My Favorite Christmas Tradition

My Favorite Christmas Tradition.png

The following post originally appeared in the December 2016 issue of the Church of God Evangel in a segment called “Viewpoints.” The prompt was to talk about a Christmas experience that has made a lasting impact on my life. For the sake of clarity and consistency, below is the edited version as it appears in the original publication.


In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God… In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”

John 1:1, 4-5, NIV

I love the way John tells the Christmas story. Sure, it’s missing the angels and shepherds and star, but John’s version gives us so much more, in a way.

The miraculous birth of Christ is an amazing story, but what is even more amazing is that it began long before that night in Bethlehem. It began long before the angel visited Mary, before Elizabeth conceived John the Baptist, even before Adam and Eve.

“In the beginning,” John tells us, before anything else existed, there was Light. Not the physical kind that was created on the first day, but a metaphysical kind, “the light of all mankind,” which allows us to see not just what is in front of us, but to see God himself.

In the beginning, God had a plan to reveal himself to humanity through the Light. On that first Christmas, the Light entered our darkness in the form of a baby boy. As The Message puts it, “The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood” (v.14). Christ came to us, waded deep into our mess, and brought us hope we never could have found on our own. That’s what Christmas is to me – light and hope where there was none before.

That’s also my favorite way to celebrate Christmas: bringing light and hope where there was none before. This year I will share my fifth Christmas reaching out to women in the adult entertainment industry. It’s not the only time I visit them; my friends and I take gifts and treats on every major holiday and several times in between, sharing love and friendship with those often hurt or ignored by the church.

I believe if Jesus were walking around our “neighborhood” in 2016, he would be leading the way through those doors to reach the people who don’t feel wanted, worthy, or good enough to approach him.

When I think about the darkness in our world, there aren’t many things that come to mind so quickly as the sex industry. Every day across the globe, millions of women, men, and children are sold for sex or adult entertainment, either by a pimp, trafficker, or – like many of my friends – by their own choice. The spiritual darkness is even darker than the literal dimness of the clubs I walk into, and it can feel overwhelming. In those moments I turn to John 1, where I am assured the light of Christ “shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it” (v. 5, NLT).

Christmas is my favorite time to visit my friends, because as we carry that light into the darkness of the sex industry, I picture Jesus entering our dark world, illuminating truth and hope for all.

Advertisements

And Suddenly, It’s Christmas

This year I’ve heard a lot of people talking and posting on social media about our culture’s tendency to skip Thanksgiving celebrations and go right from Halloween to Christmas. Status rants and funny memes are filling my Facebook feed; here’s one of my favorites:

halloween-meme-4

I get it; we are such an over-marketed consumer-culture that we rush from candy to mistletoe so quickly without ever taking time to slow down and be thankful. Last weekend my friend saw Santa at the mall and requested those who think this is okay to please unfriend him on Facebook. I did not heed his instruction, but I have to ask… Is it really all that bad?

Is rushing from Halloween to Christmas really rushing anything at all?

I’ve already told you that I’m not really big on “celebrating” Halloween, but I do love me some Thanksgiving. It’s one of my favorite times to visit my friends on the margins, to sit down and enjoy a meal with children of God who have been rejected by the Church. In a setting where we are often pushed to move from place to place, Thanksgiving is a time to savor the people and relationships that I value so highly. Thanksgiving is also the one time of year I travel to West Tennessee to visit my extended family, and it is my absolute favorite two days of the whole year. I adore my clans, I adore their food, and I cherish the memories I have of growing up together and the memories my children are creating. It is truly a time for me to be thankful. I absolutely, in no way whatsoever, ever want to gloss over Thanksgiving.

However, I have to admit coming home at the end of November feels like being thrust onto the starting line of a race as the gunshot fires, and I don’t even have my shoes laced up. In fact, I’d rather be home in my pajamas and robe cuddled up by a fire watching the race on TV. Because waiting until 4 weeks before Christmas to even begin preparing for the season of giving and light seems like a much more detrimental kind of rush. Office parties and teacher gifts and church plays and soup kitchens and holiday baking and gift exchanging and decking the halls and falalalaaaaahhhh it’s exhausting!!

If there is such concern for rushing holidays, it seems like we should be happy to ease into Christmas, extending the joy of the season to eight wonderful weeks of sharing goodwill and cheer. Stretching out the season minimizes the stress of shopping and gives us the gift of time – time to shop, time to help, time to celebrate, time to remember… Rather than rushing the Christmas season through a marathon month of doing all of the things, let’s go ahead and rush from October into full-on holiday mode. Let’s dive right into the beauty of everything that Christmas means.

Is there ever a bad time to plan ways to bless those that we love? To bake with our kids and share hope with the hurting? Is it ever too soon to sing songs celebrating the birth of our Savior or to put lights on our houses reminding us of the Light of the World? When “should” we start building fires and filling our homes with scents of cinnamon and nutmeg? Is November too early to marvel at the ridiculous miracle of the Messiah being born in a stable? That God Incarnate put on human flesh and entered both our literal and spiritual mess in his mission to redeem mankind? Is there ever a bad time for that?

I don’t think so. Because Christmas should always be in our hearts – the love, hope, family, peace, joy and light that makes this season “the most wonderful time of the year” is the same that fills our spirits every day that we serve Jesus Christ. So go ahead – trim those trees, hang your stockings, and fill that shoebox with gifts of love. It’s almost Christmas, after all.

Lying in the Dust

from passion city church instagram

from passion city church instagram

Praise the Lord; praise God our savior! For each day he carries us in his arms.”

Psalm 68:19

That was the YouVersion verse of the day on Sunday. When I opened my app in church, I breathed in these words with a deep sigh and closed my eyes. I need to be held today. 

I noticed this verse was already highlighted in my app, and it turns out I highlighted and shared this very same verse on Instagram 52 weeks ago. One year ago. Today.

That was the day I lost my 5th child.

Don’t Give Up

It actually started nearly 6 weeks earlier when I learned I was pregnant. I had been assured that after 3 healthy, uneventful pregnancies before, the loss of my 4th child in March was surely “a fluke,” just one of the 1-in-4 pregnancies that end in miscarriage. We did not plan to conceive again so soon after a loss, but God has always seemed to take the lead in our family planning, so I was overjoyed at this gift. I immediately went to the OB for bloodwork as a precautionary measure. A few days later they called to say my progesterone was low, so I gladly started on prescription supplements.

A week later I went back to the doctor to repeat my bloodwork and ensure the medicine was working. I felt great physically and emotionally, so I didn’t worry one bit about it. One morning I ventured to the grocery story with all 3 of my young’uns – ages 2, 4 and 6 – in tow. We loaded up in a cart and had barely made it in the door when my phone rang. I didn’t even look at who it was before I answered.

“Hello, this is Nurse from Dr. So-and-So’s office. We got the results of your bloodwork, and the numbers went up, but not enough to feel good about it. So, you know, this pregnancy just isn’t viable, so we need you to come in tomorrow for a D&C. I can put you in at 9:00, or…”

I stopped in my tracks, stunned not only by her message but the completely casual tone in her voice, as though we were talking about having a wart removed.

“Uh, no,” I interrupted. “I’m not doing a D&C. You just said my numbers went up.”

The nurse sounded incredulous that a patient would actually stand up for herself and not just blindly do whatever she was told. “Oh… Uh, well, they did go up, but you see it wasn’t enough, so it’s going to miscarry. We need you to go ahead and do the D&C because Dr. So-and-So is going on vacation, so he won’t be around to…”

“NO.” I said firmly. “I said I’m not doing it. I’ll come back in tomorrow at 9 to repeat my lab work. Goodbye.”

I hung up the phone and just stood there in the middle of ALDI’s entrance for a moment. I don’t know if my kids were staring at me or climbing on boxes of food or what. The whole world stood still. All of a sudden I turned around and walked back out of the store. “Come on,” I told the kids. “We’re not shopping today. We have to go.”

I packed them in the car as calmly as I could. I don’t remember breathing at all. We immediately drove to the church where my husband worked. When we got there, our church administrator came to the door. I said I need to see Jeremy right away, and she said of course. “Here, let me take the kids,” she said as she swept them into the church nursery and put on a movie. That simple gesture of helping without my having to ask, without knowing what was wrong – that meant the world to me, and I will never forget it.

I don’t remember how Jeremy made it to the foyer. I just remember collapsing onto a bench and weeping. It was several minutes before I told him what the nurse had said, but it didn’t take him that long to figure it out. We didn’t talk. We sat on the bench and held each other and cried for what seemed like forever. Finally my husband said, “So, what do you want to do?”

I spoke without trembling for the first time since I hung up the phone. “I don’t want to give up.”

Medical Un-necessity

The next few weeks were a roller coaster. More like a series of roller coasters, or maybe a whole theme park strung together in the most dramatic and paradoxical sequence imaginable. I went to the OB every other day for labs. I had a couple of ultrasounds. I never once saw my doctor.

On the off days from getting my blood drawn, I would get phone calls from Heartless Nurse who thought I was being obtuse to hope in the life of my child rather than submitting to an unnecessary surgical procedure. She would tell me that my numbers went up again, but still not enough. I would tell her my God is greater. It seemed like I could hear her rolling her eyes through the phone.

Just before Dr. So-and-So left town, I convinced him (over the phone) to order an ultrasound if my hCG level reached a certain number. He agreed, and we spent the weekend praying for that number. Our family and close friends joined us in fasting for that one number. We came up just shy of it, but they still did the ultrasound. The technician wasn’t able to see enough to determine health or gestation, but she did see something that looked like an embryo in my uterus. A few minutes later we met with Dr. So-and-So’s partner, who both he and many friends of mine have said is the best. I was thrilled to finally sit with a doctor who could see that good things were happening.

“You need to do this D&C as soon as possible,” she said. “It’s for your safety. This pregnancy could be ectopic (tubal) and if it ruptures then you will need emergency surgery.”

My heart sunk, not because I was scared of the possibilities, but because the doctor seemed so determined to do this procedure after I had just seen an embryo on that ultrasound screen. “I don’t understand why this is a concern,” I retorted. “We just saw the baby on the ultrasound, so we know it’s not ectopic.”

The doctor picked up my ultrasound chart and slapped it back on the table. “This means nothing to me,” she huffed.

Tears welled up as I told her about my faith in God and in this child. I was praying for a miracle, and I wasn’t giving up.

She literally rolled her eyes at me. “Well, I guess I can’t force you to do it, but you need to know it is my strong, professional, medical opinion that this procedure is necessary, but you have a right to decline my professional advice. Just promise you’ll come to the ER if you have any abdominal pain at all.”

I nodded and left her office.

Faith Hurts

You are my refuge and my shield; your word is my source of hope.”

Psalm 119:114

I’ve mentioned before that my husband and I felt a great deal of spiritual anticipation at the beginning of 2014 regarding big things that were in store for our family. Around that time I also felt God leading me to fast for a miracle. This isn’t necessarily a strange thing, as fasting is a spiritual discipline taught by Jesus himself and which every believer should practice. It was weird to me, though, because I’ve never considered myself very “good” at fasting. I have done it, and that’s fine, but I never seemed to get much out of it. I wasn’t terribly concerned about that until the Lord specifically told me to fast, so I figured I should learn more about it. I borrowed some really helpful books from my pastor and studied the scriptures. The unusual part about my call to fast is that while God told me there would be a miracle, he didn’t bother to say what the miracle would be.

I was still trying to learn and figure all this out when I got that first call from Heartless Nurse. I thought I needed to figure everything out to do it “right,” but when I got that news, nothing else mattered. I began a modified Daniel fast (basically, I didn’t eat any bread, sugar, or meat for 10 days) right away. I knew what my miracle was. God wanted to save my baby.

Over the weeks that I journeyed through all the doctor visits and bad reports, I was also on a spiritual journey wherein God increased my faith beyond what I had ever imagined. I spent more time in the Word than ever before. Every second I could possibly break away – early in the morning, late at night, nap time, while the kids watched a movie, any time I could get a moment of quiet – I was reading the Bible and searching for hope in the scriptures. God consistently led me to scriptures and stories of faith and miracles. I was connected with family and friends and complete strangers who shared their own stories of miraculous pregnancies and affirmed my faith. I visited my PCP for a sinus infection, and the Nurse Practitioner cried and prayed with me when she heard my story.

In the face of all the doubt and discouragement from my doctor, I was filled with faith and hope from every other source in my life. It was the most exciting time in my entire life, truly expecting greatness from the God who is able…

…But then He didn’t

On Tuesday, June 17, 2014, I started bleeding. No pain or cramps or other symptoms of a miscarriage, so I reminded myself who is the Giver of Life, and I continued praying and believing. That weekend my husband and I took a short trip to a bed & breakfast in Gatlinburg for our anniversary. We went to Cades Cove on Saturday, and in one of the little churches on the Cove I found an old hymnal open to this page:

I Believe Hymn

Despite the obvious circumstances, I was full of faith when we returned home Saturday night.

Then came Sunday morning, June 22. It was my brother’s birthday. There’s something about birthdays… My husband left early for church, as usual, so I was rushing around trying to get everyone ready for church. I was scheduled to serve in the nursery, so I had to be early. I need to remember to call my brother. The kids all want something different for breakfast. I’ve just got to fix my hair…

I was walking across my bedroom when I felt it. Something came out, but not completely. My heart stopped for a moment and suddenly I couldn’t breathe. When I miscarried in March, I asked God to allow me to see my baby so I would know for sure this was it, and he granted that request. That tiny baby looked exactly like a 6-week-old fetus (technically zygote), and that moment with my teeny tiny little one brought me so much comfort.

This time was not like that. I reached down and pulled out what I had felt. I was horrified. It was a jumbled mass of tissue and blood vessels that honestly terrified me. My husband was gone, my kids were in the other room, I had no idea what to do. I was so shocked by what I saw, I wanted to take it to my doctor’s appointment the next day to have it tested in Pathology. It was the only thing that made sense to me in that moment. What is it EMTs do when someone loses a limb? Don’t they freeze it? That seems extreme… Maybe it just needs to be cold?? I placed it on a tissue while I got dressed, then I got a plastic Ziploc bag and put it in the refrigerator.

I called my best friend and told her I had an emergency and needed her to cover for me in the nursery. She didn’t ask questions but immediately agreed. More of those little things that others did for me to show me grace in my time of need. I called my mom. I was flustered. I know I didn’t make any sense. I didn’t know why I was calling, I just didn’t want to be alone in that moment.

My parents came over and took my kids to church. I didn’t know what to do, but I knew I didn’t want to be alone, so I got ready and went on to church. I was late, so I sat in the balcony. My parents sat with me.

Our worship team sang the gospel hymn “My Life Is In Your Hands” :

You don’t have to worry / And don’t you be afraid

Joy comes in the morning / Troubles they don’t last always

For there’s a friend in Jesus / Who will wipe your tears away

And if your heart is broken / Just lift your hands and say

Oh, I know that I can make it / I know that I can stand

No matter what may come my way / My life is in your hands”

Honestly, I was furious. I sat there in the balcony silently crying tears of anger and betrayal.

As confused as I was by what I had seen, as much as I felt in shock, the one thing I knew was that my pregnancy was over. I had lost my baby, or whatever was left of him. All that prayer. All that faith. All that believing. And here I am looking like a fool. I was so angry with God for the miracle he didn’t do.

Healing… slowly

The next day I went to the doctor and brought along my “specimen.” They did an ultrasound to confirm there was no remaining tissue in my uterus. Bloodwork confirmed that the numbers were no longer rising incrementally but had drastically fallen to almost zero. I still never once saw my own doctor.

That afternoon I sat on my patio during my usual time in the Word and just stared at my Bible. I was so broken, I didn’t even know where to start. I turned to the only scripture I could think of – the only prayer my wounded heart could utter:

I lie in the dust.

Revive me by your word.”

Psalm 119:25

I lie in the dust. I felt so crushed, so helpless, so frustrated, and yes, still angry. I poured out my heart to God. I cried and screamed and told him how humiliated I felt that he let me down. Honestly, I didn’t want to do this anymore. I wanted to give up. I wasn’t shy about it. God was right here with me, so he knew how I felt; there’s no sense trying to hide it. I was so mad. Over the next few weeks, I wept bitter tears nearly every day as I cried out to God. But I kept crying to him. Because even in my brokenness, I knew he was with me.

I will bless the LORD who guides me;

even at night my heart instructs me.

I know the LORD is always with me.

I will not be shaken, for he is right beside me.

No wonder my heart is filled with joy,

and my mouth shouts his praises!

My body rests in safety.

For you will not leave my soul among the dead

or allow your godly one to rot in the grave.

You will show me the way of life,

granting my the joy of your presence

and the pleasures of living with you forever.”

Psalm 16:7-11

No matter how angry I was, how broken I felt, no matter how much I wanted to walk away, I couldn’t because I know the truth. The truth is that God is good, and his plan is so much bigger and better than anything I could imagine for myself. Even when I didn’t want him there, God never left me. And he will never leave you.

There is joy in the presence of the Lord. You don’t always have to feel happy or like everything is going right. Because sometimes, it’s just not. Sometimes, you are sad and things are a mess. Sometimes you are standing there in the middle of the wreckage of your life, and you don’t even know where to start picking up the pieces. And he is there, and there is joy in knowing that he is with you.

I’m still on my journey of healing. I’m expecting a healthy baby boy in 6 1/2 weeks, and while his existence does not erase the hurt of my losses, he is my constant reminder to joy in the presence of the Lord. A few months ago, on my birthday, I shared with you as I mourned the loss of my 4th child. That day, in the midst of our grief, my husband and I chose a name for our son that means “Jehovah’s gift.” This gift in my womb is kicking and rolling now as I type, and with every flutter and punch, I hear the Lord whispering to me, “I am here.”

My friend, he is here. And he is there, with you. I don’t have all the answers. I don’t know the point of the journey I have been on, but I have learned to experience joy even in the midst of pain and to trust the goodness and love of a Savior I don’t always understand. I am not alone. You are not alone. You are never alone. Each day he carries us in his arms.

I love you. I need you.

I waited patiently for the LORD to help me,

and he turned to me and heard my cry.

He lifted me out of the pit of despair,

out of the mud and mire.

He set my feet on solid ground

and steadied me as I walked along.

He has given me a new song to sing,

a hymn of praise to our God.

Many will see what he has done and be amazed.

They will put their trust in the LORD.”

Psalm 40:1-3

He Provides

he provides

“That is why I tell you not to worry about everyday life — whether you will have enough food and drink, or enough clothes to wear. Isn’t life more than food, and your body more than clothing? Look at the birds. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, for your heavenly Father feeds them. And aren’t you far more valuable to him than they are? Can all your worries add a single moment to your life?

“And why worry about your clothing? Look at the lilies of the field and how they grow. They don’t work or make their clothing, yet Solomon in all his glory was not dressed as beautifully as they are. And if God cares so wonderfully for wildflowers that are here today and thrown into the fire tomorrow, he will certainly care for you. Why do you have so little faith?

“So don’t worry about these things, saying, ‘What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?’ These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.”

Matthew 6:25-33

I don’t know why I ever worry.

The last year+ of my life has seen more than its share of sorrow. Losses of pregnancies, losses of opportunities, losses of dreams, and losses of hope. I have been tempted to give up on God, but I know I can never do that. I’m too far into this, and I know the truth too well to walk away. But that doesn’t mean I’m always happy about it.

Down here in my pit of despair, I have always known God could rescue me, that he could right the wrongs and heal my hurt, but I honestly stopped thinking he would. At least I stopped expecting it. I had been let down so many times. I was resigned to continuing this trudge through every.single.day, working my way out of the mire on my own. Not that God couldn’t save the day, I just figured I’ve been here long enough, I must not be suited for the miraculous.

These are all things I know in my head to be false, but gosh, it’s hard to overcome those feelings deep inside your heart. In fact, these feelings are so consuming that seeing the way out might just take… a miracle.

This week we needed a miracle. My husband and I have been emotionally drained, and Wednesday was the pinnacle of our stress. Wednesday also included a meeting that added an enormous financial strain to our plates, and a tearful phone call caused us both to feel like the situation was hopeless.

Finally coming home at 11:00 Wednesday night, ready to crash in bed and try to forget this day just happened, my husband noticed something stuck under the door.

envelope

This envelope had been stuck under the locked front door from the outside. The only words were “He Provides,” in a handwriting we don’t recognize. Inside was a blank card… and a thick stack of hundreds.

For the last year, I have felt like I was walking this road alone. Sure, God is in control, but I didn’t feel like he really cared about my needs. I felt alone and abandoned, and I was just along for the ride. On my way home in a separate car, before my husband told me about the card, a song came on the radio that I have heard before, but this time it felt like the Holy Spirit jumped out of those speakers and into my heart. He was speaking directly to me:

Scars and struggles on the way
But with joy our hearts can say
Yes, our hearts can say
Never once did we ever walk alone
Never once did you leave us on our own
You are faithful, God, you are faithful

-Matt Redman, “Never Once”

When my husband told me about the card, I knew those words were from the Lord. He HAS been with me all this time. He has “carried [me] in his constant grace,” as the song says, even when I couldn’t see it. This week we received a financial miracle that may not solve all our problems, but it assures me not only that he can provide, but he will.

I don’t tell you this story to brag about our situation; no, I have done nothing to deserve or earn this grace. I share this to give glory to God for a miracle that only he is capable of doing. (No one else knew how much we needed!) And I want you to know he sees you too. Even when you feel completely alone, he is there. You are loved and valued in his eyes. And he will make a way for you, just like he has for me.

Just trust him.

“And this same God who takes care of me will supply all your needs from his glorious riches, which have been given to us in Christ Jesus.”

Philippians 4:19

To the Wannabe Mom on the Elevator…

Wannabe Mom

Last week I went to my obstetrician for a routine pre-natal visit. (Summary of findings: baby is healthy, mommy is gaining entirely too much weight. You’re welcome for the update.) As usual, I was running late and did not have time for insignificant, time-sapping trivialities like “make-up” and “non-yoga pants.” As I rushed my already-waddling self through the late-Spring Tennessee heat and into the building, I had already begun to sweat. Thankfully a kind soul held the elevator for me even as the doors were closing, because I was already late and definitely was not feeling a 5-flight hike up the stairs.

As I caught my panting breath on the elevator, I couldn’t help noticing the woman standing next to me. She was tall, thin, and very attractive. I looked down at my swollen belly and suddenly could feel the extra padding on my hips and thighs. Her hair was about the same length as mine, but hers was perfectly styled in those loose curls I can never seem to master. I thought about my barely-brushed ponytail that I pretend is there because of my hurry, but really I wear it like that every day. Her polished, professional attire suggested she would be heading back to an office after this, and, based on her shoes, I imagine it is a pretty well-paying office. I tugged at my yoga pants that will never fit quite right while I’m pregnant and pulled my husband’s t-shirt down over my stomach. My feet were already swelling in my now-tight sandals. I wonder when I’ll be able to wear real clothes again? I thought. I started mentally counting the weeks until delivery, plus 6 weeks post-surgery until I’m cleared for physical activity, plus however long I will be nursing before I can start cutting calories, plus… how long did it take me to lose those first 20 lbs? Plus 40 more lbs… It was starting to feel like forever before I would be myself again…

My pity-party-train-of-thought was abruptly interrupted as the third passenger exited the elevator. Now it was just me and Beauty Queen for one more floor, and this enviously beautiful woman turned to me and smiled. “You look gorgeous,” she said sweetly.

I couldn’t help but chuckle. “Thanks,” I replied, “I was just thinking how I feel like a whale.”

She smiled again. “No, you look beautiful. I’m not just saying that. Really, you just have that glow.”

I thanked her again as the doors opened to the 5th floor. Quietly we both walked down the hallway and, sure enough, through the same door to the OB-GYN. I took a seat by my husband, who, of course, was on time, while she went to the corner alone. She could have been there for routine care or any kind of visit, but after our conversation in the elevator and the heartfelt way she looked into my eyes when she spoke, suddenly I recognized her. Eleven months ago, that was me.

Last May I learned I was pregnant again, just 6 weeks after miscarrying my 4th child. A few days later I learned that my bloodwork indicated another miscarriage was impending, so I went to the doctor every other day for blood and urine samples until the loss was confirmed.

Every other day, I walked into that office and took my seat in a waiting room full of pregnant women. Every other day, I overheard whispered conversations with husbands about where they should put the crib and what color to paint the nursery. Every other day, I watched women drink that awful orange juice for the glucose tolerance test and complain about how long this would take. Every other day, I observed exasperated moms wrestle with bored toddlers while simultaneously soothing their fussy newborns. Every other day, I sat with expectant teen girls as they flipped through parenting magazines, not really reading the words, anxiety written across their young faces.

Every other day, I sat surrounded by babies while I waited for my own child to die.

There’s really not a way to explain the pain of that juxtaposition, feeling the weight of my broken womb sitting among the healthy ones. After a while the phlebotomist who drew my blood every other day stopped trying to make lighthearted conversation and would simply insert the needle into my familiar left vein while I looked the other way, eyes filled with tears. When she was done, we nodded to each other, and I walked wordlessly from the office to my car, where I could let out my emotions.

Being around pregnant women remained difficult for months following my 2nd miscarriage, which finally happened naturally at not-quite-9 weeks gestation. Like this mom said, “A single miscarriage felt like a fluke; a second consecutive miscarriage felt like the deepest blow and left me weary and wounded, both physically and emotionally.” When I did see expectant mothers, it was all I could do not to approach them with love and encouragement and just a tinge of jealousy, reassuring them that they are beautiful and so, so very blessed with that little life inside. (My husband informed me this was weird, so I held my tongue… usually.)

So to the beautiful woman on the elevator, I see you. You may be here at the doctor for another fertility consultation, because after months or years of trying, you just aren’t getting pregnant. You could be here for bloodwork – again – unsure if this time will be good news or bad. You could be consulting the doctor about whether a DNC is necessary. You might be here for that dreaded follow-up appointment – the one where you have to sit in the same place where your dreams were just crushed and see the words “non-maternity” on your chart, knowing hope is officially lost.

My friend, I have been there. I see you, and I feel your pain. My wounds are yet fresh, and your kind remarks and longing glances are not lost on this still-grieving mother’s heart.

Friend, I promise to joy in this pregnancy as much as possible. I promise to delight in each kick and surprise trip to the bathroom, knowing my active baby is a healthy one. I promise to breathe deeply and allow my body to do its thing (with a little help from the anti-clotting medications I take every day), accepting my current status as life-giving vessel, whatever toll that takes on the bathroom scale. I promise to remember that the gift in my womb is greater than the price my body will pay for it. And I will remember that this precious child has 3 others at home, anxious to hold him in their arms as well as mine, and that’s 4 times the heartburn, aching joints, sleepless nights, and endless love you may have experienced.

I will do this for you, because I have been there. I will not take this pregnancy for granted, because I know firsthand it is not. I will not compare myself to others any more than you wish to compare your toned, flat abdomen to my swollen and flabby and full one. Because I know you would give anything to trade places. My friend, I am sorry. I’m sorry for my pity-party in the elevator, and I am sorry for your wounded spirit. I won’t offer you blithe condolences that don’t really help, but I will assure you that you’re not alone.

You are not alone.

Wilderness, Depression, & Stars in the Night*

img_0544-1

The purpose exceeds the pain.”

Beth Moore

We are a culture that abhors pain. We are always looking for a quick and easy way out, whether it’s avoiding the gym or popping pills or distracting ourselves with who-knows-what to escape that gnawing feeling of something being wrong.

Even church people are guilty. Christians often get blindsided by difficulties we face in life, and rather than seeking the purpose of our trials, we pray and petition God for a way out. Pain is uncomfortable, and that just doesn’t fit with our Americanized vision for serving the Creator of the Universe.

In fact, our aversion to pain has often caused American church culture to glorify certain workings of the Lord over others, or – worse – superficially write off painful circumstances without searching for the beauty of God’s plan in that moment. It’s great for when you’re on the mountain top, but it will leave you empty when you’re walking through the valley of the shadow of death.

The truth is, God is there in that terrible doctor’s report, that tragedy, that lonely road. He’s there, and he is moving and working and doing his miracle-thang that he does… He’s just not standing front and center like in those great moments of healing and deliverance.

Think of it this way: if miracles are stars, healing might be the sun. It’s like HERE I AM! LOOK AT ME!!! and you have to put on your sunglasses because woah, that feels bright! Maybe, just maybe, the pain and hurt we experience is still a star, but it’s more distant. You might not even notice it unless you’re really looking for it. Heck, you might just need a telescope to know it exists, but there it is, 30 million miles away, and what’s it doing out there? Shining brighter than the sun.

The thing about those distant stars is that even when you’re looking for them, you can only see them under certain conditions. If you’re sitting at a park on a warm spring day, watching everyone around you run and play and bask in the sunlight, you might feel alone and isolated, wondering why everyone else can enjoy the day while you are still drowning in your circumstances, your depression, your pain. That doesn’t diminish the others’ joy on this beautiful afternoon, but it can make you feel pretty crummy. I have heard depression described as drowning, only everyone around you is breathing. You don’t want anyone else to drown either; you just want to come up for air.

Believe me, I’ve been there. (I am there?) We have to remember, though, that our painful miracles can’t be seen in the daylight. It doesn’t mean they’re not present, they’re just not visible because of our perspective. To see, recognize, and appreciate the beauty of a distant star, you have to get into the darkness. There, in the cold, lonely night, you can look up and see not only your star, but billions of others that you never would have noticed without that bitter dark.

Here’s to all of us who are sitting outside at night, telescopes in hand, waiting for the clouds to part…

*Thanks, Jefferson Bethke, for this incredible video that my husband showed me yesterday while we talked about this. Thanks for saying this so much better than I can. And sorry I used your title. I hope it’s not copyrighted…