Tag Archives: suffering

5 weeks, 6 days

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Worship the Lord your God, and his blessing will be on your food and water. I will take away sickness from among you,  and none will miscarry or be barren in your land. I will give you a full life span. Ex.23:25-26.

Last Thursday I woke up 5 weeks 6 days pregnant. That night, I went to bed 0 weeks 0 days pregnant because I miscarried for the fifth time. This is my third miscarriage at 5 weeks 6 days. We did not plan for this baby; pregnancy was a surprise mingling anxiety and hope. I did everything right to overcome the genetic disorder that strips babies from my womb. I swallowed the vitamins and the blood thinners at the precisely recommended amounts and times. I prayed in faith on my knees, battering heaven with a request for mother-grace. But this baby emptied from me, my seventh child and my fifth to die.

I am so sorry, little one. I am so sorry that my body cannot take you past this one day in your little life. 

Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” Rev.21:3-4.

(Someday, someday, all of this will be untrue. Can I wait until that day?)

Long ago, when the world was still new, a woman named Hagar was a slave in Abram’s household. She served Abram’s barren wife Sarai. Sarai would not wait for the child of promise, so she gave Hagar into her husband’s arms. Since Hagar was considered property, not person, her child would technically belong to Sarai (a loophole in the promise?) 

In Genesis 16, the Bible says that when Hagar conceived, she despised her barren mistress. In response, Sarai mistreated Hagar, spilling out all of the rage of an empty season. Hagar fled into the desert.

The angel of the Lord found Hagar near a spring in the desert.  And he said, “Hagar, servant of Sarai, where have you come from and where are you going?”

(As I attempt to control and manage these pregnancies so that not even God can take these babies from me, He says, “Heidi, my daughter whom I love, where have you come from and where are you going? Who are you? To what have I called you? When will you live my story instead of the one you hold onto?”)

Then the angel of the Lord told her, “Go back to your mistress and submit to her.”

No thank you, Lord. 

The angel of the Lord also said to her, “You are now with child and you will have a son. You shall name him Ishmael (which means GOD HEARS), for the Lord has heard of your misery.”

O Lord, finally, some good news. You are going to fix this….

Right?

“He will be a wild donkey of a man…

Excuse me? What?

…his hand will be against everyone and everyone’s hand against him, and he will live in hostility toward all his brothers.”

WHAT??? No thank you, Lord. I didn’t ask for this. This isn’t my fault. You are supposed to fix this, not make it worse. You are punishing my children for something that I didn’t even do?  No. No. NO.

No.

I am Hagar. I live a suffering I cannot manage or control, that takes my children away from me and I cannot save them. God comes to me in my desert with no solution; only the razor’s edge of this reality, You could have saved them, but You did not…..

That is hard news, almost too hard to bear. The Via Dolorosa, the Way of the Cross, the walk of tears. The Cross before the Crown.

She gave this name to Lord who spoke to her: “You are the God Who Sees Me,” for she said, “I have now seen the One who sees me.”

(Do you see it, the deepest mystery, the paradox of glory……..?)

Hagar’s response was worship, not rage or despair or a shaking fist. God gave her no words of comfort or alleviation; He offered no earthly intervention to lift her cross. He told her to go back to the abuse of her mistress and wait to bear a child whose life would be marked by conflict and rejection.

He gave her nothing but His Presence, and it was enough.

He saw her in her desperation and he came to her with the Truth of Who He Is alongside the full weight of what He required of her….(Hagar, servant of Sarai, where have you come from and where are you going…?) .  

Suffering and glory are parallel tracks. Yes, I lose my babies whom I love at 5w6d because my body and my blood are broken in their genetic code. Yes, God could have saved each and every one of them, but He did not. Those things are true. Also, He is the God Who Sees Me, the God who reaches for me in the desert because my heart matters to Him. That is also true. Our hearts were made for glory, so we falsely believe we have to choose which is more real, which to believe.  The tension feels like it will rip us apart, but it will not if we will bear it. Suffering and glory – they are both true.

We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body….Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.  So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. 2 Cor.4:10, 16-18.

I have learned that childbearing is dangerous for most of us. We each live our own surrender story, our own version of the parallell lines. Some have too many children, some not enough. We live under fear or anger or grief or exhaustion or guilt or some combination thereof because of the brokenness of our life giving stories. What is it about this season of life that is so fragile and vulnerable? I have two healthy and dazzling children that call me Mommy. I know life as well as death. I worship in joy as well as grief.

Give me Hagar eyes, so that I may see the God Who Sees Me. Help me to lock eyes with you, to bear the tension of the parallel lines of suffering and glory that are both true. I choose to look up at you as Hagar did, to see the One Who Sees Me and to worship in response. I choose to believe that the death that happens deep in my body is not the end of my story, not even the defining part of my story. Show me the life of Jesus revealed in my body, in my story. What is seen is temporary; what is unseen is eternal. This life is just a shadow of the glory to come. I cannot see the glory, but I can see the One Who Sees Me. I trust You, I love You, I choose You.

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Barren

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It is not a question of God allowing or not allowing things to happen. It is part of living. Chip Brogden.

The question of suffering is, really, the only unanswered Question that really matters. Every theological construct unravels in the face of undeserved suffering. Even truth feels trite in the teeth of deep pain. Those who live long enough to see darkness overshadow glory wonder if it can really be true that a world exists that can make fallenness un-true. Is there really an eternity where I will not be defined by my Question, my loss, my suffering? We all ask the Question differently, with our specific queries, like –

Why do I miscarry my babies somewhere in the fifth week of pregnancy while all around me mothers procreate at will?  

That is my Question. Well, one of them.

I used to cling to Bible stories.  Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel, Samson’s parents, Hannah, the Shunammite woman, Elizabeth.  The Bible bloats with barren women who gave birth to miracle babies who advanced the Kingdom of God. I used to pray with flamboyant boldness to be a Hannah – to birth my miracle baby then a family full.  Lord, I know you have given us two miracles, but, O, Lord, I cannot let go of my strong belief that our family is not complete. There is a hole in our family.  An emptiness.  After four miscarriages, I started to dwell on other stories.  A planet distended with childless women who never held a miracle.  Instead, they wept the empty, unanswered tears of a Question. To them, perhaps I have no right to my Question, and I do not blame them.

Why do I miscarry my babies somewhere in the fifth week of pregnancy while all around me mothers procreate at will?

One Daniel rescued from the den of lions; forty Roman catacombs swollen with the decayed bones of martyrs fed to the lions.  Lazarus, Jairus’ daughter, the Widow of Nain’s son raised from the dead; millions of lost loved ones buried in dust while Jesus walked out His mission.  Half a million people miraculously saved from Egyption slavery; half a million people perished in the wilderness without laying eyes on the Promised Land.

There are more unanswered Questions than intervening miracles.

What are we to learn from this? That our response to what happens is more important than what happens. Here is a mystery: one man’s experience drives him to curse God, while another man’s identical experience drives him to bless God. Chip Brogden.

I read Job in my quiet times now.  Job is bloody, slashed with gaping theological wounds, like raw meat. There is no book like Job for Questions.

 My complaint today is still a bitter one,
and I try hard not to groan aloud.
If only I knew where to find God,
I would go to his court.
I would lay out my case
and present my arguments. Job 23:2-3.

Everybody deals with the Question of suffering in their own way.  Cynicism, idealism, political justice, personal vengeance, nihilism, suicide, addiction, a cause, denial, grief, rage, hedonism, philosophy.  What I love about Job is that its haunting archetypal Question does not end with answers.

It ends with worship.

It ends with God revealing Himself, and Job responding on His face.  Job has just flamed endless savage rage, and God simply acknowledges his pain, then tells Job Who He Is.

Isn’t that how the cancer of suffering heals?  Not with resolution, but with recognition.  The stages of grief:  denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance.  We cannot un-suffer; our story is what it is.  We make our peace with the grief of our story in our own ways.  I cannot make your peace for you; that was Job’s friends’ mistake (well, one mistake among many).  For me, I choose to worship.

Job’s wife said to him, “Are you still maintaining your integrity? Curse God and die!”

 He replied, “You are talking like a foolish woman. Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?”

Shall I accept only the amount of miracle children I desire, but not less than that?  Shall I accept the story of Hannah, but not the story of a barren mother?  Shall I accept the miracle, but not the emptiness?

Why do I miscarry my babies somewhere in the fifth week of pregnancy while all around me mothers procreate at will?  

Shall I accept the Answer, but not the Question?

Alabaster

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There is an appointed time for everything.  And there is a time for every event under heaven – a time to embrace and a time to shun embracing, a time to search and a time to give up as lost.  from Eccl.3.

We have been asking questions about broken relationship.  How do we know when to throw open our arms to a hard-fought embrace and when to drop them in acceptance? When to hold on to a lost treasure and when to let it go with a benediction?  It is easier for one of us to search, and for one of us to give up as lost. Which is the way of the Cross?

Definition:  Forgive:  to give before or ahead of.

Wounds heal or fester.  When my children cry from their little bodily injuries, I pour oil on their hurts and tell them, Be brave.  It will get better.  God made our bodies to heal. When we break and are broken, I hear Him whisper over me:  Be brave.  Give before and ahead of.  I made your heart to heal.

Resentment is like a glass of poison that a man drinks; then he sits down and waits for his enemy to die.  Nelson Mandela.

Fear is the enemy of forgiveness.  Fooled me once, shame on you.  Fooled me twice, shame on me.  Right?  To let go quietly, behind closed doors, in a cocoon of self-protection, that is one thing. But to reconcile in the Light, to joyfully restore, that is something else entirely.  It is a breathtaking risk, because there is always the possibility that wounds will lacerate us again.  Trust, forgiveness, fear, danger, restoration.

Don’t worry whether or not they finally understand you. Love them and release them. Life feeds back truth to people in its own way and time—just like it does for you and me. Sara Paddison.

I have taken my wounds and sealed them in a jar.  Perhaps we all have.  Now what do we do with the jar?  Some broken treasures cannot be salvaged this side of eternity, and that is the deep sadness of this fallen space.  Sometimes we need to greet and acknowledge that reality.  Sometimes moving on is the greater grace.  A time to give up as lost.  Other times we are called to put the full weight of trust on restoration. We may choose, each of us, to give before and ahead of, to gamble our hearts in order to gain them back.  A time to embrace.

Which time is this?

Forgiveness is giving up the possibility of a better past.  Unknown.

There once was another woman who held a sealed jar.  A woman in that town who lived a sinful life learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house, so she came there with an alabaster jar of perfume. As she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them.  Luke 7:37-18.  This broken woman offered the wages of her sin to the One who considered her alabaster offering a precious gift instead of a symbol of her wicked life.  She broke open her pain at His feet, gave it to the One who forgave her, who gave before.  

I am that woman.  I have broken others and been broken in return.  I deserve rejection but desire grace.

I say to you, her sins, which are many, have been forgiven, for she loved much; but he who is forgiven little, loves little. Luke 7:47.

What happens before and after forgiveness?

Love.

Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered,  does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails. 1 Cor. 13:4-8.

With her broken offering, she reflected His Divine Love. It is not trite to proclaim that Love is always the answer.  Love is the banner He has hung over us.  Love is the triumph of the strong saints.

Love is also the dividing line of wisdom.  As we all circle our important questions, we should ask, Is it more loving to embrace or to shun embracing? To search or to give up as lost?  To do this or to do that?  That is very hard. The way of the Cross is sparsely populated because it is a bloodbath of Self. 

But that is not the end of the story. Love cannot stay buried.  Many waters cannot quench love, nor will rivers overflow it; if a man were to give all the riches of his house for love, it would be utterly despised.  Song of Solomon 8:7.

I do not know the resolution of your story, and I am still seeking mine.  But I have learned that if I seek a resurrection of something I have lost, I must first seek Love.  Love will either redeem it or give us something better.  Love will lift up our faces as we break open our alabaster offerings, and declare, your many sins are forgiven because I gave before and ahead of your story, because you desire and receive my Love, because you love me more than your flawed treasures. Now go in peace and continue to Love and Forgive Much.

 

Grace

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If anyone is preaching to you a gospel other than the one you accepted, let him be condemned!  Gal.1:9.

This year I am reading through the Bible with a group of rock star ladies from Vanguard Church.  We are the Journey Girls, a little band of women who made a mutual commitment to read the greatest love story ever told in 356 days.  (We have a facebook page, so we are legit AND connected.) Many of the women are reading straight through, but Dreamy Scott and I (he is not a Journey Girl, but he’s allowed to read the Bible too, we decided) are on a different plan.  We, being iChristians, put One Year Bibles on our e-readers.  We read a bit of the Old Testament, a bit of the New Testament, a Psalm and a Proverb or two together every night before bed.  Its a splendid system and we might just do it again every year.  Thank you, iNation.

Right now I am swimming in the depths of Job.  Have you read Job lately?  It is a wild storm story, wave upon heavy crashing wave of turmoil and chaos, swirling madly into a vortex with a center deep and still.  It is a book of ferocious mercy.  Some scholars believe that Job is an allegory, a parable about how to suffer righteously.  I remain unconvinced.  Job is too turbulent, too complex to be an allegory.  It is too raw.  Parables are straightforward, one-dimensional.  That is just fine, because parables exist to teach moral lessons.  Job has no moral lesson – except grace.  Grace is, at heart, the opposite of a moral lesson.  Grace is undeserved.  Job was a man who raged against the full power of earth and hell in order to plant his embattled feet on grace. Have you read Job lately?  Read Job if you are fighting to believe in grace.

The story of Job is this:  Satan presents himself to the Lord with a taunt:  There is none righteous.  None who seeks for God.  God replies, Have you considered my servant Job?  And thus begins the story of fathomless loss in a righteous man’s life.

Satan, with God’s permission, takes everything – Job’s livelihood, his reputation, his wealth, his glory, his family, his health.  He is left with a smoldering crater of a life, a body pocked with festering boils, a decimated wife who urges him to curse God and die.  And his friends.  They started well. When they saw him from a distance, they could hardly recognize him; they began to weep aloud…Then they sat on the ground with him for 7 days and 7 nights. No one said a word to him, because they saw how great his suffering was.  Job 2:12-13.

If they had stopped there, I might believe that Job is an allegory.  Just skip 38 chapters, land on Job 40 and tie it all up with a big red bow.  The end.  Job = good guy, bad life, God intervenes, God re-blesses because we have all learned a valuable lesson here.  Ta-DA!!

But instead, those three friends open their mouths and they spew out the same graceless razor-lies that the people of God speak over each other to this day.  This much suffering must have a cause.  A good and gracious god would not allow this unless there was a reason. There is no smoke without fire – let me help you trace the lines of sin in your life.  Then god will fix it all.  Let’s control and manage this suffering together, because, somehow, this is your own fault.  Has anyone flattened you with that before?  Worse, have you rolled over anyone with it?

Lies.  And Job, bleeding his shattered life, rejected their self-righteous vapor with the vigorous fist of a passionate faith.  Weeping in agony, Job railed against his suffering, against his friends, even, at times, against God.  He begged God to kill him, to vindicate him, anything to escape the teeth of loss and grief that were chewing him alive. Yet Job knew that God was not punishing him.  He rejected the cobweb lie that suffering = condemnation.  He held on to his integrity; he gripped the mercy of God with tentacles of trust.  When Eliphaz smugly oozed, AsI have observed, those who sow trouble reap it. Job 4:8, Job countered, He who withholds kindness from a friend forsakes the Almighty. Job 6:14.  Boo-ya.

Job’s friends clung with hooked claws to their cracked theology for 38 long chapters & 3 rounds of dialogue.  They believed that we earn either suffering or reward.  No room in the Inn. Paying customers only.  No room for undeserved suffering. Therefore, no room for undeserved mercy. No space for grace.

If you say, ‘How we will pursue him!’ and, ‘The root of the matter is found in him,’ be afraid of the sword, for wrath brings the punishment of the sword, that you may know there is a judgment. Job 19:28-29.

What brings the wrath of God?  Those who oppose grace.  If anyone is preaching to you a gospel other than the one you accepted, let him be condemned!  Gal.1:9.  God’s ire flames against those who preach against a merciful salvation.

Do you have any of Job’s friends?  I do.  It hurts.  So I have a choice to sink into their expectations or stand, like Job, under the shadow of my Redeemer.  For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold Him, and not another.  Job 19:25-27.

Beth Moore says, Some believers have the maturity to help free us from our grave clothes, and others just keep picking up everything we dare to shed and handing it back to us.  God Almighty has dressed us in dazzling white linen, bright and pure, which is the righteous acts of the saints (Rev.19:8).  Do not wear the clothes of the dead; stand in confidence, wearing the Redeemer’s living linen.  He has bought us back from the grave.  Stand, like Job, on living, breathing grace.