Thursday, January 16, 2014

A Longing Fulfilled

We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope. -- Martin Luther King, Jr.
Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life. -- Proverbs 13:12

In the year that followed my son Matthew's stillbirth in 2010, I believed that everything would be ok once I could just get pregnant again. Once I could feel my redemption baby kicking around in my womb, once I could hold him or her in my arms, it would begin to make sense. I would tell this baby how I hated losing Matthew, but it was worth it because I have YOU.

For more than a year, I hoped and prayed and did all the things one must do in order to make a baby. I tried to approach it with patience; we'd been slow to conceive before. But month after month, I would stare at a blank pregnancy test, the stick assuring me I had no reason to cling to hope. Each month I mourned the loss of Matthew AND I mourned the loss of the baby I had held in hope in my heart.

After many, many months, my dear husband cautiously began a conversation. He knew how much I wanted another baby. He knew how much I hurt. But he looked at our three other kids -- no longer babies themselves anymore -- he saw us moving into a new phase of life, one without diaper bags and naptimes and containers of baby puff snacks. He wondered to me if, perhaps, the "having another baby" ship had sailed.

I knew he was right.

I hated that I knew he was right.

I hated that admitting he was right meant I had to give up my hope that Matthew's death would someday make sense. I hated that I wouldn't have my redemption baby, my baby that would remind me that, though I'd been through the wilderness, there was, in fact, a child of promised land now.

In addition to my grief about Matthew, I needed to grieve the hope for another child. I had to grieve that God wasn't going to wrap this difficult season up with a baby-shaped bow. I needed to grieve that this was not how I wanted my life to be.

How do we maintain hope when circumstances don't go as we would like them to?

Part of that journey for me has been truly understanding what I hoped for in the first place.

What I really hope for is:
  • the chance to be a really great mom
  • a family where love and kindness are the foundation
  • a home where laughter and affection are abundant
  • a family culture that is supportive of each other through & thin

Before Matthew's death, I had found all those things with my other kids. I wanted more of that. I wanted it with Matthew. I wanted it with the next baby. I'm a bit of a love-junkie, and I thought "the more babies, the better."

And yet, what I've had to learn as I navigated this tough terrain of learning to hope beyond circumstances, is that all I TRULY hope for is already present, more babies or not.

As I've started to come to terms with the disappointment that we will not have another baby, God has met me with the truth that the deep longings of my heart have, in fact, been met with my living children. He has shown me that He, too, is acquainted with suffering and grief, but also knows the desire for a lively, thriving family. He has turned my mourning into a deep appreciation for what is, and given me an awareness that I have the opportunity to choose to cherish the moments of joy -- and to even hope for more.

As I've come into a new perspective on what hope can be, I've moved from the deep heart-sickness of consuming grief to a place where I can take in a deep breath and delight in the scent of the blossoms on the tree of life.

**What does it look like for you to maintain infinite hope? I would love to hear your good stories, too!**

*originally written for the SheLoves Magazine synchroblog

Friday, January 3, 2014

Hagar's Story: Seen and Known

In the Bible there's an interesting story of a woman named Hagar. She's the maidservant of Sarai, Abraham's wife. Through a strange series of events, Sarai arranges for Abraham to sleep with Hagar in order to produce an heir. This doesn't actually work out relationally very well and Sarai ends up, as the Bible puts it, treating Hagar "harshly." Because of this, Hagar runs away, into the wilderness.

I imagine the wilderness of Abraham's land to be fairly barren and, back in those days especially, probably scarcely inhabited. I picture Hagar...alone, probably scared, definitely vulnerable--to the elements, to wild animals, to any men she might encounter.

The story in Genesis tells us that Hagar did encounter someone  and that someone was an angel of the LORD. This angel speaks to Hagar, calls her by name, saying, "Hagar, Sarai's servant, where have you come from and where are you going?"

The angel and the maidservant continue an unusual conversation where the angel tells her she is pregnant and what she ought to name her son. The angel also tells her to return home.

The story tells us from then on, Hagar used a different word for God--a word that means "the God who sees me." (I wonder what word for God she used before that...)

This is quite a strange story, really, and on its face, I read it and feel angry for Hagar. Why did Sarai concoct this plan to give Abraham an heir? Why did Abraham go along with it? Why did Sarai mistreat Hagar (and what did she do to her)? Most of all, I wonder, why on Earth did that angel (and God, by proxy) tell her to go back home?

I'm struck, however, by how Hagar responds after their encounter. The angel addresses her by name. The angel asks her where she's come from and where she's going, thought it obviously knows right where she's at in the moment. This angel somehow knows Hagar, knows she's in the wilderness, knows of her challenges, knows of her pain. Hagar comes away from their conversation saying she has seen the one who sees her.

Seen and known. I think that's something we are all hoping for. We all want angels to come along our path in the middle of our wilderness and see us for right where we are, to ask us good questions about where we've come from and where we are going, to speak words of hope into us, and send us in the direction of home.

We often feel alone in our wilderness voyages, don't we? Where are our angels with knowing words and seeing hearts? I don't know what made Hagar ready to see this angel, what made her ready to receive its words. But something inside her saw and knew that angel when it came her way. Something within her was ready to abandon the wilderness, something within her was willing to answer the questions about where she'd been and where she was going.

Perhaps there's a lesson for us in this, too. That in the middle of our desire to be seen and known, we must be ready to respond as angels with tough questions cross our paths. We must be willing to be seen. We must be willing to open our hearts to being known.

God didn't rescue Hagar from all her difficult circumstances, and it isn't likely that He's going to rescue us from all our wilderness spaces, either. But maybe we take solace in the notion that along our rocky paths, He will send angels who, when we look back, help us to know that we are seen, we are known, we are loved.

Dear Matthew: On the Third Anniversary of your Due Date

It could be your third birthday today. It could be the day when we are having cake and ice cream for the second day in a row (because your big brother's birthday was yesterday). It could be the day we watch you open brightly wrapped gifts like trucks or trains or a new ball--who knows what would be capturing your interest these days. It could be a day where I marveled at the boy you've become--that you weren't a baby anymore. It could be the day where I told you stories of what it was like on the day of your birth and showed you pictures of your newborn self at the hospital. I would tell you just how in love with you I was. It could be the day when I made your favorite meal for supper. Would it have been pizza or macaroni and cheese? Maybe tomato soup or spaghetti?

Instead it is the day where I look back on all it could have been, on all that I wanted it to be. It's a day where I wonder if your hair would have been brown or blonde, your eyes hazel or blue. It's a day where I pray "why?" and wonder "why not?" It's a day when my arms ache to hold you, my lips long to kiss the top of your sweet head. It's a day when I look back at the day that was your birth day. I remember holding your lifeless body in my hands--how tiny and perfect were your little hands and feet! Today is the day where I can, once again, take a deep breath and choose to focus on my gratitude for all I had with you, instead of all I lost.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

One Word: WRITE

I haven't ever done the "word of the year" thing before. I know friends who do this, who name their years with an intention, a focus, a hope. But I will let you in on a little secret...when something becomes a "thing," I'm more likely to walk in the other direction. I guess I'm a little against the grain sometimes.

But as the new year drew closer, I felt something stirring in my heart that I should have a word for 2014. I'm trying to live with more intention, more focus, more attention to the things of the Spirit. And that's what this stirring felt like.

A few mornings ago, I opened up an email from one of my favorite blogs, She Loves Magazine. And there was this post, on using one word to frame the upcoming year. I know we don't really get emails from God--or do we? Because this felt like an email that had the gentle, persuasive voice of the One.

I began to pray about my word and I quickly heard a word that is a mixed bag for me. WRITE. I do love to write. Writing is important, healing, cathartic for me.

Yet writing can be painful. Sometimes it's scary. It is time consuming and often feels like a luxury I can't afford. And don't even get me started on the baggage I have around the word "writer."

I started to throw out other alternatives to God, other possible words we could use for my word instead. But, no, I felt, the word is WRITE.

God began to show me that while I am supposed to do more of this thing where I put my words on paper or a screen, the word WRITE is also about the way that I script the stories of my past, my present, maybe even my future. He showed me that writing is at the center of His heart, too (John 1).

So, I'm taking on the one word for 2014. WRITE. Knock-kneed, wobbly, shy and timid, I step forward to fall in stride with wherever He's taking me with this adventure. If you feel inclined, I would love your prayers, your encouragement, your own stories of your one words to inspire me, too.