Christmas Counting

Christmas Counting

This is a long post, but it recalls a long day which has lasted ten years so far.

This weekend marks the tenth anniversary of my youngest daughter’s T1D diagnosis (aka “diaversary”). Ten years ago, progress to a cure seemed so close that we were told that a cure was within ten years. Many advances and technologies have continued to be developed and released to the public. JDRF continues to be a source of encouragement and inspiration. We certainly would not have weathered the transition from diagnosis to treatment without the very kind support and encouragement of the T1D community. It was and is still overwhelming. My youngest has endured much, and she inspires me.

The accompanying picture is one of my youngest’s stuffed toys which she slept with for many years. You can see how she, as a child, processed and coped with life with T1D as she added an insulin pump inset to the belly of the toy which mirrored the inset which she wears and changes every three days.

Below is the message I delivered the three weeks after her diagnosis at the Christmas Eve service where I minister. You may find it in my collection of Christmas stories entitled, The Night is O’er.

Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. 5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, 8 he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Philippians 2:3-11

I oftentimes fall into the pattern of reducing my life to counting integers–the equally subdivided ticks on a line which quantify the things which I believe important. All this data, this numbering, is meant somehow to bring a predictability and control to my life. I count sermons, days, dollars, compliments, mistakes, peaceful minutes, and miles. On December 5, 2009, I started counting a new line.

It took three days for what I believed to be true to be confirmed. It was forty-five minutes from when my wife picked up our daughter from school until she called from the doctor’s office with the results of two tests which confirmed the diagnosis that our youngest, one of three lovely children, had what 39 other children in the U.S. would be diagnosed with on that very day: Juvenile Diabetes (T1D).

It is eleven miles or twenty minutes from our house to the Wake Forest Baptist Hospital’s Emergency Room, and it is nine floors up Ardmore Tower to room 810 at Brenner Children’s Hospital where we would stay for the next three days. On the evening of the second day, I am nervous, as I prepare to administer my daughter’s fourth injection — her first full day of injections for the rest of her days, and she is nervous. She is nervous because in her mind it counts as a shot. I am nervous because I count it the same, and this is my first time giving one. Her blood glucose is down to 211 from the 305 it was at dinner. I inject her with an insulin called Lantus (one of two types she receives) with one of the new pen-type syringes, one of three ways to administer insulin.

My daughter’s life and her parent’s lives are now divided into threes and subsets of threes. Three meals a day before which she receives a dose of insulin based on her blood sugar level. Three meals a day with one snack in between. We count 180 grams of carbohydrates per day, forty-five grams per meal, fifteen grams per snack. We keep meticulous records of her blood sugar and the times it is taken. This vigilance gives power to the illusion that the accurate and diligent collection of data provides control. Control means safety, and safety means that when I wake up at 2:37 in the morning and am unable to resist going into my daughter’s room to check on her, probably for the second time that night, I will find her okay, and that she will remain okay until I wake her, before the eighth hour to measure her blood sugar and to give her first shot.

Growing up, I had imagined that my membership among the number of humanity would mean that I would one day, count. I had hoped that this addition would add up to success, achievement, and a decent though not ostentatious life — one that would be both moderately enviable and worth emulating.

Over the course of my life, my counting has taken different forms. As a child, I counted presents at Christmas time and meatballs in my Spaghetti-O’s at dinner time. As a teenager, I counted the “hutts” as center for the high school football team before I passed the ball through my legs to the hands of a team mate whom I should’ve counted a much closer friend for the intimacy we shared five days a week for four months each fall. As a college student, I counted years, semesters and class hours till graduation. After graduation, I counted the dollars for an engagement ring which I would give to one whom I counted above all the rest and whom I was counting on saying “yes”. In my first real job as a teacher, I counted down the classes to the end of the day, the days of the week to Friday, and the hours of the weekend till Monday. As a seminary student I was one of a graduating class of ninety or so, who were counting on positions in a church in which they would go to make a difference and whose lives would “count for Christ”. While working in the second of three churches, I would learn to number mortgage payments, diapers, bottles of formula, and doses of Tylenol. I had always hoped that I would count, but I never imagined those things which I would end up counting. And now, I count blood sugar and doses of insulin.

In our house this December we’ve been counting the days until Christmas. It all changed on the fifth of those days. Since then, I’ve been thinking of how that first Christmas was replete with counting. When Gabriel first appeared to Mary to tell her that she was chosen to bear and raise the King, of whom the number of the days of his reign would have no end, she neither balked at her own unworthiness nor chaffed at the inconvenience. In humility she both rejoiced and received what was put upon her. You recall that when Mary became pregnant she was only betrothed to Joseph. And when Joseph discovered she was pregnant, he intended to divorce her privately because he was a kind man. Nevertheless, he could after all count, and a pregnant fiancé did not add up. But even while he was still counting what he should do, the Angel of the Lord appeared to him to assure him: Mary was carrying the one who would deliver his people from their sins. Joseph obeyed the command of God to marry a woman bearing a child not his own. The irregularity was plain for all to see. No doubt it was probably assumed that this couple, for whom some may have had high hopes, was not only un-special but also of no account.

It came about in the long line of human events, that Caesar Augustus wanted to count the world so that he might have more money to count. Because Joseph was numbered among the descendants of King David, Joseph and his new wife walked the eighty miles from Nazareth to the ancestral home of David’s descendants, Bethlehem. If you were to return to your home town, you would likely count on some help and a place to stay, but Mary and Joseph were relegated to the inn. Upon finding that all the inn’s rooms were counted full, the innkeeper offered the stable. In this stable, after her numbered days were completed, Mary delivered Jesus, the Son of David, the Son of Man, the Son of God… that he might deliver us.

Now in the fields beyond the region of Bethlehem, there were shepherds. Being good shepherds, they counted their sheep. They were not counting on the Angel of the Lord appearing among them glowing with light so heavy that it almost crushed them. The angel’s first words were, “Don’t be afraid.” He told them of the birth of Christ the Lord, and that they should go to see him. As a sign that this was both special and true, the Angel told them that they would find this king in swaddling clothes lying in a manger. At that moment, countless angels appeared in the dark sky, lit by numberless lights, and sang. They sang of wonder, of triumph, of the turning of the tide, of the good news that the interminable slide into the same ol’ same ol’, the relentless skid further into the ways things shouldn’t be, had been arrested by the stark cry of a newborn in the City of David. These shepherds (those whom the world did not count) marveled that they should be the first to hear this glorious news. They traveled to Bethlehem and saw it just as they were told, they shared with Mary and Joseph all that they had seen and heard, and they went away rejoicing and praising God.

About the same time in another land, wise men called magi, were counting stars in the sky and they counted a new star — a star which foretold the coming of the King of the Jews. These men also, came to see the new born king. Bearing gifts to honor the king, they rejoiced at being among the first number to visit and honor him. St. Luke tells us that Mary counted all these things as a dear treasure and pondered them in her heart even as she treasured the child in her arms.

As I take into account this Christmas (my forty-fourth) the numbered events of Jesus’ birth and the numbered circumstances which I and my family are walking through, I am strengthened by the good news that there was One who did not count.

Jesus himself counted. When he entered the wilderness at the beginning of his ministry, he counted both the cost  and the days of his temptation. As a good shepherd, Jesus counted and still counts the sheep. I’m sure he counted the days he had left with his disciples even as he counted down the Passovers. After being handed over by the religious elite to the efficient and heartless imperial justice, I do not doubt that he lost count of the lashes, the insults, and the blows. How could he have counted the weight of such a payment for such a debt and born the judgment of his Heavenly Father — one whom he never counted as an enemy?

Yet, St. Paul in his letter to the Philippians tells us that Jesus did not count one thing: “equality with God as something to be grasped”. The honor and glory rightly his was not one to be taken, demanded, or expected. Rather, it was to be received and conferred but only after his being born – born to serve and to suffer. In this act of love and obedience we see that Jesus did not count himself above the rest, but he numbered himself among the least: a homeless family with tainted reputation, wandering to the ancestral home of a dried up royal dynasty.

St. Paul tells us, that Christ “made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men”. This means so much more to me this Christmas. I now realize that God in Christ subjected himself to the same body which has a pancreas and the same endocrinology which requires the pancreas to produce insulin so that cells can use glucose. By simply being born that first Christmas, the King of Glory bore the first of many ignominious sufferings. And though his coming to earth may mean many things, it does mean at least this: that he played by his own rules. Though he was greater, he did not count himself above the rest. He did not count himself above me or you or my Maddie. He counted the cost of the humiliation and the suffering and the waiting well worth the price because of the joy set before him.

St. Paul tells us that those for whom such a great accounting has been made, for those who treasure these things in their heart, they will be set free from counting. They are now set free from counting offenses born, rights owed, wrongs endured, successes achieved, victories won and failures lost. Rather, having been counted by the one who did not count, they will be set free from counting themselves so that they might count on Him and count others more important.

I will go home tonight and count. You too, will likely count hours till bedtime or hours till morning. If we are to keep Christmas, this Christmas, and if we are to keep from falling into the mire and false security of those things which you and I like to count on, we must treasure the one who “did not count equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, and being born.”

Unwound

Therefore now, O LORD, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.” And the LORD said, “Do you do well to be angry?” – Jonah 4:3,4

Wound in God’s mercy
I sat beneath the shade
Of His surprising blessing
At peace with all He made.
But worm and wind unwound
In sickness unto death
Stripping self to the ground
Begging for my last breath.
God queries my quarrel
With compassionate questions—
Rhetorically leading me to the moral
Defeated in Grace’s suggestions.
And now on a hill, hung up in alienation
I see how God’s mercy makes for reconciliation.

(c) Randy Edwards
artwork: from The Story of the Bible by Charles Foster (Illustrations by F.B. Schell and others)

Overthrown

Overthrown

Jonah began to go into the city, going a day’s journey. And he called out, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” Jonah 3:4

He preached to Nineveh’s proud, hardened heart
Both to high and low in station and in rank,
And hearing and humbled they rent garments apart
They fasted in sackcloth, neither feasted nor drank.
The mighty King of Nineveh in ashed humility
Cried out for mercy from Jonah’s God alone.
And hearing his cry, God in mercy received
Forgiving his violence, his prodigal o’erthrown.
For forty days I walked here bewildered
To this wicked, foreign, unwelcoming land,
Having spent mercy’s portion from justice delivered
How forgiven again? How received by his hand?
What king will pay out the forgiveness I seek?
Whose righteousness redeem this rebel become weak?

(c)Randy Edwards
artwork: Jonah Preaches in Nineveh Gustave Doré (1832-1883)

An Easter Meditation

Thoughts on Easter and my wife’s recent hospitalization. You may listen to it here.

1 Peter 3:18“For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit…”

Brought to my senses by a phone call at 6:30 am, I answer the regular, morning call from my wife who will, no doubt, give me an update of the night’s activities as she continues in her recovery from surgery six days earlier. Rather than hearing the refreshed morning voice of my bride, I hear the concern and the tiredness–a tone I have heard all too frequently over the past two months. I learn a new word, “dehisced” — one of several I feel more competent using and one of many I’d rather not have a personal acquaintance with. She told me that the sutures from her surgery had failed, and she was being taken back into surgery to repair and bolster the incision site.

Moving with the quick urgency of adrenaline, I make arrangements to get to the hospital. One of the numberless angels we have called upon, comes to the house to watch our youngest while I rush to the hospital hoping that I make it there before she is wheeled into surgery. I make it in time, and after kisses and prayers I find my way back to the Surgical Waiting Room to sit it out with the other shell-shocked family members of other unknown patients and stories.

Though this a repair, it’s this surgery that brings me to the end. The fear and what my wife calls “catastrophizing” find a foothold, and I am brought low by the fragility of our human frame and the ridiculous presumption that my body has and always will work as it should. That is foolishness. Breathing is a miracle so too is digestion. Our frailty coupled with my own powerlessness makes all this hard to swallow.

This is the second time in as many weeks that circumstance has brought me to this room. The previous week, on Good Friday, a surgeon, named Jennifer was brought in to consult with my wife on the possibility of surgery should the Remicade she had received a day earlier fail to send her ulcerative colitis into remission. A mere 45 minutes after the morning’s x-ray, sent to measure the progress of healing or to alert to the onset of what her doctors referred to as “megacolon”, Dr Jennifer was back in my wife’s room suggesting that the pharmaceutical treatments thrown at my wife’s disease had failed and that surgery was necessary to avoid a perforation which would likely happen, and if it did, would be deadly.

Dr Jennifer is a straight shooter, and we were looking for straight shooting. So much of the previous month, had for me, the ambiguous qualities of abstract art. Lot’s of activity, but not much in the way of clarity. Dr Jennifer said, that it was “time to cut bait”. I know the expression, “fish or cut bait”, and I appreciate the metaphor. But in this particular circumstance? I know there will be cutting. But who’s the bait? And to what is she being offered?

So, in a matter of two hours, we went from waiting for medication to bring the hoped for relief and remission to the urgent alacrity of emergency surgery. Good Friday. I sit alone in the Surgical Waiting Room and keep vigil for one who suffers, and I await the news. Because there is nothing I can do, all I can do is receive. I hope to receive good news, a report that surgery was successful, that healing is immanent, that my wife’s discomfort has been dealt with. But I am an object of grace, I can do nothing, and I can only watch and wait for God to send and for others to bring what I do not have. He did and they did. God sent messengers. He sent them through emails, phone calls, texts, and visitors — all of whom I received as angels and whose comfort and company I needed. Though this wasn’t the news that was most pressing, it was important news. That though powerless, I was not alone, nor was Jennifer.

God had shown Jennifer that he was present. Just as he had sent the friends, physicians, and nurses, he had sent Stan, the transportation orderly from OR who wheeled my wife down. He had a simple manner about himself. When he said he would pray for Jennifer as he was leaving the OR staging room, Jennifer asked if he would pray then and there. He boldly and gladly prayed. He prayed that Jennifer would have faith to trust Jesus as the woman who reached out and touched Jesus and was healed, he prayed that she would have the submissive graciousness of Mary, who when she was told that she would bear the savior, she replied, “Let it be unto me as thou hast spoken.” And on that Good Friday, he remembered Jesus, who when given the cup of affliction to empty on our behalf and who would have rather had it taken away, nevertheless, he submitted and took that cup for us, for me, the powerless husband, and for my wife, the bait.

As we arrived in the OR, next to appear was Christy, the niece of a dear friend and herself a childhood acquaintance of Jennifer’s. Christy, who as it turns out lives in our neighborhood, was scrubbing up to assist in the surgery. For Jennifer these presences were evidences of God’s presence in her illness which was now culminating in this angling end game.

As I sat in the Surgical Waiting Room, I was a witness to how the suffering of one person, was bringing into my life friends from almost every part of my life–friends, from high school, college, seminary, ministry, family members from across the state and country and globe. Friends who had moved out of my life and friends who were mostly my wife’s friends but who were relegated to engaging with me because my wife was often too weak or in too much pain to text let alone talk. God brought all sorts, and because of their love, and because of our need, we asked them to pray, and they received those requests and brought them to God. I cannot adequately describe the expansive sense of gratitude which has frequently squeezed tears out our eyes as we received. The thinly veiled venier of keeping it together was often wrinkled and torn through by the offer of a seemingly insignificant service or thoughtful duty.

Three hours later, Dr Jennifer appeared and gave me the news. My Jennifer did great, and was doing well. I know that I asked other questions and that she shared more information, but I had fixated on the most pressing news, and once I heard that news, all other news was only a curiosity. Good Friday.

What was it that brought Jesus to Jerusalem during the Passover that spring when Tiberius ruled the Empire? He might have brought an army with him to Jerusalem, but in the end he only brought eleven disciples, and three of them would keep vigil with him as he entered the heart of his mission. And having been worn out with the day’s expectation of an unforeseen glory, the disciples would fall asleep not knowing that in twenty-four hours their worlds would come crashing down in catastrophe.

One of those disciples, Peter, came to the Garden ready to fish or cut bait. He brought a sword and thinking he would strike the first blow of the revolution and cut a path to glory found that the one for whom he was willing to strike others was still healing the stricken. And so Peter watched Jesus heal the cut Peter himself had given Malchus. As the guards bound Jesus and took him to the Sanhedrin, Peter, quite literally, would cut and run.

You probably know what happened then: that the religious elite of Jerusalem brought Jesus to Pilate and Pilate sent him to Herod (Antipas), that he was brought to the Roman guards who flogged and mocked him and handed him over to the executioners who brought him a robe and a crown of thorns by which they intended to bring this Galilean to his knees before them. They had their way with him, and they brought him the final and greatest token of his mission, the wooden cross of his execution. And to Golgotha, Jesus took that cross, and the sins of the whole world (1Jn 2:22), and he did as Isaiah foretold: the punishment that was upon him, brought us peace.

But on that day and the two that followed, there wasn’t peace–there had been and was, catastrophe  And so the disciples gathered in the Upper Room which would become for them, a waiting room–a room to sit out the time until hope against all hope someone brings better news.

Early on Sunday morning, Mary brought the spices by which she would do the last thing left to do for the one who had brought her so much. When she arrived at the tomb where Joseph and Nicodemus had brought the body of her Lord Jesus, Mary found the stone rolled away and the tomb empty. Mary’s arms, full of what she brought to offer, were stripped of the remaining honor, devotion, and service she could give because the body of her Lord was not there. And so, all that she had left to give, she gave–the tears of grief and the great sobs of loss. Having witnessed the shame and degradation of a public execution, the loss of death and hope, even now must she bear the pitiless ignominy of a grave desecration? A question brought her back, “Woman, why are you crying, who is it you are looking for?” And with a word of personal address, “Mary!”, the worst possible circumstance gave way to the best imaginable news. The waiting was over.

As I sat for the second time in as many weeks in the Surgical Waiting Room, fearful and catastrophizing–recalling the circumstances that had brought my wife and my family to this, I was bolstered by the news of One who brought me. I brought my wife to the ER. In the rooms of our waiting, Jennifer and I were brought to tears in pain and weariness. I was brought to the end of my rope. But as I sit in that room, I am filled with a deep sense of gratitude for the one who came to bring us to God.

And how about you? Do you know the events which have brought you here this morning? How is it that you got here? What did you expect to find? This room is not unlike that Upper Room or the Forsyth Hospital Surgical Waiting Room. You can keep yourself occupied, you may divert yourself with the t.v. or your smartphones, but the fact of the matter is, you’re waiting for news and it is the most urgent news: either the one who has suffered is alive or that all hope is lost. On Good Friday, those many years ago, the news seemed to be of the most tragic: the just one was condemned, the healer was dead. But on that Easter morning, Mary brought news that the restorer of health and life and the world was alive.

 “For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit…”

The Good News which gives all my circumstance meaning, is not that I must bring this or that so that I might come to him, but that I, having been brought to the end of myself, have been brought by him, to God — the righteous for the unrighteous, once for all.

"This intolerable calling…

This intolerable calling requires courage and humility. It requires a life full of God. It also requires that the preacher become as wise as possible. Even an expository preacher has to become a kind of sage, a person who is conversant on the range of biblical topics and who can speak on them to healthy spiritual effect. In this calling, the Bible itself is the preacher’s first teacher. His experience of life helps a lot. So does the preacher’s wide reading of fine writers—storytellers, biographers, poets, journalists. Reading them tends to make the preacher wiser, which is perhaps, beyond sheer delight, the principal reason for doing so.

Cornelius Plantinga on a preacher’s reading diet.

(HT: Andy Jones)