There Goes The Neighborhood

Nearly 7 years ago when we watched the truck pull on to the street I recall saying to Amy, “there goes the neighborhood.” We had no ide
a what the following years would bring for our family and ministry in Arlington, Texas and would have never imagined all that God had in store for us.IMG_7466 2

As we touched up paint, cleaned the floors, and walked through the empty house one last time,  I couldn’t hold back the tears. There have been oh so many tears over the past few days. I would think of the countless nerf gun wars fought throughout the rooms and hallways. There were the many wrestling matches that pitted two sons against their father to see who would stay and who would be tossed from the king-size bed.

I looked at an empty backyard where the swing-set sat for all those years serenaded by Carter’s non stop whistling and singing – and so many “American Ninja Warrior” practice runs. There was the driveway that felt the bounce of endless dribbles as Topher spent nearly everyday shooting baskets working on a sport he has grown to love. Who knows how many whiffle balls were lost to the gutters and neighbor’s yard. This house witnessed it’s fair share of sporting events, on TV and those replayed in the yard.

All good memories that flood my mind as we endured the process of leaving this home. There are plenty of other memories, also ones we will never forget and would never want to as they are reminders of how good our God always has been and always will be. We will never forget those agonizing months of wondering if Carter had cancer and watching our 6 year old endure an invasive inoculation. Yet it was in that trying time that God drew Topher to Himself. I’ll never forget Topher saying to me as we sat on his bed, “dad I’ve always trusted you and mom to always fix everything. I need to put my trust in God.” Carter lost an eye but we gained a brother in Christ.

From losing a left eye to nearly losing a left hand God once again used our tough times to point us to our need for Him. Painful surgeries and even more painful therapy reminded us that we are fallen humans and this life and all the pain are temporary. One day there will be no more pain and no more tears.

This house was the place where many small groups met to study God’s word together. Teenagers stopped by for guidance and prayer and college students returned when home for a break (including one stopping by as the truck was being packed on that final day.) Family gatherings, baby showers, staff Christmas parties, and birthday parties regularly occurred over the years all because of the incredible hospitality of Amy and the blessing of our home.

Our family was privileged to watch God draw over 250 students to Himself through the FieldHouse Student Ministry and it never got old. I was blessed by the chance to lead that ministry, to be taught by Mike Wierick and to be a shepherd to shepherds as Student Pastoring turned into Family Pastoring. What a honor to serve the local church. I shed tears thinking back to what God allowed me to be a part of, in spite of myself.

And yet maybe the time I cried the hardest was saying goodbye to our neighbors. I could barely get words out or form comprehensible sentences as I handed a Bible to our Vietnamese neighbors and told them good bye. Amy did the same with our Iranian neighbors. I prayed so hard for them as I drove away, practically begging God to adopt them into His family even though I felt like I failed at doing my part to properly share the Gospel.

And I prayed for the next owners of 4207 Murwick Dr. May God give them life long memories good and bad that remind them that He is a good God, always has been and always will be. We still do not know where God will land us next but wherever that is we will embrace the next part of our journey and once again say, “there goes the neighborhood.”

The Mind is a Powerful Thing

Two years ago today we sat a crossed from a doctor who so nonchalantly tossed out the words Retina Blastoma (cancer) in regards to Carter’s detached retina. Although an immediate reaction might have been fear and hopelessness instead, a numbness occurred within my heart. Thankfully that numbness turned quickly into prayer and a dependence on our faithful and loving Creator. We had no idea exactly what the next 29 days, countless miles, and numerous doctor appointments would bring. We did trust that those things would bring peace that surpasses all understanding and a period of time that we now look back on and mightily see God’s hands all over.

The mind is a powerful thing. It’s amazing how I still tear up when I think of that first phone call from Amy. I clearly recall the trembling in her voice when she first spoke vocalizing the concern and uncertainty that she was dealing with. I still weep when I recall sitting in that doctors office. I can remember passing certain towns on the drive down to the Retina Blastoma center in Houston and how it felt so cloudy yet was clearly a sunny September day. I’ll never forget watching Carter walk back with the nurse and Amy to be tested and feeling my stomach churn. I’ll never forget this time. And I’ll never forget that, as shocked as we were, our Sovereign God knew exactly what was going on and held are family tightly within His grasp.

I’ll always remember my dad praying for me over the phone when I first tried to put into words what was rushing through my mind. It was comforting although I have no recall of what he actually prayed. It didn’t matter what he prayed but that he was praying and to whom it was directed.  I still have text messages, emails, social media posts sent to me on this day as friends and family heard the potential for cancer in our sweet 6 year old.

And I will NEVER forget God bringing to mind Romans 8:28:

“And we know that all things work together for good, for those who love God, to those who are called according to HIS purpose.”

And we saw this verse come to fruition just a week later when Topher gave his life to Christ trusting in Him in the midst of Carter’s trials. Yep, we will never forget this season in our lives. The bad memories and the good ones will always be there and will always remind us of how amazing our God is.

Different Kind of Crying

So it was time for my annual trip to Michigan. Typically this trip focuses on some quality time with my only remaining Grandparent, Pops, and a trip to the Big House. Throw in a few minutes with other family and if the Wolverines pull out a victory it’s deemed quite the productive trip. Last year I didn’t make the trip as it was scheduled for the weekend prior to Carter’s unanticipated surgery. Missing the trip up North was a no brainer. Throughout this past year many conversations with Pops made me realize just how significant this annual trip is to him, more so than for me. Not taking the time to fly up this year wasn’t an option.

The year’s trip was planned for this past weekend and everything was put into motion. Several conversations were had with dear friend, David Moyer, who graciously offers me stand by tickets at a ridiculously cheap rate every time I need to take to the friendly skys. He made it clear that flights were extremely difficult to come by and my schedule would need to be quite flexible. I was reluctant to make the trip knowing it would mean more time away from the family and make the work schedule for this week pretty erratic and messy. I love my job and I love the routine of meetings and managing that has become my ministry. Giving up time with Amy and the boys, as well as missing work wasn’t going to be easy for me.

So now to the reason of this post. The extended trip and lack of “plan” for these past 5 days have been such a God thing. I’ve had long quality conversations with family that I often wave to on the way to and from the football game with maybe a 5 minute “hello, good to see you, and bye” sprinkled in. Many of these conversations have included questions and concerns about Carter and our family. With each and everyone I have had the chance to explain that all is well in our world. And each time I talk about where we were a year ago and where we are now, I think of one thing and one thing only… God’s unmeasurable Grace. I hold back the tears a lot better a year post surgery. I can talk about the journey without blubbering these days. But for the last 4 nights, I’ve laid in bed and cried every night. I cry because I am amazed at how much God loves us and cares for us, His broken humans who continually defy Him. Us, who deserve the pain and suffering that we have brought upon ourselves, do not deserve the unconditional love He so easily bestows. If I can’t look at this past year and understand the need for a Savior and how the Gospel is evident in Carter’s journey, then I should have a totally different reason to cry.

I get it. I don’t deserve it, but I get it. And every chance I’m allowed to talk about a journey dripped in His Grace I just want to cry.

Someone else’s Journey

We’ve often thought that walking through the journey of Carter’s black eye would one day allow us to relate to similar people/stories. This weekend I received a call from a good friend, Roger Davis. He had learned of a fellow Student Pastor whose 8 month old son was diagnosed with Retina Blastoma and had his eye removed the past Friday. Roger knew we could empathize with this family and simply wanted me to know.

For two nights I’ve struggled to sleep thinking about this family and their situation. The surgery was successful but now they wait for the pathology report to know if the cancer has spread to anywhere else. If so they have already discussed 4-6 radiation treatments. It will be a long week. A week I still remember last year, a week where every time the phone rings you wonder who it is and what news it will bring.

You’ve been so faithful to pray for us and Carter’s journey. Would you be so kind as to join us as we pray for Andrew, his wife Natalie, and their sweet little Zach, who turned 8 months old today. Pray for peace. Pray for his little body to be cancer free. Pray, as we still do for Carter, that God would use this for His good and His glory.

Join us, and pray!

Consider it PURE Joy!

One year.

Three hundred and sixty five days.

It was this exact time on Sept 17th, 2012 that Amy was simply walking into a typical eye exam for Carter.  What happened next was far from typical and began a whirlwind 79 day journey for our family.

I’d say that “nothing could have prepared us for that day,” but as we look back on it that simply isn’t true.  There is no doubt, considering everything that happened this past year, that the foundation of Christ in our lives and the presence of the Holy Spirit made those days manageable. We had rough moments.  We shed countless tears.  We didn’t understand why the trials but we persevered and praise God we found joy on the other side.

Joy came in knowing nothing we went through took our Creator by surprise.  Joy in the way the church, the body of Christ, prayed for us, encouraged us, loved us, brought meals, paid for expensive glasses, hugged Carter, remembered Topher, and shared countless scriptures through text messages, FaceBook posts, cards and phone calls.

Joy came when God used this situation to bring Topher to a saving knowledge of Christ as our oldest put all of his trust in Him.

Joy continues to come in watching Carter live a normal life and knowing God continues to heal his heart as he processes all of this.

Joy comes as we learn more and more of how Cater’s story will be used for His glory.

Joy is getting to tell the Journey of The Black Eye without crying tears of pain, or sorrow, or hurt anymore. Truly the tears are those filled with joy in seeing how our Sovereign God works.

Joy is talking about it with a smile on our faces and laughing about the times like when Carter recently told a teacher, “I can take my eye out and throw it at you” in respond to her telling the class, “ok class all eyes on me.”

Joy is looking into both his eyes, seeing the sparkle, and being able to thank God for His goodness – even in the midst of our trials.

“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” James 1:2-4

Carter is missing an eye, but I’d think it’s easy to say that we feel like we are lacking in nothing. Maybe not the exact thoughts that flooded our minds 365 days ago but a reality none the less.

6 months

6 months have passed. 6 months since that dreadful morning that we will never forget. We were stressed from the many conversations, appointments, and tests that lead us to this day. Just under a month earlier we were wondering if Carter might need reading glasses but on this day we were walking into an invasive surgery to remove his eye and check for potential cancer. We were tired from sleepless nights laying there wondering how to help our little boy.  We were worn out from trying to make sense and explain the unexplainable to friends, family, and quite frankly, ourselves.

6 months since we sat in the waiting room, surrounded by friends (some as from as far as Birmingham), for what seemed to be eternity. 6 months since we handed over our sweet boy and trusted him to a stranger to alter his life. 6 months.

There are parts of this journey we will certainly forget. So many doctors and specialist that eventually will slip our memories.  Years down the road we may forget a few details, maybe some of the dates surrounding the visits to the specialists. I’m sure over time we will not remember the gut wrenching feeling of that morning, although to this day it is easy to recall. There are parts of this journey we will certainly forget, but there is one that will remain forever.

6 months ago on October 16th, 2012, we handed over our son, possibly dealing with Retina Blastoma (cancer), for someone to remove his eye and put in an implant.  We were confused.  We felt lost.  We were tired. Yet, on that day God was good and nothing was going to change that. I remember thinking that while sitting in the waiting room and that part of the journey will never be forgotten. God was good and that did not change Carter’s situation and Carter’s situation did not change the fact that God was good.

We’ve come along ways in the past 6 months – and God has never stopped being good.

The sun comes up its a new day dawning

It’s time to sing Your song again

Whatever may pass and whatever lies before me

Let me be singing when the evenings comes

To The Moon and Back

Amy mentioned the other day that she would like to write a post for the blog.  She sent me what she wrote with a warning not to read it while at work. That’s almost a plea to open and read immediately. Would you refuse to open the document? Would you ignore it for a couple hours? I didn’t think so. I read it, and now I warn you… Stop reading and grab some tissues.  Then proceed with caution and you will see one of the many reasons I openly confess God blessed me with an amazing woman and how grateful I am that I get to partner with her in raising our boys.

From Amy:

Dear Carter,

I refuse to believe that you are turning seven!  It seems like only yesterday, we were awaiting your arrival and muddling our way through the adoption world.   I am thankful every day that the Lord saw fit for me to be your mom.  You teach me so much every day about loving life and not caring what others think – just being yourself.  You are vibrant and fun and there is never a dull moment when you are around!

One of the things I deeply admire about you is your tenacity and perseverance.  I find it so easy to just give up and move on to the next thing, but you are my little bulldog.  Once you “bite” onto something, you won’t let go until you see it to completion.  I think it goes without saying that this character trait has also proven frustrating and scary at times.  Especially when you were little and bound and determined to do everything your big brother was doing.  I pray I have not squelched that in you, because now more than ever, this world needs tenacious people – especially those who will be courageous and stand up for the Truth.

I love that you enjoy life and I love the sparkle in your eye.  I love your dimples and your infectious smile and contagious laugh.  I thought we might have lost some of that when we made the gut wrenching decision to have your eye removed.  I am forever grateful for our new friend, Mr. Donnie, who worked so hard to make your eye “shine” again.  I was so thankful to hear you laugh after your surgery and flash those killer dimples.  It does make me sad, though when we have to remove your prosthetic.  Your entire face changes and you become deflated.  I can almost see on your face that you have learned at too early of an age how awful this sin and disease riddled world is.  I wish I could take that from you but I pray that God uses this in your life to draw you to Himself.  I know that when you ask questions like, “What if I lose my other eye?” or “What happens to blind people?” that your sweet heart is hurting.  The future could look bleak but I know that with the Lord’s help and your tenaciousness, you would not even let blindness stop you!

In many ways, I am glad to put the “year of the eye” behind us.  I am ready for all of this to begin to feel normal.  But, I will never forget God’s faithfulness to give us extra measures of peace and grace, the kindness and encouragement we received from family, friends and strangers, and the intimate times with the Lord when sometimes all I had were the groanings of my heart.  I pray that I am able to encourage you with all of this when you need it and use this past year to serve as an altar for our family – an altar like the Jewish people would erect in the Old Testament when God did something amazing – something we can come back to and be reminded of who He is and what He has done for us.

I love you more every day and as sad as I am to see you growing up, I am looking forward to watching how God uses your story to change people’s lives.  I know you have changed mine forever.

I love you to the moon and back, Mom