Love Letter: Ivy

Ivy, my sweetest and most precious girl,

I could not begin to tell you what we were going through when we heard about you: death of my father, my grandmother, your Momma’s grandfather, and the passing away of your sister, Olivia.

These storms and the pains that we were going through in our own heart and souls tested the mettle of your Momma and Papa’s marriage and relationship and shook the foundation of our family to the bedrock.

Before we knew of you, it was dark. Joy was fought for and sometimes never won.

By announcing you, God reminded us that He is not far yet closer than a whisper. He promises hold infinitely true: eternal past, present and for the eternal future. He revealed that He has infinite mercy for us. He put on the most powerful display that we are indeed His kids and He is our Father in heaven. 1

He sustained us through your first three months in Momma’s tummy when we were so anxious about you making it since it wasn’t even a year ago that we lost your sister during the same trimester.

But even through the first half of you growing in the womb, your Momma never fell ill. Never got sick. Never got weak. With all of your brothers and sisters, well, it was a different story. We thought for sure your Mom would be too sick to even get out of bed or keep any food or water down. Nope. She was alive, happy, and strong. God is so good He heals and restores.

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Not only does He heals and restores the body but He went to work on my soul and our relationship. He began the work to heal my mind, heart, and soul and did the same for your Mom. In that, he gave confidence and peace to our family when there was none before.

And just like your brother, Eli, you were strong. Kicky and squirmy. And just like your Bubba, you stayed in your Mom weeks past what we thought was your due date. Smh. That might have been a mere indication—maybe even a prophecy—that you two were to be as thick as thieves. And by the Bub’s sweetness on you, I say that indication is coming to past.

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But no matter how late you were, we knew that you couldn’t stay in your Mom’s tummy forever :) We knew you would get here. We knew we would be holding you soon.

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And just like the pregnancy, your arrival was just as sweet. You woke us up at 3 am. It was time. Calls to your midwife, Lynette, were made. Texts to our family and friends were sent. Your Ganna, Amanda Panda, and Alisa Pizza were on their way to help with everything.

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Unlike the Bubs, we were able to take our time preparing our room for your arrival. No rush. No fuss. Breakfast made. Coffee poured. Siblings chilling.

And then you arrived. I was so ready to catch you just like I did before with Eli but your Momma didn’t want me to leave her side. I looked at her and was overwhelmed by her powerful love and gracious heart and breathtaking beauty. I thought about the incredible struggle and pain she felt in our marriage and in our lives to this point and we are still together. I decided I wasn’t going to leave her side. Not now. Not never.

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Besides, Lynette was a pro. You were going to be in great hands until you could get to your Momma.

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The moment you arrived: it was all the joy. The happiness. The sweet relief. The bliss. It was everything I could ever feel in one moment in time. I felt like cheering and yelling to celebrate your life and everything that the Lord has done in us and for us.

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And I couldn’t stop smiling. My cheeks hurt because my grin was ear to ear.

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Unlike your brother’s arrival, which was fast and furious, yours was what at one time what I called, “normal”, but that’s not it. Looking back, your birth was just like everything else your announcement brought: peace, calm, and joy.

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And your Momma. She never looked as beautiful as she did when she was able to hold you for the first time. She was all the love and joy and happiness and gladness that her little heart could hold and being poured out on you.

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I remember her cheeks and my cheeks were streaming with tears as I leaned over and kissed her deeply. I remember touching her face and looking into her gorgeous blue eyes and thinking to myself, “We made it!” God is so dang good to us.

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In the midst of an incredible storm in our lives, God sends you here. In so many ways, you are God’s mercy and healing for your Momma. You are God’s peace and restoration for our family. You are my prettiest and a joyful reminder that God is so mindful of me and He loves me so much.

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That’s why I kiss you with my very prickly lips a hundred times a day. That is why I dive my nose into your neck smelling your sweet baby smells. That’s why I don’t want our conversations to end. You are the best reminder of who God is and what he has done for us.

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I love you, my most gorgeous girl. You are my sweetest. My sweetest sweet. My Happiest Girl. My yin to Bub’s yang.

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I will always love you. I will always protect you. I will be there to make you laugh and hold you tight when you cry. And I will fight for you, and us, and we, and me until my very last breath.

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You mean the world to me. I thank God that you are a part of our lives forever.

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I love you, Sweet Girl

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Love for life,

Papa

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Notes:

  1. Hosea 2:14-23

Harshness vs Expressing One’s Feelings

Take a look at this hot mess that someone might call a ‘book review’:

For so long, the gospel of God has been assumed in our churches. We now stand on the cusp of the gospel being denied from those who grew up in church and yet was never taught the fullness of the gospel and the full council of the Bible. Nevermind, the true gospel being scoffed at from the unbeliever–we know that would happen. We now have the gospel assumed or even worse yet, taught something that is the gospel is not: namely, Jesus is a good example, Jesus is just a Lord, Jesus provides wealth, health and prosperity or we have to take the part of God and make all things right by him by transforming our world.

By God’s providence and will, we now see a small yet vocal group of Western churches boldly proclaiming the gospel (the rest of the world like China or all throughout Africa is years ahead in proclamation of the gospel). This is wonderful. In turn, many other churches are catching wind and claim to proclaim the gospel as well.

What I have experienced is the word gospel being tossed around but I yearn for teachers, preachers and saints to dive right in and explain the gospel of God. More than that, when pressed to explain the gospel, I see too many other Christians with their deer-in-highlights expressions as if to say, “please don’t pick me to answer that question.” I don’t say that to criticize the saints but to extend grace to them because those who are called to office have not done a great job equipping them to do the work of the ministry (Ephesians 4:11-16).

We haven’t done a great job before. Instead of kicking ourselves of sucking, now is the time to turn the ship around. Martin Luther makes the call, “Beat the gospel into their heads continually.” First, we must clearly and simply answer the question:

What is the gospel?

Those who are called to equip, answer this question and teach the answer to the saints. To the saints, go forth and proclaim this Truth of truths to the captives, the blind, the deaf, the sick and the dead that is there is One who has brought freedom, sight, sound, health and life!

Buy this book. Study the verses well. Led by the Holy Spirit, repackage and teach this well. Buy a case and give it away.

With His blood, He has saved me
By His power, He has raised me.
To God be the glory
For the things he has done

Perhaps if I was a studied theologian. Perhaps if I was a seasoned pastor. Perhaps if I beheld a crown of silver upon my head, I could get away with saying some of the things here.

I would go as far as calling myself a pompous ass (rightfully so):

Perhaps I was a bit harsh on myself. Truth be told, I was deeply embarrassed for this and anything else I have written with the same tone. You know the one: comes from a semblance of authority but oneself without any authority.

I am embarrassed for being a Mr. Know-It-All. I am embarrassed for telling other people what to do and I am not even in a position to do it myself.

I was a hypocrite.embarrassed-monkey

I could have come with a lot more humility and a lot less arrogance.

I am embarrassed.

I am sorry if anything I have ever wrote or said ever hurt you.

I am sorry.

Proper Theology Is Not Enough

What I thought I would look like by now.
What I thought I would look like by now.

Every since I was saved by God back in 2007, I have longed to be a pastor. And if a pastor, then a teacher and an elder of a church. Everything about my spiritual life became about that end goal in mind (which I thought it was a “calling”). Multiple confirmations, a few prophetic words, and lots of mentoring seem to verify this desire of mine.

Despite the intense strong feelings or the incredible amounts of encouragement, I always tried to made sure that my calling matched up against the qualifications of an elder 1. Was I perfect? Of course not. But I thought it would be a continuous inner working by God, an outer working of my obedience to God and within that, God would move me to that end. Theological nerds say it with me: Progressive Sanctification! You can already see how my vision is so shallow.

A few years ago, I had the unexplainable bliss-filled joy of being married to my wonderful and beautiful wife, Amber. Just one month into this marriage, I quickly realized that I am so far from qualifying to be an elder that if I was currently an elder, I would, unequivocally, have to resign in order to keep in good conscience. In his book Sacred Marriage, Gary Thomas asks, rhetorically speaking, “What if God designed marriage to make us holy more than to make us happy?” Now that I was married, I finally get what he was asking.

I would like to say things got better. No, they got progressively worse. Passive Aggressiveness, Rage, Invulnerability, Emotional Immaturity, Defensiveness, and Narcissism rose to the surface out the of the depths of my heart. If anybody has ever dealt with any of these issues, then you know that my marriage, my relationship with my kids, and my relationships with others were hurt, damaged and laid to waste by the wayside.

In the midst of my bullshit (for the lack of a better term), I had to figure out what was really important and what was not.

What’s takes priority? Here’s my list in order of importance:

1. Relationship with God
2. Wife
3. Kids
4. the actual job that God has given me that provides for my family

You know what is not important right at this moment? Yes, you guessed it: my “calling”.

I would love to pretend to be all pious and super-Christian-y and say, “I gave that dream up to God.” Here’s the real deal: I gave up on that dream. It’s no longer a desire of mine and quite frankly, I have no time to pursuit such things. I have the One True God to worship, a wife to love, kids to raise, and work to be done.

I do know that proper theology had set my mind and affections properly on God, which looking back, should have been my end goal instead of a side effect. Instead, I felt that I had to get my theology and doctrine spot on in order to qualify to be a pastor or rather, avoid disqualifying me from being a elder. (Do you see the difference in the two? One lives to please other humans and the other lives in fear of other humans—both bring only death.) But do you know what I found out? Churches don’t really care about proper theology. Most pastors don’t give a rip. The only guys I have found who actually care about such things are, as you guess it, other theologians.

So, what do churches really care about? It doesn’t matter if you can exegete Romans or can give a detailed lecture on the doctrine of Definite Atonement—what really matters is that you love God and love others as you would love yourself 2. And if for one brief moment I could stop trying so damn hard to appear humble and actually be honest, I really suck at loving God and loving others and I have no business shepherding a flock of sheep. Hell, I am not doing that great of job with my own wife and kids.

Here is truth: I am a prideful, arrogant, narcissistic son of a bitch who loves to throw fits at his wife, hypocritically parent my kid one way and my stepkids another way, and venomously scream and cuss at my dogs. Which begs the question: am I a new creature in Christ? Second Corinthians 5:17 says yes. However, do I struggle like hell? Romans 7:7-25 confirms this to be so. 3

How do I reconcile this two things? For the moment, I cannot and I don’t know how. All I can do is hope and trust in what God said he would do. That is all I got. Everything else is absolute vanity.

Notes:

  1. 1 Timothy 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9
  2. Matthew 22:37-40
  3. I reject the notion that Paul was referencing himself as an unbeliever in Romans 7:7-25 for several reasons, the primary being in Romans 7:22 . Would an unbeliever, lacking a spirit, lacking the Holy Spirit (Gen 3; Rom 8), and under the wrath of God (John 3:36), would actually delight in the law of God? Obviously, not. What I actually see, continuously in Scripture, is that same type of war that Paul mentions in Romans 7:23. Those who are listed in the “hall of faith” (Hebrew 11) would testify to that same war that rages inside every believer.

Keeping It Personally Real

For a tad over 300 hundred posts, I was able to keep this blog free from personal feelings and insight. I was doing my best to bifurcate my theological pursuits and the pursuits of the heart.

But over the last year, with the maturity of my emotions increasing, I am beginning to see that is an impossibility. To do so would be to go against the tagline of this site as penned by Samuel Rutherford: “No pen, no words, no image can express to you the loveliness of my only, only Lord Jesus”. To do so would be to deny the spirit and the soul.

And if I actually nod in agreement with the Bible, to borrow a phrase from Douglas Wilson, “All of Christ for all of life”, not only is Christ has all of my heart, soul, mind, and strength, but to Him belongs my struggles, failures, successes and even fleeting thoughts.

Here’s to a new direction: starting on Thursdays, I will write about something personal. Now personal could include aspirations, goals, interests, difficulties, setbacks, and tragedies.  But as a Christian who strives to live a Christ-centered live, I know that my life is not my own for my life belongs to the One who has loved me and gave Himself up for me.

Here is to new trails blazed.