Archive for September, 2009
Rejoice in hope, endure in suffering, persist in prayer (Romans 12:12 NET).
Two days ago, Aimee and I sat within the four walls of a Restland Memorial Park meeting room in order to approve the design on Hadlee and Jaxon’s burial marker.
We wake up each morning faced with the reality that two people who should be growing inside of Aimee (at what would be almost 22 weeks) are gone. There are two members of our family that we were never able to get to know.
I feel that I mainly grieve over not getting to know my daughter, Hadlee, and my son, Jaxon. Everyone is born; everyone dies, but most people are able to be “known.” What are Hadlee and Jaxon like? What is unique about their personalities, gifts and abilities? What joys would they have shared with us, and what tragedies would we have shared with them? We were with them in their conceptions, their births, and their deaths. We miss and grieve not having life with them.
So, where is the hope in which I am to rejoice? Of course, we endure in suffering, and of course, we persist in prayer. Even the pagan might squeeze out a cry for help during days of intense suffering. But where is hope for the 25 & 27-year-old couple who buries their children? Where is hope for anyone who suffers?
I told a dear friend over breakfast this week that I was surprised by way in which our local church’s worship service caused me to respond. I did not expect to be caused to hesitate so much in my thinking and in my worship. I found myself confronted with trying to reconcile the strength and love of God (in song) with the pain and questioning in my mind and heart. In a few words, I shared with this friend that I was challenged to hold fast to my homologia, that is my confession. BDAG has two glosses for this term: 1) the expression of allegiance as an action (see 2 Corinthians 9:13), and 2) the statement of allegiance, as content of an action (see 1 Timothy 6:12). In my inability to reconcile my understanding of who God is and my experience, I am challenged as to whether or not I will remain in allegiance to the triune God and his way or to revoke my allegiance. I am choosing by the aid of the Spirit to hold to my allegiance to God and the gospel of his Son, Jesus Christ even though I struggle to reconcile his goodness, his power and his love with Death’s “freedom” to enter in and cripple me and my wife.
There is a theological issue that has helped me to maintain my confession. Many times, Aimee and I have discussed the eternal destiny of infants – both before and after Hadlee and Jaxon’s deaths. She has always stood firm in her belief that God applies the work of Christ to infants by his grace and takes these little ones to be with him. I, however, was not always comfortable with this. I believed that God is gracious and that he is righteous. I felt that it was too much for me to say that in every case, God has chosen to distribute his grace because I trusted him to be righteous from which I reasoned that he is right no matter what he chooses to do regarding the eternal destiny of my children. However, through many conversations with many dear friends, I have become more confident and comfortable with believing that Hadlee and Jaxon are indeed with God and that their eternal destiny is one of blessing and joy in his presence.
Here is my confession regarding the eternal destiny of infants:
I trust God to apply the redemptive acts of Christ to infants because of who they are, because of who he is, and because of the whole of the redemptive story.
Regarding infants, a dear pastor friend brought three things to my attention when counseling with Aimee and me. First, how would infants who did not have the cognitive ability or opportunity to form thoughts about God view his justice if they found themselves in a place of eternal condemnation? Would they be able to confess that he is just and their condemnation is just? This is related to the second observation. In Revelation 20, John writes this concerning the judgment of the unrighteous dead,
And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne. Then books were opened, and another book was opened—the book of life. So the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to their deeds.
The preposition kata (“according to”) is used to express “the norm according to which a judgment is rendered, or rewards or punishments are given” (BDAG). The basis for the judgment of the unrighteous are their deeds. This is consistent throughout Scripture. Hadlee and Jaxon have committed no deeds worthy of God’s judgment. Furthermore, Romans 1 condemns those who have suppressed the knowledge of God as revealed in creation. Hadlee and Jaxon were snatched away before any possible suppression of this knowledge could have occurred.
Cyprian, in his epistle to Fidus on the baptism of infants, writes,
But again, if even to the greatest sinners, and to those who had sinned much against God, when they subsequently believed, remission of sins is granted—and nobody is hindered from baptism and from grace—how much rather ought we to shrink from hindering an infant, who, being lately born, has not sinned, except in that, being born after the flesh according to Adam, he has contracted the contagion of the ancient death at its earliest birth, who approaches the more easily on this very account to the reception of the forgiveness of sins—that to him are remitted, not his own sins, but the sins of another.
While I am not necessarily an advocate for infant baptism, Cyprian defends the practice by emphasizing the personal sinlessness and purity of infants. He acknowledges that infants have inherited death and the sin of Adam, but alludes that the infant, “who approaches the more easily on this very account to the reception of the forgiveness of sins—that to him are remitted, not his own sins, but the sins of another” [italics mine].
Further, Cyprian notes that infants do nothing less than “entreat” the mercy of God,
And therefore, dearest brother, this was our opinion in council, that by us no one ought to be hindered from baptism and from the grace of God, who is merciful and kind and loving to all. Which, since it is to be observed and maintained in respect of all, we think is to be even more observed in respect of infants and newly-born persons, who on this very account deserve more from our help and from the divine mercy, that immediately, on the very beginning of their birth, lamenting and weeping, they do nothing else but entreat.
Lastly, is it possible that the song of Revelation 5:9 may speak to us in this matter?
They were singing a new song:
“You are worthy to take the scroll
and to open its seals
because you were killed,
and at the cost of your own blood you have purchased for God
persons from every tribe, language, people, and nation [italics mine].
We often struggle with the question of those who have never heard the message of the good news of Jesus Christ. Could it be that from among those tribes and peoples, God redeemed for himself infants who knew not the world but only the afterlife? I know I am speculating and perhaps not dealing enough with the range of meaning for “tribe” and/or “people,” but it seems possible.
Returning to God, the salvation of infants is not inconsistent with his righteousness or any attribute found in his character. Actually, having known God for eight years now, I find it much more difficult to affirm the alternative. While his righteousness is not bound to the salvation of infants, it certainly is not opposed to it; therefore, considering his grace, his mercy, his kindness, his comfort, the Lord Jesus’ reception of little ones (Luke 18:15), even the allusion to the sanctification present in the home of believers (1 Cor 7), and many other things, I maintain my confession in the triune God and the gospel of Jesus Christ and my belief that Hadlee and Jaxon are present with God – today.
As I consider the redemptive story of the Bible, I rejoice in the hope that God will soon make all things new. Death will be defeated and destroyed, those found in Christ Jesus by the grace of God will experience the long awaited resurrection and newness of life that has been promised. Here, I continue to roam as a stranger. My children, Hadlee and Jaxon, have preceded me, and they have arrived safely and securely at home with my Father, my Savior, and my Comforter. Days will come when Aimee and I will get to know them and learn of the unique way in which our God has created them. When days of suffering enter into our journeys here, I invite you to join me – rejoice in hope, endure in suffering, persist in prayer.
Rejoice in hope, endure in suffering, persist in prayer (Romans 12:12).
For those of you who do not know me personally, Aimee and I moved to Dallas, Texas in June of 2007 so that I could continue my study of God and the Bible at Dallas Theological Seminary. We are originally from Ohio, and nearly all of our family lives there; so, for such a tragedy to strike with family so far away really had the potential to cripple us with loneliness and no support structure.
Enter the Body of Christ. The days in which we are now living are tragic, depressing, confusing, and an onslaught of other things; however, God’s grace and love for us has been clearly expressed through the kindness and actions of the Body of Christ. From the moment we entered the hospital until now, thousands of people in California, Oregon, North Dakota, Ohio, North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas, and elsewhere have been praying for us. We have received cards and even handwritten letters from folks we have never met. Gift cards, money, Gideon Bibles in memory of Hadlee and Jaxon, flowers, fruit baskets, food, and much more have arrived at our doorstep from hearts that have sought to minister to us and aid in our comfort and healing.
There are several communities for whom I must publicly praise God. The first is Scofield Memorial Church in Dallas, TX. Aimee and I have served in the Student Ministry at Scofield since September of 2007. We have always felt loved and supported by the people of Scofield, but the way in which they have loved us in these recent, tragic days has been the clearest expression of gospel living I have ever witnessed or experienced.During days when we did not want to be alone, they laid down their lives to mourn and be with us. They came and sat next to us in the hospital and wept with us. I never had to leave my wife’s side because someone always brought me a meal. We didn’t have to worry about picking up Aimee’s parents from the airport because someone in the church already had it covered. I didn’t have to go through the pain and agony of finishing the painting I had already started in the room we had designated for Hadlee and Jaxon’s nursery because a group of men decided to finish it for me. I didn’t have to worry about feeding our cat because a brother took care of it for me. We didn’t have to tirelessly and emotionally search all of Dallas for a funeral home and cemetery to rest Hadlee and Jaxon bodies because our head Pastor had taken care of the detail for us. We weren’t strapped with the financial burden of burying our little ones because the people of Scofield took care of that for us. We don’t have to worry about food for two months because the families of Scofield are providing food for us.
I could go on. Not only has Scofield ministered to us, but also they have ministered to our family because they have witnessed first hand their love for us. I give thanks to God for our church family and that he has given his Spirit to the Church to comfort and care for the weak and wounded. Jesus’ Body has wrapped us up in his embrace.
The Seminary community at DTS has also demonstrated kindness toward us. The campus continues to pray for us, and the faculty and staff have been kind, generous and actively involved in our story. Chaplain Bill visited us and comforted us by participating in Hadlee and Jaxon’s funeral service. Dr. Daniel B. Wallace visited with us, attended the funeral service, and has been a constant encouragement. Dr. Gordon Johnston has ministered to me through conversation, attending Hadlee and Jaxon’s memorial, and messages through email. Dr. James Allman and Dr. Mike Svigel has comforted us as well. The students have embraced me on campus. There are five special men on campus who responded to a late night request. I will never forget their kindness toward me and how they laid down their lives so that a friend would have someone to talk to. Rob, Mike, Matt, Sten, and Ryan – thank you.
Two other communities that have ministered to us are the NNICU unit at Parkland Memorial Hospital and Shawnee Hills Baptist Church in Jamestown, OH. Aimee’s friends in the NNICU at Parkland have poured out their sympathy and love toward us. Thank you all for your frequent visits, your love for my wife, and your many gifts. SHBC used their benevolence fund to fly Pastor Jim Riggle in to conduct Hadlee and Jaxon’s memorial service. Pastor Jim did our pre-marital counseling and joined us in marriage before God. He has been a faithful guide and counselor ever since. Pastor Jim sat and counseled with for more than two hours the night before the memorial service. The Spirit of God was able to use him to draw out many of our questions, fears, insecurities, and to encourage us to “think all of our thoughts, feel all of our feelings, and walk by faith.” Thank you Pastor.
Each post has (and will) begin with Romans 12:12. In the next post, I’ll talk more about these words and address my hope for Aimee and me and for Hadlee and Jaxon. Ryan, you gave me these words at a crucial time when I was falling and reaching frantically for something to hold on to. You have been the dearest of friends to me. I am so thankful for you and the work of the gospel in your life. May God continue to bless our partnership in the gospel of Jesus Christ. Amen.
Review of Biblical Literature: An Introduction to the New Testament Manuscripts and Their Texts by Parker, D. C.
In the 31 August 2009 edition of the Review of Biblical Literature Newsletter, David C. Parker’s Introduction to the New Testament Manuscripts and Their Texts appears to be a helpful volume for those interested in textual criticism. You can read a review by Matteo Grosso from the University of Torino (Torino, Italy) here. Of particular interest to me, Grosso notes that the third portion of Parker’s book evaluates the tc issues facing different sections of the NT (i.e., respectively, Revelation; the Pauline corpus; the Acts with the Catholic Epistles; and the Gospels).
Rejoice in hope, endure in suffering, persist in prayer (Romans 12:12 NET).”
Prior to delivering Hadlee, the doctor informed us that standard medical practice when a twin pregnancy has been compromised and a premature birth of “twin A” occurs, “twin B” will follow. Therefore, the early hours of Friday morning, August 28th held no sleep for us. We were prayerfully awake (with a host of others), and Aimee was under constant observation.
I lost all sense of time at this point, so my estimation may not be entirely accurate, but it seemed like Aimee’s physician paid us a visit around 9:00am and then again at around 1:00pm. The purpose of the visits was to see if Aimee had remained dilated and if contractions had continued. Much to our hope and surprise, by one o’ clock, Aimee was barely dilated and contractions had ceased. After the second visit, our doctor did inform us that there were rare cases of “twin A” being born premature and “twin B” remaining in the womb as late as 35 weeks. We and everyone we could muster began to pray in this way. Could it be that Jaxon might make it?
Later that afternoon, a friend stopped in to visit. Aimee had dozed off, but she awoke as her friend approached her. Suddenly – before her friend could say “Hello” – Aimee uttered words that once again made my heart sink and our hope dissipate, “It just ruptured…Jax’s sac just ruptured.” The nurse confirmed Aimee’s words, and contractions began to intensify. The pain was much worse this time. Weak, wounded and hurting, Aimee opted for an epidural. Again, I found myself at the head of a hospital bed holding my wife’s hands. As she pushed, the painful and sorrowful gaze that I had seen in her eyes the night before returned and met my gaze. The labor was more intense than with Hadlee as was our sorrow, confusion, and fear. Jaxon Wayne Howe was born at 4:19pm on August 28, 2009. He died a short time later.
The hope we had for life was snatched away by the icy, dark hand of death. The rest of the evening was a blur. Visitors from our Church family came and shared tears with us and brought temporal encouragement. After everyone left, Aimee and I collapsed from exhaustion and brokenness. I am thankful for the nurse we had that evening. She was gentle and kind to us. After Aimee was asleep, I decided to journal. Inside the cover of my journal, I found a long card-stock prayer guide that had been folded in half, “31 ways to pray for your kids.” I hadn’t made it all the way through yet. I thought there was more time. I wept. Aimee awoke, and we comforted one another until we fell asleep.
Rejoice in hope, endure in suffering, persist in prayer (Romans 12:12 NET).
I have been feeding on these words over the last week. I am so thankful for the friend who consistently brings them to my attention. I’ll talk more about them and other things at the end of the series.
After a more than a year of “trying,” we found out we were expecting on May 11th, 2009 – the same day we left for a tour of England, Scotland and Wales! When we returned, we were informed that we were to be the parents of twins! I know my mouth dropped when I heard the news. O how excited and nervous we were! The following five months were filled with joy, prayer, and new routines and preparations. I remember praying over and over again that God would be gracious to our children. I knew that while I desired to be the best husband and dad possible, I also knew that I would blow it – a lot. I was convinced that God’s favor was what my children needed more than my attempts at parenting godly children.
On August 27 at about 12:00pm, fear and uncertainty laid siege to our unsuspecting hearts. My wife, Aimee, and I were at the doctor for our twins’ (Hadlee and Jaxon) 20 week check-up. Everything looked fantastic! Gender was confirmed as one boy and one girl, and Hadlee and Jaxon were enjoying one another as they rested safely in mommy’s womb. Just as a precaution, Aimee asked the doctor to check one more thing which required her to empty her bladder and change into a gown. I distinctly remember waiting patiently, silently and awkwardly in the room with the ultrasound tech while Aimee did what she needed to do. I remember getting a little uncomfortable because she was taking what seemed to be a long time. I remember the toilet flushing not once, but twice. Finally, Aimee returned to the room, but she was obviously concerned.
It wasn’t until Aimee sat on the table once more that things became evident. Water fell to the floor leaving a puddle. At first, there wasn’t any alarm, but as the check up went on and the doctor was summoned into the room, it became clear that little Hadlee’s membrane sac had ruptured. The fluid that had fallen to the floor was the amniotic fluid Hadlee needed to survive. The doctor’s tried to comfort us that the babies may still be fine, but Aimee needed to head to the hospital immediately for bed rest and observation. There was still hope that Hadlee might rebuild her supply of fluid so long as the rupture wasn’t too severe.
We immediately rushed to Parkland Hospital. At first, it seemed that all Aimee and the babies needed was a little rest. Aimee settled into her room, and I quickly went home to pack for an indefinite stay at PLand (So thankful nothing happened while I was away). I returned to the hospital to Aimee whose fever almost immediately began rising and who began having consistent contractions. (But I thought she only needed a little rest? I didn’t think that there was any real threat. Not to me, not to my Aimee or my babies. How could this happen?)
It seemed like it took forever for us to be transported to L&D. Upon arrival, doctors confirmed that Aimee was in labor, and shortly after, Hadlee was in the birth canal. I’ll never forget the pain in Aimee’s cry when the doctor informed us that she could see our little girl. As Aimee pushed and cried and pushed and cried, I held her hands and never let my gaze leave hers. The terror and confusion in her eyes will never leave my memory. Hadlee was born at 23:50 on August 27. She died a short time later on the 28th.