Thursday, December 20, 2007

Pavarotti - Nessun Dorma

So, sometimes Holly and i let the Ipod play when we're going to bed - especially if we find ourselves unusually stressed. Holly has compiled this playlist of "soothing" music. It's a diverse blend of various artists of different genres, and it has proved to be somewhat easy for me to fall asleep to. However, at some point, she added this song to it. It was somewhere in the middle of about 45 minutes worth of music. I began to notice that I wasn't sleeping well for a couple of weeks. Normally, I'm asleep about the time my head hits the pillow these days, but for some reason restlessness became the norm. In the midst of these period, I was having nightmares - bad ones. I would wake up angry or scared or nervous in the middle of the night. I was hearing strange noises. I was so annoyed at my recent inability to rest well.

I told Holly that the Pavarotti song had to go. She protested and kindly and lovingly told me that I was crazy and defended the beauty and integrity of the music. I endured it for a bit longer, and reiterated my inability to sleep to this music. She obliged and I removed the song. Later, I decided to investigate why these Italian lyrics brought so much unrest to my soul. Come to find out, the title in English is "No One Sleeps". So much made sense.

Needless to say, ever since, sleep has not been interrupted by the aforementioned playlist.

There is probably spiritual significance related to this that allows me to pursue the fullness of God, but I'll let you draw your own conclusions...

Thursday, December 13, 2007


It's been far too long between blogs (as usual), and I'm sad to say that this expression is more about my need to express rather than my desire to share.

The events of the past three weeks have been the worst of my life, and this is my first attempt to unpack it. It will in all reality be too long for a blog, but I'm going for it anyway. Here goes...

Holly and I lost a baby last week. We found out the Monday before Thanksgiving that she was pregnant, but immediately the doctor was concerned about an ectopic (tubal) pregnancy. There is no definitive way to determine whether or not the baby is ok until an ultrasound can be done which is around the 4-6 week mark. In other words, all we could do was wait. It was so hard. We so badly wanted to celebrate the miracle of conception, but we tried to keep ourselves grounded in the reality that we may never see this baby. As the weeks progressed, no news seemed to be good news. Holly's symptoms were becoming less like an ectopic and more like a normal pregnancy. Her pregnancy hormone level was on the rise like it should be and all was well. We knew we weren't in the clear yet, but we felt God preparing our miracle. Finally, the doctor gave us a glimmer of hope, stating that she felt as though this was a normal pregnancy. However, when she called the next day, the report was that the hormone level had gone down. Which is medical speak for, "your baby is dead." They asked us to come in the next day just to be sure. During this, our church was praying, but I had no idea what to ask them to pray for. Pray for a miracle? Perhaps. My mustard seed faith has no issue believing that God can raise the dead. That's all he does is change the old for new. That certainly would've been easy for him to pull off in Holly's womb. However, sometimes the Lord gives and the Lord takes away. For three weeks we lived in the uncertainty of these two extremes. We wanted to rejoice for the miracle, but we were content to trust God in the valley of the shadow of death. We were preparing ourselves for both, but as the news was getting better, our hopes were rising. With e-mails of prayer and support, we were trusting God, with testimonies of visions/dreams, we trusted even more. It sure did seem like God was going to use this for his glory. It was the next chapter in the River Stone Miracles storybook. We trusted God even after the phone call of bad news. We were praying for a miracle, and so were many of you. The much anticipated follow-up phone call reported that the pregnancy hormone level had gone down significantly. The report was that this was not a viable pregnancy and that we could expect the physical symptoms of miscarriage over the weekend. They were right.

I've never thought lightly of miscarriages. Reports of them from friends and family have always sparked emotions of sadness and brokenness. What I didn't anticipate was the pain in the pit of my stomach. In Biblical times, they would say that the center of their emotions was not their heart, but their bowels. I understood why. Immediately I was nauseous. Immediately, my entire body ached. Immediately we were walking through the valley of the shadow of death. We got the phone call at about 11am, and I had a lunch appointment at 12:00 that was 20 minutes away. Holly and I talked about the news we'd received and expressed our disappointment and contentment. We understood that though this was incredibly difficult, it was still sovereign. We actually do believe that all things do work together for good for those who are called according to His purpose. We didn't doubt God's plan for our lives, and we weren't even angry with God. We just began to feel for the first time in three weeks, and instead of anticipation and joy of another child, we felt the loss of one. I managed to get 10 minutes up the road before my tears hindered my ability to see beyond the windshield. I knew this was a possibility. I knew this could've happened. I tried to prepare myself for this, but it was to no avail. As I was driving, I thought for the first time, "So this is what pain is." I rarely listen to Christian radio, but it was on in the car, and I heard God speaking to me. The songs on the radio were mostly River Stone worship staples, and one that I didn't particularly like when I heard it before. However, the lyric included, "I don't pretend to know the pain you're going through... but there's a light at the end of the tunnel." In my pain, God was there. It was interesting though, because even though I knew He was there, He wasn't making me feel any better. I went on to have lunch and encourage one of my friends whose wife cheated on him. It was not my favorite afternoon. After lunch, I went back home. On the way, more songs, more of God's presence, more tears, and more pain.

It was an uncomfortable place to be in. My job is to pray. My job is to tell other people how to pray. My job is to intercede and be strong and rejoice with those who rejoice and grieve with those who grieve. In recent months, we've stared death and ferocious tumors in the face and called on the name of the Lord and came out victorious, but in my own life, a crushing defeat was given. The prayers of many answered with a resounding, "No." My job is to comfort those in pain, but I had no comfort to offer myself.

The leaders of our church are going through a process of pruning. We've always felt like that it's more important to have a church that's Kingdom minded than a church that is it's own Kingdom. We don't self-promote. We don't boast about ourselves. We don't pretend like we're a big deal when we're not. We simply want to be used by God to usher His Kingdom in to San Marcos as it is in heaven. We want to be major players in the Kingdom more than we want book deals and for people to come to our conference. Our desire is fruit, and I'm not talking only about a room full of people. I'm talking about fruit. Fruit that will last. Fruit that will taste good to our community. The problem is that pruning is an important part of the fruit process. I wish I was on the other side seeing that the pain was necessary for the blessing that was to come. I think I'm even trusting God for that, but I simply can't see past the pain.

A friend of mine suggested that perhaps the Lord is displeased with us, and I began to consider the option. However, a few days later, I feel like it's not really about that, it's about character. It's about the glory of God in the pain and suffering. It's about testing. It's about seeing what we're made of. The weight of the past few months has truly been enough to consider quitting and going and getting a job at a big church where at least I'm getting paid well if there's any suffering. But, as we've talked through some of this, I think that we're going to come out stronger. I think that no weapon formed against us shall prosper. I think we're going to stand against the schemes and plans of the evil one. I think we're going to learn to pray more consistently, more efficiently, and more effectively. I think we're going to experience miracles. I think we're going to experience an outpouring of prayer and intercession. I think we're going to see the Kingdom. I don't understand why pain, loss, and suffering are necessary for experiencing the fullness of God. I don't understand, but that's what I read in the Epistles. We are never closer to God than when we suffer, according to Scripture. So, here's the struggle. I've never been closer to God, but I've never felt further away. Could it be that following Christ is not about feeling good about anything, but seeing very clearly that I truly need Him to help me take another breath because I don't necessarily feel like taking it right now? Could it be that following Christ is actually letting go and seeing that He won't? I've experienced a difference in speaking things that I know are true, and crying out those same things in desperation. For example, I've always been moved by the lyrics from Matt Redman's "You Never Let Go," but Sunday I had to sing them as my only hope. Or should I say scream them through the tears, because I'm pretty sure that notes were not what was coming out of my mouth. Pain was coming out. Raw emotion. Noise that wasn't joyful, but sorrowful. For the first 10 minutes of Brian's message, I was in the back of our facility, in the dark, with my head down, crying. For what? I don't even know. Just because it hurts.

So, right now, I'm trying to rejoice in our sufferings, but I don't feel very happy. I'm trusting God for healing, but I don't feel very healed. I'm praying to God that He would somehow get glory for this in our lives and church, but I don't know how. More importantly, I'm trying to get through one more day despite the ache in my soul from losing my unborn child. However, if there were no death, then life would mean very little, and recently I'm comforted by my Great High Priest who actually gave Himself up to be killed so that others could live. I'm reminded of the words that I preached from Joseph - what was meant for evil, God uses for salvation. We're never closer to Christ than when we're suffering. I wish I knew how. I wish I could feel it. I wish it made sense, but here I find myself at a place that all I can do is trust God to get me through the end of a day.

I think the only moral at this point is to be careful what you preach. God in his grace will make sure that you are given an opportunity to see if you're full of crap or not. I wonder if that's why so many preachers preach such an easy Gospel. I know I preach a hard Gospel - hard even for me to have to live up to it. So hard that it cost me something... maybe even everything. So hard, that I have to talk to my son about the goodness of God in a tragic situation. So hard, that I've had to depend on those close to me to help me make decisions that I can normally make with no problem. It's hard to follow Christ. It would be easier to quit, but then death couldn't be used for life. It's hard enough for friends to be there even though they don't know what to say. Hard enough for the simplest of hugs to have a profound impact on my life (thank you, Jessica). Hard enough for me to ask if it's even worth it. Hard enough to make it difficult to get out of bed in the morning. It's hard. I'm grateful for a hard Gospel. I'm grateful to have to live it out. I'm grateful that the relationships we've poured into for the past three years have poured back into us. I'm grateful for the strength of our extended families and the e-mail from cousins that have had profound impacts. I'm grateful for the phone calls. I'm grateful that I know this burden is being shared among a lot of people. I'm grateful for elders to hold my arms up when I can't hold them up anymore. I'm grateful for God's grace that I don't have to preach during this season. I'm grateful that in empathizing with my wife's pain that I've never loved her more. I'm grateful for the extra time I've been able to spend with my son. I'm thankful for how bad he wants a baby sister. I'm glad that in the mean time he gets to share Caleb's. I'm grateful that the joy of the Lord being my strength doesn't mean I have to feel happy. I'm grateful that we're worthy of a test, and I pray that our faithfulness will lead to be trusted with more. I pray that our church would experience revival and anointing. I pray for the next person who's going to have to suffer.

Anyway, I realize that these thoughts are random and all over the place. I realize that there's no resolution to my struggles, and I'm ok with that for right now. I'm trusting God for today - tomorrow's got enough trouble of it's own. I'm trusting God for daily bread. I'll eat the manna. I'll live with the pain, and I'll hope for the fruit to come quickly from the pruning.

So, thanks for taking the time to walk with us through this. Thanks for reading even though I don't really have anything to say. Hopefully soon, some clarity will come, and the Kingdom will come in San Marcos as it is in heaven. God Bless.