Why I Didn’t Cut My Hair For A Year (How God Brought A Baby Into Our Family)

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My wife and I dated each other for less than a year and then were married. We spent the first four years of our marriage investing our time and energy into serving others and getting to know each other before starting a family. 

After year four of marriage we were in a small, cold doctor’s office room being told by a fertility professional that I was 100% infertile and would never be able to help conceive a child for my wife. 

The next morning we started the paperwork to adopt an infant domestically. We entered into a journey to share love with a baby even though we were grieving the reality of the death of a dream of wanting to be pregnant.   

Last year, my wife prematurely gave birth to triplets at 22 weeks pregnant. Each baby died (you can read about it here). 

After a month of grieving, resting and allowing our church to love on us, we started the paperwork to adopt an infant domestically. We entered into another journey to share love with a baby even though we were grieving the reality of the death of a dream of parenting triplets. 

On September 1st, 2020, I decided not to cut my hair until the Lord answered our prayer to adopt a baby. On September 1st, 2021, He answered that prayer in an amazing way. 

We’ll get to that answer. 

Over the past year there has still been grieving. There’s been an empty nursery with the door shut in our home. My wife pursued professional counseling for six months. There’s been tears in worship services. With every Friends episode where Phoebe Buffay was pregnant with her brother’s triplets (if you don’t know, don’t worry), the TV channel was changed. 

As deep as the sorrowing reminders were, we were faithful to God in all of it. We weren’t sinless over the past year, but when it came to this specific pain of trusting His plan for our family, we were faithful. 

Over the past year we’ve been truly excited for each birth announcement shared with us. We’ve also empathized with those who miscarried and shared their pain with us. Even in the mountain of confusion on why God would permit my wife to be pregnant with three babies, knowing all three would die, we still held onto the promises of Scripture that He is good, He is loving, He works all things out for the good of those who love Him – and – even if in His divine plan He would not add another child to our home, we had Jesus and Jesus was more than enough for us. 

In Luke 9:62, Jesus says, “Anyone who puts a hand to the plow and then looks back is not fit for the kingdom of God.”. My wife and I decided to focus on what was ahead for our family instead of being stuck in the past of what happened. And while the lamenting of what happened will continue to be with us, the hope of an answered prayer helped keep us from being lesser versions of ourselves for our children, our friends, our church and our community. 

I made a Nazarite vow (Numbers 6:5) with God on September 1st, 2020. I was not going to cut my hair until the Lord brought a baby into our family. This was not an ultimatum to the Lord, my God is not a genie. This was a reminder for me to pray to the Lord, because, my God is faithful. 

And the hair did not look pretty. 

Being a pastor at a church with 3 worship services, I got asked weekly what was going on with my hair, when was I going to cut my hair, did I own a mirror, did my wife approve of what was going on with my hair – and all of it were reminders to pray for a baby. 

Of the triplets that died and are now with the Lord, the third of three babies that was born lived for 17 hours. We thoroughly enjoyed the time we had with him. We named our son Samuel Dominic. Samuel, meaning, “God heard” and Dominic meaning “of the Lord”. Hang onto that name.

In mid-August this year, my wife and I spent 10 days in Kenya serving the impoverished and encouraging missionaries. Part of our time there was visiting schools of children who were given the gift of education, nutrition, medical care and spiritual training through an amazing mission our church supports. 

On one of the days were were touring a school, the school was actually on a break. All of the students were gone. But, for some reason, there was one 5th grade class that was meeting in-person to catch up on their studies. At this school, of the 27 classes, only one was on campus. On campus on this particular day we were visiting, there was one head teacher (the principal), one teacher, one class. 

When we walked into the classroom we were greeted by the students with big smiles. They welcomed us. They cheered for us. They sang for us. And they recited a memory verse for us, Proverbs 19:21, which says: 

“Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the LORD that will stand.”

My wife and I introduced ourselves and answered all the questions this class had. Then we asked them to introduce themselves and we learned that the school’s principal’s name was Samuel. 

Then we learned that the only teacher on campus that day’s name was Dominic.

Samuel. Dominic. 

And my wife and I cried in the classroom.

We cried due to a mixture of emotions. On one side we were looking back at a reminder of the pain that we went through. On the other side, it was a stark, obvious reminder that our God was working. Meeting Samuel and Dominic at a school where only one class was meeting encouraged us. It was as if God was whispering, “I’m still making all things good for you”. 

We were able to share our story of pain with the classroom as a testimony to the memory verse they recited for us that they might have big dreams and plans, but no matter how it all unfolds, Jesus must be held onto tightly because it is truly God’s purpose that will prevail. 

We landed back in the States on a Wednesday at 2:00pm. At 8:00pm the same day we received a call from our adoption agency that a birthmom in Texas had chosen us to adopt her baby. 

The day we got this news was September 1st, 2021. Exactly a year after I had decided not to cut my hair. 

6 hours after being back home, we were told that a birthmom had chosen us to adopt her baby and that she was scheduled to have a C-section the following Wednesday and that we were to be present for the birth. 

Wow! Our God is so amazing. It gets crazier. 

The next morning after finding out we were going to be parents again, I’m mowing our backyard due to be gone for 10 days, and I get a phone call again from our adoption agency letting us know the birthmom went into labor and gave birth to a child earlier that morning and that we were to get to Texas ASAP. 

Without even being able to think, we threw clothes into bags, grabbed our two daughters and boarded a plane to Texas. Our daughters were going to miss their first day of school but they were not going to miss out on this adventure. 

After connecting flights, a rental car and some more driving, we arrived at a small town hospital in central Texas. We were given our own hospital room as the sweet nurses of the hospital rolled a newborn baby girl into our presence. Instantly we became a family of five. 

Two days later the birthmom courageously signed the baby girl over to our guardianship to raise her in our loving home and we were able to name her. 

As with all of the previous five children we’ve been honored to name, we have prayerfully given Scriptural meaning and truth to our kids names. Not only do we see that the names of people in the Bible have meaning, it’s also a daily reminder to us of those Scriptural truths to us and our children. 

We have named this beautiful baby girl Raphaela Jean. 

Raphaela means: “God heals”. While Jesus alone brings the only true healing in the brokenness we experience, Raphaela’s presence immediately brought elation, gratitude and joy. God has already worked through her to help heal us. 

Jean means: “God is gracious”. He is so gracious. We don’t deserve another child. We don’t deserve a story of adventure like this to share with others. We don’t deserve another testimonial example of how faithful God is and yet we have these things because He is gracious.

Raphaela Jean. God heals and is gracious.

And that’s what we would want you to know in whatever pain and confusion you are grieving. God does heal and He is gracious. He will heal the brokenness you carry and even when it seems the pain is taking so long to bear, it’s also healing to focus on the areas of our lives where He has been gracious to us. He has given us so much. 

6 hours after being back in America God brought healing and grace to us. 6 hours on a cross, Jesus brought healing and grace to the world.

My family and I are utterly grateful for the support of our community of faith, our church, the past year. They have uplifted us in prayer and encouragement and we can’t wait to share this miracle of God with them. 

Thanks for reading. You are so loved by God. 

Z

Finding God’s Will For Your Life (How To Discover Your Calling)

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A year ago today, July 15, 2020, I took a lunch break to visit my wife and kids who were hanging out with friends at a nearby splash pad/playground. 

Little did I know that my wife, pregnant with triplets, would be rushed to the hospital hours later and be told her water broke and the babies weren’t going to survive the night. 

Many people know the ending and have been with us prayerfully and emotionally this past year. My family and I are grateful beyond words for your support and presence in our pain (if you don’t know about this season of ours, you can read about it here).

What people don’t know is that when I found out Whit was rushed to the hospital, I dropped our daughters off at a friends home and drove to Detroit to be with her. And on the drive, I had two prayer requests. They would be the same two prayer requests that I would have driving to the hospital to spend the day with my wife for the next 18 days and then driving home to be with our daughters at night.

One of the two prayer requests was: 

(1) Lord, give me Your strength to be a rock for my wife. 

I promised God that I would show all of my fear to Him if He would show my faith in Jesus to Whit. 

See, Whit’s body was involuntarily shaking the night she was admitted. She had put so much unnecessary pressure on herself to protect the babies inside her and it had turned into an impossible battle between her mind and her body. She was shaking and she didn’t want to shake.

I had a friend print on a large banner Psalm 55:22, which says, “Cast your burden upon the LORD and He will sustain you; He will never let the righteous be shaken.

I hung the banner in her room at eye level where she could see it every moment fear crept into her mind.  

I brought pictures of our family and our memories and taped them all over her hospital room. I had our daughters write a card to Whit every day and taped them on the wall. We prayed together out loud more than we ever have our entire marriage, and this in itself was a blessing.

Her body stopped shaking because the anxiety of the unknown wouldn’t shake our faith.  

Not only was I able to ugly cry on each drive to and from the hospital and then be strong for Whit in support and love, but Whit was able to be such an example of faith in her hospital room that doctors, nurses, practitioners, cafeteria workers and janitors all cried tears of overwhelming amazement at this woman’s faith in Jesus.

The other prayer request I had each day back and forth from the hospital was: 

(2) Father, please don’t allow me to have a faith in You that is conditional. 

Meaning, if these babies die, I didn’t want it to harm my love for God. If these babies had long-term health complications, I didn’t want to get angry at God. If my wife was threatened with a life-threatening infection (which occurred), I didn’t want to let go of my commitment to Jesus. 

I wanted to be a rock for Whit, through the power of the Spirit, and I wanted to have a faith in Jesus with no strings attached to it. 

Did I pray for God to do the miraculous and sustain the lives of those three babies inside my wife? Of course I did. Did I beg God to protect the health of my wife? Of course I did. Did I pray for God to lead the church I was serving as we had just come back to in-person worship a year ago? Of course I did. 

It’s just those prayers weren’t primary. 

The health of my wife, the health of the babies, the health of the church we served weren’t my gods. Jesus was and Jesus is. He is primary. He is center. He is my life. 

I didn’t want this trial to give me a reason to be mad at God just because He didn’t give me what I wanted and I didn’t want this trial to be wasted with me complaining or being selfish by not being there for my wife in her most dire point of need. 

Since that day the Gospel has been preached through our tragedy and so many people have had their faith in God grow because they witnessed the testimony of our faith. Those are the miracles I deeply care about and am grateful for. 

Lately there’s been a theme in my conversations with people who are seeking for God’s will in their lives. They want an open door. They want clarity. They want to do big things for God. They want an influence. They’re bouncing around life like a frog on lily pads searching for the big thing God wants them to do. 

Let me share this as plainly and as lovingly as I can: God’s will is not as exciting as you think it should be. God’s will is found in the mundane. Impact is not found from a stage in front of throngs of people who are awed by one’s talents and presence. Impact is found in those who are faithful to God in the utter confusion of life’s brokenness. 

It’s a very dangerous prayer for you to ask for God’s will in your life (especially if you’re confused about the concept of God’s will). God’s will is not for you to make a difference. God’s will is not for you to change the world. He will make a difference. He will change the world.

God’s will is for you to be faithful. 

And that’s a dangerous prayer because it’s the painful seasons that show how closely our behavior lines up with our beliefs in Christ. 

It’s that too generic of an answer for you, it shouldn’t be. Whatever hopes/adventures/plans you have for your future, go after them. Go after them full speed after praying on it and seeking wisdom from others, but, whether they work out in the way you want or not, be faithful. Have specific goals and aspirations, be faithful no matter the outcome.

If you get mad at God because He won’t give you what you want, it shows you do have a conditional faith in God and you won’t be a rock for others in their pain.

Every day. In the pain. In the confusion. In the heartache. In the fatigue. In the let down. Be faithful. 

If that’s not appeasing to you, Christian, then maybe you love a future opportunity more than you love Jesus.

Your calling in life is not to find out how to align your giftings, passion and dreams and ask God to rubber stamp it all as His will. Your calling is to be faithful no matter what. 

No matter if the finances get tight, be faithful. 
No matter if the job gets lost, be faithful. 
No matter if it’s cancer, be faithful. 
No matter if a dating or married couple break up, be faithful. 
No matter if you had a horrible upbringing as a child, be faithful. 
No matter if you’ve been bullied, attacked and emotionally abused, be faithful. 
No matter if the people around you run into the world to give them their satisfaction and identity, be faithful.
No matter if you can’t find love, can’t have a child, can’t reconcile with loved ones, be faithful. 

When you let go of Jesus you let go of your calling. 

A year later after seeing my wife daily refuse to let go of Jesus – even while letting go of three of her children, and her dream of giving birth and holding breathing babies – she has made such an impact in my life and in the lives of those around her.

Today she’s going back to the splashpad/playground with friends to live another grateful, faithful day.

Praise God for my wife’s faith. Praise God for our trial. Praise God for Jesus Christ. Praise God He’s given us another day to be faithful to Him no matter what happens.

You are loved.

Z

4 Groups Most People Are Like (Be Like the Few)

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The books about the historical life of Jesus in the Bible are called the Gospels. There are four of them. Each book is written to a different audience in mind. With four different contexts and four different authors, we have access to different accounts of Jesus’ life. 

The only miracle Jesus performed that is in all four Gospels is the feeding of the 5,000 (Matthew 14; Mark 6; Luke 9; John 6). There must be something significant for each Gospel writer and the Holy Spirit to include this account in the limited pages of their biography of Jesus’ earthly life.  

The miracle of feeding 5,000 men (adding women and children it could’ve been 15,000 people) occurred by Jesus praying over 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish and then seeing it multiplied to feed throngs of people. You would’ve thought Jesus’ little ministry up to that point would’ve let to a mega-ministry.

It didn’t.

We can learn a lot about ourselves and those in our lives from the 15,000 people who came to hear Jesus preach and be fed by Him and how we do not want to be like most of them.

1. Very few people care about their soul and eternal life more than they care about their body and this life. 

Why do 15,000 people leave their homes, travel to be around Jesus early in His ministry? Yes, some came to hear His wisdom. Some came to feel His love. Many came to see a miracle. Many came to have their bellies full. 

As long as Jesus was extending their physical life, they were interested in Him. 

We can be exactly the same. 

As a church leader I have access to the prayer requests of people. By far the prayer requests are more about physical health than about spiritual health. 

Think about how we treat our day. We exercise. We try to eat well. We drink water. We shower. We get our bodies ready for the day. We constantly are thinking about our physical health.

We seem to care more about the condition of our physical body than our spiritual soul. 

While feeding those who have come to be near Jesus, He saw their true motivations. 

Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, you want to be with me because I fed you, not because you understood the miraculous signs. But don’t be so concerned about perishable things like food. Spend your energy seeking the eternal life that the Son of Man can give you. [John 6:26-27]

2. Very few people are loyal no matter what. Most people are bandwagon fans. 

My youngest child is a bandwagon fan. When watching a sporting event, she will pick the team that is winning and when that team begins to lose, she will switch to root for the other team that took the lead and it’s back-and-forth like a ping pong match with where her loyalties lie. 

The crowd that comes to see Jesus, they had heard about Him healing people. They had heard about Him turning water into wine at a wedding. They had come from afar to be fed by Him miracuosly. They heard His life-changing teachings. It should’ve been enough. And yet we see right after the feeding of the 5,000: 

At this point many of his disciples turned away and deserted him. [John 6:66]

Bandwagon fans. 

Faith in Jesus is not about believing in Him so you get what you want. Faith in Jesus is holding onto Him especially when you don’t get what you want. Very few are loyal when God doesn’t meet their expectations.

[Side note: Be aware of your complaining nature. In John 6:61, before all of these followers desert Jesus and give up on Him, it says “Jesus was aware of their complaining”. Complaining is a step toward giving up on Jesus.}

3. Very few people see that there is more than enough evidence to believe in Jesus. 

On top of the water-into-wine miracle, on top of healing people of ailments, on top of teaching like no one had ever taught, on top of WALKING ON WATER and CALMING A SIGNIFICANT STORM – people still didn’t believe Jesus was Who He said He was (God Himself). 

After Jesus takes a Jewish boys lunchable and feeds thousands with it, the crowds still demand more. 

They answered, “Show us a miraculous sign if you want us to believe in you. What can you do? [John 6:30]

This is after Jesus fed them miraculously. 

When we doubt God, we have these thoughts of, “God, IF You are real, IF You are loving, IF You are good, IF You are powerful enough, THEN do this for me

No. We have more than enough evidence of God moving in our lives already. We need to keep our IFs out our prayers when speaking of God’s charatcter. He IS real. He IS loving. He IS good. He IS all-powerful. 

4. Very few people would follow Jesus if He showed up in person today. 

Here is what Jesus said to the crowds the day after feeding and teaching them: 

But you haven’t believed in me even though you have seen me. [John 6:36]  

If it happened then, it would happen today. 

God is pursuing people so vigorously today to show skeptics His love and His providence and His blessings, but even physically sending Jesus again there would be people closing their hearts and minds to true life itself. 

What about you?
Do you care more about your physical body than your spiritual soul?
Are you a bandwagon Christian when God doesn’t give you what you want? 
Do you still doubt in God’s love and goodness when things don’t go your way? 
Very few people do. 

The gate to life is very narrow and the road is difficult, and only a few find it. [Matthew 7:14]

Thanks for reading. You are loved. 

Z

5 Mindsets to Suffocate Your Fears

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Always be full of joy in the Lord. I say it again—rejoice! Let everyone see that you are considerate in all you do. Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus. [Philippians 4:4-7]

With so much going on in our lives, with our loved ones and our country, there is much to be fearful of. It seems like the only thing that is not unprecedented right now is the anxiety many people are experiencing daily. 

Here are five mindsets to starve your fears: 

1. Look at life like it’s a railroad track, not peaks and valleys.

One of the self-inflicted ways we harm our attitude and perspective on how things are going is by putting our life in good seasons and bad seasons. We talk about mountains and valleys. It unconsciously affects our emotional outlook of whether or not we have a happy mood (good season, mountain peak) or a negative mood (bad season, valley). 

When we believe we’re in a valley season, we neglect to appreciate the good in our lives. 
When we believe we’re in a peak season, we become unaware that a trial is on its way toward us.

Rather than looking at what is happening in us, to us and around us as highs and lows, we need to look at life like it’s a railroad track. Railroad tracks have two sides to them heading in a parallel direction. 

Instead of seeing life as a series of good seasons and bad seasons, our perspective should be that good and bad are happening congruently at the same time. There is always something to be thankful for and there is always a difficulty to be working through. Keep one eye on each side of the tracks.

Having the discipline to see the good track with our view of things alongside the bad will take away the oxygen for anxiety and fear to breathe. Thank God for the good, trust Him when it’s scary.

Always be full of joy in the Lord. I say it again – rejoice! [Philippians 4:4]

2. Decision-making needs to come from the rudder, not the sails. 

Anger, out of fear, is the emotion we have when we can’t control the things we want to control. 

Pride, out of insecurity, is the emotion we have when we’re excited about how our lives are going. 

Too many of our decisions are coming immediately from our emotions, and the majority of those impulsive choices are damaging our relationships and the reputation we want those watching our lives to have of us. 

Our emotions are more like the sail of a boat than they are like the rudder. We feel fear, we feel anxiety, we feel out of control and we react right away, like sails do when the wind hits. 

When the pressured storms of life hit, instead of permitting our emotions to drive us where we go, we need to let reasonableness and wisdom direct our responses to what is going on. Instead of our decisions being the sails taking us immediately where the wind goes, they need to be viewed as the rudder of a ship: steady, secure, even-keel, stable. 

Being considerate of how our words and actions will be viewed by God and others allows the rudder of faith to drive our lives rather than the sails of emotion. 

Let everyone see that you are considerate in all you do. [Philippians 4:5]

3. When fear is felt, make the Indiana Jones switch from panic to prayer. 

Remember watching the opening sequence of Raiders of the Lost Ark when Indiana Jones desired to take a small golden statue? If he just took the statue, an ancient alarm system would trigger a huge boulder to roll over him and make him Flat Stanley. 

To trick the alarm system, with steady hands he quickly takes the golden statue and then replaces it with a bag of sand (which, I don’t know why he thought the weight would be the same as gold is so much more dense than sand is) – but the quick switch is what I want us to focus on. 

The second that panic is felt, we need to switch it to prayer. 

When fear is felt, our heart races and becomes heavy as gold. Our mind flies through all of the hypothetical possible dangers of what could or could not happen. We become paralyzed and miss out on the adventurous, joyful life God has in store for us. 

Whether the fear felt is real, or whether it’s a lie, it needs to be switched out and prayer needs to be done immediately so the large boulder of anxiety doesn’t flatten our faith in Jesus. 

Freaking out is not a fruit of the Spirit. 
Non-Christians freak out. 
Faithfulness is a fruit of the Spirit.
Christians pray and trust God.  

Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. [Philippians 4:6]

4. Treat prayer like ordering from a fancy menu: be specific. 

My tastebuds are not fans of three ingredients: onions, mushrooms and coconut. When I take my wife out on a date to a fancy restaurant, the majority of the meals have the three ingredients I don’t love. 

When I order, I have to be specific on what I want and what I don’t want. 

Let’s say a waiter came to my table at a nice restaurant and asked me, What would you like? How weird would it be if I just said: Food. I want food. The waiter can serve me better the more specific I am – AND – I can enjoy the experience better the more specific I am. 

When praying to God, we need to be very specific. Being specific doesn’t invite God to know what we want, He knows what we want before we even ask, but what it does is it allows us to see the specific ways God will answer our prayers the more we drill down what we want exactly. 

Also, Scripture teaches us that we don’t get because we don’t ask. The more generic we are in our prayers the more vague of a timeline the answers will arrive. 

I don’t want us to treat God like He’s a genie, but sometimes the specific desires of our hearts needs to be laid out in articulate, exact requests. 

When fear rises up, replace it with prayer. Specific prayer. Tell God exactly what you need.

Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. [Philippians 4:6]

5. Finding God’s peace means being in God’s presence.

Anxiety, worry, depression and fear are not from God. If those emotions are reigning in our hearts and minds, God’s presence will feel far away.

Our God has the ultimate goal to guard our emotional life like a soldier. 

Sometimes during nights where we can’t sleep and our minds are full of fear, sometimes during moments in the day when we feel shaken due to what’s going on that we can’t control – we need to acknowledge the presence of God – out loud. 

Simply saying, I refuse to be afraid. I welcome You, Lord, I welcome Your Spirit, I welcome Your truth, I welcome Your power right now in this room, in my heart, in my mind, for my future. 

And then being in the presence of God, you will find the peace of God. 

Light drives our darkness.
Truth drives out lies.
Perfect drives out fear.  

Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus. [Philippians 4:7]

This is the ministry of the Holy Spirit.

Thanks for reading. You are loved. 

Z

Words of Lament: How 3 Of Our Children Died In 3 Days

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On July 15th of this year, my wife Whitney was urgently rushed to a hospital in Detroit, Michigan. At the time, she was 20 weeks pregnant with triplets. Doctors informed us that her cervix had opened, that there was a bulging sac and that the babies were going to be delivered far too premature that evening. 

I stayed the night at the hospital with Whit and no babies were delivered. We call that an answered prayer. 

The next morning I read through Proverbs chapter 16 where the first line says, 

We can make our own plans, but the Lord gives the right answer. 

Our plans, our dreams, as a married couple, was to have my wife become pregnant, experience pregnancy and give birth. It had been a desire on her heart for most of her life. 

Unable to conceive naturally, years into our marriage we have pursued in-vitro fertilization via embryo adoption four times. 

Attempt #1: Chemical pregnancy (false positive)

Attempt #2: Chemical pregnancy (false positive)

Attempt #3: Conception (miscarriage at 9 weeks)

Attempt #4: Conception (pregnant with 3 fetuses)

With each attempt there are mountains of paperwork, finances, medication, injections and prayer. But the dream we had to expand our family and love on another child was all worth it without a question. 

This past April was when we found out Whit was pregnant with triplets, and we were ecstatic. Not only was there hope of a baby coming, but it was threefold. The magnanimity overshadowing this attempt was that we were told this would be the last chance at pregnancy after three previous unsuccessful ones. 

Sure there was a pandemic starting, and school was canceled, and our family was moving out of state, but we couldn’t stop praising God for an answered prayer as Whit’s pregnancy prolonged through the first trimester with three healthy babies. 

When she was 19 weeks pregnant, we announced the exciting news to social media. Five days later she was a high risk patient in the hospital with doctors telling us the babies were coming too early and there wasn’t much they could do. 

Five days after that, her water broke. The doctors told us the babies were going to be born any minute, yet for the next 12 days no babies were born. We call that an answered prayer. 

On July 31, at 1:39AM, 16 days after Whit was first put on bed rest in the hospital, a child was delivered. A baby girl was born at 22 weeks and 2 days. She came out still born and we were able to hold her and cry and thank God for her. 

The concern at that point was that Whit would get infected. If she showed signs of fever or a high white blood cell count, the other two babies would have to be induced because at that point the situation would be life-threatening to Whit. Her health was primary to us. 

Later on July 31st, her fever spiked to 102.9° and she started having chills. At that point it was a no brainer, Whit was given medication to give birth to the other two babies. 

On August 1st, the other two babies were delivered. At 4:20pm another baby girl was born at 22 weeks and 3 days. She came out and gave one exhale and eventually within minutes had no heart rate. We were able to hold her and cry and thank God for her. 

11 minutes later a son was born. He had a heart rate and had low oxygen levels but came alive out of the womb. He was rushed to the NICU immediately. His weight was just under 1 pound. 

Over the first hours of his life he was put on a ventilator, and then another ventilator and a third ventilator. He was given two blood transfusions, given sugar, caffeine, hydrochloride, saline and multiple doses of dopamine. 

He was considered by the nurse first in charge of his care to be a fighter and ended up fighting for 17 hours, dying at 9:40AM, August 2nd. The last moments of his life Whit and I were able to hold our son and cry and thank God for him in our lives. 

Sometimes God blesses parents to love their kids for a lifetime, sometimes for a day.

Three babies, all three dead on three different days due to being too early in birth. During our time in the hospital, we were constantly educated that if the babies could make it in the womb until 23-25 weeks, there was a good chance at their survival. That was our prayer, and our three children almost made it to that goal.   

We can make our own plans, but the Lord gives the right answer. (Proverbs 16:1)

Hadassah Lynne, born and dead July 31. Her name means: One who brings joy, of the church. 

Beatrix Tyler, born and dead August 1. Her name means: One who brings happiness, home builder. 

Samuel Dominic, born August 1, dead August 2. His name means: The Lord heard, of the Lord. 

The most amazing moment happened on Samuel’s first and only night on this earth. While in the incubator, his heart rate was dramatically dropping around 11:30pm. The doctors were doing everything they could but things looked grim. They asked me to go get Whit since she hadn’t seen or met him yet. 

When Whit got to the NICU, she asked if she could touch Samuel. With her two hands around his tiny head and chest, over the course of an hour, his heart rate, blood oxygen level and pulse all went up to the best they ever would be during his 17 hours of life. The doctors were amazed. We call that an answered prayer. 

There is a lot of confusion, loss and sadness right now, but rather than focus on those things at this time, let me give you the other answered prayers we were able to experience: 

  • Our dream was for Whit to get pregnant, to experience pregnancy, to go into labor and all of those things occurred. 
  • Being in love with having daughters, I had prayed for a son to see what that was like. Out of the three babies who died, our son survived birth as we were able to know him and hold him.
  • Each day Whit was on bedrest, with each healthy ultrasound given, the doctors kept telling us that something beyond science was happening. Again, they said on July 15th the babies were coming and to see Whit be prayed for and to watch her fight for the chance at life was beyond anything they had seen. We like it when faith and science work together and medical professionals noticed. 
  • My wife and I have been a praying couple in our marriage, but at no other time in our relationship had we prayed together, cried out to God together more than these past few weeks. It’s an intimate thing to pray with your spouse. We were able to tangibly feel God’s care for us by doing so. 
  • Our church stepped up to love on us practically during the 18 days of bedrest. They made meals for our family, mowed our yard, took care of our kids, sent flowers, gave gifts and kept checking in letting us know we were prayed for. 
  • Our witness for Christ was known throughout the entire hospital by nurses, doctors and administrative workers. With all of the sorrow, tears and loss, the hugs given to us came with comments like “We have never seen a couple with more resolve, faith and gratitude than you two.” Every new nurse that came in to care for Whit, they had already known about Whit’s joyous and kind spirit even while going through the scariest trial of her life. My faith in God grew and my love for her increased just by watching her character in hardship.  

During Whit’s time in the hospital, she would write in her gratitude journal, listing things she was grateful for to God rather than worrying about the future in the worst way. She would write thank you cards to express her gratitude to others while they were serving us in this time. She would read her Bible, listen to worship songs, read a book about anxiety, write encouraging notes for our two older daughters and always would uplift the spirit of the nurses and doctors checking on her. 

To see her be bedridden enduring all the IV’s and blood tests and morphine and pain and the bed pans and the lack of showering and the inability to sleep a full night and the concerns of a dream dying, to know the pressure she felt even though none of what occurred was anything she did or didn’t do, to know this was her last attempt at IVF, with all that going on, those able to witness her faith in God completely floored them. 

I want you to know, my dear brothers and sisters, that everything that has happened to me here has helped to spread the Good News. (Philippians 1:12)

Since Hadassah’s death, I have been walking a little slower. 

Walking around the hospital God brought to mind a memory of my father that expressed the emotions I was having. 

When I was in the 6th grade, my father, a pastor, came into my bedroom the week before Christmas. He was wearing a suit and tie and he asked me to get dressed up. It was 10AM and I argued with him stating I wanted to stay home in my scrub clothes and watch TV. He kept asking me to get dressed. I finally gave in as I came downstairs in wrinkled khakis and a sweater. We got into his Chevy Blazer and drove off. 

My dad didn’t tell me where we were going even though I kept asking. 30 minutes later we pulled into a hospital. My dad grabbed his Bible from the back seat, and he and I walked into the cancer wing of a Cincinnati hospital. 

Over the next hour I witnessed my father officiate a wedding inside a hospital room. The patient, a dad with cancer, had the dream of walking his daughter down the aisle. His daughter was engaged to be married in six months, in June. Plans changed when the father had been told earlier that week that he only had days to live. 

So this dad could see his daughter be married and get to be a part of one of the biggest, joy-filled days of her life, my father showed up to the hospital room in December to officiate, as tears mixed with sadness by all were falling in the room. 

Had I remained lazy and whiney at home earlier that day, I would’ve not of only missed out on the emotion I felt that day, but also what my dad said when we got back into the car. 

My dad said, with tears in his eyes, “Z……I hate death……..but I love you and I love Jesus.” 

Twenty years later, on his own deathbed due to cancer, after he had walked his daughter down the aisle just two months before, I said to my father, “Dad, I hate death, but I love you and I love Jesus.” 

And with the death of three children in three days, it’s the exact sentiment I have. 

I hate death. I hate it. 

As people are unsure how to respond to our pain currently, we have heard that this is part of God’s plan. Our 8 year old, after initially hearing her siblings are dead, cried out to us, “How could something this horrible be part of God’s plan? I thought God is loving?”  

He is loving, but I had no words for her in the moment. Yes, it could be viewed as God’s plan for our family, a purpose we may never visually realize going forward, but there is also an evil side to this. There is an unseen but not unfelt wicked presence in our world. The devil’s only obsession each and every day is to hurt God by hurting us. 

I don’t understand how people go through the brokenness in this world without Jesus. How do people do it without His love and without a longing for heaven, a place where there is no pain or sadness?

Yes, I hate death. But still, I love people and I love Jesus so much. 

Thanks for reading and I thank you for prayers for my wife and myself as we move forward in grief and gratitude. 

Z

5 Questions to Ask in the Midst of Suffering

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What can help  during times of stress and confusion, anger and anxiety, is trying to walk in the path of pain others are going through.

One man who has the credibility to speak to all of us on suffering, is the apostle Paul, a Christ-follower who lived during the first century.

One area Paul dearly loved was the city of Philippi. Philippi was a regional city where Paul preached the gospel to people, primarily to women, who became Christians and were part of the core group that planted the first church there. Paul cared for the Philippian church and they cared for him.

Later on in his life Paul is in prison for being a Christian. He writes a letter to the church in Philippi. At this point she is 11 years of age. It’s been four years since he’s physically been to Philippi. The church in Philippi heard that Paul was suffering in prison. They were concerned about his health, so they generously took up an offering, gave money, and sent it to Paul with a man they trusted named Epaphroditus, a deacon in the church. On his way to be with Paul, Epahphrodites becomes ill, close to death. Not only is Philippi’s founding pastor close to death, now their deacon is, and they church is waiting to see how their leaders will respond to the suffering they are going through.

In his dirty jail cell, Paul responds. He sits down and writes to the Philippians to ease their anxieties. What a privilege that God would preserve this letter centuries later of a man who writes of joy in his suffering. He writes:

I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel. (Philippians 1:12)

We don’t know exactly what has happened to Paul here. Is he hungry? Is he looking for bugs to eat? Is he freezing? Does he have a blanket or does he shiver all night long? Does he have broken bones? Are his wounds infected? Is he alone?

He goes on to say:

It has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ. And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.(Philippians 1:13-14)

Paul is suffering. More impactful is that he is showing us that there is a way to suffer in a way that is purposeful, not purposeless.

The old school word for this is: sanctification. Sanctification is: Through suffering/pain/mourning/loss/confusion/silence/strife, the opportunity is there to become more and more fashioned into the character of Jesus Christ.

Like the Philippian church watching Paul, those around you are waiting to see how you will respond to your suffering. Here are five questions to reflect on to see if you allow your suffering to become more like Jesus or not:

#1: Does your suffering compel you to love Jesus more? 

Some of you know what I’m talking about. In your suffering you’ve lost everyone and everything but Jesus and He is the true treasure in your life. Some have learned to love Jesus more because they realize that our God didn’t stay distant, but chose suffering and you love Him so much more because you and I would never choose to suffer for someone else in the way He did. Suffering for the Christian should never compel them to love Jesus less.

#2 Will your suffering purify your motives? 

If we are Christians, we are commanded to do all things for the glory of God. I would confess that everything I do is not for God’s glory, and it’s because my motives are mixed up a lot of the time. Even with the knowledge of Scripture, even with encouraging Christian friends, even with the Holy Spirit’s moral compass inside me, my motives can become selfish, lazy, prideful, idolatrous. In a word: impure.

Paul, beaten and alone in prison has no health, no wealth, no freedom. HE HAS NOTHING TO GAIN, and yet his motives are pure. He suffers for Jesus without complaining to God, doubting Him or accusing Him of being unreasonable.

#3 Will your suffering refocus your priority to follow Jesus daily? 

When suffering comes we can become so easily sidetracked from the mission of God and the message of Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection. All of the sudden we find ourselves not primarily focusing our lives on Jesus and His will for our life (to obey Him) and His mission for our existence (to share Him with others around us in word and action).

Instead of pursuing Jesus we can pursue people, and experiences and possessions and pleasure, sin, instead of Christ. It’s easy to lose sight that in every situation there is an opportunity for Jesus to do a work inside you and for Jesus to do good work through you.

In every circumstance, ESPECIALLY in times of struggle, there is an opportunity for you to know Jesus better, for you to be drawn closer to Jesus, for you to recommit your life back to Jesus and His mission of spreading the Gospel to those around you.

It would be an ideal day that when suffering comes to all of us, when the world and the church sees each one of us suffer, they would also see Jesus in our words and actions and either be drawn to Him in faith for the first time, or be matured in the faith. I want you to show people in suffering a lifestyle that would not be possible a part from Jesus being with you.

The faithful who have gone before are begging us not to waste your times and seasons of suffering. Your tears should not be in vain. Your struggle should not be in vain. It should not be wasted. It should not be neglected or abandoned or ignored. It has purpose. Your suffering should be embraced as a divine opportunity for God to grow us and use us.

#4 Will your example of suffering become an opportunity to speak of Jesus’ suffering? 

If we suffer as an example of how Jesus suffered for us and the world, we suffer well. Paul is an example to this. He is chained, literally, to another person, a soldier, who has to keep watch over Paul. He has no freedom. And in this circumstance, Paul, being focused on the gospel, assumes that it is God’s divine plan that this particular soldier is chained to him for a reason: to be saved. Paul’s mindset is, God wouldn’t chain someone to me unless they were intended to meet Jesus. He praises God for the opportunity to witness to the soldiers that come into his cell and become chained to him.

Some of you feel metaphorically chained to your desk at work, maybe a stay-at-home mom feels chained to the house. Some of you will find yourselves stuck in a hospital bed, chained to chemotherapy or treatment of a sickness. Some of you are chained to living a single life, wanting companionship. Some are chained to a relationship that God will not let you break for a reason, and in any instance of suffering we ask, God, why am I still chained here? 

Paul would say on behalf of God, You aren’t chained to these situations. They are all opportunities for God to bring people into our experiences of suffering and to speak of Him in joy, and to suffer like Him in courage and honesty to make a difference in the world. 

#5 Will people grow closer to Jesus as a result of your suffering? 

We cannot be so simple-minded to think that our suffering has nothing to do with our witness.

My wife and I are unable to conceive a child together. I have a firm faith that the heartache of being in a marriage that is infertile will lead someone else closer to Christ.

Right now for a young girl, who isn’t even close to meeting the love of her life, but she will, eventually. And in time they will get married and enjoy life together and the thrill of being best friends and growing together. And they will have friends who have babies and that will instill a desire in them to start a family one day and when that day comes, and when frustration and confusion and anger surrounds their marriage, when they receive news that they are barren – AT THAT MOMENT, God will usher them into my life, into my wife’s life, and we will lead them to closer to Christ through the suffering we are enduring right now.

Paul says, Not only are the soldiers chained to me experiencing the gospel, they’re telling everyone in his imperial guard (some Bible translations in verse 13 say Praetorium), over 9,000 soldiers. Paul’s suffering has 9,000 skilled, trained, very important men talking about Jesus. Paul is praising God in suffering because God is doing something great in his suffering, and something amazing through his suffering, leading others to Him.

The question is not, Will I suffer? You will suffer.
The question is, Will I suffer faithfully? 

Will your suffering grow you in goodness and faith, or will it kill your spirit and turn you bitter? Will your suffering be heard as complaints and selfish to those around you, or will it be used to inspire your friends and those watching to get closer to Christ?

Thanks for reading. You are loved.

Z