Sunday, February 19, 2017

Rethinking Comfort

(Long Beach Lighthouse, Feb. 18, 2017, the day after one of the largest storms in California history.)

It really scares me to admit this. Perhaps it is because saying it out loud invites others to hold me accountable. Maybe it’s because it’s just downright terrifying. In all honesty, a piece of me is afraid to completely embrace the terrifying unknown.

I am beginning to feel dissatisfied with my plans for the life I always envisioned. I am beginning to feel uncomfortable with my desire for comfort and predictability.

Phew. That is terrifying to admit because I love plans, predictability, and order. The unknown makes me uncomfortable.

When I was 18, I had a smooth path laid out for me. I had spent high school building up a good resume of extracurricular activities and graduated with scholarships to a private college. My future was set. I would earn my degree, be rooted into a community of deep friendships, and graduate with the skills and knowledge I needed to land a comfortable job and help support a family. When I was 22, I graduated with a degree and an engagement ring. My husband and I were married the following fall and moved into a cute one-bedroom apartment down the street from a fulltime job that I loved. We both were eager to expand our family and began to save up to by a house. We were set for the future.

My husband has always been more comfortable with the unpredictable that I have been and he held our plans loosely. I don’t think he’d even refer to them as our “plans”—they were always more like flexible goals to him. He is one of the most adaptable people I know and can face almost any challenge that life throws at him with a clear head. He is calm under pressure and lives each day with a true understanding that each day is a gift and some things are out of our control. He takes what life throws at him and makes something good out of it.

There couldn’t be a better match to balance me out. I aspire to be more like that. 

I’m resistant to change and I hold plans in a clenched fist. When life throws unexpected curveballs at me, I cringe and dig my heels in as life tries to nudge me in a direction that I don’t want to go. I’ve always admired my husband’s outlook on life—he is the perfect balance of optimism and realism, despite what happens. Me?—I try to fight change.

Over the next few months, my plans slowly started to derail. For three years, we struggled to conceive. Something was wrong with my health and the doctors couldn’t pinpoint it, despite dozens of blood tests and ultrasounds. A doctor finally told me that they had examined every possibility and gave me a referral to an infertility specialist. At the time, my heart was broken. I wanted so badly to be a mother and to experience pregnancy. Yet despite my desires, I was so tired of blood tests and medical visits. My husband and I decided to wait until after the holidays before calling to make an appointment.

We never made that first appointment because we unexpectedly became pregnant at a time when we least expected it. We were shocked and completely ecstatic. It seemed as if my plans were finally starting to come together.

And then the unthinkable happened. When I was 19-weeks pregnant, we discovered that our baby had major defects in his heart and brain. We were told that our miracle child might not survive and the following weeks were filled with regular visits to meet with specialists, detailed ultrasounds, and fetal echocardiograms. On August 16, 2015, our son Ethan entered the world and we were given 93 minutes with him before he passed from our arms into the arms of Jesus. Losing Ethan was the greatest pain we’ve ever experienced. When I was 26 years old, I became a bereaved mother.

Losing a baby is hard. The months that followed were hard. Depression is hard. Sorting through all of the emotions, heartache, and secondary losses is hard. Asking hard questions and entering into the intimacy of wrestling with God is painful and hard--yet worth it. The process is painful and refining.

I felt as if my plans were slipping through my hands like fine grains of sand. I couldn’t stop them being ripped away in the wind of the circumstances that swirled around us. I couldn’t hold onto what I had held onto so tightly for so long.

A few months later, we lost another baby at 6-weeks. We grieved, added another layer to the complicated un-linear process of grief, and decided to give it another try. I found out that I was pregnant with our third child on Ethan’s first birthday. We lost that child a month later when I was 8-weeks pregnant.

Our doctor offered testing, in an attempt to learn why we had lost three children. Each test came back normal. Each result brought a strange mixture of relief and sorrow—relief that there was nothing wrong with us, and sorrow that good results would not reverse the devastation that had already swept through.

In December, after years of looking for answers, a specialist diagnosed me with PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome—for more on PCOS, click here) without any question. All it took was a few blood tests and an ultrasound to confirm what I had suspected for years, but had never been tested for because I didn’t fit the “typical” appearance. My tests results each screamed PCOS (and pre-diabetes) and I suddenly understood many of the symptoms I had lived with for years. The diagnosis surprisingly brought quite a lot of peace, along with some expected grief and frustration.

Now, I don’t want to sound ungrateful for what I have been given because I most definitely have so many things that I am grateful for. God had been so generous to me with things that I was never promised and I don’t want to lose sight of that. I wasn’t promised a husband, a job, medical care, and the luxury of buying groceries. Earlier this week I was punched in the gut with the realization that none of these things were ever promised to me and that I have much more than I deserve. We were never promised an easy life. We were never promised that our plans would unfold without a hitch. But in our humanness it is so easy to focus on all that we long for yet do not have.  

At 28 years old, I’ve found myself at the edge of a wide-open expanse of what I once thought were my perfectly laid plans. Ten years ago, I could envision what was coming down the road. At the time I knew that I could not predict the future and I knew that some things would be out of my control, but I could at least imagine what the next ten years held. Sure, I was completely wrong—but in that moment, I rested in the comfort of the illusion of my “perfect” plans for my life.

Someone recently asked me where I picture myself ten years from now and I had no idea what to say. It is not that I don’t have hope. It is that I finally realize that I am ultimately not in control, no matter how tightly I hold on to my plans. It is that I am beginning to feel the call toward adventure and toward the unknown. Yes, the terrifying unknown is starting to sound appealing. What is happening to me? I never thought I’d feel that way.  Hope has begun to spring up in me like a soothing balm and I’ve felt an unexplainable peace radiate through my heart. But I can’t envision the future. I try and try and all I see is a wild, vast expanse, filled with things that I don’t understand.

I think back on the life that I envisioned when I was 18. All I wanted in this life was a good marriage, 2 ½ kids, a comfortable house in a quiet neighborhood, good friends, and to contentedly coast on autopilot for the next 70 years. Oddly, despite all we’ve faced, that doesn’t sound appealing to me anymore. Sure, I still desire to be a mother. It is a desire that has always been there and I don’t know if it will ever be gone, and that is okay—I do hope, God willing, that one day we will raise our children. Biological or not—they will be ours. But I’m starting to feel a stirring in my heart for much more than comfortable existence and it is both exhilarating and terrifying. The safe, quiet, conventional part of me is being broken, like a wild horse that needs to be tamed. Or perhaps, the opposite of “taming” is happening here. The part of me that once desired comfort is slowly being broken and refined through the fire of the trial. That part of me has been exposed to the reality of pain in the world and the need for compassion and hope. That tame part of me has had its eyes opened to the ministry that can rise from your deepest hurts.

The process is painful. It hurts to be broken from the familiar. There is still a part of me that grieves all we have lost and always will until we reach heaven. Yet simultaneously, that part of me has begun to rejoice over all that I have gained. A small glimmer of thankfulness is beginning to arise—there is a tiny spark of gratefulness over all we have been through. Yes, a tiny part of me is thankful for all we have faced, including the pain. It has opened my eyes to such beauty, such darkness, and—ultimately—the need for Hope.  

Now, I'm not downplaying pain here. If you are facing pain, I am so sorry. I know that it is hard. I know that you feel as if your life has been shattered. I know what it feels like to lose all hope and to literally not care what happens tomorrow. Tears fill my eyes typing this because I can vividly remember, and I still have days where I slip back into that place. I am not trivializing your pain--It is real and you don't need cliche answers. But please know that there is hope, even when the world feels so cruel.  

My broken heart is beginning to long for more than a comfortable existence. The part of me that longs for comfort has seen lives changed when all is stripped away and has felt the peace that comes when I lost the illusion of safeness and had nowhere left to go but to the feet of Christ. The part of me that once desired comfort has begun to realize the briefness of life and has begun to see the greater picture of our lives in the span of eternity.


I’m sure I’ll lose sight of this at times—each day is a battle, and the joy does not negate the realness of pain. My hope is that I keep my eyes fixed on eternity as I run into the wild expanse before me and hold my plans with an open palm.