Monday, April 14, 2008

Holding on to Hope

Sometime in the next few weeks my wife and I will welcome twin daughters—Rebecca May and Hope Marie.  You can imagine that we are very excited… and a bit anxious about what lies ahead.

It seems that Laurie's pregnancy with the twins has been much more challenging than her pregnancy with our son Brady. We felt it was fitting to call our third child Hope given all we have been through this time around. (We had Rebecca picked out since before Brady was born.) I'm sure that all the struggles will melt away in that moment when we hold Becca and Hope for the first time and joy and, no pun intended, hope will flood our spirits, but there can be no question that the journey to our second child has had its share of hardship and difficulty.

To be honest, there have been times in the past year where Laurie and I have struggled to know where God was in the midst of all of our challenging circumstances. We got pregnant in May and then had a miscarriage in June. After our miscarriage we struggled with lots of "why" questions for which we may or may not ever get a satisfactory answer.

And then we summon the courage to try again, and this time it's twins! Wow. Talk about a shock. Adding a second child is a challenging enough decision to make as a ministry couple, but I'll never forget the day we went in for an ultrasound and discovered not one but two hearts fluttering on the screen. Finding out you will be the father of twins, and identical twin girls no less, really throws one for a loop. I think I am only now coming to terms with the reality as I feel the babies moving around inside mom and the day of delivery draws near.

Sometimes it's hard to feel hopeful when you struggle so much to make sense of the circumstances in your life. I think by God's grace, Laurie and I are getting through day-by-day, trusting God to guide us. At times we feel like we're stumbling around in the darkness trying to figure out how in the world we are going to balance caring for our growing family with all of our other career and ministry responsibilities. There are legitimate challenges that we must try and discern how to handle… Sometimes it just seems like it will be impossible for us to "make it all work".

However, I also know that the God who made the heavens and the earth and who raised Jesus from the dead is in the business of doing the seemingly impossible on a regular basis. (Our faith is based on the reality of the Resurrection where we remember that our God overcomes every obstacle—including death itself.) God has been actively involved in the life of his people since the beginning of the Story and God is living and active today. God has promised that he will never abandon us and never place us in a situation that is beyond our ability to endure. My wife and I believe in that promise with all our hearts and we hold on to hope now as we as we are about to be outnumbered by our children.

Sometimes it feels like the Enemy wants to deprive us of any joy when it comes to the arrival of these twins. In fact, ultimately I think the Enemy's goal is to deprive us of all hope and joy in our lives. John says that Jesus comes to give us abundant—hopeful—life but the Enemy—or the Thief—comes to steal it away from us , to make it all drudgery and despair. But I believe it's our choice whether we allow the theft to happen or not. The Enemy whispers thoughts in your head every day and you have to decide how to respond. I can't stop the accusations from coming, but I can and I must intentionally choose not to listen and agree with them. Not only do I reject the lie the Enemy feeds me, but I counter it with the truth. In my journal I recently wrote these words.

Help me to be willing to take some time to bond with my girls, no matter what. Teach me to be a dad to my daughters the way you did with my son. I don't have confidence in [parenting girls] because it is something I have never done, but I refuse to believe I can't do this. I pray for courage not to shrink from this challenge; that can be my tendency sometimes. The truth is as Paul says: "I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength. " I have my wife to help me and, most of all I have You to learn from. You are my teacher and my guide for this life Lord. You lead me into new adventures every day and you never abandon me. Will it be hard? You bet. Will it demand all I've got and then some? Oh yeah. But are some things worth the struggle? Yes! I wouldn't trade my son for the world even though he demands much of me.

I've had a tendency to view hardship as something to avoid all my life. I've been conditioned to avoid anything that is the least bit difficult or risky for fear of failure. I was taught growing up to be fearful of new things and of change—I would say more than the average person. I've worked hard to carefully manage my life and play it safe to avoid the unknown and to avoid embarrassing failure. But God is slowly leading me out of that comfortable, safe, stifled, utterly predictable (and dare I say, boring?) existence into something much more richer and abundant and hopeful, but also more risky and less certain. And as part of that God is teaching me to view hardship in a different way. I'm beginning to understand what countless other Christians have learned from personal experience:

Hardship trains me in a way that easy, comfortable, risk-free existence can't.

It's hard to see sometimes when you are in the middle of a "messy" or difficult situation, how it is training you. Life can certainly seem like one big hassle, an endless series of problems to overcome, a daily struggle just to survive and make ends meet; the pain of these situations can be very real and should not be diminished. (Let me be clear: I would not have necessarily chosen to have to go through some the things we had to go through this past year.) But as the writer of Hebrews says it: No discipline seems pleasant at the time… but later on it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. As the song says, this is what it feels like when the sacred is torn from life and you survive. In other words, later on, you look back, and you realize: with God's help I made it… and I am a better person for the experience. What you've been through was not the result of a capricious God sitting up in heaven and dreaming up ways to zap you and make your life hard. Rather, they are the events that God lets into our life to train us up and develop us into the people he needs us to be.

So I have been asking God to help us (especially me) to take a break from the worrying about "how its all going to work out" and find time just to savor the moment as my daughters are born. The concerns are legitimate to be sure and God cares about them, but I mustn't let the worry over the future consume all my hope and joy in the present moment. I'm praying for new perspective when it comes to interpreting the difficult circumstances that inevitably come our way in life—to see the trials as training as it were. In the face of what will probably be some of the more challenging days that we have faced thus far, Laurie and I choose to hold on to hope—both literally and figuratively. We will need to embrace our children, embrace one another, and embrace God on a deeper level than we ever have before. We welcome your prayers and encouragement as Hope and Becca arrive and our family embarks on the next chapter of our journey.  We will try to keep you posted on our blog as time permits. 

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