This photo was taken about two weeks ago. :-)
This photo was taken about two weeks ago. :-)
I've been home for over a year now, probation ended on April 4, and I feel untethered, released, unburdened -- like a great weight is lifted off of me, and I'm ready to soar. I truly think that for the first time in my life I'm beginning to feel joie de vivre.
I'm not sure what the future of this blog is. I know I have another post or two in me for the immediate future, but I don't anticipate that this blog will be regularly updated at all. I won't be taking it off the Internet; I'll save it, in cyberspace, as a memorial to God's faithfulness (and a remembrance of my frailty).
Brandi and I have come to refer to my time apart from the children as The Year. Recently, while reflecting on that year, I've been compelled to think about how so many heroes stepped up, lifted our arms up, and led us through the wilderness when we couldn't see the way. I'd like to acknowledge a few of those heroes this afternoon, in no particular order.
Frances Stripling -- My mother-in-law, and the one person besides Brandi and myself who poured herself into our situation, spending countless hours driving back and forth to help Brandi, countless dollars on gas, and countless moments comforting our children. She opened her home for me, welcoming me as a roommate for the duration of The Year. Frances, we owe you a great debt of love.
My Family -- My mom and dad; brother, David; and sister, Debbie. We couldn't have survived that year without yours prayers and unselfish support.
Jimmy Seibert -- I held on to every word, and I still do. You remind me of Jesus more than anyone I have ever known.
Bono, The Edge, Adam Clayton, Larry Mullen Jr. -- If it's possible for God to use an album to save someone's life, He did that with No Line On The Horizon. From the brokenness of "Moment of Surrender," to meeting God at 3:33 a.m. in "Unknown Caller," to the audacity to simply walk out the door in "Breathe." Thank you, guys.
My Lifegroup -- You all were there, every step of the way.
Danny Mulkey & Dennis Johnston -- Thursday mornings have been life for me. You both believed when I felt like no one else did.
John Piper -- My routine, for months, was to to get to my mother-in-law's house after work, eat dinner, and then listen to a sermon off of Desiring God. You deepened my trust in God and helped me see "the light of the knowledge of the glory of God, in the face of Jesus Christ."
Aaron Cook -- You fasted from something you deeply enjoy in order to demolish the gates of Hell on our behalf. You were a father to Nathan when he needed someone to hold on to. Thank you, brother.
David & Simone Harris -- You loved Brandi and me with unconditional love. You supported us, prayed for us, and spoke prophetic truth over us. You all are amazing.
Kyle and Debbie Wallace -- In the midst of your own trials, your poured into our lives. I'll never forget, Debbie, how you comforted me so deeply one Sunday morning by simply telling me you were sorry for all we were going through. I felt the compassion. Thank you.
Rollin and Gail Mayes -- You opened your home to me every Thursday evening. Despite the pain of the season, I still miss Thursday evenings with you all. Thank you, Gail, for every way you loved my children during that season.
Jared Wilson, Bill Roberts, Mark Miranda, and Phil Schroeder -- You rejoiced with me. You wept with me. You inspired me. You comforted me. Thank you.
Vicky Smyer -- You are a relational genius. Thank you for loving the Lord and investing in our lives.
My employer and co-workers -- It's a rare thing to work with such loving people.
Brandi -- I love you. Remember almost two years ago, under the oak tree? I said it would all be over one day. Now it is. Thank you, Jesus.
Nathan, Daniel, Abigail, Evangeline -- Thank you for waiting so patiently. I'll never leave you like that again.
Joshua -- God makes all things new. While you didn't exist during The Year, you existed in the mind of God. He knew we would need you, now, in this season of restoration. We love you.
I know I have failed to mention some very important people. Please forgive me.
June 10, 2011, is a date we'll never forget. Besides being my 35th birthday, it was the day our family was made whole again. Seeing the kids for the first time in over a year was surreal. The boys were taller, bigger, more mature, and, of course, our baby Evangeline was like a child I never knew. I was prepared for those surprises. What I was not prepared for was seeing Abigail as a budding young lady. The last I remember her, she was a spunky little girl with baby fat and a playful disposition. She's still playful of course, but gone was the baby fat and immaturity of a six-year-old. That's it, really, she had matured ... at a much faster rate than I'd ever seen any of our other children mature. (I'm sure the 12 months without her daddy helped prompt her emotional growth.) As I rested on my bed that evening and thought about the year of Abigail's life that I had missed, I wept.
Evangeline took a few minutes to warm up to my presence, but in no time she was calling me daddy, giggling, and running into my arms. The boys, of course, were elated. For days Nathan kept telling me he couldn't believe I was home, and Daniel went right back to being the love-through-proximity boy he's always been. Being back with them is an undeserved miracle. I don't deserve this kind of family, I really don't.
I never would have imagined the whole event of reunification would have been orchestrated quite the way it happened. The details are astounding. I went from being under suspicion, to being flat out accused, and, finally, swept under the rug for months and months. Suddenly all of that is on its head and the judge is calling shots no one would have dreamed of. Instead of me begging for visitation or phone calls, I'm a father again ... and a normal one at that. Now the benefit of hindsight makes me feel almost silly, as I ponder the feelings of anxiety, depression, and loneliness that characterized my 12-month exile. It feels like that life wasn't real, and that the pain associated with it wasn't as acute as I had thought. But I know it was real; I know that in my head at least.
It's morning now, and joy has certainly come.
On my birthday, Friday, June 10, the judge told me to go home! I now have full access to my children with no restrictions.
Thank you all for your continued prayers, love, and support throughout the past year. It's been an unbelievably difficult year, but God has sustained us with every breath. We truly are in the palm of His hands.
Here's the situation. The judge has apparently granted our motion to be reunited, but we're waiting on the amended judgment from the probation department to know what it all means.
Best case? I move home.
Worst case? I'm only allowed to write letters.
This is a huge deal, and we're thankful that we've come this far. Hopefully we'll hear something this week on a reunification, but nothing has come easy in this ordeal. We continue to stand strong in JESUS.
What can be done for an old heart like mine?
Soften it up with oil and wine
The oil is You, Your Spirit of love
Please wash me anew, in the wine of Your blood
-- Keith Green, "My Eyes Are Dry"
In so many ways I feel victorious in this season of life. I've gone from faith to faith, relying on God to be my painkiller, my salve. And God's been faithful, and I know He'll see us all the way through to the end of this trial.
Paradoxically, in so many ways I feel defeated in this season of life. I can't go one more day without my children, and I'm ready to do anything to be with them again. To hell with anything and everything, I want my kids.
But I know there are no shortcuts. It's like a game of chess in that no matter how much I want to charge ahead, guns a'blazing, I can't force checkmate. Pieces need to be developed, a strategy needs to be visualized, and precise tactics need to be employed. To that end I can say our motion to amend my conditions of probation allowing me to see my children was officially filed on Friday. It's highly likely now that we'll go to a full-blown hearing before the judge (a nerve-wracking possibility, for sure) to present our case. And since Brandi knows firsthand the turmoil our children have been going through, she's going to be, as our attorney says, "our star witness."
Coming to the decision to file a motion wasn't a no-brainer. Early on, we realized there were certain risks involved in exposing ourselves to the judicial system like that. The question was raised in our minds, When we go before the king, will he raise the scepter? (Esther 5:2). We needed to know what God wanted us to do, so we prayed and fasted for three days to that end, and I came away from that time of communion with God knowing that we were to proceed with the motion. I am not being hyperbolic when I say that I have never been more sure of anything in my life. We were to move forward; the peace of God had settled that in my heart.
Obeying God is still a challenge, and I'm not merely talking about obeying Him in the "big things." As one modern poet says, "Every day I die again and again, and I'm reborn." So it's a challenge every day, because every day I'm faced with the reality of a day without my children.
I've never known the truth of 2 Corinthians 12:9 until now. Whether I would have admitted it or not, to me that verse was a trite expression of a superficial trust in God for superficial wants in my superficial life. I know, though, that when JESUS says, "My grace is sufficient for you," He means it. When I am weak, I am strong.
I want to thank You now for being patient with me
It's so hard to see, when my eyes are on me
-- Keith Green, "Make My Life A Prayer To You"
After much delay, it looks like we are finally going to file a motion for me to be reunited with the kids. It's been a long time coming, and we still are not sure exactly how it's going to play out, but it's highly likely that the motion will be filed this week, and that we'll at least hear a preliminary response shortly thereafter.
Last night I dreamed that Brandi and I arrived somewhere on an airplane. After getting off the plane, we were on a runway and we saw that there was a lot of commotion. From someone's trunk people were passing out bullet proof vests. I grabbed one, put it on Brandi, and then put one on myself.
We then ran through a crowd of people, pushing our way through doors and making our way down escalators. At some point, I knew we were running toward our children. Brandi couldn't keep up, so I left her there and ran on toward a building that our children were inside of.
Once inside the building I looked around for our children, but couldn't find them. Finally, from around a corner, Nathan walked up to me. In his typical way, he began to talk over me (he has Asperger Syndrome), telling me about something he had just experienced as if he had seen me every day for the past 11 months. I got down on my knees, hugged him, put my hands on his face and said, "I have missed you so much."
At that point, while noticing that Brandi had caught up to me, I cried.
Then I woke up. And I cried.
I had a good chat with Brandi tonight on where I'm at with God in regard to what I'm digging into in His word. I feel a stirring to camp out in Romans 9. I remember the first time I really read Romans 9 was back in 1995, I thought "that's weird" and simply moved on. The truth is, the reality of what I read in Romans 9 unsettled me. It didn't jibe with my paradigm. It didn't fit my view of God. It made no sense.
These days I'm starting to see things differently. The author and theologian, Greg Boyd (whose helpful book Present Perfect has been making the rounds at my church), suggests that our God is a God who risks. But I see a dichotomy between the idea of a risk-taking God who cannot know the future (as the open theist Boyd believes), and the God I read about in Romans 9. I don't want a God who risks; I want a God who is in the heaven, and who does whatever He pleases (Psalm 115:3).
But this post isn't about Romans 9, it's about Romans 8. :-)
Around this time last year, the Holy Spirit started stirring a passion within me to study, memorize, and ingest Romans 8. As I started to "eat the book," I began to see Romans 8 in a new light. It was no longer merely a comforting and meandering chapter in the New Testament; it was a living, breathing gospel -- a double-edged sword that wounds us and bandages us (Hosea 6:1).
I'm of the opinion that Romans 8 is the greatest chapter in a Bible that is full of great chapters. If I could have one page from the Bible for the rest of my life, it would be Romans 8. I love Romans 8, with a passion.
It teaches me that there is no condemnation for His children:
There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. -- Romans 8:1
It teaches me that the flesh is "enmity" against God, and the result of that enmity is God's displeasure:
So then, those who are in the flesh cannot please God. -- Romans 8:8
It teaches me that the sons of God, those who are led by His Spirit, are adopted into His family:
The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God. -- Romans 8:16
It teaches me to keep an eternal perspective when I suffer:
For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. -- Romans 8:18
It teaches me that the Holy Spirit (called "the Spirit of He who raised Jesus from the dead" in verse 11) intercedes for us:
Likewise the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. -- Romans 8:26
It teaches me that "all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose" (Romans 8:28).
And it teaches me that he foreknew me, predestined me, called me, justified me, and glorified me (see Romans 8:30).
What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? -- Romans 8:31
The chapter ends with the force of a volcanic explosion, with fire, lava, and rock melting the the satanic ideas of separation, fear, loneliness, and despair.
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?
As it is written: 'For your sake we are killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.'
Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.
For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. -- Romans 8:35-39
For Christ's sake we are killed all day long. That's not prosperity, that's death. Yet in those very things (namely, death and slaughter), we are "more than conquerors" and eternally united with the risen Lord.
Romans 8 makes me happy.
There have been times -- many times that are too numerous to count -- when all that separates me from my children is a wall. A wall of stone. A wall of drywall. A wall of wood. I'm not speaking metaphorically here. Many times the only physical object that has kept me apart from my beautiful children has been a literal wall. In those times, my children have been ignorant to the fact that their daddy is on the other side of that wall.
As of Friday we have officially hired an attorney to petition the judge to allow the removal of another type of wall -- a wall of obstinacy. We'll probably hear some initial news here within a few days, but we might not get any real traction or change for at least a couple of weeks, maybe more.
I love my children. I love Nathan, Daniel, Abigail, and Evangeline. They are my favorite people in the world, and I hope one day they'll understand why I could not be with them during this time. I hope God uses this in their lives to make them better, more like Him.
And we still wait for the salvation of Yahweh.
Be exalted, O LORD, in your strength!
We will sing and praise your power.
-- Psalm 21:13 (ESV)
We're still attorney shopping. We've had some good leads and have had a couple of positive meetings, so hopefully we'll be making a decision here pretty soon.
In the meantime, Brandi says our kids are doing great. They miss me every day, and I miss them, but I think we all know that the longing we all feel will make our reunification that much sweeter.
The other day I told Brandi that I've never understood what it means to have a broken heart, until now.
It won't stay broken forever.
For we ourselves were also once foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving various lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful and hating one another. But when the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit. -- Titus 3:3-5
This week God's reminded me that I'm a loser, and I mean that in the most positive "He must increase, by I must decrease" sort of way. I'm thankful for His word and the counsel of His wisdom. Without His plumb line, I'm lost.
So many reasons to believe
I am so easily deceived
-- King's X, "Thinking and Wondering (What I'm Gonna Do)"
I called the Big Cheese at BC the other day and left a courteous message asking him to give me a call so I can discuss my options. He called back, left a message and said I have one of two choices: 1) I can hire an attorney and go before a judge, or 2) I can
shake their Magic 8 Ball take a polygraph in BC in May, and if I pass he said they'd "amend my conditions."
He didn't say what they'd amend the conditions to. I doubt, even then, that they'd let me go home; they're too concerned with their liability to allow that, but they'd probably allow for some sort of contact.
After discussing this with Brandi and praying about it, we both felt like option 1 was the way to go. Option 2 is just not proactive, and I feel like we're in a proactive season right now, not a passive season. The time for waiting and reacting is over.
I called the Big Cheese back today and left him a message telling him we're pursuing option 1.
The authorities are still saying I can not have any contact with my children.
I understand that my original crime was felonious and that I deserve to be punished, but right now all I can see is the fact that my children are being tortured for no good reason.
CPS has closed the case with sexual abuse "ruled out." The detectives in my county investigated (and interrogated) me, and came up with nothing. My children were interviewed and my home was inspected -- clean as a whistle. I have passed their beloved polygraph exam.
What else am I supposed to do?
Obviously this means we are to diligently seek Him even more now. He is the rewarder of those who do so -- and His presence is all the reward we need.
Last June, when I was checked into the Graybar Hotel, I read books like crazy. I was probably known among the inmates as the guy who stays on his bunk all day and reads. I did do a little fraternizing over the chessboard with my colleagues from time to time, but by and large my time was passed by reading the slew of books people were gracious enough to send me. I also spent hours upon hours in prayer and Bible study. It was like a 30-day spiritual retreat. Despite the circumstances, I loved it.
Like many things in life, jail is what you make of it. Guys inside talked about "doing your time right," meaning using your jail or prison time constructively, to grow as a person, to get a GED, to learn a trade, etc. While many guys talked like that, not many actually lived that out. Most people in jail are broken, addicted, desperate, evil, manipulative people -- the exact type of people JESUS came to save. By seeing up-close-and-personal realities of unchecked sin, I developed a deeper understanding and appreciation for the grace of God.
Taxpayers don't want to spend too much money on prisoner housing, so the cramped quarters of jail also mean that your physical proximity to other inmates is closer than what most people would be comfortable with; but that physical closeness also means there are many opportunities to actually talk to hurting people. I think JESUS would have enjoyed it.
The "tank" I was in was a 28-man dorm with a common day room, shower facility, and seven 4-man rooms known as "houses." A typical house was roughly 150 square feet, but, due to the way the tanks were designed, one house in each tank was almost twice as big as the six other houses, and it even had a semi-private toilet (the other houses had non-private toilets). I was fortunate enough to be in the larger house in my tank. When one inmate walked into my house for the first time, he said, "D***, what is this, a f***ing suite?"
Over a period of time in jail, you tend to associate with certain people. Of course, I spent a lot of time with my "cellies" (that's jail lingo for "roommate"). The de facto leader of our house was a guy named Alex McKenzie. Alex was half black and half Hispanic, about 5'9" with a shaved head and a muscular build. Like most people in jail, he had several tattoos. Everyone knew him as Alley Cat. Alley Cat was doing 7 months for battery. He was a confirmed Crip (one of the few in my tank since most others were Bloods or Gangster Disciples), a non-practicing Muslim, and an aspiring recording artist. A young man at 28, he had previously done seven years in prison (for what, I don't know), and, thankfully, he always made sure that house rules were enforced (e.g. always flush the toilet while you're urinating; clean the sink with a rag after you use it; keep the place swept on a regular basis; etc.).
Alley Cat was a sort of lone wolf. He'd gamble with the other inmates, talk to them quite a bit, joke around some, and spend time watching TV with them, but, by and large, he stood apart from them. (The way he put it, "I'll f*** with them, but from a distance.") Like most guys in the Slam, he didn't have a problem with using violence to make a point or to correct something he thought was wrong (he once beat another inmate when the inmate refused to pay a gambling debt: a hamburger lunch tray), but he wasn't a bully. He was highly respected because he was seen as a leader.
Alley Cat told me there were three rules anyone needed to know if they were to survive being locked up: "Mind your own f***ing. Mind your own f***ing. And mind your own f***ing." (In other words, mind your own business.) He was right. I liked him a lot.
Experiences like getting to know Alley Cat, spending hours upon hours in the Word and prayer, and seeing day-to-day jail life up close and personal really made a lasting impression on me. As we wait for news from BC, I find myself often thinking of all the Lord has brought us through the past 10 months. The ride isn't over yet, but His faithfulness is always comforting.
I wonder if I have been silent on this journal because you all are too much in my thoughts, rather than the other way around. It’s Saturday morning. I miss you all so much, I can barely stand it. I pray that this journal will one day be a blessing, a chronicle of God’s faithfulness, rather than a chronicle if my descent into insanity and despair.
We're still waiting on something to happen. The people in BC have had the information they need in their paws for at least three business days now, so, Lord willing, we'll hear something in the earlier part of the week.
I have not gotten my hopes up at all; and I must say seeing my kids would be such an unbelievable joy that it almost seems like it's outside the realm of reality. I have no framework in which to mentally process such a possibility. No matter what the circumstances, the day I see them again will be the happiest day of my life.
I've often thought about the war motifs and metaphors in the Old Testament as a beneficial picture of spiritual warfare for present day believers, in a 2 Corinthians 10 and Ephesians 6 sort of way. As we've been going through Nehemiah on Sunday mornings at Antioch, I've been encouraged by much of the imagery of being ready for battle, with a sword on your hip, while walls are being rebuilt. And there is no fear:
"Do not be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your brothers, your sons, your daughters, your wives, and your homes" (Nehemiah 4:14 ESV).
And later, verse 20 proclaims, "Our God will fight for us."
The battle belongs to JESUS; what a comforting thought. To that end, I would like to ask you all again to call out to the Lord on behalf of my children. As 2 Corinthians 1:11 says, "You also must help us by prayer ..."
Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. ... From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords. -- Revelation 19:11, 15 & 16 (ESV)
This week we expect the authorities in BC to review my case and make a decision on whether or not I will be allowed to have contact with my children again. It's been almost 10 months since I've seen them, and I'm ready to be back in their lives. We're praying that the authorities realize that my children are not being protected, but they're being harmed by not having their father with them.
We've come a long way in this journey, and we don't know where it will take us, but God is faithful.
Here's what's been going on in a nutshell:
The polygraph examiner who was supposed to confirm the test I passed is saying that he can not give an opinion on the test because he thinks one of the questions I was asked was invalid.
When the polygraph examiner who gave me the test got wind of the situation, he got agitated because he felt like his reputation was on the line. He subsequently had the exam quality control tested by two other polygraphers, one of whom is a high ranking official in the Texas state polygraph world. In other words, two credible polygraph examiners have confirmed the results.
Now we continue to wait and see how this all plays out. The real prayer point here is for the county to see this as legit and to allow me to begin to see my children again. I'm really getting a glimpse into how much gray there is in the supposedly black-and-white world of polygraphs.
On a related note, I'm really feeling a surge of boldness and confidence, and I know it's from the Lord. I need to be careful, though, to have "no confidence in the flesh" (Phil. 3:3). I do feel like we're entering a different season with this situation, and in many ways I feel like it's a season to fight; or, perhaps more appropriately, a season to allow the Lord to fight for us and to rejoice in His victory.
From my personal journal that I keep for my kids. This entry is dated July 27, 2010:
Daniel, yesterday mommy told me that you asked, “What can I buy daddy for $16 for his homecoming party?” You only have $16 to your name right now, and you’re wanting to spend it all on me when I come home. You’re such a sweet boy; I love you so much. I don’t know what God’s plan is, but it feels like I’m on the shore of an ocean, and you’re on the shore on the other side -- the distance feels so far.
I had my weekly group meeting tonight with my therapist. He said the other polygraph examiner hasn't received the charts yet, but that when he does it should be pretty straightforward because both polygraphers use the same computer software. All the other polygrapher has to do is plug in the chart to his computer software, verify that the computer says it's a "pass," and we're good to go. It's pretty silly to go through this, but it's good that we're covering all the bases.
My therapist said a couple of good things tonight to our entire group. He said that typically fear and anxiety don't have an impact on someone taking a polygraph, but in certain cases someone's anxiety can be so severe that he thinks it can skew the test. That's what happened in my case, he said, and that's why it was a good idea for me to take take an independent polygraph, to further remove myself from any potential anxiety.
I can't tell you all how thankful Brandi and I are that you all have stood with us, walked with us, and prayed with us through this ordeal. We still have a bit further to go, so please keep praying. God is good, and He if faithful.
*Update* -- Please pray for my children and for Brandi. The kids have been having a harder time lately, missing me and all, and it's really taking a toll on Brandi. Please lift them up.
That's the question I'm getting most often these days, and understandably so.
Right now we're waiting on my therapist's polygrapher to verify the results of my polygraph chart. This is a precautionary measure, so that when we present the passed exam to BC we can say, "Not only did I pass a polygraph administered by a licensed professional polygraph examiner, we also had the results verified by another polygrapher."
Once the results are verified (presumably this week), my therapist will then informally present those results to BC to see if we can proceed with reunification. The big prayer point here is for BC to not be obstinate. If BC chooses to dig its heels into the ground, we'll have ample evidence to fight this separation in court, but we'd rather not go through the trouble or expense of that endeavor.
Back in June of last year, when I was sitting in jail, not knowing what the future held, I felt like the Holy Spirit opened up Romans 8:33 to me, and, despite the uncertainty of the future of my family, I was comforted. The scripture reads, "Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies."
He justifies on so many levels. I praise Him for that.
Pray without ceasing ... -- 1 Thessalonians 5:17
In my mind I think I've been leaning more toward Pray until you pass a polygraph, but Brandi reminded me this morning via email that now is a critical time to pray.
From her journal this morning:
Now it is easy to "relax" in prayer. But I felt reminded by the Spirit that now is just as critical. Decisions will be made based on the pass and we want God's best and for Him to be glorified.
We still don't know what the future holds. If the authorities are logical, they will allow me back in my home immediately. But I've seen that all too often rational thought means virtually nothing when people who are far removed from a situation go into "cover their tail" mode. Right now, nothing is a foregone conclusion. The contretemps that is the past nine months is still not over, and who knows what God has in store for the future?
With that said, I'm believing God to be reunited with my family by April. Please pray with me to that end. I know it will happen. But if not, I still will not serve the god of this age.
As many of you may know by now, I took and passed a polygraph today covering whether or not I have had any sexual contact with anyone other than Brandi since the time of my last passed polygraph (Feb. '09). I passed!
The polygrapher said that in order to score a "pass," you have to have at least a +3. He said that the highest anyone can score is a +10. So a +10 is like pitching a no-hitter or bowling a 300. Well, the polygrapher said he manually scored me at a +10, and his computer gave me a score of +9. So there is no ambiguity whatsoever!
The polygrapher we used was not state-appointed. We went at this with an independent guy, and the next step is to have a state-appointed polygrapher verify the results. That shouldn't be a problem because my chart was so "clean."
My therapist said once we get his state-appointed polygrapher to verify the results, we can present that to BC and request that I be reunited with my family. If BC is still obstinate (which would not be a surprise), then we'd have a strong case to take before a judge, and my therapist (who is also state-appointed) said he'd testify on our behalf.
It looks like things are falling in to place. Praise JESUS!
Therefore the LORD heard this and was furious;
So a fire was kindled against Jacob,
And anger also came up against Israel,
Because they did not believe in God,
And did not trust in His salvation.
-- Psalm 78:21 & 22
Beware, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God. ... -- Hebrews 3:12
Tomorrow is a big day, but I have no anxiety right now. Meditating on the above passages tonight has helped me to remember that unbelief is, well, evil. I will hold the beginning of my confidence steadfast to the end, and I will wait for the salvation of Yahweh.
If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and He will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods ... -- Daniel 3:17 & 18 (ESV)
I love the confidence of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. They know God will deliver them, but even if he doesn't -- "but if not" -- then they still won't bow.
I trust God for His deliverance, and I know He will deliver us from so great a death (2 Cor. 1:10), but if that deliverance is not what I expect, then I still won't bow to the god of this age.
Tonight my therapist wrote my monthly report:
"No problems noted. I recommend the client be allowed to write letters to his children and to talk to them on the phone. ..."
The report will be forwarded to my MC authorities, and while I don't expect them to budge, it at least shows my therapist's willingness to continue to put pressure on the higher-ups. I was encouraged by it.
I have strange feelings these days. I feel like I'm happy and joyful that it's almost spring, because I really think something is going to break this season ... but in my mind I'm worried that what will actually break is me. I guess I'm teetering between courage and timidity.
The thought of being "bold as a lion" has been foremost on my mind, but deep inside I have anxiety, and maybe a little fear. The what-ifs can drive me crazy if I let them. And then there's my children. I miss them like I have never missed anything in my life.
I need to continue to take this thing a day at a time, one step at a time.
I had a good meeting with my therapist yesterday. The bad news is he said he talked to the gatekeeper in BC, and that the conversation didn't go anywhere. In other words, his plan for reunification was shot down before he could even explain it. In reality, we expected such a response, so while it's a disappointment, it was not unexpected.
I'll say I feel like the therapist -- and keep in mind he's the state-appointed expert -- has a deep compassion and concern for our situation. He truly believes that I need to be home and he's doing things to help us toward that goal.
I know this isn't much of a detailed update, but much of what I want to say will probably be better said on email. So if you'd like a more detailed update send me an email* ... and thanks for praying. Brandi and I love all of you guys.
*It might be better to not use the "Contact Me" feature on the sidebar until I can verify that it's working. I tested it out but haven't gotten confirmation that it's working. So a direct email or even a comment on this post asking for an email from me would work just fine.
The Contact Me is working now. I had misspelled my own name in the administrator email form. D'oh! So feel free to Contact Me anytime!
I keep pretty busy these days. Thankfully, I love my job, and I have as much work there as I want to do, so I spend a lot of time at my workplace. Here's my typical weekday:
6 a.m. - wake up
8 a.m. - leave for work/arrive at work
7 p.m. - leave work
8 p.m. - eat dinner, shower, hang with Brandi if possible
9 p.m. - read, blog, listen to John Piper sermons, etc.
10 p.m. - start thinking about bed
11 p.m. - definitely asleep by now
My days to see Brandi are Sunday, Wednesday and Thursday. On Thursday evenings I get to be home for a while because the kids stay at my mother-in-law's place on those nights. Also, every Thursday night I get to stay at the home of our good friends Gail and Rollin Mayes, who have been gracious enough to let me spend the night with them every Thursday evening. Yes, I'm nomadic to some extent.
It's not very exciting, but that's my schedule these days.
Beware, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God; but exhort one another daily, while it is called “Today,” lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin. For we have become partakers of Christ if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast to the end ... -- Hebrews 3:12-14
I mediated on that passage a bit tonight.
Knowing that the commands of Scripture to hold our faith firm to the end are momentous, I find it difficult sometimes to balance both being honest with God about my lack of faith, and trusting in His magnanimity and goodness. The last thing I want to do is to depart from the living God, because even His common grace is still grace, and what is hell if not being separated from all vestiges of His presence? I need to hold on, all the while knowing that it's not me who's really doing the holding.
Robert, our UPS driver at work, had been out of pocket for months, but he finally showed up again on our route this past week. I assumed that he had simply been reassigned, but he told me that he had actually been sick -- very sick. Back in October he had developed a bump on the back of his head that grew to a large lump within 24 hours. After going to the ER, he passed out and was admitted to the hospital (I can't remember what the diagnosis was). After a few days of being under medication he slipped into a coma. The prognosis looked grim. Most people expected him to die, including his wife. But after seven days he came out of the coma, and his loved ones were relieved -- it was like seeing a man raised from the dead. He still had to go through a process of recovery and rehabilitation that lasted another couple of months, but as it turns out, the coma changed his life.
"Do you remember what it was like being in the coma?" I asked.
"Oh yeah, man. I saw some stuff," he responded.
"What did you see?"
"It was like my life was a movie being played out in my head. I saw all of the bad places I had been in my life, places I never should have been, and I kept thinking that God was telling me, 'You didn't walk away from those places; I carried you away.'"
His words moved me. His experience moved me. Just seeing his beaming smile made it obvious to me that I was talking to a man who was thankful to be alive. Joie de vivre was written all over his face. He must have felt like Lazarus. Having stood on the ledge of life, and looked out at such a cavernous death, Robert has got an eternal perspective that will be with him for the rest of his life.
I want that perspective. I want to hold the beginning of my confidence steadfast to the end, because I believe with all my heart I am a partaker of Christ. Exhort me to that end.
I met a friend for coffee last week. He had tea, actually, and then proceeded to tell me that he's fasting from coffee until I'm reunited with my family. He's a coffee fiend, not a casual drinker by any means. I feel loved.
Four days ago a friend told me, simply, "I believe in you." He's walked through a portion of this journey with Brandi and me, and to hear him say those simple words meant so much.
I have a friend who a few weeks ago told me, through streams of tears, "Seeing you go through this, trusting God, makes me want to follow Jesus more closely." Those tears invigorated me.
I have a new friend who emailed me a few days ago and said, "[J]ust seeing another brother walk in complete freedom from past failures, it gives a tangibility to Isaiah 42:3, and that's pretty stinkin' awesome my friend :)." Those words lifted my spirit.
I have a friend who makes the world a better place. Her radiant smile, love for our children, and passion for JESUS makes her a constant river of blessing in my life. "Like a lily among thorns, so is my love among the daughters" (Song of Solomon 2:2).
I have four little friends who wait patiently for me. How long, Yahweh?
I have a friend who believes in the Gospel of Grace so much that he lives it, eats it, breathes it, writes books about it, blogs about it, and never stops talking about it. Like Paul, he says from the depths of his being, "Woe is me if I do not preach the gospel!" I'm honored that he's walked with me for 20 years.
I have a friend who lost her husband 12 years ago. She was left with four small children to raise without a father. When I think about Brandi and our four children right now, I'm happy, for their sake, that God has not chosen to take me yet. When this friend compassionately and tearfully says she constantly prays for us, I'm thankful, because she understands the pain of separation.
I have a friend who's in prison. He committed a heinous crime, and now he's paying the state-mandated consequence. By all indications he's repented and accepted Christ's forgiveness. Thinking of him makes me think of God's grace, and how we all fall short of God's glory. The gravity of karma can't keep the scandal of grace grounded on earth, for grace obeys a higher law.
I have friends at church who are older and wiser than I am. I asked them the other day, half-jokingly, to show me how to be holy. They humbly said they're still trying to figure it out. They've walked with me for three years now, through repentance, life, pain, tragedy, and joy. I know they'll be with me until the end.
I have friends who, for me, in many strange ways, truly do represent the nexus of the intellectual universe. I've always thought that if I were in a rock band, they would be my bandmates. We've been together as friends for more than 12 years, and we've spilled a lot of ink together. I pray for 40 more years with you, my brothers.
I have friends -- deeply loved friends -- who I have not spoken to in months. I'm sorry for that. I'm a horrible initiator. God change me.
I have a friend who's my uncle, but who has always seemed more like a brother. I have a brother who's my brother, who has always seemed more like a friend. I'm blessed with a wonderful family -- my dad, my mom, my brother, my sister -- and I'm so joyful knowing that my four children, no matter what, will always have each other.
What a friend I've found
Closer than a brother
It would break my heart
To ever lose each other
Jesus, friend forever
-- Delirious?, "What A Friend I've Found."
He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces ... -- Isaiah 53:3 (ESV)
In a strange way, that aspect of JESUS' life -- the rejection, the sorrow, the grief -- is what compels me the most these days.
I woke up again this morning (at 5 a.m.) with my emotions rattled from a dream I was having about seeing my children. I looked over to Abigail, she was crying, and my emotions spiked and woke me up. I wish I could have stayed there.
As I tossed and turned, ruminating on my grief, I thought of Isaiah 53:3. It didn't make the pain go away, but it made me thankful that God simply knows. He knows suffering. The Father via the Son's suffering ("He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?"), and the Son was, as Isaiah points out, "acquainted with grief."
I'm alright now. But at any time during the day I can have a "Then I remember" moment. I had one yesterday at work, just sitting at my desk. I had to fight back tears and regain composure.
In order to deal with the pain of life, I have several needles to choose from: food, TV, games, books, sleep, the Internet, et cetera. There are some I've never been tempted to try; alcohol abuse and narcotics come to mind. There are some, by God's grace, I'll never go back to. Through it all, though, His pain -- His blood -- is the salve my wounds ache for. And by His grace I am hopefully "always carrying about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested ..." (2 Cor. 4:10).
The Son of God suffered unto the death, not that men might not suffer, but that their sufferings might be like His.
-- George MacDonald (via C.S. Lewis)
I am so thankful for these little guys and gals. I love knowing that I'm their father, and no one can ever change that. This shot was taken by Brandi around Christmas time.
Two nights ago I had a dream that I came face-to-face with my children and didn't have anywhere to hide. So I spent a few minutes hugging them, telling them I love them, and that I'll be home soon. Normally, in those types of dreams, my emotions get so ramped that I end up waking up. Not so in this case, at least not initially.
After a few minutes of happiness, I noticed Daniel seemed like he was holding back tears. I said, "Are you alright, Daniel?" He nodded his head and his lips started to quiver. I hugged him again and said, "Don't be sad, Daniel." At that point I started to cry and, of course, that jarred me awake. I woke up crying.
That's the rhythm of my dreams these days. I was thankful this time that I actually spent a few minutes with them. It was nice.
If you think about it, please pray for them today. Please pray for Brandi.
Thanks to my friend Jared at The Gospel-Driven Church linking to this blog (with my go-ahead), I think I have a couple of more readers. And I'm thinking those readers might be scratching their heads a bit wondering exactly what the blog is about, and where I'm coming from. So here's a quick rundown ...
- I lived a double life for all of my life, until January 14, 2008, when I finally repented of my sins and came clean to my wife, my friends, and my family. I didn't fall on the Rock; the Rock fell on me.
- I experienced grace, love, and forgiveness, from God first, and then from all those who were close to me.
- One of the sins I had hidden happened when I was a teacher in 2001. I had an illicit conversation with a student of mine, got caught, and was subsequently placed on probation (which is set to expire, finally, in April of 2012). I denied that I had done anything wrong. In short, I lied.
- On January 18, 2008, I had what might be called a conversion experience. As I wrote in Jared's forthcoming book, Gospel Wakefulness, I was "apprehended by the risen Christ." On the way to work I felt the Spirit telling me I was a new creation. I wept and felt His love wash over me. It was the most authentic experience I have ever had in my life.
- For almost two and a half years, life was bliss. Brandi and I renewed our vows (and this time I meant every single word); we had a gorgeous new baby who reminded me of the Gospel of Grace, so I named her Evangeline Grace; and we bought a home that we love, a home that we plan to live in forever.
- In May 2009 I failed a routine polygraph. I told the truth, but the machine said I was deceptive. Subsequently the authorities in my life feared (understandably so) for the safety of my children. They called CPS and sent me on a state-sponsored vacation for a month.
- I came out of the joint and promptly took and failed yet another polygraph. A few weeks later, CPS closed the case because there was no evidence of abuse.
- Despite the CPS report coming up clean as a whistle (or, to use their words, "sexual abuse was ruled out"), the probation department decided to put a stipulation in my conditions saying I can not be around my children. I can't see them. I can't talk to them. I can't mail them letters. Nothing.
- The state-appointed therapist that I've worked with for seven years now sees our situation as detrimental to our family, and has gone on record stating that his goal is to reunite us. Like many in that state, he uses the polygraph as a tool for treatment, and he believes in its efficacy, but he is not jaundiced. He knows what the machine is, and what it is not. He seems to believe in me, and that has been one of the biggest blessings through this entire ordeal.
- That's it! Thanks to everyone who stops by here, and thanks for all of your friendship and support. I don't ask for prayer for myself, but I do ask for prayer for my wife, Brandi, and my children: Nathan, Daniel, Abigail, and Evangeline. God is truly faithful.
I recall driving away from my home on the evening of July 4th and being mesmerized by the pyrotechnics in the night sky above my beloved home town of Waco.
As I crossed the bridge over the Brazos River I took in all of the sights: the glow of downtown, the reflection on the water of exploding fireworks, and the throng of people who had gathered for the evening's spectacle. I also noticed, in the darkness of the water on the river, what appeared to be hundreds of floating lights -- they were everywhere, and from my vantage point on the bridge, I couldn't quite make out what they were. As my eyes adjusted, though, I noticed they were lights from what appeared to be dozens upon dozens of small boats, which had undoubtedly sailed over from Lake Waco to witness the firework celebration over the river while floating on the river itself. The lights, the people, the celebration -- it all smacked of joy.
Less than a week prior I had failed the most important polygraph I had ever taken. I didn't just fail, I apparently failed miserably. The polygrapher subsequently accused me of the most heinous of crimes as he grilled me to "come clean" and to "quite bull *****ing" him. He threw out the name of my county's top prosecutor, and told me I was about to become intimately acquainted with that person. He kept insisting that I tell the truth, grinding and grinding at me like a burr mill. I was horrified and, strangely, almost amused. You see, I had told the truth, but his faith in his machine made him sure that I was lying. All I could really lucidly think of at that point was my children, wondering if I would ever see them again.
I had anticipated passing that polygraph with no problems and being reunited with my children within a few short days. The failed "test" stomped on that dream like a roach underfoot, and I was left with the most uncertainty I had ever felt in my life.
I had no fear of the truth, though; by God's grace I had no fear. When I lived my double life (years prior) I guarded everything in my life with intensity. I didn't want anyone to rummage through my wallet, my cell phone calls, my text messages, my vehicle, my computer records, or my bank transactions, and I made darn sure that those items were kept safe from prying eyes. Since January 2008 -- that blessed month of severe mercy -- I couldn't care less if someone wanted to go through my records with a fine-tooth comb, and in the case of the authorities in my life, I wish they would be so thorough. How true I found these proverbial words to be: "The wicked flee when no one pursues, but the righteous are bold as a lion" (Proverbs 28:1).
On that night of July 4th, seeing the fireworks, the lights, and the people filled me with a sense of joy and hope. I had no idea what the authorities were going to try to do to me, but I knew that my family and I belonged to JESUS, and that ultimately nothing else mattered. As my dearly loved friend has said, the Gospel is the antidote to everything, and it was the Gospel of the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ that filled my uncertain future with the hope of an eternal weight of glory (see 2 Cor. 4:6).
As I once again saw explosive lights of celebration just two nights ago, I was yet again filled with hope. Yes, I'm still without the ones that I love, but I can still hear my rabbi say, "My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness" (2 Cor. 12:9).
For it is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us.
We are hard-pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed -- always carrying about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body.
For we who live are always delivered to death for Jesus’ sake, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh.
-- 2 Corinthians 4:6-11
There are times lately where I've doubted God's existence, His goodness, or His provision. Interestingly enough, those times of doubt are always superficial; I'm a shallow doubter.
Like Thomas I've said, "Unless I see in His hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe."
How did JESUS respond to such obstinacy? "Reach your finger here, and look at My hands; and reach your hand here, and put it into My side. Do not be unbelieving, but believing."
Thomas appropriately responded, "My Lord and my God!"
I was thinking about that passage on Sunday morning. (Sometimes Sundays can be a challenge, since those have always been family days for us. As Johnny Cash sang, "'Cos there's something in a Sunday, that makes a body feel alone.") Well, this past Sunday morning at church, I felt JESUS again reassuring my soul, saying, "Reach your finger here." I felt like He was telling me to reach out my hand, to touch my brothers and sisters in Christ, because they are His presence here with me, and to "not be unbelieving, but believing."
I'm humbled by His mercy.
Yesterday I quoted 1 John 1:5, and essentially asked God how He can truly be light when sometimes all I see is darkness. I think His response, almost humorously, is found in John 1:5, "The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it." (ESV)
I'm feeling better today. Sleepy, but recharged in many ways. Maybe it's all of your prayers sustaining me?
That's what it feels like right now, like all of life is covered with a blanket of darkness.
I feel a literal pain in my heart. Well, maybe it's not literally there, but I can't differentiate much right now between physical and emotional pain. Even pain isn't a strong enough word; violence might be more appropriate, bloody sadistic violence at that.
I want them back.
I think I dream about them every night, but I only remember my dreams about them two or three times a week. One reoccurring theme in my dreams involves me seeing my kids somewhere and having to hide from them so that they don't know I'm around. I woke up last night because in my dream Nathan recognized me and cornered me -- "It's Daddy!" -- so that I had no choice but to acknowledge him. I thought, To heck with it, I'm going to hold my son. Before I could even give him a good hug and kiss, the reality of the dream spiked my emotions so much that I woke up ... I was so sad that it wasn't real, so sad that I began to weep. Why couldn't it be real? Why can't I have 60 seconds with my children? What is that going to hurt?
"This is the message we have heard from Him and declare to you, that God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all" (1 John 1:5).
If that's true, why is everything black right now?
I love you!
I've been thinking about this song today and how apropos it is to my life.
I have a lover
A lover like no other
She got soul, soul, soul, sweet soul
And she teach me how to sing
Shows me colors when there's none to see
Gives me hope when I can't believe
That for the first time, I feel love
I have a brother
When I'm a brother in need
I spend my whole life running
He spends his running after me
When I feel myself going down
I just call and he comes around
For the first time, I feel love
My father is a rich man
He wears a rich man's cloak
Gave me the key to his kingdom coming
Gave me a cup of gold
He said: I have many mansions
And there are many rooms to see
But I left by the back door
And I threw away the key
Yes, I threw away the key
And only grace can get it back to me
And for the first time, I feel love
U2, "The First Time"
I've been mediating lately on Titus 3:3-7, trying to memorize it.
3 For we ourselves were also once foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving various lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful and hating one another.
4 But when the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward man appeared,
5 not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit,
6 whom He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior,
7 that having been justified by His grace we should become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.
I'm comforted to know that our salvation is not dependent in any way on "works of righteousness which we have done," but, rather, "His mercy." "Works of righteousness," I think, transcends the narrow definition of Old Testament law, and brings the whole idea of "works" into the realm of anything we do to become righteous in His eyes. We can't do anything, not without Him initiating in us and working through our hearts.
I've been free -- thank you, JESUS -- from sexual addiction for almost three years now! When I think about my previous level of addiction, and how it's completely non-existent in my life now, I'm amazed -- simply amazed. I know that I have nothing to do with being free, because my will is not sovereign and self-determining -- His is.
Thank you, Yahweh. It's worth everything.
I've been working a lot lately. At work our business gets pretty heavy around the holidays, so that means at least 50-hour work weeks. I'm thankful to be able to provide for my family, so that Brandi doesn't have to worry about working outside our home just to pay bills and put food on the table. She's busy enough homeschooling our children and being a farm wife. :-)
Of course, if anything changes with our situation I'll post it right here. Otherwise blogging might be thin this side of 2011. Thanks for reading ... and thanks for praying!
I've had a few people ask me lately for an update, and the reality is right now there's not much going on with our situation. I don't anticipate that anything is going to happen this side of the new year, but if there are any changes I'll post them here.
Brandi and I are alright for the most part. Thanks to the graciousness of my mother-in-law -- and occasionally others, like my brother -- we're able to see each other two or three times a week. And I spend as much time at our house as I can, when the kids aren't around.
Thanks again to everyone for your continued prayers and support. You all truly are much appreciated. Please continue to pray for Brandi, Nathan, Daniel, and Evangeline.
I had Thanksgiving dinner at the Mulkey's home. What a treat it was!
When I woke up yesterday morning, the weather had gone from summer-esque warmth on Wednesday to a full-blown winter chill on Thursday morning. I stepped outside and was hit with a twinge of sorrow, as the suddenly cold weather really made the day feel like a holiday -- a holiday without my precious babies.
Then a thought -- from God, I believe -- occurred to me: Somewhere in this city there are people who are full of joy this morning because the weather has turned, and it's making the day feel more like a holiday.
After that thought, I was happy. I was actually joyful and thankful to be alive and thankful to be with good friends on such a special day. I was also thankful that my children were having a wonderful time at home with Brandi and the rest of my family.
He truly has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places (Ephesians 1:3).
To whoever sent us the Happy Thanksgiving card, thank you. :-)
I talked to someone last night who has grown up in a Christian context (though not evangelical), but seems to have no biblical knowledge whatsoever and no understanding of the gospel. By exterior appearances this person could be considered deeply religious, yet still lacking even a rudimentary understanding of the basic tenets of the Christian faith.
The encounter reminded me of my time in the BC jail, where everyone is a "Christian" but most don't have a minimal grasp of what that actually means. Most inmates kept a Bible by their bunk as a sort of talisman to ward off evil spirits, give their court cases a favorable outcome, and to sidestep an eternity in hell -- but if you asked them to look up John 3:16, they'd probably have trouble finding it.
The fact is the scales do not fall from anyone's eyes unless God makes them fall. The reason we choose Him is because He chooses us (Ephesians 1:4). During this season of life especially, that gives me great comfort. My heart is warmed by the fact that not even insignificant little birds fall to the ground apart from His will (Matthew 10:29).
So I'm left with a thankful heart. I'm thankful that it pleased God to separate me from my mother's womb and to call me by His grace (Galatians 1:15). And I'm thankful that, as the old hymn goes, "Jesus sought me while a stranger, wandering from the fold of God." As the psalmist says, our God is in heaven, and He does whatever He pleases.
So when I see blank stares from people whose minds are apparently "blinded, who do not believe, lest the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine on them" (2 Cor. 4:4), I'm often times filled with hope and awe, knowing that even someone's stubborn will -- or obstinacy -- is no match for the will of Yahweh. As Romans 8:28 says, "All things work together for good to those who love God, for those who are called according to His purpose."
My children are without their father right now -- He knows that, and He's using it for His glory. It's working out for good. I believe that with all my heart, because the light of the gospel shines brighter in dark places.
Nathan, Daniel, Abigail, and Evangeline, I love you all so much. I think about all of you, literally, every hour of every day. JESUS is with you, my babies.
And that's what makes suffering so intolerable at times. There's nowhere to go. There's no eject button. No way to abort. All I can do is sit here and take it.
Isn't this what theologians have written about for centuries? Our classic understanding of hell: Eternal Conscious Torment. Sure, this isn't eternal, but it feels that way, so it may as well be. I'm certainly conscious. And this is definitely torment.
The real difference is I believe there is an end. I do hope, and I do see this as a "light affliction," knowing that "the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to compared to the glory that will be revealed in us." I hope in JESUS while I miss my children.
I don't just miss them, I see them. I see my children everywhere. Not in a literal sense, of course, but I feel them like they're with me, even though they're not. I feel them in the cold breeze, and I think about them running around in their winter jackets, laughing. I see them when the sun goes down, and I think about what it used to be like to drive home after work to my beautiful wife cooking dinner, and my treasures telling me all about their day. I see them in familiar places, places I've been to a million times over with them. I feel Evangeline's tiny little hand touching my arm. I feel Abigail riding on my back as I carry her up to bed. I feel Nathan jumping around as I hug him. I feel Daniel sitting in my office chair with me while I send an email. I hear their voices; their voices never go away.
I went to Wendy's the other day. I sat at the same table Daniel and I sat at on May 9. I sat on the side of the table that Daniel was on, and I glided my hand across the table and thought about him. I haven't seen him since May 26.
In the darkest times, I feel like maybe I stole those years of joy with my children. Maybe I never deserved them to begin with? Maybe that afternoon with Daniel at Wendy's was the sort of life I forfeited years ago without even realizing it? Thankfully the darkest times aren't the most common times. I have to hope, or life really isn't worth living. I was once without Christ, having no hope and without God in this world. "But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ" (Ephesians 2:13).
Is life worth living? Absolutely. Because I'm one day closer to being with my children, and one day closer to being with Christ for eternity. It's also worth living because He's meeting me right here, right now. His right hand offers pleasures forevermore -- and forevermore begins this very second.
Read the rest of this entry . . .
[In A Grief Observed C.S. Lewis used an initial to refer to his wife: H.]
It's not true that I'm always thinking of H. Work and conversation make that impossible. But the times when I'm not are perhaps my worst. For then, though I have forgotten the reason, there is spread over everything a vague sense of wrongness, of something amiss. . . . So with this. I see the rowan berries reddening and don't know for a moment why they, of all things, should be depressing. I hear a clock strike and some quality it always had before has gone out of the sound. What's wrong with the world to make it so flat, shabby, worn-out looking? Then I remember.
-- C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed
Aren't all these notes the senseless writhings of a man who won't accept the fact that there is nothing we can do with suffering except to suffer it? Who still thinks there is some device (if only he could find it) which will make pain not to be pain. It doesn't really matter whether you grip the arms of the dentist's chair or let your hands lie in your lap. The drill drills on.
And grief still feels like fear. Perhaps, more strictly, like suspense. Or like waiting; just hanging about waiting for something to happen. It gives life a permanently provisional feeling. It doesn't seem worth starting anything. I can't settle down. I yawn, I fidget, I smoke too much. Up till this I always had too little time. Now there is nothing but time. Almost pure time, empty successiveness.
-- C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed
C.S. Lewis is like a beloved friend of mine. Through all of my adult life he's been a source of wonder and encouragement to me, because he's a cerebral dreamer who could write a masterpiece for a child (The Chronicles of Narnia) as seemingly easily as he could write the most profound and weighty theological treatise (e.g. The Problem of Pain) and everything in between (e.g. The Screwtape Letters).
I remember being on my bed as a 17-year-old boy, reading the final paragraphs of Mere Christianity:
Give up yourself, and you will find your real self. Lose your life and you will save it. Submit to death, death of your ambitions and and favourite wishes every day and death of your whole body in the end: submit with every fibre of your being, and you will find eternal life.
Keep back nothing. Nothing that you have not given away will be really yours. Nothing in you that has not died will ever be raised from the dead. Look for yourself, and you will find in the long run only hatred, loneliness, despair, rage, ruin, and decay. but look for Christ and you will find Him, and with Him everything else thrown in.
Those words pierced me. I was a snotty-nosed kid, dumbfounded by the words of a dead British man. I still had many years of duplicity ahead of me -- stormy waters to glide over before truly submitting to death. But I knew the way, and Lewis had shown it to me.
And now as a 34-year-old man, his words mean even more. So when he talks about pain and suffering, I listen. He is my master, and I am his pupil.
I'll be in McAllen until Wednesday, doing a photo job. Please pray for my family while I'm gone. Thanks!
About two weeks ago my officer in MC sent an email to BC asking them if I was allowed to receive a letter that Abigail wrote for me. BC promptly responded, "No!"
As frustrating as that was, it wasn't a surprise. In the meantime we were still waiting on my therapist to send his letter to BC asking to begin the process of family reunification by first allowing me to send the children letters, then phone calls, et cetera.
When I talked to my therapist yesterday, he said he's still planning on sending the letter to BC, but that he wants to wait a bit longer because if he sends the letter on the heels of the aforementioned rejection, BC would likely simply say, "They just asked about letters, and we said no!"
Therefore, we're still waiting. It's frustrating to be in a holding pattern, but I'm very much encouraged by the fact that it's obvious to me that my therapist -- the guy appointed by the State -- is still very much for me and my family. He has sympathy and understanding for the pain I'm going through, and that's a rare thing in the world of criminal probation.
Most people might think, He's your therapist, of course he's going to be on your side. And while that's probably true in a non-probation setting, it's not something I've ever seen on this side of the justice system. Especially since I'm sitting here with two failed polygraphs. For the past eight years, my experience of their attitude toward failed polygraphs is complete incredulity on their part. It's always, "You're obviously lying about something, now tell us what it is." This time it's more like, "You obviously over-analyze certain things and it gives you trouble on the polygraph. We'll work with you on that." That type of attitude is nothing short of a miracle, and I'm thankful that God's given me so much favor.
Thanks again for all of your prayers and support. I truly believe that if it were not for the prayers of the saints, my situation would be much worse. As it is now God is teaching me as a loved son (Hebrews 12), and He's showing me how to commit my soul to Him as to a faithful Creator in the midst of all of this suffering (1 Peter 4:19).
These are merely light afflictions. The weight of glory comes next.
When I was in jail back in June, I had a hunch that BC might decide to just keep me there by revoking me and putting me before the judge. For the first couple of weeks in there I was stricken with anxiety on a daily basis, wondering whether or not I would get called to "booking" at some point. If you're in county jail and you get called to booking, it's not ever a good thing. Getting called to booking is tantamount to the authorities telling you that you need to report back to processing because something has changed in your paperwork. You don't ever want to get called to booking.
After being in jail for about two weeks, I was called to booking.
I remember being on my bunk and hearing the on-duty guard call my name through the intercom: "Get cleaned up. You're going to booking."
I'll never forget the feeling. I knew, without any doubt, that I was about to be revoked, and that I would likely spend at least 3 or 4 years in prison. My hands were literally trembling as I tried to brush my teeth and wash my face.
To get to booking from where I was you had to walk down a 200 foot hallway, handcuffed and escorted by a guard. I called that walk the Green Mile.
As I was walking the Green Mile, everything seemed surreal. My surroundings, the cuffs, the guard, the walls ... they all seemed like a dream. Everything was in slow motion. A funny thing happened, though. At that moment, walking that hall, I had an overwhelming sense of peace. I felt like JESUS was with me, and I could picture Him there with me, walking by my side. I was still scared, but I felt safe, I felt alright.
When I got to booking two detectives from my county were waiting there, wanting to question me. I quickly deduced that I was not called to booking in order to begin the revocation process, but I was called to booking so those detectives could question me.
They questioned me. I answered honestly. They didn't believe me, and they told me so. I told them they were wrong, politely. In the end they said they were just following procedure since they got a referral on me, and that they didn't have anything to charge me with. (I knew that already, but it felt good hearing them say that.) They released me back to my dorm. At that point I was full of joy; I had been called to booking and I had survived.
The detectives were not nice, but I bless them anyway. They were doing their job, and since I'm sure they've seen a lot of heinous crime during the course of their careers, I can't blame them for being jaundiced in their thinking. I can't say I would have acted any differently if I were them.
So I said all that to say I'm thankful and God is faithful. Even if I had been revoked, He'd still be faithful. His mercies are new every morning, and even in the lion's den, He's there.
I feel compelled to study 1 Peter, slowly. The first few verses are so weighty, so profound, so full of practical theological implications for my family and so many of our friends who are suffering in some form or fashion right now.
"Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ ..."
Peter proclaims his apostolic authority from the get-go.
"To the ... elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ: Grace and peace be multiplied."
I see the Godhead -- Father, Son, and Holy Spirit -- represented here as the single driving force in the process of election according to His foreknowledge. I see the tri-relational God, Yahweh, intimately involved in His saints' election, for "salvation ready to be revealed in the last time" (vs. 5).
The thought of a truly sovereign Lord is deeply comforting, especially right now. A God who in His sovereignty responded to Moses' request, in Exodus 33, to "show me your glory," by saying "I will proclaim the name of Yahweh before you. I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion." That God is big!
The glory of God is intrinsic to His sovereignty.
To that I say, "Yes, JESUS!"
Everything was going fine. I had just had a pleasant thought -- I enjoy life right now -- and within 60 seconds I started to think about my children. Less than two minutes later I was weeping.
That's how life goes these days. I haven't seen my kids since May 26. I haven't spoken with them since mid-August. That's the reality of life right now.
The last time I saw Evangeline she was 11 months old. Now she's 16 months old. Babies grow a lot in five months. In some ways, I feel like I don't know her anymore -- and she doesn't know me.
Brandi told me that her and the kids would be going to Mardel Christian Bookstore tonight. How I wish I could just show up there and hold them all for five minutes. That would literally be the happiest five minutes of my life.
I know that God has a plan and a purpose in our lives. But I'm ready for this pain to be over.
"Passing through the Valley of Weeping (Baca), they make it a place of springs; the early rain also fills [the pools] with blessings" (Psalm 84:6 AMP).
I ate dinner with Brandi tonight. I was a bit melancholy but she helped cheer me right up. She's good that way.
I just miss my kids so much. Nothing in life is the same without them. In many ways I've achieved a kind of normalcy in this season of life and I'm making appropriate adjustments, but I still feel like a wanderer. And I still sometimes feel a deep sense of loneliness. The burden of separation is a difficult thing to think about.
So I don't think sometimes. I work. I watch football. I read. I blog. I sleep. Because when I think, I feel pain. On the other hand, I know that the reality of this present pain will make the joy of reunion all the more memorable. But when is that going to happen? Blocked love is tantamount to excruciating pain.
I love my children. In Romans 9 Paul says, "For I could wish that I myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my countrymen according to the flesh." Yesterday I had a thought, Could I say that about my kids? That I could wish that I myself were accursed from Christ for their sake? Absolutely. It's comforting to know, though, that it's not up to me, but it's up to God. He'll perfect the work in them, and He'll guide us through this valley of deep darkness. Joy comes in the morning.
Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling,
And to present you faultless
Before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy,
To God our Savior,
Who alone is is wise,
Be glory and majesty,
Dominion and power,
Both now and forever.
-- Jude 24 & 25
Talked to my therapist today. He said the authorities in this county are saying that the BC authorities have already said "no contact," and that we'd need to appeal directly to the authorities in BC in order to get permission to get the ball rolling on any type of contact.
With that said, my therapist told me that he would write a letter directly to BC asking for permission to initiate contact with my children. He told me that he would explain in the letter all of the reasons why "it's necessary" for my children to be able to have contact with their father, and he said if the letter doesn't generate a response, he would call BC and explain the situation to them.
For us, that's very encouraging news. My therapist continues to be extremely supportive and we really get the sense that he believes in me. We're very thankful for that!
Please continue to pray daily for Brandi, Nathan, Daniel, Abigail, and Evangeline. I have not seen the kids in almost five months. I want my family back.
For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, who was preached among you by us -- by me, Silvanus, and Timothy -- was not Yes and No, but in Him was Yes. For all the promises of God in Him are Yes, and in Him Amen, to the glory of God through us. -- 2 Cor. 1:19 & 20
Thursday was a good day.
I had a routine meeting with my therapist and at the meeting I asked him if I could send letters to my kids. He picked up his phone, called my probation officer in McLennan County, and left a message to this effect, "Hi, [insert name here]. This is Dr. [insert name here]. I've got Eric here in my office and what I'm wanting to do is move him toward family reunification. The first step in that is allowing him to be able to send letters to his kids. What do we need to do to make that happen on your end?" So we await her response.
Now, if for some reason, BC comes back and says, "No, you can't write letters," then we'll have a valid argument with which to approach the judge: "Look, judge, my therapist -- the guy appointed by the state -- is saying I need to have some sort of contact with my kids and that I need to be moving toward family reunification. May we do that?" Of course, the judge could still say no, but with the professional therapist on our side, our chances are much better.
After my meeting with the therapist, I got the call from the mysterious stranger wanting to give me his truck. Not a bad day. The truck is the nicest vehicle I've ever owned. It's been well cared for and looks absolutely beautiful. I'm amazed.
On Wednesday (obviously, the day before Thursday), my former truck (which, in reality, is a small wheelbarrow with a 4-cylinder engine attached to it) had gotten a flat tire. When I was getting the tire fixed, I was overwhelmed with thankfulness. I thought, Thank you, God, for this little beat up farm truck. Thank you that it runs right now, and even if it breaks down on the way to work, I'm still so thankful for it and for everything you've done in my life. The sense of thankfulness was so overwhelming, I had to text a few people right then to tell them how I was feeling. It was great!
God is faithful. And even if I had never gotten the call about that truck, He'd still be faithful.
So the guy gave me the truck today. No strings attached. It's ridiculously nice and it's obviously been well cared for. I am humbled ... and very thankful.
Some guy I don't even know called me and told me, "Hey, I've got a 2001 Dodge Dakota I'm going to give you." Apparently he's a Lifegroup leader in the college department at Antioch. I feel numb with joy right now. :-)
If you're reading this and you have children, go hug them and tell them you love them.
I have a deeper understanding of the impermanence of life these days. I never would have thought -- ever -- that I would lose my children. Yes, I knew my sins were great, and that I would have to suffer consequences for them, but in my naivete I had never dreamed that I would be taken away from my children in such a way. The thought simply never crossed my mind. After my repentance in January 2008, I thought the hard part of life was over.
Last Sunday Brandi and I went to Dayton Black's funeral -- he was only 32. Dayton is the son of Richard and Cathy Black; those two have been exceptionally good and close friends to Brandi and me for more than 10 years.
On July 23, Richard and Cathy had me over to their home for a meal. It was refreshing to eat a home-cooked meal on a real plate with non-plastic utensils. After the meal Richard and I sat in his living room while I tried to express the pain and anguish I was presently going through. Richard's warm encouragement left me with a sense of well-being that night, and I walked away from his place a slightly better person. I was sharpened.
Only two months later, Brandi and I found ourselves at Dayton's funeral. How does that happen? How does someone go from life to death in such a short space of time? Dayton even joined Richard and I for a bit of conversation on that July night. I remember thinking back then, Man, this guy is huge! He could kill me if he wanted to. And it was true. He was a semi-pro football player, full of life and health -- the exact opposite of physical death. Now he's gone.
My problems seem so small in comparison to literal, physical death. How do you look a friend in the eye, a friend who just lost his only son, and say anything that makes any sense? "I understand your pain." No, I don't. "I'm feeling similar feelings, Richard." No, I'm not. "I know what it's like to lose touch with a child." No, I don't -- not in that way. My sons are still breathing. His is dead. Big difference.
Life truly is a vapor, and nothing is permanent. Only JESUS.
"He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?" (Romans 8:32)
A few days ago I talked to a Waco attorney about our situation. This guy was recommended to me through a brother in my Lifegroup. To put it succinctly, the attorney reiterated what we've been hearing all along: It's best to wait to get the support of the therapist, rather than to simply petition the judge out of the blue. He indicated if we chose the latter, we "could be wasting money."
Honestly, I'm not sure if his advice is from God or not. I don't "feel" anything about it either way. About a week and a half ago Brandi and I had dinner with Blaine and Golden Parsons, and they talked about the idea of praying to find an attorney who would "take a personal interest" in our situation. I think there certainly is some validity to that. In any legal situation, one would absolutely want to have a solid rapport with their attorney.
What we're doing now is still moving forward with pursuing any possible leads for attorneys, but our hope is certainly not in the legal system or in any legal counsel. We're confident that God is in control here. All we have to do is walk in the path that He illuminates.
One thing about my children is they love people. I wasn't like that when I was their age, and in many ways, I'm not like that today. When I was a kid I would literally run and hide when people came to our door. My kids, on the other hand, run to see who's arrived at our home and openly embrace anyone who crosses our threshold. In fact, someone showing up at our home actually makes their day. It's like a ray of sunshine to them. They love everyone.
So, if you're reading this, and you know my kids, just know that they love you and that seeing you actually makes their life a little bit more joyful -- a little bit better.
This U2 song about familial relationships -- fathers, sons, and daughters -- makes me think about my family, alone on our little farm. I know we'll all be together again soon. JESUS is all you all need.
This live version of "Kite" was recorded on the day of Bob Hewson's funeral. Bob Hewson was Bono's father.
I want you to know
That you don't need me anymore
I want you to know
You don't need anyone, or anything at all
In summer I can taste the salt in the sea
There's a kite blowing out of control on a breeze
I wonder what's gonna happen to you
You wonder what has happened to me
Nothing has materialized yet. We're still praying for an attorney (and still looking into a lead in that area). The kids seem to be doing well. I think they're adjusting to life without me, but Brandi says they do think about me and long to see me back home. I have my ups and downs. Most days are fine, but many times the reality of the situation and the pain of separation feel like they're too much for me to handle. Of course, when I'm weak, He's strong. We have so much to be thankful for.
I've got a basic, ubiquitous level of pain that never goes away -- ever. I could be having a great day, be full of the joy of the Lord, and really loving life ... but the pain would still be there.
For the most part, on a daily basis, life is alright. I spend time with JESUS, I'm constantly encouraged by the word of God, I listen to solid biblical teaching, and I pray for my family. But below the surface of what I've come to call "normal life," there's a Leviathan of pain and anguish that I don't think will ever be assuaged this side of being able to see my children again.
I am, however, constantly amazed by the grace of God. His grace truly is sufficient for everything.
Daniel hopped on his bike and started riding today, sans training wheels. Brandi texted me a photo and a quote from Daniel: "The faster I pedal the faster this goes!"
That made me happy.
Brandi and I met with my therapist today. Throughout this ordeal he has always been very supportive, and today was no different. While his hands are tied by what BC is going to allow, he said what he wants to do is move us to the point of family reunification. What that means practically are a couple of things:
- Regular individual meetings with him, to work on "therapy stuff."
- Eventually, a passed poly. He said he won't be able to do anything without a passed poly to work with.
With those things in place, at some point in the near future he'd be able to help me approach the BC authorities to allow for written contact, then verbal contact, and so on. The feeling we got from him was that he didn't want the process to drag on forever, but that we're going to have to give it a little time. It doesn't look like there's a quick fix anytime in the future.
So we're left wondering if it's still worth it to attempt to petition the court via an attorney, sans my therapist's support. Of course, if all goes well, we'll have his support in due time, and that would make matters easier, I'm sure. Regardless, we're planning on at least talking to attorney, to see what our current legal options are.
In other matters, a few people have inquired about our automobile situation. Right now the Suburban runs just fine, it simply doesn't want to start sometimes. :-) Through a friend's advice, we contacted Ed Espinosa at the church. Apparently he's started a ministry through the church where he works on cars for a nominal fee. I told him my car's symptoms, and he's relatively certain it's my fuel pump. He said if I bought the fuel pump, he'd install it in exchange for me taking some photos for him -- sounds like a great deal to me! Of course, now I need to locate a fuel pump, so we're not out of the woods yet. I'll keep everyone posted.
Victor Hugo is some kind of genius. His brilliant insights into faith, human nature, politics, culture, and life in general, really shine through in Les Miserables. Here's a scene from the book that really struck a chord with me, and, considering the circumstances, it's apropos. In the scene Marius Pontmercy -- who never knew his father -- was attending mass, sitting quietly in an out of the way spot, when an old man approached him, wanting his seat:
"I don't want you to have a bad impression of me. You see I think a great deal of that place. The mass seems better to me there. Why? I'll tell you why. For ten years, regularly, every two or three months, I would see a poor, brave father come to that spot; he had no other opportunity and no other way of seeing his child, as he was prevented through some family agreement. He came at the hour when he knew his son was brought to mass. The little one never suspected that his father was here. Perhaps he did not even know that he had a father, the innocent child! The father would stay behind a pillar, so that nobody would see him. He looked at his child, and he wept. This poor man worshiped the little boy. I could see that. . . . He is dead, I believe . . . his name is something like Pontmarie, Montpercy. . . ."
"Pontmercy," said Marius, turning pale.
"Exactly; Pontmercy. Did you know him?"
"Monsieur," said Marius, "he was my father."
The old churchwarden clasped his hands, and exclaimed, "Ah! You are the child! Yes, that is it; he ought to be a man by now. Well! Poor child, you can say you had a father who loved you dearly." (Pg. 629)
Now flip over a couple of pages, and Marius is deep in reverie:
He was filled with regret and remorse, and he reflected with despair that he could not divulge all his inmost thoughts except to a tomb. Oh! If only his father were living, if he still had him, if God in his mercy and goodness had allowed his father to be still alive, how he would have run, how he would have hurtled, how he would have cried out to his father, "Father! I'm here! My beliefs are the same as yours! I am your son!" How he would have embraced his white head, wet his hair with tears, gazed at his scar, taken him by the hand, admired his clothing, kissed his feet! Oh! Why had this father died so soon, so young, before justice was rendered, before the love of his son! Marius felt a continual pang in his heart. . . ." (pg. 631)
We've gotten a good lead, maybe two, on possible attorneys. I plan to follow up on Tuesday, when the world gets back to work.
The kids got back today from about five days in Houston. Brandi reports that they seem to be doing well, but Daniel tends to get weepy these days, with no real explanation why. Of all the kids, Daniel is the sensitive one. He's the one who "feels" and who likes to be in close proximity with plenty of physical touch (e.g. hugs). I think he's feeling my absence, even if he can't understand his feelings or verbalize them. Please, pray for all of my family, but say a special prayer for little Daniel.
Brandi and I had a good weekend. We were able to see each other for several hours on Saturday (thanks to my mother-in-law taking Evangeline for us), and we were able to go to church together this morning. I also spent a couple of hours out at our place this afternoon, doing various random chores.
This will be my second holiday without my family; the first was the 4th of July. It's difficult to be without them on special days, but Brandi and I try to keep the proper perspective, knowing that this means we're one day closer to being together as a family again.
Thanks to all of you who read this blog. I've gotten a few emails and encouragements specifically about the blog, and I really appreciate them.
Pray for Brandi, Nathan, Daniel, Abigail, and Evangeline.
Since the beginning of this trial, we've received an ocean of support and love from so many of our family and friends. We are so grateful for that support -- it means everything to us.
In January 2008, through God's grace, I walked away from a world of sin. Prior to that, through years of duplicity, I had become an expert liar and a master manipulator. Without a twinge of guilt, I would look someone in the eye, speak a heinous lie, and fully expect that person to believe me. Now that I have been crucified with Christ, I don't have to worry about some dark area of my life being exposed to the light -- I'm walking with Him now. Sure, like anyone else I still sin plenty of times, but God has set me free from the besetting sins that defined my bondage. And what a freedom it is.
Currently, at least in the world's eyes, I'm under a cloud of suspicion, but I've had so many brothers and sisters come to me and express their confidence and trust in what God has done in my life. At times I almost feel overwhelmed by the love and support poured out by so many people. If I've learned nothing else the past few weeks, I've at least learned a little bit more of what Paul meant when he said said love "believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things."
I'm thankful to my brothers and sisters in Christ, and I'm glad I'm not the person I used to be. I'm glad that the man who lived prior to January 14, 2008 is now a dead man.
The glorious thing about talking about my former self, and realizing that my "old man" is six feet under, is that I actually feel happy when sharing about what God's done in my life. The truth of 2 Corinthians 5:17 resonates in my soul: "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new." I think sometimes, when I'm feeling condemned and inadequate, God probably wants to say, "What part of 'new creation' do you not understand?" Of course, God doesn't have some anthropomorphic snappy side. The reality is the Holy Spirit gently whispers His truth through fellow believers and His written Word, encouraging me in and through His truth.
I'm thankful for the glory of death: Death to self; death to sin; death to unrighteousness. And I'm thankful that through His grace, I won't taste the second death (Revelation 20:6). Through death I've been rescued from death.
"But what fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death" (Romans 6:21 ESV).
- Still trying to figure out everything about an attorney.
- Our kids (sans Eve) are in Houston right now until this weekend. We're leaning heavily toward telling them what's been going on, and why I'm not home. I think we may do that this weekend or early next week. We'll see. It'll obviously be Brandi who tells them.
- Most days are full of deep joy and deep sorrow.
- Please pray that something works out for us to have reliable transportation for Brandi. Her Suburban is broken (again!), and we're kind of at a dead end right now. If she doesn't have a vehicle she's essentially a single mom without transportation. Bad news.
- That's it for now.
I've had a tough time all day dealing with the dream I had last night about Daniel. We were face to face. I touched him. I saw his tears. I heard the strain in his voice as he said, "Daddy, I miss you." That little voice has haunted me all day.
In my moments of extreme pain, I'm inclined to start doubting the goodness of God ... at least temporarily. I've gotten to a place in my life where I know He exists; I have no doubt about that. "For His invisible attributes, namely, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made" (Romans 1:20 ESV).
As the great C.S. Lewis said in A Grief Observed, the real danger is not in ceasing to believe that He exists, but in believing horrible things about Him:
Not that I am (I think) in much danger of ceasing to believe in God. The real danger is of coming to believe such dreadful things about Him. The conclusion I dread is not, "So there's no God after all," but, "So this is what God's really like. Deceive yourself no longer." (Pg. 5)
Lewis penned those words shortly after his wife's death. (They had been married for only a little over four years.) I had read the book, partially, in 1998, and despite being a C.S. Lewis aficionado, it didn't resonate with me, so I quickly dropped it. Finally, when I was in jail I read the entire book in one night, and it moved me deeply. Lewis' grief was different from my own, but grief is still grief and pain is still pain. This time around, the book hit home.
No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear. I am not afraid, but the sensation is like being afraid. The same fluttering in the stomach, the same restlessness, the yawning. I keep swallowing. (Pg. 1)
I'm not sure that what I'm going through feels like fear, though I can understand the connection. What I feel is a numb, obtuse pain, that frequently rises to the level of acute misery. I can live with the pain -- I feel God in the pain -- but I can't live with the misery. Thankfully, those moments where I "despair even of life itself" only happen every few days, but that seems all too frequent. Even in that pain, though, God is merciful. Still, in those moments, my mind and my heart can wander.
When you are happy, so happy that you have no sense of needing Him, so happy that you are tempted to feel His claims upon you as an interruption, if you remember yourself and turn to Him with gratitude and praise, you will be -- or so it feels -- welcomed with open arms. But go to Him when your need is desperate, when all other help is vain, and what do you find? A door slammed in your face, and a sound of bolting and double bolting on the inside. After that, silence. (Pg. 4)
Sometimes life feels like that.
I dreamed about you, Daniel. I was leaving a Sunday morning service at church. There were people all around, squeezed so close together, trying to get out of one door. Suddenly a little child fell down behind me. He was flat on his stomach and no one was picking him up. So I reached down to pick him up, and after I picked him up, I saw you behind him. I was kneeling down, face to face with you. You cried big tears, and said, “Daddy, I miss you.” I held you, looked at your face, and said, “I know, Daniel. I miss you too, but I promise I’ll come home as soon as I can.”
The dream seamed real. I could hear your sweet voice so clearly, and I could see your face right in front of me -- you were so close to me. I was simultaneously full of joy and sorrow. I would have wanted to stay in that dream for a long time, but the pain was so intense that it woke me up.
I’m sorry you’re having to go through this. I know you miss me. Please know I miss you too, and I think about you every day, all of the time. One day we’ll be together again, Daniel. I love you.
We had a difficult time last night. Brandi called me after 10 p.m. and told me the kids had a hard "we miss daddy" time.
They had watched an episode of Little House on the Prairie where Charles (their father) had to leave his family for a long time to go find work. The family struggled without him there, but by the end of the episode they were all reunited and happy. Brandi said when the episode was over, she thought everyone was alright but then Daniel started weeping, and all the other kids joined in. The whole incident lasted about half an hour.
Here's the thing, in light of what my therapist (see the blog post below) requested from us, we feel like we're in a holding pattern as far as telling the kids what the situation is. What makes things worse is they still think they can talk to me on the phone -- that breaks my heart. Nathan even said, "I'll call daddy tomorrow. That will make me feel better."
We need wisdom from the Lord. Despite the therapist's suggestion, we're both leaning toward Brandi letting the kids know some of the situation, and explaining to them why I can't talk to them on the phone for now.
I feel like I'm tied down, immobile, and my children are being tortured before my eyes while I'm powerless to do anything about it.
From Psalm 143:
For the enemy has persecuted my soul;
He has crushed my life to the ground;
He has made me dwell in darkness,
Like those who have long been dead.
Therefore my spirit is overwhelmed within me;
My heart within me is distressed. . . .
Deliver me, O Yahweh, from my enemies;
In You I take shelter.
I know God is actively delivering us through this fiery trial. I know that for His refining fire to take effect, we must go through times like this. This fire feels like hell, though.
Still, He whispers, My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.
I haven't actually had voice-to-voice or written communication with my children in nearly two weeks. Please pray for Nathan, Daniel, Abigail, and Evangeline.
We've put some feelers out to some attorneys to see about petitioning the judge for some sort of contact, but so far we haven't made much progress. I'm sure much of that is due to the fact that Brandi is going non-stop at home, and I've been snowed under at work, so there isn't much time (or energy) at the end of each day to pursue legal counsel.
I did, however, talk to my probation-provided therapist on Tuesday, and told him about our plan to talk to the kids about the situation (so far they don't have a clue), and our plan to petition the judge for some sort of contact.
On the petitioning the judge situation, the therapist recommended I wait a few weeks (months?) so that I can have a few more meetings with him, and that way he would feel comfortable offering his support when I petition the judge. He said the judge in question is usually pretty tough on these types of cases, and the implication was that my chances would be better if I had him (the therapist) on my side. So now the questions are: Do we petition the judge anyway? Or wait a few weeks to see if we can get the therapist on board with us?
With regard to telling the kids about the situation, he also recommended that we wait to tell the kids until he can have a session (within a week or so, hopefully) with both Brandi and me, to talk about how we plan to tell the kids and what we plan to tell them. We're not under any obligation to obey the therapists advice, but we certainly want to make the right decision. If we hold off until Brandi and I can see the therapist, it might be another week or two until we can tell the kids what the situation is. The downside of that is they were used to me calling them and writing them, and now all of that has dried up, and pretty soon they're going to start wondering why.
Once again, we have plenty to pray for. Thanks again to all of you who keep up with our situation, pray with us, love us, and walk with us. We truly love all of you.
An excerpt from an email I sent out to some brothers on July 11:
Thank you all for continuing to stand with my family through this trial. He's good, and I feel His love through each and every one of you.
The worship service this morning was made just for me. I was deeply encouraged to be reminded again that God not only sometimes leads us into Red Sea moments, but also provides the parting of the waters so that His name would be glorified. His glory is what it's all about, and praise God that His glory always coincides with what's best for us. Our joy in Him, and our dependence on Him, glorifies Him.
When Fred said to "stand up" in the midst of your trial, to face the ocean, and to trust God to part the waters, I was reminded of Ephesians 6, "Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand."
I was also reminded of Martin Luther defending his convictions before the authorities in 1521. He said, "I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. . . . Here I stand. I can do no other."
After the message, Paul Beden and Kyle Wallace prayed for me. I was humbled to be blessed by someone (Paul) who has traveled through life with JESUS for so many more years than I have, and who has so much wisdom and compassion, having been at the Master's feet for so long. And I was humbled to be blessed by Kyle, who has walked through his own Red Sea moments in his 40+ years of life, knowing full well that our Abba parts the waters and allows us to walk on dry land. Thank you, brothers.
The reports I get from home are always positive: The kids are joyful, things are going well, everyone is keeping up with the chores, and life is happening just as it always has. I'm thankful for those things, and I'm thankful for little bumps of joy that Brandi sends my way via text messages and emails every day. (For example, she texted me today: "Right now I'm watching one of our chickens eat a baby snake. :-)" That was a good thing! Protein for our chickens and a baby snake that will never grow into an adult snake.)
On the challenging side of things, Brandi's still sans her Suburban (it's in the shop), so she's still stranded at home. I think her and the kids must be getting cabin fever by now (it's been about a week). We're also finding that getting time together can be an arduous endeavor, and we're praying for God to open some doors for us to spend more time together.
In other matters, there are no real updates at this time. Please, brothers and sisters, keep praying for Brandi, Nathan, Daniel, Abigail, and Evangeline. They are my favorite people in the world, and I miss them deeply.
I'm a blogger. I like the idea of a living, breathing journal that anyone in the world could stumble upon and interact with. I've kept a personal blog for two or three years now, and I've been involved with a venerable group blog since 2003 (see the link on the sidebar).
Being separated from my family has suddenly given me a wealth of free time, and I've been able to seize the opportunity to use my free time to pray, seek God, read Scripture, listen to sermons, read encouraging literature, and work. By God's grace I've spent very little time amusing myself with games, TV, or other distractions that can so easily demand our attention and make us wonder how we ever lived without them.
The sudden free time has also freed me to blog more often, and last week I felt compelled to begin this blog, Broken Vessel. The idea for this blog, and even the title of the blog, came upon me very quickly, and I was certain that the idea was from God. If nothing else, I pray that my children will read this blog years from now and know that during this time of painful separation they were constantly on my mind. I want them to know that I could not stop thinking about them, I could not stop weeping over the separation from them, and I could not stop looking forward to being reunited with them. I know without a doubt that the day I see my children again will be the happiest day of my life.
Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift in the sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brethren; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. . . .
If I must boast, I will boast in the things that show my weakness. The God and Father of the Lord Jesus, he who is blessed forever, knows that I am not lying. -- from 2 Corinthians 11 (ESV)
He kind of makes me feel like a wimp.
I used to look forward to weekends. Weekends meant family time, getting stuff done around our little farm, playing with the kids, and maybe catching up on rest.
I've found these days I tend to dread Friday nights, because the pain of separation from my family is simply more acute on weekends. For example, at almost exactly 5 p.m. this past Friday, I started to feel a deep sense of loneliness. (Even writing about it right now makes me somewhat sad.)
In those moments, I often think of Psalm 31:
I am a reproach among all my enemies,
But especially among my neighbors,
And am repulsive to my acquaintances;
Those who see me outside flee from me.
I am forgotten like a dead man, out of mind;
I am like a broken vessel. . . .
Yep, that's sometimes the way I feel, especially in those moments. I know the end, though. I know God's love trumps everything (Romans 8:39). Our Lord JESUS knew the end as well, but it didn't stop Him from sweating drops of blood in Gethsemane.
The fourth century church father, Gregory of Nazianzus, said of Christ's humanity, "Whatever has not been assumed has not been healed." In other words, Christ must have assumed a full humanity (sans sin, of course) in order to fully heal humanity and to fully identify with humanity. JESUS' full humanity gives me great comfort in times like this. Just knowing that He was tempted, abandoned, lonely -- that all comforts me.
His sufferings are like mine.
By God's grace, two and a half years ago I stopped using pornography. I had always heard nightmare stories of lapses, relapses, and the pain associated with breaking the bonds of such a sin, and shortly after giving it up I was fully prepared (at least mentally) for an onslaught of temptation. It never came. I haven't had a "drop" of pornography since January 2008. Thank you, JESUS.
While I believe that most people who walk away from that particular sin go through a process that eventually leads to complete freedom, God decided to set me free instantly. BAM! It was done. (Paradoxically, I may be a fool, but I'm certainly not a fool. I know that I'm capable of any sin under the sun, and I know that without JESUS I'd run straight to the bondage of the temporal pleasures of passing sin.)
With that said, I can't get over my family. Dropping pornography was easy; dropping my family is impossible. The Force of Love is stronger than the force of sin, and I feel that force, that power, drawing my thoughts toward my family all of the time. I can't stop thinking about them. I can't stop wondering what they're doing. I can't stop grieving over what feels like a living death. Yet, despite the grief, I rejoice in the truth, knowing this trial can not last forever, and that the pain I feel today will recede when the joy of a reunited tomorrow is finally fulfilled.
I want to long for Heaven the way I long for my family. I want to long for JESUS that way. I want to feel homesick while present in this body, knowing that to be absent from it is far better. To live is Christ, and to die is gain.
Like John I want to lean against our Rabbi's chest and feel His heartbeat. Like Peter I want to hear Him dismiss my stray thoughts and say, "What is that to you? You follow me." Like Paul, I want to hear Him say, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my strength is made perfect in weakness."
I want JESUS.
Well, it's out on the Internet, and there is no password required to view it, so presumably anyone could stumble upon it. I can't say that I really care. The beauty of walking in freedom from sin is you really don't have anything to hide. With that said, if anyone feels like they want to share this site with someone who is familiar with our situation, I'm fine with it. For someone who is not familiar with our situation, however, a little more explanation might be in order.
On Monday we found out that I could not have any communication with the kids (as I'm sure you all know by now). Now we're faced with trying to locate an attorney who would hopefully help us petition the court to amend the conditions of my supervision, so that I can have some sort of contact with Nathan, Daniel, Abigail, and Evangeline.
I left on Tuesday to go to a funeral in Houston, got back Wednesday, and the past two days have been spent trying to catch up at work (I'm thankful for my job, by the way). The reality is, then, we haven't had any time to pursue "attorney shopping." Please pray with us as we consider our options, and as we seek the Lord's provision in this matter.
Speaking of prayer, thank you for all the prayers you lift up on our behalf. At certain times, it's like we can feel them, almost tangibly, holding us up and keeping our hearts on JESUS. I love the way the ESV translates 2 Corinthians 1:11: "You also must help us by prayer, so that many will give thanks on our behalf for the blessing granted us through the prayers of many."
A woman I know via work (the mother of some fellow employees who know some general details about our situation) saw me today and said, before even saying hello, "Eric, I am praying for you and your family every single day." That's the sort of thing we feel. Thank you all so much.
As God so lavishly reiterated to us over the past several Sunday mornings at Antioch: The Battle Belongs to the Lord. We know that and we believe it; that truth is in our hearts and in our minds. Therefore, we want your prayers because we know the battle belongs to the Lord. Thank you all for your diligence. Thank you all for standing with us, and ushering us into His presence.
In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, that the genuineness of your faith being much more precious than gold that perishes though it be tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ. -- 1 Peter 1:6 & 7
Praise God that this trial has brought Brandi and me closer to JESUS. We're not perfect by any means, but we've seen the value of falling on our face before the living God, crying out to Him, and truly casting our cares on Him, knowing that He cares for us. I think I can speak for both of us when I say that we have never felt closer and more loved by our Lord than we do right now, in the midst of the storm. He is faithful, and He loves us!
He's also given us the grace to avoid anger, frustration, and fruitless bickering over things like the definitiveness (or lack thereof) of polygraph technology and the seeming obstinacy of some authorities involved. We rest in His assurance (though not always perfectly), and we know that all authority comes from God (Romans 13:1).
To the extent that this trial has brought us closer to JESUS, it's been a blessing. We're thankful.
This is a rerun of a post I did a month or so ago on my personal blog. I thought it would be appropriate to post it again here.
Nathan -- As I write this you're 10 years old. I'll never forget when your mommy and I found out she was pregnant and that we were going to have a baby boy -- we were so happy. And the day you were born was one of the happiest days we've ever had. Since that day in 1999, you've brought us so much joy. I never knew how much I could love another human being until you came into my life. Nathan, I love you so much it hurts. I love you, my son. I love you, and I'm so proud of you. I'm proud of the man that you are becoming and I'm proud of everything you do. Please know that nothing can ever separate you from Jesus' love, and all I want for you is to live for Him. Follow Him all of your days. I love you, Nathan.
Daniel -- When your mommy and I found out we were having another boy, we rejoiced! We knew you and Nathan would be lifelong friends, and we knew you would always be there for each other. As you grew older, your sweet personality captivated us and to this day we love your sensitive nature and the fact that you seem to love hugs more than any of your siblings. Daniel, you make me so happy. I love you. You're a handsome young man and I know God has special things in store for your life. Please always know that your daddy loves you, and that Jesus loves you too. No matter what, Jesus is always with you.
Abigail -- You're a beautiful princess, because you belong to the King of Kings. Oh Abigail, you remind me of your mommy so much. You're sweet like her, your hair is curly like her hair, and you're every bit as beautiful as your mommy. I love you so much, Abigail. I'll always keep you in my heart, and I'll always love and pray for you -- as long as you live! You can live all of your life, Abigail, knowing that your daddy loves you. I love you, my little princess. I love you! Remember, Jesus loves you more than anyone, and He always will.
Evangeline -- My little angel, Eve. You came into our lives a little over a year ago, and you came as a gift from God, like a shower of grace just when we needed it. I'll always believe that on that warm June day in 2009, when you came into the world and your mommy and I held you, we realized that we needed you just as much as you needed us. Your name, Evangeline Grace, echoes the Gospel of Grace, and your life is a tangible reflection of Abba's grace in our lives. We didn't deserve you, but God gave you to us anyway. I'll always love you no matter what. You can never lose my love, ever.
I just got back from my aunt's funeral in Houston. It was good to celebrate her life and to know that she died in the Faith, and that now she's standing before the Lord.
During the eulogy my mind started to drift, and I began thinking about being at that funeral with Brandi and the kids (they were back in Waco), and how happy I would be to have the "responsibility" of watching my four little children during the funeral service. I imagined Daniel leaning his little head against my shoulder, whispering in my ear to ask me when the service would end. It was a good daydream.
Just to reiterate, as of right now, I'm not supposed to have have any communication whatsoever with my children. The past few days have been difficult, being separated from them completely as if they don't exist. But they do exist, and the force of the love I feel for them is truly stronger, I think, than anything I've ever felt in my life. It feels weighty, like intense pressure on my heart.
Don't misunderstand me, I love my wife more than anyone on earth, but the force of that love has never had to endure complete separation. When I repented of my sins two-and-a-half years ago (what a happy day), Brandi and I began a process of reconciliation that eventually built a love-wall, if you will, brick by brick, around our relationship. We still work on that wall. We still add bricks and fix patches, but it's a strong edifice now compared to what it was back then.
With my children, I loved them from the moment I saw them. And even when I lived a life of duplicity, I loved them -- despite the depths of my depravity. Still, back then, pre-January 2008, my love for them was still in many ways a shallow love. When I finally breathed the free air of repentance, my relationship with my children began to blossom. Abigail, who was previously indifferent to me, began to fall in love with me, and I with her. (Now I think she's the sweetest, most beautiful little girl I've ever seen. No, I know that. And the interesting contradiction here is I also know that's true about Evangeline as well.)
So I'll say it again, the force of my love for my children is strong: Too strong to forget about them; too strong to not pray for them; and too strong to not long for the day when I will see them again, and hold them again. I've often thought that that day will be the happiest day of my life, and with no exaggeration, I can say that is true. It's almost overwhelming to think about.
Nathan. Daniel. Abigail. Evangeline. I love them more than anyone or anything in creation.
I believe Christians will be talking about John Piper hundreds of years from now in much the same way people currently talk about guys like John Wesley, Jonathan Edwards, and Charles Spurgeon.
In this short clip Piper expounds on Romans 8:31-39, explaining what "more than conquerors" means.
A few weeks ago I started keeping a journal for my kids. I plan to occasionally post some of those journal entries here. Here's the entry for August 17 (yesterday):
I had a dream about you last night, Evangeline. I dreamed I walked out of church and saw you on the floor outside the door with a group of other kids. You looked up at me, took a couple of steps toward me, stumbled to the ground, and smiled. I remember the dream so vividly: picking you up, looking at you, holding you, and thinking, I’m not supposed to be doing this, but I don’t care. I was so happy.
I haven’t seen you since May 26. Sweetheart, that makes me so very sad. I’m sorry I missed your first birthday on June 24. I pray I never have to miss another one again. I love you so much, I feel like my heart is literally breaking. I would give anything to be with you right now. I love you.
If you only have time to pray for one thing with regard to our trial, please pray for Brandi. She's incredibly strong in the Lord, but she needs JESUS' grace as much as any of us. She is raising our four children, taking care of chores around our little farm, homeschooling, spending as much time with me as possible, and doing a billion other things that demand her attention ... and she's doing all of that alone. I wish I could help her. Please, pray for her.
As most of you probably know, the latest news is that BC has said that I must petition the judge (through an attorney) if I want to have any sort of written or verbal communication with my children. While that is a setback, and certainly not what we were hoping for, we know it didn't take God by surprise and that He has a plan for us through this leg of the journey. Please pray for God's provision through all of this.
Back in May, when this trial first came up, I believe the Lord gave me this passage specifically for our situation:
For we do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, of our trouble which came to us in Asia: that we were burdened beyond measure, above strength, so that we despaired even of life itself. Yes, we had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves but in God who raises the dead, who delivered us from so great a death, and does deliver us; in whom we trust that He will still deliver us, you also helping together in prayer for us, that thanks may be given by many persons on our behalf for the gift granted to us through many. -- 2 Corinthians 1:8-11
If you've arrived here, you probably didn't arrive by accident. Thank you for stopping by. On this blog I plan to post my thoughts, feelings, and anything I think the Lord might be speaking to me or my family.
If you've been invited to this blog, then please know that you're a beloved friend or family member who is intimately acquainted with our situation. I won't hold anything back on the way I'm feeling, and, just so you know, sometimes my feelings take me to the bottom of a deep, dark pit. At other times, however, my feelings soar high above the heavens. But at all times JESUS our Lord is in control, and His mercies endure forever and ever -- despite circumstances or temporal feelings.
Like David says in Psalm 31, "I am like a broken vessel," but he also says Yahweh "has shown me His marvelous kindness in a strong city."
He is our strong city.