EVERYTHING IS NEW

The story of how our daughter, Cara Liana, came to us. 
For the backstory, read Tragic Joy.

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“It’s fun to be a zombie.” I texted my friend, Jonathan. “Sleep while you can,” he replies. “Get ready for sleepless nights.” And he’s right. Cry. Comfort. Nurse. Burp. Poop. Change diaper. Pee. Change diaper again. Nurse. Comfort. Sleep. I text Jonathan back, “Our little baby is teaching us all about the nocturnal lifestyle.” The last two weeks have been a whirlwind.

Two weeks? How did that time fly by so quickly anyway? It seems like Cara Liana was just born yesterday. And I know I will be saying the same thing in a few moments, when I’m dancing with her, cheek to cheek, I’m crying with joyful pain, smiling with sorrow and sweetness as I give her away on her wedding day.

Time is like that. “Slow days. Fast years.” That’s what my brother told me on the phone when he called me the other day in St. Luke’s Hospital. Treasure the moments, even if you feel like a zombie.

On December 22, Lorna could barely wait any longer. It was one day before her due date, but all the side effects of a post surgery pregnancy had accumulated to intolerable proportions. “Call Doctor Tan. I think we need to schedule a C-section.” I hated seeing my wife in pain—swollen legs, dizziness, carpal tunnel syndrome. I began to dial Doctor Tan’s number when from the bathroom Lorna said with a calm excitement, “David, my water just broke!”

Her labor seemed eternal. Eighteen hours overnight until one pm on December 23 when they wheeled her away to the delivery room and told me to get changed into my scrubs. But they would not let me inside the room for forty-five minutes. “We will call you when we are ready.”

I was frustrated. I knew she needed me. I squirmed in my aluminum chair, gazing anxiously down the long hallway toward the delivery room. Inside, the nurses were taking turned elbowing Cara downward. She was stuck. Three different nurses announced that the doctor may have to do a C-section. We can deal with that, I thought, but after eighteen hours of labor? It felt like there was a porcupine inside my belly.

Finally, Doctor Tan arrived. “Before I do a C-section, I’m going to try one last thing. I need to use forceps to pull the baby out.” I did not say anything as I followed him down the long hallway, my mind trying to reject ugly images of all the horrible possibilities.

When I walked into the delivery room, I was surprised by the mysterious placidity in Lorna’s deep, beautiful eyes. God was there in the midst of terror. I kissed her on the forehead. I tried not to cry. I have to be strong for her. I cried.

Push! Doctor Tan pulled with his fifteen inch forceps. Nothing. Push! Baby was stuck. Fifty more times, Push! It seemed like forever, when suddenly a bluish baby with elongated head emerged, upside down, quiet, much too blue, I thought, and why is she not crying yet? The doctors laid Cara on mommy’s breast, and finally the cry came. I remembered to breathe then, gasping for air at the same rapid pace as my infant miracle baby.

Lorna cried. Baby cried. I looked at Cara Liana and was surprised how much her tears looked like mine. After years of waiting and hoping and yelling at God and hoping some more and giving up and then hoping again, there she was, bloody and beautiful, our own baby girl! Our little family of three hugged and laughed tears together.

But Lorna’s long eighteen hour labor had taken a toll on both mommy and baby. The doctors were afraid that Lorna and Cara may have been exposed to infection during the labor process, so they were both given antibiotics. They monitored Cara for two days, hoping that her color would return to normal. Satisfied enough, they released us from the maternity ward on Christmas Day.

“What an incredible Christmas gift!” I said. Lorna agreed. “She’s our little stocking stuffer!”

We went home, only to rush her to the emergency room thirty minutes later as her temperature spiked and skyrocketed. Thirty minutes. It was a short lived Christmas jubilation.

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She was admitted to the neonatal intensive care unit. For one week we worried about our miracle baby as her tiny immune system struggled with the help of antibiotics to fight neonatal sepsis. I cried as I gazed through the glass as she slept with IV’s in her foot under the blue luminescent photo therapy lamp.

How could this have happened? After nine years of marriage, five failed intrauterine insemination procedures, Lorna’s stage four endometriosis, laparoscopy and hysteroscopy surgery, and one final successful IUI, there she was in critical condition. She laid there placid opposite the glass, then squirmed ever so slightly. A bitter tear streaked down my cheek, wet and salty. I was angry and confused. I was sad. I was mad at God, mad with an underlying hope and love.

But should it have been any different? Isn’t this the story of Lorna’s and my life? Doesn’t joy and victory always arise from tragedy to defeat all odds on such a regular basis that I should be used to this by now?

Her color slowly began to return. Her jaundice left. Her temperature stabilized. Daddy and mommy smiled with relief and an underlying current of fear that the infection would return.

From Christmas day till December 31st Cara was admitted at the hospital. She was released on New Year’s Eve so that we could wake up at home the next morning from a bad dream to everything new on New Year’s Day. Vitamin D poured through the morning sun rays, and fell on the face of our little baby girl. Her cheeks squinched, and her upper lip curled into a smile. Our nine day old baby looked at Lorna and I as if to say, “Don’t worry, mommy. Don’t cry, daddy. I’m here now. I’m yours.” But we cried anyway, cried with delight and sacred awe. We were stunned and spider-webbed in a moment of fragile bliss, fearful that it might pass too soon.

“Slow hours. Fast years.”

We laid her little body between us on the bed, kissed each other, and were silent. But it was a deafening silence, one in which our heartbeats thumped out of our chest to the rhythm of an ethereal symphony.

January 1, 2013, the day everything became new.

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EMMANUEL IN THE MIDST OF UNCERTAINTY

This is a blog originally published by my wife, Lorna, in December, 2011. Her writing is always so touching and inspiring because she writes from a deep place of honesty and transparency. I am honored to give you a window into her heart.

See original blog here, by Lorna Joannes @lornajoannes

Two Christmas’s ago, David and I went to the United States to celebrate with his family. We had a wonderful time. That same year, earlier in 2009, we were able to set up three more underground Bible training centers, but we suffered a lot of difficulty in China—from persecution to sickness, and near death experiences. It was also that same year that we published the inspiring Ako Ay Pilipino coffee table book, which took only 13 weeks from conceptualization to publishing. When December came, we were exhausted.

Most of us have experienced it: after a big project is finished—a big success or accomplishment obtained—everything slows down, and your adrenaline plunges. The physical tiredness combined with emotional exhaustion was very real. I felt broken inside and was not ready to go back to the mission field.

I knew that we were on the right track, but questions lingered in my mind. “I know this is what we are supposed to do, but is God really with me?” I wondered. “Are you with me, God?” We often ask these kinds of questions, especially when there are serious challenges along the path of the journey. They are valid questions. God knows the frailty of humankind, and He understands the questions that comes from deep within a man or woman. It is okay. He is not offended.

After weeks of speaking at churches and fund raising around America, a friend invited to us to go to her church. In only a few days we would return to China. We decided to attend.

We met the pastor and people in leadership before the service, where there were about 300 people, but we did not know anyone beside the friend who invited us. The worship was great. The presence of the Lord was there. Suddenly, just before the worship ended, they called us to the front to pray for us. It was very encouraging. People we have never met before were praying for us. As the prayer ended, a lady came up to me. I was surprised as she held my hand and put a gold ring on my right ring finger. She said, “This is my ring, made of broken jewelry, with my name engraved on it. The Lord told me to give it to you.” I looked down and saw the word “Manuela”. She continued, “My name is taken from the word Emmanuel, which means God is with us. God wants to tell you that He is with you, and He has never left you. He told me to give you this ring to remind you of this promise”.

As I stood in front of the 300 people present, I began crying. It was a heavenly moment, a confirmation that God’s presence was given to me. I knew in my heart that He was always there, but to hear a confirmation of the exact answer to my questions earlier that day was mind blowing.

That day, God gave me a promise ring. I’ve never seen Manuela again. I have never been able to get ahold of her. I know it is not easy to give a precious ring to someone you have never met before. I felt like she was an angel sent to comfort me, to remind me of what Emmanuel really means, and to confirm God’s promises so that we could continue our journey. To this day, I am still wearing the ring. Wherever you are, dear sister, I am so thankful for your obedience.

As you read this blog, it is about 10 days before Christmas, and only 16 days before the start of 2012. You might also have similar questions and wonderings going on in your mind. Or you may be facing some struggles like David and I were. They are normal. Wherever you are at this point, hold on to the promises enclosed in this name: Emmanuel.

As you evaluate this whole year that has sped by—as you see your accomplishments and areas that need improvement—remember one thing: Emmanuel. God is always with you. He was with you in the past, He’s in every detail of your future, and He knows whatever you are undergoing at present.

In the Chinese underground Church, it is common to greet one another or say goodbye with these words, 以马内利 (yi ma nei li), which means Emmanuel. They understand the power of the abiding presence of God in everyday life. May it be so in our lives as well.

Because of this word, Christmas exists. God chose to come down to be with us, because He knows that it is too difficult to live in this imperfect world alone. We need a companion, we need Jesus, our Emmanuel.

Invest now.

See original blog here, by Lorna Joannes @lornajoannes