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.

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).

Education and Complementarianism

As I shared in my last post, a lingering question I have regarding distinctive gender roles in marriage is the question of education. Today I am thinking specifically about this one:

Is it okay for me, a wife who is eager to submit (or actually, eager to learn to submit), to have a higher education than my husband – specifically theological education?

Education is not a bad thing, and in and of itself it is not going to cause the headship of marriage to shift from the husband to the wife. Biblical submission, I think, is a matter of the heart more than a matter of the mind. Doug Wilson, in his book Reforming Marriage, argues that husbands should, if at all possible, be better educated theologically in order to be the resident biblical scholar in each home. I don’t agree with that as a rule. [As a side note, I wouldn’t argue that it’s a bad idea for the husband to be more theologically adept, but I don’t think there’s strong enough scriptural backing to say that it must be the case in a godly marriage.]

But that said, I do think that it’s a valid question to ask if there’s a possibility that it could make it more difficult for the husband (mine, to be specific) to lead — as in, if it makes the wife (me) conduct herself in a way that is not supporting the husband’s God-given headship.

I didn’t go to law school largely because I didn’t think that it would be good for me. I thought that even if I got in it would likely foster an arrogant, argumentative spirit that would inhibit my already limited ability to interact with people on a compassionate level. At that point I was learning the importance of empathy and the limits of logic and argumentation when you’re dealing with hurting people, and I didn’t want to risk making myself any less compassionate.

So it’s natural and healthy, I think, for me to search for answers to similar questions now that my scope has changed to a different degree – especially now that I’m married.

I’ve been reading James in large and small chunks for the past several weeks, along with our small group. Today I’ve been reading with grad school on my mind, and with prayers for wisdom on my lips. Last small group, our co-leader mentioned that a lot of people view James as a the “Proverbs of the New Testament” because of its somewhat scattered outline. I can understand the sentiment. It doesn’t always seem to piece together very clearly, but today there have been a few things sticking out at me, and I want to think about them more.

1) James 3:14-18. I want to be the person who has wisdom from above, “first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere…a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace”. I wonder: Will further education give me that kind of wisdom? If so, that could help me be a better wife, even if my husband doesn’t have the same kind of education.

2) James 4:6-10. “But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble. Submit yourselves therefore to God…humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you”. Could it be that a theological education will draw me further into the word of God and humble me? Maybe I shouldn’t be so scared of becoming proud with more education, but seek the education that will humble me before the Lord. Shouldn’t education that drives me to the Word of God humble me? And what a grace it would be to be more humble in my role in marriage. It’s my pride that causes me to be discontent in my role – maybe education could help root out that sin.

3) James 4:16. “So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin”. But what if I don’t know what the right thing is?

And all of this is are hypothetical anyway. The program that I’m thoroughly interested in is the only one like it in the country, and it’s in South Carolina. I don’t know the right thing.

But this just brings me right back around to Proverbs 2. Read it, because it’s beautiful, but this is how it helps me:

  • If you seek wisdom through patient, anticipatory listening to scripture, praying for wisdom, seeking it like silver (which includes asking for advice), you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God.
  • God does give wisdom. It’s not just empty waiting. We can actually know.
  • If you seek wisdom, you are protected. You will understand, and “discretion will watch over you, understanding will guard you.”
  • “..You will walk in the way of the good and keep to the paths of the righteous.” This is the result of seeking wisdom. Not finding it. The whole passage is vague – it doesn’t say, “you’ll find the answer to whatever question you ask,” it just says – you will understand morally right from morally wrong, you will be guarded by discretion and you will rejoice in truth, causing you to avoid evil. In other words, it might not always be clear, but if you’re seeking wisdom you’ll be just fine, regardless of where you end up.

I don’t have answers, I just have questions. I am making progress though, and with every step I’m trying to seek wisdom like a precious treasure – seeking for the knowledge of God that will be pleasant to my soul.

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.

 

Homesickness

Grief is one of those things that I think never actually goes away, and I’m learning that this is a good thing.

When I was in high-school there were several things that happened around me that caused long-lasting grief. I don’t need to go into the details here, but what I wanted to share is that sometimes, often, even, I remember and feel the weight of grief come over me once again. Sometimes I’m just sad. It’s been long enough that it doesn’t feel like a debilitating weight, and there are tears only when I remember of the hurt of others who were more profoundly impacted and are still impacted daily by what happened. For me there’s always been something familiar about the feeling of grief, and something good. Not that the feeling itself is a good feeling, but rather that the feeling of grief is right and appropriate in a deep, deep way.

I realized today the reason for the familiarity of grief, and that led me to dwell of the goodness of it. Grief is akin to homesickness. We long for something that is not with us, something that has passed by and is unattainable. The weight can be crushing because it is inescapable. No matter how hard we try, we can’t go back home. Home – where we feel at ease with those we love, content with the knowledge that all is right in our little world. Grief is living in the knowledge that all is not right in our world. Those we love are not with us. And more than that, they can’t be with us, and won’t be with us on this earth ever. again. And so we are homesick for that pleasant feeling of rightness that cannot be obtained.

This is right. And it is good. We were not meant to live without the most important things. We were not meant to live with death, and loss, sadness. We are eternal souls, and death and ending does not sit well with us. We were meant for heaven, for life, beauty, and goodness. This is a good discord to feel, and one that drives us to seek Jesus – in whose presence there is fullness of joy, and who is even today preparing a place for us. A home.

So let’s grieve, and long, and be homesick for heaven, our eternal dwelling place with Christ, our joy. Our home, where we will forever be at ease with our family, loved of God, and all will be right in the world, forever, and ever, and ever. Maranatha!