Monday, June 18, 2012

Back to Normal?

The other day Laura and I were talking about the idea of maybe getting back to normal.  We entertained the thought a few days prior to her surgery believing the news would result in a cancer free report, and then we could get back to normal.  

The more I thought I about the idea the more I wondered what "back to normal" really means.  

  • Does it mean we are able to "get on with our lives?"  
  • Does it mean we are able to "go back to the way it was before?"
  • Does it mean we can "put this all behind us now?"
  • Maybe it means we are finally "over this hurdle?"  

Over the past twenty some years of ministry I have heard more people use such expressions as they were walking through a challenging juncture in their lives.  It might have been a tragedy, a struggle in their marriage, a wrestle with an addiction, or deep and abiding sin issue they were working through.  All they wanted was to get over it or through it so they could get on with their life.   

Personally, I have realized how easy it would be to approach this journey as a process we have to get through.  And yet, what I am discovering is when you look at a moment of suffering as something you have to "get through" many times it never gets through you.  Basically, you end up jumping over a slew of hurdles, thankful each part is over so you can "get on with your life."  

Divine interruptions are not easily stepped over and forgotten.  Such moments forge in us a depth of faith that would have never existed without such a detour in life.  

Without a doubt, this momentary time of trouble has served to be a shaping time in my life.  To be honest, there have been times when I longed to have this phase over so we can get back to normal.  But what's really normal?  Normal has been changed because life has been altered.  

Normal is no more.  

Normal was last summer.  A healthy wife.  Kids off to camp.  My head into my work.  That was normal.  

And yet what I've realized is when life is "normal" I find myself taking much of it for granted.  I end up doing life, because I'm always getting on with my life.  I cruise through conversations, get my head bogged down in a task-driven mindset, and scurry through my day truly believing I accomplishing a lot, only to look back and wonder what all I really did.  That was what normal was last year.  

This year we have acquired a "new normal."  It's packed full of unexpected turns leaving us wondering what might be behind the next corner.  It's giving us a photo album of pictures from a year ago when so much was different, and at times leaving us longing a bit for a some of what we had back - again a longing for the normal.  

We were praying and hoping Laura's pathology report would reveal a full cancer free diagnosis.  This would mean the reconstruction phase would be our next target and then we could get this deal behind us.  But, again the Lord has another plan.  

Laura's tumor was gone!  We are praising God for such a report.  Her surgeon today told us the type of cancer Laura has does not always respond favorably to chemotherapy, but for Laura it did.  The 5 cm tumor was gone and there was no more cancer in the tissue!  However, two lymph nodes were positive.  This tells us there is a high probability the cancer was in more lymph nodes then we originally believed.  It also indicates radiation is the next course in the treatment plan, which in turn means final reconstruction will not happen until March or April of 2013.  A gentle reminder life is not getting back to normal as we had hoped. 

Trouble transforms us.  It either makes you bitter or better, but you have to decide in many ways which one it's going to be.  

If going through your trouble means getting "through it" so you can "get on" with your normal routine - then you are probably missing a glimpse of what the trouble can forge in your life.  Chances are you could be missing what really does matter as a result of such a detour the Lord has allowed to take you on.  

Our detour has convicted Laura and I to challenge our kids more with the truth of God's word.  We want the Word of God to become a "normal" tool our kids grab hold of when trouble comes their way. 

This past Sunday we spent some time around the table reading the parable of the sower from Mark 4.  We talked about the four paths the seed landed on - dry path, rocky path, weedy path and good soil.  Laura explained to the kids trouble is going to come into their lives. Jesus made it very clear trouble will come our way.  During trouble you can run from God or to God, and particularly to the truth and power of His word.  We explained during this time we are hanging onto the truth of God's word and the promises it reveals to us about His character, and purposes for our lives.  The enemy loves to take trouble and use it to turn our faces from God.  The Lord longs for us in trouble to turn our faces toward him.  One way you are able to do so is to get into the Word and the Word into you so when trouble comes you have words that are going to hold you. It's a new normal we are shooting for in our family because of this journey.  

My normal right now is undefined.  
My trouble - this momentary trouble - is redefining me.  

These past few weeks:
  1. I've been ALLOWED to care for Laura in ways I never have before. 
  2. Our conversations have gone places they never would have without cancer or this journey we are on.
  3. My kids have grown - they still struggle to pick-up after themselves.  Sometimes they are not always self-motivated.  They still fight with one another.  I have to prod them a bit to get moving or stay focused.  Yet, they have developed a depth they never had before all this surfaced in our lives. They ask deep and honest questions.  They are more open with their thoughts and feelings.  Their prayers, even Bella's, are going to deeper places.  We are seeing character forged in each one because of this time of trouble. 
  4. My work has not consumed me.  As hard as it has been not to enter into work related conversations I have fought hard not to make such a move.  There have been some weak moments - but for the most part I have resisted the urge.  God, Self (if I'm not healthy nothing else will be), Wife, Kids, Friends, Work - this is the new normal I'm banking on - I'm learning.  
  5. My personal time with the Lord has become richer.  Maybe it's because I know the Lord has been and is going before, beside and behind us each step of this journey.  
So, I have no idea what it would mean to get back to what was normal.  Such a normal is bound up in a picture album from a year ago.  There are times when those pictures create a longing to go back a bit.  I'm different from a year ago.  Laura is as well; however, we now have a new normal, and we live with a new reality the Lord is truly in control.  His plans are not our plans, but He does have a hope and and a future for us.  It may never involve cancer again.  It may.  Whatever it is, I know He will walk with me through it as it works its way through me.  I pray it becomes my new norm for the manner in which I approach trouble in my life.  


Thursday, June 7, 2012

12 Ways to Love Your Wayward Child

Abraham Piper 
My son Abraham, who speaks from the wisdom of experience and Scripture, has written the article that follows. I read it with tears and laughter. It is so compelling that I asked him immediately if I could share it with the church and the wider Christian community. There is no greater joy than to see your children walking in the truth—and expressing it so well. The rest is Abraham's untouched. -John Piper

Many parents are brokenhearted and completely baffled by their unbelieving son or daughter. They have no clue why the child they raised well is making such awful, destructive decisions. I've never been one of these parents, but I have been one of these sons. Reflecting back on that experience, I offer these suggestions to help you reach out to your wayward child.

1. Point them to Christ.
Your rebellious child's real problem is not drugs or sex or cigarettes or pornography or laziness or crime or cussing or slovenliness or homosexuality or being in a punk rock band. The real problem is that they don't see Jesus clearly. The best thing you can do for them—and the only reason to do any of the following suggestions—is to show them Christ. It is not a simple or immediate process, but the sins in their life that distress you and destroy them will only begin to fade away when they see Jesus more like he actually is.

2. Pray.
Only God can save your son or daughter, so keep on asking that he will display himself to them in a way they can't resist worshiping him for.

3. Acknowledge that something is wrong.
If your daughter rejects Jesus, don't pretend everything is fine.
For every unbelieving child, the details will be different. Each one will require parents to reach out in unique ways. Never acceptable, however, is not reaching out at all. If your child is an unbeliever, don't ignore it. Holidays might be easier, but eternity won't be.

4. Don't expect them to be Christ-like.
If your son is not a Christian, he's not going to act like one.
You know that he has forsaken the faith, so don't expect him to live by the standards you raised him with. For example, you might be tempted to say, "I know you're struggling with believing in Jesus, but can't you at least admit that getting wasted every day is sin?"
If he's struggling to believe in Jesus, then there is very little significance in admitting that drunkenness is wrong. You want to protect him, yes. But his unbelief is the most dangerous problem—not partying. No matter how your child's unbelief exemplifies itself in his behavior, always be sure to focus more on the heart's sickness than its symptoms.

5. Welcome them home.
Because the deepest concern is not your child's actions, but his heart, don't create too many requirements for coming home. If he has any inkling to be with you, it is God giving you a chance to love him back to Jesus. Obviously there are some instances in which parents must give ultimatums: "Don't come to this house if you are..." But these will be rare. Don't lessen the likelihood of an opportunity to be with your child by too many rules.
If your daughter smells like weed or an ashtray, spray her jacket with Febreze and change the sheets when she leaves, but let her come home. If you find out she's pregnant, then buy her folic acid, take her to her twenty-week ultrasound, protect her from Planned Parenthood, and by all means let her come home. If your son is broke because he spent all the money you lent him on loose women and ritzy liquor, then forgive his debt as you've been forgiven, don't give him any more money, and let him come home. If he hasn't been around for a week and a half because he's been staying at his girlfriend's—or boyfriend's—apartment, plead with him not to go back, and let him come home.

6. Plead with them more than you rebuke them.
Be gentle in your disappointment.
What really concerns you is that your child is destroying herself, not that she's breaking rules. Treat her in a way that makes this clear. She probably knows—especially if she was raised as a Christian—that what she's doing is wrong. And she definitely knows you think it is. So she doesn't need this pointed out. She needs to see how you are going to react to her evil. Your gentle forbearance and sorrowful hope will show her that you really do trust Jesus.
Her conscience can condemn her by itself. Parents ought to stand kindly and firmly, always living in the hope that they want their child to return to.

7. Connect them to believers who have better access to them.
There are two kinds of access that you may not have to your child: geographical and relational. If your wayward son lives far away, try to find a solid believer in his area and ask him to contact your son. This may seem nosy or stupid or embarrassing to him, but it's worth it—especially if the believer you find can also relate to your son emotionally in a way you can't.
Relational distance will also be a side effect of your child leaving the faith, so your relationship will be tenuous and should be protected if at all possible. But hard rebuke is still necessary.
This is where another believer who has emotional access to your son may be very helpful. If there is a believer who your son trusts and perhaps even enjoys being around, then that believer has a platform to tell your son—in a way he may actually pay attention to—that he's being an idiot. This may sound harsh, but it's a news flash we all need from time to time, and people we trust are usually the only ones who can package a painful rebuke so that it is a gift to us.
A lot of rebellious kids would do well to hear that they're being fools—and it is rare that this can helpfully be pointed out by their parents—so try to keep other Christians in your kids lives.

8. Respect their friends.
Honor your wayward child in the same way you'd honor any other unbeliever. They may run with crowds you'd never consider talking to or even looking at, but they are your child's friends. Respect that—even if the relationship is founded on sin. They're bad for your son, yes. But he's bad for them, too. Nothing will be solved by making it perfectly evident that you don't like who he's hanging around with.
When your son shows up for a family birthday celebration with another girlfriend—one you've never seen before and probably won't see again—be hospitable. She's also someone's wayward child, and she needs Jesus, too.

9. Email them.
Praise God for technology that lets you stay in your kids' lives so easily!
When you read something in the Bible that encourages you and helps you love Jesus more, write it up in a couple lines and send it to your child. The best exhortation for them is positive examples of Christ's joy in your own life.
Don't stress out when you're composing these as if each one needs to be singularly powerful. Just whip them out one after another, and let the cumulative effect of your satisfaction in God gather up in your child's inbox. God's word is never proclaimed in vain.

10. Take them to lunch.
If possible, don't let your only interaction with your child be electronic. Get together with him face to face if you can. You may think this is stressful and uncomfortable, but trust me that it's far worse to be in the child's shoes—he is experiencing all the same discomfort, but compounded by guilt. So if he is willing to get together with you for lunch, praise God, and use the opportunity.
It will feel almost hypocritical to talk about his daily life, since what you really care about is his eternal life, but try to anyway. He needs to know you care about all of him. Then, before lunch is over, pray that the Lord will give you the gumption to ask about his soul. You don't know how he'll respond. Will he roll his eyes like you're an idiot? Will he get mad and leave? Or has God been working in him since you talked last? You don't know until you risk asking.
(Here's a note to parents of younger children: Set up regular times to go out to eat with your kids. Not only will this be valuable for its own sake, but also, if they ever enter a season of rebellion, the tradition of meeting with them will already be in place and it won't feel weird to ask them out to lunch. If a son has been eating out on Saturdays with his dad since he was a tot, it will be much harder for him later in life to say no to his father's invitation—even as a surly nineteen-year-old.)

11. Take an interest in their pursuits.
Odds are that if your daughter is purposefully rejecting Christ, then the way she spends her time will probably disappoint you. Nevertheless, find the value in her interests, if possible, and encourage her. You went to her school plays and soccer games when she was ten; what can you do now that she's twenty to show that you still really care about her interests?
Jesus spent time with tax collectors and prostitutes, and he wasn't even related to them. Imitate Christ by being the kind of parent who will put some earplugs in your pocket and head downtown to that dank little nightclub where your daughter's CD release show is. Encourage her and never stop praying that she will begin to use her gifts for Jesus' glory instead her own.

12. Point them to Christ.
This can't be over-stressed. It is the whole point. No strategy for reaching your son or daughter will have any lasting effect if the underlying goal isn't to help them know Jesus.
It's not so that they will be good kids again; it's not so that they'll get their hair cut and start taking showers; it's not so that they'll like classical music instead of deathcore; it's not so that you can stop being embarrassed at your weekly Bible study; it's not so that they'll vote conservative again by the next election; it's not even so that you can sleep at night, knowing they're not going to hell.
The only ultimate reason to pray for them, welcome them, plead with them, email them, eat with them, or take an interest in their interests is so that their eyes will be opened to Christ.
And not only is he the only point—he's the only hope. When they see the wonder of Jesus, satisfaction will be redefined. He will replace the pathetic vanity of the money, or the praise of man, or the high, or the orgasm that they are staking their eternities on right now. Only his grace can draw them from their perilous pursuits and bind them safely to himself—captive, but satisfied.
He will do this for many. Be faithful and don't give up.

© Desiring God. Toll Free:1.888.346.4700

Sent from my iPhone


This morning we started our day by reading Isaiah 40:10ff.

"See, the Sovereign Lord comes with power, and he rules with a mighty arm. See, his reward is with him, and his recompense accompanies him. He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart."

We have been blessed by the assurance we are truly in the palm of our Lord's hands. His strength has been evident through these months. We have been privileged to fully experience the gentleness of our Good Shepherd guiding and comforting us through the arms and hands of all who have reached out to us.

We rested well last night. Presently, Laura is in the care of a fantastic surgical team. Most of all, she is nestled in the arms of our Lord.

Thanks to all for your prayers and support these days and months.

Sent from my iPad.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Lessons Gained

Tomorrow is surgery for Laura. Over the past six months she has demonstrated strength, grace, trust, but most of all a deep faith in the plan God has laid before us. I have been privileged to watch her dig deep into God's Word and find those nuggets of truth she has hung onto each step of the journey so far. As a result, my life has been enriched and my personal faith challenged by seeing her's grow.

We hold onto Isaiah 43:1-3 knowing the LORD our God is with us through the water and the fire. Lamentations 3:22-28 reminds us of how much we have been consumed by His love and care, but most of all the deep and abiding peace of His presence.

His plan has been good. Because of His great love we have not been consumed by the challenges, but have basked in the goodness of the Lord's compassion and faithfulness which have been poured out on us every morning.

Laura's faith has been steadfast. She has not wavered through the turbulence. Fear has been overcome by the truth of the Lord's deep love for her life.

Much has changed over the past several months in our lives and home, and we know God is not finished with us yet. The hardships He has led us into have rubbed some edges off us.

This time has served to sharpen us and soften us. In the hearts of our kids it has served to shape character as well as given them handles to hold onto in the future. Our marriage has gone places it never would have gone without the cancer.

We walk into this next phase knowing that God has been at work in all things and will continue to be as He forms us into the people He longs for us to be.

We are thankful for His grace! I am thankful for the common grace He has given me in my wife! Ron