Saturday, December 19, 2015

On Waiting For Norah and Advent

Recently I have been feeling a deep sense of longing to meet Norah. I want to look in her eyes. I want her to be here, healthy and whole, and be okay. I just want to hold her and stare at her. I want to know what color her hair is. Will she have Mark’s dark skin, or my fair skin? Will she have very little hair like her momma had or will she have dark hair like her daddy has? Will her nose really look like mine as it does in her sonogram? Of course, I want her to continue growing in utero as she should, but I so desperately want to know she’s going to be okay and that I will get to meet her outside of the womb. I’m sure most mothers can’t wait to meet their babies, so maybe my longing is normal. But I also wonder if my longing isn’t accentuated because I have yet to meet any of our babies outside of the womb, and we have waited so long. I know that along with her birth will come a completely different set of worries, risks, and challenges, but oh, how I want to know her. 

I see her now on ultrasound screens, trusting and hoping she’s okay with each beat of her heart and with every movement, and seeing just a glimpse of her - her little face, her tiny hands and feet, her little neck and shoulders. I love her so much already, and I want to see her without an ultrasound wand between us.

I want these next fifteen weeks or so to fly by. While I’m generally not a person to want to rush life away, I just want to get on the other side of this fifteen week hurdle. I guess the race really started in the fall of 2012, and so now we are hopefully approaching the last leg of the last lap, the last few steps and jumps before crossing the finish line. It’s so close, and I so desperately want the race to end well. 

Looking back over the race, I remember a couple of years ago, where a series of circumstances lead me to a very dark valley. It was a season of sadness and darkness, and I’m scared to think what would happen if I end up in that very place again. In some of my worst moments, self-preservation allows my heart and mind to fill with dread of the “what-ifs”. We have come so far from there. While I trust there will be grace for those days, I don’t want to experience it. I even have a reminder on my phone that says, “But if not, He is still good.” 

The last couple of years I have read some beautiful writings on Advent and longing. I was going back over these posts this week to send to someone, and happened across a comment made by a pregnant woman talking about Advent. I had a bit of a light-bulb moment, relating my longing for Norah to the longing of the Advent season.

Sarah Bessey said on her blog, Would we be so filled with joy at his arrival if we weren’t so filled with longing already? If Christmas is for the joy, then Advent is for the longing. As I learned in particular through our lost babies, one after another after another, the joy born out of suffering and longing is more beautiful for its very complexity. The joy doesn’t erase the longing and the sadness that came before but it does redeem it, it may even stain backwards changing how we look at those days or years. But the joy is made more real, richer and deeper perhaps, because we longed for it with all our hearts for so many days.

I can’t help but think that my perspective, my sense of wonder, my coming joy, my longing, are all so very different, so much deeper, because of our journey. Sarah also said, Now that I have wept, now that I have grieved, now that I have lost, now that I have learned to hold space with and for the ones who are hurting, now I have a place for Advent. Now that I have fallen in step with the man from Nazareth, I want to walk where he walked into the brokenness of this life, and see the Kingdom of God at hand. Now that I have learned how much I need him, I have learned to watch for him. Advent is perhaps for the ones who know longing.

I know that my longing to meet my daughter is a speck of dust in comparison to the longing the world has for a Savior - the collective longing of all the hurts in the world to be healed, needs to be met, and beauty to be made from ashes. 

So this Christmas, as I long to meet Norah Grace, may my longing for my Savior be so much deeper. May my longing for my daughter remind me of the need I have for salvation and the need the world has for redemption.

May my longing not be merely a selfish desire for my own happiness, but may it serve as a catalyst in my heart to draw closer to another tiny baby - a baby wrapped not in a hospital blanket but in rugged swaddling cloths, a baby not laid in a fancy nursery crib, but in humble manger straw. May I find my peace this Christmas not in a perfect pregnancy outcome, but in a perfect, tiny, baby boy named Jesus. 

O come, O come, Emmanuel,
and ransom captive Israel,
that mourns in lonely exile here
until the Son of God appear.

Rejoice! Rejoice!
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, thou Dayspring, come and cheer
our spirits by thine advent here;
disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
and death's dark shadows put to flight. 

Rejoice! Rejoice!
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.


Tuesday, February 10, 2015

My Tricky Bedfellow

Faith. I don’t know if you have ever taken one of those spiritual gifts tests - you know, the ones that tell you how cool your spiritual gift is? If you get to sit at the cool table of spiritual gifts you get something like prophecy or discernment and then everyone thinks you can see the future and read other people’s minds. Then there are the spiritual gifts that are a little less glamorous, like mine. I took that test and got faith. Faith. Like, the thing that every Christian is supposed to have, right? Kind of like the foundation for Christianity. I mean, what is so cool about faith and how is that even a gift?

And then there’s prayer. Prayer is not so much a spiritual gift, but has been something that has also come relatively naturally to me. The ability to pray throughout the day as things pop into mind and converse with the Lord is something for which I am very thankful. That is, until recently.

Things changed. My prayers weren’t so easy. I wasn’t sure how to pray. I wasn’t sure that I believed my prayers really mattered. I wasn’t sure what I believed about prayer at all. After all, hadn’t I prayed for healthy pregnancies? And hadn’t I lost three babies to miscarriage? After a hell storm of circumstances it seemed like my prayers were anything but effective. And this was new to me - a bit of a stiff arm toward God and an apathetic attitude toward prayer.

In light of that, I recently decided that it was time I did something about my prayer life. I couldn’t exactly put my finger on it, but I felt like I was paralyzed in prayer. Like my perspective and worldview had shifted. I knew something wasn’t right but I wasn’t sure what to do to fix it and it had been going on for a while. In true form, I decided to research and do some reading on prayer. I decided I needed to get some good theology on prayer to help me overcome this hurdle - this silence. This distance.

So I bought a book. I started reading the book, didn’t really give it much of a chance, and realized maybe I needed something more specific - something more along the lines of theology of suffering.

And then I happened upon a sermon by Jen Hatmaker at the IF: Gathering conference this weekend and I was kind of hit between the eyes. Jen talked about faith - you know - that thing I’m so gifted in, right? She talked about how faith is one of the highest prizes we can expect to obtain, and that we should expect it to be hard-won.

Then she went on to talk about four reasons why we struggle to believe God and grab hold of faith, and you guys, she totally nailed me. I realized pretty immediately that my issue wasn’t prayer. Prayer was my symptom. I believe it was my pastor who talked about how prayer is a good thermometer for one’s spiritual life. Well, let me tell ya, in this case, that was certainly true. My problem was faith, and because of my faith struggles I wasn’t sure how to pray.

While her entire sermon was spot on, the last reason she gave for why people struggle with faith resonated with me the most. She said some people struggle with faith because they have endured a real beatdown and are afraid to believe God. Bingo. You want to talk about a beat down? Pull up a chair and I’ll tell you about mine. But before she went into this one, she talked about suffering, and said that suffering is a tricky bedfellow with a God that tells us He is good. Because the thing is, we will ALL suffer, and so as she said, if death and sickness and loss and confusion and abuse and sadness mean that God’s character is in question, we should throw this whole thing out. No one has ever made it through life unscathed. So there’s that - suffering - a tricky bedfellow. Suffering? Check.

But then she talked about the beatdown. I think this is perhaps a little more extensive than suffering. Perhaps it’s repeated suffering or prolonged suffering or maybe suffering with no end in sight. Regardless, she talked about the Israelites and how they experienced FOUR HUNDRED YEARS of slavery. And then, just like that, they were free. And so it’s no surprise that the Israelites struggled to believe in “freedom” under “God’s favor” in a “Promised Land” - it was just too terrifying to hope for.

Too terrifying to hope for. Yep. It’s a scary thing to get one’s hopes up about a healthy pregnancy that results in a living baby after experiencing the same terrible ending three times in a row. Hope can be elusive. Hope can be scary.

So you know what the Hebrews did? They said, “let's just go back to slavery.” Debilitating? Sure, but at least it’s familiar.

For many of us, belief takes a lot of courage. For me, belief takes a lot of courage. I want to believe that God will provide healthy children for us, I truly do. But that belief, that faith, gosh, it’s so hard-won. That thing that had been so easy for me - faith - belief - suddenly I’m fighting tooth and nail to hang on to it.

You see, my issue is not prayer. My issue is faith. This beautiful gift of faith that I have been given has been taken from its resting place and beaten with a baseball bat within an inch of its life. And so I hold onto this mangled gift that is unfamiliar and confusing - barely recognizable.

No, I have no idea whether or not God will grant us biological children. No clue. I have no guarantee that we will get pregnant again, nor do I have a guarantee that our subsequent pregnancies will be healthy.

But here’s the thing Jen said: Yes, God works His purposes through the captivity. Yes, He uses the wilderness for good. But His story tells that he is a Promised Land God. Guys, He’s a Promised Land God. Not a God that leaves people high and dry, alone. He is a God of redemption. He is capable. He is trustworthy. He is for me. He is for you. He is for us! He is good. He is trustworthy.

He is a God of redemption. He is capable. He is trustworthy. He is for me. He is for you. He is good. He is trustworthy.

He is good.

As Jen says, faith is its own prize. It isn’t the formula to get the good stuff - it is the good stuff.

I’m still processing everything in my heart and mind as I hope to mend my faith. But what I know is good for the soul is being reminded of the Truth that we have a Promised Land God who is good.

We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain...  (Hebrews 6:19)


*This post references Jen Hatmaker's recent sermon from the If:Gathering. Run, don't walk, and check it out. I quoted her some, and paraphrased her, and used her ideas in my blog. Credit due to her! (-: *
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