With all my heart

As any parent will tell you, tummy pains aren’t uncommon when raising kids. Jacob has them often. Usually, a successful trip to the bathroom fixes the problem. (Sorry for the TMI.)

But Monday, his stomach pains were worse than usual, even after an extremely productive bathroom trip. (Nope, I wasn’t really sorry about the earlier TMI either.) And he was so specific about where the pain was “all around my belly button and on my side,” (while touching his right side, of course), that I made the call to the doc. They scheduled us an appointment for early evening, so I had the whole day to let him rest, watch his symptoms, and pray and trust that God is in control worry myself sick thinking of every possible horrible scenario. (And you know where the worst case scenario fears lead. Always. I swear, in their combined 11 years of life, my children have died 5,327 times in my worst case scenario fears.) (Yes, I realize that this is not a constructive way to spend my time.)

After his fever spiked to 103.3 and he was bent over in wincing pain when I tried to get him to go to the bathroom, the nurse recommended I just take him straight to the ER. After all, if his symptoms were the same at the doctor appointment that was still 2 hours away, they would be sending him there anyway for further testing for appendicitis.

I took a few deep breaths to calm myself down and made a call to a friend to see if she could watch Annalise. With the rear-view mirror tilted so I could see my red-faced feverish boy alternately head bob and wince in pain, I headed to the hospital, calling Matt and the grandparents on the way. My sick boy had gone from having one worried mom bargaining with God to 2 sets of grandparents praying, a family of 6 praying, and both his parents praying with all their heart as the situation seemed more and more serious.

As I held my silent boy on my lap in the waiting area, I prayed that it would not be appendicitis or something worse. Jacob was still a bit restless, and he opened his eyes as I whispered my prayer. I told him he didn’t need to worry, that this was exactly where he needed to be. The doctors would know what to do, I assured him. Funny, I can’t seem to convince myself of these things when I’m terrified and picturing him on his deathbed.

By the time we got called back to a room, I could tell he was starting to perk up a bit. As you might guess, the absence of noise coming from his face is usually a pretty good sign he is either asleep or feeling pretty awful. (It has to be pretty bad for him to be silent. Just not feeling well means he might be laying down, but the mouth still moves.) After being quiet for most of the day, my little buddy had a lot of stored up words to get out. As I laid him in the hospital bed, he began to use them. Sure enough, his fever had gone down, and he was excited to play with the toys our friends had given him in a get-well-bag. He told me about all the characters in Star Wars, even though he’s never seen the movie. He argued with Matt about how to pronounce Han Solo. He asked questions about every. single. thing. in sight. He repeated over and over how funny it was that “they want to do a test on my pee! I had to pee in a cup! That’s so funny that they wanna check my pee!” And when there was finally a moment of silence – as in maybe 10 seconds – where nothing was being said, he just blurted out one word – the thing that is always on his mind… “Bottom.”

I’ll admit it. It sent me into a fit of giggles. Here sat my boy, previously down for the count at home with a ridiculous fever, the only sounds coming out of him were groans of discomfort and “ow ow OW OW-OW-OW”s when the sharp stomach pain would return. Now, at his most expensive doctor visit ever, he was full of life and ever-flowing words, making us laugh through it all.

On the other side of the curtain separating the two beds, I heard a lady giggle, then sigh and say, “I think I’ll take a break and walk the halls.” By “take a break,” she meant her ears. Not even kidding. Welcome to my world, lady on the other side of the curtain. Only you’ve just experienced 10 minutes. Try 10 HOURS A DAY.

The nurse offered him a popsicle. I asked her how much that was going to run us. “You don’t want to know,” she replied and handed him a blue one. Somewhere, a hospital administrator cackled.

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It was pretty clear at this point that we were done and just waiting to be given the release to go home. Sure enough, the doc headed in and said, “Sounds like he’s doing much better. I’m just going to check him over real quick, then you’ll be out of here.” Except as he felt his abdomen, he felt a bulge around the appendix area, and Jacob winced when he touched it. We couldn’t leave just yet.

The lady on the other side of the curtain returned to her father’s bedside. Jacob and I waited. He talked. I listened. More giggles from the other side of the curtain. The lady who had left earlier whispered to another lady – her mother – “Well, he is sure one very happy boy.” I could hear their quiet conversation about how much he had to say, and that it was all so happy.

I was thankful he was so full of joy, but I was dying of embarrassment just a wee bit. We really had no business being in the ER. Clearly, this kid was fine.

We headed to ultrasound, his mouth still constantly moving to the ultrasound tech about the “fun ride” he was getting as she pushed his bed through the corridors. On their way back, the tech asked Jacob how many siblings he had. He didn’t even hesitate. “I have 3 sisters. Annalise is 6, and the other 2 are Madison and Taylor. I won’t get to meet them until I get to Heaven. How old are they again, Mom?”

He’s never responded this way, so I was quite surprised, but not as much as the ultrasound tech was. It was clear she didn’t know what to say. “It’s ok,” I explained while holding back tears, “We had premature twins before he was born. They would be 8 next month.”

“Yeah.” He continued. “They are 8 in Heaven.”

They are 8 in Heaven. How come I still can’t seem to use the present tense when I refer to them? How come my kids keep showing me up on their wisdom and faith?

Back in our room with the same 3 people still on the other side of the curtain, the ultrasound tech awkwardly tripped over her words about the doctor coming in and us going home. I wondered if she was uncomfortable with the topic of Heaven, or if maybe it just got her thinking. Either way, while she was very well spoken earlier, she clearly stammered in that moment.

A few minutes later, the doctor and a nurse came in to discharge us. “It’s not appendicitis. Probably just a virus.” he said.

In my head, I thought about the insanely expensive doctor visit we just had. How much are these unnecessary tests going to cost us? I wondered. At least it’s not appendicitis.

“Nope!” Jacob stated matter-of-factly. “It’s not, because my Mom prayed it wouldn’t be!”

I just stared at him. In his hazy state, Jacob had heard my prayer in the lobby. While I was relieved it wasn’t appendicitis, my grown-up brain immediately assumed it never had been, followed by thoughts of the useless and pricey ER visit, and a little bit of embarrassment that we came to the ER for “no reason.”

His thoughts – and boldly flowing words right from his heart – immediately went to answered prayer.

I’ll admit, I don’t understand how prayer works. Our own personal tragedy is evidence to the fact that more people praying doesn’t necessarily guarantee desired results. We had hundreds – maybe even thousands – of people praying on several continents for our twins to survive. I also don’t believe that if we had just had more faith, our prayers would’ve been answered. My dad is a funeral director. I’m quite aware of the personally devastating results of unanswered prayer.

But I do know this: We are commanded to pray. In fact, we are to do so continuously (1 Thessalonians 5:17) and faithfully (Romans 12:12). We are to trust God, who is sovereign. And while God does not need our help to accomplish His will, He gives us this opportunity to cast our cares upon Him, to join Him in His works, and to acknowledge our total need and dependence on Him. And I fully believe that if we submit ourselves in prayer to Him, we will witness miracles and the mighty works of His hand.

I also know that in God’s sovereignty, He knows each of our needs. He allows people to cross paths, experiences to happen, things to be said that will bring glory to Him.

I wonder if that ultrasound tech needed to hear of Heaven on Monday night?

I wonder if a doctor and a nurse, and three people who sat anxiously on the other side of the curtain needed to hear the faith of an ever-so-happy 4-year-old boy who contributed his lack of appendicitis to answered prayer?

I don’t exactly know how prayer works, but I know that a little boy got sicker and sicker while his mom worried herself into a tizzy. But then she finally set aside her anxieties and began to pray presenting her requests to God (Philippians 4:6). Around the same time, 11 other people also got word of the sick boy and began to pray, and that sick little boy ended up perfectly fine in the ER. And I know that he used his words to brighten the day of everyone he talked to and spoke his faith boldly where no fewer than 6 strangers heard.

I’m not mentioning any names or anything, but I wonder if a certain mom of a certain four-year-old boy needed to witness that kind of faith and boldness?

Incidentally… while in the ER, I found myself explaining to everyone who came in the room just how sick Jacob had been earlier. I was feeling like a total idiot with a super healthy chatty kid sitting there eating the most expensive popsicles known to man. Three ER nurses responded the exact same way. “Don’t feel bad. It happens all the time. People come in and have been so sick for days. They get here, and they’re suddenly all better.” At the time, it just served to make me feel like less of an idiot. But now I wonder… How many of those people did exactly what I did – waited until they started their drive to the ER to really begin to pray and ask others to do the same? How many people’s prayers began to be answered as they finally submitted their requests humbly before God?

I don’t know why some people are healed and others aren’t. My aunt – who has been in remission 3 times for her Leukemia in the last 13 years – just found out some of the “bad cells” have entered her spinal column. I know that last week, as she had part of her head shaved for the port that was put in her head so the chemo can go directly into her spinal fluid, she was trusting Jesus. And now, as she sits recovering from a surgery that left a “Frankenstein” jagged cut in her head, she is glorifying Him to those she comes in contact with in person and on Facebook. And I know that God has allowed her to be the 79th documented case of this in the world for a reason. For His purpose. He has a big job for her to do, and she has said that through it, God has given her amazing peace and strength.

I wonder, how many nurses, doctors, techs, other cancer patients, friends on Facebook, or friends of friends of friends, need to see that kind of strength come from a woman who has difficulty standing and walking on her own two feet as a result of these cells in her spinal column?

I don’t know what you’re going through, or why. And I certainly don’t know how it will turn out.

But I do know this… For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. ~ Jeremiah 29:11-13, emphasis my own.

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Heaven’s Joy

This poem was written by a friend 6 years ago after our twin girls were born and entered Heaven. I read it countless times after they passed, because it provided me with mind pictures of the hope I clung to. I asked my friend permission to share it on here today in their memory.

In memory of

Madison Faith ~ August 11, 2006

and

Taylor Grace ~ August 13, 2006

Heaven’s Joy

A Poem for Taylor and Madison

Sweet little twins

Born so small and perfect

We wanted you to stay

Did you feel our love?

 

Precious little babies

Hear the lullaby of Jesus

Snuggle close to angel’s wings

Your spirits light and free

 

Lovely little daughters

In your new glorious bodies

Your daddy’s hopes, your mama’s dreams

Are in the arms of our Eternal Father

 

Darling little girls

Playing together in heaven

Skipping streets of gold, hand in hand

Your laughter rings out

 

Joyful little princesses

Gathering flowers for Mama

Blowing kisses down to Daddy

Your sky paintings decorate our world

 

Wondrous little children

Wide-eyed at the feet of Jesus

Hearing the true and ancient stories

From the source, the King Himself

 

Watchful little guardians

With glances toward the gate

Like Madison waited for Taylor

Now watch and wait for us

 

Beautiful little angels

Making your home in Heaven

Show us all your special places

On that grand reunion day!

 

Eternal little souls

Our sorrow is Heaven’s joy

Unmatched love surrounds you now

In Heaven and from Earth

Grace Lavished

I am humbled.

I began to write out my journey of faith just for myself, and I wrestled with the idea of making it public on my blog. (If you haven’t read it yet, this post won’t make sense. Read Tarnished first.) On the one hand, it felt good to write it all out and recognize how far I’ve come from my intense hatred toward God just 5+ years ago. It encouraged me to see how He’s been working in me, all the puzzle pieces lined up and fitting together, rather than each piece floating around in my mind disconnected from the rest. I was writing it for me. But then I thought that maybe it would be good for others to see, too – to encourage those that have prayed so faithfully for us and those that God has used to speak to us, to grow and stretch us during the past year.

On the other hand, posting this journey meant admitting to the world that I don’t have it all together. (I know. Shocking.) It meant confessing to people I know, love, and respect that my faith couldn’t withstand heartache. (Hmmm… a bit of pride creeping in here? I think so.) It’s humblingand to some extent humiliating – to know other people have grown in their faith in the midst of a tragedy, while I completely crumbled. Waves crashed, and I jumped ship. Shouldn’t I have been stronger? Why did it take me over 5 years to get to the point where I can trust God and accept that His ways are not my ways (Isaiah 55:8), and that is a good thing? After all, He sees the big picture. And not just my big picture. He sees everyone’s big picture, how they are interlinked, and for all of time. Why was I so stubborn in accepting that He knows best? I don’t want everyone to know about this major fault of mine!

Ah, yes. Pride. Guilt. Slowly creeping in like the ocean’s tide. I could soon be swamped.

I decided to write out my journey and think on it for a while before posting. I read it probably a dozen times (and missed all those typos/errors each and every time. Oops.) I didn’t want to post it if it was only for my benefit, but I would make it public if it could encourage someone else. I decided to post it. I prayed it would reach someone. I prayed that God would be glorified. I prayed that I could redeem some of the lost time I spent hating God, and that maybe, maybe some good would come of it.

The day after posting, I regretted it. First, the waves of pride came again, washing over me as I saw the number of people reading it increase. Then came the even more intense guilt. I failed. I threw my faith out the window. I completely jumped ship. I tried reminding myself that this isn’t about me. It’s about bringing glory to the One who made me and loves me as I am, despite my faults.

I had the opportunity to have a conversation with my pastor about it. I’m pretty sure I’ve said it once or twice before, but he’s pretty awesome. Seriously. (Oh yes, I did already say that. Here, here, and multiple times on various dates here.) But it’s worth saying again. How blessed we are to be a part of a church where we get to hear him preach nearly every week. He is so real. So transparent. And he speaks Truth. And since writing the last blog post, I have heard from more and more people who also feel – every week – like the preaching is just for them. Clearly, Pastor Phil is being used by God. I am constantly learning from him.

During our conversation, I told him about my guilt for hating God. I told him how bad I felt for jumping ship the second strong waves crashed. Pastor Phil cupped his hands like a bowl. “In your eyes, you jumped ship. But in His, you were always right here.”

What an amazing picture. No matter how much I give up on Him, no matter how far I try to run from His presence, I can’t ever escape the palm of His hands. Even when I jump ship, I still land right there, right where He is holding me.

You’d think that would be good enough for me to get past the whole guilt/pride thing. Um, no. (I may have also mentioned once or twice that I am a bit stubborn.) So while I was greatly encouraged by my conversation with my pastor, the very next day I allowed myself to feel guilty once again. I had lunch with a friend who experienced the loss of a baby similar to our situation. She rejoices at the gift God gave her. She is thankful for a treasure she has in Heaven. She didn’t hate like I did. More guilt as I wish I would have had her faith. Ugh.

Do you ever have one of those nights where you can’t keep your eyes open when you’re in the living room, but the second you hit the bed, you’re wide awake? Do you ever have an argument with yourself or with God? As I lay on my pillow that night, frustrated about not falling asleep, a thought crept into my mind…

Read Jesus Calling.

No. I left it in the living room. I’m not getting up.

Read Jesus Calling.

No. I’m cozy. I’m going to sleep now!

Get up. Read Jesus Calling.

No! Thank you. I think I’ll lay here in my misery and guilt until I fall asleep. I just missed one day. I’ll read two tomorrow.

You missed two days. Go read yesterday’s today.

Maybe I’m not making myself clear here. I’m. Not. Getting. Up. I will read two – no, THREE – devotionals tomorrow. Promise.

Get up. Read Jesus Calling. Read yesterday’s entry. Read it now, before you sleep.

It was at this point I realized I was even more awake than when the argument in my head started. I reluctantly – and with irritation – jolted up and into the living room, hoping to quiet my thoughts and allow myself to go back to sleep. My movement was sudden and startled Matt, so he followed me out to see what was going on. Embarrassed for sounding a bit crazy, I thumbed through the book while explaining to him that I just needed to read the devotional from yesterday so I could shut up my mind and get to sleep in peace, that really I didn’t think it was going to be helpful, but at least I wouldn’t be having stupid arguments in my head.

Here is where the story gets funny. I turned to the day’s devotion that I had skipped. The one I was apparently going to have to read if I wanted a chance at going to sleep. As I began to read, I couldn’t help but laugh. I read it aloud to Matt. We were both laughing.

From Jesus Calling by Sarah Young:

May 9

Don’t be so hard on yourself. I can bring good even out of your mistakes. Your finite mind tends to look backward, longing to undo decisions you have come to regret. This is a waste of time and energy, leading only to frustration. Instead of floundering in the past, release your mistakes to Me. Look to Me in trust, anticipating that My infinite creativity can weave both good choices and bad into a lovely design.

Because you are human, you will continue to make mistakes. Thinking that you should live an error-free life is symptomatic of pride. Your failures can be a source of blessing, humbling you and giving you empathy for other people in their weaknesses. Best of all, failure highlights your dependence on Me. I am able to bring beauty out of the morass of your mistakes. Trust Me, and watch to see what I will do.

Romans 8:28; Micah 7:7

If you have that book and read the devotional for May 9 and didn’t get much out of it, sorry. That one was written just for me.

So what now? What comes of the girl who hated God, now loves Him, and is on a majorly steep learning curve to reflect His image? (We’re talking straight up-and-down cliffs, here.)

This is the part where I work on choosing and remembering. Waking up each morning and choosing to remember that I am human, and I will continue to make mistakes. Yet, He still LOVES ME. He made me, and He does all things well.

Remembering that He is God, and He knows best. For me, for you, and for all of eternity. Oh boy, that one’s a toughy. I have to choose that often. (Yes, I know, stubborn me. Sheesh.) But I do. I have to decide each and every day – sometimes multiple times a day – that GOD is GOD, and I am not.

Remembering that no matter how far I run, jump, or hide, I can never escape the palm of His hands.

Remembering that He – God – the Creator of the Universe has lavished His Amazing Grace upon me. (Ephesians 1:7-8)

Grace lavished. Upon me. Stubborn. Prideful. Tantrum-ing, hateful me.

I am humbled. I am in awe. I am so incredibly grateful.

When I started this blog, I was purposeful in my intent: to focus on joy and the Giver of all good and perfect gifts. I was excited as I started the process. It felt good.

In her book One Thousand Gifts, (which I am super-slow at reading. Sorry, Rach. Still haven’t finished chapter 4), Ann Voskamp embraces joy in gratitude for the many Gifts from God. At the women’s retreat I attended, Sandi challenged us to do the same, to write down 1,000 gifts. 1,000 “pops of joy” from our Creator, God. Our Heavenly Father. More excitement from me for a challenge that aligned with what God was doing in my heart already.

Even having started this process on my own, I am a slow learner.  Even having multiple reminders in various ways, I stumble as many times as I attempt.

But I am lavished in His grace. Each day. Each moment. Each time I stumble. Each time I get back up. Grace lavished.

Like Ann Voskamp, Sandi, and many other women, I am looking for it in 1,000 ways. How He shows His love for me. Each gift an example of His unending love, His amazing grace. With no disrespect to a friend who coined the term “pop of joy,” I’m recording my gifts of grace. It helps me remember. Since I don’t seem to be so good at that…

Here are a few of my Gifts of Grace from this week:

  • Two hands, cupped together, reminding me I can not escape His love.
  • Encouraging messages from people I don’t know who read my journey. May God be glorified – answered prayer.
  • Jesus Calling May 9 entry. It was written for me, for this moment.
  • A text from a friend that simply said, “You are worth it.”

I think that last one was another reminder of God’s love for me. When the guilt creeps in, when I feel overwhelmed and discouraged and ashamed and in awe that He – GOD – could forgive and love me, He quietly whispers, “You are worth it.”

And I am lavished in His Grace.

Ephesians 1:7-8 ~ “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding.”

Romans 8:28 ~ “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”

Micah 7:7 (ESV) ~ “But as for me, I will look to the Lord; I will wait for the God of my salvation; my God will hear me.”

Tarnished

Recently, I’ve read a number of blogs from various people sharing their tragic real-life stories. A couple who lost their baby late in pregnancy. A young mommy-friend who is battling cancer after already having buried 2 of her babies. A mommy and daddy who said good-bye to their baby girl as she went to be with Jesus. And another mommy, her son buried, at the hands of a drunk driver. There are others, too. Stories from friends or from people I knew once upon a time. Blog after tear-jerking blog.

As I’ve read each of these heart-wrenching tales, I’ve been struck by the calm. The peace. The joy amidst heartache. All of the bloggers referred to the grace of God sustaining them. All of them are choosing not to ask God “why?” but to thank Him for His unending love, praise Him for His sovereignty.

And I am completely amazed.

Because I, too, have been on a journey with heartache and tragedy. Had I been a blogger just six years ago, readers would have experienced our highest peaks in life as we learned – despite having been told we would not be able to conceive naturally – that my 22-year prayer for twins was answered with no medical help whatsoever, immediately followed by our lowest valleys as we said good-bye to our baby girls in this world. I could have written out the details of our story, only my blog would have been different than those I have read of late. Mine would have been full of whys, full of anger.

Let me just say that I know the loss Matt and I have experienced is not even close to what some people in this world face. I don’t think, by any means, we’ve had the worst tragedy, the biggest heartache, or that we deserve some medal for our suffering. It isn’t like that at all. We have much to be grateful for. I also don’t think that the suffering of one can be minimized when compared to the suffering of another. For example, I don’t like when people say, “I’ve had a couple miscarriages, but that is nothing compared to what you’ve been through,” insinuating that just because our loss was further along, their loss was no big deal. We all have trials. Suffering is suffering. Loss is loss. Heartache is heartache.

And to be clear, I am not bringing up this heartache to gain sympathy. I don’t need it or want it. What I do need is to fix some wrongs. To redeem some of what was lost. To hopefully bring some glory to God and His unfailing love.

It’s just that if I were a blogger 6 years ago, you would not have read my thanks to God for His unending love. While I likely would not have been brave enough to write it for all to see, the words in my head and sometimes on my tongue would have (and did) curse God and “his plan.”

Or, if I wrote at that time, I may have written off God completely. Who needs you, if you even exist at all. Had you read my thoughts at that time, my view of God would have mirrored our roller-coaster circumstances.

…I guess it’s a good thing I wasn’t a blogger 6 years ago…

Apparently, I did not have a strong anchor to withstand the crashing waves we faced. Oh, I thought I did. I thought I trusted God fully, even while knowing that didn’t mean I was protected from heartache. I grew up the daughter of a funeral director. I saw heartache. Lots of it. I knew trusting God meant trusting through the good and the bad. I knew it meant believing God is a loving God, even when prayers aren’t answered the way we’d like. Knowing the anchor exists isn’t the same as grabbing hold, trusting it in the midst of the storm.

But let me back up a bit…

Immediately following the loss of our girls, I decided God did not exist. I mean, how could he? How could a god exist and allow such heartache?

Only I couldn’t swallow that thought. I knew God existed. Without going into the details here because it would take too long to explain each occurrence, I knew God existed because I had experienced Him in my life. It was not a question of if He existed, but why He would allow such pain.

And there were many whys. Why us? Why this miracle? Why give miracles only to take them away? Why answer a 22-year prayer only to destroy it? Why give hope only to crush it? And yet again? And then again? You are our Father, why torture your children this way? Why ignore the prayers of thousands of believers from around the world and let these babies die? Why not save them and bring glory to Yourself through this string of miracles?

The big “why” that I couldn’t swallow was: Why twins???? Having prayed for them since I was 5, and I mean really prayed for them – it felt like a personal attack. Me against God. He was out to get me where it hurts, and he succeeded. And I hated him for it. H-A-T-E. I had all sorts of things to say to this God, cruel ruler of the universe.

But God is not to blame, many people reminded me. Oh yeah? Well, God could have done something, yet he didn’t. In my mind, that made him guilty of murder. Murder of my two babies. The analogy I shared with my family and close friends was that of a lifeguard watching two girls drown. If this lifeguard – the only one capable of jumping in and pulling them to safety – just stood by and watched them die, he would be to blame for their death. Guilty of murder. God was the lifeguard that stood by and did nothing. And I was done with him.

For two years I felt this way. For two years the “why?”s and the anger towards this God that was supposed to be good stirred up hatred inside of me. By now, we had a little girl to raise. An amazing little creature, who trusted us for her well-being. Who was entrusted to us, and I knew I would be responsible for teaching her right from wrong and things of eternal value. I didn’t want to screw it up, only I didn’t know what to say. I wasn’t sure what to tell her about a God that I wanted her to love, but that I hated. I didn’t know how to explain the suffering I felt while teaching her that God is sovereign and good.

I asked Matt if he would see a counselor with me. We visited with a pastor from our church at the time, and I told him my feelings towards God and my view of him as the life-guard that stood by. He asked me about God’s promises… did He ever promise to protect us, to keep us from pain and suffering? No, I said, “So that means, we just live in a cruel world. Satan is real. Evil and pain exist. God didn’t promise to protect us from it, but he can use it for his glory. It’s not his fault, it’s Satan’s fault. It’s Adam and Eve’s fault.” The pastor agreed. God is good. Satan is bad. Sometimes life sucks.

For another two years, that became my new answer. Why is there suffering? How do I reconcile this pain and heartache with a loving creator? God is sovereign. But we live in a cruel world with sin, suffering, and heartache. So life sucks sometimes. But God can use this heartache for His glory.

And then we began to attend Sunrise Baptist Church, where for the first time in my adult life, I feel like I was really truly stretched in my faith. I was confronted with verse after verse that contradicted my current view of God. The problem was, my mantra “God is sovereign, but we live in a cruel world so life sucks, but God can use it for His glory” contradicted itself (not to mention the Bible.) Because if God is sovereign, as in in-control and all-powerful, then isn’t he all-powerful-all-the-time? Meaning, God is sovereign, all-powerful, and in-control even when a mommy lies on her back for weeks, begging and pleading with him to save her babies; He is in-control even when those babies are born, suffer, and die in the hands of their broken mommy and daddy; He is in-control even when that mommy watches her husband carry a pink gingham casket containing their precious girls and even when that casket is buried along with her 22-year dream for twins. So if he is all-powerful and in-control all the time, then he isn’t just using the crappy stuff that comes about because of this cruel world –  for his glory, but He is in the crappy stuff. He is there, in it, allowing it all to happen in his all-powerfulness. God can’t be sovereign if crappy stuff just randomly happens in a crappy world. That would be Him not in control. But if He truly is sovereign, then He is in control. All the time.

And here we come to the problem. That puts God right back in the life-guard seat. Watching my babies drown.

Not only that, but my viewpoint – the “Satan exists, so we live in a cruel world so life sucks” viewpoint – gives Satan way too much power. He is not the one in control. God is. So while Satan really truly exists and really truly is out for evil and to destroy, while life may be very painful at times, I don’t really like the idea of giving Satan the satisfaction of winning here. He exists only in a world that is ultimately controlled by God. 

So wait, God is in the suffering? As in, he allows it, in his great plan? Well, if you read the book of Job (which everyone will tell you to do when you experience loss. Seriously. Everyone.) You will see that Job experienced tremendous suffering. In fact, in just a few minutes time, he learned he lost all he owned – 7,000 sheep, 3,000 camels, 500 oxen, 500 donkeys, many servants, and all of his ten children. (Job 1:14-19). Satan was the cause of all this, but he only was able to destroy all of Job’s belongings and family because God allowed it (Job 1:12), God was the one in control. In fact, Satan could not harm Job’s person until God allowed it (Job 1:12 and 2:6). And what did Job do when he learned of his great loss? “He fell on the ground and worshiped God, saying “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” (Job 1:20-21)

I’ve read this account of Job’s life a lot in the last 5+ years. Lots. The thoughts that usually came to mind when I read it in the first few years were, “Whatever, Job. All perfect and holy. I hate you, too.” No, I’m not kidding. That’s really what I thought. Then in the following years, “Job, you seriously can’t be human. That kind of response just doesn’t happen when people experience that great of loss.” Except it does. Because as I said in the beginning, I’ve read peoples’ accounts, their testimonies, their worship and thanksgiving in the midst of their greatest suffering.

I vividly remember the first Sunday we were finally able to talk ourselves into attending church after burying our babies. It was months later. I didn’t want to be there. I still hated God. I went. I stood during worship. But I didn’t sing. One of the worship songs that morning was the Matt Redman song, “Blessed Be the Name of the Lord.” You know the one. We had sung it a thousand times before.

Blessed be Your name
On the road marked with suffering
Though there’s pain in the offering
Blessed be Your name

Every blessing You pour out
I’ll turn back to praise
When the darkness closes in, Lord
Still I will say

Blessed be the name of the Lord
Blessed be Your name
Blessed be the name of the Lord
Blessed be Your glorious name

You give and take away
You give and take away
My heart will choose to say
Lord, blessed be Your name

I left church even angrier at God. YOU give and YOU take away. Again. His fault. He did it. Even Job says so.

Except Job didn’t say so. Job said, “The Lord gives and the Lord takes away.” But he didn’t say, “It’s God’s fault.”  “In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong.” (Job 1:22)  So Job knew the Lord was in his suffering, allowing it, but he didn’t blame God or charge him with wrong. Even as Job continued to suffer physically as described in chapter 2, he knew it was allowed by God. God didn’t create the suffering, but He allowed it to happen. He had his own purposes in mind for doing so. Ultimately, HE was in control, and Job worshiped Him.

Fast forward to about 10 months ago…

It was around this time that I had been confronted with so many verses and Biblical truths that I could no longer deny that: 1) God exists. 2) He is in control. 3) He is good. And 4) All these are possible at once. Even though I suffer and you suffer and people have tremendous heartache.

It was a series of puzzle pieces that were getting put together before my eyes. A quick summary of a few of them, which won’t even scratch the surface of how all the pieces fit together:

  • Every sermon Pastor Phil preached seemed directed at me. Every. Single. One. I can’t possibly summarize them here. But they were all for me. (God the Holy Spirit is working inside me. Apparently He’s not done with me yet.) Thanks, Pastor Phil, for being a vessel to be used so mightily by God.
  • I had a conversation with our pastor’s wife who has experienced great loss and suffering as well. She made a comment that sticks with me. Something along the lines of, “I can’t help but be happy for people who suffer, because it’s only then that they can truly experience the Joy of the Lord.” Thank you, Lisa, for always sticking the right words in my mind to fester in my heart.
  • The women’s Bible study I attend spent time focusing on how experiences God gives us are used to shape us and our relationship with Him.  (i.e. No longer can I be content with “Life just sucks sometimes, but at least God can use it for His glory.” God is in the hard, using it to shape us, and allowing it for His glory. Remember Job?) See also Romans 8:28
  • I was put in a Bible study group with the perfect women to encourage me. They all did in one way or another, but wow… Amy and Judy, the encouragers. Every question I had, frustration I felt, fear that welled up, you combated it with the exact Truth I needed to hear. I am so grateful.
  • I decided to focus on Joy and began a blog to help me to remember to do just that. (Thanks, Matt, Amy, and others for encouraging me to do so.) I decided to believe what the Bible says and shows over and over. That God is good. All the time. And that He is the giver of all good gifts. There are countless verses to reference here, but just to name a few: Psalm 136:1, Psalm 100:5, Psalm 119:68, James 1:17
  • I began reading (again) a devotional my parents got me over a year ago. It sat unused for quite some time, but suddenly I felt compelled to read Jesus Calling. All about remaining in His presence. All about being reminded of His sovereignty and goodness. Ok. Got it. YOU are in control. All the time. And YOU are good. All the time. And just in case I forget, I have a daily devotional leading me right to the perfect verses that I needed to hear that day. Every day.
    Thanks, Mom and Dad, for praying faithfully and encouraging lovingly.
  • I attended a women’s conference where the focus is on Joy. I already mentioned in this post how awesome the conference was and how I left feeling full. Everything I heard there fit in perfectly with everything God had been working on in my heart already. The topic, the challenges, and one of the recommended books? Jesus Calling. Check. Already reading that one. Thank you, Sandi, for your encouraging messages.
  • We finished our Bible study on Experiencing God and began studying Philippians, a.k.a. The Joy book. Of course we did. Because apparently Holly needed to be beat over the head with the same topic until she finally figured out how to experience joy amidst suffering, how to be thankful and trust in God and His sovereignty no matter the circumstance. Read Philippians.Not just in one night. Study it carefully. Take a chapter a week. I dare you not to change your outlook on where your joy comes from.
  • In our Sunday School class, we’re studying 1 Peter. A question of suffering came up. Why is there suffering? Our fearless leader, Jeff, turned the question around. Does God suffer? While I knew the answer, I hadn’t really thought about it before. Or at least not at a time when I was willing to listen. We looked up a number of verses that pointed me to the same conclusion: While I suffered, He too suffered. (Isaiah 63:9). A simple thought, maybe, but it helped me turn my “heartless lifeguard” view of God around for good. As I ached, He ached too. My heart was broken. So was his. I am His child. A Father grieves for the pain their child feels. God suffered with me. Thanks Jeff and Renee for reminding me. At just the perfect time.
  • A Facebook friend posted this story about Malachi 3:3 He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; he will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver. The point of the story is that a refiner of silver knows it is pure when he sees his image on it. So God is working to purify me – help me to be a reflection of Him. Only as I read it, something else struck me: While he waits, He is holding me through the entire process. Feeling the heat from the flames. Waiting patiently for me to reflect His image.
    Thanks, Karen, for posting that when it had touched you. You have no idea how many others you touched by sharing it and making yourself vulnerable on FB.

And that’s where I am now. Realizing that I am about the most tarnished impure silver there is. While others have suffered and continue to thank the Lord for his faithfulness and love, I threw tantrums. I hated. I name-called. I kicked and screamed and denounced God. And all the while, He held me and suffered the pain I suffered. Patiently waiting for me to reflect an image of Him. Oh, how He’s waited. (And by the way, He will continue to wait. Because I will always have more to learn, ways to grow.)

Thank you, Lord, for your grace. For your patience. For your forgiveness of my stubborn and selfish ways. I want to be a reflection of You, for your glory. I’m just sorry that it’s taking me so long.

If you’ve read this far, you’re likely one of the people who love us and prayed for us during our loss nearly 6 years ago. Likely, you’re someone God put in our lives to help carry us through the storm. Maybe you were a person who reminded me on more than one occasion that yes, God still sits on the throne. How blessed I am to have had people in my path gently do just that; countless family, a friend, a co-worker, even my boss. Thank you. Thank you for your unwavering faith, for not giving up on God as I did, and for not giving up on us in prayer.

So now, it’s about time I grab hold of that anchor. More storms may come. They likely will. I cannot allow every wave to send me overboard or capsize the boat. It doesn’t mean it won’t be hard. I’m not saying there is no longer hurt with our loss. It doesn’t mean I don’t have any more questions. It just means that I have decided to trust the anchor I knew was there all along. It means I understand now, finally, that God is in control, and He does all things well. He doesn’t make mistakes. Our twins, their births, their death, wasn’t a mistake. He oversaw it all. And yet, He is good. I have to trust that. I’ve decided to follow Job’s lead and say, “The Lord gives and the Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the LORD.”

5 years, 8 months, 6 days

So apparently I have some sort of weird attachment to hair.

First there was this episode where I bawled like a baby for the 1/2 inch of hair that was trimmed off Annalise’s long locks. But they were her baby locks. And this was her first cut. And so I saved a lock of curls in an envelope. But the envelope stayed in my purse, which is really just a catch-all for random toys, kids’ dirty socks, a spoon or two, gum wrappers, and papers of many kinds. Oh the papers!

And one day, in a fit of frustration, I dumped all papers – including one envelope containing a lock of hair – into the trash without really going through them much. And when I remembered the envelope, garbage day had passed.

And so I bawled like a baby. Again.

But now I think I’m finally over the hair loss. Annalise’s, at least. I’m still emotional about Matt’s. But he’s been losing his hair for quite some time, you say. Yes. Yes, he has. I’m not talking about that hair loss.

His beard. He shaved it off tonight (goatee still intact). I’m happy he did. It looks awesome. But I still bawled like a baby.

It’s just that he’s had that beard for 5 years, 8 months, and 6 days. I know, because I remember the last day he shaved, 5 years, 8 months, and 7 days ago. And I know that day, because it was the day we were going in for an ultrasound of our twin babies.

And then we were sent to the hospital. And then I was transported by ambulance to UW perinatal center. And they told us our girls wouldn’t survive because I was going to deliver them that day.

But I didn’t.

So instead, I was put on inclined bed-rest. And so Matt didn’t shave the next day – 5 years, 8 months, and 6 days ago – because we were at a hospital in Seattle unexpectedly, and he hadn’t packed.

And then he didn’t shave the day after that. Or the next day. Or the day after that. And his beard became an outward sign – a tangible measurement – of how long I was still pregnant since the day they told us our babies would be born that day.

And soon he had a full beard. And we were proving “them” wrong, because I was still pregnant with two healthy, kicking baby girls.

But then 2 weeks and 1 day later, my water broke. And the next day, Madison Faith was born and died. 5 years, 7 months, and 23 days ago.

And the day after Madison died, my water broke again. And the next day, Taylor Grace was born and died. 5 years, 7 months, and 21 days ago.

And today Matt shaved his beard. It was emotional for him, too, and we talked about it first. There have been many times where he thought about shaving but didn’t, because it was too hard for one or the other of us.

Today we agreed. It was okay to let it go. And I love how he looks. But I bawled like a baby, because it reminded me that I am no longer pregnant with our two baby girls. And I didn’t play with them today. Or read with them. Or dye Easter eggs with them. Or tuck them in bed and sing them a song. Or say prayers with them and kiss their cheeks.

But I did kiss my two other babies’ cheeks. And I can see Matt’s dimples again. I love them. And I can kiss his cheeks.

And now I wonder if Madison had his dimples. She had a wider smile than Taylor’s, and she had my chin. Taylor looked more like her daddy, except she had my dark hair. Madison’s hair was blonde. 5 years, 7 months, and 21 days ago, and I still remember. When you have only moments to make memories, I guess you burn them into your mind so deep that you won’t ever forget. Each detail. Each movement. The perfect little fingers and eyebrows and noses. Twin girls with very different mouths and different hair color, born on different days. One of them – Taylor – already nearly an inch taller than her “older” sister.

I haven’t forgotten.

5 years, 8 months, 6 days ago, our lives were changed.

And so I cried for the beard.

 

I will lift up my eyes to the hills – where does my help come from? My helps comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth. ~Psalm 121:1-2

I will give thanks to the LORD because of his righteousness and will sing praise to the name of the Lord Most High. ~Psalm 7:17

And those who know your name put their trust in you, for you, O Lord, have not forsaken those who seek you. ~Psalm 9:10

But let all who take refuge in you rejoice; let them ever sing for joy… ~Psalm 5:11