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Showing posts from 2015

If you like it then you'll take a ring off for it...

Most women spend a good deal of time thinking and planning the circumstances under which a ring will be placed on a certain left hand finger. We spend far less time thinking about the circumstances under such we will take off such a ring. Circumstances such as a breakup. Or death. Or travel to a developing nation. Four years ago tomorrow, a man I love madly put my grandma's diamond on my finger. We prayed. We celebrated. We ate Pakistani food. It was a good day. Tomorrow, I will take off that same ring. Not only because wearing the equivalent of several years' salary around Cameroon may be risky, but also because it seems unfair. Can I ask people to take seriously my concern for their malnutrition and inability to afford medical treatments while I wave in their faces a luxury they will likely never know? Not at this point. I will miss the little sparkle on my left hand, which reminds me so much of my grandpa's devotion to his wife. But I am grateful that I am not takin

Ethan's Practice Newsletter

My wife has taken ownership of our newsletter.  She says I need to be pithy. I don't know what that means.  She says it means I am allowed ten words per sentence (11 ARGH!). I am allowed no more than three paragraphs per newsletter.  Each paragraph can contain four sentences.   She must approve the topic.  She says this is the good for our readership.  She told me that I am to avoid hyperbole.  I'm the most hyperbolic person ever.  Hyperbole is not pithy.  This concludes my newsletter.  

The Ambassador and The Little Star

One of the greatest gifts of parenting is watching the personalities of your children unfold. How many presents we open daily by living alongside such little ones, whose faith and hope often surpass ours!

Enough is Enough: How Many Square Feet Do I Need to Live In? (And Other Superfluous Questions)

A sneaky little corner of my heart occasionally (okay, often) suggests that I'm more holy than those around me. This is a lie, of course, since filthy is filthy next to God's perfection. There are many ways to crave things other than God, so materialism and success are not the only idols vying for affection in our post-modern culture. Sure, I am more than satisfied with a 2-bedroom, 900 square foot apartment, which is plenty big enough to feed and entertain all the friends and strangers I could invite (and much easier to maintain than a larger space would be). I am quite happy with our nearly ten-year-old (reliable) cars, both of which were practically gifted to us. We have enough technology to keep us connected, but not enough to keep us tethered. We have enough toys to entertain a toddler through a six month winter, but not so many that clutter gives way to chaos. And while I used to think being professionally successful would be rewarding, the decision to halve our income

Modeling Sin and Repentance

Today, I heard my son reciting nearly word for word a library book we hadn't read in a week. He remembers so much of what I say. I am saddened to think of all the outbursts over his sister's crying that he has witnessed in the past few weeks. This is a good reminder to watch my tongue, and to own my tendency towards unholy anger. I am encouraged that modeling repentance is a great good we can accomplish for our children, since I surely have many opportunities to live by example.

The Death of Me

Several months before she died, my Grandmother gave me an adorable succulent plant. Over the past twenty years, that plant has flourished in many different contexts -- high school, college, medical school, residency, and married life. Succulents are easily divided. Somewhere along the way, I began giving a cutting of this plant to each of my dear friends as a reminder of the nature of love: growing and multiplying. The metaphor of this plant taught me much about how God loves us: sacrificially and continually. Friends with less than green thumbs received more than one of these little plants. And always, always, I found myself with more at home than whatever I had given away. Until this month.   Over the winter, I had moved all my plants to the top of my refrigerator - where they would be safe from the curious hands of visiting toddlers. Recently, I noticed the plants were not looking well. Most of them bounced back pretty quickly when I put them back on the kitchen table in

When the Present is an Unexpected Gift

Having a second child has been good for me. I probably won't know how many words she can say at 18 months, but hopefully I'll know it doesn't matter. She will almost certainly go on to be literate and productive in society. I will probably let her eat refined sugars before her first birthday. I suspect her teeth won't fall out and she will continue to follow a normal growth curve. I am learning that most people don't care how many hours we all slept last night, and that my day goes better if I don't bother tallying those hours anyway. I've discovered my body, mind, and spirit are capable of functioning on much less than I previously felt entitled to own. Basically: life is not about me, my opinions, my neuroses, or even my family. These are good lessons, which I probably wouldn't have chosen to learn.  Having a second child has been good for my first child. He no longer thinks his preferences and requests must be immediately processed. He has already le

Facebooking My Own Foolishness

Facebook has an "On This Day" feature, which has recently brought me many smiles and just as many grimaces. Pictures and posts by others remind me how blessed I have been relationally and otherwise. Many of my own posts, however, seem to demonstrate how short-sighted, judgmental, and entitled I have been (and continue to be). And these are just the thoughts I was willing to publish  on social media. How many pettier, more inconsequential opinions have floated (or even been allowed to linger) through my mind over the years? I would like to think my short-sighted, judgmental, and entitled days are behind me. But honestly? I've come to similar moments of self-revelation at other points in my life, without much obvious improvement in my attitude or actions. Still, I can't help but wonder: wouldn't it be nice if nobody unfriended me in the future over a non-Gospel issue? Thinking about this pattern of failure, I am reminded of the following passage: "For th

An Imperfect Mother and a Perfect Father

Some days, I think having two children is not much different than having one.  Today is not one of those days.  In some ways, the newborn stage has been much easier this time around.  For instance, I can tolerate more than ten seconds of crying without wanting to cry myself -- which is a good thing, since I'm pretty sure Esther has cried more in the past six weeks than Josiah has cried in his entire life (despite my ability to perform all 5 "S"s simultaneously, while cooking dinner).  Additionally, we have accomplished a schedule -- a feat that I was unable to pull off in the first year and a half of Josiah's life, in part because I returned to work 10 weeks post-partum and was married to an intern.  I have more realistic expectations for myself (i.e. not hoping the scale will read my pre-pregnancy weight at my 6 week post-partum visit) and my family.  Experience is a beautiful thing.   But some days, having two equally precious and yet very unique individuals requ

"Thank you for my playground"

Those huge brown eyes looked thoughtfully at me from the rear-view mirror as we pulled away from the playground. "Thank you, Mama." "Thank you for what, Josiah?" "Thank you for my playground, Mama." "You're so welcome, Josiah. I love you." I hadn't given him a playground.  I had only taken him there for an hour.  But he was so grateful.  My heart overflowed with love as I smiled at him in the mirror.  At that moment, I wanted to take him to the playground every day.  Three times a day.  It is so easy to give to someone who shows gratitude.  I wonder: is this how God feels when His children thank Him?  We all know people God seems to bless... and bless.. and bless.  Usually, these are people who trust Him explicitly, and thank Him profusely.  I want to be that kind of person, not so I can have more (I already have too much)... but so I can look up and see God's smile.   Which reminds me of Josiah's first sp

God is the point.

Paul's Goodbye Letter to Timothy, part 2

In general, it is wrong for us to assume the roles of people in the Bible.  I have often been taught that we should be like David fighting Goliath.  In in a sense, this isn't wrong.  Lord help us to have such faith, but it is perhaps more valuable to realize who we really are.  We are the cowardly crowd, terrified of Goliath, with no hope in the world.  David, in the story, represents Jesus, our savior, the hero of every story. Likewise, we want to be like Christ, which is entirely the correct ambition.  While we attempt to be Christ-like, we must realize who we really are:  the crowd chanting "crucify him."  Certainly, God has made believers a new creation, but God forgive us if we take any of the credit.  The Holy Spirit changes us, and as He does so, we must be careful not to take any credit for His work.  Instead, let us look only to the Lord.  We cannot focus too little on the ways in which God is working in us.  Our flesh is still present and delights in taking cr

Paul's Goodbye Letter to Timothy

Today, I started reading 2 Timothy, perhaps the most emotional letter in the New Testament.  In it, Paul writes from prison to his son in the faith prior to his execution.  The letter is intimate and personal.  Paul refers to Timothy as "my dear son."  He refers to remembering Timothy's tears and states that he longs to see him so that Paul "may be filled with joy."  Paul mentions Lois and Eunice, Timothy's mom and grandmother.  Paul knows them as sisters, women of profound and sincere faith.  Paul loves Timothy's family as he loves Timothy -- for they are his family too in the Kingdom of God.  Then he writes to Timothy for the last time, ending the letter with "For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time has come for my departure.  I have fought the good fight; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith." In some respects, 2nd Timothy is the hardest epistle to read.  It is so emotional as I read it, I cannot hel

Praying for our Persecutors

Today, my daily bible reading included Proverbs 31 and 1 Timothy 2.  Proverbs 31 is famous for the second two thirds of the chapter, which are focused on a wife of noble character (a wife such as my own).  The first part of the passage is equally important. Proverbs 31:8-9:  "Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute, speak up and judge fairly, defend the rights of the poor and needy." There is a clear message throughout scripture to take care of the poor and the needy.  In the law, God instituted radical provisions to help the poor, including the Sabbath year.  During the Sabbath year, the land was to lay fallow.  This serves as a year of rest, but also, a year of charity.  The fallow land was then to belong to the poor.  The owners of the land were to store up food from the last 6 years and use it, and the poor were allowed to pick the fields and get food from them.  Additionally, there was a year called the Jubilee year

A note from the year 2000

"Question: When will cancer kill me? The normal male teenager thinks about sex constantly, yet i think about something else far more. At times, such as this, it's all I can ever think about. When will it come back? When will it kill me? Will I have kids? Will I get married? Will I graduate from college? High school? Will I live another year? I can't answer these questions, but I have to remember that I probably won't live to be an old man. I have to leave my impact on the world now, because I may not be alive to do it later. This is a reminder." 2015. I'm a high school, college, and medical school graduate. I'm married. I'm a dad. I'm alive. More than this, I am redeemed, and I realize that I have a more important task than "making an impact on the world." Instead, my purpose is to point toward the One who created the world, the One who loves and sustains me, the One who redeemed me. I do not know if I will live to be an old man (al

Already and Not Yet

Welcome, Baby Esther!

Esther and Africa

"The Lord works in mysterious ways, and His hands are on even everything, including the naming of our new daughter. We did not know Esther was going to be a girl, and we had several girl names picked out. When she was born, we went back and forth, and we finally settled on Esther...sort of, and then our wonderful nurse told us of this song, a song about a missionary to Africa named Esther. And with that, we both felt peace. She pro ceeded to sing part of the song to us (and her voice was angelic). Moments of these reek of the sovereignty of God. I am blessed to have two miracle babies and a beautiful wife. This July will mark my fifteenth year of remission. God has blessed me time and time again. And like the Esther in this song, we will be moving to Africa, Lord willing, likely in early December. For various reasons, God directed us away from Bangladesh, and instead, we anticipate that we will be moving to Cameroon to serve at Mbingo hospital in December. After listening to

The Great Commission Didn't Include "Programs"

Growing up as a Pastor's Kid, I participated in every event at church -- every time the doors were open.  Over the years, we belonged to churches in rural, urban and suburban settings.  I invited countless friends and neighbors to activities such as Vacation Bible School, holiday ("Harvest", Christmas, Easter, Valentine's Day) celebrations, and youth group retreats.  However, I can't remember a single person who encountered the Gospel at one of these events and subsequently chose to pursue a lifelong relationship with Christ.  This. Is. Heartbreaking. As we prepare to move abroad, my thoughts have naturally been on the differences between American church culture and the way Christianity is practiced in other parts of the world.  And I find myself asking: why do we (American Christians) waste so much money, time, and effort establishing and executing programs and activities that are not prescribed by Scripture?  Especially (and sadly) when they don't seem t

Happy Second Birthday, Josiah!

Pros and Cons Lists vs. Discernment

Ethan and I have been in serious prayer about where we will spend the next two years (and potentially longer) of our lives.  We have been accepted to the Samaritan's Purse Post-Residency Program, and have found the leadership to be wonderful, God-honoring people. They have presented us with several mission hospitals where we might serve, and asked us to prayerfully decide where God is leading us. Honestly, this is the most difficult choice either of us has ever made.  Looking back, following Christ and getting married were enormous decisions -- but the right choice seemed exceedingly obvious.  Here, we find ourselves immersed in subtleties and possibilities, without an obviously "correct" path. So we have sought counsel -- from God, of course.  From our parents.  From our brothers and sisters in Christ.  It has been refreshing to lean on the advice of people who love and serve the Lord. Yesterday, I emailed several close friends asking for prayer.  One responded wit

Big Personality at Little Cost: Welcoming Baby Helm #2

The past few months, our financial goal has been to eliminate unnecessary expenses in order to continue paying down school loans on one income.  Prenatal photo shoots, obviously, are classified as an unnecessary expense.  Today, I put some pictures into a Shutterfly baby book that we will be able to print for next to nothing (thanks to a gift certificate for expecting parents). Looking through some of the gems our families and friends captured the past few months, I am grateful that Baby Helm #2 will not enter the world entirely undocumented.  This little one is in for an adventure, with a Dad and big brother whose personalities are big enough to be captured by even the simplest of cameras.

Wearing Privilege On My Sleeve

My daily choices remind me of my privilege.  Which of my 30 shirts (or 15 pairs of shoes) should I wear?  Should I buy the beef, or the cheaper chicken (or the even cheaper beans)?  What music should I turn on? Which book should I open?  Should I have dessert? Millions will never entertain these options, simply because they will never be afforded such luxuries.  For many people, the biggest question will be: how will I feed my family today? We live in a strange, artificial world here in middle class America.  A place where parenting styles are given more thought than poverty.  Where more money is spent on diet products and fitness plans than on world hunger.  Where battles over education models obscure the reality that many people worldwide will never even learn to read. What if paring down our options could improve life for others?  Why couldn't this be the case?  Most likely, because we don't want others' survival to hinge on our discomfort.  God, forgive us. Teach us

Teach My Song to Rise to You

I am not a crier.  So when tears dripped down my cheeks mid-way through a session of MegaBloks this morning, Josiah just looked at me thoughtfully.  He had been singing along, cheerfully, to this song: Hearing my son join the voices of these beautiful children, many of whom had suffered in ways I cannot even imagine, something in me broke. To me, missions had always meant Africa: declaring the goodness of God in lands of poverty, war, and disease.  But God may have something (or a somewhere) different in mind for us. The concept of "unreached people" had not even crossed my consciousness before I met Ethan.  Now, it defines nearly all of our future plans.  At this point, I do not know where God will teach our song to rise to Him.  My tears may have been over the loss of the dream of working with African orphans in a place like Uganda.  Or perhaps, over the granting of a dream I cannot yet even envision.  Wherever we go, I know we will need Him desperately.

My Five-Year-Plan Versus God's Infinite Plan: No Contest

He was restless, and sick, and out of context.  So I took our little one-year-old warrior out of the crib at my parents' house, and laid him on the guest bed.  I put my arm over his chest, and sang to him softly.  And I thought: Dear God, how could I ever love another person as much as I love this one?   My thoughts wandered to the unborn child within me, and to all the children I hoped would someday fill our home. Would I love them less than this one? Immediately, a scene from over two years ago flashed into my mind.  Married only a few weeks to the most incredible, inspiring, God-honoring man I had ever met, I did not consider myself ready to be a mother.  Bearing children was not supposed to be part of our marriage, thanks to the miracle (cancer survival) and curse (resulting infertility) of modern medicine.  Pondering these and many other thoughts, I put my arm across my new husband's chest as he fell asleep.  The exact same question had crossed my mind: Dear God, ho

Award-Winning Performances for Coloring on the Floor and Stinkies in the Bathtub

Throughout the day, I hear a little voice repeating things he has been told.  It is a sobering reminder of the weight our words carry in the lives of those around us.  Many of the sentiments are sweet: "Mama loves you.  Daddy loves you, too." "Thank you, Josiah." (as he pretends to feed and water his Little People farm animals) "I like football. I like friends." "Daddy at work." "I throw out!" (bringing something to the garbage) "Keep up!" ("clean up", as he puts things away) "Happy to you, happy to you, happy dear Jesus!" (Happy Birthday to Jesus) Others are reminders of boundaries and expectations: "No color floor.  No color wall." (the former was attempted once, and the latter warded off by a dramatically reenacted comparison) "No stinkies in bathtub.  No stinkies on couch" (the former attempted once, the latter advisory prep for potty training) "No kicking." &