The Doc File

The online journal of Luke Dockery

Category: Family (page 2 of 10)

Honest Thoughts from a Hospital Room

I am writing from my daughter’s room at Arkansas Children’s Hospital, following her successful VNS surgery this morning. It is well after midnight; Caroline is asleep, and Kinsley is trying to be. It is an excellent time for reflection.

I am not writing the following to elicit sympathy from those who read it, nor am I seeking “cheering up”. I don’t want to come across as whiny or depressing; rather, I write in the hope that my (honest) ramblings may provide some encouragement to others.


Over the last few years, our ongoing struggles with Kinsley—learning about her brain abnormalities, receiving a diagnosis, traveling extensively to see specialists, attempting to manage her seizures, dealing with her daily special needs—have led to countless people telling us something to the effect of, “You guys are such amazing parents,” or “Your faith is such a great example to us.”

Those are kind words with kind intentions behind them, but sometimes they can be frustrating as well. You see, we didn’t ask to have the opportunity to be such wonderful parents, or to have the platform to wrestle with our faith in such a way that we can be good examples for others. And furthermore, to be frank, sometimes we really don’t feel like wonderful parents or great examples at all. We feel that we do no more than anyone else would in our shoes, we feel helpless—completely unable to do anything to help our little girl, and we feel so very, very tired—tired of seizures, tired of doctor appointments, and tired of our sweet princess having to deal with more than she should ever have to.

And yet…if God can somehow use our helpless and tired efforts to bring encouragement to someone else or to shine a ray of light into a dark world…praise the Lord. Truly, what wondrous things He accomplishes through human weakness.

What a blessing!


Although I do not find myself particularly inclined to do so, it sometimes can be tempting for those in full-time ministry to look down upon those who engage in “secular” work (you may even hear that terminology from time to time).

Over the last few years, as we have been on the receiving end of such amazing care from so many therapists (basically our favorite people ever), nurses, doctors, teachers, aides, etc., it has deeply reinforced in my own mind how sacred it is to use your vocation as a means of blessing others. God’s work is done in all sorts of places, and I am deeply grateful for those who have so clearly shown me that as we have traveled this journey.

What a blessing!


Throughout this process, there are times when I feel that I am at my wit’s end. Completely overwhelmed. Barely able to keep my head above water. Emotionally stressed. Spiritually fatigued. Physically exhausted.

Increasingly, I have come to suspect that we are sustained by prayer. Certainly our own prayers, but, in light of the spiritual fatigue I mentioned above, my prayers are not exactly great right now—they consist of a lot of sighs and pleadings and persistence and “groanings too deep for words”.

No, I believe that we are especially sustained by the prayers of others. From the beginning, it has been overwhelming to me the way that others have responded to our situation. It is beyond humbling to know that people from all over the world, including many we don’t even personally know, are praying for us. More than that, more people than I can count have told me that they pray for Kinsley and our family every day. How can I even respond to that? What a gift that is!

I am so deeply, deeply grateful. And beyond the prayers—every single kindness means so much: the kind words and messages we receive, the concerned questions people ask, the social media well-wishings, the silent hugs, the money for travel expenses slipped into a handshake—all of it. People extend us so much love so frequently, that it is all I can do to refrain from constantly bursting into tears (because that would be awkward, right?).

But those are healing tears—tears belonging to a Kingdom that seeks to restore the goodness of a broken world.

What a blessing!

Sacred Moments, Holy Ground

In Exodus 3 we encounter the famous story of God appearing to Moses for the purpose of recruiting him to liberate the people of Israel from slavery in Egypt. One of the most interesting aspects of the story is the way that God appears to Moses: in the form of a fiery bush that is not consumed by the flames that engulf it. As Moses draws near, God tells him to remove his sandals, because he is standing on holy ground. What made the ground holy? It was not that there was something inherently special about the bush. As a shepherd, Moses spent a lot of time leading his flock in the wilderness, and I think it’s possible that he had been by this same spot before, and had maybe even seen the same bush.

There was nothing particularly holy about it at those other times, but it was different now: it was a sacred moment…it was holy ground.

God’s presence made it that way.

We have had a rough time at our house for the last several weeks. Over the last several months, Kinsley’s seizures have gotten more difficult to control, which has led us to trying additional seizure medications and a special diet (you can read more about Kinsley’s story here and here). These efforts have not led to long-term improvement, and at the same time, Kinsley has been more withdrawn: she is often lethargic, sleeps a lot, and plays and interacts with us less. It is difficult to discern if this is caused by the many medications she is on, her seizures, some other factor, or some combination of all of the above.

Even more recently, Kinsley, who has always been a champ at taking her medicine, has become very stubborn about doing so: she will hold it in her mouth for a long time, sometimes eventually swallowing it, and at other times spitting it out. Obviously, she does not get any benefit from seizure medicine that she refuses to take, so this aggravates the problem.

Last night as I was getting her ready for bed, I broke down. Kinsley again spat out one of her doses and I got incredibly frustrated and spoke to her in an exasperated tone. She just looked at me, with her beautiful, innocent, loving eyes. Immediately, my emotions changed, and I told her how truly and deeply sorry I was that she has to deal with all of the stuff and difficulties that she does, more than any little girl should ever have to.

And my nonverbal little princess, who has hardly communicated at all over the last several days, looked at me, put her hand on my chest, laid her head against me to snuggle, and reached out and held onto my arm.

What a powerful message she communicated! Even now, I can hardly write about it without becoming overwhelmed by emotion.

There we were, sitting on the floor by her bed, a place I have been countless times. But it was different now: it was a sacred moment…it was holy ground.

God’s presence made it that way: in His grace, God reached out to me and used my infirmed daughter as an instrument of healing.

P.S. We are going to Arkansas Children’s Hospital in Little Rock tomorrow to consult with a neurosurgeon about a procedure that could potentially help with Kinsley’s seizures. We would greatly appreciate your prayers as we continue to look for ways to help our little girl.

Choosing to be Healthy

Over the last few years, I have become increasingly convicted that I need to channel more effort toward being healthier in my life. I began working out regularly a couple of years ago, and now, in addition to that, I also, count calories using my FitBit app. Since the beginning of the year, I have lost about ten pounds (while gaining significant strength), and I am hoping to continue to lose some of my remaining unhelpful weight.

A lot of people give me a hard time when they find out that I am doing this (“Why are you counting calories?”, “You don’t need to lose weight!”), which is completely fine, but after some reflection, I thought it might be helpful—both for my own processing and for others as well—to share reasons for why I am working so hard (and truly, it has been hard work for me) to be healthier.

I Care About Creation

The first reason is basically theological. Through various books and studies, I have increasingly come to place value on creation. Scripture teaches that God created all that is and called it good, and the overarching Story of Scripture is the tale of what God is doing to rescue and redeem what He has created (including, significantly, humanity).

The conviction that creation care matters has impacted me in multiple ways—increased care about recycling, taking the same water bottle to work everyday instead of drinking bottled water or using styrofoam cups, driving a hybrid car, etc. More recently, though, I have also realized that valuing creation also means valuing the physical body that God has given me: (1) it is valuable because God says it is, and (2) because it is a dwelling place for God’s Spirit.[1]

Religious people have long made arguments that practices like smoking, excessive drinking, and drug use should be avoided because they damage the body—the same principle easily applies in reverse for diet and exercise.

I Care About My Marriage

Caroline is a wonderful person. She is spiritually devout, supportive, intelligent, funny, caring, and beautiful. She is a wonderful mother to our kids, and she loves me unconditionally. I am blessed to have her in my life.

Because I love my wife, and because I care deeply about our relationship, I want to be in good physical shape. This enables me to have more physical energy to contribute around the house, and, frankly, it helps me to be more physically attractive to my wife.

I Care About My Kids

I have a 5-year old daughter (Kinsley) and an 8-month old son (Seth). I do not know what tomorrow brings, and I am not under the illusion that I can somehow control the future, but I know that my odds of sticking around long enough to see my children grow up are influenced by the way that I choose to live now.

In other words, if I want to be there for my kids tomorrow, then I need to try to be healthy today. Furthermore, Kinsley has a wide array of special needs, and she needs her Daddy to be physically strong enough to give her the care and support she requires.

I Care About How I Feel

A lot of times when we talk about ourselves, we might refer to physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual components as if these were compartmentalized aspects of who we are as people that don’t really influence one another.

One thing that I have come to really appreciate only recently is how interconnected we are as people: God did not create us as disjointed entities, but as embodied persons. Our physical health (or lack thereof) can influence our emotional state; our mental health (or lack thereof) can have spiritual repercussions.

Put simply, I feel better about things when I am in good shape. I have more confidence, I am happier, and I think I am kinder to others as well.

I Care About My Hobbies

I started playing ultimate frisbee over 15 years ago, and I never could have predicted how much it would influence my life (or for how long). I still continue to play it regularly, and more than that, I actively train in order to play it better.

A lot of people cannot understand why a 33-year old husband, father, and minister would continue to devote so much time and energy to a hobby, but for me, it is a necessity: I carry a lot of stress in my life, and having an enjoyable physical outlet where I can expend energy and frustrations is an absolutely essential form of self-care. I enjoy playing more when I am actually good, and at my age, my ability to play well is directly linked to the shape I am in.

Conclusion

In my journey to being healthier, there is still room for improvement. I am not a particularly healthy eater (just because I consume fewer calories than I burn doesn’t mean the calories I take in are good calories!), and I know that I don’t get as much sleep as I should (I blame my 8-month old), but I have seen positive results from my efforts thus far, and that, combined with the reasons above, help motivate me to continue this course.


[1] In 1 Corinthians 6.12-20, Paul uses the fact that are bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit as an argument for why Christians should abstain from sexual immorality. I do not think that it does violence to the text to extend this principle to general care for our bodies since they are locations for the Spirit’s presence.

Full Calendars, Empty Souls

We live in a busy and hectic world where the never-ending list of things to get done often crowds out other things which are really important. In Family Ministry Field Guide: How Your Church Can Equip Parents to Make DisciplesTimothy Paul Jones touches on this idea. Specifically, he describes how our focus (obsession?) on making our children happy and successful betrays our lack of perspective.

Read these good and convicting thoughts (emphasis is mine):

If children were nothing more than a gift for this life, a single-minded focus on children’s happiness and success might make sense. As long as the family’s frantic schedule secures a spot for the child in a top-tier university, forfeiting intentional spiritual formation for the sake of competitive sports leagues and advanced placement classes would be understandable—if children were a gift for this life only. Perhaps working around the clock would be plausible provided that your children’s friends are visibly impressed with the house you can barely afford. If children were a gift for this life only, maybe it would make sense to raise them with calendars that are full but souls that are empty, captives of the deadly delusion that their value depends on what they accomplish here and now.

But children are far more than a gift in this life. They are bearers of the gospel to generations yet unborn. In God’s good design, your children and mine will raise children who will in turn beget more children. How we mold our children’s souls while they reside in our households will shape the lives of children who have yet to draw their first gasp of air (Ps.78:6-7).

Your children and mine are also eternal beings whose days will long outlast the rise and fall of all the kingdoms of the earth. They and their children and their children’s children will flit ever so briefly across the face of this earth before being swept away into eternity (James 4.14). If our children become our brothers and sisters in Christ, their days upon this earth are preparatory for glory that will never end (Dan. 12:3; 2 Cor. 4:17—5:4; 2 Pet. 1:10-11). That’s why our primary purpose for these children must not be anything as small and miserable as success. Our purpose should be to leverage our children’s lives to advance God’s kingdom so that every tribe, every nation, and every people group gains the opportunity to respond in faith to the rightful King of kings.

“For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?” Jesus asked his first followers (Mark 8:36, ESV).

When it comes to our children, we might ask a similar question: What does it profit our child to gain a baseball scholarship and yet never experience consistent prayer and devotional times with us, the parents? What will it profit our child to succeed as a ballet dancer and yet never know the rhythms of a home where we are willing to release any dream at any moment if we become too busy to disciple one another? What will it profit the children all around us in our churches to be accepted into the finest colleges and yet never leverage their lives for the sake of proclaiming the gospel to the nations? What will it profit pastors to lead the largest churches with the greatest discipleship programs if they don’t disciple their own households?

There is no profit in such endeavors—no real or lasting profit, anyway—but the costs are painful, infinite, and eternal.

These are sobering thoughts, but thoughts which I think Christian parents desperately need to hear.

Moral Evil and Natural Evil

In this series, I am attempting to approach the topic of suffering from a variety of different angles. As I mentioned in the first post, I am using the term “suffering” to sum up the famous Problem of Evil. I talk about the Problem of Evil at length in this post on Alexander Campbell, but perhaps it would be beneficial to state the problem outright, the original statement of which is generally credited to Epicurus:

“Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then He is not omnipotent. Is He able, but not willing? Then He is malevolent. Is He both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil? Is He neither able nor willing? Then why call Him God?”

So basically the issue is, if God is good and powerful, why does He allow evil and suffering to exist in the world?

Now, it’s a fair question to ask if all suffering is evil or the result of evil. As humans we admittedly have very limited perspectives, and sometimes things which are good for us certainly don’t seem good at the time they occur (think about an infant getting a vaccine, for example). Regardless, evil certainly exists in the world, and a lot of suffering occurs because of it.

Philosophers and theologians and people who discuss this topic will often distinguish between two kinds of evil: moral evil and natural evil.

Moral Evil

Generally speaking, moral evil refers to the evil acts that people choose to commit. A lot of the suffering which occurs in the world happens because people choose to do things which cause harm to one another. Fatal car accidents caused by alcohol consumption, child molestation, ISIS beheadings, and the Holocaust are all examples of moral evil. People do foolish and terrible things which cause a great deal of suffering for others.

Really, this type of evil is easier to explain, at least, if you have a robust view of human free will. As I discussed a little in this post, I think a theology which embraces the idea that God created humans with free will is important and makes the most sense of the teachings of Scripture. The basic idea is that God created people out of His love and desires that we love Him in return. Certainly God could have created us like robots who had no choice but to “love” Him, but a coerced feeling like that wouldn’t really be love at all. To enable us to choose to love Him, God also gives us the ability to reject Him, and when we abuse our freedom of will, all sorts of bad things can happen.

When it comes to moral evil, you can blame God for the way He made the world (though, based on the previous paragraph, what other options were available?), but really, the blame lies with people who make bad or evil choices.

Natural Evil

Natural evil generally refers to those “random” things which occur, not because of the actions of people, but as a result of the world “naturally” operates (I put those two words in quotations because they are loaded with some major assumptions). Hurricanes, tsunamis, tornadoes, genetic conditions and human decay and death in general are examples of natural evil.

Now, human choices can still exacerbate natural evils and make the suffering greater than it would be otherwise (certain behaviors can make illness more likely, social problems like poverty can increase the amount of suffering which comes from natural disasters, etc.), but for the most part, people have no control over natural evil—we suffer simply because we live in a world where these types of things occur.

Because of this, I think natural evil is a little harder to explain away. We can understand when negative things happen to people who deserve them, and we can understand, as horrible as it is, when people suffer because other people choose to do evil. But why do we live in a world where natural disasters kill so many unsuspecting people? Why do children get cancer and die? Did God design the world this way, and if so, why? If God didn’t design the world this way, what happened to it for everything to get so messed up?

In the next post, I’ll try to take a closer look at natural evil, and specifically, the idea of chaos: the element of randomness in life which we can’t control which has potential for unleashing great suffering. For me, as the parent of a little girl with a genetic condition, this is one of the really tough areas of examining suffering theologically.

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