It Is Well: Sin and Grief, Part 2

Through the Lord’s kindness toward me, I have been able to at least identify some areas of miscarriage-related sin in my life. They say that “the first step is to admit that you have a problem,” and it has proven true, in my case. I won’t say that I’m over it, or that I don’t struggle anymore, but being able to identify areas of sin has at least given me the ability to engage in the fight where I was previously too weak to try. I’ll share my main struggles here, hoping that the Lord would use this list to help you in your own battle.

One of my first reactions was to minimize the joy of others. I would try to pay less attention to peoples’ announcements, intentionally not think too much about their news, and purposefully not enter into their joy. I’d almost poo-poo it like it was no big deal. I was a poor sport — if other people had the one thing I wanted and didn’t have, then I tried to make it seem trivial and unworthy of desire. If I could make it not a big deal for them I could make myself believe that it wasn’t a big deal for me either, at least for long enough to get home and recognize that I had lost something very valuable and dear to me. It was sinful to not laugh with those who were laughing, and to minimize the blessing and value of new life.

Another common response was annoyance and anger. This was the progression of feelings, sometimes accompanied by thoughts: How dare they be so callous and joyful in front of me? Don’t they realize that there are people here who might have lost a baby or are dealing with infertility?? Why are they announcing so early? They could lose their baby next week!! I know they’re happy, but FIVE pictures on Facebook? Just because you’re pregnant doesn’t mean that you’re going to have this baby in a day or a year — where is your fear of mortality??? This was unjust anger and bitterness.

I also often felt jealousy, I’m ashamed to admit. This one is really nasty, when it pops up. For me, it wasn’t just the jealously of the baby itself, but jealousy of the attention other expectant parents were given for their pregnancy (even writing that out loud makes me embarrassed and ashamed). My inner dialogue often went something like this: “That should be me! They wouldn’t be getting so much attention if people knew that I had a miscarriage. We would have been due first, now everyone’s going to be sick of new babies by the time ours is born even if we try again right away!” You know, because people get sick of new babies, and everyone should be sure to talk about their suffering in order for people feel sorry for them and feel bad for being excited for other people’s joyful news.

Yuck. That’s all I have to say about that. There haven’t been very many times in my life where I’ve been as revolted by my sin as I have been through this whole process. But through the conviction of the Spirit, I have been reminded of my sin and strengthened to turn my back on it when it rears its ugly head. I don’t always win the battles, but I’m fighting, and feeling stronger in the fight. The refining fire is doing its job, I think.

I want to encourage you, if you’re struggling with sin: with every “Jesus, help me!” you’re calling on the power that created and sustains this world. Every nook and cranny of it, seen or unseen, is upheld by his strength. He is powerful enough to sustain you too. Trust the Lord to work for your good in both your suffering and in your sin-fighting. When do you appreciate a safety net? When you’re falling. When do you appreciate strength? When you’re weak. When do you appreciate healing? When you’ve been sick. You won’t know God’s wonderful provision for fighting sin if you wallow. So don’t stay in your sin — fight it, and find the smiling face in the frowning providence. It’s worth it.

“God moves in a mysterious way His wonders to perform; He plants His footsteps in the sea, and rides upon the storm.

Deep in unfathomable mines of never-failing skill, He treasures up His bright designs, and works His sovereign will.

Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take, the clouds ye so much dread, are big with mercy, and shall break In blessings on your head.

Judge not the Lord by feeble sense, but trust Him for His grace; Behind a frowning providence, He hides a smiling face.

His purposes will ripen fast, unfolding every hour; The bud may have a bitter taste, but sweet will be the flower.

Blind unbelief is sure to err, and scan his work in vain; God is His own interpreter, and He will make it plain.”
-William Cowper-

It Is Well: Sin and Grief, Part 1

From the time I was a little girl, the hymn “It Is Well” has been one of my favorite hymns. I remember the first time I listened to the Adventures in Odyssey episode that told the story of it’s composer, Horatio Spafford. I was probably around five or six years old, but even then the story of his remarkable faith in the midst of Job-like loss — losing both family and fortune — gripped me, and perhaps even planted the first seeds of Christian hedonism in my heart. How could anyone sing, “..when sorrows like sea billows roll, whatever my lot thou has taught me to say it is well, it is well with my soul,” after losing four daughters in a shipwreck, let alone the other trials he’d experienced? His faith, and that song, have been an anchor for me in my own suffering of various kinds throughout the years.

But even with my great affection for the song, one verse always baffled me:

“My sin — oh the bliss of this glorious thought! —
My sin, not in part but the whole
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!

I liked this verse, but why is this verse about sin in the middle of a song about suffering and loss? The final verse made sense — loss makes the prospect of Jesus’ return sweeter — but this middle verse seemed completely out of sync with the mood and intention of the song.

But then today in church it hit me — grieving and sinning go together! Perhaps the most confusing and ongoing part of miscarriage “recovery” has been fighting and rooting out the sin that has been and is being exposed. I wasn’t expecting to deal with sin so intensely after the miscarriage. But Satan is a real jerk and loves to find ways to kick us while we’re down, encouraging the growth of sin in our hearts in wherever he sees a weakness. I have a lot of pregnant friends right now, and we found out about most of their pregnancies after the loss of ours (most of them don’t know about mine). And so, sin and Satan struck at my weak point.

A few weeks after my miscarriage, as the initial grief, shock, and hormone-driven emotions wore off, I was stuck. At every announcement of pregnancy, every sight of a pregnant friend or the perfect stranger with a newborn at the Target check-out, and every ultrasound photo on Facebook, three reactions were at war (and still are sometimes, if I’m honest) for expression: 1) genuine joy for their happiness, 2) genuine grief for my loss, and 3) sin, in manifold expressions. I never knew what was going to come out of my mouth, and it was exhausting to try to respond well. Most of the time I just wanted to stay home with my husband and watch TV in sweatpants.

One thing about miscarriage, though, is that there will always be children that would be the same age as the baby we lost. There will always be pregnant people around me. Whatever sin comes up in the aftermath of miscarriage isn’t going to just go away. It will always be there to either give into, or to fight.

To the outside observer, my sin was pretty subtle (I think). But on the inside, it was getting harder and harder to love people. Selfish thoughts were crowding out the selfless, and I was lost in the mire of sin and grief, unsure what  was sin and what was just the natural process of grief. My sin was affecting relationships, whether my friends noticed or not, and my heart was wounded, angry, and hard. My desire for righteousness was weak, and my time in devotions was wasted. I could barely pay attention long enough to read a few verses.

I didn’t know what to do — all I could do was pray, “Jesus, help me!” I felt like the 100th sheep — he came and rescued me, despite my wandering heart.

What kinds of sin, you might ask? I’ll be posting some of the particulars in part two sometime this week. It’s been a slow, painful process. But with the help of my husband and a good friend, the Lord has enabled me to begin to fight.

 

Why I Stopped Giving To World Vision

Today I received  a phone call from a World Vision representative asking if I’d want to renew my sponsorship of the child I’ve sponsored since 2009. With sadness, I had to tell her that no, I would not be renewing my support.

The controversy surrounding World Vision’s decision to hire practicing homosexuals (as long as they were legally married), and their almost immediate retraction of that decision has mostly blown over by this point. But I still have a picture of a 9-year-old boy from Albania on my fridge, and I haven’t yet forgotten what the decision of the President and board have cost him.

World Vision’s initial decision had a lot of people wondering whether or not they should remove support from the organization. Was it right to sacrifice the “well-being” of children and families in need over the peripheral issue of homosexuality? I struggled with this question hour by hour for the days leading up to World Vision’s reversal, and removed my support just the night before their retraction.

After prayer, thought, and discussion, my husband and I did choose to remove support, and therefore left my sweet little boy without a sponsor. There were a few factors that went into the decision at the time.

1) World Vision’s sponsorships work on a pool system. My understanding is that the money I sent in for my sponsored child wasn’t just going to him. The money was going into a larger pool of money that provided for the entire group of sponsored children. The retraction of my funds wasn’t going to mean that they would kick him out of school, or that his family would starve. It just meant that his support funds were going to have to come from other places within World Vision. That was important to me.

2) John Piper has said, “Christians should care about suffering — especially eternal suffering.” That quote (or paraphrase) has been very helpful to me as I think about the sort of issues that seem to pit the social gospel against biblical morality. Care for physical suffering should not come with the cost of eternal suffering. It is not one way or the other. In this situation, World Vision’s decision made it very clear to me that my sponsored child’s eternal needs were not going to be met in a good and true way.

3)The compromise of homosexuality in the church is a big compromise, and signifies what I think is a bigger problem of bad hermeneutics, disrespect for the Word of God, and an immoderate care for the whims of the world. An organization with those sorts of problems, in my opinion, ought not be trusted with the hearts of children we care about. Though my heart and prayers are with that little boy in Albania, I am a better steward of his heart and my money if I give elsewhere.

And then the next day, World Vision changed their mind. So what then? They apologetically reversed their decision, so that means it’s okay to give them support as they minister to children again, right? Well, I thought about it. On one hand, yes. They were reprimanded and seemed to come to good conclusion. The woman I spoke to on the phone was extremely apologetic, and said several times that she hoped that I could forgive them. I didn’t know what to say to that. I don’t think that they need forgiveness from me. Can you even forgive an organization?

And there’s still the other hand. Yes, they reversed their decision, and fast! But how long did it take them to reach the first decision? I don’t think that they came to the decision to hire married gays overnight. My guess is that they wrestled with the issues, sought counsel, etc. and came to the conclusion that it was the right thing to do. But then — when they saw the negative response — they reversed their decision overnight. This makes me ask questions, like:

  • Who were they (the board) listening to, that told them this was a good idea? Obviously not someone to whom I would entrust souls that I care about.
  • What kind of people are on this board? Obviously people who are a) easily swayed by deceptive, persuasive arguments, or b) progressive “Christians” who really thing this would be a good idea. Again, not people to whom I would entrust souls that I care about.
  • What led to the quick reversal? Financial pain. Although framed in a theologically repentant tone, I can only assume that when they started to lose money and saw the impact their decision would have on their mission, they buckled and apologized to the people who could save them from bankruptcy.

All three of those thoughts lead me to believe one thing about World Vision. They are not to be trusted with the Word of God or with souls that I care about because of their complete lack of steadfastness. They did not stay true to a biblical worldview with their initial decision, and the immediate reversal leads me to believe that even their firmly-felt convictions will be sacrificed to their immediate needs. I don’t think they are trustworthy enough to disciple children, and not trustworthy enough to give money to, especially if I care that it goes primarily toward the relief of eternal suffering.

I pray that God will work truth and real repentance into the hearts of the president and board members of World Vision where it doesn’t already exist. But today, although the woman I spoke to was kind, gentle, apologetic, and probably had nothing to do with the initial decision, I let the my little 9-year-old go for good. May the Lord bless him and keep him. And may he forever treasure his creator, trusting him with all of his heart, soul, and mind.

The Source

Today I’ve been thinking a bit about how so much encouragement or discouragement depends not so much on what is said or done, but the setting you’re in or the people speaking to you. Here are a few examples:

1) A compliment or critique from an expert in the area they’re speaking of means much more than either from someone who you wouldn’t expect to know better than you.

2) Sometimes in conversation, at events, or in meetings, what is discussed isn’t necessarily groundbreaking. But the very fact that you were all in it together can be very encouraging. For example, I went to a “Women in the Workplace” event at my church a few weeks ago, and although there was nothing really new stated, the sheer number of women who showed up, appearing to be in the same or similar (or opposite) situation, was really encouraging. Similarly, I was in a meeting yesterday where nothing was really new, but the fact that we got to all talk about it together and make sure we were on the same page was very helpful.

3) It doesn’t matter how pleased anyone is with you, your work, your words, etc. unless you please the person you’re seeking to please. Compliments from anyone are nice, but don’t necessarily mean much if you don’t get the reaction you want from whoever you were hoping to receive them from. Likewise, critiques from people don’t mean much when you’ve pleased the person you set out to please.

Thinking about this makes me want to continue to ruminate on what this might mean for me personally:

  • Who in my sphere of influence can I particularly encourage because of my position? Or maybe, who in my sphere of influence do I need to particularly guard from accidental discouragement?
  • Who am I seeking approval from? I better make sure that I’m trying to please the right people. A good gauge is probably to test whose reactions I care the most about.
  • How often do I take to heart that the Bible was written by God? Why doesn’t that “source” always beat out other people’s opinions?
  • It’s a good thing to remember that encouragement can just be an agreement. It doesn’t have to be some over-the-top compliment, or praise, or anything like that. Just agreeing and displaying camaraderie can make a huge difference.

..just some thoughts after another day at the office.

I Like Boring Books

I like to read history books. My college education gave me the great gift of learning to read and appreciate and enjoy “boring” books. I don’t do it as often as I would like, but when I’m not too busy, too tired or too lazy to pick up a good non-fiction, non-theological/devotional book, I love reading history. Specifically American history (although, as you’ve seen, Irish history always piques my interest).

My favorite professor in undergrad gave us the opportunity (actually, he forced us) to read good American historians who took and take their jobs seriously enough to not give in to political bandwagons or patriotic fairytale-isms. I appreciate authors and researchers who guard against their own biases.

If you’re curious, here are two of my favorite American historians and some of their books:

David Hackett Fischer. I’ve read a number of his books, and can whole-heartedly recommend them. Sometimes you forget you’re reading non-fiction.

  • Paul Revere’s Ride. This was one of the first books I read in college, and it changed the way I felt about history classes and their “textbooks.” So worth it.
  • Champlain’s Dream. This one is my favorite (probably of any historical books), hands down. I read it after graduation upon the recommendation of my aforementioned favorite professor, and wow. Just wow. I never enjoyed the history of exploration until this book.

Joseph Ellis. For writing style, I think Ellis is my favorite. He has a very personal and engaging tone in his books that makes whatever he’s writing about interesting.

  • Founding Brothers. This book is amazing!! Basically, it’s a compilation of true short stories about various founding fathers, like the duel between Hamilton and Burr (got milk?).
  • His Excellency. A biography of George Washington. I’ve not read other biographies of Washington, but Ellis just has a funny and fair way with words that makes me fairly confident this would be my favorite.
  • American Sphinx. A biography of Jefferson. Full disclosure: I’m only sixty pages in. But so far, it’s great. I love Ellis’ candor and sense of humor.

There’s my list! Enjoy!

This Just Got Personal

I’ve been away for quite some time, it would seem. I just stopped, I guess. For about month, my thoughts and reading was all geared towards having a baby. But that stopped too.

I had a miscarriage a few weeks ago, and that has taken over the thinking-about-other-things space in my brain where pregnancy excitement used to be.

Right now, I’m in a strange state of not knowing what to do with myself. I feel like Wonder Bread. Utterly normal. I don’t really remember being pregnant, or what that excitement felt like. It seems strange to me that we even were in that place just a few weeks ago, but at the same time, I have no desire to start trying again, and the excitement over the particular unknown of motherhood hasn’t returned. But I go about my daily life feeling fine most of the time. But sometimes I just feel…different.

Actually, I feel altogether apathetic about most things. I won’t say that there’s no enjoyment in my life (there is!), and I don’t think I’m depressed. We have a new puppy that I love (Hank), and there are still wonderful things about my job, my marriage, my friends, etc. But I have no motivation to do anything extra at all, like housework or reading. I like things without really caring about them. I feel really sloppy.

And who’s to say what’s related to the miscarriage, and what’s the result of the week or so during and after the miscarriage where that apathy and rest was needed? Is it my body and mind screaming for rest — a grief-induced disengagement? Or is it just the laziness that comes after too long of a rest? Honestly, I feel like my emotional response to the miscarriage is mostly finished. I’m very okay. I don’t feel like a liar when I respond, “Good!” to the question, “How are you?” But yet, I feel Psalm 42:

“As the deer pants for flowing streams, so my soul pants for you, O God. 
My soul thirsts for the living God… 

These things I remember, as I pour out my soul: 
how I would go with the throng 
and lead them in procession to the house of God 
with glad shouts and songs of praise,
a multitude keeping festival.”

I want to be engaged with life. I want to care about things and not just trudge along. I feel like I’m the deer panting in the wilderness, remembering the times when worship meant something, and when I felt like reading the Word of God was at the very least a chance for refreshment. And so, with the psalmist, I ask my self,

“Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you in turmoil within me?

And answer,

Hope in God; for I shall again praise him
my salvation and my God.”

The psalm continues with my heart,

“My soul is cast down within me; 
therefore I remember you…

Deep calls to deep
at the roar of your waterfalls;
all your breakers and your waves
have gone over me.

The author of the psalm knows and wants God, but still feels overwhelmed. He reminds himself:

By day the Lord commands his steadfast love,
and at night his song is with me,
a prayer to the God of my life.”

And so he ends by calling his heart to hope again.

“Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you in turmoil within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
my salvation and my God.”

Right now, I feel too tired to make the effort to hope. I don’t feel sad, but I don’t feel hopeful. I’m not angry or even disappointed that God determined this way for our path, but I’m tired and can’t tell what kind of rest I need. Or maybe I don’t even need rest. Maybe I just need to have some personal discipline and pull myself up by my bootstraps.

So pray for me, would you? I really am just fine (in every meaning of “just”). I trust and have seen God’s good for me in suffering, but I need wisdom — this sort of “painless suffering” is new territory for me.

Jamie

p.s. I picked up a new book this week about women in the home and workplace, and I’ve been enjoying it. Granted, most of the times I’ve tried to read it I’ve fallen asleep with a puppy in my lap instead. But this weekend I’ve read almost half of it while working at a conference, and it’s been really good! I’m digesting fodder for future blogposts, so stay tuned!

The Literacy of the Irish

There’s no other way to talk about my other favorite part of How The Irish Saved Civilization than just to quote Thomas Cahill extensively. So here are some the best sentences of the whole book:

“Like the Jews before them, the Irish enshrined literacy as their central religious act. In a land where the old literate civilizations were sinking fast beneath successive waves of barbarism, the white Gospel page, shining in all the little oratories of Ireland, acted as a pledge: the lonely darkness had been turned into light, and the lonely virtue of courage, sustained through all the centuries, had been transformed into hope (p 164-65).”

And more:

“The Irish received literacy in their own way, as something to play with…Within a generation the Irish had mastered Latin and even Greek and, as best they could, were picking up some Hebrew. All this was fairly straightforward, too straightforward once they’d got the hang of it. They began to make up languages. The members of a far-flung secret society, formed as early as the late fifth century (barely a generation after the Irish had become literate), could write to one another in impenetrably erudite, never-before-spoken patterns of Latin…not unlike the languages J.R.R. Tolkein would one day make up for his hobbits and elves… (p 164)”

It just seems that they loved literacy, words, and writing so much that they couldn’t help themselves but to embellish, creating some of the most famous and beautiful written works of literature. And when I say beautiful, I don’t mean well-structured sentences. I mean beautiful — like decorative. Go look up the famous “Chi-Rho” page in the Book of Kells.

I thoroughly enjoy hearing about these funny, country scholar-monks going about their copy work with such gusto. I wish that I was always as enamored with the written word as they were.