My “Immoral” Choice

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A few days ago, the following tweet was addressed to renowned atheist Richard Dawkins:

I honestly don’t know what I would do if I were pregnant with a kid with Down Syndrome. Real ethical dilemma.

Richard Dawkins’s Reply:

Abort it and try again. It would be immoral to bring it into the world if you have the choice.

I was stunned when I read this calloused response from Dawkins. My daughter Amelia, according to his reasoning, should have been killed in the womb. In his pseudo-apology, Dawkins said that we should be seeking to reduce suffering in the world, perversely indicating that people with Down syndrome are adding to that suffering. Contrary to his belief, it is emphatically untrue that people with Down syndrome suffer more than most. In recent studies, 99 percent of people with Down syndrome responded that they are happy with their lives, 97 percent like who they are, and 96 percent like how they look. I daresay you would have a hard time finding such positive responses among any other cross-section of society. So if individuals with Down syndrome are content with who they are, why should anyone be concerned?

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My Amelia

I think people like Dawkins are afraid that children with Down syndrome will cause suffering in society, the idea being that suffering involves having to deal with the imperfect. So suffering might mean having to look at a person who doesn’t look like everyone else. Suffering might mean having a grocery store clerk who is slower than the typical person. Suffering might mean having to be patient with someone who has difficulty getting around or figuring things out.

Suffering is being reminded of human limitations. Suffering is being inconvenienced. This is evidenced by the truth that 90% of mothers who receive a prenatal diagnosis choose to abort their babies who have Down syndrome. Our society has promoted a culture in which we feel that we’re better off without this brand of imperfection. 

When did we become such cowards? Why are we so afraid of doing hard things?

When did doing the easy thing become more compelling than doing the right thing?

When did we stop being brave enough to sacrifice for the sake of another?

Motherhood is supposed to be hard. And it is, even for those who have typical children. It is challenging, but it is rewarding. It is inconvenient, but it is good. It is painful, but it is meaningful. Sacrificing for our children truly is hard, but it is also right.

Our society judges women who do drugs, smoke, or even drink caffeine while pregnant because we know that mothers are not supposed to hurt their children. So when did it become okay to discard a child because he or she has a disability?

We should all be alarmed. We have created a society that looks at innocent, unborn children and asks how we will be affected positively or negatively by their lives. Then we decide if those children will live or die based on the answer. What kind of a warped moral framework supports this thinking?

All born and unborn humans — including Richard Dawkins  — have intrinsic value woven into the fabric of their beings. That Richard Dawkins does not acknowledge this is his loss. That society does not acknowledge this is our tragedy. 

Tolerance vs. Celebration

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There have been a slew of bakers and photographers lately who have been indicted for turning down business that would require them to celebrate a gay wedding. Earlier this month, it came to light that now a family farm has been fined $13,000 for declining to host a gay wedding in their barn, which they sometimes rent out as a venue. Oh, and they have to hold re-education classes for their employees.

 It has become an indisputable sentiment that gay people are being mistreated left and right, that they are persecuted, and that business owners who refuse to participate in gay weddings are hateful, evil homophobes. In fact, this idea has become so ubiquitous that people are being thrown out of their lines of work for not celebrating gay weddings. They are NOT being shut down because they refuse to serve gay people; in fact, I have not even heard of one instance of an establishment refusing to do business with a gay individual.

 This is frightening, to say the least. This is where defending the rights of others to conduct their businesses according to their consciences is MORE important that defending the rights of couples who want their ONE TIME nuptials to be celebrated at a particular location or with a particular vendor. The bakers, venue owners, and photographers are not being loud and proud. They are not showing up at these weddings and prohibiting the proceedings. THESE INDIVIDUALS ARE NOT EVEN STOPPING GAY COUPLES FROM HAVING A WEDDING. They are NOT infringing on their rights or even perceived rights.

Still disagree with me? Okay, try these on for size…

  1. A white supremacist comes into your bakery, looking for a birthday cake for his buddy. You disagree wholeheartedly with his beliefs (as do I, for the record). But he has a right to his beliefs, just like anyone else, as long as he is not acting on them, right? Do you serve him? OK, sure. You’re not interviewing customers before baking them cakes. Now say this same guy wants you to make him a cake that says, “I heart the KKK.” Would you do it? Or would you decide that his beliefs had crossed the line, and that you couldn’t possibly write that on a cake? I would refuse to bake a cake with that message, wouldn’t you?
  2. You are a graphic designer. A smoker wants you to create an ad for her small business. Most likely, you will comply. Now let’s say she wants you to create an ad promoting her tobacco company, saying that cigarettes have health benefits for your lungs. Do you still take the job? Don’t you want to right to refuse without facing jail time?
  3. You are an event planner. You are also a vegan for what you consider to be moral reasons. A hunter asks you to help him create a display of his most recent kills. Would you do it? Would you think it fair if you had to pay exorbitant fees in lieu of your event planning?

Some will criticize me for these examples because the aforementioned white supremacist, tobacco lover, and hunter are not members of a protected class. But what’s scary about that is that apparently those categories are fluid, changing with the current tide of governments and ideals. Gay people were not members of a protected class until very recently. Put a different government in place and in ten years, members of the NRA could be that protected class.  Think I’m crazy? Ask your grandparents if they ever would’ve dreamed that our society would be where it is today on the issue of homosexuality.

If you support gay marriage and oppose white supremacy and lying about tobacco, then TODAY you are in line with what the government supports. TODAY. Tomorrow, the government may be directing you, in your line of work, to celebrate something that goes against your conscience. Do you want the right to refuse without being forced into unemployment?

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Wake up, America. Our religious liberties are being trampled on in the name of Equality (aka whatever the libs determine is equal). Let’s break it down one more time: 

What rights are gay people asking for that they don’t already have?

Right to be served at any restaurant,  

Right to walk down the street without being harassed

Right to safety in places of business

Right to equal pay

Right to be treated at any medical facility

Right to equal use of public transportation

Right to have their marriage celebrated by any specific vendor they choose out of a myriad of options

What rights are vendors asking for that they already have but that are not being respected?

Right to refuse to serve gay people/allow gay people in business

Right to protest at private weddings

Right to bully/harass gay people

Right to not interact with gay people

Right to refuse to participate in a celebratory way in specific ceremonies that violate their religious beliefs

The lesbians in the case of the family farm were each awarded $1500 for not getting the venue of their choice. Seriously. Not for being turned down from the family farm’s apple picking event (because the family doesn’t turn down gay customers). Not for being harassed (which they weren’t). Not for being turned down for a job (the farm employs gay people). But for not getting their CHOICE venue for their wedding. This family farm even offered to host the reception, trying to compromise. Instead of getting tolerance, the farm got a lawsuit.

Oh, and no surprise here – the great State of New York was awarded the other $10,000 in the settlement. Government wins again. And it will continue to gain power as it undermines our rights unless we are willing to speak up for others when their rights are violated by Big Brother and his cronies who are currently in office. Wake up and stand up, or you’re next. 

What’s Working Wednesday — Potty Training Edition

When I potty-trained my son, I was floored by how easy it was. He was 23-months-old, and in three days was completely day-trained. I congratulated myself and considered starting a new career as a potty-trainer . . . until I tried to train my daughter (tried being the operative word!). Using the same method at the same age, this process was a frustrating, months-long ordeal. Though other parents find diapers to be much more convenient and opt for later training, I persevered because I HATE diapers so much. How old your child is won’t really matter, though: potty-training will always be a messy process! I’m grateful that along the way, I found some items that helped us to have a quick success the first time and (finally!) success the second. 

1.) http://www.3daypottytraining.com

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I would be remiss if I didn’t mention this method because it worked so wonderfully for my son! You have to read all of it and not waver from it at all. This worked well for my second child too; it just took about 3 months instead of 3 days! I liked it well enough that I will be trying it with my third when the time comes. I particularly appreciated that the author is available to answer questions through the website! Consistency is key when potty-training, so having some method or plan was really important to helping me stay on track when things got tough. 

2) THIS Potty!! (Disclaimer: I have never ordered from this website.)

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I cannot tell you what a lifesaver this potty has been. We never go anywhere without it! If I have all three kids with me, there is NO WAY I am traipsing them all into a public bathroom, then into one stall, trying to keep two from touching EVERYTHING while trying to keep the third from falling into the toilet. (Question: Why are children obsessed with the tampon trash thingies? So disgusting.) Anyway, when one of my kids (or um, me) has to go, we just find a parking spot and everyone else stays strapped in. This particular potty uses ordinary, gallon-size ziploc bags. I keep plastic grocery bags in the car to put them in so that it’s not obvious to everyone that we’re throwing away human waste. Wow, that got gross fast. But few things are more gross than potty-training! :)

3) Mattress Protector 

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Okay, so the method I used suggests doing day and night training at the same time. But when I potty-trained, I was either extremely pregnant or had a new-born, and I was just too tired to deal with night-time accidents. Eventually, though, the kids had to learn how to make it through the night. This mattress pad is awesome. I put it ON TOP of the sheets. If I’m lucky enough to find only the mattress pad wet, I can just take it off and replace it (we own two) in my groggy, half-asleep state. Even if the top sheets get wet, it is still easier to just replace those rather than change the whole bed. I like this particular one because the top layer is cloth, so it is just as comfortable as sheets. It’s also great if the kids are feeling sick . . . you just might save yourself a midnight bed change!

4) Froggy Potty froggy potty

This is particularly great for boys. It goes up in the front, so there is no mess for little ones learning control. Also, the entire seat comes out for easy rinsing/washing. It stays clean. 

5) Potty Covers

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These covers are expensive, and I didn’t use them as much as I thought I would, but when a bathroom is disgusting, they are a lifesaver! The entire potty gets covered — everywhere your little one can touch or swing her legs becomes germ-free. Individually wrapped, the covers fit discreetly in your purse or car.

I’m grateful for these innovative products, and I’m happy to be able to pass them on to you. Please leave a comment with any advice you have or products you love. :) After all, I still have one child left to potty-train!

 

The Fault in Our Stars

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fault-in-our-stars-poster-largeWelcome to the Between the Lines Book Club, a book club especially for mothers and teen daughters! If this is your first time using Between the Lines, you might want to click here for an explanation and FAQs. The Dash-Board below will give you an overview with no spoilers — here’s the place to look if you are still deciding whether or not to read this book. The Proceed With Caution section will give you a list of general misfirings in the book that may help you decide whether or not this book would be positive reading for your teen. The Sara Says section contains spoilers, and it is my general take on the book. The Discussion Starters will hopefully enable you to have a Mother/Daughter Book Club with lots of rich conversation. Please let me know in the comments section what works/doesn’t work for you, and leave suggestions for future books you’d like to see here. Happy Reading! :)

- THE DASH-BOARD

- The Fault in our Stars by John Green
– From amazon.com:

Despite the tumor-shrinking medical miracle that has bought her a few years, Hazel has never been anything but terminal, her final chapter inscribed upon diagnosis. But when a gorgeous plot twist named Augustus Waters suddenly appears at Cancer Kid Support Group, Hazel’s story is about to be completely rewritten.

Insightful, bold, irreverent, and raw, The Fault in Our Stars is award-winning-author John Green’s most ambitious and heartbreaking work yet, brilliantly exploring the funny, thrilling, and tragic business of being alive and in love.

Opens in theaters on June 6, 2014
TODAY Book Club pick
TIME Magazine’s #1 Fiction Book of 2012
#1 New York Times Bestseller
#1 Wall Street Journal Bestseller
#1 USA Today Bestseller
#1 International Bestseller
#1 Indie Bestseller

! PROCEED WITH CAUTION

! There is some occasional crass language, including swearing.
! There is a sexual encounter between two unmarried teens. Though it is not described explicity, it is portrayed in a positive light (starts on p. 205).
! Parents are generally viewed as being aloof, while the teens are the ones with the grounded, intelligent perspectives.
! The main characters are teens battling various forms of cancer, so death is a frequent discussing topic of the characters.

“ SARA SAYS

(This section contains spoilers. I’m assuming you have read the book at this point, so I won’t attempt to summarize or re-cap the whole book.)

The Fault in Our Stars was a quick read. Though the topic was upsetting, there was enough humor in the book to keep the tone as lighthearted as it could be for a book about kids with cancer.

I appreciated the description of trying to live life, knowing that it will be cut short. What was more difficult to digest was the characters’ complete lack of faith in anything beyond their own existence. They mocked any religious dialogue (though to be fair, it was intentionally cheesy dialogue) and sneered at the Christian version of an after-life.

The most dangerous aspect of this book was the fact that the intelligent characters (the teens) were the ones who had no faith in anything outside of themselves. Teens will identify with the wit and even some wisdom given by Hazel and the others. This book subtly reinforces the cultural stereotype that anyone with half a brain has discounted the existence of a Biblical God. Smart, scientific types are the highest moral creatures, and anyone who has faith must have the reasoning of a slug. The author clearly views faith as being akin to pretty but meaningless sayings cross-stitched while looking through smudged, rose-colored glasses.

This book may bring up questions of mortality in your teen. Some teens have not yet had much experience with death, and this book could be quite unsettling for them. No one likes to think about dying, and as the characters in the book are close in age to your teen, it could be disturbing. This could be a good opportunity to talk about death and resurrection, though, and most importantly, the Gospel. (Tim Challies’s review points out “the contrast between the bleakness of Hazel’s and Augustus’ reality and the hope and joy of the gospel.”)

? DISCUSSION STARTERS

(Since a wide range of girls will be participating, questions are written at differing levels of analysis. Feel free to highlight the questions that would be most appropriate for you and your daughter and best guide the discussion. Also, I try to match the questions with the level and depth of the book.)

General Questions

? Why is the book entitled The Fault in Our Stars?

? Because she has cancer, Hazel is part of a club she never wanted to join (the unofficial Kid With Cancer Club). Are you a part of any club you wish you didn’t belong to (Kid of Divorce, Kid With Special Needs Sibling, etc)?

? Isaac says he would rather be deaf than blind, but he doesn’t get that choice. Would you rather be deaf or blind? Why? ? In the hospital gift shop, the flowers are sprayed with Super Scent (p. 76) so they all smell uniformly pretty. Is the author trying to relay a metaphor here? If so, what could it be?

? Hazel says, “I kind of wanted to be little. I wanted to be like six years old or something” (p. 274). Do you ever wish you could go back to being little for a while? Do you have a favorite memory you would like to relive?

? Augustus says, “The world… is not a wish-granting factory,” which is another way of saying Life’s Not Fair. When have you most felt like life was unfair?

Faith Questions

? How are people of faith portrayed in this book (the support group leader, Augustus’s parents)?

? How do you think Hazel would answer the question, “Why do you have cancer?” How would you answer that question if she asked you? (this might be helpful to the discussion)

? How would you describe the faith of Augustus’s parents?

? What did Augustus mean when he said he feared oblivion (p.12, pg. 168)?

Family Questions

? How are parents viewed? What are some positive and negative aspects to Hazels parents?

? How are dads portrayed in this book? Is it positive or negative?

? What did you like/dislike about Hazel’s relationship with her parents?

? Sometimes when we are wounded, we believe lies that lead us to make vows, which lead to destructive behavior. Can you imagine some lies Peter Van Houten believed about his daughter’s passing that led him to behave as he did?

Life and Death Questions

? Hazel is a vegetarian because she wants to “minimize the number of deaths I am responsible for” (p. 28). Do you agree with her reasoning? If not, do you think there is an other/better reasoning for being a vegetarian?

? What is Hazel’s view of the afterlife (p. 167)? What is Augustus’s view (p. 168)? How does a person’s view of the afterlife affect how they live now?

? When Augustus dies, Hazel writes that “He died after a lengthy battle with human consciousness, a victim – as you will be – of the universe’s need to make and unmake all that is possible (p. 266).” What does she mean by this? Why would you say he died?

Relationship Questions

? What did you take-away from this book about how to treat someone with cancer? Are there clichés people say to you that you wish they’d stop saying?

? Was it wrong for Augustus and Hazel to have sex? Why or why not? Are there wrong things that become okay to do in extenuating circumstances?

? Monica breaks up with Isaac because she can’t handle his impending blindness. We later find out that Augustus stayed with his previous girlfriend because he didn’t want to break up with a girl who had cancer. Who made the better choice?

? Isaac’s definition of true love is that love is keeping the promise to love even if you didn’t understand the promise when you made it (pg. 60-61). Do you agree with his definition? If not, what is your definition of true love?

Questions, Comments, Suggestions? I would love to know how I can make Between the Lines more helpful for you. I would also love your suggestions for our next book! Please leave a comment below. Thanks! ~Sara

Between the Lines

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Welcome to Between the Lines Book Club, your resource for hosting your very own mother/daughter book club. Here is a link to our first book, The Fault in Our Stars!

Why would you want to have a mother/daughter book club? Reading what’s interesting to your teen can be a great opportunity for getting to know her better — and it will give her a chance to know you better, too! Applying your worldview to what’s happening in the secular world can be a great opportunity to help your daughter look at life through a helpful, godly lens. Here are the answers to some more questions you might have:

FAQs (or more like QIMU – Questions I Made Up) :)

Q. What is a Mother/Daughter Book Club?

A. A book club. For mothers. And daughters. (Who comes up with these questions?!) Seriously, it can be whatever you want it to be! You can get a group of moms and daughters together (fair warning: even chatty middle-schoolers have been known to clam up in groups), get coffee with your daughter, or discuss the book with the whole family on a road trip!

Q. Why is this just for mothers and daughters? Why not fathers and sons? What about mothers and sons? What about fathers and daughters?

A. Use this however you want. I’m assuming that mothers and daughters will be most interested in having a book club, since most book clubs are made up of women. But I could be wrong! My husband and I are in a book club together and we both enjoy it. But, I’ll be generally targeting mothers and daughters in my book choices and remarks because that’s what I know best.

Q. I don’t have a mother/daughter. Are you trying to make me feel left out?

A. Definitely not. Hopefully you can use these questions with a friend, teacher, or an aunt/niece or grandmother/granddaughter or neighbor or even someone who is not female (see previous question).

Q. My daughter would never do this with me, right?

A. Don’t be so sure – teens want their parents to want to spend time with them, even though they sometimes act to the contrary. If your daughter really isn’t interested, feel free to read the Sara Says and Discussion Starters and have a casual conversation. It is always valuable to be up on what your kids are reading!

Q. Are there answers to the discussion questions?

A. The questions are written to be open-ended – no right or wrong answers… though there are wrong ways to view the world! Hopefully this will be an opportunity for moms to gently and subtly help teens to look at these books through a solidly Biblical worldview.

Q. What age is Between the Lines geared to?

A. Maturity varies, but generally girls reading these books will be between 13 and 19. I try to align the level of analysis in the discussion questions to the difficulty level of the book.

Q. Are there any rules for the book club?

A. Just to listen to each other, and generally treat each other as you would your friends (i.e., mom – no freaking out about answers; daughter – no freaking out about questions).

Q. I see that your oldest daughter is not yet three years old. Why are you interested in YA literature?

A. I enjoy reading, and this book club is an excuse for me to read YA literature again (not that I ever stopped!). I taught for 7 years; several of those years were spent teaching 6th and 7th grade Reading/Language Arts. I have a minor in English and a Master’s of Education. I need an excuse to read something other than Dr. Suess and Sandra Boynton. So thanks for joining me!

Everything We Never Knew We Wanted

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IMG_5460Our Flower

His purposes will ripen fast,

Unfolding every hour;

The bud may have a bitter taste,

But sweet will be the flower.

-William Cowper

Though I have written honestly about the beginning of this journey (here and here and here), and though I’m prepared to continue to speak openly about the difficulties of dealing with Down syndrome (particularly the medical struggles that have come with it for us), I also want to be sure to share the wondrous parts: the relieving joy of Amelia making it through surgery, the warm weight of her flexible, snuggly body on my chest in church, the heart-swelling pride each time she reaches much-worked-for milestones (smiling! lifting her legs! finding her toes!).

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This little girl is all grace to me. God’s goodness, God’s faithfulness, God’s love, all wrapped up in a tiny, grace-filled package, wrapped with a bow of joy. Never before have I felt such contented comfort in having my sins revealed to me, hot shame giving way to a warm release of forgiveness and freedom. My heart is stretching and growing –little delicate sprouts shooting up in places I didn’t know existed. Tenderness for those with disabilities, sensitivity to those in difficult circumstances – the full benefit of the doubt being given at times when I used to cast judgment. The growth is painful, still, but there is an otherworldly peace and deep satisfaction in knowing that the pruning shears are being wielded by a master; I feel as grateful as an old, wise tree would, knowing that the pruning was for her good growth.

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Though I still can’t completely picture what our future looks like with her (when will she have her next surgery? where will she go to school?), I know I cannot picture life without our Amelia Kate! She has stolen our hearts, and we are grateful to have been robbed.

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How has she stolen our hearts? Amelia’s soul is kind. She has time for the person holding her. She wants to talk and smile and connect. Even though she will often decline to reach for a toy, Amelia will always reach for hands and arms and pull them close to her, making eye contact the whole time so that you’re sure it’s you she’s after.

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This girl. She is everything we never knew we wanted. Showing me with tangible cuddles and kissable cheeks that “the clouds ye so much dread are big with mercy and will break in blessings on your head.”

Be sure to follow Amelia’s Page on Facebook!

God Doesn’t Give Us More Than We Can Handle… Right?

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Spending another night in the hospital, with numerous, tedious tests being performed on my 5-month-old, was not exactly how I would’ve chosen to ring in the new year. We were hoping to leave ER visits and hospital admissions in 2013… instead, this was our fourth long-term hospital stay (fifth if you include my c-section in July).

People in a difficult position like mine often hear the phrase, “God will never give you more than you can handle.” Though I don’t recall anyone specific saying this to me, the Christian blogosphere has been all abuzz about this phrase. The current trend is to take a battering ram to the sentiment and (indirectly) to those who dare to let it pass their lips. Given how many articles I’ve seen about it, it seems Christians everywhere are looping this phrase into every conversation they have with a person who is hurting.

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Why all the tension? It’s understandable on both sides. Someone you know, we’ll call him Jack, is going through a difficult time. He is trying to be vulnerable with his Christian community, and people around him know what’s going on and want to be helpful. After sharing his struggle he hears:

1. “God doesn’t give you more than you can handle… he must have given this situation to YOU because he knew YOU would shine. Betsy-Fretsy down the street, now she would’ve fallen apart under these circumstances, but YOU, you are strong.” At least the person saying this is giving a compliment! But Jack doesn’t feel strong, and he certainly doesn’t want to think that God has singled him out for some sort of special refining.

2. “God doesn’t give you more than you can handle. Remember, when God closes a door, he opens a window!” Jack isn’t even sure what this means. Why wouldn’t God just open another door for him? Wouldn’t the sentiment be more encouraging the other way around… wouldn’t Jack rather have a God who closes windows but opens doors? And why does God have poor Jack trapped in a house?!?

3.“God doesn’t give you more than you can handle, but he will load you up with all manner of burdens, save for that straw that would break your back.” Assigning ill motives to God, anticipating that his goal is to angrily pile on as much as he can, is certainly not helpful to someone in Jack’s situation.

4. “God doesn’t give you more than you can handle” (said in a dismissive tone after Jack has bared his soul). People who say this bluntly, after a heartfelt revelation, seem to be begging Jack to stop talking about anything negative because they are uncomfortable with displays of emotion, or they are subconsciously nervous about Jack’s bad luck rubbing off on them, but they want to sound holy while asking him to shut up.

5. “God doesn’t give you more than you can handle… I mean, at least you’re not deaf AND blind. At least you’re not being used for target practice by hopeful Olympic archers. At least you’re not six feet under… and alive!” The person with the million at leasts would do well to learn the art of empathizing rather than sympathizing (this video provides a short, fun explanation of the difference). Jack just wants someone to acknowledge his pain. He knows that others are in more difficult situations in one way or another. He doesn’t, however, want his pain to be minimized; he just wants someone to be bummed out with him from time to time.

Instead of climbing down into the depths with someone who’s hurting, and lighting a candle, some Christians may unwittingly shine down a harsh bright flashlight in the person’s face with their exclamation of “God doesn’t give you more than you can handle.” It reminds me of the Proverb: “Whoever blesses his neighbor with a loud voice, rising early in the morning, will be counted as cursing” (ESV).

Now that we’ve seen how people like Jack might perceive this phrase, let’s look at how someone (we’ll call our someone Jill) might mean it when she says it to someone like her friend Jack. Jill went through a difficult time a couple years ago, and an older lady at church promised her (in a kind tone at an appropriate time) that God wouldn’t give her more than she could handle. This meant a lot to Jill, and she clung to that phrase, repeating it to herself as a mantra. Even though she doesn’t always feel comfortable, she tries to take a risk by telling others like Jack who are hurting this phrase because it meant so much to her. Here are some ways the Jills out there might be intending this phrase to be taken:

1. “God doesn’t give you more than you can handle… he will give you the grace and strength you need for each day.” Jill knows this isn’t Scripture, exactly, but she does know the Bible verse about his mercies being new every morning. Left on her own, Jill could handle nothing, but she knows in her heart that God will equip her for whatever comes her way.

2. “God doesn’t give you more than you can handle… he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion!” In Jill’s mind, God giving her more than she could handle would mean God giving her something that would make her renounce her faith. She believes that God will preserve Jack and keep him. In the biblical account, God certainly put a lot on Job’s plate, and Satan wanted him to curse God and die, but God could not allow that. It was not an interminable affliction.

3. “God doesn’t give you more than you can handle… he is building you up, not tearing you down. God only gives circumstances that are working toward your sanctification, not your destruction.” Jill has learned that God will not let anything befall her that won’t be used for her greater good and God’s greater glory. The goal isn’t to test you, to break you down with so many burdens as to determine your breaking point. The goal is to build you up.

4. “God doesn’t give you more than you can handle… though it may seem so at the time.” Jill certainly felt like God was breaking her. In a particularly dark moment, she lay down and felt certain that she would never get up, but she did get up, and she is still praising God – more now than she did before that awful moment. Voices of the martyrs would certainly not join a chorus proclaiming that God gave them more than they could handle. They would gloriously affirm that God preserved them, that God made beauty from the ash-seeds of their faith.

5. “God doesn’t give you more than you can handle.” Jill sometimes isn’t quite sure what she even means by this statement. She just knows that she feels tenderly toward hurting people, and she desperately wants to provide some comfort to them. She’s not always sure of the right thing to say, so sometimes she falls back on this because it’s what she knows.

In the past few months, like Jack, I have again felt like I have more than I can handle. I feel like my daily schedule is going to crush me: my life is a constant logistical frustration because of my daughter’s demanding medical needs. Emotionally I’m spent, trying to provide a reasonable level of care and attention to my family.

But, like Jill, I do take comfort in the fact that I will not be given more than I can handle, that I will still be praising God when this is all over. I understand why people hate this phrase; it can be badly used as an empty platitude, tossed at our hurting neighbors’ heads like a brightly-colored, obnoxious beach ball. But, on the other hand, I am one who finds comfort in the deep truth that we should let settle in our souls: A good and powerful God will not give us more than he will lovingly help us to bear. As I welcome the unknowns of 2014, I’m grateful for the reminder that I should carefully consider what I say to other hurting people, and that even if the words are not well-chosen, I should graciously accept what others offer to me.

But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.

2 Corinthians 4:7-9 (NIV)

Why Does my Daughter Have Down Syndrome?

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To read about the beginning of our journey, read here and here.

I keep writing about my first moment with Amelia because it was such a life-changing, defining moment. There was before and there is after. There was once a pregnant woman with a boy and girl, children whom she would refer to as “perfect.” Then there was a woman, no longer pregnant, staring into the face of a new baby, searching desperately for any familiarity, for anything to hold on to that would create feelings of love. This baby she couldn’t help but refer to as “broken,” choking over and over on the heavy word and the heavier reality. A perfect boy and girl, and a broken baby. Two rights, and a wrong.

And in the early days, that was how I consoled myself: Well, I have two amazing children; I can deal with one sub-par child. I can take my lumps: shall we accept the good from God and not the bad? I felt strong in those moments, and noble to some extent. Two out of three’s not too bad, you know.

But I knew, in time (and probably from the beginning), that it is not fair to view the third child as the mistake, as the fly in the family ointment. She’s not our consolation prize. So why? Did the God who never sleeps nod off when knitting Amelia together? A slip of his righteous right hand and oops – an extra chromosome? Or were his arms too short to save – Satan swooped in and interfered and my short-armed God just reached out hopelessly, weeping as he tried to stop his enemy and failed?

I read an article about suffering by a mother whose twin daughters had died shortly after being born with birth defects. Her disturbingly simplistic conclusion is that birth defects are just a result of the Fall: God allowed us to choose to sin, and we now bear the consequences of that first sin. She states her only hope: “For many of us who have had [sic] lost a child to birth defects or live with a child with physical problems, sometimes we can only take comfort in the hope that one day we will hold our children, free from pain and made completely whole in the presence of God.” The author no longer has her children on Earth, so it makes sense that she puts all her hope for her children in their heavenly home. But what am I supposed to say when I look into Amelia’s face, and she wants to know why she’s different? “Sorry, sweetie, your Down syndrome is a terrible consequence for sin, but don’t worry – all will be well when you die”? This clearly misses the mark. When people asked Jesus why a man was born blind, he didn’t say, “Because of the Fall… too bad about that…” No. Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.” (John 9, ESV) God has a purpose in all things, even bad things that were not part of pre-fall creation.

On the other hand, I disagree with those who say that God intentionally creates children with special needs to endure pain and suffering, to be little “angels” to the rest of us. So what’s the answer? Why does my daughter have Down syndrome? Why does she have a severe, congenital heart defect?

My first mistake was in thinking my other children are perfect. They may look perfect to me, but I know them well enough to know that they are, in fact, broken. They are sinful and left crushed by the Fall. Their brokenness requires a Savior. Amelia’s physical brokenness is an outward manifestation of the Fall, but I along with my “perfect” children are more spiritually broken than any physical disability could display.

Yes, Amelia’s physical issues are a result of the Fall. I don’t believe that she will have Down syndrome in heaven. BUT, and this has been so crucial to my processing of this situation, God allowed her to have Down syndrome for our good and his glory. Amelia having Down syndrome was God’s absolute, best plan for her life and for the lives of those who will be in relationship with her. Nothing, absolutely nothing happens in this world that is not within God’s glorious and holy will. God allowed his Son to be killed, the worst possible sin ever to be committed. If he controlled and wielded that sin to accomplish the most beautiful sacrifice and atonement (and he did), then any other result of the Fall can be seen as being allowed and used well by our heavenly Father. That includes my daughter’s difficulties.

Yes, Amelia will be physically and spiritually whole in Heaven, as we all will be. But our physical and emotional difficulties in life are a gift to us from our Creator who knows our souls better than we know them ourselves. God will use the difficulties to enrich our joy. I would not choose for Amelia to have a disability, but I can honestly thank God (though sometimes through tears) for the Down syndrome because I know that it is a loving and gracious gift. I’m grateful that, in this case, the challenges came to us in an adorable, kissable little package – I pray we will parent Amelia with the same grace and love that is daily given to us by our great God!

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New Thoughts About Old St. Nick

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 Last December, I posted this blog about celebrating Christmas… thought I’d repost it now, before the Christmas season really kicks off this year! Please leave a comment with your best ideas for keeping Jesus central in your family’s Christmas.

I have some serious issues with Santa Claus, and they’re not the issues you might think. Yes, there’s the whole lying to my kids thing, which bothers me. But we pretend a lot at our house, and I could play up Santa while truthfully telling my kids he’s make-believe. Of course, there’s also the whole Santa and the elves issue: does he pay them? Does he give them pills to keep them small? Are the elves indentured servants of some kind? And, no, St. Nick hasn’t yet received the message that cookies are a “sometimes food,” but I certainly can’t pass judgment on that one! Also, Santa watching my children when they’re sleeping and knowing when they’re awake? Sounds more like a creepy stalker than a benevolent gifter. But, I think Mr. Claus has bigger issues than being a fictional, slave-keeping, obese, creepy, character… the biggest problems are for the kids who see past all these potential problems and think Santa’s a good and generous man. Allow me to unwrap (sorry, I couldn’t resist) my reasoning:

He Looks So Innocent!

He Looks So Innocent!

  1. The first issue I have with Santa is that he’s terribly mean to poor children. This was brought home to me when I taught in a very poor community, with students who didn’t receive much, if anything, for Christmas. From a kid’s perspective, the rich kids get gifts all year round: they have plenty of food and new clothes and school supplies. Wouldn’t it make sense for Santa to give poor kids a little more on Christmas to compensate? Apparently not. Kind, jolly old St. Nick gives poor kids the shaft on Christmas, reinforcing the societal message that children without means are less valuable than those who have plenty. Even Santa recognizes that the poor kids are worth less. For kids who aren’t poor, the disparity can still feel personal. I remember being jealous of my closest friend in elementary school, who always got the BEST (and most) Christmas presents. I knew they were from her parents, and I knew it wasn’t because they loved her any more than my parents loved me. I just had plain old jealousy to contend with, and yet I can still taste it. I can’t imagine how this would’ve affected my psyche if I had tried hard to be extra good and was still deemed “naughtier” than my best friend.
  2. This leads to my second point… Santa’s method of determining who’s naughty and who’s nice involves assigning monetary worth to children based on how good or bad they are. Nevermind that presents are not actually doled out according to Santa’s fictitious lists; the message prevails: if you do more good things than bad things, you win. Even if your heart was naughty and you were only doing good things to get on the Nice List, you still win. And if you tipped the scale the other way, well, your worth, my friend, is equivalent to a lump of coal. This is particularly problematic for Christian children, who are presumably being taught that their worth is in Christ, and that it doesn’t matter how many bad things they’ve done. Jesus has already taken the lump of coal as His and given them all the presents HE got for being perfect. Those gifts belong to our children, no matter which list they fall on this year. Christian parents should be reiterating that no matter how many good things their children do, they will be loved by God no more and no less than they already are!
  3. Noel Piper writes here about how the association between God and Santa can be problematic for kids who are already struggling to understand the abstract idea of God. Wait. Did I say kids? I think this association runs deep in the fabric of our society and can trip up even us adults, who also struggle to understand God. This article is a great read, if you have time, and really spring-boarded a lot of my thinking. Basically, Piper says that Santa and God share too many attributes for us not to make the connection, however subconsciously (each watches us and knows what we’re doing and has the ability to grant “wishes”/answer prayers, etc).
  4. Finally, I come back to the main reason my parents gave for not “doing Santa” with us growing up (besides not seeing how they could do it without lying): gratitude. My parents wanted us to see the people giving us gifts, recognize that they had sacrificed to provide us with such nice things, and thank them kindly and respectfully. Basically, they wanted credit to go to those who’d so thoughtfully chosen gifts for us. Has any child who’s ever written a Dear Santa Wish List ever followed up by sending a Dear Santa Thank You to the North Pole? Also, my parents wanted to nurture the parent-child relationship, and they knew that a fun Christmas morning put a lot of emotional cash in the bank (which had to be withdrawn on the mornings when we got yelled at for missing the bus or fighting over the bathroom). Though they showed us all year that they loved us, the mountain of gifts under the tree on Christmas morning was physical proof that our normally frugal parents loved us with a crazy, wild-abandon love. They were tangibly demonstrating how God loves us and gives excessively and lavishly to us.
  5. So #4 was my last issue I have with Santa. But I have to include #5 to cover the opportunity cost of such celebrations: Celebrating Santa and his magical gift-giving is time that could be spent talking about God’s miraculous, eternal gift-giving. Listening to this sermon on the theology behind gift-giving was an amazing, eye-opening experience for me. God gave his Son, and will give us all things out of his glorious riches. When we celebrate Christmas, we celebrate the birth of Christ by giving gifts. But if it’s Jesus’ birthday, shouldn’t we be giving Jesus the presents? Yes. But the Bible teaches that if we give to our neighbors, we give to Jesus. So we should lavishly be gifting our neighbors, including our closest ones, our spouses and children. If Santa’s giving the gifts, how does Jesus get the glory?

So while I don’t think Santa is an anagram for Satan (okay, well technically it is, but I don’t think it matters a flying flip), I do think that we should all consider how central a role we’re going to give Santa this Christmas. At the same time, I hope we’ll all be gracious to others who see things differently… that way we can all stay on the Nice List!

Frayed Edges of Guilt

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For some background on this post, click here.

This is not the story I long for it to be: the story of instantly falling in love with your daughter, of seldom having a negative thought about her Down syndrome. The story in which you feel joy and gratitude for any baby you get to hold in your arms.

My own story is frayed around the edges by the guilt that comes with every recollection of my daughter’s birth.

She didn’t cry when she was born. There was only the sound of a quiet flurry of activity, the hushed and restrained voices of worried doctors. Then came a cry so pitiful it only enhanced my fears.

Finally, they brought her over for me to see briefly as I lay on the operating table, and my heart sank a thousand miles. While I expected to see a reassuringly familiar face, I saw one with unfamiliar but tell-tale features, ones that made this little girl seem more like a stranger than like a member of my family. This single, passing glance is how I received the news that my daughter has Down syndrome.

They whisked my new baby and my husband away after I awkwardly tried to kiss her face though my arms were pinned down. I was alone with the news that my baby’s features had announced to me. The doctors and nurses tried so hard to be cheery, but their strained smiles and chirpy reassurances betrayed their suspicions. Tears dripped down and off my face until a nurse took on the awkwardly intimate job of blotting away my tears.

After surgery, I was put in an isolated post-op room where I was tenderly monitored and cared for. I am normally reserved in showing raw emotion, but silent tears were freely flowing even though I was surrounded by strangers. I felt such a deep and quiet grief. There was no sobbing, no railing against the heavens, just a silent, iron sadness that sank deeper when my husband entered the room and his eyes told me as clearly as Amelia’s features had that our lives had been changed forever.

The sorrow was a heavy anchor that caught all our expectations of a happy birth and a healthy baby and dragged them to the bottom of our souls. Eric and I sat in silence for hours. We were alone because our daughter arrived early and wasn’t on anyone’s calendar.  None of this was according to our plans. We felt God’s sustaining presence, and we didn’t doubt his care of us or good plans for us, but that didn’t change the fact that we felt emotionally devastated.

After a long while, our shameful thoughts awkwardly flopped out like fish desperate to escape a net, and indeed, we were desperate for them to escape and to be far from us. You don’t know how sinful you are until you realize the terrible thoughts that can be churned up in you about your own child.

When Amelia was finally brought to us, I thought my feelings of disappointment would dissipate into a mist of love and tender feelings. Instead, I struggled to see through my daughter’s appearance to who she was. I, the teacher who was able to love the most difficult students, was struggling to find loving feelings toward the innocent baby in my arms. Fear and shame clamored for top billing in my hurting heart.

I wanted to turn back time. I wanted to un-know that my life was changed forever because of what I had learned in an instant. I wanted to go back to our family vacation when I was blissfully pregnant with our third. And I wanted to be a better mother than the one who was dissatisfied with her own baby.

Three months later, this journey continues. Though I’ve come a good distance, I’m not yet as joyful in mothering as I desire to be. It might seem logical that as I get to know Amelia better (she’s becoming a fighter I’m so proud of, she has the sweetest disposition, and she has a darling smile), that I would be in a better place and feel less guilty. Ironically, the opposite is true. The more I adore her, the more guilty I feel that I would still take away her extra chromosome if I could. Time, and Amelia showing her personality, are helping me enjoy this girl who so fully deserves her mother’s pride. But, there are still conflicting forces at work.

I don’t have advice or answers. I have only transparency so that others who experience confusion and hurt, even while believing in a loving God, will know that they are not alone.

We’ve come a long way since this post! Click here to see pictures and read about our sweet Amelia!

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