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.

T.

That Was The First

One year ago today, on a rainy night in Prague, our plane touched down in what would be our initial move to the Czech Republic. It was from our hotel room just across the street from the airport that I wrote these words and posted them to this blog.

This is the first. This is the first of what I hope to be an ongoing journal of what transitioning life to a new country and culture looks like. Lord willing, it will be daily. My hope is that for a year I can maintain some thought, long or short, from our days in Czech Republic. I hope it will be a testament to the Lord’s grace in our lives, what He is doing, how He is working, and just how our lives are being transformed into the likeness of Christ.

family_2014-LAX-v2

Reading them again today has brought tears to my eyes. I don’t really even remember writing them, but I do remember meaning them. Somehow I wanted to capture, mostly for our own family, the memories of what it was like for us to move across the globe. I wanted to share the joys, fears, funny stories, and all the “firsts” that only a journal could document, but I wanted it to be often and I wanted some kind of accountability. Writing every day and posting to this blog seemed to be the answer. It would force me to sit down on a daily basis and ask “What happened today?” It would challenge me to take regular photos and even constantly ask Bethany, “Hey, do you have any photos or stories from today?” More than that, I knew it would serve as a memory bank of all that God would do in our lives.

The truth is, God has done so much this past year. This little blog has tried to be a testimony of what He has done. I know and believe that God has used this first year in our lives in ways that I don’t yet understand, but I’m so thankful for the many different experiences we’ve had as we try to figure out life in a foreign land. Just being a foreigner is a stretching experience all by itself. From day one we have fumbled our way through the once simple tasks of grocery shopping or ordering food at a restaurant. We have struggled (yes, even this morning!) to know what’s going on at Titus’ school and how best to communicate with his teacher. We have battled sickness and wondered often if it’s just mold in our home or the new air we’re breathing. We have made countless language mistakes and have regularly wondered if we’ll ever master Czech enough to share our faith. But those struggles are part of the way God is working. They can not be seen by themselves, but have to be viewed in the context of God’s sovereign hand and sovereign plan. Romans 8:28 is appropriate here, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”

kitchen

As I look back on the year, I can’t just think about the struggles. We had so many joys this year too! Most recently we have had the joy of seeing our third child born here. The process of working with a Czech doctor and a Czech hospital was amazing. To watch little Karis grow in the womb is an amazing joy. We have also watched God answer many prayers, including Titus’ transition to preschool. Not only did Titus start school for the first time in his life here in Czech, but he has also had the challenge of doing it in a second language. God has been so faithful in that entire process. We have had the joy of meeting and knowing some amazing people, both Czechs and missionaries. Just this week I was reminded of how I thought of the Czech people when we first arrived but so much of that has changed this year. We have worked alongside some incredible missionaries and made many new friends. Their hearts for the lost of this region are a constant joy and I’m regularly spurred towards greater love of Jesus, and greater compassion towards unbelievers, because of their love for the lost. They have helped us transition here, invited us in to their lives, and have been a phone call away when we’ve been confused or just needed help. Lastly, we have also had the joy of many visitors to our new home here. From the early weeks here until very recently, many friends and family have come to visit us and stay with us. Those were some of the sweetest times for us as we didn’t feel alone but had a familiar face here, someone who we could talk and share our lives with, and someone who we felt like really knew us. These are just a few of the many joys we’ve had.

family-of-five

Looking back is only half the battle. We must also look forward to what is ahead for our family. As for this blog, we will be taking a “blog vacation” (if there is such a thing). It’s been incredibly fun to write every day, but it’s time to refocus and take back some much needed time. The blog will return, but it will not be every day. As for our family, we’re continuing to push ahead into language, culture, and ministry here in Czech. We know the Lord will give us the strength and courage to plow ahead with all that He has for us in the next year. We covet your prayers in this process!

Thank you for joining us in this journey. In all of this I am reminded of 1 Corinthians 15:3-4, “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures…” This is not about us. It’s about Him. To Christ be all the glory.

F.

Father’s Day in Prague

Happy Father’s Day!

Father's Day in Prague (6/21/15)

In another incredible adventure we have made our way today back to Prague. I never thought we would end up here as much as we have, especially in the past few weeks, but it’s been really fun and crazy all at the same time. Just like we did a few weeks ago, we made our here today via the train station right by our house. We walked there this morning, caught an 8am train and got into Prague about 20 minutes after noon. Below are a few photos from the train ride, including the one above. In the photos below we walked to the “kids car” and played for a bit. These aren’t are actual seats (those were in a different car), but the kids made a little friend while we were in the there.

Father's Day in Prague (6/21/15)

Father's Day in Prague (6/21/15)

When we got in to Prague we made our way down to the Metro (subway) and accidentally got on the wrong side of the tracks, took the elevator back up and over, and finally got to where we needed to be. We packed really light this trip since we’ll only be here one night so it wasn’t too bad getting around with all five of us. The Metro took us to a transfer station where we caught another Metro headed towards a lunch place that we made reservations at. There is a burger joint in Prague that supposedly has the one of the top five burgers in Europe and a friend had recommended it. Since burgers are my favorite thing on the planet and they are not super common here, we had to go for it. I’m STOKED we did because it was amazing and my Father’s Day belly left full and happy! Here’s a photos of the kids and Bethany as we walked.

Father's Day in Prague (6/21/15)

What I never understood as just a tourist, but now understand so much better, is if you’re going to stay in big European cities…rent an apartment. Tonight we are staying in a literal castle view apartment that is about a stones throw from the U.S. Embassy (which is why we’re here this weekend) and it’s costing us less than you’re cheap Motel 6 in the States. Not only that, but this is a large 2 bedroom apartment with a full kitchen! Check out this view from one of our windows.

Father's Day in Prague (6/21/15)

Here’s a few more shots from around the building.

Father's Day in Prague (6/21/15)

Father's Day in Prague (6/21/15)

Father's Day in Prague (6/21/15)

Father's Day in Prague (6/21/15)

Here’s a view of the American flag that we can see flying above the embassy from the other side of our apartment (small flag in the upper left).

Father's Day in Prague (6/21/15)

Tonight we (unbelievably) had dinner on a boat on the river, in Prague, with a view of the Charles Bridge and the castle. I’m not kidding you. I never in my life thought I would ever get to say or write that, but it’s another recommended, affordable restaurant that was walking distance from our apartment. The only issue we had was that the kids kept asking why the boat wasn’t moving! Here’s a few photos from the place and then a shot of it from the bridge.

Father's Day in Prague (6/21/15)

Father's Day in Prague (6/21/15)

The restaurant is in the middle boat (dead center) next to the wall (in the photo below)

Father's Day in Prague (6/21/15)

Our appointment for Karis’ U.S. citizenship, passport, and social security card is tomorrow at 9:00am so we’ll be up early to get packed up and make sure we get to our appointment early. I’ve tried to check and re-check every document that is required and we’re really hoping the process will go smoothly. I no reason to doubt that it will, but I’m always weary of government things like this, even ones that only involve the U.S.! Pray for us as we go tomorrow that things would be in order and go smoothly so we can get Karis’ documents and then take the next step towards getting her a visa.

Well, that’s not a bad way to spend a Father’s Day and not a bad way to end this post. Good night!

C.

Clean and Plan

I spent about twenty minutes today peeling Disney Cars stickers from the floor in our dining area. I honestly can’t remember when Titus started sticking them there this week, but I realized just this morning that it had gotten out of hand. There were at least twenty stickers lined up near our table and as I started working on them Titus said, “Dad, this is how you get to Cards Land.” At first I started with my fingers only, but that was leaving the sticker backing on the floor so then I upped my game and went for a razor blade and that “Goo Be Gone” stuff to give me some help.

That’s really just my long intro to say we spent a lot of the day today cleaning the house. When we had help here the house seemed to stay a little more tidy, but this past week we just weren’t keeping up. Now I want to be clear I don’t think we’re slobs, but like any family with a new baby we’re adjusting things in our home to accommodate her and her feeding schedule. But it was nice to pick things up, clean some dishes, get some laundry done, and even have the kids do “jobs” around the house. They helped take out the recycling, did some vacuuming in, and Titus even “watched” baby Karis for a bit (and by a bit, I really mean he told me he was watching her for mommy and then quickly went outside to play in the yard). Here’s a photo of Titus holding Karis the other day.

Titus and Karis (6/18/15)

I also spent some time today trying to plan out our quick trip to Prague this weekend. We’re headed there for an early U.S. Embassy appointment on Monday. This will be the first meeting to get Karis’ passport, U.S. citizenship, and social security stuff started. We’ve spent this week getting everything in order and are hopefully all ready for Monday’s meeting. I have been studying the metro and tram maps to make sure I can get all five of us around the big city safely and quickly. We tried to plan out where we would eat and made reservations and some places friends recommended, but it will still be a trick to get us around on public transportation. Like most men, I’m pretty confident I can do it but I guess you’ll just have to wait until tomorrow night to find out how I did!