Keep An Eye On That One

that-one-light“This morning was another rough one,” I said. “As soon as she rolled out of bed, Evelyn was sure to tell me that she hates meeting with these needles as the first event of her day.”

The kids were already out in the warmed van waiting for me to take them to school. I lifted my coat from the back of the chair.

“It’s been two days short of a month since this whole odyssey began,” I said, “and the empty gallon of milk—you know, the jug we use to dispose of the used syringes—it’s three-quarters full.” I put an arm into a sleeve. “That’s a lot of needles being put into that tiny body,” I said with a sigh that revealed my weariness of the topic. “But it’s the same every day. As soon as she wakes up, we need to check her blood sugar and then get some insulin into her before breakfast.” I adjusted my collar and then slipped the other arm into its sleeve. “The groan she gives. The frown she makes. She’s been doing so well, but I feel like lately she’s getting scared again. She’s pulling away and crying when it’s time to do what absolutely has to be done.”

God sat calmly on the bench near the front door, His back to our Christmas tree, the glorious emblem of cheer that shouted with superb form through our front windows into the dreary neighborhood beyond.

“To be expected,” He said. “It’s still a lot for a little girl.” He looked to me and patted the seat beside Him. “She’s tired. People get tired.” He slid a few inches to make some room.

“How do you usually respond to her?” He asked. With my coat zipped to its collar, I sat down beside Him to put on my boots.

“I hug her tightly,” I said, “and tell her how much I love her. I tell her how much You love her. I tell her how she’s the bravest girl I’ve ever met.”

God smiled and reached around to fiddle with a strand of lights on the tree that had gone out. Their absence left a somewhat dismal void in the middle section of the tree that apparently bothered us both.

“They don’t make these things like they used to,” He chuckled while pressing at each bulb as if trying to discover the culprit. Why He did this, I don’t know. Divinity needs no informing. With a word, He brings things into being. With a glance, He can order a man’s heart in one way or the other.

“For the most part,” He said casually and tapped at one bulb in particular, “like you said, she has been doing pretty well.” The tiny bulb flickered at first, causing the entire strand to struggle, but then in a moment, each of the lights along the winding thread gave a soft and steady glow. The tree’s mid-portion of emptiness was swallowed by a wash of white, and the lifeless ornaments danced again.

“Thanks,” I said.

“You’re welcome,” He returned with a little pep. “But keep an eye on that one,” he added and pointed back to the struggling bulb. “It looks like it may have a tendency to go out every now and then. When it does, don’t give up hope. Just take a moment and give it the loving care it needs. It’ll make all the difference in the world for the whole tree. You’ll see.”

I put on my gloves, stepped out and into the cold, and locked the front door.20161217_094921

A Weaponized Gospel

psalmsI set the handset of the phone down into its cradle with a little more force than usual; so firmly, in fact, that the button marked “speaker” rattled to a glow as if I’d pressed it.

“I hope he doesn’t say those things to his people,” I whispered to myself. Looking over toward where God had just taken a seat, “I hope he doesn’t preach those things.”

“What did he say?” God asked. He was thumbing through a volume of Luther’s Works that He’d taken from my shelf.

“Well,” I said and inhaled to gain some momentum, “first he told me that I need to buck up and start trusting in You a little more. Then he said that as a pastor, my mourning on the new blog was making it look like I’d never heard the name of Jesus before, let alone heard or understood the Gospel.”

“He said that?” God asked calmly but without looking up from His book.

“More or less.”

“Did he say anything else?”

“He tried to say that Luther would agree with his words,” I added.

“No, he wouldn’t,” God countered before I could finish my sentence. “He lost two daughters to death. Those events alone kept him on his knees in anxious prayer for hours on end.” God slouched a bit in His chair and turned a page, still without lifting His gaze toward me. “And we both know he had plenty of other things worth lamenting. Believe me, he mourned. All the time, in fact. But I never doubted his trust.”

His words did not bring me comfort, but rather roped me to the image of a man who, while held by the world as unbreakable, was also the recipient of horrible tragedies that often leveled and almost incapacitated him both emotionally and physically. I could see a crumpled Luther sitting on the floor in the corner of his study. Hands folded and tears flowing, I could see his reddened face and quivering lip.

“But your friend did offer a fertile thought, by the way,” God said interrupting my wandering mind. He turned a page. “He managed to insinuate that my Son, Jesus, is at the heart of the Gospel. He’s right about that, at least.” He turned another page. “And Luther did cling to this. He struggled with it just as you do, and yet he saw it for what it was even while the Holy Spirit’s gift of faith seemed to flicker.” God set the book down and got up from His chair to fetch another. Sliding volumes in and out of their spaces, “Your friend doesn’t seem to be able to translate that image too well, just yet. He will, though. Every one of my preachers is brought into the image at some point.” He chose a volume and sat back down. “Luther called it ‘Tentatio’—struggle—and it was a big part of his theology.”

“Well, now I’m confused,” I said, “because I actually figured that you put my so-called friend up to the phone call.”

“I didn’t move him to call you,” God said. “I never weaponize the Gospel against people with broken hearts, but I do find myself cleaning up the messes of the ones who think they’re helping by back-handing a hurting Christian with the guilt of failing me.”

“So, you didn’t do this?”

“Haven’t you ever read the Psalms, my good man?” He asked. “Depths of woe, bones wasting away, exhaustion from groaning all day long—the Psalms are a trove of anything and everything except ‘Pull yourself up by your bootstraps, you faithless idiot.’” He turned a few pages in the new book. “Read Matthew 11:28-30,” He added, “and tell me if you think I like to back-hand people with the Gospel.” He put the book in His lap and pointed to me, “And while you’re at it, flip over to an even easier one—1 Peter 5:7. Then shuffle backward to Psalm 34:18. You’ll see a trend. You’ll see that I pretty much mandate for you to whine to me. Trust me, I can handle it. And I will hear you and come to your aid.”

“Just not in the way I would prefer,” I murmured.

“Because that’s quite often not the best thing,” He said and maintained the pace of the conversation. “Tell me what else he said.”

“He also thought that I was starting to sound like an Enthusiast,” I said, “because of the way I’ve been writing lately.”

“He did?”

“Yeah,” I said. “He mentioned that the stuff I’m writing is distracting, all these ‘discussions with God.’ He said it makes me sound like I’m privy to some sort of special revelation outside of the Word. You know… an Enthusiast.”

“I know what an Enthusiast is, Chris.”

“He thought that by doing this I might be confusing my readers.”

God sat quietly for a moment. He closed the book and then looked up. “Is that what you believe?”

“That I’m confusing my readers? Probably.”

“No,” He said with a smile emerging from an easy gentleness. “I mean do you believe that you are privy to special revelation apart from my Word?”

“Of course not,” I said clearly. “When I don’t know what’s going on, I go to what I know, to what You have revealed, and that’s where I plant myself.” God looked as though He was about to speak, but I interrupted. “I’m writing the things that I am because it’s therapeutic. It’s a way for me to think through Your Word, to sort of… be a pastor to myself when no other pastors are around, to listen in a way that unpacks Your promises when it feels like everything is coming undone and I’m hanging on by the thinnest of fibrils.”

I looked toward the window where a chipmunk had chosen a seat on the sill, as if he wanted to catch a quick glimpse of the Creator. “I figure it may be of some help to others, too.”

“Good enough,” God said and got up to leave. Turning back to me, He asked, “By the way, what did you say to your friend?”

“Well,” I said and once again inhaled to gain some thrust, “I told him to go to hell. More or less.”

“Hmm,” God hummed. “Interesting.”

Little Things

sun-storm-little-thingsThe speedometer registered at seventy-two miles per hour. “That’s in range,” I said. “Although, lose a few points and she’ll need a snack to boost.”

Reaching over to adjust the radio’s volume, I gave a passing glance to the clock while simultaneously observing that the tuner was set to AM 760. “One thirty-two is a good number,” I said in a lower voice. “But 760 is a trip to the Emergency Room.”

“That’s funny,” God said and turned to look out the window. The sky was becoming crowded by the forerunning nimbus clouds of a winter storm.

“Funny?” I asked.

“Every number is a glucometer reading,” He said and chuckled. “That’s funny.”

I spied the thermometer holding steadily to 23 degrees. “That’s a trip to the ER, too,” I said and pointed.

“But exit 108 is good, right?” God said in jest and poked my shoulder.

“Yeah, that’s a good one,” I answered. “Anything above 150 or below 70 and we’ve got trouble.”

There was a slight opening in the cloudy canvas above, enough so that the sun could stream through and lighten the highway before us.

“I see things very differently,” I said and looked over my shoulder to change lanes. “Numbers mean everything, now—tiny little marks on a syringe, ounces, carbs, grams. The little things, they mean everything.”

“The little things,” God said and tapped the passenger door’s arm rest still gazing skyward. “Maybe I should allow more folks to be blessed by a child with Type 1 Diabetes.”

I didn’t respond. While I understood His point, His words made me angry.

A cold and dead minute passed. “Exit 110,” He said. “Still a good number.”

Something Happened

something-happenedI can only describe it.

I can’t bring you into it each day. And besides, I would never seek to inflict it upon you, anyway. Still, there’s no place for you to perch where you’ll be able to see everything at once. There’s no cliff where one may sit and observe equally the exhausting terrors that stalk the day becoming other forbidding forms at night to creep around the corners and crawl from under beds and scratch out from closets that they might come to rest beside a seven-year-old. A blood sugar that drops below 70 while we are drifting off into the early hours and unaware—a fading into a deeper sleep that can only be roused if we reach it before zero—this is a dreadful specter. He lives in our home.

But I can only describe it.

I can only use language—words in their best order and perhaps strengthened by literary devices—to explain the unexplainable, to engage with you, the reader, and tell you how frightened we can be sometimes.

But more and more, even as I’ve preached it thousands of times, I’m learning more intimately that words are enough. Not just any words. God’s words.

They move things. Apparitions are terrorized by the promises they contain. Phantoms step aside in their presence. The alien pall that covers a life lived in fear of what might well be slithering over the vista, it is removed and burned—ashen and dirtied in its own filth.

There is bit to be spoken on behalf of the Apostles as they delivered these peculiar words to nations.

These weak-kneed and less-than-spectacular men traveling beside a wayfaring preacher from Nazareth who spoke—used words—they saw Him betrayed by His own, contused beyond any other criminal’s deserving, and propped up on a tortuous device designed to usher a slow but certain death. In that scene, any fleeting sparkle of a courageous fire being built could only have been snuffed. All was lost.

And so they hid. They hid in an upper room. One didn’t even bother. He went home. He returned to his former life most likely in full surrender to the expectation that as a follower of the failed leader, it was only a matter of time before he was discovered and his own life would be ended.

The specters were grand that particular weekend—that Friday leading to Sunday. The leader, Jesus, He was right by His words at the moment just before the regiment reached out to take Him: “This is your hour, and the power of darkness.”

Indeed. Every darkened closet in the world, every shadowy under-bed realm, every unlit corner of every unsure space was filing toward this man staking the divine claim as Savior. And it would appear, as it did for the pitifully-sized group of society’s lessers, that His assertions were false and all was now to become undone. Up above the earth, the God-man’s head hung low. His eyes dilated into oblivion no sooner than He’d gasped out the commending of His spirit.

“Look away,” the dreadful apparitions say. “We win,” they grin and foam. “The powers of darkness have the greater gain, and for all time. Type 1 Diabetes will forever have a place in the confused DNA of a raucous Mankind.”

But something happened. Something was seen. Something was heard. Something occurred that caused these same Disciples—even the one who went home only to be coaxed back to his brethren—to be willing to be imprisoned, exiled, fed to beasts, beheaded, crucified upside down, clubbed and stoned to death, stabbed, impaled, and burned to ash. They had nothing to gain from this world—no prestige or worldly redemption—and yet something happened that would cause a unified front and a consistent, impenetrable linkage among men of low stature, something that none would dare contradict or forsake to save oneself even when facing the bared teeth of the unthinkable.

Something happened, something with remarkable potency, something that dispelled fear—even the fear of the most gruesome of deaths.

Something happened.

I cannot bring you into it. But I do have a special alliance of words in which I know it pulsates. The words aren’t necessarily descriptors, and they are rarely very eloquent, but they do describe and translate for the human viscera in ways that none other can achieve. Of themselves, they are creators—architects, builders, and sustainers—again, unlike any other utterance from any contrived dialect.

This is only true because they are fueled by the One who gives them. In fact, He is them. He is them in the flesh and dwelling among raucous Mankind.

This One—crucified and risen—He lives in our home, too.

He’s in our closets and under our beds and around each corner. He’s beside us at the homework table or watching TV. He’s there at every insulin injection and comforting through each finger poke. He’s there in the dark, very nearby when our sleep is uneasy and we’re concerned by numbers that could fall in a moment.

I cannot prove any of this, except to say that something happened and we have words in our home that are unlike any other. They have changed us. And we believe them. We believe Him.

Wait For Tomorrow

dont-know-how-to-get-you-out-of-this-oneTraveling along—doing what I do—there’s a song that I stumbled upon. It’s performed by The Fray and it’s called “Heaven Forbid.” There are two particular lines in the song that, for me, are rather piercing.

Hold on tight and wait for tomorrow. You’ll be alright.
I don’t know how to get you out of this one.

These lines were potent enough to bring to mind a certain recurring dream I used to have when the first of our four children, Joshua, was about two years old. The dream was always very terrifying.

He and I would find ourselves in a boat on rising and falling ocean swells filled with circling sharks. And as the boat was tossed about, I would struggle in desperation to hold onto him. Grappling for railings or ropes or anything within reach, I’d struggle. The water, spraying up and onto the deck, would eventually soak to the core of its planks and make the base beneath us so treacherous that I could barely stand. Ultimately my infant son would slip from my grasp and into the water.

Most scarring in the dream, second only to the palpable panic that I could feel throughout every fiber of my frame as I watched the dorsal fins rise from the water in a glide toward him, was the look of terror on Joshua’s face. With outstretched arms, his screams would perforate every sound on earth only to be instantaneously muffled by the dark water. I would leap in. I’d wrap my arms around him. I’d kick to the edge of the boat. And with eyes closed, I’d lift him up and over its rail and wait to be viciously torn away from him. I never felt the pain, but I always knew it had happened because the water around me was rubied in that moment as I drifted below the surface of the waves.

But I’d wake up. Tomorrow was always alright.

Every now and then the dream returns. And while it usually choreographs the same predicament, it no longer involves Josh, but rather Madeline or Harrison. No longer are we at sea, but instead we are near an open zoo animal pen—such as that of a polar or grizzly bear—or we are near the edge of a swampy water hole of lurking crocodiles. The ending is always the same. Something is happening so that I cannot hold onto them, and yet I must give my life to a beast that they would be spared. And I do every time.

I’ve never had such a dream about Evelyn. I don’t know why. And yet, there is a part of me that thinks that what is usually reserved to those unspeakable nightfalls of the sleeping human mind are finding their way into the everyday sunlight of actuality. The circling sharks, the bears, the lurking crocodiles—have been let loose from the imagination. They are my daughter’s Diabetes. And as hard as I try, I cannot throw myself between her and this beast. It always swims past. I cannot lift her to safety and give myself in her place. It wants her and it pulls her into its pen. I cannot open my mortal eyes to a new tomorrow and find it to be alright. The Diabetes is always there, lurking just below the surface of the swamp.

I so desperately want to, but… I don’t know how to get you out of this one.

“The Gospel,” God interrupts. “There is One who has thrown Himself to the beasts, even the ones that you cannot imagine. He has lifted you to safety. Evelyn is safe, too. Mortal eyes are fading, and it must be so. This life is the dimly lit looking glass of a dream. Tomorrow is waiting. I’ve given my Spirit to you. Hold onto Christ. Hold on tight and wait for tomorrow. You’ll be alright.



God Said I Could Have It

“Hey, Chris,” God whispered with urgency from the entrance to my daughter’s bedroom. “C’mere, quick. I want you to see this.”

“What is it?” I asked and set the laundry basket down on the floor near the couch.

“Just c’mere,” He said again.

Class was beginning. I could hear the esteemed professor calling for her students to take their seats. Papers ruffled and desk chairs moved, but I stood listening from just beyond the bedroom door and out of sight.

Once arranged in an appropriate semi-circle, attendance was called. It was a small class. Barbie, Flynn Rider, Fred the Alligator, Baby Doll Katie, Rufus the Diabetes Bear, Fluffers the Owl, and Mouse all sat ready to be made wiser by way of Miss Evelyn’s brilliance.

Sitting down in the midst of the students, she announced with such engaging vigor, “Today we have a special class. Today I want to tell you all about something really important.”

“What are you going to tell us?” Fluffers intoned with a voice that was strangely similar to that of Miss Evelyn’s.

“Raise your hand and I will call on you,” the confident teacher began. “Today, I want to tell you about Diabetes. It’s a disease that I have.”

Barbie gasped. “Are you going to die?!” she asked, her voice also sounding an awful lot like Miss Evelyn’s.

“Nope,” Miss Evelyn said with surprising security. “It’s very serious and it takes a lot of work, but I’ll be just fine. And I’m not leaving any of you. But my pancreas doesn’t work right anymore and so now I have to do a lot of things I don’t like very much.”

“What kinds of things do you have to do, teacher?” Fred asked with his signature toothy snarl.

“I have to poke my fingers a lot with a… a… a pokey thing. I can’t remember what it’s called right now. It has a needle that pokes my finger so I can see the blood, and then I use a glucometer to see what the number is. And then I have to take a shot, too.”

“Does it hurt?” Mouse squeaked.

“Sometimes, but not so much. Well, sometimes it stings a little. But I’m pretty brave. And Momma and Daddy said I’m really brave. I know I’m braver than Joshua and Harrison, that’s for sure. And I sing a song every time I get poked.”

“Does Josh have Diabetes?” Flynn Rider posited. “Or Harrison? Or Madeline?”

“Nope,” Miss Evelyn said. “Just me. And there’s no one at my school, either. I have it all by myself. Daddy told me that I’m going to meet some other kids that have it, too. That’ll be nice.”

“How come you have it?” Katie asked.

“I don’t know,” she said very kindly. “I just do. I think God said I could have it. I don’t know why. But He loves me, so I pray to Him when I’m scared and He helps me, because He loves me. Yeah, I pray to Him.”

God smiled and gave me a steely nudge in the gut with His elbow. I didn’t say a word to Him. He kept quiet, too. But we both stood there near the door listening until the school bell rang and class was dismissed.

Math In The Dark

hugsfordaddy“Looks like your last write-up made a few waves,” God pried from across the way. I tapped at my computer.

“It wasn’t meant to be offensive,” I said keeping my glance in check with the computer screen. “Just a hard-nosed bit of catechizing. And besides, it by no means applies to a majority of anyone I know personally. So far most have simply been offering to pray. I sure hope you’re listening.”

“I am,” He said. “And I’ve acted on each petition.”

“Mine, too?”

“Yep. Yours, too.”

“Yeah, whatever.” I kept to the keyboard and screen.

“Anyway,” He continued, “my comment wasn’t to say the piece was bad. It’s just that you’re going to find that most people, while they may have so-called good intentions…” There was an uncomfortable pause before He kept on, “even those good intentions are corrupted by sin. I’m guessing that as time rolls on, you’ll find yourself less irritated and more entertained by some of the things people do and say. Funny how it all plays out sometimes.”

“Yeah, funny,” I said. I could tell He was including me in His observation.

“So,” He sighed and moved beside me, “how are things going lately?”

“We’re really struggling to get her blood sugar regulated,” I answered. “If we could just do that, things would be a little less traumatizing for everyone involved.”

“I know the doctors told you about the honeymoon phase of this disease, right?”

“Yeah. Her pancreas isn’t completely dead,” I said, “so it spits out a little bit of insulin every now and then. The last gasp of a desperate and dying organ, I guess. Essentially, we’re doing math in the dark.”

“Frustrating, huh?”

“Yeah, it sure is.”

“Why does this bother you?”

I stopped typing. The question was so simple, and yet I needed to think through my response very carefully. His questions, no matter how stupid they may at first appear, always go places.

“At home or here in the office,” I started, “I’m living life at what feels like fifteen minutes at a time. Everything is out of my grasp. Everything is shackled to this disease. I’m putting meetings off. I’m spending less time crafting my sermons as I’d prefer. I can’t think through for any long periods of time on anything. I can’t travel more than an hour away from the church to visit shut-ins or to make hospital calls—and everything is more than an hour round trip around here. I can’t do any of this stuff. I need to be here for her. I need to be close. It’s as if everything’s been put on hold.”

“Sort of a… well… a forced recalibration, wouldn’t you say?”

“Yes. Forced. That’s an accurate descriptor.”

“Good,” He said and smiled.

“What do you mean ‘good’?” I asked with obvious irritation.

“Your work week is easily 90 hours on average right now, wouldn’t you say?”

“Yeah,” I said. “It comes with this place. You know that. And you also know that there’s nothing I can do about it.”

“That’s right. So, in part, maybe I’m doing something about it.”

I sat up a little straighter than before. “So, my daughter’s Diabetes is my fault?” I challenged with a rage very much beginning to bloom. “This whole thing is a result of my dedication to my call as pastor?”

“I didn’t say that,” He gave back. “But certain things are happening because of it—things that may just be for your good—for the good of your family.”

I was speechless. My mouth watered with a turning stomach.

“You need to keep in mind, Chris,” God said and leaned in a bit, “that you didn’t marry the church. You married Jennifer. You didn’t father this parish, my friend. I did. It depends on Me, not you. I set you here because I love my people and I love you. And born of that same love, I’ve given you the gift of children—which is something I don’t necessarily grant to everyone. But either way, with that gift comes a natural dependency—husband and wife, parent and child—and it works very well in my design.”

I was beginning to fume again. “You do realize how guilty I already feel when I can’t get to everything in a single week, right?”

“Yes, I do,” He said without hesitation. “And I like that you continually talk to me about that guilt. I love to work peace in you by the Gospel. I love to wrap my arms around you and tell you of the forgiveness of sins My Son, Jesus, won for you by His death and resurrection.”

God leaned back to what looked like a more comfortable position. “Just be opened to thinking about it, Chris. Your family needs you more than you are willing to afford sometimes. They need you more than you are giving them, and now, every waking moment has been forcefully reassigned. Savor it. Contemplate your daughter’s life and how much you love her. Let the exercise translate into the lives of the other three—into Jen’s life. Give them more of your time. I can handle this place well enough without you. It doesn’t rise or fall on your back.”

I sat and listened. The anger was still there, but I could feel the drawing ease in God’s voice.

“If you’re looking to discover a little bit of good from this mess, maybe let this be the first of the many beams of my love that I intend to let shine through.”

I kept silent.

“I can see you’re thinking about it,” God said. “Good. I’ll leave you to your thoughts, because, well, I can also see that My Holy Spirit is chiseling away at them right now, anyway.”

I looked at my watch. It was time to check Evelyn’s blood sugar, again. At that moment, I was drawn into an ethereal love of seeing her so much during the regular school day, suddenly mindful of how I love the feel of her little arms wrapped as far as they can reach around my neck or chest when she hugs me—even after an angry finger poke and an 8 mm needle injection. We both despise those little beasts, but we’re in it together—depending on one another—and for that we’re both glad.