Measles Is Not Just a Rash


Every now and then, I run across an article or blog post in which someone who mistrusts vaccines argues that measles isn’t really all that serious. It’s just a garden variety childhood illness like chicken pox, they assert. Or, as one anti-vaccine blogger recently put it, measles is “just a rash.”

Upon reading that post, it occurred to me that most people have no personal frame of reference for what measles look like. We don’t have a history of seeing friends and family members come down with the disease because measles was all but eradicated in this country. So what we know of measles comes mainly from news reports, blog posts advocating for or against vaccination, or medical websites. The lists we see of measles symptoms and complications come across as either alarming (pneumonia! encephalitis! death!) or exceedingly bland (cough, fever, rash – ho, hum). The vaccine/anti-vaccine debate tends to make matters worse, as measles is portrayed as either a big yawn-inducer or the single greatest public health threat known to man.

Some Perspective

Without wading into the merits of the vaccination debate, I thought the story of my experience with measles may be a helpful reference point for those considering how to respond to the current measles outbreak. Why my story? From what I’ve read, the symptoms I experienced probably could be considered typical – they were miserable and dangerous without being life threatening. Maybe more importantly, my medical history gives me a decent vantage point to comment on the relative severity of the measles. There are many, many terrible maladies with which I have no acquaintance, and in the big picture, I have led a pretty healthy life thus far. But along the way, I have experienced a range of serious and not-so-serious illnesses.

Like most people, on the easy end of my personal spectrum are seasonal colds and the like, and a bit further down are occasional cases of the flu and other mystery ailments. Still further down are things like chicken pox and a number of bouts with bronchitis (more on that later). Typical stomach bugs and food poisoning likely occupy the next range (I hate throwing up), including one sickness that landed me in the hospital with dehydration. From there, we have to travel a bit down the spectrum before we find Legionnaires’ disease, a rare and sometimes fatal form of pneumonia. That one was exceedingly miserable, especially from the high fever and terrible cough. Still further down the spectrum was viral meningitis, which I tried to tough out at home for a day or two because I had never heard that the combination of a fever and stiff/painful neck was a dangerous sign. By the time I went into the doctor’s office, I felt like I was on death’s doorstep. From there, off in the far distance, we can catch our first sight of the measles on my misery spectrum.

 Measles and Me

I was a senior in high school when a group of students returning from a trip to New York brought the measles back with them. Mine was one of the early cases before a measles outbreak was declared, so we had no reason to think that the sickness I came down with was anything other than a bad cold or flu. For the first couple days, I experienced a steadily worsening fever, cough and sore throat, eventually landing me in the doctor’s office. The doctor diagnosed it as bronchitis and gave me some antibiotics and prescription cough syrup. The syrup did nothing for my cough. It continued to get worse until I was racked with fits of painful coughing. I would cough until I threw up, then start the whole process again. My stomach and mid-section grew very sore and tired from the almost continual coughing. Around that point, we went back to the doctor (a different one this time, as we had lost confidence in the bronchitis diagnosis).

I remember the look of fear on the pediatrician’s face and the sound of panic in his voice when he looked in my throat. He shouted out to the receptionist, “Clear the office! Get everyone out of here right now!” He then explained to us that I had measles, and because it was extremely contagious and very dangerous, they would have to take me out a different exit. I wasn’t exactly given the ebola treatment, but the message was clear:  measles was not to be trifled with.

From there, the symptoms continued to pile on as I spiraled downward into sickness. I developed a rash over my whole body that dominated my waking thoughts because it itched terribly and brought shots of electric pain when my skin would brush against my clothes, etc. On top of that, I still had a terrible cough, nausea, fever, and headache. Then new layers of misery were added when I developed a painful sensitivity to light and sound that made it impossible to watch TV or do anything but lay still in the darkness. I lost quite a bit of weight and muscle mass because I found it difficult to drink and could eat little or nothing at all. By the time the symptoms subsided, I think I missed more than three weeks of school.

When people asked what the measles was like, I would say, “Think of all the illnesses you’ve had over the course of your life. Take each symptom, multiply it by five, and add a couple new and exotic symptoms. Then put them all together at once and have them stretch out for a long time, and that approaches what it was like.” Looking back, I can say with confidence that measles is BY FAR the worst illness I’ve ever had.

There were complications after the fact, too. Over the following months, I contracted bronchitis a number of times as my immune system apparently struggled to catch up. It took a long time for me to recover my physical strength as well. The doctor warned us that I could have been rendered sterile from my bout with measles, though that thankfully did not come to pass.

Don’t Let Fear or Ignorance Drive the Bus

At the end of the day, measles is not ebola. Don’t get so caught up in the current hysteria that you let fear drive you to mistreat those that jump on the anti-vaccine bandwagon. Neither, though, is it chicken pox. Don’t fall for the whole “measles is just a rash” narrative. If someone had written off my experience that way, I would have been tempted to punch them in the face.

Some people who get the measles will have an easier time than I did. A few will die. Most will struggle with a miserable illness that they would not wish upon any but their worst enemies. Consider the implications for you and your loved ones and act accordingly.

Let’s Not Keep Christ in Christmas


One might get the impression, from the way many Christians talk, that Christmas in 2014 is a holiday under siege. We shout, “Keep Christ in Christmas!” and get up in arms when other religions want to horn in on our holiday displays. Kirk Cameron even released a movie this year called Saving Christmas that was aimed at defending the Christian-ness of our cultural holiday celebrations. At the risk of being removed from your Christmas card list, I submit that it may be a bad idea to try to keep Christ in Christmas.

At the outset, let me define some terms to distinguish between Christmas the holiday celebration, on the one hand, and the historical events we celebrate during Christmas on the other.

There is no question that the celebration of Christmas is a distinctly Christian thing, albeit one that was grafted onto existing pagan celebrations and that has borrowed freely over the years from non-Christian elements of various cultures. But behind the celebration of Christmas is a historical event that occurred about 2,000 years ago, the incarnation. When Jesus was born, God became a human, such that Jesus was fully God and fully man.

So, when I say “Christmas,” I’m talking about the holiday celebration (whether it includes distinctly Christian elements or not), and when I say “incarnation,” I’m talking about the birth of Jesus.

 Exclusive or Inclusive?

The main reason I think we should not try to keep Christ in Christmas? It puts the emphasis in the wrong place and makes the whole affair exclusive when it was meant to be inclusive. Christmas may be for Christians, but the incarnation was for everyone.

Most people recognize that Christmas originated as a Christian celebration. The whole idea of setting aside certain days as public holidays (holy days) is a vestige of Christendom, a time when religious and governmental authority were inextricably intertwined. The modern “Holiday” season retains a lot of religious elements, but they have become obscured over the years by many other secular and traditional elements. So today, we see many Christians hunkering down in an us-versus-them fight to retain things like public manger displays, and generally bristling against the widespread secularization and commercialization of Christmas.

By focusing on and fighting for the distinctiveness of Christmas as a religious holiday, we risk losing sight of the more important fact that the incarnation is for everyone – Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, atheists, and yes, even Christians.

 Good News for Everyone

The angel who announced the birth of Jesus said, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2:10-11.) The incarnation was good news for all the people because all the people needed a savior.

The angels then broke out into a song of praise for the peace that the incarnation was to achieve between God and man: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” (Luke 2:14.) The coming of the Prince of Peace also was good news for all the people because everyone was in a state of rebellion against God.

Jesus is not the provincial deity of those who follow certain religious or cultural traditions. He is the savior of all those who will turn to him, whether for them December is about winter solstice parties, Festivus poles, giant inflatable reindeer, or little plastic baby Jesuses.

Put another way, if you are a Christian in America, you probably love you some Christmas and a good many of its religious and secular trappings. If you’re a non-Christian in America, you probably love you some Happy Holidays and maybe a different mix of the trappings (more Santa & Elf on a Shelf, less Tiny, Infant Jesus). To many billions of people living in China, India, Indonesia, Somalia, and dozens of other countries, though, our Christmas traditions mean essentially nothing.

As for me, I’m going to keep celebrating Christmas. Our lights were up the day after Thanksgiving, and my wife and I can’t wait to surprise our kids with gifts on Christmas morning. At the same time, I’m not going to spend a moment worrying about how or whether others want to celebrate this holiday season, much less try to foist a Christian holiday on those who don’t treasure Christ in the first place.

But I’m also going to pray that this season brings an opportunity for many others to experience the joy of the good news of the incarnation of Jesus.  That joy is cross-cultural, multi-ethnic, and speaks across every boundary line known to mankind.  If you’re human, the incarnation was for you.

The Greatness and Insignificance of Humanity

Have you ever noticed that people are really good at celebrating the greatness of humanity?

We love to watch, talk about, and read about great human achievements, whether they come on the sports field, the silver screen, the concert stage or the pages of a book. Right now, your Facebook feed is littered with people declaring, “Look how great this is!” Our culture particularly loves to lift up the collective achievements of mankind – think, for example, of the national pride that swelled up when we first put a man on the moon.

You might hear a different message from your Christian friends. Sure, they might celebrate the Giants’ World Series win with you, or talk breathlessly about the latest movie from their favorite director. But they also may talk about how insignificant – or downright bad – humanity is. Especially if you frequent church circles, you might get the impression that mankind is nothing terribly special, that we’re all really just wretched, lowly worms.

Meme 2

With apologies to Morpheus, what if I told you that our culture has it right, and that Christians can tend to wrongly downplay the significance and greatness of humanity? And what if I told you that Christians have it right as well, that the culture at large tends to over-esteem our significance? There is a great tension at play here between the insignificance and greatness of humanity.

Our Insignificance

What does it mean to say that humanity is insignificant? The Bible is chock full of reminders for us of how insignificant we are, at least as compared to God.

When King David gazed upon the night sky and considered the awesomeness of God’s works in the heavens, he penned these song lyrics: “When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man, that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?” (Psalm 8:3-4). David’s mind was blown by the greatness of the cosmos, and even more so by the magnificent God who created them, as it were, with his fingers. He sees the heavens and thinks, “How is it that the great God behind all of this gives a passing thought to something as lowly as man, much less cares for him?”

In a different song, David again highlights the insignificance of mankind in comparison to God: “As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him. For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust. As for man, his days are like grass; he flourishes like a flower of the field; for the wind passes over it, and it is gone, and its place knows it no more. (Psalm 103:14-16). God shows compassion to mankind because we are mere dust. Our days are like the fleeting life of grass in the field, which sprouts up one day and is gone the next.

These same themes – mankind as grass or dust – are echoed elsewhere in the Bible as well. Isaiah uses grass to compare the passing nature of our flesh to the immortal nature of God’s word: “All flesh is grass, and all its beauty is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades when the breath of the Lord blows on it; surely the people are grass. The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever.” (Isaiah 40:6-8). Mankind’s collective worth fares no better in comparison to God’s worth: “Behold, the nations are like a drop from a bucket, and are accounted as the dust on the scales; behold, he takes up the coastlands like fine dust. Lebanon would not suffice for fuel, nor are its beasts enough for a burnt offering. All the nations are as nothing before him, they are accounted by him as less than nothing and emptiness.” (Isaiah 40:15-17). Gather up all the billions of people in the world today, and they stand before God as nothing.

David’s son Solomon picks up on the theme of mankind as mere dust, noting that humanity shares the same fate as the beasts of the field: “For what happens to the children of man and what happens to the beasts is the same; as one dies, so dies the other. They all have the same breath, and man has no advantage over the beasts, for all is vanity. All go to one place. All are from the dust, and to dust all return.” (Ecclesiastes 3:19-20). Cows come from the dust, have a brief breath of life, and return to the dust. So do people.

These kinds of reminders are not limited to the Old Testament. In his letter to the church in Philippi, Paul exhorts them to have the humility to count others more significant than themselves, pointing to the ultimate example of humility in Jesus, “who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.” (Philippians 2:6-7). The fact that Jesus took on human nature was so striking because of the humility it took to bridge the vast gulf between the dignity of God and the lowly state of humanity.

Our Greatness

If humanity is so insignificant, where does that leave us? Doesn’t that idea run contrary to other ideas commonly embraced by Christians about the sanctity of life, etc.? While God wants us to know the place of humility we occupy before him, he also wants us to know how great we are.

The greatness of humanity is not a separate category from God’s greatness. Our greatness is tied to the fact that God made us in his image. Putting aside issues of exactly when and how God created mankind, the account in Genesis clearly communicates that God made man and woman to reflect his image in a way that was not true of the rest of his creation:

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. (Genesis 1:26-27).

When I was a kid, I had the notion that our being created in the image of God meant that we somehow look like God in our physical form. That makes little sense, of course, in light of other places that describe God as spirit and without physical form. For example, Jesus says that “God is spirit” (John 4:24), and elsewhere that “a spirit does not have flesh and bones.” (Luke 24:39).

The fact that we are created “in the image of God” means simply that humans are like God and that we represent him. We can see that most clearly in the one perfect man who ever lived, Jesus. He is described as “the image of God” (2 Corinthians 4:4), “the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation” (Colossians 1:15), and “the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature.” (Hebrews 1:3). In other words, Jesus showed what man as the image of God was all about because he was just like God and represented him perfectly.

We, on the other hand, are not completely like God, and quite often do not represent him very well. Unlike Jesus, we have a broken, sinful nature. Nevertheless, there remains in all humanity something of the image of God. That is why we can speak intelligibly about the dignity of human life, for example, and make distinctions between human beings and other sentient life that don’t just boil down to “might makes right.”

The Bible does not give us an explicit list of the ways in which we are like God, but we can pretty easily discern ways in which people are more like God than the rest of creation, including:

  • Our sense of morality, justice and accountability
  • The fact that we have a spiritual life that transcends the physical realm
  • Our ability to think logically about the world around us
  • Our use of the spoken and written word to communicate
  • Our innate creativity and love of beauty, and
  • The depth and character of our relationships and love for each other

Because people uniquely bear God’s image, we occupy a very special place in his creation. Right after David marvels over the fact that God is mindful of something as lowly as mankind, he turns with wonder to our high position: “Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor. You have given him dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under his feet.” (Psalm 8:5-6).

That high position has tremendous implications. James says our tongue is a “restless evil, full of deadly poison,” because “[w]ith it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God.” (James 3:9). The great offense of speaking evil of people is that they bear the inherent dignity of the likeness of God!

In a larger sense, that is also the tragedy of the fallen state of mankind. The glorious image bearer of the great and glorious God of all has traded the truth for a lie and traded that glory for lesser things. (Romans 1:18-25). People who were created to be like God and represent him well have instead rebelled against God, turned their backs on him, and now misrepresent him in word and deed. That’s a tragedy and offense beyond our ability to comprehend.


Ah, but there is good news. Humanity’s insignificance and greatness come together in Jesus. After pointing to Jesus as the ultimate example of humility in that God took on human nature, Paul goes on to explain how Jesus’s humility led to his exaltation:

And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:8-11).

Through Jesus’s death and resurrection, the door was opened for the restoration of humanity to our intended position as God’s image bearers through the forgiveness of our sins:

[I]f anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself . . .; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them . . . . We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:17-21).

So now, we who have trusted in Christ are being progressively changed back into the image of God. As Paul put it, we are “being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.” (2 Corinthians 3:18). Indeed, that was God’s purpose in calling us broken sinners to himself in the first place, to “be conformed to the image of his Son.” (Romans 8:29). And we have the hope that some day, we will be made like him in the fullest sense, reflecting and imaging his glory perfectly instead of misrepresenting him and denigrating his glory.

Embracing the Tension

In the end, we are left with two truths in tension. First, there is greatness in humanity. Namely, all the ways in which we bear the image of God, even in our fallen state. Christians would do well to acknowledge and celebrate the greatness of mankind, even though the image of God in man has been marred in so many ways. Second, in comparison to God, humanity is very, very insignificant. The greatness of humanity is not worthy of comparing to the greatness of God. Christians need to hold these truths in tension so that we can be true ambassadors for Jesus, imploring people as Paul did to be reconciled to God so that we can stand in humility before him, while also taking our rightful place as the bearers of his great image.

Gaza, Iraq and the Most Moral Genocide


Genocide in Gaza

Are you aware of the genocide in Gaza? The sides dispute the actual casualty figures (of course), but there’s no question that hundreds of Palestinian women and children have been killed by Israel in Gaza since early July. Many people see Israel’s attacks as a form of genocide against the Palestinian people. That sentiment is especially common for those who view Gaza as an occupied territory whose inhabitants have understandably – and maybe a bit heroically – risen up against an unlawful occupying force.

Wait, that’s not genocide! Israel is doing what it must in defending its people against terrorist attacks. Hamas is responsible for the tragic civilian deaths in Gaza because it purposefully operates among the general population, firing rockets, taking refuge and storing arms next to homes and even in schools. Israel even fires warning shots to allow civilians to flee from bombs aimed at Hamas targets – that’s hardly genocide.

Genocide in Iraq

Well, perhaps you’ve heard of the ongoing genocide against Christians and children in Iraq. In its push to establish an Islamic caliphate, ISIS (or is it ISIL? IS?) has basically cleansed northern Iraq of its former Christian population. And, according to an Iraqi activist in the US, ISIS even has been “systematically beheading” children. Many are describing ISIS’s actions as genocide aimed at a Muslim-only nation.

ISIS’s actions against Christians in Iraq sound more like religious cleansing than genocide. It’s terrible that so many Christians have been driven out of their homes. But the videos ISIS has posted of mass killings appear to involve mass extermination of Shiite Muslims, not Christians. And other than the claims by the one activist, there’s no evidence of mass beheadings of children by ISIS. It’s a bit of a stretch to call any of that “genocide.”

Okay, then how about the genocide against the Yazidis? ISIS views the Yazidi religious minority in northern Iraq/Kurdistan as devil worshipers. When ISIS swept into their area, thousands of Yazidis were killed when they refused to convert to Islam. Meanwhile, tens of thousands more fled to Mount Sinjar to escape the ISIS onslaught. Cut off by ISIS troops and with no food, water or shelter, the Yazidis trapped on the mountain faced almost sure extinction. Worldwide, cries went out against the impending genocide of the Yazidi people, and the US responded by striking back against ISIS and making airdrops of food and water to the people on the mountain.

Yeah, I’ll grant you that we could have been faced with genocide of the Yazidis. But it looks like that crisis has been averted, with tens of thousands of people already having been rescued from Mount Sinjar. Maybe we should refer to ISIS’s actions there as “attempted genocide,” just to distinguish them from the horrors of actual genocide.

Forget the F Word

Whatever you think of these particular examples, the fact that we invoke the name of “genocide” in all of them points to something broader. People generally still agree that genocide is bad. Really, really bad. We are quick to use the G word as hyperbole to garner sympathy for the plight of people caught up in war. Some even have referred to the shooting in Ferguson as part of a larger genocide against young black men in the US.

It’s no mistake that we use the G word, either. That word calls to mind the prototypical genocide of Nazi Germany, from the horrifying images of piles of corpses in concentration camps to the staggering numbers of Jews and other undesirables murdered in just a few short years.

As the more recent examples show, genocide doesn’t just strike us as wrong because of the high body count. We are offended most by genocide because it involves killing whole groups of people simply because of who they are.

The Most Moral Genocide

Even today, though, there’s an ongoing genocide that escapes most people’s attention. It’s not limited to a small strip of land bordering the Mediterranean – this genocide is happening all over the world. No one is about to come to the rescue of the people being killed in this genocide.

The targets of this genocide are being wiped out in mass. In Taiwan, 96% of their population is being extinguished. In Europe, 92% are killed. In the US, upwards of 70%.

And these people are being killed not because of anything they have done, but solely because of who they are. Their community reaches across gender and across national and ethnic boundaries. The thing each of them has in common is some extra genetic material on their 21st chromosome; we know them as having Down Syndrome. Disdain for these people is nearly universal: 90% of women choose to terminate the pregnancy when their baby tests positive for Down Syndrome.

Wait, we’re talking about abortion?  Here we go again.  Abortion as genocide:  yawn.

Yes, we’re talking about abortion. But to a certain extent, abortion as the instrumentality of their death is beside the point. We recoil from Hitler’s atrocities against the Jews not mainly because he used gas chambers to accomplish his goal. The main evil we see in his actions is that he slaughtered millions of people simply because they were Jews, along with smaller numbers of people simply because they were Gypsies or homosexuals.

Similarly, what matters most in the ongoing genocide against those with Down Syndrome is that they are targeted because they have Down Syndrome.

In any event, this issue does not break down along traditional battle lines of Pro-Choice vs. Pro-Life. Many people that identify generally as pro-choice remain queasy about the sheer number of people with Down Syndrome that are aborted. There’s something a bit dark and sinister about an entire generation of Down Syndrome children being wiped off the map worldwide.

Enter Dawkins

Ah, but not to Richard Dawkins! For the uninitiated, Dawkins is a leading figure of the modern atheist movement and something of a hero to those who may have softer views on religion, but still admire his progressive, humanistic thought leadership. Dawkins garnered some attention last night for weighing in on the (theoretical) plight of a pregnant woman who learns that her baby has Down Syndrome:

Abort it and try again. It would be immoral to bring it into the world if you have the choice.

Dawkins backpedaled a bit in the face of criticism, suggesting that he wasn’t actually telling her what to do. But he stuck to his guns on the main issue, insisting that the decision to abort a Down Syndrome baby is the “most moral” decision a woman can make:

Women have a right to early abortion. Choice is theirs. Down Syndrome is 1 of the commonest & most moral reasons to exercise that right.

The statistics would suggest that, deep down, most people agree with Dawkins. We hate genocide. But this is an acceptable genocide. This is even a moral genocide because . . . Choice. The highest good here is not the protection of an entire population of people. The highest good is protecting would-be parents of these children from the burden of raising them. Better to wipe out entire generations of among the most vulnerable individuals on the planet than to burden our society with the feeding and care of those individuals.

Better to protect the purity of Choice at all costs. Substitute the purity of Islam, and that’s a genocidal argument ISIS could get behind.

The First Thanksgiving


Before we dig into the turkey and whatnot, let’s take a moment to remember the history behind Thanksgiving, shall we?  Feel free to print this out and read with the whole family.  



It was autumn of 1621.  The Pilgrim settlers in Plymouth had just struck a decisive blow in their battle against the local indigenous people, thanks to their large cache of handguns and a well-timed bout of smallpox.  In celebration, landowners all across New England took a much-needed break from burning witches and gathered in a large, muddy field in upstate New York to hear a stirring speech by heroic General George Washington.  Against a backdrop of well-amplified patriotic hymns, Washington announced the institution of the first national holiday of Thanksgiving.  The holiday was to be commemorated with a three-day feast beginning at midnight on the first new moon after the second Thursday of the second-to-last month of the year.

Dissent immediately sprang up among the local villagers, who complained that the schedule would force hundreds of them to work while others were stuffing their faces and watching the Redskins take on the Lions in the Coliseum.  The villagers eventually put away their torches, however, when they remembered that vacations hadn’t been invented yet.

Getting Ready

For the next four weeks, preparations were made for a grand feast, the likes of which had not been seen in the New World since notorious party boy Chris Columbus dropped in to visit.  Farmers emptied their storehouses of dried corn, tobacco, and whiskey.  Villagers suffered through long lines at their local turkey slaughterhouses and pumpkin patches.  In the “Waste Not, Want Naught” spirit of the day, famed brewer Samuel Adams released a special Turkey Gizzard Ale for the occasion.

A crisis set in on the eve of the first Thanksgiving feast when housewives all over New England realized they had made many more apple and pumpkin pies than ever could be consumed by the settlers who had survived the Great Famine of 1620.  Invitations were hastily issued to the local natives, who presumably wouldn’t notice that they had only recently been added to the Evite list.

The Party

The first day of the celebration went off without a hitch.  The people spent Thanksgiving day huddled around small tables piled high with the bounty of the land, feasting on carcasses of local birds, cornbread, corn cakes, corn-on-the-cob, popcorn, creamed corn, and corn.  They spent that evening and late into the night gathered around fires, giving public proclamations of thanks.  Not thanks to any specific deity, mind you.  Instead, the participants encouraged more enlightened expressions of general thankfulness for being lucky enough to stay well-fed that year.  This was New England, after all.

On the second day of the celebration, things took a dramatic turn for the worse.  Never having been warned of the dangers of botulism, villagers had unwittingly unleashed a dark plague on the populace by serving from bloated, infected cans of cranberry sauce.  By Friday evening, huge piles of bodies of the dead were gathered in town squares across New England.

The Aftermath

The leaders of the surviving settlers assembled the following day at Washington, D.C.  They opened the meeting by swearing a solemn oath never to forget that Black, Black Friday.  A day of prayer and remembrance was rejected as too boring and out of step with their Puritan values.  Instead, they would remember that day by encouraging everyone to buy stuff.

For the next several hours of the meeting, they made plans to institute a national healthcare system to avoid the ravages of future plagues, only to abandon them when they reached an impasse over selecting a qualified programmer to build the website.  The remainder of the meeting was spent sharing recipes for what to do with all those leftovers.


As many of you heard, Jen had a bit of a medical emergency this weekend.  To prevent my thumbs from falling off in a tragic texting mishap, I thought I would update everyone on my blog instead.  Those who didn’t know us a couple years ago and haven’t heard the story can get caught up on Jen’s previous medical saga in this series of blog posts:

Jen   |   Another Day, Another Doctor   |   She’s Home   |   Better, Then Coffee   |   Fragility   |   Go Doctor, Go!

If you don’t feel like reading through those, here’s the condensed recap.  In 2011, when Jen was pregnant with Hannah, she was hospitalized with a terrible migraine.  A brain scan revealed that the two main blood vessels in her brain — the internal carotid arteries — were completely shut off.  After an Odyssian journey of doctor visits, we discovered that her ICAs had been in the process of closing over many years as the result of a rare disease called fibromuscular dysplasia (FMD), and that her migraine had been triggered by the final dissection of one or both of those arteries.  We were left with very little in the way of future prognosis, but we knew to be on the lookout for any signs of stroke or other signs of further arterial deterioration.  For the past couple years, periodic brain scans and other tests have been clear, and Jen has lived relatively symptom-free.

On Friday, we received something of a gracious reminder that Jen isn’t entirely out of the woods.

That afternoon, she was sitting at the computer, when she suddenly noticed that she was having trouble reading the screen.  She went to the mirror and found that she couldn’t see the right side of her face.  It wasn’t a black spot — part of her field of vision was just gone.  That soon progressed to a series of other symptoms, including dizziness, tingling in her arm, and nausea.  A call to her neurologist confirmed that she needed to get to the hospital ASAP.  Unfortunately, I was over an hour away, so Jen called 911 while friends rallied to get over to our house and watch the kids.  Between the ambulance ride and the ER, Jen developed some migraine-like pain in her head and neck.

Unlike with most medical emergencies, it didn’t make sense just to take Jen to the nearest hospital.  She needed to be with her doctors at UC Irvine, who not only know her medical history, but are among a very small group of doctors in the nation that have expertise in dealing with FMD complications.  Thankfully, the emergency personnel drove her up to UCI Medical Center in Orange.

By the time I made it up to the ER at UCI, they already had done a scan of Jen’s arteries, and were about to give her some morphine for the pain.  I was able to hang out with her for a couple hours while we waited for an MRI.

As an aside, if you’re ever tempted to think too highly of human nature, I’d suggest spending a few hours in an ER.  You usually will be treated to a little cross-section of the deep brokenness of humanity on display.  It’s usually sad and occasionally a little humorous, like the guy a couple beds down from Jen who was convinced he was in a broken-down car rather than a hospital bed.

The doctors suspected that Jen either had a stroke or a TIA (transient ischemic attack, sometimes called a “mini-stroke”), but the possibility remained that it was an atypical migraine.   They wanted to do more tests to narrow it down, and wanted to keep her in the hospital at least overnight for further observation.

By the time they completed the MRI, got her admitted to a room, and gave her dinner, it was already pretty late.  Due to the incredible kindness of friends from our church, I was able to stay in the room with her that night and all the next day.

Now is when I must sing the praises of UCI.  Instead of a won’t-quite-fold-down-all-the-way chair, they had a padded bench I could use as a bed.  There is a world of difference, my friends, between a zombifying night of catnaps in an uncomfortable chair and a night of on again, off again hospital sleep on a padded bench.  A world of difference.

Jen was able to get a little sleep as well.  More importantly, she was able to switch from morphine to Advil and still control the head and neck pain.

We spent all day Saturday hanging out in the room, talking and taking catnaps between visits from nurses and various therapists.  The therapists administered a battery of tests to make sure that Jen hadn’t lost the ability to talk, read, swallow, walk, etc.  Late that afternoon, we got the news we hoped for:  they were going to release Jen.

As for what happened?  The doctors believe she experienced a TIA due to low blood flow to part of her brain, perhaps brought on by low blood pressure or even dehydration.  A blood perfusion test on the MRI revealed that the newfangled arterial plumbing in her brain is providing weaker blood flow on the left side of her brain than on the right side.  That, the doctors think, leaves her susceptible to a TIA caused by temporary low blood flow on the left side of her brain.  Or at least that’s the working theory.

The great news is that there’s no evidence of permanent damage due to stroke, and there’s no evidence of FMD complications or dissection in Jen’s remaining cranial arteries (most crucially, the vertebral arteries proving all the blood to her brain).

So we’re basically back to where we started a couple years ago.  We go back to living our lives, and if Jen experiences stroke-like symptoms, we call 911 and get to the hospital.  It may be another episode like this, in which case the doctors may learn more over time if a pattern develops.

This latest episode was a gracious reminder in at least a couple ways.  First, it reminded us after a couple years of normalcy that things aren’t completely normal with Jen.  But instead of reminding us by way of a devastating stroke, God saw fit to remind us gently.  I’m very grateful that she gets to carry on with life as usual, able to see the faces of her five children, able to communicate with no difficulties, able to drive around unassisted, and able to experience the myriad other graces in her life.  Second, it reminded us again that life really is a vapor.  Though we’re tempted to waste it in so many ways, God continually gives us the grace to re-focus on spending this life on things that really matter and in pursuit of the one treasure that will never fail:  Jesus.

Another Blog Post About Twilight


Of Lawyers and Dwarves

Two years ago, I had the unpleasant experience of seeing the law firm I worked for go under.  Because it was a matter of some interest in the broader legal market, we were able to learn about the firm’s demise through various blogs.  But more than the blogs themselves, the comment sections on those blogs were the epicenter for rumor, real-time news, and comic relief.  Not surprisingly, the firm leadership drew lots of attention from anonymous commenters, both in the form of pot shots and statements of loyalty.

When I ran across a comment from someone expressing sympathy for people who had come of age at the firm (in the partnership track sense) just in time to see it implode, I was surprised to see the commenter single me out by name, “Shawn Kennedy.”  It was very strange to see my name brought into the discussion in such a public forum.

Stranger still was the reply to that comment, where another anonymous commenter took issue with the implicit compliment that had been paid to me.  “Shawn Kennedy?”  (There it was again.)  “That dwarf would have never made partner . . . .”

That was one of a very few times in my adult life that someone engaged in name-calling based on my height, at least where I could hear it/read it.  Don’t get me wrong – some of my braver close friends lovingly call me “Hobbit” or the like, but it’s not usually socially acceptable for adults to do that out of spite.

Here’s the thing, though:  that brave anonymous commenter was right.  I am a dwarf.


No, not that kind.

To be precise, I have Russell-Silver Syndrome (RSS), which is one of five types of primordial dwarfism.  Primordial dwarfism?  Haven’t I seen a show about really, really little people with that?  Yes, but not all types of primordial dwarfism are the same.  The smallest people in the world are primordial dwarfs, including He Pingping, a Chinese man who grew to a height of two feet, five inches (  People with RSS, on the other hand, usually grow a fair amount taller – somewhere between four and five feet for an adult height seems pretty common.

In Other Words, I’m Really Tall

So, you shouldn’t really think of me as a short guy.  Think of me as a really big dwarf.  I’m not exactly the Yao Ming of dwarves, but I’m definitely that guy you notice when he walks in the room and think, “Wow, he’s tall.”  If they had Dwarf Olympics, I would dominate.  No, really.  I’d be Carl Lewis, Bruce Jenner, and Michael Phelps rolled into one.  Probably even end up on the dwarf Wheaties box (which is about ¾ the size of a regular Wheaties box).

Really though, it’s strange for me even to call myself a dwarf.  Aside from being short, my RSS-related “conditions” are quite mild.  The entire left side of my body is bigger than the right side (hands, feet, legs – even, apparently, my skull), but only a little.  Unlike a lot of people with RSS, the disparity isn’t bad enough to cause scoliosis or other health problems.  The slight inward curve to my pinky fingers doesn’t do much more than make it harder to play the guitar.  I don’t suffer from any RSS-related internal health issues either.


So I live in sort of a dwarf twilight.  Too tall and condition too mild to really count as a dwarf, but short enough to be outside of “normal.”  I’m reminded of the reality of this latter point when I see my gut-level reaction upon running into another guy that’s either my height or shorter.  I’ll take the twilight, though.  It makes life easier, including the little things you probably take for granted, like being able to find clothes and shoes in your size (I’m at the very bottom of the spectrum for this), reach that item on the top shelf at the market, or even drive a car without a special setup.

You weren’t really expecting me to write about teenage girls and vampires, were you?

What’s so “Good” about Good Friday?

Good Friday Image

Growing up, I knew of “Good Friday” mainly as one of the Easter-related traditions we didn’t really celebrate – kinda like the day the Catholic kids would come to school with dirty foreheads.  I later learned, of course, that Good Friday was the day when Christians historically remembered the crucifixion and death of Jesus.

I remember thinking that was a strange name for what’s often a very solemn remembrance.  Yes, the darkness and misery of Jesus’ death ultimately was good news for me, but it still seemed odd to call that day itself “Good.”  Maybe it would be more appropriate to call it “Black Friday,” followed by “Good Easter.”


The Great Exchange

If you’ve spent much time around Christians, you probably have heard that the whole point of Jesus dying on the cross was that he died for our sins.  Indeed, Paul describes Jesus’ death as accomplishing an exchange of our sin for Jesus’ righteousness: “We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.  For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Cor. 15:20-21.)

This is what’s sometimes referred to as the Great Exchange: even though Jesus never sinned, God treated Jesus as having done so, punishing him in our place; at the same time, even though we did not live a righteous life, God treats us as having Jesus’ perfect righteousness.  Or, as Peter put it, Jesus “bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. . . . For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God” (1 Pet. 2:24, 3:18).


The Problem:  It’s Not Fair

I will concede, that sounds pretty good.  But we’re not out of the woods quite yet.  Proverbs 17:15 says, “He who justifies the wicked and he who condemns the righteous are both alike an abomination to the LORD.”  According to God’s just standards, it is decidedly NOT good or fair to punish an innocent man in the place of a guilty man, and it is NOT good or fair to treat a guilty man as if he were innocent.  Rather, the guilty must be condemned, and the righteous vindicated.

Again, though, the point of the Great Exchange is that God justifies us (the wicked) and condemns Jesus (the righteous).  If God calls that an “abomination” (really strong word), how can it be good?


The Solution: Just and the Justifier

The key is in who Jesus was.  He wasn’t just a good man who volunteered to be punished in the place of the bad.  That, according to Proverbs 17:15, would be an abomination to God.  God’s perfect justice had to be satisfied, or the cross would be worthless to you and me.

The really good thing about the cross was that Jesus was the divine Son of God – fully God and fully man.  His death therefore accomplished God’s justice in that God himself took on his own just punishment for our sins, and in turn freely gave us his own righteousness.  In that way, God showed us his own righteousness by being both just and the justifier of the sinful:

[F]or all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. . . . It was to show his righteousness as the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. (Rom. 3:23-26)

So yeah, thanks to who Jesus was, that was a really Good Friday.

Present Reality


I suspected from early on that our fourth child would be our first little girl, figuring that a different mix of hormones was to blame for the different pregnancy symptoms my wife experienced with that pregnancy.  When Jennifer developed a killer migraine, I was sure.  We were having a girl.

It wasn’t just any migraine.  It was the worst migraine she ever had, and it came with new, scary side effects.  At one point, Jen thought she was having a stroke when one half of her body went completely numb.  With half her mouth numb, she had trouble talking.  Turns out, it was a neurological “aura” that can accompany that kind of migraine.  Several days later, a doctor prescribed a medication that made the pain subside and the auras go away.

The next morning, Jen was feeling remarkably better, and I was off to work.  She called me that morning saying that she was in terrible pain.  But this time, it wasn’t her head.  It was the kind of pain that sends pregnant women to the hospital — a burning, ripping sensation across her abdomen.

I tried to reassure Jen that the pain didn’t mean the worst, though I knew it could.  You see, this wasn’t our first rodeo.

Before we had our first son, we lost three babies to miscarriage. Getting the news the first time was a suffocating blow.  The doctor searched for a heartbeat with no success, then kept searching and searching some more, before finally delivering the news that our baby had died.  He left the two of us alone in the examination room, and we stood together crying on each other’s shoulder, trying to wrap our heads around the fact that the baby was gone.  After several minutes, we struggled to pull ourselves together for the walk out of the doctor’s office.  Our grief felt very private and very out of place in that office.  When the next two pregnancies ended with miscarriages as well, our experience of loss grew deeper and wider, but it was never quite as shocking as that first time.

So, when Jen announced that she was in pain shortly after her migraine disappeared, a dark sense of foreboding fell over me.  We might be going through it again.  I didn’t have long to mull that over, though.  Shortly after she called to tell me about the pain, Jen called with worse news.  She was bleeding.  A lot.

There was no more mystery:  we had lost another baby.

I rushed out of work to meet her at the emergency room.  Thankfully, a friend came to pick up the boys so I could attend to Jennifer.  I sat next to her in the uncomfortable waiting room chairs.  Once again, we were left alone to our grief.  The doctor hadn’t yet told us that the baby had died, but we both knew.  There wasn’t much to say.  I just held Jen as she sobbed on my chest.

After about twenty minutes, they took us back to an ultrasound room, and we sat silently in the dark while the tech did her work.  There was no joy in that ultrasound room.  No banter from the tech about the baby, no hopeful anticipation of seeing the heartbeat or learning whether it was a boy or girl.  Just stony silence from the tech and the faint sound of weeping from Jen.  As I held her hand, I stared through my own tears at the screen, waiting to see the lifeless form of our baby.  It felt more like a private funeral than anything.

Then, a flash of light and sound.  It disappeared.  The tech moved to another angle and kept at her task in silence.  What was that?

There it was again, but this time there were several flashes and faint sounds.  My voice broke as I forced out the words, “Was that . . . a heartbeat?”

“Yes,” came the answer, and the tech focused back in on the same area and turned up the sound.  There it was, unmistakable.  Whoosh-whoosh-whoosh-whoosh-whoosh, along with the bright flash of a beating heart.  Life!!  In an instant, our grief had been wiped out, and we embraced in the dark with tears of joy.

Several months later, our joy was made full when little Katie was born.


Katie, March 2013

. . .

I learned a lot about hope that day in the ER.  As we sat in the examination room, we both were utterly positive that our baby was dead.  Between our prior experiences with miscarriage, the pain Jen felt, and the heavy bleeding, we had no reason to think anything else.  We didn’t come to the hospital hoping that our baby would be okay; we came grieving the fact that she was not.

And then, out of nowhere — hope.  Counterintuitive hope.  Hope that dashed our expectations and left us breathless.  I realized later that even before we saw and heard Katie’s heartbeat, the hope of her life was more real than the reality we saw before our eyes.

I think this is the kind of hope the Bible describes.  Peter says that God has “caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,” then exhorts us, “[S]et your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”  (1 Pet. 1:3, 13)  Paul says that we groan as we wait for the redemption of our bodies when Jesus will be revealed, but reminds us that we were saved in the hope of that redemption:  “For in this hope we were saved.  Now hope that is seen is not hope.  For who hopes for what he sees?”  (Rom. 8:23-24)  So both Peter and Paul talk about the hope we have as a present reality, based on the salvation we have received in Jesus: we were born again to a living hope and we were saved in that hope.  Hoping in God for our ultimate redemption always means grasping hold on the present reality of that hope.  It’s not just wishful thinking, or an unfounded hope in an uncertain outcome.  At the same time, the hope we have still looks forward to what God will accomplish:  we hope in what we do not yet see.

The difference with what we experienced with Katie was that we had no hope that God would preserve her life before the reality of that hope was revealed to us.  That makes some logical sense because, unlike the hope that we have in our ultimate redemption in Jesus, we don’t have any promise that God will keep us from difficulty or tragedy.  But with the benefit of hindsight, I realize that I could have put my hope in God’s deliverance of Katie’s life, even in the face of circumstances that pointed entirely in the other direction.

I have a lot of room for growth in the kind of hope that trusts in God’s deliverance from or through the trials and difficulties of life.  Most often, I feel the best I can muster is like the father who said to Jesus, “I believe; help my unbelief!”  (Mark 9:24)  Among the many reasons I’m glad I have my precious little Katie around is that she’s a reminder to me that there’s a present reality for that kind of hope, too.

Top Eight Ways to Know You’ve Been Traveling Too Much

I had a pretty busy stretch of work-related travel over the past year.  To redeem the experience, I offer the top eight ways to know you’ve been doing too much work travel (top ten lists are so 2011):

1.  The airline names a plane after you.  No, I’m not that guy.  I did, however, qualify for Southwest’s highest frequent-flyer level, A-List Preferred, by March.  Let’s just say I made a few flights back and forth to Arizona in those three months.  Next up?  Qualifying for a companion pass on my next business trip.  Pretty sure that involves getting to sit up in the cockpit, take a turn at flying the plane — that sort of thing.

2.  Your kids forget your name.  Well, just about.  One morning as I was getting ready to head to the office, my two-year-old asked where I was going.  When I said I was going to work, she started bawling.  Turns out that my going “to work” had come to mean in her mind that I was heading out of town.

3.  The TSA agents know you.  Or, better yet, the ones you don’t know say things to you like, “This isn’t your first rodeo, is it?”  But seriously, having a TSA agent know you is fairly significant.  They either employ about 500 agents per airport (such that you never see the same ones twice), or they have a higher turnover rate than a goldfish tank.

4.  The hotel employees know you by name.  This one became a running joke for me and my colleagues.  No matter who was manning the front desk, they would greet me with, “Welcome back, Mr. Kennedy!”  And yet they acted as if my colleagues were there for the first time.  When one of them called a front desk employee on it, she stammered a bit and explained that she remembered me “because he walks by all the time . . .?”  (Everyone has to walk by the front desk on their way in and out of that hotel.)  On my next visit, the guy checking me in scoffed at my attempt to hand him my ID and credit card:  “Oh please, we don’t need that, Mr. Kennedy.”  Or, as my colleague heard it, “Your money’s no good here, Mr. Kennedy!”

5.  The Starbucks barista knows your order.  The guy at the downtown Phoenix Starbucks not only knew my order, but he greeted me in line with, “Hey, Shawn!”  Which led to more grief because there was no such greeting for my colleagues.  Whatever, they’re just jealous of my Starbucks cred.

6.  You’re a security ninja.  You know how they have separate security lines for experienced travelers, ordinary travelers, and families flying with children?  Those are all for rookies.  Security ninjas make the experienced travelers look like me flying with my five kids (which isn’t pretty).  And we ninjas have precious little patience for people that clog up the security line by doing things like “forgetting” the water bottle in their purse.

7.  You’re a scheduling savant.  I made the flight between Orange County and Phoenix so many times, I had the schedule memorized.  My colleagues and I had some stirring conversations about the periodic schedule changes:  “Can you believe they dropped the 5:15 flight??”  And we were like Rain Man when it came to changing flights at the last minute.  “Five minutes to find a cab, 12 minutes to the airport at this time of day, 15 minutes to charge through the airport and get through security, and two minutes to the gate.  We can make it — book it!”

8.  You know the way of the early boarders.  Unless I switched onto a flight at the last minute, I almost always was one of the first few people to check in for my Southwest flights.  My colleagues and I took special pride in being able to say things like, “I was A1 for both flights!”  But with great position comes great peril.  The middle seats in those first few rows are awfully tempting to the middle-of-the-packers.  Avoiding eye contact only works for so long before some brave soul blurts out, “Is anyone sitting there?”  Um, no.  “Mind if I do?”  Um, yes, fat dude with big elbows.  Yes, I do mind.

So there you have it.  If you see yourself in any of these, you might want to ease back on the work travel a bit.  If you don’t see yourself in any of these and you happen to see me in the second row on that next flight, just keep right on walking.