There was something incongruent in me, something perplexing that I couldn’t get to the heart of. I had not properly grieved for Samuel; the Lord was not through with the entire process and with letting me know of his loving-kindness and compassion as a Father. I had not learned to be weak so that God would be strong. Even as I write this now, I see waves of empty stares within many in churches who have not learned this either. Many men, particularly, struggle with this reality, and their hearts are deceiving themselves. Oh, let the Spirit wash over us and humble us.
I’ve alluded throughout this book that I have had three liver transplants. I’ve experienced a lot in life and actually was blessed to write a book about two of the transplants along with a host of other things. I’ve experienced the loss of family members, even a close brother a few years ago, performed funerals for close friends, and experienced the worries of life. I speak not as a person who understands fully the depth of God, and I write too on a journey with you to understand God more fully in the course of our trials.
I want to see God’s glory break us free from the shackles of lies that we have believed when it comes to the Lord’s sovereignty in trials. But please understand that I speak from a place of experience, not giving me greater wisdom, but simply asking the reader to give me a platform of trust. I will not talk about pain and not having gone through pain myself. I hope you trust me in this. I have and will continue to struggle through these things; it takes great faith to believe. But praise God, faith is a gift, a treasure, that has been given to us. It is not something we muster in us. So with the faith that you have been given, let’s grapple with some of these issues.
It takes an act of God to carry us through difficult things, and though by no means have I completely understood everything, I seek humbly to reveal to you what the Word of God says about some of the issues I raised and struggled through. I wish I could wave a magic wand that would cause many of us to open our eyes to the reality of weakness and the freedom we have in being weak (which needs to be qualified), but alas, it takes the formation of the Spirit, not the formation of our flesh.
Samuel’s life would have been a waste, truly, if it were not for the person and work of Jesus Christ. It is indeed safe to say that God was glorified in the life and death of my son, particularly as I look back on it, yet I also know that some would still argue that God may have been more glorified in the healing of my son.
Perhaps the biggest question on my mind, and perhaps yours as well as you contemplate your own trials and pain, is this: Was the death of Samuel truly within the realm of the sovereignty of God? Is your disease, your sickness, your hurt, and your loss within the realm of the sovereignty of God? Is it in God’s control or providence? I ask this question because to me it is the fundamental aspect to understanding the safety net of weakness and strength that we can fall into. The implications run deep; if God is not sovereign, then indeed we are left with questions that will never be answered and a host of new problems that arise. If God was not in control of the events of Samuel’s life, then that would mean many of the things we find ourselves flung into are dependent upon our own wisdom, technology, or strength to endure. And if this is the case, what would be the point of the glory of God in our lives save to make a weak God stronger due to our faith? It would also imply that God would need us in some capacity to fulfill his will, that God is at war with a very strong and capable foe in the form of the devil, and the outcome, though bloody, would seem to be God’s. What security is there in this? God cannot be at the mercies of the situation, wholly dependent upon us, but is far beyond and above.
However, if Samuel’s death, my transplants, your pain and loss, addictions, and frailties are in the realm of God’s sovereign plan of redemption, then by faith don’t we understand that God is allowing these things as in the case of Job 2:3? Is it not our duty then to press this truth close to our hearts, not judging God based upon our limited view of our trials, hide it in our hearts, and allow the Spirit to show not only the truth of it to our minds, but our hearts as well? If this is the case, shouldn’t we seek to justify Christ in all of life’s circumstances as his perfect will is displayed throughout history for his glory in our lives? Is he not the author and perfecter and finisher of our faith? And since he is perfect in all his ways, shouldn’t all that is dealt to us be used to glorify God and cause us to run to him for security and refuge, even when we do not understand? Do we think God cannot take our questions, that he is insecure in any way, and that our demands in this life will somehow make him angry with us?
It has finally arrived. November 19th, 2013, almost three full years after the event of Samuel’s life, I finally get to share what the Lord did with him with the world. Samuel’s life was tragic at times, blessing us more than we could imagine, and yet his story is much like many of ours.
I know many of you prayed for him and Kelly and I during those difficult events. Would you do me a favor now? Would you tell “your” world about this book and encourage them about God’s story in Samuel and what it means to wrestle with God amidst tragedy and pain? Do you know of anyone experiencing loss or hurt, a broken marriage or estranged relationships, or even disease and pain? This book does not cure anyone; only Christ does through the cross. But I believe this will help some as a catalyst to see God’s glory amidst their pain. So please, repost this on Facebook, link this link on there, take a picture of this picture on your phone and post it to your instagram account, tweet it, and email people. I know it may seem like a lot, but remember when you did that during Samuel’s life? It was only through community and the power of the Holy Spirit that Samuel’s story went “out there.” I am asking for that again. Here’s the link:
Here’s what’s written on the back of the book:
What happens inside us as we experience the agony of the loss of a child? When the loss of it grieves you at first, and then, as time passes, doesn’t seem to go away but comes in waves upon waves? Tragedy befalls all of us, circumstances are beyond our control, and it is in these moments when God beckons us to the mat and wrestles us into submission out of His great love.
In Nineteen Days, Daniel Parkins gives insight into anyone who has ever experienced pain in this life. How do we cope when unmet expectations seem to surround us? How are we to navigate the rough waters of divorce, heart ache, loss, disease, or any kind of hurt? Nineteen Days is raw, but intensely real as Parkins reveals to all of us an honest portrayal of pain, yet in the midst of it, the undying love and sovereignty of a patient God who is still and forever good. Inside he challenges each person to look beyond the hurt, and see the love of Jesus Christ as not just a good idea, but truth that carries us forward for His glory.
Thank you! Kelly and I are more than excited, and genuinely love you all!
The editing staff has received all of the corrections from me and we are about to go to print! I will be receiving an final PDF of the book and as soon as the changes have been made and my cover designer finishes the back content, everything will go to print. I can’t believe it. It feels like the end of something; I put the final touches on Samuel’s story off for so long, not wanting to finish the book for selfish reasons, always rereading what I wrote, always missing him and feeling the fresh wounds of loss again. It wasn’t constant, for it’s been almost three years, but when it would come, it was welcomed and strong. The emotions will still come, but somehow, I feel as though the Lord has really worked through all of this for His glory, and I am eager to get Samuel’s story out to you and others who can be encouraged.
I talked with Kelly this morning on the phone and I read her this acknowledgment from the book:
The smells of his hospital room and the slow beats of the heart monitor still ring loudly in our ears. The memory of Samuel never fades, but strengthens with time. It becomes sweeter somehow, and by the grace of God, we have been encouraged and strengthened by hundreds, if not thousands of people who deeply cared for Samuel during his tumultuous life. This book would not be possible if it weren’t for those thousands who followed the blog, prayed fervently, and passed the story of Samuel’s struggle onto their close friends and relatives. Our close family and friends, all of your amazing support through this journey with CDH, carried us like eagle’s wings.
I also wanted to give a huge thank you to USC’s Institute for Maternal-Fetal Health and particularly Dr. David Miller and Irene Kletcha. You two were sent by God to minister to us during one of the greatest struggles of our lives, and we not only felt taken care of, but somehow a part of your family. All of the neonatologists, surgeons, and nurses on the NICCU floor at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles were a huge support to us as well, and many of you whom came to Samuel’s funeral gave us incredible encouragement. We had many church families supporting us during this time, all of those who came out to give blood for Samuel, as well as the thousands whom never contacted us but silently prayed and loved our family. A simple thank you is not enough, so we pray God’s immense blessings on all of you as you continue to live and grow in Christ.
We wanted to also say thank you to Cherubs, an organization that carries the full weight and burden of keeping track and ministering to all CDH families. Not only are they specifically loving and caring, but their website features incredible information and support for anyone going through the trial of CDH. For more information please go to: www.cherubs-cdh.org
Last but not least, I have to personally say that, without the resolve, integrity, honesty, and blessing of my wife, I would be a complete and total mess, failure, and in a world of hurt. Yet my wife, who not only is my song, but my best friend, will always be my muse and confidant in all that the Lord allows to come our way. Thank you God for giving me such an amazing partner to navigate the tossing storms of this life.
The second day of his birth we recovered. I wrote a blog in exhaustion to update my friends and family while Kelly had some respite after having given birth. She was staying at Hollywood Presbyterian Hospital in her own room, albeit cramped a little bit, while her mother cared for her. We were so eager to hold our son, to stare at his beautiful body wrapped in tubes and gauze from the ECMO surgery, that we rolled out of her room despite the warnings of the doctors to let Kelly recover. She wasn’t able to hold her baby in her arms after birth; she had little connection to him physically. This was not normal. This was foreign to most women who give birth.
As I stared at his graveside, waiting for Kelly and the kids to celebrate his life, I wept. Each memory of Samuel forced its way into my mind, and I couldn’t help but long for him. All of the decorations for Christmas had already been set up around each child who had passed away near his grave. Parents who lost loved ones, some older, some younger than Samuel. This area in particular is extremely difficult to visit for so many tears of unmet expectations could almost be seen; no doubt giving salty food to the grass below our feet. The topiary giraffe was clearly seen next to Samuel’s grave; two years ago it hadn’t fully developed. We placed him near the giraffe because that was the floor he was on at Children’s Hospital; we always took the giraffe elevators up to see our precious boy.
I haven’t cried like that in a long time. Those decorations hurt, for in my heart, I know that Samuel would be running around, speaking his first words, telling us with excitement how he wants to celebrate Jesus’ birth. He would have loved Christmas.
But then I began thinking of Samuel and Kelly. Before they got there, before we celebrated him, I couldn’t help but feel for my wife. Knowing the clinginess of Christian, knowing his desperation for her whenever they are away from each other, brought an onslaught of pain to me. Samuel never fed from his mother’s breasts. She never got to hold him close like she did with her other children; like most mothers do. It hit me hard and I wept for my wife. We never heard him cry or utter a sound. We saw pain in his eyes near the end of his life, but we never heard him cry. I continued to cry tears because I hungered for this cry to be heard. Even now, I wish I had that memory of him crying, waking us up, desperate for food and for his mother’s embrace.
When Kelly and the kids arrived, we did what we did, and as we continued to stand above his grave, we witnessed Noah and Mia running around the cemetery. We watched the two of them frolic and enjoy the coldness of the morning with the fog stretching close to us. I mentioned something to Kelly then; wouldn’t it be great if we could see him now, even just one day out of the year on his birthday? I longed for a vision of him in heaven now, though uncertain about my theology of heaven and if he ages in his new body. But we daydreamed then and there amidst the fog that seemed to be like heaven reaching down. I could almost see Samuel playing with Noah and Mia, chasing them, speaking to them in basic English. Wouldn’t that be something? To see him laugh and run with all the lung capacity he could ever need. Just one day Lord; oh to have that sweet time.
Kelly held Christian as we almost said goodbye. Noah, the sweet boy that he is, fell to the ground above where Samuel was buried. What are you doing Noah? I want to give Samuel a big hug. He placed his face on the gravestone and lay there for a few moments. Kelly and I looked at each other trying to hold back tears. The grass was extremely wet but Noah didn’t care; he wanted to embrace his brother.
I know that Samuel’s spirit is not here with us anymore. I know he is in heaven resting in the eternal bliss of our Creator God with a perfect body. But just like that day two years ago when we were giddy to see him, so too now, we long to see him. Two years ago we had all the hope that Samuel would be with us for a long time. Two years ago, we had nothing to fear. Two years ago is still with us today. And that’s okay. Anybody worth loving is worth grieving over, and though we are not angry at the loss of our son, we still want to see him, to be with him, and will forever praise our God in thankfulness that we had a precious baby boy born to us that fateful December day.
I make no apologies for writing about Samuel James Parkins, my second son who was born this day two years ago, for I have nothing to be sorry for. I’ve heard some parents do some pretty interesting things for the children they have lost, and having gone through something so traumatic, who am I that I should say anything against certain behavior? And who am I but a husband and father who carries on amidst the storms of life, repairing the ship that has been tossed in the storm, knowing that it is my God towards which my life burns as incense.
This year, two years after he was born, will be a different experience than last year. Last year was raw; it opened up some things in us and it was good to see our compassionate God continue in His unfailing love and unfaltering patience surrounding us like the sun coming up over the mountains that covers the dew fresh fields. We cried out in painful submission. A year had passed last year from the time our son was born, from the time of Samuel in our lives, from the time of so much learning, so many lost expectations, and so many memories that faded with the ticking clock that waits for no one. Yet it was fresh to us. Of course it was. We let the tide of emotions come and they rose high like the waters in full tide, yet they ebbed and retreated as well. What will this year, this season, hold for us?
To be sure, the emotions are already there. I see my son Christian in my arms each day, I look upon his smiles, his four toothed grin, his wide eyes and his constant laughter (during the day mind you; at night it’s still another story!), and I see a glimpse of his elder brother Samuel. He has his eyes. Those eyes of Samuel that will forever be with me. Those eyes that followed the sound of his daddy as I prayed over him in the NICCU at Children’s Hospital; those eyes. Oh Father, those eyes!
Yes I long to see them. Yes I long to hold him in my arms once again, even with his pail skin and the life that seemed to escape from him with every beat of his heart that struggled with no oxygen because of those undeveloped lungs. But we held him. No doctor, no human, no power in this world could save him. Yet we know the resurrection power of Christ was evident in Samuel, and we know death was not the end, but the beginning. We know the resurrection power of Christ is much more powerful than undeveloped lungs. We know it is more powerful than anything in or on this earth.
Today he would be two years old. Would he be walking right now? Certainly I would hope so. Would I have gotten him gifts already for Christmas like I have for the other children? Would he be obsessed with Star Wars at two years old? Would he cuddle with his mommy and daddy? Would he know the joy of the Christmas season and would he know the love of Christ at such a tender age? Would I find inspiration from his smile like I do with Christian, Mia and Noah? Would he have scars from accidents, would he throw tantrums, throw his food? What would he look like with pasta all over his mouth and shirt? Would he like Mammoth, and going on hikes with us in the backpack? Would he be as athletic as Noah and pick up things just as easily?
We will never know. His life was taken from us. But it is God’s divine prerogative that Samuel is up in heaven. It is God’s plan above ours that we submit to, for there are no mistakes in this plan; it is perfect. It is perfect for God’s redemptive purposes, not for my purposes. But we still miss him. We still hear pangs of hurt when people refer to us as having only three children. No! We have had four! We are a family of six! Don’t forget. Never forget. We have a son in heaven now.
Today we will remember Samuel in our way. Today, it is a private day for us, to spend together, to walk together, to draw closer to the Father who alone is the source of comfort. Today is our day to be in the memory of Samuel, and that’s ok. To remember all the work our Father did in the life of our little giant; the life of a boy that lived for nineteen days but changed the course of history for us and for many who knew him.
I had a gift the other day, on Monday. A woman was picking up her child at Noah’s school. She wanted to talk, so I welcomed it. She asked me if Noah was my only son, and I told her I had a daughter and another son, as well as one in heaven. She was silent. I told her he had a birth defect called Congenital Diaphragmatic Hernia. She stopped me. What’s your name? Daniel Parkins. Oh my gosh was all she said. You are Samuel’s father? Yes, I beamed, he was my son. I followed your blog and I prayed so much for you. His little life impacted me. She shook my hand and said she was honored to meet me.
Don’t be honored, be thankful. God uses the weak of this world to proclaim His glory. So many blogs jump into my mind that I wrote during that time. Samuel had no idea the impact he made; nor do we. But one thing I do know, as we celebrate his birth today, He uses the weak of this world to proclaim His glory. Actually, He uses everything in this world to proclaim His glory.
Samuel would be two today. But Samuel isn’t here anymore. But WE are. And so we will glorify our King with everything that we are.
To celebrated the fact that my book, “Nineteen Days,” is closer to being finished (the story of my son, Samuel James Parkins and his battle with Congenital Diaphragmatic Hernia), I wanted to include an article I wrote for a magazine recently. It is called “God Wrestling with Us”:
Genesis 32.22-32 gives a strange account of our Patriarch Jacob and his wrestling match with God all through the night. The thing to note first and foremost in this story is that it is terrifying. Terrifying in the fact that the Lord became something holy different than anything Jacob had known before. At this point at least, we can see the Lord was not wrestling with Jacob to have a good time; the Lord was Jacob’s opponent.
Throughout the course of Jacob’s life we see him having multiple enemies; particularly in Laban. He anticipated an enemy to be his older brother Esau and was completely frightened by him. But the Lord? God was no enemy to Jacob; one can make an argument that Jacob viewed God as simply friendly, almost a benign figure whom Jacob could manipulate or turn to his advantage when things got difficult.
I wonder how many of us view God in this same capacity?
The Lord is the great Physician, the great Healer of our souls. He is the Provider, the Resting Place, our Righteousness and our Victory. He sent His only Son to die for us, and without a healthy fear of God, we can see that God is more for us than for Himself. But God is more passionate for His glory than for ours; and like Jacob, we oftentimes use God for our own gains in life and our own wants. Now, in this wrestling with God, Jacob finally realized that God cannot be used for our means. He discovered quite suddenly that the Lord is to be feared, that like Aslan in the Chronicles of Narnia, He is terrible and He is lovely.
Perhaps this incident proved in the life of Jacob a true understanding, for the first time, that God is God, and the he was simply a child of the Most High. Jacob is seen to have a profound change in his life from this moment on; so much so that his entire name changed as well. Yet before the match, life’s circumstances had reduced him to helplessness. He needed God to intervene. The eleventh hour had arrived and God has still not delivered him. It was a crisis of faith, and he was at his wits end.
I’m sure many have felt this way before, when all hope seems lost. Perhaps it comes after a great victory or a terrible event.
Enter God into the mess of our lives.
We find in Genesis 32 that this Man wrestled with Jacob, not the other way around. We have to realize by this passage that the Lord was the instigator of the wrestling; Jacob no doubt was not in the right frame of mind to wrestle! James Montgomery Boice states, “It is not that Jacob was seeking God so earnestly that when God, as it were, got close to him, he grappled with him and refused to let him go until he blessed him. It is true that Jacob later begged for a blessing. But at the beginning it is not Jacob who seeks God to wrestle with him; rather, it is God, who comes to wrestle with Jacob to bring him to a point of both physical and spiritual submission.”
The Lord is not a God to be manipulated, but a God to be worshiped.
A.W. Pink writes, “Jacob was not wrestling with this Man to obtain a blessing; instead, the Man was wrestling with Jacob to gain some object from him. As to what this object is the best of the commentators agree—it was to reduce Jacob to a sense of his nothingness, to cause him to see what a poor, helpless and worthless creature he was; it was to teach us through him that all important lesson that in recognized weakness lies our strength.” That’s one of the main points we see in this wrestling with God. Weakness is broken into submission, and submission is where there is strength. Submission to God’s leading and God’s control, realizing that there’s nothing stronger or more determinant that this.
The Lord of the universe, the one in whom we see the majesty of his handiwork in the heavens and starry host, is perfect in every way. He does no wrong. Regardless of how we see the circumstances played out, He does no wrong. Regardless if we are injured deeply, He does no wrong. He alone is the sovereign Lord and He alone has His will done and accomplished. God will always win the wrestling match; if we were smart, then the sooner we submit, the better.
My life was put out of joint when my son died two years ago. I wrestled with God till the very end, even blowing into my dead son’s lungs, praying for healing, wrestling. God used this situation with my son to bring me to the end of myself and turn me back to Him. He did it in such a profound way; though He allowed me to wrestle with Him, to complain to Him, to be angry at Him, He nonetheless had His way because His way is always best. I am not suggesting that the Lord does this in every pain; sometimes He has other purposes. It is much too beyond us to understand the full breadth of the purposes and sovereignty of God. But oftentimes He uses the hurt in our lives to bring us back to Him, to put us in our proper place, so that we cling to him in our weakness so that He shines through.
In the upside down Kingdom where to be poor is to be rich, to mourn is to be comforted, we see the profound reality of the gospel in Genesis’ account of a wrestling match. Having come into contact face to face with the Lord of hosts, with the ever patient and faithful one, we see at long last a broken and contrite Spirit humbled to his core. We see a man dependent upon God, rather than dependent upon himself. We see in Jacob a picture of a man renewed by the power of God, now remade in His own image, finally surrendered to the will of God for his life. We see in no small measure great faith worked out. It is beautiful to behold indeed; it is something we all must surrender to; to find our lives, we must lose them.