- Does Finding a Cure Mean Taking a Life? -

Social media has been flooded recently with videos of the “ice bucket challenge” to support ALS research. Over the past few days, I have also seen several people opting out of the challenge because ethically, they cannot get behind the methods of research used in relation to ALS (also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease). As I read these statements, I became unsettled with the cut-and-dried information that says because we don’t agree with this act, it must be wrong. The answer cannot be that simple however, when it comes to creating new life vs. sustaining and improving current life. So I started researching, digging through peer-reviewed journals and resources posted by those actually conducting the research. What I found was heavy but important, it both enlightened me and left me standing without solid answers.

We live in a generation of information overload and can quickly be succumbed to believing a headline or article we have read and then pouring out our opinions about said topic without investing time to look further into the facts. I, myself, am guilty of this. When it comes to embryonic stem cell research, I have never questioned what that means, why it’s important, and what it can do for our world. I have only followed the crowd that preaches this as an inconceivable act of taking a life in order to perform such research. But is it really so simple?

As a Christian and a biomedical science enthusiast, I felt the need to write about my findings here. However, my intent is not to share my opinion about when life begins or even about embryonic stem cell research. The only agenda I plan to push is the one of being well informed. My goal is to provide information about stem cell research that many may not know. There is also another reason I am writing; it is not to change or even challenge those who view these studies as evil, but to present the possibility that when it comes to the nature of this type of research, perhaps the answer is not as black and white as we perceive. Perhaps there is more to think about than what we read on social media or hear on the news.

Why Human Embryonic Stem Cell Research?

This method of research was birthed when scientists discovered the ability to isolate and grow human embryonic stem cells (hESCs). This classification of cells is unlike any other part of the human body and they offer researchers a new path to learn about the nature of many diseases that plague our species. This is because these cells have the potential to develop into various organs and tissues in the body. “In the 3- to 5-day-old embryo, called a blastocyst, the inner cells give rise to the entire body of the organism, including all of the many specialized cell types and organs such as the heart, lung, skin, sperm, eggs and other tissues” (source). Researchers have come to find that many devastating diseases begin at this early stage of cell grow and thus, they can use these cells to study how a disease develops and potentially find new treatments.

In the majority of clinical trials, embryonic stem cells come from embryos that are donated following in vitro fertilization (IVF). When a couple undergoes IVF, several eggs are fertilized at one time and after the family unit has been completed (ie: the couple does not want any more children) there are various options available for the remaining embryos:

  1. They can be thawed and discarded (thus resulting in the loss of the embryo)
  2. The couple can pay to have the embryos stored indefinitely (estimated at $2000 per year)
  3. They can donate the embryos to another couple for IVF or adoption purposes
  4. The embryo can be donated to research to find potential treatments for a variety of diseases (source)

It was estimated in 2003 that there are roughly 400,000 embryos in storage at fertility clinics (source). Another complicated question to add to this discussion is, what do we do with all these embryos? If they were all created with the intention of developing into infants and coming forth into the world, there would be a new set of challenges to conquer. The view of some may be to reduce the number of embryos created during IVF, or eliminate the opportunity for IVF all together, but we live in a fallen world where 1 in 10 couples are infertile and I question if it is the responsibility of any one person to decide to fate of all these families.

In addition to receiving donated embryos after fertility treatments, researchers have also obtained the needed embryonic stem cells through fertilization within the lab and on a rare occasion, from those that were donated following an elective abortion. Here again, to state that the answer is to eliminate the mechanism for which humans can create life or to ban women from receiving abortions in our country will not solve the problem, it only reminds us that there is no simple answer in this case.

So, why use human embryonic stem cells? Surely there is an alternative. Scientists are vigorously looking for an alternative, but at this point nothing has proven to be as promising as those tiny masses of cells. Adult stem cells can be useful to a degree, when the needed therapy is related to a specific tissue or organ (this has been used often in researching certain blood and neural diseases). In addition, researchers have developed a method that will reprogram adult stem cells to become embryo-like cell in which they can derive a greater variety of organ and tissue cells (called iPS cells). The difference is that true embryonic stem cells can live and grow in a lab for years, whereas these new technologies are less adaptable. Alternative solutions may be discovered in the future but currently, there is no comparable organism.

The Ultimate Dilemma

Thus far, I have provided information about what it means to use human embryonic stem cells in research and why it is so important. The therapies and treatments that may come as a result of this research could help those suffering from a vast range of diseases, many for which there currently is no treatment or cure. Here is a list of the current projects underway at California’s Stem Cell Agency, which are all making progress due to the use of hESCs: Alzheimer’s disease, amyotrphic lateral sclerosis (ALS), autism, blindness, brain tumors, leukemia, melanoma, sarcoma (cancer of bone and soft tissues, generally arising in children and young adults), cancer (general), deafness, type 1 diabetes, heart disease, HIV, Huntington’s disease, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, sickle cell anemia, spinal cord injuries (paralysis), and stroke (improved recovery).

As previously stated, my intent is not to push an agenda and I am not stating that I agree one hundred percent with the nature of such research. Yet, I look at the list above and think about those I know who are or have struggled with any of the listed conditions and I have to take a step back. This is where things get messy; this is why we cannot proclaim an easy answer to this dilemma. If we are completely honest, taking a stand against embryonic stem cell research ultimately means taking a stand against promising research that may provide a cure for many life-threatening diseases. If one life is not more important than another, and the life of the embryo could save thousands of other disease-stricken lives, should we refrain from using it? I don’t believe there is a simple yes or no answer. But I believe it’s something to think about.

One Final Thought

Let me steer off the science path for a minute as I pose this next question. Much of the backlash in this debate comes from the Christian circle because we believe that God is the creator of all life and even the tiniest of embryos is a life that He has chosen and foreseen to exist. Here’s my question, is it possible these embryos were created by God for the purpose of participating in research that could save thousands of lives? Our Lord is mysterious and wild in His ways; therefore, I am not convinced any of us here on Earth can know the specific purpose for which each life was created.

We live in a broken world full of complex problems and the solutions can often times land in a gray area of morality. To hold tight to perceptions without knowing the entire story is to potentially fall into error. But to be educated on subject, to know what and why things are the way they are, and then to make a well-informed decision with that knowledge – that is power. I say again, the purpose of this article is not to push an agenda when it comes to human stem cell research. I believe your support or lack of support is a personal decision, and I’m not here to judge what you chose to follow. However, I will push the agenda of being educated and making sure you know in full what you are getting behind, especially when it comes to the oversaturation of opinions on social media. If I have caused one person reading this to think more deeply and research more thoroughly, then I consider this piece a success.

The End.

- A Prayer for the Waiting -

I’ve been sifting through the drafts in my posts file, looking for things left unsaid to see if now is the time to complete one of those thoughts.  With all the transition around our home, it has left little room for me to reflect and process. How do you enter that tiny creative corner of your mind between 30 minute naps and piling dishes?  I’m still trying to figure that one out.

For now, I found this from 2012.  And I needed to share it today.  This was my prayer for so many years.  I am reminded daily that, in spite of the joy our sweet little blessing has brought to us, there was a time when it was hard. There was a time when all seemed hopeless.  Any many are still in that place for one reason or another.

So today, this prayer is for you, sweet friends.

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Today, may you see the sunshine.

May your heart be lifted.

May you know His love and feel His presence.

That He would provide gentle reminders.

You are not forgotten.

Not forsaken.

But being shaped for His good work.

Amen

~ Where I Have Been Lately ~

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That sweet face belongs to our son, Nathaniel.  He unexpectedly entered our lives through adoption just over three months ago.  And I have since been on a bit of a vacation, or what some parenting books call the “fourth trimester”.  Hence, the silence here on the blog.

For the past fourteen weeks I’ve done little more than hold, feed, rock, sing to, and change diapers for this little guy.  My definition of productivity has done a complete one-eighty.  My long lists of task items have been thrown out the window.  The new look of a productive day is clean bottles on the counter and dinner on the table (or at least near the table).  It’s new and it’s hard.  But it has been gloriously freeing to learn to live this way.

I truly had NO IDEA how demanding and time-consuming a newborn can be.  It was my understanding that they slept a lot, like all the time.  No one told me the 18-20 hours they slept came in sporadic chunks with screaming fits of hunger in between. Continuing to pour out love and attention to this boy while running on empty has certainly stirred up new things in my soul.  I feel like I have learned more about myself in the past three months than ever before.

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The greatest lesson, or more so realization, I have encountered is that I am capable of change.  Big change.  For years I thought I would be a super scheduled parent because that is who I am, scheduled.  Every event and task was carefully planned out.  A last minute change in plans would send me down a bad, scary road (sorry, hubs).  I have functioned this way my entire adult life, I didn’t think there was any other way to be.

Then he came into my life and he turned things upside down with his gut-wrenching cries and heart-melting smiles.  We read parenting book after parenting book and ultimately decided what was going to be best for our family.  We decided to do it differently.  No schedule.  No plans.  No task list.  Just day by day, meeting the needs of our son to the best of our ability.

It has been hard.

It has been amazing.

By choosing to have no expectations for the day, by NOT having plans, I have found the parent I had always hoped to be.  Patient.  Kind.  Loving.  It’s when I start to build my task list that I see another side of me come out.  Frustration.  Anger.  “Why won’t he just take a nap already?!”  This child has forced me to slow down, to be present, to ask hard questions and wrestle with answers I didn’t know were there.

For that, I am thankful.

Will we always be able to live this way?  Unscheduled.  Unbound.  Free.

I don’t know, but I sincerely hope so.

As things begin to settle down, I find myself processing through more thoughts and making more time to write.  I miss it.  I need it.  So, I hope to be back fairly regularly to share what I’m learning, what God’s doing in our lives.

Until next time, may you each find rest and joy in the days ahead.

Disclaimer:  Since I have ventured into this world of parenting, I have been shocked and appalled at the criticism and judgment that abounds.  I firmly believe it is up to each individual family how they will parent their children.  My intention in writing about our own lessons in parenting is not to say I have found this one method every person should conform to.  I do not believe in a “one size fits all” parenting style.  If you disagree with how we choose to do things, that’s ok.  If I offend you by something I say about our own parenting practices, I apologize.  If there is one thing I have discovered that every single mom and dad need, it is encouragement.  And I hope we can all be that resounding voice of love for one another. 

- When You’re Ready to Start Living -

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As each year comes to an end, I have found it helpful to reflect on where I have been and what I’ve done.  This year-end meditation encourages me to think of a word that will define my next year, something I can reflect on and strive for, something to keep me in check mid-spring when I suddenly forget all that I’ve been learning.

My word for this past year was “contentment,” but honestly, as I look back I am not sure I actually achieved a new level of contentment.  Yes, I spent a lot of time trying to find it, and many hours worrying about it.  But rarely did I feel an acceptance of our current stage of life, rarely did I feel content.

I believe the word that best defines this past year is “expectance.”  We were expecting, anticipating a lot of changes these last few months.  Much of my time was spent in waiting, asking God what I needed to do to prepare for this next big thing – whatever that thing would be.  And in retrospect, I feel like I missed many moments of living because I was so caught up in the waiting.

This has led me to a word for 2014, “abundance.”  I want to make space for God to move in my life, in ways I didn’t even know were possible.  Too much energy has been spent planning and worrying about the future, rather than sitting at His feet and cherishing the present.

Here it is:  I am tired of living my life in waiting. I no longer want to put off this or that simply because we are not sure what the future will hold.  I can worry about what will happen six months from now, or I can realize that six months from now may never come – so what do I want to do with today?  What does right now hold for me?

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Perhaps if I get quiet and make extra space for Him in my life, maybe then I will see that my existence is about more than just waiting for the next big thing.  It’s possible that in those moments of stillness He will allow me to see that my life is already complete, that I can live it abundantly NOW – not someday.  This year, and for years to come, I want to live life more than I want to wait for life to happen.

I want to spend time doing things that fill my soul – those kinds of things that are like a deep tissue massage for the heart.  I want to laugh hard and sleep deeply.  I want to chase the impossible without expectation.  I want to fill my mind with information that excites me and put effort into tasks that challenge me in the most pleasant way.

I think I am finally ready to spend more time giving thanks for what I have, rather than planning for what I think I am missing.  God has given me this one life and I am ready to start living it!

Won’t you join me?

- A Christmas Promise -

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IMG_9104Sometimes life simply does not make sense.  When things don’t happen as one would have hoped and there are no logical reasons to explain it.  When you have done every possible thing a faithful person can do, but Jesus doesn’t show up. At least not in the hour you expected Him.

Yet, I’m finding more and more than when life doesn’t make sense, I still can trust that God is up to something.  Because time and time again, that’s how He has done it.

Like that night He sent a baby to save the world, and it took thirty-something years before it all came to be.  How many faithful, trusting people looked to the skies during those years and asked God what He was doing?  I imagine there were many.

But in the end, He kept His promise.  And now we celebrate this crazy, unexplainable way He chose to set His people free.  And thus, we are reminded that we can always trust Him to keep His promises.  Even when nothing makes sense.

This Christmas we are fighting hard to hold onto His promises.  And praying for those who I know are feeling the same way.  The Lord offers abundance where beds and hearts lay empty.  May we find joy and peace as we remember the gifts He has given.

1″Shout for joy, O barren one, you who have borne no child;
Break forth into joyful shouting and cry aloud, you who have not travailed;
For the sons of the desolate one will be more numerous
Than the sons of the married woman,” says the Lord.
2″Enlarge the place of your tent;
Stretch out the curtains of your dwellings, spare not;
Lengthen your cords
And strengthen your pegs.
3″For you will spread abroad to the right and to the left.
And your descendants will possess nations
And will resettle the desolate cities.
4″Fear not, for you will not be put to shame;
And do not feel humiliated, for you will not be disgraced;
But you will forget the shame of your youth,
And the reproach of your widowhood you will remember no more.
5″For your husband is your Maker,
Whose name is the Lord of hosts;
And your Redeemer is the Holy One of Israel,
Who is called the God of all the earth.
Isaiah 54:1-5

- The Courageous One -

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Fall has arrived.  This season fills me with joy.  The colors.  The cooler weather.  The anticipation of Christmas.  It’s all quite magical.

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Fall also brings about a quietness that I have been craving.  I have been waiting for a moment of rest to gather my thoughts and just breathe in the day.

Our current season of life is quite possibly the busiest one I have ever experienced. Interestingly, I can’t even remember why it’s been so busy.  I know there was a lot of traveling, and job planning, and family planning.  Paperwork, to-do lists, packing and unpacking. It’s all a bit of a blur now.  And when life gets full, my mind is messy and I have trouble sorting through my thoughts.

But I need to process and I’m feeling burdened to share what I am learning during this busy time.  I want to allow these lessons to be more than words, to change me, even when that terrifies me.

Courage has never been a characteristic I would use to describe myself.  I am not brave or strong, I have many fears and a lot of anxiety.  But I see courage differently now than I did in the past.  Before, I thought someone who was courageous was someone who was not scared of anything.  They could look my greatest fears dead in the eye and laugh, as I stood there with shaking knees.

I have always thought of myself more as a coward than courageous.  I am not a risk taker, I play it safe, I carefully plan out the routes of least resistance.  To me, it’s practical and even smart.  But it’s not courageous.

Then I started reading stories of people doing courageous things, stories that spoke of their fear and their resistance, and ultimately their submission to a path they would not have chosen on their own.  To me, they are courageous for the things they are doing.  But they were not fearless as they sought out the plans God had.  Some fought and hid, some cried and yelled in anger.  Could this truly be the behavior of a courageous one?

My eyes were opened to the possibility that having courage was completely different than what I had previously thought.

Courage is not the absence of fear, but the act of moving forward in spite of fear.

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This realization washed over me and spoke such freedom to my soul.

Our current life happenings are the exciting kind of terrifying that my mind just doesn’t know how to process.

Because that’s just it, we are terrified.  We got a message that the foster care agency will be finishing up our approval process this week.  After that comes the children.  Children we have never met, who will be dropped off in our living room with few things and little information about where they’ve been.  We will be left alone to parent these children who need so much.

That alone is terrifying.

Yet, what scares me most is the impending change that will come from this journey. The end will be beautiful, we’ll be molded into new people, more like Jesus. But the process will be brutal, as we learn what it truly means to lay down our lives for another.

This may be the closest I will ever come to the labor of birthing a child. I fully expect the emotional pain we will experience to be similar to the physical pain of childbirth. After a time of waiting and anticipating, there will be stretching and ripping and tears and “I can’t do this anymore.”

My fear is that our labor will not last three hours or even 20.  But could last for years and years to come. The question that looms is, “are we enough?”

Can we handle this?

And the answer is no, weren’t not enough, we’re merely human full of flaws and doubts and selfishness. But God is enough and I believe He will make a way if we allow Him to do the stretching and ripping that’s required to bring about new life.

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It was said very well at church a few weeks ago; some people have calm, beautiful adoption stories and that is wonderful.  Some people have broken, difficult, terribly challenging stories and that is also beautiful.  Those broken stories are no less the footprint of God than the other.

And if we find ourselves on a dark, dreary road it does not mean we have taken a wrong turn somewhere and are no longer following the plans He has for us.  It simply means this is how God has chosen to mold us into His disciples.  This is how He has decided we will learn daily to die for those we love.

Jesus, make us courageous.

- Answering the Big Question…Sort of -

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We hear it several times a week these days.  It’s the natural response to our current situation and easy to understand why people keep asking us…

“What now?”

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Two weekends ago, my husband graduated from college.  Four years ago, he decided to go back to school finish his Bachelor’s degree.  Much to my amazement, it all went by very fast.

And with the completion of a big step like this comes curiosity.  Everyone wants to know what is coming up next.  What dreams are we going to chase?  What places are we going to see?

The short answer is, we have absolutely no idea.

If we were to take a “traditional” route, we can see two options:  1)  apply for jobs in his field of study all over the country (because there are zero in our town) or 2)  apply for a job in our town, doing something different than what he’s been training to do for the past four years.

There are some appealing aspects of each option, such as a stable job.  But whoever said life should be stable?  And whoever said we are traditional?

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The problem we face is that we simply don’t have a clear answer from the Lord regarding what we are supposed to be doing.  We know our life should look like the Kingdom and not like the world, but does that really clear anything up?  In many ways we feel like we are staring down a long hallway full of possible doors to walk through, without one single flashing sign to guide us.  There are days I long for such clarity.  For a God who would write it on the bathroom mirror, impossible to miss.

As we have talked and talked and talked, and traveled to conferences, and talked some more, we realized there is only one thing we are sure of right now.  We’re not sure about next year or even tomorrow, but we are sure of what is in front of us today.  And that is, how blessed we have been to find a community of believers who know what it is to love each other, look out for each other, and push each other to be the people God created us to be.

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These are people who gladly open their home for an entire day to host a graduation party.  They allow complete strangers to take over their kitchen, rummage through their cabinets, leave the yard in disarray, and at the end of the night say thank you for allowing them to host.

These are people who drop everything to babysit a child whose sibling is ill, give their Saturday afternoon to cleaning and moving a friend into their new house, rally around those who are hurting to provide comfort and care.  They give their time, money, energy, and every available resource to one another.  All for the sake of the Kingdom.  All because they have allowed God to teach them what it means to live life together.

It may not sound like much.  There are a lot of really great folks out there.  God is doing miraculous things all over the world through His people.  But for whatever reason, we believe God has big things in store for this particular group of people and we’re eager to see what He does through them, and with us.

So for today, we are staying right where we are.

We know that to remain in a certain location in order to be near a group of people who are not biologically related to us sounds strange.  It’s certainly not traditional.  Especially when that choice means taking risks and letting go of stability.  But it feels like the Kingdom.  It feels like trusting God and allowing Him to show us how He wants to use us.  And it certainly feels like something a disciple would do.

It’s not all rainbows and butterflies though.

Slowing down is hard.  It means more waiting.  We have no certainties, no guarantees.  We often feel restless and wonder what exactly God has planned for us.  But what a blessing it is to have a community of people who also wrestle.  Who will wait with us, pray with us, and encourage us.  And these same people will someday send us out into the world, if that is where we need to be.

So we strive to be present.  To look around us, take a deep breath, and one more step forward.

Tomorrow everything could change.  Five years from now, things will surely look very different than they do today.  But today is all we have.  And today this is what we’re doing.  This is our “what now?”

Your support and prayers would be greatly appreciated! 

- Holding on to a Wild, Merciful God -

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Three weeks ago we attended a service to honor the life of a friend who had passed away, after a two year battle with cancer.  For three weeks I have been trying to put into words what we experienced there.  It was the most tangible encounter of the Lord I believe we have ever been a part of.  How does one describe that moment when God is just there?

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IMG_9585 IMG_9588We met Ryan the first summer Jeff and I worked at camp.  He was the boys counselor at the ranch, the one where we would spend countless hours pouring into the lives of young campers, where we learned about being intentional and what it means to lean on the Lord when you have nothing left to give.  Jeff and Ryan clicked immediately as they both possessed an innate desire for adventure and confrontation.  Many nights they were up late talking about God and relationships.  The wisdom that poured out of such a young yet level-headed man still astounds me today.  He is deeply ingrained in the story of “us”, since it was that summer Jeff and I decided life was better when we were with one another.

Ryan was one of those people we just always felt close to, even from afar.  The journey his family has been on dealing with cancer and learning what it looks like to see life through an eternal lens has been inspiring and humbling.  We love him dearly and it was sad to see him taken from this world.  But the joy that we feel knowing our friend is now sitting at the feet of Jesus changes our perspective on death, and life.

IMG_9594That brief trip to Michigan was equal parts heavy and wonderful.  Ryan’s death brought together a group of friends who have a connection that can only be understood by those who have done the camp thing.  Something magical happens when you spend three months living day in and day out with other people.  You learn everything there is to know about them.  You learn how to encourage them in their strengths and how to confront them lovingly in their faults.  It’s a bond that could allow us to see folks we have rarely spoken to in the past nine years, yet gather and commune like no time has passed.

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What I most readily held onto as we shared memories of camp, of Ryan, and talked about what God has been doing, is the reminder that the battle is won. God has won. He always wins.  It was evident there, in that service.  It was evident in the hearts of the people who came to show their love and support.  Those who celebrated Ryan’s life with joy and gave thanks to the Lord for the things He has done.  Something that Satan tried to use to crush the souls of many people, God made it for good.  God used this heart-wrenching tragedy to bring life to others.

The Lord is unpredictable and wild, yet merciful beyond compare.  Never before have I seen such truth revealed.  Through the life and death of a man, God showed His glory.  Thanks be to God.

The videos of the memorial service are posted on their blog.  I challenge you to take the time to watch.  And to allow yourself to be changed.

How do you trust a wild, untamed, merciful God?  That’s how.

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