Saturday, March 17, 2018

Out of Control

*Disclaimer* I have no idea why this post looks the way it does, but I've given up trying to fix it.

As I look back on the past two months since I last wrote an update, one word comes to mind: control. Since my last post, God has been using different circumstances to both grant us more control over our lives and show us that He is the One who is ultimately in sovereign control of everything.

The beginning of February ushered in a very significant life change for us. After just over five years of sitting in a manual wheelchair completely dependent on other people to move me, I’m finally using a motorized wheelchair. I’m not able to use the joystick controller you typically see on power wheelchairs; my motor skills aren’t advanced enough. Over the years I’ve trialed multiple control methods (I’ve actually had this power chair since 2013) including a modified T-bar joystick,  a single-switch scanning system, and a head array system. Eventually, my therapists and I discovered that the best control method for me and my level of disability is a system called sip and puff, where I actually drive my chair with a straw.
Sound Crazy? It is. It’s a little hard to explain without showing you, so that link will take you to the most relevant YouTube video I was able to find. Driving a wheelchair with a straw definitely is as hard as it sounds, so it’s been a pretty steep learning curve involving an inordinate amount of dents and scratches on our brand new walls, the backs of Emily’s legs and Nyra’s left foot. But as I get better and less accident-prone, this new independence (something we didn’t have physical space for in our previous apartment) has taken a huge load off Emily’s shoulders. It’s amazing how big a deal it is just to be able to get around independently. Matter of fact, I had grown so accustomed to sitting stationary for extended periods of time that for the first week of being in my power chair I had no idea where to go or what to do. Now I’m getting used to being able to control where I go and what I do whenever I feel like it. I had no idea how much value there is in independent mobility until I lost it five years ago and regained it six weeks ago. This new sense of control over my life is heartening for both of us.

But just like everything else, there are two sides to this coin we call control. The side everyone likes is the side where we control our lives. Nelson Mandela was fond of quoting the poem Invictus by William Ernest Henley. The most well known stanza is this:

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

I enjoy this poem, including this stanza, but it’s simply not rooted in truth. Granted, the poem itself is less a theological treatise than an assertion of and grit and courage in the face of insurmountable odds. But were I truly the master of my fate and the captain of my soul (I thank the Lord that I am neither), not only would my life look vastly different (for the worse, I’m afraid), but I would have no true life at all. All I would have is a dull shadow of the true, full, shining life of adventure that’s found in Christ alone. The “life” offered to us by the world is one consumed by the desperate drive to distract ourselves from our own mortality. Of course we will die someday, but by golly let’s not think about it. Entertainment, food, drink, activities, even good things like service and relationships—in this system— exist for the purpose of distracting us from our imminent end, or otherwise making us feel more comfortable with the end we know must come. For that reason, the thought of being the masters of our fates thrills our souls. But there exists a Master, a Captain much higher, better and wiser than ourselves. God, our Creator and the lover of our souls, is in control of our lives and our circumstances.
  Last Thursday around midnight on her way home from an eight-hour shift at Sparrow hospital in Lansing, Emily was in a car accident. Driving through a green light less than a mile away from the hospital she had just left, Emily’s Subaru was blindsided by a vehicle that fled the scene immediately after. Fortunately some onlookers stopped to help her and called 911. Less than an hour after walking out of Sparrow,  she was rushed back in an ambulance. Emily was physically fine aside from some whiplash and bruising from the seat belt, but her first thought was for the baby growing inside of her. Was he or she alright? One ultrasound later, a wave of relief rolled over her as she watched our little baby wave its tiny arm at her through the “camera”. Neither Emily nor I was in control Thursday night (or December 26th, 2012 when I became disabled) but Somebody was. And that Somebody has been in control all along. I don’t have any easy answers to the question of why God determined Emily’s accident or my accident were necessary, but the why is far less important than the Who. When we come to terms with the fact that God is the one in control, not us and not chance or karma, we can rest. I’m not trying to advocate a fatalistic attitude of “Why bother with anything if everything is out of our hands?” No, but when circumstances truly are out of our control (as they often are), I rest in the fact that they’ve never left the hands of the One who created it all.

Thank you to those of you who have been praying for us to find a new vehicle. Emily and her dad found one today and brought it back this afternoon. God showed us His perfect provision in 2013 when He supplied us with a 2009 Subaru Forester, and He did again today when He supplied us with a 2013 Honda CR-V. He is the able, we are grateful.

Emily and "Sandy" (Nyra named our new car) 

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Stretchy Souls (+1!)

Last month (actually on Christmas Day) God gave us a spectacular gift.

Here’s how it went down. Nyra was in the middle of a Christmas afternoon nap and I was sitting in our living room when I heard Emily gasp from the direction of the bathroom.

A bathroom gasp is generally a harbinger of something unpleasant, so I was relieved when Emily rushed out to show me the two lines on the pregnancy test she had just taken, and graciously explained what they meant: after months of trying and praying, we were pregnant!

We went out and bought a second test the next day, on the five-year anniversary of our life-changing accident. It was positive again. How about that? In 2012 the day after Christmas marked the end of our lives as we had always known them, but in 2017 the day after Christmas marked the very beginning of a brand new life the world has never known.

Recently I started reading a book called A Grace Disguised by Jerry Sittser. The author writes about losing his wife, daughter and mother simultaneously in the same car accident. He chronicles the utter devastation, depression and ultimate restoration he experienced following this unspeakable horror. Here’s a quote that I found particularly resonated with me:  

“The soul is elastic, like a balloon. It can grow larger through suffering. Loss can enlarge its capacity for anger, depression, despair, and anguish, all natural and legitimate emotions whenever we experience loss. Once enlarged, the soul is also capable of experiencing greater joy, strength, peace, and love.”

I’m not really an emotional guy. Never have been. But the bitter soul-taste of suffering makes joy taste all the sweeter.

Examples: God wanted me to be disabled after twenty-one years of health and vigor. Bitter taste.
God also wanted me to have an incredible wife by my side every step of the way. Sweet taste.  
Further, God wanted us to become parents of a beautiful little girl. Sweet, sweet.
Now we see God wanted us to be married through a rocky valley and become parents of two lives made in His image. Sweet, sweet, sweet.

We’ve been learning over the past five years that even when we don’t understand why God does what he does when, where and to whom he chooses, we can always trust him with it. Because everything he does is good regardless of our capacity to understand it or willingness to agree with it.

God giving us two kids is good. That’s an easy one because we like it and it makes us feel good - it tastes sweet. God giving me a severe physical disability is also good. That one’s harder because there’s literally no physical aspect of my TBI that I enjoy - it tastes bitter. If there was a pill I could swallow or a button I could push that would restore my physical state to where it was before the accident, I would have done so years ago. But I know that everything God does is good because he is the very source and definition of good, so I trust him with the fact that my injury is good because he gave it. He only gives good gifts (Matthew 7:11, James 1:17). Some of those gifts taste bitter at first, but no good father gives his kids candy every day. But what God gives us is always the best thing. Always. And in time, as we fix our eyes on Him, even suffering becomes sweet.

God has given us the gift of suffering and stretched our souls like balloons so now we can experience the joy of being parents with a capacity we simply didn't possess before.

Simply put, we’re stoked to be pregnant! Right now our baby (which Nyra has already claimed as her own) is a little bigger than a blueberry and growing every day. The due date is (roughly) September 4.

It’s amazing to see how quickly babies develop in the womb. And from what we hear, it’s amazing to see the way a child’s outlook on life can change once they have a sibling and are no longer the center of attention.

Would you please join us in praying for this precious new child, his or her big sister and wisdom for us, the happily overwhelmed parents of two spectacular kids? Thank you!

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Five Years of Life

December 26, 2012 was the twenty-second day of our seventh month of newlywed bliss. The day after our first Christmas, it began with breakfast at the little table in our apartment on the third floor of the old converted elementary school where we lived at New Tribes Bible Institute. We had packed our bags the night before so we could get an early start on the grueling 12-hr drive from where we lived in Jackson, MI down to see my folks in Charlotte, NC. Our trip started well and we made great time until we encountered a blizzard on the Ohio turnpike.

The highway faded white in the snow storm and our memory faded black as we were both knocked unconscious by the semi that smashed our car to smithereens and left me with a traumatic brain injury, rocking our perfect little world and changing our lives forever.

After emergent brain surgery and a week-long induced coma, I opened my eyes to a life completely different than anything I had ever planned for or imagined. God chose to spare our lives and use our weakness to show His grace, love and power. I know that now. But year one of  a complete physical disability was the absolute hardest of our lives.

Starting with 2+ weeks in an ICU outside Cleveland, Ohio, my journey as a medical patient continued for 14 of the longest months in my life. After two more weeks at a long term acute care hospital in Lansing, we moved to Mary Free Bed, a rehab hospital in Grand Rapids where I spent 8 months doing therapy 6 days a week (taking breaks now and then for a few more brain surgeries at the hospital next door). Following my discharge from Mary Free Bed, we lived an additional 4 months at an inpatient rehab facility, where I learned how to live with a disability outside a hospital.
February of 2014 saw us finally leaving inpatient life behind us in favor of a home of our own. We moved to a wheelchair accessible apartment that same month and embarked on the adventure of life with a disability.

Therapy continued for me, but as an outpatient, I was able to return home after my sessions and enjoy a somewhat regular life. That December God gave us our baby girl Nyra Jane, bringing a whole new meaning to the phrase “it’s the little things that matter.”

As we got used to being a family of three, we soon realized the walls in our apartment weren't quite big enough for all three of us to stay long term. Nyra was growing and my wheelchair wasn't getting any smaller, so we started looking and praying for a place more suited for our needs. God answered that prayer nearly two years later. In the middle of 2016, our dear friends heard we were searching for a house and did everything in their power to make our desire a reality. They started a fundraiser for us, and it soon became apparent that building new (rather than buying and modifying an already built house) would our best option. So God worked in the hearts of a lot of people to donate their time, work and money to build us a house to accommodate our family’s unique needs for years to come.

When we moved here in July, I was still doing outpatient therapy in Howell, nearly an hour’s drive from our own home in Saint Johns. Our goal from the start was for me to have therapy in our home, but that wasn't even a possibility until we built this house. This month I started therapy with a service called Rehab Without Walls. The therapists come to our home at the times and days we agree on and work with me in the room we designed in the basement specifically for my therapy. Our new everyday conditions are ideally suited for raising a family as well as my long term rehabilitation.

As we look back today on the past five years of a traumatic brain injury God placed in our lives, we can only look to Him with thankfulness. We’re not thankful in spite of the insanely hard things He’s put us through, but because of them. That’s not just a cutesy “I’m a Christian on Instagram” hashtag statement. It’s the reality that we’ve seen played out in our lives and relationship with the Creator of the universe: hard things sweep the rug of our comfort zones out from under our feet so we’re forced to fall into His waiting Daddy arms. One thing we’ve been shown and have to keep relearning is that the tighter one grips the helium balloon of ease and tangible success, the easier it becomes to lose one’s foothold on the strong mountain of God’s sufficient grace.

That’s not to say that those of us not in the midst of trials are less important to God than those who are, or that God’s grace changes when our lives do. No, God has been the same since before time began and will remain so even after the end of all things (Psalm 90:2), and His infinite grace and love is available to every person regardless of circumstance (Titus 2:11). This grace is found only in the Person of Jesus Christ, and is available to all who come to Him believing that He is the only way to God and ultimate happiness. 

God in His infinite wisdom puts some of us through the ringer and others of us He allows a little bit easier lives (both have their joys and dangers). It’s not ours to ask why - He knows better than we ever will or could know (Isaiah 55:8) - but we trust Him, knowing He has our best in mind however that looks in our lives (Jeremiah 29:11, Romans 8:28).

Five years. Five years of hardship. Five years of hospitals. Five years of therapy.

Five years of unexpected, sweet surprises. Five years of a kindling love in marriage burning brighter every time God throws a new log of grace on the flames. Five years of hard lessons learned. Five years of a new, clearer and better understanding of family (and three years of learning through parenting). Five amazing years of seeing God’s faithfulness firsthand. He is the reason and the rhyme behind our suffering and thriving. He is the Author of our story, and the Author controls the end as much as the beginning.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

On water stations and the value of Christ

When I was in high school I ran a 10k with my older sister and our aunt. Well, ran is a broad term here - our aunt ran the race (literally in circles around us) while my sister and I dragged ourselves from one water station to the next. For those unfamiliar with distance running, water stations are blessed little oases located in strategic spots along the race course where volunteers hand out small paper cups of water and Gatorade to passing runners. Our aunt, an experienced long distance runner, was well conditioned and focused on finishing the race. To her, the water stations were simply little stops on the way to the finish line. To us, each water station might as well have been the finish line. Whenever we, red-faced and gasping for sweet oxygen, made it to one station, every ounce of our being bore down on the task of getting to the next one.

That race seems to have been a microcosm of my life to date. Just like my sister and I focused only as far as the next water station, I find that I often look only as far forward as the next tangible milestone in my life. Just gotta graduate. Just gotta get a job. Just gotta get married. Just gotta have kids. Just gotta get a house. Just gotta, just gotta, just gotta. Things will be better once this or that is accomplished. Life will be complete. The race is finished at the next water station.

I find that I need to check myself more often than I want to admit and ask a question maybe everyone should ask: am I letting God’s gift of “real life” water stations distract me from the “real life” finish line of God himself? In Philippians 3:7-11, the apostle Paul said he considered everything to be trash compared to the value of knowing - truly knowing - Jesus Christ.

In Philippians 3:12-15 he goes on to say this: “Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus. I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”

Paul’s eyes were on the finish line of Christ, not on the passing water stations of life. Are mine? Are yours?

Until He returns,

Saturday, July 29, 2017


I’m writing this as I sit in our beautiful new house. Designed and built by incredibly skilled and goodhearted professionals (not to mention the many selfless and hardworking volunteers), it was completely paid for by hundreds of donors. What was left of our house payment that wasn't covered by the fundraiser was paid for by anonymous donors. We moved into our debt free home this past Saturday with the help of many dear friends and family. Time and writing space would fail me to attempt to acknowledge all who made this house a possibility, but suffice it to say that God has worked in the hearts of many people to supply our every need, as He promised in His Word.

July 22, 2013 - the summer after our accident - found us rolling back and forth between my rehab hospital room and the emergency room next door for various and sundry reasons. July 22, 2017 found us rolling back and forth between our little old apartment of three years and our new house of however many years the Lord allows, moving everything we own (I had no idea we had so much stuff) into our new home.

Nyra is having the time of her life running around and exploring our new abode. I think she especially likes the extra running room (our house has a lot of wide open space to make it wheelchair accessible) and the elevator I use to get to and from the basement (Nyra calls it the alligator, so we do, too). I’m looking forward to watching Nyra grow up in a little country town, where the easmell of cow farms blows through the corn fields as you wave to your neighbors on the way to church.  

There’s something about Saint Johns, something about this house, that gently whispers “home.” We are immensely grateful for his place, and so relieved to finally have a place to call our own, but ultimately this is not our home.

So where is home? Some would say home is wherever you lay your head at night, while others hold to that old saying “home is where the heart is.” When Emily and I were living in hospitals together that first year after our accident, we were fond of saying that home was wherever we could be together. Still others, perhaps those more established in a certain house or neighborhood, have a specific, tangible place to point to and say “this is my home.” While there is some element of truth in all these thoughts, the ultimate truth is found in the Bible, God’s letter to us. It’s there that God tells us where home truly is.

If you are a believer in Jesus Christ as the one and only way to eternal life in paradise, your true home is in heaven. This is true both now as you walk this earth, and that glorious day when you leave this world and dance into the one God made for you. If Jesus is anything less to you than God’s Son, the Savior of the world, then what you see around you right now is the closest to home you will ever be. Whether you find the message of the cross liberating, offensive or irrelevant, Jesus is who He is, and He is the only way to the home we were all created for.

Where is your true home? Your reception or rejection of Jesus as your Savior will determine that. He waits for you with open arms and an open, albeit narrow, door. 

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Work Update

Last summer I wrote about looking for work. The response was immediate and I lost count of all the suggestions, references and offers. I've been meaning to post an update since then, but apparently my time management skills aren't advanced enough to both work and keep this blog up to date...

 One of the opportunities presented to me was a chance to write blog articles for Smart Barn, a company that creates and provides wireless monitoring systems for the agriculture industry. The owner and staff were and have been gracious in working with me from the start despite my lack of education or experience (especially considering that my farming knowledge doesn't exceed singing “Old MacDonald” with Nyra).

They also set me up with a freelancing website called Upwork, through which I’ve been able to find small writing jobs here and there to gain experience and build a portfolio. Thus far I haven't been raking in the dough by any means, but I’m gaining experience like a college freshman gains weight. Experience doesn't pay bills, I know, but I’ve learned the hard way what every young man hates to learn: there is no such thing as “fast money” for people willing to earn it honestly (Jed Clampett ain’t real, y’all).

Since I was a kid I’ve always had this dream of going out into the world every day from 9-5 to slay dragons and bring home the bacon for my wife and kids. I think that desire to provide (however exaggerated the dream) is good, right and grounded in the Word of God. But when God in His wisdom saw fit to take away my ability to work at all (much less to provide for my family), my lifelong assumption that I would always be my family’s breadwinner and bodyguard was smashed to pieces like so many other things were.

But I’m learning that, although His provision often looks different than we expect or may desire, God always provides what we need (Luke 12:22-31). For the past four years, He’s provided for us through insurance, Emily’s job(s), and the generosity of friends and strangers. We're confident in His faithful and continued provision, whatever it looks like.

But I'm also really enjoying being able to work again.


Sunday, February 26, 2017

What Our House Is Not

Our house is coming together like a puzzle assembled by an old man on a rainy day: speedy and meticulous. I'm no expert on house building (nor have I ever been anything remotely close to "handy"), but it doesn't take a professional to see that fantastic work is being done. The framing is finished, roofing is complete, doors and windows are in place, and the electrical work is in progress. Siding will go up soon, after which our new home will start to take shape on the inside. I’m not entirely certain what will happen when, but as I said, I’m no expert, so we’re just enjoying watching things move along. As we steadily approach the estimated completion date (they’re saying early August), some thoughts come to mind, namely, what is this house and what is it not?

We know this house is a gift from God, we can't say it isn't (Psalms 24:1, James 1:17). But in acknowledging it as a gift we recognize that this house is not a reward. But after all we’ve been through, don’t we deserve a little bit of luxury? Haven't we earned this? I think we both have asked ourselves those questions, but the answer to both is unequivocally no. Here’s what I mean: we don’t deserve anything, but God has given us everything we need. What we need isn't always what we want, just as what we want isn't always what we need, but God knows best and we would do well to trust Him and find rest in that fact.

Secondly, the situation God has placed us in doesn't make us any better or worse or more special than any of His children. We don’t fully understand why He wants us where we are, but we know He is good (Psalms 107:1, Psalms 145:9), that He is wise (1 Corinthians 1:25, Proverbs 3:19), knows what’s best (Job 1:21, Isaiah 55:9) and what He does is for our good (Rom 8:28).

Another thing this house is not, is the end of the battle. I mean that in two ways: first because a disability like mine, though technically possible to improve with enough time and hard work, is a lifelong thing. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, because a permanent and comfortable dwelling place opens up a whole new set of temptations for us as a family. Now that we have the option to live in comfort and ease, the desire to sit back and cruise through life is becomingo less vague and more of a reality. Not that comfort is wrong -- it absolutely isn't -- but it can pose a danger to the passion and adventure that is following Christ with our whole lives. When we first got married, our desire and plan (check out God's response to human plans), was to serve the Lord overseas as full time missionaries. When God closed that door to us through our accident, our passion didn't (and hasn't) changed, but obviously the manifestation of it looks vastly different than what we expected. We’re so looking forward to having this house, and the physical comfort it will bring to us, we just know comfort can’t be the goal of our lives.

 This video by Francis Chan really challenged our hearts about this whole idea of living for comfort as Christian parents, and what effects it could have on Nyra and any other kids the Lord might give us down the road. It would be worth your while to watch (it’s short, don’t worry).

We pray that as God in His wisdom and love chooses to give us things we like and things we don’t, we would be faithful to use and enjoy each of those gifts with wisdom and humility. May you do the same, not from a sense of duty, obligation or fear, but because the great pleasure and bliss in knowing Him far surpasses anything else!