Podcast

So I decided to start a podcast.

It's something I have been thinking about for a while. A long while. Over a year at least.

In my own season of grieving, I realized that I'm not uncomfortable sharing my story, my frustrations, my fears, my anger, my joys... but I'm not ever sure who REALLY wants to hear it. Let's face it. Some people don't want to hear it. It's too disrupting to hear about someone else's pain. You can easily identify those kinda people. They listen, then offer a solution or ask a question that is trying to lead you toward a solution. I get it. I was one of those people (and still am alot of the time!). At the end of the day, those people - as loving and well-intentioned as they are - in all honesty don't want to hear the raw experience. The harsh truth. The mystery that comes with life not being so orderly.

Because the honest truth is that grieving creates distorted truth. At least for me. It brings everything into the grey zone. Out of black & white. Out of "this is how the world should work".

Back to the podcast.

I know a few friends that have experienced the sudden loss of a loved one. And they aren't scared to share their story. They're just hesitant to know if it's the right time or space to share. In fact, most want to share. It's honoring to the one they lost. It's honoring to themselves.

So, I'm creating a podcast where I interview these friends and ask about their processing. It's different for everyone. But I also think there might be some common threads that pop up. Notes that start to sound familiar. And maybe it turns into a song that even those who aren't grieving can understand and hum along to.

- James

"Everything is normal"

I think it's possible to believe everything is both normal and totally wrecked at the same time. 

The activities of my day say that it's normal. It's routine. Kids wake up, get them ready for school, work from home, play with kids in afternoon, dinner, some rest, a little TV, reading, sleep. Normal, right? 

But what's not normal is the thought life underneath all those routine actions. My mind has been totally and irreplaceably altered. Shattered. Not routine. And I'm just getting used to its new normal.

Maybe grief has just made me hyper aware of my thoughts & emotions. How they seem so foreign. I'm glad grief isn't normal. I couldn't imagine. 

I think most of all for me is I'm not sure if my lack of faith is my new normal or just a phase. Like- should I be upset with myself for not feeling bad about a lack of faith? Should I feel shame? Fear? Anxiety? 

its not that I DONT feel those things. I do. I'm just not sure if I should. And I don't feel them all the time. It's a mix between being content and discontent. But as I really ponder on it, hasn't it been that way for most of my life? Just about different subjects? Maybe not directly about what I believe to be true about God, but I think the wrestling has always been there. 

I want to stay a good dad. I don't want to be outwardly cynical. I want my wife, kids, and friends to be perfectly happy in their relationship with God. I don't want my skepticism deflating their faith. I'd much rather be "on fire" myself. It would be an easier transition back to who I was. But like the quote I read early on said, after midlife trauma you must admit "I am dead. The old me is no longer here. Who am I going to be now?" 

I'm desiring a new life. Fresh faith & peace. But I don't see it on the horizon. Kinda one of those "fool me once, fool me twice" scenarios. Hard to believe the presence of God will return when he kinda peaced out at the neediest point of life. 

But I'm still holding on that he might. Just maybe. 

No fresh beginnings

God damnit man! It's like there is some supernatural force that just won't allow me to have fresh beginnings.

We go out for our 9th anniversary last night and leave money for the babysitter to order food. Evidently Jimmy John's doesn't deliver to our house, so she texts me asking if she should take the kids in the van to go get food. I reply within 8 minutes of her text saying that she shouldn't take the van & could just order pizza, Chinese, or any other thing that delivers to our house.

My reasoning was that it's a hassle to load the kids in the van. I had no clue that it would turn out worse than just a hassle for our babysitter.

She texts me back over 30 minutes later saying she didn't see the text & ended up getting Jimmy Johns in the car. And this...

"Not to concern you but is there a trick to getting your key out of the ignition?"

Uh. What? No. There's not a trick. Here was my response...

"Haha. No worries. Did you make it back inside? We can get the key out when we get home. No real trick but maybe you didn't turn it all the way back or maybe back too far"

Her reply...

"Are you sure? Yes we made it back inside I'll try it again in a little bit, I feel so bad I'm so sorry"

I finish with...

"Don't worry. I'll get it out when we get home."

Well, ends up she gets the key out herself, but mentions something about the van not starting as she's leaving when we get home.

Next morning, we get the kids in the car & Kristina is about to take me to my physical therapy appointment & the van won't start. It goes all whacky. Battery is giving power to van, but dashboard is spinning wildly, loud clicks coming from under the hood. Just not good stuff.

I try our other set of keys. Nothing better.

Call to cancel my appointment. Tell Kristina to take the kids inside. Start googling.

I assume it's the anti-theft feature of the van, but I can't be sure. I tried all the things I could find on the internet to get it to start... with no luck.

All I know is that I was taking the mindset that this year of marriage couldn't possibly be worse than last year of marriage. And not that a van not starting is the worst thing in the world, it's just that it's frustrating as hell. Any time I get a fresh mindset & positive outlook, something shitty happens.

Last February - Kristina & I get really reignited spiritually & feel like our hearts are coming alive. 3 weeks later we have Ezekiel's first ultrasound and our world crashes in.

After Ezekiel's birth/death - I try to take on the mindset of looking at the bigger picture. Thinking about vision for life. How I want to invest myself toward greater things. A few days after those resolutions, I feel like my faith is just ripped out from under me like a rug & I haven't been the same since.

New Year - I approach the new year with a more positive outlook. Make initial strides to eat healthy & exercise in the first week, then I rupture my Achilles tendon. Can't walk or drive for months.

Now in a new year of marriage - I believe in the goodness of this year of marriage. To move past some of the frustrations & sadness of our last year of marriage. And it literally immediately starts with something frustrating.

Maybe life is just a god-damned shitstorm. It's definitely not getting easier, and I'm starting to get tired of believing things will get better.

Cast off

I got my cast off today after 5 weeks of not being able to walk. I now have a "walking" boot but still can't walk on it. Just light pressure while using crutches. 

i thought I'd be more excited about getting the cast off but it just felt defeating again to know there's at least another 4 weeks ahead until I can really walk or drive.

i just kinda wanted to cry all day but couldn't find the breaking point. The whole thing just fits into the narrative of the last year. Defeat and disappointment. 

I want to be able to have a different view of things but so much just keeps coming back to defeat and disappointment. Even going to the doctor today and they say my bill is over $250 because it is part of the insurance deductible. Although I've paid $60 in copay for each of the 3 visit so far. So that's already $400 down the drain for bills. $20 for crutches. $120 for the knee scooter. Now I've got 12 physical therapy sessions with a $35 copay each. All told, that's $950, several months of not being able to walk or easily help at home, and several more months of rehab.

I keep telling myself that it could be worse. And it can. Life isn't completely off the rails. I can see the bright side. But I also have to acknowledge the shitty side. And I'm getting tired of being acquainted so well with the shitty side!

Gravity

Today they announced that scientists had discovered gravity functions as a wave. I had been wanting to watch the movie Gravity recently, so I figured this was as good as an excuse as any to put it on.

The movie opens up with this line: 

"At 600KM above planet Earth the temperature fluctuates between +258 and -148 degrees Fahrenheit. There is nothing to carry sound. No air pressure. No oxygen. Life in space is impossible."

The thing most people don't catch amidst the chaos of the movie is that the actual emotional driving force is Sandra Bullock's character trying to deal with the loss of her 4 year old daughter. It's about her not giving up. Fighting to be reborn. To get back to earth. On her feet again.

That's where I find myself. Living in a space where life is impossible. Trying not to give up.

I found myself holding back tears & listening to Kristina cry from the other room as Bullock's character, Ryan Stone, is on the edge of total loss when she catches a radio signal of a man in a foreign land on earth with a baby crying in the background. She lowers the oxygen in her small escape pod when suddenly her only "surviving" crew member shows up unexpectedly outside the escape pod. He forces his way in, and amidst the chaos lays it out...

"Listen, do you wanna go back, or do you wanna stay here? I get it. It's nice up here. You can just shut down all the systems, turn out all the lights, and just close your eyes and tune out everyone. There's nobody up here that can hurt you. It's safe. I mean, what's the point of going on? What's the point of living? Your kid died. Doesn't get any rougher than that. But still, it's a matter of what you do now. If you decide to go, then you gotta just get on with it. Sit back, enjoy the ride. You gotta plant both your feet on the ground and start livin' life. Hey, Ryan? It's time to go home."

I'm not quite sure what I want to do now. What I'm even capable of. I want to get both my feet back on the ground, but I'm honestly not even sure how.

Church Songs

I want a song not about how I won't be shaken but about how I have been shaken. How I have been overcome. How I have been defeated. How there might be hope OUT of that place. Not some declaration that I'll never fall into the pit.

More than just "if God is for us..."

I want to know God is for me despite the shit. Not just in some distant, over-arching "He did something long ago" sense, but in a present-day "He's concerned with my circumstances" way.

 

Because if I don't feel freedom, does that mean the spirit of the Lord is not with me? "where the spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom" right?

 

Does mercy really triumph over judgment? There's a lot of fucking injustice in the world. Or is God just hands-off?

 

I want a revelation of just reality. Perspective. Peace. Understanding. 

 

When your experience doesn't line up with what you believe about God, what next? It reframes what you believe. 

 

I'm tired of having to believe first. Having to force it. Especially when I'm not confident why I'm even pressing in. What's the end? 

Recently

Wow. Just now realizing I haven't written anything at all in here since the New Year. I guess I just haven't had or dedicated the time to the process.

In general, I tried to take on a more positive or hopeful outlook in the New Year. I'd say it's been beneficial for the most part, although hasn't quieted many of the doubts I've been wrestling with on faith.

Anyways, here's what's been going on. If nothing else, just for me to look back at:

  • Started the year with a cold after climbing up Grandfather Mountain in freezing temps on New Year's Day. It was a tough hike, but worth it. Nice sense of accomplishment, and I hiked half of it with no pants on, so there's that.
  • My cousin who is closest to me in age died in the first week of January from a drug overdose. I had known he had some drug problems in the past, but wasn't aware it was a current issue. He left behind a 10 year old son. Just sad.
  • To wrap up the first week of January, I ruptured my Achilles tendon while doing some warm-up drills before my first ultimate frisbee game of the year. I was able to walk it off by myself from the field and drive home, but a trip to the doctor and MRI proved it completely tore right up near where the calf connects to the achilles. I've been in a hard cast for the last month & still have about a week to go.

The cast has been a bummer, mostly because it really limits what I can do on a daily basis. I can't drive because it's my right leg, and it's hard to help around the house even with this knee scooter we bought from someone  off craigslist. It's hard to even navigate into the bathroom, take a shower, or do anything really engaging with the kids. It got especially frustrating when my foot started to swell up & get numb. It got to the point where my whole foot was in pain / pins & needles / numb / burning. I slept that night with couch cushions stacked up several feet literally propping my entire leg up into the air.

They cut the old cast off, checked my foot, and put a new cast on. They had failed to tell me after the first cast to make sure I was constantly wiggling my toes to encourage blood flow. Also failed to tell me I should be taking an aspirin daily to help prevent blood clots. C'mon, man.

Something else in January / early February is that I was trying to get reimbursement from my Flex Spending Account that covers out of pocket health expenses. We had $600 remaining from 2015, and I realized that our $1000 hospital bill from Ezekiel's birth had never been covered. I went through the annoying process of trying to get in touch with somebody, ANYBODY in the medical system who could authorize them to mail me a receipt of our services. I finally did after multiple phone calls and a ton of elevator music while waiting. I told them my situation, that I needed it before Jan. 31st and asked them to process it quickly. Well, January 31st came & went without the receipt arriving in the mail. I contacted my Flex Spending Account to let them know that I was expecting the receipt but hadn't gotten it yet. They basically said, "Oh well. You missed the deadline."  My receipt came in the next day, and thankfully they showed some mercy when I replied back that it was the bill to my dead son's hospital services.

Then I go to file taxes. And I run into the conundrum of not being sure whether I was supposed to file for Ezekiel or not. I made an instagram post about this on my personal account, so I won't rehash it here. But it was really tough. Having to type in "DIED" because we don't have a SSN for him. And then having to order another death certificate for him to mail off with taxes to prove that he died. There's little comfort in doing anything cold & distant like taxes when it involves reliving the death of your son.

Picking Up

I just had my 33rd birthday. I'm taking some time this morning to reflect on this year. Maybe not even reflecting. More like carrying on the process of figuring out who I am now.

When I went back to look at our CaringBridge posts centered around Ezekiel, I realized that the last time I posted any sort of journal outside of Facebook or Instagram was a simple, informational piece about the memorial service on September 1st. That's an important time frame for me because it also represents the last time I felt filled with any sort of confident, victorious faith.

In the days surrounding the memorial service, it was like the faith that had been so constant within me even amidst the chaos was ripped out from under me. Like I fell off a cliff. Walked into a dark room. None of the metaphors really fit. But I found myself visiting questions and doubts in God that I hadn't explored in at least 10 years. Deeper than just anger or frustration at God's emotional distance/absence, I started to wonder "Why do I even believe what I say I believe?"

It was a slow train coming. I was a religion major in college, and I honestly enjoy learning about other religions if nothing else than for learning about other cultures. It's kinda fascinating to me. People all across the world develop their interpretations of life through their religious beliefs as a primary lense - whether I think those beliefs are crazy or not. I had started listening to a lecture series on Audible while driving to Tallahassee a few times each month for work. The lecture series was an "introductory" walk through pretty much all major religions across the globe. Not just the ones you'd think of off the top of your head, but Eastern religions that don't have a foothold in American culture like Confucianism, Shinto, and Sikhism, to name a few. As I listened through the progression across the variety of Eastern religions I wasn't too familiar with, I kept thinking, "This stuff is crazy! Why would anyone ever really believe this aside from growing up in a culture where there was no other option?!"

Don't get me wrong, I appreciated learning about the basics of each religion as I listened. I also knew that it was all just introductory. Not much depth. I wasn't going to make any big judgments on each religion just from the 30 minutes to 2 hours of history & cultural impact discussion on each one. I would hate if someone did that for my own beliefs! But as I rolled through the hours of lectures, I just kept thinking the same thing: "How could anyone rationally believe this stuff?"

And then came the discussion on Judaism. The Hebrew Bible. The Abrahamic faiths. As I listened with an open mind to the summary of the foundation of my own faith - which I honestly, really appreciate... I have spent much more time in recent years reading & studying the Old Testament than the New Testament - I just couldn't help but think to myself again, "Some of this stuff is crazy! Why would anyone ever really believe this aside from growing up in a culture where there was no other option?!"  But now that "anyone" was me. And I couldn't shake that question. Do I really believe these stories that are foundational to the faith I claim?

I've always been skeptical. Analytical. A thinker. If you read my earlier post "Before the Sad Height" you can kinda see where that comes from.

But my faith has never been comforted much by my mind. It's been the emotional aspects of faith that have pushed past the doubts, questions, and general skepticism of all I read in the Bible. Because emotional connection is so unnatural to me, having an emotional connection to God was enough to silence the internal skepticism. Now that the presence or feeling of God is absent, the safety buffer against my doubts is gone too.

I'm sure it's natural for someone who experiences a tragedy to be shaken in such a way. I'm not beating myself up for it any more. And I'm not scared to talk about my doubts or lack of faith any more. It is what it is. It probably won't define my entire life, but it's where I am right now, and that's legitimate in and of itself.

So, this blog is mostly just picking up.

Picking back up where I left off.

Picking up the pieces of confusion that have been on the floor of my mind.

Picking up the habit I had in high school & early college of journaling my thoughts out.

Picking up my self.

Whoever that may be now.

Ezekiel's Birth Story

I went back & re-read what I had posted on our CaringBridge page for Ezekiel's birth. It was challenging to do so. I don't feel like the same person I even felt like then. My faith now even just a few months later doesn't resemble my faith in the first few weeks after his birth & death. That's what this blog is all about for me. Is picking up where I left off when everything seemed to fall out from under me. But in order to see where I am, I have to look back to where I was.

This was originally posted on August 17th, exactly one week after Ezekiel's birth and death:

Around 3am Monday morning, Kristina woke me up saying she had contractions about 5 minutes apart. She had been showing some signs of labor since Saturday, and had contractions about 10-15 minutes apart the night before that went away as the day went on, so I knew it was a possibility even when going to bed Sunday night. We called the birth center hotline, and eventually they got her in touch with the midwife on call and the midwife specialist who had been taking care of Kristina since the beginning. They told us to head on down to the hospital (since it was a high-risk pregnancy, Kristina had to deliver at the hospital downtown instead of in the new, fancy birth center facility) so we told my parents (who were staying with us to watch the kids) and headed out, bags packed. 

We got to the hospital around 4am, and probably spent 15 minutes figuring out where to park! Multiple parking lots near the only open entrance (Emergency) were full and/or for staff only. Thankfully Kristina wasn't feeling too uncomfortable yet, so we parked in a general lot across the street from the hospital & walked over.

It took a while to get checked in, and I noticed the security officer gave me a visitor's badge with the previous day's date. It's strange how you notice little things like that, while I'm sure I completely missed a bunch of other details throughout the day!

Eventually we got back to a room around 4:45am. The nurse started her basic check-up stuff, and our kinda over-protective midwife specialist hung around in the room at the same time. Meanwhile, Kristina's contractions slowed down to an almost halt. They asked if we wanted to just go home, but since we were scheduled for an induction the next day anyways, we figured we might as well stay at the hospital. Besides, the process from waking up to getting checked in was almost 2 hours anyway! Considering Kristina's first 2 pregnancies really moved fast once the contractions got going (Adoration was under 6 hours total!), we didn't want to risk it. They turned the lights down some, and we took the opportunity to take a short nap, until...

At 7am, the anesthesiologist came in & woke us up. A younger guy who came across as a real "bro", he kinda joked his way through explaining the possibilities for an epidural. I'm not sure if self-deprecating, cheesy, tailgating-type of humor is part of the med school process for anesthesiologists, but it kinda worked for this guy somehow.

We were definitely awake at this point, but Kristina's contractions weren't really showing up on the monitor. She was having them, but they just weren't being shown on the print out, so the nurse & midwife seemed in doubt that today was the day. Funny enough - a similar thing happened with Asa's birth. Even when Kristina was having intense contractions, the machine didn't pick them up at all! The midwife checked Kristina out, and she was definitely moving along but said that it could be over 24 hours until baby arrived. After some discussion, Kristina opted to start a very slow drip of pitocin, which helps contractions.

At this point, there wasn't a whole lot for Kristina & I to talk about, so I was thankful when 2 of her best friends, Jess & Lauren, who had come down from Charlotte showed up. They really lightened the mood & gave us an opportunity to talk about things of every day life. Soon after that our close friend Megan from here in Jax came too. It was a little awkward at first because I knew Jess would be taking pictures, and I wasn't exactly sure how to act. Ultimately, though, I'm very thankful those 3 girls were there for us. Nothing against family at all, but Kristina was able to relax & get her mind off of everything better with such close friends that she wouldn't have been able to with anyone else.

They hooked Kristina up to an IV and pitocin drip at the most minimal level, and her contracts really kicked into gear. Kristina is a total champ when it comes to contractions. You can tell she's in pain, but it's so inward focused that you can't really judge how intense it is from the outside. As they started to progress closer together and more intense, I tried helping with some comfort care stuff as much as I could (pressing on hips, rubbing her back), but mostly I was just trying to keep it together emotionally. Knowing that we were getting closer to the birth, I didn't want to break down in front of Kristina and cause her to lose hope in any way.

As the contractions got more & more intense and closer together, Kristina asked for the epidural. The midwife tried to slow-play it asking if she wanted to be checked first, but Kristina was pretty adamant about getting it right away.

After a few minutes, the anesthesiologist-bro showed back up. He was training another medical student, so he was explaining everything as he went. I wasn't sure if this was a good thing for Kristina, but she was so focused in on getting through her contractions that it was hard to tell. Everything went fine with the epidural, and Kristina was definitely happy in her decision to go for it! Our first 2 kids were natural births with no medicine whatsoever. Getting the epidural helped Kristina get through the contractions without having to focus so much energy in on the pain. It also helped me relax a little bit, knowing that she wasn't suffering through it as much.

It was hard to keep track of time, but I'd say it was about 45 minutes after the epidural that Kristina started to raise the alarm that she felt the pressure moving further downward. In what was a total whirlwind for me, the midwife & nurse got things prepped. This was my hardest point. I knew we were on the verge of the birth. Something we had nervously anticipated for months. Not sure if we would ever get to this point. And not sure what would happen once we did. I couldn't even look at Kristina. All I could focus on was the worship music we had playing in the background. I took notice that one of the songs that had spoken to us early on in the pregnancy was playing - "You Don't Miss A Thing" by Bethel Music.

And then he arrived. My son. Ezekiel Promise Boothe.

They placed him on Kristina's chest, and I immediately just broke down sobbing. I think someone in the room put their hand on my back to comfort me, but I'm not totally sure. It's all just a blur. What I do remember is the voice of Kristina's friend Jess enthusiastically saying, "Oh, he's beautiful! He's perfect! He's beautiful!" Over and over again. It was exactly what I needed to hear. She spoke the words I wanted to believe when I was too weak to go there myself. Her reaction will be one of the most cherished memories of my entire life. I'll never be able to repay her. Thank you, Jess.

I looked up through the waves of tears to see my baby boy on Kristina's chest, not sure if he was alive or not. All I could do was whisper to Kristina "It's okay. It's okay. It's okay."

And then I saw his little heartbeat through his chest/neck. You could see him fight out a few breaths. And he even lifted his head at one point. He was fighting through a body not built to live.

I'm not sure how long he fought for exactly. Maybe 5 minutes. Maybe 10 minutes. Time was a complete blur. But we were able to meet him alive. And able to speak our peace to him. Able to speak his name over him. Tell him we loved him. Barely able to whisper, "Do not go gentle" to him. And able to say goodbye.

Eventually the neonatologist came in. She checked for his heartbeat but could only hear Kristina's.

"It's okay." 

That's all we could really say.

My parents & sister were on their way to the hospital with our kids, and Kristina & I decided it would be good for Adoration & Asa to meet Ezekiel. 
She wrapped him up in a cozy blanket, put a little hat on his head, and held him close.

I met my family in the hallway outside the room, and I told our kids that Ezekiel had already moved on to heaven but his body was still here. They had the sweetest reactions to him. Asa was so enamored by Ezekiel's "teeny, tiny toes", and we heard him whisper "I love him" to Ezekiel a few times. Our joyful Adoration was a little more taken off guard. I encouraged her that it's okay to be sad if she felt sad. But she was just quiet. After having a little friend of hers pass away within the past year, she has gained such a beautiful perspective on eternity that I knew she would be okay.

After family left, Kristina & I got some time alone with Ezekiel to grieve. Jason Upton worship in the background. We took our time to grieve. The culmination of all the heaviness & burden of the past 6 months. The trauma of birth. The surreal emptiness of death. We took our time to hold him. Rock him. Weep. Sob in unexpected waves.

Eventually we had the nurse & Jess take Ezekiel out of the room to dress him, take pictures, and get his little handprints & footprints. Again, I'm so thankful for Jess. She had written a song for Ezekiel & was able to sing it over him as she dressed him & took pictures.

They brought him back into the room for us to see him one last time. They gave us as much time as we needed, but we were so exhausted that I don't think we took much more time with him. I wanted to. I wanted to have days with him. Years with him. But he was gone, and it was time to say goodbye. I'll never forget that moment. So close to him but so far. Never enough time.

Although we are crushed. I'm thankful.

Thankful for each medical professional who treated Ezekiel's life with dignity. The unsuspecting ultrasound technician. The genetic counselor. Cindy, our primary midwife. Dr. Sanchez, who had terrible bedside manner but got things done when we were starting to get the runaround from the nature of just being another number in the medical system. Our hospital nurse, Abigail. The hospital midwife, Angela. Even the anesthesiologist who was a total bro. Thank you.

Thankful for friends both near & far. Everyone who sent encouraging texts, emails, voicemails, or left encouragement through Instagram or Facebook. Friends here in Jacksonville who babysat & brought meals during our toughest times. So Kristina & I could escape for brief moments and feel like life was still a little bit "normal". We recognize that heartache & grieving can take a toll on a marriage, and our marriage has been sustained the last 6 months with help from playdates, babysitting, and meals.

Thankful for close friends in our River City Church family. Who have prayed for us & helped bear our burdens without ceasing.

Thankful for the leaders in my work, who've shown me so much grace both during the last 6 months and in blessing my family with sufficient time off to heal & process before getting back into work. Chris, Matthew, Stephen, and Scott. Thank you.

Thankful for Megan, Lauren, and Jess who gave us strength on the day of Ezekiel's birth. Lauren brought such a presence of peace & calm and did all the quiet things without even being asked. Jess gave us joy in the midst of the hardest day of our lives. Megan has loved us & fought for us all along here in Jacksonville. Even in the midst of her own heartache, personal health battles she never mentions, and raising 2 young boys while her husband has been deployed. I love these women who carried my bride through the valley.

Thankful for family who drove down from Georgia multiple times to take care of Asa & Adoration. Do all the things in the background. Give us space to breathe.

Thankful for Ezekiel, who fought his way through.

Thankful for God. Who gave us an opportunity to meet our little boy alive on Earth. Who is taking care of him in heaven. Who strengthens. Who fulfills promises. Who makes all things new.

Thankful for Kristina. I am so proud of my bride. She carried in grace. Loved with all her heart. Fought through fears. Endured all the exhaustion of pregnancy & childbirth. Held our boy for his entire life here on Earth. Sacrificed her heart, soul, and body for the sake of one. 9 months of sacrifice for 10 minutes of life. Raising our kids in the midst of the trial. She is my champion. She is my love. She is my altogether beautiful. I love you.

Before the Sad Height

There was a time when I didn't know pain. Not that I was unaware of pain in the world, but I had no personal experience with it. Right after I graduated college, I had a childhood friend die suddenly, which was shocking but it wasn't "mine." Ezekiel's death, and the dying of my own self afterward is really the first time I've had to wrestle pain. Incomprehensible pain.

So who was I? Before landing on the sad height?

Normal. Middle-class. White.

Still am. Except maybe not quite as normal as I was.

Both of my parents were teachers. Science teachers. My mom is the screwloose, Magic Schoolbus Miss Frizzle-type. My dad is the organized, unemotional, nice guy who has his PhD in Analytical Chemistry (I still don't know what that really means, but he's got an unhealthy grasp of the periodic table).

I was always the smart kid in school. Not really the cool kid at all until about my senior year of high school, when I just stopped caring what people thought of me (freeing, isn't it?). Never really excelled at sports except for a few years on my summer-league swim team. I picked up the butterfly quicker than the other 8 year olds and just dominated for a summer.

Grew up in Georgia. Family went to church, but I didn't really care for it until being forced to go to youth group in middle school. My youth pastor was a stand-up comedian (at least to my middle school mind), so that was cool. But I really just went to make fun of the other kids who were actually having fun. I guess you could say being a cynical, smart-ass has always been a primary ingredient in my mental soup.

I didn't really like who I was becoming in late middle school & my freshman year of high school. I think I lived under the stress a lot of peer pressure then. And hormones. Raging, horny, hormones.

The summer before my sophomore year of high school I went on a youth trip with my church and made a decision to turn away from some of the immoral stuff I was starting to dabble in. I can't say it was a "give your life over to Jesus" moment because I didn't even really know what I was committing to. But I did see my personality really come alive & be free for the first time since being a little kid. I just didn't care anymore what people thought of me. I was a goofball, not cool in any way, not attractive, athletic, or tough. But I was okay with that.

I really started hanging out with Kristina that sophomore year of high school. Started off pretty simple. She sometimes sat at the same lunch table as me and a few crude friends. She'd tell me to stop cussing so much. And over time, I did.

I really fell for her hard my junior year of high school. To the point where I couldn't fall asleep at night because I was thinking about her. She was so mysterious to me. She hung out with me & my friends as we formed our terrible little hardcore band. She was kind. Caring. Soft-spoken. Generous. Loving. Everything I'm not. It was a complete head-over-heels (what the hell does that even mean?!) deal for me. I wrote songs about her. Poetry. Journaled. Conjured up exotic ways to confess my undying love for her in front of the whole lunch room, which I now know would've absolutely terrified and embarrassed her.

But I didn't want to risk losing her as a friend, so it took me over a year to finally tell her how I really felt. Of course, she already knew. The Valentine's Day "mixed tape" CD of all love songs probably gave it away.

We dated in college. Broke up briefly (we really only broke up because all we were doing was making out & felt like our relationship should be more than that... and dry humping occasionally). Got back together. Broke up again. Totally my fault. I was a jerk.

I had never seen much emotion modeled in the Christian life. I went to a boring Methodist church while growing up. My parents never talked about faith stuff at home. I didn't really even see much emotion or affection between my parents. I had grown bitter toward the emotionless life. But it was all I knew. I didn't trust emotions at all. Felt they had no place in a rational world.

Some of that changed when I went off to college. I got involved with a campus ministry where college kids were just straight fired up during the worship service. I had no grid for it. I thought it was fake. Just some sort of a show. And I couldn't sing the songs they were singing with any honesty. I remember one song that went, "I am so in love with you, my Lord, my God!" ... and I couldn't even put together how someone could have actual, emotional love for God.

I got burnt out on school & decided to take a semester off. Kristina suggested I look into Youth With A Mission (YWAM) for their 6-month Discipleship Training School. Although I had absolutely no passion for missions, it seemed like a more adventurous option than just doing AmeriCorps, so I raised the support & left for Malawi (south-central Africa) in January 2004.

It was there that I really got truly overcome by the love of God for the first time. Although I had identified as a Christian since about my junior year of high school, there was no emotional involvement to my faith. I coined my faith "The Jesus Diet". You know. You read the Bible, pray, talk to people, blah blah blah because it's "good for you"... but you don't internally enjoy it. Just like a diet. You know it's the healthy choice, so you do it as much & as consistently as you can to stay healthy.

A few weeks into my training school in Malawi, this missionary guy had come to teach for a week & he only taught about baptisms. I had been baptized as a baby (so I'm told and a few pictures might be floating around out there somewhere), but I now had a burning desire to be baptized as a believer in Jesus. Holding back tears, I talked to the missionary teacher guy about getting baptized, and he simply asked, "Have you been baptized in the Spirit?" I had NO CLUE what he was even talking about! But I meekly replied, "Um, yeah. I guess so. I mean. If I'm a Christian then I have the Holy Spirit, right?" He just kinda nodded & smiled at me, saying, "Hold on. We'll do the baptism later this week if you still want to."

I'll never forget that day. March 5th, 2004. After a few days of more teaching, prayer & worship sessions, etc. I was more than ready to get baptized. In the last prayer session of the teacher-missionary-guy's time there, he asked if anyone wanted to be baptized in the spirit. I was shaking in my seat. I knew I needed to go get prayer. But didn't do it. A few other guys went up, but I just sat in the back.

Then the missionary called out my name. "James. You need to come up here." I knew I was supposed to, so I didn't hesitate this time. He started to pray for me. Nothing big. Nothing loud. No hands on me. And I felt this IMMENSE weight come upon me that I still can't really explain. In my head, I asked God, "What is going on?" and the reply I felt on the inside was "Just trust me." So I did for half a second. I gave in to the weight. And I hit the deck. I have no clue if someone caught me. If I fell outright. I don't know. I was overwhelmed. Unexplainable.

Going to the ground didn't knock me out or anything. I was conscious that I was laying on the ground of this classroom in Malawi. There on the floor, a blinding, shining white light filled my inner vision. I had my eyes closed, but I knew there was no way light from a window could reach me where I was. I even thought, "Did I hit my head?" but my head didn't hurt in any way. Again, I prayed inside myself, "God, what is going on?" And this time the answer (all inside, not audible or anything) was "Trust me. I'm ministering to you."

So I continued to lay there until the white light left. It wasn't too long. Probably 5 minutes at the most. Maybe less. I have no clue. But when I got up, I knew something inside me had changed. I had a peace and an emotional consciousness I had never had before.

That afternoon I was baptized down in the river in the village. Me and one other girl got baptized that day.

As I was hand-washing my shirt out later that day, I caught glimpse of something just over the roof of the house we all stayed in. I walked around to the far side of the yard, and there were 2 complete rainbows stretching across the sky. I stood there in awe. I knew exactly what it meant. The rainbow being God's sign to Noah after passing through the waters that he wouldn't be subject to destruction again. It's the same sign as baptism. Passing through the waters (death) and coming up alive in Christ on the other side. Two of us baptized that day. Two complete rainbows. More than just a coincidence.

Beyond all the crazy stuff of that day, my heart had become alive. I cried for the first time in years. I felt peace internally. I had forgiveness for a lot of bitterness I hadn't even realized was chewing away at me. I started to hear from God. Not complete stuff, but things I couldn't explain that would come true minutes or hours later. Seriously. It got so freaky all the African guys started calling me "the prophet" on our team for a while because I'd say something was about to happen and it would then happen. I can't explain those days. Even in the midst of later doubts in life. I can't explain all that switched in me in such a short time.

Fast-forward ahead. ALOT.

Got back to Georgia. Had typical college ups & downs. Went through a short season of doubt in my faith. Hit another unexplainable spiritual milestone coming out of it. Wrestled internally with affections for Kristina that had never left. Had fun. Drove a scooter. Rocked a mullet for a few months. Your typical college life.

Kristina & I slowly started dating again after I realized that I just couldn't handle it if anyone else dated her. We cried & argued our way through some hurts & walls we had built up during the 2 years we weren't dating. Got engaged. Married. And moved to Charlotte, NC.

Kristina went through a very tough season upon moving to Charlotte. I'll let her tell the tale some other time, but it was definitely her "dark night of the soul" season where she felt God had abandoned her. She's believed in Jesus since she was 7. It was something I hadn't seen on someone before. And it shaped our marriage. I learned to love through it. It's how I learned to love. To love someone even when they aren't feeling loved in a deep way.

That tough season for Kristina lasted a long time, and we still see the ripple effects of it in ways today. But part of what drew her out of the darkness was the birth of our first child, Adoration Joy. We named her that because we believed God would make her into a worshiper (Adoration), and that joy was being returned to Kristina in a new way. Over 5 years later, she definitely embodies the identity of her name.

Getting tired of the cold and seeing an opportunity for some growth in my job, we moved to South Florida in 2011. Although there's alot to like about South Florida. We just didn't like it very much. Our son, Asa Trust, was born there... in Boca Raton of all places! But when the opportunity came to move to Jacksonville, we didn't hesitate.

We moved to Jacksonville just before Christmas in 2012 with a 2 year old and a 3 month old in tow.

We love Jacksonville. The people. Our church. The weather. The beach. There really is alot to like.

For me, though, Jacksonville kinda kicked off a season of isolation in many ways. I moved up to the top of my work ladder within the city and found myself very lonely. I have friends within my work, but the work itself was very stressful, solitary, and pressure-packed. It just wasn't an environment I thrive in. I come alive when I can be around people, be outside, be open & honest. Not when I drive around all day or send hundreds of emails. When I have to wear the boss hat more than the friend hat.

The stress of my work transition really sapped away all of my internal energy. I no longer felt like myself. I didn't act like myself, and I knew it. That just buried my frustration even deeper inside. I started to feel powerless to change. Meanwhile, my work numbers were going downhill due to factors I couldn't control at all, and I felt abandoned to "just work hard and figure it out" with minimal training in my new role. It all just created the narrative in my head that: 

"No matter what you do, the cards are stacked against you from the start, and you can't do anything to change it."

Nothing. No power. No control. I am set up to fail. And in the process, I am losing myself.

And that's the mindset I carried into the birth and death of my son, Ezekiel Promise.