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.

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

Perfection?

I was not planning on another update so quickly but this remains the easiest way to tell those connected to us the latest news.

Carter, once again, has conjunctivitis – a word I no longer need help from spell check on. We felt it was possible and we were not entirely surprised when Donnie confirmed so today. With that news he decided we would try something new.  After we get Carter’s eye cleared up, and after Spring Break, we will try a unique approach to fitting his prosthetic a little better.  Donnie wants to place some molding element on the back of the current prosthesis and then put it back into place.  He thinks that will help make a mini impression that he will use to expand/alter the current eye.  This will help fit the lens better without having to sedate Carter and make a full orbital impression.

Just to remind you, the infections seem to be due to the prosthesis not fully fitting and allowing bacteria to get behind it and trapped back there.  Ultimately the best thing is to do a full impression and build a new eye. Donnie hopes this will buy us some more time.  I don’t know if he just wants to wait as long as possible to make a new eye or if this is just a temporary solution.  Maybe the warranty has already run out and he is simply trying to save us some money – I kid… kind of.   Amy and I agree that we trust Donnie and that he has Carter’s and our best interest at heart.

Until then, Amy and Carter have made yet another trip to the eye doctor to get drops to put in his eyes allowing the infection to be treated.  After 48 hours of the drops we have been instructed to take the eye out each night and replace it in the morning. Of course this is a lot less scary now that we made it through the process just a few nights ago.

When Amy called me this afternoon, to give me the report, I was listening to I am Not The Same by Unhindered.  Some of the lyrics say:

I bow before your cross this broken life made new 
So amazed at all you are, Lord 

And who I am in you 
Adopted, healed, and lifted 
Forgiven, found, and rescued

I am not the same I’m a new creation 
I am not the same anymore 
I am not ashamed, I will not be shaken 
I am not the same anymore, anymore

Carter and I were talking last night about how one day he won’t have to worry about his eye anymore.  We pray for the moment that Carter comes to a saving knowledge of Christ and then we will rejoice that he will be adopted, healed and lifted; forgiven, found, and rescued.  Then he will truly know perfection.

(*just a reminder that this is all about the prothesis and the implant is doing fine and unharmed.)

Not on the Bucket List

Exactly one month ago I mentioned in a post about Carter’s infections, that for the first time we had to remove Carter’s eye and clean it. We were in the middle of a rough patch of infections and Donnie, our Ocularists, said we needed to pull it out and clean it.

And now would be the time I confess that the eye never was touched. We didn’t remove it and we didn’t clean it. Yeah, that’s right, I chickened out. I didn’t see anyone else offering to come over and play with my kid’s eye. FaceBook and Twitter must have shut down because we were not inundated with friend’s wanting to help out in our medical need. Seriously though, we were blessed with kind words and plenty of people saying they would be praying for the situation and events that were about to occur.

That night in question, I told Carter that we really needed to pull his eye out and clean it but as soon as I said it he lost it. The look on his face and the alligator tears started to flow and I began back pedaling. I asked Amy if it was absolutely necessary to don the scrubs and put all of my medical knowledge to test in this arena. As soon as she muttered, “I guess we don’t…” I pulled the plug on the operation. I didn’t even let her finish the sentence. I just needed an out. The next day Carter was scheduled to see Donnie so before you go thinking I put my son’s health/life in jeopardy, we knew things would be better in the morning.

Fast forward to this past Saturday night. Carter was complaining a little bit about his eye not feeling right and when he got out of the shower he said, “my eye is looking left.” Sure enough it was easy to tell that his prosthesis was not moving like normal. In all of our medical expertise, which continues to grow with this situation, we determined the eye had shifted and was “stuck” in place. I had Carter close his eye and I proceeded to try and push the lens to the center but to no avail. Carter was getting squeamish and complaining that I was hurting him. Trying to get a better look, I pulled open his upper and lower eyelids and immediately noticed his prosthesis had rotated and was now sideways. I realize that sounds strange but if you recall our original post about the making of his eye, it is not a perfect circle and Donnie had painted a smily face on the eye to signify the top, which clearly needed to be up.

The Eye

Smily face = This side up

There was no doubt that this could not wait for Donnie to fix and Amy and I agreed that I would take it out. As he did a month ago, Carter freaked out and quickly began crying and saying he didn’t want to do it. He easily admitted he preferred Donnie do it instead of dear old dad. I COMPLETELY concur! Once I convinced him that we had to fix his eye, we proceeded with caution.

I feel like if you’ve read this far you might as well stick around for the details. I took Carter into the bathroom and picked up the little suction cup we received in our goodie bag the day we got his new eye. I squeezed the suction cup and, while holding his eye open, I pushed it up to his eye. It took three or four tries before I finally got it to stick. With a simple rocking motion I pulled up on the bottom and the eye just slid right out. Carter calmed down until he looked in the mirror and saw the cavity that was left behind. It’s interesting how it was just months ago we walked through the surgery and process yet he had quickly forgot what that looked like. I think he was partially intrigued by what he saw but mostly fearful of seeing himself “eyeless” for the first time in months. I held him for a few minutes and we talked about how everything is fine and that one day he will look back and better understand why all this happened. We didn’t take the time to get into all the theology.

Amy (for some reason this was one part I just couldn’t do) flushed out his eye socket with a special solution, also from the goodie bag and I cleaned the prosthetic and lubricated it. It was time to put it back in which was the part I feared the most. Once again, using the suction cup, I held Carter’s eye lids and tried to replace the eye. As I was moving towards him my right hand was visibly shaking uncontrollably. I was trying to use my left arm to cover his right eye so he wouldn’t see me struggling so much. The first attempt was an epic failure as I was pushing both his eye lids in and his eye lashes were getting stuck on his implant. Yeah, you read that correctly.

I don’t know if it was the obvious look of fear on my face or if I verbally asked her, but Amy stepped up behind Carter and pulled his upper eyelid real high. This gave me a huge opening to put the eye back in. Opposite of the extraction, the top part goes in first and then I used my left thumb to wipe the lower eyelid and allow it to pop out and cover the prosthesis.

And just like that it was over. Amy and I tag teamed it and it worked. We conquered it. Now if you’ll excuse me I need some more Advil. It seems I hit my head when I passed out half way through the ordeal. Just kidding – I think. Many of you saw the Tweet/FaceBook post and asked what had happened. Now you know and more importantly you know not to ask next time.

I don’t officially have a bucket list but there are things I would like to do over the years to come. This was not something originally on the list but you can bet I’m checking it off.