Wednesday, October 8, 2014

This is the Day...

“This is the day the Lord has made; I will rejoice and be glad in it.”  -Psalm 118:24



One year ago today, I woke up feeling like something terrible happened.  Something was wrong.  My worst fear was confirmed a few short hours later in an ultrasound room.  I lay on the table, staring at the screen, taking in the picture of a perfectly formed little baby, only to hear the doctor say, “there’s no heartbeat.”  And my world crashed.


I knew the anniversary of this sad day was coming, and I was preparing myself for the grief, the heartache, the anger.  I can go there so easily, still a year later.  I can go there so quickly, even with another amazing blessing in my arms.  I can stay there so long in my own strength. 


But we have choices.  And while grief is a very real thing that does not need to be sped up, a time comes when we must learn to lead our emotions instead of letting our emotions lead us.


On October 8, 2013, we found out we would never hear our precious baby’s cries.  On October 10, 2013, on my 32nd birthday, I delivered her in our home.  I will never forget that day.  I was able to see her fingers and her toes.  And at just 13 weeks gestation, she was a perfect creation.  I will never forget her.  I will never forget the love mixed with pain that I experienced that evening.  I was forever changed.


I remember telling my family that we were not celebrating my birthday…ever again.  I remember getting angry that my favorite season of the year was riddled with so much pain, this loss and losses in the past.  I remember thinking that I just wanted to be numb and pretend that nothing had ever happened.  I really, truly wanted to be cool and aloof about the whole process.  I mean, the baby was only a tiny little thing.  We only knew about her for about 3 months.  We had only heard her heartbeat once.  We had only seen her on an ultrasound that day we discovered she was gone.  But the truth is, once that line turns pink, there is a bond that forms that is strong.  It’s called love.  And what I learned in October 2013 is how strong love is. 


Love is so strong that it can undo us in the blink of an eye.  It can derail us overnight.  It can cause us to be bonded to someone whom we’ve never met.  It can affect the way we eat, sleep, and exist.


I could write on and on about miscarriage.  I could go on and on about how it’s such a violation of a mother’s body, soul, and spirit.  I could describe the stages of grief in light of losing such a small baby.  I could tell you the ugly, awful details of my lowest points and the exhilarating moments when I felt His nearness.


The truth is, I am still grieving.  I still wonder every day what that baby would have looked like, been like.  I wonder how our family would have welcomed her.  I wonder what she would have been destined for.  I wonder why she was taken so early.



But I believe that this is the day the Lord has made.  I will rejoice and be glad in it.  I have learned that life is a gift.  Every day is precious.  And willing ourselves to dwell in joy rather sadness does not mean I love my precious baby any less.  Since losing her, we’ve had other storms to navigate.  Even now, today, we’re grieving something else in a very hard, real way. 


We can live in grief.  Life seems to bring hard times in waves.  For us, it’s been like we’re on the shore during a violent, long storm.  But I’ve learned we can sit on that shore and let the waves draw us in, carrying us away to somewhere unrecognizable.  Or we can stand, hold each other up, and hold our ground. 


This is the day the Lord has made.  And though a year ago it was full of pain and confusion, and though it caused me spiritual, emotional, and physical anguish, today I will rejoice. I will be glad that He is sovereign.  I will be glad that He, in his infinite wisdom, gives and takes away.  I will be glad that He is near to the brokenhearted.  I will be glad that He makes all things new, in His time.  I will be glad that He is good.  I will be glad in Him.


Though we have been blessed with a beautiful baby this past August, he didn’t “take away” the pain we feel.  But he is a reminder that God is the author of life and that every good and perfect gift comes from Him.  That though there is pain in the night, joy comes in the morning.  That each season changes, and with it comes beautiful and terrible things.  But His love never changes, our joy remains in Him, and He will never leave us or forsake us.


My heart is heavy today, but I choose joy.  I choose to rejoice. 


My son, Micah, named our precious baby last year.  He chose Mia Joy.  It means “my joy.”  She is a reminder that my joy comes from Him, and only in Him will our joy be made complete.  This world has nothing for us.  But in Him our joy is made complete.  One day I will see My Joy face to face.  Until then, sweet baby, rest in Jesus’ arms.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Eli's Birth Story...Part 1

So, I’m 3 weeks postpartum, and every time I close my eyes, I still replay the hours that brought my beautiful boy Eli into this world.  In an effort not to forget the crazy events that led to his arrival, and the scary moments afterwards, I am going to try to put into words our story.  Please do not let my exhaustion induced incoherence scare you off!


First, let me say that Eli is my 5th baby, but my first where I desired to have a natural birth.  All my others had been aided by pitocin (or induced entirely with it), and I caved and had an epidural.  Since my OB retired, this time around I chose a midwife group, and I was clear that I wanted to avoid the epidural most definitely, and try to avoid the pitocin at all costs. 


Though this pregnancy was the hardest as far as aches and pains, I think it was the easiest because it had been complication free!  The only thing that crept up on me was a recurrent uti-turned kidney infection during the last 5-6 weeks, which led me to have to take a once a day antibiotic until I delivered…that’s right…5 weeks of antibiotics!


I am a pretty early laborer.  I usually start having regular, painful braxton hicks around 30 weeks which turn into closer, stronger contractions that start dilating me around week 36.  This was no different.  Aside from these being incredibly distracting, they are exhausting!  Still, I was waiting for my body to kick in and get this baby out!  I had all the typical “signs” of labor around 38 weeks, and I truly thought it was going to be “any day now.”  You may laugh here. 


I saw my midwife at 39 weeks, 4 days to do a membrane sweep.  At that appointment, we had a good talk.  She, being a naturalist who has encouraged me this entire time I can indeed do this, was seriously suggesting pitocin.  My body was ready.  I had regular contractions, I was dilated, effaced and ready to go.  I had 4 small children at home to take care of, and I have been wasting away on antibiotics for over a month.  She told me to think about it and call her on Saturday, when she was on call and would be ready for me at the hospital. 


We talked, we prayed, I cried.  I was uncomfortable and contracting every 8 minutes round the clock for 2 more days.  Saturday morning, we made the call and went into the hospital to meet our baby boy. 


We entered labor and delivery around 11:45 and was admitted (which always takes such a long time!).  They hooked me up to the monitors for about 30 minutes to determine what was going on.  Sure enough, there I was contracting, but just stuck. 


I had the most wonderful nurse named Faye.  Faye was such a huge support and we laughed together during those prepping hours.  Because we opted for pitocin, I had to have an iv bag of fluids before we began.  Around 12:30 or so we started the iv bag.  And then my hubby and I walked the halls.  It was actually really nice.  I wasn’t in a lot of pain (yet!) and we walked hand in hand trying to kick start labor. 


At about 1:15, we finally were able to start the pitocin.  On the lowest dose, it definitely kicked in right away.  Immediately, my contractions jumped to 5 minutes apart and were getting more uncomfortable.  Still, we laughed, we joked, we talked and we reminisced about all our other children coming into the world.   I was checked at 1:45 and had progressed, so they charted this as my official time I began labor. By 2 p.m., I was up another dosage, and I was really starting to get uncomfortable.  I was texting with my friend who was on her way to be with us and I remember around 2:30 having to pause while texting.  Faye kept telling me I was getting closer because I wasn’t as giddy as I had been.


My midwife came in about 2:45 to talk about breaking my water.  I was really against the idea, just like I was against the pitocin.  However, I really wanted a water birth this time around and if I was still using the pitocin, I would have to be constantly monitored in the water.  Her plan was to break my water, ease off the pitocin, and get me in the tub.  At that point, I was getting pretty uncomfortable and that big, beautiful tub was beckoning me.  I asked her to give me like 20 more minutes and she was fine with that.  She didn’t push me either way, just explained my options and what she thought was best.  I should also mention that she had worked with my previous ob years ago and trusted and respected him.  I felt a continuity of care going from him to her and really valued her opinion. 


Somewhere in the 3 p.m. hour, they turned the pitocin up for the 3rd time and wowsers!  That was intense.  Like I said, I had pitocin births with all my previous labors and never took the epidural until close to the end.   This time, it was different.  I immediately could not focus on anything else any longer but getting through the contraction.  I asked my nurse to get my midwife.  I was ready for her to break my water.  I was SO hoping that meant we could turn the pit off right away!  My contractions were coming every 2 minutes and were lasting over a minute. 


She broke my water, and noted that I had progressed again.  Things were going fast!  I used the rest room, and could barely make it back to the bed.  Within minutes, I could no longer talk in between the waves, and was humming through each and every one.  Faye was trying to move me in different positions to make me more comfortable and it just wasn’t working.  I do remember looking at the clock and it was 3:45.  I kept thinking I would have hours of this and started to doubt myself.  Doubt, I learned, is a natural laborer’s worst enemy.  The pain is so much more intense when crowded with doubt. 


As promised, they backed off the pitocin, turning it down to the second dosage level.  Immediately, my contractions spaced out to 3 minutes apart, which gave me some time to breathe.  I remember looking at my husband during that time and telling him that pitocin was from the very pit of hell (see what I did there?  Pitocin…pit of hell?).  I remember being so relieved that I would be able to get in the water soon.  I was told that all we needed is a full 30 minutes of monitoring the baby to make sure he was handling the pit well before I could get in. 


At 4:15 p.m., my midwife came in to tell me that she thought it would be better to turn the pit back up.  Because I went from 2 minutes apart to 3 minutes apart for a half hour, she didn’t think we were moving in the right direction.  With a smile on my face I told her I hated her.  She laughed and told me she knew that was coming.  Faye brought in an essential oil diffuser and started diffusing eucalyptus into the room.  We had my ipod playing my favorite calming songs. 


After that, everything became a blur.  They ended up turning the pit back up by 4:30, after another check.  I was only 5, maybe 6 centimeters dilated, but fully effaced at the time.  I admit, I was discouraged because things were so intense for the past couple of hours, I thought surely I would be farther.  But Faye reminded me I had progressed so much in under 2 hours.  Her shift ended at 7 p.m., and she kept assuring me that she was going to meet the baby.


Things got so much more intense, it was unimaginable.  I kept asking to get into the water, but Eli was descending so fast that we kept losing his heart rate.  We played the “find the baby’s heart rate” game for about an hour.  At 5:15, my friend arrived.  At this point, I could barely speak.  I talked to her in broken, one-word-at-a-time sentences.  I was really hot and nauseated and could not get comfortable.  My midwife was holding a straw with some juice to my lips, which was such a beautiful way of taking care of me.  My dear husband was dipping his hands into a bucket of ice water and constantly keeping cool rags on my forehead and neck.  My friend was softly encouraging me through each wave, which lasted over a minute and were coming just under 2 minutes apart. 


I had no break, and this is when I started to blurt out “I can’t do it!” And as soon as those words were uttered, I started shaking.  Ah!  Transition!  It was a blessing and a curse all at once!  Probably about 5:45, I insisted I absolutely couldn’t do it anymore, and after a quick check, we learned I was at a 7.  My midwife said we were headed to the tub!  I sat in it as it filled and was in agony!  The water felt good, but it was almost too late.  Just a few minutes more and I told my midwife I was ready to push.  I don’t think she necessarily believed me seeing as it had only been a few short minutes, but sure enough, I was complete.  Oh, how I love the number 10!


I powered through a few more contractions, making some oddly strange barnyard type noises.  I remember focusing every ounce of energy trying to breathe through the pain.  So much so, that I did not open my eyes almost the entire time I was in the tub.  I couldn’t even if I wanted to.  But as I was sitting there willing the good Lord to take me, I at the same time felt an incredible amount of peace.  I breathed in the eucalyptus, I felt my sweet husband’s hands washing me with that cold water, I listened as my ipod played a familiar tune that played over and over “It’s gonna be worth it.”  My friend was encouraging me, my nurses were whispering to me how great of a job I was doing, and my midwife was faithfully at my side, letting me know exactly what was happening.  Despite the incredible pain, I felt very cared for…very peaceful.


I probably started to push somewhere around 6 p.m., give or take a few minutes.  But in the water, I couldn’t really feel like I was progressing. We had suspected that the baby wasn’t in the correct position most of the time because I had intense back labor.  Sure enough, it seemed baby was turned sideways.  After a few valiant efforts, my midwife calmly, but confidently, said we need to change our plan and head to the bed.  Baby needed to turn and I was going to tire myself out if I kept trying this way. 


I remember thinking that there was NO WAY I could walk back to the bed.  I literally just had been pushing and they expected me to walk?  No way!  This was an out of body experience.  Somehow, with the assistance of my birth team, I got there.  When I stood up, I felt the baby turn.  I knew that this was it.


I got back to the bed and my midwife knew it was time too.  The next thing out of her mouth was “Dad, do you want to deliver this baby?”  To which my husband excitedly answered “Yes!”  I couldn’t open my eyes.  I couldn’t answer the nurses’ questions.  I had no idea what was going on around me, all I knew is that the baby was coming.  I started involuntarily pushing as she was explaining to my giddy husband what to do.  I could hear his excitement in his responses to her.  Admittedly, I was really irritated that at the moment that I was in the most intense pain of my life, I could literally hear his smile.  I thought of kicking him, as if I had the strength to do anything but breathe and think I REALLY can’t do this! 


It felt like an eternity…I felt like I was in that bed pushing for hours.  But it was only a few minutes before my sweet Eli Joseph came into the world, right into his daddy’s hands.  I did it.  6:23 p.m., 4 ½ hours after labor started, only a really intense hour or two, and really not very long pushing, and I realized that labor and delivery is even more intense, more excruciating, more lovely, more thrilling, more amazing, than I had every thought before. 


Eli was our biggest baby, weighing 7 pounds, 8 ounces, and 21 inches long.  He lay on my chest gazing at his daddy and I as we waited for the cord to stop pulsating.  And daddy cut the cord as well.  It was a beautiful experience.  The staff was amazing, my support team was amazing, and my baby is amazing.


But the story isn’t over there.  Things got intense again, in a different way. Things got scary. There’s more to come…but I have to go snuggle my baby for a bit now.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Early Morning Thoughts: Becoming

I have spent much of my life focused on "becoming" what I'm not instead of realizing who I am. This notion of becoming is a great distraction and a great deception. It keeps us from living life with freedom and embracing grace to live an imperfect life full of love. Instead, it has us believing that with more work, more striving, more time, eventually we will arrive where we belong and only then become useful. It holds us in a place of ineffectiveness, fear, and doubt. It is in the becoming process where we counter intuitively abandon the practice of our gifts, waiting for them to be honed by some other process. Eventually, our dreams grow dim, waiting for the day when we arrive at the place we have been training for.
But we already are. I have been blessed with every spiritual blessing. I have been called by name. I have been adopted into the family of the King of kings. My frame has never been hidden from my Creator. He has knit me together perfectly, and instead of hiding until I can do something "useful" with all these things in my life that seem jumbled, unskilled, or less than perfect, I will praise Him with every ounce of my imperfection, every rough edge, every unedited word, because I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
I don't need to become. I already am. I am a child of God, who He takes pleasure in, even in my imperfection, even before the world thinks I am ready to be useful.
I am precious in His sight, and I love because He loved me so completely and so amazingly first.
I am no longer waiting to become anything. I am taking everything I am, everything I have been gifted, and pouring it back out as a love offering to the One I was made to reflect. He is altogether good. He is altogether lovely. He is altogether worthy. And I am His.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

The Arms of a Daddy

I woke up this morning to the familiar sound of footsteps, usually scurrying to my side of the bed, cuddling up right next to me.  Lo and behold, when I opened my eyes, I saw two tiny, leftover pigtails hurrying past me and around to the other side of the bed.  My little girl almost never chooses her daddy over me, so I shut my eyes, pretending to be asleep so that he could experience those sweet morning snuggles. 

A moment later, I couldn't resist peeking at them.  There she was, lying perfectly across his chest, her head nestled right next to his heart.  His arm held her there, and the two of them were still and quiet, just enjoying being close.  My heart was so very full before I even stepped a foot out of bed.  There is just nothing like the arms of your daddy surrounding you before you start your day. 

I started thinking about when I was little.  My dad would play a little game with me that we fondly named "Teddy Bear."  He would come home from work and need to snuggle me, his teddy bear, to get to sleep.  After he fell asleep, I would sneak away until he called out for me, and then I would return to his arms.  Clever guy, huh?  What a great way to sneak in a little shut eye after work!  But to me, I looked forward to being wanted, in his arms.  My dad's arms were affectionate and familiar.  They were strong and full of protection.  Even playing these childish games and running away, the best part of the game, the only point of it all, was returning to that safe place.

That's where my daughter chose to run to this morning.  The safe place of her daddy's arms.  I started to think about how we intensely need our dads arms.  See, my hands are constantly busy at home.  I'm cooking, cleaning, changing, bathing, teaching, hugging, kissing, holding, feeding.  But my husband's arms are just as important, if not more so.  He is working, providing, protecting, loving, carrying.  He does what I cannot do.  He lifts the kids out of danger when they are stuck.  He carries them when they're tired or hurt.  He fixes things.  And he uses those strong arms to wrap around these little ones when they run to him, without question.  It comes so naturally to him.  Without batting an eye, his arms scoop up his beloved ones, place them on his chest, and welcomes them in. 

Moms are great, but fathers are essential.  And the greatest gift that we have been given is a heavenly father whose love and protection far surpass anything we can see or experience here on this earth.  His arms are strong, carrying us through whatever life brings us.  He picks us up when we are weary.  He carries us when our wounds are fresh.  He lifts us out of danger and He repairs all the problems that we create.  Without batting an eye, those loving arms scoop us up and hold us close.  And there is no better place to be, then safely resting in Him, feeling His heart beat, and knowing we are safe and loved.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Saying Thank You While Waiting for A Whisper

Church is not a building.  It’s a beautiful body of believers that stand together in circumstances, both good and bad.  It’s a commitment to loving one another the way Christ loved us.  It’s sacrifice.  It’s compassion.  It’s the most amazing and beautiful thing I’ve ever experienced.  And from the deepest place of my heart, I say a big thank you for all of you who have reached out to us and showed us what love looks like.  Love is practical.  Sometimes it’s tangible.  And being on the receiving end is humbling. 


As many of you know, we had a major sewage backup last Friday that filled our entire basement with inches of sewage water.  But the storm that we’re in actually started before then.  I’m not exactly sure when it officially changed from sunny to stormy, but I know it’s been awhile.  I’m not exaggerating when I say we have experienced one immensely stressful situation after another for months.  There are a few things that I don’t feel comfortable sharing publicly.  But know that they have challenged every ounce of what we believe and hope for.  And after being challenged over and over and over in every way I can imagine, I was proud to say that we were walking through these storms hand in hand, trusting God…that was until last Friday.


I have never really cared about having “stuff.”  I think we might be the last people on earth without smart phones or a tablet of some sort.  We do not have flat screen televisions.  All of our clothes come from resale.  And most of our furniture and things are hand me downs.  We rather fill our home with children who laugh (and cry), grow (and eat), and play (and break things).  There are those moments of intense jealousy when I’m at someone’s house that is beautifully decorated, spacious, and seemingly perfect.  Just keeping it real.  But truly, I am content most of the time.


That is why last Friday came as a surprise.  All of a sudden, losing my children’s playroom, my home office, my home schooling storage and library, my laundry room area, and a lot of our things in storage, really shook me.  And then I felt so much shame.  It’s just stuff, after all.  But that wasn’t all.  It wasn’t just the stuff.  It was the immense amount of work ahead of us.  We already feel like time is short.  We already have 2 major house projects, one of which is a result of another home fiasco.  We had 1200 square feet of living space to start with in this home, plus that precious basement, and now we’re reduced to no basement, and one bedroom off limits, plus 4 active kids with one on the way in 20 weeks.  The salvageable items line our walls in every free space in our home.  Our kids have the living room and a small area in their bedroom to play.  This is what is shaking me.  My house is completely a wreck, and it’s overwhelming.And just when we think we are making progress, there is a setback. 


We’re looking at weeks and weeks of clean up and repair before we can even start putting our home back together.  If this were all we had to deal with right now, it’d be enough.  But it’s not.  It’s just the latest.  Somehow I think we’ve evolved to deal with and expect stress.  But it’s not easy.


End rant.


Life is hard, but God is good.  So cliché, right?  I literally chanted that this weekend.  But in that chanting, here’s what I learned.  He is good, which means He is not bad.  And if He is not bad, then all the bad we live through isn’t Him.  It’s not.  Let me tell you, from the time I was a little girl, I’ve lived through a heck of a lot of bad.  I’ve never been one to shake my fist at God.  Even in the fall, when we lost our precious baby #5, I was hurt, upset, angry…but not with God.  This was the first time in a long time, possibly ever, where I literally said out loud “What did I do wrong?  Where did we miss you?  Why are you not rescuing us?”  But He was.  He is.  It is true He allows us to walk through bad things, but He does not cause them.  He has no place in them.  He only desires our good, not our bad.  Why?  Because He is good.  He works all things together for the good of those who love Him.  And if this is so, He doesn’t work the bad in.  How counterproductive, then, is it for us to shake our fists, yell up at heaven, or separate ourselves?  He wants to partner with us always, in every moment. 


Now, to be clear, despite this fabulous epiphany that I’m sure you all have had and I’m just late to class, I have had some VERY human moments in the last week.  I’ve cried, I’ve snapped at my kiddos, and I’ve doubted so very much.  I’ve literally had to overcome despair on a daily, if not hourly, basis.  And I don’t use the word despair lightly. It’s hard to be knocked down by wave after ominous wave and not feel alone, even betrayed.  And those feelings pull out some very human moments and reactions. 


I was driving to the store to buy even more garbage bags on Saturday, and all of the sudden the story of Elijah on the mountain popped in my head.  As soon as I had a moment, I quickly re-read it.  It’s found in I Kings 19 and worth a re-read.  Elijah ended up running away, fearing for his life, and hiding in a cave.  He just wanted the Lord to take his life.  He literally uttered “I have had enough, Lord,” in verse 4, the very thing I was uttering when this story invaded my conscious thought.  If you’re familiar with the story you know that God told Elijah to go out and stand on the mountain because He was about to pass by.  In verses 11-13, we find this well-known part of the story:

“Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.

Then a voice said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”

I always took this passage to mean that God’s voice doesn’t have to be mighty and powerful, but we are to be quiet before Him to hear that gentle whisper.  I always took it to be a lesson to be still before the Lord.  I’m reading it differently now.  One thing Elijah had going for him was familiarity with His maker and His ways.  You see, Elijah was done.  He was throwing in the towel.  He had retreated and given up.  But God wasn’t done with Him.  Calling Him out to the mountain, God was waiting for Him to respond to His voice.  But Elijah’s response required him to drown out all the noise.  The wind that shattered the solid rock before Him was just a distraction. God was not in the wind. The earthquake that literally shook Elijah as he firmly stood waiting for the Lord was not mistaken as a punishment or a redirection or an answer to a prayer to end his life.  And no, God was not in the fire that raged after the other waves of destruction had invaded Elijah’s territory.  How long was he standing there I wonder?  Does it matter?  After having been called out on a mountaintop with a promise to hear the voice of God, only to experience the elements betraying everything you can see around you, I don’t think it would take long to get discouraged and feel betrayed.  But Elijah waited, knowing God isn’t bad.  He is good.  And He wouldn’t call us to the mountaintop to leave us disappointed. 

Elijah had to wait through the wind, through the earth shaking, through the blazing heat of a fire to hear a whisper. 

So, here we are, standing on our mountaintop.  We’ve been blown by the wind. We’ve been shaken by the earth.  We’re feeling the fire.  And we’re waiting for the whisper. 

 And in waiting for that whisper, we have seen an amazing outpouring of love and support by so many around us.  In just a few days, we have received enough financially to clean and repair our basement.  We have been well fed, which is great because all the air movers in our basement literally have rendered our kitchen appliances useless, causing a blown fuse with even use of our toaster!  We have people donating toys to my kids who have lost their playroom full of toys.  Old friends, new friends, and many I don’t even know are reaching out to us.  And though it’s “just” a basement flood, to us, it’s a mountaintop moment.  We’ve been standing up here awhile and are growing weary.  And the sacrifice and kindness of so many people who love the Lord and are being obedient to His whispers are sustaining us.


Thank you to everyone who have sustained us. We do not take one meal, one toy, one dollar lightly, knowing how much sacrifice each one is.  Though we are weary, our hearts our full of encouragement.  This is the church.  It’s beautiful.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Trading My Ashes for His Beauty

“I’m beginning to believe that you won’t leave me here, God.  Just help me to trust all the words you say.  And I’m learning to surrender, I’m learning to forgive.  I’m learning to receive all the love, all the love you have for me.” –lyrics from Isa Couvertier

Tomorrow, it will be two weeks since we learned that our little baby no longer had a heartbeat.  The days that followed have been hard, physically, emotionally, and psychologically.  I honestly do not know how to answer everyone who is asking me how I am doing. I’m pale and tear stained.  I feel empty and heartbroken.  My throat has a constant lump in it.  I’m grieving.  And that might confuse those who have never lost in this way, because I never actually thought through this process before walking through it, but I will tell you that this loss is real and painful.  I’m walking around in a fog, knowing full well that what I see is not all that exists.  That there is heaven, and whatever it is that separates this earth from that glorious place is the threshold to meeting my precious little one.  I often find myself “checked out” of what is going on in front of me because of what is going on inside of me. 

By sheer mechanical habit, my kids are getting dressed and fed and schooled.  Through the kindness of friends, we haven’t been forced to solely rely on cereal as our only means of nutrition.  My husband has been amazing.  He’s so quiet, but I know just how much more of a load he’s carrying because I know what I’m not doing, and how much is still getting done.  But still, he’s grieving too.  And as I’ve watched him moving about the days in strength, I’ve watched his eyes fill with tears at night.  I’ve never been more thankful for his arms around me. 

But in the midst of all the tears and the difficulty just making it through the day, there’s a beautiful, mysterious peace that I’ve found.  It doesn’t take away the sorrow.  It doesn’t take away the process, but it’s made me reexamine who God is.  And let me tell you, He is amazing.  “My lover is radiant and ruddy, outstanding among ten thousand…His mouth is sweetness itself; he is altogether lovely.  This is my lover, this is my friend…” (SOS 5: 10, 16) 

I’ve had so many friends tell me it was o.k. to be angry with God.  To those friends, I say thank you for loving me and letting me grieve, but I came to a point very early in this process when I knew I was angry, but it seemed like a waste of energy to aim that anger at God.  If it was God who caused this, then everything that I know of Him, all that I believe, would be null and void.  It would lead to a crisis of faith.  But I know His word is true, so I knew that the target of my anger could be explained in a better way. 

John 10:10 says “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”  I have an enemy who is very real.  I forget this when I get wrapped up in life.  I blame him when something goes wrong with our finances, or our hard days with the kids….and that’s not displaced blame.  But I forget that he is much more harsh, more cunning, more destructive than I tend to remember.  And just because I have a relationship with the Lord does not immunize me from his hatred.  I would argue that it makes that hatred all the more real.  And that is what happened.  I had to see and experience death last week.  It was gruesome and cruel.  It was heartbreaking and horrifying.  And it was nothing new.  This has been happening since the serpent came to Eve in the garden and whispered “Did God really say…?”  And that same whisper invaded my ears last week.  “Oh, God is good?  Really?  Then why is this happening?  Did God really say…?” 

Yes, yes, God did say that He came that we may live and live full, abundant lives.  Yes, God said that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life.  Yes, God said that He will go before us and hem us in behind and before.  He said that He is a refuge to us and that He is near to the brokenhearted.  He said that He would work all things according to His purpose for the good of those who love Him.  He said he would never leave us or forsake us. 

And He hasn’t left me.  He is so near and so good.  Though there is death and sadness, this was not His intended, created order.  And He doesn’t just throw His hands up in the air and say “Oh well…you sinned and this is what you get!”  No, our God is so good that He gave His son, which I realize more now how amazingly sacrificial that was, so that my little baby who never got to be held or kissed by me, can live forever in the arms of a loving God, never knowing sickness or sadness or sin.  And in the midst of my grief, He is taking what the enemy of my soul has intended to destroy me, and He’s turning it into something He can use to work something deep into my heart.

I have a choice.  I can stay angry, closed up, and distract myself into numbness.  Or, I can grieve, cry, and trade these ashes for His beauty.  It seems like the obvious choice, but it’s not simple. 

I want to be alone right now, and in my loneliness, I want to feel sorry for myself.  I want to turn on the tv and get lost in whatever is on, no matter if I like it or not.  I want stay daydreaming about my baby and what we would have been like a year from now, a family of 7 instead of 6.  I want to tantrum sometimes like a little kid who didn’t get her way.  But God is drawing me to something better. 

He allows us to grieve and ask why.  In the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus said “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death…My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me.”  But in the midst of that overwhelming sorrow and grief, in His very next breath he uttered, “Yet not as I will, but as you will.”  God did not create death.  But he chose to use it through His son to work something deep into the hearts of men for ages to come, so that we might be spared and spend eternity with Him.  What a good and loving Father.  And I personally am thankful that He overcame the grave!  Now I don’t have to wonder where my little one is.  I know.

So though you might see me with tear stained cheeks, tired and overcome with grief and sorrow, I can say God is good.  He has been working deep things in my heart.  He sits enthroned in the heavens, and my little one gets to see Him face to face.  There is no greater gift I could have given my child but Him.  And for eternity that little one gets to rest in His perfect arms of love because we allowed her life into our lives, even for a short time.

“Blessed are those whose strength is in you, who have set their hearts on pilgrimage.  As they pass through the Valley of Baca [tears], they make it a place of springs; the autumn rains also cover it with pools.  They go from strength to strength, till each appears before God in Zion.”  Psalm 84:  5-7

This verse has been prayed over me many times during my life, but never did I receive it with such clarity as I do now.  My heart is forever set on a pilgrimage and my very life’s goal is to draw closer to the heart of God, always sojourning until the day I see Him face to face.  But in this journey, there will be tears.  Jesus warned us that in this life, there are many troubles.  But we are blessed when we make this journey through hardships and allow Him to turn our tears into a place of springs…life!  But here’s my new favorite part:  “the autumn rains also cover it with pools [blessings].” 

You see, I learned of my baby’s passing two days before my birthday.  My actual birthday and the days surrounding this year were filled with so much pain, physically, emotionally, and psychologically.  Three years ago, during the same week, my cousin suddenly passed away. When I was younger, my grandfather also left this earth around the time of my birthday.  A few other hard things have happened during the very same week.  So, my initial reaction to the timing of all this was “What in the world are you trying to say to me about the week I was brought into the world!?!” 

And in the Lord’s kindness, He revealed a little more about this passage.  It’s these autumn (some versions say early, but mine actually says autumn) rains that bring blessings.  And with each terrible hardship, each year, I’ve walked away with immeasurable blessings.  Not in an outward sense, no not at all.  In fact, it seems each autumn (or close to it) brings loss.  But it’s in this loss that God chooses to draw me closer than ever before and give me a glimpse of His eternal glory.  I’d rather have that than a birthday cake any day.

This year, my blessing has been a renewed commitment to maintain possession of nothing on this earth.  I own nothing, and I am nothing apart from Him.  He alone sits enthroned in my heart.  But I found how easily it is that I allow things that He has blessed me with, good things, to take His place.  How quickly my family became so important to me that it threatened to take that place of most importance.  And like Abraham who was asked to offer up His only son, my Father has challenged me with whether I’d be willing to give up these good and perfect little blessings if He asked me to.  Unlike Abraham who had unwavering faith, I was quite a bit more hesitant.  But His kindness led me to a place where I realize that if I truly want to possess all of Him, to know Him in His fullness, than I must possess nothing else.  And though Abraham was rich and owned many things, he possessed nothing.  That is the cry of my heart as I continue to walk through the Valley of Baca.  That I might come out receiving His blessings that these autumn rains are bringing, but still possessing nothing. 

But whatever former things I had that might have been gains to me, I have come to consider as [one combined] loss for Christ’s sake.

Yes, furthermore, I count everything as loss compared to the possession of the priceless privilege (the overwhelming preciousness, the surpassing worth, and supreme advantage) of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord and of progressively becoming more deeply and intimately acquainted with Him [of perceiving and recognizing and understanding Him more fully and clearly]. For His sake I have lost everything and consider it all to be mere rubbish (refuse, dregs), in order that I may win (gain) Christ (the Anointed One),

And that I may [actually] be found and known as in Him, not having any [self-achieved] righteousness that can be called my own, based on my obedience to the Law’s demands (ritualistic uprightness and supposed right standing with God thus acquired), but possessing that [genuine righteousness] which comes through faith in Christ (the Anointed One), the [truly] right standing with God, which comes from God by [saving] faith.

[For my determined purpose is] that I may know Him [that I may progressively become more deeply and intimately acquainted with Him, perceiving and recognizing and understanding the wonders of His Person more strongly and more clearly], and that I may in that same way come to know the power outflowing from His resurrection [which it exerts over believers], and that I may so share His sufferings as to be continually transformed [in spirit into His likeness even] to His death, [in the hope]

That if possible I may attain to the [spiritual and moral] resurrection [that lifts me] out from among the dead [even while in the body].

Philippians 3: 7-11, Amplified
Thank you for praying for us.  Though this post is long, there is so much more to say!  So many victories and kindnesses and lessons.  All of us have been walking through this with a heart to see God’s purpose in our pain.  We ask for continued prayer.  I personally ask that you pray against fear that is so quick to enter my mind.  And also for energy to accomplish the day to day tasks of this family that I am so blessed to be a part of for as long as He lets me.  For my husband to be blessed, because I do not exaggerate when I say that he has been the most excellent husband and father I could have imagined, while all the while his heart has broken as well.  Finally for my kids…it was my oldest’s first reaction to pray for a miracle when he heard the news.  I love that I got a glimpse of his faith.  I ask for prayers for them, that their faith is increased beyond measure and that in their sadness, they find comfort.

If you’ve read to this point, I thank you for letting me pour out my heart to you.  I pray that He blesses you and that you walk with a deeper understanding of how near He is to us always. 

Many tears are still being cried, and each and every day is difficult, but He is good.  He is good.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

My Deep Sorrow

I feel like I’m having an out of body experience, and yet I feel every bit of pain, both real and emotional, that hits me like unrelenting waves.  I think this is just a really, long, bad dream, but there’s no waking up.  There’s no going to sleep either.  Where I once felt life, I feel hollow.  Where there was joy, there is so much sorrow.  So much. 

And yet…

 Though I said “I will never be shaken,” I am.  Not in who or what I believe in.  But in who and what I am.  And what is just? And what is fair?  And why does it all matter?  Because in light of the thousands of tears I cried, and the countless prayers I’ve prayed, He’s still the same, yesterday, today, and forever.  He is still good.

My heart has never been as broken as it is right now.  I cannot comprehend how to move on in this moment.  But He is good.  And He will gently lead me.  I’m so sad, and I’m angry, and I’m confused.  But He is good.  And He still holds my heart. 

Selfishly, I want to hold and kiss something that I cannot.  I feel robbed.  I feel violated.  I feel empty. 

And yet…

He is near.  So near.  My soul is downcast, but I will praise Him yet.  Because without Him, without His love, I could not have possibly loved another precious, tiny one whom I have never met this much.  My love for this life lost is supernatural and inexplicable.  It comes from something much greater, much wiser, more powerful than I.   It’s in those tender arms of perfect love that I imagine my little one right now, separated from me, but forever in His presence. 

Oh, my soul is weary.  I am nothing apart from Him.  I am sad, and angry, and confused.  But I will trust in that unfailing love that I had the privilege to experience and that I will never forget.