Lessons from the ER

Sunday night I found myself at the hospital with Anna again. Her feelings of depression, anxiety, and anger have been uncontrollable. She was at the point where she did not trust herself to not hurt herself again and wanted to go to the hospital. I went with her. I was there with her until Monday evening. It took that long to find an open placement for her. But against the odds she got one.

What a way to spend Memorial day weekend right? But I learned a lot over that 21 hour wait:
Again I learned what a privilege it is to be with Anna and to advocate for her and stand with her when she is weak.
I learned that I can still do all-fighters and/or function on very little sleep.
I learned that being there with Anna meant everything to her.
I learned that when I am punch-drunk tired, I can be very funny.
I learned that you can be both amazingly strong and beautiful and extremely fragile and broken at the same time.
I learned that the prayers of friends and family are effective and necessary to keep me going.
I learned that Anna loves to play with hospital bed controls… especially if they are yours and not hers.
I learned that I do love being her dad. =)
And I learned that right now I can’t be in formal pastoral ministry. Family needs me too much. I can’t give the kind of time and energy to Anna and the rest of my family and also look after a congregation. I need to focus on them right now, and for the foreseeable future. So I have decided to switch gears and stay at Two Guys Smoke Shop and not consider fulltime ministry positions at this time. I will still take advantage of speaking and preaching opportunities, and I will still write and post on my blog here.

Ironically, twenty years ago today, I graduated from Reformed Theological Seminary, Orlando. I was set to go from there into a lifetime of pastoral ministry. Now it looks like I may never go back. When I decided to go to seminary, I went with the attitude that there was no downside to it. At best, I would have the necessary academic credentials to pursue my calling into pastoral ministry. At worst (if you an say worst) I would be well educated in my faith and that would set me up to excel in my own faith and in practice as a husband, father, and worker in Christ’s kingdom.

You see, there is no not being a worker in His kingdom. I don’t see myself as having been demoted or benched. In some ways I feel promoted! We sometimes are guilty of thinking that pastors and missionaries are the ultimate Christians. That, my friends, is not at all the case. In truth the most influential Christian leader, mentor, and spiritual father I have ever met was an insurance salesman! That man loved Jesus better than anyone I know… and that includes all the pastors I know. Never confuse a degree or a title or a position as necessary things to possess in order to do “real” work in the Father’s kingdom. Most kingdom work happens in the everyday, common, and normal places of life where none of those things really come into play… like spending 21 hours in an ER with your anxious and hurting daughter.


Lessons from being let go

So a bit over a week ago, I got a call from my wife Mandi all in tears. She was let go by her employer. She loved what she was doing and the people she was working with. I don’t need to go into the details, but she is not being replaced, her position was cut. It was a real shock to her (and to me too to be honest). We are very much a two income family, and we knew that if she didn’t get work asap we would be in big trouble.

Like you would expect, she was wracking her brain trying to figure out what happened: Did she do something wrong? What could she have done differently? Why would God take away a job that she loved and that fulfilled her so much? Yet I could not help thinking that God had pulled her away from that work for something else that He needed her doing more.

That night, she called her parents to tell them what was going on. As the conversation progressed, they began batting around the idea of hiring her as a CNA for themselves. Her mom has advanced Parkinson’s and her dad is recovering from a mild stroke. They had been paying for 24/7 help through a home health aid service. By the end of the next day, it have been worked out that she would work full time for them. Now she is getting more time with her parents and getting to care for them when they need it most which she has wanted to do and is making the same money she was at her previous job. They feel much more comfortable with Mandi doing all the personal things that need done, she is qualified to do more as a CNA than the home health aids were able to do, and because she is private, they are saving a lot of money and helping us out at the same time which they have wanted to do. It is a big win-win.

We have been learning the importance of looking at events like Mandi losing her job, or water damage from a broken pipe, or not knowing how the bills are going to get paid this month through the lens of faith. I’m not talking a blind irrational kind of faith. I’m talking about faith that God will do what you cannot, that He will provide what you cannot, that He will get you to where He wants you to be when you have no way there. We have been learning that these lessons never get learned. They are not things we mater and move on from. Rather they are lessons that get taken to new and deeper levels throughout your life. At least, that is what I have been learning. Perhaps you have too.

This is what the LORD says—
he who made a way through the sea,
a path through the mighty waters,
who drew out the chariots and horses,
the army and reinforcements together,
and they lay there, never to rise again,
extinguished, snuffed out like a wick:
“Forget the former things;
do not dwell on the past.
See, I am doing a new thing!
Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness
and streams in the wasteland
(Isaiah 43:16-19, NIV).

Why Celebrate?

My daughter Anna struggles with depression and anxiety because of her Non Verbal Learning Disorder (NVLD). She was hospitalized eight times within a two year period. It was hard, real hard. Basically every three months she was in a hospital or C-BAT unit. But after that, because of her hard work and the prayers of many friends she started to make significant strides in learning to cope with her NVLD. When we came to the one year anniversary of her being free of self harm and hospitalization we had a celebration going to her favorite restaurant, the China Buffet. When she made it two years, we had a party with family and friends to celebrate her accomplishment.

But three months after the two year celebration, she hurt herself again and ended up back in a C-BAT unit.

The question has come up: what is the point of celebrating such milestones of recovery when there is no certainty that the recovery will continue without times when we fall? Does the fact that she fell again say that our celebration premature?

The reason for celebrating is not about what you are going to do tomorrow. It is acknowledging the work that was done in the past. She worked hard. She accomplished a lot. That was worth celebrating. We weren’t celebrating the expectation that she would never fall down again, we were celebrating the fact that she had gone so long without failing down again.

And you know what? She had a much easier time getting back on her feet this time. She is not the same person she was four and a half years ago. She is in not in the same place she was either. She is stronger, wiser, and more resilient. And so are we and the rest of her support system. Celebrating her milestones is about building her up, giving her hope, and acknowledging her work on her journey, not setting expectations for perfection in the future. She knows that.

I say, yes, it was worth celebrating. It was not a mistake. It was not premature. If I had the chance to do it over again, I would. And when we get to a year from her latest trip, we will all celebrate again. Love drives us to celebrate these milestones with her, no less than it drives us help her up when she falls.

For Mom

That rascally, reclusive, and reluctant varmint, Punxsutawney Phil, saw his shadow this morning. Cold snowy weather for the next six weeks if you can trust the groundhog. He’s not actually all that reliable. He’s been right 50% of the time since he and his forehogs started this tradition back in the 1886.

While I am not so hot on today being Ground Hog Day, February 2nd is also my mom’s birthday.

That makes today a great day.

My mom is one of my favorite people. She’s funny, happy, always interested in what you are doing, and loves to laugh. She has a real servant-heart attitude, and loves to help people–maybe by making some of her famous chicken soup, or just by stopping by and letting them know she’s thinking of them. She is very compassionate, kind, and gracious. I learned about those things from her. She’s not afraid to tell me what I need to hear when I need corrected, but she is always excited to tell me things she is proud of or thankful for related to me. And honestly, those calls are far more common.

She is a great example of what it means to be a spiritual mother. She conducts herself in the truth and responds in grace, and is sold out to her Lord Jesus Christ and lives for God through Him. I can honestly say, I would not know Jesus was well as I do today if not for my mother.

Happy birthday mom! Love you!

Image may contain: 11 people, people smiling

PS: She’s in the back in the middle, at the center of the fun.



Soul Cutting

Last night I got a call from Mandi at work telling me to go home to Anna. the thing I have been watching for (or watching out for hoping it would not come) happened. My daughter Anna cut herself again. For my new readers, this is not accidental you understand. It was deliberate. She had been free from this for the past 14 months. It was a good run. But tonight, the depression and anxiety she struggled with got the upper hand. It’s shaping up to be a busy couple of weeks, and a full throttle start to the new year.

Cutting is a nasty beast, cutting, and far too common. If you want to get into the head of that thinking, listen to the song “Cut” by Plumb.

When I asked her why she felt she needed to go back to that again she said that cutting released endorphins that made you feel happy.

“Well, if it did, that happiness did not last long, did it?” I answered.

She shrugged. But then admitted that she was still sad and felt unsafe.

The reality is that sin is like that too isn’t it? We rationalize sinning saying that it will masked us feel better, give us what we want, or make us happy, or help us forget our problems. Perhaps it seems to for a short bit. But eventually, and much sooner than we would like to admit, we find that the relief was short-lived, the happiness fleeting, and our problems more daunting because of new guilt and shame from our actions. Sin is essentially a spiritual cutting of the soul.

As our love and support for Anna did not change because of her relapse, but rather moved me and her mom to act to protect, help, and serve her; as the Father’s son or daughter, He is no less moved to come close to you and give you the grace, compassion, and help you need when you spiritually cut yourself. You don’t need to worry about turning Him from you. Jesus has already paid for your healing and restoration. His love for you, commitment to you, and grace for you will not waver when your faith wavers. On the contrary, “A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out” (Isaiah 42:3, NIV).



The one

Today is a very special day. It’s my wife’s birthday.


There are very few people like Mandi in the world. Few people have the wisdom, tenacity, compassion, forbearance, and kindness to put up with me for more than two-and-a-half decades. I often wonder why she hasn’t left. Maybe she’s too stubborn. Then I think maybe it’s that divorce just isn’t an option for her. But when I ask her, she say’s she’s still here because she loves me. That is ridiculously amazing to me. And a great relief. Because I love her too. More than she will ever know.

Her children arise and call her blessed;
her husband also, and he praises her:
“Many women do noble things,
but you surpass them all.”
Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting;
but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised.
Honor her for all that her hands have done,
and let her works bring her praise at the city gate.
(Proverbs 31:28-31, NIV).

That’s you dear!

I love you Mandi! Happy birthday!!