Friday, March 23, 2012

Chai, Simon, and the Death of Death

God has painfully revealed his love and grace to me in many ways through the death of my son, Chai.

Its been more than 20 months since he died, and I’m still learning more from my son.

After Chai died on July 12th, 2010, Keva and I immediately wanted to be pregnant again. That desire was partly out of our wish to get past the pain that we were experiencing and partly out of our trust in God as the author of life. The latter was good. The former, not so much.

In the months following Chai’s death, getting pregnant for a second time was feeling almost as impossible as it did during our first 11 years of marriage.

Once again, we grew more frustrated than we did patient, and began to settle into the idea that our family would remain as it was. Then God surprised us again.

When your wife walks into the bathroom with a pregnancy test and then, minutes later, lets out a scream, you don’t have to be a detective to connect the dots.

There was a lot of excitement in that moment. It kind of felt like what I suppose it might feel like to win the lottery: Elation followed by the question “What are we going to do with this?”

But in that moment, fear mingled with our delight. Anxiousness combined with our hope.

I tried to remain calm. Keva came to mind first. What would happen if this baby dies? Would that crush her? Would it be too painful to bear?

Then I thought about my kids. Micah and Isaac have experienced exactly one pregnancy up close. It ended in the death of their baby brother. What if we went 0 for 2? And this one would be different. After all, surely they will pray specifically for this baby NOT to die. Surely they will ask God to keep this one alive. I had written answers down to essay questions on tests in seminary like “Why does God allow evil and suffering in the world?” but could I explain to my sons why their siblings keep dying even though we keep asking God to keep them alive?

I was afraid. Happy….but afraid.

Now to the present.

Chai was born 26 weeks and 6 days into pregnancy.

Today, Keva is 26 weeks and 6 days pregnant.

After Chai’s birth, the doctor told us if Keva got pregnant again, she probably wouldn’t carry past 21 weeks.

Today, our doctor told us she expects Keva to carry beyond 34 weeks…maybe full term.

What is amazing about this prognosis is not simply THAT God has done this, but the WAY he has done this.

He has brought life from death. Let me explain.

Through Chai’s death, we learned something about Keva’s body. In short, that her cervix could not support the weight of a child without help. So, Keva had a surgery in December to help her cervix support the weight of this new little life.

We never would have known that, if Chai hadn’t gone before his little brother to show us.

Without Chai’s death, Simon’s life would not be possible. Someone had to be the forerunner. Someone had to die so that another could live.

Sound familiar? It’s the gospel pattern. Its something we all know is deeply painful, but is deeply beautiful. Sacrifice.

Life from death.

Hope from despair.

Joy from pain.

This is what Christ accomplished for me…and all those who trust Him. He died so that I could have life. But the resurrection means that death is dead. It no longer holds sway over those who are in Christ.

What does that mean for the Atwoods? It means one day Simon will embrace his big brother and say “Thank you!”

…and Micah, Isaac, Chai, and Simon will spend eternity worshipping the God who defeated death and made life possible.

...and so will their parents.


Monday, February 13, 2012

Adoption and The Hard Things in Life

Februray 14th, 2008.

While the rest of America was celebrating Valentine's Day, the Atwoods were celebrating the fact that our son was now legally an Atwood. Because of Ethiopia's laws at the time, an advocate went to court on our behalf before we actually ever saw Isaac face to face. So, he became a legal member of our family before we could ever hug him.

This Valentine's Day, as we have for the last 4 years, we'll take Isaac Sentayehu Atwood out for a special dinner, and we'll watch the video footage from our trip to Ethiopia. We will all laugh...and Mom and Dad will cry a bit, too.

Whenever I think about the process of adopting Ike, at some point I am reminded of one of the largest hurdles we had to overcome in order to bring him home.

Not money.

Not waiting.


When Keva first said to me, "I want to adopt from Africa!", I treated it like I did when she first announced years before that she wanted to adopt at all...I said, "I'll pray about it." Not that I really would offer more than the cursory "Lord, show us what to do." Basically I just needed to calm down my over-zealous wife.

The fear that was beneath the surface of my hesitation, I am ashamed to admit. It was a form of racism. I didn't particularly have anything against black people, I just didn't know how they could fit into my family. After all, I'm not even sure what to do with the kid's hair.

My fear was that I wouldn't be able to relate. I was afraid that he would have problems that only a black parent could solve. I was afraid he would feel alone or ostracized in our family. I was afraid he was just going to be different.

What moved me past my fear?

I didn't decide that my assumptions were wrong. They probably aren't. Isaac, ever observant, has already noticed his skin color is different. Just the other day he asked, "Dad, what color skin is Simon (our soon-to-be-born son) going to have?"

"Probably like Mom and Dad's. Maybe a little lighter or a little darker," I said.

"ARRGGHHH! I want him to have skin like me so I'm not by myself," he said.

As Isaac grows, we will continue to re-inforce his understanding of what binds us as a family. Not our skin color, not our genes, but our God-given love for each other.

So what changed my mind? A realization that hard things in life glorify God.

I realized that bringing a child of a different race wouldn't be easy. And it hasn't. (Though very little of that has had anything to do with skin color!) But what we also know about God is that he went through the suffering of the cross in order to bring us life.

The gospel tells me that I should expect when I lay my own life down for someone else, that it produces good things.

In them, and in me.

This has undoubtedly been the story of Isaac. In 4 years, he has been a tool of God that has chiseled our family more into his image.

I don't really see my son's skin color anymore. Just an incredibly bright, athletic, inquisitive, rough-and-tumble bit of energy that rightly calls us Mom and Dad.

Happy Adoption Day, Isaac Sentayehu! You are loved beyond your wildest imagination.

Friday, December 30, 2011

New Aftermath Album

One of my best friends, Jonathan Edwards, sent me a pre-release copy of his new album, She's Better Than Dreams.

I've been listening to it today over and over on repeat, as I wrote a sermon. This album is great for mellow reflection as well as cranking up in the car. As with the last album, the lyrics are a reflection of a broken heart, but this time there is a new hope in Edward's voice.

I especially like the redo of Airplanes and Airwaves. If you have his first album, you're going love the new version.

If you haven't gotten the first album, go do it. It is one I listen to often. Then get ready for more good stuff on the new album- She's Better Than Dreams. Here's what you need to know

For updates on Twitter, follow @NotThePuritan (get it, He's Jonathan Edwards but not THAT Jonathan Edwards)

Album releases January 10, 2012...get ready!

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Isaac Turns 5

Isaac being the huge baseball fan that he is wanted to have a Baseball Party. So, that's what we did. The weather was nice and we were able to have it in our backyard. We invited kids from City Church and the neighborhood. He had a great time.

Issac we love you and are so very proud of you!!

Monday, July 11, 2011

Happy Birthday, Chai

One year ago today, Chai Samuel Atwood was born. One year ago tomorrow, he died.

This post is from his Mom, Dad, and brothers to tell him that we love and miss him.


I will never forget Sunday July 11, 2010. Its the day you were born. Mom and I were not expecting you to come so early. Early in the morning the day before, I woke up to your big brother Isaac crying because he had peed the bed. As I stumbled into his room to change him and drag him into bed with Mom and me I heard Mom scream in the other room. I put Ike down and ran back into check on Mom. She told me you were on the way.

You came too early, son.

After Daddy ran up and down the stairs about 7 times and misplaced Ike in the process, I finally called Mr. Spence to come and stay with your brothers while they slept. Mr. Spence was sleeping too. (We woke up a lot of people that night).

When we got to the hospital, they got Mom settled into a room, checked on you, and everything looked OK. All day Saturday, we spent praying for you. I was nervous, but really excited to meet you. You know, Mom and Daddy waited a long time for you. 12 years…

…but you still came too early, son.

Saturday night, I slept in the hospital next to you and Mom. Micah and Isaac came to visit you and Mom in the hospital. They thought the machines around Mommy were cool. They asked a lot of questions about you. I didn’t have a lot of answers.

I still don’t have them all.

On Sunday morning, your birthday, Mommy wasn’t feeling well. Where you were in her tummy hurt really bad. In a few short minutes, they wheeled mom away and said they had to get you out or you might get sick. Daddy cried. I was afraid for just a minute. I was afraid you and Mommy might die. So, I prayed. God reminded me not to be afraid. He does that for Daddy a lot.

It was Sunday morning, so our church was meeting. They all prayed for you too.

After they got Mommy ready for surgery, that let me back in the room. I whispered a verse from the Bible in Mommy’s ear. Its Romans 8:28 and it says that God works all things for good for those who love God and are called according to his purpose. Mommy and I love God, so we trust what he says.

Then it happened. I got to see you.

It was only for 5 seconds, but they were 5 beautiful seconds.

Your name means “Alive”. Mommy and I named you that because of how God made us alive when we were dead inside. During the 5 seconds I got to see you, you were kicking around like a crazy man. You certainly were alive! I think you could play soccer with your brothers. They’d like that.

Then things didn’t go so well.

You were sick. Really sick. I would never see you move around like that again. They put you in a little plastic tent to help you breathe.

Mommy and I slept in the hospital that night, but we really didn’t sleep. The doctors kept coming in telling us about how you were doing. We would have moments of hope where we thought you would get better, but then you’d get real sick again.

Daddy kept praying. I asked God to take care of you. I asked God to make you better. I asked God to let you live.

Micah and Isaac came to see you in your tent on Monday. Right after they saw you, the doctor told me you were about to die.

I was sad.

Your brother Micah was sad too. When I told him you were going to die, he looked at me with big tears in his eyes and said, “But Dad, I’ll never get to feed him.” He misses you, little buddy.

Mommy, Daddy, Micah, Isaac, Granny-Jeal, Grandpa, Granddaddy, and Grammy were all there to see you and say good-bye. We all gathered around you in a little room while Mommy and Daddy took turns holding you. You were light as a feather. Everybody looked at you and said, “I love you.”

Mommy cried. Daddy cried.

Everybody cried.

Then, while you were in Daddy’s arms, you fell asleep and died.

You left too early, son.

I know you woke up in Daddy’s arms. Not mine, but God’s.

It seems a little silly to tell you what you have missed here. You’ve been with Jesus. You really haven’t missed anything. But I’ll tell you anyway.

Isaac always prays for you. He asks Jesus to come back quick so he and Micah can feed you. He always asks Jesus to take good care of you.

Micah painted a family picture while he was in first grade. He put you in it, next to Jesus.

Daddy thinks about you often, but especially when I run. I hear Owl City sing “Vanilla Twilight” and cry every time he says, “the spaces between my fingers are right where yours fit perfectly”.

Mommy cries for you, too. Some nights she just says, “I miss my baby.” That’s when I hug her and cry more.

When we visit your grave, we always take Stewart’s Orange Cream Sodas. Its Daddy’s favorite drink. I think you would have liked it, too. Micah, Ike, and I share a toast. We clink our bottles and say, “To our baby brother!” Then Micah and Ike laugh.

We put 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 on your tombstone. It reminds us that we’ll see you again…when Heaven comes down.

There is so much more to tell you, but I know I have eternity to have Daddy-Son talks with you. Just ask Micah and Ike, I have some really good ones.

Today, Mom will make a cake for you. We’ll have an Orange Cream toast in your honor. And Ike will pray for Jesus to come back quickly.

I’m not sure why God had you come so early, then die so soon. But I do know that God doesn’t do things early or late, just right on time.

I guess I could be mad at God, but his son died too early too. That’s what I always remember and it helps me wait for the day I see you again.

Good news…God’s son didn’t stay dead, so neither will you.

Happy Birthday Baby Boy! We love you!

See you soon.


Daddy, Mommy, Micah, and Isaac

Monday, June 6, 2011

The Last Month

This is definitely a catch-up post and because of shear time it will mostly be
pictures and less words.

May is ALWAYS a crazy busy month for our family, with Micah's birthday, Mother's day, school ending, graduation for Trevor, my birthday, 12yr anniversary and Trevor's birthday...yes
that's a lot.
We have also had the boys baseball season going on in the midst of the chaos. Its been a great year of ball, they have had a lot of fun, learned a lot and made some great friends.

The boys surprised Trevor with breakfast and a new "grown-up" watch for graduation.
They always get so excited to give us gift and surprise us.

Trevor before he heads out the door. We are SO SO proud of him.

Micah wanted to have a sleepover for his birthday this year. This will be the first of many. He invited 4 friends from school. They ate pizza and cupcakes {of course Gluten free & Dairy free}, opened presents, had a water balloon fight, watched a movie and stayed up really late.

The boys went camping with the kids and coaches from their baseball team. What a fun evening. They left before nightfall, because it was a Saturday night, which means Trev has responsibilities early the next morning for church AND it was Mother's Day.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Remembering the Last 5 Years

So I graduated seminary a couple of weeks ago. Apparently, I now have certification to prove that I have mastered divinity.

Over the last 5 years, I have developed this understanding and paradigm for life that is reflected in the title of this blog- Remember and Wait. It simply points to what theologians call the “already” and “not yet” of the Kingdom of God. In some ways, the kingdom is already among us, in that Christ has already paid the price for my rebellion against God and has already adopted me into his family. I am as loved and accepted by God today because my faith is in the person and work of Jesus as I will be for eternity.


“It is finished.”

At the same time, the world is still broken. People are still dying, sin is still present in our lives, and clearly pain and suffering have not been eliminated.

This is no Eden.

Remember and Wait puts action on the “Already” but “Not Yet” idea. I am to remember what Christ has done and what that means for reality TODAY. At the same time, I recognize that there is something yet to be completed. Pain, death, sin must all be swallowed up. I must wait and long for TOMORROW.

Come quickly, Lord Jesus is a daily prayer.

That is the macro-, meta-narrative application of this theology. I have also found it applies to instances in my own life.

Here’s how. Graduation is a monument to me. When I look at that diploma on my wall, it won’t simply remind me that I have had a particular degree conferred upon me for completing a set of academic requirements. That’s what it will say to someone else.

Graduation and the diploma will represent 5 years of the grace of God being very present in my life. This is the REMEMBER.

REMEMBER- God provided a job when we moved.

REMEMBER- God provided a church that loved us and challenged us in the gospel.

REMEMBER- God brought Isaac home from Ethiopia (adopting on a seminary salary is miracle in and of itself).

REMEMBER- God brought us through a tough first year with Isaac where we questioned our parenting abilities- Crushing our idol of being thought of as great parents.

REMEMBER- God brought us through a very difficult time in our marriage- Crushing our idol of being thought of as a great husband/wife

REMEMBER- God brought us through countless moments when we weren’t sure the money would outlast the month- Crushing our idol of financial security.

REMEMBER- God brought us through a difficult time of questioning my ability to pastor and lead effectively- Crushing my idolatry of ministry.

REMEMBER- God gave us Chai. Though he took him early, he gave our family a heightened eternal perspective that has kept us from clinging too closely to things that will not last.

All along a terribly difficult journey through theological education, God was teaching us more about himself in our sufferings than I ever learned in Systematic Theology. (Though I did learn quite a bit from Dr. Hogg and Dr. Hammett).

Here’s the point. I remember in a God-honoring way when I remember the grace of God in my life. Primarily, that is the cross. Secondarily, that is the way on a day-by-day basis that I see the character of a God who would give his only son so that I can be brought into his family. After all, he who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with Him graciously give us all things? (Romans 8:32)

So, I remember the Son…and I remember the “all things”.

What about the “WAIT”?

Well, I think Romans 8:32 answers that, too. God has done the hard work. Primarily, on the cross. Secondarily, in my life, to prepare me for the future.

His future.

What God starts, He finishes. Jesus is not just the founder of our faith…he is also the perfecter. (Hebrews 12:2).

So as I look to the ultimate future, I wait expectantly for God to heal all things, set right all wrongs, and do away completely with sin, evil, pain, suffering, and death. His son died to make it this way and resurrected to prove it will happen.

Likewise, as I look to my immediate future as a church planter in Murfreesboro, I have a sure hope that God is again up to something restorative, redemptive and…well…BIG.

He has not prepared me, provided for me, and crushed my idols so that I can be more comfortable. He has been conforming me into the image of his Son (though not yet completely) in order to display his glory to those who are far from him. He has worked in me so that he can work in others. So in the vein of a WAITING theology…BRING IT ON!

I wanted to say a public “thank you” to several of the people whom God used as instruments of his grace to my family and me in the last 5 years. Granted, it won’t be everyone, but these are the ones that come to mind currently. If I miss you, I trust that God has not.

Thanks Dad and Mom. Enough cannot be said here. You prayed, you gave, you loved. We would not have made it through seminary without you. My Dad would always ask me on the phone “Do you need anything son?” Beyond the blessing of his response to my answer, he was a continual reminder that my Father in Heaven was asking me the same thing.

Thanks Clyde and Jody (Keva’s parents). Our kids had clothes on their backs because of your generosity toward us. Many times when we thought the month would outlast the money, a check would come in the mail as a “just because we love you”.

Thanks Summit Church. The Summit took a chance on me. Brought me aboard the leadership and entrusted me to lead. I learned an immeasurable amount from my fellow staff members and was loved unconditionally. Additionally, countless people I met only once or twice (or maybe never) were voices of comfort and reminders of God’s faithfulness as we walked through the shadow of death.

Thanks JD Greear. It is hard to say how much I have learned from you. You have helped me better understand and believe the gospel. You have shown me and taught me how to lead humbly and graciously. You have helped develop a heart in me for developing and discipling others to reach the nations with the gospel. I am a better and more Christ-like preacher, pastor, leader, father, and friend because of your short, but impactful investment in my life.

Thanks Spence Shelton and Andrew Hopper. In times when my life/sanity was hanging by a thread and I needed to vent, you guys were there. Not only that, your insight into my life and particular situations were invaluable. With God, I was never alone…but you were a very tangible ambassador for Christ in my life during the hardest times. You also laughed at my jokes…sometimes.

Thanks Chris and Michal Rudolph. It is hard to imagine a family that was more of a blessing in every area of our lives during these last 5 years. In my time as a college pastor, I could always count on your leadership and support in loving and ministering to students. You were generous with your time and money. You were the biggest supporters of the Atwoods and played a key role in us making it through.

Thanks Courtney, Michal, Abby, and Jill. I needed my wife more than ever these last 5 years. She needed friends that would love her, listen to her, and challenge her more than ever. You four were those friends. You provided the kind of female camaraderie that I could not. You all were a gift from God to my wife and to our marriage.

Thanks Jonathan Edwards (Not the Puritan). I have never quite had a relationship like the one we had. Boss, roommate, mentor, friend. In many ways, I am proud of you like a father is proud of a son. My time at the Summit would probably have looked a great deal different if you weren’t there. God used you and our conversations in many ways to prune me and sharpen me over these last 3 years. Looking forward to see what else God does with you.

Thanks College Students and Leaders. There are too many of you to name, but you know who you are. You took a chance by stepping out of the comfortable and following my leadership. You have know idea how much of a blessing you were to my family and me just by doing that. I can only pray that God used the Atwoods to bless and change you the way he used you in our lives.

Thanks to my sons, Micah and Isaac. Ok, you probably won’t read this soon, but maybe one day you’ll dig it up in the archive of this blog. I have learned so much through the 2 of you. As I have discipled, loved, and led you boys, my heart has been softened. Many days when the stress of my life seemed too much to overcome, I came home to you two. It didn’t matter what I done that day or what the world thought about me, I was daddy when I walked in that door. God used and is using your lives to remind me of the glorious reality of having a heavenly father that wants to provide for my every need and shape me into someone beautiful. I pray for you everyday and remain thankful for the gifts you both are to your mother and me.

Thanks to my wife, Keva. This has certainly been a wild ride. There is nothing I can write here that I haven’t already told you in person with tears streaming down my cheeks (as they are as write this). We have been tested, tried, and tempted. In a way, I wish I could say each time we passed with flying colors. We didn’t. In many ways, we failed. But we are known and loved by a redeeming God who takes messes and turns them into masterpieces. For that reason, I wouldn’t change a thing about the last 5 years. I’d be a fool to try and re-do the things based on my pathetic limited knowledge, which God has used for his glory and our good based on his perfect wisdom.

Thank you for every meal you cooked. Our sons future wives have a great deal to live up to.

Thank you for your commitment to love people. I don’t know how many young women you have counseled, how many meals you prepared for people who ate in our home, or how much time you spent giving of your self and time to help other people understand who Jesus is. I do know that even when things were stressful and difficult, you still made time for other people.

Thank you for not quitting. I know that sometimes people assume that Christians just stay together magically. It takes work. God worked on you and you did the hard work loving me.

Thank you for your encouragement. Without you, I probably never would have come to seminary. Without you, I would have given up. Your ability to sense my stress and frustration then remind me of what God has called me to be are a gift.

I am so thankful for what God has done in our marriage over these past 5 years and have never been more proud and down right excited to call you my wife, date you, love you, and partner in ministry with you.

While we are returning to the city we left behind, let it be noted that the Atwoods are different a very good way.

Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!...For from him and through him and to him are ALL THINGS. To him be the glory forever.