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.

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.

Rejoice

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The third week of Advent begins with Gaudete Sunday and is my personal favorite. The word Gaudete means “rejoice” as in “Rejoice in the Lord always” (Philipians 4:4). Not surprisingly, the candle that we light on Gaudete Sunday is the Joy Candle or Shepherd’s Candle, which reminds us of the angel’s greeting to the shepherds on the night of Jesus’ birth: “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. The Savior – yes the Messiah, the Lord – has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David!” So, in the midst of the penitential season of Advent, we are called to joy (hence the contrast between the traditionally pink color of the Gaudete Sunday candle which symbolizes joy and the three other purple candles which symbolize repentance and waiting.

Unlike happiness, the joy that the angel proclaimed is an abiding joy that does not change with the seasons or vary with external circumstances. It is not just a warm, contented feeling. Instead, it is strong, enduring, and (for us who have the benefit of looking back after Jesus’s earthly life ended) rooted in the reality that our Savior has been born, lived, died, and rose again. Because of His life, death and resurrection, we can rejoice knowing that we are rescued from the bondage of our sins and that God is working out the realization of His kingdom in our world today.  We can be filled with joy in the midst of the most difficult circumstances because we know that, ultimately, everything will be alright.

The Bible offers us many examples of joyful people who expressed their joy in a variety of ways.  Miriam and David  danced and sang before God as they thanked Him for His work in their lives (Exodus 15:20-21 and 2 Samuel 6).  Hannah, Zechariah and Mary  sang songs of joy for the the work of God, His compassion, and His care for the poor (1 Samuel 2, Luke 1:46-55 and 68-79). The shepherds that we remember during this week of Advent received the angel’s news of great joy and confirmed it with their own eyes. Then they ran to share their joy with others and returned to their daily work “glorifying and praising God.”(Luke 2:17-20) Later, the disciple Paul learned to be glad even when forced to confront his own weaknesses because he saw God working through them (2 Corinthians 9-10). Amazingly, the Bible even offers us a glimpse of the rejoicing ones that fill Heaven: the angels and other Heavenly beings who “fall before the throne with their faces to the ground and worshiped God” (Revelation 7: 11) and those who, having “washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb and made them white,” serve God without ceasing as He shelters, feeds, protects, shepherds and comforts them (Revelation 7:14-17).

Even in the midst of our everyday lives, we see glimpses of those who live life with an abiding joy. We see it in the elderly woman at church who can say “it is well with my soul” in the midst of great loss. We see it in those who have been rescued from addiction and live each day in gratitude to the One who saved them. We see it in writers, speakers, priests and pastors. We see it in all who attest to the truth that Christ has come into our world and is at work in our lives. And when we pause to consider that truth – that Christ has, indeed come and that He is working out each aspect of our lives for good – we can see joy in ourselves, no matter what our circumstances may be. The question is, once we have glimpsed this joy, will we keep it buried deep inside or will we, like the shepherds on that Christmas night so long ago, hurry to share the good news with others and allow our joy to permeate our lives, even as we go back out into the fields and resume the everyday tasks involved in tending our flocks?

“Joy to the earth! The Savior reigns! Let men their songs employ. While fields and floods,
rocks, hills, and plains repeat the sounding joy, repeat the sounding joy, repeat, repeat the sounding joy!”

 

*Dedicated to my daughter, Marienka Joy Sroubek -wanted child and sorrow that God will turn to joy.

“The Good Life”

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Lately, I have been thinking about how to respond when my hopes and dreams are different from God’s will for me. For a long time, my desire has been to have a small, happy, healthy little family with a few children. I want to raise my children to know God, to have the opportunity to enjoy the little everyday blessings of helping children to grow and learn, and to build a strong family unit that will provide my children with refuge and support after my husband and I are gone. The selfish part of me also wants another opportunity to relish the moments that delighted me as a mother and to not take the other, less savory times for granted. I want a chance to be a better mom and to someday be a grandmother without the pressure of my living daughter being the only child who could fulfill that dream. I would like to be comfortable and to live responsibly and without anxieties, anger, or sorrow. I want my children to have a chance to grow and develop through the kind of protected childhood I had. Then, I reason, others can see the joy we have and the blessings that we have been given and see the handiwork of God.

My desire for me and for my family is a lot like the life that Chris Rice describes when he sings “Becky has a house on Abundant Live Boulevard. A good name, good family, and butterflies in her yard. Becky loves Jesus and really wants to make Him proud – she tears up in church and she sings her harmonies loud. She’s got a Bible by the bed, a prayer journal, and a fish on her car. She makes sure to bow her head and give thanks in every restaurant…” Since these things I want are all good things and none of them directly contradict God’s commands, it seems like they should logically be part of His will for me. Yet, over and over again, I feel like God brings me closer to having a small family with happy, Godly children, only to dash my hopes again. Or maybe He says, “Keep waiting,” but there’s no guarantee that what we are waiting for is what we hope for.  I find that I need to accept that God might not want “the good life” to be my life.

We are immersed in a culture that sees blessings when we are comfortable, peaceful, satisfied and happy. We feel blessed when we get a new job, a new house, or a healthy baby. But what happens when we lose our job, or our home is destroyed, or we look at the ultrasound monitor and realize that our baby no longer has a heartbeat and that we have yet another child waiting for us in Heaven instead of in our arms? What happens when we get sick and have to be subjected to painful medical procedures that we never wanted or when our good friends die too soon, leaving broken families behind them?What happens when we never get our rainbow at the end of a storm, when our problems are never resolved and when we have to learn to live with them? What happens if we never get a miracle?

What happens is that we are still blessed.

We are blessed because God continues to be intimately at work in our lives in the midst of our shattered dreams and sorrows. We are blessed because He knows what He is doing and His work is good. We are blessed because He is giving us exactly what we need to be the people He wants us to be. We are blessed because He is giving us the tools to fulfill our specific purpose in His world. We are blessed because He knows what lies ahead and He is preparing us and those around us for what will be.

We are also blessed because Jesus looked at our understanding of blessings and turned it on its head. He said:

You are not only blessed in prosperity and comfort, because “blessed are the poor in spirit.” You are not only blessed in happiness, because “blessed are those who mourn.” You are not only blessed in times of peace, because “blessed are the peacemakers.” In fact, he said that even those who are persecuted are blessed! (See Matthew 5:3-12 to see more of what Jesus said about blessings.)

Ultimately, we are blessed because we play a tiny role in His salvation story which will end in glorious redemption! All those tears we cry will be redeemed. All those losses we suffer will be redeemed. All those burdens we bear will be redeemed. All those disappointments that beat us down will be redeemed. And, most importantly, all of the world’s sufferings that, because of our human limitations we can not yet perceive, will be redeemed.

We have much to be thankful for, whether God chooses for us to live “the good life” or “the hard life.”