In the face of all this chaos, baby, I can dance with you…

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Joel,

Your kid thinks you are this cross between Super Man and one of the Kratt Brothers.  Your wife thinks you’re totally hot.  You have gone through tremendous testing and persevered through the trials with integrity.  If our son grows up to be like you…that is what every mother would hope.  As I watched you and Jonah look for critters by turning over rocks on the banks of the St. Croix River tonight, I just thought, “We’ve got something special here.”

Happy, happy birthday.

We ARE dancing in the minefields.  Aren’t we??

Andrew Peterson – Dancing in the Mine Fields

3rd Caroline Project: Part Two

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Well, we did it!  We made the care bags.  We passed out the care bags.

It was…amazing.  On so many levels it was amazing.  I’m still processing it, and probably will be for a while.  So these highlights are simply me wanting to answer the “how did it go” questions I’ve been receiving.  This may just be the most jumbled reading you’ve done in a long time!

grocery store 1   

When we were in the store, there was something really special about filling our cart on behalf of someone else.  We enjoyed talking about what we should put in.  Even Jonah gave ideas.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I was at dinner with my girlfriends when Joel texted me this photo:

joel text

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
Bottled WaterThe items we chose for our bags were:

A toothbrush and toothpaste
deodorant
a bar of soap
a comb
chapstick
a first aid kit
a washcloth
a pair of socks
a bottle of water
a can of juice
granola bars
crackers
a packet of tuna
some mints and lifesavers

loading up

bagWe spent about $10 per bag.  After how awesome today was, I will always carry a couple of these bags in our cars.  We determined that in the future, we could make them a little bit different.  We think we could easily make bags for around $6-7.

For the most part, we drove around the cities, giving the care bags to people on the side of the road who were holding out signs.  For us newbies, it was just easier…there were a couple of situations where we walked around, but we didn’t know if the people near us were homeless or simply enjoying the lovely Minnesota Sunday afternoon outside.  Man we didn’t want to assume that people were homeless because we were out looking for homeless people, you know?

Just off the top of my head, here are a couple of things that stood out as the most beautiful moments of the day:

First, I was touched by the sincere gratitude of people when we gave them a bag.  I loved watching them look at the bag once we handed it to them.  There was one man who was sitting on the side of the road.   I handed him a bag.  He looked at it, then looked at me.  “God bless you” he said, as he looked me straight in the eye.   “You too” I said.  While I was waiting to cross the street to give a bag to the person in the median, I watched this man as he sat.   I watched him look at contents of the bag.  By the time I crossed the street again to head to the car, he had the bag of crackers out and almost finished.  Oh how I wished that that bag was filled with more food.

My other favorite moment happened when we passed by a park.  There were things on a park bench, sleeping bags, a backpack, but no people.  Joel pulled the car over.  Jonah and I got out of the car, each with a bag in hand.  We walked up to that bench and put the care bags down by the items.  After that, Jonah and I got distracted because there was a wedding party getting their pictures taken at the park (and I LOVE looking at wedding parties). When we got back to the car, Joel said “did you see that??”  “What”, I said, “the bride?  Yes I did.  She was lovely!”  “No.  The guy.”  Apparently, shortly after we left, the man returned to the bench. He picked up the care bag, studied it.  Then he called over the woman that was with him and handed her the other bag.  Joel watched as they opened the bag and took out the contents.  As he was describing what he saw, I just knew:  WE were blessed.

So this day was good.  Really, really good.

3rd Caroline Project: Part one

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I feel there is much to say, and yet, in reality, there is very little to be said. Few people know that we had been conversing with a lawyer to determine if there was any action that we needed to take in regards to outcome of Joel’s surgery. Obviously, that was not something I could blog about. Yesterday it was confirmed that there is not enough evidence to pursue a malpractice suit. I had, to a certain degree, always known this was what the lawyer would tell us. I’ve just known all along that THIS is the journey we’re supposed to be on. For whatever reason, we’re supposed to have a permanent and disappointing diagnosis, and not be able to say why. (I can get more into theology later…I but the gist is that I have never once believed that “God DID this to us”…On the flip side, I have always known that God sees us in this place. He allowed this to happen He very easily could have stopped this from happening, but for some reason, He didn’t. All I am supposed to do is stand here, loving Him in the midst of my pain, and move in the direction He says, when He says.)

Yesterday was a hard day. Just having someone confirm that we will not ever be able to find out why and when this happened was harder than I thought. I have not been used to having hard days since we’ve gotten Joel’s official diagnosis. They used to come so regularly, but have been few and far between since May. But, ugh, you guys…there is such pain in permanent…I don’t know how to describe it. Though there are good things about the black and whiteness of it all I mean, we KNOW, for a FACT, that Joel will never be able to conceive a child (unless, of course we do one of these). This is not a low sperm count thing…this is a no sperm count thing…so, in a way, I’m glad it’s so black and white…One of the hard things for so many people experiencing infertility, is that there is hope that they could get pregnant. Month after month…and the hope gets smaller with each month that goes by. We’re not like that. And parts of me are thankful. But other parts of me know that what happened is so pointless, and so crazy. And it’s hard to know how to proceed.

Luckily I have dear friends who remind me that it is okay, even right, that we just stand here…when there’s so much pressure put on us to move in certain directions, we have people say “no- just be…right where you are.” These people bring forth words from places like Habakkuk 3:18 – 19: “YET I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior. The Sovereign Lord is my strength; He makes my feet as surefooted as a deer and will bring me safely over the mountain.” So to you who support us in these ways, who are not afraid to enter into the mess with us – thank you.

Caroline Project: I do not think it is a coincidence that we found out this hard-to-take news when we did. I LOVE that we heard it on Friday and the following Saturday and Sunday is the date we have chosen to do our biggest, look ‘em in the eye Caroline Project yet. Here’s the scoop: July was a HUGE month of money spent on Jonah. It was his birthday month as well as 2 different family vacations. So, as you can imagine, it added up! We have the biggest amount to put towards the Caroline Project we’ve ever had. You know I don’t usually talk about how much money we donate, but this month’s astronomical amount just has to be shared: $250. I mean WOWZA! That is a HUGE amount of money, at least for this family. We wanted to do something HUGE- And we wanted to do it…to be the ones putting foot to pavement. So, in two hours we’re going into town, and getting the supplies for care bags (for an example, click here):

And then… (holy crap) tomorrow, we’re going to give them away to homeless people. We don’t even have any real plans aside from drive into the city, park somewhere, walk around and give away stuff. I am equally terrified and excited.

I get so tempted to think of myself and this overwhelming, crappy thing that happened to us. The structure of the Caroline Project forces me to look outside of myself. Honestly, if I wasn’t blogging about it, I think I’d quit. I mean, do I WANT to give my money away all the time? Heck no. Believe me- we’ve got financial goals we are striving to meet. There are things we want to buy. We could (and maybe should) be taking our money and saving up for reparative surgery, or IVF, or adoption… But I know that the reason we are doing this right now is because otherwise we’d be so focused on our circumstances that our circumstances would swallow us up. I am seeing that this blog, though in part is meant to inspire us all, is actually meant to serve as something to keep Joel and I accountable to giving when we want to be taking, to be looking at others when all that is within us wants to be looking at ourselves. I so appreciate you, reader, for taking the time out of your day to read my words. But I know that, today especially, I write for me.

The four “P”s of The Caroline Project

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jonah paddling

Since we are on our third month of the Caroline Project, I thought it would be good to share what the Caroline Project means to me as a father. First: let me say that the Caroline Project was Anna’s idea. Anna is definitely the idea person in our family. She runs our household well. It was not a surprise that she came up with an action step in order to express our pain in a positive way. She came to me one day and pointed out that since we would have made room in our budget for another child, why shouldn’t we still do this; only give that money away to organizations that are working for social justice. I thought it was a great idea but wondered what it would look like to give so much money away rather than using it to meet our immediate financial goals.

When one person in the family has an idea, the others have two options when carrying out this idea. They can come along with the person supporting them from behind, participating but not necessarily fully engaged. Or they can join the person in the idea; actually taking full ownership with them as a team. There have been times when Anna has an idea and I have done the former. I thought I would be doing the same thing this time- with all three of her current ideas (The Caroline Project, the blog in general, and her new furniture refinishing business.) As you can tell, God had different plans.  I have joined her in the blog, in re-purposing old, beat up furniture, and yes, in the Caroline Project.

So in joining her with the Caroline Project, I have had to process what is it about this journey that is inspiring me to fully engage in this sacrifice. I believe I have discovered a couple of things which makes the Caroline Project special for me. I have discovered why it connects so deeply with my pain and why it can be part of the expression of healing the Holy Spirit is doing for my broken heart. This is what I would like to share with you.

Being a dad has been one of the most wonderful and challenging things I have ever experienced in my life. I work really hard to be the best dad that I can be. Most of my studying of how to be a dad comes from how we are fathered by God. Through experiencing God’s fathering, I have come to realize that there are four major actions that are a part of fathering. First of all, let me state that there are many more than four actions that are a part of fathering but I have found that these are the four that speak to me the most right now. Secondly, let me state that there are times when women also can carry out these actions. Thirdly, you don’t have to be a father or a mother to do these actions for others.  These are some of the things that God does for us and so we are called to bear his image anyone and need to emulate these things for others. In fact, there are many children, as well as adults, who could use people acting in these ways in their lives. I wish we all did it for each other so much more than we do.

I know what you are saying: “Joel, just tell us what the four actions are already.” Ok. Ok. The four major actions that are apart of fathering are: Provide, Protect, Promote, and Praise.

Fathers, these are the things we should be doing for our kids. I will explain what these look like a little later, but first let me say this: each of these fall under the bigger action of Presence. The main action we can give to others is the gift of our presence. I am not just talking about being with someone; I am talking about being fully engaged in their lives. I am talking about joining them.  Not for our benefit or for selfish reasons but because of deep love and respect for them. I am sorry to say that this gift of presence is pretty rare. It is not easy, it takes a lot of intentionality, it is messy, and it requires more from us than we want to give. However, it is the gift that God gives us every moment of every day whether we choose to receive it from Him or not.

One of the deep pains I have for my lost children is that I didn’t get to be present to them. Anna got to at least carry them in her womb for a time, but I didn’t get any time with them. Because of this pain, I suck the life out of every moment with Jonah, but also this is what I miss when I think of not having any more kids. I want to give this gift to my children. I want to be present to them by fulfilling the loving actions of Provide, Protect, Promote, and Praise. I can’t do that for our unborn and it hurts. The Caroline Project means a great deal to me because I can do this for other kids even if they are not my own. Let me explain how I see these actions manifested in the giving of financial support to the Caroline Project organizations.

First: to provide. By giving of our financial resources we provide for the needs of those that need it. Just as I meet Jonah’s needs through my salary, I can meet the needs of others who are marginalized and forgotten. They need someone to provide for them just as much as Jonah needs me to provide for him. But just like with Jonah, this is not just a pay check that I provide. Anna and I take what we are given and we manage it wisely. In this way Jonah gets the best provision he can get. I am not talking about giving him whatever he wants, but more so saying that we are intentional about how his needs are met. In the same way, I could give the money directly to the child in need, but I don’t. I give it to organizations I feel are managing their resources wisely and are intentional about how to meet the needs of the “least of these”. By being present to support these various organizations through provision I ensure that those that are voiceless gain a voice.

Second: to protect. Just today Jonah and I went kayaking. Some people might think I am nuts for doing this because he is 6 and he goes in his own kayak. On the other hand, I have been a canoe and kayak instructor for over ten years. You better believe that when we are on the water he has his PFD (lifejacket) on and secure. His boat is tethered to mine until he learns to control it himself.  His boat is a “sit on top” which is one of the safest kayaks on the market. He told me today that “he knows all the rules of kayaking.” This is because I remind him of them every time we go out. Why do I do all of this? Because I am his daddy. I am here to protect him. How does the Caroline Project do this? Again it is because we support organizations that are providing protection for those who are vulnerable. When we give to these organizations I know that those that need of protection are being protected. I can’t physically protect these vulnerable people just like I couldn’t physically protect my lost babies. However I can petition those that can physically protect the marginalized through prayer and through financial provision.

Third:  to promote. One of the main actions we can do when fathering is to promote our children. This may seem an odd way to say it.  Here’s what I mean:  We can find out what our children are good at and what they are interested in and we can promote those things in their lives. We can be present when they need our support so that they can become who God intended them to become. I wonder sometimes what our other children would have been like. But I trust that they are exactly who they are supposed to be. The people we are supporting in The Caroline Project may not have someone in their lives promoting them. Those in their lives either can’t or are absent all together. By giving of the wealth that I have, I am ensuring that someone is there to promote those who may have become invisible. We can promote by sharing that organization with others. We lift up these organizations so that others will know of their work. You can promote the organization by telling other people about it, sharing it on Facebook, retweeting our blog entry…  By promoting the organizations who are the hands and feet on the ground, these children, these PEOPLE can know what it is like to be promoted.

Fourth: to praise. One of the things that Jonah is desperate for is my approval. He desires for his Daddy to love him for him. He desires his Daddy to enjoy him and to give him words of affirmation. I have been trying to do this more in his life. I don’t ever want him to doubt that he matters to me. I don’t ever want him to doubt that he is cherished. He needs to know that I believe he has what it takes. It may be that many of the people we are supporting in the Caroline Project are missing praise. Sadly, some may have never received praise. That breaks my heart to the core. I want those who are fringes of society to know that they matter. That someone cares for them, even cherishes them. Again by joining with Anna on this journey I hope I have been able to give praise to others. I hope I have shown them love and care through our sacrifice.

One thing that has happened through this project and through our pain is that my heart has grown bigger.  Each time we had the promise of new life (a baby) my heart grew. But then there was a loss of the object of my affection (miscarriage). So God has put other people in that place.  I have a deep love for others that wasn’t there before. I honestly care about the people we are helping. I am seeing people and their needs for the very first time. My eyes have been opened. My heart breaks more easily now and when it breaks loves pours out. That love is helping me to provide, protect, promote, and praise others. It is helping me to be a father to more than just those in my household. Isn’t that what God has done for us? He has adopted us into his household. By allowing the Spirit to work in my life I have been able to expand the territory of my household to include those that are without one. I never knew my household could grow so big.

Matthew 25:40 “…whatever you did to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it too Me.”

The Jonah Project

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Driving home from the movies last night, we were listening to the radio- the radio host was talking about an upcoming event; packaging up food for children who did not have the resources for getting food on their own. From the backseat I hear Jonah’s brain…you know, sometimes you can hear a child’s brain going because they are thinking it and speaking it at the same time. The profound words I hear him say next left me weeping:

“I’m going to save up all my money and use it to by toys for kids who can’t buy their own toys…and I’m going to call it The Jonah Project.”

Now, I do not believe that when it comes right down to it, he IS going to take ALL the money he has and spend it on others. Likely what will happen is that he will spend the bulk on himself, and, because of the prompting of his parents, he might purchase one small thing to give to someone else. But…there is something here…something is happening; in his life, in this family. An awareness of others.

The Jonah Project? Yes. Indeed. The Joel Project and The Anna Project as well. Beautiful.