Sep 2, 2014

How are you doing?

People ask innocently, meaning well.  Expecting a minute or two update or just to hear "fine, how are you?"

They have no idea how loaded that question is.

When a friend asked how I was doing a few weeks ago, she hugged me fiercely when my reply was "Do you want the polite response or the real response?"  I left tears on her shoulder.  Damn tears.  Those pesky things always seem to be on the edge of forming whenever anyone looks like they might, perhaps, be willing to truly listen.

Our little family is always receiving kind cards, messages, and such from people who are just letting us know they are thinking/praying for us and Drexel as we struggle with Drexel's leukemia.  No one has any idea how much that means to me.

Drexel is in a fight for his life.  This is the stark, terrifying truth.  Yes, his prognosis says 95% chance of total cure....but I'm terrified of that void 5% the doctors try to avoid when I ask about it.  Drexel is my son.  While three years ago I had just found out I was expecting and was all sorts of terrified/excited/nervous, now I couldn't imagine my life without this too-smart-for-his-age (seriously - this kid acts/thinks/interacts like a four-year-old), kind, energetic, vivacious young child who adds all manners of sparkles to my life.  What am I supposed to do if he is part of the 5%?  Doctors tell me not to focus on the 5%. Dahmon tells me not to focus on the 5%.  My new therapist has told me not to focus on the 5%.  I can't help it.  I'm Mom.

I'm watching my too young son expanding his vocabulary with technical terms for medical procedures, medicines, tools of the medical world, etc.  He has no idea that what he is going through is not typical for a two-year-old because the only children he sees on a regular basis are other children in the hospital who also have various sorts of tubes hanging off them like some kind of evil, mocking vines.  We can't allow him to be around too many other children because there are too many germs floating around them for his nonexistent immune system.

There was a farmer tending his field when he heard a commotion.  Looking up, he saw a rabbit zipping through his field in a frantic race for its life with a hungry fox hot on its tail.  Calling out to the rabbit, the farmer yelled "You gonna make it?"  
The rabbit replied (because of course all rabbits can talk), "I got to!!"

People keep telling me how strong I am.  These are kind words meant well...but strong?  The last thing I feel right now is strength.  When Dahmon has to physically restrain a sobbing Rex because I have to snake a nasal feeding tube down his nose since he puked it out yet again (oh yeah, I know how to put in a nasal feeding tube now), the last thing I feel is strength.  I just want to throw the tube away and sob with him.  When Rex is so out of it from coming out of anesthesia from yet another procedure that he is furiously thrashing about for an hour, the last thing felt is strength.  When he screams at the sight of a procedure room....strength?

I can fake it.  Fake the smiles and "it will be okays" and "I know, honey, we just have to get this done" for Drexel's sake.  But on the inside I vascillate between rage and sobbing.  Rage that my son, or anyone's son or daughter, has to endure this shit.  Sobbing that Momma can't make it better.  That what will make it better is allowing the doctors to pump my son full of chemotherapy poisonous chemicals when we've spent his whole life trying to keep chemicals out of him.

It isn't fair.  My parents used to say that "life isn't fair, get used to it."  But this is such a more terrifying kind of unfair than my brother getting a bigger piece of cake.

Strong?  Heck no.  I feel like a little girl who just wants to hide from everything, but Drexel needs his Momma to be strong.  So I fake it.  And I carefully word everything I put online so the cracks don't show...too much.  And I hold the tears at bay lest they take over - especially if Rex is around.  He just wants to make it all better if he sees Momma crying...he doesn't understand why there are still tears after all of his hugs and kisses (after all, when he has an "ouch" Momma's hugs and kisses make it better).

And I write.  How are you doing?  Do you really want to know?  Do you really want to know that I feel more broken, helpless, and desperate right now than ever before in my entire life?  That now I completely understand why it is not uncommon for parents of children with cancer to be diagnosed with PTSD following their child's treatment?  That I'm tired, so tired?  That the sight of healthy toddlers makes me want to sob because that should be Rex?  

But don't mind me.  This is just one of my overwhelmed days when putting my thoughts on-screen helps me to cope.  Writing helps.  Being real with people helps.  And so does sleep. It's almost midnight, I should go to bed.  Let's see if I sleep.

Jun 29, 2014

Steroidosaurus Rex

Steroids must be brewed in the pits of Sheol.

Since his diagnosis on June 2, Drexel has twice daily received a dosage of the bane of all of our current existences: dexamethosone.

"Dexamethosone" is now a word I may add to my midnight-toe-stubbing vocabulary.  That and "leukemia" /grumblegrumblegrumble

Drexel can't help it, but essentially this steroid means he acts like a completely different child.  Ever heard the term "roid rage"?  Apply it to a 3 foot tall, 28 pound, 2-year-old boy and you've got Rex over the past few weeks.  He rages, throws things, kicks, hits, shoves food so quickly into his mouth you'd think it were a living thing trying to escape, is incredibly demanding, wants food NAOOOOOOOWW, can't sleep (twice he has gone 36 hours with little more than a couple of naps), etc etc etc.

This is not how Drexel normally behaves.

I thank God above that this is not my child's norm, especially considering I've worked with children for whom this is the norm.  And I've seen the look on their parent's faces that I'm sure has been on my face these past few weeks: resignation reeking of desperation.  After a time, it is just one more time being screeched at.  One more time moving across the room to avoid chubby little hands that are looking to thump someone as an outlet for the extreme, uncontrollable frustration resulting from chemicals affecting the brain.  One more time internally screaming "I don't know what to do!" as Steroidosaurus Rex shows up like some kind of tiny drug induced form of The Hulk.  One more time trying desperately not to break down when Rex asks "do you still love me?" after a rage fit.

Drexel scares himself right now.  I can see it when he loses control, especially when he's going on 30+ hours of no sleep and is crying because he is so, so tired but "just can't sleep right now".  His emotions are so big, and so scary right now that he'll start to get angry about something and then scare himself because he doesn't know what to do with all of the anger, or frustration, or impatience, or whatever is causing excessive volume and/or tears at that exact moment.  He is only two.

I've worked with kids who behave like this daily due to psychological reasons, and have been pulling every tool out of my toolbox to work with him as if he were one of my clients.  The problem is that he is not one of my clients.  He is my son, and I know him when he is not on this *BLEEP* drug.

We have hope in this situation that comes with a date: July 3.  That is the last dose of dexamethosone Drexel needs to take...at least during this round of chemotherapy.  We've been trying to get the doctors to tell us if there is a chance he'll go back on it in the future, but they are very careful to not give us too many details about what his next rounds of chemo/treatment will look like.  It all hinges on the results of his bone marrow biopsy on the 3rd, as that will tell us how he has been responding to the first round, which will determine the next leg of treatment.

So for now, we assure him constantly he is loved completely and totally no matter what.  We remain as consistent as possible in response to negative behavior, and reinforce the daylights out of behavior that we want to see (just because he feels like s*** does not mean he is allowed to hit us).  We hold and cuddle him as much as possible (he really doesn't want to be touched right now), and walk endless paces up and down the hospital hallways when all he really wants is to keep moving.  We feed him as much popcorn and apple juice as he wants, and patiently wait out the rage attacks.  We join the chorus of endless prayers going up for our boy.  We remind ourselves that we only have to wait until the 3rd until this drug is no longer a part of his daily life, and pray for those families who deal with behaviors such as this on a daily basis with no end in sight.  And we wonder how many boxes of earplugs we'll need until the 3rd.  :P

Jun 24, 2014

Thank you!

After developing a fever and severe pains following a blood transfusion last week, Drexel was admitted to and spent the last week in the hospital yet again. Poor thing.  He absolutely hates it here, though it is obvious that he is feeling better now than when we brought him in - he is ornery again.  : )

Anyways, I wanted to take a few minutes to say thank you.  We were not expecting to be walking the journey of childhood cancer with our precious little boy.  Our plans for this summer included Drexel going fishing at his grandparent's cabin "up north", possibly going to Alaska to visit my family, fully settling into our new role in Lake City, etc.  They did not include hospital visits, possibly being trained to do IV infusions on Drexel at home, chemotheraphy, etc.

Our plans also did not anticipate being completely and totally blown away by the amazing amount of support that we have received as we've begun this awful journey.  It is an awful one, I'm not going to pretend that we are somehow appreciative of Drexel's cancer.  No child should ever have cancer.  What we are appreciative of is how many people have sent us notes of encouragement, prayed over our little family, checked in to see what we need, provided financial help/gas cards, and such.  People from every network in our lives (work, school, friends, etc) have pulled around us in support.  I have been blown away, and thank God every. single. day. for the amazing group who has been with us on this journey.

What amazes me personally is that 10 years ago the fingers on both hands could have counted the number of people I actually knew who have stood with us in some way during Drexel's ordeal.  Since I moved out of Alaska in 2005, I've met an amazing collection of friends, professors, colleagues, church family members, and many, many others who've made footprints on my life in one way or another.  I've even got family members that I didn't even know existed whom I've gotten to know and adore since moving to MN who have pulled around us in an amazing way.  What I'm trying very uneloquently (it's been a long week) to say is that 95% of the people who have supported us are people we've met in the past 10 years.  I simply didn't know many people before then because of growing up in such a secluded spot in Alaska.

Anyways, thank you.  Thank you for all of your support no matter what form it has taken.

Words are meager things.  They don't do justice to how incredibly grateful we are for the many ways in which you have made this awful journey just a little less awful.  THANK YOU.


I'd write cards to you all, but that would take too many stamps.  :P

Jun 12, 2014

Praises in the storm

CAUTION: PARTS OF THIS POST ARE A BIT RAW.  :P

It has been ten days since Drexel's diagnosis of B-type acute lymphoblastic leukemia.  

While Drexel was in the hospital, two songs were playing on repeat in my head.  One of them was "He's my Son" by Mark Schultz.  This was actually a song inspired by Schultz seeing a couple struggle with their son's leukemia diagnosis.  I especially relate with the lyrics about "let him grow old, live life without this fear..."  Drexel may have the most treatable form of leukemia, but I will not breathe easy until we receive word he is cancer cell free.

The other one was "Praise You in the Storm" by Casting Crowns.  Now, if you've been part of a contemporary worship service at church recently, you may have come across this song already.  The lyrics go a little something like this...
"I was sure by now
God You would have reached down
And wiped our tears away
Stepped in and saved the day
But once again, I say "Amen", and it's still raining

As the thunder rolls
I barely hear Your whisper through the rain
"I'm with you"
And as Your mercy falls
I raise my hands and praise the God who gives
And takes away

[Chorus:]
And I'll praise You in this storm
And I will lift my hands
For You are who You are
No matter where I am
And every tear I've cried
You hold in Your hand
You never left my side
And though my heart is torn
I will praise You in this storm

I remember when
I stumbled in the wind
You heard my cry to you
And you raised me up again
My strength is almost gone
How can I carry on
If I can't find You

But as the thunder rolls
I barely hear You whisper through the rain
"I'm with you"
And as Your mercy falls
I raise my hands and praise the God who gives
And takes away

[Chorus]

I lift my eyes unto the hills
Where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord
The Maker of Heaven and Earth

[Chorus x2]"

I prayed/cried/sang this song over Drexel as they wheeled him into the room to anesthetize him in preparation for four procedures last Thursday (spinal tap, port-a-cath installation, PICC line removal, cast removal).

As I thought and thought about this song - seriously, the darn thing would not leave my head (I actually found out later that it was also stuck in the head of a good friend of mine who was praying over Rex) - I kept thinking this: do I mean it when I say that I trust God?  Do I trust God enough to relinquish whatever imagined control I have over this entire crappy situation and fully place Drexel in His divine hands?  Do I trust what I tell other people in similar situations: God is present in the midst of the pain, God cares, God grieves, God is a big entity who can handle our anger?

Seriously, I'm angry.  I'm angry that any child has cancer.  I'm angry that my little boy has been so traumatized by the past 10 days of doctors and treatment that he will not leave the spot under my armpit where he stays firmly snuggled.  I'm angry that he has a port-a-cath installed in his torso to make chemo administration easier.  I'm angry that he has cancer.  I'm angry that although there is a 95% cure rate for the type of cancer that he has, words like cancer, chemo, treatment, hospitalization, remission, etc are a part of the vocabulary which now surrounds him.  I'm angry that my precious child is having part of his childhood essentially stolen by a vicious, cruel cancer that does not care that he is a mere child.  I'm angry that we have to allow the doctors to pump him full of chemicals that will not only kill the cancer cells, but will also kill good cells...and especially after I've spent his entire life trying to protect him from exposure to chemicals (seriously, I made his baby food from organic vegetables grown in the garden at Dahmon's parent's farm so he wouldn't be exposed to preservatives in canned baby food, I keep him as far from food dyes as I can...).  I'm angry that within a month's time he'll likely lose the hair that just grew in.  I'm angry that we face the possibility of him not being able to fully engage in preschool  because he will still be in treatment.  I'm just plain angry. 

There have been people who have told me "this is all part of God's plan."  Bull****.  Now, you have to understand that through my studies of the Bible and theological thinking since the time of Christ, I've come to an understanding of God that flies in the face of "everything is a part of God's plan for his glory" theology.  C'mon - are you really going to sit there and tell me that children are starving to death in every country in the world because God planned for them to starve to fulfill some sadistic part of his perfect master plan?  Bull****.  Are you really going to tell me that my precious boy has a cancer literally eating away the marrow of his bones because God wants to prove some sort of point?  Bull****.  

What the Bible shows time and time again is that LIFE HAPPENS.  We like to say "man makes plans, God changes them" but this is inaccurate.  This, along with the idea that everything is part of God's plan, is born from our innate discomfort at things being random.  "Time and chance happen to them all" (Ecclesiastes 9:11).  The sun rises and rain falls on the righteous and unrighteous alike (Matthew 5:45).  LIFE HAPPENS.  Chaos happens.  When chaos happens, God grieves (Jesus cried at news of his friend Lazarus' death (John 11:35)).  Unfortunately, children are not spared from chaos or the storms of life.  They should be, but they are not.  

We don't like that chaos happens. Heck, I don't like that chaos happens.  Ask Dahmon (my husband).  I order things.  Constantly.  I clean, organize, and order to minimize as much chaos in my environment as possible.  Chaos makes me uncomfortable.  The idea that God allows chaos to happen makes me uncomfortable, especially since this time it touched my son in a cancerous way.  But human beings hate chaos so much that when it happens, we try to explain it by saying it is part of some divine plan, trying to find some sort of divine sense in the midst of a situation that does not make sense. 

Guess what - sometimes life does not make sense.  Sometimes chaos happens and God grieves alongside hurting families.  I don't know why one child will see a completely miraculous healing while another child dies from his or her ailment.  I don't know what caused the initial cell in Drexel's body to divide improperly in the first place.  

What I do know is "neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 8:38-39).  

In the midst of this storm, in the midst of my anger, I intentionally sought reasons to praise God.  I had to be intentional - praise was not coming as easily as it normally does (I was once accused of being too optimistic because I said brown is a fine color since it is the color of dirt that helps plants grow).  Anger was, and is, coming easily....not praise.  Yet in the midst of this storm, Dahmon and I have found many reasons to praise:

  • Drexel has B-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia.  Now, I'm not saying that his cancer is a reason to praise.  I'm saying that the type of cancer he has is a reason to praise because it is one of the most treatable childhood cancers out there.  It is the most common childhood cancer, and as such researchers know tons and tons about it.  It has a 95% cure rate....praise God, hallelujah!  I recognize that means there is a 5% non-cure rate, but I choose to focus on the 95%.  
  • The support we have had from family and friends has been incredible.  People from every network in our lives have come out of the woodwork to offer words of encouragement, hope, healing, and prayer.  Past professors, classmates, co-workers, parishioners, friends, etc have offered tons of help with cleaning, providing food, providing things for Drexel, financial help, etc.  People brought us food in the hospital, gave us things to keep Drexel occupied during his long days of hospitalization, sent cards with encouraging words, etc.  It has been amazing to see how people have drawn around our precious boy to support him, and us, through this process.
  • So far he has been responding well to treatment.  He has not experienced negative reactions to the chemo (minus the expected constipation, drowsiness, and absolute complete irritated attitude that results from the steroid he is on) that threaten his life.  
  • Some of his leukemia symptoms are already decreasing even after only a few treatments.  His petechia is going away, as are his excessive sheet-and-pajama-soaking sweats.  His color is also a bit better, and he has been able to maintain a stable red blood cell count for at least a few days without needing a transfusion. 
  • We live in a place where he has access to the best medical care available for his condition.
  • His medical care is being 100% covered by insurance. 
  • We have an employment situation that completely understood our sudden absence from work last week, and is flexible enough to allow us to work and care for our son in a way that is best for every member of our family without fear of losing our jobs.  
  • Drexel is so young right now that the trauma from these past few weeks will not be consciously remembered.  Sure, he'll remember later treatments...but not this past week of hell (though remnants may linger in his subconscious memory).
  • He'll be done with treatment before entering kindergarten.
  • I have a background working with port-a-caths and medication administration from working in a group home for a year and a half, so many of Drexel's new medical cares are not completely foreign to me.  For example, I surprised a nurse by being able to talk about the process of applying EMLA numbing cream to Drexel's port site before they have to access it.

This list could be longer, and I'm sure that I'll talk more about various things as his treatment progresses.  I'm angry, furious, at and with God right now, yet I know that He is grieving over Drexel just as much as Dahmon and I am.  I know the God of the universe is holding my precious son in His hands.  I am not lying by saying there were times when I was lying beside Drexel in that hospital bed when I could feel the cloud of prayer and presence of God surrounding him and our little family.  God was present in that hospital, He will be present throughout treatment, and He will be present when Drexel beats this thing.

I will praise God in this storm despite my anger at the unfairness of it all.  God is a big God - He can take it.  In fact, there was one time last week when I was begging God not to be angry at me for being so angry at him and about this situation.  I could almost hear a divine chuckle and the response, "Oh dear one, I'm not angry at you for a natural response to a crappy situation.  What matters is how you deal with that anger and what you let it do to you."  

Honesty.  I choose to deal with this anger honestly.  I will not lie to myself about what I'm feeling, nor will I ever lie to you.  Nor will I lie to God.  I can't exactly hide my anger at him from him in sugary words that don't mean much.  He knows I'm upset.  He also knows that I refuse to let this anger consume me.  It will run its course and may linger for awhile.  Whenever I see my precious son cry in fear when someone wearing scrubs enter the room, my anger will rile.  It will rile with every ounce of chemical injected into his tiny veins.  It will rile with each reminder of the innocence Drexel is prematurely losing through this process.  It will rile, but it will not rule.  

Jun 10, 2014

I will praise you in this storm.....



This has been quite an interesting month.

On May 23, we found out we are expecting our second child (due date January 23).  Yay!  We'd been trying for awhile.  Drexel was awfully cute when we told him he was going to be a big brother.  His response: "I don't wanna be a big bruvver yet!" and then "I don't want a little bruvver or sister!"  I don't think he knows what those words mean.  He is absolutely insistent that "the baby in Momma's belly is a boy."  He won't even entertain the thought that it might be a girl.  "NOOOOOOOO, it's a boy!"  :)  I guess we'll see in a few months.

On May 29, Dahmon was officially licensed as a local pastor, well on his way towards ordination as an elder within the Methodist church.  He has worked really hard for this, and I am so so so proud of him for pressing into the call that God has placed on his life.  Congrats, babe!

Not Drexel - but a picture of what petechia can look like
On June 2, our world flipped upside down.  I brought Drexel to the doctor for a checkup because he had little pinkish dots on his skin that were not healing.  They kind of looked like dots that I'll get on my shoulder when I carry a bag that is too heavy...but they were not healing.  I knew they were broken blood vessels just beneath the surface of his skin (so popped capillaries), but also knew they should have been healing.  Oh, and every day I saw more of them on his skin...especially on his left leg.

When I brought him in, the doctor asked about his right leg (it had been in a cast for almost three weeks at that point due to a fracture in his femur), recent symptoms of lethargy, and then asked if he was always "that pale".  Now, I see my son every day minus random trips.  I hadn't noticed that he was super pale, because he must have gradually become so.  I looked hard at him after she asked that question, and realized that he was a lot more pale than usual.  She immediately said that she was worried about leukemia and ordered a blood test.

Well, he hated that, but it was the first of many pokes to come in the following week.  While we waited for the results to come back, I texted Dahmon to let him know what was going on. He dropped everything and came over to be with us at the doctor's office.  The doc came back and confirmed the horrible news: they had found leukemia cancer cells in Drexel's blood, his red blood cell count was excruciatingly low, and we needed to bring him to the hospital immediately.

Stunned.  We were absolutely stunned.  Then the doctor began to walk down the list of symptoms: lethargy (check), paleness (check), petechia (check), excessive sweating (check - we thought he was sweating a lot because the weather had warmed up), lack of appetite (check), slow healing (check - they say that his leg likely fractured because of the leukemia), etc etc etc.  He had been displaying many of these symptom for the past couple of months, but we had attributed it to his fractured femur - it makes sense to be tired and such when one is healing a bone.

Anyways, we hustled home with Dahmon's mom (thank God for that wonderful woman), threw together a couple of bags, laid out the wet laundry that was in the washer so it would dry (I don't run the dryer when we are gone - too much of a fire hazard), and brought Drexel to St. Mary's Mayo Hospital in Rochester.

The next week is a blur of tests, waiting, and "nuggling" (snuggling) Drexel while they took lab draws, gave him medicine, took his vitals, etc.  The first day they told us his red blood cell count was 5 where it should have been 14 (1/2 of what it should have been) and his platelets were at a level that was 1/10 of normal.  Dr. Rodriguez said that adults with those counts are on the floor passed out.

They had to poke him a few times that first day to get lab draws and install an IV to administer fluids and transfusions.  He had a total of three blood transfusions and two platelet transfusions while we were there.  I tell you this - seeing someone else's blood drip into my son gave me a whole new appreciation for donating blood.  I asked if I could give blood to him, and they said that I can't because 1) I'm pregnant, 2) I'm A+ and he's A- (negatives can donate to positives, but not the other way around), and 3) they don't take transfusions from family members right away because if those family members are a match for marrow if that is necessary later, the little's one's body is more likely to reject the marrow if the little one has been exposed to that person's blood already.

They've got this new J-tip thing to help numb an area for little ones to install an IV.  It reminded Dahmon and I of a hypospray from Star Trek, because it essentially uses air to force the numbing junk into the little one's skin.  Drexel HATED it.  Essentially, when it is triggered there is a big blast of air.  Drexel looked at me and said "Momma, that scared me, that scared me, that scared me....."  Then they couldn't even use the site where they'd administered the J-tip because they couldn't find a viable vein, so they had to poke him elsewhere anyways.  The next day they put in a PICC line to administer stuff and draw labs.

Tuesday they did a bone marrow biopsy to determine exactly what Drexel has.  He is officially diagnosed with B-type lymphoblastic leukemia.  It is one of the most common childhood cancers, has a 95% cure rate, has a treatment course that includes chemo....lots and lots of chemo, and should not impact his adult life provided it is knocked out during treatment.

Thursday was a hard day.  They sedated him to take off his cast, do a lumbar puncture to check for cancer in his spine (none - thank GOD!), install a Port-A-Cath to make draws and chemo administration easier, and remove the PICC line.  Oh, and he got his first round of chemo directly in his spine because apparently this type of cancer likes to hide there.  He had a hard time coming out of the anesthesia, but I can't blame him.  He is only two - he has no concept of WTH is happening when he wakes up under weird machines that are beeping and he feels funny.  When they were putting him under he was super scared, so a doc gave him something "to take the edge off".  Oh boy it sure did that!  Holy cow.  My child went from a crying mess to a goofy, loopy kiddo who was absolutely fascinated by the PICC line coming out of his arm.  I'm 100% sure it was a narcotic, but I wish they could have kept him on that the whole time

Sunday we got to go home.  Rex perked up so much once we got home.  He really hated it in the hospital.  First of all, he's not terribly fond of places he doesn't know.  Second, nearly every time someone came into the room it meant he was going to be poked, his vital signs taken (which he didn't typically appreciate), or something else was going to happen that he didn't like.  At one point, he heard the door starting to open and he grabbed a sheet, threw it over his head, and started yelling "hide!  Hide!  Hide!"  He was always saying "I want them to go out" and "Momma, nuggle me, nuggle me!!" or "what are they going to do to me, Momma?"  He was so scared the entire time.  I am extremely grateful he is young enough that these are not memories that should stay with him consciously long-term.

So yeah, he is facing three years minimum of chemo.  He's already had several doses and seems to be responding fairly well.  The goal of this first month is to knock his cancer into remission so his healthy bone marrow can rebuild.  Then he will still be on chemo, but it will be less frequent (now it is weekly).  He is getting better about taking his medicine orally.  All I have to do is tell him that I'm going to have to pin him if he doesn't take it, and he'll glare at me but he knows that I'm serious.  He hates it, but he needs his meds.  Unfortunately, the steroid that he is on means that he has an extremely short temper and is extraordinarily pissy most of the time.  Luckily he's only on that one for a month.

It has been simply overwhelming and amazing to see the support that we have received through this entire ordeal. Friends and family from all over the place have sent us tons of encouraging messages.  At one point I went through one of the things that people were "liking" on Facebook, and thought about how we knew each of these people: school (classmates and professors), my acting/modeling, church, random people we met and befriended, work, etc.  Our church put together a care package for Rex that made me cry - we've only been there for a few months, but they showered us in love and support.  Most importantly, there was a cloud of prayer over my precious boy.  I'm not exaggerating in the least when I say there were times I could feel the prayers of everyone who was bringing Drexel before God.  God is the only reason any of us made it through the hell that was last week.

I've been so angry at God over this entire thing.  I know that the Bible talks about how being believers does not guarantee we are sparred the slings and arrows of the world, that the rain falls on the good and the evil alike (Matthew 5:45), that time and chance happen to them all (Ecclesiastes 9:11).  I know this, but it is just so wrong.  Children should be spared these kinds of illnesses.

We have spent Drexel's entire life trying to protect him from carcinogens that could cause cancer.  I made his baby food at home from vegetables grown in our organic garden.  We try to keep him away from refined sugar, candy, and food dye.  We don't live next to a refinery or nuclear plant.  He's slathered down in sunscreen when he is outside when it sunny.  Chaos didn't care.  The doctors said they don't know what causes this type of leukemia.  It just happens.  One cell while dividing goes haywire, and then divides into more haywire cells which eventually take over if not treated.  Despite all of our efforts to protect our son from carcinogenic elements in his environment, he still got cancer.

God did not give our son cancer.  This is not some kind of divine squishing for anything Drexel or we have done.  This is not part of some messed up, sadistic divine plan.  Life happens.  Chaos happens.  God says, "I'll be with you in the midst of the chaos."  We like to have things ordered and predictable, but that is not how life works.

I'm angry at God, but I've not given up on him.  He knows I'm upset - I've spent the better part of the past week yelling at him.  Why does one child get a miraculous healing and another doesn't?  I don't have a clue.  I was talking about this with a good friend of ours, and he said that he and his wife would pray while I yelled.  Sometimes that is the key - sometimes when we see someone in the midst of suffering, it is not our job to try and give dead platitudes that mean nothing.  Sometimes it is our job to carry their faith for a little bit and pray while they yell at God.  He's a big God, he can take it.

Besides, I can't exactly hide from God that I'm upset with him and this entire circumstance - it isn't like it is a surprise to Him.

Through this entire thing, I've had the song "Praise you in the storm" stuck in my head.  I'll write soon about the praises in this entire ordeal....but right now Drexel is shouting for me.

May 13, 2014

"Hesed" - Ruth and Naomi


Sermon Scripture: Ruth 1:6-18
When Naomi heard in Moab that the Lord had come to the aid of his people by providing food for them, she and her daughters-in-law prepared to return home from there. With her two daughters-in-law she left the place where she had been living and set out on the road that would take them back to the land of Judah.

Then Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, “Go back, each of you, to your mother’s home. May the Lord show you kindness, as you have shown kindness to your dead husbands and to me. May the Lord grant that each of you will find rest in the home of another husband.”

Then she kissed them goodbye and they wept aloud and said to her, “We will go back with you to your people.”

But Naomi said, “Return home, my daughters. Why would you come with me? Am I going to have any more sons, who could become your husbands? Return home, my daughters; I am too old to have another husband. Even if I thought there was still hope for me—even if I had a husband tonight and then gave birth to sons—would you wait until they grew up? Would you remain unmarried for them? No, my daughters. It is more bitter for me than for you, because the Lord’s hand has turned against me!”

At this they wept aloud again. Then Orpah kissed her mother-in-law goodbye, but Ruth clung to her.
“Look,” said Naomi, “your sister-in-law is going back to her people and her gods. Go back with her.”
But Ruth replied, “Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me.” When Naomi realized that Ruth was determined to go with her, she stopped urging her.

So, we continued this week in church with our current theme: the unexpected.  We've talked about bit about Balaam and Jacob, it's time for a lady.  If you look at a table of contents listing out the books of the Bible, there are two books named after women: Esther and Ruth.  Today we are going to focus on Ruth.

Let's look at her context, why she was so unexpected, and what that means for us.

CONTEXT
The first few verses of Ruth tell us that “in the days when the judges ruled, there was a famine in the land” of Israel.  A man from Bethlehem went with his wife, Naomi, and his two sons to the land of Moab in order to find food.  The man died, and left Naomi with two sons, who went on to marry Moabite women.  Ten years later, both of the sons died and all three women were left as widows. 
So who was Ruth?
·         WIDOW: she had been married to one of Naomi's sons, but was then left a widow after his death. Being a widow in that time meant she had no man providing for her, she was free – and even expected – to return to her family.
·         MOABITE – Naomi's Israelite husband had moved her and her two sons to the country of Moab to escape a famine in Israel, and one of those sons married Ruth - a Moabite woman.  Israelites and Moabites were sworn enemies!  Remember that we talked a couple of weeks ago about how Moabite women were prompted by Balaam to seduce Israelite men.  24,000 Israelites then died from a plague. Then the Israelites conquered Moab.  People from these two nations did not get along.  Moab was considered an accursed nation.  Moabite women were treated by the Israelites as though they were all sexually impure.  They were not trusted.  (There are even verses in Deuteronomy that instruct Israelites to have nothing to do with Moabites - they are not to enter into the assembly of the Lord even until the 10th generation, etc.)

THE UNEXPECTED
So let's return to the Scripture passage for today.  Here we have Naomi returning to her people after hearing about how God has provided food for them.  She and her daughters-in-law set out on the road leading to Judah (have you noticed how many Bible stories happen on the road...).  After they've traveled for a bit, she urges them to go back!  Go back to their mothers' houses – go back and may the Lord show them kindness just as they had shown kindness to her and her sons.  Go back and find rest in another husband's house. 

Both daughters-in-law say they'll return with her.  She insists again that they go back to their homes because she has nothing left to offer them.  She is too old to bear more sons for them to marry.  She has nothing to offer them. 

Here is where the unexpected happens. Orpah turns and goes home....crying, but she goes home as Naomi insisted.  Ruth?  She does not.  She stays put.  Naomi says that she follow Orpah & go home to her people and her gods.  Ruth's response is this:

                        Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you.
                                    Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay.
                                                Your people will be my people and your God my God.
                                    Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried.
                        May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me.

Why was this such a big deal?  For a few reasons. 
·         Moabite!! - Remember that she is a Moabite, a member of a nation considered accursed by the Israelites...and she has just agreed to go back to Israel.  Vikings fan in a Packer's stadium, anyone?  Next, she has just sworn her fidelity to the God of Naomi – not the god of the Moabites.  This is a big deal!!
·         Woman!! -  Remember that in this time a woman was nothing without a man.  Without a man, a woman had no assurance of material, financial, or personal security.

Yet here we have a woman pledging her loyalty to another woman, but also to that woman's people and her GOD. 

SO WHAT?
In the Bible, the word used to refer to Ruth is “hesed”.  This word roughly translates to “loving-faithfulness”.  Ruth had just given up everything that made sense – her nation, her people, her identity, her gods – in order to do the thing that did not make sense, which was to remain loyal to someone who the culture of the time would have said did not require her loyalty.  The culture of the time would have said that Ruth should have returned to her family, to her mother.

We don't know why she refuses to go back to her home.  It was less socially acceptable for her to go with Naomi....so why?  The text doesn't really say.  Perhaps she had a negative homelife.  Let's face it – just because someone births a child does not automatically mean they are a good mother.  Today some people will be honoring their emotional or spiritual mothers, or those who acted more as a mother to them than their own biological mother.  Sad, but a fact.  But back to Ruth – perhaps the famine that had apparently spread to Moab (remember that Naomi was going back to Judah because food was there) had not spared Ruth's family and she had no one to return to.

We don't know for sure.  What we know is that Ruth shows hesed, she shows loving-faithfulness to Naomi.  “Where you go I will go.  Your God will be my God.  Where you are buried, also let me be buried.  Don't tell me to go away from you again.”  

There is another context in which the word hesed shows up in the Bible.  It is often used as a defining quality to describe God.  God is hesed.  God is loving-faithfulness. 

God demonstrates loving-faithfulness to each and every one of us on a daily basis, especially when it does not make sense.  Ruth saw Naomi at the lowest time in her life, during a time when she was likely not very approachable, and indeed was even actively trying to push Ruth away.  She was well aware that being faithful to Naomi was to go against the grain, to go against the culture that was telling her it was more appropriate to go home to her own family and not make herself a stranger in a strange land for Naomi's sake.  Yet she persisted in showing Naomi loving-faithfulness.  She refused to leave.  She knit her story together with Naomi's story, even though doing so did not make sense.  (Ruth → Naomi)

God sees each of us every day struggling in this life.  He has seen each and every single one of us in our lowest times, the times when we are not approachable, the times when we are lamenting and even actively trying to push God away.  God sees us when we are hurting and lashing out, or secluding ourselves and being self-destructive.  Yet he persists in showing us loving-faithfulness.  He did the thing that did not make sense and sent Jesus Christ to live and die for us that we might know a new way of living, that we might know a new way of being loved. (God → us)

That we might know how to show loving-faithfulness to one another.  There is a gentleman whom I've known for 16 years.  I count him as a member of what I call my “heart family”. I tell people that once you've become a member of my heart family, you are there forever, and I mean it.  You see, this man has spent the last 10 years of his life behind bars in a maximum security prison in Alaska.  I wish I could say he isn't guilty of the crime they've accused him of, but he is.  He is justly in prison right now.  I write to this man regularly, updating him on what's going on in my life, telling him all about Drexel, including him as a part of my family as much as I can seeing as we are separated by half a continent and some bars that won't go away for years yet.  He writes me back sometimes.  Recently he thanked me for not giving up on him.  He thanked me for showing him loving-faithfulness in a way that others have not.  The culture surrounding me would tell me that it makes sense to give up on him, to just quit.  I cannot.  He's a member of my heart-family. (Us → One another)

In the New Testament, we are consistently told to do the things that don't always make sense and to love one another no matter what.  Love one another whether we are Jew or Gentile, man or woman, young or old.  We are to demonstrate loving-faithfulness to one another no matter what, just as God does with us, just as Ruth did with Naomi.  And we are to help one another do so.  In the end, it will lead to good things. Ruth eventually did find a new husband – Boaz. 

In Matthew 1 we find a lineage of Christ – Boaz and Ruth are mentioned.  It specifically mentions that part of Jesus' lineage includes unexpected devotion despite what culture might say.  How prophetic!

  


Apr 29, 2014

Donkey!!

1 Corinthians 1:26-31:
Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.”

Numbers 22:21-35:
Balaam got up in the morning, saddled his donkey and went with the Moabite officials. But God was very angry when he went, and the angel of the Lord stood in the road to oppose him. Balaam was riding on his donkey, and his two servants were with him. When the donkey saw the angel of the Lord standing in the road with a drawn sword in his hand, it turned off the road into a field. Balaam beat it to get it back on the road.

Then the angel of the Lord stood in a narrow path through the vineyards, with walls on both sides. When the donkey saw the angel of the Lord, it pressed close to the wall, crushing Balaam’s foot against it. So he beat the donkey again.

Then the angel of the Lord moved on ahead and stood in a narrow place where there was no room to turn, either to the right or to the left. When the donkey saw the angel of the Lord, it lay down under Balaam, and he was angry and beat it with his staff. Then the Lord opened the donkey’s mouth, and it said to Balaam, “What have I done to you to make you beat me these three times?”
Balaam answered the donkey, “You have made a fool of me! If only I had a sword in my hand, I would kill you right now.”

The donkey said to Balaam, “Am I not your own donkey, which you have always ridden, to this day? Have I been in the habit of doing this to you?”

No,” he said.

Then the Lord opened Balaam’s eyes, and he saw the angel of the Lord standing in the road with his sword drawn. So he bowed low and fell face down.

The angel of the Lord asked him, “Why have you beaten your donkey these three times? I have come here to oppose you because your path is a reckless one before me. The donkey saw me and turned away from me these three times. If it had not turned away, I would certainly have killed you by now, but I would have spared it.”

Balaam said to the angel of the Lord, “I have sinned. I did not realize you were standing in the road to oppose me. Now if you are displeased, I will go back.”

The angel of the Lord said to Balaam, “Go with the men, but speak only what I tell you.” So Balaam went with Balak’s officials.”

____

So Dahmon and I are starting a new sermon series at our church titled “The Unexpected”. This church recently went though an unexpected pastoral change. We as people go through unexpected things all of the time. The Bible is full of unexpected things.

I've often heard people say they don't read the Bible because it is a “musty old book full of old rules & regulations that are hardly relevant to today”. Few things could be further from the truth! The Bible is full of weirdos & their interesting stories. Weird people. Weird events. Weird miracles. Weird stories. Since we've heard some of these stories so much, it is easy to forget how weird they sound: Jonah in the belly of a whale, a baby born of a virgin, that same baby eventually dying & resurrecting, etc.

Today we are going to look at one such weird story. We are going to consider its context, what happened, why what happened mattered then, and one way it applies to us.


I'm talking about the talking donkey. As we just heard, there is a talking donkey in the Bible. In understanding the donkey, however, we must look at its rider. To do so, we must consider the passage we just read in context. Yanking this particular story out of context does a complete injustice to everything that is happening here.


The Israelites were coming! The Isrealites were coming! At this point in history, the Israelites, were nearing the end of their long voyage in the wilderness. They had been brought out of Egypt and were finally coming near the Promised Land that God had prepared for them. In order to do so, however, they had to go through a few other countries first. They tried to travel across some of these countries peacefully, but the Bible tells how rulers of other countries had this nasty habit of trying to conquer them. Well, God had a habit of being on the Israelites' side, and so countries that dared make war on the Israelites were the ones conquered. The Israelites developed a reputation. They were God's favorite. They were the ones that no one could defeat.

At this point, their path was about to take them across the country of Moab. Balak was king of Moab at the time, and he and his officials were freaked. The Israelites' reputation had preceded them, and Balak feared his country and his rule was in danger. But he was crafty. He had heard how might and war did not win against these people. God was on their side. So he decided to try something else.

Enter Balaam, stage left. Now, Balaam is one of those rather ambiguous fellows in the Bible. Given what we know from the text, it isn't real clear if he is a good guy or a bad guy. He is noted in one verse as being one of God's prophets, but Numbers 24 also notes that he practiced divination...not a practice of the Lord, and in fact something that God specifically told the people not to do. Balak apparently knew of Balaam's history with divination and such, and sent his officials to fetch Balaam to curse the Israelites. Maybe a curse would weaken the Israelites enough that Moab would not be conquered.

When the officials first reach Balaam, he consults with the Lord, who tells him he cannot curse the Israelite people because they are blessed. Balaam sends the officials away, heeding the word of the Lord. Then Numbers 22 says that Balak then sent officials of even higher standing with promises of great rewards if Balaam would come back with them and curse the Israelites.

When the officials ask for the second time to hire Balaam, he says he can't do it, not for all of the gold and silver in the world. But despite this, and despite knowing God has already said the Israelite people cannot be cursed because they are blessed, he goes back and asks God again. Maybe God will change his mind and Balaam can get the riches the officials have promised. It is important to note here that Balaam was not an Israelite himself, so it wasn't like he would be cursing his own people.

Sound familiar? How many times do we do this? How many times are we not happy with an answer we may have received to a prayer, and we go back to God again and demand a different answer, the answer we want?

Anyway, God this time says that Balaam can go with the men back to Balak, but Balaam must do only what God tells him to do. And now we have arrived at our Scripture for today.

Balaam is on his way back to Balak with Balak's officials. Scripture says that God was very angry when Balaam went, and so an angel went to stand in his path to oppose him.

Why? Why was God angry at Balaam for apparently doing exactly what he had just said that he could do? I'll be honest with you – when I read these verses, my brain immediately went “nope, I'm not preaching on this. It doesn't make sense, I can't do it.” Then I sought the Lord through prayer to see what he might say.

It seems that Balaam's history and his desire for worldly riches were causing a problem. You see, God as the God who knows everything knew all about Balaam's past practicing divination, and probably other things that grieved the Lord. He also knew what was in Balaam's heart. This was a man, after all, who at the prospect of getting great riches went back to see if God would change his mind about letting him curse the Israelites.

When Balaam was sitting on the donkey riding with Balak's officials, we know from what Scripture says that he had heard God warn him to say exactly what God told him to say...but here's a fact – we do not know what was going on in Balaam's heart. Only God knows that. Perhaps that morning when he was saddling up the donkey, Balaam was figuring out ways in his heart of hearts to keep doing whatever he could to get those riches, to do whatever he could to figure out a way to curse the Israelites. Scripture would seem to give some support to this theory. In fact, Numbers 31:16 blames Balaam for bringing a plague upon the Israelites. Here Moses is mad that after his warriors did later conquer Moab, they left the women alive. After all:

They were the ones who followed Balaam's advice and enticed the Israelites to be unfaithful to the Lord in the Peor incident, so that a plague struck the Lord's people.”

Here Moses is apparently referencing that after the donkey incident, Balaam suggested to Balak that the women of Moab should seduce the Israelite men to get them to stray from Yahweh. Numbers 25 states that in doing so, the women and men who slept with them caused a plague that killed over 24,000 people. It would make some sense that God would be angry with Balaam if he knew that Balaam was still trying to figure out a way to have his cake by technically doing what God told him to do, but have that cake iced with riches from finding a sneaky way to give Balak what he wanted.

Hence an angel in the middle of the road ready to oppose Balaam. Balaam's donkey becomes rebellious. First turns off into a field. Then it crushes Balaam's foot against a wall. Then it lays down in the middle of the road. After each of these incidents, Balaam beats it to get it to behave. Finally, Scripture says that the Lord opened the donkey's mouth and it asked him in human language why Balaam was beating him. And Balaam talks back as if he were talking to a person!

I am floored by this! Not sure about you, but if I were riding a horse and it started talking to me, I'd either start looking for cameras or I'd freak out and run the opposite direction! But Balaam talks back to the donkey! Once he acknowledges that the donkey is not usually in the habit of being such a pain, the Lord opened Balam's eyes so he could see the angel.

The angel tells Balaam that the donkey has saved his life. It tells Balaam that his path is reckless. Balaam acknowledges that he has sinned, and is told to continue with the officials back to Balak, but to only speak what God tells him to speak. The God who just made the donkey speak. Balaam does so, and speaks blessing upon the Israelites instead of curse. In fact, he speaks a curse upon Moab!

Let's change gears for a moment. When I was a kid, we had a dog named Sheba and I'm 100% convinced she was an angel in dog form. She saved all of our lives several times over...especially mine. You see, when my family was first living in Alaska, we lived in a tiny little shack at the bottom of a hill. The rule was that I could explore as much as I wanted to outside, but I had was not allowed to go over the hill by myself. Over the hill meant that I would no longer be in sight of the cabin, and that was a no-no. Well, Sheba understood this rule better than I did. Often I would wait until my parents went into the cabin and then I'd toddle my way up the hill...I just had to see what was on the other side! When I was two and doing this, Sheba would run up the hill behind me, bite my diaper, and drag me back down the hill, where my parents would scoop my screaming self up and bring me back inside. 

Well, the next summer I was three years old. Just like I had the previous summer, I would wait until my parents had gone back inside, and then I'd turn and haul butt trying to get over the hill. When Sheba came to get me, I was ready for her! I'd turn around and kick and flail my little arms at her. She'd act all dejected and turn with her tail tucked to go back down the hill. Once she'd started to go back towards the cabin, I'd get all triumphant and start to go back over the hill. Sheba would wait long enough so that I was facing the other way, then she'd run back, body slam the back of my legs so I'd fall over, and then sit on me, effectively pinning me to the ground while she barked her head off until my parents came out and got me. It didn't take me long to learn that Sheba was not going to let me over that hill. It was a good thing she didn't. When I was a little older, my parents showed me the bear trail that was on the other side of the hill. They told me that sometimes they'd find impressions on the ground on the far side of the hill where the bears had been laying watching us. Sheba could smell the bears. I couldn't. She was protecting me, but I didn't understand that.

The donkey was protecting Balaam, but he didn't understand that at first. The donkey could see the angel that was ready to kill Balaam, but he couldn't see it at first. Balaam beat his donkey just as I kicked and flailed at Sheba, neither of us realizing that we were verbally and physically berating those who were just trying to protect us.

We do this all of the time. Verbally and/or physically berate the donkeys in our lives who are trying to protect us and are only after our good, in whatever form they take (parents, doctors, pastors) simply because we do not understand – we do not see the dangers that they see. Conversely, sometimes we are the donkey. The trick is remembering this question in the midst of situations like this: are our actions, are our behavioral corrections, are our responses to one another coming from a place of anger and control, or of love and understanding? God is in the middle of it all. He knows what is in each of our hearts, what motivates us whether we are Balaam or the donkey. Through it all I believe he desires that we communicate effectively. He opened the donkey's mouth so it could actually communicate with Balaam. There are still donkeys everywhere. We are the donkey for some people. God still speaks through donkey's to us. Are we listening? Are we truly obeying God, or are we going to go the way of Balaam, finding a loophole to fulfill our worldly desires, but in the end losing our life. Balaam, after all, was killed along with the Moabites when the Israelites conquered them.

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matthew 6:19-21)


Apr 7, 2014

Humans make plans, life says....

Man makes plans.....
Reader Scripture – Jeremiah 29:11-13
For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.”

Sermon Scripture – John 15:1-11
I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.
I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.
As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.

The Vine
The section for today talks about how Jesus is the vine and we, his followers are the branches. I've seen a million and two ways to approach this passage. I'm sure that many of you have likely heard it preached on before. I know that I have. Most of the messages I've heard about it have focused on the fruit that the vine and branches bear together, or on the fact that it says there is pruning. Those messages are wonderful and awesome, but I want to go a slightly different route today.

First, let's pick apart this scene. We have Jesus likening himself to a vine while we are the branches. There is the Father, who is called a gardener, who walks along the vine and tends the plant.

I have a good friend who became a Christian when we were both teenagers. Shortly afterwards, she was having a hard time, and said to me “I thought everything was going to get easier.” There is this idea that life as a Christian should be two things: Predictable and Easy, and somehow if life isn't that, then you are doing something wrong. Let's look at the first assumption:

PREDICTABLE
Somehow we've got it into our heads that life should be predictable. We should do specific things at specific times in our life, and if we get the order off, well then there is something wrong with us, or we don't have enough faith, or whatever.

Baloney.

Jesus here says that he is the vine and we are the branches. Never in my entire life, in all of the places that I have been have I ever seen a vine growing in a straight, predictable line. As the vine grows, it turns in unexpected directions. Branches go in unexpected directions. People who cultivate vines put them up on racks to help them grow predictably, and they still end up with plants that are a bit squirrley.

Human beings like predictable things. Predictability equals less anxiety. There's an animated movie about cavemen that came out recently called “The Croods”. In this movie, they treat anything new and unpredictable as if it is going to end their lives. Their motto is “never not be afraid” and “new is bad”. If they encounter something new, they are going to DIE!

We laugh at this exaggeration, but how many of us live our lives like this? As though deviation from the predictable path means we will financially, emotionally, socially, or physically die? We like predictability. The problem is that reading the Bible shows us a Jesus who refuses to do the predictable thing. He ate with the socially excluded. He defied religious pompousness in favor of showing true love. He was constantly pushing people to grow in their faith, to grow in community, to grow in service to one another. Growth is unpredictable. The vine grew, and continues to grow, in unexpected ways. So do the branches.

EASY
Let's talk for a moment about the other idea, that somehow living as a Christian is easy, that somehow we will be spared the devastation that life throws our way simply because we are God's children.

There are a whole slew of Biblical figures who would laugh at this idea. Moses – a man born in Egypt as a Hebrew slave, grew up as a Egyptian prince, led the Hebrew people out of Egypt in the face of much adversity. Or let's think about Jonah (eaten by a whale), or King David (hunted most of his life by people who wanted to kill him), or Paul (poisoned, bitten by snake, beaten, thrown in prison, shipwrecked). These were not easy things! And all of these men are lifted up as heroes of the Bible.

We have this lie in our culture that if bad things happen to us as Christians, then we did something wrong. There is something wrong with us, God is mad at us, we don't have enough faith, we didn't pray hard enough, we can never measure up to the Biblical heroes, etc.

Baloney.

These are major and devastating lies. A major danger of this way of thinking is that it dumps shame on having hard times, when having hard times are part of living. It means that people are shamed or afraid of reaching out for community, for help, in fear of being condemned rather than loved. In Ecclesiastes it says “for time and chance happen to them all.”

This is hard stuff! But we cannot forget the Gardener. I've often found that when the image of the vine and branches is discussed, the Gardener rarely comes up. Jesus says plainly that the Father is the gardener, walking alongside the vine and helping it to grow and bear fruit. The promise is not that we will have a predictable and easy path, but that the Gardener will always be present, always walking with us, helping us to grow, being present in the difficulty, tending us through droughts, storms, fierce weather, snow in April. : )

Human beings make plans. Life, time, and chance happen to us all and change those plans. God says, “I will be with you in the midst of the chaos.”

WALKING WITH
As people, we want God walking alongside us to be big and dramatic. I want a seven foot buff guy walking with me to protect me from bullies. I want God's voice to ring out in lightening and thunderclaps when my voice is too small. We want these things, but we serve a God who often walks alongside of us in unexpected ways. We hear him in unexpected, unpredictable ways. A kind word from a stranger. A friend's hug. Money showing up when we most need it. Someone inviting us over for a meal when food is hard to come by. A comforting word from a friend when life is going to pot. God does not have to be huge and dramatic to let us know that he is walking with us.

This past week, Dahmon and I received a call from someone here in Lake City who has had life kick in their teeth despite the fact that they are doing absolutely everything right. Dahmon has spent some time with this family, which includes small children, & heard their stories, listened to everything they are doing to make things right, heard everything that has gone wrong. He heard from this family because they need help with their rent. Either their rent is paid tomorrow, or they are evicted from their home despite the fact that there are small children involved. They have nowhere to go.

I was with Drexel playing with him on the slide in our backyard when Dahmon came up to me and explained the situation. He asked if we could afford to help this family with rent. My next question? “How much do they need?” The amount he gave me made me inhale sharply. It is not a small amount. Immediately my need for predictability and a straight path came in and I said “no, they have to find another way.” They I looked at Drexel in all of his cuteness sitting on top of the slide, trying to work up the gumption to go down the slide by himself. For him, that slide is a scary thing. From his perspective, it is big and scary, and he's not quite sure what is going to happen when he reaches the bottom, if he reaches the bottom intact. He will hem and haw at the top of the slide about how he's going to go down, oh wait – he won't, its too scary. Eventually he will reach out to me and say “hold Momma's hands” and he'll zoom down the slide so quickly you would never think he'd ever hesitated.

In that moment, I felt myself at the top of this slide, hemming and hawing about all the reasons that we couldn't afford to help this family. In my mind's eye, I could almost see the slide. And then I remembered that they have several small children, one of them around Drexel's age. Those children having a home on Tuesday is more important to me than my desire for financial predictability. And I held my hands out to God and said “hold Abba's hands”.

Dahmon and I have committed to this family that their rent will be covered. We are working with them to figure out programs and such, but no matter what, either programs or Dahmon and I will cover their rent this month. If you are interested in coming alongside us & helping this family, come & talk to me.

Being a branch on the vine does not mean that we have a predictable, easy path. It does not mean that we get to choose where and how we grow. As the vine grows, as we grow in our faith and our journey with God, heck – as we live, our lives will go in unexpected directions and we will take unexpected journeys – some of them easy, some of them hard. The promise is that the Gardener is right there, tending us in the midst of it all, and he will never, ever leave us.