Seventeen years after Alexis Grace

Alexis GraceIf you have tuned into any of these little essays or videos of mine you’ve likely observed that Jessica and I have a daughter that died seventeen years ago. Alexis was three-and-a-half when we lost her, and we’ve thought about her every single day since.

I don’t know why it’s been on my heart to write about her—perhaps some of you need to be encouraged in regards to bereavement and loss, or maybe it’s just part of my ongoing therapy. 🙂 Regardless, I wanted to share a few thoughts seventeen years later.

Jessica and I still miss her daily. There has not been a single day when we haven’t thought of her multiple times, and the emotions are still surprisingly fresh. We are very happy in life and we are probably as healed as people can be after losing a child, but it doesn’t take much digging to have all of the old emotions rush back to the surface. The right sight or smell or memory can very quickly open the floodgates and ruin us.

We don’t understand why Alexis’ life went the way it did. We haven’t been able to make sense of her–or our–pain. There aren’t any neat little platitudes that can put a pretty bow on this part of our life. We haven’t easily moved on. Rather, our recovery has been more like being pulled, barely breathing, off of a battlefield. We’re here and we’ve healed, but we’ll never be the same.

Great good has come from our life with Alexis. She lived up to her middle name in stunning ways and forever introduced us to the amazing grace of God. Our life with Alexis taught us to love people…it focused our priorities on things that truly matter…it filled us with a gratitude for life that has never left us…it bonded Jessica and me in precious and priceless ways…it injected our parenting with a joy and delight that we experience every day with Amber and Madelyn…it made us better human beings…and it brought us into the presence of God.

However, just because good can come from a bad situation it doesn’t necessarily make the bad good. The bad is still bad, and we should always remember that when we comfort or counsel people who have lived through loss. The bad is still bad, and we shouldn’t disrespect people’s pain by only focusing on the good. Having said that, we must also remember that sorrow and death do not have the final word. We are indeed following a God who can create breathtaking mosaics out of the shards of our lives. He’s done that with Jessica and me, and He can do that with you.

Loss will change you, and you might carry a limp forever, but it can also be a portal that opens new horizons and brings you face to face with the eternal, boundless grace of God.




Sagging faces soaring hearts

oldyoungWhy does gravity have to pull us down as we age? Why can’t we age in reverse direction, growing more taut, smooth, and muscular with the passing of each new decade? Certainly, we older people would appreciate looking “young” more than the younger generation who so effortlessly appears so.

Why do we have to slump and sag as we age? Why can’t we grow ever stronger, sleeker, and more powerful through the years?

Perhaps we can. But to do so we need to look a little deeper than our bodily exteriors.

In the New Testament there seems to be a direct correlation between the decaying of our bodies and the renewing of our souls. In 2 Corinthians 4:16 the Apostle Paul said, “…though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.”

It seems that our bodies and spirits are capable of moving in two different directions at the same time, down toward the ground and up toward the heavens.

It’s almost as if we’re walking billboards, advertising eternal (zoe) life in the midst of natural (bios) life.

We touch that eternal life in transcendent moments—in worship, with loved ones, through art, in nature—and we are convinced that we were created to live forever with the God who loves us most. But then we duck back into the rat race and feel the inexorable pull of gravity, drawing us ever closer to the grave.

Perhaps a perspective shift would help us. Rather than bemoaning the pull of old age and frantically trying to preserve our youth, what if we set our spirits free to soar? What if we invested in the life that Jesus spoke of, an eternal kind of life that begins in His presence and extends beyond our mortality? That’s the kind of life we were destined for.

So go ahead and do your push-ups, stick to your cardio, and drink lots of water—but remember that real life is upward, where your spirit naturally soars.

Alexis’ story

Alexis GraceOn May 14, 1996, after 30 hours of labor and an emergency c-section, Alexis Grace was born and promptly stole our hearts. She was gorgeous, with Jessica’s curly hair and brilliant, blue eyes. We never dreamed of how deeply and instantaneously parental love would flow. We also never dreamed we would have to face all  of the shock and horror of those initial days, months, and years with her.

Upon her birth, sweet Alexis entered a world of suffering. Brain damage, a seizure disorder, and multiple health deficiencies caused her life on this side of heaven to be a horrific mixture of doctor appointments, surgeries, potent medicine applications, and 24-hour health care. She spent her first seven weeks in the neo-natal intensive care unit, and then had to undergo the insertion of a tracheotomy. Sick with pneumonia nearly every month of her life, and undergoing seven different surgeries, Alexis faced more pain and trauma in her three years of life than most of us will ever face in ours.

She was an angel who touched the lives of everyone that contacted her, and after she died, eight nurses, a family doctor, and two of the leading pediatric specialists in the Pacific Northwest attended her funeral.

Our hearts splintered into a thousand pieces and we didn’t know if we would ever recover. We’ve cried, we’ve cursed, and we’ve wanted to die. But we’ve also lived again. There’s a little phrase that occurs in the book of Genesis after the sin and fall of mankind that says, “…Adam lived.” This Hebrew word for “lived” means “to live again.”

Adam lived and died in the Garden of Eden and then he began to live again.

That’s been true for Jessica and me as well. We feel like we’ve lived, died, and, finally, have begun to live again. And that’s our prayer for you in your painful situation, that God would take what appears hopeless and unnecessary and transform it into something brilliant and beautiful. He certainly did that in the time we had with Alexis Grace, and despite the grief of your personal heartaches and losses, He can do it for you as well!

(To hear more about Alexis’ story and our journey to reconnect to life after profound loss, check out my book, Praying Through Sorrows. Free copies are also available in our Grace Church services).

Open Heavens

jacob's ladderHave you ever had a “Jacob’s Ladder” moment when heaven opened up above you?

In Genesis 28 Jacob fell asleep, and in his dream-like state he saw what he couldn’t see during his distracted waking hours. He saw angels ascending and descending on a giant stairway that stretched between heaven and earth. And as if that wasn’t awesome enough, he actually saw the Lord Himself, calling out to Jacob, promising to bless his life.

When Jacob woke up from his dreaming sleep he exclaimed, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I was not aware of it. How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of  God; this is the gate of heaven.”

God wants that house to be your house too. That wasn’t a one-time-for-Jacob-only Bible story—it was a picture of God’s intentions for you.

He wants you to increasingly live under an open heaven in 2014.

Jesus, modeling God’s heart and intention for us, began and ended His ministry under open heavens (see His baptism and ascension in Luke 3:21; 24:51). And the apex of His ministry occurred after the cross when God Himself reached down from Jacob’s Ladder and shredded the Temple veil that separated people from His presence.

The message of the Gospel is of heaven’s desire to draw near. That’s what Jesus told Nathanael when He recruited Him to be His follower, and said: “You will see heaven open, and the angels ascending and descending on the Son of Man” (John 1:51).

Jesus’ call to Nathanael is in effect for you and me. He wants us to pitch the tent of our life at the base of Jacob’s Ladder where everything changes when heaven draws near.

Where was God at the Boston Marathon?

Participants in the 2010 Boston Marathon in We...

Where was Jesus when multiple bombs exploded along this year’s Boston Marathon route, shattering loved ones’ hearts and instilling fear into an already anxious culture?

Where was He ten days earlier when Pastor Rick Warren’s son took his life into his own hands?

Where was He during recent tsunamis, natural disasters, and cruel expressions of man’s inhumanity to man?

Where was He during your darkest hours?

Fortunately, the Bible is not silent on this desperate, all-important question. Two thousand years ago one of Jesus’ closest friends, Lazarus, died of an illness, and when Jesus arrived at the grave site Lazarus’ sister, Martha, greeted Him with the indictment: “If you had been here my brother would not have died.”

Martha’s bitter words were an ancient re-phrasing of our modern question: “where was God.” When Jesus responded to Martha He revealed how He might respond to us. When confronted with the question “where were you when we needed you most” Jesus responded in three ways.

First, He assured Martha that natural death and tragedy are not the ultimate trump cards. In John 11:23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”

Second, He wept. He entered Martha’s pain and cried beside her at her brother’s tomb.

Third, He released God’s life-giving power, raising Lazarus from the dead and calling him out of the grave as a timeless picture of God’s final victory over death.

It’s impossible to adequately explain why God would allow so many senseless tragedies. However, through Jesus we know that God is neither indifferent nor inactive to our plight. He sees, He cares, and He offers an eternal life that is able to heal even the greatest of our earthly traumas. So while we ache, weep, question, and serve we also hold out hope for Jesus’ promised life.