Abandonment

20181207_155205Our little guy just spent some time in the hospital. The place was packed and we had to spend over twenty-four hours in the emergency department while we waited for a room. During our stay, the room across from us was occupied by a school-age boy whose parents were not with him. Instead, various hospital staff members took shifts sitting in the room while he played computer games and fought sleep. When it was time to transport this boy, he became so combative that the hallway was full of adults who were trying to pacify him. In a scene that was reminiscent of a shell-shocked war veteran, he screamed for his mother while being physically restrained by strong security guards. The response he was repeatedly given was, “We are trying to find your mom. We don’t know where she is.”

I don’t know the story behind this young boy’s hospitalization, nor do I know where his parents were. I certainly do not mean to cast judgement on them without knowing the whole story. However, I do know that this little boy was suffering without his parents. His panicked actions reflected his feelings of fear and abandonment. It was heartbreaking to witness.

I also know that a little baby was born 2000 years ago who would also cry out to a parent who was not there for him in the midst of his suffering. As we admire our beautiful creche scenes, its easy to forget that God did not just send His Son for the adoration of Bethlehem but also for the isolation of the cross.  That Son, who God abandoned to death as a ransom for His creation, stretched out His arms to die and called out to His Father: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46)

As a parent, I cannot fathom abandoning my children to death and suffering. However, because God chose us as His children and refused to abandon us to the penalty for our sins, He was willing to give His Son. He sent this Son to be born in a stable filled with dangerous germs, in a land where a king wanted him dead before he was even born, and to a people who would one day choose to crucify him in exchange for the release of a notorious criminal. While the angels sang songs of triumph to shepherds in the fields, God witnessed the birth of His Child, knowing what this victory would require. He gave His son His first breath, fully aware of how He would exhale His last. He looked upon the wonder of Bethlehem knowing that He would turn His back on Golgotha. Yet, still, He gave.

How many of us have, like the young boy at the hospital, felt neglected by those who are meant to love us? How many of us have felt abandoned by God Himself? Yet, if we remember that God refused to abandon us, even at such incredible personal cost, we will be convinced that we are deeply loved and never alone. We might even find ourselves drawn into the warm fellowship that radiated from the stable in Bethlehem so many nights ago, when shepherds and kings, angels and beasts gathered around the little family of the newborn King. We may hear our hearts sing, “This is my family, too.” For by abandoning His Son, God adopted us as His own.

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Watchmen

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It has taken me over a year to begin to comprehend this spiritual season of waiting in my life. I am no longer living in the “valley of the shadow of death” so the many Bible verses that speak about God’s comfort no longer soothe my soul as powerfully as they used to. In fact, when the reflection I was reading tonight asked “why do we have to suffer?” I was tempted to stop reading. I have struggled with that question for so long that I want to move on for a while and just let that question exist unanswered. I am not suffering now and I don’t want to explore suffering again in the near future.

At the same time, I have trouble embracing the Bible verses about joy and thanksgiving. I am not saying that I am not thankful, because I certainly have an incredible amount to be thankful for. Instead, what I mean to say is that everything I feel is in relation to the child that I am waiting for and, after so many losses and difficulties, I remain afraid that God might make me wait for him even longer than I hope for. Even more terrifying is the thought that He could choose to use the weak hope that I do have to send me back into a period of suffering. However wrong it may be, this makes it difficult to praise and thank God with abandon. So this waiting time is challenging and it results in my soul waiting for God in a state of apprehension about what is to come and confusion about what lies before me.

As I sought solace in Bible passages that fit this season of my life, I came across Psalm 130 verse 6: “I wait for the Lord more than watchmen wait for the morning, more than watchmen wait for the morning.” When I think about the night watchmen of Biblical times, I imagine that they must have been anxious for the darkness of night to disappear and eager for the light of day to reign. Ezekiel 33 talks about the great responsibility that watchmen had to warn the people when danger approached. It would have been difficult to carry out their task in the complete darkness of a world without electricity. The watchmen must have felt shivers of relief as dawn approached and the first glimmers of light began to take away the sensation that they were peering over the wall into an abyss. But until the morning had fully broken, some apprehension must have remained. The dim light might play tricks with their eyes and make it difficult to rightly interpret what was going on outside the city walls. They must have strained their eyes, trying to see what was coming. When they sensed movement, they must have been filled with frustration and doubt: “It was just a gazelle. No, surely it was too big for that. Yes, it must have been a gazelle, an enemy spy would not linger at such a distance. But what if it is a spy and I don’t blow my horn to alert the people? Yet, what if it is just a gazelle and I wake everyone up for nothing?” It must have been such a relief when light finally saturated the earth around them and they could see clearly and rest with the knowledge that there would be no stealthy nighttime attacks during their watch.

My soul is like the watchmen who waited in the first flickers of dawn’s dim light. It is beginning to see what is coming but can’t be sure. It is waiting for God to bless it with His joy and glory. Today, for me, it is hoping that God’s sunlight will come in the form of a healthy little boy who will grow up to love and bless Him.

Yet, we all are like the waiting watchmen, aren’t we? We are waiting for God’s presence to regain its rightful place in the Church and for healing to begin. We are waiting for God’s justice for the poor and marginalized. We are waiting for God’s love to bind us together as brothers and sisters and to erase the hatred and hostility that poisons our relationships. We are waiting for God to anoint us with the knowledge that answers our thousands of questions “why?” We are waiting to be forgiven for the sins that bring us so much grief and shame that we become consumed with keeping them concealed. Some of us are waiting for God’s presence to be real enough to us that we can truly believe. Mostly, though, all of creation is waiting for the day when God’s kingdom is realized and sin and death are not just defeated but eradicated. We are waiting to see God face-to-face.

While many Bible verses might not fully resonate with us as we wait, the psalmist had one final thing to say to all of us watchmen: “…put your hope in the Lord, for with the Lord is unfailing love and with him is full redemption. He himself will redeem Israel from all their sins.” Psalm 130:7-8

A Chest Full of Moments

Pregnancy after loss

For the past seven months, I have been meaning to write about what it is like to be pregnant after neonatal loss, yet every time I have tried, I have come up blank. Perhaps I am not really processing what is happening to me, since there doesn’t seem to be a cohesive way of making sense of this journey I am on. I suppose it is impossible to fully process and understand events when you don’t have any confidence in where they will lead. In that way, I feel like Mary, treasuring up memories and pondering them in my heart.

So right now, my pregnancy after a loss is like an old chest that I found in an attic that is full of interesting moments that hint at a larger story but don’t fully reveal it.

Some of the moments treasured in the chest are joyful, like seeing the baby’s heartbeat for the first time, choosing a name, making it past the limit of viability and listening to my oldest daughter sing “Yes, Jesus loves me and you!” to the tiny brother she has yet to meet.

Other moments are tinged with sadness, like when strangers see my belly and ask how many other children I have or when someone says how lucky we are to have a girl and a boy. “No,” I think, “We have at least three girls and a boy, the others just aren’t here with us.”

There are also hopeful moments: when I feel brave enough to pick out a coming home onesie, wash the baby’s baptism outfit, or print up pictures for the nursery. There are those few moments every Sunday morning when I think, we made it another week, we might actually be able to do this! And there is the moment the nurse said, “I really think we are going to get you a full-term baby. You’re almost there we just have to get you over this last hump. And I will be so happy for you.”

Sometimes the moments are frustrating, like when I have to choose between going to the hospital again and risking the potential adverse effects of even routine medical interventions, or staying home and risking missing a problem and not making it to the hospital on time to save the baby. In some of those moments I am frustrated with myself, in others my husband is frustrated with me, and in still others I worry that I will make people frustrated with me. In all of them it is my body and my fear that causes the frustration. Which is probably why so many moments also contain guilt – guilt about letting the doctor talk me into doing something I was afraid might hurt the baby, guilt that the house is a mess while I follow the nurse’s instructions to rest, guilt that I can’t do many of the things I love to do with my daughter.

Most often, though, it seems like there are terrifying moments such as going for an ultrasound before feeling regular movement, seeing the tip of the amniotic fluid swab turn a positive blue, and, after what feels like hundreds of false alarms, being told “Your husband needs to be here this time. Have him come now.” Even the benign things that never would have terrified me before now do because they remind me of how we lost our daughter.

Finally, there are those moments that I am too afraid to live yet. Its not a superstitious fear, its a fear of what it will feel like if I embrace certain moments and the baby dies. Some of these moments that are still waiting to happen include the joy of looking around a finished nursery, the excitement of getting to unwrap the crib mattress and carseat, and drifting off to sleep while I imagine my baby being born and hearing his first cry. They also include moments of really bonding with my baby. For the first time, my husband seems to be closer to out unborn child while my relationship with him is on hold.

Perhaps I will reach a point where I am sure enough that my baby will live that I can make sense of all of these moments. Perhaps I will finally be able to imagine him in the clothes I am washing, envision him playing on the floor with my daughter, anticipate hearing his laughter. I had hoped that by 32 weeks I would be able to do this. However, when a baby is lost around the time of birth, it seems that the darkest, scariest time of future pregnancies is right before the hoped for safe delivery, so I may have to wait a while longer.

For now, I will just keep stumbling along, drinking my daily doses of cranberry juice and kefir in a not evidence-based attempt to ward off infection, and trusting God to bring me through to the end. I would like this trust to be voluntary and strong but it is neither. Instead this pregnancy after loss feels as if I am in complete darkness and the only thing that I can do is to cling to the One who claims He can get me to safety as He drags me through the darkness. Still, I am so grateful that I have Him to cling to.

 

Contractions

I had several great ideas for today’s post – the first in which I was going to be brave enough to write about pregnancy after a loss – but when frequent contractions sent me to the hospital today at just 19 weeks pregnant, all of those ideas became too much to grapple with. Instead, I lie on my couch, hesitant to sit up at the computer. Consequently,  I will use what little battery is left on my phone to share how I have been wrestling with God today (sorry, no nice pictures today).

There are few things that make me feel as out of control as contractions. I feel my body tensing up, riding the wave of tightness and pain, and there is nothing I can do to stop it. However, feeling these sensations at 19 weeks while knowing that, if my body succeeds in pushing out my baby, there is nothing anyone can do to help him, triggers a different kind of helplessness. As I drove myself to the hospital today, I knew that all I could do was pray and trust God. Yet, I also knew that the faith I had to have was deeper than the belief that He would spare my child, because I knew that He might not choose to do that. I knew that I could not have faith in the things we often say to comfort one another (“If you believe hard enough, it will all be okay,” or “God wouldn’t make you suffer loss again”) because those thoughts about God and how He acts simply aren’t true. I knew that there was a real chance that God might chose to take my son to be with Him today, regardless of my prayers. Instead, I had to trust in a God who might do the thing that I prayed fervently that He would not do because that is the living God that I believe in and the God who demands my trust.

Thankfully, the contractions soon eased, the ultrasound showed a healthy baby, and the God I trusted gave me another day with my son. While I pray that He will continue to calm my rebellious body and rescue my child, I am faced with the reality that my faith in Him is not in a God who will necessarily answer my prayers as I want Him to. Instead, the God that I am called (and often dragged kicking and screaming) to trust may have very different plans for me and those I love. It is not my job to know why. My task is only to believe in Him and His goodness no matter what.

My faith is often small. Sometimes, a mustard seed seems too big to compare it to and my weak response of faith is simply, “I have allowed You to bring me to this place.” Yet, I am trusting that through this pregnancy with my precious son, God will grow my faith into one that can move mountains.

So, as I finish this day, I pray the prayer that has become my heart’s cry for this pregnancy: “Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders. Let me walk upon the waters, wherever you would call me. Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander and my faith will be made stronger in the presence of my Savior.” (From Hillsong’s Oceans)

Divine Mercy

divine mercy

I haven’t had much energy this month for writing. Its been one of those “everyone is fed, everyone’s clothes are clean, we did school today, everything else can wait” kind of months. However, I led a small group of women in a discussion of Divine Mercy today and I thought that I might share something that I learned as I prepared for that talk: God is love and His Divine Mercy is the outpouring of that love in response to our needs.

John 4:8 tells us that “God is love.” As incomprehensible as it is, His very being is love. When that Love encounters our many needs, He acts in mercy because that is what love does when it is confronted with need. Our needs are many, so we can see His mercy manifested in countless ways throughout or lives: comfort for our sorrow, peace for our fear, satisfaction of our hunger, justice when we are wronged, the presence of His Spirit to teach and grow us, and so many others.  In all these ways God’s Divine Mercy is manifest in our lives.

Yet, the most pressing of all of our needs, the one that threatens to separate us from God and even to destroy us is our sin. That is why, the most profound way that God demonstrated his Divine Mercy was by sending his Son to suffer and die and then to conquer death and rise again. Because God is love and His love for us is unchanging, He responded to the great need that our sin created by offering this incredible gift of love and mercy.

As we approach Divine Mercy Sunday, I pray that we will all have the time and the energy to spend quiet moments reflecting on God’s great love and Divine Mercy as they were revealed to us on the cross at Calvary and in the empty tomb. And I invite you to pray with me that each person on this earth will be filled with a deep, heartfelt knowledge of God’s mercy, for to be loved so deeply and not know it must be the greatest tragedy of all.

Deliberately Unfulfilled

Deliberately Unfulfilled

“Uh-oh!” cried the teenage girl who was bagging my groceries. Curious, I looked up to see her holding a box of pregnancy tests above her head.

“Is this going to be good or bad?” she asked.

The cashier and the woman behind me froze as if they were holding their breath to see what I did. But, what could I say? I couldn’t tell this girl that I had been trying to hold a living baby in my arms for over two years. I didn’t want her to feel terrible when I told her that, during those two years of trying, I had lost one child at birth, one baby in a ten week miscarriage, and four more little souls before they were big enough to be seen on an ultrasound. I didn’t want to mention that the last box of tests I had purchased at her store had been used to make sure my HCG levels had returned to non-pregnant levels after a loss. Besides that, even if I had been willing to horrify her with the reality of recurrent pregnancy loss, I honestly didn’t know the true answer to her question.

Would it be good if, once again, the test was faintly positive and then faded after several days to nothing? There would be another little soul waiting for me in Heaven but still none in my arms.  And what if it was a clearer positive and I spent weeks gripped in panic and consumed by anxiety about the little life I was carrying but helpless to protect? My husband and I had tabled the question of whether or not I was even ready to endure such fear again because I couldn’t imagine ever being ready again. The reality was that, despite my doctor’s reassurances that it was probably just really bad luck, it seemed like the odds of a happy outcome were terribly low. Still, if the test was negative and I had to deal with yet another month of waiting for something I doubted would ever come and was beginning to lose the strength to try for, would that be any better?

I looked at the teenage girl holding up my box of tests and mustered the best smile that I could. Forcing myself not to think too much, I shrugged and replied, “Hopefully good.” Thankfully, whether she saw the tears sneaking into my eyes or she lost interest, she found something else to talk about.

Of course, while the girl had moved on, I had not. This interaction was not easily forgotten and, when a few days later I had the opportunity to listen to Amena Brown’s Bible Study about Hannah,* I thought, “I feel a lot like Hannah. I might as well listen to it.”

I was very glad that I did. While I have read the story of Hannah many times, I was surprised to hear six little words in the Biblical account of Hannah’s story that I had never noticed before: “the Lord had closed Hannah’s womb.” (1 Samuel 1:6)It wasn’t that God hadn’t gotten around to giving Hannah a child yet or that He hadn’t heard her prayers.  Instead, He had deliberately prevented her from having children. In fact, other translations of the same verse made this abundantly clear. The Holman Christian Standard Bible, for example, translates it as, “The Lord had kept Hannah from conceiving.” Clearly, God deliberately chose to prevent Hannah from having a baby and, by doing so, He chose for her to struggle through a season of wrestling with heartbreak and unfulfilled desire. He actively brought her to a point of sadness that was so deep that her pleading for deliverance was mistaken for drunkenness. This dark stage of Hannah’s life was not a mistake or even a side-effect of something else that God was doing. Instead, it was precisely what God wanted for her at that time.

I realized that the same was true of me. I wasn’t losing my children because God had forgotten me or because He had some other great plan that made us collateral damage. The fact that my arms were still empty wasn’t a mistake and it wasn’t punishment. I was exactly where God wanted me to be – constantly wrestling with heartbreak and unfulfilled desire. I don’t know why God put me in such a dark place, since unlike Hannah, I haven’t yet held the answer to my prayers. Nonetheless, I know that God is deliberately orchestrating my life and, because of that, my answer to the girl bagging my groceries was the truth: I have hope that whether the tests are positive or negative, it will be good.

 

 

* You can listen to Amena Brown’s talk here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1moOAN6UJZQ

More

 

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“God, I know, its all of this and so much more, but God right now this is what I’m longing for…Heaven in the face of my little girl.” – Steven Curtis Chapman

I was thinking about the day Mary got to Heaven the other day. In my limited understanding of what reaching Heaven is, all I could think of was the incredible joy she must have felt to see her Son again. I just can’t imagine how it must have felt for her to touch Him and hold Him. Her rejoicing must have been beyond anything we have experienced in this life.

As I was thinking these thoughts, I realized that all of my thoughts about Mary’s assumption into Heaven centered on the very earthly delight of seeing her Son again, not on finding herself in the presence of the Living God or seeing His face which would also have been very really aspects of her joy. This focus on seeing her Son made me consider my own dreams of what it will be like to reach Heaven and I realized they were also completely focused on one thing: reuniting with my daughter.

Its silly, really how I can cognitively know that being brought into the presence of the Creator will be a much bigger deal than wrapping my arms around my dark haired child, but honestly, that act of holding my living little girl would be the most amazing and heavenly thing that I can imagine in this life on earth. Everything else is too far beyond my imaging to even begin to comprehend it because I just can’t imagine anything more wonderful than embracing my daughter in God’s eternal kingdom.

Yet, I thank God that He is far beyond the confines of my simple imagination and that He has prepared wonders for me that I simply cannot fathom – the greatest of which is Himself.