Waving the white flag…or not

“And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.”

Hebrews 11:6

When life wriggles out of my grasp for control, I can never decide whether to fight or surrender.  Am I allowed to pray with fists clenched and heart wrestling just as desperately as Jacob did with God, or should I open my hands and say with Nebuchadnezzar, “[God] does as he pleases with the powers of heaven and the peoples of the earth.  No one can hold back his hand or say to him: ‘What have you done?’” (Daniel 4:35).

One of the most striking memories I have of visiting the Holy Land is scrambling up a rocky hill strewn with ancient pottery shards to visit Penuel, the probable site of Jacob’s wrestling match with God.  Before this visit, I had imagined the struggle of Genesis 32 taking place on a calm, flat riverbank, followed by a long, cool walk (limp?) in the desert moonlight.  Nope; no mercy for Jacob and his dislocated hip here.  Penuel is one of many steep hills crowded together in the arid landscape. The air feels oppressively dense and shimmers with heat.  I barely made it up one hill in great shape with two working legs.  I remember panting at the top of the hill, squinting at the Jabbok River winding through the hills like a tiny silver snake, and thinking, Would I have had the guts to take hold of God here?  To not let him go until I got a blessing?  To keep moving and trusting after he hit me where it hurts? 

At this point, I think not.  Great loss can make us feel so small before God.   After the miscarriage, I sometimes feel like I have shrunken to something barely visible while God has grown so large, I hardly recognize him.  In my smallness, I can never hope to decode his plan, let alone see the good in it. So how do I respond to the tragedy?  How do I pray? A dismissive “Your will be done” seems like a one-dimensional, dishonest, cowardly reaction.  On the other hand, pounding on the door of Heaven demanding blessing seems rebellious and irreverent.  So how do I talk to God right now?  How do I navigate the balance between surrendering to his will and fighting for his blessing? 

I searched the scriptures and was encouraged see that the men and women of the Bible set precedents of both surrender and fight.  I have more than a lifetime of work to do before I am a true Biblical scholar, but I’ll share some thoughts on two examples here:

Surrender: Job (see also Abraham, Joseph, Nebuchadnezzar, Mary, Paul…)

Fight: Canaanite woman (see also Jacob, David, the prophets, bleeding woman in Luke 8, widow seeking justice…)

After losing his family, possessions, and health, Job raises his voice to defend his own righteousness (yikes) and asks the dreaded “why” question (understandable).  “God’s response?

 “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?  Tell me, if you understand.  Who marked off its dimensions?  Surely you know!  Who stretched a measuring line across it?  On what were its footings set, or who laid its cornerstone- while the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy?” (Job 38:4-7).  God continues with three chapters of unanswerable questions like this, and I shrink along with Job just reading them.  In the end, Job is the one who must answer to God, not the other way around. Job says, “Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things to wonderful for me to know…Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes” (Job 42:3 &6).  After Job’s humble acknowledgement of God’s sovereignty, God “restored his fortunes and gave him twice as much as he had before” (Job 42:10).  Surrender precedes the blessing.

Job’s situation reminds me of Paul’s letter to believers in Rome, in which he asks the pain-inducing question: “But who are you, a human being, to talk back to God?  ‘Shall what is formed say to the one who formed it, “Why did you make me like this?”’ Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for special purpose and some for common use?” (Romans 9:20-21). 

These passages are difficult, even unpalatable to the post-Enlightenment mind.  But they are part of God’s inspired Word; I can’t ignore them.  So far, it seems like the correct response to adversity is to open my hands, empty myself, and blindly accept whatever God brings my way.  But is that the whole story?  If I characterize my response to life with this kind of wimpy surrender, I’ll become passionless, lazy, joyless.  And I must consider the other examples, such as the Canaanite woman in Matthew 15.

She asks Jesus to heal her daughter.  Well, she doesn’t just ask.  She kind of yells at him.  At first, “Jesus did not answer a word. So his disciples came to him and urged him, ‘Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us’” (Matthew 15:23).  I’m picturing her following Jesus and his guys down the road, calling out over and over for Jesus’ attention and healing.  As a non-Jewish person and a woman, in this socio-historical context she is considered one of the lowest of the low, with no right to even speak to a rabbi, let alone this rabbi, let alone ask him for something, let alone ask him for a miracle.  But she apparently doesn’t care!  She keeps following and yelling and making a fool of herself until finally, Jesus responds to her raw determination.  It looks like he is testing her:

“He answered, ‘I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.’
The woman came and knelt before him. ‘Lord, help me!’ she said.
He replied, ‘It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.’
‘Yes it is, Lord,’ she said. ‘Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.’
Then Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.’ And her daughter was healed at that moment” (Matthew 15:24-28).

I can’t help but love this woman.  Her moxie is out of control.  She doesn’t get the honor of being named, but she gets the honor of commendation from the Messiah.  Why?  Her faith.  She is so convinced that Jesus can heal her daughter that she refuses to quit asking until he gives her what she wants.  She fights for her daughter, and fight precedes the blessing.

BUT. Was it really surrender that preceded Job’s blessing and fight that preceded the woman’s blessing?  Now, the epiphany: neither surrender nor fight caused God to respond with blessing.  Job could have surrendered with faithless motives, just as the woman could have fought for her daughter out of fearful motives.  Instead, God taught Job to trust him, to have faith in God’s plan and power.  Instead, the woman received her reward for the faith she showed in Jesus’ power to heal. FAITH PRECEDED BOTH BLESSINGS. 

Clearly, God is impressed with faith.  He is the source of faith, after all (Romans 12:3).  And he responds to it with blessing.  But faith is tough, so it’s encouraging to remember that God also has mercy on those who lack faith.  He could have killed whiny Job or arrogant Nebuchadnezzar on the spot, but instead he taught and restored them.  He could have fired Moses for lacking confidence, Gideon for delaying, Elijah for giving up.  But instead, he gave Moses a partner, Gideon a sign, and Elijah a still, small voice.  (Check out Exodus 3-4, Judges 6, and 1 Kings 19 for the full stories.)  Heck, Samson was a self-satisfied, egomaniacal jerk who listened to pretty much nothing God asked of him, but when Samson humbled himself and trustingly asked for help, God STILL used him to defeat Israel’s enemy. 

I’m starting to get it now.  God rewards submission to his sovereignty motivated by faith that he is good even when we can’t see it.  But he also rewards borderline-irreverent, courageous prayer motivated by faith that he will bless us because he “is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine” (Ephesians 3:20), and because he loves us.  Maybe both surrender and fight are correct responses to adversity, as long as they are faith-motivated.  If I don’t surrender, I have no peace.  If I don’t fight, I have no purpose.  I don’t want to wear timid “surrender” as a mask for laziness or unbelief, nor do I want to wear action-packed “faith” as a mask for fear or arrogance.  My action or non-action, working or waiting, struggling or surrendering, must be motivated by humble faith that God (1) is ultimately and rightfully in charge, and (2) rewards the faithful in his time and way. 


Heaven is more precious

For you created my inmost being;
    you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
    your works are wonderful,
    I know that full well.
My frame was not hidden from you
    when I was made in the secret place,
    when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw my unformed body;
    all the days ordained for me were written in your book
    before one of them came to be.
How precious to me are your thoughts, God!
    How vast is the sum of them!
Were I to count them,
    they would outnumber the grains of sand—
    when I awake, I am still with you.

Psalm 139:13-18

The first sight my baby’s eyes saw was the face of Jesus.  Imagine! It steals my breath.  Never will my first child know sin, suffering, or sorrow.  Only the joy of Heaven and someday, the joy of reuniting with Austin and me.  In the meantime, here are sections of a letter I wrote to a few close friends and family members who prayed us through the pregnancy loss.  The letter explains what happened and presents some of our initial insights as the event unfolded.

“Heaven is more precious with each loved one that goes there, and it feels so close to us now that our baby is there.  Even during the worst part of this nightmare, we knew that God would carry us through and redeem the experience by using us as witnesses of His goodness in the face of death.  Your prayers are integral to accomplishing that purpose.  Even now, we see glimmers of the fruit of God’s work during this time.  We are experiencing increased faith, humility, dependency on His moment-to-moment grace, even increased hope as we give our future over to Him.

“I have been thinking about the moment Jesus was baptized, when John ‘saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on [Jesus] like a dove’ (Mark 1:10).  Sudden tragedy, for the Christian, can be a breathtakingly holy moment like this.  It was for us.  When we knew what was about to happen, we prayed with our hearts open to God, offering our child to Him and holding nothing back.  We offered broken but sincere praise to God for whatever He was about to bring.  We told our baby that though we longed to treasure him (we believe it was a boy) as his parents, he could go to Jesus if it was time.  And then the heavens tore open as God accepted our little offering, giving us peace beyond understanding in return.

“Though we are left with immeasurable sadness, we have no regrets, because we know that God ordained all the days of our little one before one of them came to be (Psalm 139:16).  Our baby belonged ultimately to his Maker.  We know that God did not steal from us; he graciously allowed us seven joy-filled weeks to nurture that precious life- a gift beyond imagining.  Now, though we don’t see the whole purpose of it, we know we have accomplished the task of nurturing and are ready to begin task of healing.

“God has prepared us for this moment.  He has provided us with enough logical, historical, spiritual evidence for His goodness and enough proof of his individual faithfulness in our lives that, though this death makes no sense, we have the rock-solid conviction that we can still trust Him.  In fact, we can trust nothing but Him.  My heart’s cry echoes psalmist’s words: ‘Whom have I in heaven but you?’ (Psalm 73:25).  We have been forced to realize very quickly that life is fragile and completely out of our control.  As a result, our hope in a future earthly event has shattered, but our hope in the present grace of our God has strengthened.

“The hardest question now, especially since this was our first pregnancy, is ‘what next?’  At first, I forbade myself from asking it.  I want to be a mom SO BADLY and I was afraid to consider any alternatives.  But God’s Spirit answered my ‘what next?’ question by reminding me of Jesus’ words to His disciples: “Follow me.”  In response, the men left everything they knew and loved not because they knew where they were going, but because they knew enough about who they were following to know that His presence was the only worthy pursuit.  In the same way, what’s next for Austin and me is to follow God on the journey He has laid out for us, finding and doing the good work He gives along the way, trusting Him to hold us whether our dreams or our fears come true. We can follow, one footstep at a time, not because we know where we are going, but because we know Who leads us.

“My request for prayer is that God will instill abiding hope in our hearts.  Please pray that we will ‘be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, and faithful in prayer’ (Romans 12:12).  And please especially pray that God will bless us with a healthy baby we can hold in our arms, soon.  I am learning that it is not wrong or selfish to pound on the door of Heaven like the persistent widow in Luke 18 and beg God for the good and righteous desire of our hearts, so long as we know that despite what our emotions tell us, His plan and timing is better than anything we could ask for. 

“I have learned in the past week that surrender is like courage.  They say courage is not the absence of fear, but the willingness to persist in spite of the fear.  I now believe that surrender is not the absence of desire, but the willingness to trust God’s providence regardless of whether that desire is fulfilled.  As Jesus in the garden submitted to God’s will but was not afraid to ask His heart’s desire, please come boldly before the throne of grace and ask for help on our behalf in our time of need.  We can’t wait to celebrate with you when God answers, ‘Yes!’ For now, we will walk through this shadowed-but-holy valley, embracing Heaven so near and Christ so strong to save, clinging to the grace that carries us through each moment.”

Into the valley

“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,

I will fear no evil,

For you are with me.

Psalm 23:4a

“The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.”

Psalm 34:18

Walk with me in the valley awhile.

We’re not in the sunshine, but we know sunshine waits ahead.  We’re not happy, but we know happiness waits ahead.  We don’t know how long we will walk in shadow, or what will come of persevering through it, but we cling to hope because there’s nothing else to cling to down here. 

I’m here in the valley because my baby died.  I had been pregnant for seven weeks.  Then, out of nowhere, we had to say goodbye. 

Still want to walk with me?

My first baby will never be born, but something else will.  On the horizon, I see new empathy, new compassion, new respect for the preciousness of life, new love for Heaven, new and vast understanding of the faithfulness of God.  I see deeper friendships and fearless vulnerability.  I see other women comforted and strengthened by my story.  Granted, my story of loss is one small example among more stories of loss than I ever knew.  But loss is loss, and joy is joy.  I’ll have to walk through this valley to get to that joy, but I already see it coming.  Our God makes all things new, even me, even now.  The process is excruciating.  The reward will be infinite.

I am both anxious and honored to share with those of you willing to walk through the valley with me.  I’d prefer to fade into the background, process it on my own.  But I could not have weathered this loss without the bravery of the couples who shared their own stories of loss openly.  Since I experienced pregnancy loss, I have been shocked at how many other stories are out there, some more painful than I can imagine.  It’s so common, but no one prepares you for it.  In fact, many women are deceived by a world that claims the loss of an unborn child isn’t a loss at all; it doesn’t matter and shouldn’t bother them.  Unbelievable, and such a confusing, dangerous lie.  This is why I know our loss must be shared for the education and encouragement of others who have or will experience something similar.  Let me be clear: regardless of how a child has been lost, there is no condemnation here.  Please, receive my story only as a gift to aid your healing.

The sharing of suffering is a holy task.  Ironically, open suffering provides an unmatched opportunity to display the goodness of God, because we “do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope” (1 Thessalonians 4:13).  Hope sets Christians apart and testifies to the Giver of that hope.  My plan is to share pieces of my journey in a measure of real time, before we know “how it all turns out,” so to speak.  That way, you know there’s only one source of my hope, and it’s not hindsight.  It’s God.  My next post will tell you our story of pregnancy loss, and after that, we will process through life after loss together.  Join me as I grieve, question, grow.  And then, celebrate with me!  I am so convinced that God will prove His faithfulness, His goodness, and His love in such an amazing way in my life that I feel confident setting the stage to share that joy with you. 

We all move through seasons in the valley and seasons in the sun.  Those of you who believe with me, please pray that I can walk through my valley with dignity and grace.  Those of you who don’t want to read sad things at the moment, skip these entries.  This is for others, especially women, facing “trials of many kinds” (James 1:2), who need to know that someone out there understands at least a little of what they are going through.  May God lift you up and grant you comfort, hope, and joy as you watch this little life unfold. 

Welcome to this little life

See, I am doing a new thing!
    Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness
    and streams in the wasteland.

Isaiah 43:19 NIV

Blogging is like throwing handfuls of glitter out of an airplane window.  You don’t know where it will land, and whether people will see it and roll their eyes at the mess or smile as it brightens their day.  I prefer to share my writing only with close family and friends, but recently have been humbled by the brave women who put their stories on display, stories that prepared me for and helped me through life-changing struggles of my own.  I have delayed launching a blog for years. I am crazy enough to believe God has called me to this; however, I’m terrified of digital vulnerability (and, let’s face it, accountability).  But everything in me rails against the deceitfulness of social media- my Facebook conveniently implies that I’m a great snowboarder, know more than one song on the banjo, and haven’t shed a tear for ten years.  I’m over that.  I have so much more to give the world than that fake person, whoever she is, and I hope that what I give here will be a blessing to you.  It’s my turn to become vulnerable so that others may become strong. 

As a teen, I journaled online to satisfy my longing to be known.  Writing was a selfish act as I attempted to gain enough affection and attention to dispel my insecurity.  As a woman, I write to be a mirror, hoping my words will help you know yourself and your God more.  Writing is now an act of giving, allowing you a window into this little life in hope that you come away with fresh faith for today and hope for tomorrow.  Every Christian is asked to serve God with the abilities he or she has been given.  Missionary Tom Randall says to “Give what you can with what you have,” even if it seems like what you have to give is silly or redundant.  God can multiply our smallest efforts into loaves-and-fishes miracles.  I’ve seen him do it.  I don’t feel like I have much to give, but I can write.  So, here is my gift to you and to my God, who has given me so much for such little return.

 My writing goals are simple: I hope to encourage believers, provide those who are not believers with a clear Christian perspective of ordinary life, and to bring glory to my awesome and faithful God, even if he is the only one who ever reads this.  I do not know how often I will post or what the posts will contain, but I will try to make you laugh, bring a tear if I’m brave enough, and leave you uplifted.  God bless you and our new journey together!