Wednesday, July 29, 2015

The Room

Just yesterday I sat back in The Room. The one with the tan walls and the painting of the brightly colored flowers, likely placed to give the otherwise blank room a little color and life. The one with the ultrasound machine that shows expectant mothers their babies’ heartbeats, and the same machine that delivers the crushing news that a heartbeat can’t be found. This time was different of course. I wasn’t expecting anything really. I had been back once since that day, a different room, a different machine, but I knew the facts. My body was still trying to hold on to what was left of the pregnancy. In my frustration over having to continue to deal with the loss, I told Andrew that I wished my body would get the message and just do what it was supposed to. That’s when he reminded me that my body was doing what it was supposed to, trying to hold on to life at all costs.

I had already signed all the paperwork, the consent forms that protected the hospital should something go wrong. My appointment for surgery had already been made. I was supposed to go downstairs to have my pre-op lab work done and then report back the next day at 11 o’clock. The nurse had gone through the details of the procedure and had answered my questions. I was nervous of course, I really shy away from any type of surgical procedure, especially ones that involve needles and being put to sleep.  Which really means I dislike every type of surgical procedure. Maybe it has to do with a fear of pain or fear that something could go wrong, but I have a feeling it has more to do with my fear of being out of control. I was willing to do it though. Three weeks on this roller coaster had been long enough for me and I was ready to get off. 

As I sat in The Room waiting for my doctor, I tried to be strong. I tried not to think about what it was like the last time I was here, and instead just focus on the facts. Going over in my head what the nurse had told me would happen. Andrew reminding me that it would be a quick procedure and then he would get to take me home. That this nightmare would be over soon, and I could start the long process of healing.  And then something happened. In the physical realm, it was simply that a nurse came and brought the ultrasound machine in the room and left. But something else. A nudging of the Holy Spirit. As I stared at the machine, I thought about the possibility of not having to have the procedure at all for the first time. Sure, I had been praying – prayers that everything would go okay, that God would be with my doctor to help her make the right decisions, that He would give me peace and comfort about it. But I had not been praying for a clear ultrasound. Up to this point, I had not considered the possibility. I had taken the medicine and it had not worked. I had waited the amount of time, taken another test, still positive. [Oh, the irony of it all. A positive test when I needed a negative. Knowing at some point all I would want would be a positive.]  I had focused on the facts, what the doctor had told me needed to happen, and had not. I had not thought to pray for something that felt out of my reach. But sitting there, staring at the machine, the reality of it all just before me, I begged God for it. I prayed fervently out of a desperation of my heart, not just with words, but with my spirit. I’m not so sure it had as much to do with not wanting to have the surgery at that point. I knew the procedure wasn’t that big of a deal, so many women have it done and I knew deep down I would be okay. But at that moment, I needed to know God was with me. I needed to know that he heard me, that he cared about the details. I needed to feel the loving protection of a Father. I was willing to accept everything else that had happened, but I desperately needed Him to show himself to me.

I have referenced Shauna Niequist’s book “Bittersweet” before because there is just so much in her book that has spoken to me in this season. I remember a part of the book where she talks about what the Celtics call “thin places.”
 “One of my favorite Celtic ideas is the concept of thin places. A thin place, according to the Celtic mystics, is place where the boundary between the natural world and the supernatural one is more permeable – thinner, if you will. Sometimes they’re physical places. There are places over Ireland where people have said, if you stand here, if you face this direction, if you hike to the top of that ridge at just the right time of day, that’s a thin place, a place where the passage between heaven and earth is a short one, a place where God’s presence is almost palpable. Thin places: places where the boundary between the divine world and the human world becomes almost nonexistent, and the two, divine and human, can for a moment, dance together uninterrupted. Some are physical places, and some aren’t places at all, but states of being or circumstances or seasons.”
I’m not one to usually believe in mystical ideas, but to me, it isn’t so much about mystics as it is about a Holy God and a belief that He can show us a little bit of Himself in very tangible ways. Many people describe an experience where they felt God’s presence in different ways. But I like this idea of thin places and for me, yesterday, that examining room was a very thin place. You see, when the doctor came in and did the ultrasound, the ultrasound to confirm that I needed the surgery, it didn’t surprise me that she found nothing and gave me a clear report. As she told us “this is good news, sometimes these things just happen and we can’t necessarily explain it,” I knew that God had moved. He had moved in that room and I had felt His presence so close. As the doctor left the room I broke down into sobs and was so overcome by the Holy Spirit that I couldn’t even talk. I felt like Andrew was concerned because of my outburst and he kept reminding me that this was good, that I wouldn’t have to have surgery, that this part of the ride was over. But what he didn’t know and I couldn’t even  describe at the time, was that they weren’t sad tears. This time they were grateful tears, grateful that God had heard me, that he had showed me more of Him, that he had reminded me that he was very near, even in that Room. 

I never wanted to have to go down this road, to experience this pain. But God has taught me so much in such a short time and I am learning more every day. He is reaching down and showing me little glimpses of heaven in this broken world. He is teaching me to pray for the things that He places on my heart, instead of speaking empty words without faith.  He is teaching me to look for Him in the most unlikely places, to live in constant expectancy of Him. I have realized that in my life, the thin place wasn't just that examining room. I found Him there because that's where I looked for Him the hardest, where I took hold of Him and refused to let go. But any moment, any circumstance, any season of our lives can be a thin place. I now more fully understand the meaning of Jeremiah 29:13.

I don't know where you are right now reading this, what kind of road you are walking down, but I promise you if you look long and hard enough, if you take hold of God and refuse to let go, He will show you more of Himself than you ever thought possible. He will meet you there in that very real and thin place.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

The Struggle is Part of the Story

This summer I have been going through a Bible study with some friends from church. We are doing Angie Smith's "Seamless" study. I have enjoyed following Angie on her blog for several years now, so when I heard about this study I knew it was one I wanted to do. I just had no idea at the time what this study would mean to me and how it would come at a time in my life when I needed it the most.

In the first week of the study Angie asks the question "What experiences in your life have caused you to struggle with believing that [God] is good and that He loves you?" She asked us to write them down and seal them up - it was just supposed to be between us and God. I struggled with this question, not for obvious reasons, but because I couldn't think of anything specific. Nothing of significance anyway. I remember telling Andrew that I didn't have anything to write and how I struggled with it. How did I deserve to have had an absence of struggle when I have witnessed so much pain in the lives of those around me? I remember feeling guilty and a part of me longing to know God in a way that I had only heard others talk about - how you grow closer to God and how real he becomes in the midst of trials.

At the same time, about a week earlier, I had just found out I was pregnant. June 1, 2015 was one of the most exciting days of my life. There wasn't just one line, but two. Two pink lines told me that I was going to be a mother. I was overwhelmed with emotion, but I praised God for the life growing inside me, and instantly became wrapped around the idea of being a mother. In that moment I visualized the rest of my life and what it would look like. Excitement is an understatement. It pretty much consumed my every waking moment and thought for the next few weeks. We wanted to tell my parents in person so that meant waiting a couple of weeks. It felt like forever. That kind of excitement feels heavy, begs to be shared, needs to be divided among people so that it's easier to manage. 

Soon after we told our parents our news, we went for our first doctor appointment and saw the beat of a tiny heart on the ultrasound screen. Everything else melted away except for the image on that screen. Later I could not remember anything the doctor said or that there was even a nurse in the room. That moment changed my life. With every beat of our baby's heart, my heart was being shaped and molded, preparing to love in ways I was only beginning to understand. And I had no idea how that tiny heart would continue to change me in the coming weeks.

I have a feeling I will always think of my life as Before and After. I think tragedy just grips you and changes you in a way that you are never the same. But as I write this it was only two weeks ago that I heard those awful words "I can't find the heartbeat" and I know we have a long way to go on this road. I also know that at that very moment, in the examining room, I was faced with everything I have always believed to be true about God. And I had a choice to make in that moment. Either he was good and he loved me, or not. Simple as that. I realize that I could have gone either way. There's no way to know how you will respond in that moment. But despite my flesh, which was screaming to be heard with shouts of self-pity, doubt, and fear - I chose to believe in what I know of God's character over my circumstances. I chose to believe that He is ultimately good, even when I don't understand. I don't claim to have any answers, I know I never will understand in this lifetime. But as I have known my whole life, but am just beginning to learn, that truly trusting God isn't about having answers or knowing "why".. Rather, it's believing Him when we don't have answers and nothing makes sense. It's knowing that He has never left our side, that He is closer to us in our pain than at any other time in our life, probably because that's when we lean on him the most. It's feeling absolutely torn apart but knowing that somehow he is holding you together. And that the broken places of your heart are allowing Him to enter in.

Just yesterday I flipped back to the beginning of our bible study book. We are several weeks into the study now and each week there have been new lessons to learn and we have grown in so many ways, in our faith but also closer to each other. I will always be grateful for these sweet friends God has placed in my life. I know He placed them there because when I moved here a few years ago, that is what I prayed for. That's another post for another day, but what I am learning is that God always provides. Maybe not on our timeline, not in a way that makes any sense to us, but in His perfect time. So I went back to the very question that I stumbled over a few weeks back. I felt I had something to write this time, so I wrote it down, sealed it up. Gave it to God. It's too heavy for me to carry on my own. I know that we all struggle in different ways and what may not seem difficult to one person is for another like fighting a tide in the middle of a hurricane. And different seasons of our lives bring different kinds of struggles. I know that if I would have been completely honest with myself before, I would have remembered times when I struggled to believe that God had not forgotten me. And I could have written them down. But instead, I compared my struggles to others' and considered mine insignificant.  (In the future, this is probably not the best idea - the comparison trap is never healthy in whatever form it takes). But the truth is, the times of my life that I neglected to write down, those times that seemed insignificant, those were the times God had been using to prepare me and teach me to trust him. In many ways throughout my life, God has proven himself faithful. That is why when sitting in the doctor's office, hearing those awful words, despite the doubts of my flesh, I was able to choose to believe Him. That is why, when later that night I lay face down on the bathroom floor, crying out to him in my hurt and brokenness, I was able to find peace and rest. That is why, when every morning I wake up, when I am tempted to feel despair, I can choose to have hope.

At first, I struggled with the idea of writing about this, or at least sharing it. I am the most vulnerable I have ever been and for me, writing is the most raw expression of my heart. But writing is also healing and I am sure that the prompting I have felt is the Holy Spirit encouraging me that this is my story to tell. And when I was still hesitant about it, He spoke to me through a book I am currently reading. In her book, Bittersweet, Shauna Niequist writes:
"This is what I want you to do: tell your story. Don't allow the story of God, the sacred, transforming story of what God does in a human heart to become flat and lifeless. If we choose silence, if we allow the gospel to be told only on Sundays, only in sanctuaries, only by approved and educated professionals, that life-changing story will lose its ability to change lives."
I pray that God uses this part of my story for His glory, that my pain is not in vain and that He works it all together for His ultimate good. I was also hesitant to write because my story doesn't have a "happy ending". I tried to reason that this would be a much better story to tell later on, maybe after I had a healthy baby so I could share pictures and tell you that God redeemed my hurt and answered my prayer. But I write in faith that the best is still to come. I'm not sure what that may be, not sure I even believe in "happy endings", but I do trust in God's plan and in his character. I trust that someday my story will come full circle, even if I'm not sure exactly what that looks like. I also know that if I didn't share this part of the story - if I only told the happy and neglected to tell of the hurt, of the struggle, then it wouldn't be complete. To borrow from Shauna again, "when we tell the truth about our lives - the broken parts, the secret parts, the beautiful parts - then the Gospel comes to life, an actual story about redemption.." I wish the struggle wasn't part of the story, oh how I wish I didn't have to write about the struggle. But without the broken parts, the beautiful parts wouldn't be as beautiful. And that is what I am clinging to. I know that God makes everything beautiful in time.

Recently, I came across a translation of a verse in Isaiah (chapter 66, verse 9) that I have never seen before.

This is a very simplified translation of this verse, but it spoke to me. Since I am not a Bible scholar, I read several commentaries on what this means. The idea is that Isaiah was referencing the Church. And that since God had, from the beginning of time, planned its increase, he would not abandon it. It's as if God was saying "would I begin something and not finish it?" In the context, the Israelites had suffered through exile, been cut off from their land and from their God. Then, when some were allowed to return in anticipation of the great blessings they had been promised, they found only further suffering. The writer assures the people the promised rebirth of Jerusalem was imminent. God had promised, and he was faithful to fulfill that promise, even though it was hard for them to see in the midst of their suffering. This is where I find hope. In this life, in this broken world, there will always be suffering, in whatever form that takes in your life or mine. But the same promise that was true then is true now - our Rescue is coming.

As I said before, I'm not sure what the end of my story looks like. I would love to take this verse literally and see it as a promise from God that he will allow me to have another child. That the "something new to be born" would be a baby in my arms. But until then, I simply trust and know that He is good.