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

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“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.”

Uncomfortable Truths

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Here’s a little uncomfortable truth about me: even though I don’t play dress up anymore, I still want to be a princess. Not necessarily a poofy gown and glass slippers kind of a princess – that sounds like way too much work. No, I just want to be the kind of princess who has people to take care of everything she doesn’t want to deal with, unlimited financial resources, and a home with every latest convenience. Also, I’d like to be the kind of princess who doesn’t have to struggle to make herself heard in the world, because she was influential at birth. In fact, if I’m really honest, up until the day that my husband became a U.S. citizen and renounced all of his titles, I secretly imagined that my in-laws were really royalty pretending to be commoners. I figured that they could possibly have done this so to ensure that I really love their son and not his status as a prince.  In fairness to myself, I only dwelled on this fantasy when I  had a really bad day (think horrible morning sickness mixed with defiant yet clingy preschooler), but the desire was there.

Now that the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services has forced me to face the reality that I am not, and never will be, royalty, when I find myself having an “I can’t believe this is my life! Where is my fairytale?” kind of moment, I hear this tiny voice in my head saying, “Okay, you aren’t married to the long-lost prince of the Czech Republic, but you are the daughter of the King, which makes you a princess.” The problem is that “daughter of the King” princesses often don’t live very princessy lives. As I recently heard someone say, just look at the life that God gave His son’s mother and you will see that having servants and luxuries are usually not part of the “daughter of the King” deal. In fact, the woman who was “highly favored” (Luke 1:28) by God didn’t have maids, cooks or a nanny waiting in the shadows to meet her every need. As far as we know, she had the responsibility of changing her sons diaper cloths and washing them, too. Presumably, she woke in the middle of the night to nurse her wailing son and I can’t imagine that Joseph could have been much help on that front since they lived in the pre-breast pump era. In addition to all of this, Mary probably got to do all of the other daily tasks that common women did in ancient Isreal. Maybe she carried water from a distant well. She probably had to cook all of the family’s food over not very convenient fires or in primative ovens. Perhaps she even had to make her family’s clothes. Of course, Mary’s unprincessly life would become even more difficult when her Son was rejected by the people of His town and later brutally crucified. Mary’s life was very real, it was relatable, but it was by no means a fairytale!

And then there’s His Son. It would make sense for Jesus to get to live the life of a prince, but no! God had him enter the world at a time that was inconvenient for His parents – He was the long-awaited Messiah but not their long-awaited baby. As an infant, He was a refugee who fled from a king who wanted Him dead. He was rejected by many, lived the life of a wanderer, and even faced a mob that wanted to stone Him. Sure, He had some good friends, but all of them abandoned Him in His time of greatest suffering and one of them handed Him over to be killed. He was wrongfully accused, brutally beaten, mocked, and crucified. Then, He was hastily buried in a borrowed tomb.

The lives of God’s princes and princesses tell me something about God: the things that He deems important about our lives are different from the things that the world thinks are important. This shouldn’t be a surprise to us since Matthew 6:19-20 says, ” Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where theives break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where theives do not break in and steal.” The uncomfortable truth is that God cares about our lives and He cares about our pain, but, ultimately, He cares most about the salvation of His creation and He is willing to make whatever sacrifices are necessary to bring it about. As a result, He is much more focused on building our love for Him, our love for those around us, our patience, our gratitude, our faithfulness, our trust, and the countless other ways He wants to shape our souls than He is about showering us with earthly comforts.

That might mean that, in order for Cinderella to grow the servant heart that she was made to have, He asks her to spend the rest of her life sweeping ashes and she will never sit on a throne; however, if she lives her simple life well, the Creator of the universe will be pleased and the world will be a better place. It could mean that there is some working man outside of the Beast’s castle that He wants Belle to fall in love with instead of the Beast and, as a result, she will never be the mistress of a castle; however, if she learns to be grateful for the things she does have in her life, she will discover true happiness and satisfaction. Or it might mean that Prince Eric never falls for Ariel and that she has to live a life that is very different from the one she had dreamed of; however, she will eventually find that God loves and cherishes her far more than a voice obsessed prince ever could. Whatever the case may be, God is intimately aware of the details of His princesses’ lives. Often, those lives aren’t very princessy, but He is in the business of using them for amazing good and embracing His plans can bringing us more abiding joy than our worldly dreams of “happily ever after” could.

So on those days when the vacuum backfires and spits dust all over your newly cleaned kitchen, or those nights when you never get past “barely asleep” before being woken by a sick child, or during those times when the one horror that you couldn’t bear to imagine actually happens, remember that you are still the deeply beloved child of the King and His plans for your life are exactly right.