Yeah, That’s What the Doctors are Saying these Days

When you cry yourself to sleep, you sleep hard and still, like a corpse in an open coffin. And once the exhaustion finally sets in and the mind begins to fade into the uneasiness of dreams that turn what you’d expect to be solid rest into nightmarish distress, the blood retreats from your face—your nose and ears and cheeks and forehead—they all settle into a placid paleness rivaled only by that same cadaver in the soft and silk-lined casket.

I know. I’ve seen it. So has God, which is probably why he began as He did.

“How’d you sleep last night?” He asked and then waited.

I didn’t answer. I was already annoyed. But eventually the silence was too burdensome.

“Fine,” I said, took a sip of my coffee, and then reached down to tie a shoelace that had come undone.

“You went to bed early,” He continued.

Again, I let silence govern the pace while I pretended to take a little longer with the shoelace than was required.

Sitting back up, “Yeah. Eight o’clock seems better when you have a 5:30 AM start time and you know you’re going to be up all night.”

“Jen got up with Evelyn last night,” He noted. “She let you sleep since you had an Elder meeting this morning. That was nice of her.”

I held the moment uncomfortably.

“Yeah, it was.”

“She didn’t sleep well, though,” He offered. “She moved a lot. Had some pretty bad dreams.”

“What do you expect?” I snapped. “She cried herself to sleep.”

“I know.”

“Well,” I said sarcastically and laid my palm bare to the sky. “Are you expecting something else from us, right now?”

“She’s worried,” He said calmly.

“You think?” I mumbled with the same sarcastic tone as before and decided to untie and then tie the other shoe.

“And so are you,” He added. “You both learned something new last night—something kind of scary.”

“Whatever,” I said with a rasp. I was tired of the conversation. I took another sip of my coffee.

God was quiet. So was I. But then I sighed my concern.

“Men with Diabetes live eight to ten years shorter life spans than normal men. Women live thirteen to fifteen years less.” It hurt to say this out loud.

“Yeah, that’s what the doctors are saying these days,” God answered.

“I don’t want this for Evelyn,” I said and went to pour what was my third cup of coffee into the sink. The pour was abrupt—a throw. “I don’t want this for her.” I noticed how the thick black liquid had swept up and onto the backsplash beyond the sink. “I don’t want this for her husband or her kids or her family.” I gritted my teeth and did all but toss my porcelain cup to the countertop sounding a hollow crack. “I don’t want this.”

“Why does this worry you?” God asked easily.

“I want her to have a long and full life—as long and as full as possible.”

“Of course you do,” God acknowledged. “You’re her dad. You want what’s best.”

Hearing Him say this, I knew exactly what He was going to say next. He’s pretty predictable.

“I’m her heavenly Father. I have a stake in that ‘best’ too.” He moved a little closer to me and nudged, “Chris, do you remember how happy you were that day you baptized her?”

I didn’t answer, but instead put my head into my hands.

“Oh, my friend, I know how much you love baptizing babies. It was the day of all days watching you baptize your own little ones. But no matter which child it is, let me tell you, there’s a joyful ruckus in heaven when those baptismal waters are flowing.”

I stared at the floor and closed my eyes. I could see her as an infant—so fragile, so small.

“You brought her to the font—to Me—to change what it means for her to have a long and full life. ‘Long’ doesn’t mean what it meant before. And ‘full’ is now altogether different.” He nudged me again, “You’re scared for the future, I know. But to be baptized into the death of my Son meets this fear in ways that make little sense to human flesh.”

I turned my stare to the portrait of Christ welcoming the little children which hangs on my wall near the door.christ-and-the-little-ones

“And while you’re thinking about Baptism and how she has been joined to Me,” God continued, “have you ever considered what it means that I’m omnipresent?”

I kept silent.

“I won’t get too deep here, but it not only means that I am everywhere, but also everywhen.”

He paused this time. He let His words do their work.

“Maybe this will make sense and maybe it won’t, but I’m going to tell you, anyway. First, it means that I’m always with Evelyn. She’s been made my child. My name has been placed upon her. There is nowhere she can go that I won’t pursue her. And second—and this one will be a little harder to get your head around—I’m with her right now just as I am with her in the future—right now.”

He paused again before continuing.

“Chris, I’m with her right now and in her future—right now. I’m already there. I know the number of her days as I know your’s. And I know that beyond either of these blinks, there is an endless day unhindered by time—a place where none of the clocks made by man have the power to tick—and I’m carrying both of you to that eternity.”

He was right. I couldn’t quite get my head around it. A tear began pooling. When it finally fell, I brushed it away.

“In the death of my Son, all of this was accomplished. It was given to Evelyn in her Baptism. It was given to you in your Baptism, too.”

He nudged one last time. “I can assure you,” He said taking a much more tender tone, “a life is only as long and as full as it can be with such Gospel truth in faith’s pocket. By this truth—the truth of my Son’s death and resurrection for the forgiveness of sins—my people, so strangely, become less and less concerned in their guts with regard to how long they live in this mortal life. They have eyes to see everything, surprisingly, in a very different way.”

He paused again.

“You’re struggling to see this right now. I know this. And we’ll keep at it together, just as I promised. In the meantime, don’t try to ‘feel’ it. Just keep listening.”

I didn’t say anything. I simply grabbed my Bible and a push-button pencil, my monthly parochial report, and then headed to my morning meeting and Bible study with the Elders.

“My blessings to you, Chris,” He said as I walked out the door. “Just remember, don’t try to ‘feel’ it right now. Just listen.”

I tapped the light switch and left.

You Are My Sunshine, My Only Sunshine

tearful flowers and the sunshine“Hey, Chris,” God whispered. “I want you to see something.”

“What’s that?”

“Take a look at the very next post in the Facebook scroll. Jennifer just shared it.”

Sure enough, even as I was passing some time and tapping through the day’s messages from friends and family, Jen’s post appeared. It was a video of Evelyn. I watched.

Wow.

“Remember what happened a few days ago with that new lancet?” God reminded.

“How can I forget?” I mumbled through my teeth. “And how can you forget how pissed I was with you that night. I said some things, didn’t I?”

“You did?” God asked sounding somewhat surprised. “I don’t remember that. I do remember your repentance and faith in my Son, and with that, I forgave you. Everything else is forgotten. Seriously, I haven’t the slightest idea what you said to me.”

“Sounds like Hebrews 8 verse 12.”

“You got it, friend. All is well.”

I took a moment and saved the video to my favorites. God nudged again.

“Hey, Chris.”

“Yeah?”

“Do you remember what happened yesterday after school?”

“Yeah. I was pretty proud of Evelyn for taking a stab at that new lancet one more time.” I chuckled at my own words. “No pun intended.”

“Tell me about what happened,” He urged.

“But you already know what happened.”

“Tell me anyway,” He said gently. “I love to listen.”

And so I did. I crafted a scene in which Evelyn and I were sitting on stools at the kitchen counter. We were preparing to check her blood sugar, and so I told her I thought we should give the new lancet another try. But before I could even finish the sentence, she was in tears. She didn’t want to do it.

“Honey,” I said and reached out to embrace her. I held her very close. “You are the bravest girl I know. You can do this. We can do this. We’ve made a great team, so far, and we’ll do this together.”

“I don’t wanna do it, Daddy,” she slurred through tears and a runny nose, her little face getting redder and messier. “I just want to use the other one.”

“But, honey,” I said, “that one still hurts a little, right? This one won’t hurt at all. It works in a whole different way than the other lancet, so we’ll be able to use it in other spots and save your little fingers from so many pokes.”

“I’m scared,” she kept on, tears getting worse.

“Remember, we’re a team,” I said. “I’ll do it, too.”

She sat silent for a moment. Her tears weren’t lessening, but her eyes met with mine to show me that she was thinking.

“And before we do this together,” I continued, “let’s pray. Let’s ask God for the courage. I know He loves us, and I know He’ll help us through it.”

“Yeah,” she sniffled and bobbed her head. I took the moment in full stride and wrapped my arms so very tightly around her. We both bowed our heads together. I set my head against her head—my mouth nearest to her little ear—and we prayed something like this…

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. Dear heavenly Father, thank You so very much for giving us Your Son, Jesus Christ. He lived, suffered, died, and rose again to make us His own. We need your help, right now. Please give us courage to try this new lancet again. Help us to know that even when things seem tough and we are afraid, You love us so very much. We know this because even while we are sinners, You gave us Jesus, and You rescued us. That means You love us. Send Your Holy Spirit by this wonderful Gospel to strengthen our hearts. Again, we need the help that only You can give. Keep our eyes fixed upon Jesus right now. We know You will, because You keep Your promises. We humbly pray all of this in Jesus’ name, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

“Amen,” Evelyn whispered.

A short moment passed.

“Do you want me to go first?” I asked.

She wiped away her tears. “I can do it,” she said. “But can we sing the song?”

“Absolutely, honey!” I said with a smile. “In fact, how about when we get to the word ‘happy,’ that’s when you can press the button and click it? I know that pop sound is kind of scary and that way you’ll know when it’s coming.”

Her tears returned, but I could tell she was going to do it.

“Okay,” she said, took the lancet in hand, positioned it on her palm, and then started to sing. I sang with her.

You are my sunshine, my only sunshine. You make me happy… Click. …when skies are gray. You’ll never know dear how much I love you. Please don’t take my sunshine away.

“You did it!” I said with extra exuberance. “Now hold it in place until it draws up the blood. Wow! You’re doing a great job!” Her tears still fell, but it only took a moment of praise before a smile began to emerge and her sobs were calmed.

“Did it hurt?” I asked while trying to meet with her eyes.

She shook her head.

“Awesome!” I said. “Oh, I can’t wait for you to tell Momma! She’ll be home any minute and she’ll be so proud of you! But before she gets here, let’s give God a quick thank-you for helping us.”

We bowed again in the exact same manner as before. The prayer was swift.

Oh, thank you heavenly Father through Jesus Christ Your dear Son for the courage you gave. You are so good to us. We love you. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

“Amen,” the little diabetic girl whispered once more, this time with a more defined smile.

“I sure do like that story,” God said.

“Yeah, me too.”

Shipwrecked

_mg_6328Ever since Evelyn was diagnosed, Jen and I have been getting up at 3 AM (as instructed by the doctor) in order to check her blood sugar level. Together, we sneak into her room and attempt to prick her finger without waking her—which rarely happens, by the way—and as long as everything registers at a safe level, we tuck her in and go back to sleep. If there’s trouble, we do what’s necessary, wait another fifteen to twenty minutes, and then check her blood sugar level again. We’ll continue to do this until the right number is flashing on the glucose monitor.

Because it doesn’t take much to wake me, when the alarm on my cellphone goes off at three o’clock to accomplish everything I just described, I’m pretty much wide awake—almost as if I could get started on the new day.

But I haven’t started on the new day. And my body knows this. And if I don’t go back to sleep soon, it’ll give up on me later in the day.

Still, each and every time, I’ve found myself unable to go back to sleep. I’m wide awake. Everything is still, with no sound except maybe the ruffle of the covers or the creak of a settling plank behind the wall.

Behind our house is an open range of wetlands, one that I can see very well from my bedroom window. And now that the temperatures are changing, if the moon is shining just right, there’s often a low-hanging haze that hovers above the swampy horizon. It stretches out across the Shiawassee River and all the damp cat-tailed surroundings. At that hour, the surreal and misty whites swirling into fading grays make the whole experience feel a little like being shipwrecked on the unfamiliar shore of a distant planet. The undulating sea before me doesn’t follow the rules. The winds are above and below it. And there’s nothing alive in its waves.

There I am. Each night, I lie there looking out the window—contemplating things, thinking about life’s basics, experiencing over and over again the words that our doctor spoke just before urging us to get to the Emergency Room and to do it soon. In the end, most thoughts turn from the strangeness of the lonely planet to how I think God’s decision to allow my little girl to be called a diabetic isn’t right. And then I begin to ponder the arrangements that I might make with Him, that if He would just wave His hand and dissolve this disease like the hovering groundswells of mist outside my window that disappear when the sun finally rises, I’d do anything, I’d give Him anything. Hell, I’d sacrifice myself on any altar of His choosing and I’d do it in a moment’s notice.

“But those are stupid ideas,” He rattles in my head as I calculate, using my very own voice as His own. “The only sacrifice needed has already been offered. It has already been accomplished, and it was done in a moment’s notice. And the bloody mess carried out on this altar—Calvary’s cross—well, it carries you across that twirling galaxy out your window. It lifts you and your little girl up and out of the dreadfully foreign atmosphere, and it wins for you a home—a new heaven and a new earth—a place where all is well for all time, a place so very far from such a lonely planet.”

“But why does it still feel like I’m—like we’re—still stranded?” I ask in a growl.

“Don’t worry,” He answers. “We’ll get to that soon. Till then, you need to get some sleep. You’ll be carrying the message of this sacrifice out among the people again tomorrow, and with that, you’ll need to be rested and to have a measure of your wits about you.”

Harpooning Childhood

harpooning-childhoodYeah… so… yesterday was tough. After about an hour-long struggle with our seven-year-old in an attempt to acclimate her to a new lancet (which is the device used to prick her finger about a thousand times a day), we gave up on the effort until a later date and went back to the device we’re already using. We had to. While the new device is supposed to be much gentler, she managed to pull her hand away at the precise moment that the lance popped and it put a slice in the palm of her hand. After that, we were done. She was miserably terrified. We were wrenching in our guts as we tried to convince her that we’re doing this for her good. The look in her eyes communicates something different. On my way upstairs after leaving the bout—my little girl’s face still rather red, her little lungs still coughing from crying so hard, and her tears still flowing—I once again reminded God that it’ll be a while before I’d agree to His plan for this little one. As usual, He took it in stride; not carelessly, but with concern. He assured me that He is not deaf—that He hears what I’m saying—and then He reminded me to recall what He’d tasked me with preaching this past Sunday.

“That sermon was for you, too, my friend,” He said. His words caused me to contemplate what was preached: His Son hanging on the cross and propped up against the failing and sinister sky of Good Friday as the ultimate evidence that He is listening and that He is working for our good and not our harm. “Don’t let your daughter’s disease be the singular evidence of my level of care,” He said. “I am allowing this just as I allow a lot of other weird things no one understands—a lot of transient things bound to this life and not the next. Sure, it will be with her for the rest of her life—as far as you know, at least—but it isn’t forever. My Son saw to that. Continue to teach her to look to Him, to her dear Jesus. And you look there, too, because I’m pretty sure He said that He’d be with you always, even to the end of the age… and that’s a pretty big deal.”

As you can see, He’s being very patient with me even as I sometimes feel like His words are ricocheting from my frame. I know they aren’t. I know His Word is much sturdier than my flesh. But still, I think it’s gonna be a long while before my blood goes from a boil to a simmer and finally to stillness. Again, He gets it and He promised to keep at it with me.

The First Post-diagnosis Meeting with God

I had my first post-diagnosis meeting with God this morning. I guess it went pretty well. Just between you and me, I was choking on my emotions pretty much the whole time. I figured He was going to say the same things He always says—and I was right. He did. Strangely, though, it was a great comfort that nothing had changed. The consistency and the almost “autopilot” of my time was familiar and very predictable. I appreciated this, especially when everything else seems to be so… well… unpredictable.

There were a lot of people there. Interestingly, before anything started, He took a moment to lead the whole group to understand that the same illness had been detected in all of us, and then without a pause, He treated the whole group with the exact same medicine. I didn’t necessarily feel any different after the dosage, but I do remember reading somewhere that the whole regiment wouldn’t be a sprint, but rather a marathon. Well, the guy who said it—Paul—called it a race.

One more thing. At one point during the meeting, He introduced me to a guy named Isaiah who He’d already instructed quite a long time ago to tell me something. Essentially, he said that by virtue of the very same medicine God had already given, a time was on the horizon when my daughter’s disease would be reversed, that the sadness pressing upon me and my wife would be healed, and all would be long forgotten. And then before he finished speaking, he reminded me that even now, God was always on call for us. In fact, he said before we would even try to call for Him, He’d answer.

I’d say it was a pretty fruitful appointment. He gave me some reading assignments to prepare for next week’s meeting: Jeremiah 23:5-8; Romans 13:8-14; and Matthew 21:1-9. He asked me to pay very close attention to the last one because when we get together again, He intends to tell me why the Season of Advent—the beginning of the Church Year—starts with the telling of the Palm Sunday account… the gateway of the Lord’s passion. He said something about knowing what to expect from a most particular baby to be born in Bethlehem and how each and every one of the doses I will receive from here on out, like Palm Sunday, will be pointing to (because they’re taken from) a Friday He likes to call “Good.”

Not sure if any of this makes sense. These are just my notes from the session. I’m still sorting through them. And I’m still pretty pissed, by the way. But again, God is aware, and as before, He told me He can handle it. It doesn’t change anything between us.

More to come, I would imagine.

A Few Days Afterward

20161123_132926Had a chat with God tonight. I let Him know I wasn’t happy with the details of His plan for my daughter, Evelyn. He understands. And He mentioned by way of Romans 5:1-5 that He can handle the criticism and that I should rest assured that He isn’t at odds with my little girl—or me and my wife. He loves us. He is doing something wonderful. And we only need to look to the death and resurrection of His Son, Jesus, to confirm this. I reminded Him that I’m still pretty pissed. Again, He gets it and will work with me to get over it. We’re going to meet tomorrow morning in worship to get the ball rolling. I’m pretty much just going to show up. He assured me He’d do all the work.

Life Changes Gears

wp-image-2009921118jpg.jpgWe just found out our 7-year-old daughter, Evelyn, has Type 1 Diabetes.

The last two days in the hospital have been spent stabilizing her as well as doing what we can to both learn and stomach the detail that her life will forever change. She will be required to endure a daily regiment of needles in various forms. And because she is not currently a candidate for a subcutaneous pump, at this point, she (and we) are aware that the needles will walk beside her for the rest of her life.

She is scared. The poking and prodding makes her cry. It all hurts. We know this will eventually become easier, but right now, she is overwhelmed and suffering… and we are too as we watch.

While I have several upcoming posts that are ready and in the hopper, I can’t seem to hit the “publish” button because of the predominant sadness. It just feels wrong right now since some of these posts include her.

With that, I’m going to be missing in action for a week or so while we get ourselves situated.

You’ve read so much about this little girl over the years at www.angelsportion.com. She is a staple character in my books, and with that, I dare say she’s already given so much to so many. Certainly we trust in Christ, and still, I humbly ask you now that you would return a little bit of that joy to her. If you are so inclined, please pray for her well-being and an acceptance of what must be. And if you are so moved, leave a comment here of encouragement. I’ll be sure to share each one with her.

Jennifer and I thank you.

-Reverend Christopher I. Thoma