Freedom is more than we give it credit

When I think about the freedom Christ’s life, death, and resurrection sealed and delivered to us for us and I look at my own life and the live’s of believers around me, I can’t help but think we’re missing something. We’ve stopped. We’ve sold ourselves short of full freedom in Christ. How often do we live and walk beat down, carrying about like we’re monotonous drones, feeling victim to our circumstances, past, and emotions? How often do we feel powerless in our fight against sin, in our delivering of the Kingdom?

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If Christ’s freedom is a rain storm, we put up an umbrella to protect us from its full power. We still get wet. We still reap the benefits and see the affect of this freedom in our lives, I can’t help but feel like we’re still missing something. 

I truly believe freedom in Christ is much more than we think, more than we can ask or imagine. I think we put it in boxes and give it a list of rules and a checklist, because to truly be free in Christ would be too much. More freedom than we trust ourselves with.  I know we imagine pure freedom, but without clear cut lists of good and bad we hesitate. There’s the outside pressure to conform and our own inner demons. We fear, so we put on chains, blockades, hurdles in our path instead of walking in freedom.

We exchange fullness of life for fitting in. We dare not be different or step out in faith for fear of being called unbiblical, immature, or wild–too much. And there will always be someone who will throw a stone at anything that doesn’t fit into their own neat, safe Christian box. But if we look at the New Testament (or even the Old Testament), none of these men and women would be characterized as safe, fitting in, or neat. If we know God is not safe (but he is good as Mr. Beaver says), but He is wild and surprising–otherworldly. He thinks in ways and has priorities that we do not, then why do we think our lives should fit so neatly within four 90 degree angles? 

The only answer I can think of it we’re afraid. We’re afraid of what freedom would truly mean, what it would ask of us. To truly reflect the vastness and majesty, the beauty and wonder, the glory and mercy of God as his chosen people we can’t live in a box. We can’t all look the same or make the same choices. We offer the world a truncated view of who God is when we strive to match, when we continue to live up to these checklists and man-made rules. 

What if we were not afraid to be kind without reservation that we’d get hurt…

What if we forgave without fear of being seen as weak or fear of being taken advantage of…

What if we spoke words of grace and healing instead of cutting down with sarcasm to be seen as funny…

What if we didn’t hide our pasts and all its ugly pimples and implications, but truly showed the world what Christ has freed us from…

What if we served out of love instead of as a tool toward our own ambitions…

What if we laid aside man-made rules and checklists for holy living and trusted that God has a better way…

What if we when we asked, “How are you doing?” we weren’t just being polite and had the patient to truly hear…

What if we let go of “I should do this…” and “I need to get better at, do more of…” and went to the Word to see what God actually says we should do…

If we all were truly free (and in Christ we are–do you believe it?), if we all truly walked out our freedom in the magnificent ways God has uniquely and individually created us—can you imagine it?

The weight lifted from our shoulders, no more guilt, free to ask questions and pursue interests, to express ourselves as God has created us. We were not all made with the same purpose and gifts, why do we let ourselves be hindered by human commands and doctrines?

The book of Colossians echoes much of Ephesians. It can read as a condensed version of everyone’s favorite epistle. But Colossians has this pivot in chapter 2,

“So then, just as you have received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, being rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, and overflowing with gratitude.” Colossians 2:6-7

Live in Christ in the same way you received Christ. And how was that?

Freely. Empty. Gratefully. We brought nothing to the table. We could add nothing to our salvation. We could not perfect Christ’s sacrifice–it was already perfect. We cannot add to Christ’s holiness–he is Holy of Holies.

Live as we have received.

“For freedom, Christ set us free. Stand firm then and don’t submit again to a yoke of slavery.” Galatians 5:1

Christ set us free for freedom. He didn’t set us free so we could fulfill the law. He didn’t set us free so we could let others weigh us down with rules and regulations. He didn’t set us free so we could whine about how horrible we are and how often we mess up. He set us free because he himself is freedom!

Jesus says, “I am the light of the world. Anyone who follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life” (John 8:12) and he continues when the Pharisees think they’re going to call him out as a blasphemer, “The one who sent me is with me. He has not left me alone, because I always do what pleases him” (John 8:29). Jesus isn’t seeking to please the Pharisees, these the ancient timers who loved the check boxes and list of to does. He doesn’t care how he looks to them. He doesn’t care if his disciples think he’s crazy. Many of them leave him, because he was too wild for their sensibilities.

Jesus only cared about following the Father’s will. We see this throughout his earthly ministry (John 4:34, 6:38; Matthew 7:21). He only cared about doing what God the Father wanted him to do. And you know what, that can sound harsh to our modern ears, our sense of justice and tolerance, but if we step back and think of who God is and that he is working out all things for His glorious plan–what is better for us? What is better for the people in our lives? To live to please them, to do what will make us look good? To choose what’s comfortable, what makes worldly sense? Or to do what please God?

After Jesus said these things many believed he was the Messiah, the Son of God. Then he turns to his followers and says, “If you continue in my word [my teaching], you really are my disciples. You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31-32).

This brings us back to Colossians 2 (are you still with me?), “just as you have received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him…” Paul immediately follows this with a warning to not be swayed or taken captive by heresy, philosophy, human traditions, and on but to instead be taken by Christ. And why? “For the entire fullness of God’s nature dwells bodily in Christ” (Colossians 2:9). Let’s breathe that in for a second, the fullness of God is in Christ…all God is in Christ. Paul doesn’t stop there, in verse 10 he continues, “and YOU have been filled BY HIM, who is head over every ruler and authority” (emphasis mine).

There’s two things here we can’t miss: first, because we, as believers, are identified in Christ’s death and resurrection those things have been appropriated to us. His holiness is now our holiness, His righteousness is now our righteousness. We are filled with God’s nature in Christ! Can I get an amen?! That’s everything. When Peter is writing in his second letter he says, “His divine power has given us everything required for life and godliness through the knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness” (2 Peter 1:3). This is it–we are filled with Christ’s nature. We have everything we need in him!

Carry that with us as we move on–don’t forget it. Second, we have been filled “by him, who is head over every ruler and authority.” This is important as we move about our lives and discern influences. There is no Bible teacher, discipler, social media influencer, theologian, pastor, conference speaker, or friend who has something better to say than what Christ has already said. Nothing of what they have to say can add anything to our holiness. Any of their wisdom, influence, or help should always be tested against the word of Christ.

Paul gives this–it’s not just asceticism, the worship of angels, liturgical rituals, or paganism Paul is warning about. So often that’s what we hear, but what is usually brushed aside or ignored is this, “All these regulations refer to what is destined to perish by being used up; they are human commands and doctrines. Although these have a reputation for wisdom by promoting self-made religion, false humility, and severe treatment of the body, they are not of any value in curbing self-indulgence” (Colossians 2:22-23, emphasis mine).

Think about that. What voices are you giving weight to in your life that are human commands and human doctrines? What looks good, looks like pure religion that comes from God, but is really false humility? What looks like wisdom in regulating or crafting a life of holiness, but has no power against the flesh?

Now, do any of these things that are crossing your mind, do they possess the spirit of freedom? Do they bring you closer to Christ? Do they celebrate freedom in Christ? Would Jesus put himself under these regulations?

Test them, Church. By and by, most of them don’t live up to Christ’s freedom.

There’s so much more to say. Paul continues to expose these appearances of holiness in Colossians 3 with what our heavenly, otherworldly nature looks like.

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Let’s shake off–the list, the rules and regulations, the appearance of holiness. We all feel it. We all want to. We don’t belong to this world, we belong to a heavenly one. Let us live on earth in our heavenly, spiritual, otherworldly nature. Because that is our most true self. 

Let’s get drenched.

 

 

photo credit: one, two

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Guilt, Checklists, & Freedom

CoffeeCupThere’s this undercurrent that reappears where I feel stifled in my spiritual life. It feels tight. I feel guilt for not reading my Bible enough, not praying enough, not talking to people enough, not being still enough. Not being enough in general. That does not come from the Lord.

God is not sitting in heaven wagging his finger at me, disappointed that I’m doing something wrong. I’m not even doing something wrong!  [An aside for all the people ready to say, “But we all sin! Every day!” Yes, we do. But I’m not talking about willful sins, sins of omission or commission, but the weight of extrabiblical laws and how they intersect and are raised to the level of biblical commands.] I’m still praying and reading my Bible and thinking on things, but not in the two-tone, one-dimensional, pink-hued way so often described. I still carry so much baggage from, perhaps well-meaning, Christians on what it looks like to be a good Christian, especially a good Christian woman (can I get an amen?).

“If you really love God, you’ll do this…If you really love God, your life will look like this…” You’d read your Bible everyday, first thing in the morning. You’d have a special prayer list for every day of the week. You’d have a list of gratitude. You’d regularly enter into praise and worship. You’d bring meals and help out every time you’re asked. You’d always be joyful with a smile on your face. You’d always be able to say how God is working in your life at any moment. You’d share the gospel with x number of people each week. You’d only watch movies with a PG or less rating. You’d only read Christian novels. You’d only listen to Christian music—and the gospel must be explicitly spelled out in each of these or you’re compromising your witness, polluting your soul.

It’s no wonder why Christianity isn’t appealing. We’ve made it tepid, boring–lifeless. We’ve sucked the life out of the freedom Christ bought for us with all the rules and opinions. And anyone who colors outside the lines runs the risk of being labeled as immature, testing the waters, a rebel–or worse, they’re laughed at and labeled a heretic.

So many rules and regulations, so many boxes to check. How can we keep up? How can we ever please God?

I’ve been reading Colossians for a women’s ministry workshop I’m going to and it’s felt so dry, so restricting, like a wool turtleneck that won’t quit itching. But when I realized I was carrying all this unnecessary guilt to the Word. Guilt over whether I was doing it “right”–the right way, the right attitude, the right answers, the right time of day, the right translation. I was carrying so much guilt and so many checklists to reading the Word in order to “be good enough,” pleasing to God.

But I already am.

As a redeemed child of God, I don’t have to be “good enough.” I don’t have to meet a checklist. I don’t have to, I shouldn’t, approach the Word or the throne of Grace with trepidation, fear of automatic disapproval. That’s not how God has called us as his children.

This isn’t new. It’s a cycle I regularly find myself in. I’m guessing I’m not alone.

“You were running well. Who prevented you from being persuaded regarding the truth? This persuasion does not come from the one who calls you.” Galatians 5:7-8

When I realize it’s not God who is holding a ruler to me and finding me lacking, but man made rules, regulations, and guidelines the Word unlocks, it frees. As it should, as it does. “Where the Spirit of the Lord is there is freedom” (2 Corinthians 3:17). That’s a litmus test unto itself, isn’t it?

Is what is being preached, be it book, article, sermon, song, opinion, blog post, testify to the freedom of Christ?

“For freedom, Christ set us free. Stand firm then and don’t submit again to a yoke of slavery.” Galatians 5:1

Or do the checklists, to dos, rules, and regulations led you into guilt, keeping you from coming to the table and fullness of life in Christ? Do they breed the life of Christ in you or is it a mask of holiness and humility under self-made religious mandates?

“If you died with Christ to the elements of this world, why do you live as if you still belonged to the world? Why do you submit to regulations: “Don’t handle, don’t taste, don’t touch”? All these regulations refer to what is destined to perish by being used up; they are human commands and doctrines. Although these have a reputation for wisdom by promoting self-made religion, false humility, and severe treatment of the body, they are not of any value in curbing self-indulgence.” Colossians 2:20-23

As believers, aware and in awe of God’s goodness, holiness, love, and mercy we will naturally be drawn to the Word, prayer, and service. It’s often in our desire to please God in innocence we go looking for how we may better please him. We add to what doesn’t need adding to, we accept as normal what is added on, we find guidance in guidelines and before we know it the Truth and man-made rules are so blurred we can’t see the border lines. We find our identity and position before God chained to what does not lead us into freedom.

“For you were called to be free, brothers and sisters; only don’t use this freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but serve one another through love. For the whole law is fulfilled in one statement: Love your neighbor as yourself.” Galatians 5:13-14

Freedom in Christ is much more than we think, more than we can ask or imagine.

But that is more words for another day.

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Remembering on Infant Loss Awareness Day

SONY DSCMy mom gave me a stuffed animal monkey when we found out we were pregnant with our first baby. A few weeks later I would hold this little monkey as we lost our first baby, thinking of all the things we’d never get to experience. Never would I have guessed the years would add two more babies to that list.

Today is Infant Loss Awareness Day. One in four women experience infant loss (miscarriage, stillbirth, infant death). It’s a staggering number for a topic that doesn’t get talked about much. Today I’ll be sharing a bit of my story—the grief, the journey to healing, pregnancy after miscarriage, and why so many of us are talking about it. It doesn’t have to be a lonely journey.

Why do we share?

These babies are real. They may not have been wrapped in blankets snuggled in arms of love or breathed on their own, but they were ours and their hearts beat inside of us. Woven together in our innermost being they bore the mark of their Creator, whether their lives lasted 9 weeks, 19 weeks, 39 weeks, 2 hours, or 3 days. We share because we want you to know they existed. They’re real.

Wearing the badge of 1 in 4, women often feel the weight of being the sole bearer of their remembrance. If we don’t remember them, who will?

We don’t share our pregnancies before 12 weeks to make you uncomfortable. We share because we know life is short. We don’t share our losses for a pat on the back for bravery or even for your sympathy. We share because we want your empathy, your understanding (this could be you—your sister, co-worker, best friend, your mother). We share because we want to remember our children who’ve left no mark on the world. We share because we want to know we’re not alone.

We had lots of plans for our first 5 years of marriage. Children were 2-3 years into that plan, so when we found ourselves married for 5 months and pregnant it was a surprise. A welcome surprise, but a surprise nonetheless. It came as a shock when two months later I began to miscarry. I knew it happened to some women, I just never guessed it would happen to me.

I went through the stereotypical cycle of grief—denial, bitterness, anger, and on. Denial to the point I was convinced the doctor and the blood tests were wrong and I was still pregnant. It didn’t help that the pregnancy symptoms didn’t exit as soon as the baby did. It was two weeks before I could even confess this to my husband.

I remember the day the anger broke. An older family friend stopped me at church one day, she’d never been able to have children herself, and all she said was, “I just remember getting to the point where I wanted to go to a baby shower and be happy for the person.” It didn’t change my situation, but it broke something in me and I realized I wanted that too. Being bitter and angry is exhausting.

I came out of that season with a greater trust that God was good…even in this God was good. I believed it to my core.

Thanksgiving a few years later, with a 3 year old and 10 month old, my family pointed out my exhaustion seemed to be more the pregnancy variety than the general motherhood kind. Sure enough I got home and the test was positive. I was about 8 weeks along.

The first week of December I miscarried that baby. I was in utter shock. I’d already had my miscarriage. This wasn’t suppose to happen again. It was Christmas. We were getting ready to visit family on both coasts for 6 weeks. We were going to Disneyland. Losing another baby wasn’t part of the plan.

I slowly realized I had made a one sided deal with God. I had my pocket testimony, my experience to be able to comfort others. I wouldn’t have worded it then, but I thought I had “learned my lesson” and God was done dealing out pain.

I didn’t know what to do, so I shoved it all down and tried to be happy. It was this day at the beach (pictured) nearly 8 weeks later that I felt anything. The water was awakeningly frigid, my boys were experiencing their first touch of the Pacific. It was a spark of hope, the first light of joy. I wasn’t so naive anymore to think that pain and suffering was a one time deal. I began to pour myself into the God who would heal all things, wipe every tear, render every wrong right, and be hailed as “Worthy!” Life wasn’t so much happy-go-lucky anymore as it was deep mysteries to be pondered.

A few years later, mom of a 5, 3, and 1-year-old, I found out I was pregnant again. The same day as a dear friend. We instantly began to imagine growing babies together. A week later I lost mine. This was the hardest yet, not just because I watched my friend’s pregnancy, but it was the first time I really began to ask the question, “Why?”

Why me, God? Why again? How many more times? What other pain do you have for me? Why do You heal some and not others? Why do You have the power to heal—with just a word You could do it, why do you choose not to?

It felt like everywhere I looked in my real-life community and online there was story after story of God healing and answering prayers. Why didn’t he do that for me?

All I could cling to was Peter’s words, “Where shall we go? You alone have the words of life.” I poured myself into the words of the old dead guys, stories of depression and despair where God still loved and led his people. I listened to songs of brokenness and trust, hopelessness and faintest light. I needed to know even this was broken I wasn’t alone.

They call a baby born after a loss a rainbow baby. I’ve got a full rainbow. It’s a hard one to swallow. It’s a mix of grief and blessings knowing if the babies I lost had lived I wouldn’t have two (almost three!) of my children. I’ve struggled with immense guilt of loving the ones I’ve lost, wishing to meet them and loving the ones here.

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But a rainbow…is a sign of God’s covenant to keep His promises. And sometimes those promises are hard. Sometimes those promises mean heartache and struggle, but—He is still who He says he is.

I’ve been reading Jeremiah this week and over and over God tells his displaced people, “I will restore your fortunes” (Jer. 27-31). “I will turn their mourning into joy; I will comfort them, and give them gladness for sorrow” (Jeremiah 31:13).

It’s bittersweet. The pain and the joy co-mingled. Part of me doesn’t want to accept good from the hand that allows pain. But, I always go back to this…”I don’t know what you’re doing, but I know who You are—You have a father’s heart and a love that’s wild, and you know what it’s like to lose a child” (JJ Heller, “Who You Are”).

There will be a day we’ll stand in the Kingdom of Light and all will be made new, all will be redeemed. No more death or mourning or tears. Fortunes will be restored.

Addison Justice. Joseph Allen. Otto Augustus.

Jordan Ebenezer. Olivia Jane. Riley Glory. Victoria Irene.

Why talk about infant loss and grieving?

We need to know we’re not alone. We feel alone so often. We need a culture that’s willing to talk about grief and enter into pain. We often don’t know how to help ourselves. Our grief is often tempered against a time limit—aren’t you over this yet? is the message we get. No, we’re not over losing our children. I doubt we’ll ever be.

But…we want to know how to live in this new normal. How to experience joy and pain without denying one over the other. We long for fullness of life, but are often sucker punched with grief out of nowhere. We need a community and culture that’s willing to acknowledge this dichotomy. That will talk about it.

And if we don’t? We’ll continue leaving generations of women to keep their loss quiet, to fend for themselves in pain, to struggle to find their way out of the darkness on their own. We’ll continue to leave mothers bearing the scars of loving the lost and the living and the guilt that’s so warped between the two. We’ll leave children missing chunks of their childhood, whole pieces of their mothers from the pain and struggle of daily functioning after loss, simply because it’s easier to not talk about it.

There is no one size fits all action plan and I don’t know what it’d even look like, but we do have a voice. And as painful as it is to share the loss of our children, the grief we bear, and the mistakes we’ve made floundering in this unknown territory, we need to talk about it. Infant loss won’t be eradicated, but we still want to live. We want to be happy without denying what we’ve lost.

The darkness cannot be made light unless someone is first willing to light the candle. And there’s a throng of us holding out our candles.

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Miscarriage: What to Say?

Lingering Grief of the Named Unspoken

Coming Up for Air: Facing the Deadness Because He Lives

The Journey of Miscarriage: Traveling from Risk to Grief to Bitterness to Good

Songs for the Brokenhearted

The Willingness of Motherhood

Motherhood is a Risk

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Motherhood & Spiritual Disciplines

Motherhood & Spiritual DisciplinesThis is how most mornings look around here. Some time between 6:30am and 7am I’m joined by at least one or two kids (this morning all four jumped in bed). I read my Bible between snuggles, baby dolls, blankets, often Legos, breakfast requests (Can I have my Valentine candy? No.), and voices that are not quite morning tones, but still I read and try to journal notes if someone hasn’t already stolen my pen.

There have been seasons I have allowed myself to get really frustrated that this “quiet time” (a phrase that can be so unhelpful) was regularly interrupted by my early morning risers and I struggled to find other times in the day to soak in the Word. I longed for the days when getting up early meant 6am and I could spend a solid 30 minutes to an hour to read and study the Word and pray in silence as it’s “suppose to be.”

Let’s take a detour here. Quiet time? It’s a phrase widely used across AmericanChristendom, coined to describe a spiritual discipline of beginning the day reading the Scriptures and in prayer. It comes with the connotation that this is the ultimate ideal. Before you attend to anything else in your day, you should be in the Word and praying. This is what godly people do if they really love the Lord. You’re giving the Lord your first fruits, filling up for the day, you’ll fail if you don’t, etc. It’s no wonder so many mothers are discouraged, disheartened, and believe they’re failing at the Christian life.

When you’re waking every few hours to nurse, rock a baby back to sleep, clean up accidents or vomit, awakened to a child standing over your bed asking for water/milk/food/a cuddle, it’s no wonder when the morning light starts to peek through they’re not ready for a morning coffee in their favorite arm chair next to a basket with their Bible, prayer journal, personal journal,  and devotional or Bible study. They’re exhausted. Nevermind that the day before they probably spent 16 hours on their feet serving their family in some capacity or another.  The thing they want and need the most–more Jesus–feels so far off in the constant demand of children and running a house. From my experience, it’s not a lack of desire that keeps women from the Word, but exhaustion and a framework of spiritual disciplines that are unhelpful.

The idea of a quiet time is good in and of itself, but the emphasis we place on it, particularly that is must happen first thing in the morning and how often the weight of sanctification is placed on that thirty minutes to an hour of time can be harmful. Strive for time spent in the Word, pray often. Yes, Jesus often went off by himself in the morning to pray and commune with the Lord, but neither of these things must happen in your first hour or two. They should permeate all of our day in different ways.

Detour ended. You may continue.

Motherhood & Spiritual Disciplines

Two things have helped me to just do it anyway, even if the circumstances aren’t my ideal.

First, a pastor’s wife I knew once told me a story about a young mom who prior to having children had long, in-depth, meditative quiet times between 1-2 hours a day and after having kids she tried to keep this discipline. She ended up putting her children in high chairs at the table, giving them snacks and toys, while she tried to have her old quiet time. They would cry and try to get out, clamoring and just being little kids. It left her exasperated. She couldn’t meet the Lord in the Word the same way as she had before, though she tried hard to force it.

I remember the pastor’s wife saying your quiet time is going to change when you have kids. It’s going to look different and that’s okay. Too often we put too much stock in what we think, or have been led to believe, a “quiet time” is suppose to look like and rather than just read the Word we get caught up in all the steps we think we’re suppose to do. Just open up your Bible and read.

Second, I’ve learned the hard way it does me no good to get ridiculously frustrated over things that are really not that important or I can’t control. Spills, messes, poop catastrophes, the crumbs after every single meal, children having needs, interruptions in my plans–and I use to let that stuff rile me up daily, to the point I felt offended that my children were, well, being children. But what good did that do me? It didn’t serve me or them. It did more to break our relationship and cause a greater divide, than endear my heart to them. Essentially, it raised a mom versus the children mentality, setting me up to fight my children rather than to love and serve them well. (And, yes, I still get frustrated and have an occasional bout of “Why me?!” along with “I’m quitting!,” but not nearly with the same regularity. Thank you, Jesus!)

My kids are early risers? So what. I’m not pulling out the Greek as much as I use to? That’s fine. Sometimes I have to reread a passage, because the noise is too loud for me to even know what I read. Other times the baby is bouncing on my lap grabbing the pages of my Bible. I may read a passage and have no idea what it means or how it connects to the bigger picture. If I’m doing a study, I may not get to all the questions I want to or even understand the question if little ones are hanging over me. Sometimes I feel I’ve lost some of my critical thinking brain cells in mothering. That’s okay.

These things will pass, but don’t wait until they’re gone to develop a spiritual discipline of reading the Word. It’s going to be imperfect and that’s okay. You may not feel warm fuzzies and the fire on the mountain. You’re reading the Word. You’re making a habit. Even if you feel you’re getting nothing out of it, do it. It’s not pointless. You’re laying the brickwork in your own heart that this is where you come to feast. These Words, these pages are the brook, the well to quench your thirst. No broken cisterns here, this is the green pasture of rest. These are the words of life and they are the light of men.

Don’t wait for your ideal circumstance to read the Word regularly. Do it anyways.

There’s so much more to say, but if you’re a mom you probably have a little one calling for you right now. Mine are about ready for lunch. So, meet back here in a day or two? We’ll talk about some practical resources and how to incorporate the Word and prayer into the rhythm of our days.

Don’t lose heart. He is faithful to keep you.

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Traveling from Risk to Grief to Bitter to Good

***FYI: I wrote this 6-8 years ago, it’s a reflection of my first miscarriage in 2007 and the months that followed. It’s unedited in places, a bit raw and TMI, but real nonetheless.***

A Risky Business

We weren’t planning on getting pregnant. At least not yet.

I realized I hadn’t been feeling well and it wasn’t going away. Then the wheels in my head began turning and something clicked, “Maybe I’m pregnant.” Joe wanted to wait to take a test and I was ready to go buy one that second. We waited a few more days until my birthday to take the test. I was so anxious and excited that I woke up at 4:45am and took the test. Waited those agonizingly few minutes…

There were two lines. One not as dark as the other, but there just the same. We were pregnant! Of course, like any good wife I woke up my husband to tell him. He wasn’t so excited…at least not at 5 o’clock in the morning.

Since the result was a faint positive I made an appointment to take another test at the hospital. I took the second pregnancy test the next day. A few days later the results came back with another faint positive. That night we told our family.

A few days later my doctor ordered a blood test. My hCG’s weren’t increasing normally. So I took one and then a few days later another and then another. My hCG’s were only going up a 100 or so a day, when they’re supposed to double each day. Looking back now, that should have been a sign for concern. But I wasn’t. I was on cloud 9 and my mom had had low hCG’s with her pregnancies we all were fine. All in all, I took six pregnancies tests and all came back positive. I wasn’t worried.

…………………………………………………………………….

We were so excited to start our little family. And then it happened. My mom had been in town for a business trip and was getting ready to leave. Joe and I took a walk before work together. And I started spotting. It wasn’t much. It seemed a normal amount from what I had heard and read, so we preceded with our day as normal.

I got to work, started to settle in, and headed to the bathroom before my students showed up. The spotting wasn’t so little anymore and I knew something was wrong. I was bleeding. I was beginning to lose my baby. I called my mom. She was just getting ready to board the plane. She asked if I wanted her to stay and I said yes. She was on her way back to our apartment. I called Joe and told him to come home.

I cried, pulled myself together a bit, and headed to the office. I got to my boss’s office and told her what was happening. We cried together, she prayed for me, and I stayed in her office until there was a break in the flow of kids arriving and then drove home to meet my mom and Joe. It was a whirlwind.

We all got there within a few minutes of each other. I called my OB and told him what was happening. He said he was sorry and that it sounded like I was having a miscarriage. The only thing he offered me was if the pain was too much I could go to the ER and they’d give me something to help pass the baby. He scheduled an ultrasound for Monday.

I knew I wouldn’t go to the ER. I was going to hold onto every chance that this baby would survive.

So we sat, prayed, ate, and watched Pride & Prejudice–I remember this, because I started with one version and my mom and Joe wanted to switch to a newer version.

By the next day I was feeling more hopeful. My pain was less and I knew God wasn’t going to take my baby. I prayed more that weekend than I have in my entire life. I sang songs. I read Scripture. I had so much faith that our baby was still alive or even if it wasn’t God had the power to revive it.

Saturday we went to lunch with a few friends, because staying at home the only thing to focus on was what was happening to my body. We went to Soup Plantation. We were having fun. Then I had to go to the bathroom.

I sat down and went to the bathroom. Then I sneezed and felt something drop. I looked and there it was…a red mass. So I did what any mother would do, I wrapped it up, put it in my purse, and went back to the table. The look on my face must have spoke volumes, because both Joe and my  mom said, “Is it time to go?”

Everything was a blur after that. I still prayed, I still hoped, I still thought everything was going to be okay. Deep down I knew it wasn’t.

On Monday, we went in for the ultrasound. Joe held my hand as we watched the screen.Nothing. So the doctor did an internal ultrasound. Nothing.

I could feel myself zip up any emotion that might have tried to squeeze out.

He said something about being sorry and these things happen.

My uterus was still enlarged. What I passed was the placenta. Our baby had stopped growing.

No tears. I was fine. It just happens.

I walked out of the examination room fine. No tears. I meet my mom in the waiting room and said something. Shrugged my shoulders and walked toward the elevator.

I was fine. It happens. No tears.

Grieving

September 17, 2007. That was the day we officially knew we had lost our baby. Life continued and I went back to work, but things weren’t the same.

People offered their condolences.

“I’m so sorry.”

“These things happen.”

“I’ve been there too.”

“I guess it just wasn’t God’s timing.”

It was hard to hear, but even harder to respond. I didn’t really know what to say. When we shared our loss with the youth kids we worked with a church there were a few who didn’t understand. One boy had never heard of a miscarriage and asked me if I was joking. Another of our students has some mental disabilities and for weeks would follow me around and ask me what happened to the baby. Finally, Joe had to firmly tell him to stop talking to me about the baby and told him it had died. For weeks after, he would just stare at me like I was the Black Death. He couldn’t comprehend how something could be growing inside of me and then stop. Never could I.

Work was hard, because I was a preschool teacher. I saw children as young as 2 1/2 to 6 years every day for 6 to 9 hours a day. Thankfully, I had not told them I was pregnant. Explaining a miscarriage to middle schoolers was hard, but to preschoolers there would have been an endless barrage of questions.

The next day at work, during our staff devotional one of the teachers read Lamentations 3:21-26 and it brought tears to my eyes. It’s a passage I would revisit numerous times in the coming months (and years).

This I recall to my mind, Therefore I have hope.

The LORD’S lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, For His compassions never fail.

They are new every morning; Great is Your faithfulness.

“The LORD is my portion,” says my soul, ”Therefore I have hope in Him.”

The LORD is good to those who wait for Him, to the person who seeks Him.

It is good that he waits silently for the salvation of the LORD.

Later that day I was talking to Joe on my lunch break. He began reading something to me that made me cry. It was the first question of the Heidelberg Catechism:

What is your only comfort in life and death?

That I am not my own, but belong with body and soul, both in life and in death, to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ. He has fully paid for all my sins with His precious blood, and has set me free from all the power of the devil. He also preserves me in such a way that without the will of my heavenly father not a hair can fall from my head; indeed, all things work together for  my salvation.

Therefore, by His Holy Spirit He also assures me of eternal life and makes me heartily willing and ready from now on to live for Him.

A week later one of my students crawled in my lap and asked if I had a baby in my belly. It took everything in me not to cry. I knew it was God’s way of telling me it’s okay to be emotional. It’s okay to be vulnerable. That night I journaled,

Lord, I don’t know what to think…I don’t even know what to say. I’m avoiding it, I know. I guess I’m ignoring what happened and am just shutting myself up from it–emotions and all things pertaining to it. I’m untouchable. At least that’s how I feel like I’m acting and responding to it and people and life…just that it doesn’t bother me. Which obviously isn’t true, but I don’t know how else to do it.

I just put on a pretty face and act like all is well and I’m doing just fine and God is good. The last part is true that I know…but I’m not sure how to appropriate that truth.

It’s true. I knew God was (and is) good in losing our baby. I believed that he would work all things together for my good. I would sing a chorus to one of the Bible songs we sang with the children. I would sing it out loud. I would sing it under my breath. I would sing it in my head.

God is good, all the time

He put His song of love in this heart of mine

God is good, He’s so good, all the time

But I didn’t yet know how to live that truth…How to make it go from knowledge I repeated to myself over and over and over to something I believed with my whole being?

How is this best for me? How is this God’s grace? I don’t understand how this works for my good and completion in Christ Jesus. I know it does. I could answer the question if someone asked…God knows what’s best for me and Joe and little Addison.

I love God and I know He loves me and He only gives the best for His children which is comforting, but how is this best?

I don’t mean it in a ‘angry-justify-yourself’ way, but a I want to know…I want to understand. I want to see how God is working this together for my good, for His purposes. I want to see His plan and appreciate it.

I also wanted to see how it ended. Where was God going with this? I knew he didn’t have (and likely wasn’t going to) show me the end result–the healing. But I thought if He did then the right now would be easier to handle.

That night I began processing my grief in its earliest form.

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.

Hebrews 11:1

What do I hope for? Am I sure of it?

What do I not see? Am I certain of it?

I don’t know what to think really. But this is what I do know:

  • That God is not doing this because He does not love me, but because He does love me. (Even if I don’t understand that…)
  • God is doing this so that I become more like Jesus. (Even though this is a mystery to me.)

Bitterness to Healing

As the weeks passed, I began to process what had happened little by little. But life had changed.

We tried to carry on with life as usual. Work, church, youth group, prayer teams, care group. But things slowly started to fall apart. I went to work and did my job, but with little enthusiasm. We slowly dropped events on our calendar. It was painful to see kids. It was painful to see parents leave their children for hours at a time when I had just lost mine and all I wanted was a child.

I’d come home and instead of living life, I’d watch TV and eat. Joe and I watched an hour or two of TV a week before the miscarriage. Afterward, we’d eat dinner in front of the TV and spend at least 3 hours there. It was a coping mechanism. I didn’t have to think about real life in front of the TV. I didn’t have to deal with my emotions. I just had to figure out what the missing letters were on Wheel of Fortune. In the next few months I’d gain at least 10lbs (how little that seems now!).

In the month after our miscarriage, I had been hiding something from Joe. I thought I was still pregnant. An outsider might recognize this as the denial stage in grieving, but I had convinced myself I was still pregnant…that the doctor didn’t know what he was talking about. It was all a big mistake.

When I shared with Joe that I still had all the symptoms of pregnancy–tired, nauseous, hungry, weight gain–he gently told me these were also signs of depression. I started to cry. It was time to ask for help.

It felt like everything was falling down around me. I was exhausted from acting like everything was fine. I was discontent, unhappy, and indifferent to life.

One of the reasons I struggled with asking for help (other than I’m a stubborn, proud sinner) was few people even asked how I was doing in regard to the miscarriage. So few that one hand had too many fingers to count them. Other than Joe, the only people who ever said anything were my mom, my boss, and a single friend. I felt lonely.

I felt like no one really considered my baby real and a loss. To me it was huge, but the lack of voice in my family and friends said the opposite. It got back to me that an older family member was told we weren’t ever really pregnant, because that would be easier for them than the truth. I struggled with thinking that maybe others didn’t really consider our miscarriage a loss because it was so early (9 weeks) or there wasn’t a physical baby to hold or there was no proof other than my own word. I felt alone in carrying the burden of our miscarriage. I felt that Joe and I had to be the ones to make Addison’s existence real.

It was then that I was surrounded by a group of amazing and dearly loved women in prayer. My heart was not only encouraged, but I didn’t have to carry the burden of grieving alone. These women were willing to journey with me.

Things weren’t fixed after this. My struggles were revealed. God’s goodness was reinforced. I had women who were regularly and purposefully asking me how I was doing. But life still happened. In late October we were evacuated due to fires. That same day I shared publicly the question that was burning within me: Am I a Mother? and my fears for Mother’s Day. Even though it was months away our baby would have been a few weeks old and we’d already talked about how wonderful it would be to be able to take part in the baby dedications on that day. Then in November/December we went to Ethiopia for a mission trip, where God continued to engrave on my heart His goodness.

One thing I’ve neglected to share up to this point is the condition of  my heart. Yes, I was hiding. I was pretending everything was okay. I was depressed, but I was also bitter.

I didn’t know how to respond and bitterness is what came out.

Bitterness unchecked is suffocating.

It consumed my life. Maybe that’s why I had to repeat to myself that God is good all the time. I struggled with understanding His goodness and living in my bitterness.

I didn’t enjoy being around children anymore. It was only a reminder of what I lost. Baby showers were a painful experience. All the oohing and aahing as I’d sit quietly by myself fixing the food trying to hid my own tears. There were two baby showers within weeks of our miscarriage that I attended.

And then…there were all the happy pregnant women. It seemed so unfair that women who weren’t even trying to have babies or “shouldn’t” were pregnant. I was unhappy and I didn’t want others to be happy either. In some way, I felt if they were happy and had what I wanted then I could never have it too. Then there were the awkward baby conversations where I use to be included and after the miscarriage ignored.

Every day was a struggle. Every day was a battle to breath. I hated life. I hated that I lost my baby. I didn’t understand God’s purposes. I knew He was good, but still my heart screamed in agony of losing the life I never got to hold. I wanted to yell at every mother that complained about her child. I wanted to tell them to enjoy the sleepless nights, because at least that means they have a breathing, living child! I wanted people to feel my pain.

One day at church a family friend grabbed my arm as we were passing in the hall. She is a woman who has never been able to have children even though she desperately wanted them. As she took my arm and looked me in the eye she said, “I just got to the point where I wanted to be happy. I was tired of being bitter. I just wanted to be able to go to a baby shower and bless someone else.”

As simple as her statement was it rocked my world. It didn’t make everything all better, but it was the light I needed to see. I was tired of being bitter. I wanted to be happy. I didn’t want people to feel how I was feeling, because I was miserable. I wanted joy.

It was then that I purposed to repent and let go of my bitterness. It was doing nothing for me, but wrecking havoc on my life. The journey wasn’t easy, but repentance never is. The pain of losing Addison still remained, but changed. Instead of being an all-consuming, searing pain it began to morph into a holy pain. A sadness that also saw God’s goodness. His mercy. His renewal. His covenant.

Because of this I was forced to trust in God more than I had before.

Because of this I learned to say, even through tears, “You give and take away, but my heart will choose to say blessed be Your name.”

Because of this I know and have seen the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.

Because of this my heart cries,

One thing I ask of the Lord, this is what I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple.

Psalm 27:4

He is my all in all. He is my only thing. He is my life and my death. He is I AM. He knows my pain. He is not helpless, but gracious, compassionate, slow to anger, and abounding in love.

He sees me and holds me in the palm of His hand and there I find my comfort, my rest, and my peace as I gaze into the goodness of the Lord.

 

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