Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Christmas Truce

The days leading up to Christmas 1914 on the western front in France were a brutal ordeal. Weeks of rain soaked filth- filled trenches wore out nerves of enemy and ally alike. British and German soldiers survived in these squalid conditions only meters apart. To raise one’s head over the trench meant possible death by sniper fire. The command to charge meant slogging through ankle deep mud into a firing squad of rifle and machine gun fire.
Excruciatingly high casualties plagued the British 8th Brigade. Insult then added to injury. The French pressured the 8th Brigade to charge en masse against the German breastworks on December 14. The failed attack pained the retreating British even more who were then required to watch many of their dead eerily suspend on barbed wire defenses.
More rain, deeper mud, higher casualties created a macabre scene. Throw into this mess the news of failed attacks and friendly fire falling short of German coordinates tearing apart comrades and friends.
Fear filled men then faced the loneliest time of year without family and loved ones…Christmas 1914 in the mud, in the wet, in the filth.
Enter Christmas Eve…into psychotic terror.
On December 24th the rich smells of German cooking wafted through British trenches with the hearty home cooked scent of sausages… blended with laughter.
The hilarity and culinary distraction seemed horribly out of place until…it happened. A beloved Christmas carol sung in German drifted like a lovely aroma through the insane scene. Allies precariously peered over their trenches to see Christmas trees with candles set upon the breastworks and to hear these words, “Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht, Alles schlaft, einsam wacht, Nur das traute hochheilige Paar, Schlaf in himmlishcer Ruh, Schlaf in himmlishcer Ruh!” Not to be outdone, the Brits began to sing Silent Night, Holy Night in English of course. In a strange competitive spirit, they sang back and forth. The hymn sing happened much of the night.
Christmas morning 1914. I personally cannot fathom what courage or idiocy it took to emerge from one’s trench work with neither weapon nor protective precaution. Historians do not know who made the first move. Perhaps burial teams met in the middle of no man’s land to care for their dead. But we do know that without weapons British Allies met German enemies in the killing fields of France as Christmas co conspirators. Hours earlier sniper fire greeted mortal enemies. Now, on Christmas morning the only ordnances deployed were fruitcakes and cookies. Cigars exchanged. Flasks opened and bottles of wine imbibed. Impromptu meals wrapped in Christmas paper swapped from enemy to ally.
Christmas comes to a world gone mad.
I love these images because I believe Christmas can still change the world. Can I share with you a vision? This holiday amidst the trench work of an economy gone mad my wife Lori and I wish to become Christmas co conspirators with you. We plan to shop local and support our coastal community. Our family commits to entertain locally. We want to thank our small local businesses for their perseverance and courage through the worst recession in my lifetime.
Finally, Christmas can also change our global community. Lori and I will send a gift to one of our favorite causes, Living Water International . LWI drills fresh water drinking wells in third world countries. More people die each day from poor drinking water than any other reason. Friend we can help solve this one…Christmas can touch the poor of our world and transcend the no man’s land of poverty and death.
I believe Christmas can still change the world. May I urge you out of the trenches of this troubled economy and touch our local community with kindness? And at the same time…reach a hand across this amazing globe and bring help and hope to the poor? Instead of fruitcakes we give fresh water to children…and hope.
Christmas came to bring light and love…it still is. What if the peace of Christmas can reach across the harrowing fear and despair in our hometowns? What if hope can spring for the poor of the world like a Christmas morning and its song of hope?
Oh and by the way, we cannot prove it, but numerous veterans of Christmas 1914 on the Western Front report that the Germans scrimmaged the Brits in a spontaneous soccer match in the killing fields of no man’s land. Germans 3 Brits 2.
Christmas still changes the world.

Friday, November 20, 2009

The Treasure of Marriage

Hey bloggers, this is a true story written by one of my dear friends, Jim Gray. In fact Jimmy helped to launch the inner city church in Michigan. He is one of the fine writers I know.

Jim’s Story

She didn’t have a lick of make up on.

Her hair was a crazy tangle of curls that had been carelessly rammed into a scrunchy, forming a kind of naturally occurring Daniel Boone-style coon skin cap. Her hands gave an appearance of being on the steering wheel of our minivan, but in truth they only floated over the ten and two position because they had to remain nimble for all the other duties (besides steering) they had to perform. Her mouth moved at light speed as she recounted to me all the various activities she was about to engage in in the next 48 hours while I was in Minneapolis.

I loved her like this. No make up. Crazy hair. Driving our minivan, so filled with toddler toys that she looked like a mobile Gymboree factory. Merrily rattling off activities as though she was planning the invasion of Normandy. All this while barreling down the 215 to drop me off at MacCarran Airport in Las Vegas.

Becky finished going over her invasion plans and we lapsed into a short silence. I peeked at Olivia, our 3 year old , asleep in her car seat. Even at three, Olivia’s large head barely had any hair. The hair that she did have was a translucent fuzz. That big fuzzy head was slumped over as she slept, her lower lip jutting out with the ever present line of drool falling onto her bib.

How I loved this life. I was over come with a deep sense of gratitude, and for a fleeting second my mind drifted.

It hadn’t always been like this. Six years before this trip to the airport, I was searching the Bible rigorously looking a loop hole. I was very unhappy. I was unhappy with her. I had been unhappy with her for quite a long time. I was tired of being unhappy so I was looking for a loop hole. The loop hole that I was looking for was something – anything – that would allow me to divorce Becky while remaining scripturally compliant.

Yeah right.

I looked hard. I found nothing. I had been a Christian for over twenty years at that point and I was well aware of the “God hates divorce” drum beat in the church. And I was also aware (although vaguely) of the whole, “the woman needs to serve her husband” deal. I wasn’t completely sure what all of that meant, but I was sure that I was getting no service and that had to count for something, I thought.

Way down deep, I knew that no matter how hard I looked, no matter how far I felt Becky fell short in our relationship, no matter how much I thought that my needs weren’t being met and the significance of the unhappiness it was causing me, I had no Biblical out. The commitment I made to her on April 23rd, 1988 in a bit of haphazard theatre called a “wedding” was one that I was required to keep. Until death. No take backs.

Well, crap.

At this time, I was 32 years old. The people in my family lived into their eighties. Becky’s grandfather was almost 90. If genetics was any indicator of how long she and I would live as husband and wife, it was going to be a long, long, long time. I knew that there was no way, that I could simply grit my teeth and face forty five more years in a marriage like this. There was just no way. I couldn’t face being this unhappy for that long. Who could, I reasonably asked myself? No one, I concluded. So my search through the scriptures continued until I found myself in the Gospel of John in the 13th chapter. I had only read this chapter about one million times over the last twenty years.

“Jesus washed the disciples’ feet, blah, blah, blah.”

Jesus, the Son of God, was on his knees washing a particularly unclean piece of the human body and then standing up and saying that this was his example to us that we should follow. Pretty straight forward stuff, I had always thought. I’d even been through those fairly awkward ceremonies in small groups where we’d wash each other’s feet and then say afterward how “moving” it was. It was never moving for me. It was always odd. For me, it was just another bit of empty (although well meaning) theatre.

And then it happened.

God spoke to me- clear, even. Unmistakable.

“Jim, wash her feet.”

Everything seemed to stop. I sat, frozen, at my desk in the dining room of Becky and my little apartment in West Hollywood. I vaguely heard street sounds wafting through an open window, but everything within a 3 foot radius from where I was sitting was absolutely still.

The concept of what I had just heard was permeating my skin. It was oozing into my muscles. It was dripping into my bones. It was gently, powerfully, irreversibly penetrating my DNA.

“Wash her feet.”

“Wash Becky’s feet.”

I quietly closed my Bible and began to think.

I immediately started compiling a mental list of what serving Becky would look like. I decided that I would never mention her weight again. I would never push having sex on her again. I would never compare her, verbally, with anyone ever again. I would take seriously everything – everything – she said to me and act on it. If she asked me to do something, I would do it. If she asked me not to do something, I would stop. I would work to listen to her without mentally or emotionally attempting to maneuver her to adopt my personal agenda. I would try to understand what she wanted and give it to her without comment or complaint. I would examine all of my behavior and evaluate it against how it would make her feel. I would modify all of my behavior so that, to the greatest extent possible, I would eliminate anything that caused her pain, embarrassment, sadness or anger. And, most importantly, as I did these things in increasing measure, I would expect no reward from her. My mission to do them was simply because it was Jesus’ example and command.

Now, make no mistake—I did have a hope of a reward in all of this. The reward that I was hoping for was, somehow, someway to find joy in marriage and in life. I would go so far as to say that I would have had no hope of long term success in this mission if somehow joy didn’t emerge out of what I was doing. But I had a vague sense, very early on, that the joy I was looking for wasn’t ultimately going to be conveyed to me by receiving effusive “thank-yous” from my wife because of all of my so-called “big changes.” What I was looking for, without really understanding it at the time, was something even bigger than that. Deeper.

I made no announcement to Becky that I begun this mission. I didn’t want to taint what I was doing by saying anything. As I considered my new way of thinking, I began to realize what a jerk I had been for most our marriage. I began to realize that, really, the only person I actually cared about in this relationship was me. I was realizing that everything- quite literally everything- in our relationship was done ultimately for my benefit and by my design. I specified what we were going to do and I evaluated the results of what we did by criteria that I developed with no input from anyone. And- surprise, surprise- I always measured up very well and Becky rarely measured up at all.

And so, I began my attempt. I began my attempt to wash Becky’s feet. I began my attempt to serve her without reservation or condition.

What happened next is difficult to describe. As I committed more and more to washing her feet, slowly over time, I began to witness, quite literally, a transformation. The interesting thing about transformations is you can never be too sure who it is that is actually being transformed. Each legitimate act of service on my part seemed to unlock something within her. I started to become aware that there was another woman entering my life. The qualities that this woman possessed were alluring. She had an ease that my wife didn’t have. This woman smiled a lot. She was so open. I was aware of how sensitive she was. The smallest thing could make her sad or happy. More and more I found myself hating the idea of her being sad and it became fuel to me in my pursuit to serve her. Each smile was a victory, each frown required a mental note to do better in the future.

But then it got weird.

She seemed to develop a rather strong interest in me. She wanted to know what I thought of things. But this woman didn’t push, or poke or shame me into a ridiculous, (and usually grotesquely self-serving) linguistic act that Christian’s commonly call, “sharing.” She just wanted to talk with me. And her ease as she approached me to talk was irresistible.

I talked to her. She listened to what I said. She talked to me. And with every fiber of my being, I listened. Unexplainably, I was overcome with a need to listen. It was primal. To not listen would be a violation of her trust and, at this point, that was unthinkable. I knew I was on very dangerous ground now. How had I let this get so out of hand? I could see what was happening. I was forging a very deep, very thick emotional bond with this woman. I was in love with her.

What would I tell my wife?

But this woman was my wife. She had always been my wife. I just never knew it. I could never see it. Up until this moment, I wasn’t the man she needed so that she could reveal her true self. But here she was now. It was sweet. We experienced joy. And then a whirlwind of events exploded into fast forward: We got pregnant, my job started going great, our baby daughter was born, we bought our first home in Southern California, bought our first brand new minivan , my job got even better, Becky stayed home full time, we had a great church, our relationship deepened, my job moved us to Las Vegas, we bought our dream home, we found a great church in Vegas, our relationship deepened, we began to try for our second child, I started my own business, we sold our dream home and bought our forever home, we made great friends at church and our relationship deepened. And deepened.

We continued to barrel down the 215 toward the airport and a faint smile crept across my face. I was on my way to a meeting to hopefully strike the first deal in my new business. And this was going to be a big one. My little firm (consisting of my partner, me and our attorney) was going to bring a well established regional airline, based in Minneapolis, together with an innovative vacation company to create low-cost, high end vacation packages for travelers who lived in the Midwest. My company would earn a commission on every vacation sold. This was an important meeting. There was a lot of money on the table and both the CEO of the airline and the President of the vacation company would be in the room with me. Becky would spend her time while I was away for the next few days unpacking the boxes that littered our new home and would finish painting the kitchen and family room. My smile broadened slightly when I thought of the last two weeks as Becky agonized over what color to paint the walls. Paint was everywhere. This was our forever home and the color had to be perfect. So, there were swatches of color splashed on walls all over the house. She wanted to see what the colors looked like in the morning, in the evening, at sunrise and sunset. I didn’t really have a preference for the color. But I knew that this was important to her, so I gave her the space she needed to go through this process, knowing that when she discovered the perfect color, it would make her very happy. And, of course, she discovered the color and she was ecstatic.

We pulled into the departing passengers lane at MacCarren airport and it was as I expected, a chaotic knot of cars, buses, taxis, people and luggage all struggling in every direction. Becky navigated our Chrysler Town and County to the Southwest terminal. Olivia was still asleep as I jumped out of the van and pulled my suitcase out of the back. I was going to poke my head back through the passenger side window to tell Becky goodbye and that I loved her, when I realized that she had gotten out of the van and was standing right next to me.

She had that look.

This was a look that I had come to know very well over the last few years. This was the, “I need a kiss, please” look. I quickly obliged by giving her a short peck on the lips then quickly turned away to grab my suitcase. There was a lot of traffic and I knew the airport cops were going to be on us in another second if Becky didn’t get our car moving. As I picked up my suitcase, I felt a firm grasp on my arm. I turned around to see my wife standing there holding me firm, looking directly at me. She took her free arm and slid it around my neck, pulling me to her.

And she kissed me.

One of the things I knew about my wife was that she did not like public displays of affection. That was one of her “things.” Hand holding was ok, but kissing beyond the simple peck on the lips was strictly off limits. So it was mildly surprising when she went to the trouble of getting out of the van for a kiss in such a public place. I gave her the kind of kiss I thought she expected—sincere, but short and fast. But on this day, in this chaotic gridlock of people, luggage and exhaust she gave me the kind of kiss that was reserved for when we were alone. It was the kind of kiss makes a man not want to get on an airplane.

She stepped back from me smiling at the shock on my face. “Call me when you get there,” she said.

The next time I saw my wife was in the intensive care unit of University Medical Center in Las Vegas. Less than 24 hours from the time I kissed her goodbye, she was hit by a pick-up truck running a red light at a busy intersection on the 215. I had rushed back from Minneapolis when I received the call that she had been in a car accident. But, the full understanding of the size and severity of what I was facing didn’t hit me until I stood in that hospital room looking at her. Half of her head was shaved clean. Gleaming in the antiseptic glare of the room’s light were the 40 metal stitches that held together the left side of her ghoulishly swollen head. The hair that remained on her head was soaked in blood. Her left eye had been pushed from it’s socket past the bridge of her nose. A tube was in her mouth held in place by tangle of surgical tape. Blood and puss oozed from her ears and nose. Her entire body was buried under a mountain of tubes and wires. Her chest rose and fell with mechanical precision and in perfect time to a sucking sound made by the machine, the size of a refrigerator, at the side of her bed. My eyes drifted slowly over her and she was all but unrecognizable to me in that moment.

And then I saw her feet. They were uncovered. They had no blood on them. There were no tubes running in or out of them. They were slightly pink. I recognized them immediately. They were my wife’s feet. I reached out to touch them and they were cold. Becky hated having cold feet. She was always wearing socks. I rubbed my hands together and pressed them to her left foot and then her right, repeating this process until I could feel her skin starting to warm.

As I stood there, I began to consider how she and I would get through this. But deep down, I knew. Nothing had changed. God had spoken to me on this subject almost 5 years before.

“Jim, wash her feet.”

And, by God’s grace, that is what I endeavored to do, even to this day.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Cindy's Story

It has been said that when God closes a door he opens a window. I prefer to say that when God closes a window, he opens a door.
In the past year our family has seen windows close but we have seen more doors open wide with opportunities which would have been impossible had we insisted on pounding on the closed window instead of stepping through an open door.
Turning our back on those windows and stepping through the open doors is not easy, in fact, it can be rather terrifying. You see, we were the perfect family. Two wonderful girls, a dog, our dream home and the entrepreneurial spirit to run our own business. The girls were involved in many activities each week, such as dance lessons and music lessons. I spent my days busy with the girls. Mike spent his days busy with the business. We all attended church on Sunday, we went to Sunday school and Bible studies. Our business allowed us to travel to many wonderful places around the country and the freedom to set our own hours. What more could we want? We were truly blessed.
Then came the economic downturn. In fall of 2008 when gas prices skyrocketed and the auto industry crumbled, so did our business. Almost overnight, it seemed, the business that we had spent the better part of ten years building was gone. Mike not only faced unemployment for the first time in his life, he had to pull the plug on something which he had nurtured and watched grow from nothing to a thriving business.
It is difficult to describe the feeling of loss and uncertainty in which we felt. Walking into church that first Sunday we were numb, not sure how to face people, not sure what to say. Just a few weeks earlier if asked we would have said business was good, now it was gone. We soon discovered what amazing support we had from our friends. In the months that followed not a Sunday would go buy that at least one person did not ask how we were doing, did we need anything and how can we pray for you. This was such great comfort and support, the amazing love we felt every time we walked through those church doors.
We needed that support. Mike's job search was dismal at best, the few tech jobs out there had hundreds of applicants and positions were being eliminated with no one being hired. If he did get hired we faced moving at least two and half hours away, possibly across the country and selling our dream home in the midst of the mortgage industry collapsing. Jen had been pulled from the dance lessons, which were so much a part of the last ten years. Dance was her life, and a big part of my life since I spent so many hours at the dance studio. We were both rather lost, not knowing just what to do with our time. Shawna was just starting college and had enough stress with that. If we had to move she was moving in with Grandma. Our lives were in an emotional tailspin that could seem rather hopeless. Weeks turned to months, still no job, still no idea of where our lives were going to end up. The one thing we did know was that God was in control and things were going to work out. We had to rely on our faith because we had nothing else to cling too. It is not always easy to completely let go and let God control our lives but we had to, we had no choice, we had to wait for the right door to open.
Four months later, in February that door opened. With the encouragement of friends and family, Mike started a computer repair business. This has turned out to be the perfect solution. He has been able to turn a life long hobby for electronics and fixing things into a job and he is quickly becoming known throughout the community as “Mike the Computer Guy”. It is neat to see happy customers at the post office or the store. Mike enjoys computer repair and the customer interaction knowing that he can brighten someones day just a bit by saving some family photos or fixing a businesses lifeline to commerce. In this computer driven society even small towns need a trustworthy and competent computer guy.
With her free time Jen got involved in the youth group and found her calling towards child evangelism on a youth mission trip to Sacred Road in White Salmon, WA. God has provided opportunities and the financial means to fulfill those opportunities. She spent the summer doing Five Day Clubs with Christian Youth in Action and is excited about returning to Sacred Road this spring. God has also provided Jen with an outlet for her love of dance, she is volunteering at our local non profit dance studio as an assistant teacher.
Shawna has changed her major and got married, but she is still working hard towards her degree.
As for me, well with my girls so busy with their own lives and Mike not really needing my help with the business I have gone back to school. Where school will take me I am not sure. One thing that I am sure of though is that God has opened doors of opportunity and I am confident that he will open more.
Our lives are in a very different place then they were a year ago, we have learned how an amazing God walks us through the tough places in life and how he sets in motion solutions to our problems long before we even know the problem will arise.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Born Too Soon

I am overwhelmed at the awesome stories coming in from all over the country. Please keep them coming, my vision is to create an inspirational journal with your story, excerpts from The Treasure, and artwork from hurt people who have found help in Christ. The proceeds will go to serve healing people in recovery.

This is a cool story by an author friend of mine, Julie, parents perhaps you can connect?

Born Too Soon
© Julie Bonn Heath

I was 28 weeks pregnant and 23 years old when my husband mentioned that my face was swelling. I rolled my eyes at him and walked over to glance in the mirror. Unfortunately, his observation was correct.
I must be retaining water.
I had just finished reading a book last week for expectant parents which included a chapter on pre-eclampsia (pregnancy induced high blood pressure), and my heart had twisted as I wondered if it could happen to me.
I brushed off the thought, chalking it up to raging, third-trimester hormones.
But now as I stared in the mirror, I fought a small well of panic that opened—just a little—inside of my heart. I swallowed hard and ducked out of my husband’s sight, avoiding his gaze.
“If it gets worse, I’ll go in.”
The next morning, with my face large and puffy, I drove myself to the clinic and calmly presented myself at the front desk. My logical mind knew that I was just fine—but I wasn’t willing to risk the well being of my baby by being stubborn.
“I’m showing signs of pre-eclampsia,” I whispered.
The receptionist whipped out a yellow piece of paper. “Is the baby moving?”
I nodded.
She handed the paper to me and then walked me back to the back area of the clinic. Her voice sounded strained and rushed as she whispered to a nurse who threw a plastic smile at me and directed me into an exam room.
This is just to make sure everything’s OK, I reassured myself. I will not panic.
Unfortunately, the test results were positive.
“You do have pre-eclampsia.” The nurse affirmed, “We need to check you in at the hospital.”
That quickly, a diagnosis changed our lives forever.
It can’t possibly be right.
“Where’s the doctor?” I asked.
“She asked me tell you.”
“I want to speak to her,” I replied. “I’ll wait.”
The Doctor entered the room and patted me on the shoulder.
“What’s this mean?” I asked. I wanted all the answers—and fast.
“We’ll get you into the hospital,” she replied kindly but firmly. “They may be able to get it under control there.”
With my heart in my throat, I called my husband. He met me at the hospital. The OB doctor on duty checked me over and sat down.
“This hospital isn’t set up for preemies. We’ll transport you to another—the best in the State.”
“I was hoping that you’d tell me that this diagnosis is a mistake,” I countered. “I don’t feel sick.”
The doctor shook his head. No. “The cure is delivery,” he announced quietly. “Although at this point we need to keep your baby in there as long as we can.”
I shuddered. My husband grabbed my hand, squeezing it tightly. We held hands, and waited for the unknown.
For the only time in history that I remembered, a major bridge was closed due to ice. The back roads took an hour longer, and stressed, my body started having contractions while I was in the ambulance. I joked with the medics and asked if they had ever delivered before, but I was terrified.
“Of course! You’re going to be just fine!” He said, but he radioed his partner in the front seat to tell him that contractions were starting.
I bet you’ve never delivered one at 29 weeks.
The contractions lightened at the hospital with medication. The second day we were there, an NICU nurse took my husband on a tour of the nursery and showed him a spot reserved for our baby. By then we knew that it was a girl, about 2 pounds, and whether she survived or not, we would still name her what my husband had always requested: Megan. The nurse gave us a book on preemies and he came from the nursery, looking very grave, and a bit pale.
“They have a SPOT for her?” I cried. “What happened to keeping her inside as long as we can?” I turned to the wall and started crying while he tried in vain to comfort me. Only that morning, I had a roommate tell me, “Pre-eclampsia? That’s what I have. I get it with every pregnancy and they send me home on bedrest.”
At the time, hope sang in my heart although my body finally did feel very sick and my vision had doubled. I had to ask my supportive parents to back away from my bedside that day because there were four of them and it was overwhelming.
Four days after my admittance, I knew that it was Thursday, and also Thanksgiving Day. Happy Thanksgiving, everybody. Happy Thanksgiving, little one.
During the night, my baby’s heart rate had dropped several times and I told the doctor making rounds. In addition, my headache grew excruciating painful over the matter of an hour.
“It hurts so badly that I can hardly talk. My teeth feel like they are pressing forward.” My graphic description caused a quickened pace in my room and outside in the hall.
Two other doctors entered and asked me questions. After examining me, they looked at each other with concern in their eyes.
Oh no. What does this mean?
Shortly after they left, the main doctor overseeing my care returned. “It’s time to take the little one out,” he said gently. “At this point, you and she are both better off with her in the nursery.”
He nodded and instructed the nurse to prep me for surgery. She left quickly.
My husband entered the room.
“They’re going to do a c-section,” I told him—relieved that he was finally there.
“Now?” His shocked voice was higher pitched than usual.
“Yes.” the doctor affirmed.
The nurse returned and administered more shots.
My heart raced and tears of worry filled my eyes. Will my baby survive? Can she survive?
My husband called my parents who pulled their turkey from the oven and made him a turkey sandwich. They rushed to the hospital—but I was already in surgery by the time they arrived.
An entire team of people stood nearby, just for the baby. Specialists; neonatal nurses and pediatricians—their presence should have provided comfort but did not.
This is serious. My baby is arriving eleven weeks early. These professionals are needed—perhaps to save her life.
They rolled me over and I felt the shot in my spine—felt the numbing stretch slowly down to my knees.
Why can’t you just put me out? Less traumatic—but wait, then I couldn’t see her and I need to see her right away.
The anesthesia caused violent shaking of my entire body. They arranged my arms straight out on both sides and tied them down. I felt like I was being crucified.
“Is that necessary?” My husband asked—reading my mind.
A nurse assured him that it was. He held my hand—clear at the end of the strapping board and managed to touch my face with his free hand.
“It’s OK. She’s going to be OK.”
“W-We don’t know that,” I managed through chattering teeth, tears running down my face.
“Yes.” He squeezed my hand. “We do.”
I nodded. I’m so scared for our little girl.
The Anesthesiologist sat near my head and held my other hand. “The shaking is normal, Julie. It’s OK. I’ll be here the whole time watching out for you.”
“S-Sure,” I managed lightly. “I saw that paperback novel you brought in here with you.”
The entire medical team laughed. “She’s on to you, Frank,” one of them said.
“Can you feel this?” One doctor asked as a stab of pain hit me in the stomach.
“O-Ouch.” I clenched my teeth. “Yes.”
“I’m sorry. You’re not completely numb yet.”
A couple of moments ticked by. I looked around, managed a wobbly smile at a nurse and took deep breaths. My entire body rattled the table as I trembled.
Soon the surgery was at the forefront of everyone’s mind—at least I hoped so—and my husband stood aghast at seeing inside parts of me lifted up and away to get to the baby.
The clock ticked more. Silence filled the room as the medical team concentrated.
“W-what’s going on?” I asked. They reassured me that everything was fine. The wait seemed like hours.
As soon as they lifted our daughter from me, I saw normally for the first time in days. And just as quickly, I heard her wail.
She’s breathing. She’s breathing.
A doctor lifted her quickly in the air for me to see and then several gathered around to whisk her away on a table—literally running to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit.
My husband kissed me. “I need to make sure she’s OK,” he whispered and I nodded as he quickly headed to the nursery behind her. I felt strangely abandoned and yet at the same time, wanted him near our baby.
For the first time, she was away from me and I felt a hole in my heart. Now that she was gone—I no longer had as much control. Who was I kidding? I never held the control in the first place. But I could no longer say, “her heartbeat is dropping” or ask, “can you make sure she’s OK?” Her life now rested in the hands of skilled doctors—and God. All I could do—was hope and pray.
Happy birthday and Thanksgiving, Megan. Please live. Please live. Please live.
After twenty four hours of breathing on her own, she was ventilated. She was born with a hole in her heart that medication closed and a variety of other preemie issues. The first time we held her, she turned her head to find us when we talked to her. Needless to say, while rocking her gently in my arms, I felt complete for the first time since leaving the hospital without her.
It was forty-one days before we joyfully brought Megan home. Born at two pounds, seven ounces, she finally weighed three pounds, four ounces and could breathe and eat on her own. Although her follow up care was extensive and financial issues loomed large, she is now a healthy and happy teen.
We will never forget the experience of having a baby on the edge of life, and will never cease to be grateful for the knowledgeable team of doctors and nurses who saw her through. And to God, Who has blessed us with her throughout.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Forrest's Story From The Treasure: Healing the Hurt of the Postmodern Heart

Forrest’s Story

Our mission in August1969 was to lay down recon fire 100 meters outside a Vietnamese village to drive out the inhabitants and then disperse CS, powdered tear gas. CS would make this enemy outpost uninhabitable for at least a year. 9 of my buddies and I walked toward the village in a straight line, 4 on my left and 5 on my right, some 15 meters apart. Without realizing we stepped over 3 well concealed Viet Cong bunkers in a dry rice patty. We stopped at the 100 meter mark to begin laying down fire. As I knelt steadying the M16 with my right elbow on my right thigh, I suddenly noticed 30 caliber and AK47 machine gun rounds kicking up the dark earth around me. Grabbing my radio to call in a gun ship I found myself knocked to the ground staring into the humid blue sky. Quickly inventorying my body I counted one right boot, but no left. The popping sounds to the right drew my immediate attention to 3 North Vietnamese Army Regulars (NVA) executing my wounded comrades. The M16 I carried landed beyond my grasp when I was hit…I could not move to retrieve the weapon because my missing left ankle lodged securely beneath my head. The return fire to my left came from our wounded platoon lieutenant crawling toward me. When the LT was hit, I used his weapon to defend myself until help arrived. I only survived.
After the war, I married my beautiful wife Pamela. It soon became evident that getting pregnant wasn’t going to be easy for us. We were both disappointed, but Pamela was especially distressed by it. She longed to be a mother with every fiber of her being. We visited the doctor without result. I suppose we could have taken heroic steps with a fertilization clinic, but Pam developed a vision for adopting a little girl from China. We started developing the dossier required for a China adoption. It turned out to be a complex and daunting task. So we began a passionate life of prayer for our adopted child.
I remember the day we presented our dossier to the adoption agency. We were very excited. Two weeks later, we got a call. Our contact explained that China had changed some rules and wouldn’t allow adoptions to parents who were more than 30 years older than the adoptive child. That new rule disqualified us both. That essentially killed our prospects in China. We were floored, not to mention distraught. Our contact told us we had other options and not to lose hope. We had been entirely focused on China and hadn’t considered anything else. The good news was that the dossier we’d constructed for China was more than adequate for other countries with a few small changes. We considered adopting from Russia, Thailand, India, Columbia, Eastern Europe, and Vietnam.
I had been a combat soldier in Vietnam during 1968 and 1969. I was wounded at the end of my tour and had spent several years in a hospital and in a wheel chair. In spite of extensive veteran counseling and an understanding of the importance of forgiveness, I could not imagine adopting a child from Vietnam. I realized, to my surprise, that I still had some unresolved issues. I tried not to let Pamela know, but she could tell I was having trouble with the idea.
We drove home from the agency and I escaped into a book I was reading at the time. It was a novel by Randy Alcorn called Deadline. I opened it up and almost immediately read, “When you go to war with a people, you dehumanize them to do what you do in war. If you ever expect to reconcile with that people, you have to consciously promote them back to humanity.” I was stunned. It was like God was speaking directly to me through that passage. I shared what I’d read with Pamela. I asked her to give me a few days to work through my feelings. She was gracious to me. I prayed diligently, but also searched hard for a way out. I wrestled with the idea of going to Vietnam. I struggled over working with the Communists. I tried to imagine being the father of a little Vietnamese child whose grandparents tried to kill me. Once I told Pamela that going to Vietnam would be OK, she was on the phone to the agency before I could turn around. It took about a week for my emotions to catch up with my declarations and what I knew was right. But they did, pretty much.
It didn’t take long for my precarious conviction to be tested. We got a call from the agency a few weeks later. They had wonderful news. We actually had an opportunity to adopt twin boys. It would be a while before I felt right about it, but I knew I would. I just stuffed it and followed Pamela’s lead. She knew my heart and trusted me.
We got a picture of the boys a few days later. They were 10 weeks old and each weighed three pounds. They were clearly malnourished, but they had all their limbs and looked beautiful to Pamela. They looked scary to me. We were told they were in an orphanage in a southern province called Tra Vinh, near the Mekong Delta.
The boys’ names were Dam and Dang. That gave us pause. Perhaps the names Joshua and Benjamin would serve them better as they grew up in the U.S. Joshua was a name we both loved and had talked about for years. We began to pray for the boys and as the weeks and months dragged by, we took them into our hearts and they became our own. They became our sons.
On our 6th wedding anniversary we got a call that Dam, our Joshua, had died. We were profoundly shaken by the news. They assured us that Benjamin was healthy and we should still plan on making the trip to Vietnam. We could hardly wait. We were anxious to hold our son in our arms. Once again prayer became our connection with God.
Our agency liaison, Hung, met us at airport in Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) and took us to our hotel. Neither Pamela nor I were prepared for navigating our way in a Third World Country.
On our fourth day, we were scheduled for a very early drive to Tra Vinh. We would meet Benjamin for the first time and participate in the Giving and Receiving Ceremony. Through that, he would legally become our son.
After a chilling ferry ride across the Mekong Delta, and a little over 8 hours after leaving Saigon, we pulled into Tra Vinh, the capital of Tra Vinh Province. Hung drove out of town and turned onto a narrow path that we expected would lead to the orphanage. We were excited, but after almost an hour on that path our excitement turned to anxiety. The country side had become jungle and our surroundings became more and more familiar to me and my combat experience. It was like a flashback. We finally drove into a small compound of three buildings, one that was about 3,000 square feet, and two smaller structures. We were ushered into the smallest. It was essentially a meeting room with a large table and about 20 chairs surrounded be four thin walls. Hung told us to wait there and he would be, “back in few minutes.”
Forty-five minutes later, we were frantic. Something had to be wrong. I assured Pam that they were not being controlling, disrespectful, or mean spirited. I didn’t tell her I knew it was very difficult for people in Eastern cultures to deliver bad news. Hung finally returned and said there had been some complications. The Director of the orphanage would see us soon. Soon was another 30 minutes. The Director came in and introduced himself through Hung. Hung’s English had been pretty difficult to understand up to that point, but manageable. Now that we needed to really understand what was going on, the language barrier became particularly inconvenient. The bottom line seemed to be that Benjamin was sick and had been taken to the hospital a few days earlier. The Director suggested we go home and try to adopt another baby some day. That was not OK. I turned to Hung and asked him if he knew where the hospital was. To Hung’s credit, he discovered the hospital location from the Director in a rather heated exchange.
As we stepped into the Children’s Ward, Hung spotted someone in a white coat and headed for him. We were stunned by what we saw. The room was probably 20 by 30 feet and crowded wall to wall with baby cribs. There seemed to be 2 or 3 children in every crib. Hung pointed to one about a third of the way into the room. It held a tiny infant and a little 2 year old boy. We moved through a sea of cribs to get to it. Both children were tied down, but the larger boy had gotten a foot loose and was thrashing in agony. His leg was inadvertently landing on the infant and I cringed every time it came down. The infant seemed too sick to complain. Hung motioned to the infant and told us he was Benjamin. My knees went weak. Pam leaned against me and started to sink. It was all I could do to hold her up. Ben was so tiny. He looked so sick. There were open soars all over his little body and he had a plastic oxygen tube taped to his little face. He could not possibly be seven months old. He didn’t look like he weighed more than 5 pounds. As I took a closer look at the larger boy, I realized he must be more like six, maybe seven years old.
Pamela and I stepped out into the hall with Hung only to be jostled and scrutinized by scores and scores of people who were either sick or visiting the sick, and all highly curious about us. Standing in that hall the walls seemed to get closer somehow. I shook myself and knew that we needed more help. So we prayed.
It felt like every circumstance was conspiring to defeat us. I couldn’t even think in all the press of bodies, the noise, and intense scrutiny we were under in that hall outside Benjamin’s ward. There were at least 80 children in that room, some crying and screaming, and some too sick to even moan. There was a single doctor, if indeed that’s what he was, caring for them. It was one of the most heartbreaking experiences I have ever had. I felt completely helpless. So, we prayed again.
Soon the hospital released Ben without complaint and we visited the People’s Committee building in Tra Vinh to finalize Benjamin’s adoption before we could leave for Saigon.
At the People’s Committee Building, there was a bunch of paperwork and the formal Giving Receiving Ceremony. It would take well over an hour.
Finally, the paperwork was ready. About a dozen government workers were invited into the room and I was offered a warm glass of beer. Pamela got a glass of soda. We were expected to take at least a sip. Everyone in the room seemed frozen until we each did just that. They asked us to sit at a table with the Director. Finally, we were done signing and it was the Director’s turn.
The Director was probably 60 years old. He took his time and looked at each of us for a long moment. He then reached into his coat. As he pulled a gold pen from his pocket and unscrewed the cap, he looked at me hard and finally said in English, “You in American War, Yes?” I had never heard the Vietnam War called the American War, but I knew what he meant. I froze. Our eyes locked. I wanted to lie. We both knew then that we had been mortal enemies 30 years earlier. I looked him in the eye and decided to be as straight as possible. I gave him the friendliest, most empathetic smile I could muster and said, “Yes, I was.” He looked back at me with a life time of experience scrolling behind his inscrutable expression. I felt a chill. 30 years earlier I faced a Viet Cong with a white knuckle grip on my rifle, today I stared down an NVA Regular holding only my beautiful Benjamin in gentle embrace. At last, the former enemy gave me a small nod, signed all the documents without another word and left the room.
The Vietnamese people were once my enemy. I had adopted someone who was once my enemy and it was one of the greatest things God had ever allowed me to do. In Benjamin, I had not only reconciled myself to these people, I had made a covenant with him to be his father for as long as we both existed. An adoption is not a contract, conditional on each party keeping its terms. Adoption is instead a sacred covenant and is, by definition, an unconditional commitment. No matter what, Benjamin will always know that I chose to be his father and I will always love him and care for him without condition.
I clearly understood that I was once God’s enemy. At some point in my life, I discovered that Jesus had made a way for me to be reconciled to Him. It occurred to me that reconciliation included His adoption of me into His family. He is my heavenly Father. He will never leave me nor forsake me. That’s a reconciliation and adoption that is an eternal covenant, the most important relationship in the history of man. And, God had allowed me to experience that covenant as an adoptive father, as well as His adopted son. What a gracious Father He is.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Barb's Story

Hey Gloggers,

This begins a new series of blogs. I will glog the true stories of hurt people who have found amazing help through Christ. In fact I would love to have your story. I will then publish these stories in an inspirational journal. The proceeds will go to help hurt people find help and hope. So I trust that you will have the courage to send me your story soon and I will share it with the world. Glen

Barb's Story

His love lasts forever...even when life is not fair.

I was born into a violent alcoholic family in the south. My parents excelled at drinking to excess and abusing my brother and me through abandonment, neglect, starvation, physical, and sexual abuse.

My biological father was so sick, he attempted to kill us, but by God's grace he failed.

When I was married, I thought that now life would be fair to me....not so.

My new husband was involved in a serious car accident and unable to support us financially. This sent me into a deep depression...I found myself in the hospital ready to end my life. Here at the bottom...I found Jesus. His love and grace gave me new hope and help.

The Lord also gave me a watercolor. The gift of painting helped to heal me and I began to see how Jesus was changing me from the inside out.

We found a church home, North Coast Family Fellowship, and learned from God's word how to be real, not legalistic, we began to see how our broken places become His strength in our lives. We are loved by our church family, treasured by God.

Perhaps now our lives would be easier...not so much.

In February of 2007 I broke my back. During the evaluation of the x-rays my physician discovered pancreatic cancer. But on the other hand, had it not been for the fractured vertebrae I would not have been treated for cancer. During my treatment I had so many opportunities to share my love for Jesus with the hospital staff. During this time Pastor Glen asked me to contribute my art for an inspirational journal which would help to fund counseling and recovery for hurting people.

Looking back at the trauma and unfairness of my life...I would not change one thing. Jesus has touched the broken places of my life with love and grace. I am a witness...His love lasts forever.


Thursday, November 5, 2009

The Treasure Of God's Heart

Hey bloggers, can I share a vision with you? I have a dream to bring healing and help to hurt people through the amazing grace of Jesus. Here's how: I am writing an inspirational journal entitled The Treasure of God's Heart: Stories of Healing and Help.

This inspirational journal will have paintings and photographs from artists who have been hurt in life and found healing through Christ. With this artwork I will include devotional material from my book, and real life stories from you.

Would you be interested in sharing your story with the world? I can make yours anonymous by changing places and names.

So, feel free to blog your story for the inspirational journal, or you can email me privately at

The end result will be an interactive journal with Scripture, stories, a place to blog your thoughts, and the world will be your audience.

One final thing...all the profit will go to fund healing and help for hurting people, you know like rehab, counseling, groups, materials, safe houses, etc.

Next week I will publish a story of one of my featured artists to help you with writer's block.

Let the revolution of grace begin!