A Song on Gloryland

We’ll need no sun in gloryland

The moon and stars won’t shine

For Christ himself is light up there

He reigns on love divine

Then weep not friends

I’m going home

Up there we’ll die no more

No coffins will be made up there

No graves on that bright shore

“Gloryland” by Ralph Stanley and the Clinch Mountain Boys

I like the haunting beauty of this A Cappella bluegrass song. Bluegrass harmony is itself a lovely thing, but notice also the earthiness of the suffering mentioned in this song and how the theology of heaven provides strength to face death. Was there in previous ages of evangelicalism an underdeveloped understanding of salvation? Sure. Forgiveness of sin and eternal life in heaven were emphasized to the exclusion of the Spirit’s power for true life in this age and the ultimate hope of the new heavens and new earth. But I think we often underestimate how practical this focus on victory over death was for a humanity that simply faced death on a more constant basis.

My grandmother’s line were all Scotch-Irish stock who spent their lives in the mountains and coal mines of West Virginia. All the men were miners. And all died early of black lung. Infant mortality would have been exponentially higher than it is now. I suspect that if we feel any smug superiority to the bluegrass theology of the coal miners, that might also say something about how hard we in the West have tried to isolate ourselves from pain and death.

A Song For Those Made For Endless Summer

I really love this new song by the Gray Havens. “Have you ever missed somewhere that you’ve never been?” Yes… yes I have. Reminds me of this quote of Augustine’s where he muses on the “memory” of Eden that each of us somehow carries.

However, I have to say that while endless summer in North America sounds lovely, an endless summer in our corner of Central Asia – with its 115 F/46 C temps – is not quite as pleasant a prospect. Can I have an endless spring, perhaps? Much better for eternal picnics.

A Song For Pilgrims

“Pilgrim” by John Mark McMillan

I’ve been enjoying this song a lot recently as we’ve once again been a family in transition. Moving cities has highlighted our identity as pilgrims and nomads, those who have no lasting city here, but who seek the city that is to come (Heb 13:14). I also appreciate the tension present in this song, recognizing that there are many things about this world that we do love, “the smell of the grinding sea,” yet we are also compelled to seek another world, an abiding one.

The remix below is also worth checking out. My kids and I have enjoyed bobbing our heads while we listen to it and drive around our Central Asian city.

A Song For Those With Forever In Their Veins

So here we go, like mist and water
That's here and gone
But here we'll stay, on forever
Be back someday
Look all I know
Is I believe it's gonna change at the moment when the trumpets blow
And all I see
All I see I believe is gonna change inside the walls of eternity
So here we go

'Cause forever is in my soul
It's in my veins, I think we know
That the future's gonna be so bright
And when you turn my way
It's gonna fill my eyes
Forever
When you turn my way
Forever is in my soul
It's in my veins and it won't let go

So when I stand at that station
To movin' on
And I find my step, upon the doorway
Where the lights come from
Look all I know
Is I'll be changed in a moment when I
Take that step, when I'm called back home
No end I'll know

'Cause forever is in my soul
It's in my veins, I think we know
That the future's gonna be so bright
And when you turn my way
It's gonna fill my eyes

'Cause forever is in my soul
It's in my veins, I think we know
That the future's gonna be so bright
And when you turn my way
It's gonna fill my eyes
Forever
When you turn my way
Forever is in my soul
It's in my veins and it won't let go
When you turn my way
(Forever)
It's in my veins and it won't let go

“Forever” by the Gray Havens

A Song On A Death Too Weak

Lament and defiance in the same song. For Christians addressing the death of Christ – and our own deaths – this is a good posture. Make sure to listen until the build at 2:52. Powerful stuff.

Go on brothers lay him down
Go on brothers lay him down
Wrap his body with a clean white shroud 
Roll that stone leave him in the ground
Go on brothers lay him down

Go on sisters cry for him
Go on sisters cry for him
But wipe your eyes and dry your skin
The crying will be done in three mornings
Go on sisters cry for him

Hold on children wait and see
Hold on children wait and see
The death that’s come is a death too weak
Can’t take my Jesus can’t take my king
So hold on children wait and see

Oh glory glory won’t you come for me
Glory glory won’t you come for me
I know your slumber is a momentary sleep
I feel you rising up from the deep
Oh glory glory you will come for me

“Jesus is Laid in the Tomb” by Poor Bishop Hooper

A Hundredfold Homes Revisited

This week we’ve been packing up for yet another move. My wife came across this poem I wrote for her a couple years ago, which I had posted at the very beginning of starting this blog. She requested that I post it again. And, seeing that she is a very wise and intuitive woman, I am happy to do so. I hope it can serve as one window into how those of us who embrace semi-nomadic missions lifestyles for the sake of the gospel wrestle with the costs – and hope in the world to come.

Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life. (Mark 10:29-30 ESV)

A Hundredfold Homes

We have lived with rich and poor
In places some will not or can’t.
And found there joy, and doors
To life, and friends, and won’t 
Forget the promise, one hundred-fold.
We need it dearly every time 
We move again and say goodbye
And home becomes a house – again.
We do it all for Him.
True, we know the cost is real,
That mingled joy of rootlessness.

But I have heard the king has rooms 
And rooms and rooms and worlds.
Perhaps a place where mountains meet 
The sea, a house with orchards on a hill.
With pen and table, porch and sky
And paper and books, maybe some tea.
A pipe! And fire.   
Yes, room to host and reminisce 
(With friends and of course the King himself)
The glory that we saw 
In our hundred fleeting homes. 

Children born and born again, 
The needy fed, the lost redeemed, 
The straying won, the faithful trained.
A hundred tents of light
Soon dismantled yet again.
For the world was ours, but not quite yet. 
We don’t yet know the fullness of
The joy, although we know the taste.
For each new place a portion sings
And each new move the old refrain:
The promises are coming true
Before our eyes – a hundred-fold!
And new creation, forever home.
Is coming, coming, like the dawn. 

So let us drink and to the full 
The joy of each new set of walls.
For they are fleeting like the fall 
And shine unique, eternal.
Remember the talk of camels and tents? 
And Shelby Park, and Kingston’s rooms 
And Sarkenar or St James Court? 
Yes, more to come, if grace allows
And we shall thank the king for each,
With faith and joy await to see 
The next of our one hundred homes
That really are not ours at all.
The glory – they are forever ours, 
And really are not ours at all. 

Photo by Alexandre Chambon on Unsplash

Diabetes Is Not Forever: One Year Later

One year ago today we found out my six year old daughter had type 1 (childhood) diabetes. We had been at some organizational meetings in Europe in January, and as usual, a serious virus made the rounds among the kids. On the way home a security crisis canceled our flights and we were stuck in a layover city for several days. We were grateful for the unexpected rest, as my kids and wife were having the hardest time recovering from this strange virus, while I was strangely asymptomatic. Since then we’ve heard reports of Covid-19 being present in the country where our meetings were, even as early as January 2020. We can’t help but wonder if that’s what it was, since many of the symptoms line up.

We eventually made it made it back home and everyone slowly got healthy again. Or so we thought. After about a month we started noticing some strange things going on with our daughter. Two months after our trip the symptoms were increasing. She started wetting the bed at night when this had never before been a problem. She seemed to be looking unusually bony and skinny. She was waking up in the night extremely thirsty and and in the day eating and drinking large amounts, but without seeming to be able to quench her hunger or thirst. Her stomach started getting swollen and serious constipation developed. Eventually a rash appeared on her stomach and she started becoming lethargic and falling asleep in the middle of the floor at random times. Her normal state of 110% zest and energy was simply no longer there.

By this point we were several weeks into a strict Covid-19 lockdown. We were trying to treat our daughter’s symptoms, get remote medical advice, and wondering if being cooped up in the house without as much physical activity was partially to blame. But when I tried to have “gym class” at home, she was barely able to participate because of fatigue and discomfort. We were getting seriously worried when a doctor friend of our teammates suggested we check her blood sugar. Even though there was a history of diabetes in my wife’s family, we hadn’t thought to explore in this direction.

The police were mostly allowing civilian vehicles to drive around local neighborhoods, but not on the main city streets. So I was grateful that every local neighborhood in our corner of Central Asia contains several small but quality pharmacies – one of the ways the private sector here has responded to the broken government healthcare system.

It was a sunny late March afternoon when my daughter and I carefully drove to the far end of our neighborhood, making sure there weren’t new roadblocks and hoping that pharmacies would be open. As I recall, this was the first time she had to put on a mask to enter a building. She was really groggy and I remember encouraging her to try really hard not to fall asleep in the car. Deep down I was becoming afraid that falling asleep could be dangerous – though I couldn’t have said why.

We stopped in a local pharmacy and bought a blood testing kit, one of the kinds where you prick a finger and test a drop of blood through a special strip and small digital reader. The pharmacist conducted the test for us on the spot and as soon as the result showed, his brow furrowed. “They can’t show a blood sugar number if it’s above 400,” he said. “Let’s try again. If it’s still just showing ‘HIGH,’ then you’ll have to go to the hospital for a more detailed test.” Sure enough, the second test showed the same result. We would have to go to an ER – and that in the beginnings of the local Covid-19 outbreak.

I called my wife to update her that we might be out for a few more hours and to ask her to pray that the police would let us through the checkpoints. Thankfully, they did. All I had to do was tell them that my daughter was having a medical emergency and that we had to get to the hospital – fast. They would glance in the back seat, see how frail and sick she looked, and quickly wave us through. I was relieved it was this easy.

We arrived at an urgent care type of facility and they ran some blood tests. By this point I was really hoping that we would be able to find some answers, even if it meant something like diabetes. Some kind of mistake was made and the first round of tests didn’t include checking for the blood sugar level. They almost sent us home, but I somehow caught the mistake. As soon as they checked the blood sugar, the tone of the medical staff changed. They communicated that our daughter’s blood glucose level was extremely high and that they would have to transfer us to a private hospital with one of the only local endocrinologists who had experience treating children. While type 2 diabetes is everywhere here (blame the rice, chai, and baklava), type 1 is almost unheard of. Type 2 is usually diet-related and emerges in adults. Type 1 requires a genetic predisposition and emerges in children in response to the body’s immune system attacking a virus – and the body’s own pancreas by mistake. When this happens the part of the pancreas that makes insulin gets mortally wounded, and eventually stops producing insulin altogether.

The next couple hours were a strange mixture of sitting around waiting and medical staff urgently coming in and out. I could tell that it was serious, but the doctor was only willing to say that he thought it was likely diabetes. We were transferred by ambulance to a private hospital and taken up to the third floor. As we approached the doors of the ICU, they rushed my daughter through and I was abruptly informed that I wasn’t allowed to come inside. I pushed back that this wasn’t an option, that I had to be there alongside my six year old daughter who they now poking with various needles – and who was now beginning to shriek in terror. She has always hated shots with a passion. And now she couldn’t even see her dad. While the hospital staff insisted that non-staff are never allowed in the ICU, my daughter was fighting them hard enough and I argued just strong enough to be given temporary access and the assurance that I could stay in a room just outside the ICU door. I decided to take these concessions and to wait to push more later.

I was able to have a few moments comforting my daughter as the nursing stuff buzzed around us and attached various wires and tubes to her frail body. Soon a doctor came in and the staff insisted that it was time for me to leave, but that I could get access to her a little bit later. I was not comfortable with this arrangement at all, but I tried to stay calm, and tried somehow to help my daughter not panic. On the way out I managed to see the paperwork of her blood tests.

Blood glucose level was 786. Normal is 80-180.

I quickly sat down on the small couch in my room, just outside the ICU doors and googled what a 786 blood sugar level meant. What I found froze me in my tracks. Diabetic coma. And other terrifying possibilities. I knew that something very serious was going on, but it wasn’t until that moment that I realized just how close we had gotten to losing our daughter. Sitting by myself in that room a sense of desperation overcame me and I pleaded with God for my daughter’s life. I realized that our hasty goodbye in the ICU could have been the last time we saw one another.

I don’t remember how long it took for a doctor to come and update me on the situation. Much of that time was spent frantically praying and sending out texts for prayer. I was also talking to my wife by phone. She was understandably furious that they had not allowed me to stay by our daughter’s side. I tried to reassure her that I would keep pushing for regular access, but that we didn’t have very many options and that fighting at that point wouldn’t get us more.

Eventually a young doctor came in my room. He told me that my daughter was experiencing something called diabetic ketoacidosis, a condition where the body’s cells have been unable to process the “food” they need due to lack of insulin, so the body has been attacking and consuming itself. This was what accounted for all of the strange symptoms she had been experiencing. She definitely had new onset type 1 diabetes. But she was going to make it. They would work to stabilize her and safely bring her blood sugar levels down. We would need to stay in the hospital for a week or so.

“Don’t consider it an illness. Consider it a gift!” he said with a flourish as he made his way out the door. While thankful for the intent, I clenched my teeth at these parting words. Not the right time, doc, not the right time.

Through the timely intervention of the hospital staff and the prayers of God’s people, everything got easier from that point on. Our daughter stabilized, although it took three days or so for her blood sugar levels to be safely brought down below 300. As the mostly foreign hospital staff realized I could get my daughter calm enough for her shots and urine tests, they began to invite me into the ICU more and more, and eventually just gave me the door code so I could come in whenever I wanted to.

The first 48 hour shift nurse assigned to our daughter was an Indian gal, and one who was connected to our international church. Turns out one of the Filipino doctors at the hospital was a believing member of our church. Other Pakistani fellow members walked from their neighborhood to bring me home-cooked pratha and omelettes. The wife of one of our pastors sent me an Aeropress coffee maker and some ground coffee. Most of our team lived a little too far from the hospital to be able to walk there, but they walked groceries to my wife and other two kids at home, and provided childcare so that my wife could begin to visit the hospital once we acquired a special letter for the checkpoints. One single teammate could make it to the hospital by foot, and he even learned to boil eggs just so that he could fulfill that particular request. To this day my daughter raves about those boiled eggs. As her cells began to be able to absorb nutrients again, she began to eat like a full grown man!

After three nights, our daughter was allowed to move into my room. This was a cause for celebration. We began having dance parties to try to bring her sugar down and experimenting with the random diabetic-friendly food items we could get from nearby stores. Lots of nuts and cheese and cucumbers. Not so much rice and bread, which was mostly what the hospital food consisted of.

It became a strangely joyful time in that bright little hospital room that smelled like Pakistani food and coffee. My daughter seems to remember mostly the sweet parts of our surreal hospital stay and to not recall the many scary parts. I am incredibly grateful for this.

As best we can figure, that virus that hit our family back in January 2020 is likely what caused my daughter’s immune system to misfire and handicap her pancreas. This led to the development of the ketoacidosis. Apparently type 1 diabetes is much more common among those of Northern European and specifically Scandinavian descent. Turns out our DNA has more of that heritage than we knew at the time. We really should have known that this was a possibility for our kids, since my wife’s two younger sisters also have type 1. These sisters have proved to be wonderfully helpful aunts to my daughter since they can identify with her experience so well. The experience that my wife had growing up with her sisters’ diabetes is likely why we were able to so quickly get back to a kind of normalcy – and why we continue to feel so grateful at the kind of diabetes management now available. God should get more glory for insulin pumps and continuous glucose monitors (we use the Omnipod and Dexcomm G6). These devices, sadly not available in this country, are stunning in how much freedom they give kids with type 1 and their parents. A disease that would have been fatal in 1921 barely slows down my now seven-year-old in 2021. We were able to get set up with these devices during five months of medical leave in the middle of last year.

We look back at what happened a year ago and we thank God and shudder. It was hard. We will be lamenting the presence of this disease in our family for the rest of our lives. Yet we also rejoice at God’s particular kindness to us through this whole experience. From the medical advice that came just in time to catching the blood tests done wrong to the unexpected presence of believers in the hospital, God was very much communicating his care for us. And there are many more details of things like this that I haven’t mentioned because this post is long enough already.

One year ago we discovered our daughter’s type 1 diabetes. It hasn’t been easy. But now, twelve months later, we know more of the kindness and care of our God.

And diabetes is not forever.

“I wonder,” I mused to my wife the other day, “If in heaven the lame walk, and the blind see… do you think perhaps Jesus greets those who had type-1 diabetes with a giant ice cream sundae? ‘Welcome home! Your disease is no more. Here, have all the ice cream you can handle!”

Photo by Sebastian Coman Photography on Unsplash

A Song of Longing and Home

This is by no means a new song. But I don’t remember hearing it until we watched the film, 1917, a number of months ago. This was a stunning film, made all the better because I had read this review beforehand and knew to pay attention to the significance of the trees in the film. I resonate with the sober hope held out by this song, with its haunting melody that fits with the grievous nature of death, contrasted with its words of simple hope, “I’m only going over Jordan. I’m only going over home.” Yes, that fits with the intermingled sorrow and hope that we know as believers who all must ultimately die. And yet death is not the end. In 1917, one scene has the characters come across a cherry tree orchard that has been cut down. But in this scene of destruction, there’s also this line: “They’ll grow again when the stones rot. You’ll end up with more trees than before.” Exactly. Resurrection.

Your Hungers Are Rewarded, You Are Going Home

The difference between Patrick’s magic and the magic of the druids is that in Patrick’s world all beings and events come from the hand of a good God, who loves human beings and wishes them success. And though that success is of an ultimate kind – and, therefore, does not preclude suffering – all nature, indeed the whole of the created universe, conspires to mankind’s good, teaching, succoring, and saving.

Patrick could speak convincingly of these things. He could assure you that all suffering, however dull and desperate, would come to its conclusion and would show itself to have been worthwhile. He could insist that, in the end, you too would hear the words “Your hungers are rewarded: you are going home. Look, your ship is ready.”

Cahill, How the Irish Saved Civilization, p. 131