Saturday, April 30, 2005

Sat, Apr 30

Sat., Apr. 30

Our Saturday began with Ira wide-eyed and stable. Our Saturday ended with Ira being sedated and unstable. The ventilator was being fully used (100%) by the end of Saturday evening and nitric oxide was added to the mix in order to help him breath easier. Even still they were having a hard time stabilizing him. You can see in the picture that they tied Ira's left arm down in order to stop him from knocking tubes around and by the end of Saturday they had a weight-vest on his right arm. I'm anxious for Monday to hear from his doctors about what all this means. It could be that this is the norm but Laura and I are pretty nervous.

Friday, April 29, 2005

I'm home from a long day at the hospital. Ira did well for most of the day. This evening was hard. His stats kept falling and the nurses and docs were confused. They x-rayed to see if fluid had accumulated in his chest and played around with the ventilator. It was a hard three hours this evening as they worked and worked to stabilize Ira. There was fluid in his chest but not enough to warrant any action. They finally turned the pressure up on the ventilator and that helped stabilize Ira. As always it was hard to leave tonight. It was a reality check that we are not "out of the woods" just yet.
It's Friday morning and this is the latest Laura and I have stayed at home. It's hard and we feel guilty for not being at Ira's bedside 24/7 but we've called Ira's nurse several times and he had a good night. We are so very thankful.

We are back in that "no touch" zone with Ira. As they started weaning Ira from the ECMO machine yesterday we were instructed not to touch Ira. The same rule was in effect last night as he was recovering from the surgery. I'm sure the same will apply today and the subsequent days as they try to get him off the ventilator. Ugh.

We've made some friends in the NICU. Baby Ava shares a "pod" with Ira and she is also a CDH baby. She's doing quite well. She never had to be on ECMO or the oscillator for that matter. We've shared the ups and downs of our journey with Ava's parents. We've said on more than one occasion how great it will be if Ira and Ava can grow up to be friends. We've met Patrice whose Baby Lily was born on Easter morning. She was a CDH baby too and is doing well. Baby Lily is learning to eat these days and Patrice is finally, after a month, able to hold Lily. There are others but my friend Chris is right about a needed ministry in the NICU of hospitals. What if you bought two or three footlong sandwiches at Subway with chips and drinks and brought them to the NICU waiting room during lunchtime and said, "these are for anyone who needs a bite and break"? Would you mind if they didn't come to your church the following Sunday or weren't really interested in a Bible study? What if the parents, grandparents, etc were too tired to engage you in meaningful conversation and maybe even forgot to say "thanks"? Would you still be interested?

Thursday, April 28, 2005

It is Thursday night and Laura and I are home in Brooklyn. We left Ira looking like he had just stepped out of the ring of a heavyweight fight. The entire left side of his body is swollen from the ECMO machine. The ECMO specialist assures us that he will pee all of this fluid out. In the meantime Ira looks whipped. I guess that is what three surgeries in seven days will do to you. (The insertion of and removal of the ECMO machine are considered surgeries being that they have to open up us his neck in both instances.)

So Ira has cleared several hurdles. He was born. They finally stabilized him with the help of the ECMO machine . They were able to get him to a certain "flow" on ECMO to do the CDH repair. He made it through the 24 hours after the surgery. They were successful in weaning him from ECMO. He was taken off the ECMO machine.

The next hurdles are these: in the next 3-7 days they want to see him come off the ventilator but it could be longer. They have to keep an eye on his pulmonary hypertension as this is life threatening. (Most CDH babies deal with this issue.) And eventually we will have to teach Ira how to eat. He's been sustained through IVs in his arm and belly.

We are incredibly exhausted but so very thankful to have made it this far. Ira is one week old today. Happy birthday Ira.
We are so very thrilled to deliver the news that Ira is completely off of ECMO and is stable on the ventilator--words fail us right now. Praise God. Joe will post later.

Allison and Jason
We have good news! Ira is doing extremely well, and for the first time his doctor is being positive and optimistic about his recovery.

After the surgery all of his numbers looked great, except he was still needing to rely on the ECMO more than they wanted. Since everything else was perfect they decided to give the little guy 24 hours to rest before they started aggressively backing him off the ECMO. Well it appears this is exactly what he he needed. Earlier today they had his ECMO level down to about 160 (that's down from a high of 320 yesterday morning). Currently his level is closer to 200 but he is definitely on the road to being removed from this machine!

Katie overheard Ira's surgeon giving a tour of the NICU to another doctor. The doctors were standing near Ira having a discussion about his case. Of course Katie positioned herself to where she could overhear their conversation. Dr. Stolar said that this particular baby (Ira) was doing really well and he was very hopeful about his progress. He then turned to Katie, winked and told her that she could go and tell the family that. This is the most positive thing to come out of Dr. Stolar's mouth since Ira has been born.

As you can imagine Joe, Laura, and the rest of the family are feeling good right now. There is still a long way to go, but Ira has battled through each one of the challenges that he has faced in his young life. He appears to be living up to his name already. Again, thank you for your prayers, please continue to pray that God's glory will be shown in the healing of this wonderful child.

Point of clarification. Ira is on both the ECMO and a Ventillator simultaneosly. When the ECMO is turned down, the ventillator is turned up, and vice versa. The goal is to get him off the ECMO and onto the ventillator as soon as they can. On the ventilator it will be his tiny lungs that will be oxygenating his blood rather than the machine. They will not be putting him on the Oscillator.


Tuesday, April 26, 2005

It's Tuesday night and Allison was kind enough to bring the computer to the hospital again. Laura and I just left Ira and he seems to be doing good. They won't start the weaning until tomorrow. So hopefully there won't be much action tonight. Laura and I will stay in the NICU suite tonight and will probably check on Ira frequently throughout the night.

At some point I'll post about the amazing support we are getting from the Manhattan Church of Christ and the Brooklyn church plant, Christ's Church for Brooklyn. Let me just say this for now: my mom, dad and sister are staying in a three-bedroom apartment not even ten blocks from the hospital. The three girls who live there have made that space available especially for us. And we have been served lunch and dinner every day since coming. That's an amazing feat in the city as these people are riding on subways to deliver the food.

It's this physical manifestation of God's Spirit in these people that reminds us that God is at work.
Ira has made it through surgery! Joe called and gave me the following information. Their doctor said that the entire procedure was "routine" and that they were not surprised by what they found inside Ira's little body. That is a good thing. The surgery involved moving his organs back into his abdomen. Typically, with CDH kids there is a hole in the diaphragm that is sewn together. However, in Ira there is almost a complete absence of a diaphragm so they made a diaphragm for him out of Gortex and used that to seperate his abdomen from his chest cavity. The space in his abdomen was so small that they had to leave a portion of his abdomen open. The open incision is covered with a Gortex patch and when the skin has grown enough to close the wound they will remove the patch.

These next twenty four hours are the most critical Ira has faced in his young life. They absolutely have to get him off the ECMO machine and onto an Oscillator within this twenty-four hour period. The doctor is optimistic about his chances, but he can't do anything else in helping Ira get better unless he comes off that machine.

Please pray in earnest for Ira to come off the ECMO and to show signs of strength over the next 24 hours.

We just recieved a call from Joe (9:00 am est) and Ira's surgery will begin in 20 minutes. Dr. Stolar, their surgeon, examined him this morning and his levels are right where they need to be, so they decided to go ahead and operate. I am assuming that Joe will have me post an updated later this afternoon.


Monday, April 25, 2005

I wrote this on Sunday night, the 24th:

Laura and I were sitting with Ira when we noticed a couple taking the NICU tour. The nurse doing the tour stopped the couple and started pointing in Ira's direction with specific attention paid to the ECMO machine. Later that day we listened to a grandfather talk of his grandbaby's situation. They were going on three months in the NICU.

Laura and I can't imagine going back in time to those days of NICU tours and waiting for Ira's birth. And we can't imagine going forward in time to days of waiting that soon turn into months. All we know is right now and it's hard.

Ira had a hard night not responding well to the weaning of the ECMO machine. It was hard to be with him this Sunday morning as he squirmed and shivered. Laura and I didn't stay long. We returned to our room and cried ourselves to sleep. We don't want him to hurt.

It's Monday night now and Laura and I have returned to sleep in Brooklyn for the first time since Ira's birth. Laura was officially discharged on Saturday but we managed to talk the NICU charge nurse into staying in the NICU suite for a couple of nights. (The NICU suite is a very spacious and comfortable room for parents who are transitioning babies from the NICU to home.) It was hard to leave tonight but it was made a bit easier due to Ira having a good day today.

He responded well to the weaning today. The surgeons were pleased and will do the surgery tomorrow at 1:20 PM. We'll spend the night in the NICU suite again tomorrow (Tuesday) night. They say that these babies take two giant steps backward after the surgery and that the 24 hours after are very critical. I have a nervous feeling in the pit of my stomach.

Oh by the way, Ira's offical birth weight was 7 pounds and 8 ounces and his official birth height was 21 inches. It's funny how those standard stats didn't mean much to us at the birth. But looking back it was good that he was a healthy size. Thank goodness Laura was able to make it to her induction date. Every day in the womb mattered.

I asked that you pray for Sophia. She's doing fine. She did great for the first couple of days and then hit a wall on Sunday, kinda like the rest of us on Sunday. She cried hard when she left us on Sunday night. It's good to be home with her for a couple of hours right now. She loves seeing Baby Ira and the nurses and doctors love it when she comes in to see Ira. I'm thankful that we have Sophia in all of this as she brightens up our day.

Baby Ira

Baby Ira

It's Monday mid-morning and Laura and I are back in Brooklyn for a couple of hours. We found out this morning that Ira won't have surgery until Tuesday. He is having a hard time being weaned off the ECMO machine. This is not good. Our surgeon, Dr. Stolar, wasn't as positive sounding today as he has been.

The above picture was taken this morning. The left side of Ira's head is swollen. The unofficial term for it is "ECMO head". Because he lays on that side it collects fluid and becomes puffy. It's very typical.

Sunday was a hard day for us. We asked that there be an announcement made at church that no visitors come and the church family graciously complied with our request. We were greatly appreciative of all the visitors we received previous to Sunday but we needed a sabbath.

It's hard for Laura and I to see Ira in his condition. He shivers and shakes and he still contorts his face like he is in pain. Laura and I have often cried ourselves to sleep the last couple of days. And we wonder if we are asking too much of him.

We're having a hard time understanding God's role in all of this. The NICU is completely full at the moment with at least three other CDH babies. It's hard to watch parents come in and out of the NICU looking worn and weary. What does it mean for these innocent babies to struggle in this way? And what does it mean for some to make it and for some to not?

I'm not looking for your answers. We debated these questions endlessly in seminary but no answers were sufficient and as I peer into Ira's bed the answers are still lacking.

Sunday, April 24, 2005

I recieved a call from Joe this morning with an update on Ira's condition. Things did not go well last night. The doctors were trying to lower Ira's dependance on the ECMO machine, but he didn't respond well. They had to turn the machine back up and Ira is currently on the ECMO at full-strength. The doctors also had to increase the level of sedation because Ira was becoming very active. Apparently he was moving his arms, kicking his legs, and turning his head a lot.

The doctors and nurses told Joe and Laura that, while this isn't what they wanted, there is still hope. They were encouraged by his increase in activity and prefer that to a baby who would just be lying there without moving. That is the positive spin on the situation. Things are still very serious and criticle and I sense it's getting a lot harder for Joe and Laura to stay "upbeat" about the situation.

For those of you in New York Joe and Laura are not taking visitors at the hospital today. If you are scheduled to bring food please plan on bringing it still. They are very appreciative of everyone's prayers, visits, and service to them. Please continue to lift them up.


Saturday, April 23, 2005

It's early Saturday morning and I've popped into Brooklyn to take care of a couple of things. No change in status for Ira. He is in stable condition and I don't expect that to change this weekend. I think Monday will be a big day as the docs will be back from the weekend. We'll keep you posted.

Nighttime is the best time to be in the NICU with Ira. There isn't much happening at that time of the day; no major decisions to be made. I was able to spend about an hour of uninterrupted time with him. I just sat by his bed. He looked so at peace but I know full well that it was the sedation that put him at ease. Laura went to see Ira early, early this morning so that she could spend some alone time with him. We treasure these moments.

Ira, when not sedated, does squirm and has opened his eyes. He can squeeze my finger if I put it in his hand. Because he is ventilated through the nose and there is a monitor attached to his head (to make sure there are no blood-clots in the brain) you can't see his face too well. However, there are times when his little face contorts like a newborn who is fussy and needs feeding or comforting. However, Ira doesn't make any sounds; there are no cries. It's a hard face to look at as our instinct is to grab him and hold him tight.

I can't tell you how much of a blessing it is to now be able to touch him, kiss him and speak to him. We sing this rendition of Jesus Loves Me to Ira:

Jesus loves you this we know
For the Bible tells us so
Little ones to him belong
You are weak but he is strong
Yes, Jesus loves you
Yes, Jesus loves you
Yes, Jesus loves you
The Bible tells us so

Thanks for all your comments. We feel covered in your warm embrace.

Friday, April 22, 2005

Joe here. Jason brought his computer to the hospital and I thought I would type a few quick words. Ira is stable on the ECMO machine. After 24 hours on the ECMO machine they will attempt to wean him from the machine to allow his organs to start doing the work. Then they will see if they can set a date for surgery to put all the organs in the right place. This will take days.

Laura and I were able to touch him for the first time; twenty hours after he was born. It was what we needed and Ira seemed to respond to our voice and touch even though he is somewhat sedated. We were able to take Sophia in and she said all the right things: "baby brudder" and "i like it" and "love you". We asked her to pray her prayer, God, hep Ira, Amen, and she did.

Laura and I are doing...okay. We tend to "lose it" after we've spent time with Ira. Seeing him all hooked up and plugged in is an overwhelming reality that is hard to take.

I'm not sure what else to say. I wish I could say something smart or witty or...but I've got nothing. Ira's surgeon asked if I was preaching this Sunday. I said "no" and he said maybe I should in order to help process things. I responded by saying, "I don't have much to say these days." And so it is.

Again, thanks for all the prayers. We covet them.

Jason here. I am going up to see Joe and Laura at around 5pm est. I am going to print off all the comments so if you would like to make one for them to read now, please do so. Thanks.
Thank you for your patience. The waiting is hard on everyone, but we do have some news this morning. There are three "levels" of machines that can help a person breathe. Ira didn't do well on the first level, the ventilator, so they moved him to what's called an Oscillator. His numbers improved and he started to pink up on the top half of his body.

Overnight his numbers were not improving like they needed to be, and this morning they decided to move him to an echmo machine. The echmo machine puts oxygen directly into the blood stream and is the final option with regard to oxygenating Ira's body. This process of putting him on the machine requires surgery, so the fact that the doctors are even trying it indicates that there is some hope. The doctor told Joe and Laura that without the echmo Ira would not survive, with it, there is a chance. They told them that they are giving Ira the "benefit of the doubt." Since the echmo requires surgery, and this part is somewhat unclear, they are going to move his stomach and intestines back to the places where they should be. This is the procedure that they were waiting to see if he was viable for from the begining.

Joe sounded good this morning when I talked to him on the phone, and they are surrounded by family, friends, and world class doctors and nurses. Continue to pray as you have that God will bring a miracle. I am taking my laptop to the hospital later this afternoon, and if there is time, Joe may post something but it won't be until late this afternoon or in the evening.


Thursday, April 21, 2005

April 21. Ira Lester Hays was born at 3:20 p.m. He is in transition right now and Joe and Laura will get to see him for the first time in an hour. Laura is doing well and they are holding as well as can be expected. Please pray that Ira can be stabalized while in transition so that they can move to the next phase of tests.
Allison (my wife) is on her way home from visiting the Hays at the hospital this morning. So far the report is very good. Laura was given patosin at around 4 a.m. and then given a low dose epaderal at around 7:00 am. At 10:00am the doctors broke her water and Laura almost immediately started feeling better. Since her fluid levels have been almost twice the normal amount it has been very uncomfortable for her and she has had a hard time breathing. With all that fluid gone she is feeling much, much better. Joe just had lunch with the family and said that Laura is starting to feel the contractions a little bit more, which is a good sign.

Allison got to go in to see Joe and Laura in their room, and she said that Laura is just amazing. For those of you who know her personally this won't come as any surprise. She is calm, in good spirits, and steady. Their room is very nice and has a leather sofa that Joe can sleep on and windows overlooking the Hudson river. They are in a private room and will remain there until Ira is born.

Right now the specific prayers that are needed are for labor to progress, and that Ira will make it into the NICU in stable condition.

I will post an update as soon as anything changes. Thank you for your prayers.


Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Many of you will remember the post (see the March 23 entry) about the friend who came from San Antonio. He ate with us, prayed with us and annointed our heads with oil. It was a special moment for us. He left challenging us to continue the practice weekly until Ira's birth. We have and this is what we pray:

Healing power of Jesus Christ, fall afresh on Ira,
Healing power of Jesus Christ, fall afresh on Ira,
Touch him, Stir him, Unfold him, Love him,
Healing power of Jesus Christ, fall afresh on Ira.
(prayer from Howard Booth)

As I pray this I make the sign of the cross over and over again with the oil on Laura's stomach. And every Monday night as Laura and I partake in this ritual we are overcome with a few moments of peace and comfort.

We will do it one last time tonight as the two of us are alone in the hospital room.
'Twas the night before the induction, when all through the house
not a creature was stirring...


I just love the City of New York. It makes perfect sense for them to be jackhammering at 4:30 a.m., right? To top it off, something nasty settled in Sophia's chest and she coughed much of the night and our car is in the shop. Don't get me wrong, I'm not fishing for sympathy but the old cynical addage, when it rains, it pours, is very true for us this week.

But not that it's been all bad. Seeing family has been good. Discussing politics with dad is always fun. We watched Sideways last night which was an incredible movie about two guys who can't seem to get it right. (There's much more to it than that but I'll leave a more thorough evaluation to the critics.) Laura and I have sneaked in some naps over the last couple of days. And we've received encouraging phone calls, e-mails, cards and comments from people we know and don't know. And for all this, we are grateful.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

waiting...tick, tock, tick, tock...

Do you remember as a kid those days before Christmas morning? Or the days before you had to make a Student Council speech in front of the school? (See Pedro) Do you remember how long those days were? That they seemed like they dragged on forever and forever? That's what these days are like for us. Wednesday night can't get here quick enough. We're ready...and we're not.

When Laura and I try to imagine what the next few days will look like, we can't get very far because we have no idea. Because of that there isn't much we can do to prepare. And this kills me. I'm usually in control and usually have things planned in advance. If there is something I'm learning in all of this it's the need to surrender. I'm SO not in control and have, with clenched teeth, given this over to God. (I don't really have any other options so don't think me super-religious guy.)

Laura and I are pretty nervous for Sophia. We're nervous about her ability to cope with all this. Our minister of children and families, Amy, will be keeping Sophia on Wednesday and Thursday. So we feel confident in the people taking care of her, more than confident. But as you can see from the picture below, Sophia kinda likes her mom and it will be hard for her to realize that Laura is unable to play for a while. Please pray for Sophia.

So here is how it will go down over the next couple of days: Laura and I will check-in at the hospital on Wednesday night at around 8 or 9 PM. At 7 a.m. on Thursday they will start the induction process with patosin. Hopefully, Ira will be born later on Thursday afternoon. They will immediately ventilate him in order to stabilize him. They will waste no time trying to decide if Ira is a viable candidate for surgery. We should know within the first 48 hours if the prognosis is good or not for surgery.

Many of you have inquired about how we will attempt to inform people of how things are going with Laura, Ira and everything else. I've given blogging privileges to our youth minister, Jason, who will keep this blog up-to-date with news from the hospital. Check back here for details over the next couple of days.

We have greatly appreciated your support. Without you I'm pretty sure Laura and I would have lost all hope long ago. But because of you we are hanging a thread, but hanging on nonetheless.

Monday, April 18, 2005

Here he is

Here he is

This morning we had an appointment with MG. She is a photographer who is willing to take pictures of Ira in the hospital no matter the outcome. We also wanted to take pre-birth pictures so we went out to Prospect Park and took some this morning. I sneaked in some pics of my own as can be seen above.

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Many of you don't understand why I'm an advocate for gender justice in the church. Here is a link to a short but powerful sermon given by a Baptist minister who explains why it is important that we ordain women just as we do men. I ask that on this Sunday you give this sermon some consideration.

Saturday, April 16, 2005


The above sculpture is entitled Waiting. It is a Norbert Shamuyarira sculpture and depicts the essence of a woman waiting for liberation in Zimbabwe. The sculpture captures the hardness, courage, strength and the resolve of the woman waiting. It closely resembles Laura's character and ethos.

On Friday the doctor told us that our induction date was moved back a day. Ira's birthday will now be the 21st and Laura will have to go in on the night of the 20th in order to start the induction process. A difference of 24 hours may not be a big deal to you but we were really ready for Wednesday. To hear that Thursday was our new day kinda knocked the wind out of us. So we find ourselves waiting, still.

One of Sophia's favorite books is Dr. Seuss's Oh, the Places You'll Go! There is a section that resonates with us everytime we read it:

You can get so confused
that you'll start in to race
down long wiggled roads at a break-necking pace
and grind on for miles across weirdish wild space,
headed, I fear, toward a most useless place.

The Waiting Place...
...for people just waiting.

Waiting for a train to go
or a bus to come, or a plane to go
or the mail to come, or the rain to go
or the phone to ring, or the snow to snow
or waiting around for a Yes or No
or waiting for their hair to grow.
Everyone is just waiting.

Waiting for the fish to bite
or waiting for wind to fly a kite
or waiting around for Friday night
or waiting, perhaps, for their Uncle Jake
or a pot to boil, or a Better Break
or a string of pearls, or a pair of pants
or a wig with curls, or Another Chance.
Everyone is just waiting.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Katie, my sister and a preacher, wrote the following on our private family blog. She gave me permission to post it here:

My conversations with God lately are not all that friendly. I do not believe that it is God's will that any child should not live, that any parent should grieve their offspring, that any one should endure the kind of pain [Joe and Laura] are enduring. I believe that when things like this happen, it is a thwarting of God's good and perfect will for all God's children. It is a sign of the brokenness of our world, the brokenness that we are waiting to see repaired once and for all on that great and final day. So when I pray "thy will be done" it is through clenched teeth -- a challenge, a throwing down of the gauntlet to the Almighty. "What are you waiting for?" I scream. "On earth as it is in heaven, dammit! Only You can make it happen! MARANATHA!"

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

April 20. That will be Ira's birthday. They moved the induction up a week due to Laura's high fluid level. She gained another six cm of fluid and as of last Friday was at a 44. Again, 25 is the norm for end of the term pregnancies. Laura's big, uncomfortable, short on breath and walking pretty slowly these days.

Laura's mom comes on Thursday, my parents come on Saturday, Laura's dad comes in early next week along with Laura's brother and my Texas sister -- as opposed to my Long Island sister who is already nearby. We can't wait to get our arms around our family and be comforted by them.

My mom called yesterday and told me how badly she wanted to fix this problem for me. That's what she did for me as a kid. She reminded me of the time when I told her I needed some brownies for a class project the night before they were needed. She stayed up all night and made brownies from scratch. She reminded me of all the assignments she patiently helped me on that were due the next day. In general, my mom was queen at saving my butt in hard situations (hey, I'm the youngest, we're spoiled like that). She sat on the phone and wept that she was unable to fix this problem as she has done so many times before. She expressed her longing to make it all okay and right.

I wish she could.


On another note, we are not the only ones hurting. You know that well because you are surrounded by people who are hurting. There is a very sweet family in St. Louis whose dad was diagnosed with cancer this past week. Mike is the dad of four kids and needs our prayers. Friends are witnessing the separation of their parents after years of marriage. Another couple in our church found out their unborn baby also has developmental issues. And a friend of mine who spent Christmas with our family has relapsed into drugs and is on the verge of being evicted. This world can be cruel, hard and unkind. God hear our prayers.

Monday, April 11, 2005

Jennifer Thweatt-Bates is a doctoral student at Princeton Theological Seminary. She is a regular contributor to a blog entitled afewvoices. She is also a member of Christ's Church for Brooklyn, our church plant. She wrote the following on her blog:

11 April 05

This post will be a little bit different. A little personal, and not “about” anything in particular. Just a reflection on where I find myself from time to time.

I often find myself using or thinking the phrase “Christianity at its best” when I am trying to articulate something about the Christian faith that I think is true, but often not observably true. Like, Christianity at its best proclaims peace. Or, Christianity at its best opposes racism. You get the picture.

Using this phrase is an admission of cynicism and hope at the same time. Christianity so often is not at its best. But there is something in Christian faith that resists being reduced to the distorted, imperfect forms of it that we see every day. Unfortunately, it’s the cynical end of this dichotomy that gets the most consistent affirmation. But every so often I get a glimpse of the best.

Every Sunday I take the train in to Brooklyn (it’s about an hour’s trip, then half an hour on the A train from Penn Station) to go to church. I go to a “house church” at the moment, for lack of a better term, which is actually a group of people from a much larger, more established church who decided to join together as a church-starting team. I like this group of people. That is pretty much why I’m there. I’m not “evangelistic” in any sense of the word that most Christians would recognize—my vocational mission work in China right after I graduated from college drummed that instinct out of me pretty fast. No, I’m there because there’s something about the people in this group that goes beyond labels and predictable attitudes and beliefs, something that really embodies what Christianity is, at its best.

Last night I sat in a living room and just listened. The topic was what the word “disciple” means, and what that word demands of people now. The discussion eventually centered on the thought, how do we accept and move beyond our own human need for security in a world where life is precarious? How do we look beyond our selves to others? This is a huge question, and we didn’t settle it. But it’s the right question for a group of Americans to be asking. It’s a step toward lifting our eyes from our Big Macs, our checkbook balances, our day planners and seeing that there’s something other than securing our own existence that we’re called to do. That something other isn’t contemplating our bellybuttons or lifting our eyes to heaven; it’s securing other people’s lives in this precarious world we all live in.

And then I realized, these people aren’t just discussing this; they’re living it, too. In this room was a guy who just returned from Rwanda, and whose wife is managing refugee camps in Sudan. An ESL teacher. A social worker. A midwife. Counselors, teachers, students, ministers. And children, who are growing up seeing Christianity at its best.

I realize this is a departure from the usual issue or news-oriented format, but I think maybe we all need a reminder that alongside all of the distortion and ugliness, the best exists as well.

Friday, April 08, 2005

Happy 30th Birthday Laura!

Happy 30th Birthday Laura!

Laura woke today and officially entered what my sister calls, The Jesus Years. (Jesus was active for three years and if he died at 33 then it stands to reason that he was active from the age of 30-33.)

Laura's day so far has consisted of waking up at 6 a.m. with a toddler who wants to talk about nothing but the circus. (We went yesterday and Sophia loved it.) Laura is now napping...uncomfortably, I'm sure. When she wakes we will make the hour trek to Upper Manhattan for two late afternoon appointments that will definitely not start on time. By the time we get done there, Laura will be absolutely wiped out. (Her doc said Laura was carrying the equivalent of twins with all the fluid that is building.) So what have I planned for her birthday? Nothing extravagant. We talked about going out but we are both aware that by the end of the day exhaustion will have set in like late afternoon Spring dust storm in west Texas: there will be no avoiding it.

We're grateful -- once again -- to have my sister so close. She just picked up Sophia and will return her on Sunday. We would have a hard time with Sophia's absence but Sophia can't get enough of her cousins, Jack and Lydia. She loves visiting them.

Want to leave Laura a "happy birthday shout out"? Then leave a note to her in the comments and I'll deliver them to her.

Sunday, April 03, 2005

Manhattan Church of Christ is devoted to planting churches throughout metro New York. This past Sunday I and two others were asked to give short updates on our church planting efforts. This is what I reported:

I hoped that when this time came, the day in which I was to give an update on the happenings of the Brooklyn church plant, I would have a much better grasp of where we’ve been, where we are now and where we are going. I hoped that everything would be clear and that I would be able to speak with confidence as to the Brooklyn church’s situation and it’s future. If you would have asked me last fall as Tom and I pitched this church planting effort and as we gathered the clay pots up here representing the people committed to this planting effort, I would have spewed forth information about where we were going and when we would be going there. However, I stand before you today uncertain and unsure. I’m not uncertain about the need for a church plant in Brooklyn -- there is definitely a need -- nor am I uncertain about this launch team as I am coming to learn that this group of people have gifts and strengths that I could not have imagined. I stand before you today uncertain and unsure of the direction the Brooklyn church plant will take: next week, in a month, in a year.

As many of you know the Brooklyn church plant launch team, which is made up of about 20 people who were of this congregation, meets in our home on Sunday nights. We started meeting in our home back in January and continue to do so to this day. We eat together on most Sunday nights, we take the Lord’s Supper with each other, we pray, we sing, we listen, we cry, we laugh, we discuss our vision of spreading God’s message of love in Brooklyn, we talk about our own lives in an effort to get to know each other more intimately as we set out on this church planting journey together. So you would think that through all of that I would have, especially as the leader of the group, a good sense of where we are going. You would think that I would have some ideas of what is around the corner or what our next step should be as a burgeoning family of God.

However, I’m pretty short-sighted these days. I can’t see beyond the end of the day on most days. And to top it off, my well of faith is dry. This short-sightedness, this inability to look forward and into the future and this dry well of faith, well, they aren’t exactly desired characteristics for a church planter. They don't exactly inspire confidence.

But the unexpected has happened out in Brooklyn; the unanticipated has happened with our launch team: God has created for us a cleft in the rock and he has drawn us into the cleft of the rock and is covering us with his hand. And he is passing by, I’m almost certain, going into the unknown to prepare for us a way. He has yet to remove his hand and so we are waiting.

We are waiting for his hand to be removed. We are waiting to come out into the light. We’re waiting to see what direction we should go. We’re waiting to discover when we should open up to the public. We’re waiting to see what facility we should rent to house our corporate worship. We’re waiting for that next transition; the next step. Most of all, we’re waiting to see God's back which guarantees us that there is nowhere we will go in this church planting journey that he hasn’t already been. We’re just waiting in the cleft of the rock.

And for now, it’s a good place to be. It is the grace God has granted us today. On behalf of the Brooklyn church planting team I ask that you pray with and for us as we long to come out and follow God with confidence.

Friday, April 01, 2005

April 27. That will be Ira's birthday. Laura's fluid is pretty darn high (25 is norm at the end of a pregnancy; Laura is at a 37.9) so we are hoping, praying, begging that her body can hold off until April 27. Everyone (OBGYN, surgeon, neonatologist, ECMO specialist, etc) will be around and ready on April 27 but before then, several of them are out of town. Please pray that we, rather Laura, can make it until then.

We have greatly appreciated your prayers. We have managed to make it this far due to your support.