The Adventure of a Lifetime

I was having an incredible year.

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In 2004, I was going to be a new father. My wife, Jen and I felt like the world was unfolding gloriously before us. The spring promised yet another blessing and we teemed with a fresh excitement about our burgeoning family.

But March arrived with more than anyone could have ever dreamed. When our daughter, Addison Grace, was born, the thrill of new life was side-swiped by severe medical complications that threatened death. There came Neonatal Intensive Care Units and scary reports from doctors that sent nurses and orderlies scurrying. And then came the unexpected, thunderous diagnosis: Down Syndrome.

Addie_oxygen1And I was having such an incredible year.

All of the sudden I went from the thrill and exultation of a dream, to the challenge and sorrow of a profound disappointment.

But as it turns out, I was still having an incredible year. I just didn’t know it yet. What I came to discover—even in the midst of my darkest night—is that pain, as gut wrenching as it can be, truly shapes us. Struggle—as unexpected and unwelcome as it always is—has the potential to actually catapult us into an amazing future.

I didn’t know it then, but I was getting ready to walk out a wondrous truth: that sorrow doesn’t stand a chance in the joy-filled face of Grace.

And so I’ve told my story—in a new book. It’s all about this dad’s walk holding hands with two incredible people. They’re two people that showed up in unexpected and astonishing ways—whose presence in my life have left me forever changed for the better. They’re two marvelous, Marcus-changing people who share a common middle name: my first-born daughter, Addison and my Savior, Jesus. Grace was His middle name too.

I didn’t know it then, but the first time that first doctor handed me my first-born, I was grabbing on to the adventure of a lifetime. Addie is eleven now. And I’ve only recently come to realize how much my story is actually our story—together. You and me.

“All-of-the-sudden Sorrows” come hunting all of us from time to time. But GRACE means holding hands with something traumatic and gloriously transformative at the same time. There can be profound meaning in the pain. In fact, we can discover what it means to grab on to the adventure of a lifetime—even if we never saw it coming.

HHWG_3Drender_sidebarI hope you’ll read the book. I hope it encourages you no matter what kind of year you’re having. Because the same Jesus who met me in the dark alley of my disappointment stands ready to meet you in yours. And He desires more than anything to see your pain transformed into miraculous purpose right in front of your eyes. Sorrow doesn’t stand a chance in the face of that kind of Savior. All you and I have to do is begin Holding Hands With Grace.

Let me know what YOU think? Post a comment.

A Precious Baby Died Today

Annie died today. And it should never have been. A little girl, two years old–a precious, little heart of incalculable worth–was lost just a little while ago. And it should never have been.

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Annie was born with Down Syndrome, and some would say with “special needs.” She was a bright and unique light in this world—an epiphany custom-made in Heaven itself—which imbued her with unique and exceptional abilities. Anyone with half a heart could see that.

In spite of all her brilliance, Annie had a extraordinary challenge: the need of a new heart. Hers was failing. A transplant would have saved her life. But a transplant would never come.

Annie died today, a result of being denied a new heart by her doctors due to her genetic diagnosis. The quality of her life was forecast—not by her parents, friends and loved ones, but by a medical litmus that deemed her spark to be inferior to that of people with typical genes. The hospital rejected her appeals for necessary treatment and on the basis of an abhorrent reality: that people born with a particular distinction may not, in fact, always be treated as whole people. And it’s an insidious bigotry that has been bubbling under the surface of our America’s libertarian façade since day one. It is a prejudice that demeans and whacks wonderful people down to a fraction of their whole.

Annie is not the first. America has treated human beings as three-fifths a person before. This time it’s not about skin color. This time a person has been discriminated against based on her genetic constitution. And this intolerance has been going on for years. There are many others besides Annie. Magazine articles and online videos abound, chronicling the systematic discrimination of people born with exceptional abilities. It is a problem that finds its roots in the “Final Solution.”

Men, women and children with Down Syndrome were among the first people exterminated in Hitler’s Nazi Holocaust–all in the name of “mercy.” Atrocities and abominations, carried out in the name of medical science, eviscerated an entire people with the steeliest resolve. “They’re not worth it,” the haters tirade. “They diminish us all!”

But in fact, who’s really the one in need of the heart transplant? Pervasive, long-antiquated prejudices are the knife-blade at the throat of America’s humanity.

Annie_close-upJust look at Annie. You SHOULD be agog. You SHOULD be aghast. An exquisite, irreplaceable, extraordinary person just slipped from our grasp. And we are all diminished.

She died today, not because her heart failed, but because ours did. Our heart: chambers calcified with bigotry and hubris. Our heart: arteries clogged with a self-consumed penchant to play God. Don’t point at her little heart. The blame is squarely on ours.

She died today because in our minds she wasn’t “person” enough to deserve a new pump. She wasn’t whole enough to deserve a new heart—not a child enough to warrant a fighting chance.

There was more than one person who needed a heart transplant today. The lack in the one snuffed out the life of a toddling treasure. The lack in the other will surely choke the nation in time.

A precious little heart of incalculable worth was lost just a little while ago. It should never have been. And anyone with half a heart could see that.

What do you think? Weigh in with a comment below.

Somebody Just Bullied My Baby

My oldest daughter, Addie, is an incredible person. At ten years old, she is sweet and kind and generous to others.

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She loves Disney® Channel, Reece’s Pieces® and is gaming a force to be reckoned with on Sonic Dash. For just over a decade now, she has enriched her dad with a life full of “ups,” in spite of being born with Down Syndrome.

But somebody just bullied my baby. Not sure who thought they had the right spitting in the apple of my eye. But somebody just bullied my baby.

Some brigand in a back room somewhere, lambasted my little lamb with sinister, scathing words: “You’re stupid and dumb,” they began, and moved on from there. “Retarded.” “Ugly.” You fill in the blanks. Hate-filled speech that’s vomited out on playgrounds the world over, no doubt. But this time, the bully came hunting my baby.

Addie had to spend one of her lunchtime recesses in the principal’s office this week—a direct result of slapping some sense into this one ignorant bully. Her aggressor did some time too, but this dad couldn’t just leave it there.

Yesterday, I picked up the kids from school with a swagger in my step. This was an episode that warranted a celebratory ice-cream cone in my book. Principals have their principles. I have mine.

As we drove to McDonalds® for a frosted award, I affirmed my 40-pound little girl for sticking up for herself in the face of a bully more than twice her size. I told her she was beautiful and lovely, that she was special and smart, that she was the most precious of gifts to her dear old dad and that hateful words would never change that.

I spoke to my other kids too. About the values we believe in as a Tribe. About how we stick together when things get tough, and that we never allow one of us to face a foe alone. It’s been a core value in my house since we first started hanging pictures in it. In fact, we’ve written them down and hung them on the wall for all to see. There are seven in all, but on this day, all I could see was number six: “Our Name.”

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In my anger, I blurted out a Facebook post with that pesky little app that’s always a thumb twitch away. I popped off a bit and should have chosen my moment a little better, but I stand by my hashtags: #jonestribevalues #youshouldseetheotherguy

We value our name because it communicates our belonging in just one word: Jones. I reminded my kids as we walked under “the arches” that, “we never forget who we belong to,” that we are, “always loving, protecting and enduring any hardship…together.” No matter how big the bully gets, we face injustice head-on…together.

“Never let one of you stand by yourself,” I exhorted them as we licked. “The bullies will cower when you are courageous together.”

This is at the core of who I am. When a bully rears his ugly head near my house, Joneses circle the wagons. We always love. We always protect. We endure any hardship…together.

Now, I know violence isn’t the answer to every snub. I’m not condoning brawling as an approach to relationship building. In spite of my impetuous post, I don’t believe we should retaliate against unkindness with more of the same. And I believe there are plenty of reasons—scary, abusive reasons—why bullies exist in the first place. But before you start tossing out the “What Would Jesus Do’s,” make sure your point of reference isn’t a WWJD caricature of the real guy.

Most people flip a phrase like that with a particular (I would argue, skewed) picture of Jesus in mind. He’s the meek and mild guy. You know: white dude with a beard, blue sash and sandals. He’s diminutive and retiring. He’s a washrag of a man.

But you should see the other guy. WWJDers seldom reference the Jesus of the temple courts: table-flipper, whip-wielder. They’re uncomfortable with the Jesus who stood for Truth when it was on the line, unafraid to crack a couple heads and take a few names. They don’t think of Jesus in the face of the Revelation bully—Faithful and True—the King from the back of the Book. He’s not petting ponies in the pasture. He rides white stallions. His eyes burn like fire. His mouth is the sharpest of swords. He’s the guy with the tattoo on His thigh, burnished with “KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS.” (Revelation 19:16)

Now I’m not discounting the meek and mild Jesus. He is kind, gentle—the epitome of grace. Thank God He is. But that kind of love has more than one face. And you should see the other guy in action too.

There’s coming a day when an altogether loftier sort of Father is going to finally draw a line in the sand. The Lord Almighty, seated on His throne, will arise from His rest and slap ignorant evil full in the face, one final time. That’s what Dad’s do when their baby gets bullied.

So the next time you get carried away with the caricature of a mealy-mouthed Jesus, petting ponies in the pasture, read the last chapter of the Word that He left us. Because #youshouldseetheotherguy. And never again, when you’ve held hands with Dad, will you ever have to stand alone against the bully. You belong to Him. The Savior always loves, always protects, always endures any hardship your enemy musters against you. And THAT is the value of His Tribe.

What do you think? Leave a comment below.

Look to Dad

I walked up a long flight of stairs this morning. It took me a while to make it to the top, but I enjoyed every step. Because, you see, this morning I held hands with one of my favorite people all the way: Addison Grace.

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At age nine, Addie is my oldest daughter. She’s a little under four feet tall, but her personality’s as big as all out doors. She loves reading and tether ball and anything silly. She never meets a stranger and has a heart softer than any I’ve ever known. Addison was born with Down Syndrome and without equivocation, she’s the apple of her daddy’s eye.

This morning, I marched next to my little soldier into a challenging environment. A couple weeks ago we moved to a new house in the center of San Diego. We enrolled the kids in a new school too—one right down the street. But leaving the comfort and security of our previous place brought lots of additional challenges to the little ones. And Addie has struggled the most.

Different can be difficult, can’t it? Being the new blonde in the barrio is no walk in the park either. And Addie has wrestled this new transition in her own forty-five inch way. Dad was along this day to observe her new classroom, her new teacher, her new aid and her new friends. He was marching alongside to survey the land and underscore the truth that “Dad has your back!”

I watched as my diminutive darling jumped into her work, pushing her little glasses back on to her nose over and over. Biting her lip to scrawl out her spelling words, she would turn toward me after each one to see if I was still watching.

“I did it, Dad!” she would say. “You’re doing great, babe,” I would reply. And the entire time, I never missed a thing. I was standing just close enough to show my smile, a thumbs-up of encouragement and a wink of warmth as I watched in rapt attention.

Addie was working with her aide most of the morning. Between you and me, I’m not sure this lady’s going to work out. She’s gruff and preoccupied. She’s disinterested in Addie and Addie can tell. She exudes an attitude of distain and this dad takes a dim view of it. Within five minutes, the aide seemed as though she had somewhere more important to be. And Dad never missed a thing.

But over and over, as my daughter completed each direction, she would glance toward her dad for approval. And over and over, Dad delivered. Addie looked to her dad for support because she was sure—no matter how unpredictable her surroundings—that you can bet the rent money on Dad. Even if a soft look from others might be rare, she knows Dad loves and never stops loving.

A simple smile from Dad was enough for Addie today. All she really needs in all this world is the knowledge that her father waits in rapt attention of her every need. She can sigh in relief, in spite of the chaos all around her, because she knows Dad has her back.

It struck me, as I stood over that little desk this morning: I’m exactly the same way. Sometimes life throws enormous challenges into my path. Transitions are often very tough. And different can be difficult.

But no matter what my day holds, I have a Father prepared to patiently walk up the long flight of stairs with me. He marches beside me into the fray. And He is unafraid.

You may face disappointment or disdain, but your Dad takes a dim view of it in your defense. Glance toward the warmth of Who He is. He stands close to you, waiting in rapt attention of your need. And He never misses a thing. His faithfulness never subsides.

Life has thrown Addie some challenges. But the same dad that walked her up Stair Mountain this morning, walked her right back down in due time. Your Dad will do the same for you if you’ll only grab His hand.

Did you catch that wink? No matter what, you can be confident of this: Dad loves and He never stops loving. That is an enduring, eternal, unalterable fact. And you can bet the rent money on it.