Held by the Man of Sorrows

It was an October morning when, JT and I received the tragic news that our daughter had no heartbeat. The trauma of giving birth to death lay around the corner and there was just no way to outrun it. A lot of people have told me they cannot imagine what it must be like to endure such a thing. Some of you already know. For those of you who don’t, I’m going to invite you into a broken scene so that you may better know the heart of Jesus.

 

Friday morning when JT and I arrived at St. John’s Medical Center to deliver the remains of our baby girl, it was too cold, too dark, and too early. JT teases me that our babies never arrive at convenient times of the day and our darling daughter, Carmen Sawyer, didn’t miss this tradition. I checked in and sat down in a fog to just wait on more misery. At 6 AM, my name was called. We started the long walk down the hall and a flood of heaving tears swept over me. One foot in front of the other. It was cold and unnatural. All the exchanges were clinical and abrupt. It felt like no one wanted to be there. I cried while they worked. I cried while my trembling hand signed a paper to have her remains returned to us for burial. Tears of agonizing sorrow.

The nursing staff repeatedly asked if I wanted to take something to make this easier. I continued saying no. I felt frustrated that I was not being heard. I did my best to explain that I didn’t want to be numb. She was still confused and said that would happen later in the operating room. I helped her understand that I didn’t want my emotions numb. I want to be all here. Let the suffering crush me. This is my pain to endure – don’t take the edge off. And you know what? From that moment on, the care I received transformed from clinical to compassionate. The atmosphere changed.(1) I had given them a wide open window to love me the way most of them, probably, wish they could love every patient.

We were showered with prayers and confessions of their own sufferings. My obstetrician came in and gave us blessed quiet. He reached over to me and took my hand in his and just sat beside us in the sorrow. No questions to answer. No hurry to be in. Another nurse came in and held her face close to mine and whispered hope through my tears. The anesthesiologist came in to pray and confessed that he had also lost two babies. Staff that was not involved in the delivery started coming in to give us courage, hope, and shared sorrow. I have never seen anything like it before.

But you know who stood out more than anyone? It was JT. He was the light of Jesus as he became a very present help in time of trouble. He cried with me, he held me, he grieved with me, he prayed with me. He gave me courage when mine was all gone. Always there, until he couldn’t be.

The delivery was imminent. I desperately pleaded through my sobs for JT to be permitted into the operating room but to no avail. I had to go by myself. “You can never learn that Christ is all you need, until Christ is all you have.”(2) When they rolled me down the hall to the OR of Doom, I felt panic. I questioned the wisdom of my decision to feel this much pain. It was far worse than I expected. I almost ran for it. I looked over at the table upon which the sacred would be torn from my womb and my cries bellowed from the depths of sorrow. Fear was all over me. A nurse wrapped me in her arms while I screamed in denial and tried to get as far away from that table as possible. I didn’t want to be so scared but I was. The anesthesiologist leaned close and respectfully asked my permission before medicating me for the surgical delivery.

I fell asleep crying and I woke up crying and muttering “My baby is gone. My baby is gone.” I felt abandoned by Jesus. I asked the Man of Sorrows, “Jesus, where were You?(3) I was so scared.” He answered my prayer, “I was there. You just didn’t see me. I was already on the operating table waiting to hold you.”

Did you know you can do that? You can let the Holy Spirit walk you back into traumatic parts of your life and ask Jesus, “Will you show me where You were then?” And He will. Because He promises never to leave you nor forsake you.(4) He is there in your story too. Maybe you just can’t see Him, yet.

Notes
1. Brown, C., Brock, M., Ntlele, M., Furtick, S., Joye, W. Here as in Heaven. 2016.
2. Ten Boom, Corrie.
3. Isaiah 53:3, The Holy Bible, English Standard Version.
4. Deuteronomy 31:6, The Holy Bible. New International Version.

Drip, drip, drip

“A quarrelsome wife is as annoying as constant dripping.”1 – King Solomon

I became a mother in May of 2008. One of the most unexpected things that came along with motherhood was a grimacing realization that I loved my kids a lot more than I loved my husband. I kept ignoring it or justifying it. My babies felt like my breath, my life. It was effortless, unconditional mama love. It didn’t matter what my kids did, I still loved them. It did matter what JT did. With more effort than I cared to give, I un-loved him conditionally and with expectations.

I didn’t have the courage to confess this unbecoming sin until a year ago. Confession is powerful and healing. We shared an unhappy 13th anniversary. Most of our anniversaries, historically, have been conflicted. I was hanging onto an ideal of marriage by a thread clenched between my gritted teeth. I saw a piece of décor that said, “All of me loves all of you.” Inside my head, I cynically laughed and hopelessly sobbed – at one time. My heart was both rigid and broken. Sadly, that painted wood decor should have read, “Most of me is critical of most of you.”

Determined to Love him, I set about to tuck myself away in order to war for my marriage. I prayed. I cried a lot. I hoped even more. I lived and breathed prayer for me, for him, for us. It was in these months when My Savior became my only confidant. I spoke very little to JT, because I realized the majority of my words to him were criticisms, judgments, or nagging. I had become his self-appointed, angry therapist knowing what was best for him. His very own unholy spirit to criticize his every move.

For six months I had one prayer. “O Father, may I see JT the way you see him?”

One beautiful day in May of 2017, Our Father saw fit to give me a glimpse of what He sees in JT. The gift of perspective was finally mine to open, to see and to Love. That holy glimpse earthquaked through my heart and subsequently, our marriage.

These last months have been a grueling battle between Love and my pride. But it’s worth it. The constant dripping of my criticism has turned into a fountain of my prayers. My savior complex has been crushed and so has the anxiety and controlling behavior that goes hand-in-ugly-hand with this complex. It’s not my job to be him or to teach him how to be himself. Or perhaps, most accurately, it’s not my job to manipulate him into the version of him, I think, he should be. I no longer take credit for his excellence or shame for his demise. I have been set free to simply Love him. And I do.

This last year between anniversaries has affectionately been dubbed “the shit-kicker of for worse.” We’ve buried our two youngest babies, we press on in the gauntlet of grief, we’ve fought hard, we’ve confessed sins and Truth, and we’ve sucker punched each other with judgement. We’ve rallied instead of dividing. We have chosen to walk together toward freedom in Truth. In so doing, the conditions and expectations that I so fiercely held him to, have also Jericho-wall-crumbled. JT is free to simply Love me. And he does.

We were talking recently about what most defined this last year and we decided on grief. My idol of the idyllic life died when we buried two children, in one year.2 The wave of grief that washed over our marriage felt like it would surely drown us, but as it turns out, it has been cleansing us.

The conditional un-love that held our high maintenance marriage in bondage has been transformed into a gentle, contented and truthful Love.  After surrendering my heavy, heavy chains of expectations, the Holy Spirit has replaced that burden with a carefree, mesmerized, adoring Love for my husband.

I see JT and yet I still Love him. The El Roi kind of Love.3 For the first time, my heart sings to his: All of me, Loves all of you.

Notes
1. Proverbs 19:13, The Holy Bible, New Living Translation.
2. Guthrie, N. (2005). The One Year Book of Hope. Carol Stream: Tyndale House.
3. Genesis 16:13, The Holy Bible, New International Version.

Unmistakable Shift

I’ve been a church-girl my whole life and I had developed a well-behaved and tidy lifestyle.  I followed all the rules – led small groups, led worship, tithed, went on mission trips, read my Bible, said my meaningless prayers, and dutifully made meals for those grieving loss and those birthing life. I genuinely thought I was a Christian. I was critically mistaken. I made a serious error by anchoring to Christians, churches, leaders or ideas. I fought my way through life with a smile on my exhausted face. My heart was hardened by pain and pride.  Even though I wanted to, I could not find any reason to believe in God.  I began to see myself for the sham that I was. I didn’t come face-to-face with Jesus until September 2, 2016.  My christian face and my atheist heart collided and it was not a pretty scene. In a puddle of my angry tears and naked hypocrisy, I collapsed into the loving arms of My Savior.  “Something broke inside of me; something hard and rigid melted.”1 An unmistakable shift occurred.   My prayers were ferocious, indecent, and roaring – it all came spilling out. “Weeping and joyful at the same time the Savior is rocking me in his bosom, and I opened up to the feeling – and it washed over me.”2  I am no longer haunted by church-girl doubts about which moment Jesus became mine. There’s no part of my life that Jesus is not transforming and I cannot answer the question ‘what has Jesus done for you’ in past tense only.  He is timelessly redeeming my past, my present and my future. Worshiping God Almighty, instead of indulging the goddess in me, proves to be a shattering and a healing experience.

 

He replaces my self-hatred with Heaven’s eyes,

my depression with His joy, my rage with his tenderness,

my shame with His dignity, my anxiety with His stillness,

my pain and guilt with His freedom, my perversion with his purity,

my hypocrisy with his holiness, my expectations with His unconditional love,

my unforgiveness with His mercy, my tormented mind with His peace,

my unbelief with His faith, my obsessive fear with His power,

my distrust with His protection,  my heavy grief with His song,

my disgrace with His worthiness,  and my pride with His worship.

 

 

“And here in dust and dirt, O here, the lilies of His love appear.”3

 

The Holy Spirit is both uprooting the Enemy’s lies and renewing my mind with His Truth that sets me free. In my experience, the truth is uncomfortable, miserable, and painful – for a while.  But the Lord promises that it is good for those who wait patiently for Him.  “I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in His Word I put my hope.”4 What felt like my world being turned upside down was in truth the exact opposite.  Jesus is setting my mind, my will, my emotions, my marriage, my motherhood, my family, my everything right side up with Truth. The miracles in my life are becoming like the stars – too many to count. For the last 10 months since I met Jesus, I’ve been getting to know the me that God designed me to be all along but that my sin and pain had muted, hardened, and distorted. “The sharpness […] and quarrelsome seems to have been washed away and the courage and kindness which I have always had are easier to see.”5 I have and continue to confess to Our Father all my pride – both the pitiful versions like my shame and depression and the arrogant versions like my controlling, critical, and demanding behavior.  He keeps gently shining light on sin and His voice whispers, I have more freedom for you. “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.”6

Jesus my Redeemer, “I think about the years I spent just passing through.  I’d like to have the time I lost and give it back to you.  But you just smile and take my hand.  You [were] there, you understand. It’s all part of a grander plan that is coming true. I couldn’t see how every sign pointed straight to you – pointing me on my way into your loving arms. God bless the broken road that led me straight to You.”7

I am awake, alive and anchored to Our Father in Heaven.  I am a free girl, a daughter of Heaven, a lioness of prayer, and a warrior for truth and freedom in Christ. I am overcome by “how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ and knowing this love that surpasses knowledge –  so that I may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.”8

 

Notes

  1. Caine, C. (2016). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.
  2. Lamott, A. (1999). Traveling Mercies. Thorndike Press.
  3. Vaughan, H. (1621-1695). The Revival.
  4. Psalm 130:5, The Holy Bible, New International Version.
  5. Lewis, C.S. (1955). The Magician’s Nephew. Harper Collins. Personalization added.
  6. Mark 5:34, The Holy Bible, New International Version.
  7. Hanna, J., Hummon, M., Boyd, R. (1994). Bless the Broken Road.
  8. Ephesians 3:18-19. The Holy Bible, New International Version. Personalization added.

 

A Holy Miscarriage

When you were too small to tell me hello,

 I knew you were someone I wanted to know.1

I woke up scared, breathing hard and my heart pounding. JT had woken me with a cup of coffee to start my day and he asked what was wrong.  I told him that I had just had the most horrible dream. I saw it – the death of our child.  My deepest fear.  I shook it off and told myself, “It’s just a dream.”  But it wasn’t.  Not this time.

Later that same day, I started bleeding.  I passed it off as nothing to be concerned about, but I knew.  I knew it wasn’t okay.  I didn’t want to be honest.  I didn’t want to admit my lot.  My heart began to ache with the cruel reality of loss.

That night as I lay in bed restless and fearful of the future, I heard the gentle voice of Our Father God.

Trust me and Rest.

I got up early to be still.  In response to God’s voice the night before I told Him, “I’m doing my best.  I want to trust you more.  I choose to rest in your sovereignty because there is nothing I can do to control my pregnancy.  My heart aches knowing what might be happening.  But then I choose to trust and rest and not let anxiety have a foothold.”

I kept waffling back and forth between denial and surrender. I scheduled a late afternoon appointment with my doctor.  I had planned to take all of our kids and meet JT there. I hoped Netflix would keep them distracted.  While at the school bus pick up, I was honest with my friend, Laura.  She didn’t hesitate and promptly buckled my 3 oldest kids into her car so I could go to the appointment with just my unborn child.  JT was already waiting when I arrived.  The nurse handed him a box of tissues and said, “You’re in charge of these.”  He said he knew it was over.

That night we told Kathleen, Simon and JoAnn that their littlest sibling was going to die soon.  We cried.  We prayed.  We trusted God the best we could.  I crawled into bed with uncontrollable shivering.  I felt the darkness of death so near.  The Valley of the Shadow of Death.  Exhausted, I fell asleep.  Less than an hour later, I startled wide awake with a single pound to my womb that reverberated within my body, soul and spirit.  I heard His voice again, gentle and final.

It is finished.

I knew my baby had just died.  I felt the crushing darkness and chill of death in my own body, yet not my own death. It was finished for our baby on January 10, 2017 at 11:02 PM.  My spirit broke in a posture of surrender.

The next day was a heavy fog.  At breakfast, I didn’t have the courage to tell JT that our baby had died in my womb the night before.  He called me from work and it all came spilling out in my heaving sobs.  He ended the call too quickly and said he had to be somewhere.  I didn’t understand why it couldn’t wait but I was too sad to be offended. No less than 7 minutes later he walked through the front door and scooped me up from my heap and held me close.  In the stillness we named our unborn baby, Emerson Lee Brady.

Our Father whispered ever so quietly to me.

Your womb is holy.

Out of reverence, I chose to fast from food.  I wanted my head to be clear and my spirit to be still during the delivery.  The most effective way I know to do this is fasting.

~

I was brimming with angry whys.  Page after page in my prayer journal I unashamedly wrestled with God.  I wanted to reconcile the goodness of God that I know to be true from my own rescued and redeemed heart to this deep, deep loss of the death of my child.  After hours of desperate prayer and demanding answers, I heard his voice. This time gentle and authoritative.

You cannot see what I see.  You do not know what I know.

Humbled and feeling short-sighted, I asked “Where are you in all of this?”

I AM here.  I AM here. I am in your womb.

He gave me a vision of the Holy Spirit hovering and moving over the darkness of death in my womb and the remains of my beloved child.  Genesis 1:2, “Now the earth [my womb] was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.”2

~

The next evening was the lowest and darkest moment of my life.  I was having contractions and other sensations that I have only ever felt during labor and delivery. I heard my mama’s words encouraging me as she had with each of my labors to surrender and not fight.  Fighting only makes it more difficult, more painful, more fearful.  I lay beside the light of the fireplace on a bed of blankets and surrendered myself to this labor and the harsh reality that I would soon give birth to death.

And I did; the next morning.  JT cradled me in his arms as I delivered the remains of our baby in the bathroom. I tenderly placed our baby’s remains piece by piece in a tiny box lined with my favorite t-shirt. I was weeping bitterly.  Shaking and angry I said, “This was not God’s design.”  No mother should ever have to pick up the pieces of her child’s body.  My heart was shattered, cavernous, echoing, aching.  Grievously wounded.

I had been violated.  I had been robbed.  I had been cheated.  I had been used. And I knew by whom.

Long before JT and I endured this deep loss, Satan – The Enemy – introduced pride to humanity and we, as a collective whole, have fallen fast and hard.  Gullible. Naïve.  Fooled. The Enemy successfully tempted the original humanity and in doing so, naturalized the invasive species of sin, pain, disease, evil, decay and death into God’s beautiful Creation. Genesis 3:14-15 “The Lord God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this, you will be punished.  From now on, you and the woman will be enemies, and your offspring and her offspring will be enemies.  He will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.”3

“The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist.”4

We indignantly blame God for all the injustice and evil within humanity and all the while unwittingly disavow the original Enemy who prowls for prey to steal, kill and destroy.  John 10:10, I Peter 5:8.  It is a pivotal confusion because there is no darkness in God. None. I John 1:8.   In the greatest antithesis of all time, God turned the Enemy’s most powerful weapon of death on its head through the death and resurrection of Jesus.  Jesus conquered death when he died as humanity’s Savior, Rescuer, and Redeemer. 2 Timothy 1:10, Revelation 1:18, Revelation 12:10-15.

Jesus disarmed the Enemy’s ace, so that physical death is nothing more than a cruel lie. The only thing the Enemy has remaining is a quiver full of core lies that he custom maligns for brutalizing the spirit of each person. I allow the Enemy a win, only when I swallow his lies that destroy my heart with my own pride, bitterness, self-pity, unforgiveness, and judgment. “It is a danger which, they like myself, have long been unaware.”5  He is manipulative, supremely deceptive, subtle, relentless, and cruel. He brings his A-game every day. Be mindfully aware but do not be afraid. He has no ace up his sleeve. He is a liar and the father of lies. John 8:44.

The Enemy’s Lie says blame God for all this death, disease and pain. God’s Redemption says I have come to give you abundant life. John 10:10

The Enemy’s Lie says fear and anxiety are inevitable.  God’s Redemption says Trust me and Rest.

The Enemy’s Lie says death is final.  God’s Redemption says Just not yet. Revelation 21:4,

The Enemy’s Lie says my womb is not good enough.  God’s Redemption says Your womb is holy.

The Enemy’s Lie of shame says our baby was not real and was too small to count.  God’s Redemption says Do not call anything impure that I’ve made. Acts 10:15

The Enemy’s Lie of coping says live in numbness and denial so it doesn’t hurt.  God’s Redemption says I cradle you in my arms and I will take away your pain. Isaiah 40:11 and Revelation 21:3-4

The Enemy’s Lie says the sorrow, pain and grief will suffocate me.  God’s Redemption says You will not be consumed.  Isaiah 43:2

The Enemy’s Lie says I’ve been abandoned.  God’s Redemption says I AM here. Deuteronomy 31:8

The Enemy’s Lie says obsess over your lost child.  God’s Redemption says I AM the only One who completes you. Philippians 1:6, Exodus 20:4

The Enemy’s Lie says to push away my husband and his love. God’s Redemption says My darling, come away with me. Song of Solomon 2:10

The Enemy’s Lie says I should be over this by now.  God’s Redemption says Be still and rest beside my quiet waters. Psalm 23:2

~

Friday was a day of promise and clarity and peace.

You were meant to have your child.

You will have all of those things you long for with Emerson.  Just not yet.

And so I will not say, “I will never have this or that with Emerson.”  I will instead cling to God’s promise of hope and redemption and instead say, just not yet. A lifetime is not too long to wait patiently for the fulfillment of God’s promise to have and hold my Emerson.  Make no mistake, no other baby-to-come can redeem the loss of another.  Redemption comes only and ever from My Savior.

~ From my journal on January 13, 2017~

It’s less than an hour before Emerson’s end-of-life infant dedication and funeral at the church.  I can hardly believe that it is time to prepare for my child’s funeral.  My baby’s funeral.  My Emerson’s funeral.  Even in the midst of all this pain, I will stand and praise Jesus for the gift of Emerson Lee.  My heart will one day be fulfilled as Emerson’s mama. Just not yet.  I am dressed in cream and lace and pearls because every child of mine will be blessed in a beautiful christening outfit. My heart has been pounding for the last hour.  In God’s perfect timing, closure to my pregnancy and Emerson’s connection to life on earth is coming together in harmony.  The end is near.  I can feel it.  Death is being released from my body.  Stand down Satan.  I have heard you and felt you mocking me today.  You are a defeated foe.  The battle is already won and Almighty God is victorious.  I see you for who and what you are.  And I am no longer blind, fooled and tricked.  You play dirty and hard.6 You have violated my spirit and torn the sacred from my womb.  The last laugh is not yours to have nor mine.  That goes to my Savior.  Our Father in Heaven.  Stand down Satan.  You have made an eternal enemy out of me. And I am a Daughter of Heaven.  Beloved.  Equipped to war for my heart, my marriage and my children.

~

Emerson, you are loved. Jeremiah 31:3  You are wanted. Ephesians 1:11-12  You belong. Psalm 139:15-16  You are treasured.  Exodus 19:5 You leave behind a hole so vast, my only hope is in the Lord Psalm 39:7 – that his presence will rest in that echoing void for all my days. Genesis 1:2 In Him you live and move and have your being. Acts 17:28 If I could give you my life, I would. John 15:13 The sting of death is not forever. I Corinthians 15:55 My life here is but a mist James 4:14 and when that day comes, I will scoop you up in my arms and shower you with kisses. Luke 15:20 And I will listen.  Proverbs 12:15 I will listen for eternity.  I can’t wait to hear of all that you have learned from Our Heavenly Father. Matthew 7:11 You will teach me. Isaiah 11:6  O how I miss you. Revelation 21:3-4

~

The week of our miscarriage was a thin and holy place – where the distance between Eternity and earth was a sheer veil.  At times, I couldn’t figure out where to be: here or there or in between.  The hours were a sea of sadness filled with the sounds of sorrow and the voice of Our Father.  I didn’t just walk through the Valley of the Shadow of Death, I felt it in me.  I have seen glimpses of Heaven in the good things of life and I have also known the holiness of birth with each of my older children, but never, ever did I expect to experience a holy miscarriage. “I didn’t know I would find my Redeemer here, in the middle of my deepest fear.”7 What the Enemy meant for ruin has already seen profound, yet little understood redemption.  I have walked and worshipped on the holy ground of miscarriage and I will never be the same.

JT and I and our 3 remaining children grieve deeply the death of Emerson and the loss of what God had designed for us.  At times we grieve together. Other times in solitude because deep grief needs privacy.  It’s intense and ugly as one’s soul and spirit and body writhe in pain. “It’s such a mysterious place, the land of tears.”8  I rest in God’s presence and promise to lead me beside quiet waters as he restores my soul. Psalm 23: 2-3.  He is “here in the middle of the healing that hasn’t happened yet.”9   I am firmly rooted beside these sacred waters.  I remain guarded against the noise of busyness so that I can fully feel, fully grieve, fully rest.

Lamentably, my suffering is ordinary and intrusively ordered from The Enemy’s long-ago violation of God’s Creation.  I join the masses of those who live with deep loss, each and every day.  I choose to say – it is well with my soul. One day, the Enemy and his lies will be fully crushed and my Savior will make beauty from all these ashes. Isaiah 61:3.  Why I cannot enjoy full redemption, right here-right now, is beyond my scope of understanding. My lingering whys provide me the opportunity of a lifetime to trust God with my lack of understanding, my tears, and the hole in my heart. One day I will stand fully redeemed as Emerson’s mama.

Just not yet…but one day He will wipe every tear from my eyes.  There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.10

 

Notes

  1. Martin, E. W. (2015). The Wonderful Things You Will Be. Random House Children’s Books.
  2. The Holy Bible, New International Version, personalization added.
  3. The Holy Bible, New International Version.
  4. Singer, B. (Director). (1995). The Usual Suspects [Motion Picture].
  5. Saint-Exupéry, A. d. (1943). The Little Prince.
  6. Caine, C. (2016). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.
  7. Holcombe, E. (2017). Find You Here.
  8. Saint-Exupéry, A. d. (1943). The Little Prince.
  9. Holcombe, E. (2017). Find You Here.
  10. Revelation 21:4, The Holy Bible, New International Version, personalization added.