Dear Friends and Family,
A couple of years ago, I ended my Christmas letter with this quote from Jim Elliott, a martyred missionary: “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep, to gain what he cannot lose.” I recommended that you contact me if you wanted to discuss this further and several of you took that opportunity to do just that. Hopefully, there are more of you out there who also want to see what I feel this means. I know! I know! This is supposed to be a Christmas letter. Well, I think this can very well fit win with the Christmas story! Please read on and see what you think.
To illustrate this quote, I’ll share with you a true to life illustration that happened just this past Easter Day. It was an Easter Day that I will never forget. The day began with Easter cookie surprises, a big breakfast, and great church service. It just seemed like such a nice sunny day. After lunch, Lori and I walked outside in the sunshine to see how everything was growing. We were admiring the growing aspen trees when the tranquility was shattered. Panicky and frightened yelling came from the back door. “Daddy! Mommy! Help! Something is wrong with Kristi!” we ran over to the back door and there lay our three-year-old. Her lips were blue, and her eyes were rolled back into her head. “Kristi! Kristi!” No response. Her breathing was shallow. I gently shook her and yelled out her name repeatedly. Still no response. “Amy where did you find her?” “I found her at the bottom of the stairs. I carried her to the back door. She did not move. I got scared and called for you.” All my medical knowledge did not help. Did she fall down the stairs? Was there bleeding into her brain? Why was she not responding? “Lori, call 911 now!” I truly felt that her life was slipping away, and I felt powerless to do anything. I knew then that what she needed was beyond me. Prayers poured forth. “God, Your little girl is dying. Your little girl is dying—please help her!”
I knew then that she truly was not mine, but God’s. I had previously given her to God and I know that He loves and cares for her far more than I can. I was ready for God to take her home if He wanted to. This really helped me to understand Jim Elliott’s quote. You see, if I held onto Kristi so hard thinking that she was mine, then I would have missed God’s peace. What else do I hold on to as if I can keep it and what eternal gains am I missing as a result?
I think that the recent terrorist attack has shaken everyone’s foundation. What are we putting our trust in? What are we holding on to? What we all once thought was fairly secure really is not. Jobs, stocks, money, our freedoms, our “rights,” our children, our lives. None of these are certain. People are searching for hope, for meaning, for peace, for security. Where can one find these? I feel that you will find these only beyond yourself—in the God who made this world. One who is not limited by death, evil, threats, or even time. One whose love is beyond measure. How much does God love you? Well, He gave His Son, Jesus for you. Our experience with Kristi has helped me appreciate what an act of love this was. May we all this Christmas season reflect on God’s great love for us that He would give us His Son. Jesus did not stop there. He went on, by laying down His life for us when He died on the cross. Why would Jesus do that? So that He could offer each of us the greatest gift if we choose to accept—eternal life with Himself—paid in full by His blood. Jesus showed us that not even death could hold Him captive. He is no fool to give (yourself) what you cannot keep, to gain (eternal life) what you cannot lose. Jim Elliott knew this well for he truly was killed for his faith. He had peace with his death. This calm assurance caused a spiritual awakening among the Auca Indians, casing many of them to put their trust in Jesus. I am praying that these uncertain times do the same—cause a spiritual awakening with many putting their trust in Jesus.
As always, here’s an update on each family member. Let’s begin with the newest first. Aaron was born on December 29, 2000. We found out why Lori had such a difficult time carrying Aaron. During the last several months, Lori would be walking and without warning the next second, she would be on the ground in pain and no repositioning seemed to help—just time—several minutes of time. What we found out after Aaron was born, is that Aaron loved to arch his head back looking over his left shoulder. He even slept in this position, so much so that his head grew a flat spot, most noticeable when viewed from the top. He even went to the Children’s Hospital to get checked out. Fortunately, he did not have to wear a helmet to remold his head. It may never be symmetrical, but he probably does not have to worry about that until he reaches my age when the hair falls out faster than grows in. He truly is a joy. I love watching him eating Cheerios. He is so into it, that he is oblivious to his surroundings. He reminds me of Pooh and his honey. Is first and the only word so far is a loud “Dadda.” What a smart boy!
Kristi (3 ½) is just talking more this year. She is still a bit hard to understand but can make up for some pretty funny things coming out of her mouth. She probably has the most nicknames. Early on she got the name “Kit” –probably because it was easier to say for someone. This got these variations, “Kit-Kat,” “Quit-Quat,” “Kitty.” For a while, she wanted to be called: “Kristi Akemi (her middle name.” She had trouble saying her name, so it sounded like “Twisty.” She answers to any or all of these. I used to like and still like to hear her tell me what her name is—you never know what you’ll hear. One day I was spending time with her and asked her, “What’s your name?” I got the strangest response: “Tommy John.” I asked her again, and again I got “Tommy John.” This puzzled me so later that day I asked Lori, “Did Kristi change her name? She says it is “Tommy John!” Lori laughed. Lori said, “She is trying to say “Akemi-chan” (“-chan I” is a suffix in Japanese for a little child). We both had a good laugh. You may get a good laugh too, just ask her what her name is.
Bethany (5) is still talking enough for all of us. She tells me that God wants her to be a missionary. I asked her how she knows that. She said it is because she found a penny in her bed. I didn’t’ ’t question her reasoning. I think that she may be right. God has gifted her with verbal abilities. I’ll just share one example. A group of African children, called the “African Children’s choir” came to our church. We were moved by their songs and efforts. We bought one of their tapes. Most of their songs are sung in English, but a few are sung in Swahili. Bethany listened to the CD once or twice and then without skipping a beat she is singing right along with them in Swahili. She wants to learn Spanish to tell others about Jesus. I think we’ve got a linguist on our hands—a singing one at that.
Stefanie (7 ½) used to be our middle child but now share the middle position. I find each child has certain areas that he/she excels. Stefanie is our best “babysitter.” She personally cares for them. When they are hurt, she is crying too and when they are happy, she is smiling right along. Lori and I usually have the evenings together once the children are down. Mornings together are a treat that usually only occur on the weekend—that is if we can get someone to watch Aaron boy after he is done nursing. Well, the only one we can truly trust and not worry about is our loving Stefanie. She doesn’t realize what a precious blessing she is. Generosity and caring are her strengths. She’ll give her last quarter to Jesus or to buy a birthday gift for her brothers or sisters. She was all of our nurse, when we all came down with the stomach flu. Unfortunately, even our nurse got ill so we “got” to care for her also.
Jonathan (8 3/4) loves his younger brother. They share a bedroom and that can take a lot of patience and at times means interrupted sleep. Aaron sometimes gets up too early, kicks his noisy crib and yells “Dadda” at the top of his lungs. If Jonathan ever learns to sleep through all that noise, then he’ll be able to sleep through just about anything. Jonathan loves competition and doesn’t like to lose, so he doesn’t’ let even me beat him at football. He is the man of the home when I am at work. Ever since he purchased his own leatherman-like pocket knife he has really taken this seriously. He’ll tighten any loose screw (well for 5 cents) and protects the front door during rest time, especially after we get a strange phone call. He is faithful in what he does. He watered three pumpkins during the dry summer and has three pumpkins 30-40 pounds each. He protects them even now and won’t even let us eat even one or them or eve roast the seeds. I hope can do that before they rot.
Amy (10 ½) is our oldest. It is neat to see her make her own game, complete with game pieces and game board, and to see each child so excited about it. I really appreciate her heart toward us and toward God. She strives to stay under our authority and that is not always easy since we are parents learning on the job. She still enjoys running and screaming with the little ones. There is a serious side to her also, trying to learn what it is to be a woman of God. I see those precious qualities developing in her—like mother like daughter. She has the best role model I know.
Lori has the heart which makes our house a home. I used to be somewhat offended when I heard someone say that women, in general, are more verbal, sensitive, better communicators, more relational than men. Then I watched her in action with the children and tried to do the same. Well, I have to admit that I can’t cook, listen to a child tell me their side of the story, answer the phone, and wipe a snotty nose all at the same time. I learned firsthand that women, at least my wife, is programmed differently than me. This works out well for our family. I am better at setting the family goals and goals for each child and Lori is great at filling in all the details. She also is my greatest supporter and encourager. She is a great wife and mother. This motivates me to strive to be the best husband and father.
Rich (42 ½) did convert our van to fit all8 of us, but he is still working on the bathroom. I have realized that there are areas in my life that I need to work on that have less well-defined end points and less clear directions on how to achieve them. Some of these are having a strong faith in God, have a great marriage, having each of our children believing and living for God. I had to make some very difficult decisions this year and my children helped me make what I feel are good decisions. Some of you may know the song, “Cat’s in the Cradle” by Harry Chapin. Some of the lyrics to the song are “Daddy when are you comin’ home? I don’t know when, but we’ll get together then, son. You know we’ll have a good time then.” You know my children ask me the same question and I found myself giving the same response, “I don’t know when” I do not want to look back on my life and have the same regrets that the father in the song had. At least my children haven’t written me off. I want to be there for them. I want them to grow up with a Daddy and a Mommy who really love each other. I want to pass on my faith in God to them. I realized that I can’t do that if I am not there. Even though I love my job and my patients, I know that my family comes first. What is work if I don’t have my marriage and my family? On September 1st I dropped being the team leader for our team. It was a hard decision, but it has allowed me more time with my family and I feel more refreshed to be an even better doctor at work. This year I learned that my nurse is also a Christian. We work very hard together and despite the heavy work load, I feel we provide a very unique caring approach to medicine.
As I began this Christmas letter my hope for each of you is to “give what you cannot keep, to gain what you cannot lose.” There are some things in life that are certain, and one of them is not taxes, it is God’s love. It is waiting and available for you. God does not force you to love Him, because He wants you to love Him because you chose to freely. As Joshua said, “Choose this day who you will serve, but as for me and my household we will serve the LORD.” (Joshua 24:15). May this Christmas season be a time of reflection in your life, a time to marvel at God’s great love and a time to set your course for the future. Who knows what the future holds, so we should live each day in thanksgiving and without any regrets.
Rich (for Lori, Amy, Jonathan, Stefanie, Bethany, Kristi, and Aaron)