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.

 

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.

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 Faith of the Irish, part 2

I’m slowly making progress in How the Irish Saved Civilization. Every time I pick it up I’m amazed and am more and more encouraged by what I read. I’ve written a summary below of some of the latest things I’ve learned.

Saint Patrick’s influence through the ages, and the way that God used his spiritual descendants baffles and amazes me. The movement he started had impact that I doubt he ever imagined it would.

A few generations after Patrick, a man named Columcille set off to start a monastery in Scotland. Pagan tribes had displaced Patrick’s Celtic relatives into Wales and Scotland, and, with the fall of Rome, illiterate paganism of the Germanic tribes was a threat to the intellectual foundations that had been built during the Roman rule.

Columcille became a “white martyr” (red martyrs died, green martyrs studied in solitude in nature, and white martyrs “sailed into the white sky” as missionaries), and set up shop, with no intent to return to Ireland. He met with great success, and soon had to put a cap on the membership of his monastery. When they reached 150 monks, he would send off 13 men to start a new monastery — and so the Irish church plants began.

The Irish monks began to minister to all of what is now England. And who better to minister to illiterate barbarian tribes than a group of monks whose faith and literacy was just generations old.

Another Irish missionary was Columbanus, who was 20 years or so younger than Columcille. He took a group of monks to Gaul. He was a feisty man, from the sounds of it, challenging the stale leaders of the Catholic Church — reproving them for their reluctance to serve those outside of their comfortable cities and palaces. He was even deported, but when the boat on which he was deported sank, he and his men began to form monasteries in Italy. His passion was for the unreached barbarians, and he continued to start monasteries well into his seventies. It is largely because of his work that the European tribes heard the gospel.

So think of this amazing circle of grace: The Greeks and Romans “civilize” and educate Europe. Through the ministry to the Celts in what is now Britain, Patrick is saved. Through slavery he is exposed to the tribes in Ireland, and eventually becomes a missionary, almost entirely responsible for their conversion.

Rome falls and Europe returns to illiteracy and barbarism, with some exceptions. And God uses these believing Irish monks to convert the powerful Germanic tribes in the same areas that sent the men that would impact Saint Patrick’s people. Reaching from the boot of Italy, up into France and Norway, the Irish influence in the spread of Christianity and learning is almost incalculable.

All I have to say is: “Wow.”

Now obviously, there’s more to this story, and the Irish don’t deserve all of the credit for the evangelizing of Europe. But it’s still impressive, when you think of the size of Ireland, and the few years between Saint Patrick and the sending of their missionaries, it’s amazing.

Another amazing thing to think about is the effect of literacy on this culture. But I’ll have to tell you about that another time.

Faith of the Irish, part 1

I love it when I forget I have packages coming. This week I was surprised by an Amazon box sitting with our mail. Remembering that I was expecting books in the mail and seeing that they had arrived made my day — like it does every time. After watching more TV than is good for me because I had “run out” of books (Not really, but I sometimes need books that are like finger-food, you know — tasty, easy to chew, and addicting), I decided to finally use a Amazon gift card I was given for Christmas. I ordered: How the Irish Saved Civilization, by Thomas Cahill, Ender’s Game, by Orson Scott Card, and the entire Narnia series in Spanish. (why in Spanish, you might ask? I know… it’s a little ridiculous since I don’t actually speak the language, but I have a good reason I can explain later)

Right now I’m working on finishing How the Irish Saved Civilization, and I’m loving it. I’ve started it once twice before. It’s an amazingly interesting book, and the only reason my first tries were unsuccessful were because I kept having to return it to the library. I highly recommend it. In fact you should just buy it right away, rather than have to deal with returning it to anyone.

In the book, Cahill spends quite a lot of time talking about Saint Patrick, who, by all accounts, is a fascinating person even though there isn’t a lot known about him. What is known (mostly without question), is that he’s almost solely responsible from the conversion of the pagan Irish tribes to Christianity after being held as a slave for several years. He returned to Ireland to minister to the very people who had enslaved him. Here are some beautiful words that Cahill quotes, from what is known as Saint Patrick’s Breastplate*. Realizing the depth of the violent, pagan culture to which Patrick was ministering to, this prayer for protection is significant, as well as beautiful.

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One of the stones found by the well Saint Patrick is thought to have baptized by. Saint Patrick’s Cathedral is built on the site of this well.

“I arise today, Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity, Through belief in the threeness, Through confession of the oneness, Of the Creator of Creation.

I arise today Through the strength of Christ’s birth with his baptism, Through the strength of his crucifixion with his burial, Through the strength of his resurrection with his ascension, Through the strength of his descent for the judgment of Doom.”

And then a few verses later…

“I arise today Through God’s strength to pilot me; God’s might to uphold me, God’s wisdom to guide me, God’s eye to look before me, God’s ear to hear me, God’s word to speak for me, God’s hand to guard me, God’s way to lie before me, God’s shield to protect me, God’s host to save me From snares of devils, From temptations of vices, From everyone who shall wish me ill, Afar and anear, Alone and in multitude.

I summon today all these powers between me and those evils, Against every cruel merciless power that may oppose my body and soul Against incantations of false prophets, Against black laws of pagandom, Against false laws of heretics, Against craft of idolatry, Against spells of witches and smiths and wizards, Against every knowledge that corrupts man’s body and soul.

Christ to shield me today Against poison, against burning, Against drowning, against wounding, So that there may come to me abundance of reward. Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me, Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me, Christ on my right, Christ on my left, Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down, Christ when I arise, Christ in the hear of every man who thinks of me, Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me, Christ in every eye that sees me, Christ in every ear that hears me.

I arise today Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity, Through belief in the threeness, Through confession of the oneness, Of the Creator of Creation.”

I just love the thoroughness of these last few verses — his desire for protection from sin and evil, and the desire for nearness of Christ is inspiring and helpful to me.

The prayer has several versions, and its so old it’s hard to tell which is the original. But if you’d like to hear a different version from a true Irishwoman, this is a beautiful song by Keith and Kristyn Getty. Kristyn quotes the end of the prayer in the last bit of the song. (Interesting tidbit — the violinist in this video goes to my church)

I want to show you a little more of Cahill’s work later, so look out for Part 2, coming soon!

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Saint Patrick’s Catherdral, Dublin.
Built in the 1190s. Wow.

I just love the thoroughness of these last few verses — his desire for protection from sin and evil, and the desire for nearness of Christ is inspiring and helpful to me.

The prayer has several versions, and its so old it’s hard to tell which is the original. But if you’d like to hear a different version from a true Irishwoman, this is a beautiful song by Keith and Kristyn Getty. Kristyn quotes the end of the prayer in the last bit of the song. (Interesting tidbit — the violinist in this video goes to my church)

I want to show you a little more of Cahill’s work later. Look out for Part 2 coming soon!

*Saint Patrick’s Breastplate is thought to have been written by Patrick, and it is a widely accepted opinion, although it is not actually provable. At the very least though, Cahill says that it was inspired by him.