Holy moments…

Here’s a couple of glimpses into Hannah’s journey in the NICU I thought would serve as an encouragement:

“For the typical baby at 26 weeks, the chances of survival are about 75%. Because of what she has been through, and our concerns about her lungs, I would put her chances at about 5%.” The doctor giving us a pre-delivery consultation.
“She’s exceeding all our expectations” Two different nurse practitioners

One nurse practitioner’s face showed her amazement on day 3 as she sat with us looking at Hannah.  She had overseen Hannah’s care the first night at the worst time.  She didn’t say much, but her face said it all on that third day.  Intermittently, she would shake her head in looking at Hannah and smile.  I hope this experience renews her passion for why she’s a nurse; that nursing is a holy vocation, a wonderful opportunity for hands-on love; especially with the children in the ICU who are visited very little.  As I’m writing, there’s a nurse sitting in a rocking chair to my left with a child we have not seen visited once.  The child often cries, but the nurses come by to touch and to let the child sleep on their shoulder, and he calms right down.

“We want her to get to 40% oxygen or less on the ventilator, but her lungs just can’t support her” a nurse said the first night when she was at 100%.  Hannah hit 40% oxygen early Saturday morning, with a low of 38%.  She’s bumped up and down a bit from that point, but she’s generally holding steady at 40-42%.

“We’d like the ‘mean’ of her blood pressure to be at least her gestational age (26), but we’d love for it to be at 30 or more” spoken the first night when her blood pressure mean was in the mid-teens.  Hannah’s blood pressure rose after the first night, and now the “mean” consistently measures anywhere from 38-43, excellent for her age.

“We’re going to start feeding her breast milk today.  Don’t be surprised though if she doesn’t digest it, or has significant problems.  Almost all our preemies have trouble from the very beginning.”  Said on Thursday.  She’s been fed 15 times since then, with only two times where she didn’t digest the milk because she was on her back.

And below I’d like to share a little summary of quotes, encouragements, and other words from friends affected by this crisis.  Each of these are reminders we are always changing (for better or for worse), and crises have a way of sharpening that change; who we become results from the decisions we make.  I’ve seen many people growing in their ideas and practice of prayer especially.  People have realized that prayer, seriously practiced (especially when carried by a community), changes the world.  Period.  Here is the summary:
“God is showing you Himself in your suffering and prayer and you’ll never be the same again.”
“Each day of Hannah’s life, we praise you! we praise you!”
“I’m so thankful that we serve a God who can wrap us close and give us comfort in times like this.”
“I have lost 10lbs and dropped 20+ points on my bottom number for blood pressure… Lord, I’d like to donate those pounds and points to Hannah Myers. Thanks & Amen.”
“She was swaddled in a blanket, but I think just being that close to our voices and feeling our breath….there was just something supernatural about it! God is faithful!”
“The night she was born God had me read Exodus 14:13. It’s talking about the Egyptians. Moses had brought the children of Israel out and they were asking him, “Did you bring us into the desert just to let us die?” He told them not to be afraid. The egyptians they saw that night they would never see again. God told me that was for Hannah and her situation and that what we were seeing that night we would never see again.”
“May these tough days soon pass into weeks and months of steady growth, and later become a powerful story of God’s strength and mercy.”
“Prayers flow with tears words cannot express.”
“I am sitting in Bethany’s hospital room after having just spent some time with our precious Hannah…. She was ever so sweetly laying on her side, spontaneously grinning and it was the sweetest thing you’ll ever see….”
“I woke up at 3 this morning and prayed for Hannah. I trust I’ll get to meet that little miracle someday.”
“Life has a way of feeling ordinary. But this situation makes everything brighter.”
“They said they were losing her and wanted to know if Nate and bethany wanted to hold her before she passed away…. well, God wasn’t done yet…”
“How this situation appears does not dictate the outcome. “No, despite all these things, OVERWHELMING VICTORY is ours through Christ who loved us.” Romans 8:37″
Before Bethany’s water broke, when she was experiencing serious bleeding and complications, in a discussion in a men’s group about intercessory prayer, a friend shared: “I’ve never really practiced, or felt drawn to using the imagination in prayer.” About an hour later, after fifteen minutes of quiet prayer together, he said, “I don’t really know what to do with this, but while we were praying, I saw two people. One was definitely Bethany, the other I assumed was you. Bethany had a round, full belly, and all I felt was joy, joy, joy.” (this experience is where Hannah got her middle name)

And now, for you. What are you learning through participating in a proactive way in this crisis?


Let go? No, Fight!

It seems as if our society
when aware of Death
does not deal with it directly
seeking to place it
in the corner of the attic.

But Death will not be forgotten
so easily.
Death rears its head
in the most, seemingly,
inopportune times.

And we,
because we are death-deniers
because we are well-trained at looking the other way
because we are cowards
are not prepared for death
to become our companion,
are not prepared for death to leave the third person behind
as in “The concept of death scares me,”
and become first person, like
“I hate you death, and your works.”

Because of our denial of Death
we have no way to fight it.
We are not prepared for a battle.
We simply believe we must
accept Death as our abusive companion.
but inevitable.
The final word.

Our theologies,
whether thought about in normal times,
or primarily in times of crisis (for most)
lead us to this conclusion too.
After all, how can one fight Death?
So we baptize Death and call it God.

“It is God’s will,” we say
“If it be your will,” we pray
“Let go and let God,” we counsel,
wishing for healing
like an older child on Christmas Eve,
wishing for a glimpse of Santa,
knowing better than to maintain that foolish hope.

“It is unrealistic,” we say
so it
seems to comfort us to chalk up the supposed inevitable conclusion
as the foregone will of God,
any testament to a different approach
be damned.

Yet I read of Jacob,
who would not let go until God blessed him.
I read of Hezekiah,
who refused to accept the word of Death as final,
turning over in the most basic, most seemingly weak form of protest,
saying, “Remember me? I love you.”
Those names are far from isolated in the annals of the Scriptures.
I read, in a different encounter with death,
of an early church,
refusing to let other’s hatred determine their course of action
and in the face of great suffering
losing brothers and sisters right and left
continuing to choose love and truth,
to fight for a different way
with no weapon other than their example of sacrifice and selfless service.
These people shout at me loudest now,
when Hannah’s life hangs in the balance.

Who will you listen to, Nathan?

“Let go and let God”?
for now,
until the final word is given,
we fight,
the dirty kind,
tooth and nail,
There is no pride too essential to lose,
no good name more important
than fighting for the value of a life.

I will kill you,
old cowardly theology,
old cynical perspective on life.
Death, you may win battles from time to time,
but you will not win this war,
because I vow not to quit.

Let go?

Nurturing compassion as an intimate part of prayer

This post emerges from the precarious situation we are in.  Bethany is almost 19 weeks pregnant.  Her water broke nearly a week ago, and day by day we have prayed, cried, held one another, and prayed even more; we have pled with God for the life of our daughter Hannah.

As I’ve read about (all focused on one chapter in one book, Celebration of Discipline) and practiced prayer this week in a deeper and more intense way than I ever have in my life, I have been absolutely struck by the below quote from Richard Foster.  It has stuck with me through thick and thin; prayer for Bethany and Hannah when beside them and prayer for them when apart; prayer in the more steady moments, and prayer in the crushing crisis moments.

“We do not pray for people as “things,” but as “persons” whom we love.  If we have God-given compassion and concern for others, our faith will grow and strengthen as we pray.  In fact, if we genuinely love people, we desire for them far more than it is within our power to give, and that will cause us to pray.”

More than anything else (especially when I’ve had long stretches of sitting beside Bethany and Hannah), I’ve quieted my heart and nurtured the compassion that comes from seeing them as “persons whom I love.”  Without saying anything for awhile, I focus on that compassion, allowing it to grow and grow until my heart feels like it’s going to explode with love for them.  And from that place, I begin to pray in a more specific, “God, have mercy on us!” kind of way.

I have stayed and drilled down deep with the words of Richard Foster because he exemplifies the very best of theology; the kind of thinking that is in intimate relationship with practice.  He does not write about prayer from an ivory tower, or an academic institution somewhere where it’s his job to write and think about prayer (as important as that can be).  He is a deep practitioner of prayer.  He chooses to engage in the bold kind of prayer we are called to in the Scriptures, and he wrestles with prayer from that place.  He is committed to ” learn to pray so that my experience conform(s) to the words of Jesus rather than try to make his words conform to my impoverished experience.”

What is Foster’s method to pray? “We should never make prayer too complicated,” he says. “We are prone to do so once we understand that prayer is something we must learn…but Jesus taught us to come like children to a father.  Openness, honesty, and trust mark the communication of children with their father.  The reason God answers prayer is because his children ask.”

I have been working with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength to pray in this way.  Nurturing compassion in silence until my heart bursts with care for my wife and daughter, then moving to pray with strong desire and conviction that God deserves to hear from my very heart with boldness, not pious words of “if it be your will” that we use as protection to keep us from the dangerous edge of prayer.

I have come to believe in a deeper way this week what I’ve been moving toward for a while now.  God not only welcomes the direct communication that comes from us; he has created the world in such a way that certain things in creation will not be done if we don’t participate in the work of prayer.  That certain things are not done is not because God is not sovereign; somehow unable to correct a creation in chaos and rebellion.  No, certain things are not done because God limits his own absolute authority out of a desire for his creation to step up to the plate and be counted in the work of prayer.  We are called “co-laborers with God” (1 Corinthians 3:9) because we have an essential role to play.

This is not magic; there are no incantations that make God subject to our desires.  No.  But our Creator so expects our participation that he waits, he tarries, for us to care enough about the world that we work to make prayer as habitual as breathing.  As Foster said above, “if we genuinely love people, we desire for them far more than it is within our power to give, and that will cause us to pray.”  Prayer is born out of a love for God and for people, and is made powerful by the growth of that love.

I have said to others in this crisis, “God is not on trial  in this situation.”  This is true in one sense.  The existence of a God out there somewhere does not hinge on whether our baby girl Hannah survives.  I have met that God in Jesus and will never turn back again.  I have never encountered any way of life so beautiful, so worthy of all of my life, so purposeful.  But that statement “God is not on trial” is not true in another sense.  God has revealed himself to be good, to hear us and to see us, to identify with us in our anguish and move in response to our cries.  If this is how God has been revealed, then I expect that God will hear us in this crisis, will see us in this crisis, will identify with us in this crisis; and will act, will not hang back waiting when his creation rises up and screams “MERCY God!  MERCY!  HEAL and ACT!”

If our daughter dies, this will not destroy my faith, but it will inflict a wound on my heart, it will tempt me to take a step toward the belief that all things are inevitable and prayer is only psychological adjustment to accept the inevitability of life and/of God’s will.  There are a million steps back to that place, but I can only be honest and know God hears how much this matters to me.

And I know God’s response would be, “Nathan, learn from what you are feeling in this crisis.  Take your commitment to bold, humble prayer, and practice it until it becomes as natural as breathing.  Take what you have learned about the essential role of a powerful love for people empowering prayer and love people deeper; battle against a belief system that crushes or dehumanizes people; never let it rule you.”

So I will practice this bold, humble prayer.  Life has brought wounds on my heart and will continue to.  God will not be my magic puppet as I would like him to, and this will hurt.  And yet God has made his human creation to co-labor with him in prayer; limiting his own authority as he awaits their faithful response.

And so we pray, “Lord, save Hannah!  Hear our cry, and move in power!”

Rainy night gratefulness

On a night like last night, I was thankful for real meaningful human progress and innovation.

The fenders of the bike blocked road and wheel splash.
The waterproof pants worked.
The waterproof and windproof shoe covers kept me warm and dry.
The baclava *edit, insert “balaclava”* (thanks Jess!) kept my head warm and enabled me to breath.
The tires kept me upright and stable.
The sturdy construction of my bike (which I have now named “The O.G.”) was not taken for granted.

Thank you, God, for the ability of your human creation to make beautiful, functional, dependable tools that help me to be a more intentional, more environmentally-aware, more courageous, more hopeful, more fit, more thankful person.

On excess desire…

This poem from Wendell Berry’s Leavings collection has been particularly appropriate for me this past week both in our Black Friday celebration of consumption and in needing to be reminded of my own limits. We either live in the name of more, or we live in the name of God’s abundance and enough. And our societies’ future will rise and fall on this same awareness.

A man’s desire, overwhelming
as it may seem, is no greater
than that of the male chickadee
or the yellow-throated warbler
at his high ecstatic song, no smaller
than that of the bull elephant
or whale. And so we come,
whichever way we turn, to plentitude.
The fullness of a cup
equals that of the sea- unless the mind
conceive of more, longing for women
in disregard of the limit
of singularity, gluttonous beyond
hunger, greedy for money in excess
of goods, lusting for Heaven
in excess, not only of our worth
which would be most humbling,
but of any known human power
of delectation. And so the mind
grows a big belly, a sack full
of the thought of more, and the whole
structure of enough, of life itself,
which is never more nor less
than enough, falls in pieces.
In the name of more we destroy
for coal the mountain and its forest
and so choose the insatiable flame
over the green leaf that within our care
would return to us unendingly
until the end of time.


Even if nobody outside my immediate circle of relationships ever knows my name,
I can leave a legacy of care and unconditional love in this world.

Lord, please help me reject the desire to be famous, to BE SOMEBODY
that drives so many of us in our society
to pursue the wrong desires and end up in dark places.

Remind me
remind me
remind me!

that nothing I think, say, or do is wasted.
It all takes place under your gaze,
and in your arms I can find safety, care,
and enough meaning to live and love well every moment of every day.
Moment by moment,
may I find solace in you.

Reflections from CCDA Cincinnati Day 1

Skinner Rah

For those unaware of CCDA, the letters stand for Christian Community Development Association, an organization 20 years young.  The organization grew out of the reconciliation work of John Perkins, a long-time faithful, courageous disciple of Jesus whose work for racial justice began in the 1960s and has continued long beyond when “civil rights” didn’t carry quite the sexy feel that it did in the 60’s.  In that sense, then, Perkins is a persistent prophet and practitioner of God’s justice who, because of his persistence, has shaped a generation of people to God’s deep concern for reconciliation.

I’m volunteering at CCDA in a variety of roles while being limited by my work schedule, but each night from 7-9 is a public session of music and teaching open to all.  Last night, I was on video camera #2 in that public session, where Barbara Williams-Skinner and Soon Chong Rah were the main speakers.

Barbara was the first speaker, and I found great wisdom in her sharing.  She spoke of Moses speaking to the people of Israel from Sinai, exhorting them and encouraging them to consider where they came from and to focus on where they were going.  She spoke of the temptation to “remain in Egypt” in their minds while neglecting God’s providence and protection to get them where they were.  She spoke of the temptation in our day to neglect the deeper call to reconciliation, to settle for what little progress has taken place in the area of racial reconciliation.  It’s progress, but “we” (primarily whites and blacks) can’t say we love each other unless we’re spending time with one another.  Her words shaped for me the larger question; “How can brothers and sisters in Christ from different races be creative to be ‘with’ one another to show the world unity rather than fragmentation?  How do we overcome settling for institutional segregation to love one another and be leaders in the challenge of reconciliation?”

The next speaker was Choong Song Rah, a professor at North Park University in Chicago.  Prof Rah offered his perspective on how the church can pursue reconciliation, primarily by emphasizing the issue of power.  He challenged those of us in positions of relative power (usually white, middle to upper-middle class) to seek God’s justice through putting ourselves in the position to give up power.  It was here that Rah was most convicting, especially given his statistics that showed that Christianity has already undergone a huge demographic shift over the last hundred years.  Meanwhile, while this shift has been taking place, we’ve maintained a theology and leadership that remains largely Western and white to this day. We must change our leadership structures and ways of relating to represent this change! One of Rah’s provocative statements was this,

“I’m for the commitment to caring for the environment, for creation care, for being stewards of God’s earth.  But because this has become the ‘in vogue’ thing to care about in the larger evangelical movement (mostly white churches), everyone cares about it.  But what I find interesting about that is that caring for the environment, instead of seeking racial reconciliation, allows people to seek justice without giving up power.  They don’t have to radically humble themselves with others.  So the creation care movement can be pursued in a way that ignores other, more challenging aspects of social justice.”

Now, granted, I’m paraphrasing Rah there because I didn’t record his message, but I think I struck at the heart of it.  And that’s a powerful statement that strikes me as wise.  There’s a deep temptation in humanity, even those of us who serve the God of justice, to take the path of least resistance; the path that requires the least energy for the maximum amount of recognition of our good work.  And it is true that the cause of environmental justice requires less interpersonal giving up of power.  It’s extremely tough to seek true, deep humility, and to give up power once attained.  I want to live with that challenge.  I would add, though, that seeking environmental justice requires a very real and very deep self-emptying and self-sacrifice.  It is a giving up of the idol of my individuality (comfort, and decision-making centered on self) to the greater communal good, which God is much more concerned about.  But that’s just me working out some of the specifics that follow Rah’s proclamation.

Another strong statement by Rah was this; If you, as a white person, want to move into an urban setting and do ministry, and you don’t have any non-white mentors, you’re not a missionary, you’re a colonialist.”

That statement hurts, but it rings true to me. Can we truly be reconcilers without our lives living and breathing reconciliation?  Can we teach reconciliation if we are not modeling it?  In that sense Rah’s comment reflects Skinner’s earlier comment that we need to be with one another in order to love one another.  We cannot deeply love others by remaining at a distance from them, especially if we live next door.  By submitting ourselves to the mentoring of persons of different races and cultures, we are forced out of our own cultural lenses to see the world from their shoes.  And that’s essential.  ESSENTIAL.

Rah placed these strong statement in the wider context of God’s grace for broken people.  It was Rah’s shaping of the wider context that saddened me, however.  Rah’s emphasis was the same most evangelicals emphasize, which is “It’s not about human works, it’s about God’s grace.”  There are other variations on the same theme; “Human striving doesn’t accomplish anything unless God’s power is present,” “We all fall short, so God’s forgiveness is what matters,” etc etc.  I am saddened by this line of thought because the deeper I travel into the Scriptures, the more I find the dignity of human striving.  Not a striving to achieve salvation (which, by the way, isn’t a Biblical concern, but is an evangelical concern), but a striving to be obedient to our Creator (which is salvation, as I explain from my perspective in another place).It seems clear in the Bible that God wants people to be obedient to what they were created for, and when we do so, we find joy and meaning and fulfillment.  God clearly knows we have shortcomings, and reveals himself to be grace-filled and deeply forgiving, but that aspect of His character doesn’t negate the central call to obedience.

And it’s that last sentence that leads me to be saddened and disappointed when people keep making the main issue of Christian faith a works/grace issue.  Clearly, when we are aware of the call to total obedience, we have a strong temptation to “make lists,” as Rah highlighted through his personal story.  And it is true that God doesn’t stand over us, waiting to punch us in the mouth or make us feel like hell when we fall short.  Yet isn’t it also true, Biblically, that when we are aware of our shortcomings, we have a strong temptation to make life all about grace in a way that completely de-emphasizes our strivings for faithfulness?  What I’m saying is this.  Can’t we shape a message for God’s people that holds together God’s great grace with God’s great expectation of obedience?  And when we take this message seriously, won’t that dignify human effort and put it in its proper place as the natural response to the call of our Creator? And when we dignify human effort, we might find some scales fall off our minds to see that salvation, Biblically understood, is centered on being saved from rebellion and saved to humble obedience. That includes life after death, but is centered on God redeeming humans to be faithful today.  It is that message, and not Rah’s, that gives me ultimate hope, that gives me a life worth throwing myself into.

So I’m grateful for Rah’s willingness to speak courageously and boldly, but I’m saddened that he placed his comments in an, ultimately, unhelpful context.  Just some reflections from Day 1.