O.

On Being Fragile and Calling 9-1-1

“Call 9-1-1”

Bethany had never told me that before so I knew this was serious.

“9-1-1, what’s your emergency?”

“Yeah, hi… my wife is on the ground and she’s experiencing some kind of chest pain. I don’t know what to do.”

After some basic questions about my location the operator asked: “How old is she?”

“Thirty-nine”

“What is she doing? Is she breathing?…”

“Yes, I think so… I don’t know. Yes… It’s hard to know. She’s breathing…”

“It’s OK. EMTs are on the way. You will hear lights and sirens. Make sure you stay with your wife… remove any pillows. Make sure the front door is open. Stay on this line.”

Just writing that brings me to tears. Because I don’t know exactly what I was doing or saying between that time and the arrival of the paramedics, but I remember being calm as Bethany turned pale and was in incredible pain. I think I asked my four-year-old son to help me unlock the front door and clear a path in the hallway to our bedroom, but it all kind of blurs together even just 36 hours later.

Don’t know why I took this photo, but I did.

Five EMTs made their way into our house. Bethany was still coherent, but in pain. They asked her a million questions, some of which I answered because she couldn’t. The one I remember loud and clear was “What is your pain level on a scale of 0-10, if 0 is nothing and 10 is the worst pain you’ve ever experienced?” Without hesitation Bethany said “8!” As they loaded her in the ambulance one of the EMTs said to me, “Go get her cell phone and charger.” I ran inside, grabbed it, ran back outside, laid it on Bethany’s lap in the ambulance, they shut the doors, and then they were gone.

I didn’t really cry until about nine hours later when I was driving home by myself from the hospital. Sure, I was tired. Yes, I was frustrated that the last time I had seen my wife that day was in the ambulance because Covid restrictions kept me out of the hospital. Yes, I didn’t love that most of the information I got that day was through Bethany having to text me because I couldn’t be there to get information directly. But it finally hit me… Bethany could’ve died.

By the time the ambulance arrived at the hospital Bethany’s pain had lessened, but she was still hurting. Her chest pain came and went most of the day. They ran EKGs and they were normal. They did a chest X-ray and found nothing. They did three rounds of bloodwork and saw “something” they didn’t like. Then Bethany texted me,

Spending the night😕possible start of a heart attack

“I’m really glad you told me to call 911” I texted back.

After a CT angiogram, it was determined that Bethany had a “spontaneous dissection” of one of her arteries. Without getting too specific here, it just means there’s something there that was restricting blood flow to her heart. Though uncommon, these can actually heal themselves and/or be healed through medication. Although relieved that we had some kind of answer, we recognized that this could’ve been worse and this entire day could’ve gone differently.

That’s why I cried on the way home. My friend Jeff called me and asked if Bethany was OK. I said yes, but… “I’m starting to get emotional. She’s doing great now, but I think it all just hit me.”

Life is fragile. We say it and we hear it said. I even preach it from time to time, especially to the high school students I get to serve at the church. But we forget it. There are so many days that go well, that run normal, and of which very little happens that causes us to consider just how fragile we are. I praise God for that in my life while I recognize that my experience is different than many even in my own church. Not everyone gets long periods of time where they are not reminded of their fragility. As a pastor I get a front row seat to the hurting and the long-term care that comes with it, both physical and spiritual. But because this is not my personal experience, and because life tends to just keep on going, I don’t always have to be confronted with the thin barrier between this life and the next.

Bethany is asleep right now in our bed. After spending two days in the hospital we were able to pull a Shawshank Redemption move and bust her out of there (OK, not exactly, but that’s how it felt!). Almost immediately after we got home she told our kids “I’m going to bed.” She was tired and weak and in need of rest. We ended up talking for a few minutes in bed before she fell asleep and Bethany admitted she was ready to meet Jesus. Maybe it was the meds talking, but I know my wife. She was and is ready.

I told her I’m glad it wasn’t today, but in the back of my mind I thought about what the the apostle Paul said, “For me to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21). Then he adds, “I am hard pressed between the two [that is, between living and dying]. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account” (1:23-24). He wrestled between his own impending death and the thought of being with Christ. He loved the church, but he loved Jesus more. That, I think, is what was behind what Bethany said. She loves me and our kids, but she loves Jesus more.

While studying the book of Ecclesiastes last year I came across a quote from a preacher who said, “None of us are getting out of this alive.” He was talking about this life and was just repeating essentially what Solomon wrote in chapter 3 of Ecclesiastes: “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die…” We all know this to be true whether we want to talk about it or not: there is a time to die. And that’s exactly why in Solomon’s wisdom he wrote this a few verses later,

“He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end. I perceived that there is nothing better for them than to be joyful and to do good as long as they live; also that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil—this is God’s gift to man.

Ecclesiastes 3:11-13

Solomon’s advice is simply to enjoy life while you can. In light of the reality of death–whether it be today, tomorrow, or in the distant future–enjoy it all. Enjoy even the simple pleasure of a meal–this is God’s gift to man. That’s wisdom from God because you don’t know when the time will be.

S.

Somewhere Between an Artist and an Engineer

I’ve been thinking a lot about identity.

Dad was a building engineer. I say “was” because he’s technically retired, but not because he’s stopped. To this day he continues to build. His 5 acres in the rolling hills of Kentucky are filled with barns and buildings of which he and my mom have designed and constructed. Even now he’s got two more cabins he’s building on a small lake. One is for sale but “we don’t care if we sell it” my mom says. He also fix just about anything so I’m constantly calling him for help. Just a few weeks ago we fixed my toiled via FaceTime. When I call him he’ll say, “OK, what broke?”

My dad and mom designed and built my mom’s “art studio” in the backyard in Kentucky

Mom is an artist. I try to tell people that her work rivals some of the best painters they’ve seen, but you won’t find her paintings up in her house. Most of her friends have absconded with them over the years. Yet you will find her work throughout her home. The house itself is her work, including the custom bathroom she designed and my dad built that’s probably the size of my master bedroom. She has an “art studio” in the backyard full of painted wood pieces, crafts, and furniture of which she’s working on. To what end, I don’t know, but she makes beautiful things.

One of the few drawings my mom did when she was young that I found in my parent’s attic.

I have my father’s name and his height. He’s six-foot-one or as he says, “Six-two with shoes on.” I’m six-four without shoes on. But I have my mom’s nose, I think. Growing up people said I looked like my dad, but I’ve grown into my mom’s nose, eyes, and complexion. What does this have to do with identity?

History reveals identity.

Klyne R. Snodgrass, Who God Says You Are (p. 82)

Who our parents are does not determine who we will be, but as Klyne Snodgrass says, “History reveals identity.” As we spent some time with my parents this summer, I realized just how much I’m like them and how much I’m not. Mostly though, I saw how much I’m like them. I really do want to make beautiful, creative art like my mom, but I can’t draw. I love dimension and order and figuring out how things work, but I can’t build or even maintain my house. It’s probably why I got into digital graphic design years ago. I found in the computer a tool to create things that my hands couldn’t. All I had to do as figure out how the computer worked (engineer) and tell it to create what I wanted in my heart (artist). Sometimes I wish I had more identity as an artist than I do. Other times I wish I was more of an engineer. But in the end I’m somewhere between an artist and an engineer–longing for the ability to create by hand beautiful works while settling for the help of a machine to create what I can’t on my own.

P.

Psalm 131 Keeps Me From Sinking


In our home for at least the past year we have had a chalkboard sign that Bethany hand wrote Psalm 131 in its entirety on. At only three verses, I have now memorized it. But it hangs right beside our door the garage as we leave each day, and I often glance at it as I sit in our living room. It’s the Psalm that keeps me from sinking. What do I mean by sinking? I simply mean becoming overwhelmed. Or to keep with the original water analogy, Psalm 131 keeps me from getting in over my head and drowning.

Psalm 131, A Song of Ascents. Of David. (ESV)

O LORD, my heart is not lifted up;
    my eyes are not raised too high;
    I do not occupy myself with things
    too great and too marvelous for me.
2  But I have calmed and quieted my soul,
    like a weaned child with its mother;
    like a weaned child is my soul within me.

3  O Israel, hope in the LORD
    from this time forth and forevermore.

The Psalms are said to give voice to our emotions and this Psalm has become my voice. I am too often proud–that is, my heart is lifted up and my eyes are raised too high. Where this inevitably leads me to is anxiety and stress and a kind of “noise” that keeps me awake at night (as it has this very night of which I’m writing). Why is this? Where does this “noise” come from? It comes from an occupied heart–a heart with no room, or no space, or a heart with one of those neon signs that reads “no vacancy.” But what’s in there? Oh, you know, just things “too great and too marvelous for me.” The NIV of this verse speaks of these heart occupier as “great matters” and “things too wonderful for me.” Eugene Peterson seems to capture the sense of it well when he paraphrases verse 1 like this in The Message:

God, I’m not trying to rule the roost,
I don’t want to be king of the mountain.
I haven’t meddled where I have no business
or fantasized grandiose plans.

These great matters, or things too wonderful, or grandiose plans, these are the things of God. These are things that are beyond me. Truly, they are great. They are things I can’t control. I see them as things like issues with my children of which I can’t control. These great matters are relational dynamics of which sometimes I must wait on the Lord to see how he will work them out. They are pastoral counseling issues of which I sometimes need to lay at the feet of Jesus and simply trust him because they are too great. They are political. They are practical. Many of these areas are simply things I have no business meddling in.

So how does it keep me from sinking? David in this Psalm says he’s not proud. So first I need to confess my pride and come to a place of humility, recognizing that I am not God, not in control, and that there are things beyond me of which I’m not supposed to be Lord of. And then in verse 2 David says he’s calm and quiet. Specifically, his soul is calm and quiet. As pride fades, and control is released, the soul is calmed and quieted. The noise is gone. Like a little baby, no longer fussing and whining, but rather resting in the bosom of it’s mother, that’s David’s soul. And when true of me, it’s mine too.

But what about the stuff that I had been thinking about? What about the stuff that caused me anxiety in the first place? What is my soul to do with it all? The answer is verse 3: hope in the Lord. Find rest and hope in God. David Powlison wrote this about Psalm 131:3:

The LORD, Jesus Christ, is your hope. Pride dies as the humility of faith lives. Haughtiness lowers its eyes as the dependency of hope lifts up its eyes. You stop pursuing impossibilities when you start pursuing certainties. This simple sentence distills wonders.

David Powlison

“Pride dies as the humility of faith lives.” That’s the key. When my eyes are lower (pride is dead), hope lifts up its eyes (faith is alive). My hope is in Christ. I don’t have to have control. I don’t need to fret. I don’t need to let the “noise” rule my life, but rather the Lord Jesus Christ is ruler. He can handle the things that are too wonderful for me, in fact, he is handling them. Those things are his business and they’re none of mine. So when this Psalm is operative in my life, I’m not sinking. I’m not drowning. I’m not noisy. I’m composed and calm. I’m actually floating above water, holding tightly to my Lord, resting safely in his arms, without a worry.

David Powlison is convinced that Katharina von Schelge must have had this Psalm in mind when she wrote the hymn “Be Still My Soul.” Along with this Psalm, let these words refresh and still your soul.

Be still, my soul, The Lord is on thy side
Bear patiently, the cross of grief or pain 
Leave to thy God, to order and provide 
In every change, He faithful will remain 
Be still, my soul, thy best thy heavenly friend 
Through thorny ways, leads to a joyful end
Be still, my soul, thy God doth undertake 
To guide the future as He has the past 
Thy hope, thy confidence, let nothing shake 
All now mysterious shall be bright at last 
Be still, my soul, the waves and wind still know 
His voice who ruled them while He dwelt below

H.

Help Support the Zegans!

Every time I share my testimony, I talk about Jon and Leslie Zegan. Why is that? It’s because during my elementary, junior-high, and high-school years they were instrumental in showing me the beauty of Jesus Christ. Their son Zach has been one of my best friends since like the fifth grade, and the Zegans always treated me like their fourth child.

Now Jon has been in the hospital with Covid and Leslie at home, also with Covid. Bethany asked me last week, “Is there anything we can do… what about a GoFundMe?” After a few texts with the other Zegan kids, we decided to move forward in hopes of helping this precious family.

Would you consider donating? All donations go to Jon and Leslie and we would love to see this family supported and loved. For more information and to donate, please click here.

E.

Enjoy Your Life

It’s been over four years since I’ve written a blog on here. The last one was back in March of 2017 which was just a little update on hanging with some friends and enjoying time together as a family. But even as I look back and read that post I’m reminded that life has been full these past few years. From leaving Czech Republic to taking on the current role I’ve maintained as the youth pastor here for the past five and a half years, it’s just been full. Full of learning, growing, changing, adjusting, and trying to honor the Lord through parenting and pastoring. All of those things are good things and challenging things, but they make life flat out busy. Between rearing four children and caring for my family to preaching/teaching weekly and caring for the flock of God, it’s easy for me to miss the basic things…like enjoyment. That’s why I needed 2020.

Micah and Me making faces on my iPhone

When we all went indoors during the initial lockdowns, I was in the middle of figuring out what my next teaching series was going to be to the high school students. Figuring out what to teach next is often difficult for me so I began to read and study the book of Ecclesiastes because I wanted to dive into the wisdom literature. Little did I know that it was going to be one of the most challenging and yet most rewarding studies I think I have done to date. For in that weird, misunderstood, wonderful, mysterious book was the simple thought that I didn’t know I needed at the time. It was this: enjoy your life.

There is nothing better for a person than that he should eat and drink and find enjoyment in his toil. This also, I saw, is from the hand of God,

Ecclesiastes 2:24

It took me over six weeks of study to finally see it. I must be dense! How do you miss that? We are to find enjoyment in this life, but he problem for us is this takes faith. Solomon says that enjoyment is “from the hand of God.” King Solomon spends the first two chapters of Ecclesiastes showing all the different things he tried to find ultimate enjoyment in but they left him wanting. Why? Because enjoyment comes from God, not from our self-willed pursuit of it. Don’t believe me? Look at chapter 3.

I perceived that there is nothing better for them than to be joyful and to do good as long as they live; also that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil—this is God’s gift to man.

Ecclesiastes 3:12-13

So I saw that there is nothing better than that a man should rejoice in his work, for that is his lot. Who can bring him to see what will be after him?

Ecclesiastes 3:22

Enjoy your dinner. Rejoice in your work. Enjoy your life. This is Solomon’s regular refrain throughout the book of Ecclesiastes. But why?! Because life is “vanity” says Solomon. “Vanity of vanities!” is also his refrain, but when we read that in English we think he’s just giving up on life and that’s not it all! Actually, what Solomon is saying is that life is short, it’s an enigma, and it’s frustrating. We can’t control it! It’s like grabbing at smoke. That’s what life is like! So you had better enjoy it because you’ll only frustrate yourself thinking you can control it.

All the kids on the first day of school this year. Micah is the only not going to school yet, but he wanted his picture taken too.

That was the truth I needed to hear in 2020. And it’s been the truth I’ve needed to hear in 2021. Hasn’t life been a little crazy lately? Hasn’t life felt out of control? From our vantage point, for sure. Sickness, death, political turmoil, social issues, church leaders falling like flies, etc. etc. etc. Almost all of those issues Ecclesiastes addresses–especially the issue of death. Solomon is quick to remind us how short life is… which is yet another reason to get all the enjoyment you can out of it.

Behold, what I have seen to be good and fitting is to eat and drink and find enjoyment in all the toil with which one toils under the sun the few days of his life that God has given him, for this is his lot

Ecclesiastes 5:18
My sons with their grandpa (my dad) and Ellie (the dog) in Kentucky this summer.

But from God’s perspective, everything is under his control. Nothing is out of sorts. Nothing is out of control. In fact, he’s “made everything beautiful in its time” (3:11). At the same time, he doesn’t always show us what he’s doing…and that’s OK, he’s God.

He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end.

Ecclesiastes 3:11

But what does this have to do with being busy? Here’s been my simple take away from all of it: the command is clear, I’m to enjoy my life. Whatever I’m doing, from playing games with my kids to spending time with my wife to preaching to yardwork to sickness to… you name it. Find a way, by the grace of God, to enjoy it. Because when I do, God get’s the glory because I’m in his perfect and good will by obeying him and ultimately enjoying him. So I’m too busy for that, then I’ve got a problem. If my schedule is too packed and I find myself frustrated and short with people because of the daily pressure, then I’m out of balance. I need to come back and ask God for help in enjoying these days because I really don’t know how many more I will get.

Me preaching my very first message on Ecclesiastes to an empty church building.

In a way, that was just all introduction to explain why I wanted to dust off the blog and start writing something again. Not because I think I’m some incredible writer, I know I’m not. It’s just because I enjoy it. I enjoy the sound of the keys clicking. I enjoy trying to find a good title. I enjoy the simple act of trying to put things into words–even if it’s not always clear when it comes out! I enjoy making space to reflect on what God is doing in my own heart. So I hope as I commit to writing a little more in the days ahead that it will be a blessing and maybe others can find some enjoyment of their own.