We Thank You for Your Love

The Thoma family thanks everyone for their messages, cards, meals, and so much more. Your loving kindness to us as we made our way through the situation with our son, Harrison, is a direct reflection of the Lord’s love to and for His world. We can’t begin to thank you enough. Although, I suppose by myself, I can make the effort to paint a portrait of the appreciation.

This past Friday, Harrison and I shared an elevator at Mott Children’s Hospital in Ann Arbor with a mother pushing her daughter in a stroller. The little girl couldn’t have been more than three years old.

I’d seen the two of them before. In fact, Jennifer and I saw them down near the cafeteria at the beginning of the week and we commented on what the situation might be for the little girl.

In this moment, leaning against the wall of the elevator, mom looked exhausted. She tried to fool me with a less than credible smile, but I knew better. Her daughter’s brown eyes were bright. They were locked onto the lighted buttons with the numbers 7 and 12. I couldn’t see her expression. Other than being ornamented with bandages and a couple of IV ports, she was wearing a mask. And she was balding.

They got off at the seventh floor. We exited at the twelfth.

It’s remarkable how in a singular moment one’s lens of perception refocuses, and you change from someone concerned for your own sphere of existence to having a desire to step outside of that sphere for the sake of another human being.

This happened to me in that elevator.

Arthur Schopenhauer said, “Every man takes the limits of his own field of vision for the limits of the world.” He’s right. Sin complicates our peripheral vision. Most often we view life through our own joys and sorrows, becoming stuck in the mindset that the best and worst to us is the best and worst in the world.

But that’s just not a very honest view. I’m pretty sure I’ve offered from the pulpit on more than one occasion that Mankind is still searching for the depth of Sin’s creativity. It’s very possible that whatever “worst” may be happening to you will be easily overshadowed by someone else’s tragedy.

Even though, for the most part, it would seem we are through the darker days of Harrison’s situation, I don’t mean to look back at it and say everything was simple and carefree in comparison to others. There’s nothing to downplay about what Harrison has endured. Two procedures to open up his body to his hip socket and pelvis in order to manually clean them, excruciating pain both day and night through the first three days, the taxation of round-the-clock sequestering to his room by Infectious Disease doctors—all of these things were monumentally challenging to a boy who just wants to be twelve. I’ll admit that through all of this, I discovered myself hovering above a chasm of worry, especially when the attending physician assured us that his kind of infection is deadly serious, and if not fatal, can cause irreversible bone damage. We’ve been reminded on more than one occasion that had Jennifer not been moved to take him to the ER when she did, things almost certainly would have been worse.

Again, no downplaying. We’ve been teetering at this precipice.

Nevertheless, I saw another parent in the elevator, someone both like and unlike me. I saw a child in there, too, someone similar and dissimilar to Harrison. They were like us because they’re human and struggling. They’re different in ways I can’t necessarily describe. Except for one. My guess in the moment was that while my son was going through a lot, he was slowly improving, and I suspected he had a chance at full recovery. But the future of the little girl with brown eyes and cancer was less certain.

In the midst of personal concern, God granted my field of vision to become a bit wider. I could see both her and her mom as all of you have seen the Thoma family.

Like all of you—people in the midst of woeful struggles none of us may ever know—I was moved to look beyond my own sadness and take time to care. To be totally honest, I tried to discover their room number on the 7th floor so that I could send the little girl an anonymous gift from the hospital gift shop. Of course, no one would share that information. Instead, I took a moment to do something better, to do what Christians do. I prayed for her—for her entire family—as all of you have done for us.

First off, I don’t know if an anonymous surprise from the gift shop would have accomplished the moment of joy I was hoping for her, but I feel safe in assuming it might’ve. So many of you are the proof of this. So many of you reached out to help us in the same ways, all showing a field of vision well beyond the self. This is nothing less than the Holy Spirit at work by way of the Gospel you’ve received. Christ’s effort to live, die, and rise again for your redemption wasn’t lost on you. You’ve been recreated by this powerful act, and the Thoma family has been the recipient through meals, gas cards, and the like.

But there’s something more.

Aristides said, “And to me there is no doubt but that the earth abides through the supplication of the Christians.”

Gift or no gift, I know the prayer I prayed for that mother and daughter will suffice. Again, all of you are proof. God hears the cries of His people and He answers according to His good and gracious will. And that’s all I asked for—His will to be done—that He would grant peace, healing, and hearts set upon trusting in His Son for real rescue.

As a family, we are grateful for your care, but as a pastor and friend to you, I’m most grateful for who you are in Christ—the example you are even to me. I’m grateful that He has made you people with a broader field of vision than what the sinful flesh can muster, even in the midst of struggle. He has made you His bright beaming lights emitting a great and wonderful love to the world around you through acts of mercy and prayers that seek His faithful will in the lives of others.

I am truly grateful to be your pastor. God is at work through you, offering a care for His world so often flexed by way of muscle that only the holy Christian church bears.

With all of this in mind, there’s one more thing I’d ask of the countless people who prayed for us. I’m asking for all of you to turn the diligence of your prayers back to the Lord on behalf of someone else. Adam Pushman’s niece, Lucille Aldred, has been suffering from cancer. The tumors they thought were in remission in this little girl have returned. Needless to say, Lucille’s parents are scared, and scared parents wrestle with fathoming how God could allow such things. My request of all those who prayed for us: Pray diligently for Lucille. Pray continually. Under the banner of His gracious will, ask for healing as well as for steadiness and comfort to the parents.

Spread the word to other churches. Tell family and friends. Pray.

May God continue to strengthen you for this. And again, thank you for lifting us before God. Let’s do it now for Lucille.

I Think It’s Warm in Pasadena

I wanted to share a quick fabric of thoughts that came to mind resulting from a conversation that occurred this morning while walking into the church with Madeline, Harrison, and Evelyn. It started when Harrison said somewhat randomly, “I wish we lived in Pasadena.”

“Why Pasadena?” I asked.

“Because I think it’s warm there,” he answered.

“You don’t even know where Pasadena is, Harrison,” Evelyn chimed in a less-than-helpful way. “For all you know, it’s in Antarctica. Pasadena is prob’ly full of penguins.”

This particular interaction recalled for me another interaction between Evelyn and Harrison this past Monday at a park near our home. I posted the conversation details on Facebook right when it happened. Here’s what I wrote:

“Harrison!” Evelyn shouts across the public playground filled with families. “I need to ask you something really super important!”

“What?!” her brother replies loudly, sounding annoyed.

“When the zombie apocalypse comes, where do you think it’ll start?”

That’s my girl.

Now the first reason I’m sharing these two stories with you is because, as the old adage relays, kids say the darndest things, and with that, I just wanted to share them with you—my friends. Second, because it is once again a reminder of the depth that children possess. If you are really listening to them when they are speaking, you’ll hear (and perhaps even see) a different perspective on the intricacies of life in general. You’ll find yourself being ushered through a portal into a completely different sphere of reality that is both complex and simple all at the same time. It’s really rather fascinating. And third, if you are thinking Biblically, it feeds into the reasons that Jesus instructs as He does in Matthew 18:1-6,10:

At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea… See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that in heaven their angels always see the face of my Father who is in heaven.

Jesus pointed to a simple humility and trust found in children that is iconic of saving faith in the Savior. He wants adults to have it. Such faith lets itself be led. It speaks the contours of its truth unhindered by shame. It longs to be with the One who is its greatest love, and its sad in its deepest corners when there is separation.

But there’s more He wants us to know, even as it actually meets children right where they are.

Again, children let themselves be led. They have no problem saying what’s on their minds. They grow to love most deeply that which is set before them as most important, and they learn to despise the things that aren’t. Parents are the ones setting the pace in these regards.

Notice also how the Lord offers a stern warning to those who would get between children and Himself. He doesn’t mince words. He says that anyone who causes one of the little ones to sin—that is, makes it so that they are led into a life of separation from Jesus, taught to love being away from Him, trained to despise His Word, shaped to see time with Him as one option among many valuable opportunities, molded toward a coldness for the Christian life—Jesus says it will be easier to swim with a two-ton millstone on your neck than to stand against the judgment at the Last Day.

As you can see, He takes this very seriously. As parents, as families together, as a congregation, we do, too. I know that when I look at my own children—when I hear them say the crazy things that they say, when I see them do the even crazier and yet inspiring things that they do—I couldn’t imagine keeping such gems of God’s creative act away from the One who actually made them who they are. I couldn’t imagine sleeping in on a Sunday morning and skipping church—not even once! I belong there. They belong there, too. In fact, according to the Lord’s bidding, this belonging is the point of reference for adults. It is something to which we look for direction, not the other way around. He said we must be like them when it comes to this humble desire and trust. I think Oskar Pank observed it best. In fact, I added the following quotation from Pank to the “Afterword” portion of my book Type One Confessional. He wrote:

“As the flower in the garden stretches toward the light of the sun, so there is in the child a mysterious inclination toward the eternal light. Have you ever noticed this mysterious thing that when you tell the smallest child about God, it never asks with strangeness and wonder, “What or who is God—I have never seen Him,” but listens with shining face to the words as though they were soft loving sounds from the land of home. Or when you teach a child to fold its little hands in prayer that it does this as though it were a matter of course, as if there were opening for it that world of which it had been dreaming with longing and anticipation. Or tell them, these little ones, the stories of the Savior, show them the pictures with scenes and personages of the Bible—how their pure eyes shine, how their little hearts beat!”

True. All true.

As the new school year begins, take these words into yourself and consider them. As parents, be diligent in getting your kids to church. As observing grandparents, congregation members, and friends, consider what you can do to encourage the parents in the pews to keep at it. What can you do to show that you are rooting for them? How can you help in what can sometimes be a struggle with antsy little ones? Maybe all it would take to help the dust of frustration settle a bit would be a smile and a word of encouragement. Maybe a pat on the back and a “Keep at it, mom. You’re doing the right thing” is all they’d need.

I’ve already seen these things happen at Our Savior, which is just one of the many “somethings” that I think makes the church family here so wonderful.

So, those are my introductory thoughts for today. Apart from the Holy Spirit’s leading, of course, I suppose you can thank Harrison and Evelyn for the entertaining moments that stirred them.