The Hardest Year of My Life

This has been the hardest year of my life. Today our twin boy and girl turn one, and it has a sort solemnity that isn’t familiar at one-year-old birthdays. Certainly others have had harder years, but relative comparison never has seemed like a good comforter.

We have been asked at the 20 week ultrasound if we wanted to “terminate” the pregnancy after discovering fluid build up in our son’s brain. We have spent a combined three weeks in the neonatal intensive care unit where our son was discharged with a diagnosis of apnea and bradycardia as a result of his prematurity and was sent home with a heart and respiratory monitor. We have spent a combined two weeks in the pediatric intensive care unit where I had to uncomfortably and unwillingly face the reality of my own helplessness as we watched our son have over fifteen consecutive apnea and bradycardia episodes and wonder if he was going to make it through the night. We have watched as our son has been carted off into two neurosurgeries—one to place a shunt to drain the excess fluid out of his brain and the second to repair the shunt when it malfunctioned a month later. All of these things like threads have been woven into the fabric of our life adding their color—these dull and subdued though others bright and vibrant—and somehow, in God’s gracious providence, making the whole tapestry all the more beautiful.

Relative comparison never has seemed like a good comforter.

I don’t boast in these things as if my enduring them is meritorious. It is far more accurate to say that this past year has brought an end to me than to say I endured the past year. The events of the last year waged a violent war against my selfish ambition and pretentious desires for something, anything but that which was given to me. What I wanted for myself and for my family was vehemently opposed to the hardships the Lord had ordained to befall us, and so when they arrived I rose up to meet them with indignation. As much as I can argue against the health, wealth and prosperity gospel, that’s what I wanted. I wanted healthy children who didn’t need to spend over a month in the hospital and require brain surgery. I wanted to achieve academic accolades instead of sidelining those pursuits. I wanted a plentiful bank account instead of one emptied by hospital bills. I wanted what I wanted, and that proved quickly to be anything but God. And yet there remained behind and underneath the chaos of this violent collision the persistent and patient goodness and the sufficient and satisfying grace of Jesus.

Whispers of His promise to work all things for our good would echo through the dark valleys—the whispers of One who flipped death on its head that even it might be wielded for good in His good and gracious hands. And as His gentleness conquered my violence, I found myself embracing the very things that were undoing me. I began to understand that in my making war against my circumstances, I wasn’t rejecting my circumstances—I was rejecting the One who gave me these circumstance. I was rebelling against His sovereignty over all things because I would rather determine my own life. I was reducing His benevolence to a vending machine from which I could gain what I wanted. I was resisting the very things that He had designed for my joy because my eyes saw only unwelcome hardship.

Whispers of His promise to work all things for our good would echo through the dark valleys—the whispers of One who flipped death on its head that even it might be wielded for good in His good and gracious hands.

I didn’t want these things, although I treasure them now as priceless jewels—jewels for which by God’s grace alone I mined—often unwillingly and without the slightest bit of hope of obtaining anything worth keeping, but jewels that somehow make me inexpressibly glad having obtaining them. As Charles Spurgeon once said, “I have learned to kiss the wave that throws me against the Rock of Ages.” Though it can seem paradoxically melancholy, this is no masquerading joy. It runs too deep to spend time playing in the shallows of sentiment. Looking back on this year, it is a joy that is far more a gentle whisper than an exuberant shout, far more a slow enduring burn than a hot vanishing spark.

This joy isn’t derived from an experience. It is not manufactured or earned. It is found in a Person—a Person who is at work in all of our circumstances to redeem us from our idols that enslave us to poisons of empty joy and to draw us to himself in whose presence there is the fullness of joy.

Happy birthday, Whittaker and Olivia. May you come to know the surpassing and enduring joy of Jesus.

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