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-
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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.

 

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.

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!

Falling In Love Again

During college I didn’t read very much fiction, and for the first few years after college I read books in threes — one theology/devotional, one history, and one fiction. But in the last few years I have had a so much less time to read that my reading list has been restricted, with theology taking the front seat, history in the back, and fiction all of the way back in the trunk.

But ever since I joined a book club in the fall of 2012 I have been falling in love with fiction all over again, and I think the honeymoon phase is going to last for a long time. Here are some of my favorites from this last year or so:

  • Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta. This book was unlike any other book that I’ve read before — it’s one of those books where you pick it up and can’t really figure out what the author is doing, but within 15 pages you’re utterly hooked. I think I read the first three chapters in one sitting, and then the entire rest of the book in the second. The pieces just fall together like a puzzle – you might not be able to figure out what it’s going to look like at the beginning, but at the end the pieces fit together perfectly.
  • Dracula by Bram Stoker. I went into reading this book kicking and screaming. No part of me wanted to read about vampires, and I’m definitely not into horror stories. But this book is awesome. It’s not Twilight. And it’s not like a horror move preview. It’s more like a collection of documents: journals, letters, and records written by doctors, lawyers, and secretaries. Good pitted against evil, with some really interesting (I would argue good, I think) religious themes. The characters exhibit trust in a sovereign God, who is able to both protect them and defeat the evil they’re fighting. There are times when it is dark, so if you mind being nervous and a little scared, don’t read it. But if you like well-written, intense books with deep themes to discuss with friends – this book is high on my list. I’m still surprised.
  • The Scarlet Pimpernel, by Baroness Orczy. This book has been one of my very favorites for years, and I am just finishing it for the millionth time. If you like history, romance, mystery, or surprises, you must read this. It’s about an Englishman who rescues aristocrats from Paris during the French Revolution. It’s amazing.
  • The Fault In Our Stars, by John Green. I know what you’re thinking, and yes I did just write about how much I didn’t like this book. But nonetheless, it’s one of the best new books I’ve read for a long time and you should probably read it. I’ve actually read it twice in the last three months.

There are several that I’ve missed, I’m sure, but this will do for now. I hope that if you read these you enjoy them as much as I have! Let me know what you think.

Picking Up the Pieces

I realized that I haven’t blogged about life for a while. And maybe that’s not what this blog will end up being about, so maybe it doesn’t matter. But here are a few things that I’ve been enjoying lately:

  • Relaxing. After a very busy few weeks at work, I took Monday off, since Michael had President’s day off. Michael went skiing on Sunday, so I had just a bit over 24 hours to myself, and I have never enjoyed it so much. Nor have I ever enjoyed being so very unproductive for so long as much as I did. And then, to top it off, on Monday, Michael and I just walked around the mall and went to a matinee (Frozen is as good as everyone said). I can’t remember the last time we’ve been so relaxed at home. Also, we finished The Office. We’ve been watching it on Netflix for the last three years and just finished the last season. Tears were shed.
  • Cooking. I’ve been making an effort to prepare meals this week, using Pinterest as incentive. I’ve created a new board for food that I actually make, and am having a good time moving pins over to the new board after I make it and evaluating my results. My favorite this week is a thai chicken salad, but I’m going to try to make lasagna in my crock pot tonight so we’ll see how that goes.
  • Planning home improvements. I’ve been on Pinterest like crazy to figure out what color to paint our bedroom and kitchen. It’s fun, but I’m sure I’ll never be able to live up to the standards those Pinterest experts set.
  • Photobooking. I made a photo book with all of our pictures from our trip to London and Dublin. It’s big – like 11×17 big – but we wanted to use it as a coffee table book. It’s so fun to actually have good pictures of our trip, thanks to our new camera.
  • Small Group. We’ve started up with our small group again, which is wonderful. We sure love them. It’s a bit stressful sometimes, when you come home from a long day at work to a houseful of college freshman. But it’s worth every bit (even if it’s several days later and I still haven’t had time to clean up the kitchen).

Complementarian Questions

I am a theologically reformed complementation. And if you define those terms like I do, I’m unashamed of those labels.

But I have a lot of questions. I’m doing what I can to answer these questions, but it’s been difficult to find good answers, and to be honest, I still have far more questions than answers. Here are some of my questions:

1) What does it look like in a complementarian marriage, when the wife has more of a inclination toward theology? Is it wrong for the wife to pursue theological education beyond what her husband has?

What I think is the right answer, but am not sure of: I think that no, it is not inherently wrong. But, it might be if it makes the man’s job of leading more difficult. It seems that it’s a wife’s responsibility to aid her husband – which means not being intentionally difficult. So education might fall into that category in some marriages.

2) What does it look like in a complementarian marriage, when the wife has more of an inclination toward learning in general? Is it wrong for the wife to pursue education at a level beyond her husband?

What I think is the right answer, but am not sure of: No, with the same qualification as number one.

3) What does it look like in a complementarian marriage, when the husband is the “feeler” and the wife is the “thinker?”

I honestly have no idea what this should look like. Sometimes it feels like we’re doing everything wrong. We’re learning slowly, though I think.

4) What does it look like when a complementarian wife struggles to feel competent and excited to keep up a household?

Possible Answer: I don’t have an answer. But what I think it looks like is to at least make an effort. Do what you can, and accept help when it’s offered. I’m thankful for a gracious husband. 

These are hard questions with difficult answers. But let me close with a list of people and resources that have helped me with some of these questions.

  • Margaret Kostenberger. The wife of a New Testament professor at Southeastern Seminary, she holds a Ph.D. in Thelogy and Women’s studies from a seminary in South Africa. She’s currently piloting Women’s Studies program at Southeastern. Her very existence is inspiring to me – a conservative, complementarian, woman, scholar?? Unheard of.
  • Mary Kassian. Also pursuing a Ph.D. from the same seminary that Dr. Kostenberger received her degree from. She’ll be professing at Southeastern as well, I think.
  • Carolyn Mahaney wrote a book called Feminine Appeal. I didn’t find all of the book helpful, but there was one part where she describes the authority that women are given over the home. It helped me begin to see the home as something not to manage in a “chore” sort of way, but as a sort of kingdom under my rule. I’m not sure what it says about me that it helped me so much, but it really did help, and I feel much more excited about taking care of my home now.
  • Rosaria Champagne Butterfield. I can’t even begin to express my appreciation for this brave woman. She’s smart, with conviction borne through an intense struggle. I can’t wait to see how her ministry develops over the next several years. I bought two copies of her book, Secret Thoughts of An Unlikely Convert, just so that I could lend one out. I’ve never done that before.