another spring

Spring is just around the corner here in Minneapolis…or so I hope.  We are experiencing another slew of snow, expecting maybe 10 inches by tomorrow night!  But nevertheless, spring will come eventually.  And if not indicated by the weather, the calendar will say “goodbye” to winter in just a few weeks.

This morning, I was reflecting on last year’s spring; and it’s difficult to believe that another year has passed.  My life has changed so dramatically since then.  A year ago, Brian and I decided to begin trying to have kids (a decision that we made relatively quickly, which is so typical for us); and by the end of March, we were thrilled to learn that I was pregnant.  The next few months were filled with excited anticipation–everything that spring should be.  New growth and new life surrounded us.  It was a wonderful season.

Little did we know that new life was to be extremely short.

Three months later, on May 21st, we went in for a routine prenatal visit.  The midwife attempted to find our baby’s heartbeat but could not.  A few hours later, an ultrasound confirmed the terrible news: our baby’s heart was not beating.  Just like that, spring ended; and we jumped to winter–a bitterly cold, bleak, grey winter.

Now, just one year later, I am pondering the similarities and (hopefully) differences between last spring and this upcoming spring.  Today, I am 36 weeks pregnant, with our estimated due date almost exactly the same day we discovered I was pregnant a year ago.  This season is again filled with excited anticipation; yet it is so different from the last.

I am amazed at how quickly God blessed us with another child, and I can’t wait to meet this little boy that moves around constantly (he’s already a runner)!  Much of the pain of last year has been eased, allowing me to experience a spring filled with new growth and life again.  I have not forgotten that sudden winter; nor do I think I ever will.  

But I can look forward and pray that this spring leads into summer, as it should.

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declaring the glories of God

There’s not a plant or flower below, but makes Your glories known;
And clouds arise, and tempests blow, by order of Your throne;
While all that borrows life from You is ever in Your care,
And everywhere that man can be, You, God, are present there.

This is a verse of the old hymn written by Isaac Watts I Sing the Mighty Power of God.  I have never actually heard this hymn sung before; I have only ever read the written lyrics.  However, the poetry is beautiful, and it makes me stop for a moment in the midst of life and ponder:

If all of creation declares God’s glories constantly, why do I–a being with a soul and intellect–not?

If the flowers of the field, which have no capacity for thought or action of their own, can do such an incredible task, I have no excuse.  I must declare the glory of God in every aspect of my life–word, thought, deed–constantly as well.

For God deserves nothing less.

the power of words

I once heard a wise man say to a room full of thousands of youth leaders,

“What do you do when you realize you are the most powerful man in the room?”

Years later, this question has never left my mind.  I am periodically reminded of the great responsibility those in any position of leadership over someone else retain.  The older I become and the more I work in youth ministry, I see the grave truth in the question.  Our words have the power to bring life or death to those around us.

Currently, I am reading through the historical books of the Old Testament; and today, I found myself at the end of 2 Samuel, which records the decline of David’s kingdom.  The particular story I read was chronicling the treason of Absalom to overthrow his father David’s reign, becoming king himself.  Although a dangerous attempt, it ends with Absalom’s gruesome death.

But it is not Absalom–or David–that caught my interest this morning.  In the middle of this account, I came across a short and rather minor blurb about a man named Ahithophel (2 Samuel 16:20-23).  He was counselor to David originally and then to Absalom during this conspiracy.  This short passage can be summarized as follows: Almost immediately after Absalom enters Jerusalem, he asks Ahithophel what his next move should be.  Ahithophel advises that Absalom sleep with his father’s 10 concubines in a tent on the palace roof to display his power to the nation of Israel, and Absalom does just that. The final verse (23) reads,

Now in those days the counsel that Ahithophel gave was as if one consulted the Word of God; so was all the counsel of Ahithophel esteemed, both by David and by Absalom.

Wow.  What a incredible statement about Ahithophel, a man only briefly mentioned in the Old Testament.  What tremendous power he carried to direct the kings of Israel!  I wonder whether or not he felt the full weight of that responsibility.

I find it rather tragic that Ahithophel’s counsel was accepted as the words of God.  He was most definitely not God; and although the bulk of his advice must have been full of wisdom in his earlier days to gain this level of respect, he was still a human being with fault.  His words should never have replaced those of God’s.  Did he–early on–gain this position as chief counselor because he sought God’s council before giving his own?  Did his counsel take a turn for the worst because he became comfortable and confident in his own words?  He must have been a great man once.  I wonder if he ever realized in his later life how far he had strayed from true wisdom.

Interestingly enough, he appears in the next chapter of 2 Samuel but with a very different outcome.  This time, his advice is rejected; and he returns home to hang himself.  Maybe only then did he fully realize his power and corresponding responsibility.  At least, I’d like to think so.

We can never underestimate the power of our words.  Our words can either bring life to those around us or they can bring death.  We must seek the counsel of the Lord alone and pass that along to those who ask, rather than speaking solely out of our own opinions.  Proverbs reminds us that true wisdom can be found only in a reverence for the Lord (Proverbs 1:7).

Similarly, we must never esteem man’s words higher than God’s.  We can seek counsel from the people in our lives or books on our shelves, but they must never replace the words found on the pages of the Bible.  Those words–God’s Words–alone hold the power of true life.

You may never really know how your answer to this question could change the course of one person’s life–or the direction of an entire nation:

What do you do when you realize you are the most powerful man in the room?

it won’t always be this way

A friend of mine has a wonderful tattoo on her forearm that says

it won’t always be this way

When she first got it, I remember thinking that it looked awesome but the meaning was curious.  It made sense, but I wasn’t sure if I would want that phrase permanently on my body as a reminder of difficult days.  I wanted to stay positive and enjoy life.

But now, I think I understand why she chose that particular phrase to hold a constant place in her mind–because it’s true.

I have found myself repeating that phrase over and over to myself over the past few months.  Instead of bearing negativity, it has actually became a lifering on which to hang onto it.  And I have found that it brings hope.

If this world were to remain the same, there would be no purpose in living.  It would be one endless cycle of death and destruction.  Mankind would continue to strive for improvement, joy, and meaning; but it would all be futile.  The knowledge and faith that someday, things will be different brings hope and meaning to the pain of life.

Because of Jesus’ death and resurrection, we can have this hope!  One day, He will return, ablaze in glory and will restore all things to their original purpose and beauty.  There will be no more tears, no more pain, no more striving, no more death.  We will experience perfection for all eternity.

As I encounter terrible bumps in this race of life, I can continue to persevere because of the hope I have in Jesus.

it won’t always be this way

Aside

memorial day

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I know Memorial Day is set aside to honor the veterans who have served our country and rightfully so but that day is now going to have another meaning for Brian and I.

As part of our grieving and healing process, we decided to celebrate the life of Promise.  The hospital where I had my procedure sends all the unborn babies’ remains to a cemetery located on a beautiful lake near our house.  There is an entire portion of the cemetery dedicated to babies who died too young.  It’s called BabyLand.

We drove over to the lake, parked our car, and walked about a quarter mile to the cemetery entrance.  I’ve been to other cemeteries before, but this time was different.  I wasn’t a child accompanying my parents to a memorial service for someone I never knew, and I wasn’t a college student reading the names from other lifetimes.  No, I was a hurting, mourning soul.

Walking to BabyLand, I felt nervous and exposed.  I needed to hold my husband’s hand–to feel his presence beside me.  We found a memorial dedicated to all children with a passage of Scripture expressing Jesus’ love for children on it.  This one was the one to honor Promise. For awhile, we stood in front of it together, reflecting separately; and then we shared some of our thoughts with each other.

Earlier in the afternoon, we had picked up a helium balloon in honor of Promise.  There were so many different colors–orange, pink, yellow, blue, black, white.  It was a bit overwhelming.  Which one represented Promise?  It seemed almost at the same time that both our eyes settled on green.  Not dark green but a soft green resembling new growth.  That was the one.  That was Promise.

We carried the balloon with us as we walked from our car and through the cemetery.  It had our love written on it in black Sharpie.  And when we were ready, we turned to the sky and both let go of the balloon, watching it float away so quickly in the breeze.

It was just a matter of a few seconds before I couldn’t see it anymore.  I felt a little anxious because I wanted to watch it longer.  The excited anticipation I felt to release the balloon and watch it float away was quickly replaced by frustrated disappointment when its time was shorter than I wanted.

But how so like Promise.

something small and dear to hold

You know, I’m always amazed at the connections I have all over the world because of what I do.  It’s just one month short of 11 years ago that I meant another girl named Bethany.  She was in my discipleship group on my very first mission trip with Royal Servants.  Now, 11 years later, I work for Royal Servants; and we are still in contact.

After hearing about our recent loss, she referred me to a blog written by one of her other friends (Wegen Tales).  It chronicles the journey of another mom whose babies are all in heaven.  As painful as it is, I found it also very encouraging to hear how this mother is approaching life.  I found comfort in a woman I had never met but feel that we have a similar connection.

This woman has started a non-profit organization called Owl Love You Forever.  Her desire is to bring comfort during a time of deep sorrow to families who lose babies (whether born or unborn).  Hospitals hosting this organization give these mothers a box containing a variety of items to help grieve and remember.  One of these items is an adorable, stuffed owl.

When we returned home from the ultrasound appointment, one of the first things I did was head to our storage closet and dig out a bin containing some of my keepsakes.  This particular bin was at the very bottom of a stack of other bins.  When I took off the lid, right on top was my favorite childhood teddy bear (named Teddy, of course) next to a pair of  duck baby slippers I’ve been saving for a few years.  It’s a ragged and worn old bear I actually acquired as a small child at a church garage sale (I have a soft spot for underdog animals).  This bear spent every night for probably 15 years by my side, traveled the world, and went to college with me.  It has comforted me through many different experiences.  This time, I hugged it to my chest and cried.  It spent the next two nights with me before I could put it back in its storage space.

I can’t really describe what it was that compelled me to reach for something so old and dear, something from my past.  It’s small teddy bear arms reminded me of a baby’s arms.  Maybe that sounds more painful, like a constant reminder of the baby I wasn’t going to hold.  It was–a little; but the comfort of holding something small and dear was greater.

Owl Love You Forever provides women with stuffed owls for just that reason.  “No mom should have to leave the hospital with empty arms.”  I agree.

This morning, Brian and I donated a box in Promise’s honor for some future mom who will experience the same tragedy.  It is part of our healing process.

our beautiful Promise

Let’s just begin by saying that this week has been unbelievable–and not really in a good sort of way unbelievable.

But before that, there was last week.  Brian and I had a few days off to rest from a year of discipling students with Kairos and to mentally prepare for a summer with Royal Servants.  It was an all around good time as we enjoyed each other’s company.  My favorite memory of the week was walking around the shops on a beautiful, big lake near our home in 90 degree weather, dreaming about our future.  In a few months, our family would expand to three.  Our lives were full of excited anticipation.

Monday, we headed back into the office for a crazy day of preparing, shopping, and packing for a trip to the Boundary Waters (a canoe wilderness trip) with Kairos.  Both of us ran around almost like chickens with our heads cut off trying to get everything ready in time.  One of us (who will remain unmentioned) didn’t even have time to stop to use the bathroom.  This day was so important because both of us were leading a separate team of 4 students on this trip, so we were responsible for making sure our individual teams had all the gear and food necessary for 5 days in the wilderness.

Around 2:30, we hurriedly left the office (with promises to our director that we would be in extra early the next day to finish everything before we left for the Boundary Waters) and headed to the midwife’s office for our 13 week prenatal appointment.  Both of us were super excited to hear the baby’s heartbeat again.  At our last visit, hearing it for the first time was nothing short of magical.

During the visit, we chatted with the midwife, asking many questions about how the pregnancy would affect future trips we had planned with Reign Ministries.  She began listening for the heartbeat, while we continued to talk, fully confident that we would hear it in no time.  We heard it at 8 weeks, so 13 should be no problem.

But it was a problem.  I began to think that maybe the midwife didn’t know how to use that little stethoscope thing.  Next visit, I would for sure schedule with someone else.  She tried for probably almost 5 minutes with no success.  And then she decided we needed an ultrasound that day and left the room in a hurry.  It was all kinda odd.

We walked back out to the waiting room to schedule the ultrasound with the receptionist (who, I might add, was seriously lacking in people skills).  It wasn’t until 6:30 P.M. that we could get a slot–2.5 hours later.  Neither of us were very thrilled about waiting  in suspense for the next few hours while we continued to run errands for the Boundary Waters trip.  It felt wrong to continue with normal life when in reality, our entire future was suspended in the great unknown.

By 6:30 that night, we were starting to unravel.  While sitting in the waiting room (waiting–that’s all we’d been doing), Brian got a call from his dad with some unfortunate news.  Brian’s younger brother is married to a Canadian, and they both live and work in Northern Alberta.  While renewing his visa, Brian’s brother was denied entry back into Canada until his visa comes through.  Your guess is as good as mine for how long that could be.  Meanwhile, his wife is still living in Canada.  It was on this note that we were called into the ultrasound room.

I couldn’t see the ultrasound screen because the technician had turned it away from me, but Brian could.  He said she checked and double-checked, but it was void of movement and life.  Her words seem stamped in my mind, “I’m so sorry.  There is no heartbeat.”  At that moment, it was like the world stopped for a split second and crashed down upon me.  What was I supposed to do now?

Get dressed.  Walk back out.  Sit in the waiting room–again.  Wait for the midwife to call.  Try to hold myself together and not think about what just happened.

After 20 minutes of waiting, we left.  I told the receptionist to have the midwife call me.  It was ridiculous to sit there in that cold room with pictures of flowers while everything inside of me was dead.  Why do they expect you to sit there calmly?  And who designs those rooms anyways?

In the car, I burst into tears.  It was all so terrible and unbelievable.

At home, the midwife finally called 40 minutes later.  We decided the Boundary Waters was not a good idea because I probably needed surgery.  So around 9 P.M., Brian called our good friend Mark who made the necessary phone calls to handle all the details about the trip.  Actually, Mark and his wife Jana handled all the details about everything for us over the next few days–groceries, meals, Starbucks, tears, prayers, listening ears.  They became our lifeline.  But I’m getting head of myself.

The next day, we met with an OB-GYN doctor about the surgery, which was scheduled for the following day.  I’m terrified of hospitals after the rafting accident a few years ago, so the prospect of a sedated procedure was intensely scary.  I have to admit–I was upset that on top of the emotional pain, “they” were going to add physical pain.  It was all so unfair, and this was definitely NOT how I thought things would turn out.  Just last week, our lives were overflowing with promise and hope.

As I was expressing all my fears to Jana over the phone, Brian got another call.  This time, it was about his older brother’s wife.  She had experienced a stroke and was on her way to the Emergency Room.  She’s 30.  Like I said in the beginning, this week has been unbelievable.  I don’t want to leave you hanging, so I will interrupt this story to tell you that now, a few days later, she is back home recovering well with very little lasting side affects (all things considered).  You can read in more detail about their experience on their blog here. But in that moment when I heard the news and the future was unknown, it was then that I realized our family was under some kind of spiritual attack.  Knowing that didn’t really make it all better, but it did add some explanation (albeit, small) to the craziness in our lives.

Late the next morning (Wednesday), Brian and I headed back to the hospital for surgery prep.  A few of my fears were eased as the staff were very kind and understanding.  I think I looked like a scared cat in the backseat of a moving car.  In fact, I was told almost as much.

Coming out of the procedure, one of the first things I remember is tears.  It was over.  All my future plans and dreams were officially finished.  A life had been lost.  That little heartbeat we had heard just 5 weeks before was gone, never to experience our loving arms.  The next few days of recovery were a cycle of sleep, movies, meals, physical pain, normal routine (like brushing teeth & showering), and deep sorrow.

I don’t think I have ever cried so much in my life.

I consider myself a pretty positive person.  At least, I have an ability to focus on the good things in stressful or disappointing situations and let those outshine the negative.  I can often easily see God’s hand.  But this time has been different.  The positives, although I can see them, do not outweigh the loss.  They don’t even balance it.  Sometimes, the pain is just too great.  And I’m learning that is okay.

This world we live in–the world where we build our dreams, hopes, and futures–is broken.  Life will never go as planned, will never be perfect.  The positives will not always outweigh the negative.  At the end of the day, the sun may not shine.  We are in need of redemption.  This world and this life were not meant to be so fractured.  Instead, they were meant to be richly lived and experienced to the fullest.  Redemption comes through Jesus Christ alone.  Through hope in Him, we can face whatever today may hold because we know that tomorrow will be with Him.

The other night, as I sat on my couch reading God’s Word and weeping, this passage brought me great comfort; and it expresses the point I am trying to make beautifully:

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look!  God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and He will dwell with them.  They will be His people, and God Himself will be with them and be their God.  He will wipe every tear from their eyes.  There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”  He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!”  Then He said, “Write these down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” -Revelation 21:3-5

Maybe you are reading this because you’re curious about Brian and I.  Maybe you support and pray for us.  Maybe you love us.  But if you are reading this in the midst of a deep sorrow like ours, I pray that you find hope.  For without Him, there is only deep sorrow.

We named our unborn baby Promise.  We don’t know if it was a boy or girl, so we chose this name to represent truth in our lives during this time.  And the truth is this:

God has promised that someday, this suffering will end.  Redemption will be complete.  We have a hope and a future in Him. 

lessons over coffee

Life is full of lessons.  You just never know where they are going to come from.  Sometimes, the least expected places offer the greatest insights.  I wouldn’t say this was one of those greatest insight moments, but it definitely caused me to reflect upon the significance of it.

Recently, I met a high school girl at Starbucks.  She is going on Royal Servants this summer for the first time.  Over my grande drip, we talked about what to expect this summer, how to prepare, and what to pack.  I could talk about Royal Servants for a week straight so she probably received more information than she needed, but the point of this story is not what I said to her.  It’s what she said to me.

“I am super nervous to go this summer.  In fact, I barely talk about it; but I am going because God has called me to.  I want to be obedient to Him.”

Does it get any better than that?  Maybe it’s not what she said that has stuck in my mind ever since but the significance of it.  At 17-years-old, she has it right.  The greatest life lesson you can learn is to obey God, knowing that He has everything under control.  Even if what He asks causes fear or sacrifice, following Him is always best in the end.   “And in all things, God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28).

This story is just one other reason why I love youth ministry.  Although I like to think I am challenging, preparing, and encouraging youth over coffee, in reality, they are challenging me.

lessons from running in the rain

 
It was early April–in the Northwest.  Do I even need to mention that it was raining?  Actually, it was more like torrential down pouring.  My husband and I were on an 18-mile training run for our first marathon.  Within the first few miles, my clothes were soaked and my shoes soggy.My husband is one of those “everything-is-amazing” type of people.  He loves running in the rain.  He often tells me how great the rain feels on your face.I hate it.

The first few miles were killer.  I was so cold and miserable; yet completing that run was crucial.  I decided to send God a prayer, asking for a break in the rain.  In fact, I repeated that prayer over and over for about a mile.  What else was there to do every squishy step?

At four miles, the rain stopped.  A tiny bit of sun peeked through the clouds and began to dry out my clothes.  I was thrilled.  I believed that God could keep the rain away for the remaining 14 miles if He chose.  He is all-powerful!  So I asked Him for just that.

My husband, on the other hand, suddenly turned into a realist.  He expected the rain to begin again any moment.  It was spring in the Northwest after all.

But it never did.

We finished the run without another drop of rain.  I felt so overwhelmed by God’s love for me.  He cares about the smallest details in my life, even down to the enjoyment of a run.

That run is stamped on my mind as a practical demonstration of God’s love for me, as a reminder of the power of prayer, and as proof that faith in an all-powerful God is powerful.

And if you have faith like a mustard seed, you can move mountains (Matt. 17:20).

Now, I am not saying that if you pray the same prayer over and over, God will answer it with a “yes.”  Sometimes, His plans are different than our prayers; but He does always have your best interest in mind.

Right now, maybe you feel like the rain is coming down in a torrent.  I would encourage you to bring your fears, doubts, and concerns to Jesus.  Let His love flow over you.  Have faith that He will bring everything together.  Then lace up your shoes tighter and continue running.

a radical encounter

Tonight, I sat in the pew of a beautiful church.  Little flecks of light from candles surrounded the room.   Huge organ pipes reminded me of ancient churches where the people of old worshiped.  A sculpture of The Lord’s Supper constantly refocused me on the reason why I was sitting in this sanctuary.  I had come, as many generations before me had come, to meet Jesus.

Now, I have to admit, as spiritual as I sound thus far, I was not.  It had been a long day.  I had interacted with many people throughout it, and my mind was weary.  A hot cup of tea, red velvet cupcake, and lightweight movie drama was my idea of a good evening.  My husband had other ideas.

When he suggested we attend a night service, I was slightly hesitate.  After all, that red velvet cupcake was calling my name.  However, I realized my priorities may have been disorganized.  Ninety minutes of reflection, refocusing, and rejoicing might just do the trick.

And that is how I found myself sitting in the middle of a pew, ruminating of the churches of old, waiting to meet Jesus.

The sermon text was from Luke 19:1-10, which tells the story of a short–but wealthy–man’s encounter with Jesus.  His height, or rather lack of it, is an important detail.

This wealthy man–we’ll call him Zacchaeus–heard that Jesus was coming to town, and his curiosity got the better of him.  Now, in the past, Zacchaeus had a difficult time in large crowds because he could barely see over the heads of the people in front of him.  But what Zacchaeus lacked in height, he made up for in brains.  Deciding to run ahead of the crowd, Zacchaeus climbed a huge sycamore-fig tree in the middle of the town square, knowing he would have a clear view of Jesus as he passed by.  He climbed, and he waited.

When Jesus passed by this monstrous tree, He noticed a small man amidst its branches.  Without hesitation, Jesus called out to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately!  I want to have dinner with you tonight!”

What an honor!  Zacchaeus, a Jewish man, was a tax collector for the oppressive Roman empire.  He was a despised traitor to his people.  Jesus, a well-known Jewish Rabbi, wanted to have dinner with him!  Of course, he accepted.

It is this dinner with Jesus–this one time encounter for a few hours–that radically changed Zacchaeus’ life.  As they enjoyed good food together, Jesus made an impact on Zacchaeus on a deep, spiritual level.  Zacchaeus experienced a significant change of heart.  In fact, he was so greatly moved that he gave half of all he owned to the poor.  The story concludes with Jesus’ words, “Today salvation has come to this house.  For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.”

The pastor used this story and the words of Jesus to paint a new perspective for me of who Jesus is.  He was a radical, an extremely interesting Person.  He was anything but boring.  He was so curious that Zacchaeus, a wealthy and despised man, climbed a tree to get a glimpse.

I have wondered, “If I lived during Jesus’ day, would I follow Him?”  Although I believe in Him today, would I if I hadn’t learned of Him my entire life?  Hearing the pastor’s perspective, I now think I would have.  Tonight, I was excited to follow Jesus.  He is radical.  He is for everything I desire–change, a new way of living that is honest and deep and real. When He came, He taught love for all people, respect and equality, mercy and kindness, grace and forgiveness.  He led a revolution.  He brought us back to our spiritual roots–back to God our Father.  He was a traveler with eternal values.  He often connected with people for a few moments but left a permanent stamp.  He changed lives.  He changed the world.  He changed history.  He is God.

I caught another glimpse of Jesus tonight.  I didn’t climb a tree, but I did sit in a wood pew.

For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.