“His optic nerve is pale and visual activity is poor. The next step is more testing. I’m sorry I can’t give you a more definitive answer right now, but I’ll see you in four months time.”
These [paraphrased] words were not what we were wanting to hear when we took our almost five month old son to an ophthalmology appointment yesterday, but reality doesn’t care about what you want to hear. We have known ever since the diagnosis of hydrocephalus from a grade four bleed in the brain while in the womb that there was likely, medically speaking, to be some effects from the internal brain injuries during the developmental stages. The neonatologists even went as far as to say there was a high likelihood that the resulting impact would be fairly severe, given the serious nature of what occurred somewhere between 20 and 32 weeks. I remember asking about whether his hearing or sight would be impacted on the day when they broke the news to us about the likelihood of hemiplegic cerebral palsy on the left side of his body. I remember the horrible feeling when they said “we don’t know”. Fast forward several months. He has been through so much and bounced back from all his surgeries so well that it became tempting to think perhaps we were over the biggest hurdles. The last couple of weeks though, I’ve felt squarely back in the land of many unknowns as far as what lies ahead.
Have you ever experienced a miracle? I believe I have, and two days ago my wife and I brought him home from the hospital, praise God! After an ultrasound at 32 weeks revealed two serious issues in our unborn baby’s brain, which doctors were powerless to do anything about until he arrived, our world was in many ways turned upside down as a whole swathe of possible outcomes presented by neonatologists and neurosurgeons bounced around in our heads. You can read more about that stage of our journey here, as we sought to depend on God to get us through, but I’d be lying if I said the prognosis didn’t make the last few weeks of our pregnancy quite different to the unrestrained excitement we’d experienced with our first pregnancy.
Thursday the 7th of June 2018 (37 weeks and 5 days) was the day we were to meet our new baby via caesarean, which had been arranged due to the fact that the swelling in the brain was causing the head circumference to measure over the 99th percentile making natural birth dangerous as contractions would put too much pressure on the brain. At 3.19pm, a baby boy – a brother to our first son, Asher – entered our family, causing us to simultaneously give thanks to God while buckling up for one of the most intense weeks of our lives. The obstetricians and neonatologists had prepared us for the fact that the baby may need to be rushed to neonatal intensive care, would likely need help feeding and need to be fed via syringe, may have a visibly disproportionate head and could have a number of other complications, with the possibility of further symptoms developing down the track. There were between 15 and 20 people in the operating theatre… not exactly a reassuring sign, but they all played their role and we were relieved to hear the first cry as this little life entered the world outside the womb.
1. How Quickly Things Can Change
On Thursday I sat in a small room in a large hospital… again… waiting to hear some good news from the doctors, waiting for some answers, waiting to find out what they can do to help (and when), waiting to see what God will do in this situation and how He will use it for our good and for his glory. Before I go any further forward, I suppose I should go back a couple of weeks… It’s Sunday night. This time the previous week I had been sitting down with my wife, preparing for work to get busy again after a short holiday break, and just generally enjoying the stage of life we’re in with an almost two year old filling our days with joy and another little one on the way.
On Tuesday, we were to attend our final ultrasound before the next baby is born. The scan was booked for 32 weeks for a fairly routine check-up. I was excited to see our little baby for the second time. After attending the first scan I had missed the second scan, so I was keen to see how it had grown. The scan was going fine, we thought, and then the sonographer said she needed to get some extra paperwork. At this point my wife and I didn’t think much of her exit from the room, and I even (perhaps naively) thought the 15-20 minute wait until she returned was nothing to worry about. You just kind of assume things will go alright, well, at least that’s what I assumed. When she returned though, my wife and I heard words you never want to hear as expectant parents during an ultrasound; “I’ve noticed some things that I think you need to speak to a doctor about.” I remember sitting there thinking: hang on, this pregnancy has been quite smooth, the baby has been healthy all the way along, what could possibly be wrong all of a sudden? When I tried to ask for specifics, I was told “I think you really need to speak to someone who is trained to talk to you about this.” So it began…
Just over 24 hours have passed since I finished this book, and I am still very much processing the weight of its importance both to the twenty first century evangelical church and to me personally. Before reading The Life of Martyn Lloyd-Jones 1899 – 1981 I could have counted on one hand the number of times I had heard of Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones. The few occasions I did hear his name was when it was referenced by prominent pastors and Christian leaders whom I admire such as John Piper and Kevin DeYoung, but I had never come into contact with his life and ministry directly. Out of interest I put this biography on my birthday ‘wishlist’ in 2013, as I wanted to know more about this character who I’d heard reputable sources refer to as “the greatest preacher in the last 200 years”. Thankfully, I was given a copy on my birthday that year. At the time I had no idea just how profoundly the story of Dr Lloyd-Jones’ faith, life and ministry would affect me and indeed this is something I doubt that I currently know the full extent of. Some expansion on this will follow in this post, however I must start by saying I am forever grateful to author (and personal friend/assistant to Dr Lloyd-Jones) Iain Murray for his work on this condensed biography which has introduced me to a man whom I will not meet until I too am called home to be with Jesus, but whose story has caused me to give all praise to God for a life well lived in the service of the Kingdom, a life “worthy of the calling” he received (Ephesians 4:1 ESV).
Today is Good Friday. It’s a day that has always carried somewhat confusing or conflicting emotions for me, at least as long as I can remember. It is a day to remember something that is brutal and yet beautiful, horrific and yet heavenly, tragic… and yet triumphant. It is a day that I want to mourn over the way that humans just like me treated the only one who can save us from our depravity and sin, but it is also a day on which I am reminded of how blessed I am to live on this side of the cross. I know that in suffering for my sake, Jesus who was perfect and was in very nature God humbled himself and became obedient to death on a cross, paying the price that bought me out of slavery to sin and death and therefore separation from God into a new life that will last for forever.
I’m just going to say it up front – if your god is yourself, then God help you. Many people wouldn’t go so far as to call themselves the god of their own world for fear of sounding arrogant or even crazy, but the more I observe western culture in the present day, the more I discover most non-believers (including ex-believers) live this way. They believe in a god, it’s just a self-constructed one. I would argue that right now, the twenty-first century, in 2015 – the year of hover-boards and power laces, we are living in one of the hardest time periods to navigate if you want your life and your convictions to be anything but cold porridge (more on this analogy later). The twenty-first century has great benefits thanks to technological advances that mean we are easily connected, easily informed (at least on a basic level thanks to Google/Wikipedia) and easily entertained. Fortunately in the west we don’t live under oppressive political regimes and therefore consider ourselves fairly well versed in and blessed with freedom. Unfortunately though, despite this freedom we are in many ways selfish, stunted, slaves to a cruel dictator called uncertainty. Until fairly recently, even free/western societies held to core belief systems that guided moral standards, governance, logic and order. Not so today! Instead we inhabit an age of arrogance, in which a very vocal secular segment of society has thrown off any sense of objective morality and is determined to redefine right and wrong based on personal preference, effectively generating their own brand of ‘social responsibility’.
In arguably his most famous play, Shakespeare’s female protagonist asks a well known question about the substance of a name;
“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.”
I haven’t really thought about this until now, but Shakespeare is like the king of the English language (other authors come and go but Shakespeare will seemingly forever be studied by English students) and yet in this very famous scene the character wants to disregard the word (in this case a surname) as a means of describing the idea or person that it represents. This of course goes against the grain of history in which names carried authority, tradition, and identity.
Similarly, 19th Century Danish Philosopher Soren Kierkegaard is quoted as saying
“Once you label me you negate me.“
Now without getting into a full blown discussion on post-modernity, relativism, ‘progressive social norms’ and ‘subjective reality’ (I know, this sounds like an oxymoron, but I’ll leave that for later), I have to say both men were ahead of their time with the notion of wanting to strip words of their definitive meaning, instead freeing up concepts, ideas and even identities to remain undefined and unrestricted. However, I also think this notion is, at times, extremely unhelpful.
At the risk of sounding somewhat vague, I’m not sure exactly how to start (yes I know – not a very catchy opening line)! Words of introduction like “Hi, thanks for visiting” and “Welcome to my blog” seem all to cliche, although still appropriate. So for now I’ll just say “Hi, I’m new here.”
This isn’t something I’ve planned for a long time, nor is it something I’ve decided to do totally on a whim. I feel like there are so many voices already ‘clouding’ the online world (excuse the pun) that on one hand I wonder if mine will make a difference to anyone… or worse still – what if it just adds to the noise? On the other hand though, the further I go through my life journey (which is intrinsically linked to my Christian faith journey), the more I come to realise that each person really is fearfully and wonderfully made as a unique and separate person (you’d think this would be obvious), different from anyone else, and yet we are all connected through a common search for love, truth, joy, hope and purpose in this life.