BIRTH – In all its forms.

Life has changed…completely…forever. On Wednesday, January 22nd, 2014 Isabella Grace Burkholder was born at 7 lbs. 3 oz. She is absolutely beautiful.

The day before, Tuesday, we had an appointment with the doctor. He told us that Jenny’s amniotic fluid was low; if it remained low 24 hours later he would have to induce. So, we set up an appointment for the next morning, Wednesday. Fortunately, that Tuesday Jenny’s mom, “Grandma Runner,” made it here to Guatemala. We showed up to the appointment expecting to go have our baby, and I’m glad we did. The amniotic fluid was 2 cm lower than it was the day before. We swept Jenny to the E.R. and the whole process began.

When we got to our room the doctor hooked her up to a monitor to keep an eye on the baby’s heartbeat. When the fluid is low, the heartbeat decelerates with every contraction due to pressure on the umbilical cord.  They started inducing Jenny at 11:30 am. The plan was still to have a normal birth. Jenny eventually started having bigger contractiosn and was dilated at 6 cm. At around 4:30 p.m., the doctor came in to theck on the baby’s heart beat. It continued to decelerate for longer periods of time. Eventually the doctor decide that there was too much risk to continuing the normal birth route and got us prepped for the c-section.

The nurse came and got me and handed me a pair of scrubs that I think were made for a giant. Americans are big people in Guatemala, so I’m assuming she thought I’d need big scrubs. Right before the surgery there was some confusion with Janet, Jenny’s mom, since she doesn’t speak spanish. The nurse was trying to tell her something and came and got me to clarify. By the time I got off the phone with her the surgery was under way.

The operating room was cold and felt, ironically, lifeless. They took me back behind the curtain that was draped in front of Jenny’s neck. She was shaking. It was a little scary, less the situation and more the scene. Air conditioner blasting, six masked people, dozens of machines screeching out horrible noises. If it wasn’t for the pending birth of my daughter it would have felt like a horror film. The doctor was unsing an electric scalpel. I could literally smell burning flesh as they cauterized while making the incision. Cold air, lots of masked people, burning flesh, and beeping, beeping beeping.

Jenny was trembling, partly from nerves, partly from the cold, and partly from anesthesia. Our eyes locked and all I remember thinking is “She’s never been more beautiful.” After about 25 minutes the doctor called out my name “Justin, mirá!” (“Justin, Look!”) I stood up, terrified to look over the curtain, unaware of the bloody, massacred scene I’d take in. But, it was my baby’s head. All the terrifying, macabre scenery fell silent as I took in the miracle of our little girl.

The doctor wanted me to look at something specific. The umbilical cord was wrapped around Isabella’s neck and down her back. It was clear that the doctor made the right choice – we never doubted it.

At 5:27 p.m. Isabella took her first breath on her own. The pediatrician cleaned her off a little and bundled her up. He laid her head down next to Jenny’s. Jenny kissed her daughter, the first of many. Jenny was so strong. I’ve been amazed and inspired by her. I couldn’t be more proud to be her husband.

Medicine, doctors, science, all are wonderful gifts. But child birth is a miracle. Life is transferred from one person to another through a series of complex phases. And, sadly, death is passed along also. I’m reminded that Isabella was born as a dead person. Dead in hers and my transgressions and sins. The miracle of birth is spectacular, the miracle of spiritual birth is supernatural.

It is that birth for which we will now toil and pray.

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“Your” “Church” Isn’t That Important

0323 The Pastor Eugene Peterson Message Bible coverIn his memoir, The Pastor, Eugene Peterson walks through his story of becoming a pastor and gives you a front-row seat to the valleys and victories of pastoral ministry. He’s a sage communicator, with a gentle and balanced approach. He’s not one for pop and sizzle — the cheap, showy, and often shallow approaches to ministry. Rather, he’s thoughtful and precise in his diagnosis and action. His methodology throughout his years as a pastor varied, but it was never the kind of self-aggrandizing pragmatism you will find today. On top of that, he’s a great story-teller! 

Peterson presented a concept that to him was a paradigm shift, and to me was brilliant. It was a paradigm shift from the standard practices of church polity and even church planting. However, even better than the paradigm-shift was the illustration that he used to explain the paradigm shift.

He says:

“It was like the shift that took place from Ptolemy, who told us that the sun goes around the earth, which it obviously does from our subjective point of view, to Galieleo, who told us that the earth and our entire planetary system, goes around the sun, which no one would guess by looking, and which, of course, no one had guessed for many thousands of years by just looking.”

He proceeds to explain that he was willing and compliant to start a new congregation along the lines of his denomination’s practices, but he had just experienced this paradigm shift.

He continues:

“Except for that paradigm shift – the shift from understanding church as what we do to continue the work of Jesus in his absence to understanding the church as the creation and continuing work of the Holy Spirit.  The paradigm from understanding the church in terms of what we plan and accomplish and take responsibility for (the Ptolemy paradigm) to understanding the church as what God plans and accomplishes and takes responsibility for (the Galileo paradigm). The Ptolemy paradigm is oriented around what we can observe and understand by naked-eye observation. The Galileo paradigm is oriented to a great deal that which we cannot understand and account for by naked-eye observation.”

To summarize, or maybe to clarify: the point that Peterson is making is that our approach to church ministry should be rightly proportioned to our size and dimension in history and to God’s size and dimension in history. Often, with our use of metrics, analysis, statistics, strategies, schemes, plans, proposals, budgets and so forth, we become the grand subject of all of our very miniature history. We are the apex, the central act. God is going to redeem humanity through our involvement. However, if we are to rightly understand God’s size and spectrum in proportion to ours, our approach to the institutional church will be one of humble participation, not active domination and conquest.

We live in a day where social media is full of church leaders sharing with one another that they are preaching or leading something somewhere. They share with their followers the numbers of lives changed at their recent services. You will often see the phrase “I love my church.” And I’m certain it is written with the best of motives. But, I dare say, we have implicitly undermined the gravity of God. It is around Him that we must revolve. It is not “my” church or “your” church or “that” church or “this other church.” Rather, we are His church, and this is His story, and He is the main character. He is the sun around which we revolve. (Yes, I chose to not fall prey to the all-too-easy pun “He is the SON around which we revolve.”)