Friday, May 5, 2017

I don't want to die

I don't want to die.

For at least several weeks now, these words have been circling my mind, bouncing off the inside of my head, consuming my thoughts. 

I imagine that few of us really want to die. Our instinct is to seek our own safety, to preserve ourselves. Notice how we naturally duck when we think something may hit us, or how we jump out of harm's way if we perceive danger. When receiving a frightening diagnosis from the doctor, we immediately seek hope for healing. We pursue treatments, despite their being unpleasant. We are wired to seek hope, to live.

I don't want to die.

How many of us think about death? I guess we all know that we must pass through those waters eventually, but at least I know it will be sometime in the future. Whenever my children may ask about my dying, for example, I respond that we all must die, but chances are we won't die today. With some exceptions, I suppose, few of us know the day we will die, let alone the method. 

As children, we dream of living to a ripe old age. We don't dream of a life cut too short by death. Whenever we hear of someone wishing to die, we immediately and instinctively know that something is amiss. Perhaps there is suffering so that death is perceived as an escape. Perhaps there is some kind of psychological trouble or illness. Whatever the reason, we all know that wanting to die isn't the norm.

I don't want to die.

And yet, today, I must.

Several weeks ago, I received a message from a friend considering adoption. It's not uncommon for people to reach out to me to ask questions, so we began a dialogue. Our conversation covered several things, but in one message, I left her with these words: "Adoption requires death, and part of that death needs to be ours."

Oh, how easy to say those words and how very hard to live them.

What a hypocrite I am.

I simply don’t want to die. I want things to go my way. I want an orderly day with children who love one other and enjoy learning. I want a husband who meets every need I have. I want a supportive family and a circle of friends who know just how to see things my way and love me as I am.

I don’t want to die.

And yet, today, I must.

Ok, maybe tomorrow, but not today. I’ll die tomorrow, when I’ve had enough sleep, or when my needs have been met, or when I’m better prepared.

Tomorrow, I’ll be willing to navigate the messy relationship or comfort the grieving child. Tomorrow, I’ll pick up the laundry that should have found the basket and smile lovingly when my child asks the same question for the umpteenth time. Tomorrow, I’ll hold close the screaming, defiant child and whisper soothing words in her ear.

Maybe next week I’ll have the compassion to explain why my kids can’t see their first mom and why they are “stuck” with me or why they can’t just leave my house and find another mom. Perhaps on Thursday, after my alone time, I’ll eagerly clean my messy home and prepare a three course meal for my husband (and smile sweetly when at least one child complains). Later, I’ll really mean it when I respond to “I’m running away” with “But I would miss you so!”

But not today. Please not today. Today, I don’t want to die.

I don’t want to let go of my frustration at the thousands of dollars my child’s curiosity just cost us. I prefer irritation at the broken ceiling fixture or the clogged sink drain both caused by my children’s meddling. I’d rather express my displeasure at my husband’s handling of a situation. Nope, today I’d just rather not die.

And yet, today, I must.

I’m not the only one who pleaded with God to remove His calling of death on my life. Jesus did the same in the Garden: “If it be Your will, Father, remove this cup from me.”

If it be Your will.

Not my will, but Yours be done.

Oh, how grateful I am that Jesus submitted to His Father’s will. Because of His death, I have life.

So, today I will die. I will die by choice, and I will die by grace. I will die because Jesus died for me.

When my children argue, I will choose to walk the road of compassion rather than irritation. When they complain or defy, I will be firm and loving. When my husband is late coming home, I will graciously greet him at the door and listen as he recounts his day. When I encounter an unexpected conflict, I will respond with grace and flexibility. 

And tomorrow, when I awake, I will again choose death.

I will die because death brings forth life. Unless a grain of wheat falls to the earth and dies, it remains alone. But, if it dies, it bears much fruit (John 12:24).

I will die so that Christ may live through me (Gal. 2:20).

I will die, because only then can I truly live.

Lord, help me today to die.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Snow Globes, Cardinals, and Hope

We belong to a small homeschooling community, and this week we did a Christmas gift exchange. I picked the name of a sweet mamma who had recently miscarried her baby girl. As I walked through the store trying to find a gift, I was repeatedly drawn to one in particular. Here is the letter I included with her gift….

Dear Mamma,

This snow globe is a strange gift for me to purchase. Knick-knacks do not generally catch my eye, perhaps because as a former teacher I received more than my share. But, as I prayerfully walked through the store in search of something for you, I was repeatedly drawn to this cardinal. I remember having read or heard something about cardinals being spiritually significant, so I came home to do a little research.

I discovered that “cardinal” comes from the Latin word “cardo,” which means “hinge.” Christians have often used birds (particularly the dove) as symbols of the Holy Spirit. While these birds are often portrayed in white, symbolizing purity and peace, the red of the cardinal points to the vitality found in the blood of Christ - the blood that frees us to be people of God. This freedom offers us true life. As one source wrote, we are reminded that although our circumstances may appear desolate, there is always hope. Our hope “hinges” on Christ, the crucified, risen Lord.

I bought this for you knowing this season is difficult for you. Instead of feeling your baby girl grow inside of you, there is an emptiness where she should be. You are such a beautiful example of one who trusts God with abandon. Thank you for encouraging me that way. Know that even in the midst of this time of loss, there is hope: hope in realizing that your daughter now rejoices with her King; hope in recognizing that God loves you even more than you love her; and hope in the assurance of His unending faithfulness. I pray that as you see this cardinal surrounded by snow, you will remember that our hope is built on nothing less that Jesus’ blood and righteousness.

My prayers are with you this season that God will grant you joy in the midst of trials, strength to face each day anew, and peace because of His Son.

When this mamma friend of mine opened her gift today, she immediately looked at me with shock. I told her to read the above letter after which she pulled me aside to tell me her story. Here it is as told in her words….

About 1.5 weeks before we lost our baby girl (we had the privilege of knowing that we lost a daughter. Her name means “peace/walks with God” and “delight/one who brings pleasure to others.” Her name could not be more perfect considering her story), we visited Longwood Gardens, and I found this mug that I fell in love with and ended up buying. My entire pregnancy, the song, "His Eye is on the Sparrow" kept playing through my head, which is strange, because it's not a well sung hymn anymore, but the words are beautiful. When I saw this mug, immediately I felt strongly that although it wasn't a sparrow depicted, it was God very clearly reminding me that He is watching out for me AND this tiny baby inside, and that His ways, while not always what we'd like or hope for, are always best.

For some reason, I've always been drawn to cardinals, and having two pairs in our backyard, I find so much joy in watching them. From almost the beginning, the cardinal represented to me Jesus' watchcare over both me and my baby, and the joy that comes through Him. The colour red has always reminded me of His precious gift to me. When we lost our daughter, it was all the more precious to me to see a cardinal, because of what it reminded me of.

Fast forward a week or two, and I had a strong desire for a snowglobe, but not just any snowglobe. A very specific one that I cannot put my finger on.

Today was the gift exchange at the kids' class, and when it was my turn to open my gift, I pulled out this snow globe with a cardinal sitting inside. It took everything in me to not start to cry.

What I read further made me want to cry, and when I finished, I spoke with my friend (who didn't know me very well yet) and she apologized for the gift and said she knew it's usually a type of gift that you give when you can't think of anything else to give, but that when she'd been searching for the perfect gift for me, she'd found this, and kept saying "no!" but every time she'd walk away, she'd lose her peace, and every time she came back to the snowglobe, she'd have peace again.

Finally, she bought it and told her husband that either I'd open it and politely smile but later throw the globe out, or I'd open it and it would be a miraculous God thing. She didn't understand why THAT was what she was supposed to buy, because normally neither of us would want something like that, but she had to trust God's direction and so she gave it to me.

When she heard my story, both of us were in awe of what God has done. We both walked away blessed beyond measure. She, because she listened to God's quiet leading and did what seemed absurd, then found out it was precisely what had been a desire of my heart that I had not even been able to put into words. And me, because God took what was in my heart that I had not yet found the words to express, and He made it reality through the simple gift from a friend.

Guys, God sees and knows. He cares. I don't understand the whys of this life, most recently the reason that we lost our sweet baby, but I'm finding more and more, especially thanks to your prayers, that I'm finding joy in the most unusual places and most uncommon ways, and it is beautiful to see. Look for it, because He is wanting to show it to you. Whether it's a mug, or a snowglobe (especially when you really dislike knick knacks), or a note, a smile, a touch, or so much more. God isn't limited to the normal. He works outside the box and He enjoys blessing us. I guess my challenge to you today is to look for the joys, especially the littlest things that He places in your lives, and you'll be seeing His hand at work all around you...

I had no idea the meaning behind the cardinal until today, but now I once more stand in amazement of how God has worked, even in making the cardinal of such significance to me.


Friends, God still does speak to us. Listen for His prompting and be a blessing to someone today.

I echo the words of my sweet, new friend: God sees, knows, and cares. He wants to meet us where we are; He enjoys blessing us; and He is not limited to our definition of normal. 

This is especially visible to us during this Advent season as we remember that the God of all humbled Himself to enter our world as a helpless baby so that He could one day sacrifice Himself and triumph over death, for the joy set before Him.

The joy of our redemption.

My Hope is Built on Nothing Less
by Edward Mote, 1797-1874

My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus' blood and righteousness;
I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
But wholly lean on Jesus' name.
On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand;
All other ground is sinking sand.

When darkness veils His lovely face,
I rest on His unchanging grace;
In every high and stormy gale
My anchor holds within the veil.
On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand;
All other ground is sinking sand.

His oath, His covenant, and blood
Support me in the whelming flood;
When every earthly prop gives way,
He then is all my Hope and Stay.
On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand;
All other ground is sinking sand.

When He shall come with trumpet sound,
Oh, may I then in Him be found,
Clothed in His righteousness alone,
Faultless to stand before the throne!
On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand;
All other ground is sinking sand.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Birthday girl!

Four years ago today, I had no idea I was about to become a mom. A was born around 4pm on a Tuesday in Salt Lake City, Utah. It wouldn't be until Wednesday night at around 10:30pm that the agency finally reached us after having tried all day. To their credit, AT&T gave me a refund for one day of virtually non-existent phone service.

Peter was on a business trip in Virginia when we got the call that we had been chosen to parent our amazing little girl. Within twelve hours, I met Peter at Philadelphia International airport and we began our cross-country journey to Utah via Arizona.

We met A and her amazing first mom, M, at the hospital on Thursday evening. Both mom and baby were scheduled to be discharged on Friday morning, so Peter and I had breakfast, rushed to purchase a car seat, and arrived at the hospital only to discover that our baby (not yet legally ours) had been rushed for a CT scan after M had discovered an indentation (a ping-pong fracture) in her skull. She had so much hair even as an infant that it wasn’t initially visible.

The next several hours were spent listening to the team of residents tell us about possible skull surgery to reverse the indentation. In some ways it was overwhelming, but it was also strange because we had not yet signed any custody papers, so while the agency certainly wanted to follow our lead, the ultimate decision was legally theirs to make. M had relinquished her rights in Utah, but New Jersey required a longer waiting period, so for the interim our baby was in the custody of our agency. A strange feeling.

Mid-afternoon, the Chief of Neurology told us he thought the problem would fix itself and that surgery wasn’t necessary, so we agreed to follow up at CHOP in a few months.

Our baby spent her first week and a half outside the womb in a hotel room sleeping in a drawer because there were no available cribs. During our time away, one of our dogs managed to swallow a nylon stocking. He needed surgery (with 17 staples!) to remove it. We passed our days in Utah visiting with A’s first family, figuring out how to be parents in a strange city away from family, and waiting for the courts to approve us to travel home. We were finally cleared on Friday, December 21, and at around 3am on Saturday we boarded the Amtrak train for home. We finally arrived at 30th street station in Philadelphia around 5pm on Christmas Eve. It was a whirlwind of a time for us.

But amid all the excitement and extensive process, there are two moments seared into my memory. The first was the moment that we left the hospital. I will never forget the incredible juxtaposition of emotions as we sat in the coffee shop of the hospital with M and said our goodbyes. I cried as we left. There are few words for me to describe what an amazing woman she is to have loved so much. She is certainly braver than I.

The second is during a luncheon we had with A’s first family. Her first mom’s father held her, gazing at her little face as if to memorize each feature. He was a quiet man, but oh how I could see such love on his face.

Adoption is hard. Today, I rejoice with my little girl as she turns four. She is precocious, sensitive, full of love, determined, and she has an amazing sense of humor. I am eternally grateful that I get to spend every day loving life with her. But today underneath all the joy and excitement, my heart grieves for another mother who has missed all the precious milestones. My great joy comes at the expense of another woman’s great loss. She is the bravest woman I know.

"A child born to another woman calls me mom. 
The depth of the tragedy and the magnitude of the privilege are not lost on me." 
- Jody Landers