an elaborate water balloon that they inflated inside the uterus to apply pressure and stop the bleeding. It’s still a relatively new procedure and she had never actually used one before. She had read about it in a medical journal some time ago and somehow remembered it in the midst of the chaos. The hospital happened to have one, and so, with instructions in hand, they performed the procedure. It slowed down the bleeding enough to keep her alive until the plasma arrived which they had started her on and which seemed to be stopping the bleeding. She was currently stable and actually awake in the recovery area.

I am forever grateful to the doctors and nurses who fought in the OR that night to save Erin’s life. They are heroes. Now, as I said earlier, I whole-heartedly believe that it is God who gives and takes away life and that ultimately Erin’s alive because He wanted her to be. But, whereas sometimes God uses miraculous and supernatural means to heal, other times He miraculously uses the competent hands and brilliant minds of doctors and surgeons. I believe that this was the latter. Still miraculous, still a healing in every sense of the word, but the means He used was orchestrating events in such a way that the right doctors were in the room with the right knowledge and skills and the right presence of mind to think creatively under extreme stress. I thank God for those doctors and others like them who work tirelessly to be excellent at their jobs.

I have said it before but I want to say it again, we absolutely love these doctors more than they could ever realize. If our twins had been girls, they would be named Kristina and Mary Beth (No offense to the other doctors in the practice, but, there’s only two babies in this fictional scenario and we’ve known them longer. Now, if we were having girl quintuplets…Uhhh, actually that sounds scary beyond all reason. I don’t want to think about that.) Moving on…

Brian was able to come back with me to see Erin and talk with her for a while before they moved her over to the ICU. I could tell it was all very odd to her, having no idea the gravity of what had just happened. She was really confused when I told her that her parents were driving down in the middle of the night, and that people from our church where filling up the waiting rooms praying for her. At one point she started to talk to Brian about work related stuff and he just laughed at her and said, ”Uhhh, I think we can talk about that later.” It was strangely normal. She was still a little loopy from the anesthesia and quite sleepy, but very much herself. We left her alone to get some rest and returned to the room to fill everyone in on all that had happened and how she was doing. It was a feeling of relief that was unlike any I have ever felt. Like that first gasp of air after you’ve been holding your breath for a long time.

After they transferred Erin over to the ICU, they came and walked me over to see her again. When we got there I met her “doctor.” He was a robot. I kid you not…a robot. Apparently the ICU Intensivist Doctor for the night shift is an upgraded version of Johnny 5 with a webcam and a LCD screen for a head. On the other side of that screen/camera is, who I assume to be, a very qualified doctor with a remote control, who is monitoring patients throughout the evening hours. It was weird. He filled me in on her current status, although I don’t remember anything he said; only that he was a robot. That’s legitimately all I remember about that encounter.

I sat with Erin for a while but she kept going to sleep so I decided to head back over to the Labor & Delivery wing where the babies were and let her get some rest. I got some sheets and made the bed/couch thing in the room about as comfortable as possible and tried to shut my eyes.

Now we are back around to where this post started.

 Together

As I lay there on that stiff couch and wet pillow I couldn’t help but feel like a part of me was somewhere else. I couldn’t sleep. After what had happened that night I couldn’t stand to be on this side of the hospital while Erin was on the other. I had all but decided to head over there when the phone rang. It was Erin. It seemed that the medication was starting to wear off and she was much more awake than she had been. She asked if I could come over to see her and I told her that I had already started getting some things together. So I cleared it with the nurses, who graciously offered to take care of the babies throughout the night and on into the next day so I could go be with Erin and not worry about them. I felt conflicted about leaving them but I just couldn’t handle being away from her that night.

When I got to her room, there were tears in her eyes. I could tell that things were starting to hit her. We looked on Facebook together and read many of the things people had shared and prayed for us. It was quite humbling. We felt very grateful and deeply loved. We sat there for a while just holding hands and crying. Then I set up camp in a small plastic chair with a pillow pressed between my head and the wall and I can say, in all honesty, that there was no place I would have rather been.

Family

Erin’s parents arrived sometime around 4 in the morning. They came up to the ICU and we spent a few hours together. I told and retold the story, as much as I understood it, and we just talked and prayed and laughed together. I could tell it meant a lot to Erin that they had come down all the way from Atlanta that night. And they told us that her brothers and sisters were all making arrangements to come down too. She needed them there. More than we knew at the time. What we didn’t know is that her situation was actually getting worse throughout the night and we were about to get a pretty harsh wake up call.

 Good Morning, You’re Dying

Sometime around 6 AM or so, the ICU Intensivist (not the robot…a real one) stopped by. He began to explain what had happened throughout the night and tried to relay to us the precariousness of Erin’s current state. She had a blood disease called DIC. It is very dangerous and typically deadly. She had survived the night only because of the balloon and the donor plasma they were pumping into her. It was a lot to handle first thing in the morning and I don’t know that we totally grasped what he was trying to tell us.

Later, Dr. McLean came by and filled in some of the gaps for us. She had apparently stayed up all night ordering tests and reviewing results. She was very concerned that the fibrinogen levels in Erin’s blood were so low and getting lower. The tests she ordered revealed that her suspicions were correct and Erin had DIC. She explained that they were going to have to stop the donor plasma and keep testing her blood throughout the day to see if her body was going to be able to improve on it’s own, showing that she was actually recovering. If not, we were still going to be in for a rough road ahead. She also explained that they would need to remove the balloon in a couple days and that, even if the levels in her blood were much better, there would still be a risk of possible emergency surgery if she began to bleed out again.

I started to taste that familiar flavor in my mouth again. The shaking was starting up and I could feel my anxiety rising. I was trying to remain very positive in front of Erin, but inside I was screaming. I wasn’t sure how I was going to make it through this day, after such a struggle the night before. I was emotionally spent and physically exhausted. That’s when I got a call from Erin’s dad that they had brought the babies over to our room and I had to get back over there to feed them and start the day with them. I was deeply conflicted. I wanted to be here with Erin but all we could do at that point was wait. And I had responsibilities to get back to. We had two new babies and they needed me too.

That day progressed slowly. I went back and forth between the two wings of the hospital. Family and friends stopped in and out, some staying throughout the day to help take care of the babies. At one point, the Director of Patient Services for the entire hospital actually helped me take the babies up to the ICU to see Erin. It was apparently a controversial decision but we couldn’t be more grateful. It meant the world to Erin to get to see them and hold them again.

The first test results came back. They were good. The levels were up a little. It wasn’t great news but it was decent news. They ran the next set of lab tests and we waited the rest of the day on that. They came back even better. It seemed that her body was recovering and we were at least headed out of the woods.

They let her out of the ICU that evening and took her down to our room on the other end of the hospital, where a room full of friends and family awaited her arrival. Now that may sound overwhelming to some of you. I know it would be for me. But you have to understand my wife. She thrives off interaction with people. It was perfect for her. We even had Paula, who had been watching Gavin and Kate for us, bring them up to meet the babies for the first time. It all felt wonderfully normal.

Then the phone rang…

Decisions, Decisions

It was Dr. Lewis (#1). She was calling to explain our options for the following day. I think I had all but forgotten that we weren’t done with this yet. Everything had started to feel so normal. It was kind of a shock back into reality. Like being at a party in college and then remembering that you have a huge exam or a speech the next day that you haven’t prepared for. We still had to get this balloon out and she had to survive it.

The doctor laid out two options for us. The first was to stay at this hospital for the procedure to remove the balloon. If we chose this route, and the bleeding started again, they would have to perform an emergency hysterectomy as a back up measure. The other option would be to transfer her to Winnie Palmer Hospital in Orlando the next day and have the balloon removed there. In that case, the back up measure would be a much less invasive procedure called an embolization.

Looking back on it now, it really doesn’t seem like that difficult of a decision, but at the time it seemed really hard to choose. Probably because it was the first decision we actually had to make about any of this. Up until that point all of the choices were made for us. There was no real option on Wednesday night about whether I wanted to let her bleed to death or have the doctors try to save her. There were no choices to be made about how to manage or treat the DIC. We were essentially just along for the ride. I guess, on some level, there were choices. I could have stopped treatment or refused blood transfusions or something else crazy, but there was no reason for me to not trust the doctors and just follow their lead.

It’s a very uncomfortable feeling to choose something with that kind of gravity associated with it. “If you start dying, how do you think we should stop it?” Even though the odds seemed to be in our favor on this one, which was a welcome change, I, in no way, felt competent to make that choice. I just wanted someone to tell us what to do. About an hour or so later, after a lot of our company left, we ended up calling her back and asking as many questions as we could think of about the procedures. Her husband, himself a General Surgeon, even chimed in on a few points to help us understand the risks associated with each. It was tremendously helpful and I couldn’t be more grateful for her patience with us. In the end we decided to go ahead with the transfer.

It was about this time that Erin’s brothers and sisters started arriving. They had driven and flown in from various parts of the country to be with her. It was good to see them and, even more so, to see her with them. It seemed like she was able to relax in a way that she hadn’t been able to up to that point. Their family has been through a lot of heavy and difficult circumstances and it’s given them some amazing coping mechanisms. My favorite is how they make jokes about, what are actually, very sad and/or frightening situations. Her brother John texted Erin earlier that day, before they boarded the plane, “Okay, since you’re not dying anymore, and we’re already headed down there. Do you think you could score us some tickets to Disney?” At the time it was a very refreshing break from the heaviness of the day. I love being a part of this family. They are one of the reasons we decided to have a bigger family of our own.

It wasn’t long before Dr. Lewis called back and told us that there was only one open bed available at Winnie, and if we wanted to it, we had to do the transfer tonight. This meant we’d have to leave the babies at the hospital, since they hadn’t been discharged yet. It also meant we weren’t going to sleep any time soon, which was heartbreaking at the time. We decided to go ahead with the transfer anyway and I worked out a plan with the nurses. They would keep the babies overnight and I would follow Erin over to Winnie Palmer. In the morning, I would come back, after the discharge had been signed off on by the pediatrician and take the babies to our house, where my parents and Erin’s sisters-in-law would take care of them so I could go back to the hospital to be with Erin.

Dr. Lewis came up to the hospital to complete all the paperwork for the transfer and she stopped in and talked with us for a long time and made sure we understood what was going to happen and when. As always, she was incredibly friendly, especially considering she had to come up there at midnight.

Erin’s brothers and sisters helped load up our stuff in the van and helped us work through the plan for the next day, with the baby transfer and whatnot. And about an hour or so later, Erin was loaded into an ambulance and I was driving the van over to Winnie Palmer. I was extremely tired. I think the lack of sleep was finally catching up to me. As the lines on he turnpike began to blur, I prayed that I could stay awake on the drive. The last thing we needed right now was a car accident. I began to pray for all of the things that were supposed to happen the following day and asking if we could please just have 24 hours without more complications and bad news.

I got there safely and made it up to her room in the WICU. They rolled in a cot for me to sleep on. It wasn’t much but it felt like heaven at the time. It was easily the best sleep I’d had in 3 days.

Goodbye, Balloon

I woke up to the sound of Erin’s phone playing the song “Healer.” Someone had sent it to her in a Facebook message. It’s a song we both knew well, but it had never meant so much as it did now. I could also hear that she was crying. It was a good cry, the kind of cry that you have when you’re simply too grateful for words to express. I know that cry because we’d both had them over the past several days.

The morning started out pretty good. I did my normal wet cloth in the sink bath, which pretty much just consisted of washing my face and hands so I didn’t look quite as dirty as I was at the time. I changed my shirt and headed downstairs to grab some coffee. I found they served Starbucks coffee at the food court downstairs, which was a delightful bonus. I thanked God for His gracious provision and made my way back upstairs. I ordered breakfast from a menu they provided in the room (seriously, this hospital is hooked up). I think I had a spinach and cheddar omelet or something. It was all pretty amazing. Like staying at the Hilton. Except they keep coming in and taking blood and whatnot, which is not like the Hilton.

Dr. McLaughlin showed up early that morning to begin the process of removing the balloon, which was basically just draining fluid from it in stages throughout the day. She started by draining about half of the fluid and…nothing happened. No bleeding. Not even a little. It was a huge relief. Now we just had to wait a few hours until the next stage.

Erin’s parents, brothers and sisters all came up to join us at the hospital. The nurses were beyond gracious to let, as many as, ten people stay in the room with her at one time. I couldn’t be more grateful to them for allowing it.  The time spent with her family was incredibly therapeutic for her. They laughed and told stories for hours. It made the time pass much quicker and took her mind off of everything.

The babies’ discharge went smoothly and quickly. The nursing staff at South Lake went out of their way to be helpful and had everything ready for us. I really LOVE those nurses. I dropped the babies off at the house, kissed them on their heads and headed back to the hospital. I hated to leave them again, but it made it easier knowing I was leaving them with family who already loved them so much.

When I got back to the hospital, Erin told me that the balloon had just come out. It happened rather quickly and was quite unexpected. She had a few contractions and delivered a partially deflated balloon. She said that she and the nurse kind of waited for a minute to see if anything was going to happen. But nothing… It was wonderfully anti-climactic.

The rest of the day was just waiting. Eventually a doctor would come by to check everything out and make sure, but it all seemed like it was all over. Finally.

Homecoming

We didn’t get discharged until the next day. Dr. McLean had come by that evening and checked everything out and agreed that the dangerous part was over but she said that they still needed to treat her for the pre-eclampsia that had brought on the induction in the first place. And, ironically, she was now at a higher risk for blood clots because of all the clotting agents they had pumped into her body. So we stuck around until the next day when she signed off and let her go.

After she left the room that morning I followed her out. I wanted to let her know how grateful I was for all that she had done for us. There were hardly any words to communicate how I felt. I don’t really remember what I said but I’m pretty sure I crossed some professional boundaries and gave her a hug.

Shortly afterwards, we were loaded up in the van and headed home. It was over…for real this time.

Grace In The Aftermath

The aftermath of this story has been just about as amazing as the events themselves. We have heard story after story of people who were deeply touched by what happened and how God used it to stir something up in them, whether it was renewing their passion for Him, for their spouse or their children. It impacted so many people in so many different ways.

But those are their stories to tell. I’ll only speak to a few things that God has taught me through all of this.

The Church
Christ’s love is made tangible by His church. I have always known this but I have never been on the receiving end of it like this before. I’ve never felt more loved or more supported than I did during those dark days. Even though, at times, I felt all alone, there was never a moment when I really was. God had surrounded me with His people and it was an experience that has shaped me forever.

False Saviors
Experiences like this can expose you. Pain divulges things about you that you would never have otherwise known. It reveals where your hope and your trust truly are. I’m about to get brutally honest with you. God showed me that night, when I thought I was losing my wife, that I based so much of my security and identity on her that I was making her into an idol in my life. And by idol, I mean a false Savior – someone other than God that I was leaning on to satisfy the deepest longings of my heart. I needed to see that. So much of my self-confidence comes directly from the fact that there is an amazing woman who loves me and believes in me. Before her, I was nowhere near as confident as I am now. I take on things that I wouldn’t have dreamed of before, because I know she is with me, supporting me. And, while that’s not a bad thing in itself, what my heart wants to do with that is. The idols that our hearts erect are rarely bad things. They are almost always good things that we make into ultimate things. Tim Keller says it this way, “Our need for worth is so powerful that whatever we base our identity and value on we essentially ‘deify.’ We will look to it with all the passion and intensity of worship and devotion….” You see, for me to base my identity and self worth on her is to focus my worship on her. To make her, in effect, a god in my life.

I recently heard Pastor Tullian Tchividjian say “If you fix your joy on something other than God than suffering drives you away from your source of joy. But if you fix your joy on God than suffering actually drives you deeper into your source of joy…. Suffering cannot rob you of joy, only idolatry can.” So, sometimes when it feels like God is killing us, He’s actually saving us. He is kind enough to use pain to expose our false functional Saviors and help us redirect our worship in a way that leads us to joy that transcends circumstances.

The gospel tells me that there is One whose love for me is even stronger than hers. It assures me that there is One whose approval of me means more than hers ever could and has already been unconditionally secured for me, not by what I do but by what Christ has done for me. But I turn to her instead of to God. Don’t get me wrong. It’s a good thing to deeply love your spouse. It’s a good thing to need your spouse. But it’s a completely different thing to expect your spouse to provide for you the things that only God can truly provide. She is an amazing woman and I am more convinced of my love for her than I ever have been. But I have been reminded that there is only one eternal foundation that I can build my life and hope on and if I try to build it on her, she will only be crushed under the weight of impossible expectations. I love her best by loving Jesus more than her. That is a drastically hard lesson to learn.

Healing
Healing is always about God and never about us. There have been several well-meaning people who have said things like “God just knew that your kids needed you” or “God just couldn’t take someone so amazing, so early” or something to that effect. What they are saying, whether they mean it or not, is there’s something about Erin, or about our family, that’s so great that God gave us special treatment. That we deserved healing and grace. This would also imply, if you carry it all the way out, that those who were not healed and those who have lost their mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, and children were not deserving of healing. No one would say that outright, but in a way that is exactly what you are saying when you make the healing about the character of the person. Erin was not given life because she is awesome. She was given life because God is good and sovereign and He chose to flex in such a way that showed his power over death in this situation. But, you need to know that He would still be just as good and sovereign and powerful if he had taken her that night. You can read this in Erin’s own words in her amazing blog post 30 Years and 30 Days, where she compares and contrasts the death of her mother, 30 years ago, to her own near death experience.

A Shout That Rouses The Deaf

God has continued to show us more and more reasons for why this happened the way it did. He is still using it to change people, to open up hearts to the gospel and to shape us as individuals and as a family more into the image of Christ. I have come to love this story. It’s deeply woven into the fabric of my heart and it has reshaped me in more ways than I can recount. C.S. Lewis wrote in his book brilliant work The Problem of Pain, “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks to us in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: It is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”

God has shouted at us through this experience. He did more work in one night to chisel away at my pride and self-centeredness than has been accomplished over years of steady growth. And He has seen fit to use it to shout to others as well.

I don’t wish painful circumstances on any of you but I do hope that you will someday know Him like I do. It’s well worth whatever path you had to take to get there, no matter how rocky it may be.

_______

Related Blog Posts from Erin and I:

72 Hours That Changed Everything

It’s A Matter Of Perspective

30 Years and 30 Days

Other Links:

Our Church Family

Link to Erin’s Doctor’s website (because they’re awesome!!!)

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