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.

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Join the Club

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So . . . clearly I’ve taken a bit of a hiatus from blogging. My reason is that I’ve been adjusting to life with three children, and specifically, to the diagnosis of Trisomy 21, or Down syndrome, for my baby. I’ve spent three of the last thirteen weeks in a hospital with my daughter, who also has a severe heart defect requiring open heart surgery next month. My days have been filled with things like inserting feeding tubes, learning new medical terminology, and setting up appointments with more specialists than I ever imagined a newborn would need.

I’ve actually done some writing during these three months since Amelia joined our family, but I have been hesitant to share for a few reasons . . .

One is that I’m new to the special needs community, and I am worried about offending the caring and welcoming parents who have reached out to me. They are further along in this journey and wiser; I don’t want to say something ignorant, even though I’m sure these folks would be most gracious.

Also, I don’t want to put things out there that don’t respect the gift of my daughter. Emotionally, I’m not yet where others have promised I will be, enjoying this whole adventure. I trust those who say I will get there, but right now I’m seeing more of the challenges than the rewards. I love Amelia, but, honestly, I’ve had some ugly thoughts that I’m not sure should be shared.

Lastly, I want to be genuine in what I share in my blog posts, and I hope they are meaningful to others in some way. I have been in a world of disappointment, grief, and uncertainty, with my fears being sometimes for Amelia, and sometimes for me and the rest of our family. But I have also experienced much grace and kindness and felt blessed as Amelia’s smile has charmed me. My feelings can be conflicting, and I’m finding that grief does not happen in a straight line. My perspective today may not still be true by the time I hit the button that publishes my thoughts.

That said, I want to get back to writing, and so, with some uncertainty, I will get started by sharing some of the basics for those who have expressed concern and been interested in our new family member.

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Amelia was diagnosed with a complete AV canal defect in utero. At that time, in my fifth month of pregnancy, my husband Eric and I were also told that our baby could have numerous chromosomal disorders, including Down syndrome. We were reeling. Doctors were saying unthinkable things about options that dishonored our child. My parents arrived from Ohio the next day to allow Eric and I to process this while they watched Weston (3 ½) and Madelyn (almost 2). But, soon after, I was given the results of an advanced blood test. According to this highly accurate test, we were not carrying a child with Trisomy 21. (I am now being written up in a medical journal as possibly the first person whom this test has failed.)

The day of Amelia’s birth was two weeks earlier than the date of my scheduled c-section. It was just Eric and I who first saw our daughter and realized we had been inducted into a club we never asked to join. My next few blog posts will share some of those dark moments in the hospital. Though you may appreciate some new insights about life in the I Have a Special Needs Child club, I can’t guarantee you will like what you read. Some of you may stop in, look around, and leave feeling grateful to have been denied membership. Others of you will wish you could join this club instead of your own, which has an even more painful initiation.

I’m still learning about the club myself. I trust God and His ways that are clearly higher than mine, but on most days, I still want to trade my membership card for a new one that reads: I Have a Typical Baby. So I will be honest about my struggles. But, I will not write as one who has no hope:  I anticipate gaining more appreciation as I explore all the aspects of this club; I will share that, too. And though I have, to some extent, been living under a rock, I haven’t completely missed the appalling, entertaining, and interesting things going on in the rest of the world, so I will be blogging my observations of those soon as well. More to come…

For another post about Amelia’s birth, click here.

Guarantees

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Amelia is performing acrobatics in my womb, moving the computer as I attempt to type. She is so active that she was deemed a “crazy baby” by my OB, as were my other two children when they were in utero.  She responds to music more than my other two did, and she likes to kick and punch so much that it’s hard to believe that there’s something wrong with her body.

Some days I forget that there’s an issue, at least on a conscious level. I’m busy with my two older babies, and I imagine that Amelia will be just like her siblings, running and playing with them before I know it.

Other days, I feel like a dark cloud has settled over me, dampening my mood and making me ethereally sad. I’m not sure what is causing this slight depression: is it the possibility of Down’s Syndrome (or possibly DiGeorge Syndrome*)? Is it the fact that Amelia has a heart defect and that I will have to somehow emotionally survive my baby’s open-heart surgery while still effectively parenting my older children? Or is it just that the uncertainty of life is looking me squarely in the face, reminding me that I have been given no guarantee of delightful circumstances? Life is uncertain, and Amelia’s issues remind me of the fragility of the lives of all my children, of my husband, of myself.

There are no warranties for life circumstances. I don’t get my money back if things don’t turn out the way I want. I don’t get to do this over again. I can’t retrieve the things that have been and will be lost.

I know that God is good, and I know He is sovereign, yet I often struggle to reconcile the two. I’m sure you’ve felt the same way at times. So what are we guaranteed in this life?

We are guaranteed a Mediator who has suffered our tortuous life with His soul gloriously intact, with strength to command the waters and the tenderness of a seeking shepherd. We are guaranteed a Comforter to intercede for us when our frail spirits fail us. We are guaranteed glorious eternal life in the presence of our extended family, and endless time to bask in the light of the risen Lamb, and peace that passes understanding until that time.

We are guaranteed that in this life our temptations will not exceed what we can bear. Satan can scar us, but he cannot have us. Death ceases to be an ending but is a doorway to new life. We are guaranteed no condemnation no matter how we fail to weather our time on Earth. We are guaranteed an inheritance, a spirit of adoption. We are guaranteed rescue. We are guaranteed and end to the pain. No more loss or separation or heartache.

We are guaranteed an everlasting, glorious, satisfying relationship with the Creator and lover of our souls.

These guarantees far outweigh the surety of a healthy baby. They are more lasting and satisfying than pleasant circumstances. So as I cry over the realization that my perfect life plan is not coming to fruition, I remind myself of these promises. My hope is not in life going as I desire, but in my loving God and Savior.

*Here’s an update on Amelia:

  • Amelia’s growth is right on-track; she’s even slightly above average for weight. She has no physical indications of a chromosomal disorder other than the heart defect.
  • We took a blood test that is fairly new to the market (Verifi). The results indicated a low possibility of Down’s Syndrome, but the results don’t include our chances of Mosaic Down’s, so there’s still a possibility of that. The chances of Trisomy 13 or 18 at this point are very slim based on the fact that Amelia has no other indicators of these. She could possibly have DiGeorge Syndrome, but that also seems unlikely given a lack of indicators other than a heart issue.
  • When Amelia is born, it is unlikely that we will know right away if she has a chromosomal disorder, because they can already tell that she doesn’t look like she has an issue. So when she’s born, they will do genetic testing and we will get the results after a week or so.
  • Our cardiologist is hopeful that Amelia will be asymptomatic at birth. Best case scenario is that she won’t need surgery until she’s 3 or 4 years old. Worst case is that she will have trouble breathing (as her lungs could fill with blood from a malfunctioning heart) and a difficult time eating and will need to go on medication soon after birth, which would move her surgery up to when she’s only 3 or 4 months old.
  • We are so grateful for the prayers of friends, family, and friends-by-proxy. We even got a card signed by every member of a church in Ohio, letting us know that they are praying for our daughter. We are so humbled by the prayers (and the time represented by such prayers) and by the offers to help after Amelia’s birth. We feel immensely and richly blessed to be part of the family of God!

 

Why You Should NOT Ask Me to Share on Father’s Day

For Father’s Day this year, I asked one of my parents to guest post… no, not my dad (though he would have sage advice to offer, the thought of writing a blog post would give him hives!). My mom wrote this piece to share with friends of the Women’s Resource Center where she is the director. 

My husband Mike, slated to open our Community Group time at church, asked me to share my perspective on Father’s Day this Sunday morning. I responded that I couldn’t think of a less likely candidate for this assignment: From the time I can remember, I have felt awkward at best on the day designated to celebrate dads. While the other kids in my grade school were happily making cards for their fathers (which in the 1960s almost everyone in my neighborhood had), I wondered if one of my grandfathers or uncles in other states would like to receive a crayoned card in the mail.

I was just two, and my brother one week old, when my father piloted a small plane to a ski resort. He took along a friend and one of that man’s friends, excited to enjoy a day of skiing in Connecticut. My dad’s mother from Pittsburgh was at our house, so the women encouraged my dad to be gone while they tended to the kids (things were very different in 1958!). My 25-year-old mom started looking for her husband to be home that evening, but a violent snowstorm had blown in unexpectedly. Hours turned into days, and days into weeks as the Air Force fliers from Mitchell Field near our Long Island home searched for the plane and its passengers. Six months later, on the day before their fifth wedding anniversary, my father’s body washed up on a shore of the Long Island Sound. My mother, who did not remarry, was reshaped by this tragic time in her life and, though she did many things wonderfully well, she did not intentionally find role models for me like she did for my brother. Such were the times.

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This doesn’t sound like a very enjoyable story to share during our class on a nice holiday honoring dads, now does it?!!

But my husband persisted. He asked me to challenge our class members like I do our young, single mothers who come looking for practical, emotional, and spiritual help at Women’s Resource Center. As I chat with these women, I encourage them to find healthy and consistent male role models for their children. Often, in our experience at WRC, the father decides to walk away from his “baby-mama” and, because the women themselves were raised by single moms, they don’t see it as a big deal. One told me: “Oh, come on. No one has a father these days. It doesn’t matter.”

But, it does matter. Just because I would no longer be alone in my unease at card-making time, it doesn’t change the fact that every little girl needs a daddy. I saw that lived out later in my life as Mike fathered our five daughters with unconditional love. And I see it in the home of my oldest daughter where her husband is an outstanding daddy to their adored little boy and girl. Though my mother tried her best, a mom is just not a dad. Children need both, to fill the gaps.

So what I will tell our class, and what I tell our single moms at WRC, is this: Dads are important. Kids with dads are four times more likely to avoid poverty, they experience better health as infants, they are less aggressive, and they are significantly less likely to be incarcerated. They are less likely to experience teen pregnancy, marry before graduating from high school, abuse alcohol and other drugs, and to be obese. They are more likely to receive mostly A’s in school (The National Fatherhood Initiative). Moreover, fathers are the representation of a caring and approachable God to their children from an early age.

If you are raising a child who does not have a dad in the home, please do the best you can to find a close substitute. Look to your brother, an uncle, your own dad, a good friend, or a church or agency for a mentor for your daughter (as well as for your son, of course). If you have an intact family, invite those who do not, to participate in life with you. You may be surprised at how what you think is mundane is meaningful to others. I remember the time one of our daughters’ friends sat down for a simple dinner with us. She looked at all the place settings and people at the table and said: “So this is a ‘dinner table.’ I thought this just happened on T.V.”

And I have an early memory of watching a couple resolve a conflict by leaving their kids inside while they walked around the perimeter of their house talking back-and-forth. It was so ordinary to them, she in her pink foam curlers, he just home from his nightly commute from New York City, but it was significant to me as I observed how compromise in marriage worked its way. I was watchful because I honestly did not know how men and women related on a daily basis in a home environment; I wish my mother would have known to be purposeful about inserting me into family situations that included fathers. I wish the books written then would have told her to look for a great, godly man to make her daughter feel significant in the world. Making a girl feel special is special. If it can’t be done by a father, I would encourage others to mimic it to the best of their ability by making sure she is included in the big and small joys of a two-parent home.

So, that’s my unusual Father’s Day charge to those who will be attending the Community Group at my church tomorrow. Not exactly up to Hallmark’s sweet standard, but my hope is that it may cause some to be more aware of all the fatherless girls who would benefit from some men and families in our Christian community stepping up to fill the gap.

And I do wish all of you a most blessed Father’s Day.

Laurie (Sara’s Mom)

 

Has First-Runner-Up Stolen the Crown?

A friend recently told me about a church that has replaced their Sunday services (or just some of them? I’m not sure which) with service (the verb). Instead of meeting to worship God, they go out into the community and serve others. I felt a pit in my stomach, but I didn’t fully understand at the time why this hit me so wrong. My friend said this church wants to be the “hands and feet of Jesus” rather than meeting in a stuffy building to read and learn about God. Exchanging corporate worship for group service is a pretty extreme example, but judging by the music and literature coming out of the church at large, it seems that our focus has become myopic in our emphasis on loving other people.

Am I really going to do a blog post about how we need to focus less on loving others? As a church, don’t we need more emphasis on service? Don’t people need to get out of their pews and into the streets? Aren’t there lost souls out there just waiting to hear about Jesus? Well, yes and no. Yes, these are good things, but no, they are not the main things, and the minute they become the main thing, they become pointless and fruitless.

The golden rule is arguably the most recognizable tenant of the Christian faith: Love your neighbor as yourself. It’s beautiful, and can be incorporated into any religion, and will make life better wherever it’s applied. But it’s not the greatest commandment; it’s listed second! And the first commandment applied will make life rich, abundant, joyous, full, alive: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matthew 22:37, ESV).

What does this mean? Isn’t the way to love God to serve and love others? After all, Jesus says “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15, ESV). But is that a directive or a promise? If it’s a directive only, then we are constantly trying to prove our love through our service. If it’s a promise (or a directive and a promise), and I think it is, then the obedience is a natural outpouring of love, and our focus should be on loving God more and not on carrying out only the letter of the law regarding the commandments.

Still not convinced? The story of Mary and Martha is an explicit teaching of this concept. Martha was “distracted with much serving” (Luke 10:40, ESV). But Jesus chooses Mary to commend, Mary who was sitting at Jesus’ feet, listening to his teaching, not serving the poor or even serving Jesus directly. “Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her” (Luke10:42, ESV).

Jesus talks of a similar result in John 15, with the parable about the vine and the branches. If you abide in Jesus, you will bear fruit. What fruit? Peace, joy, love, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Fruit comes from spending time with Christ, in His Word and in prayer. How do you know how to abide in Christ, how to love God? By reading your Bible, praying, and attending a church where people who have been called by God teach the Word — ministers of the Word who make it their vocation to know the contexts of the Scriptures and the original languages and the historical teachings of the church (on important matters such as the Trinity, which are not laid out explicitly in a single, specific passage of Scripture). We were not created to serve others. We were created to glorify God and enjoy him. If we are focusing on that, we will serve others, make no mistake, but this rightly-ordered service will bring glory to God and enjoyment to us. Genuine expressions of love must originate from Christ, be expressed through Christ, and ultimately present people to Christ.

CS Lewis says in Mere Christianity, “Aim at Heaven and you will get Earth ‘thrown in’: aim at Earth and you will get neither.” I think the same principle can be applied here. If you aim for the first commandment, and you love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, you will get the second thrown in: loving others as yourself will be natural and genuine, and service will be second nature.  But my fear is that if we spend our time in churches that aim exclusively at the second commandment, we will not only lose out on the riches of loving God wholly; we will also fail at truly loving others.

The Grinch Who Stole Mother’s Day

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I was lying on the ultrasound table with a towel over my pregnant belly. As the ultrasound tech left the room, she left a bitter taste in my mouth with her bright, “Happy Mother’s Day!” It felt less happy and more ironic, given the reasons we were at the specialist’s office in the first place, to look at my daughter’s imperfect heart. The slight clenching I felt inside was all too familiar: during the long, dark night of infertility, I also cringed at the cheerful gush of “Happy Mother’s Day!” as the holiday rolled around again. Back then, I would actually get angry at all the Hallmark hoopla that seemed to mock me from every sappy commercial or store display. Even after I did have children, I still held a grudge against Mother’s Day and the sappy sentimentality that pushed my childless friends into hiding.

So, on that exam table, if I could’ve morphed into a green cartoon character, I would’ve gladly become the Grinch Who Stole Mother’s Day. But after my appointment, I happened to read Romans 12:15 (ESV): “Rejoice with those who rejoice; weep with those who weep.”  I realized that BOTH halves of that verse are important, and that my disdain for Mother’s Day was completely ignoring the first half of the verse. This year I am in that odd place between joy and fear as I prepare to meet a precious baby girl with physical issues sure to challenge our little family.

So this year, I will be celebrating Mother’s Day by identifying with the elation of some, and lamenting over the difficulties of the day with others.

I will offer a cheery, heart-felt “Happy Mother’s Day!” to

  1. The woman who is blessed (as I am!) to have a wonderful mother or grandmother or children with whom to celebrate the day.
  2. The elated (and overwhelmed) mama who is snuggling a long-awaited child for the first time this Mother’s Day.
  3. The tired mother who struggles with the daily drain and mess of preschoolers who are ever-present and ever-needy. She needs to be reminded that her efforts are worthy of celebration and praise!
  4. The mom who has raised her children, learned her lessons, and is joyfully sharing her gifts with younger moms.
  5. The many teachers, childcare workers, aunts, etc. who mother the children in their care so well and so lovingly.

I will offer a hug with a warm and quiet, “Happy Mother’s Day” to

  1. The mother who has miscarried, had a misplaced adoption, or experienced the death of a child and doesn’t know whether to stand or sit in church when mothers are recognized.
  2. The mother-in-waiting who is longing for marriage and/or children, wondering when it will be her turn and why the journey seems so easy for others.
  3. The woman who stands in the card aisle for 30 minutes because she can’t find a card that respects that difficult relationship she has with her mother, or the daughter who walks briskly past the cards because she’s holding back the pain of no longer having a mother.
  4. The mother who is pained by the destructive choices her child is making and wondering if her parenting is worth celebrating.
  5. The mama who is grieved because she chose to abort her child or in some other way allowed her own pain to spill consequences over into her child’s life.

Sometimes, these Mother’s Day greetings can be even more complicated by that fact that many women fall into more than one of these categories. The emotions of the day can leave us raw and unsettled. Motherhood (and the journey to and through it) is a winding road with an ever-changing terrain. There is almost always a mingling of the bitter with the sweet. So this Mother’s Day, say an appropriate “Happy Mother’s Day” to those you care about, and if you have the blessing of having it said to you this Sunday, receive it well, knowing that you are not alone in either your pain or in your joy.

From me to you, “Happy Mother’s Day,” with love, Sara (honorary resident of Whoville)

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