Original Link to Sermon Clip
Pastor Josh shares his family's testimony of God's sovereignty in the midst of suffering.
Grace Covenant Church, Wenatchee, WA
Today is going to be a little different, due to a few new events in the life of our family. For those who haven’t heart, the little boy growing in Sharon’s tummy has been diagnosed with myelomeningocele, more commonly known as Spina Bifida, and all of the assorted complications that go with it. He’s the 6th child the Lord’s given to us, the 4th to make it past 24 weeks old, and the 2nd to be born with this neural tube defect. If you would like more information about his prognosis, you can read my blog on the website or City. I put as many details as we know there for your reference.
The elders and I, after some discussion and in light of my role here in the church, the serious nature of this new turn of events and how it will effect my life moving into the future, thought it would be good if I took a little time this morning to address the issue in more detail, to explain how we’re doing as a family, and more specifically, unpack a little bit about how we’re processing this.
First, I’ve hesitated doing so, because Sharon and I are quite aware there are many, many people who are going through much, much worse trials that this. Drawing out the details of one’s life can feel a little self-serving, as though we think we’re the only people or first people to ever experience heartache and pain. As I’ve said before, life is hard, we all have struggles, and considering the fact that neither Sharon or I have never gone a day in our lives without food, putting us in the 90th percentile of the world’s population, when it comes to the big picture one might be tempted to ask in the immortal words of merriweather Dobbins “Well watcha crabbin’ about?”
So we want to be very clear...we have so much to be grateful for. The night we found out the news about Baby Mac #4 and the new opportunities the Lord was giving us with him, we sat and began recounting God’s specific goodness and faithfulness to our family. The list grew quite long, and we were quickly overwhelmed with how gracious God has been to us. It’s almost laughable. We have SO MUCH to praise him for. It’s been easy to be grateful in light of His kindness to us. From our vantage point, He has poured out blessing without measure. When I preached three Sunday’s ago about Moving Forward by Looking Back on evidences of grace, and in so doing cultivating a deep and abiding faith in future grace, I was speaking to you out of a deep place of experience.
So this is in no way an exercise to garner self-pity. My goodness no. God has been exceedingly kind to us, and we hope, in the sharing of this story, to draw attention to that.
Secondly, we in no way want to sound as though this is the worst-possible tragedy to strike our home, and now the world should stand still and feel bad for us as we process this horrific news in front of everyone. Again...a thousand no’s. Quite the opposite, it’s precisely because we know that others are hurting and suffering, and in many cases with things much worse than what we’re facing, that we thought it might be helpful if we shared pieces of our story and how faithful the Lord has been to us. If you are hurting, or going through the dark night of the soul or wondering if the Lord can be trusted, we want you to borrow from our faith...He - will - see - you - through. If the Lord could use what He’s teaching us to encourage you, then that would make our hearts very happy.
Third caveat...we in no way want to imply that we have or are currently handling these issues perfectly. By no means. We have and do make many mistakes. You will hear those today. Hopefully you can be encouraged by them and learn from those as well.
So, today, there will be no 3 point sermon, no thundering crescendo, no pointed application, just the telling of a story in the hopes that in it you will see the grace of Jesus, and come to love and trust him more yourself as a result. I have stood in this pulpit many times, and said with deep conviction things about who God is and how he works; today I want to open a window for you to peek into the furnace of our own affliction, where many of those convictions were forged.
Levels of Processing
When news like this hits, it hits like a thunderbolt. Immediately you begin processing on every level of life. Often the practical level hits me first...what will this mean, what do we know for sure, how can we best prepare, how will I need to adjust my current schedule, who should we tell first, how will we tell our kids, how should we tell everyone else, what kind of planning should I start doing that I’m not currently, how does this change my long-term goals as a provider, how does this changes the emotional needs of my wife and children, in what ways will we need to make adjustments in our family, what course of action is needed for me to take immediately, if any...it’s triage, scope, and sequence, etc etc.
Then there’s the emotional level...this is where you experience the deep pain and empathy of a parent who doesn’t want their child to suffer, who doesn’t want their son to experience this kind of pain. It’s where you feel trapped, because you would take his place in a heartbeat if you could but you can’t. It makes you feel vulnerable, weak, helpless, angry. It’s where you experience the death of dreams and plans you didn’t even realize you’d made for your son, the death of hunting trips in the high country, and hiking trips exploring mountain lakes, catch in the back yard and the building of tree houses...all things I had done with my dad that I dreamed of doing with my son. Watching him sweep up his bride and carry her out of the church and into the get-away car, and a 1000 other things you’d already planned / envisioned in your minds eye that all of a sudden vanish cruelly into thin air.
But there’s a third layer you start processing on, and this is actually the most important. It’s actually going on simultaneously with all the others, to be exact. It’s what everything else you think, feel, believe, and do in that moment is rooted in and standing on...and this level is the theological level. Everyone processes here, pastor or not, Christian or not. What do we believe about what’s just happened and why? Or, more specifically, how do birth defects and disabilities relate to a God who is (supposedly) loving and kind and overseeing all things.
Or, to be even more pointed...where in the world was God when the faulty information got planted in the DNA of my unborn son, causing the failure of his spinal column to close, leaving his spinal chord exposed and causing a host of medical complications that will affect him for the rest of his life? (That’s not an unfair question to ask, right?)
These and a 1000 other questions can relentlessly and mercy-lessly hammer your little ship until it capsizes violently, then slips quietly beneath the waves to sink into the abyss.
Peace in the Storm
But thankfully, on December 27th, two days after Christmas, sitting in the darkness of the ultra-sound room, with the tech growing increasingly quiet as she stared intently at our little man’s brain, heart, spine and feet, our minds were not cluttered with these practical or emotional or theological questions. There was no panicking or fist-shaking or questioning of “why us.” There was no doubt or fear or anxiousness. There was, mercifully, only peace.
Now, don’t misunderstand me. I did not say there was no pain. The pain, the heartache, the disappointment, the disbelief, the shock...that was all very, very real. As the radiologists and ultra sound tech fought back tears and said, “We are so sorry, but it’s conclusive...he will be born with Spina Bifida”, make no mistake, the storm hit hard.
But even then, there was peace. Not the stormless kind of peace. No, this was that deeper, richer peace that somehow comes precisely and paradoxically in the middle of the storm. There was ballast in the bottom of our little boat, and even as the tidal-wave of emotion crashed against our ship in the form of words like “Chiari II Malformation” and “enlarged ventricles” and “spinal lesion” and “Trisomy 18 markers” and “Echogenic Innercardial Foci” and “Rocker-bottom feet” and “chromosomal abnormalities”...the ship...amazingly....held it’s course.
I heard my wife offer comfort to the tech as she stifled a cry. I heard myself saying, “Oh, please don’t be sorry, we know this is not the fun part of your job, but please know we are so grateful you caught it. Thank you so much. This will really help us prepare much better for this little man’s arrival. Thank you for doing your job well.” Where was that coming from?
And as we came out into the parking lot to meet our close friends Eric and Helen who had just driven up from out of state to celebrate our traditional 2-day Christmas bash, there were tears, and stunned silence, and erie deja vu, and a few shakings of the head, but there was also deep and abiding peace.
But, I’ve dumped you into the story too far in to appreciate that this has not always the case. In a situation much like this one, with much of the same waves hitting our little ship, the bow had not held, we had been swamped, and were almost lost forever. And lest you think I’m being over-dramatic, I want to explain why.
Questions Like Waves
If you haven’t picked up on it yet, one of the waves that swamps your boat in moments like these come in the form of questions....... “Where Is God?! How can he be loving and kind and compassionate and sovereign and let this happen to us??!! What is He thinking?” And the waves pound against the ship, The tensions are real. And the tensions demand answers. No philosophical waxings or theoretical projections will do in those moments. What is at stake is nothing less than one’s view of the nature of God Himself. It is a fish or cut-bait moment. Am I going to stay with this God? Am I going to trust him? Or am I going to curse him and bail, like Job’s wife encouraged him to do.
When one’s ship is moving through the dark night of suffering, it’s answers, or it’s death.
What I Don’t Say Anymore
I used to say, years ago, when people would ask how I reconciled evil and suffering with the reality of a loving God, I’d say something like, “God did not cause it, but He can use it for good.” However, that answer quickly let me down. After 6 pregnancies in 6 years, 2 ending in difficult mis-carriages, a third coming dangerously close, and 2 resulting in severe birth defects, I do not say that any more. Primarily because I don’t believe it to be true.
But that’s getting a little ahead of myself. I need to back up and give you a little context. The peace from knowing who God is and how He works that flooded our souls on that December day a few weeks ago, flowed from a fountain-head that had not always existed in our hearts.
For some of you new to GCC, or our story, this journey did not begin for us on December 27th of 2012. It began much earlier, 7 years earlier, to be exact, almost to the month. Sharon and I had been married 3 years and had the world by the tail. I think the best way to unpack this journey for you would simply be to let you hear it for yourself, from my own words, written during that time that would prove to be the most formative season of our life.