“He has sent redemption to His people; He has ordained His covenant forever; Holy and awesome is His name.” Psalm 111:9
Redemption is sweet. And when I say sweet, I mean really sweet.
As many of you know, my wife Jennifer and I are expecting a little one any day now. Any day, as in, it could even be today. So if all of a sudden this blog post abruptly stops…
…just kidding. She hasn’t gone into labor yet.
I mean, this thing is imminent!
This pregnancy has been an amazing journey over the last nine months. Jenn and I have prepared for and enjoyed every second of this experience (even one moment at three months that would have been absolutely terrifying if God didn’t show up and do His thing). Jenn’s current pregnancy has been picture perfect in every meaning of the word, and we know the delivery is going to be perfect as well. It’s not just a feeling. We know. Papa is that good.
But we didn’t always know how good He was.
And we weren’t always so confident. In fact, if we were to examine our track record by the world’s standards, we would have every right to be terrified.
Good thing my wife and I, this pregnancy and our track record, aren’t judged by the world’s standards. We are judged by the standards of the Kingdom of God. And that is good indeed!
A little over three and a half years ago, Jennifer and I lost our first child, Kael. It was a perfect pregnancy, until ending in devastation at seven months. The day after Kael’s baby shower, attended by only family members and a few friends (since we had recently only arrived back in NC after living in New Orleans for five years), our son stopped moving in Jennifer’s womb. After hurrying to the hospital and undergoing tests, the doctors were perplexed. Kael’s heartbeat was strong, but he was not moving. After keeping us in the hospital and hooked up to fetal monitors for what seemed like an eternity, the surgeons decided that our baby was in distress and needed to be delivered immediately. On December 1st, 2010, Kael Evan Arrington was born two months premature via emergency Cesarean-Section. When I saw him being pulled from his mother’s womb, my heart leaped for joy…but I also knew something was terribly wrong. The cord was wrapped tightly around his neck. His beautiful little mouth and nose did not breathe in air. His eyes did not open. His arms dangled helplessly by his sides. As I snipped the umbilical cord, in what should have been a moment of fatherly triumph, I stood dazed as they performed emergency tests on his little body, all to no avail. Before I could even collect my bearings and process what was going on, they had whisked my newborn son away to the neonatal wing to begin the process of life-support and testing.
Can you imagine the agony I felt in telling my beautiful wife, who lay helplessly attached to numerous mechanical beeping devices and flooded with anesthetic and painkillers, that our newborn son was not moving, not breathing, not responding?
What was supposed to have been a wonderful home-birth at nine months had become the stuff of nightmares in a hospital at seven months.
Over the next five days, sleep was not something that came easy for Jennifer and I. Jennifer’s time was spent trying to deal with the physical and emotional trauma of what was transpiring. My time was spent attending to my wife and visiting family, doctors, interns, nurses…and spending as much time with my son as I could as he underwent test after test after test. Over and over again I had to explain what was going on to visiting friends and family, driving the nails deeper and deeper into my soul. We were at our breaking points. We were tired. Stressed to the maximum. All we could do was press on. It seemed as if our dreams were burning to the ground around us, and over and over again, I was having to give the play by play to a nightmare worse than anything I’d ever imagined. I wanted to just post a sign concerning what was happening, because boy was I getting tired of hearing everyone’s two cents on what to do. I had to constantly remind myself that everyone’s hearts were in the right place, but as your wife is lying in a hospital bed in pain and your newborn son lies hooked up to instruments to keep him alive four floors below, what can you do? People came by to give hugs, trying to tell me they understood, they felt my pain, that it would all get better in time. And I admit, every time those words came out of their well-meaning mouths I just imagined punching them in their well-meaning faces. I was hurt, angry, confused, lost. How in the world had this happened? What terrible thing had we done to deserve this? What had my little boy done?
My only anchor was my love for my wife and little boy. And it was all I could do to hang on.
As soon as Jenn could move about, we spent our nights in the NICU with our little boy. Every once in awhile we would need a breather, and as soon as a nurse or doctor came to check on our boy, I would push Jenn’s wheel-chair through the NICU, and we would look in on all the other little preemie babies laying alone in their beds. But we couldn’t let our little Kael lay alone. The hospital staff soon gave up trying to limit our time with our son. They realized the term “visiting hours” didn’t apply to us. They began making it as comfortable as they could as we spent every waking moment with our little Kael. He may have been unresponsive, but we knew he was there.
Some of the most well-known neonatal surgeons and neuroscientists in the country flew in and volunteered their time and service trying to help Kael’s condition improve. And every surgeon and neuroscientist was at a loss. Kael’s organs and body functioned…with one exception: aside from the basics of lower brain stem function, our son was brain dead. In the womb the umbilical cord had wrapped around his neck and choked off his circulation long enough to kill his brain, but not his body. The hospital staff could only shake their heads. We were the unlucky .0001%, the one out of a million pregnancies that had this happen.
Days of agonizing decisions loomed. Do we keep him on life-support and let him live with no quality of life, no real existence? Or do we take him off support? Already his body was beginning to wither away. In just a few days his physical body had become a mere shell of what it had been when he was born.
After making the hardest decision of our lives to take him off support, and even though we were not real Christians at this time, we had our son dedicated to God. I didn’t know why at the time that it was important, but before taking him off support we just knew it was the right thing to do. So as our families and close friends gathered around, my father, a minister, led a dedication ceremony for our little boy. And then Jennifer and I held our beautiful little man as he was placed gently into our arms to breathe the air of planet earth without the aid of the respirator for the first time. His lungs had repaired enough to breath shallowly, but his brain could not and would not continue to pull in enough air to survive. As his mother and I held him to our chests, we bathed him in kisses, we bathed him in love, and Kael Evan Arrington departed this world peacefully. He entered the world without a cry. And left with a whisper of breath. As his mother and I said goodbye, we felt his presence leave his body. The room became lighter. And we knew he was gone.
We refused to have a funeral, instead opting to choose a celebration of life. Our son had changed our lives. Jennifer and I had been forged closer, even through the pain, and we refused to mourn him as a loss. Cards and letters poured in from around the world. Apparently people as far away as Afghanistan had heard about our son’s brave fight and his life and death had inspired them to look at their lives in a new light. In just a few days of life, our little boy had changed the world more than his father or mother ever had. It was an honor to be his father and mother.
But our son was still gone. And Christmas and New Years loomed. We decided to hold our son’s ceremony in March instead of during the holidays. It was just too much for others to bear. Jennifer and I spent our holidays quietly at home, leaning upon each other in the belief that things could only get better.
Winter turned to spring, and in March we had a small private ceremony in a nearby park to say goodbye. At the conclusion of the ceremony, we released balloons in celebration of our little hero’s life. As the balloons drifted into the blue skies, Jenn and I were filled with bittersweet emotion. We were filled with sadness, yet also filled with hope. We didn’t know why, but we knew everything would be okay. It had to be. We just knew it would be. How? We had no idea. But we could only get there together.
As the balloons drifted into the sky, we held each other. We cried. We laughed. And we agreed that it was finally time to put our lives back together.
Now, fast-forward three and a half years.
Jennifer and I are at a clubhouse surrounded by over sixty loved ones and members of multiple churches from all over the area. The love in the room is palpable. Gift-wrapped boxes overflow tables and are piled on the surrounding floor. Banners, streamers and posters hang from the walls and windows. The sound of laughter and happiness drift in from the pool outside. Mouth-watering food and snacks cover the counter, as tunes from Jeremy Riddle, the Bethel Worship team, the Helsers, Sean Feucht and other talented and admired Christian artists bounce off the acoustically sound cathedral ceilings.
My wife is absolutely radiant…and is sporting a basketball shaped tummy. She is eight months pregnant.
And this scene is our baby’s “gender reveal” co-ed baby shower.
It is almost overwhelming, as Jennifer and I busily welcome our well-wishers, friends and family, some coming from hundreds of miles away. Just when I feel we are at maximum capacity, we are swept from the room and led to a large box sitting on the front lawn of the clubhouse. The box is covered with wrapping paper. Inside, we are told, is the revelation of the sex of our little one.
As we are surrounded by so much love and affection, Jennifer and I reach down and pierce the wrapping paper with our hands…and out comes a plethora of pink balloons!
“A girl! A girl! It’s a baby girl!” Jennifer and I, and the crowd, proclaim.
And as I kiss my wife, and as I turn to look at the beautiful pink balloons floating up into the sky, I feel the presence of the Lord fall upon me with a gentle smile. And my mind reflects on the last time Jennifer and I released balloons into the sky, to say goodbye to our son.
We have come full circle, and a chapter that had begun three and a half years ago comes to a close.
I lean in and whisper these thoughts to my wife, who happily grips me tightly in her arms. And with a quickly whispered prayer, we once again realize how good He is.
You see, redemption is spelled capital G-O-D.
Without our little son in our lives, Jennifer and I would not be where we are now. Through his loss, we came to know who God really is. Losing Kael, in many ways, was the beginning of our true Christian journey. Kael was the match that lit the trail of gunpowder that the Lord had wound through our lives throughout our years. Our little boy, our little Kael, who never uttered one physical word, is the one who helped the Lord explode our souls.
Our little boy. Jesus’ little helper.
Since coming to the Lord, Jennifer and I have traveled the globe for mission work, have spoken at churches and gatherings, have counseled those in need, have been integral parts of the churches we have attended and have seen the Kingdom of God unleashed in the lives of so many. I know for a fact that right now in India, there are those we have ministered to who have in turn gone on to create incredible ministries, reaching those in some of the darkest places of the world, revolutionizing cities and villages. And this is just the beginning. I do not say these things in pride. I say them as statements of fact to move to the following point:
Would all of this have happened without our little boy? I have to be honest and say, as far as I am concerned, probably not.
You see…Jennifer and I, and our little Rosie Joan (who is coming at any moment)…we are Kael’s inheritance. And so are all those that we have ministered to. And that, my friend, is redemption.
Don’t follow me? Let’s turn to the story of Stephen to illustrate my point.
I believe that the story of Stephen’s death, found in Acts, is one of the most incredible moments of triumph in the New Testament and is a linchpin, a kairos moment if you will, in human history (Acts 6-9). In fact, it is my belief, that all of history that has been touched by the Word of God turned on this singular moment in time.
Bold statement, I know, but let me explain.
The Book of Acts beats the heck out of 99% of movies ever made. Seriously. There are some summer blockbuster type adventures in the 28 concise chapters of Acts: Jesus being taken up into Heaven, violent winds filling rooms during prayer, tongues of fire descending on people, mass evangelism, mass riots, demonic attacks, angels breaking breaking people out of prisons, murders and martyrs, sorcerers, exorcisms, resurrections, people dropping dead for lying, shipwrecks…and I’m just scratching the surface. Why the heck is there no movie for the Book of Acts? Someone needs to get working on that. But I digress…
In Acts 6, a young man named Stephen who was full of God’s grace and power and who did many miracles in God’s name was pulled before the Sanhedrin for blasphemy, based on the testimony of false witnesses. With the face of an angel, Stephen, who has the Holy Spirit upon him, gives one heckuva summary of Israel’s wayward history to the Sanhedrin, which in turn convicts their spirits and seals his earthly doom. Stephen is hauled out of the city to be stoned to death. A young Pharisee named Saul of Tarsus stands by, consenting to the stoning of Stephen. Saul watches and approves the death of the young man, reveling in the execution. But as Stephen met his fate, witnessing of the Glory of the Lord, I cannot help but think of what effect Stephen’s death had on Saul’s eventual destiny. You see, Stephen’s last words were a prayer that those who were in the act of killing him would be forgiven. And God’s answer? After Stephen’s death, Saul begins to persecute local churches, and Saul’s name becomes known and feared throughout the land. Yet, as Saul is on the road to Damascus, Jesus appears to Saul and dramatically confronts him, which eventually turns the hard-hearted, murderous Pharisee into the greatest Christian missionary in the history of the world, Paul (Saul of Tarsus began to be known far and wide as Paul, his Roman name). This begs the question, if Stephen had not been pulled before the Sanhedrin and witnessed of the Lord in his dying moments, if Stephen had never prayed his prayer for forgiveness of those killing him, and if Saul of Tarsus had never seen and approved of Stephen’s death and becomes a persecutor of the church, it begs the question…would there ever have been a Paul? And what effect would that have had on the New Testament and the spread of the Gospel, since Paul wrote so much of it and traveled so far and wide?
That’s some pretty heavy stuff!
Now, in Heaven, do you believe that Stephen was angry with Saul of Tarsus due to his execution? Do you think that Stephen thought his life was wasted? Or do you believe that Stephen shouted out in victory when Jesus met Saul on the road to Damascus, which ultimately led to Saul of Tarsus becoming the apostle Paul? I’m pretty sure Stephen felt pretty amazed about his own death, knowing it led to the Kingdom of the Lord being spread to gentiles far and wide (and throughout the history of the world), knowing that it led to Paul’s letters (which obviously form a large portion of the New Testament), knowing that Paul in turn would influence Luke the physician who wrote the Gospel of Luke and the Book of Acts, and on and on.
If there was no Stephen, there may have never been a Paul. And if there was no Paul, would there have been a New Testament?
So you see, Stephen’s death, which produced great mourning and persecution at the time in believers throughout the region, was actually a tremendous moment of victory.
And in this way, Paul is Stephen’s inheritance. Paul’s works arguably would’ve never have existed without Stephen.
See how inheritance works in the Kingdom? I can only imagine what happened when Stephen entered Heaven. How awesome would it be if Jesus took Stephen into his arms, looked deeply into his eyes and said, “Hey brother, watch this. You just changed the entire world.”
And more importantly…all of it, everything that has ever existed, all things belong to Jesus as His inheritance, for all things have been redeemed through Him. Everything past, present and future…it has all been redeemed for Jesus for His glory. Everything is for Him and through Him.
I cannot count the times that people, upon finding out about our son’s death, have given us the “Oh my gosh, I am so sorry is there anything I can do” look, which is then proceeded by a long sigh. And it’s okay. I understand and I thank them for their concern. And yes, we miss our little boy. And yes, we still grieve for him in our way. But our little Kael changed our lives and our eternities, and in turn, the lives and eternities of others. And when I have that moment where I have the opportunity to tell people what our son did for us, how his life changed ours?
I don’t think there is a prouder daddy in the world than me. I’m so proud of my little man, who never uttered a single word, yet rocked the worlds of so many. And I know that we have eternity to catch up on the little time we’ve missed on planet Earth. After all, what is a lifetime but a flicker in God’s eyes?
Jenn and I, we are so honored that God chose us to be Kael’s parents. God always gives us what we need. We just have to have the right perspective to see it. In the moments after his loss, in pain and agony, we didn’t understand. But looking back, we see clearly. Looking back, Jennifer and I see how a moment of devastating loss became a kairos moment of triumph in the heavenly realm.
It is all about the aerial view. It is about being called higher. Its about inheritance.
And from that aerial view…redemption. And oh, it is so sweet.
What a wonderful world Rosie Joan is stepping into.
C’mon little girl.
Your mommy and daddy can’t wait to meet you.