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Eight and Eighty

He was 103.  She was 101.  And they were celebrating 80 years of marriage when I found them.  EIGHTY.  YEARS.

I never even met them.  But I will never, ever forget them.

I was home from college, and happened to be listening to the Christian radio station. The station was interviewing a couple who had been married for eighty years, and to my college brain where even thirty was old…one hundred seemed downright ancient.  I couldn’t believe that a couple had even lived that long.  And I was very interested in their love advice because of it.

I was not married at the time.  I didn’t even know if Reid existed.  I did not know the beautiful love story God had planned…or all of the suffering and sorrow He had planned for it.

All I knew is that I very much wanted to be in love someday, and I really wanted that love to last.

And when a very old man, who had walked with God, and the same woman for eighty years of life, began to share words of wisdom… I.  Was.  All.  Ears.

He had three pieces of advice.  Perhaps because when you’re eighty, you don’t need to be long-winded.  There are very few people left who you actually care to impress.  You know who you are.  You know what you bring.  And you bring the best of that.

Here was his best…

 

Marriage is hard.  And God is good.   I will say only this…

1.  “I’m sorry,”  are the most important words you could ever say or hear.

2.  “Yes Dear,” goes a very, very long way.

3.  And…always go to bed holding hands.

 

And that was it.  The wisdom of the ages.

Sweet.  Simple.  And deeply important.  Especially in a culture where we value “youth,” and “personal freedom,” and “finding oneself,” and “being true to your feelings”…above all else.

I am not certain if these are the exact words the old gentleman used.  I didn’t write them down.  I don’t even know his name.  What I do know…is that these were his three pieces of marriage advice.  And that this advice was very good.

Because we’ve lived it.

In a few days Reid and I will celebrate eight years of marriage.  Eight years filled with more adventures, more beauty, more joy…and infinitely more sorrow and suffering than I had ever imagined.

It has not been an easy eight years…especially the last two.  And it is deeply sobering to think back on the many trials we have endured together.  It is sobering knowing that our marriage truly has been through more sorrows and stresses and struggles in the last eight years than many couples will face in a lifetime together.  I used to feel “dramatic” when I would say things like that…but I realize now that it’s actually reasonable to say that our life has been uncharacteristically difficult, and eerily Job-like…because it just plain has.

But that does not mean that it has not been good.  And it does not mean that our marriage has not been unspeakably wonderful…in the midst of a love story with so very much stacked against it.  Because it has.

It has not, however, been easy.  Which isn’t really a surprise, seeing as my relationship with the God Himself hasn’t been very easy as of late…and He’s at least perfect, and loves me with an unconditional love.

Reid however…doesn’t.  His love is broken, and borne out of a broken, sinful heart.

Just like mine is.

And that, perhaps, is why that old man’s love advice from long ago…has meant so very much to us.  Because, though I do not know the storms that his marriage endured, and they were probably very different than ours, I do know this…eighty years is a very long time to walk the road of life with someone. And I am certain that in a life and love story that long…there were storms.

Unless that sweet couple lived to be 115 and 113…they are probably no longer even here on this earth.  And yet, their advice has outlived their love.  Because of this, and because Reid and I are watching the final pages being written on the eighth year of our love story…I want to share the pearls of that marriage advice tried and tested over our 8 and their 80 years.

“I’m sorry.”  Are the most important words ever.

Reid and I decided long ago that we were going to the “real deal.”  That, in spite of a world full of “best foot forward” insincere relationships…we were going to commit to bring our true selves to one another.  It seemed like a big risk, seeing as our true selves… are messy and broken and deeply depraved.  But I don’t think love is worth much…if it’s not real deal love.  I wanted to know that I had shown Reid the absolute worst of who I was…and seen the absolute worst in him…and still..after all of that…there was grace and truth and love.  Because that…is the Gospel.

How else could you possibly know, and I mean really know,  if anyone truly loves you…if they haven’t seen you.  The real you.  The one you know…and are embarrassed, shocked, overwhelmed, disappointed, and ashamed of.  The YOU you brought to God….when you realized you needed salvation.  The YOU you needed saving from.  The YOU Jesus loves.

And so…from the very beginning…we committed to bring that person to one another.  We both had lots of shiny, cordial relationships in our lives…what we needed was at least one relationship in all the world…that was completely the real deal.

And we found that in each other.  Not…after our first year of marriage…when everything usually hits the fan.  Not…a few weeks before we got married…when last minute things are revealed.  We started there.  

And it was messy, and hard, scary…but it was also so very good.

That is not to say that it was not terrifying to our twenty-something hearts.  I vividly remember one day a few months after we were dating, when Reid (who is not generally a fighter I might add) drove off with tires squealing, after a big fight we’d had.  I was terrified that he was going to get in a reckless driving car accident, and I would never get to tell him how much I loved him.  I was also…relieved.  Relieved that at least, no matter what happened to either one of us, or to “us” as a couple...if we were going to be together…the real Reid and the real Misty were going to show up.

Now, eight years later, there are less tire-squealing fights, and we are pros at “healthy conflict” resolution.  Literally, pros.  (We actually give seminars on it, and focus heavily on this during our pre-martially counseling sessions we do with young couples.)

That isn’t to say that we always live it.  But we are definitely not where we once were.   We still fight.  Man, do we fight.  And I am convinced that that is so very important for a healthy marriage.  Convinced that if you don’t fight…well then, one or both of you have just stopped bringing your real self.  Because every person, who makes up every marriage…is one big, fat, sinful mess.  I will die on this hill, people.

I am a mess.  Reid is a mess.  And you are a mess.  And the most beautiful part of any marriage…is that you have found someone, and you have made promises to someone…to always bring the mess.  To always love the mess.  And to always forgive the mess.  No matter what.  

Because that…is the Gospel.  The Gospel is bringing your messy, broken self (who can really only promise more mess and brokenness to come)…into a perfect relationship with a Husband who is never broken, and never a mess. You offer that.  And He offers you back, “I will love you no matter what.  Because I love you in my Son.”

And marriage…the best marriages…are a picture of that.

That is why “I’m Sorry,” are two of the shortest and most important words in the English language.  I have done, and especially said, so many horrible things to Reid.  And at the end of every one of my wretched moments, all I could really offer is, “I am so very sorry,” from a truly sorry heart.  And that’s all he could offer back.  That is not to say that we do not seek God’s Spirit for help to grow, and for strength and humility to love better and deeper the next time around.

But having just finished our eighth year of marriage…I cannot say that we LOVE one another better.  We forgive better.  We hurt more when we hurt the other person.  And we probably mean it more when we say, “I forgive you,” than we once did.

We also, let a lot more go…than we did in those first few years.

Which brings me to his next piece of advice.  The “Yes Dear” moments.Honestly, Reid is waaaaaaaaaay better at this.  I am not just saying this because I’m his wife, but because I’m his wife, I get to see it the most.  Reid is one of the most humble, tender-hearted, unassuming people I have ever met.  That doesn’t mean that he just “Yes Dear’s” my every wish and whim.  He doesn’t.  At.  All. And even less so…as the years go by.  But the heart behind this isn’t obligatory compliance.  It’s preference.  It’s a Corinthians 13 “Love does not demand it’s own way,” and Roman’s 12:10 “preferring one another in love” -kind of love.

I keep thinking of this couple in their hundreds…who spent EIGHTY years of life together.  That’s eighty Christmases, eighty tax-days, and eighty Spring-Cleaning-The-Garage sessions.  And I think to myself, “How in the world did they not fight through 80 attempts to clean the garage?”  

The reality is…they probably did.  There were probably a lot of “I’m Sorry’s” spoken in their garage as they packed and sorted.  And there were probably a lot of “Yes, Dear” moments where they preferred one another, out of love.  

“Yes Dear, I will help you clean the garage even though it’s a beautiful day and the waves are head high, and I would rather be pretty much ANYWHERE but here.”

Or, “Yes Dear, you can keep those golf clubs you never ever use, even though I trip over them ALL OF THE TIME, and then say bad words that our kids have an untimely way of repeating afterwards.”

(I’m not saying these are real conversations that have taken place in a real garage, like say, ours…I’m just giving food for thought here.)

Which brings me to his final piece of love advice.  Sometimes, you haven’t even made up from the garage fight yet…and it’s time to go to bed.  Don’t.  Just, Don’t.  Don’t let Satan win like that.  Not when something as precious as your marriage is at stake.  Don’t wait to make up.  Don’t “sleep on it.”  Because you’re not really sleeping on it, you’re sleeping with it.  Don’t.

Sit up all night long, staring at each other silently on the couch if you have to…but don’t let the sun go down on that anger.  Not when your spouse means so very much.  I’ve heard people say, “But I’m just better after a good night of rest.” You’re probably not.  And even if you are…your spouse will have had 8 solid hours to sit in their hurt and anger and the lies that come with it. Don’t wait.  Don’t let those lies set in.  Fight back.  All night long if you have to.

I hope this doesn’t sound bossy.  I hope I don’t come across as having the perfect marriage.  I don’t.  And I’m not generally a bossy person.  I am, however, someone who is in the middle of the biggest storm of my entire life.  I am someone who is deeply storm battered and weary.  And…strapped to my life-boat is the man of my dreams who is as equally weary and battered as I am. And…I love him a billion times more than the day I married him.  In a world where almost no couple makes it after the death of a child…we still love one another so very much.  This is all God.

And I am convinced that it is because we are, both of us, deeply and equally committed to these three things.

And…to the God…who alone can move us to them.

Were it not for God…we could never say, “I’m sorry” as often as we do.  Were it not for His Spirit…I don’t think I’d feel sorry.  I definitely wouldn’t have the humility to say it.

Were it not for God….we would never “prefer one another in love.”  It’s His command.  And, as generally goes with the things He has called us to…they are hard enough to do that only He can do them.  Through us.  One shaky step at a time.  In the garage.  Or the parking lot of church.  Or on our way to a date night.  One shaking step at a time.  Each time letting go of sin, and self, and pride, and self-absorption…to prefer the other person out of Cross-like love.

And were it not for God…I know that all of those very important, very healing, very Gospel-defining conflicts that Reid and I have had…would not have ended at three in the morning with two very broken, humbled sinners…holding hands. They did not all end that way.  But I’m so very grateful that most of them did.

Eight years…is a big one.  One one hand, it feels like no time at all compared to Eighty.  But the reality is, that we live in a world filled with worldly people who rant about “The Eighty Year Itch.” And “The Seven Year Itch.”  And whatever other man-made, self-serving, arbitrary “Itch” date our world has designed to tell themselves, “Those vows no longer matter because this year…well, this year is special.  This year is the year you have permission to give up.”

Years seven and eight were special.  But not like the world imagined it.  They were special…because we stayed together.  Through so very much soul-pain that the other person didn’t even cause.  They were special because when it was harder than ever before…we said, “I’m sorry.”  And preferred one another out of deep, reverent love for the God who loved us first.   And went to bed holding hands.

After buring three precious children we desperately wanted.  After dealing with astronomical medical debt.  After losing literally everything we owned.  After dealing with endless sickness, and cancer scans, and significant neurological poisoning from  toxic black mold.  And, perhaps hardest of all…after living with little sinners, and being big sinners who taught them everything we know.

And yet…we made it.  We have been through a lifetime of pain and suffering in these eight short years.

And a lifetime of love.

I want to dedicate this post to my amazing husband.  It’s one thing to agree with these noble ideas when you’re listening to the radio, as a bright-eyed college student who hasn’t even met the man of your dreams.

Its another thing entirely to live them out…when you have.

When you’re eight years in.  Some of the worst eight years that many couples will ever have to go through, and many couples will never have to go through.

And we did.

Because of a lot of, “Yes, Dear’s.”  And even more, “I’m Sorry’s.”  And many, many broken, tear-filled nights…where we still, by God’s grace…went to bed holding hands.

I love you Reid Zeller.  And whether this is our last year of life together, or God grants us 80 more…I am so deeply grateful that the person I have “been given to get through this life with…”

…is YOU.

Happy Almost Eight.

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Walking Alongside Those Who Suffer

This last fall, a friend of Emma’s lost her mommy to cancer.  Little Jasmine was only five years old, and she had to bury the most important person in her universe.  There were many tears in our home that day, and Emma asked if she could give her friend a sympathy card.  It seemed like an important card so I asked her, “Would you like me to help you?”  Without a moment’s hesitation she looked up at me and said, “Mom.  Don’t worry….I KNOW what to write.”

And of course, she did.

"Dear Jasmine,   I am sorry.  I am so very sad.  I love you.  Heart, Emma."

And that…was it.

And that…was everything.

Because she gave what she had.  And she said everything that mattered.

Sometimes I wish that Emma didn’t know exactly the right thing to say in a sympathy card.  Sometimes I wish that she didn’t know how to hold someone tenderly while they are grieving…and I especially wish that I was never the person she had to hold.

And at the same time…we have completely failed as parents if we raise kids who are cool, and fun, and popular, and interesting…if they are not kind. Because if they’re not kind…if they’re not deep and thoughtful people who have the soul-capacity to weep with others, and if they’re not people who can truly walk alongside those who are hurting all around them…then what in the world are they going to have to offer?

What in the world are our kids going to bring that actually matters…to a world that is bleeding out literally everywhere…if they do not know how to help when others hurt?

Because our kids live in a world where every single person they meet…is going to die at some point.  And most of them…are probably going to suffer long before they get there.  Sadly, little Jasmine is probably not going to be the last of my kid’s friends who has to suffer through the heart-wrenching loss of a parent.

I don’t want to be melodramatic, but this one of the hardest realities of life that every single one of us…is destined to suffer.  At the end, for sure.  And many of us, along the road that takes us there.

This is the deal.  This is the deal we made, when we joined this hurting and broken world.

This was the deal made for us…in the Garden long ago.

A few weeks ago, I was in the middle of the arduous task of scrubbing Emma’s head with our “Mold Shampoo.”  The shampoo is a thick, black, sticky-goo, literally made out of charcoal, and it’s basically a wonderful way to have conflict at bath time.  (And who in the world isn’t looking for a little more of that?)  As I wrestled the shampoo into her hair, Emma suddenly burst out, “I hate this mom!  Why do we even have to live in a world where there is mold!”  

I then explained once again about Adam and Eve, and the snake and the garden, and sin and salvation, and the Gospel and God.  I was feeling pretty good about my theological conclusions when I suddenly looked down at those big brown eyes, surrounded by thick, black charcoal suds, and slowly filling with tears.  And then she said, with all the quiet vengeance of a woman scorned, “That Adam and Eve…they ruined EVERYTHING for us.”

You could have heard a sud drop.

Because there it was.  Gospel truth. Right there in the bathtub.

I’m sure that if any one of us had been given 24 hours in that Garden…we probably would have landed ourselves in the same big mess.  But what a mess it is.  We live in a deeply painful world where children get sick from neurological toxins, and babies die in their mommies wombs, and little girls have to stand alone by the gravesides of their mamas.  And though it is sometimes filled with beauty…this world is also filled with an astronomical amount of suffering and sorrow.

And because that is true, it’s critical that we who are His actually know what to do when we are sitting in funeral homes and hospitals, and staring at broken hearts and blank sympathy cards.

A number of people have asked me to share ideas on how to come alongside those who are suffering around them and I have two thoughts on this…

1.  What to do.

2.  And why to do it.

Whether a person is suffering from a broken body or a broken heart, I think the ways that they need to be loved are often very similar.  Because whether you are suffering from grief or struggling through chronic pain…you suddenly find yourself in a foreign land.  You went to bed one night in a bright, happy, hopeful place…and woke up the next morning in a strange land full of aching pain and dark shadows.

And you, quite possibly…are never going back.

I never realized how much chronic pain is actually similar to grief…until I went through both.  At the same time.

Both, are the shadowlands.

Both, force you to live in one world…while everyone around you, seems to skip merrily along…in your old world full of life and hope.

And both…are a death.  A death of dreams.  A death of plans.  A death of capacity.  A death of relationships.  And a death of faith…at least faith as you once knew it.

I remember laying in bed the first day after Charlie’s death and thinking, “Nothing, nothing, nothing…will ever be the same.”  And it wasn’t.

Every single one of my dreams for Charlie’s life…was over in one single heartbeat.

But what I didn’t realize in that moment…is that so many of my dreams for my other kid’s lives…were gone forever as well.

My sweet Freddo turned 3 years old…the very next day after his baby brother died.  Which means that in the brief 365 days between his 3rd birthday, and his fourth…Freddo attended the funeral of the brother who was going to be his forever bud, experienced the total soul-incapacitation of both of his parents, watched us bury two more babies that same year, and saw his mommy get so sick with toxic mold poisioning that she couldn’t even get out of bed for far more days than I can count.

And then…he turned four.  And the day after his fourth birthday…we found out we were being slowly poisoned by toxic mold, and had to get rid of almost every thing we owned.  All of those beautiful new birthday presents Freddo had just gotten the day before…went right back out the front door.  And that…was basically Freddo’s third year of life.

But the worst part, is that that was Freddo’s only third year of life.  And Sophie’s only first year of life.  And Emma’s only fifth year.

And you can buy a bunch of new stuff…but you can never, ever…buy back a year.  It is just plain gone.

And I know that so many people who have suffered the loss of a loved one, or who have walked through chronic pain with a house full of small children, feel exactly as I do.  Something deeply precious was lost…TIME was lost…and you don’t get it back.

You may get new days…but you will never again get those days.

And it hurts so incredibly much.

And so…my first piece of advice on how to come alongside others who are suffering is…

Help multiply the time they do have.

*Babysit their kids.

*Wash their car.

*Buy their groceries.

*Run to the bank for them.

*Clean their house.

When you are so sick you can barely move, or when your heart is so broken you can barely function…you don’t want to be cleaning your tub with bleach.  Clean it for them.  I have a memory from my childhood of going to a woman’s house whom I had never met before, and helping my mom clean her dirty bathrooms.  She was dying of emphysema and in so very much pain, and all I kept thinking as I scrubbed this strangers bathroom, and listened to her hacking cough was, “I’m so very glad that I am doing this…and she isn’t.” 

The same is true for errands.  When you are sick, and I mean paralyzingly sick, and have been given no promise that it is ever going to end…the last thing you want to do is spend the little strength you have…on grocery shopping.  I hated going grocery shopping after Charlie died.  Grocery shopping is a remarkably social endeavor, that someone may simply not have the emotional or physical energy for when they are in chronic pain or the deepest months of grief.  And they still have to do it, because you have to eat to live.   Shop for them.  Tell them, “I want you to make me a list.  I will pick out only the juiciest oranges, and the crispest apples, and I’m going shopping for you Tuesday, and you can’t say no.”

It doesn’t even matter what you do…just take something off of their plate for them.

Because their plate is FULL.  Full to the brim with a bunch of truly miserable things…that yours most likely isn’t filled with.  Doctors appointments…grief-counseling appointments…hours laying in bed in either physical agony or deep soul anguish…hours spent weeping on the floor.  Every one of the those words…pretty much describes so many of my days for the last year and a half.

And through it all, I still had three small children who needed baths, and prayers, and help with their homework.  My life was full of things from the land of shadows, and I didn’t have much left in me for my “old life” I still had responsibilities in.  That is why it meant the absolute world to us…when people offered to babysit.  There really should be a sixth love language entitled “Free Babysitting for Those Who Need It.”  (And that, by the way, is literally EVERY parent I know.)  I am crying even now, as I think of the incredible friends, and family, and college students who have babysat for our family over this last year.

Two weeks after Charlie died, Reid had to go back to work and I vividly remember thinking, “I can’t even function I am in so much pain…and I have to take care of three little people.”  And grief, much like chronic pain…cannot be scheduled.  It.  Just.  Happens.    And one day, it happened to hit hard.   Sophie really needed a nap, and was clinging to me like a tiny koala with sharp claws.  And I could not stop the tears.  I remember being so desperate for just five minutes ALONE to cry…that I literally escorted Sophie to the far corner of the house, got her distracted with a toy, and then ran as fast as I could to the other side of the house, slammed the door and locked it…just so I could cry for five whole minutes alone.

I got about four.  And then, I heard her pudgy little fists pounding on the door.  “Mommy!!! Let me in!  Mommy I found you.  Let me INNNNNNN!”

That…is when you call the babysitter.

And I did.  And she came. And she gave us hope…hope that we could at least get through one more day of the Shadowlands we now found ourselves in.  Babysit for them.  You’ve probably got far more energy for their kids…than they do.  And it will mean the world to them to have a break from their normal life so they can focus on their side job of suffering and sorrow.

I don’t want to paint this picture that we have tons of babysitters floating around our house…because we don’t.  We have a babysitter for date night, and sometimes on Tuesday mornings.  And they are an incredible gift to us.  But what mattered most…especially in the most painful, early days of grief, and the worst days of mold poisioning…is that we had people who were willing and able…to come when we needed them most. 

And they made it easy for us.  And this is critical.  Hundreds of people have offered to help our family through what has become our life of one catastrophic loss after another.  But the MOST helpful things…the things that actually panned out, and really, truly made a difference…happened when people made it easy for us to have their help.

Our friends who gave us a gift card for a date night after Charlie died…and then actually came over with their kids and babysat ours.

Our friends who offered to start a “Meal Train”…and then made it easy by sending us the completed list of who was coming and when.

My parents who offered to clean our whole house with ammonia until their noses literally bled from all the toxins…and then actually did it.

Our friends who literally brought over pillows, and blankets, and a change of clothes the night we found out that everything we owned had to go…without us even asking them to.

That…was helpful. 

My point…is that offering to help…is not helpful.  HELPING is helpful.  Saying you’re going to do it, and then saying, “I’m putting it on the calendar,” or “This is when I’m coming,” or “I”m really wanting to take your kids for you, will next Tuesday or next Thursday work better?”

Words…are simply not enough.

There were so many times when people would offer to help and I would think, “If I have to HELP YOU HELP ME…this isn’t going to be very helpful.”

What you do…probably doesn’t even matter.  Just DO something.  

This is especially important…after significant time has gone by.  Your friends who perhaps most need your help right now…are not the ones who just found out they have cancer.  It’s the one’s who’ve had cancer for months.  And everyone else’s life has moved on from the shock of their diagnosis…and their’s hasn’t.  They are still in the shadowlands.  They still have cancer.  Their organs are still shutting down.  And they are still weary, and exhausted, and overwhelmed, and in an incredible amount of physical pain and soul despair.  And it will still mean the world to them…for you to bring them a meal, or buy their groceries, or take their kids to the park.

I can tell you that this matters…because it still matters to us.  We are not longer completely broken, and bleeding, and laying on the floor…but we are also not exactly thriving.  We are in that middle, no-man’s land…where we are not “there”…and we are not “better.”  And even now, as I type, an amazing college student is watching my precious ones so I can sit at this coffee shop, and write this blog, and figure out our medical bills, and connect with the Lord.  So that when I get home…

I can be all there.

And that, is my point.  Because when you experience the loss of someone you deeply loved, especially the loss of child…you are simply no longer all there.  You, whether you like it or not, have been called to grieve and called to suffer, and it takes an incredible amount out of you.  A part of your heart…has permanently left.  Left for the land of Shadows.  And you cannot avoid that journey…because grief forces you there.

But also, a huge part of me…has moved to heaven.  My heart moved to heaven when Charlie died last year.  And I bought a house there when his little sibling died in June.  And built a playground in the backyard when the next baby died.  And in February, when I got so sick that I couldn’t even function anymore…some days I would just lay in bed and cry out, “Jesus, please just take me Home NOW!”

Because grief and suffering took me to a place I had never wanted to go before. It took me to the land of, “Please God,  Anywhere…But Here.”  And when Charlie died, for the first time in my life, my immediate longing for Heaven…completely surpassed my appreciation of earth.

I want to be clear…I did not want to take my life.  I just no longer wanted to live.

And if that sounds crazy to you…well then, you’ve just never been in so much physical, or spiritual, or soul pain that you’ve gotten there…yet.

But you may.

And even if you don’t, I am quite certain of this…

There was once a beautiful garden.  And it was filled with beautiful, but fragile people.  And a lovely tree, and an ugly snake, and a world of trouble.  And we’ve been in trouble ever since.

And if you live long enough, and love deep enough, your life will soon be filled with beautiful, and yet broken and fragile people who are suffering deeply under that wretched curse from long ago.

And you…have been given the power to help.

In fact, if you are His…you have been given Help Himself.  Because He lives in you.  And that same Spirit who Jesus promised to be a “Comforter,” and an “Encourager,” and a “Friend,” will be those to someone else…every time He moves your limbs to clean their house.  And every time He moves your car to drive to Trader Joe’s so they don’t have to.  And every time He gives you the joy of babysitting their sweet kids.  And every time He moves your heart to write that note.

And all of these “things to do” are so important.  They are love in action.  

But we have also been deeply encouraged by people who live thousands of miles and even continents away from us…who took the time to love us with words.  You don’t need lots of eloquent words.  You don’t need a little sermonette filled with Bible verses and profound theological thoughts…in fact, it’s probably better if you don’t.

You just need to tell them how you feel.

Tell them, “I feel so angry that this is happening to you.”  Tell them, “I feel so very sad, I cried all morning for you.”  Tell them, “I love you and I wish so much that this wasn’t your life, and that I could take this all away from you.”  Tell them all of THAT…because they FEEL those very things too.  And you’re saying it…will make them feel less alone.

And that is ALL you can do.

Because you can’t take this away.  You can get sad, and angry, and devastated, and discouraged that this is happening to them…just like they do.  And you should.  Because that stupid curse has made this, for the most part, one miserable world to have to suffer through.  But all you can do is be there with them in it.

And that…is enough.

Because Someone else has promised to someday end this suffering once and for all.

And until then, He has a plan to make Himself known through every single pain and every single sorrow and every single grave and every single tear.  He will not waste a single one.  I have cried so very many…and I am clinging to the promise that He doesn’t waste our tears.  And I am banking on the promise that He doesn’t waste our wounds.

He uses them.  He glorifies Himself through them.  He calls us to them.  Sometimes He even calls us out of them.

And sometimes He calls us to live in them.  For some of us…He calls us to Suffer.  And for those all around us…He calls us to Help.  And we will all, sadly, take turns in these roles, many many times over.

And if right now you are one of the people who are being called to Suffer for the glory of God…ask people to pray for you.  And then ask HOW they are praying for you.  And to never STOP praying for you.

And ask people to help. Send them to this blog, and tell them I told you to ask others to do these things for you.  Because you are precious to Him.  Especially in your pain and your brokenness and your suffering…you are so very precious to Him.  And He has not forgotten you.  And He had made the Body of Christ…to be His most poignant reminder of that fact.

And if right now you are not one of those who are being called to suffer…then you are being called to Help those who are.  Not because you have the gift of “mercy,” but because you have the gift of His Holy Spirit.

Close your eyes, spin around three times, open them, and point.  I am SURE you will find someone within the hour who desperately needs your help, your encouragement, and your prayers.

Or maybe even just a note.

And don’t worry about what to say.  Just trust Emma on this one…

"I am sorry.  I am so very sad.  I love you.  Heart."

It’s just twelve little words.  And yet the very heart of walking alongside those who suffer.

 

 

 

 


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That Snake

Sometimes, I don’t know what to write here.  I stare at this blank white screen, and think of the thousands of things I could try to communicate.  And it’s hard to know exactly which ones I am willing to sacrifice on the vast alter of cyber space.

I know there are people out there who have read about our story and wondered, “Is it really that bad?”  I know this…because some of those same strangers have actually written to us and asked us if this is really “a true story.”  Someone wrote me a few weeks ago and said, “I just need to be sure…did all of these things ACTUALLY happen to you?”

Um…Yes.

First…Why in the world would I make all this up in the first place?

And second…it’s a billion times worse than I can fully articulate.  You can’t put an exact measurement on suffering.  You also can’t fully contain it with a few jots of black ink on a white screen page.

But I am trying.

And all I have to say, to the people who have written and asked if this is really our life, and if this blog is really an accurate reflection of our pain…is yes.

And no.

All at the same time.

Yes, my hands still break out in horrible inflammation and bleeding every single time I touch something from the “Mold House.”   I am now convinced, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that our doctor was right…we really did have to get rid of everything.

Yes, I do have thousands of dollars in medical bills to wade though this week.  I sat down to look at some of them today, and got so discouraged that blood tests cost $300 a piece.  But those same blood tests are finally starting to show improvement in my body for the first time.  And as they do, I become increasingly convinced that God has finally provided a doctor who has given us reason to hope.  He even named her “Dr. Hope.”  Noted irony.

Yes, Emma is having a very hard time with some of the things that have happened to us.  Yes, she cried all the way to school this morning.  And yes…I ache watching my little girl have to wrestle with theological questions far beyond her pay grade.

And yes, we are profoundly weary.  We are so very tired of the fight.  And on these days when the weariness seems to seep down into the very deepest parts of me…

That is when I know exactly what to write.

And so, today, without further adieu…I want to address what’s really on my mind.

Snakes.

Well, really, reptiles of every variety.

I know.  Enter that from literally out of nowhere.

But reptiles have been on my mind all week.

I am terrified, and I mean terrified of lizards.  Lizards, salamanders, and snakes…the trifecta of terror for me.  It probably began when I was a small child, but what really sealed the deal was a rather traumatic moment involving a honeymoon, a few thousand Italian lizards on a sunny mountainside, and…me.  But to make a long story short, let’s just say that I am at odds with nature, and I do not like green scaly things.

I’ve run into these agents of Satan more times than I would like, but it’s usually been while visiting tropical and foreign lands where you kind of need to expect these things.

So…imagine my surprise when I walked outside the mold house one day last summer, and came face to face with one of these…

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Honestly, I could barely even handle googling this monster.  I still cannot believe that he became a daily part of our lives.

But there he was, on the very week of our June miscarriage…slinking around our backyard. Staring at me.  Daring me to be afraid.

I couldn’t even breathe.  Couldn’t.  Even.  Breathe.

It felt Satanic.

And I am convinced that it was.

Because WHAT IN THE WORLD was a giant IGUANA doing in my backyard!?

Especially…on the very week our sweet baby died.

When baby Charlie died in January, we were utterly incapacitated by a level of shock and sadness that I have never known before or since that day.  Nothing has ever hurt so badly, as having to bury a healthy, full-term baby boy…who died suddenly in your body, though absolutely no one could tell you why.  It was the most wrecking moment of my entire life.  But my immediate reaction was not afraid.

But in June, when the second baby Zeller died…I was introduced to something else entirely.  Terror.

I begin to feel a new terror filling my soul…the fear that sorrow and suffering were always going to be our story.  That, unlike literally every other grieving family I knew…we were never going to get a new chapter, and never going to get a new rainbow baby.  Terror that we…had entered the Job-land of devastation and loss, and we were never going to leave.  That our life was never going to change.  And. I. Felt. Terrorized.

And then, on that incredibly low week, we experienced a number of deeply painful things all at one time.

On the very day that our June baby died, we got an incredibly hurtful email from someone we don’t even know who “wanted to inform” us that, “God was punishing us for our bad theology, and that all of our babies were going to die.”

Um. Ok.  And who are you?  And what do you know about me?  Or for that matter…the great mysteries of the eternal plan of a Sovereign God?  Or the why’s and how’s and when’s and who’s of the death of every living, numbered-days creature He has made…since eventually EVERY SINGLE ONE of us are going to DIE?

Needless to say, I was hurt and angry and really, really frustrated that in the midst of our Job-like life…enter Job’s lame and idiot “friends” from stage right.

And that…is the day I saw the first iguana.

I say “first”…because more were coming.  For just as they said to Jesus long ago, My name is Legion: for we are many.”

I probably wouldn’t have even put it together, but then it happened again.  In the midst of more suffering.

In August, I began to realize that something was desperately and devastatingly wrong with my body.  I felt like my body was completely shutting down on me, and none of my fourteen doctors…could tell me why.

I crawled into the shower one day, feeling terrorized.  Terrorized by pain.  Terrorized by the unknown.  And most of all…terrorized by what felt like the increasing onslaught of the enemy.

As I stood there in the shower, I started to have this strange feeling that someone was actually watching me.  And I looked up…and there he was.  Lounging on the branch outside the window, literally less than a foot away from me…lurked another iguana.  He was smaller than the first, but just as green, and just as ugly.  And he was watching me shower, the little creep.

I know that some people love iguanas.  I know that some people actually give them to their nephews out of love for their eighth birthdays.  But no one who loved me…would give me an iguana for my birthday.  Let alone three or four or five.  I honestly don’t even know how many ended up in our backyard…they didn’t exactly wear name tags.  But there were definitely at least three little monsters back there of varying hideousness and size.

And we simply could not get rid of these things.  We finally gave up and quit going in the backyard all together.  And then one day, it seemed as if they had finally gone away.

I breathed a sigh of relief that our “friends” had vanished, but in the back of my mind I kept thinking of Jesus in the desert and how eventually, “when the devil had ended every temptation, he departed from Him until an opportune time.”

An opportune time.

And in November…that time came.

We were so very hopeful when we found out at the end of October that we were pregnant again.  And so devastated when, once again…another baby Zeller died.

I shouldn’t have been so surprised when, literally, the very next day, I walked outside the mold house, and BAM!, there he was again…slinking around the backyard.  The enemy.

But this time…we decided it was time to fight.

Imagine one little iguana surrounded by SEVEN men and two small children with large sticks and a big box.  With our army mounted, we were ready to finally put an end to this reign of terror.

And then, at the very last second…the green monster stood up on two legs, just like the Geico gecko, and…RAN AWAY.  I mean, who does that?!

At this point, I decided this was no longer a job for amatures.  In January, I called the county trapper, and he came over to investigate.  He couldn’t believe that we had so many iguana’s in our backyard, because he had never even heard of such a thing.  He’d hunted both a boa constrictor and several Rodents Of Unusual Size, but had never heard of an iguana infestation anywhere else in our county.  He promised me that if we saw him again…he’d come back and he’d be ready.

It simply wasn’t to be.

Because I realized something important as I watched the county trapper drive away.

There will always be enemies.

By God’s grace, a week after the visit from the county trapper, we found out about the black mold growing in our house, and made an emergency move to a new place.

A place with NO yard…and therefore no iguanas to traumatize our lives.

And yet a place…with new terrors. A place on a busy street…where I constantly fear that one of my sweet glories will accidentally run out into traffic.  A place with a steep staircase…where Fred and Sophie have already each tumbled down twice.  A place…that could end up becoming a hot house for black mold…just like the last place.

Because all it takes is one water leak.  One leaking roof.  One broken water heater.  One disaster.

And that…is life.

We are all, always, only one disaster way…from the worst moment of our lives.

And I know that your life is also filled with so many things to be afraid of…just like mine.  And we have to live with these terrors in either healthy, or not so healthy ways.

So, why in the world am I saying all of these things?

Because I just survived a very dramatic, and yet successful rescue attempt.

We were literally rescued by God…out of a home that was killing each and every one of us slowly.  We were rescued from a place where we were dying, and brought into a new land where we actually now have a fighting chance at life.

It felt like a rescue.  And it was.  Our bodies are healing.  Our minds are healing from the neurological damage.  And maybe just maybe…our souls are healing.

And then, to add to the rescue attempt, we were reminded in the most profound and incredible way…that just as Satan has agents in this cosmic battle…so too does our King.  A King who chose to use His agents, His very own children…to help our family begin a new life.  And I am grateful beyond words for not just the rescue…but for the unique story He is writing.  He didn’t need to use people for this story, but He did.

And I think I know why.

Because we are still in the battle of our lives.  For we, just like each one of you, still have to live in this dark and broken world where babies die, and six-year-olds ache, and iguana’s visit the only home in the neighborhood where every single person is already terrorized and weary beyond belief.

Because Satan…is still alive.

You can take a family out of the iguana house…but Satan is still a snake.

And he has a very large bag of tricks up his sleeve. And this week…his tricks have been discouragement and disbelief.

I am discouraged that anyone would doubt our story.  That anyone would judge our decision regarding our doctor’s order to get rid of all our stuff.  That anyone would chose to have anything less than compassion on our family.  I see Emma’s tears.  I see my bleeding hands.  I see our totally broken hearts that are so very tired from this fight…and it feels like that mean guy who wrote us all over again to tell us “God was punishing us.”  As if HE of all people knew the MIND OF GOD.

I don’t even know all of the reasons God does all of the things He does in this world.  I only know this…

First…  He is God, and He doesn’t owe me all of the answers.  And He’s probably not going to give them to me anyways.  He has told me only one thing…it is all for His glory.  And someday…He is going to make this right.

And second…  I am in the middle of the story.  And even more than that…I am in the middle of a BATTLE story.

And it is a fight.

I have a picture in my mind of a large, and very dark battle scene.  On one side of the field…are Satan and all his demons.  Fear, death, iguanas, the cruel and uninformed things haters say.

And on the other side of the field…is Jesus.  On a white horse.  Ready for battle, and absolutely assured of His win.  Jesus Himself…who has the sword of truth in one hand, and is infinitely more powerfuland completely ready to defeat that age-old snake.  Ready to do battle with him in little ways, even today.  And some day soon…in one big way.  Completely.  Finally.  For eternity.

He has promised to “crush” that snake.  And the promise that this is not the end, the promise that Jesus still reigns…is the only reason I am not sitting in a corner, completely immobilized today.

All of my past fears…fears of death and pain and sorrow and sickness and iguanas and suffering deeply…well, every single one of them…happened to me.

But I have hope…because I get to read the end of the story.  And He has promised that some day soon…NONE OF THESE THINGS will reign.

HE WILL REIGN.

Until then…I have resigned myself to the battle.

And to the painful reality that, just as God has used His kids in profound ways to encourage our family and stregthen our faith…Satan can use people in the same ways.  Some intentionally used by him, but most, probably unintentionally used by him.  I am convinced that he who can use iguanas…is not beyond using people.

I know that our battle is ultimately not against flesh and blood.  It is not against people who can be hurtful intentionally or unintentionally.  Or even against the iguana’s who just “happened” to appear at all of the times I felt the very most broken and weak.  Satan would love for us to think that our battles in this world are of such a common variety.  But we cannot afford to be deceived.

For our battle…is against a Snake.  Each and every one of us.  Each and every day.

Because God’s battle…is against the snake.

And He who has been fighting that snake for a very, very long time…has not left us alone in this battle for faith.  And He has used so very many of you to teach me that precious reality.

Your prayers…strengthen us to fight for faith.  Your giving…has made it possible for us to actual begin healing.  And it has been an indescribable gift, because it is incredibly difficult to fight a battle well…when you’re laying in a trench broken and bleeding.  And most of all…your faith in our great warrior God…your encouragement about who He is…your belief that HE IS GOOD…has been an encouragement to us on the darkest of days.  And your kindness in loving (for most of you) us total strangers…has reminded me that people are not the real enemy.

Thank you for walking this journey with us.  Thank you for believing us.  And most of all..thank you for believing Him.  For believing the promises of God.  For believing that each one of us who are His…are in the battle of our lives.

And for believing the one thing that matters most…that you’ve read the very last line of very last page…

And He wins.

And someday, He’s going to take down that Snake.

For His glory and His fame.

 

 

 


7 Comments

Three Umbrellas

If a picture is really worth a thousand words…we have a new one on our wall that speaks volumes about our life.  There are so many things that I love about this picture.  And so many things that make me ache…BW6H5027w 2A few weeks ago, some friends of ours came to town to shoot a “Thank You” video for our family.  We’ve been trying to figure out the best way to thank the (literally) thousands of people around the world who have supported and loved on us during this season dubbed “The Rain.”

When our friends offered to make a video, it seemed like the perfect way.  And then, on the day they came to do the shoot, in the middle of the biggest drought of the century, the weather forecast predicted rain.  Of course it did.

So…I grabbed these umbrellas.  And it wasn’t until a friend asked, “I wonder if you had special significance using those three umbrellas,” that it hit me.

Honestly, right up until the moment she said that…it had never crossed my mind.  I didn’t pick three umbrellas because of our three babies who did not make our family picture that day.  I picked three umbrella’s, because I thought it was going to rain.

I stood in the middle of Target and thought to myself, “Can Sophie honestly hold this umbrella without poking someone in the eye?”  Landed on “No.”  And then decided, due to my very high value on sibling fairness, that Sophie would feel left out if she was the only one who didn’t have a beautiful big red umbrella.  So I bought three.

I figured three would safely cover our little family.

Our little family.

I cannot tell you the lifetime of pain…hidden in those three words.  Nothing, nothing, nothing is as I had wanted it to be.  But they are mine.

This picture is ours.

This picture…is our happy.

And it’s also…our very sad.  Our suffering.  And our heartbreak.

And what is heavy on my heart as I prepare for my second Mother’s day apart from baby Charlie…is how unspeakably hard these holidays can be.  Holidays can be so very painful, because they force every one of us to take a long look at our happy.

Or in some cases, our not so happy.

Because Mother’s day, simply put…is yet another holiday for the “Haves.”

There was a time when I didn’t think much about it.  I went to church, stood up when the Pastor told the moms to stand, got my homemade crayon card from my kids, and usually enjoyed the day.

But for many people this coming Mother’s day, like so many holidays, will be a very painful day.

Painful because they’ll be surrounded by someone else’s “Happy.”

It may be a painful day for some…because the woman who gave them life is no longer here to call or write.  And it will be hard to not envy the joy they see on the faces of other mom’s and daughter’s who get to be together on that day. Hard to not compare their sorrow…to other people’s joy.

It may be a painful day for others…because her lifelong dream of being called “Mommy” by a tiny somebody…is just never going to be.   And she will have to fight so hard to not envy the frazzled woman at church with her five little matching ducklings waddling in behind…when her arms are still so, achingly empty.

It may even be painful for others…because her mother was not someone she ever felt loved by.  And it will be hard to not compare the other moms they see…with the one in her life who was called by the same name.

And for some, like me…this Mother’s Day will be filled with ache.

Because we will spend it in a cemetery.

I had never, ever thought that I would spend Mother’s Day weeping beside my baby’s grave.  But that’s exactly where last Mother’s day found me.  And it was every bit has painful as it sounds to be.

I had so desperately wanted to just close my eyes to the pain, and get through the day.  To put on my Sunday finery, stand when the Pastor ordered “Stand,” and somehow survive the day.

I.  Just.  Couldn’t.  Do.  It.

I couldn’t pretend that someone so special with Freddo’s very cheeks, and Sophie’s wispy, nut-brown hair…had never come into my life.  I couldn’t pretend that a little boy named Charlie whose sweet baby chin with the exact same dimple as mine…didn’t make me a mommy.  That he didn’t make me just as much a mommy…as the other three.  I couldn’t pretend that his life somehow mattered less to my heart than the three who are still here to hug me with sticky arms, and stamp their chocolatey kisses all over mine.

I missed every single one of Charlie’s chocolate kisses.  And yet…I am still his mommy.  He was knit together in my womb, by the very hands of God…just like all the others.  He was held by me, every single moment of his life…just like all the others.  And perhaps even more than the other three…he has made me realize what being a mommy really means.

Because I have never, ever had to love someone so selflessly.  I love him so very much that I am literally, even now, weeping as I write.  And I missed his entire life.

All of this was a lot to process…as I sat alone in that cold graveyard last May.

And as I drove away from the cemetery a year ago this Sunday, I remember only one thing vividly, crying out to God over and over and over again...”I am not going to make it through this life.”  The despair I felt over the loss of Charlie’s life weighed so heavy after my first Mother’s Day by a grave.  I felt so deeply broken, confused, devastated, and  angry.  And there were lots and lots of words thrown out to the sky.

And then…when I got home, God replied.

I had decided that I simply could’t cook on such a low day…so we headed to our usual spot…that towering culinary wonder of CPK.

We like to go there early, so as not to disturb the other diners with our noise, and so we get the waiter’s undivided attention for our very eatery-needy family.

We were literally the only people in the restaurant, besides one other family.  And as I sat there miserably counting down the moments until I could finally say that, “Baby’s First Mother’s Day” was safely behind me…I found myself face to face with what so many people face on these many “Haves Holidays”…the dangerous demons of comparison and envy.

Because there, directly across the room from us, was another family with not one, but two baby boys just a few months older than Charlie would be.

I had gotten it in my head a few weeks before Mother’s day, that I was going to pray for twin baby boys.  I felt so cheated by God that I had gone through all of the agony of labor and an entire pregnancy…and didn’t get a baby.  I thought it would be so great if He would just have mercy on me and give me twins, so that I could end up with two babies after two pregnancies.  And I prayed for it every day.  Some days, it felt like the only prayer I had left…that I could truly pray in faith.

So…imagine my surprise when I looked up from my Thai Crunch salad…and there was the family who had my new “Happy.”  There was the family who had my three big siblings, and then twin baby boys.  And though the Dad looked kind of frazzled, between trying to eat and having to juggle the craziness of five, I kept thinking to myself, “They are just so lucky.”  

But it was more than just that.  It was, “Why Lord?  WHY?  Why did they get TWO babies boys…and you took my only Charlie from me?”  “Why Lord, did you give them so much happy, and completely forget about our family who are hurting so very badly?”  

These questions continued as I kept watching this cute family…all dressed up for Mother’s Day in their Sunday best…who had everything.  Or at least everything I now wanted.  I found myself deeply envying these total strangers in CPK, and my heart felt so heavy with longing for someone else’s life.  

I wanted their happy.  

And isn’t that what we all do?  We compare ourselves to everyone…who has our current, deeply desired version of “happy.”  And as we compare…we do one of two things.  We either 1.  envy what they have that we don’t, or 2. take subtle pride in what we have that they don’t.  

We do this in California Pizza Kitchen with total strangers, but let’s be honest…we do this at church.  We do this at small group, and MOPS, and extended family holidays.

We want what others have…and we want it now.  

And I have one piece of advice.  One pithy little Pinterest pin that I pinned months ago, and God actually still brings to mind every single day…

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That Teddy…he was so wise.

Because as I sat there at CPK, surrounded by my amazing husband and my three beautiful little glories, all I could think about…was what God had taken away from me.

And given to that family across the restaurant from me.

And then, as the minutes turned into an hour of my broken-hearted people-watching…it suddenly hit me.  I have watched this family eat their entire meal together…and I still haven’t seen the Mommy?  This is their MOTHER’S Day dinner…where is Mommy?

I thought it was strange, but as often happens when we envy from a distance…I figured I just didn’t have the whole story.  I didn’t think too much of it as we left CPK and headed for the parking garage.  I was mostly thinking about me.

And that’s…when I heard from the Holy of Holies.

I was about to get into our car when I suddenly looked across the parking garage, and there they were again.  That same family.  The happy family.  Getting into their mini van, with all those healthy, living kids.

And that’s when I saw it.

The stick figure that moved me to weeping.

Because there, on the back window of their mini van, was the stick figure version of the very family I had just seen.  A dad.  Three little kids.  And then two baby boys.

And the mom, who I hadn’t seen all day…was a stick figure angel.  An angel.  Flying above the rest of the family.

Mommy had died.

There I was, struggling through a deeply painful Mother’s Day dinner, surrounded by the precious family left to me.  And here was this dad, across the restaurant from me…struggling through an equally miserable Mother’s Day.

And I started to weep.

Poor. Reid.  He was already dealing with a completely heartbroken Mommy whose arms were devastatingly empty, and now he had to deal with all of my new tears about a total stranger’s life.

But I learned something deeply important that day about envy.

Don’t bother.

Dont.  Even.  Bother.

Here I was, fighting through every moment of my dinner at CPK, just desperately wishing I had his happy.  And he was probably looking across the same room…wishing he had mine.  Wishing…he could have, even just five more minutes, with the woman who had made all those beautiful children he’d painstakingly dressed up and dragged out to dinner for “Mother’s Day.”  Wishing…that she was still there to cry beside that night.

Wishing…for happy.

There were many, many tears that night.  Tears of sorrow that no matter how much “perspective” God gave me in parking garages outside of CPK…I buried a perfectly healthy, deeply loved and wanted baby boy.  And I am convinced that that’s something my heart will rightly ache about, every single day, right up until eternity.

There is just so much to grieve.

But there were also tears of gratitude that night.  I felt grateful that, as I cried myself to sleep for yet another night, I wasn’t alone in my incapacitating grief.   That the husband I loved so much, was still there to hold me as I cried.   That for all God had taken away, in His mercy, He had left Reid by my side.

I had so very much to hurt about last Mother’s Day…and yet, all I clearly remember from that day was my joy.

Gratitude-born joy.

The same gratitude that I feel when I look at the broken picture of three red umbrellas being carried by our family.  Three bursts of color…deeply symbolic of a life filled with more suffering and sorrow than I ever would have wanted to call mine.  But gratitude that, for all the pain contained in one small picture, there are still moments of joy.

JOY…that wells up in me every time I look at this picture, and see Reid still walking by my side.  We have made it through the hell of grief, and we love each other infinitely more now than we did before our suffering.

I am so grateful for Reid.

JOY…that for all of the beautiful faces who are missing from our family…there are still soft, sweet cheeks to kiss each night.  Freddo doesn’t know it, but every single night since Charlie died…he has gotten a double portion of my kisses.  One for him.  And one for Charlie.  It am grateful every time I look at this picture and see Fred’s fuzzy little head as he walks beside me.

I am so unspeakably grateful that God left me Freddo’s cheeks.  And Emma’s.  And Sophie’s.

And JOY…in Sophie’s defiant little kick.  We are still us.  In spite of the deep sorrow our family has faced.   Sophie is still spunky.  Freddo is still sweet.   Reid is still a tender warrior, with more strength than most men will ever be forced to trust God for daily.

And our little Emma…is still deep and full of faith.  In spite of more unanswered prayers than most people face in a lifetime.

I am grateful for Emma’s faith.

And I, am still me.  I’m still the girl who envies total strangers in CPK, and then cries over their hurting hearts for hours that same night.

And I still struggle deeply with comparing our life that has been filled with so much unhappy…with other people’s happy.  Sometimes…I envy people who have never had to endure the sorrow of burying a baby.  Sometimes…I even envy people who actually have…but who didn’t have to do that twice.  Or three times.

Sometimes…I envy people who didn’t have to loose everything single thing they own because of exposure to toxic black mold poisoning.  I envy people who don’t have to live with a debilitating sickness from a neurological poison that wrecked their body, and took their babies lives.

And that…well, that is almost everybody.

But the people who I most envy…are the people whose faith God has protected from all of these things.  You don’t even realize the unfathomable weight of all that you are being protected from…until you’re not.  What hurts the most, what I struggle the most to not envy, are the people who have also been called to walk with God…and for them, it seems He has made that just so, so easy. 

Faith is no longer easy for me.  It is a fight for faith in the goodness of God.  Every.  Single.  Day.

And I have one prayer for this coming Mother’s Day.  For my heart.  And for yours also, really.   That in this era of social media, where we now have to fight even harder against comparison and envy, that we would chose joy.

Joy in what He gave.

Trust in what He didn’t.

And faith as we wait to find out why.

Faith that God’s version of our Happy…the lives He actually gave…though filled with sorrow, can also be filled with Joy.  Because what I have learned, through the endless unhappy we have faced, is that if you do not stop comparing…you will be paralyzed by everyone else’s happy.

I am not talking about shallow, mind-over-matter “positivity”…I am talking about deep, unshakable, gratitude-born joy.  The kind that God gives when He gives you HIS perspective of your happy.

When He gives you tears and joy…all wrapped up in the same moment of time.

And when He gives you hope as you endure an endless wait for the real Happy…the one we’ve all been waiting for our entire lives.

Someday, Mother’s Day is going to be downright amazing.  In a place where there is endless happy.  A place where happy…will be permanently redefined.

A place where everyone who ever loved anyone with the selfless love of Christ…will feel the weight of their worth in light of the Body of Christ.

A place where we will finally see with our own eyes, that broken, nail-scarred body, as He goes around personally introducing millions of mommies…to the babies they never had the joy of knowing.

And a place where three little umbrellas…will finally meet their mommy.

 

 

 

 

 


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The Waiting Room

I heard it said once that, “How we spend our days…is how we spend our lives.”  

That being true, it feels like I’m going to spend the rest of my life…in waiting rooms.  I’ve been in six waiting rooms in the last seven days, and it’s given me a lot of time to ponder life as I stare at the florescent lighting and mint green walls.

Every time I enter a waiting room I’m reminded of a chapel message I heard when I was in college, which feels like a billion years ago.

And yet…I remember that chapel talk like it was yesterday.

The speaker was talking about “The Waiting Room.”  That place where you have waited for so long…that you start to actually wonder, “How long, O Lord, am I going to be here?”

Waiting.

We humans, are always, always waiting for something.  Racing to stoplights…just to stop and wait at them.  Rushing off to the school pickup, and then waiting in line for twenty minutes just for our favorite little scholars to appear.  Seeing Christmas decorations at Costco…and then waiting four more months for the holiday to finally be there.  Why, O why, Costco?

But sometimes, a wait transcends the usual “every day waits.”  Sometimes…it’s a wait much more similar to the kind you feel in a doctors office or an emergency room.  And those kind of waits are different.  Those are filled with fear and doom.

And what I remember most vividly about that talk from so long ago, is the emphasis on what happens in the deepest places of your heart…as the wait drags on for forever.

How…the longer you wait…the more hours you watch tick by on the clock…the more people who come and go from the room with their good news…the more you become filled with fear.  The more absolutely convinced you become that when, if ever, that doctor actually does come into the room…it’s going to be bad news for you.

Bad news about the adoption you’ve been waiting on for three long years.  Bad news about the cancer scan you now have to get every six months.  Bad news about the relationship you were so hopeful would end in “happily ever.”  Bad news about the positive pregnancy test you’ve hoped for every single month for the last five years.

Those aren’t stop light waits.

Those…are the Waiting Room.

And I feel the agony of this wait a lot right now.

I have waited and waited and waited for three different babies to come home to live with us…and they are never, ever coming through our front door.

I have waited through months of deeply discouraging doctor’s appointments and countless blood tests…and only now finally have a diagnosis of what destroyed my body, and completely devastated our souls.

We finally have a name.  Toxic mold.

And now we begin a new wait.  Waiting…to feel better.

And. I. Don’t.

I have inflammation literally from the crown of my head to the tip of my toes.  Imagine the worst ear infection, the worst throat infection, the worst sinus infection, the worst stomach infection, and the worst headache of your life…all at once…and the inflammation never goes down.

That is my new wait.  Waiting on inflammation.  Waiting to get better.  Waiting to actually get to feel better.

My doctor recently ordered a test called “The Human Transforming Growth Factor” which measures the health of your body at a cellular level.  It basically measures inflammation in a way that tangibly reflects the health of each cell.  The reference rage for this test is between 400 and 2,000.

And mine..is 10,867.

Which means that, within the structure of each cell in my body, I am fighting off dangerously high inflammation.

On one hand…this is just plain bad news. On the other hand…it’s a relief that we finally have a blood test that accurately reflects on paper, the daily misery I feel.  I feel inflamed.   And it’s helpful to finally have a test that shows what my body is doing at a cellular level as the mycotoxins rage on.

But it’s also true that the longer I sit in this waiting room…the more utterly convinced I become that I am just never, ever going to be better.  That being sick…is the new black.  That this is my life, for forever.  That I should just give up, and give in to despair. And that if the doors ever do swing open, and that doctor ever does come out…he’s going to have one word for my wrecked body and my deeply damaged soul…cancer.

So…those are some of the perky thoughts I’ve been having lately as I stare at these Waiting Room walls.

But there’s something else on my mind as well.

The other day my phone died while I was waiting for a blood draw, and I found myself flipping through the magazine Marieclaire.  I’m not even sure who Marie Claire is.  But I do know who Drew Barrymore is, so I decided to read Marie’s interview with her.

And there it was…something profound and unexpected from a Hollywood star…right there in the Waiting Room.

Drew Barrymore has taken a lot of flak lately from feminists groups because of her recent statement that women, “Can’t have it all.”  She is a new mom, and though totally successful in her career by the world’s standards…she is learning as a mom, what we are all learning as mom’s…you just can’t have it all.

And so, in defense of her statement, Drew told Marie, “The sentiment is not that you can’t have it all, but that you can’t do it all.  You don’t get to do everything all at once, and all the time.  Life doesn’t work that way.”

I can’t tell you how profound this is.  Not because no one has ever thought it before…but because nothing is more antithetical in our culture right now…than the idea that you can’t have it all.  Because we think we can.

Now that you can fly from New York to LA for a reasonable price in less than five hours…a mom actually can have a business meeting across the country, and still be home in time for soccer practice and Tuesday tacos.  Now that you can get a degree online…you actually can get your Master’s degree at home.  Now that you can find literally every recipe ever invented by any human living in the technological world…you actually can make a gourmet meal and an impressive Pinterest dessert to follow.

But fifty years ago…none of this was true.

Fifty years ago, no woman lived under the weight of what another woman cooked for dinner…unless she was at the church potluck.

And what happens. sadly, now that it is possible to see, and have, and do, and observe so very, very much, is that…

We buy into the lie that we can have it all.

But as one who loves looking at and making things on Pinterest, and who genuinely enjoyed the seminary classes I’ve taken, and who really appreciates that direct flight from LA to NY…I’m here to tell you…

You can’t have it all.

And before I lost it all…I still kind of lived in the illusion that I could.

But, nothing, nothing, nothing has made me realize my frailty as a human, my limitations over my own story arc, and that I simply cannot do it all…like getting poisoned by mycotoxins, losing literally everything we owned, and having to bury half of my precious children in the ground.

can’t do it all.

can’t be this sick…and also be at every event in my little one’s lives.  I just can’t.

I can’t have this many doctors appointments…and also do all of the cool, Pinteresty things I once did.

can’t be the fun mom I want to be, who constantly throws caution to the wind and heads to the beach…when we literally still need to sell and rebuy and nest and settle…into our new stuff and our new home.

I can’t have this much inflammation in my body…and also be trying to bring another little person into this world.

I can’t do it all.  All at once.  I hate this.  But that doesn’t matter.  In the end…I just plain can’t.

And you…can’t either.

Because, just as Drew said, some things really are…even for us modern women…mutally exclusive.

And though you can be healthy at every stage of a pregnancy and all the years that come after…you simply can’t be a size zero…the week after your baby is born.

And though you can be at some of your kid’s events, and cheer them on with all your heart when you are able to be there…you can’t be a full-time working mom, and be at every single moment of their lives.  I know this, because I am not a full-time working mom…and even I can’t.

And though you can make cool crafts, and do fun outings, and have hip clothes, and eat cool food…you’re going to have boring Friday nights, and disastrous family outings, and gray sweat pants days, and macaroni & cheese dinners.  Believe me…I know this.  Because I do.

Life…just plain has limitations.  Not because we are women.  But because we are human.

I know that men feel these limitations too.  I know that they can also feel the weight of wanting to be an amazing dad, and a loving husband, and a good friend, and an impressive athlete.  I know they feel the tension of wanting it all, and having human limitations.  They just seem a lot more accepting of them.

But we women…well, we see every single thing that every other mom and wife and friend and Pinner and cook and baker and sewer and soccer coach is doing…and by golly, we’re going to do it all too.  And then, we’re going to put it on Instagram.

And all I want to say, now that we eat far more PB & J dinners than I had ever conceived possible, is don’t.  Don’t.

Don’t live in that illusion.

Give.

Yourself.

Grace.  

Mrs. Pinterest-pinner, Instgram-gramer, Tweeting-tweeter, & Facebook-facer.

Because in the end…only two things matter.

One…matters just a little.  And the other, is the most important thing…ever.

It doesn’t matter if the world of Instagram, the world of Facebook, and the world of Pinterest think you are a good mom…it only matters if your kids do.  Did you pin those fun things and make those sweet surprises for them?  Well, then, they’ll love you for it.

But what will change their lives…what will rock their worlds…what will tenderly protect their souls when the storms of this life threaten to destroy all of who they are…is if they felt loved by you.  And if they saw Jesus…even when they didn’t.  

What matters most…is if they saw you and Daddy make up after a fight.  If they heard you say, “I’m sorry” when your heart hurt theirs.  If they saw your deep awareness of your utter depravity as a wretched, flailing, limited human being who simply knew that she couldn’t “do it all.”  Who simply knew how much she needed Jesus.  To get into Heaven.  And to get through every broken day leading up to it.

That…is what truly matters.  I think about how much it matters every time someone tells me I’m “an awesome mom.”  I think to myself, “Well.  That’s great.  But do they?”

And what matters WAAAAAAY more than even that…is God’s opinion.

What is God’s answer…to the question that matters most?

Did I love Him?

Did I love Him when the storms raged so fierce that I thought I was going to lose my very soul?  Did I love them when I had absolutely nothing to give…let alone to make a Pinterest meal?  Did I believe His love…when the only reason I had left to believe it…was because the Bible tells me so?

That…is what matters.

Because that…is what matters in the waiting room.

This week, Reid and I had to go in for yet another “couples check-up” on the nodules found in our thyroids.   Some couples take ballroom dancing classes together.  Some couples golf.  We…go to doctors.

And as I sat there waiting for yet another doctor to check if we had cancer…I wasn’t thinking about those dinners I love to pin.  I wasn’t thinking about whether I was a “cool” enough mom, or a “sexy” enough wife, or a “gourmet” enough cook…or the millions of other “shoulds” we humans bury ourselves with.

I was thinking about one thing and one thing alone…

If this is bad news…did I love them?  

My kids are so precious to me.  Did.  I.  Love.  Them?

If this is bad news…did I love him?  

There is no one I would rather be sitting next to in this dank doctor’s office.  Did I love him, and respect him, and treasure that I got to be his?

And if this is bad news…did I love Him?  

Am I ready to meet my Maker?  Will I love Him to my very last breath, even when these days He wrote for us were filled with so much suffering and sorrow?  So many baby burials.  So many doctors offices.  So very much bad news.

Did I love Him no matter what?  And am I ready to be with Him soon?

Drew is right.  We moderns simply cannot have, and do, and be…all that we want…all at once.  Life isn’t like that.

And life in Christ…really, really isn’t like that.

Because the Christian life is so entirely NOT…about having it all.

It’s actually about losing it all.

It’s about denying oneself, taking up a cross, and following the only One who did have it all.  And who laid it all down for us.

Drew’s words were good.  A needed reminder in this idealistic, over-published, post-modern world we will have to fight hard to walk with Jesus through.

But Paul’s words…were even better.  And I am so very thankful that he gave us something to cling to when it comes to “It all.”

“More than that, I count it all as loss compared to the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.  For whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ.”

Words that give life.

Words that drop expectations.

Words that bring hope.

Words to ponder.  Here in the Waiting Room.