Suffering

A few years ago my heart was breaking. I was struggling so painfully trying to make sense out of a senseless situation. God seemed far away and no one I knew could comfort me. Today I want to tell you the story of how I found peace.


To begin this story I need to back up and begin over 20 years ago…because it took me a long time to figure out the things that made me able to find that peace.
 

When I was 17, I decided that either God was not good or He was not all
powerful. I was angry at many things in my life but mainly I was angry at God. 
My mother tried to woo me back to faith by expressing God’s love for me.
“Why would you care if someone loves you if you think they are a jerk?” That was my response. (I weakened my language out of respect for my Mom.)

I believed in God, that He existed. (Despite great effort I could not bring
myself to believe God was not real. Please believe that I tried. Atheism would have been a sweet relief for my tortured soul.) I still believed in Jesus and sin and our need for forgiveness in order for us to enter Heaven. I still believed in hell. But I did not believe that God was good. 

How could a good God condemn people to hell for eternity? Eternity–we can’t
even wrap our little minds around what that means. Eternal punishment for
temporal sins, committed by people hurt and beat down by life, twisted by their
pain who can’t even conceive of eternity.  How is that good?

How could a good God allow the incredible suffering that is not caused directly by sin? Disease. Famine. Natural disasters. Only He has control over these
things. They are not caused by any human using their free will to hurt another.

How could He promise healing to His people of their afflictions but then not
heal them when they go through all the steps the Bible lays out to receive
healing. For example, innocent children dying from cancer while their parents
cry out in anguish to a silent sky.

What kind of God offers salvation from hell, only to in the next breath demand
that we live in complete obedience and must confess and repent of any sin to
maintain our promise of heaven? (When I was a little girl, every night I would
pray for God to forgive any sin that I might not know or remember I committed. I was afraid if I died unconfessed of my sins in my sleep I might go to hell.) I was taught that God wanted us to become perfect, but I could never seem to find the power to change, no matter how much I begged, cried, studied the scriptures or had others lay on hands and pray for me. 

I refused to fake it. I sat sullen in church. I refused to lay down when the
speaker laid hands on me. If I became offended during church I stood up, walked out of the sanctuary, and sat in the bathroom until the service ended.  

I noticed that my church was full of people faking it. You see a lot when you
stop closing your eyes to pray. They were good people. They wanted to be holy,
their hearts were sincere, but they only seemed to really pull it off while they were at church.

I remember one service where two people came to pray for me. The one on the left prayed compassionately that “a bruised reed He will not break.”
The person on my right seconds later prayed warningly that those who fall
“on that stone [Christ] will be broken to pieces; anyone on whom it falls
will be crushed.” I almost laughed out loud in my frustration. Everyone
who prayed for me prayed that I would cease to be confused.  I was not
feeling confused. I felt like I was waking up.

This church preached heavily against the evils of legalism, but dictated petty rules. For instance, anyone over age 12 could not wear shorts to services and a teenager could not attend the adult Bible study until they were both 18 and graduated from high school. It didn’t matter if the teenager was bored to tears in youth group or that all her (slightly older) friends had moved out to
be with the adults. Rules were rules. I think they were confused about what legalism is. It infuriated me. But it wasn’t my frustration with that specific church that broke my faith. It was the burden of Lordship Salvation that I had carried since childhood.
 

For years I heard messages like: “If you are not hearing from God then there is
sin in your life.” and “If Christ is not the Lord of your life and if you are not obedient in all things you are not saved.” I tried. I tried so hard but I always seemed to fall short. Finally I came to the place where I was a senior in high school and begging God to tell me where to go to college. I did this for months and heard nothing. I finally just decided to go
where I wanted to go.  I quit even trying to hear from God. I decided that I would screw up my life on my own without first wasting my time and energy trying to get guidance from a God who never answered me.

I didn’t stop believing but I stopped trying. I stopped following. I sat down
in my Christian walk and refused to continue onward. I stopped going to my
family’s church. I went to chapel when I was at my Christian college because it
was required. I even went to a Sunday service elsewhere a few times for a
variety of reasons.  But I was always guarded and I never found what I was
looking for. My parents even managed to get me to a service at the Jacksonville
(Florida) Revival that was happening in 1998. I was unmoved in my resolve. I
would have answers or I would not have a relationship with this God. I knew that I could never go back to my old life of trying to stay saved. Obviously, I did not have what it takes to succeed. It seemed to me that if God sent Jesus to save us because we could never be good enough to save ourselves–why was my salvation still dependant on my behavior?  

Until I was about 23 I pushed God away from me as hard as I could. I casually
looked for answers, real answers to my hard questions, but no one who tried to
“save” me could ever explain. I learned to swear like a sailor. I did what I wanted. When it suited my purposes, I dropped my morals like a hot potato.  I stopped calling myself a Christian because I knew my behavior would only hurt and confuse young believers and reinforce the opinions of people already suspicious of Christianity.  I openly expressed my anger at God to whoever wanted to talk to me about such things. I remember one time a Christian lady I was speaking to actually became afraid that God would strike me dead for my extreme irreverence. 

But the Spirit never stopped drawing me to God. I was in constant turmoil under
my anger. Finally, one day as I was driving home I cried out to God,
“I cannot believe that You are who I have been taught You are. Show me
who You really are!”

After that I went on a quest for my answers, a quest for truth. I read some
books, like The Case for Faith (by Lee Strobel) and Mere Christianity (by C.S.
Lewis).  I read dozens of articles on free grace and eternal security. I attended a house church intermittently for a while, the relaxed atmosphere helped me feel safe. Nobody was trying to impress anybody else there. Most importantly I reread the scriptures like a woman obsessed. I wanted to know what they really said versus what had I been taught and blindly accepted as true. I spent sometimes hours a day studying.
I should have been doing this from a much younger age. My blind, lazy trust in the opinions and teachings of others had caused my faith to be weak. My advice to every young Christian is this: “Know why you believe what you believe. You should be able to defend every doctrine you subscribe to with scripture.  Surface faith won’t hold up to real life; platitudes and anecdotes turn to dust. You need to go deep.”

I didn’t find every answer but I found enough to firmly establish in my heart that God is GOOD. I was able to stop living in terror of losing my salvation. I was also able to pray and sing praise and pursue a relationship with God again. It was not perfect, in fact it was very touch and go for a few years. There were things I was doing in my life that I believed were wrong but that I refused to give up. I no longer believed that I would go to hell because of this, but it was a hard place to be. It felt like my soul was burning my insides at times. Even through my inner war I was constantly pulled toward God.

I eventually stumbled upon a book called Truefaced. It helped me tremendously. I was able to start shifting my perspective on what God really wants from me and how the Church is actually supposed to function. (Truefaced was written by Bill Thrall, Bruce McNicol, and John S. Lynch. )

I also read a wonderful book called the Ragamuffin Gospel by Brennan Manning. Somewhere around this time I was able to really start to believe that not only is God good, but He REALLY does love me. He sees all my sin and all my darkness that I try to hide and He still loves me every bit as much as He would if I were perfect.

After I got married, my conscience started resting more easily.  I felt like I was no longer blatantly sinning in any way. I still had guilt issues over my past behaviors, especially during my years of anger. I carry my share of regrets. But then I hit a snag, and I entered into the period of suffering I mentioned at the beginning.
 

 ( A wedding gift that I once found very ironic in the context of our many unanswered prayers.)

My husband is disabled. He has suffered from increasingly debilitating chronic
pain since he was 15 years old. Everything medical has been tried, most things multiple times. Heaven has been silent to the prayers of his parents, pastors, traveling evangelists, people with gifts of healing, and myself. The laying on of hands, the application of anointing oil and the prayers of the elders have failed. Prayer cloths have failed. There is no explanation and seems to be no hope of recovery. He has continued to get worse and our community of faith is baffled.

As I watched my husband’s quality of life steadily diminish, I started to
struggle again with believing that God cared. At first it was a little struggle
I would try to shrug off, but eventually it began to consume me. It was
excruciatingly painful. And you have to acknowledge that it really looks like
God has abandoned us. It looks bad.  The whys that have been asked are
stacked up all the way to Heaven’s gates. The tears that have been cried fill
many bottles. 

As I wrestled with this gap between God’s promises and my reality, I prayed for grace, for understanding, and for help. I didn’t know what to do. I spent
a good deal of my time crying. Finally I realized very suddenly that I had to make a decision. I was driving to work when it became clear to me.  The situation with my husband being in pain all the time and God not seeming to help him or heal him looks terrible to my eyes and feels even worse than it looks. I don’t understand it and I can’t explain it. It seems to my human mind to run contrary to the promises of God.  


Throughout the scriptures God says repeatedly that He loves my husband. And God says He is good, kind, merciful, compassionate and faithful. So, I had to
decide. Do I believe my eyes? Do I believe my heart and its pain? Or do I doubt
how things look to me, doubt how I feel and choose to believe what God says
about Himself is true?

The scriptures tell us that faith is believing God, not believing IN God. Going beyond just believing He exists–to believing what He says: about Himself, about the world, about us. You see, things look pretty awful to me but the God who spoke the universe into existence testifies that He is good and His heart toward us is full of love. Who has the more trustworthy perspective?

So, by the power of the Holy Spirit and God’s grace, I chose and choose to
believe God. After I decided this, I was given a supernatural peace about the
situation. Years of strife and turmoil have evaporated out of my heart. I do not believe that I would have been able to reach this place if I had not alreay cemented in my heart that God is good and that He loves me. My next natural step was to start TRUSTING God, and He graciously enabled me to begin doing that.

Please, don’t misunderstand me. My husband’s suffering and disability has not stopped being hard to live with.
Especially since the birth of our son, my heart breaks that my husband and my
son cannot have a better life.  My husband and my son will probably never
do many things that fathers and sons who adore each other the way they do often enjoy doing. Hunting trips, wrestling, playing catch in the yard–it all seems so out of reach.
 

Of course, there are times that I feel sorry for myself too. I’m human, my situation is difficult, and it does happen. I work, and care for our child, and the house, I pay the bills, I do the shopping, I care for my husband and try to take care of myself. It’s a lot, and sometimes it is too much for me. Something is always
left undone.

But, those times when it is too much, help always shows up in some form.
Sometimes when I have a bad day my husband has one of his better days and can give me extra emotional support or watch TV with our son while I decompress. I am able to lean on my mom, my sister, or my mother-in-law and they have a kind word or even physical help to offer. Whenever I feel ready to break, God by His grace provides for me and I am not broken.

I am not sure why Christians are surprised by the pain and suffering we
encounter in this life.  God has been honest about how it’s going to be.
Pain, suffering, tribulation, persecution, injustice and loss will come into
our lives. Sometimes they stay a long time, sometimes they leave for a while
only to come back to visit again. Jesus was perfect, beloved of the Father,
sinless and He suffered greatly anyway. He was hated, chased, plotted against, betrayed, eventually unfairly tried and condemned to an agonizing death. The lives of the Apostles were also far from being free of suffering.

 The Bible is full of stories of human pain and suffering from the first chapters of Genesis to almost the end of Revelation. Yet we are shocked, surprised, horrified, angry, convinced that a great injustice has taken place every time we hurt. EVERY TIME.


Good old King David went through some really soul crushing low points in his
life. Some of them he brought upon himself and some were completely unjust. In those difficult times, and they will come for us all, David offers a sound
example of how to hold on:  

       “I believe that I shall look upon the
goodness of the LORD in the land of the living! Wait for the LORD; be strong,
and let your heart take courage; wait for the LORD!”(Psalms 27:13-14) (English Standard Version)


I have chosen to wait on God. I choose to trust Him. I believe God will set
every wrong thing right perfectly and at the perfect time. What isn’t set
right in this life will be set right in the next beyond what we can even imagine.
This imperfect world filled with suffering and pain is all we know, but God has
told us this world is not forever.  Believing God gives me strength,
courage, and peace. Because of this even though my circumstances are difficult
I am not miserable, hopeless or bitter. It is as Jesus said: 

“I have spoken these things to you so that you shall have peace in me. You shall have suffering in the world, but take heart, I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33) (Aramaic Bible in Plain English)
 

(My engagement and wedding rings)

Marching

Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.”(Philippians 4:8) (KJV2000)

On the first of March I woke up to the sound of buckets of rain being poured over my house and couldn’t go back to sleep. By five thirty in the morning there was a seemingly endless parade of thoughts, to do lists and concerns marching through my mind. I was also listening, on edge, to the rain and the thunder because we were under a tornado watch from late evening until seven a.m. I was running scenarios on how best to get Ethan safely to the basement if the siren went off and what I should or shouldn’t grab on the way. I had left the carseat in the car when I came home sick from work on the 27th of February, so I couldn’t  very well grab that.  (Who has tornado watches in February? Honestly? It doesn’t seem fair.) I was also listening for the sound of an approaching train. I have heard that tornados sound like trains. I was also running scenarios of keeping Ethan safe if there was no siren. I was also thinking about ways to rebuild the house if it got flattened and wondering if there is any way to protect a physical possession–like an old family photo album from wind, flood and fire.

All this was marching through my mind at 5:30 a.m.  (And I wonder why I am tired.) In a few minutes the morning rush would begin again. The child asleep on my chest would wake up and need to be snuggled, dressed and fed. All my morning tasks awaited. I knew that I was weak and I hoped I could complete them as quickly as I normally did. I decided I should take soup for lunch. (After so recently battling a violent stomach virus, I didn’t think my stomach was ready for broccoli.)

The day passed and on the way home from work I took the back roads. It was a gray day, very damp and blustery. I was feeling rather dismal as the wind grew chillier and occasionally smattered my windshield with tiny almost raindrops. My world was bleak. And then on my right appeared acres and acres of beautiful emerald green! It was so beautiful that I actually made an involuntary exclamation. Oh! It was so unexpected I felt like something had physically jarred me.  

(This was taken on a slightly brighter day, but it is the same field.)

Thank God for winter wheat! Where I live, it is the first big green of Spring. In March the little greens will appear, tiny sprouts of daffodils or tulips, but the grass is pale and the deciduous trees are bare.  The beginning of Spring around here usually looks like gray skies and mud until about April. But if I can find a field of winter wheat–my winter weary soul can find new hope.  Winter wheat reminds me Spring is waiting in the wings, the green is spreading, it cannot be delayed forever!

What a difference it makes when we shift our focus from worry to hope. The exact same circumstances can take on a whole new meaning in a moment. My whole experience of March is completely reflective of what I choose to focus on. Around me the sky is gray, the ground is muddy, the wind is cold and mean. Also, around me, the trees are budding, the wheat is growing, and the smell of Spring is swirling. Where will I place my attention? 

Winter is not over but Spring is coming will not be stopped, no matter how many more times it snows. When I focus on the coming of Spring, I feel uplifted and hopeful. Lilacs and roses are coming, along with green grass and softer air. When I focus on what is left of Winter I feel tired, like I am carrying a heavy and cumbersome chain. Winter of itself is not bad, but it is dark and cold and I am weary of it. Both things are true in this moment. The choice is mine.

 

Paul reminds us that we need to focus on the good stuff. Truth. Honesty. Justice. Purity. Loveliness. Good reports. Virtuous things.  Praiseworthy things. He is laying out instructions for the Philippian Christians on how to live in this world and he polishes off his recomendations with an admonition on what to think about.

What we think about is important. What we think about, what we meditate on, determines our mood, our attitude and our actions.  A person might think, “We cannot ignore all the bad stuff in the world and only “think on these things”! Our outrage and negative emotions are what move us to action to make things better!” There is some truth in that.  But when I focus on the good and lovely things I feel more positive, more hopeful, more energized. When I focus on the horrible things and the sad things I start feeling hopeless, helpless and overwhelmed. In which state I am more likely to be kind to others, to lift up those around me or to take any positive action? 

There are so many things going on around us, so many voices screaming for attention. There is so much information, most of it of questionable quality, constantly before us. Where shall we look? The world is filled with war, strife, division, hatred, despair, violence, and loss. The world is also filled with beauty, hope, wonder, kindness, love, generosity and grace. We will see it all but we must “think on these things.” That does not mean we close our eyes to the ugly things because we must see them before we can change them. We can work toward a better world–we must help others and we must stand up for what is right–but to be able to do that we must think on “these things”.  When we think too much on the dark side, when we meditate on the horrible, unimaginable and seemingly hopeless, it fixes nothing and even does damage. We can easily become immobilized in the face of what seems like overwhelming evil.  

So, I am choosing to think about all the wonderful things about March. I love the crazy, wild winds. I love the new green around me. I even love watching the battle between Spring and Winter. (New life will win eventually, of course, but when?)  I choose to lift my eyes from the mud on my boots and look across the fields of wheat. When my eyes are focused on the beautiful, makes it easier to keep marching. 

Breathing

And Jehovah Elohim formed Man, dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and Man became a living soul. (Gen. 2:7) (Darby Bible Translation )

 Do you remember when you learned to hold your breath? Was it to swim under water? Maybe it was to be absolutely quiet during hide and seek? Could have been an attempt to get rid of a case of the hiccups? Did you ever try to time yourself just to see how long you could do it? Did you ever notice how quickly holding your breath makes breathing the main focus of your attention? Even if you just take tiny, shallow breaths you can easily think about something else, but once you totally stop breathing thinking about something else successfully takes practice and discipline.

Here are a few times my breath has come to my attention:

Unable to Breathe

I don’t suffer from asthma. I have never drowned. My first time of not being able to breathe was probably a little comical to watch. I was in the second grade and I slipped on some ice leaving the school and fell flat on my back. It hurt but I couldn’t breathe to cry to get help.  All I could do was lay where I fell, looking up at the gray, clouded sky and wondering if I was dying. A kind man came  along and stopped to help me.  “You’re okay,” he said. “You just got the wind knocked out of you!” Almost like magic, between realizing that what I was experiencing was something that I had heard people mention before, and my relief at knowing I wasn’t dying,  my body relaxed and my breath came back. My kind stranger helped me up and I was back on my way with my new knowledge of how it felt to have the wind knocked out of me. 

Only Able to Breathe

Sleep paralysis is how I first discovered  the power of breath control. I was about eleven or twelve and I was traveling with my mother and siblings. I fell asleep while mom was driving and woke up and found we had stopped somewhere. I woke up and I couldn’t move, talk or even open my eyes. I could hear everything and I knew I was awake.  I was terrified. What if I was paralyzed  like this forever?  I couldn’t even tell my mom I was awake and I needed help!  I didn’t even really know what sleep paralysis was or that it can happen when you are awake. In my panic I started to frantically search for what I did have control over and realised I had control over my breathing. I tried taking deeper and deeper breaths and as I did this my body woke up and I was able to move. I filed this information away in my brain in case it ever happened to me again!

Breathing Too Fast

In high school I had severe menstrual  cramps.  One time, while hiding in a  stall in the girls bathroom, the pain became so bad that I hyperventilated. I didn’t understand what was happening as I lost control of my hands, my arms and then my legs. When the adults found me there I could not stand or walk. They brought me a paper bag to breathe into and my mom had to push me out to our car in a wheelchair. 

Breathing Through Pain

Because of my severe menstrual  cramps,  my mom taught me a biofeedback relaxation exercise to do while I waited for my pain medication to kick in.  As I breathed, every time I exhaled  I concentrated on relaxing a little bit more of my body until I was relaxing my whole body from head to toe in one exhale. For a long time my mom sat by me and talked me through it. “Relax your toes, your ankles, the backs of your calves…” etc. She was really good at it and it helped me immensely. Eventually I could do it on my own easily. (This was very valuable training, I used the same method of relaxation when I was in labor and it worked amazingly until I hit transition.)

Taking My Breath Back

There have been times in my life when anxiety has hijacked my body. The first time, much like when I got the wind knocked out of me, I was afraid I was dying. I was about twelve and spending the night at a new friend’s house.  I woke up in the night needing to go to the bathroom. As I sat there, on the commode, the only one awake in the unfamiliar house, I was overcome with fear and a longing to go home. My chest started to hurt really badly on the right side.  I convinced myself that I was having a heart attack but I was unable to call for help.  I was too afraid. I prayed for God to help me. I think is was the Spirit of God that whispered to my panicked mind that my heart was on the LEFT side of my chest, therefore what I was feeling was not a heart attack. I was flooded with relief. I relaxed and the pain in my chest faded. I laughed at myself a little, and was able to get up, go back to bed, and fall asleep. Looking back, I think when I got scared I probably started breathing really shallowly and when I was able to relax I started breathing normally, and when I started breathing the pain in my chest got better. 

As an adult, my experience has been different. When anxiety takes over I feel like I can’t take a deep breath or sit still or stop crying. It a miserable disconnect between what is actually happening and how I feel.  It was a common occurrence for a few years in my late twenties and early thirties. I became more practised at seeing an attack coming and found ways of coping with the disruption. But until last week I had managed to go almost three years without an incident and I found I have become really rusty in my coping skills. I didn’t realize what was happening until it was too late and I was completely overwhelmed. I forgot that the only way I have found to reclaim my hijacked body is through my breath.  If I can distract my head and control my breath long enough I can get my body back. I may not be able to breathe deeply but I can control the rhythm of the breathing the air in, holding it, and releasing it. I have also learned in the last few years that I can support my body during the reclamation process with essential oils, and they do help. In fact if I manage to notice the anxiety before it gets a real hold on me with my oils I can usually dodge a hijacking completely. But once I pass a certain point, the the oils will help but the controlled breathing HAS to happen.

Remembering to Breathe 

When I was a young woman on a whim I bought an issue of the new Oprah magazine. I liked it. It didn’t make me feel fat and ugly like the other women’s and fashion magazines I had read. Oprah magazine left me feeling empowered and inspired and hopeful. But my very favorite part of the magazine was a two page spread photo of a beautiful landscape or seascape. It was called “Breathing Space”. I loved it because it reminded me to breathe. In my whirlwind of work and school and daily life that was really helpful. I would always stop and take at least one real, intentional and deep breath. I would have bought the magazine just for that. (I kept my old issues for years in boxes. I was unwilling to part  with my breathing spaces and so much good, uplifting and educational content. I really intended to read them all again.) The first time I opened an issue and did not find my breathing space I was really upset! They took out the best part! 

Learning a New Way to Breathe

I was listening to Tony Robbins on YouTube the other day and he mentioned using Breath Walking to change your mental and emotional state. You breathe in through your nose four short breaths, and the out through you mouth in four short puffs. I tried it. I did it wrong but after five minutes my puffs were trying to turn into whistles and I was grinning. Turns out while Breath Walking you are also supposed to match your steps to your breaths, all the while tapping each of your fingertips to your thumb on each hand. I can’t wait to try that, I’ll probably fall off the treadmill because I am a clutz. (I am always knocking into things and tripping. I have come to believe that  this is due to my astounding lack of kinesthetic awareness. (Am I slumping? Are my hands on my hips? Do I still have feet? I don’t know.) This makes it very difficult for me to dance and sometimes for me to walk.  I spend most of my existence so deep in my head that I have no idea what my body is doing. In fact, I have a tendency to basically ignore my body until it screams at me that something has gone wrong.  I am trying to practice better self care and pay attention to my body’s signals before I am in pain.)

The Breathe of Life

We are made to breathe, for a human breathing is essential to life. Every other living creature was spoken, commanded into existence and life at the same time except us, we were breathed alive. God said, “Let us make man,” then sculpted him from the earth and breathed mankind alive with His own breath. Every single other creation, from a star to an ant, with all it’s amazing beauty and complexity, lacks the breath of God. For humans breathing is more than an action of respiration, your breath effects not just your body but also your mind and your emotions. This is a special blessing that comes of being made in the image of God.

The breath of God that was blown into Adam has been passed down through the ages to each of us. It is the spark of God’s Spirit that keeps our bodies, minds and spirit alive. In fact the scripture tells us that when a person dies their piece of the Spirit actaully returns to God. (Ecc. 12:7)

There is a lovely parallel verse to Genesis 2:7 in John. 

“So Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you; as the Father has sent Me, I also send you.” And when He had said this, He breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”” (John 20:21-22)(NIV)

Here we can see Jesus giving a new breath of life to his disciples. Since the fall of man, mankind had been in desperate need of new life because sin brought spiritual as well as physical  death and separated us from God.  After Jesus was raised from the dead, it was possible to begin spiritually resurrecting mankind. The disciples were standing before a resurrected Jesus, fully believing the He was the Messiah, and trusting His word completely that His work of atonement had provided salvation for their eternal souls. What most Christians must believe by faith alone they were seeing with their eyes and hearing with their ears. So Jesus gave them new life, breathing on them and commanding them to receive the Holy Spirit. This is how they became what Paul later calls, “Alive in Christ”. 

This is what many now refer to as Jesus “coming into your heart”.  When you believe in your heart that what Jesus said in John 3:16 is true, you receive as a free gift new spiritual life and the Spirit of God begins to dwell within you. This is different from the coming of the Comforter in Acts 2, which is more equivalent with what is commonly called the Baptism of the Holy Spirit. (Though both gifts can be given at the same time.)

 We all breathe. All day every day and all night every night. Awake. Asleep. There is no need to think about it. (Unless you find something is stopping you from breathing). Breathing keeps us alive. But there is a deeper, spiritual breath that we must breathe to be fully alive; and once you have breathed the Breath of Life, your soul will live forever, even after you breathe with your body for the last time.

 

( Me and Ethan, peaceful easy breathing.)

Sistering

And after she had said this, she [Martha] went back and called her sister aside. “The Teacher is here,” she said, “and is asking for you.” When Mary heard this she got up quickly and went to him.” John 11:28-29 (NIV)



My sister is the best. You might have a sister as good as mine but I’d be willing to bet you won’t find a better one. She’s sweet, beautiful and smart. She’s a naturopathic doctor, a classically trained singer, and a massage therapist. She is also an outstanding cook and baker.  Her only flaw is she lives too far away. She definitely the best sister for ME. Every year on her birthday I thank my Mom for having her. 

There isn’t much emphasis on sisterhood in the Bible. You have Leah and Rachel, who were literally sister wives. (Probably not much love lost between those two.) And you have Mary and Martha, maybe they didn’t have the same definition of hospitality, but at least they were both agreed on Jesus being awesome, so they have some common ground. There’s Ruth, who had a sister-in-law, but Orpah bailed when things got tough.  There are definitely a few verse where it is indicated that a sister is a good thing, but if a girl is looking for positive examples to follow she will be hardpressed. 

My experience of having a sister goes like this: I remember the night/morning my sister was born. I wasn’t even four yet. I was staying the night with my Grandma while Mom and Dad were at the hospital. Sunce it was a Saturday night Grandma didn’t have to work the next day so the timing of her arrival  was pretty good.  There was a phone call, I don’t remember the time it was but it was still dark. I am sure it was my Dad calling to say that the baby was a girl and both she and my Mom were okay.  

( Me holding my baby sister at my Grandma’s house. )

The next day Grandma and I went to the hospital to meet her. I vaguely remember holding her. I don’t remember feeling any strong emotions. I also don’t remember much of her early days. What I do remember is when she got old enough to be annoying.  I really thought she was a brat. She broke my crayons and flattened the tips of my markers. She wanted whatever I had and wanted to go everywhere I went.

 She cried and screamed when she didn’t get her way. (Those screams were LEGENDARY. My ears are still ringing a little I think.) She was a bit of drama queen. I am talking full out throwing herself to the floor and screaming.  She was really amazing at it.  

( Me and my sister, about the time she would have been smashing the tips on my markers. ) 

We did play together sometimes. I remember pretending that the floor was lava or shark infested waters and jumping from furniture island to cushion island. I remember teaching her to roller skate. I remember styling her hair into a outrageous creation of a pony tail that stood about eight inches straight up from her head. I used every pony tail holder we owned.

I also remember times when I refused to play. I remember slapping her in anger and then begging and bribing her not to tell on me. (I don’t think she ever did tell.)  We had a reoccurring fight at my door whenever I wanted to be in my bedroom by myself. It usually ended with her fingers getting shut in the door when I won the pushing contest from my side. My mom finally informed me that if I shut my sister’s fingers in the door one more time, she would shut my fingers in the door. (Looking back, I am not sure how she would have accomplished that without my willing cooperation, but I believed her.) So I just took to shoving my sister as far down the hallway as I could before I slammed my door in her face. This method worked well. No more smashed fingers and I still got to be alone in my room. I thought I was pretty smart for coming up with it.

I certainly was not a very good big sister in the beginning. I was especially mean when it came to protecting my alone time or my markers. When I look back, I feel sorry for my sister as a kid. She wasn’t really a brat, she was just a toddler. I couldn’t understand what that meant.  For the first ten years of her life she was “just my sister”.

 I did love her. I would have hated the guts of anyone who hurt her. (Except me, of course.) I hung out with her when it suited me or when there was no one else to play with and we had fun. Or at least I did. I used my company as a trump card to make her play the way I wanted to play.  After all, I could easily go do any number of things rather than play with her. I am ashamed of my younger self now. Younger me needs to slapped. 

Almost magically, when she was in fifth grade and I was about fourteen, she became a person to me. She also become a person I liked. Of course, she was always a person, but I couldn’t see her that way. One day she made an observant and funny remark at the right moment. I don’t even remember what she said or what it was about. But I remember laughing and thinking, “Hey, she’s pretty cool.”  (By no means was this the end of all our conflicts but it was a big turning point for me.)

She was no longer “just my sister”.  She had become “MY sister”.  I liked her (most of the time) and I was always proud of her. She was popular, funny, talented and smart. I started noticing strengths she had that I didn’t and admiring her for them. For example: She seemed to fit in anywhere you put her and she made friends quickly; She had big dreams, like becoming a doctor; and she didn’t waste time on homesickness when we went to camp.

We grew up a little at a time.  I grew up first. I left her behind. First I left for college. A couple of years later I moved out, against my parents wishes and without their knowledge of my plan. I gathered my friends, a box of trash bags, and a truck. I let myself in my parent’s basement door (my room was down there) and started removing my possessions from the house as quickly as I could. I was expecting a confrontation and I wanted to get my stuff or as much of it as possible out before that happened.  It took longer than I expected for the confrontation to happen. I actually ended up going upstairs to tell them that I was leaving. They had no idea what was happening below them. I didn’t know at the time, but when we began moving me out they were not even at home. 

Sadly my sister was. I hadn’t told her anything about what I was going to do. She was 16. She watched through a window as my friends and I made trips back and forth to the truck with trash bags of my stuff.  I had no idea.  I was so eager to get away from my parents that I didn’t even stop to think how it would make my sister feel when I left.

And that, Ladies and Gentlemen, is a really good example of how I, as an adult, was a crappy sister. But guess what? My sister didn’t repay me for the hurt I caused her. She loved me as hard as ever. She was kind to me even when my mother and I could barely have a conversation. She came to my place when I was still afraid to go home to visit. She talked to me. She brushed my hair. She didn’t tell me for years how I hurt her heart when I moved out. 

She was a good sister.  She was loyal, kind, and as supportive as she knew how to be. I loved her before, I liked her before; now she had my heart. I made up my mind I wanted to be closer to her and to spend more time with her. It would be easier now that I wasn’t out of town at college.

I succeeded for a while in my plan and it was good. We hung out more. We even jogged together for a while. I wasn’t perfect. I wasn’t always as kind as I could have been. But I loved her and I tried to be a good sister. I made her important in my life. I was enjoying her so much that I even started to look forward to my brothers getting old enough that I could be friends with them too. Then, only about a year and a half after I moved out, my family moved to another state, about a nine hours drive away. 

And just like that my sister was swept away from me. There would be no more casually hanging out and certainly no more chance of “Let’s get coffee,” or “I’ll meet you at the movie theater.” This time it was her turn to leave me behind. I was was sad. I missed her. Mercifully, I didn’t have the foresight to comprehend the actual magnitude of my loss and when I finally did I was used to her being far away. 

 So we talked on the phone sometimes and I saw her when my family came back to visit me a few times a year. I drove up to stay with them a few times. Life went on for both of us. My sister went to college and earned two bachelor’s degrees concurrently, while also participating in a sorority and working two (sometimes three) jobs while she did it. I admired her stamina. I never could have done it all. 

As the years passed, I tried to stay as close to her as I could. We both had our own lives.  I listened jealously to her mentions of her friends at school and then at work, those lucky people who could see her and be with her all the time. It took me a while to grow up enough to realize that I was not anymore replaceable for her than she was for me. Our visits became precious, precious times. I tried to squeeze as much sister love as I could into a day or two. 

Eventually I got married. (She she was a bridesmaid and she sang beautifully during the lighting of the unity candle.) A few years later my husband and I bought a house and my sister went back to school to study Naturopathic Medicine. We were both busy, she more than me. When she was at Med School she was geographically closer to me, but much less available to me, even just to talk on the phone. It was not her fault, my availability was small also, as I worked third shift and was asleep most of the day. I visited her maybe two or three times, and one of those times was for her graduation. It was definitely a sister drought for both of us. 

At her graduation I was about seven weeks pregnant and afterward my life became crazy busy with appointments. She jumped right back into classes to get her massage therapy license. We were far apart and out of touch much of the time. After my son was born, she came to stay with us for a while. It was nice. I just wanted to stare at her all the time, it was hard to believe she was really right there with me in my house.  I watched her knitting nearby while I nursed; I watched her cooking me food; I watched her holding my baby. It was more than nice. It was incredibly good. 

Most people know the story of Mary and Martha where Jesus came to their house and Martha ran around like a chicken trying to be a perfect hostess while Mary planted herself at Jesus’s feet. Then Martha complains to Jesus about her sister not helping and Jesus straightens out her priorities. Almost everyone has also heard the story of Jesus raising Lazurus from the dead. But you won’t often hear a sermon mention Mary’s and Martha’s relationship in that story. But I when I was looking for sisterhood in the scriptures, I noticed there is a little story about Mary and Martha in the Lazurus story. 

The story goes that Lazarus was seriously ill. The sisters sent for Jesus but He delayed His arrival. Lazarus dies four days before Jesus ever makes it to Bethany. When Martha hears Jesus has finally shown up, she heads out to see Him. When she reaches Him, she makes two statements:

  1. Lord,if you had been here,my brother would not have died.
  2. But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask. John 11:21-22 (NIV).

Jesus tells her that her brother will be resurrected but she’s underwhelmed. Of course, Lazarus will rise again, “at the last day.” Then Jesus lays the gospel on Martha, saying, “I am the resurrection and the life. He Who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.” (John 11:25-26) (NIV).  And then He asks her a question, perhaps the most important question ever, “Do you believe this?”.  She answers that she absolutely does. 

Now here’s the part I love to notice: After she talks to Jesus, Martha goes straight home and gets her sister, Mary. Martha goes to Mary, pulls her aside from the other mourners, and tells her that Jesus is asking for her. Mary who had decided she would rather not go to Jesus when He arrived. This is the same Mary who had devotedly planted herself at His feet and refused to get up. That same woman had decided she would rather stay home than go to see Jesus.

We don’t know a lot about this family outside of these two stories. I wonder why Mary, Martha and Lazurus live together as adults. I wonder where their parents are and why none of them seem to be married. I wonder also how old they were when they know Jesus. I have always imagined them a close to Jesus’s age, but they could easily have been younger or even much older.  Obviously both sisters loved their brother very much, they wouldn’t have been so upset over his death if they didn’t.  I wonder what kind of position it was leaving them in, as Jewish women in that time in history, losing their brother. Probably not a good one. 

Imagine being best friends with Jesus during his ministry, but when your brother gets sick, Jesus doesn’t show up to heal him. You know He knew about it and you know He easily could have come in time. Instead, He shows up four days after your brother is dead. Can you see why Mary felt like staying home?  

It seems like Martha spoke with Jesus and after that she knew that more than anything Mary needed to see Him too. Mary needed a little push. She needed to hear, “Hey, Sis, Jesus is here and He is asking for you.”  Just hearing that was enough to move Mary to go to Him. John said she went quickly.  She left so suddenly that the other mourners ran after her. They thought she must be heading for her brother’s tomb. 

When Mary got to Jesus, she fell weeping at His feet.  She cried out to Him, saying, “Lord if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” (John 11:32) (NIV) Not a pretty scene perhaps, but now that Mary had come to Him, Jesus could help her.

Remember when Martha talked to Jesus before Lazarus died?  Jesus told her that she was worried about many things, but “only one thing is needed.” That one thing was simply being with Him. She must have been listening. You can bet that the worries she had in her mind were much worse having lost her brother than when she didn’t have help hosting company. This time when Jesus came to town, she left a house full of mourners and she made a bee line straight for Him.  She had learned what was needed. 

I think what we see Martha do here is the best example of how to be a good sister that we have in the Bible. First get yourself right with the Lord and then go back for your hurting sister and do what is needed to get her to Him. Give her a little push. Remind her that He is there and wants to see her. 

Nudging each other toward Jesus is certainly not just for blood sisters. It is something all women believers should do for each other as sisters in Christ. There are so many ways to serve each other and show our love: Speaking a kind word, giving a sincere complement, really listening, bringing food, giving a shoulder rub, babysitting for an afternoon–the possibilities are endless.

 But first we need to love each other enough that we are paying attention to our sisters so that we notice–when they are down, hurting, isolating themselves, or maybe even angry with God–when they need us.  This can be difficult, the paying of attention. You have to keep in touch because social media and Sunday mornings never tell the whole story. Certainly we must also be listening for that unexpected tug on your heart or the seemingly random turn of thought to a sister that comes from the Spirit of God. 

Sometimes a call is in order, sometimes a visit. Sometimes the right love applied at the right time and you can nudge a sister toward Christ without even mentioning His name. Sometimes you need to go to your sister and have a “come to Jesus” conversation. (But please note, Martha didn’t command Mary to go Jesus. She just told Mary the Master asked to see her.) Listen to the Spirit, then use your intuition, use your strength, and use your empathy; the work of sistering requires a woman’s touch. 

My sister and I have been able to see each other more often since the baby came. There has been more actual talking in person and lots of hugging. She cooks for us and stocks my freezer with delicious food when she comes to stay AND she even gives me massages. (Be jealous, she’s amazing). But most of our sistering is still done over the phone.  She doesn’t call me much unless she’s calling me back. But that makes sense since I’m the one juggling more balls at the moment. I need support more often and I’m less available to answer an incoming call. She’s still a good sister–definitely the best sister for me. She always shows up for me and reminds me what is needed. I try to do the same for her. 

Momming

“In their hearts humans plan their course, but the LORD establishes their steps.” Proverbs 16:9 (NIV)

I started my planning young:  I was going to become a mommy, like my mommy, but better!   It was not that I thought of my life experience so far as bad– but I resolved that I would figure out how to do better for my kids. I honestly believed that it was my job to do that. 

I know I had this plan established by 1985, because that was the Christmas I received my first diary. 

Tangent Warning!

In my childhood that diary divides my childhood memories into before and after like the birth of Christ splits human history.  I remember that I resolved to write my diary for two reasons, for myself as a grown up so I would always remember how I felt as a kid and for my kids so they would know I understood how it is. Almost like they could know the kid me a little bit if they ever wanted to.  (The realization that I could write down all the thoughts and feelings I had that would get me in trouble if I said them out loud with no repercussions and the accompanying relief that I received from this practise came later.)

Me, circa age 7, planning for motherhood and playing with my baby cousin. (I was also already on the lookout for my future husband, but that’s a different post.)

I would write down my thoughts, feelings and things I wanted to always remember. A few times I would need to write the feelings down but then I ripped them out because I didn’t want to remember.

 My powers of expression were limited at first. Case in point, one entry I remember writing with a passionate sense of injustice: “She [makes] good dishuns and bad disthuns and I think this is the wrers distisun she has ever made,”. ( I thought this was a dangerous observation at the time. That my mom could be wrong. Dangerous enough that I thought I had better lock my little diary and hide the key. Looking back, my spelling would have probably been more upsetting to her than my sentiment.)

*End Tangent *

As I grew, in my mind I was keeping a tally sheet of what my mom was doing. What worked (15 minute clean ups), what didn’t (hiding chocolate chips), and what was awesome (family popcorn time) or what was really bad (cream of turkey on toast).

 When my mom got pregnant with my oldest younger brother, I was nine. I started learning about the realities pregnancy, childbirth and the rules of babies. A few of my observations:

Pregnancy– You need someone to tie your shoes for you and you should drink a ton of water.  You also need to get a midwife and learn the Bradley Method.

 Childbirth–Labor is hard and scary and painful and messy. The birth is amazing.  

Babies–Babies can’t have honey until they are a year old. A nursing baby is about the sweetest thing you will ever see.  A baby will eat more bites of yucky veggies if you swap bites with sweet fruit. Always keep the basement door closed at all times.

I soaked it all in. I got a quick review of it all because  my mother became pregnant again when little brother number one was about 15 or 16 months old. (Enter little brother number two.) I was upset about this. This was not the plan. I had been told that little brother number one would be two years old before another sibling would be in the works. Turns out sometimes things don’t go according to plan, even for grown ups!

I played second mommy to my two little brothers for about four years.  It worked out fairly well until I started high school. By then they weren’t babies anymore and I was starting to become consumed with my internalized drama. I didn’t have the emotional maturity to parent them. We became siblings, almost enemies sometimes, not unlike my sister and I had been. Around that same time my sister and I started becoming friends, but I stopped being anyone’s mother. 

In my teen years I lost my temper and screamed at my brothers so many times. I begged God in tears over and over that I would stop losing my temper but it never worked. I developed a fear that I would grow up to be abusive, that if I had kids I would scream at them and maybe even hit them. I decided maybe being a mom wasn’t a good idea for someone like me. From about age  17 to 23 I was convinced I would never want kids. 

Then, when I was about 23, my friends started having babies. I knew I wasn’t ready yet but I knew that I wanted my own kids someday. I started imagining them. Meeting them, getting to know them, teaching them stuff. And watching, like my mother did, for their gifts and aptitudes to emerge so I could make sure to provide the best opportunities for them to develop. 

I had my mind set on my child raising methods. I would not forbid sugar or make sweets a big deal. (Maybe my children could escape my compulsion to empty every candy dish they came accross.) I would train them to obey when they were super little so that I would never need to yell at them or spank them and they would never be brats. My kids would go to public school so they could have normal childhoods and learn how to interact with their peers. I would make sure they read all the good books and heard all the good music. I would take so, so many pictures! I would let them get good and dirty playing outside in the mud. I would make sure they had a dog! When they got to be teenagers I would make our house the best place to be so I knew they were safe. I had a million plans. I also had pretty high expectations that my experiments would turn out well. (Are you laughing yet?)

In my mid to late twenties I worried off and on if my boyfriend/fiancé and I would even be able to have children. Our circumstances certainty lent themselves to putting off first marriage and then children. I married at 30 and finally around my 36th birthday I said to my husband, “Hey, if we are going to attempt to have kids then we had better get started trying,”. He (finally) agreed and I started gearing up. I cut out artificial sweetners from my diet.  I started taking detox baths. I changed to a blood pressure medication that was safer for pregnancy. I went off the hormone based birth control I had been using since I was 20 to give my body a chance to return to ovulation. I figured that would take several months or maybe even a year. I started trying to lose some weight to boost our chances and to give me a better shot at a healthy pregnancy. 

Two months after stopping the birth control I was pregnant. That wasn’t exactly the plan but I was thrilled. And terrified. I was diabetic. My medications were contraindicated for pregnancy  but so is high blood sugar! I stopped my meds and stopped eating simple carbs until I could get an insulin script and some clue of what I should eat. I stopped my anti-depressants as quickly as safely possible.

 I may have been expecting to be a mother most of my life, but now that I was actually expecting my real child I was freaking out. I was worried that my baby would be hurt. I had wanted to be off the medications before I got pregnant and I wasn’t. My sugars weren’t as low as they should have been to start trying to get pregnant. And believe me, trying is not what was happening at that point. In my expectation of struggling to get pregnant I forgot the old wisdom of “it only takes once”.

Along side my terror there was wonder and hope. It felt like God must have just been waiting for the first chance I gave Him to send me this child. That made me feel much better, remembering God was in control. But I also felt strongly that now it was up to me not to mess it up. So I did my best. I am not saying that casually.  I walked the line between perfect and insane.

In my mind there was no other choice. I was going to do everything possible to ensure the health and safety of my baby. I knew that if me messing this up harmed my child I could not live with that. Period. Thus followed a period of compliance like I have never dreamed. 

The Dietician said to eat only X carbs per day, divided like so. I did it and I wrote all it down. Every gram of carbs at every meal. Every sugar reading I took.  Every unit of insulin. Every day. EVERY DAY. Until after I gave birth. 

The Endocrinologist said inject this much insulin four times a day and poke yourself to check your sugar seven times a day. Write the result down every time. I did that too. I would set alarms at work to check and at home to wake myself up to check my sugar.

If they asked me to do it, I did. 

I did have a few places that I disagreed with the experts. I never ate a low fat diet. I just made sure the fats I ate were fabulous. (Lots of organic butter and extra virgin olive oil.) I ate more meat and eggs than reccomended. I didn’t have many cravings during my pregnancy but I did have a strong drive to eat red meat. 

I walked on my treadmill but I monitored my heart rate to make sure it didn’t go too high. I avoided possible sources of listeria. I avoided herbal tea, caffiene (except small does of dark chocolate), and MSG. I even avoided stevia. I cut out the essential oils that could possibly put the pregnancy at risk. I cut out hot showers and baths. I took Acetaminofen only once. I drank nothing but filtered or bottled water and plenty of it. 

I showed up for every appointment. GYN, Endocrinologist, Dietician, Health Coach, Specialist GYN, Ultrasounds, labwork, and Case Management Nurse phone calls. It was like having two full time jobs. But I knew I was doing everything I was supposed to to the very best of my ability and that made me feel really good. My doctors marveled at my compliance and my success. I took what was considered a high risk pregnancy and sailed through. My blood sugar levels were nearly perfect throughout the pregnancy and my blood pressures stayed very well controlled. My weight gain stayed right on track. If all you had to look at was numbers you would have never thought my pregnancy was high risk.

I didn’t have morning sickness. I barely had heartburn. My depression faded down to nothing and, though I had some serious worries, my anxiety never overwhelmed and paralyzed me like it did pre-pregnancy. In many ways I had an easy pregnancy experience. 

After I brought my son home, for several reasons, I was a mess. I was a mess like I had never been in my life and I was trying to care for my newborn plus trying to nurse, failing, then pumping and bottle feeding, followed by cleaning all the pump parts by hand (no dishwasher in my house). I repeated this process every three hours around the clock. My baby had jaundice and this three hour cycle was necessary. About day three I caved and weepingly sent my son (with a bottle) to my in-laws to stay so I could sleep a few hours. I was so guilt-riddled for doing this that I actually wasted some of my sleep time that first day crying about it. I felt like I was abandoning him and burdening them.

I could not figure out when to feed myself or shower. During the short period of time time out of every three hour shift when I could have laid him down and done something else, I could not stop baby gazing. All I wanted in life was to sit still and hold and love my baby.  I felt like all the other activities were stealing that from me.

I had trouble both asking for and accepting help.  I felt like I had already asked for too much help. A few examples of the help I was receiving: I had to be driven everywhere I needed to go; my mother-in-law drove me. I couldn’t carry the baby in his carseat when we got there; my mother-in-law toted him. From late afternoon until evening many days she and my father-in-law cared for my baby so I could sleep for a few hours together.  (I was too afraid to sleep unless someone else was awake and watching him.)  I also couldn’t carry my trash out to the road myself so my in-laws did that for me too.

In addition to that issue, when someone kindly offered me their help and asked me what to do, I was so overwhelmed that I couldn’t think clearly to tell them what to do to help me. I usually responded by staring into space while I tried to give them a task. On top of that I felt that I  could not ask for help with some of my tasks because they had to be done exactly as I did them and I could not trust anyone else to do it right. 

(Let me give you an example of my state of mind:  No one else could wash and dry the pump parts! They did it wrong. I let them try and the flanges and bottles were still greasy when I went to use them. I had to re-wash them and re-dry them before I could start pumping. They also didn’t know to remove the little vinyl flap pieces so I had to take those pieces apart to re-wash and dry those too. If I told them they needed to do it differently they wouldn’t understand. It is better to do it myself.) 

This type of thing, coupled by my inability to express exactly what I needed without sounding insane, effectively limited my sources of help in what they could do for me.  (I feel tired now just remembering my desparation.) Everything had to be done by me and quickly and NOW or I wouldn’t be ready for the next shift. 

So for a while I lived on bottled water and Kashi Granola bars. I was a pale, quavering, starving, germ-obsessed, crazy disaster. When my mom and dad came to meet the baby, they found me in that state. I think my mom might be traumatized for life from seeing me like that. (If you know anyone who just came home from the hospital after giving birth, please consider taking them food. I had plenty of meals stored up. But those first couple of weeks I couldn’t even manage to go to the freezer, get the food out, heat it up and eat it. I could barely manage to eat at all when I was alone with my baby and remembering to grab a granola bar on my way to nurse/pump  was a victory.)

I didn’t know anything about how to handle my situation. I couldn’t even think straight. All my preparation for Momming failed me. I didn’t lean on my parents, I fell on them like a piano dropped by the movers in an old cartoon. They caught me.  For a good while my mom held me up until I was strong enough to get through a whole day on my own again. 

Just as I was starting to feel like I could live, take care of my baby and care for myself half-way decently, it was time to return to work.

It was a brand new position for me and I was working with not a soul I knew. I was also leaving my first child for the first time for nine hours a day.  In addition to learning a new job I was navigating the trecherous waters of pumping at work for the first time. I was not ready for any of that, especially only six weeks after giving birth.

In all my planning I never took into account the physical reality of the post-partum period. Big mistake.  I didn’t account for having to work full time to support my family while also caring for my disabled spouse, my young infant, and myself while running a household. Sometimes you just can’t understand how hard things will really be until you get there. 

In spite of this we survived.  I may not have done it perfectly or even well,  but we all survived those crazy first five months. Since then, managing the tasks of daily life has become, well, more managable. 

Looking back I can see that I thought I was totally prepared to be a mother. Turned out I was wrong and the reality was not pretty. (I don’t think any woman gives birth for the first time and brings home her baby and finds that she was completely prepared.) 

Because God sent the help and love I needed just in time, I survived. I was able to heal and learn and grow strong again. In those post partum moments when things were so very difficult and my world looked so dark, I comforted myself by telling myself that I would never have another child. The only thing that made me feel better was to tell myself that I never would go through this again. 

But what I can also see looking back over my journey to motherhood is this: I had a plan but the Lord directed my steps to my goal. All the way He was faithful, even when finally getting what I dreamed of proved to be more than I could handle on my own. 

My original plan was kids. Plural. As in more than one. Right now the logistics of more than one seem really daunting. I am not sure what I will decide.

If I do ever choose to try to have another child, and if God blesses me with another one, I know a few things now that I didn’t last time. First, I know that the post partum period will not be as dark for me next time. Because now I know how it goes after childbirth. That period ends. It feels eternal but it gets better, a little bit every day. I know that I might lose sight of myself for a while but I will find myself again and be okay. Second, I know to arrange more help for the first four weeks. Much more help. Especially with having a newborn and a pre-existing child. Third, however things go, the Lord will be directing my steps. So I can relax a little bit. I would still do my absolute best, of course. Love for my new baby would demand nothing less. But I know I could relax my controlling, fear driven grip on things a bit and let God show me again that He is always good, loving, and faithful to me, His child.

Forgiving

And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.(Matt. 6:12) (KJV)

 I like to be informed and prepared. It eases my anxiey. It makes me feel safe.  So you might be able to imagine what someone like me might do with internet access during a first pregnancy. As I began my info-glut, it seemed everywhere I turned I found information indicating the value of a doula. 

My mother and my sister live over eight hours drive time away from me. My husband is a wonderful, loving and supportive man but he is disabled. Attending the birth was going to be challenging enough for him without acting as a labor coach.  I didn’t feel right asking my mother-in-law to take on the role (she is sweet and amazing and most likely would have said yes.)  My sister-in-law (my husband’s sister) is an RN but she also works full time and I had no way of knowing  what day I would go into labor. One of my college roommates was a practicing doula at the time and I would have hired her instantly but she lives about a 5 hour drive away. 

So….hiring a doula sounded like a perfect solution. I wanted someone to help me concentrate on my Bradley Method relaxation exercises. I wanted someone to help me use my essential oils. I wanted someone to help me through labor using drug alternative methods to deal with the pain. I wanted someone who would advocate for me and my wishes when I might not be able to do so. I also wanted someone who would stay with me even if I did decide to have an epidural or worse, had to have a c-section. These are all typical duties a good doula fulfills.

I spoke to my mother about my thoughts and she generously offered to pay the doula’s fee. (Our finances were tight. With a third person soon joining our household, I feared I wouldn’t be able to convince my husband that the expense was money well spent. He didn’t think natural childbirth was a good plan for me anyway.) I started hunting online for a doula. (Mistake numer one.)  I found several that sounded good and picked one to interview. 

The online description of her skills and experience sounded perfect. Her webiste looked beautiful. Her fee was extremely reasonable. She lived close enough to get to my local  hospital within an hour. She was at least a good place to start.

Her name was Terry and we met at a Panera for our interview.  She interviewed perfectly. I liked her right away. She said all the things a good doula should say. She claimed to share my faith. She had no problem continuing to support me if I chose an epidural. She was not afraid of standing up, respectfully, to a physician on my behalf. The stories she told me of her background and experiences were remarkable. I was sold. I stopped my search.

We made plans to meet again so I could give her the signed contact and her fee and discuss my birth plan in detail. I wanted to build a stronger relationship so I would feel absolutely comfortable having her by my side in the delivery room.

We met again at the same Panera a few weeks later. It was almost an hour drive from my house but she was very busy and had a client who was due to go into labor anytime in that city. It was a good meeting.  She assured me that she was lining up a back-up doula who would come to me if she was unable to do so (which would only be if she was seriously injured or ill). She told me that it was a little harder to find a back-up doula willing to drive the extra hour that would be needed if I had to deliver at the women’s hospital. (My baby’s heart might have a defect requiring me to deliver there, we were unsure at the time.) She even surprised me by telling me that she was wanting to start buying essential oils to use in her practice and she would like to buy them from me! (Not something I was aiming for at all, but great news!) I gave her the signed contract and her full fee in cash. I left our meeting on cloud nine.

Next time Terry was going to come meet with me near my home. She only had one client left to take care of and then only me.  (She was moving to Florida in August and I was due in July. I was going to be her last client before the move.) She was also going to bring her back-up doula along so I could meet her. 

But things started to change. My calls and texts went unanswered first for a day, and then for several days. When she did return my calls she was very sweet and always had a great excuse. She kept pushing back the date of our next meeting. She still hadn’t secured a back-up doula but that was okay. She would find one. She insisted that she would most definitely come herself anyway. 

Less than a week before my due date she cancelled our meeting yet again. She told me that a wind storm had  blown a tree down across her driveway and she couldn’t get her car out. She had called guys to remove the tree but they were very busy since there was so much damage down in the area. They surely would have it removed in a couple of days. She would call me to let me know when she could get out.

She didn’t call me.

 I went into labor the next day– about four days before I was scheduled to be induced. On the way to the women’s hospital I called Terry and left a message. I sent her a text message. She replied the tree had not yet been removed but the men had been working on it all morning and surely it would be done soon. I was to keep her posted.

We arrived at the hospital. My labor was confirmed. I was dilated to 4 centimeters. I texted her this information. That was the last time I texted with her that day. 

I was busy breathing and concentrating on relaxing. My mom started texting my doula for me and sending me updates.  Eventually even that became too much for me as my pain increased. By the grace of God my sister-in-law was able to come to me. She applied counter-pressure to the unbearable pain in my lower back during my contractions. 

I was wearing down. The pain was too much. I started crying and screaming during the contractions. I asked for the epidural. They have two anesthesiologists at that hospital at all times. Each of them were in one of the  operating rooms with a C-section. They could not come to me.  I felt like I was losing my mind. 

The nurses tried four or five times to get an IV started on me. I told them after the first failed attempt to try the crook of my elbow.  They didn’t listen. They sent for a different  nurse to try.  It didn’t work. They explained my elbow crook was a bad location for an IV  because every time I bent my arm it would cut off the flow of fluid. Finally, with my arm a bruised mess, they gave in and were able to place the IV successfully in the crook of my elbow. I didn’t really care at that point about my arm or the pain from trying to start an IV and failing. I was too busy trying not to lose myself completely to the pain in the rest of me. I just wanted them to get it in right so I could have my epidural.

Finally the beautiful, glorious anesthesiologist came in with his magic shiny needles and drugs. The nurses sat me upright. I had a massive contraction and warned them I was going to throw up. I didn’t–but that was when my water broke.  The contraction leveled off and the anesthesiologist did his work. Almost instantly the pain evaporated. I felt amazing. I loved everybody. Except my M.I.A. doula. 

I let my mom know I had gotten an epidural. She told me she had offered to pay for a rental car and a cab to pick my doula up so she could come to the hospital. Terry had refused the offer. As far as we knew she had still not left her house.

After the epidural took effect a nurse checked my dilation. I was at nine centimeters! If I hadn’t been so tired and so relieved that the pain had stopped I would have been livid. I had been in transition and nobody told me. I had been sooo close to giving birth without the drugs!

Of course, as is often the case, my labor stalled as soon as they started the epidural. I stayed at nine for an hour and then hit ten centimeters. Time to push! Except I had never pushed before and I couldn’t feel anything. The nurse told me when to push and I did try. I curled up and told my body to push. I was just getting the hang of it when the On-Call GYN and his resident came to see me. 

He expressed his disappointment in my progress. He had expected the baby to be crowing by now, but the baby had not even dropped into the birth canal. He told me he would come back in an hour and he threatened a C-section if I didn’t make a lot of progress. He gave the order to cut my epidural in half and started me on a pitocian drip. 

I hate to think what it would have been like if he had removed the epidural completely. I also like to think it would have been better without the “help” of the pitocian.  I am pretty convinced that I would have been able to push effectively without it because I could feel the contactions perfectly well. Too well for my taste.

In fact that’s all I could feel. I pushed and pushed and pushed. The baby’s head started to crown. They told me to stop pushing while they moved me to the OR to deliver. I did not obey them. I kept right on pushing. In between contractions I begged them to increase my epidural again. I screamed. I begged. I cried. I pushed. 

So there I was in the very brightly lit OR with at least ten people standing around just watching me as I begged and screamed and pushed.  The GYN and his Resident stood at the foot of my bed with their arms crossed watching. I wanted to kick them in their masked faces, especially the GYN. (Can you imagine screaming for help while everyone just stands around staring at you? I wish I could forget.) Finally I knew I was running out of strength. “Can’t you do SOMETHING to HELP me?!” I demanded, addressing the GYN. Yes. They could do an episiotomy. “Is he going to come out without one?”

 “No.”

No. They were standing there watching me knowing that my baby’s head was not going to exit my body without my body tearing or them cutting me. AND they hadn’t seen fit to share this information with me. 

“Then do it,” I said.

I don’t know what I sounded like in that moment. I felt more rage and more desparation and more helplessness than I ever had before. They waited until the next contraction and then took a pair of mayo scissors to my perineum. I felt the cutting. I am sure I screamed. 

One more push they said. One more push I provided and then he was out. 
They cut the cord instantly. They rushed the baby to the warmer to be checked. My former audience scrambled. They now had work to do. I was no longer the center of attention. 

The nurse who had helped me count to ten for my pushes and who had been holding my right hand left my side. That felt horrible, her leaving me. It was a cold reminder that we were not friends, she was just doing her job.

The baby cried. They called my husband over to meet him. Meanwhile the GYN had delivered the after birth and was starting to giving step-by-step instructions to his Resident on how to sew me back together. I felt every drive of the needle. They insisted that they had injected  me with lidocaine and they couldn’t give me any more. I cried out in pain. My legs shook violently and they told me to hold still. I couldn’t stop the shaking. My body was exausted and my nervous system was shot. 

A nurse brought me my son to hold. He was a nice distraction to say the least. Everything around me faded to the background including the pain of the stitching. All I could see was his little face, he was wrapped up tight and wearing and a hat. It felt like the warm little bundle in my arms was making everything okay…

I wanted to hold him forever, but he had to go to the NICU to have an echocardiogram. Our time was short. For me the repair work continued a while longer. 

I was still being repaired when the neonatal cardiologist came in to tell my baby’s heart looked fine. (God bless that sweet man, he could have easily sent someone else but he came in himself.) I shead some tears of relief and thanked him. The stitching was finally finished and I was rolled back to my labor room.

My hand-holding nurse catheterized me. (I only mention this because I didn’t feel it. So at least the the lidocaine or the epidural was good for that much.)  She turned off the epidural and disconnected my IV. 

My husband had left me to introduce his parents to the baby with my blessing. They couldn’t enter the NICU without him. The nurse left me also after her tasks were complete.  It seems weird to me to leave a person alone after such an experience but no one else seemed to think so. Nothing felt real. I stared out the window at the black night outside for a few minutes. I looked at the clock and called my workplace and gave a quick update. (I was a third shifter and I knew my people would be working and waiting to hear from me.)

The nurse came back to wheel me down to the NICU. The baby’s blood sugar was low and they wanted me to nurse him. I happily complied (with help) and soon got to meet and hold my son properly.

Terry never did arrive. Supposedly she had been thirty minutes away and turned around when my mother informed her that I had received an epidural. (If this is true she did that with the full knowledge that I still wanted her with me. She knew that from day one. I watched her writing it down.) But I don’t think she ever left her house. I don’t think there ever was a tree across her driveway. I don’t think she ever intended to lay eyes on me again after I handed her that envelope of cash. 

Terry, the so-called doula, called to “check on” me a few days after I got home. I could not speak about my birth experience with out breaking down. I told her about the post-traumatic flashback I had the day after delivery. She told me to get counseling. I told her I wanted half of her fee refunded to me. Our contract stated that half of the fee I paid would be refunded if the doula did not attend the birth. She informed me that her  lawyer told her that she was not obligated to refund anything. She also said that despite not being obligated she felt like she should give me something. She was going to think about it and would call back to let me know what she decided to do. Weeks passed. 

You can probably guess how that turned out.

I was too naive. She had never offered me a reference to call and I didn’t even bother to Google her. I trusted her blindly. 

Guess what you find when you do Google her?  She was at convicted thief. This information comes  complete with local news footage of her being escorted before a judge! She stole thousands of dollars from a youth hockey league that she was in charge of and got caught. She pled guilty. She was fined and given probation. 

Can you imagine? I had been played for a fool and lost my mother’s gift. I didn’t know there were people out there running doula swindles. It seemed too evil to imagine, that kind of coldness and intentional betrayal of a woman at her most vulnerable, so I did not do my research. I trusted a stranger and got burned. 

I could not tell anyone my birth experience for a long time without weeping. It had been the exact opposite of what I wanted. The Doctor was a jerk who was annoyed that my labor took too long for him to go home for his kids’ birthday. There was no one to champion my wishes or to remind me that I didn’t have let them pump me full of pitocian. Because my “doula” betrayed me,  I ended up with a third degree episiotomy. My son didn’t get any cord blood. (When I asked the doctor why he didn’t wait to cut the cord as I had requested, he informed me that there was no benefit for a full term infant. Which is untrue). 

I was traumatized. I was furious. And most of all I felt that Terry, the woman who masqueraded as a doula, owed me a debt. She had coldly taken my money, emotionally manipulated me and betrayed my trust. It was because of her that things went the way they did.  I did nothing to deserve it, other than being foolish enough to trust her. 

At first I used my anger to survive my pain. I blasted her name far and wide on social media. My mom considered suing but the transaction had taken place over state lines and Terry had probably already left for Florida. It was hopeless. 

After a  time, maybe eight months, the Holy Spirit whispered to me that I had to forgive this woman. I was shaken. I didn’t know how to do that. Usually when someone hurts me I find a way to believe they didn’t intend the harm they caused or that they could not help it or something like that. But what Terry had done to me? Intentionally taking advantage of me and betraying me? I could not understand. I couldn’t justify it. How could I forgive her? She was not even sorry.

I remember a story my mother read to me when I was young about Corrie Ten Boom. If you don’t know who she is you should look her up. After getting caught helping the Underground smuggle Jews to safety during World War II,she survived imprisonment in a series of nazi prison/death camps. After the war, she was approached by a man who had been a nazi guard during her imprisonment. He had been in the congregation to which she had just finished speaking. He came toward her to shake her hand. He was rejoicing in wonder at God’s forgiveness of his sins! Corrie was not feeling forgiving. Can you imagine the trauma that seeing him again must have triggered in her?  She felt strongly convicted that she was to forgive him. But she could not make herself do it. So she prayed for God to help her forgive him. She still couldn’t do it.  So Corrie asked Jesus to give her HIS forgiveness for this man. And it worked! God filled her heart with His forgiveness and love. She was able to shake his hand sincerely.  

I knew when you get that nudging inside that you need to forgive someone, and you can’t, you ask for help. As children of God we are commanded to forgive. We are commanded to love our enemies.  If we refuse to forgive those who hurt us we cannot receive God’s forgiveness. Our hearts slowly fill with bitterness and hate, they harden. Our souls get sick. What was just a wound becomes infected and begins to turn our souls septic.

I know that you don’t forgive a person because they deserve it. I know that I have done things that I certainly did not deserve forgiveness for. But God loves and forgives me anyway and I depend on this utterly. Who am I to accept such mercy and not extend it?

So I made a conscious choice to forgive Terry. I asked God to help me do it. I did not feel it. I consciously quit dwelling on my hurt and anger. I slowly quit wishing for her to suffer. I willed it and I and asked God for help. It felt hollow. It felt fake. 

But the Spirit in me started to stir my spirit from the moment I made my choice. I was made able to forgive myself for foolishly not checking Terry’s  backgound and not demanding refrences.  I was able to forgive myself for losing my mother’s gift of a doula. I quit beating myself up. My shame disappated. 

When I think of her now, and about what happened, I am able to stay calm. She isn’t hurting me anymore. I do feel concern that she will do to others what she got away with doing to me. I don’t know what else I can do about that. I guess I should lay that in God’s hands as well. But honestly I haven’t forgiven her yet– not completely. 

I thought I had until I was about half-way through writing this. It’s not over for me at this point, to say it is would be lying. But I also I know that I choose to obey. Sometimes that means walking in that obedience for a while. Or in other words, I choose to forgive her over and over. Reading Corrie’s story again also encouraged me. It reminded me that I can ask for more than help. 

I can ask for Jesus to give me HIS forgiveness and His love for Terry. Even though the thought of this made my insides quaver,  I did do it a few days ago. I took a few deep breaths and then I asked. “Jesus, please give me Your forgiveness for Terry.” I even said it out loud. 

I don’t know what happened in the spiritual realms when I did that, but I felt only the slightest of  changes in mine. I wasn’t miraculously  flooded with instant agape love for Terry. 

Honestly, I was a little relieved when that didn’t happen. I am sure my faith isn’t as strong as Corrie’s was at that point in her life so maybe I just need to walk in my new prayer for a while. I am determined to forgive her. I will not let this one small loss sicken my soul forever. 

I am feeling led to start praying for her. Luke 6:28 may be my answer. I’ll let you know.

Anchoring 

This hope is a strong and trustworthy anchor for our souls. It leads us through the curtain into God’s inner sanctuary.(Heb. 6:19)(NLT)

I want to tell you a story. I call it The Story of Ethan’s Heart.

I was born with a heart defect. Statistically any children I have are considered to have a higher risk of having a heart defect also. That is why the doctors wanted to do a fetal echocardiogram during my pregnancy. It seemed reasonable to me. It was considered a high risk pregnancy to begin with due to my age, weight, and preexisting type two diabetes and preexisting high blood pressure. I was very nervous and I did every single thing the doctors asked me to (and more) trying to give my baby his very best chance at a normal, healthy life.

The first specialist who conducted the fetal echo was mildly concerned. The blood was flowing a bit fast through the aorta of my baby’s heart. This can indicate a narrowing of the aorta. It was difficult to tell for sure. She wanted to have another more experienced specialist look at it again in a few weeks. She gave me strict orders not to worry about it yet. I agreed, but I could not help feeling some agitation and anxiety anyway.

In the worst case senario my baby would undergo a short surgery to correct a narrowed aorta a few days after birth and then go on to have a perfectly normal life with no restrictions. But that most likely wouldn’t happen so I pushed what seemed unlikely aside. It seemed fairly easy just to keep pushing the worry down and shoving the unwanted thoughts to the back of my mind. 

A few weeks later the day came for the next fetal echocardiogram. I went in fully expecting the situation to be resolved. I was depending on answers that would allow me to make my plans one way or another. I reclined as the specialist patiently tried to get the views of my baby’s heart that he wanted to see. The baby wiggled, contrary to being pushed on from the outside world. I watched the screens intensely, trying to see what the pediatric cardiologist was seeing, but it was futile. I recognized the heart pumping, the blood moving through the chambers. Parts of the the picture flashed back and forth between black and white and red or blue for what felt like an hour. I stayed silent, not wanting to distract the man from his work. 

Finally he turned off the equipment and the screens. He was silent for a few moments. Then he spoke about agitation and the velocity of the blood in the aorta. It was significantly higher than it should be. He drew me a picture and explained how when a baby is in the womb the oxigenated blood enters the baby’s heart from the plecenta through a special blood vessel called the ductus arteriosus. After the baby is born the lungs oxigenate the baby’s blood and the vessel closes. When that happens, if the baby has a narrowing of the aorta, the baby will die unless the issue is not corrected promptly by surgery. 

Ultimately, he still could not tell with certainty if the aorta was actually narrowed. We would not know until after the baby was born and they could get a better image. After birth, the baby would need to have a series of ultrasounds. One immediately and then two or more as the vessel closed. (The closing of the ductus arteriosus is a process which can happen very quickly after birth or may take up to 5 days.)

He told me that if the baby’s aorta was narrowed then the child would have to be transported by ambulance to the children’s hospital for surgery before the vessel closed.  He also told me that I would be left behind when my baby was transported, possibly for two or even three days.

“Unacceptable!” my heart screamed.  I refused to risk a 70 mile separation from my newborn.  I declared on the spot that I would deliver at the women’s hospital next to the children’s hospital. I didn’t pray. I didn’t discuss it with my husband. I called my doula and confirmed that she would drive the extra distance. I called my mom. I called my mother-in-law. Soon almost everyone knew the new plan.

When I got home I informed my husband of my decision. He assured me of his certainty that the baby would be fine and that nothing was wrong with his tiny heart. I didn’t have his certainty.  Not at all. I started focusing on mentally preparing myself for every eventuality I could imagine. In the past having a plan in place for every contingency has effectively eased my anxiety. Nothing feels as frightening when I can convince myself that I am prepared. 

I created a best case senario in my mind and began to hope for that. The baby would be born, they would do an ultrasound and the aorta would be fine. The ductus arteriosus would close and the turbulence would disappear. 

This worked for me… until I went for my tour of the women’s hospital birthing center. The tour was unremarkable. Seeing the NICU was unsettling but no more so than I  expected. After the tour I had my meeting the the neonatologist, and it stopped working. 

She seemed youngish, perhaps my age or younger, but she had a manner that portrayed her expertise. For one so young, she had some serious gravitas. She gave me the run down of what would happen. I would check in, labor would be confirmed and I would be admitted to a labor room. I would remain there until it was time to  deliver and then I would be transported to the OR. I might be able to bring my doula in to the OR, it would at the discretion of the gynecologist and the neonatologist on call. After delivery my baby would be taken immediately from me to be checked. If the baby was doing well I might be allowed to hold him for a minute and then he would be taken to the NICU to have an echocardiogram. Meanwhile I would then be transported back to a patient room.  If the baby was doing extremely well I might be permitted to try to nurse him. She warned me that typically with these type of defects it was difficult for the infant to coordinate nursing and breathing so breastfeeding wasn’t possible. If it was determined that my baby needed surgery he would be transported after three or four days to the children’s hospital for the surgical procedure and then transported back to the NICU where he would be for seven to ten days and possibly even as long as two weeks . If he did really well he might be able to be transferred from the NICU to the transitional nursery for the tail end of his stay. 

What I immediately took away from all this was that this expert fully expected what I had only thought of as a worst case senario to happen. When I questioned her as to the possibility of my best case senario she gently told me that it was extremely unlikely. I was dumbfounded. I went through the motions of thanking her and saying goodbye. 

On the way home my mind was racing. My hormonal body and my emotions fed off each other until I worked myself into a state of full blown freak out. I had to deliver in an OR. I might not be allowed to hold my baby—possibly for hours after giving birth. My newborn baby was going to be pumped full of antibiotics and anesthesia and they were going to cut a hole in his little back to fix his aorta. We were not going to be able to bring him home for two maybe three weeks…

About that time I started praying. I prayed for my baby’s aorta to be the correct size and for his heart to work perfectly. I prayed that the vessel would close in exactly the way it was supposed to and at the right time. I prayed for the amazement of the doctors and that God would be glorified.  I prayed that they would be calling me to the NICU immediately to nurse my healthy and hungry baby. 

And then I  remembered  that as this baby’s mother I had spiritual authority over him. My prayers changed. I prayed in the name of YESHUA the MESSIAH, SON OF THE LIVING GOD, THE GOD OF ABRAHAM, ISSAC AND JACOB. I prayed by my authority as his mother and as a daughter of THE MOST HIGH and I started commanding that little heart to be perfect. I quit begging and started praying with boldness. I did this every day, usually on my way to work. And every day my faith grew a little stronger until I was praying with total confidence that what I was asking for and speaking over my baby was already done. I was taking my hope in God’s word and dropping it like an anchor into the chaos and fear inside me. 

It felt irresponsible to change my plan to deliver at the women’s hospital. It probably wasn’t necessary but I didn’t see any harm in it. So I gave birth in an sterile operating room, surrounded by medical staff  who were gowned, masked and gloved. They wisked my baby away from me instantly. He soon rewarded them with a hearty wail. They could find nothing wrong. His APGAR score was nine. Both times. They wrapped him in  blankets and pulled a little hat down over his head. Then they put a 9 lb 3 oz burrito into my exausted arms. I held him. It’s blurry looking back. It seemed short. It was maybe three or four minutes. They told me the neonatal cardiologist had arrived and they had to take my son to the NICU. I instructed my baby to go show them his perfect heart and they took him. 

A short while later the neonatal cardiologist came into the OR to talk to me. He smiled widely as he told me that my son’s heart looked fine. If he had not been told otherwise he would say nothing was wrong. He would repeat the test in 48 hours to see how the heart was doing as the ductus arteriosus closed. I rejoiced as I thanked him. 

They took me back to my room and the nurse did her medical stuff. My husband left so he could escort my in-laws to the NICU to see the baby. The nurse left me. I called my workplace and gave them the stats and good news. I tried to rest, for about twenty minutes. The nurse came back in and asked if  I would please get in the wheelchair? My baby’s bloodsugar was dropping and they wanted me to nurse him right away. I smiled. You betcha.

Less than 48 hours later the neonatal cardiologist stopped by to tell me that the ductus arteriosus was totally  closed and the baby’s heart was fuctioning just fine.  “Already?” I exclaimed, shocked. He laughed and assured me, “Yes, already.” He asked me to bring my son back for a follow-up echocardiogram at six months. He also told me that as soon as the neonatologist on duty could sign the papers my son would be released from the NICU and brought to my room to stay to stay with me. 

I was stunned. I never thought to ask for things to turn out this well! My Heavenly Father did it for me anyway, over and above my request! The next day we went home. Not two or three weeks later…three days.

This is an important story for me. I have build an Ebenezer monument in my heart so that I will never forget how God came through for me when I believed His word enough to ask for something while fully expecting Him to give it to me.

 It’s scary to do that.  You risk looking like a fool and you risk getting your heart smashed by disappointment. It can look like a big risk. I decided I would rather trust God and have peace even if I looked like a fool in the end. I traded my fear and pride for peace and hope.  I had an anchor for my soul when my  outward circumstances didn’t look good. 

The six month check-up confirmed that Ethan’s heart was perfectly fine. No abnormalities, no restrictions, no need for more follow ups. The neonatal cardiologist told me to treat my son as if there had never been anything wrong with his heart. I laughed. No problem for me there, as I had been doing that since they released him from the NICU.

(Ethan at about 7 months)