Where was God? Again? We’re asking that question again? If we don’t need God, then why do we keep asking where He is? Why do we keep expecting God to show up and protect us when we don’t believe in Him any more? Why not expect Zeus or Athena or some other god to show up? If we no longer believe there is anything supernatural out there then why do we keep appealing to the supernatural? Why do we keep seeking God?
Here is why:
For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen. Romans 1:19-24 (ESV)
God has put eternity in the hearts of all men. We are more than just animals. We are made in the image of God. We are filled with God’s attributes: love, creativity, empathy, mercy, compassion, self awareness.
So, how does this all figure in to the events of the last week? Oh, I’m sorry. You thought I was talking about the events in Boston! No, I’m talking about the events that took place in Austin. We went down to Austin to celebrate my daughter-on-law’s completion of her Ph.D. Here is a picture of us at her party (A Doctor Who themed party! You can see more pictures here.)
My daughter, Casey, had her first seizure when she was 8 years old. The subsequent two years were hell on earth trying to figure out the kind of seizures she had and how to treat them. We ended up at the Epilepsy Center in Los Angeles, one of only two such centers at the time. My little 9 year old daughter was attached to EEG leads for 24 hours a day on continuous video monitoring in a small hospital room. She couldn’t go more than ten feet from her bed and my wife stayed with her for 10 days before they made the diagnosis.
We treated Casey through four different neurologists over the years of her childhood. Just when we would find a good pediatric neurologist, that person would leave our local medical school and we would have to find another one. At Casey’s school, we had to go through the tedious process of getting the teachers to help Casey with her lessons and her instructions as the seizures affected the part of her brain that controlled reading comprehension.
Middle school years were a nightmare. Young girls are, no doubt, the cruelest creatures on the face of the planet. In the sixth grade, Casey endured 9 weeks of torture and extortion at the hands of a gang of girls before we found out the reason she was covered in bruises. We thought she was having a reaction to her meds!
Then, we had to find her a private school where she wouldn’t get beaten up every day for being “different”. She finally made it through middle school. But, the high school in our district would have the same girls as that middle school. Casey’s grades would not allow her to be in a “magnet” school. And, now at the private school, the high school age girls were even more cruel to her because she did not attend the church that ran the school.
We had to sell our dream home, build a new house, and move to another school district so Casey could get into a high school where she would not be tortured. She found peace and acceptance among her peers at this school, but now we had to weather the storm of standardized testing. Casey had to pass certain benchmark standardized tests to move up in high school and all of these tests relied on reading comprehension. There were NO exceptions for her seizures. Her senior year in high school, we had to change her medication and we knew she would have some breakthrough seizures so we planned that transition during the time she would take these tests so we could get a personal tutor hired by the school district to come and administer the test at home in anyway possible for Casey. She passed and walked across the stage in 2006 to receive her diploma. It was the proudest day of her life!
Since 2006, Casey has continued to struggle with her seizures. We had to transition her to a neurologist specializing in adults and to our dismay, there were NO neurologists in our town who specialized in seizures. Frustration after frustration ensued as Casey’s symptoms began to change and involve her face and her mouth even on maximum medication. She tried college and had to drop out because her professors did not understand her disease! Her last semester in college, the professor locked her out of the room and told her she had been faking her illness!
Our neurologist in January 2012, “fired” us. This from one of my fellow physicians! I was furious! I was so frustrated! Casey was approaching the age of 25 and she literally had no life! Now, at this point I should have been shaking my fist at God. But, I didn’t. My wife didn’t. And, to Casey’s credit, she had long ago accepted that this was her lot in life.
In June, 2012 God worked a miracle and we found a new neurologist in New Orleans. He saw Casey and instantly drew a totally different conclusion. Casey suffered from an extremely rare form of migraines, not seizures! She also has a rare metabolic disorder that produces this problem easily corrected by vitamins. Since June, we have been in the process of trying to wean her off of 17 years of seizure medication and onto migraine medication.
Christmas was horrendous. Her “auras” as they are now called were debilitating and our neurologist finally added a new migraine medication that caused the symptoms to stop. But, the side effect for Casey has been depression and weight loss.
Which brings me to last week. We went to Austin to celebrate my daughter-in-law’s completion of her Ph.D. from UT Austin. From the minute we arrived Thursday before last, I was apprehensive. All I could think about was something bad happening to Casey. I don’t know why, but there it was. The first night, Casey had a pretty bad “aura” at the restaurant. Every day, she had these “attacks” where her mouth would stop working and she would grow weak on the left side of her face. Monday morning, April 15th, I was so anxious, so nervous, so panicky I was pacing our hotel room. Casey was staying at our son’s house. I had to talk to her. I had to know she was okay. I tried calling and got no answer. I texted and got no answer.
My wife couldn’t understand my apprehension and I was afraid we would have to go the ER. Something was happening. It was bad! Major bad! I could hardly breathe. We hurried over to my son’s house and Casey was fine. No problem. It took me about four hours to calm down and then, BAM, the explosions at the Boston Marathon.
I won’t go into this, but this reaction had occurred before in my life, most memorably the week before 9/11. I will share that sometime. Did I have some kind of “evil barometer” in my heart and mind? If I did, I didn’t want it!
Tuesday, Casey had some more “auras” and I insisted she return to the hotel with us that night. It was a good thing. Our suite had two bedrooms and Casey went into her bedroom to change into her pajamas. Suddenly, she was screaming for help. The door was locked! I tried to break it down. No good. Finally, I grabbed a fork from our kitchenette, bent a tine out and stuck it in the little hole on the door handle to open the door. What we found I cannot describe. Casey was totally paralyzed on her bed, unable to move for almost 7 minutes and totally awake the entire time. It was horrendous! It was horrible to stand there and not be able to do a thing!
Finally, it passed and she sobbed and sobbed and sobbed. So did we. She was aware the entire time, remembering everything.
That was when something broke within me. Why was God allowing my daughter to go through this? Wasn’t 18 years of suffering enough? Why didn’t He heal her? Where was He? For the first time, I was feeling anger toward God. For the first time I wanted to ball up my fist and shake it at the heavens and demand that God fix this! I couldn’t even sleep that night. I lay awake in the bed (my wife slept with my daughter) and replayed that scene over and over and over.
There was a debate this past Thursday at Broadmoor Baptist Church between Frank Turek and David Silverman, the head of the American Atheist Society. My apologetic group was involved in setting it up and we had all planned to attend. I told my best friend, Mark Riser that I couldn’t go. I might agree with the atheist!
You see, I know there is a God. My life is a testimony to God’s plan, God’s work, God’s redemption in spite of my failings. I have talked about this in many past posts and in my book, “Conquering Depression”. But, there are times when even the deepest of faiths threatens to crumble under the pain of suffering. Look what Job endured.
So, last night Sherry and I went to the “Hymns” concert at Cypress Baptist Church. My good friend, Philip Wade arranged and orchestrated a concert of his favorite hymns. The Shreveport Symphony played along with three church choirs. It was up lifting. It was exhilarating. It was powerful. The last song was “It is Well With my Soul”. The author of this song had lost his family on a sea voyage and while traveling across the Atlantic to London to meet his grieving wife, he wrote the lines to this powerful song. I still had my daughter!
I came home and watched the replay of the Boston Marathon bombing events from the week. I watched runners turn around and run TOWARD the bomb site to help out. I heard about doctors and nurses who went in to the hospital after running 26 miles to help out. I learned about runners who ran to the hospital to donate blood. I saw men tearing off tee shirts to make tourniquets. I watched first responders rush in to help in spite of the threat of more bombs. In the pursuit of the bombers, I saw men and women law enforcement personnel do everything possible without sleep, against exhaustion to bring the perpetrators to justice so that Boston could breathe a sigh of relief. And, I saw and heard millions raising their voices in prayers to God.
Why is it that we wait until bad things happen to reach out to God? Why is it that we place God somewhere in a closet or on a shelf until we need Him? It seems that this is the kind of God we want. A genie in a bottle who stays out of sight until we need Him.
Well, that was where God was on Monday. That was where God was Tuesday night. Right where we had left Him. For many, God was distant on Monday. For me and my wife, God was right there in that hotel room with us when Casey had her episode. In spite of my doubts and my anger and my anxiety, God will NEVER desert us. His faithfulness is absolute in contrast to my fickle, human nature
Look again at those verses above.
For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.
We want to worship the god we see in the mirror. It is the only god we can control. And, we have this illusion that if we can control god, we have complete freedom. We can do anything we want. It was this freedom of will that allowed two young men, deluded by radicalism, to place bombs at the Boston Marathon. But, in that freedom, we also have the choice to love. And, it is in that love that we truly see God. Not in the broken, failing visage of the mirror. But, in the light that shown across time and space from the ultimate suffering God endured on the cross. No amount of suffering any human can endure can ever match or overcome those last few hours of life of the Son of God. God KNOWS what we are going through. God sends peace and comfort because He has BEEN there! But, we must seek it. We must immerse ourselves continuously in that love.
The days ahead for my daughter are still challenging. She will eventually get on the proper medication for her migraines and one day, she will have a normal life. I trust God to take care of her. He owns her.
When I went through my horrible depression years ago, I never imagined that God would use my suffering to help others. In 2001, my pastor, Mark Sutton and I co-authored “Conquering Depression”. Over the past 12 years, this book has literally saved thousands of lives. I cannot take credit for that. It was not my choice to endure depression and write a book about it. It was God’s plan. And, if I choose, I can look at those years of suffering as a waste, a loss, an abandonment. But, clearly, that suffering was part of God’s plan to help others. Recently, Mark and I were offered a new contract to update our book and we hope to release the new book in the fall of 2014.
My point is, how can I shake my fist in anger at God when He is using that very anger; that very doubt to grow and mature me; to help others who feel that anger and doubt? Rather, I must have a paradigm shift. I must realize that everything works toward the good in God’s plan. Even my daughter’s illness.
I do not know what God has planned for my daughter. But, instead of continuing in anger and doubt, I have chosen another path. I will sit down with my daughter and talk about how God used my depression for good. If I can help her use her illness to help others, then perhaps that is the plan for her life. How many people out there are suffering from the incorrect diagnosis of epilepsy when they are, in fact, having migraines? Our neurologist said, “4 out of 6 neurologists misdiagnose migraines as seizures”! Perhaps this is my daughter’s purpose. Perhaps I can help her see this. And, perhaps once we both realize this is part of God’s plan we both can say, “It is well with my soul”.
What brought you to Hutchmoot?
What do you do?
Two questions every attendee asks at Hutchmoot, even if you know the face and can’t quite remember the name and the details associated with that name. And, this year, there were 86 more of us to meet than before.
My son, Sean, tried to succinctly convey his job. By the third day, he had it down to a finely tuned summary. You see, while completing his masters degree in media studies, he became an intern at Texas Impact. In Austin, this organization is a political action advocate for inter-faith issues. They monitor issues coming before the Texas legislature (meets every other year) and then posts those issues pertinent to faith based living on their website. They follow various religious traditions and their efforts to change culture through their influence on local government. Maybe. I think I got that right. Bottom line is that Sean works on the website and social media and video editing and video capture and is now the main tech guy for Texas Impact. I have watched him grow and mature as he has dealt with the unhealthy interface between politics and religion. And, it is very unhealthy.
Coming to Hutchmoot, Sean had a couple of goals. Spend time with his Dad (woohoo!) and to see what God had to say to him. You see, Sean is an excellent writer and storyteller and is insanely creative. But, he doesn’t write books or stories. He writes notes and composes his thoughts into the most incredible conversations I have ever had with ANYONE. Sometimes, I wished had recorded one of our conversations and had it transposed so I could remember all the cool stuff he said. Yeah, my Sean is one cool dude and I am so proud of him.
But, Sean is not without his struggles. He and his wife, Jennifer, are struggling with some personal issues related to his church in Austin. I can’t go into details. These issues are substantial and deep and very, very important to them. But, God spoke to Sean in so many ways at Hutchmoot. And, he heard something totally different from what God said to me. Imagine that? I think this is the singular most important thing to understand about Hutchmoot. It is not only where we come to meet other Hutchmootians in one of the grandest and coolest koinonias in the universe. It is also where we come to meet with God. God speaks in the midst of this incredible gathering — uniquely and individually to each one of us. And, he spoke to Sean in ways only Sean can share with you.
But, there is one last event on Friday I must mention. There were many smaller moments through the lunch and afternoon. One encounter was with a former employee of one of my current publishers who confirmed what an incredible team is now in place compared to a few years back. Again, I can’t go into details but it was another “chance” encounter that God led me to in order to reassure me that my updated book on depression should take front and center attention RIGHT NOW!
Friday night. Sean and I followed the new iOS6 map app on my iPhone 4Gs and it worked perfectly, thank you very much! We pulled onto Lipscomb University campus and I was stunned. I did not know this place existed. As we walked across the campus from the parking garage I felt the cool wind on my face and there was God again, speaking, whispering in his quiet manner, surrounding both of us with His undeniable Presence. I wanted to go back to college again! I wanted to start afresh, anew at this campus filled with soaring red brick edifices and bustling, smiling students and a fresh appreciation of the importance of LEARNING in such a God centered environment.
We went into the auditorium to await this night’s debut of Andrew Peterson’s “Light for the Lost Boy” concert. As Sean and I waited we continued a conversation about a mutual acquaintance who had lost his faith. I don’t mean had doubts. I’m talking about moving from Theism to Atheism. How did this happen? How could someone who has been a professed Christ follower for most of their life walk away from God?
Folks, it is a simple and short journey from our doubts to forgetting the One who created us. How quickly we forget our blessings! How quickly we turn our backs on God! I know. It happened to me. I will talk about my crisis of faith in a future post. But, my heart was so burdened for our friend. What could either of us say? What could we do to convince him how wrong he was for just tossing away his faith in God? Now, I am an apologist. I’ve studied Christian apologetics now for 14 years. Apologetics was an answer to my crisis and it has given me a rock solid faith. Or has it? Hadn’t I just gone into a dark depression over this book deal? How quickly had I forgotten God? Pretty darn quick!
My point is that providing logical arguments and sound evidence is not the answer to those who leave our faith. The leaving is one of questions and doubts that are deeply imbedded in our quest for Eden. It is born of utter deep pain. While at a book signing for my first book, “The 13th Demon” at a book store in Austin, Texas a middle age woman asked if the book was appropriate for her teenager grandson. “He’s lost his faith. He is now an atheist. What can I do?” Now, my internal apologist wanted to take over but instead I sensed the pain. I asked her what her grandson’s life was like. What was his relationship to his father like? What came out was a sorrowful story of a broken relationship. You see, we look at God many times through the lens of our parents. We stack them up against God and when they let us down, we transfer that disappointment to God. As with this woman’s grandson, I feared the loss of faith with our friend was at the expense of a very important broken relationship. More on this later when I post about Phil Vischer, the creator of Veggie Tales.
If you have not listened to Andrew Peterson’s new album, you have missed out on one of the truly great works of music and lyrics in the past ten years. Yes, it is that incredible. You must listen while reading the lyrics until they are firmly seared into your mind. Andrew kicked off the concert introducing Caleb, the band composed of two of Steven Curtis Chapman’s sons (He was in the audience about two rows behind us). Then, he came back from a break and began the concert. If you have ever had the joy of sitting through “Behold the Lamb of God” Christmas concert you are well aware of Andrew’s ability to carry a concept from start to finish. Where BTLOG takes us from Genesis to the Resurrection, “Light for the Lost Boy” carries us from birth to death; from innocence to disappointment; from lostness to grace; from the Big Question Mark to the Big Exclamation Mark. As the songs unfolded before us, I wept, I smiled, I hugged my son, I laughed, and I exulted in the utter sheer joy of being in God’s presence.
For, Andrew encapsulated my entire journey of faith in those songs. My lostness in the woods wandering but sensing a hidden companion. As a child, I wandered the pasture and woods of our 62 acres listening to the stillness, the quiet, the thunder. I remember one startling moment after my dog, Rusty died when at the age of 10 I climbed the “tall tree” in our front yard higher and higher struggling through the branches, tearing my skin, bumping my head until I reached the giddy top of the tree swaying and dancing in the evening breeze and I wedged myself into those small top branches and gazed out over a sea of trembling, weaving green tree tops stirred by the hand of God and I felt Him there, felt His presence wrapping me up in love and understanding and saying, “My son, I feel your loss; I know what it is like; you lost a pet; I lost a Son.” I was there in that tree in that moment in that concert and God stirred within me the memory of His presence. It was shortly after that incident in my life that I surrendered all to Christ. There were many journeys to the top of the “Tall Tree” in later years. Many moments with God at the top of my world before my innocence and trust in this world died and I realized it is irrevocably broken and bruised. No Eden. No Garden. Just this — living on the edge of Theism and Atheism.
And, hearing those songs, some of which were written by Andrew for his children was especially wonderful for me to hear with my son sitting beside. He has always chided me for a statement I made in his early years, “Son, you’ve never lived until you’ve climbed a tree” something he has never done. After the concert in that wonderful walk across Lipscomb campus I shared with him the story of the tall tree. And, I saw dawning within his mind a new understanding of his father. “Dad, you have lots of stories. You need to write them down.”