Everything Else is Second

34 But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees with his reply, they met together to question him again. 35 One of them, an expert in religious law, tried to trap him with this question: 36 “Teacher, which is the most important commandment in the law of Moses?” 37 Jesus replied, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’40 The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.”

            This summer while traveling, we had the opportunity to share at Poplar Spring Church in King, NC.  Poplar Springs was the church that I grew up in, and was the place that had ordained me into ministry.  It is always a pleasure to go back and share about the things that God has been teaching us while living in Bangkok.  This year, my message firstly focused on building a relationship with God, and then secondly, building relationships with others.  While I was preparing the message, Jana hit me with a question that I had not considered while looking at this passage.  Jana said, “I have never noticed that at the end of this passage that Jesus states, ‘the entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these commandments.”  As we continued discussing her insight, we quickly realized that Jesus was telling us that everything that we deem important is second to this great commandment.

            The idea that everything came second opened my mind to the fact that no matter how passionate I might be about a particular issue or ritual, if I am not loving God and loving other people, nothing matters.  This problem was considerably noticeable to us as we traveled and watched the news media while visiting family and friends.  It appears as if we have become so passionate about certain issues we deem as “sin”, that we forget that God commanded us to “love your neighbor as yourself”.  Jesus did not say to love your friends, or love people that think like you, or love people that act like you, or even love people that live like you; He simply said to, “Love our neighbor.” 

            As I was speaking at Poplar Springs, I was reminded that I am more receptive to input from people whom I have a relationship with.  If certain people who I cherish as personal friends speak truth into my life, then I listen.  No matter what that truth might be, I am open to receiving it.  But, we are not using the same practice with our neighbors because we are not building relationships with them.  Instead of building a relationship first, we want to state our agenda, hammer a person with our Christian truth while exposing their sin, and then start building a relationship with that person.  Why are we shocked when people state that their impression of Christianity is judgmental?  I do not believe that is the prominent example Jesus gave us throughout the New Testament.

            Let me close by saying that I believe in truth and the Bible as the Word of God.  I am also quick to judge others instead of focusing on relationships.  But, this approach is not the one we are shown in John 8.  Too often we want to ask who the sinner was, and what their consequence came to be. Maybe instead, we should start focusing on Jesus’s answer to not be so concerned with pointing fingers at other people’s sin and instead let Jesus work in that person’s life:

At dawn he appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them. 3 The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group 4 and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. 5 In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” 6 They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him. But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. 7 When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” 8 Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. 10 Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” 11 “No one, sir,” she said.” Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”

Thankfully, my mom slapped me

This week I chose to share a section of my book.  We have a growing problem of non-existent childhood discipline in our society.  Are we so concerned with being our child’s friend that we sacrifice the one thing they need most in life?  Someone telling him or her “No!”

(Excerpt From Failing At Fatherhood)

“Jack Jr., please turn the radio station back to where I had it,” was the only thing my mother said as she calmly kept her eyes on the road. I ignored her and looked out the window. I knew she was caught in a difficult position because she valued car safety, and would not risk taking her hands off the steering wheel to change the station. This was my day and this outdated woman needed to understand my newfound independence as an eighth grader. Then it happened quickly and suddenly while I was looking out the window. That terrible country music came blaring back across the speakers. I was shocked. Did something happen to “my” rap radio station? As I turned back to look at the radio, I caught a glimpse of my mother’s hand going back to the steering wheel. She had actually done it. She had reached over and turned the station. I was furious. She had ruined my perfect plan and stolen the story I would share with my crew about how I had opposed my mother. I felt defeated and humiliated. I was in middle school and she needed to respect what I wanted to listen to and when I wanted to listen to it. Then it happened. I am not sure why it happened because I had been taught to never use profanity, but it transpired anyway. I looked at my mother with defiance and stated, “I don’t want to listen to this ****** ****** station!”

It came like a flash of lightening. Looking back now, I am not sure how she moved so quickly. My mother always seemed to be passive and methodical in everything she did, but not this time. She slapped me across the face with such vigor that the blow would have honored Muhammad Ali. My head went crashing into the window and I felt the sting of a thousand little bees attacking my face. The surprise of this woman striking me, who always passed on the punishment to my father, made it hurt even more. The tears and snot were gushing full stream, and the awkwardness of the radio station battle was insignificant compared to the waterfall of embarrassment I now felt. Slowly I looked back at her, and I could see the anger in her face as she was also crying. Quietly, like a silent whisper, she instructed me to never use the Lord’s name in vain around her again. The remainder of the trip consisted of me crying with my head against the window and my mother gripping the steering wheel like it was a wild animal.

 

Nothing else was ever said about the incident for the remainder of my childhood because the message had been delivered. Even now some twenty years later, when I ask my mother about it, she smiles and states she has no recollection of the incident. Maybe she does not remember the slap, or maybe she has chosen to forget it. Regardless, it has been etched in my memory as one of those events I will never forget. That morning I was ashamed of being whacked by my forty-year-old mother, but something else happened that I never admitted to anyone else. I gained a respect for my mother that I had never before experienced. My mother, the quiet, non-combative person in my life, did what needed to be done at that moment to correct my behavior. I deserved to be slapped for what I had said to her and she obliged me by slapping my face.

Sometimes as parents we have to do the one thing we hate for our children, correct their behavior.

Tobacco, Dad, & God

“The Christian shoemaker does his duty not by putting little crosses on the shoes, but by making good shoes, because God is interested in good craftsmanship.”  - Martin Luther

     There are very few things in my life that I hate more than priming1 tobacco. My father introduced me to this dreadful scene of exhausting labor at the age of ten, and I was finally able to escape from it only eight years later when I left for college.  Getting up every morning at 5:00am during tobacco season was not due to my household’s urgency for extra income, but instead, for the appeasement of my father’s belief that manual labor was a necessity for a young boy’s life.  My father primed tobacco when he was my age, so that meant that I was going to prime tobacco.  In fact, the little money that I did make every Saturday was subjected to taxes since my father worked for the Internal Revenue Service. How lucky was I to get to pick sappy leaves in the hot sun for six hours most Saturdays, and have my minimum wage further reduced by taxes! What more could a fifteen year-old boy want out of his life?

     Tobacco farmers want fast workers because the faster you pick, the faster they can cover other fields that need priming.  The way the system works is that while farmers drive a tractor down the middle of the field, several eager pickers would work to pick leaves from the bottom of each tobacco plant (leaves at the bottom have ripened).  After many weeks, I had learned that if I picked fewer leaves off of each tobacco plant, then I would be able to move just as fast as the other veteran pickers.  Before long, I started being praised for keeping up with the best-of-the-best primers even though I was skipping leaves as I went along. Throughout my entire tobacco-priming career, I was more concerned about the outcome than the actual practice of doing the job to the best of my ability.

     Looking back, I often find myself living my faith in the same way. I constantly look for shortcuts, quick fixes, and advantages to produce a product for Christ.  The quote I used to open this post adequately describes my approach to ministry.  Do as much as I can and stamp it with a Christian label to please God.  But does it really please God when I proudly proclaim for Him to, “See everything that I have done for the Kingdom of God?” It is not about us or how much we can do, but how much we are willing to mold to God’s desire and truly give our everything to any calling He sets before us.

     As I close and think about the temptation to do things half-heartedly in my life, I am reminded of the quality versus quantity debate. Why do we desire a handmade piece of furniture over a factory-made piece?  Because we know someone has intentionally invested his or her time to make that piece of furniture pleasing and personal to us. They have given it their all. In the same way, that is how we should approach our ministry -- with the desire to pour out everything we have to the best of our ability.  This does not mean to juggle numerous activities in order to boast about our accomplishments later on, but instead, to centralize our focus on the quality of our service and humbly sacrificing that “everything” we have when God calls upon us.

Jack Barr

Author of Failing at Fatherhood

 

Footnotes:

1(Priming tobacco is the process of walking down rows of tobacco and picking the ripe leaves off the bottom).  

 

A Note To My Father

Dear Dad,

It has now been thirty-five years since you welcomed me into this world on one snowy night in Memphis, Tennessee.  It has also been sixteen years since cancer stole you away and left me with no father to attend my college graduation, my wedding day, or my daughter’s birth.  I know you did not choose to leave me, but for a long time, I have been angry by the fact that you could not defeat that harrowing brain tumor.  When I see other fathers and grandfathers enjoy their precious time with their loved ones; I cannot help but believe that Jana, Marley, and I were cheated out of those cherished moments.  

Can you see us now?  In some ways, I hope you can’t.  It pains me to think of the agony you must have felt, as you were merely able to witness my life’s joys and sufferings from afar. But, I must admit, I am considered much more fortunate than many others. The nineteen years we were able to spend together as father and son has ultimately molded me into the person I am today.  Every year, I meet children who have non-existent fathers or parents who believe that their job is a “part time gig”.  These “youngsters” (I knew you would like that word!) are desperate for a male role model in their lives, and I find myself constantly filling that role even though they are not my children.  Maybe you were not a perfect father, but you were committed to being a full-time dad while you were alive, and that in itself, is a gift from God. I am forever grateful that you wanted to be my dad.

I have accepted that Marley will never really know you.  I remember you showing me a picture of Grandpa Barr when I was young and explaining to me who he was and how he died.  I listened, but I did not care.  To me, he was just a picture, not someone I would meet or build a relationship with in life.  Unfortunately, the same will be true for you and Marley.  You should see her with Jana’s dad.  They play together and she even has a nickname for him --“Pappy”. I often pray that my father-in-law will live a long life, so he can teach Marley the things that a grand “pappy” should teach their granddaughter.  I know I missed out on those lessons with no grandfather present in my life, but Marley deserves those intimate occasions.   When I witness those moments she shares with him, I hurt for you.  Not because Marley is missing out, even though I know she would adore you, but because you deserve to be a part of her life.  But, that is not the life journey God had planned for you or me. So now, we can either praise God for the time we had together, or be angry with Him.  I know which decision you would have chosen, and I now choose to do the same.

I am still a little upset that you never shared with me the joys and sufferings of marriage before you left this world.  I never imagined that I could love someone more than anyone in the world in one hour, and then feel the urge to strangle her the next (metaphorically!) As much as I admire your role as a committed father, I must admit, I am now more in awe of you as a devoted husband.  Today, over eighty percent of couples with special needs children get divorced.  And actually, I considered leaving Jana when Marley was first born.  I can feel your disappointment in that thought even though you have been dead for sixteen years.  But, part of the reason I stayed, was due to your commitment.  Maybe you were not physically present three years ago during my depression, but your fatherly guidance when you were here saved my marriage, my family, and my life.

I want to thank you for being my father.  Should you be here for Marley? Absolutely. But it is unfair for me to harbor anger against something that was out of our control. A few days after you died, someone I respect very much told me that the best way to keep your memory alive was to honor you by how I lived my life.  The first few years after you died was a complete disaster, but today, I believe that you would be proud to call me your son.  There have been some dark moments that I am actually relieved that you did not see, but following your example has helped me overcome those dreadful occasions.  Just last week, while addressing my girls’ basketball team after a loss, I emulated a famous speech you once shared with me after a loss many years ago.  I looked at my girls and told them that it was my fault we had lost the game.  "I should have prepared more, I should have pushed them more, and I should have made better adjustments during the game."  I took the blame, and later that weekend we came back from the loss to win the tournament.  Even now at thirty-five, I am still learning the lessons that you taught me as an adolescent, like admitting my faults, even when it hurts.  Maybe Marley will never understand the great father that you were, but I will always understand and honor you by trying to be the same remarkable father to her.

Your Youngest Son,

Jack Jr.

What Has God Taught Us?

       Nine years ago we made the decision to leave everything that was familiar to us and move to the other side of the world. One night while we were still living in Tennessee, Jana came home from teaching gymnastics, and asked whom I was talking with on the phone. I told her I was interviewing for a job at an International Christian School, in Bangkok Thailand.  She gave me a look that was intended to be profanity, but since we were good little Christians, she did not openly yell at me. I knew immediately it would not go well after I finished my phone conversation with ICS.  Once I hung up the phone, I quickly told her that I was offered a job, and the good news was they had an open elementary position.  What happened next was not the yelling attack I expected, but instead she smiled, and we started searching for Thailand on a map.  As I reflect back on this life changing decision, I think it would be good to share some things we have learned while serving in BKK.  I also want to encourage you this week to contemplate what God has taught you these past few years.  Too often in life, we don't take the time to see what God has done in our lives.

Jack – I have realized the true definition of depression.  I spent an entire year depressed after Marley was born.  I believe it was the hardest year of my life and I was worthless as a father during that time.  God taught me the value of a dedicated wife, and the healing we can receive through talking with people that have been there.  The greatest part of that year was realizing my relationship with God was not where I thought it was, and my need for daily faith.

Jana – God’s creativity runs deep and wide. We have met so many different and interesting people while living in Thailand. Through each of these encounters and relationships, God has revealed Himself to us in different ways. It is through and because of these relationships that my relationship with the Creator has grown.

Jack – The enormous responsibility we have to mentor the next generation. God has opened my eyes to the struggles of our students at ICS.  The time we spend talking and caring for these students is a necessity.  Numerous young men and women have told us thank you for just taking the time to build a relationship with them outside of school.  We believe that is our greatest ministry at ICS.

Jana – God has been teaching me about humility for years and years. He has used so many of the years here in Bangkok to show me how little control I have in my own life, AND how much greater His plan is for me than what I have planned for myself.

Jack – There are days I love being a father and days I hate being a father.  I love the sweet smiles and hugs Marley gives me constantly throughout the day.  But I also hurt when I see people look at her differently, or when she struggles to complete tasks that are easier for others.  My own father dying at an early age inspired me to change my life, but I wish I could sit down with him now, and tell him I finally understand the love he had for me.

Jana – Unreached people groups are hiding within our own communities. We must pray for God to open our eyes to those people in need. We were never aware of the great need for families with special needs children until God made us aware. I think some of the raw emotions that we experienced as God showed/catapulted us into awareness is a taste of the deep love that God has for those who are hurting and lost.

Marley – I would say that she has learned that life is going to be fun sometimes and hard sometimes.  There will be times that Daddy/Mommy will let her splash in the rain puddles, eat a French fry, and wrestle the cat into submission.  Unfortunately, there will also be times that she will not get what she wants just because of who she is.  Pulling the cat’s ears, throwing her food, and biting will be followed by disciplinary actions.

Fighting Like A Monster

Last night I was putting Marley to bed and she was fighting like a monster to stay awake.  While I was wrangling her, she jabbed her finger in my eye. It really hurt and I suddenly wanted to throw her across the room. Instead of going to jail for launching my child against the wall, I gritted my teeth and started counting backwards silently.  This enabled me to relax and I was finally able to get her in bed.  Once I laid her down, I started to think about her determination to stay awake.  I was mad because Marley was actually fighting against something that would benefit her.  I wanted to wake her back up and say, “Fine, you win, lets stay up all night and see how you feel tomorrow.”  Of course I knew she could not understand this reasoning and it would be worse for Jana the next day, and she would be furious with me (better to keep the wife happy).  While I was debating this in my head it brought me back to my relationship with God.  I began thinking about how much I fight God when I do not get what I want.  I started to imagine God looking down on me and saying “See, you are the same way, you fight something I have for you until you have no energy left to fight.  Then once you accept things, you realize that it was the best thing for you all along.”  I felt very convicted at that moment because I am sure God wants to throw me across the room sometimes when I am fighting, but he patiently keeps working until I accept the plan he has for my life.

Our first Christmas with Marley we met our speech therapist in Charleston, SC.  At the meeting the therapist asked me if we were going to have any more children.  I told her that we did not know and she made a comment that has stuck with me the past few years.  She said, “When you decide to have more children, then I will know that you have accepted Marley for who she is and whom she will become.”  When she first said that, it made me mad, but now I am starting to understand the importance of that insight.  As a competitive father, I have only wanted to push Marley to be “normal” since I accepted her condition.  This is an unhealthy way to live a life regardless of the limitations of our children.  I need to accept Marley for who she is and understand her value to God and the world.  Is this an excuse to not push Marley, not at all, but when Marley fails just like any other child, then I need to love her for who she is and not for what I want her to be.  "It was not because of his sins or his parents' sins," Jesus answered. "This happened so the power of God could be seen in him".

            All of this is based on trusting God and his plan for our lives. I know I have a serious problem with a lack of faith in my creator’s plan.  I constantly fight against God, I dislike rejection, I struggle accepting my child’s faults, and I want my daughter to be accepted; but all of these things are a lack of faith.  Take some time to look at Job.  I always enjoyed God’s response to Job until some of my own struggles caused me to question God’s plan.  

Then the Lord spoke to Job out of the storm. He said: 2 “Who is this that obscures my plans with words without knowledge? 3 Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me. 4 “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell me, if you understand. 5 Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know! Who stretched a measuring line across it? 6 On what were its footings set, or who laid its cornerstone 7 while the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy?

            Very few people have suffered like Job.  I think instead of blaming God for me not getting my way, I should step back and see the blessings in my life.  We know God loves us and cares for us more than anything on this earth.  We need to trust him during the sunshine and storm.  What kind of faith do I have if I can only praise God during the joyous times?

Jack, Marley, Martha, & Mary

Last week during lunch, Jana and I were discussing our holiday travel plans.  The conversation was centered on cost, travel schedule, and the overall inconvenience of bouncing around the US during Christmas.  About halfway through the conversation Marley said, “plane, plane, me, me”.  Jana told Marley that “yes”; we were flying on a plane in the next few weeks to visit family for Christmas.  The remainder of the day involved Marley reminding us that she was going to be flying on a plane and we were going home for Christmas.

For the past week, every time Marley has seen a plane in the sky she has started yelling “plane, plane, me, me”.  Regardless of what she is doing, she stops and her excitement spills over at the thought of flying home for Christmas.  Of course every time she yells “plane”, I think about BKK to SFO to LAS to DFW to OKC to CLT to GSO to EWR to SFO to BKK in three weeks.  (Amazing how these acronyms are a constant in my life now) But, Marley does not care about the cost, travel, or the headache of sleeping in various houses.  She only cares about flying home to see Pappy, Grammy, Ma Ma, Ray Ray, RF, and numerous other people she loves.  Last week as I was sharing at church about the Christmas story, I realized I was already embracing the Christmas holidays with a Martha approach.

38 As Jesus and the disciples continued on their way to Jerusalem, they came to a certain village where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. 39 Her sister, Mary, sat at the Lord’s feet, listening to what he taught. 40 But Martha was distracted by the big dinner she was preparing. She came to Jesus and said, “Lord, doesn’t it seem unfair to you that my sister just sits here while I do all the work? Tell her to come and help me.” 41 But the Lord said to her, “My dear Martha, you are worried and upset over all these details! 42 There is only one thing worth being concerned about. Mary has discovered it, and it will not be taken away from her.”

Things have to get done.  There are always certain details in life that must be prepared before something can be accomplished.  I do not believe Jesus is telling us to completely ignore those preparations.  The main point I see Him making is to take time for what is important.  Every year during the holidays, I become obsessed with my “to do” list.  Is everything in place, is the schedule set, do we have enough money, which parties are we attending, and we must remember to read the Christmas story on Christmas Eve.  Even the religious rituals I honor at Christmas are more about attending the event, instead of focusing on the one thing worth our attention.

We love living in Bangkok, but there is always something special about spending the holidays in the States with family.  This Christmas break I am going to try and take the Marley approach.  Instead of worrying about the holiday schedule, cost, or headaches, I am going to focus on spending time with my family, loving my wife and child, and truly taking time to reflect on the birth of Christ.  When flights are delayed, schedules are thrown off, and we spend too much money; I am going to stop and enjoy the moment.  Life will always move forward with needed preparations, but for this season in my life, I am going to peacefully sit at the feet of Jesus and listen to Him.

Prayer – Please pray for travel and willingness to enjoy the holidays with family and friends.

When we believe death is a loss

Please Read These Two Articles Before Proceeding

Brittany Maynard

http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation-now/2014/11/02/brittany-maynard-/18390069/

Lauren Hill

http://espn.go.com/espnw/news-commentary/article/11811314/an-unforgettable-sunday-afternoon-lauren-hill

            I do not have cancer.  Therefore, I will not claim to have some valuable insight into making choices when a person is diagnosed with a terminal illness.  I cannot comprehend the agony a person must feel when he or she sits at a doctor’s office receiving the horrific news.  So, the focus of this entry is not to judge or belittle the above decisions, but instead, offer personal insight as a family survivor.  Because, even though I am not terminally ill, I did witness a cancerous brain tumor steal my father’s life in a way that no person should ever go through.  But, witnessing his battle and death, was the ultimate event that saved me.

(Excerpt From Failing at Fatherhood)

            By my senior year I was throwing in the mid-eighties, but my dad would still catch me with nothing on but a glove. We would throw for hours in the yard as he would squat and be my critical catcher. This might not seem like a great feat, but he was already over fifty years of age by my senior year of high school. He was the most honest catcher I have ever worked with, but I could not be honest with him on that last day of catch.

            I could tell something was off from the beginning. I still believe the only reason he wanted to play catch was to prove to me he could overcome cancer. I started by softly tossing the ball and he quickly became angry. “Stop babying it,” he would say. After a few more minutes, I started letting the ball go, and the first true fastball I threw whistled by his ear and hit the car. He wanted to keep going. I was on the verge of tears, but I was taught that when your dad tells you to do something, you do it. He told me to throw a curve ball so he could see how my breaking stuff looked. When I threw the ball, it short-hopped him and hit him in the face. He put his glove down and looked up at me with his swollen eye. The pain I saw in his face was not a physical hurt, but the fear of a man that had been defeated. I knew at that moment that things would never be the same and I was losing my father. After that event, we talked very little, and he slowly lost a battle that I always thought he would win.

            I don’t know. During that time in my father’s life, I would have welcomed a right to death law.  The pain and suffering I watched my father endure sent me into a sea of depression.  He was my hero.  I wanted to be just like him, but in less than a year’s time, he went from receiving a cancer diagnosis to being non-existent.  A man that had beaten me in a 40-yard sprint during my sophomore year in high school, became a man that could not even control his own bowel movements.  My father digressed to an eighty-pound being that could not walk, talk, or care for himself.  Who would choose to die in that way?

            But knowing him, even if the opportunity presented itself, he would not have agreed to that choice.  Why, because he was a religious man.  He believed in a God and an afterlife.  Maybe it would be classified as a zealous belief, but that was his belief.  When our family faced a crisis, he was praying about it.  I am not like that.  I live in fear.  I cannot completely trust God with my life.  Honestly, even though it is against my beliefs, I would lean more towards Brittany’s approach. As she stated, “She wanted to choose how she died.”  I would like to choose how I die, because I could go out on my own terms. But our Christian faith is adamant that our life is not our own.  That is the ultimate question.  Who does your life belong to, you or God?

            A few years ago, I was speaking at a high school retreat and I shared an idea that startled most of the audience.  I simply stated that I believed my father’s death led to my acceptance and belief in God.  Furthermore, if my father’s death was necessary for my conversion, then I was at peace with it. 

Acts 20:24 / But my life is worth nothing to me unless I use it for finishing the work assigned me by the Lord Jesus- the work of telling others the Good News about the wonderful grace of God

            This is what my father did, but he did it through death.  When my father died, I was a lost eighteen-year-old boy that only cared about himself.  When my father was diagnosed with cancer, it forced me to embrace my existence and the existence of God.

(Excerpt From Failing at Fatherhood)

            The next few weeks I watched my father die and helped my mother the best I could with preparing for that final day. Late one night, as I was smoking a joint in my car, I started thinking about what would happen to my father once he died. For my entire life, he had dragged me to church to worship this being that promised an afterlife. So I played the part and followed along with the other kids in going to Sunday school, being in Christmas pageants, and pretending to pay attention during long sermons. Suddenly I understood that in a few days my father’s “faith” would either be justified through eternity, or would become a worthless dedication to a non-existent being. My chest became very heavy at that moment and all at once, I could not breathe, it was my first panic attack. This question of God’s existence, one that meant less to me than thoughts about my next meal prior to this moment was a frightening dilemma I needed to solve. My father’s life was ending, but his eternal life would be determined in a few days when he took his final breath. Gasping for air, I swung open the car door and realized that I needed to confront the fear and find an answer before I became like my father.

            How can you understand that your life is not your own without a faith in God?  In fact, many of you are probably like me, and claim to be a Christian, but continue to live a life trying to control your own fate.  I am saddened by both of these stories.  These young vibrant ladies still had entire lives in front of them.  It disturbs me to think about the losses they will never experience and the families they are leaving behind. My father never saw me get married, graduate from college, or have children. He was not able to be present when I needed guidance as a father.  Is that fair?  Of course not.  Is it God’s fault?  I can’t answer that for you.  You must decide what you are going to believe.  The only thing I can tell you for certain is that watching my father lose a battle with cancer saved my life and more importantly my soul.  If we truly believe that the purpose of our lives is to bring people closer to God, then we need to prepare to embrace whatever that plan might be.  I still struggle and doubt every day of my life.  But now, I believe in a God of love, and His ultimate love is eternal, not earthly.  As Christians, we must understand that the security in our eternal God will always triumph our circumstances, no matter how difficult those times may be.

Please pray for comfort for both of these families.

 

 

Sneak Peek at Failing at Fatherhood

C h a p t e r 1

Welcome Marley

I prayed for this child, and the Lord has granted me what I asked of him. So now I give him to the Lord. For his whole life he will be given over to the Lord. (1 Samuel 1:27-28 NIV)

March 20, 2011—right now I am sitting here, wondering what the remainder of my life will entail. My life has been completely transformed in the past twenty-four hours, and I have experienced things that every husband should be prepared to face with his wife. My wife told me I should prepare by reading the books she had bought, but who wants to read books written by doctors? We have been married for nine years and have faced many difficult situations together, so I knew I would be prepared for this next step in our life. Unfortunately, as I sit here the day after our daughter’s birth, I am still overcome with fear, concern, and anxiety. Every ten minutes I walk down to the nursery to see if our daughter is still breathing or not. I watch my wife try to recover from labor by eating broth for her main meal. And, I am still shocked how inadequately I performed as a husband in my wife’s greatest time of need.

The miracle of birth and the heart-wrenching fear of labor were unlike anything I have experienced in my life. Watching the misery of my wife trying to dislodge this creature from her womb was a horrific event for me. “Helplessness” is the only word I can think to describe my uselessness yesterday. While I watched my beautiful wife who I had brought to the other side of the world grimace in pain, the only thought circulating in my mind was, “She is going to die.” No husband wants to phone his in-laws from across the world and explain that their daughter had died while trying to give birth to their first grandchild. For eighteen hours my wife suffered through labor with no assistance from painkillers, the medical staff, or me. The doctor visited us every few hours in the natural birth room saying that everything looked good and for us to just hang in there.

Listen you **** of a *****, things are not fine! My wife is in incredible pain and you think everything is fine? How about you do your job and help my wife get this creature out of her? She is throwing up, sprawled out motionless on the floor, and pleading for help, and all you can offer is ‘hang in there?’*

Of course, none of this was said because a good Christian man should not speak with this tone, but distressing moments can lead to some bitter thoughts. Watching your spouse suffer with no possible remedy can drive a man to madness. This leads to a desperate feeling of failure as a caretaker. How inadequate I felt while watching my wife suffer from unbelievable pain and neither the doctor nor I could do anything to relive her agony. Suddenly the contractions were disrupting Marley’s heart rate. This caused immediate distress and concern in the medical staff at the hospital. Marley’s heartbeat would hover around one hundred and forty beats a minute, but when Jana would have a contraction, Marley’s heart rate would drop below seventy. The doctor told us to prepare for an immediate C-section and the nurse wheeled Jana away to an operating room. Another nurse led me to a changing room and I was dressed up with scrubs and a hat. My wife was suddenly taken away from me and there I sat in a room wearing a ridiculous costume. After about twenty minutes the nurse came for me. She walked me into a room that only reminded me of those horror films where people become dismembered.

Jana was lying on the table with a sheet separating her head from the remainder of her body. The nurse directed me to a chair beside Jana’s head so I could talk to her during the process. Jana looked up at me and I could see the fear of life in her beautiful blue eyes. Immediately, I heard my father’s voice echoing in my mind: “Time to be a man. Your wife needs you and this is the time to forget about your own ridiculous fears and support your life companion. If you can’t be a man now for your wife then you will never amount to anything in this world.” Instantly, I took a deep breath and said, “Well, this looks like fun.” She smiled at me and said, “We’ll see.”

As the process began, I could tell the sedative was starting to take away Jana’s sense of awareness. Every few seconds she would ask me if we were almost finished. I kept assuring her that the doctors were almost finished as I gently held her hand. The entire event took about thirty minutes and I said very little to her during the C-section operation. Comforting her did not involve many words, but instead a willingness to hold her hand and reassure her that everything was ok. Oftentimes in life, we say too much when comforting others instead of listening, and this was a time Jana desired a companion and not a lecture. She didn’t need me fixing things with my words, but instead she needed me to be present experiencing the journey with her. Being beside her and holding her hand was the commitment she needed to feel safe and secure. Ten years earlier as we pledged our vows for life during an outdoor autumn wedding, I was simply thinking about the upcoming honeymoon night. But I am sure Jana was envisioning moments like this in which I would be there holding her hand as our first child entered the world. Funny how often men and women vary in thought process! Missing that moment for my wife would have been unacceptable in my role as a husband. Of course, you cannot always be there when the love of your life needs you, but when you can, make sure you are. Nothing should hinder our role as being fearless protectors when our wives are in their greatest times of despair.

The Carnage

Do you ever pass a car accident and know that it's best not to look, but you somehow cannot help your natural inclination to see the carnage? Well, I looked over the curtain about halfway through the C-Section procedure to see what was happening “down there” with the doctors. “Great Scott!”- to quote our fabulous character Doctor Emmett Brown - were the only words I could summon to describe what I saw on that operating table. Certainly there are things w e should never see unless we are medical doctors. The destruction of flesh I watched transpire over the head divider would make the strongest men flinch. It reminded me of a toddler eating pasta with spaghetti sauce. The entire lower part of Jana’s body had been turned over to two children with forks pulling and pushing through her organs like they were eating their first bowl of spaghetti. Even now when I watch monster Marley tear through some scrumptious pasta, I have to suppress images of the doctors that night cutting into Jana’s womb to retrieve our first child. While blood and organs were being thrown around like ziti shells, the nauseating sound of suction would happen every few seconds while a nurse would “clear out” an area so the doctors could see. The climatic moment that brought me back to reality was when the two doctors were pulling on Jana’s abdominal cage, with all of their might. I quickly realized that it was time for me to return to my spot of comforting Jana on the other side of the curtain. The picture of watching two doctors play tug of war with Jana’s internal organs was enough medical interning for me. Holding Jana’s hand and reassuring her that everything was going to be ok seemed like a great job at the moment compared to the other side of that curtain. But then I heard a cry.

Joining the Club

Seeing your child for the first time is the purest form of love that you can ever experience as a father. Watching this bloody mess emerge from my wife’s womb was astonishing. We were taught about it in school, watched simulations of it on TV, and read about it in books, but when that moment of life materializes in front of your own eyes, describing the event is virtually impossible. Marley was just a figment of my imagination until the moment she left Jana’ s womb and embraced the world. Or course, I would feel her kick in Jana’s womb and watched the misery of pregnancy caused by her for the past nine months, but for me the reality of Marley’s existence did not happen until I heard that fierce cry from the other side of the curtain. The love I thought could never be duplicated for another person besides my wife actually magnified ten times at the precise moment my new daughter arrived. I literally felt like the Grinch at Christmas when his heart grew after embracing the spirit of Christmas. Unfortunately, the concern I had for Jana during the entire procedure was stripped immediately from my mind because of the abundant joy I felt by being part of the new life I had help create. Fathering a child and watching her enter this world is one of the few moments that can never be corrupted by anything or anyone. Observing Marley take her first breath will forever be one of the single greatest moments of my life.

Once they pulled Marley out they began performing numerous tests on her. If I had read the books that Jana left by my bedside every night, then I would have known this is a common practice know as the Apgar test. Watching them pull and push on Marley aroused a protective fury in me, and I started to stand up and confront the situation. The doctor, maybe sensing I was not well rehearsed in newborn procedures, told me she looked great and had passed the Apgar tests. Dumbfounded I muttered “ok” and continued to stare at him with no clear direction on my next move. The doctor, knowing I had lost all rational judgment, told me they needed to take Jana to the recovery room for a few hours and that I should go down to the nursery to see my daughter. “Jana. That’s right—Jana is still here and needs me to comfort her. How could I forget so quickly about her?” Even though Jana was still partially sedated, she smiled up at me and said, “go.” I kissed her and stumbled down the hallway looking for the nursery.

I stood outside the nursery ward peering in the window, contemplating two things before opening the door: how was I going to find my daughter; and how was I going to talk to the nurses when they could not speak English? For the past eight years, I would just abandon the situation when I could not communicate and move on without the item or answer to my question. I began to smile at the thought of sitting in the waiting room for hours not seeing my daughter because I was too scared to go in and try to communicate with the nurses. Jana would certainly have had some choice words for me if our daughter spent her first few hours alone because her father was too cowardly to cross a language barrier.

I could not resist any longer and no one was coming to help me even though I was staring in the nursery like a child at the zoo. All of sudden I swung open the door, charged past the changing area, and started walking around the various cribs looking for the little white baby. All at once, nurses appeared from every corner of the room and began yelling at me while swinging their arms. An older nurse grabbed me by the arm, and lead me toward the door I had just entered. As she pushed me out the door, I quickly became angry and started walking back towards her—I wanted to see my daughter. She raised her hand and gave me the universal stop motion. I stopped and looked her straight in the eyes. She smiled and pointed toward the main thing I had missed before barging in the room. There, beside the door, was a little sign that said in English, “Please change shoes and clothes before entering the nursery.” I lowered my head in shame and slowly started changing my clothes. After I had finished, she asked me in broken English for my child's name. I wanted to scream, “Probably the only white kid in the entire nursery right now,” but instead I just said, “Marley Barr.” Once again she smiled, and led me to a crib in the corner of the room.

Overwhelming emotions took control of my body while looking into that crib of pale skin and blonde hair. I started to cry so the nurse put her hand on my shoulder. Marley was so beautiful. The little creature was the most beautiful thing I had ever witnessed in my life and by the grace of God I was part of her life. The nurse brought over a stool and I positioned myself beside her. In a few minutes the nurse left us alone, and without asking permission from the germ police, I reached in the crib and held her hand.

Talking to Marley

For two hours I sat beside my daughter’s crib when she was first born. While Jana was in the recovery room sleeping, I was in the nursery staring amazed at the being laying in front of me. Marley mostly slept during that time but the awe of the moment kept me by her side looking at her. I could not comprehend that only twenty-four hours earlier, she was just a possibility—n ow she was a reality entrusted to me for the remainder of my life. As my mind tried to steal the moment with thoughts of responsibility and fear, I suppressed those thoughts and truly enjoyed the moment of life. There are very few times in life that I “remain still” and absorb the richness of the moment, but on that night I did. Sitting in that nursery with my daughter is an experience that I will never forget, one that can never be altered by the evil of this world. For two hours, my daughter was a perfect little creature completely made in the image of God. As we bonded in that nursery, I began telling Marley stories about her family and living in Thailand. Obviously she could not understand me, but there was an enormous amount of information I had to pass on to her during those moments. I talked to her about Jana, my father, our family in the States, our family in Thailand, and mostly about how much I already loved her. She slept peacefully after the traumatic experience of birth, but I continued talking non-stop about life before her arrival, and what I envisioned life being now that she had made a grand entry into this world. As admiration for my daughter quickly grew in those first few hours in the nursery, little did I know that the birth of my daughter would not be the most significant life-changing moment that weekend, but instead the news we would receive three days later as we were preparing to finally go home as a family.

Relive the Moment of Birth

The overwhelming sense of joy you felt, as that first child was being born needs to be shared with him or her. I only have one child so I am not sure how the feelings duplicate with multiple children, but I can tell you when Marley arrived in the world, I felt something exhilarating. Sit down with your child and tell him or her about that marvelous moment. You don’t have to be graphic but share the joy you felt. Tell him or her about the time leading up to the birth, the rush to the hospital, the chaos of labor, and the overwhelming love you felt as he or she was born. Maybe you were not there. If you were not, then I would encourage you to sit down with someone that was there and have that person tell the story to you and your child. Sharing about your child’s birth is an exciting thing and will strengthen that bond we sometimes are not able to experience as fathers of newborns.

 

 

 

Why Does Our Society Care?

Here is an interesting news item this week from Thailand about an Australian couple that traveled to Thailand to use a surrogate mother.  The Thai mother had twins and was prepared to give the children to the foreign couple but then things got murky.  The boy was born with Down syndrome, but the girl was born healthy.  Surprisingly, the girl is now in Australia with the couple, but the boy has been left behind with the Thai surrogate mother.  So why was the boy left behind?  This is when the story becomes very interesting.  According to the Australian couple, they were never told about the boy, according to the Thai surrogate mother, the foreign couple did not want the boy because he had Down syndrome.  The Thai woman claims the Australian couple tried to pressure her into having an abortion and never paid her the money they promised.  And today, it is being reported that the Australian father is a convicted pedophile to add another twist to this tragedy.

This story is a lot to digest, but I want to look at one specific thing that bothers me about this article.  Why does our society care?  That is the first thing that irritated me when I first read the story.  The national media is up in arms because this family supposedly abandoned their child because he has Down syndrome.  In fact, over 200,000 dollars has been raised to help this Thai mother take care of the child because he has some medical issues.  Don’t misunderstand what I am saying because as Christians we should care.  As Christians we value life and believe every life, regardless of how society views him or her, is a part of fulfilling God’s plan.  But I still come back to the question of why are non-believers, our society, suddenly taking the approach that babies with disabilities need to be protected?  If this surrogate mother was forced to have the child when she wanted an abortion, then the story would be completely different.  Why do we care as a society about helping this child when before his birth, we would have openly supported a couple choosing to abort the child because he has Down syndrome?  That is the problem for me.  When it is a matter of “choice”, like a an expectant mother, then an unborn child does not matter, but when that child suddenly emerges into the world, we are angry if the parents abandoned the child.  You can’t have it both ways.  You can’t be enraged that this couple does not want a child with Down syndrome, but then be fully supportive if the surrogate mother had supposedly honored the couple’s wishes and had an abortion when they discovered the extra chromosome.  Regardless of religious beliefs, there is something wrong when a society believes a human life is important at 23 weeks of development but not at 24 weeks of development.

When considering an abortion, a woman might find herself asking, "How late can you get an abortion?" In the United States, the answer to that question is most often based on viability, which is generally 24 weeks. Source Link

Let me close by saying this perplexes me about our society.  If you support people having abortions when disabilities are discovered then don’t get upset when parents abandoned a child with disabilities.  All disabilities are not detectable during pregnancy and the ones that are, can be inaccurate.  I am glad this story is gaining national attention and I am glad this young man is getting the support he needs to survive in this world.  But let’s consider, as a society, to help children with Down syndrome before a magical developmental number.  If we really care about people with Down syndrome, lets start caring when a couple abandons a child AND when a couple tells a doctor they want to end a pregnancy because of an extra chromosome.