A Tribute to My Dad

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It is hard to believe it has been one year ago today we stood by my dad’s bedside and witnessed him peacefully breathe his last breathe. It still seems so surreal being present in a moment you never really want to experience. In the blink of an eye, you face a new reality that forever leaves a void in your life. As a Pastor, I have stood by grieving families in their time of loss. But even with the familiarity of grief, the compassion and sympathy I have given by the grace of God, nothing prepares you for the personal loss of one who has made such a monumental impact on your life.

World's Greatest Dad

World’s Greatest Dad


Through the outpouring of love and prayers for our family during my dad’s brief illness and passing, we were reminded of the impact he made on so many. My dad truly left a legacy of kindness. His infectious smile, famous bear hugs and sincere interest and concern for the individual made a lasting impression on so many. My dad never met a stranger and was drawn to those in greatest need. His unselfish lifestyle truly exemplified Jesus. He really did think of others first and on so many occasions put others needs before his own. Not that his time was mine to give, but I am glad to have shared my dad with so many others. There is a profound recognition of just how special my dad was in the unique stories of love, care and generosity he showered on people.

Through the stories of others, we have certainly gained comfort. I can even say, I have sensed a feeling of personal pride to be able to call him my dad. But the stories we have heard from others come as no surprise to our family. What my dad did for others, was our norm. My earliest childhood memories are of my dad making my brother and I feel special through his time and actions. He and my mom provided such an eclectic set of life experiences for us that have truly shaped who we are today. Our life experiences are a reflection of the journey my parents made from Rapid City, South Dakota to Southern California and now Oklahoma. A mixture of life experiences, people and cultures I don’t believe I will be able to reproduce for my own children.

Some of my greatest memories of my dad growing up was around sports. I remember him pitching the baseball to me and chasing the ball one after another. Of him always being at my soccer and baseball games growing up. I can count on one hand the number of games my dad missed my entire childhood and high school years. I never went to a game without a perfectly polished pair of cleats prepared by my dad. My dad loved to to have fun. Trips to the beach, to Lake Arrowhead, the Rose Parade, Disneyland, Dodger and Angel games, season tickets to the California Surf and LA Aztecs of the old NASL professional soccer league were all part of our childhood experiences. When it came to riding big wheels down our long steep street we lived on, my dad was right in the mix with us and all our neighborhood friends.

Racing was also a big part of our lives. In our early years, before my dad started racing off-road, we never missed the Winternationals in Pomona. Since he was a school teacher, we always knew we were going to get sick with him about the first week in February every year to go to the drag races. I don’t know what I missed in school, but I am pretty sure it wasn’t as important as those amazing memories with my dad. Once we hit the off-road scene, we had some fun times out in the desert and especially the races in Las Vegas. We spent many hours at the shop getting the cars ready, well at least somebody did. I just learned how to sweep really good and make lunch runs to In-N-Out. We also enjoyed numerous Nascar races at Ontario, Riverside and Charlotte.

My brother and I learned an amazing work ethic from my dad. He taught us how to build, roof, work on cars and fix things. He was a Wood-shop Teacher, a roofing company owner and a referee for numerous sports. The banner that hung in his shop read, “Best is Better than Good.” He was always on the go. But he never left the house without kissing us and our mom goodbye and telling us he loved us. He worked hard during the school year for us to go on vacation most of the summer. Every year growing up, we would spend just over two months in South Dakota. Us California kids were exposed to a Midwestern life filled with fishing trips, time on the farm, Mount Rushmore, Friday nights at the local dirt track and the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally when it really was crazy and out of control. Enjoying all these amazing experiences with our cousins, aunts, uncles and grandparents.

In my college years, my parents moved from California to Oklahoma. It added more memories of working together with my dad and the official launch of his bus driving career for Oklahoma Wesleyan University when I was a soccer player. One of the great joys of his life was driving the athletic teams to their games and getting to know the players and coaches. He especially loved when the teams won to ensure some victory laps around the circle drive in front of the LaQuinta Mansion upon arrival back on campus. One of the prouder moments of his driving career was bringing the 2009 Men’s Basketball Championship Team back to Bartlesville. He also loved his championship ring he wore proudly.

One of the things I miss the most about my dad being gone is our daily talks on the phone. I realize how fortunate I was to have such a special and close relationship with my dad. What is so great about this unique relationship with my dad is my brother can say the same thing. He was the source of great council, comfort, wisdom, encouragement and faith. He always believed in us, told us how proud he was of us and expressed his love for us. Even as adults, it was so reassuring to know this type of love from our father. I have said before, I have never questioned God’s love for me as my Heavenly Father because of the amazing example my dad lived out before us.

My dad truly lived a life sold out to Jesus Christ. He was a person of great faith. As I have had the opportunity to look through his Bible after his passing, it is a well marked and well worn Bible. His time with God was surely the source of the humble and servant minded person he was. There were many times my dad would share with me the opportunities he had to share Christ with people. Many of those stories included perfect strangers standing before my dad with tears running down their cheeks and accepting Christ. One of the great experiences of my life was witnessing my dad lead his dad to Christ. My grandpa was eighty years old at the time and accepted Christ less than a year before his passing.

Because of my dad’s great faith and service to Jesus, we attempt to carry on his legacy. Although our hearts are sad and we miss him every day, we remain steadfast in our faith and love for Jesus. We strongly believe in the words found in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-14, “Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him.” We love you and miss you dad!

What Happened to Sunday?

imageEarlier this summer, I had the privilege to lead one of our mission teams from Heritage Church to Christchurch, New Zealand. Our team flew out of Chicago late Saturday afternoon for our long journey. Our first flight took us to Los Angeles where we would catch our long flight over the Pacific Ocean to Auckland. We left LAX around 10:30 pm Saturday night for the twelve hour plus flight. In the course of our journey, we flew over the International Date Line which ultimately propelled us forward a day. We left on Saturday night and landed on Monday morning. In all my travels, this is the first time I have actually skipped an entire day during the course of a flight. I must admit, not having the chance to live out a day messes with your mind a little and at the very least throws the rest of your week completely out of whack.

This novelty of international travel to New Zealand of missing a complete day is a good story and conversation piece. But for me, it has become much more than a novelty or conversation piece. This experience is something I have reflected on over the past two months and continue to reflect on even now as I am writing. It has caused me to ask myself, What Happened to Sunday? There is so much wrapped up in this question for me. It has caused me to reflect on the days and life I have been given. What opportunities I have captured and seized and what opportunities I have forfeited out of complacency or aborted out of fear before they were ever given life. As long as God gives us breath and grants us another day to live, we are given 86,440 seconds, 1440 minutes, 24 hours in each day.

There is something about missing a day that doesn’t seem fair or right. Sometimes we miss days out of choice, illness, tragedy or neglect. In my case on the way to New Zealand, I gave up a day to gain an even greater experience of new friendships, new ministry opportunities and the beauty of God’s creation in a place I had never seen or been before. Ultimately, as I have worked through and reflected on the significance of what God has been trying to teach me through the experience of missing Sunday, I continue to come back to the plight of millions of orphans who miss days, weeks, months and years of their lives. For so many of them, there is no positive story or gain by giving up a day. For the orphan, they just forfeit another day of their lives unloved, untouched and uncared for in way too many cases.

Last year, I read a statement from Dr. Russell Moore in a proposed resolution he submitted to the Southern Baptist Convention in 2009 on Adoption and Orphan Care. Dr. Moore wrote, “Upward of 150 million orphans now languish without families in orphanages, group homes, and placement systems in North America and around the world.” Overall, there was not much information in this particular statement I was not already aware of, but the word that grabbed my attention and has unsettled my spirit ever since is the word, “Languish.” I am sure I had heard the word before but did not pay much attention to it or fully understand its meaning. As I sought out the definition of languish, my heart broke even more. Languish: To be or become weak or feeble; lose strength or vigor. To exist or continue in miserable or disheartening conditions. To remain unattended or be neglected. To become downcast or pine away in longing: languish apart from friends and family; languish for a change from dull routine.

For millions of orphans, they would long to ask, What Happened to Sunday? If it was only a matter of losing one day of their life out of care free living, selfishness or even complacency. But for most, one day turns into weeks, months and years until they lose the capacity to even ask what happened to Sunday if they ever had the ability at all. These institutionalized children often suffer delays emotionally, physically and socially because they lack the very basic needs God created for children to develop within a family. So children who would otherwise have no emotional, physical or social delays, develop such issues due to a lack of touch, love and food a child needs to grow and develop. For those orphans who already have special needs, their plight can often be worse because their value is perceived to be even less than the other children.

So the spiritual battle for the very soul of every orphan wages on. An enemy who comes to kill, steal and destroy those most precious to God happens every day around the world. So I continue to ask myself, how do I converge the desire to make everyday of my life count for God knowing the lives of so many precious children waist away day by day simply because of the environment in which they live. How do the nameless faces become real to those who love God and call upon His name? How do we make Sunday real to those children who at this point cannot even fathom what it would mean to be a part of a loving family? So what is your role in making sure you don’t reach the end of your life asking, What Happened to Sunday?

Heart Connection

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As an adoptive family, we are use to getting a wide variety of questions about our family. In light of our current situation with Hope’s heart surgery, the question that has risen to the top of the list is, “Did you know she had a heart condition before you adopted her.” I have come to realize what people are really asking is, “Did you choose her, knowing she had a heart condition?” The simple answer to that question is, yes. If it is possible to distinctly remember something when you are fighting to keep your eyes open, I distinctly remember the first time I heard a prayer request in an international church, the day after I arrived in China about a little girl who needed open heart surgery. A few days later, I held this same little girl in my arms. Her little blue fingers and blue lips were a clear indication of her need for heart surgery. Who would have known, other than God, it would take a heart connection for me to fulfill the call God had placed on Susan’s heart eight years earlier to adopt a little girl from China.

The way God stirred my heart towards Hope was through the open heart surgery I experienced when I was five years old. It was because of her heart condition that we chose her. Last Wednesday, July 3rd of 2013, a prayer request was answered from April of 2009. Hope had the open heart surgery she has so desperately needed for over four years.

Some of the reflections I have had over this past week associated with Hope’s surgery:

I am grateful to my parents for all they endured as a result of my open heart surgery. I better understand what they felt and the emotional toll it takes on a parent to watch your child experience this type of surgery and the recovery that ensues.

I am thankful to God for the gifts and abilities He has given to a talented few who have the knowledge, wisdom and precision to repair a damaged heart. For the nurses who serve unselfishly through the day and night to ensure a speedy recovery.

I now know why I am so extremely closterfobic. The number of tubes and wires attached to your body coming out of this type of surgery is astonishing. For children, your hands are strapped to the bed to preserve the many essential wires and tubes. To this day, I still can’t have anyone touch around my scar without becoming closterfobic.

I am grateful for special friends who stand beside you in both good times and hard times. Who serve unselfishly and with the humility of Christ. Whose presence brings a level of comfort even when no words are spoken.

I am thankful and grateful to a couple who we do not know and have never met, who opened their home to us while they are away, and gave our family a place to retreat to and stay during our entire time in Peoria. It is a witness of giving with an open hand and using what God has blessed them with to bless others.

I am both thankful and grateful for the prayers of so many on behalf of Hope and our family. I believe in the power of prayer. I praise God for answered prayer.

I am thankful for both sets of our parents who have ultimately provided the foundation of our faith to trust God in times of uncertainty. We are thankful to Susan’s parents for being here to help in so many tangible ways during our hospital stay and beyond.

I am proud of all of my kids for how they have handled this entire situation which is completely out of the norm of our daily lives. Reagan and Katelyn have done so well in so many ways and I am so proud of them both. They have supported their sister and encouraged her on her path to recovery. I am proud of Hope for her bravery and determination to go home as quickly as possible. She is a resilient little girl.

Words will fail to express how blessed I am to be married to Susan. On this day, we celebrate our fourteenth anniversary. It is fitting that we celebrate this day of our marriage in the hospital for our adopted daughter from China. If it were not for Susan’s obedience to the call God put on her heart to adopt a little girl from China, her persistence over eight years to encourage her stubborn husband to consider adoption, I would have missed out on so many experiences and miracles God has blessed our family with. I am forever grateful for your compassionate heart for the vulnerable and your faithfulness which brought Hope to our family. I Love You Susan!

This heart connection I share with Hope goes far beyond a single surgery. It speaks to all I have learned and been exposed to through our adoption journey. It speaks to the passion God has placed in my heart to care for the fatherless. It speaks to a better understanding of God’s love for me and how He chose me, even though I had a heart condition full of sin. It speaks to how our family has been enriched and changed for the better as Hope has become a daughter and a sister.

The one common congenital heart condition Hope and I both shared was a physical hole in our hearts. It is not unlike the spiritual hole in the heart of every person who is born on this earth. Just like the physical hole in our hearts needed to be repaired to ensure life, the spiritual hole in every persons heart can only be filled and repaired through Jesus Christ, to ensure life. Children’s hospitals usually have one common theme, create environments that mask and distract from the seriousness of the condition these precious children are facing. This world also has a common theme, to create environments to mask and distract from the seriousness of our condition without Christ. Jesus Christ has a heart connection with you. He chose you, knowing you had a heart condition.

“But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8

Baby No. 59 – Abandoned

It is hard to fathom what goes through the mind of a mother who has just carried a child in her belly for nine months, given birth to the child and then with the help of the father or on her own abandons the child in the toilet of a public restroom. This newborn baby with the placenta still attached was shoved down a traditional Chinese squatty potty and left to die. Thankfully, someone heard his cry and he was rescued. A section of the sewer pipe was cut out with this little boy stuck inside and delivered to the hospital. As I watched the video of this unfolding, there it was, a section of the pipe carefully removed exposing the face of this beautiful baby boy. Baby No. 59. The name he was given based on the incubator he now occupies in the hospital. Every face has a name. Sadly, some are simply a number, because those who should care the most have abandoned their role in giving a name with true meaning and purpose. Here is a link to the video to watch for yourself: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=As3VY7gEPnQ

This incident was hard enough to watch on it’s own, but it also stirred up emotions I felt very strongly when we were in China picking up Hope. Here is something I wrote while we were in China last year:

“We also received all of our notarized official documentation on Thursday. One of the forms was the certificate of abandonment which really brought about a range of emotions for me. I was sad for her biological parents because they missed out on such a wonderful, bright little girl who is so full of life. Sad for Hope knowing that dealing with being abandoned by her biological parents is something she will deal with through out her life. In the midst of those sad feelings, happy for us that she gets to be a part of our family and we get to be her parents. With those feelings comes a sense of guilt of being happy that she is with us when the best thing would have been loving biological parents. Emotions we will all have to wrestle with over time.”

Like Hope, this little boy will someday be asking the question, why did my parents not want me? The sad reality is, these parents are giving up a future of happiness and joy of knowing their child in the moment of abandonment. You so often hear children who have been abandoned say, do they ever think about me? Do they even care what I have become? There is a sense of emptiness I feel even writing about this and knowing Hope will be asking us these questions someday.

With all the happiness and joy Hope has brought into our family, with a personality that lights up the room and an intellect that will allow her to accomplish great things someday, I will have to try and answer her question of why she was not wanted. In those moments, my heart will break for her and the parents who chose to leave her in front of a hospital at three months of age. No matter how much love we have given her, no matter how successful she might become, long after her heart has been physically repaired, she will carry a wound, an emotional hole in her heart that will always wonder, why was I not wanted? Why was I not good enough?

So What’s in a Name?

It was 2:30 am on the night I returned from China in 2009. I was wide awake from jet lag and Susan was hanging in there just to be able to hear about this little Chinese girl I had met. This conversation was a long time coming for her. She had felt God stirring in her heart almost eight years earlier to adopt a little girl from China. God had finally captured my heart for this idea of adoption. Of course it only took me eight years and a trip to China to do it, but I was finally coming around.

In the midst of our conversation about this little girl we only knew as Xiao Xia, I had this thought come into my mind. If we really do adopt this little girl, I want to name her Hope. I was still dragging my feet and unwilling to share this thought with Susan. If I offered a possible name, it seemed like I was crossing a threshold of commitment to adoption I had not previously been willing to make. Just about 2 or 3 minutes later, still not having shared the name, my concerns became irrelevant. Susan spoke up and said to me, if we adopt her, I want to name her Hope. You can imagine my surprise as I shared with Susan, I just had the same thought minutes before. It was in that moment I knew we were going to adopt this little girl who we would call Hope.

So in the middle of the night, we headed towards our computer to learn how you go about adopting from China. The Shaohanna’s Hope website (back then) was the first site we went too. As we sat there, we talked and cried together about what God was now stirring in both of our hearts. Susan repeated something she had read or heard Stephen Curtis Chapman say about knowing this was his daughter in China and he just needed to go and get her. Now I don’t know where this statement came from or even how accurate it was at the time, but God used those words from Stephen Curtis Chapman spoken through my wife to confirm the same feeling I had in my heart. Upon hearing these words, I wept uncontrollably. The jet lag helped, but I was up the rest of the night reading about adopting from China.

I thought God’s confirmation of a name and my willingness to finally say yes to adoption was a clear sign to move forward. God had honored Susan’s obedience and patience with a less than unwilling husband. I thought the hard part was over since we were now both on the same page. First thing Monday morning when I began to call adoption agencies, I was unpleasantly surprised when the first few agencies refused to work with us after I shared my story of meeting Hope and our desire to adopt her. What we learned was China did not allow pre-identified adoptions. Simply put, if you meet a child, your not allowed to adopt them. This would take a miracle is what we were told. Like finding a needle in a haystack.

So What’s in a Name? We would learn over the next three years before bringing her home, there was so much more meaning to the letters, H O P E, the name God had clearly given to us. HOPE: The Desire Of Fulfillment, Faith, Trust, Expectation, Belief. There were many lonely days on our journey where we had to hope against hope. On many occasions it felt like Susan and I were the only one’s who believed in the miracle of bringing Hope home to our family. Hebrews 11:1 says it best, “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” In the end, our hope endured and allowed us to experience a God who still performs miracles in the 21st Century.

You Have to Start Somewhere

Every journey begins with the first step. I must admit I am somewhat jealous of those bloggers who have years of blog posts archived to their name. But just like me, they all started with their first blog post, they all started somewhere. I thought it would be symbolic for me to start my blogging journey on the day I began my journey here on earth forty-four years ago today.

I have always enjoyed writing. OK, now that I wrote that, I realized it might be an overstatement. Their have been seasons of my life where I have enjoyed writing. I wrote a monthly newsletter when I served for the Charlotte Eagles of Missionary Athletes International. I enjoyed sharing the amazing stories God did through my time serving in sports ministry. I enjoyed the writing I did while I was in seminary. I have plastic bins full of papers to prove my writing from seminary, and since they are all done and graded, I am going with the fact I enjoyed writing them. One of the goals I set for myself in 2013 was to start writing a blog. It has taken me five months and six days to get to this goal, but you have to start somewhere.

One of the reasons I have felt the urge to begin writing again is what God has been stirring in my heart over the past four years. In April of 2009, God rocked my world when I met a little girl in China named Zhang Xiao Xia. This little girl who I now call my daughter Hope has thoroughly changed my understanding of God’s love and the Gospel which I have always had a great passion towards sharing. The name of my blog is “Faces With Names” and expresses the longing I have to connect the reality of the faces of orphans we see in brochures, in videos and on television are real kids with real names. Psalm 147:4 says, God determines the number of the stars and calls each of them by name. If God knows the number of stars and knows their names, how much more does He know the names of every orphaned and vulnerable child who He created and designed in His image.

I completely understand the disconnect of not caring for orphans and their plight in the world. There was a time where they were a nameless face to me as well. But not anymore. Now, each day I stare into the face of a once abandoned child who we call Hope and realize God knows the names of every face, of every child. So I begin my journey of blogging to express the desire I have to bridge the gap of indifference to the estimated 153 million orphans around the world. Every face has a name! Are you willing to take the risk to ask God how you can know the name of at least one?