Saturday, October 31, 2009

Happy Holloween

Typical Jacob humor. He joked about going trick-or-treating without needing a costume. I think he thought it was the one day that no one would stare and see him as different. We are laying low though tonight. Working with getting his back stronger. Jensen though is heading to a party in his Duct Tape suit.

I have struggled the last few days what to write here - feeling as though I were forcing something rather than really sharing something meaningful. Even now I had to get up to or three times before I even started writing. It is incredibly encouraging to get the messages through the comments here, Facebook, and email - we truly value them. But there is also this expectation that I put on myself thinking that others are actually reading what I write. I am so thankful for when Robbie writes. He not only knows my heart - but provides a perspective that draws me in. Pretty incredible when your 20 year-old son sharpens you - but honestly I get that from my 17 year-old son and my 12 year-old son. We are challenged and grow from our children don't we?

It is so much better to approach life of always learning, always growing than trying to position ourselves as founts of wisdom that have it all figured out. The mentor is always being mentored. The teacher is always being taught.

People rarely project their true self. Voices compete and shape and form who we project. Things come up that trigger us and causing us to flinch and react and project a self that is often less than authentic. Trials that come our way trigger a fight or flight reaction that defends and protects ourselves. They are reactions of self-preservation; some serve us well and some don't. When an addict "hits bottom" there is opportunity for the cycle to break - opportunity to be authentic and vulnerable and to change the pattern of destruction. Brokenness can lead to growth if we choose well. Vulnerability being open to attack is not comfortable, easy or instinctive it only comes with maturity. The trials we face produce steadfast growth (endurance) and leads to maturity and wisdom. (See James 1)

The vulnerable innocence of a child is so refreshing. But has we grow and learn we develop this identity that we portray as we are influenced by those we value. I have had this little test I do with each of my sons as they grow. I will reach out as we are walking and hold their hand. There comes a point around the pre-teen years that they stop allowing me to hold their hand. Alone they may allow it for a little while, but when someone comes around the corner forget it. As a parent you want to hold on to the innocence but our goal is to come along side them as they mature.

Jake at 17 has had to step back. This trial - this hardship - this woundedness has caused a certain sense of brokenness that has challenged each of us. He has had to revert in vulnerability to the care of his parents. His pattern of behavior was moving away from dependency on us and toward affinity to his friends - a natural pattern. The relationships we choose are so important to the degree that they influence and shape our behavior. That is the mourning that Jake is going through the most - that we all are going through. Where he should be in our expectations right now verses where he is.

We remain so thankful with the joy that we are not done yet. That Jake's recovery process is moving forward, even though it feel so strangely slow. We are finding what we need to do to help his back, his wounds, his maturity. Those things that he was able to do before may be modified but he will be able to do them. He will have a thumb though it will have very little movement. He will have a skull though a portion of it will not be bone. He will be able to surf though his paddling will need to be modified.

God is moving in Jacob's heart. I see it. I see it in the questions he asks. Hard questions that most 17-year olds never have to face. I see his struggle to understand as he wonders what in the world God was thinking when this all went down. The same questions that we have had and continue to ask. Although we have stepped back and in a sense hit bottom we are not done. As we pursue authentic openness to growing from this allowing this to shape us and not embitter us, there is growth and maturity. If I put up a barrier and remain resistant to this time of refining, the lessons elude us. A friend and mentor once told me that God has a tendency to bring this lessons back around if we do not learn them the first time.

For your prayers as we look at the coming week:
**Monday - Jake has a CT Scan to design the composite piece for his skullcap
**continued healing and relief from back pain
**rehab and growth
**skin graft on Jake's thumb (waiting to hear when)
**continued success in school - Jake is doing well - kinks are working themselves out
**family sanity and cohesiveness

In our school time Jake has asked that we also spend a little time reading Romans 8. I suggested that we start with Romans 1. This is the verse that really stood out to me this morning speaking to this community that surrounds us.
Romans 1:11 "For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you—that is, that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine."

This mutual encouragement that comes as we authentically pursue relationship with both God and each others strengthens us and grounds us deeply in faith directing us to hope. We are not done yet.

Grace and peace,

Tom (JK Daddy)

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Thumb Decision

Just wanted to offer a quick update on behalf of my family. We are all feeling pretty exhausted for our own respective reasons, and I for one am overwhelmed at the stuff Jake will have to face in the future.

Jake has more or less made the decision to have a simple skin graft done on his thumb, with the possibility of more extensive plastic surgery a few years down the road. He decided against a different procedure where his thumb would be sewed into a flap in his side, thereby causing his whole right arm to be immobile. He decided it would be more important to be working on physical therapy on his arm for those 3-4 weeks that his hand would be sown into his side.

I for one am proud of Jake making this decision, and extremely grateful that he has the ability to make this decision for himself. What a blessing, and sometimes a curse, that he is aware of his own condition. It is incredibly hard to see what he must go through, but a blessing that he has life and vitality.

Thats it for now. But one more thing: I cannot express enough how amazing it is to hear from the people who are following this blog or have heard of the story - to hear either how you have been affected by our story, or how you have a story from your life that resonates with our story. If you feel so led, please email us at journeythroughfire@gmail.com and tell us your story. It has been a huge encouragement for me to hear from some of you who have done this already. Because it is not about me or you, it is about us.

Blessings,

Rob (Jake's bro)

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Prayer for back pain

I would simply like to give a prayer update with this post. Please include these items in your prayers and lift Jake up to the Lord, as I know so many of you continue to do on a regular basis.

1) He has been having severe back pain. It is extremely frustrating for him, and hinders his therapy at times. On top of everything else he has been through, it is extraordinary that this is the only pain he speaks of. However it is still pain, and I have been asking God to simply take this back pain away.

2) Yesterday my parents and Jake had a meeting with the thumb doctor. It will be decided this week between two types of procedures, one of which is a bit bizarre. Please just pray that we would see swift recovery of the thumb, and that Jake would have courage for whatever lies ahead in that.

3) The head surgery will be coming up in early December. This will possibly be the last major surgery.

4) The stress, exhaustion, and dynamics of my family.

I am learning to trust in Christ as the Incarnated one, the one who had healing power because he perfectly lived in light of the Kingdom. He set an example for us. He lived out the mission of God to this world - to heal, to restore.

"And all the crowd sought to touch him, for power came out from him and healed them all."
From Luke 6.

Two things that I need so badly to wrestle with, to find the line between asking God to take away pain and living with contentment:

1) Christ does heal, and we should make our requests clearly known to him. It is OK to ask God to take away the pain. I have been in a place a few times where I ask God to make it as if none of this had ever happened.
2) The message of Christ tells us that this healing is much more holistic than the simple fixing of all of our problems. It is a restoration of the world, an infection of the Kingdom, and we can trust that despite whatever outward or inward things happen, the Kingdom is being spread through him. We must trust the one who came to heal the world.

-Rob (Jake's brother)

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Light to those in darkness...

This weekend I was able to spend some time with my family. It is so hard to only be with them for a weekend, but it was so good to truly find some rest with them, in the midst of the chaos that they often feel. Just sitting on our deck at 6 30 AM with my mom and coffee was so relaxing for me. And I kept telling Jake, as he was frustrated by back pain and the fact that he couldn't do more to hang out with me, that I had been watching him lie in a coma for 3 months. He has made huge strides since then. Now I am sitting in my dorm room chugging coffee as my roommate sleeps.

My dad's last blog was about the trials... what they develop, what comes out of it. That passage from James 1 does still not give us the "why," though. I do not think we can ever expect to know the why. For whatever reason, we simply live in a world where darkness and pain and evil are integral parts. I am still wrestling with the why, however, when I fee like God is simply adding pain on top of pain, and so on. Why would he allow more?

I have been reading some interesting stuff on post-modern philosophy. It is fascinating to me how, over the last few decades, thinkers have been able to come to a place where they can talk about religion again, after coming out of a tradition where "God is dead," and where faiths seemed so harmful to humanity. In fact, some thinkers retain this tradition, but go on to discuss how Christianity is in fact unique because it focuses not on pious religiosity, but on what is termed "desacralization." This is directly modeled from a serious understanding of what the Incarnation means. The transcendent God became manifestly human, and not only that but died as a human, and not only that but died in all sin as a human. The sacral God de-elevated himself for us. (Out of this, different philosophers go in different directions. But the point is to model the way we conduct ourselves as believers after the Incarnation - to spread the Kingdom to the worldly, to find redemption in the broken, to incarnate ourselves in other people's "lowly" lives).

I say all this because I think it is essential to understand the love that the Father has for us, and how in fact suffering is an idea that is essential to wrestle with if we consider ourselves to have faith. In the Gospel of Luke chapter 1, Zechariah, an old man who had been waiting to see Messiah, sings a beautiful song which says this at the end:

"...because of the tender mercy of our God, whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace."

Christ offered himself to be in our brokenness, to give us meaning in suffering, to show that suffering was actually the new way of heaven, a cathartic process for his kingdom to come, a way that hurts but is full of love, compassion, and tenderness.
It is in brokenness that space for the Spirit is made. But how does this work? The Spirit is not a band-aid that makes everything better. Not a solution to emptiness. I have had my fill of Christians who tell you that if you feel empty to just fill yourself up with Jesus and you'll feel better. What does this even mean? The Spirit is more like a friend in the midst of deep wounds, a companion while we feel empty. Maybe the Spirit is literally manifested through the things of this world. A friend who spends time with you could be being the Spirit to you. (I think that the spiritual and physical are not as distinct as we often think!)

The Spirit is present whenever someone is able to envision the Kingdom, to see how things are meant to be, and to seek that renewal.

I do not say all this as an answer to pain. I simply want to depict for you how our God has proven to want to be with us in that pain. If we try to theologically figure it out, we run into a transcendent, un-knowable Deity of the universe, who can do all things and knows all things and yet sits idly by as he watches his precious creation suffer. But this is not the God we believe in. We believe in the God who quite literally took our suffering upon himself, by becoming one of us, by throwing himself down into the deepest pit of despair, to show us that he loves us and to offer a hope of restoration. Christ's existence, death and resurrection in this world continually grants a fresh vision, hopeful existence, meaningful incarnation to a world wrapped in darkness. All people can breathe new life, live and breathe the incarnated word, as they continue to feel cast down and broken. But the hope that Christ offered is that we are not alone in our suffering. We are in fact loved and cared for in the midst of it, because we are existing with the Spirit of the one who entered the deepest, darkest suffering and brokenness. Christ died forsaken by God. What a paradox. That the transcendent God of the universe threw himself down into the pit of despair in human form.

Remember the pit of despair in "The Princess Bride?"

Rob (Jake's brother)

Sunday, October 25, 2009

shelter of refinement

God seemed to really show up subtly today. Jake's back is improving. It was good to see some signs of relief for him. I think some of it was things we are doing and he is doing for himself as far as positioning and exercises and such. But there was also a deep sense of God's presence today. A calming that we needed. I keep thinking of the word shelter: the shelter of the presence of God. I think that is something many of us long for - I know I do. Shelter of the Almighty God holding back the elements - protection and safety.

In last nights blog Lois commented with this verse as way of encouragement:

"Malachi 3:16-Then those who feared the Lord talked often one to another and the Lord listened and heard it; and a book of remembrance was written before Him of those who reverenced and worshipfully feared the Lord and who thought on His name-(Amplified Bible) This is what happens when you write and the rest of us read."


That statement really spoke to me about community and the need for sharing the stories that we find ourselves in - the struggles and the victories. The verse caused me to read through Malachi (word means message) and understand the context. To understand that this is a book of confrontation. Of hitting the receivers right between the eyes and confronting their behavior, their deception, their cheapening of the practice of their faith. It is the heart of God that lead Jesus to turn over the greedy money changers in the temple. It is the heart of God that in the book of Acts that lead to two people dropping dead because they lied before God about their offering. It is the message that the Spirit of God is working in our midst and that our actions not only have consequences but that we will be judged.

Jake and I did some schoolwork today. We actually for the first week finished the whole weeks assignments. I felt the victory, Jacob said we have to catch up. In the midst of our time together he started talking to me about James 1 where he says that we will face trials of various kinds. And and those trials produce perseverence and strengthen our faith.

The word trials is actually what it sounds like in Greek - testing. The testing of our faith. I confessed to Jake and Robbie a bit later that I have a hard time accepting that trials are testing of my faith. Testing of my faith is not testing to catch me and trick me and wait for me to fail. That is the tape that plays in my head though. That I am really deep down a failure that just needs to be proven. Testing is actually a process of refining - melting down metal so as to remove what is impure and posses that of greater value. Removing of impurities. Facing a trial either draws you deeper into faith or causes you to run away from God - either way you are forced into a decision and you are changed in some degree.

God's desire is that faith grows - that comes as we face trials of various kinds. That comes as our faith (persecutions) is challenged and our hope is questioned and our love is measured. Malachi challenged God's people about their choices of bringing an offering to worship God. As part of their covenant they were to bring the best lamb, spotless without and blemish. It represented a huge sacrifice but it also represented purity, perfection, sinlessness. Yet the people were offering mutilated, blind, crippled lambs of little worth. They did not give God their best; they were going through the motions and giving God the leftovers.

Malachi was pretty clear; trials were coming to test their faith and refine their heart by removing purities that they might rely fully on God. It is so easy to slip back to relying on ourselves.
Then those who feared the LORD talked with each other, and the LORD listened and heard. A scroll of remembrance was written in his presence concerning those who feared the LORD and honored his name. "They will be mine," says the LORD Almighty, "in the day when I make up my treasured possession. I will spare them, just as in compassion a man spares his son who serves him. And you will again see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between those who serve God and those who do not. Mal 3:16-18

We are refined by fire and the impurities are being removed. God's grace is poured out and we are being made into the image of Christ. Though this is not easy we as a community sharpen each other and help in this refinement. As I read the emails and the comments on the blog and we share conversation we grow and change through these trials of various kinds.

Perhaps a big part of shelter is in the trials. For God is deeply taking care of me in such a loving way as he refines my impurities - though they are really so deeply difficult - so many necessary things are.

In his shelter,

Tom (JK Daddy)

PS Thanks Lois and everyone else for my lessons for today.