Baby Girl

It’s been five months since we received the news that our newborn girl had a heart condition. At two weeks old she had a heart cath procedure and died on the operating table. I’m grateful that the doctors were able to shock her heart and get it going again. I am grateful God chose to send her back to us (although we had come to a place where if He had chosen to take her to be with the sister we’d returned to Him the year before, we would have still called Him just and true). I am grateful that I was able to curl around her in the hospital crib the night after her procedure and count every breath she took. I am grateful her oxygen levels stabilized and her tiny feet finally turned pink again. I am grateful that the procedure and events leading up to it did not end our nursing relationship.

I am also in a recurring war with anxiety. The “why” questions still come on gray nights; they usually precede the “what if” questions that invite me to examine my pregnancy and try to pinpoint what I did wrong to harm my child. The pessimist disguised as realism likes to pop up and remind me that Baby Girl’s diagnosis was a congenital defect that would require invasive surgery down the road. Realism and faith do not make good companions.

How like God to use a seven pound baby to confront the deep rooted fear of being happy in my life. Everyday is now a Mount Moriah opportunity to trust Him. My emotions try to carve out the groove of, “How will we be able to afford doctor check ups all of her life? Will she be able to be active? Will she have to have a transplant one day? God, I can’t do this!” His Spirit responds, “Didn’t I tell you not to worry about tomorrow? Didn’t I tell you My soul does not delight in the one who draws back from confidence in Me? Didn’t I say ‘Do not fear for I am with you’? Keep your heart clean and I will come to you.”

There’s no faking faith. I look down into bottomless blue-grey eyes trusting me to “fix” all that she faces and realize that I am her model of faith. If I worry, she will worry. My responsibility is to give her the most peace-filled, happy childhood I can give her. That means I have to come into a place of Sabbath rest in the love of God, being confident that my circumstances are not a reflection of His love for me.

We have another doctor visit in a few weeks. If all goes well, we shouldn’t have to go back until the end of the year. If you look at our daughter, she’s thriving; she’s just beginning to sit up unassisted, she thinks she should be walking by now, and if you do not watch carefully enough she will snatch food or drink from you and pull it to her mouth. I am asking God to give us a creative miracle in her heart by growing a third leaflet in her aortic valve (making it a tricuspid valve instead of a bicuspid one); but I am also thanking Him for rosy cheeks and chubby legs on a little girl who loves to laugh, play, and cuddle. Most of all, I am declaring to my stubborn, mistrustful soul that He is good, that He is involved, that He loves. It is well.

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Grace Speech or Hate Speech?

Like many, my eyes have been on the Mississippi primary election runoff this week, and the fallout that has come from it.  While others who are wiser and better-read than am I are deliberating legalities, the question I have continued to ask is, “God, what is Your say in all that is happening?”  The Scripture that continues to return to me is Matthew 12:36-37, in which Jesus says, “on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak.”  The word “careless” here can also translate idle or barren.  

In the barrage of words that take place in the realm of politics, we so easily get caught up in vilifying a person with an opposing view.  We toss profanity and venomous name-calling into hate-laced diatribes and lob them like grenades from the safe foxholes of our online personas.  It is no longer enough to dissect ideologies; rather we dissect people created in the image of God and condemn them to hell for daring to disagree with us.  We are the epitome of salt and fresh water coming from the same stream about which James warned. 

Even worse, we glory in judgement.  We exult in the thought of, “someday they’ll get what’s coming to them” without stopping to shudder over the reality of the wrath of God.  We spew out sentiments like, “God hates liberals/homosexuals/abortion-providers/ad naseum” and conveniently ignore that God hates gossip, envy, divorce, and dishonest scales.  

I would venture to say that to condemn sin without tears running down our cheeks is to miss the compassion of God.  If we judge others without a holy dread falling on us, we have no right to wield the authority we are trying to claim. 

While people become increasingly disillusioned with our political leaders and the direction of our country, Christians are strategically placed to have an ear open to the heart of God and speak hope to those who are looking for someone to believe.  No one who trusts in Him will ever be put to shame. However, if we get caught in the tail-spin circle of angry diatribes against those with whom we disagree, we block ourselves from hearing Him and from reaching anybody.  We must bridle our tongues and remember the premium God places on saving a human soul from hell before we decide whether it’s worth it to defend ourselves.

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What if?

What if our pastors so caught the vision for a united Bride that a mandate for church membership required monthly attendance at another fellowship? What if we cared less about relevance and more about the simple gospel and sound doctrine? What if we spent less time talking about our latest “download” (as if God were some great, cosmic Internet server) and more time doing the work of making disciples? What if we were so honest about our lack of God in our services that we sat in silence until He manifested Himself instead of pursuing emotionalism? What if we made sacrifices like opting to sell our church seats and sit on the floor if we couldn’t meet our missions goal any other way? What if we became so hungry for God’s presence that we didn’t let the threat of bad weather keep us from being faithful to our house of worship?

What if we did away with the office of the “catcher” during altar services and trusted that a God powerful enough to knock a person to the ground is powerful enough to keep them from injury? What if we stopped trying to reach a generation of jaded youth with game stations and ice breakers? What if we prayed more and talked less at prayer meetings? What if we stopped making excuses for our lack of prayer?

What if we went so deep into the creativity of God that we stopped trying to “Christianize” the latest trend (“Survivor”-themed youth groups, “Hunger Games” conferences, and “twerkers for Jesus”)? What if we stopped lying about little things (“I’ll be there in a minute,” “you scared me to death,” “you’re driving me crazy”) and realized how much weight our words actually carry? What if we stopped waiting for disciples to come to our buildings to be disciples and actively pursued discipleship? What if we stopped trying to mimic what “successful” churches are doing and started listening to what the Holy Spirit wanted from our fellowships?

What if we focused less on “my destiny” and more on “my servanthood?” What if we cared less about getting from God and latched on the joy of being used to meet another’s need? What if we looked at the testimonies of Pastor Sayeed and Meriam Ishag and stopped claiming persecution while we sit in our comfortable suburban homes with the air conditioners running? What if we got serious about the condition of our own hearts, used Christ as the standard of perfection, and stopped comparing ourselves to other Christians? What if we quit making Jesus a competition instead of a relationship? What if we recognized what Scripture defines as blessed looks very different than what our consumeristic religious experience thinks?

What if we labeled sin for what it was instead of being afraid of being politically incorrect? What if we started coming down as hard on divorce and adultery in the church as we do on homosexuality? What if we actually cared enough about the slaughter of the unborn to get involved? What if we were so serious about purity that we didn’t take the soft-pornography that has become prime time television lightly? Has it really become okay that Christians support reality shows that follow an unmarried couple into a hotel suite before they sleep together (I have an entire rant about “The Bachelor” and subsequent spin-off for another day)?

If we are so desperate to see the Church walk in the fullness of Mark 16:17-18, are we willing to do the work to get there? Read the Word, memorize the Word, preach the Word, live the Word.

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There are many kinds of mothers.

Here’s to the ones who smilingly dandle nieces and nephews while their trash cans hide the heartbreak of yet another negative pregnancy test. Heres’s to the ones who carried and released a child they will not know until eternity. Here’s to the ones placing their Mother’s Day bouquets on tombstones and dropping priceless tears on fading photo albums.

Here’s to the ones baptized in self-sacrificing love as they nestle the foster children they’ve cherished into someone else’s arms. Here’s to the ones crossing oceans, time zones, zip codes, or just streets to give a child a home. Here’s to the empty-nesters pouring out their lives in church nurseries, the Annas whose widowhood bore an inheritance in the place of intercession.

Here’s to the rocking-chair inhabitants in NICUs thanking God for every labored breath. Here’s to the nurses monitoring ragged breathing and fluctuating heartbeats in the blue-black of 2:17 A.M. Here’s to the teachers living in empty apartments and hoping for their “someday.” Here’s to the caseworkers, the police officers, the attorneys who close their office doors, crawl under their desks, and cry over what they’ve seen. These are mothers in heart and mothers in soul.

Here’s to the waiting ones kneeling by empty little beds and praying for abductors to have a change of heart. Here’s to the kind of love that never gives up on prodigals.

And yes, here’s to the ones in bathrobes with unwashed hair, picking up the same toy for the fifth time; digging through the assortment of rubber bands, plastic beads, coupons, and unread mail that inevitably collects on the kitchen table; forgetting to eat lunch while toddler chasing; wondering if sleep schedules and potty training will ever coincide. While we learn each day the balance of priorities, may we never forget the women who would give everything to take our place.

Happy Mothers’ Day

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The Greatest Gift

“The crucible of motherhood.”

Even as I wrote it in text form to a dear friend this week, I felt long-absent inspiration to write hit.  Even as the inspiration hit, I felt the tension to which I was referring in the text.  Do I write or do I sweep my floors while the toddler is occupied and the baby is in the swing?  If both kids are napping, do I snatch a nap too or catch up on the never-ending stacks of laundry?  Do I stress that my house has hit an F-6 on the toddler scale of chaos, or do I jump at the opportunity to have a girlfriend come over and give me grown-up talk?

I clearly remember one night not too long ago when I was sobbing on my hands and knees collecting the shards of a tall, clear vase I had filled with glass beads and artificial flowers.  The vase and flower combination was at least four feet tall altogether, heavy, and not toddler-appropriate at all.  In retrospect, I probably should have given it away or stored it out of sight until all residents in my house were at least as tall as it was.  But I didn’t.  I proudly installed it on a corner table in prime position for a tiny foot accidentally to hurl it to the ground in a quest to scale the chasm between couch and love seat.  Toddler and husband both watched in horrified silence as snot and tears soaked my face and weird little squeaks split the silence.  Mama was in hysterics, and it was quite the sight to behold.

Today I can look back on that night at laugh; but at that moment my broken vase symbolized the shambles of the perfect, ordered life I’d envisioned, joining the ranks of the cracked French door pane too late understood to be an inappropriate medium for drumming, and the missing screen on the window that the dog chose to jump through on a quest for a squirrel.  I remember squinting up at JD and whining, “I just feel like I’m not allowed to have anything nice.”

While I write today, I hear the happy giggles of my toddler chasing the dog in the back yard and the contented coos of my baby in her swing.  It’s funny how your perspective of “nice” changes.  I have things to do, but I choose to embrace this quiet moment of concentrated peace.  Tomorrow, I will probably choose to stress over the vacuuming I need to do.  This is the crucible of motherhood, where we live moment-to-moment, where we learn perfected love and to how to prioritize.  This is the place where we make those daily decisions to ignore the imperfections, kiss the boo-boos, and give the stack of half-finished books a cursory glance and half-sigh on our way to make smiley-faced pancakes.  Somewhere between scrubbing washable marker out of the couch and mopping bath water off the floor we find a place of communion with the dancing, laughing Jesus who took children on His knee at the height of His ministry.  Somewhere in the nibbling of leftover cheese-sandwich crusts and half-eaten apples, we find grace to fast that we did not have in our days of excess.  Somewhere in building forts out of the couch cushions the toddler insists belong on the floor we learn to meditate on His stronghold.  And always, in those 3:11 mornings when we are changing wet sheets–the by-product of a diaper explosion–and soothing away bad dreams, He’s there whispering, “My grace is sufficient.  Keep going.  You’re ministering to Me with every selfless act to the least of these.”

The greatest gift is a portion of thyself. ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

And now the baby is crying and the toddler is asking for his lunch.  Blessings, friends. :)


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