how then we live

I

I've been thinking about grasping.

Perhaps the most notable use of the word in translation comes from the hymn to Jesus, "who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped."

But the use is not limited there. Eve grasps the fruit and Adam with her, Jacob grasps the heal, the wicked grasp the psalmist, the pharisees try to grasp Jesus, we cannot grasp the depths of God's love.

Grasping tends to be associated, at least in these contexts, with trying to lay hold of something that is not yours to have. Perhaps you try and take what you think owed you, or perhaps you take a lesser thing believing better will not be offered. In each case, it seems patience, trust, and contentment are needed.

Much has happened in the past several months. What I have learned and am learning is to stop the work of grasping. And with it, the work of doing what must be done here and now.

II

Ever since Jack's birth, the logistics of church have been complicated. Our home parish and the Anglican diocese that ordained me is two and half hours from us on a light traffic day. There has certainly been no practical way, especially early on, to transport our family to and from it each Sunday. So with the direction of our bishop, Hilary and I spent time in prayer about where we were to attend in Waco. Our bishop instructed us to seek a church that was Christ honoring, welcoming to our family, and would be a place where we would be specifically ministered to in a season of change, difficulty, and challenge. We found such a church, a beautiful expression of faith, and it happened to be Episcopal. Our bishop gave us permission to attend and we have done so happily for some time now.

Given the realities that exist between Episcopal and Anglican spheres in North America, it was prudent and right for me to resign my position in the diocese as Canon Theologian. We left on the best of terms and with a great and generous help from the diocese during the transition. But it did mark a season in our lives where Hilary and I asked of God serious questions about what we we needed to do, how we would navigate the next several years, what it meant to be faithful while albeit somewhat thrown by the circumstances.

Here, of course, is where God bests us. I had already been doing some work with Pure Charity for several years, completely in the background. My help on a contracted project evolved into new roles, to the point that right around the time I was stepping away from the diocese, I was stepping into a full time position with Pure Charity. Pure Charity builds world class fundraising and technology solutions for nonprofit organizations, which means I get the opportunity to daily work with people caring for refugees, creating sustainable solutions around the world, and so many others that some days I can barely remember which countries I've been in touch with in the past few hours.

I love this work. Love it in my bones, love it. And more than anything it fulfills something unexpected, which speaks to that whole grasping impulse. God has made it clear that for now and perhaps forever I am to be a deacon and not a priest.

Deacons have a colorful history in the church. The Scripture and its apocryphal interpreters tend to present a group of people that were tasked with going up, metaphorically and literally, to the Communion Table, pounding a fist on it a couple times, and saying to the priest, "Where's all the people you forgot to invite up here?" We're also tasked with knowing and keeping the Scriptures, educating God's people in knowing and keeping it themselves, and generally sounding off when injustice pops up. If any of you have been reading me for awhile, the jig is up and you know sometimes I swear, so I'll tell you pointedly that I think deacons have to possess the spiritual gift of bitchiness, which I think I have mastered.

That's a round-about way of making this point: I'm ordained in an Anglican diocese, I'm confirmed as one of them, but I'm in an Episcopal church context. It would be dishonoring to it as well as to my own vows to try and grasp a position within it, but God saw fit to place me in a job where I help organizations on a daily basis do the work of advocacy, calling out injustice, and getting to work. God is more clever with our stories than we are. I know this and I don't. I forget it so much it should frustrate God quite a bit if I didn't also believe God to be long-suffering. But God is, which is something I forget so much, too.

III

There was a time when I was considered a somewhat important Christian on the Internet. I sincerely don't know how. I'm horrible at brand—though I'm going to say something about that below—I never had a ton of Twitter followers, blog readers, book sales. I was just me, this blog, this chaotic trying to figure it out.

Don't get me wrong, I wanted the things. I wanted to be influential, important, interesting—lots of i words, there. So I published two books. They did okay. I'm proud of them, but I'm realistic about them. I was not the next So and So as everyone had assumed. My platform was and is small. My voice matters to a particular circle of people, but not to many beyond that. It's too liberal and too conservative, too liturgical and too evangelical, or maybe just super annoying. I'm willing to concede that.

Jack came along and our world changed. What was important changed. There was someone on Twitter once who probably didn't know that I saw them talking about how my brand of Christianity was affluence. I read that while on the phone with Medicaid fighting for my son to be granted one more feeding bag in a month that had 31 days when they had only approved 30. Things changed. We changed. What was important changed.

So when it comes to brand, I can't tell you much about it. I can tell you I still love to cook, drink good wine, commune with God through those things. I don't think you have to, too. And I'm sorry if it's not a way that you can. Or, perhaps, I don't think you're worse off. What am I trying to say here? I'm trying to say I no longer feel the need to define my Christianity in the online space because it's exhausting and I don't have the time. I'm chasing a busy toddler, grieving some real losses, learning ASL, advocating for my kid. And God, is there joy. What joy.

But it means I don't worry about writing books anymore. I don't have anything much to say, anyway. Someday I'll write about spirituality again, but it won't be this year. I am working on a piece of fiction, one I love in that way you love a wild thing, and though I could tell you it will be done in May, my agent and my God have given me permission to stop needing to grasp at that, too. It will be finished in the acceptable time. I have other things to be doing right now. Things in this community, in this house we have made a home.

So here it is, another thing, another departure of a kind: I have archived all my previous writing in this space expect for the letters to Jack; I am leaving Facebook except for posts via Instagram; and, I am giving myself the permission to let Twitter happen or not on any given day. None of these things fit me as they did once. They are not bad, they are not shameful, I do not hate them or think they did me wrong. They just aren't mine anymore. I need to stop grasping for them.

Maybe that doesn't make the most sense, but it's the right thing for me. So it's the thing that's being done.

IV

Jack is thriving. But Jack is coming to an age where his story must remain his to tell. Our commentary about it is less important and it's less needful. Our little man, full of life and love and so clever it could terrify you, conquers doctor's appointments and waiting rooms and third shelf hiding spots and TV cords and whatever he sets his mind to. And he sets his mind to a lot. I'll still share an update here and there on Instagram, but we are entering into that quiet of life where what is his must remain his. Even as I write this, he's pawing at my knee and bringing another book to read. This is where I belong these days. This is how we then live.

So many of you in this space—blog, Facebook, Twitter, beyond—have been so good to me and good to us. I can't thank you enough. I hold the kindness of it like stars—things you didn't think were yours to touch and things you think will burn out long before you appreciate them for what they are. Thank you for the kindness, the love, the correction, the encouragement. You have been friends in this journey. This all seems very odd to write, but I think you understand.

V

I'll still write a bit for some outlets that ask. Speak, too, when invited. But most days I'll just be in the thick of it—parenting, working, cooking. This is my acre, my measure, and for God knows how long I have been called into a season where I am to not grasp beyond it. So I curtail, I bow, I pull back into the space and let God decide its acre, its measure, and when it is mine to move on. I think that won't be for quite some time. I think—

This is not a narrative device. Jack has in fact brought me another book. My attention is needed elsewhere.

Love, for the last time,

P

 

where i've been

I

Two weeks ago, Jack could have died.

We had our best friends over, visiting from Belgium, along with some very good friends we've made here. There was cauliflower stained yellow by turmeric broth that I was beginning to pour a masala over when Hilary came into the kitchen, eyes wide. "I need you right now."

Our night nurse, misunderstanding our instructions that no one was supposed to touch Jack's tracheostomy but us, had attempted to change the tie holding it in place by herself. Jack had grabbed the trach and pulled it out. He then panicked, unable to breathe in the position he was in, and the nurse panicked a bit too. She hadn't kept the smaller tube handy, which you must always do when handling the trach. She had not gotten one of us, because you always have two people on an infant when handling a trach. She had assumed it would be fine, then it wasn't. She attempted to get the trach back in, but it wouldn't quite fit because of how upset Jack was and she nicked a blood vessel, causing him to bleed from the stoma. The nurse came to get Hilary while she was in our bedroom pumping, holding our panicked child, bleeding from his neck, trying to get into a position where he could breathe.

Hilary got the smaller trach in. She came and got me. We both got the normal trach in together. We suctioned it like we usually do, though this time until we didn't see red anymore. Then pink. Blood in his lungs. The stoma stopped bleeding. We handled the sterile materials, took out our gloves and cotton tip applicators and our wound cleanser. When we were in the hospital, doctors and nurses always asked us if we were in the medical field because of how at ease we were with the protocols. Jack calmed down, the nurse checking his vitals while we did the real work, the work to make sure our son would keep breathing.

When we take him to see his ENT and trach nurse, this story is not scary to them. It is not scary because they trained us so well, because they know we can handle it when this happens, because Jack was okay, because this is the sort of thing that can happen when your child has a trach. Because this is normal.

Looking at each other when the trach doesn't first go in well, when he's bleeding in front of you and rolling his eye back into his skull, this is normal. Not hearing the sound of your baby's voice unless something is wrong, unless the trach is out, is normal. Knowing what must be sterile versus clean, that those two words do not mean the same thing, is normal.

Walking out and asking your friends to go home because of what has happened for them to look back and you and say, "We had no idea. You never seemed panicked." This is normal.

Spending the night on the couch holding each other and crying because sometimes your kid might die in your own house, on a Tuesday night, while you're making Indian food and introducing good friends to each other and drinking wine and there's serrano pepper oil on your hands that you need to get off before you touch anything that will go into your son's body because it could hurt him when you put the device back into the gaping wound in his neck—this is normal.

There is a poem I love that ends, "Making the circle without God."

II

In two weeks, my second book, Out of the House of Bread: Satisfying Your Hunger for God with the Spiritual Disciplines releases.

What if I released a book and nobody bought it?

This is a legitimate question I am asking myself these days, because since we got back from the NICU I have done next to nothing to promote the book. I still believe in it; I'm proud of it; but, I'm not exactly sure what to say about it anymore. If I were a better marketer, I would tell you that I spent my time in the NICU applying the principles I wrote about in the book. I would tell you that the disciplines I explore there were the same that saw me through deciding to put a tube in my son's neck that risks his life if it comes out. I would tell you how okay God and I are with all of this. I would tell you all the things that all the blogs with chevron patterns tell you, in soft, heavy breathing tones: "Ohhhhh, but God. Ohhhhhhhhh but God."

Here's what I did in the NICU: I simultaneously begged God to heal my son and I told God to go to hell.

There's a good chance I lost half my audience with that one piece of honesty. But I'm not a good marketer and I'm an even worse Christian.

Years ago, on a mild March afternoon, in a park somewhere on the edge of the city, I sat on a blanket for seven hours with a never-less-than-half-full red plastic cup of untouched cheap wine, and saw a complete production of Angels in America. Angels is a complicated play, about the AIDS crisis in the mid-80s, connecting a variety of people around questions of politics, faith, and the literal absence of God. In Angels, God has abandoned heaven, leaving behind a few of the heavenly host to make prophets of humans as they see fit. (Misguided as they often are.) The play—a secular humanist church service if ever I have attended one—is often shunned by Christians for its frank and graphic content.

What offends us most, I wonder? Perhaps the doubt, the question, that God has actually abandoned us after all? I will not forget the afternoon on the grass, the wine I did not touch, the slow unravelling of people on stage coming to grips with a god who is not, as the atheist would speculate, merely inexistent, but is worse: a god who leaves, who gives up, who says we can just try and figure out the mess ourselves.

“Longing for what we left behind, and dreaming ahead,” murmurs one character at the close of the play.

I sat by Jackson’s crib in the NICU, watching a pulse oximeter measure the oxygenation of his blood. The numbers hovered around 98%. 99%. 96%. 98%. 84%. At the last number, below 87%, the first alarm sounded. A pulsating, cautionary alarm. At 76%, it would turn louder, violent. If we didn’t reposition him to open his airway, get him back above 87%, then the bare minimum of needed oxygen was not being supplied to him. In the long run, his brain and other organs would atrophy. In the short term, he would asphyxiate. He went back up to 98%. 99%. 96%. I prayed to see 97%. I prayed for just one uptick on the monitor. Just one small elevation. One deep breath.

94%.

I thought a lot about Angels in America in the NICU.

III

What they don't tell you about writing books is how much of the marketing you'll be responsible for. The endorser list, key influencers, friends you are supposed to petition for their favor and Twitter followers.

I was beside Jack's bed in the NICU when I got the email about the endorsers for Out of the House of Bread. Contractually, I was supposed to care about it. At the time, I said the list they suggested was fine and put my phone away.

When we came home from the NICU a month later, I was supposed to work on something that could be given away for free when you preordered the book. I agreed to this. I thought I could do it. I thought I could write out the things you write out, thousands of words in addition to what you have already done, committed to the hustle. Committed to the brand.

We found our night nurse sleeping and not paying attention to Jack. He's so stable. So okay. Until the minute he isn't, which is the minute you need to be awake for.

We fired the nurse. We stopped sharing a bed. I was awake until 3 AM and then Hilary up with him until 9 AM. We went on like that for three weeks. I didn't write the preorder freebie.

Maybe that was because of sleep. Maybe it's because I'm not sure what to say.

IV

I find it hard to be a Christian on the Internet right now. Not, it may surprise you, because I find it hard to be a Christian. I believe that God is more than capable of handling my anger and grief. God doesn't flinch when I get mad at God for the fact that my son faces serious medical complications. God lost a child once. I don't think God begrudges me the pain.

But it's not safe to say that online. It's not safe to say that unless you tie it in a bow. It's not safe to say it unless you make it okay. But it's not okay. We thought God was going to completely heal our son. And though God did heal some things in Jack, God did not heal Jack completely.

Stop. Stop right there. Full stop.

That's the line that doesn't have an answer. That's the line that cannot get better. That's the line that you can't explain away. Because you know why God didn't fully heal Jack?

Exactly. Your guess is as good as mine.

So right now, God and I are having some long talks in which I am very sassy and very frustrated and very anxious. So when the larger digital Christian community keeps talking about influencers and gatekeepers and being on brand and the next new hip thing to do in church and the next printable, I feel how at-capacity I am.

Today I got out of bed. Today I played with my son and passed a tube into his throat to suction out secretions that, if they build up, means he can't breathe. I crossed myself. I recited a prayer. That's the measure of my faith right now. All things considered, that's pretty good.

At least it's a faith I recognize in the Psalms.

V

We kept an icon of Jesus the Good Shepherd and an icon of Martha of Bethany in Jack's crib in the NICU. I love Martha. I love how she was willing to walk out to Jesus and demand to know where he had been, why he had let her brother die. In our tradition, we believe the saints alive in Christ pray alongside us. I’ve thought often these months how Martha must be praying with us, asking Jesus where he has been. Even after Jack was born, still looking at Jesus: “Even now you could do this. Even now.”

VI

When I was a senior in high school, I read Angels in America alongside the book of Job for a unit on theodicy in my literature class. Theodicy is the question of suffering coexisting with a seemingly good God. If God is good, why is there pain? In Angels, the reason is because God doesn’t care, God is not good. God has abandoned the post and left humans to try and work out the world for themselves. In Job, God has abandoned nothing. God has watched the measure of suffering unfold, tragedy by tragedy, and gives no response to Job about its purpose other than the reason is beyond his understanding. Job’s foolish friends, so eager to find fault in Job, are mocked by God for the inferiority of their imaginations. They assume suffering is only the result of sin. God both elevates Job—these pains are not from his sin—and rebukes him—can he contend with the Almighty?

I am comforted by this. God replies to Job. Job calls God out for the suffering, for the pain, and God answers.

Job belongs to the genre of literature we call Wisdom, a story instructive to us about how we might relate to God and to one another. Job teaches us that God has not abandoned heaven. God has not left the post. God is right here. And if we dare, we might bring a charge against God. If we dare, we might risk God answering back.

I am not a philosopher, but I find this a decent enough theodicy. (The part where we can challenge God. I’m not yet so convinced about the rest.)

VII

I need you to buy my book because that's what I'm supposed to be asking you to do right now.

But I need you to understand that right now I also just need to hold my son and feel that he's still breathing in my arms.

VIII

We go on walks, God and I. I'm quieter than I used to be. God is, too. I think we're both in recovery.

IX

Something from Angels clings to my spirit. A final monologue, spoken by one character as she takes a night flight to San Fransisco, looking for a better world:

It’s been years since I was on a plane. When we hit 35,000 feet we’ll have reached the tropopause, the great belt of calm air, as close as I’ll ever get to the ozone. I dreamed we were there. … the ozone, which was ragged and torn, patches of it threadbare as old cheesecloth, and that was frightening. … Souls were rising, from the earth far below … [they] joined hands, clasped ankles, and formed a web, a great net of souls, and the souls were three-atom oxygen molecules of the stuff of ozone, and the outer rim absorbed them and was repaired. Nothing’s lost forever. In this world, there’s a kind of painful progress. Longing for what we’ve left behind, and dreaming ahead. At least I think that’s so.

God has not abandoned heaven, but there is still a kind of painful progress. I look at Martha, watching Jack, the Good Shepherd beside her doing the same. They hang in our living room now. Somehow they understand. Somehow the incarnation is about being the stuff of ozone. Somehow the partnership of God with us is about being the stuff of ozone. Somehow thy will be done is about being the stuff of ozone. Somehow, painful as the progress is, we’re repairing the ragged and torn in ourselves. God with us is repairing, God with us is making us the stuff of ozone.

At least I think that’s so.

---

dear jackson, there is no bridge but the thread of patience

Dear Jackson,

This is the first day you will be back in our home; this is the last letter I will write to you here.

I want to tell you something about hope. I want to write you something beautiful. I want to do a work of a kind, something people will reference again and again, words that stick to insides and remain haunting the corners of a soul for years:

And then the word passed between them that made all clear. Isn't it pretty to think so? It will happen to you. You don't think it will, but it will happen to you. And that's what I'm here to tell you. In this world there is a kind of painful progress. If anyone should ask me why I say I think it's pretty, I think it's pretty I reply. This is not a love story. Breathe! Through the ivory gate. Of bodies changed to other forms, I tell.

These are the lines, Jack. Some of them. I can tell you where each are from, strewn there akimbo, a kind of prosody of collective memory. These are the lines that stick to my insides and I want to write you something like them. I want that so much, I don't think I'll end up doing it. You can't want for that sort of thing, it happens off stage in accident of pen, in letters found centuries later, in the record of our neglects to have seen at the time the beauty there.

And the beauty is. And the beauty is.

Another line.

Jacks, your story is entering a kind of quiet, the ark of us three, days in rooms previously only familiar to you through sound and tilt of self, the narration of your mother pacing across wood floors mid-afternoon, telling you about the philosophy of disagreement, how we handle information we don't believe to be true.

"You can never go anywhere without his oxygen. You can never go anywhere without his pulse oximeter."

The person supplying your medical equipment said this to your mom and I a few days ago. We smiled politely back, looked at each other, looked back at him. He's not familiar with you, Jack. He reads tracheostomy in a case report and thinks it means a whole host of things that for you it doesn't. He was a bit flustered, too, with how much about you we knew.

We knew how many milliliters of breastmilk you take through your feeding tube and at what rate. We knew the difference between you being on oxygen flow with humidification and being on a vent. We knew what you actually needed with you at all times—or, in your case, within reasonable reach—and we knew the unique position you are in. You are, as one of your nurses put it, "The ideal candidate for growing out of a trach."

We know these things Jack. We've spent around forty days in these rooms learning you and learning what you need. Yesterday, your mom and I felt your chest, the small vibration in your lungs, and looked at each other knowingly. It's the season for congestion, which isn't good your trach, so we sanitized the side table, laid out the supplies, divided the wells of sterile water and cleanser, propped you up on a pillow, and forty seconds later you had a new trach tube placed where the old one had been.

Revision in the text!

Yet another line.

I wrote the above earlier yesterday and stopped. Something felt wrong in the meter of it and going back through I can see what it was. I can see myself for who I am. Jacks, it may be the will of God that the hardest thing you will ever know is the mortality of your parents. That's a harder truth to confront than you'll think when you first read this, I suspect. But that is the way of things. That it is the way of things is the hardest part. I started writing you a letter that placed your mom and I at the center of your care and the center of your world while the Good Shepherd faced away from me in your crib.

Would you believe me, Jack, if I told you that for the many weeks we have kept the icon of him in your crib, I have heard him more than once say, "Put me where I can see him."

Wait, let me take a step back. Let me actually confess. A little while ago your mom and I stopped watching a TV show because there was a segment making fun of fundamentalist charismatics. The critique was appropriate, was fair, but something was off about it. She and I spent a lot of time trying to figure out what made us so uncomfortable until, a few hours later, we saw it for what it was: "They don't know who we know."

It was an altogether factual dismantling of some serious problems, but it lacked a kind of truthfulness. It's one thing to call fraud, it's another to call fraud because you care about Jesus.

The details of which show it was is not important, what is important is the conviction. Conviction is a personal thing, Jack. Not every Christian shares the same one. In fact, I happen to believe very much the Holy Spirit sometimes likes a diversity in our convictions, even our disagreement about them. (I'm getting off track here, I know.)

This thing of darkness I acknowledge mine.

Another line.

Jackson, whose name means God has been gracious, I tried to write a post without acknowledging the real undercurrent of these forty days, the real reason nurses and doctors and medical supply personnel marvel: because they encounter in you that person we know.

I've been thinking about a poem of Charles Tomlinson, called "Eden." (These, the last lines I'll share.) At its end, Tomlinson is recounting our attempts to return to that forgotten place:

There is no
    Bridge but the thread of patience, no way
But the will to wish back Eden, this leaning
    To stand against the persuasions of a wind
That rings with its meaninglessness where it sang its meaning.

There's a lot happening in these lines, Jacks. The sorts of things that happen over years and decades. Meaning is a shifting thing, and what these lines meant to me five years ago is different and yet the same as they mean to me now. Hope, Tomlinson suggests, is all there is to do. Wait it out. Wait out the disappointment of a world that is not Eden. Wait out and wish. Wish back that paradise.

Wishing. Is that what we did for those twenty weeks before you were born? Were all those prayers for your complete healing just wishes? I imagine it looks that way to some people. I imagine it looks that way even to some people who have faith. I imagine they spend time when they least expect to be doing so wondering if all they had been doing was wishing, like children, on falling stars and clover leaves.

I don't have an answer, Jack. That's the hard truth of it. I don't have an answer except that we prayed the way God told us to and we didn't stop after you were born. We prayed our way into your tracheostomy and your feeding tube. We prayed our way through learning how to take care of you. We prayed our way through countless conversations and bedside diagnoses and doubts and fears.

"Put me where I can see him."

The Good Shepherd and I don't talk much these days. We're working on it, I think. I'm working on it, I think. There is still so much about God I do not know. But I know the Good Shepherd walked us into the midst of this, out on these waters of faith that your life is as rich and full and abundant as he intended and intends, and when we wavered and wondered and wanted to stop, he called out, "Do not be afraid. It is I."

Maybe I don't know who I know, Jack. Maybe that's the part of your parents' mortality that is the hardest to hear. But there is a truthful way of telling your story, behind the facts of the events.

Here is a truth I know: the Good Shepherd keeps his eyes on you.

Consider the lilies.

I know. Another line. It's from the Gospel reading the day you were born.

His eyes is on the sparrow.

Yet another.

And I know he watches me.

Do I know?

There's a factual way of telling this story and there is a truthful one.

Jack. Here is the truth: there is no bridge but the thread of patience. God doesn't let us just be done. There is no arriving at one point and saying it is satisfied. There is always but one more thing. The beauty is. The beauty is, Jack. This is the beauty: that the beauty is.

I'm losing the threads and this is bleeding into the form of fiction. Here, let me try one last time:

What I want you to know most in this world is that not one thing is ever lost. What I want you to know is how there is an accounting for everything. I want you to know that your mom and I have met more nurses and doctors and servers at restaurants who tell us we are so happy and so kind in the midst of so much and that maddening reminder of my mother has never made more since than now: always be ready to give a reason for the hope in you.

Sometimes I don't know who I know, Jack, but I do know I can trust him. I know I can trust him with you. I know he sees you. I know there is no walking with him without the thread of patience. I know I can't see how all of this is working together, piece by piece, to draw people to himself, but I know it is. I know this is not a wish in vain. I know that in the foundations of the world, in the fabric of all that is, there is one constant and one alone: the wish to united to him. The wish to be whole in him. The beauty is, Jack. He is the beauty.

What have I said here? This is the last public letter and I have monologued about things that matter maybe only to me, that reflect the unpracticed work of typing out words these past weeks.

I look into your eye, Jack, and I see the whole of all that is and has been and shall be. I look into your eye and I see him, looking back at me. We're working on talking. I'm working on talking. We'll get there. He and I find each other eventually. We always do. He finds us all. That's another hard thing to learn, too.

Jackson, whose name means God has been gracious, here is the truthful way of telling this story. No matter how often your father doesn't understand Jesus, doesn't want to talk to him, doesn't want to deal with him, this is what you should know: nothing compares to knowing Jesus and Jesus wants everyone to know him.

He and I still have some talking to do about the cost of that work.

He reminds me often he knows something about the cost.

You are beautiful, Jackson David, and you are made in the image and likeness of the Good Shepherd. There is no bridge but the thread of patience Jack, to walk beside him in each season, sometimes a little behind, sometimes beside, talking when you can.

Remember that, sometime, when you think prayer is a wish. Trust me. I know him.

Love,
Dad

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---

dear jackson, about king jesus

Dear Jackson,

They don't let you wear rings in the NICU. They don't tell you that beforehand. Mom and I think it's a good idea that we have our tattoos. So there, among the beeps and the soft shuffle of nurses' feet, we have a kind of sign that we belong to each other. And you, with your ginger tufts of hair and watchful eye are a sign we belong to you.

Jack, you're here! Just over a week and a half old! You're here and you've got a few things we have to watch out for, bud. A few reasons we had to learn that detail about rings in the NICU. You have difficultly breathing because of your jaw and nose; that makes swallowing food hard, too. Mom and I shared about that here, along with a way for our friends to help us help you. People have been so generous, Jack. That needs to be a part of your story, too: from the beginning, people from all over have loved you. They have wanted to see you have everything you need.

Jack, your mom and I have written you so many letters up to this point, all about praying for your healing. You were born, miracle you are, and it seems that healing did not come. We've had a handful of people in our inbox, in our texts, asking us what now. People feel a bit betrayed, I think. They thought it would happen. There was a kind of momentum to it. Then you were born—beautiful, extraordinary, radiant you—but you had the challenges they thought that prayer was going to take away.

I don't have a lot of answers, Jackson. It's been a week and a half and I don't have much to say. I've asked God all the questions everyone else has asked. I don't have better answers than they do. Except perhaps this, a moment that haunts my thoughts every time I hold you under the watch of the icon of Jesus the Good Shepherd we keep in your crib in the NICU.

Only once in my life can I claim to have had a vision, Jack. And, as visions go, it was a pretty safe one. Your mom and I were with our bishop and his wife praying for you, way back when we first found out you might have some challenges. We were in the sanctuary of our church, with the big modern icons of Jesus, sitting under the gaze of the Good Shepherd. And for a moment I saw Jesus. I saw Jesus not as the Good Shepherd, but as the icon across the room, and he was looking at me. He was looking at me pretty sternly. This icon of Jesus was Jesus the King, not gentle Jesus meek and mild. King Jesus said to me so loud I felt deafened by it: "I am the Good Shepherd, but I am also the King. What I say is to be accomplished is accomplished."

I don't know what that means, Jack. I used to assume a lot about what it could mean, but the could seems to change every day. I think I may have been pretty presumptive about it. Or perhaps not presumptive as much as wildly hopeful as any parent could be. That may be a finer line than I care to admit. But there is, I know now, a deep comfort to the words. Jesus is the King and what the King has said he will do will be done.

Your mom and I have heard God speak a lot about you, Jack. And while we asked for your eye and your ear and your cleft to be healed, while we hoped for those things, I want you to know that from the beginning we didn't put our trust in healing, but in the one who can heal. See, as we pray, we don't feel like a, "No," has been spoken over any of that just yet. Sure, it seems impossible and wildly fanciful, but if the King wants to do it, it can be done. And, in your hierarchy of needs, we care more about your breathing and feeding than everything else. You're beautiful just as you are. We'll worry heaven plenty on your behalf, but only because we want you to have everything you need, not because we're disappointed with who you are.

And that circles back to the bit about Jesus being the King. Jack, part of what made this week hard was being told so often that you would need a tracheostomy. There's a lot of doctors with a lot of opinions and even more opinions to be found, unhelpfully, on updates I post about you. Your mom and I have such peace about the trach if it's what you need, but we find ourselves daily resisting it, feeling deep in our guts that it's not right for you. When I tell you God has spoken a lot about you, Jack, what we have heard most is how much God cares for you, how much God has God's hand on you. It's not about an eye, an ear, or even a cleft. It's about the whole of you as you are right now.

Your mom and I have prayed for days about the tracheostomy, paced hallways, called parents, friends. And still, at least for now, the word seems consistent: this is not for you. I woke up this morning rehearsing what I would say to the surgical team at our consent meeting. A long speech about how your mom and I don't fear medicine, but they would have to be sure, completely sure, before they did this. They would have to assure us they would never lose sleep wondering if they had made the wrong decision. They would have to promise us. They would—

"I am the King!"

In the hotel this morning, Jack. I heard him again. "I am the King! What I say is to be accomplished is accomplished. I go before you and bring victory behind me. Do not look for the victory or trust in it, only look at me. Only trust me. I am coming. I am going before you. Trust me."

I asked your mom to pray and see what she heard without telling her about what I had heard myself. She reported back a similar word.

I've been reading the Gospel of Luke to you in the NICU, Jack. We've made it almost all the way through. Today, we were just about to begin Luke 18 when the tracheostomy nurse came by to explain what it would be like for you to have one. She's a kind woman, Jack, a hopeful woman, and when she was done she looked at your numbers and said she was really hopeful you wouldn't need one. Then she chatted with the NICU nurses who have been watching over you, who said that they too are hopeful you will not. Then they reported to their head, who asked specifically, "Can I have reason to hope he won't need one?" And they nodded. Your mom and I weren't exactly sure what to do, so we asked them to say those things for us when we met with the surgeons and doctors. "We'll be your advocates," they replied.

I go before you.

Then, they tell us they are moving the conference about what to do, including with the tracheostomy, to next Monday morning instead of tomorrow, giving more time for God to turn their hearts, to help them see you might not need this after all.

Do you know what Luke 18 opens with, Jack? The passage I was about to read you?

Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart. He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people. In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Grant me justice against my opponent.’ For a while he refused; but later he said to himself, ‘Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.’” And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”

I don't know a lot, Jackson, but I do know Jesus is the King. I know the King has promised blessing on your life. I know the King has listened to mom and I and literally thousands of others pray persistently, we who keep coming to God asking to see God's work in your tiny body. And I know that when the Son of Man comes, the King himself, whether at the end of all things or in a NICU, passing by your crib, he will find faith on this earth.

There is a long line of people praying for your good, Jack, and every person who has wondered why or if or why not their prayers weren't answered need take heart in one thing alone: Jesus is the King and victory is in his wake. But our eyes keep on the Savior. There is nothing too late or too wonderful for God.

They don't let you wear rings in the NICU and tattoos only tell so much. But the thread of hope woven between us, these nurses, this digital circle of voices lifted to God, this is an unbroken ring of light, this is cause to believe God is not done here, because Jack, the King is here.

Love,

Dad

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dear jackson, about your mother

Read other letters to Jackson, here.

Dear Jackson,

I want to tell you about your mother. You already know a lot about her: you know her voice, you know the way she moves, you know how much she loves you. There are things you can't quite understand yet, complicated things that in some ways maybe you won't ever understand until you're a parent, too. But I want a kind of record, so that someday you can return to this like the other letters and know her a bit as she was before she first held you.

Jack, your mother is brave. She will deny this and supply ready evidence to the contrary, but don't be fooled. What your mother doesn't remember about bravery or, more specifically, her own, is that Jesus doesn't ask the already brave to do brave things. Jesus asks the becoming brave to keep becoming. Jesus walks out on water and says, "Do not fear, it is I. Come walk out here with me." And Jack, I've watched your mother get out of that boat so many times.

A few weeks ago, Jesus came walking on the water and told your mom she needed to take another class this semester in addition to the one she was already planning on. She had lightened her load in anticipation of you, of what may be surgeries and time in the NICU if God does not heal you. Jesus said, "No, take the additional class." Your mom told me this on a long drive and I nodded, because your mom doesn't flippantly talk about hearing God. She registered for the class, and that was that.

And you know what happened? It didn't take long for someone who doesn't know your mom that well and, in some ways, I think, doesn't know Jesus very well, to say, "How are you going to be able to do that? How could you even consider it? Aren't you worried you'll fail?"

Here's something else to know about your mother, Jack—she is aggressively luminous. She can't help it. The light of God that radiates from her sometimes freaks people out. She's too kind, too generous, too welcoming. She believes big things for other people and eschews any attempt to recognize the same in her. But between you and me, there are people in this world who are afraid of that kind of light because there's some darkness in them that doesn't want to be found out. And not just the darkness we'd normally think of, but simple darkness like doubt that God could really do more than we can imagine. So they push back against the light. They push back with the same line that's been recycled for millennia: "Did God really say?"

I won't tell you your mom doesn't feel hurt by this. I won't tell you she doesn't have a moment of pause. But what I will tell you is how her heart breaks for people who won't imagine beyond what seems reasonable to their experience, who perhaps are resistant to the possibility of more because they fear what God might ask them to do if such things were indeed possible. These are some of the same people who talk about "pregnancy brain"—a highly questionable study that suggests women lose a portion of their brain capacity during pregnancy—and who want us to give them specifics about how your life is going to go, step-by-step, doctor by doctor.

It's foolishness, Jackson. It's the bread of idleness and the vice of curiosity.

And Jack, your mom is out there on the water with Jesus, staring back at all these people who would say you can't walk on water, and she doesn't quite know what to say. So she shrugs it off, sometimes cries it off, but each time she turns back to Jesus and says, "If this is you, tell me to walk on the water. If this is you, show me the way."

She has the sort of imagination I think God loves, Jack. She has the sort of imagination that isn't so ready to disbelieve what Jesus may in fact ask us to do.

Your mom is plenty wavering on the water, but she's unwavering on who she should ask if the water is where she's supposed to be. Your mom talks to Jesus like they're best friends and talks to others about Jesus like they could know him that way too. She shares more than a little with Mama Mary, having often said, "Be it unto me according to thy word." (Even though she won't admit it.) She's a poor recounter of her own faithfulness, but I've watched her time and again face questions of doubt and fear and expectations with the audacity to hope that, one day, when she is in the position of the questioner, her words would be of life and encouragement.

When your mom greets new people in her PhD program, she tells them they are going to survive and thrive. She doesn't make people feel like they can't do it, or politely distance them because academic jobs are scarce and the belief that God will provide within the field even more anemic. Your mom wants everyone to feel like they are seen by God, that they are beloved by God, that their desks can be altarpieces, and that they can do remarkable things.

I want you to know, Jack, that you're going to grow a lot of things in your mom and I, but that there were things already in us before you were even a thought. Something that was in your mother was her radiance, her want of good things for everyone. She is frustratingly unselfish and too often lets foolishness slide because the comeback doesn't seem worth it. (Maybe that's my own bias showing.) So whatever happens in you, Jack, if God miraculous heals you in birth or through the work of surgeons—you need to know you couldn't have a better mom when it comes to wanting good and beautiful things for each and every person, but especially you. Your circumstances did not call that out in her; your circumstances made it amplified.

She's a lighthouse on those waters, Jack. She's reminding us all it's okay to imagine getting out of the boat.

And then to actually do it.

Love,

Dad

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