Thursday, July 29, 2010

The Ministry of Music and Reality of Pain

I have never really been a “music person”. I listen to it. I like it. But I don’t need it.

The only time I consistently listen to music is when I run. I’ve been out running two or three times since Chai’s death, and I have found a couple of songs that have been a comfort to me and helped remind me of truth.

1) The Garden- by Needtobreathe.

I had just begun listening to this song quite a bit before Keva went into the hospital. The song is about Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane just before the arrest that led to his brutal beating and death on the cross. Here are the lyrics.

Wont you take this cup from me,

Cause fear has stolen all my sleep

If tomorrow means my death

I pray you’ll save their souls with it.

“Let the songs I sing

Bring joy to you

Let the words I say

Profess my love

Let the notes I choose

Be your favorite tune

And, Father, let my heart be after you

“In this hour of doubt I see,

Who I am is not just me

So give me strength to die myself

So love can live to tell the tale

In particular, this song reminds of the gospel pattern. The fact that glory does not come without pain. But it also reminds me that pain still hurts. It’s still scary. It’s still difficult. In the garden, Jesus readily admitted to the Father he would prefer not to go through the pain of the cross. He was, in a very real sense “afraid”. Not afraid that ultimately the cross would not work toward good and salvation, he knew that. He is God. But the pain and the suffering were very real. Jesus did not pretend like the cross was a piece of cake. He didn’t “keep his chin up” or talk about how “it wasn’t that bad”. He wept in the garden. He pleaded for another way. Ultimately, he surrendered to the necessary suffering because he understood the outcome of the cross….resurrection, for him and all those who trust in him.

2) Far Away- Lecrae

I downloaded this song for Micah, looking for something he could listen to on the IPOD he got for his birthday back in May. I was introduced to Lecrae’s music in mid June via a CD that a friend put together for us for a baby shower for Chai. Micah loved the couple of songs he heard, (and I did too) so I went looking for more. I found this song. It was written (or re-released) following the Haiti disaster. You can find the video here

The song expresses so much of what Keva and I are feeling now. It is much like the prophets, particularly Habakkuk. The injustice that surrounds him prompts him to question the work of the LORD. “How long shall I cry for help and you will not hear?”- Hab 1:2. By the end of the book, Habakkuk confesses that he “will take joy in the God of his salvation”- Hab 3:18. What happened between Chapter 1 and 3. The pain didn’t stop. The injustice didn’t stop. He was simply reminded of the record and character of God. Who God is became supreme over his circumstances.

This song by Lecrae has helped me to realize that hurting is not evil. In fact, if it doesn’t hurt, it isn’t suffering. I think sometimes Christians think suffering well means smiling a lot. No, that is called lying. Of course, neither Keva or I are constantly downtrodden, but there still lingers a sadness, sometimes great, sometimes faint…but it is there. It does not overtake us, but the pain is very real. Lecrae expresses that kind of pain very well. Even though I know God is not “Far Away”, I can readily admit that my circumstances seem to indicate that he is. Ultimately, I choose to believe his promise over my circumstances.

The presence and comfort of God through his promise to resurrect and renew does not make pain and suffering not hurt. It gives us the impetus to not be overcome by sadness and despair. In a word…hope.

3) How and Why- Wes Walters

Finally, a friend of ours from our days in Tennessee (now ministering in Buffalo, NY) was inspired to write a song when he heard of Chai’s life and death. We were deeply moved by this and wanted to share it. The lyrics echo the same sentiments as Lecrae and Needtobreathe. Pain doesn’t disappear with hope, in fact it teaches us to hope.

Here are a few of the lyrics:

“It’s why a sunset falls, it’s why a tree is a home

It’s why a sea is alive, it’s just why

It’s why a mom goes to bury a son

And then carries on, then shares a song

It’s you, you, you, it’s you

Knowing the how and why I’m gone

It’s you, you, you, it’s you

Showing me how to come back home

It takes two things to make a cross

It’s not just wood. It’s pain and loss

If it wasn’t for grief, I wouldn’t know love

It’s just how I learn, It’s just how I learn”

I am very thankful for the many ways God has used his church to minister to us during this time of great pain. These songs represent a small but significant part of that comfort. Listen and learn.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

A Resurrection Mindset: What My Kids are Teaching Me

It is an instinct to protect our kids. If you are a parent, you have had those moments where you watch another child mistreating yours on the playground and you want to step in and take charge. You have most likely had at least one “here-comes-a-car-and-my-kid-is-chasing-a-ball-into-the-street” episode where you scream loudly and run to grab the child’s arm. You have probably also had the moments when an all-too-revealing television commercial comes on and you say, “Hey, kids, look over here!” as you try anything to divert their attention from what could pollute their minds.

Those instincts are good. Mostly.

But sometimes our desire to “protect” our children can actually prohibit their growth if we miss teachable moments.

The death of Chai has been one of those moments for my kids. My instinct says, “Let’s not talk about it much. Kids don’t need to think about death, it will just scare them or worry them.” I have fought that instinct and talked a lot about death with my kids over the last week and a half. I think I have learned as much as I have taught.

Of course, when we talk about death, as followers of Christ, we talk about resurrection. For the Christian, talking about death without resurrection is a bit like describing your home to someone and all you mention is how difficult it was to build. “Yeah, but what’s your house like?” they would rightly reply. Death is not the full picture. Resurrection and new life complete it.

This has meant a lot of interesting, humorous, and sometimes Daddy-stumping questions. Here are a few:

Micah- “When Chai died in your arms, how did the doctor get him up to heaven? Did he just walk him over to a chute that sucked him up to Jesus?”

Isaac- “What Chai doin’ with Jesus now?”

Isaac- “Where God’s house?” Me- “God doesn’t really have a house like we do.” Ike- “Where he go night-night then?”

Micah- “Is Chai going to be a baby when Heaven comes down? Will I get to feed him?”

Isaac- “How God make Heaven come down?” Micah- (matter-of-factly) “Ike, he just says ‘Heaven, come down’ and it will come down. He just has to say it.”

Micah- “Dad, if you go to Heaven before I do, will you find Chai so you can show me who he is when I get there?”

Isaac- “When Chai comes out of his grave, I want to sit on top of it.” Me- “Why?” Isaac- I want to ride him up to heaven!”

In all of our conversation about death, my kids have not yet once told me of a fear of death. Why? Because we don’t speak of death as final. We don’t act as if we are afraid of death, because Jesus defeated permanent death on the cross. When we think about the resurrection, that God in Christ takes our spirit to be with him at the moment of death and will then raise our physical bodies and make them perfect upon his return, there is nothing to fear. We begin to take the mindset of the apostle Paul in Philippians 1:21-23 where he says, “To live is Christ, and to die is gain…My desire is to depart and be with Christ,”. We begin to pray as John does in Revelation 22:20. After having the beauty of the new heaven and new earth coming down, John can’t help but long for the return of Christ. This is how my kids are praying now! Come, Lord Jesus. Bring Heaven down. The echo of the Abba Cry from Romans 8 that asks God to restore and renew creation is heard from my children at the kitchen table and by their bedsides in prayer.

My kids have reminded me in this time to look forward to the resurrection. They have reminded me that if what I teach them is true, then why shouldn’t we be at least a little excited for Chai in that he is with Jesus. Why shouldn’t we be praying daily for the return of Christ?

My family now thinks about, talks about, and prays for the return of Christ on a daily basis. Just another way Chai has helped make us more ‘Alive’. Thank God I didn't "protect" them from the truth.


Monday, July 19, 2010

How God Prepared Me for the Hardest Day of My Life

Many have commented to me during this time after my youngest son’s death about the attitude with which my wife and I have endured this suffering. I think some may mistakenly understand us as super-spiritual or possessing some gift beyond what any other Christ-follower has been given. Let me dispel this myth quickly.

God has a pattern of preparing his children for the suffering and trials that are sure to come. I see this mainly in two Biblical characters. Abraham and Paul. Abraham (Gen 12-22) was anything but a “Super-Christian” or “God-fearer”. He lied, pimped out his wife, slept with her secretary, and blatantly did not trust God, even laughing sometimes at His promises. But each time he sinned, God did not reject him, send him away, or tell him that he had changed his mind about his promise. See, every time Abraham chose his own way over God’s or tried to provide for himself a way of escape from his circumstances, God reminded him of his promise to Abraham that was given not based on anything Abe did, but on God’s plan to rescue the world. This happens over and over for 9 chapters. Sin, restate the promise. Sin, restate the promise. Sin, restate the promise. So if you only read Chapter 22 where Abraham is called to sacrifice his only son Isaac, you might think that he is a super-spiritual God-fearer. Not so. Abraham believes that God will raise Isaac from the dead (Hebrews 11:17-19) because God has chosen to make such an indelible mark on Abraham’s life with regard to promise keeping that God’s promise to make a great nation from Isaac has become more real than even the circumstance in which he finds himself. He truly walks by faith in the sure promise of God rather than by sight of the terrifying circumstance of losing his child.

Paul also endures intense suffering for the sake of the spread of the gospel, but always seems to have God’s glory in perspective. He sings songs in prison, doesn’t fear death, and vigorously writes most of the New Testament while imprisoned. His focus is constantly on the advancement of God’s name in his people for his kingdom. How? Well, before he was Paul, he was Saul. A terrible persecutor and murder who hunted and killed Christians. When he met Jesus on the road to Damascus, and subsequently Ananias who spoke for God, Jesus told him that he was a “chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles…for I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” See, Saul was familiar with the way suffering spread the message of Christ. After all, he was the one who had been trying to stop it. But it seemed the more Christians he killed, the worse the pain he inflicted, the faster and more deep the gospel spread. As a persecutor, Saul was frustrated with the way suffering advanced the kingdom of God. As a new believer in Christ, Paul would now be shown the mysteries of suffering for the name of Christ before he was to endure them.

How does God prepare his saints to suffer for his name? I don’t have the time now to write the many ways I have come to embrace this truth. However, there is one thing in particular that God has done recently with me to prepare me. On June 20th, Father’s Day, I was privileged to preach at my church on the glories and suffering involved in adoption. I’d encourage you to listen to/watch it now (scroll down to June 20th) and hear how God was preparing me for this tragedy of losing my son. I poured over Romans 8 for 2 weeks. As I prepared, God clearly showed me in Scripture what the Abba Cry was. A cry that does not curse God during moments of realizing the curse of sin, but calls confidently to our Loving Heavenly Papa to come back and make things right again. It is a longing for the resurrection of the saints as a precursor to the renewal of all creation.

Because of the way God drew me into his Word and understanding of this truth, when Chai died I set my thoughts on the renewal of creation and put my trust in his promise to resurrect, renew, and as my sons’ “Jesus Storybook Bible” puts it, “make the sad things untrue.”

Like Abraham, God reminded me of his promise when I needed it most. Like Paul, through His promise I understood the response and need for suffering. But he didn’t put me in the situation until I was ready, because he promises He will never allow me to be tempted beyond what I can bear (1 Cor 10:12-13). So the Atwoods are not any sort of “Super Christians”. We are simply hurting people who Believe and Remember the promise of God and Wait for Him to make it happen.

Come quickly, Lord Jesus.

Trevor Atwood, Chai's Daddy

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Chai Samuel Atwood...1 Day for the Fame of Jesus and the Glory of God

How many tears can I cry until I have none left? I may find the answer to that mystery soon.

My youngest son lived just over 1 Day. How do I make that make any sense- to me, to my wife, to my Micah and my Isaac? There is only one hope of even beginning to understand this. It is the same hope that offers us any understanding for all of our lives, no matter the length. It is the sure hope of the glory of God.

Despite our world's narcissistic understanding of existence, this world, our lives, were not created for us. We were made to image God. To show him off. To display his character. To declare truth in the midst of falsehood, light in the darkness. In short, the purpose for life is to bring fame and glory to God.

Many miss this truth. Many live long lives, amass great wealth, become loved and adored by millions, and even do very good things for the world...but they miss the truth. Jesus death on the cross and resurrection to life is not a nice story. Neither is it your "ticket to heaven". It is the only way we can do what we were created to do. It is the only way that God made for us to overcome our own treason against a Father that perfectly loves us first. Our self-worship means that we are not worshipping him. Jesus death and resurrection, the gospel, is the only way to true life, one that worships and glorifies God.

Chai Samuel Atwood did not understand this truth. He could not. But God has made a way for children, those who cannot yet understand their own sinful natures and need for redemption, to be brought into his loving fellowship and to be made new. I thank God that Chai is with Jesus awaiting the resurrection of his body.

Chai lived only a day, but through his life and death, many will be reminded of the gospel and, we pray, trust the Jesus who has given him new life. In 24 hours God did more with a helpless, weak, baby than many who do not trust him, live for him, do in an entire lifetime. This is just like God (2 Corinthians 1:26-31). Why do we waste our lives by keeping the gospel silent? Why do we live as if these truths are not real and do not need to be proclaimed? It is because, many times, we think it will show us weak. It will expose us as needy. It will cause others to look at us strangely, to mock us. But God uses the weak to shame the strong so that no one will boast.

So this is where Chai has challenged me. If there is a hope like that of the gospel; a great hope that Romans 8 speaks of, that 1 Corinthians 15 speaks of, a resurrection, a renewal of creation, then I must make it known. I must live as if it is true.

I cannot waste the life and death of Jesus. It is clear that he accomplished salvation on the cross and through his resurrection. I cannot waste the life of my son, Chai. It is clear that his 24 hours of life and all-to-early death have brought the light of the gospel to many. But, I can waste my own life. I can sit on this truth and not live it and speak it daily. I can dope myself with the morphine of my own flesh and this world that comes in the form of life's comforts and ease. Or I can cry out with creation, "Abba, Father! Fix this broken world! Renew this sinful people!" All along, loving and living like there is a resurrection and that the God who created everything through and for his son (Colossians 1:15-20; Romans 11:36) loves me with an everlasting love.

The pain for me makes the message more urgent. Though it will remain, it will lessen in weeks, months, and years to come. For most of you who read this, you will forget the pain even more quickly. Do not pass this opportunity the Lord has afforded to commit yourself to him. It won't happen by promising him to do more or be a better person (Romans 4:5). The change you need, the change you long for, will only come by trusting him with every part of your life.

The gospel is not obey then be loved by God. It is that God has loved you perfectly in Christ, so you want to obey him. Trust him in your marriage. Trust him at your job. Trust him with kids and family. To believe the gospel is to give God everything in response to his great love for you (Romans 12:1-2). This is the way to life (John 1:4).

Chai's name means "Alive". How paradoxical that a child whose name means "alive" died in order for God to bring the message of life in Christ to many.

Does the life you have been graciously given scream the truth of the gospel? Chai's life and death has now for 24 hours and will continue to eternity.

I love you, son. Rest well in Christ.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

The Surprise Came This Morning...Chai is Here!!!

Keva woke up this morning feeling fine. She had breakfast and was settling in for another long day of sitting in bed. She began to experience extreme discomfort in her stomach when touched and her fever began to rise...a sure sign of infection. The doctor checked her out and said she wanted to begin to induce labor. We were given a time table of 6 hours and told that we would try to deliver vaginally first. If Chai couldn't take the contractions because of his pre-maturity, we would change to a C-section.

Then it all began to happen fast. Keva's pain and fever escalated quickly. The 6 hours turned to immediate birth by C section. They wheeled Keva away from me at about 10:30 and told me I could come down in about 20 minutes after they had her prepped. The risk of infection already had my mind thinking about what it might be like to lose my wife and youngest son. There I was, helpless in a cold hospital room, dressed in scrubs. I picked up my Bible and read Romans 8 over and over, specifically v. 28-39. I was reminded of the supremacy of Christ and his love. I remembered the ultimate overcoming love of a Father. I remembered by adoption as a son. I remembered the suffering that is in the world through sin and the character that suffering produces. I remembered the cross and the glory that is given to those who trust and love God in Christ. I could breathe again. I prayed these verses for Keva, Chai, and myself and was prepared to walk humbly with God through this whole thing.

The nurse came into the room and told me it was time. I wiped the tears away quickly. We passed the room with the doctors and nurses that were waiting for Chai. There were about 6-8 of them on the ready for the delivery. It was comforting to see them...all focused on the task at hand, the survival of my son. We walked next door to the OR where Keva was and I sat at her head while the doctors went to work. As I quoted Romans 8:28 to her, the Anesthesiologist who was right next to me overheard and said, "Yes, that's right. All things work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose." A reassuring word indeed from a brother in Christ. Just as they pulled Chai out, I was able to stand and look at him for about 5 seconds. He looked bigger than I expected and was wriggling around like crazy. He looked active.....ALIVE! As big tears welled up in my eyes, I described to Keva what I saw. They quickly rushed Chai next door to the awaiting doctors to get feeding and breathing tubes and Keva and I rejoiced.

I am still waiting to see Chai as they finish his prep and settling in the incubator in ICU.

Thank you all for your encouraging notes, texts, tweets, and FB messages. It is so comforting to know you are praying. Chai was born just as our church family was gathered for worship. All of the Summit Church was able to pray together for him and Keva. Thank you, Lord for working through the prayers of your people!

Please continue to pray for Chai's health and Keva's recovery during these crucial first hours and days. I will update after I see Chai this afternoon.


No Surprises Last Night

Chai stayed put. Keva slept as well as anyone who has to get a shot in the bottom at 4 am.

She was up for an hour anticipating the steroid shot, then stayed up praying until she fell asleep. (Yes, she prayed both ask of the Lord and to fall asleep.) Again, the steroid shot was to boost Chai's lung development in case he comes. Keva didn't feel any contractions last night. They have seemed to subside for the time being, where they were at times as close as 30 min apart yesterday.

After the shot, we both slept until about 7:30 this AM. Thanks for your prayers for rest. God is mercifully answering our prayers with a yes so far. Please keep praying for Keva, Chai, Micah, Isaac and me.

I'll update again if any changes happen today. If not, I'll update at the end of the day.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

So Far, So Good

It is 9:10 EDT. Keva is hitting the sack. Well, she is in the sack all day, guess she is just closing her eyes to sleep.

It has been a long tiresome day, but Chai is still holding tight, healthy as can be in the womb.

I am spending the night tonight with Keva to help see her through these initial 2 days. Please pray for good rest for both of us and for the Lord to keep Chai right where he is. Pray for supernatural growth and maturing for Chai during this time. Pray for Micah and Isaac to rest well and understand as much as they can what is going on. Most of all, pray for God to put his lovingkindness on display through the Atwoods and through his church.

Thank you to all the family and friends who are praying and helping out. All the messages, texts, and tweets are a great encouragement. I'll update in the morning. Good night.


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Keva & Chai

Well, its been a while. I'll post updates here on Keva and Chai's status.

First, to all who are praying, thank you.

Here is how we got to where we are right now. Keva has been high risk throughout this pregnancy for a pre-term delivery. This is no surprise, but we hoped she would make it past 30 weeks. At the moment, she is 26 weeks and 5 days.

This morning at 2:45 I was awakened from a dead sleep to Isaac calling for help. He wet the bed. As I was changing him, Keva called out from the our bedroom that she was "leaking". I left Isaac standing there no pants on (which looking at the last post from 1.5 years ago, you might think he rarely wears clothing). When we turned the light on, we could see it was Keva's water that had broken. At this point I am thinking, "Chai is about to pop out!" I shifted into Super Dad mode, which means running from room to room and up and down stairs not exactly sure what to do. We called Spence and Courtney Shelton (fellow pastor @SummitRDU) and Spence, also a Super Dad, came over to stay with the boys. I don't remember much of this craziness except at one point somehow I had taken Ike downstairs and he was standing there with no pants and his underwear in his hand as I told Keva to wrap up in a towel and get in the car. Micah slept through the whole thing, lights on and all.

We arrived at the ER and were quickly taken to Labor and Delivery. Keva was given a steroid to help Chai's lungs to mature quickly, bracing him for the real world. (Immediately, Keva's batting average went up 20 points and she hit 35 homers before the all-star break.) She also received an IV with Magnesium to stop labor and prevent cerebral palsy (sp?) in Chai. We had a great team of doctors and nurses here at Duke Hospital that were wonderful through the whole thing.

The Plan: Ideally, the baby stays in another 7 weeks to get us to 34 weeks, then they would induce labor. That is an outside shot, though. About a 50-50 shot at this kid coming in the next 30 hours. But Keva is stable and resting well now.

Micah and Isaac are taken care of through the weekend until my parents get here on Sunday evening.

We may need some meals, but update on how you can help next post.

Chai is Hebrew (transliterated) for "Alive". We named him this not because of physical life, but because of the life that Keva and I have experienced in our relationship with God in Christ (John 1:4). We are praying that God gives him physical life and are trusting the one who gave his Son so that we might know true life.

More to come...