Wednesday, June 29, 2005


I love learning. I love reading and writing and new ideas and stretching myself.

I was the first of my family to go to college. My parents didn’t graduate high school. I had made it through the two years of a community college, gotten an AA transfer degree and was attending a university.

The Bible as Literature seemed like a good choice. It was a summer course, it fit my schedule nicely, and it would be good to come at the Bible from a fresh angle.

In the lit class we were to select a particular story from the old testament and analyze its literary qualities. Did it have the elements of an oral tradition? Where there parts of the story that had deeper meanings, double meanings, unclear meanings?

Since we had wanted children for so long (and we had recently realized that it would never happen), I chose the Abraham and Isaac story.

Abraham, a successful shepherd from Ur, and his wife Sarah believed that there was only one God who was everywhere, all knowing, and all powerful. This creator of the universe wanted to work through Abraham to create a nation, a people through which He would interact.

The problem was that Abraham had no children. God promised to remedy that, and though the years passed and this couple grew old, Abraham held fast to that belief.

So I chose that story for my final project. It’s a fascinating story. It culminates with Abraham having two children, an illegitimate child of his wife’s maid and, surprisingly, a child from his aged wife. This child of his old age, Isaac, he loved dearly. God tested Abraham’s obedience and devotion by asking him to sacrifice Isaac (or Ishmael according to the muslims) on the very hill upon which Jerusalem is built.

I read that story, I studied that tale, I wondered, and pondered, and prayed.

“Lord, if you give me a child, as you did for Abraham, I promise I will give him to You. I will raise him as You wish, I will dedicate him to Your service. Let me have a child as well.”

I met a pregnant 16 year old who asked us if we wanted her child. I took her to her doctor visits. I made sure that she was eating well. I prayed for guidance. Should we adopt this child? Is he Isaac, the child the Lord has for me, or Ishmael, the child that came first, but is not the child?

We made an appointment to see a lawyer, to begin the adoption proceedings. We hadn’t much money. Is this the child we were to have?

As we went to bed the night before our appointment with the attorney we prayed.

“Lord, please give us the wisdom to make the correct choice. Is this the child that you want us to have? We haven’t much money, and tomorrow we begin spending what little we have toward this adoption. If we go through with this how will we pay for it? We pray that when we wake in the morning we will know clearly what we should do.”

We drifted off to sleep.

And I had a dream.

Not the usual sort of dream that has the flotsam and jetsam of a rattled subconscious. No rhinos pulling tractors in the mud or Bill Clinton selling flavored ice at the fair. This dream was different.

It felt different. There was a choral note hanging, reverberating, in the air. There was a sense of deep calm. Everything was still, dark. And in this vibrating stillness a pool of light formed. In the center of the light was a treasure chest. The sort one sees in pirate movies. The chest opened. It was empty. A gold coin dropped in. And another. And more, and a steady stream of coins flowed into that empty chest until it was heaped up. The unseen choir grew more intense as I looked at that pile of gold filling that chest to the top.

A dollar bill floated down and landed atop the gold. And another, and more, until every bit of the gold was covered with currency.

I awoke.

I knew.

I rolled over, woke B. up.

“I know what we are supposed to do.”


I told her the dream.

“It sounds weird, but I know just what it means.” I was actually choking up. I felt so happy.

“We are supposed to adopt the baby. What has been missing in our lives is coming. The treasure we have been looking for will be ours and it will fill us up. We aren’t supposed to worry about the money. It will all be covered. Whatever the baby needs we will have the money to do it.”

And we did it.

We adopted that baby, born two weeks early, on B.’s birthday. We took him home when he was less than a day old.

And people helped. Mostly folks from our church. We got gifts of clothing. We got cards and cases of baby formula and diapers and everything we needed. We were so happy it is not possible for me to express it.

I loved holding him and feeding him and changing his diapers. I even loved it when he spit up on my shoulder while I burped him. I wasn’t so fond of the 3 a.m. feedings and the fussy way he cried at odd hours.

Close to Thanksgiving we had a special meal with our friends to thank the Lord for this blessing. And with those close friends I said a prayer something like this:

“Thank you Lord for this blessing of our child Willy (we had named him after me). I will always remember this wonderful gift. And this afternoon I keep the promise I had made with you last summer. I read of Abraham’s desire for children and I promised that if You gave me a child I would dedicate him to You. And I do that now, Lord. This child is Yours. I will do what You would have me do. I will raise him as You wish. Thank you for giving him to us, and now I give him back to You.”

Raising a child is an amazing experience. For those who have never had a child it is difficult to understand. But when you are handed a baby and you look down on that small wiggling bundle, something clicks deep inside. You become something different. You are no longer a husband, or a student, or employee. You are suddenly FATHER. You realize that for the next two decades every action you take you must consider how it affects this small life. You have a new task that takes precedence over everything else. You are a parent.

There are hopes and dreams and plans and things to do. There are rooms to clean, dishes to wash, and traditions to start. On December 15 I started a tradition. I took my infant son out to cut down our Christmas tree. OK, he didn’t do much more than ride in the car seat and watch (sort of) me cut the tree, but we did it together. Our first Christmas and there would be at least 17 more of these trees that he and I would cut.

I put him in the car, tied the tree to the roof, and took him home.

I changed him, fed him, and laid him down to sleep.

He didn’t want to sleep. He screamed and hollered. I sat nearby at the computer (it was 1992 and I had a computer I was very proud of. It had a whole 64 mg of RAM and a huge hard drive of one gigabyte!). Willy screamed and hollered and cried, and whimpered, and moaned softly, and finally drifted off to sleep while I tinkered with my computer. (It was the first time I had let him fall asleep crying. I felt he needed to learn to sleep without my holding him.)

I waited a few minutes to make sure he fell deeply asleep, and I went over to check on him.

He was gone.

What was left of him looked like him, but it was cold, and blueish, and not him at all.

“Oh God no!”

I called 911. They took him away. I met B. at the hospital. We picked out a tiny casket and held a memorial service for him with all the pictures we had of him taken a week before at K-Mart. I took a large piece of petrified wood to Washington state where it could be cut into a headstone.

And it was the beginning of a very bad year. I struggled on as a double major for most of it, but finally I dropped the art major and stuck with the path that would lead to teaching language arts. Grey started appearing at my temples and in my beard, and I needed glasses for the first time. I thought of suicide. I started really reading the book of Job.

After his death we received a flood of cards. Many of them had money in them. A lot of money. An awful lot of money. I counted it all up. Then I started thinking about what it cost us to adopt and care for Willy, including the funeral. To my best calculations the two numbers, what we spent and what we were given, were within $10 of each other.

There were three calamities that fell on Job. First his possessions. He lost his livestock, his wealth. Then he lost his servants and employees, his business. Finally, the worst came. He lost his children.

“Lord, You asked Abraham to offer up his child to You and I did it also. But You didn’t take Isaac from him! Why did you have to take my only child? Why did you have to have the one thing I prize over anything else? Why did Willy have to die?!”

I studied hard (I graduated with a 3.96 g.p.a.) because there wasn’t anything else to do. I mowed the lawn. I went to church. We went to a SIDS support group and a grief group It helped a little to know we weren’t alone. Mostly I simply shuffled along.

They put me on prozac and the scream deep inside quieted down.

As the anniversary of Willy’s death drew near I insisted on dropping the prozac so I could know that whatever I felt was truly me and not some drug.

How could this be? The Lord had clearly told me that I was to adopt that boy. Even after all that had happened I still knew that the dream was unique. It was a message for me. But how can this be right? This child was my Isaac and God took him.

He didn’t die from pneumonia. There wasn’t a car accident or a drowning or food poisoning. He just went to sleep and died. He simply died.

Job’s friends tried to comfort him, but they were no help. My friends tried as well. But in the end what carried Job through was simply being steadfast. I determined to stand steady.

Now this is a sad chapter in my story. But it is only a chapter.

About a year and a half after Willy’s death we got a phone call. The woman, a missionary, had heard our story somehow and said that she had been praying for us. She said that “your quiver would be full”, a reference to children (Psalm 127). She told us about a fertility doctor in New York and a woman with war orphans from Haiti in Florida. We made a call.

I told the woman there about our situation, that we were looking for a child to adopt. We wanted someone very young. Skin color did not matter.

“We have just the child!” she said. “His name is Isaac.”

A few weeks later during a follow up call she told us that Isaac’s best friend’s adoption had fallen through and would we be interested in adopting J. as well?

June 1st is family day for us. That is the date we first laid eyes on our kids. We were in Florida at the foster home, and the overworked dynamo who ran the place asked us between straining spaghetti noodles and emptying the trash if we wanted to see the boys.

“I think Isaac is awake. If you look out the sliding door across the back porch you should see him in the first crib in the bedroom on the other side.”

I looked where she directed. There was a crib by the bedroom’s sliding glass door and a big eyed little boy was jumping up and down in his crib watching me and yelling “Daddy! Daddy! Daddy!”

I had my Isaac.

“The LORD blessed the latter part of Job's life more than the first. . ." --Job 42:12


Saturday, June 25, 2005

Blessed be Your Name

Life is good. Life is hard.

You give and take away. My heart will choose to say: “Blessed be Your name.”

We always wanted kids. It just never seemed to happen. After ten years B. became pregnant. Our excitement spilled out of our lives to friends and family.

We had been looking into adopting a special needs child from the state and like many couples who “settle” on adoption we found that we had “our own” child on the way. A realtor (a friend of another couple who’d shared an adoption course with us) popped up, and practically dragged us to look at houses despite our repeated claims that we had no money.

Suddenly we found ourselves borrowing earnest money for a little house in a small town with a swing set in the back yard. I began working on the house to bring it up to FHA standards and we went in for our first prenatal visit.

You give and take away. My heart will choose to say: “Blessed be Your name.”

It was a tubal pregnancy. It was already large and she was rushed into surgery. I wept and prayed while my confused mother-in-law stood by.

This was B.’s last fallopian tube. We walked woodenly through our lives in the new house with the empty swing set. We got a dog.

Self pity welled up around us as we watched others celebrate births and birthdays. Our neighbor invited us to his church, and after a month or two thinking it over, we went.

The pastor was about my age and he gave a message about the ache of being childless. And then he announced that she was pregnant. We sat stunned as the congregation burst into applause in that small sanctuary. Here was another couple getting the one thing we desired most.

We went home. A couple of weeks later I lost my job.

It had been a long time since I had attended a church. We went back to see and hear more of these people who met in that small church.

That little church was good for us. We looked beyond ourselves, and occasionally acted. They accepted my odd views and I was loved and welcomed.

I went to school, seeking a career that would be less at the mercy of economics. And the second year in I was introduced to a 16 year old searching for someone to adopt her baby due in three months. We took him home when he was less than a day old. And this child, who looked just like my baby pictures, died in my care three and a half months later (SIDS).

You give and take away. My heart will choose to say: “Blessed be Your name.”

There are miracles in that story. I don’t say that lightly. I am a huge fan of science (I read science nonfiction constantly). There are miracles in that story. And they didn’t end with the memorial service we held for him in that small sanctuary.

That experience was a watershed event. I learned much about grief and joy, good and evil, and the testament of the Lord found in nature, scripture, and my own heart. I was hurt deeply and the wounds are still tender. But the love found in that sanctuary helped us walk through that dark, thorny canyon.

We adopted two orphaned boys from Haiti. There were miracles in that story as well. I dreamed proud dreams. I saw a future for them that was boundless.

This past couple of months I have become more aware of who they truly are. Good boys. Large hearted boys. But they have their own challenges that I cannot remedy.

I have been too proud. I gloried in my mental exercises, and reveled in new ideas, working to create a paradigm for myself that reconciled the superficial questions that lie in the gap between faith and science. And my children will never do the same. They are simply unequipped.

A week ago one of them, playing with a candle, accidentally set fire to that sanctuary where we met my friend who publicly shared the joy of a long-awaited first child, where my wife and I held the memorial for our child, where we renewed our vows and watched our children baptized. The flames burned through that sanctuary, threatening lives and sweeping away the place of treasured memories for so many, burned away my hopes for what my children are able to achieve. My oldest will always be four.

You give and take away. My heart will choose to say: “Blessed be Your name.”

So I begin a new journey. I have crossed out of one valley, that watershed of personal growth. And while looking back down over my shoulder I have stepped across the ridge of my life into a new watershed. Now I begin the path down into a new unknown valley of experiences.

But the Lord is my shepherd and I will follow Him.

And my heart chooses to say: “Blessed be Your name.”

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Chapter 2

While he was still speaking, another messenger came and said, "The fire of God fell from the sky and burned up the sheep and the servants, and I am the only one who has escaped to tell you!" -- Job 1:16

When Willy died it started a series of events that have turned out to be watershed moments in my life. I have grown. And growth is painful.

Now I have begun another odd path in this journey. Thursday night my mentally handicapped child was playing with fire and burned down our church.

Here are the facts:

Our church is pretty large and has had many additions over the years. The original portion of the church was a used building that was moved to the site in the 50's. Its a "U" shaped basement has classrooms off the halls so it's full of odd little corners and out of the way places.

Behind the old sanctuary is a stairwell. In one direction it goes up to the baptistry, and the other winds down into the basement. Over this space are metal poles swinging out above the stairs to store banners.

J. (he's physically 16, mentally closer to 4) found himself alone and wandered into the kitchen of the old section in the basement and turned on all the burners of two stoves. Then he wandered off.

He found a lighter and a candle, went to the stairwell, and watched the little flame burn in the darkness. He took a sheet of paper and lit it. It flared up, he got scared, and grabbed "a red blanket" (a banner). "The fire turned blue." Frightened, he left, closing the door. He probably thought it would all just go away.

Our meeting was just ending and he came in. We went to say our goodbyes and get our other son. The alarm went off. Moving throughout the church to make sure everyone was out, Brenda found the stoves on. At first she thought that the heat from them may have been the cause of the fire alarm. She and one of the elders (Brenda first) found the actual fire a few minutes later.

We had a bad feeling it may have been started by J. but he consistently denied it. I told one of the elders what I suspected, and we let them start their investigation.

We were told that everyone who was in the church had to stick around and so we waited while five departments responded. In a typical Oregon Spring drizzle we watched as flames licked the corner of the santuary. I felt helpless and like our lives would never be the same again. And every once in a while we would turn to J.

"Do you know anything about this?"

"Did you start the fire?"

"Where were you exactly?"

Consistent denials and a sinking feeling in my gut.

Eventually they asked for our names and numbers and sent us home.

The police showed up at our house about 12:30. That's when he spilled it , they read him his rights, and arrested him.

The newer portion of the church has a gym, a new kitchen, a nursery, and classrooms, and was pretty much unaffected (except for soot). The coffee center, the library, the youth center, the pastoral staff offices, the basement classrooms, the food pantry, and the "family room" were destroyed. Estimated damage: $750,000.

Oh Lord. Tell me what you wish me to do.

The D.A. has not made a final determination yet, that will be tomorrow morning. But he indicated that he would probably use a small loophole in the measure 11 law which relies on intent. (Measure 11 lists certain crimes under which juveniles would automatically be tried as adults. Arson is one. The worst case scenario is an inclusion of attempted homicide because there were people in the building.) He asked me to bring the paperwork that shows J.'s mental abilities (IQ about 50). So I think he will bounce the case back down to juvenile where they will decide on what crime he may be charged with.

As for sticking with the church, there is no question. We will remain there. This morning we will hold our services at another church (Bethany Evangelical). They usually have three services each morning so they are giving us the use the middle service for a couple of weeks. It is going to be difficult to go to church this morning. But I need to stand up and take what responsibility I can.

Our church has really been supportive of this. B. and I have been like zombies since it happened and there has been a steady stream of people bringing food, offering prayers and help. Yesterday I stopped by Bethany church to offer any assistance to them as they prepare to squeeze their services to fit us in. There was a meeting going on of all the leaders of our church, about 15 men. The pastoral staff, the elders, the governing board, and about half of the deacons. It gave me a chance to apologize to them and share what is going on legally. They all gathered around me and prayed for us, and then each of them gave me a hug and said words of encouragement. It was pretty amazing.

One of them is a man I asked earlier in the year to mentor me and he and his family coming over this morning for breakfast and go with us to the service together.

We have not been honest with ourselves about his abilities. He is really more like a 3 or 4 year old. Those false, prideful, parental dreams have been swept away.

Yesterday I put an alarm on J.'s door so I would know when he left his room at night, put up seven more smoke detectors, and bought a 2nd fire extinguisher.

I really expected to have the media pounding on our door. I mean there must be 300 people who know it was J. and no one told the news people (and there were news vans, helicopters, newspaper reporters, the works). But I guess in a town like this folks just felt it wasn't any of the media's business.

Our pastor was interviewed, saying that we are really members of "the first church of Canby that just happens to meet in different buildings." The other churches have offered the use of their facilities if we need them. We routinely work with them on many other sorts of things, food for the needy, building a Habitat for Humanity house, monthly prayer meetings that rotate from church to church.

Well, it is time to get ready for the day. I am apprehensive about the service this morning, but I think it will be ok.

We have been going through a lot, and there is much more to come. But all growth is painful.

When Willy died it hurt so bad. But good did arise from it. What might rise from these ashes? I think I will collect some from that spot on the building that persistently flicked its hot tongues along the old sanctuary's eves.

While he was still speaking, another messenger came and said ". . .and I am the only one who has escaped to tell you!"