On Saying ‘Yes’ to Suffering

We have a standard of obedience in our household that we expect our children to observe. It’s pretty simple and old fashioned. Here it is:

“Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.” Ephesians 6:1

I love my kids and really, as far as kids go, they’re remarkably obedient and well-behaved. But they are still kids. And they are still sinners. And sometimes they act defiantly. We offer incentives for them to choose obedience, hoping that they will come to understand the ways in which we are blessed when we obey those with God-given authority over us. But sometimes the enticement of an extra nickel with their weekly allowance is simply not enough, and they choose their own paths.

As an adult, I don’t have anyone offering me extra nickels for the times when I choose to say “Yes” to God. But somehow the expectation is still there; the expectation that when I say “Yes” and agree with what God has offered me, that I’ll be rewarded. That I’ll arrive at the end of the week with a pat on the back and a jingle in my pocket. Sometimes, by His grace, things work out that way and I’m encouraged. Other times, like now, they aren’t that way at all. I’m left feeling confused, betrayed, and abandoned. Like I said “Yes” and am being punished for my obedience.

Back in January, God presented me with a great opportunity and a wonderful blessing. A life! A baby! He offered it to me, to us, with gentle hands. He knew it wasn’t what we were expecting. He knew it wasn’t what we were planning or even wanting for this year. But He offered it all the same. And we said “Yes”. Because we were confident that He would not give us anything that was too great for us. Because we trusted that His plans for us were plans to prosper, plans to not harm, plans for hope (Jeremiah 29:11). And knowing that, we expected to end up with nickels in our pockets.

The memory of our last pregnancy, with the Peanut, is still fresh in our minds. Four years later I am still peeling back layers of that trauma. We didn’t know it at the time, but the years since have revealed that a severe case of uncontrolled Ulcerative Colitis, combined with several pregnancy anomalies, resulted in a crisis pregnancy that hospitalized me for 3 months. The Peanut was born 6 weeks premature and had her own health struggles. We’ve spent four years sorting out one health problem after another, and felt that just maybe we were starting to step off the shifting sand onto something a little more stable.

So when God offered this new little life to us, one we didn’t ask for but chose to accept, we felt that surely, SURELY, He wouldn’t do so only to send us back into that whirlpool of fear and uncertainty and trauma. Surely, He wanted to use this pregnancy to redeem the last one. Surely, He wanted to reassure us of His faithfulness, and, like Job, restore what had been lost. Perhaps that is what He wants to do, is doing. But it looks nothing like what we expected it to look like. And I again find myself struggling to reconcile my experiences with His promises.

Why do I have the exact same pregnancy anomalies as last time, the ones that resulted in huge blood loss and ambulance transfers? Why does my ulcerative colitis continue to flare, triggering the same contractions that had me on strict bed rest for 3 months? These are things that He can change. He is able to make pregnancy easier for me, but He chooses not to. I know that He is within His rights to either grant the blessings or withhold them, but I can’t help feeling betrayed, like I’ve been cheated out of something I’ve been promised. I’ve had well-meaning friends and acquaintances, upon finding out about this pregnancy, sigh and say, “Bless you for saying yes,” and I feel like pulling my hair out. Exactly! I said yes! So bless me already!

I suppose this is simply the universal feeling of suffering. I recognize much of it from my last pregnancy and from years of pain from colitis. But this time feels like even more of a betrayal, because I chose to agree with Him. He offered me something unexpected, something hard, and I felt like I couldn’t possibly handle it. But I agreed to it, knowing He wouldn’t give me anything that would harm me. I trusted Him. He who does not fail. And yet, I feel like He has failed me. I feel like a small child demanding her nickel that is being unfairly withheld.

I so want this to be one of the posts that I write from the other side. Where I’ve worked through the struggle and have made peace with God’s ways. Where I’m content with not understanding and just trusting. Where I can say with honesty, “The Lord gives and the Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.” But I am deep in the trenches on this one. I still feel entitled to something that I’m not receiving. I still feel cheated. And, if I’m completely honest, I feel angry. I cling to His promises like never before, knowing that they must be true, because He says that they are. But waiting and waiting to be shown the truth of them.

What the Sweet Pea Saw

We’ve been home from vacation for a while, but I’m just getting caught up on the photos. Often, the rest of the family went on adventures that my high-risk pregnant self couldn’t join. Too much walking, or too much driving time, or too hot. So began the habit of sending my camera with the Sweet Pea, with the charge to capture freely what they saw and share it with me when they got home. I loved seeing the things that she deemed worthy of photographing.

Here, a smattering of the things that impressed her as they roamed the desert.

thistle bird-nest cactus cave fish1 flower flowers Peanut rabbit snake-skin toad garden

Well, It’s About Time

That might be what you’re saying to yourself. The words have certainly crossed my mind as I’ve been preparing this post. This space is long overdue for some pretty pictures. Yes?

MIssion-2

Our family has fled the tentative spring-time of the Rocky Mountains and are relaxing where the sun is bright, the air is warm, and the oxygen is saturated. The Sweetie Pie and the kiddos are busy with almost daily outings to someplace new and fun. Sometimes, if I’m feeling well and if the excursion doesn’t require too much walking, I go along, too. The opportunity to visit a 17th century Spanish mission was hard to pass up.

Mission3 Mission1

While everyone else took a guided tour of the church, the Peanut and I sat in the courtyard and watched the birds. The sky was blue, the breeze was soft, and the cacti were…succulent. All in all, a lovely way to pass the morning.

Making Peace with Lent

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Except for the one day a year when I allow myself a gluten-free, dairy-free, tomato-free pizza (and truthfully perhaps even then), I live Lent in my daily life. Every day with chronic illness is a sacrifice of the foods I want to eat, the places I want to go, and the things I want to do. Since my diagnosis several years ago, I’ve held a seed of bitterness towards Lent. Stupid Lent. With its imposed fasting, and required sacrifices, and manufactured suffering.

I know I’m harsh. Lent can do that to you, when your Easter Day does not hold a basketful of chocolate bunnies, but simply more of the same Lenten fare.

To be clear, I no longer partake of fasts or sacrifices during Lent. My spirit simply won’t bear it. It would break me. And so, I offer up my daily sacrifices during Lent, just as I do during the other days of the year.

This year, a friend asked me what wanted during Lent. I didn’t have to think long. “Mercy,” I replied.

“What would that look like?” she asked.

“A church body that remains outwardly focused.” I was surprised by my answer, because it was completely new to me and because it came so quickly. Like a bolt of clarity sent directly to my heart and then out of my mouth without a moment’s pause to consider it.

I realize now that my biggest frustration during Lent is that we all retreat inside of ourselves. I know I did, before Lent became my life. I’d be so focused on completing my own disciplines that it would get in the way of true ministry. My own perceived, self-inflicted suffering became more important than the true sufferings of those around me.

The more time I spend walking this Christian walk, the more convinced I become of the duality of our existence here on earth. Our earthly actions have eternal consequences. This little babe inside of me already has a full and complete spiritual existence, in spite of his limited physical one. And though the physical existence may change, the spiritual one never will. (Can I get a hallelujah?)

Likewise, events of spiritual growth and significance have both an inward truth and an outward expression. Baptism is an outward expression of something that has already taken place in someone’s spirit. Communion is an outward partaking of something we receive inwardly. Knowing this, I don’t discount the internal truth of Lent. Coming to terms with sacrifice and suffering in one’s own life is a necessarily inward struggle.

But, as someone who is weekly reminded of the importance of the external, not being able to share in the weekly bread and wine due to my limited diet, I also don’t discount the outward expression. And this, to me, is where Lent has always left me feeling a little….dissatisfied. What is the appropriate outward expression of Lent? How do we represent those internal truths of sacrifice in our physical, external reality?

I have seen how living Lent 24/7 has changed me, and I have a suggested answer. How about mercy? And grace? Coming to know, deeply and truly, the pains of life on earth, has made me understand the universal sense of suffering here. We all suffer. We all suffer daily. Our sufferings are all unique and look different. Because of this we’re always tempted to grade our suffering, thinking that someone else isn’t suffering nearly as much as we are and therefore they have no right to complain, or that our suffering is nothing compared to so-and-so’s and therefore doesn’t “count”. But although the outward expression varies, the inward truth of our suffering is the same. And because I suffer in my life, I have something to offer to someone whose suffering looks different from mine.

Words of grace. Acts of mercy.

Sometimes I do these things well, like when I hear the grieving tears of a friend over the phone and I have words to offer. Sometimes my timing is off, like when I offered some words of grace to a tired mom and she looked at me like I had three heads. But I’ve learned to make the offering. And my spirit is soothed when others make the same offering to me.

By all means, spend time on the internal struggle of suffering and sacrifice. But please, don’t let it end there. Our Christian walk is never intended to end at our own skin. These internal truths are only useful if we are able to extract them from ourselves and use them to bless those around us. I’m always amazed at the ways God uses even a hesitant, introverted, over-analyzer like me to reach out and bless His people.

So I’m declaring a truce with Lent this year. Lent is going to demand no more sacrifices and no more turning inward from me, and I am going to have eyes wide open for opportunities to offer to others, on behalf of Lent, the same things I hope to receive–words of grace; acts of mercy.

Convalescing

Being stuck in bed, waiting for one’s body to heal, is much more tolerable when one is wearing something pretty on one’s feet. Even if the rest of one’s body is still dressed in jammies.

heels

Somehow it makes bed rest in the basement feel more like convalescing at Downton Abbey.

Hello, Knitting Stash

It seems that the moment we discovered that I was pregnant, the winter plagues began to invade our home. I don’t recall a winter with more fevers, coughing, sneezing, sniffling, and ear aches. Because we are all uber-sensitive and prone to meaningless bickering, we’ve spent a lot of time distracting ourselves with movies in front of the computer screen.

The one up-side to all these weeks of resting and waiting to heal? Lots and lots of knitting.

I pulled this organic cotton yarn out of my stash and turned it into a baby blanket for the new little one. The yarn has been languishing for years, so soft and squishy and begging to be turned into something cuddly. Destiny fulfilled.

And then there was this gorgeous skein of alpaca that I bought at a wool market last summer–a birthday present for myself. I started off making this jaunty little beret…

hat1

…and then, with three-quarters of the skein leftover, decided I needed a matching cowl.

cowl-wrapped

The cowl is cleverly designed so that it is knit into a bias fabric. It’s hard to see when it’s all wrapped around my neck, but it has the loveliest picot edging, creating the dramatic effect of one of those velvet stage curtains that is lifted with ropes. The stitch pattern combined with the yarn results in a luxurious, drapey neck warmer. Love.

Having finished all of that, I am digging way deep into my yarn stash to find all of those odds and ends of sock yarns and sweater yarns. They are the perfect thing to use up on baby hats and leg warmers and bloomers.

Hoping that the yarn stash will outlast the flu season! Although I’m not above buying new yarn if it doesn’t.

Find pattern details and notes on my Ravelry page. Baby blanket: my own pattern, unknown yarn. Ruche Beret by Susan B. Anderson, knit from Peruvian Tweed Alpaca. Curtain Call Cowl by Thao Nguyen, knit from Peruvian Tweed Alpaca.

Letter to the Unlooked for, Unexpected, and Unborn

My Dearest One,
You are Unexpected. Unlooked for. Unanticipated. But you are not Unwanted.

We thought our lives were full, never knowing the fullness of lives that overflow. We thought our joy was complete, never knowing the completeness of joy that bubbles over. And now that we know these things, there is not a single desire to go back to the emptiness of our fullness, nor the incompleteness of our wholeness.

Yes, your place is at the end of a trail of previous loves–four living in my home, one living in my heart. Yes, the beds are all spoken for, the chairs at the table are all occupied, the coat hooks by the door are all overflowing. Yes, the highchair is sold, the rattles and teething rings given away. But never doubt, there is room for you.

Yes, I am haunted by fears and memories of previous events–of hospitals and grief, heartbreak and sorrow. Yes, I ask myself “What if?” and I tell myself “Never again.” But in the quietness of my heart is the echo of submission, “Yes, Lord.”

There are many Urgent things we do not know, How? Where? When? But there is one Important thing that we do know, Who. Keeping our focus on the Important, we know that the Urgent will fall into place. You were not part of our plans, but you have always been a part of His plan.

“I am the handmaiden of the Lord. Be it unto me…”

With greatest love and affection,
Mama and Papa

Oh.

Mama attempts to walk through the living room and is stopped by a long trail of Legos strewn across the floor.

Mama: “What in the…..Boys! Clean up these Legos! What were you thinking?”
The Pickle: “Mama, that’s the deer bait!”

legos1

Five minutes later, Mama walks through the dining room and notices a glue stick, without its cap, standing glue-side down on the sideboard.

Mama: “Oh, good grief! Boys! What is this doing here?”
The Pickle: “Mama, that’s the dynamite to kill the deer.”

I mean really. What else is there to say to such explanations but,

“Oh.”

The Peanut Goes to the Theater

It’s an annual tradition for the ladies in our family to take in a Nutcracker performance before Christmas. This year, the Peanut was deemed old enough to join us. The Peanut–who has been dancing since she could walk–was beyond thrilled at the news that she was going to a dance performance. Once I clarified that she would not be on the stage dancing, but rather in the audience watching, she was a little less thrilled. But shortly after the screaming and crying ceased, her enthusiasm was quick to rise to the occasion.

She made faces at me before the curtain. A pirate:

pirate-face

A monkey:

monkey-face

She thinks she’s pretty funny:

pre-show

We went to view the symphony. She declared that she liked “the violin lady”, but not “that guy” (the percussionist). 

During the show she was settled in my lap. Her favorite part? The mice! And the cavalier soldiers. 

She got a little bored during the Pas de Deux scenes, but for the most part was enraptured by the whole experience. 

The next day, the Pickle was dancing around. It looked something like this:

The Papa observed that he could be a good candidate for next year’s Nutcracker performance. 

He frowned and said, “Nah. I’m more of a hula hoop kind of guy.”

He may not be a dancer, but it seems he’s destined for the stage all the same.

hulahoop-guy

 

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