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Europe, Africa and Baby Asia

MIA is an abbreviation for “missing in action.”

Just call me Mr. MIA. I really enjoy keeping you all updated on the life and adventures of the Sloan family. However, when Asia came into our lives, we set aside quite a bit to just enjoy our new family. It’s been a sweet 8+ months. We have enjoyed every single minute, well- all except for the 3am “screamfests”. Those suck but everything else has been a gift.

Baby Asia

Our beautiful daughter is amazing. I am little bias but she really is a wonderful little girl. She has a joyful demeanor, loves everyone she meets, sleeps fairly well, loves to explorer of all thing forbidden (including the dog’s food!) and is as healthy as can be. We dare not take these things for granted. We know what it’s like to sit up with her in the hospital. We praise God for her health and for that cute little grin. We hope you enjoy her as well…

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Trip to the Middle East

This fall I was able to go on international trips to Lebanon, Ethiopia and France. They were all great trips but one sticks out.

In September, I traveled with 3 other good friends to Beirut to visit a non-profit serving Syrian and Iraqi refugees who have lost their homes, jobs and family members through the civil war in Syria and through the carnage of ISIS. If you’ve turn on the TV or watched the news online, you have seen the wicked deeds of both Bashar Hafez al-Assad, president of Syria, and the terrorist group ISIS who are spread across Syria and Iraq. Both have sought to crush the weak and helpless around them.

On this trip to Lebanon, we were able to travel north, just five miles from the Syrian border, and provide food and essential supplies to displaced Syrian families. We sat in their tents and heard stories of their homes being flattened and of husbands and sons who were unjustly imprisoned.

We also traveled to southern Lebanon to provide aid and to visit families. We sat in the home of one family whose father who had been killed by a sniper and talked to a former solider who fled and is now hunted. He was tired of fighting for a wicked army. He risked his life to save his family and now hides in a small apartment in this area of the country

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We were hit with story after story of murdered family members and whole towns destroyed. We heard stories of greed and uncontrolled wickedness. It was a privilege to suffer with these refugees, if only for a few days.  Pray for my new found friends. May they find relief from their sufferings and trust in the God who created them and offers them forgiveness and eternal live. May they find that Jesus truly can empathize with their sufferings.

We do not know the reason God allows evil and suffering to continue, or why is it so random, but now at least we know what the reason is not. It cannot be that he does not love us. It cannot be that he does not care. He is so committed to our ultimate happiness that he is willing to plunge into the greatest depths of sufferings himself. He understanding us, he has been there, and he assures us that he has a plan to eventually wipe away every tear. [Rev. 21]

Tim Keller, Walking with God Through Pain and Suffering (p.121)

First day at home

Our Greatest Adventure

It’s been quite an adventure.

On Friday, Asia was finally released from the hospital after a 3.5 week stay. She is doing incredibly well and to our surprise, she is already in a good sleeping routine. Though the sleeping routine may not continue, we will enjoy it as long as it lasts. Thanks to my very kind employer, I have two weeks of paternity leave to spend with my wonderful family.

People have been asking me why we named our daughter Anastasia and why we are calling her Asia. All along we have wanted to give our child a name with deep meaning that would tell a story. A story that would let her know just how good our God is. The name Anastasia is a very old word that means “resurrection”. Anastasia has been used as a name by Christians for well over a thousand years. Given our last 18 months of hardship and the fact that our little girl is being adopted into our family, we felt the name resurrection was a prefect fit- from death to life. Secondly, the name can also mean, “the one who will be born again.” The greatest hope we have for our daughter is that she would come to know and love Jesus. What better way to say that than by giving her a name that means as much. Finally, we decided to call her Asia because it was in Asia where Sarah and I first met and fell in love. Living in Asia was one of the most memorable events of our lives and our love and passion for that part of the world is deeply rooted in us.

As we have thought about all the great travels and adventures we’ve had as a married couple, all that was and all that is to come; we can’t help but know that little Asia is our greatest adventure.

Sadness

Sadness Will End

From time to time over the last six months I get hit with this overwhelming sense of sadness. I wish there was a better, more descriptive word to explain the complex emotions I feel when I see a child at our local children’s hospital suffering from cancer or hear of a friend’s brother who seems to be losing his battle with colon cancer or see a sports reporter fight through chemotherapy treatments. I wish there were a better word but there’s not. I see these hurting ones and simply weep from deep sadness. Contemplation, journaling and discussing these things with my wife have led me to the conclusion that I am simply grieved by the brokenness of this world.

Our glorious God created this world to be good and perfect in every way. Sin, suffering and pain are foreign to the creation He made but through the willful sin of man and woman, sin entered our beautiful world and continues to bring death and decay to us all. This world is not the way it is supposed to be and neither are you or I. We too are broken and messed up. But through the gift of our Savior’s life, death and resurrection, we have hope both in eternal life and in the good life now. Good because He has promised to walk with us.

When my sad days come and I start to believe that sin and suffering will never end, I turn to Revelation 21:3-7. These verses remind me that death and sin have already been defeated and that full joy will be restored. Our good and glorious God has promised it.

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”

And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” And he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment. The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son.

Take courage my friend. For those who place their trust in Christ, suffering will one day end and joy will remain.

 

One Year later

One Year Later

On this day, a year ago, I was diagnosed with final stage testicular cancer. It is hard to believe it has only been a year but the calendar assures me as much. Twelve months ago today, I went in for a CT scan to see what was causing my legs to swell and my back to ache. Sarah and I both knew there was a possibility it might be cancer. We had just pulled into the parking lot at Target when the call came. The doctor said that my lower body was riddled with blood clots and  I had some form of advanced cancer, most likely testicular. We pulled out of the parking lot, drove to the hospital and remained there for the next two months.

Most of you know the story. I was in and out of surgery and chemo treatments for the next five months. I gained 40 pounds, lost 70 pounds and then gained back 50. Part of the time I rejoiced at God’s goodness and then struggled to feel his presence or know why he would allow such suffering. My spirit was broken, my hope seemed lost, but God continued to love and pursue me even when I did not see it. During those days I experienced love through the Church in ways I did not know were possible. Each day brought a new understanding of covenantal love as my wife served me selflessly without rest. She was hurting just as much as me, if not more. She was only 29 years old but daily faced the reality that she might lose her husband to cancer. Yet even in the face of this continual carnage of the heart; she loved and served me when I was not able to return that love. Many days I felt distant from the blessings and love God had so graciously shown in the past but I was now learning that God’s love was present,  just revealed in different ways. He was loving me through my community of friends, through my local church, through the sacrifice and prayers of strangers, and through the relentless love of a godly wife.

Today, a year after the dreadful event began, I am taking a day of reflection. I have spent the day in the Word of God, reading good books, talking with my wife, writing down my thoughts and stopping to rest and think deeply. My plan is to make this a yearly habit. Take a day of reflection on the anniversary of when I was diagnosed with cancer (February 5) and take a day of celebration when by God’s grace cancer was defeated (June 4).

I have been slowly reading through Tim Keller’s Walking with God through Pain and Suffering. This book is not for the faint of heart. Keller writes over 300 pages on the deep issues of suffering. Keller does not side step the hard questions but faces them head on and for that I am thankful. It has been a refreshing read and one that has allowed me to process my own suffering, see my suffering as a means of personal growth and understand that my suffering allows me to both love others well and identify with our suffering Savior. What a refreshing truth that God himself understands our suffering because he too has suffered.

“Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.”  Isaiah 53: 4-5

“…who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” Philippians 2:6-8

What a marvelous truth for me to meditate on today; my God understands and cares about my suffering because he has suffered in the deepest ways possible. What is even greater is that he did so for the good of others, even to the point of death. Dan McCartney states that, “the main reason that Christians insist that God can be trusted in the midst of suffering is that…God himself has first hand experience.” Keller adds to this line of thinking when he says, “We should also trust him [God] because he earned our trust on the cross. So we can trust him even when he hasn’t shown us yet the reason why. He is good for it.” (p.154)

So that is where I am today. I don’t know why this last year happened but the answer to why seems less important. What is important to me is the truth of God’s unfailing love in the midst of this last year and the depth of relationship with him that only suffering can bring. It’s hard to wrap our minds and hearts around but suffering does bring about good things. Suffering in itself is not good but when it strips away all we are and all we hope for and leaves us at the feet of Jesus, it can’t help but be a good thing.

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Thankful for Christmas

Friends and Family,

We have had a crazy year. In some ways it has felt like the longest year ever and in other ways it feels like the whole year just passed us by.

The big events that have made our life crazy this year have all related to Nathan’s health. This journey began last November when his knee went out playing basketball. He had surgery to repair a torn patellar tendon and had to keep the leg straight for the next 8 weeks. His recovery was much harder than we anticipated resulting in multiple ER visits, tests, and scans. The end result was the discovery in February that he had last stage testicular cancer and severe blood clots in his abdomen. Nathan was in the hospital for a continuous 2 months as doctors diagnosed his condition, did surgeries and began chemotherapy treatments. In total Nathan went through 3 rounds of chemotherapy and 4 surgeries. The final surgery was in June where doctors removed the remaining tumor and then were able to declare him cancer free. Needless to say those months were long and hard. The chemotherapy Nathan endured was strenuous making him incredibly sick and preventing him from being able to eat. He lost a total of 40 pounds during his treatments. Currently he continues to go for routine doctor’s appointments, chest x-rays, and CT scans. He also remains on blood thinners for the blood clots. Looking at him however you would never guess he had been sick. God has been so good to heal him and restore health. He is working full time and even went on an international trip in November.

Cancer is the hard part of our story. But it has pushed us to an exciting new season. Last year we began to pursue growing our family with no success. After discovering the cancer we understood why our efforts to have children had not been successful. Adoption is something we have had a heart for both individually and as a couple. Our initial plan had been to wait several years before pursuing adoption. The events of this year have caused us to decide to pursue adoption now as the primary way of growing our family. We are so excited about this opportunity to reflect our Father’s adoption of us as we seek to adopt children of our own. Please pray for us as we begin this new journey. We know it will not be easy and step forward with great awareness of our need for Father’s grace.

We wish we had the privilege of seeing you and catching up in person. Have a wonderful Christmas celebrating the Father’s gift of His Son!

Love,

Nathaniel & Sarah

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What If Jesus Were Enough?

With cancer comes suffering and with suffering comes a flood of emotions, experiences and new insights. People ask my wife and I what it’s been like- what lessons we have learned. This is a hard question and difficult to express in just a few words. For now, we still aren’t sure what in the world just happened or what baggage we still carry. We are being intentional to talk it through and to live out our lives with others but still the wounds remain open, festering at times. I suspect they will remain open for a while. I do not say this as a confession. I simply say this as a fact. Wounds take time to heal and we are learning that it’s okay to be broken.

So what do I say when people ask how we’re doing? Should I share about days when I forget that I even had cancer. The days when I feel like I am 33 and not 80? Or, do I share about the days when I have trouble walking because my legs are swollen from blood clots. Or the days when everything is find and dandy and in a moment I am wreaked with sadness. I openly weep and become embarrassed for a moment and then allow myself to grieve for I know it’s good for my soul. What do I say?

This week, one of my close friends sent me this song from singer and songwriter, Tim Timmons. He too has faced the monster of cancer and asked the one question I go back to over and over again, “Is Jesus enough?” The answer I come to over and over again is yes, he is MORE than enough. It sounds cliche but suffering has taught me it is deeply true. I lay before you the same question, is Jesus enough for you?

Friends visiting Lhasa

My Suffering May Help Others

My story of suffering may help others.
It is in this time of surcease that I find it both good and possible to look back over the past two years of my experience with cancer and, thereby, with my approaching death. Perhaps my story will give shape and meaning to the stories of so many people…” – Letters from the Land of Cancer, Wangerin, 11

It’s crazy to think that one man’s suffering can be another man’s hope. It may seem farfetched but it’s true nonetheless. My story is one of suffering, that’s a fact, but my story has turned into something much more. It has turned to a story of hope. Sure, people are encouraged to hear that I am in remission but I think they receive encouragement and find hope for other reasons as well.

After we found out about the cancer, Sarah and I had a conversation where we both desired to be open and transparent with the people around us. We knew this would be a battle we could not face on our own and welcomed the company. What we did not realize at the time was that people would flock around us with genuine love and compassion. People sat with us for hours, prayed over us, took care of our dog, bought us a much needed set of tires for our car, brought us meals for three months, paid medical bills, worked extra hours in our stead and the list goes on. As we talked with people, we realized that these “good Samaritans” were coming to our side because we invited them and created room in our lives for them. We opened our lives, both the good and bad, and welcomed people to be present with us. It still sounds crazy to me but people have actually thank us for opening our lives to them and allowing them to suffer with us. What a crazy thought- when we suffered, others joined us in our suffering and felt blessed. This is one of the mysteries of the Church. We are one Body, who function best together, even under the burden of heavy pain.

“The human body has many parts, but the many parts make up one whole body. So it is with the body of Christ. Some of us are Jews, some are Gentiles, some are slaves, and some are free. But we have all been baptized into one body by one Spirit, and we all share the same Spirit. Yes, the body has many different parts, not just one part…This makes for harmony among the members, so that all the members care for each other. If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it, and if one part is honored, all the parts are glad.” –  1 Corinthians 12:12-26 (NLT)

Part of being the family of God, part of being community, is to suffer well together. Thank you Church for suffering well with me. May there be continued encouragement through the beauty of community.

Secondly, as we have been open and vulnerable with people, they have felt encouraged to see a fellow believer suffer and suffer in a way that was frayed around the edges. Part of this came as I was honest with my questions, doubts, anger and even depression. I didn’t wake up every morning with a smile on my face and a kick in my step. My heart overflowed with confusion, lies and fear of the continued pain. I continued to believe in God’s goodness and his sovereign hand but failed to see it fully in my story. The questions kept coming back, “why is this happening me? What are you doing God?” I realized very quickly that God was not afraid of my questions, fears or doubts. He welcomed them as a Father welcomes a battered son, not with rebuke, but with compassion.

How then can my pain bring hope to others? Because Christ is ever present in all our pain and sufferings:

“Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.” – Romans 5:3-6 (ESV)

Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows” – Isaiah 53:4