Monday, August 10, 2020

Lies of comfort, Words of hope

It wasn't until we first learned of Ethan's critical health issues that I began to realize how much we lie to one another in an attempt to lend some comfort. 

"Oh honey, don't cry," one person said, as they patted me on the back. "He's going to be just fine!"

"He's going to pull through this. I just know it."

"He's going to be okay. I just have a really good feeling about it."

"Doctors can be wrong. I read something online about a mom who got the same diagnosis as you and the baby was born just fine..."

It did not matter what I said in response. No matter how many times that I explained that my doctors had never shied away from the possibility of death. I continued to swallow trite sayings and accept pats on the head. It was as if no one would believe me that it was serious.

Suffering is kind of taboo, isn't it? We consciously make decisions and spin our words to avoid discomfort and pain. We put up walls to protect ourselves and we avert our eyes from hurt, even if only subconsciously. It's easier to rejoice with those who rejoice than to weep with those who weep. Raising my hand high here and admitting I love comfort a lot more than pain. 

I've been pretty quiet over here, but the memories of five years ago have been especially vivid to me this year. I've been thinking a lot about Ethan's diagnosis and the responses to it--my own reactions and the words from our caring community. It may seem as if the most comforting responses would be similar to those listed above. Words that assured us that everything would "be just fine" or words that reminded us that "doctors can be wrong" (I'll save my reactions to that one for another day...but YES, God is sovereign over medicine and the science that He created. He can do miracles. He is bigger than any sickness. Doctors can be wrong. But God also created order and equipped our incredible medical team so well. He created science. Also, our world is broken.) 

But the most comforting responses were the ones that acknowledged the severity of Ethan's condition and the sting that death brings. The former responses often made me feel like people didn't believe me or that my pain was overreactive. The most helpful words didn't try to put a well-meaning bandaid on a bullet wound, but grieved over such deep suffering on such a tiny child. Responses that YES YES YES pointed us to the truth of the gospel and the hope we have in Jesus, while also sitting with us in our lament and acknowledging the Holy Saturday-ness of it all. 

I think most of us are living in some sort of "Holy Saturday" season. I look around and see so many people I love walk through this pandemic, racial injustice, financial difficulties, relational strain, and the loneliness of division. How are we responding? Is it with trite sayings and temporary bandaids? We feel sorrow and long for all that is broken to be mended. We yearn for the day when every tear will be wiped from our eyes. As believers in Jesus, we know that Resurrection Sunday has already happened and we rejoice in this. We know that this miracle means that we too will have resurrection of our earthly bodies one day. We have an assurance that Christ will return again to make all things new. We can shout for joy and praise God for our redemption through Christ and the assurance of eternity with Him. AND as we do this, we can make space to recognize death as a horrible curse that Jesus came to destroy. We can rest in his goodness toward all of His people. We can acknowledge that some things are worth grieving and lamenting over, as we keep our eyes focused on a Hope worth clinging to. 

We certainly grieve, serve, and love our neighbors differently in Holy Saturday because we know Sunday is coming. We can both rejoice and lament. We can view death as a horrendous curse Jesus came to defeat, while simultaneously rejoicing in an unshakeable Hope. 

Monday, April 30, 2018

Manna for each day


What will the anatomy scan reveal? Will this baby be healthy? What if I experience preterm labor again? What if I miss the warning signs--again? What if the worst happens?

I was 17 weeks pregnant with Andrew when the worries began to swirl through my mind, threatening to squelch the hope that continued to rise up with each encouraging OB visit, each reassuring test result and each passing week. As I began to feel our little boy’s first tiny moments, I thought about the five babies we had lost before him and battled the fear that I would have to say goodbye to him too.

As I battled against these fears, my dear friend and fellow sister-in-loss Caroline reminded me of how God provided manna for the Israelites each morning--a fact she reminded herself of every day during her pregnancy with her second daughter.  

In Exodus 16, we see the story of how God provided food for the Israelites as they wandered in the desert. The Israelites had recently been miraculously set free from a life of bondage in Egypt. Despite all the merciful things God had done for them, the Israelites grumbled over their hunger and yearned for the days they had been slaves (but with full bellies) in a foreign land. Hearing their complaint, God graciously said he would rain bread, later named “manna”, down from heaven for them to eat. He gave special instructions for each person to gather exactly what they needed for each day, to take a double portion in preparation for the Sabbath, and to never store an abundance to keep overnight. Each morning, the Israelites set out to gather the manna God faithfully provided each day. If they gathered more than they needed, the manna would spoil and become infested with maggots overnight. They were only to gather what was sufficient for that day, trusting that God would remain faithful tomorrow.

Just like the Israelites, we often find ourselves grumbling about our current circumstances (despite God’s proven faithfulness to us) and trying to store up more than we need, rather than trusting that God will provide what is sufficient for each day. Just as the Israelites grumbled after being delivered from a life of slavery, I found myself crying out in fear after receiving the miraculous gift of an unexpected yet long-desired pregnancy. After years of pleading with God for a healthy child, God generously gave us Andrew--a baby God never “owed” me, but in His mercy entrusted to us. Yet despite him miraculously parting the metaphorical “Red Sea” of infertility, recurrent miscarriage, and PCOS, I found myself desperately trying to store up all of the answers I thought I needed to carry me through the next five months. But the truth is, the striving, collecting, and the best-laid plans for the future can spoil. We are called to rest in that daily sufficient grace God continues to provide to us fresh each  morning.

Throughout my pregnancy with Andrew, I often reminded myself of the story of God’s provision for the Israelites and his never-ending sufficiency. It would do me no good to worry about the anatomy scan, preterm labor, or the details of my delivery. Sure, I could make healthy choices, educate myself on signs of preterm labor, and research ways to prepare for a successful VBAC, but I needed to hold those plans loosely and trust in God to give me the perfect amount of what I would need for each day that would come my way.

I am not at all claiming that I was a pro at this, because I wasn’t. Just as God provided the “manna” I needed for each day, I needed to make a choice to gather His truth and comfort each morning. Each day, I needed to resist the urge to frantically store up fears for tomorrow--some days I was successful and other days my frenzied plans and gnawing worries weighed me down and spoiled.

I was reminded of God’s sufficiency once again as I was admitted to the hospital with preterm labor and an insufficient cervix when I was only 22 weeks pregnant. (Yep, it’s really called “insufficient cervix”--talk about a lesson in trusting God for His sufficiency.) My cervix had begun to open and the contractions seemed to keep coming. “Each day is a victory,” doctors and nurses continued to say as I was pumped with medications and confined to hospital bedrest in an attempt to stall my labor. For the next 10 weeks, I went to sleep each night not knowing if I would wake up pregnant the next day. Each morning, I was overwhelmed with gratitude for another day pregnant. The concept of “manna for each day” became even more real during that 10-week hospital stay (which sometimes felt like 40 years in the desert, but with a little more than manna and quail on the hospital menu). As my labor continued to have multiple starts and stops, I was reminded that God is sufficient for each day--trying to store up more for tomorrow by worrying would only spoil.

In Matthew 6:9-13, Jesus emphasized sufficiency when taught his disciples to how to pray. He said, “Pray then like this: ‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed by your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil’.” Notice that Jesus does not say, “Give us an abundance” or “Give us enough to fill our storehouses for the next nine months”. Jesus tells us to ask for our daily bread--for what is sufficient. And in John 6:33, we see that the true bread from heaven is Jesus--he who came down from heaven and gives life to the world. Jesus is enough.

As we continue to trust God for our daily bread (“manna” if you will), we learn to trust in Him rather than in our circumstances. We learn to fix our eyes on Him rather than our fear. It is in this posture that we practice true surrender and learn the necessity of our full reliance on Christ, rather than ourselves.

Proverbs 30:7-9 “Two things I ask of you, Lord; do not refuse me before I die: Keep falsehood and lies far from me; give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread.
Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’ Or I may become poor and steal, and so dishonor the name of my God.”

Sunday, April 29, 2018

10 Things I Learned During 10 Weeks of Hospital Bedrest

was only 22-weeks into my pregnancy with our son Andrew when a routine appointment showed that my cervix was beginning to thin and open. My perinatologist immediately sent me to Labor and Delivery for evaluation, where it was confirmed that I was having contractions. After months of a seemingly textbook pregnancy, I was immediately admitted to the hospital on bedrest. For the next 10 weeks, I was carefully monitored, pumped with various medications and injections, and went to bed each night not knowing if I’d still be pregnant the next day. Miraculously, Andrew continued to grow for 10 additional weeks as I laid in bed with an open cervix. 
The weeks I spent as a resident of the antepartum unit were incredibly difficult, but certainly worth it. During my time on the unit, I learned several valuable lessons that helped make the experience more bearable and, at times, even enjoyable. 
1. Think positive. Okay, I’ll admit that I hate this phrase, mainly because it often feels uneffective and unhelpful. “Thinking positive” never cured my ovarian cysts, helped me get pregnant, or took away the grief I felt after experiencing previous losses, though many people often suggested it could. *Insert eyeroll here.* But in the case of preterm labor, thinking positive can be effective. My doctor explained that there is actual research supporting a connection between stress and preterm labor, and that her own experience with patients has seemed to back that up (though not always--see #2). So how do we “think positive” in such a terrifying situation? For me, thinking positive meant listening to soothing music, keeping my eyes fixed on Jesus, and trying my best to find simple joys in each day. 
2. Let go. While “thinking positive” can certainly be helpful, the health of your baby is not entirely contingent on your ability to relax. It’s normal to feel a wide spectrum of emotions, including stress and fear. (As my doctor said, “I’d be more concerned if you didn’t feel this way.”) Your body was created to do amazing things and women in high-stress situations give birth to healthy babies all the time. While relaxation was highly encouraged, my doctor also explained that no amount of medication, bedrest, or “positive thinking” would be able to keep baby from coming when my body or my baby was ready.  Let go of guilt and remember that preterm labor is not your fault. 
3. Keep a routine. It’s easy to lose your sense of time when you’re in the hospital. Setting a routine helped me feel more “normal” and even made the days pass faster than expected. Try to wake up, go to bed, and eat meals at the same time each day. Keep a morning and night time routine just as you would at home. Sure, there may be nights when you’re kept awake by contractions, the nasty side effects of a magnesium drip, and constant beeping, followed by days when you need to sleep, but do your best to keep a routine whenever possible. 
4. Get to know your nurses. They will become your second family and can have such a positive impact on your extended stay. Take the time to chat with them, remember their names, and thank them for all they do. (As someone who didn’t always have bathroom privileges, believe me when I say they put up with a lot with very little recognition!) My nurses were not only my caretakers, but were also advocates, listening ears, and friends to me. While I missed home, they made my stay feel much less lonely! 
5. Wear your own clothes. I wore a hospital gown for the first three weeks of my stay before a nurse told me that I could wear my own clothes if I preferred. Talk about a game changer! I felt much more human once I had leggings, loose tops, and comfortable socks to wear. (Be sure to ask a doctor or a nurse about this--I occasionally had to switch back to hospital gowns for exams or each time labor seemed to pick up again). 
6. Make yourself at home. You’d be amazed at how much photos of your family, a fluffy blanket, your own toiletries, and simple decorations can make a sterile hospital room feel like home. One of my nurses brought me tape, scrapbook frames, and glue so that I could decorate my ultrasound photos and tape them to a cabinet. My husband hung hearts for Valentine’s Day. A friend sent me a house plant and another made me a room spray from essential oils. Before long, my space felt more like a dorm room than a hospital room. 
7. Stock up on snacks. I often munch on snacks throughout the day, especially during pregnancy. It helped me to keep a few of my favorite snacks on hand. Nuts, RX Bars, trail mix, nutrition shakes, and chocolate were my favorite go-tos. I expected to put on a lot of weight on bedrest, but actually lost a few pounds during the first month due to nerves, loss of muscle tone, and the monotony of hospital food--not the result I was hoping for as I tried to help my baby grow bigger! If you find you aren’t gaining enough weight, ask your doctor for tips (mine recommended supplementing with a nutrition shake). 
8. Go outside if you can. Once my labor calmed down, my doctor recommended that I spend an hour outside in a wheelchair. I cannot adequately describe what a difference this made for me, especially after a whole month of being cooped up inside. I went outside about 1-2 times a week and the fresh air and the proof of life outside my hospital room completely brightened my mood each time. (Be sure to check with your doctor first.)
9. Give yourself a task (preferably one you enjoy). While I certainly spent a significant amount of time watching Hulu and reading books, it also helped me to feel productive. Assign yourself bedrest-appropriate tasks such as researching baby gear and setting up a baby registry, redesigning your website or blog, working on a craft for the nursery, or reading a parenting book. One of my favorite bedrest activities was continuing to prepare episode outlines, record, and plan social media posts for Through the Lens, a podcast I cohost with my friend Holly. The key is to find something that feels productive, without adding any stress to your life. Create a “job” that doesn’t feel like “work”. If you’re an overachiever, don’t forget to add “REST” to your task list. 
10. Take time to be still. Before a doctor prescribed me bedrest, I was always on-the-go. Setting aside time to rest, pray, listen, and meditate on God’s word were difficult disciplines for me. As challenging as it was, I’m so grateful that I was forced to be still during the months leading up to Andrew’s birth. I’m grateful for the time I had to reflect, bond with my growing baby, and pray over him and over our family. Lean into this time of rest. Take advantage of this opportunity to slow down, unplug from the demands of your day-to-day routine, and take comfort that God’s mercies are new each morning. May we trust in Him to be our sufficiency for each and every day, bedrest and beyond.