Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The Journey of Loss {Part 1} : Fear and Grief





Near the end of October 2003, one of my worst fears became a reality. 

I was in my twenty-eighth week of pregnancy. As I lay down on the examination bed, Billy picked up our two-year-old Bright Girl and sat on a stool next to me. We were excited to to watch the ultrasound on the big screen T.V. on the wall. To see how the baby was doing, and if we would be naming our little one Luke or Natalie.


The ultrasound tech squeezed the warm, goopy gel all over my swolen belly. Our baby suddenly appeared in black and white on the ultrasound screen. As our little one moved about in my womb, the technician did all her routine measurements.






Baby Griese, 2003


The outline of our baby’s profile appeared on the monitor, and we could even see its little heart beating. Its legs were crossed, which made it impossible to determine the sex.


  The technician spent a long time looking at the screen with her eyes fixed on the baby’s back. Her lips were sealed into one flat line. She then excused herself and came back with my obstetrician, Dr. G.
 

He used the ultrasound equipment to examine the baby and then asked us to join him in his office.
 

I couldn’t understand what was happening. We just came in for a routine exam and were hoping we could tell the sex of our baby.


Dr. G directed us to his dark brown leather arm chairs. “Have a seat.”


The chair was cold against my skin, which made it difficult to relax. I kept fidgeting in the chair and my thoughts were anything but calm.  Why didn’t the ultrasound tech talk to us? Why does the doctor want to talk to us in his office? Then it dawned on me. Is there something wrong with our baby? 

Oh, God. Please, no.

The doctor told us that he could not find the baby’s kidneys; that it looked like the baby didn’t have any kidneys. He handed us a paper with directions to another doctor office. "I'm sending you over to a high-risk obstetrician today , to confirm the diagnosis."


I didn’t know what to do. I felt numb and overwhelmed at the same time. I couldn’t seem to think. Billy drove us to the specialist’s office and left me there. He dropped Bright Girl off with a babysitter and tried to hurry back.  


The wait was long. The other women in the office avoided eye contact and looked anxious and sad. I wondered if there was something wrong with their babies, too.


Billy arrived back just as my name was called. We were led into another ultrasound room. Dr. C, the high-risk obstetrician, scanned the baby with even higher resolution equipment, and then asked us to talk with him in his office.
 

The room was freezing. My teeth started to chatter, so Billy held me close to keep me warm.


Dr. C began by asking us a question, “Do you pray?” We both nodded.
 

“Well, then, you need to start praying. Your baby has bilateral renal agenesis, meaning, it has no kidneys." He shook his head. "And that’s not compatible with life.”


I sat there, stunned.  Not compatible with life?  My baby is going to die?  How? When? Why?        


Billy blurted out what I was thinking, “Are you positive our child has no kidneys?”


“There’s a 75% chance that your baby has no kidneys,” he replied.


We thought there might be a chance the diagnosis was wrong and asked if there was any way to know for sure. The doctor said that we could try getting an MRI, but it may not be conclusive, either. We wanted to give it a try anyway and scheduled an appointment for the MRI.


We left the office without saying a word. The whole world seemed to darken before me. 

     
      As we headed to the car, each arduous step was an effort against the weight of my own body that wanted to buckle beneath me. I gazed down at the ground, taking one step at a time.
 

     Billy dialed the babysitter on his cell phone. She said to take more time and get some lunch.  We went to an Italian restaurant, but couldn’t make it through the front door. 

      I don’t remember who started crying first, but we both sat outside on a bench weeping and holding each other. I could sense people walking past us, probably wondering why we were so upset. We sat there, unable to move, not wanting to eat, and wishing that this day had never happened

     It was as if the earth and sky closed in around me and wrapped me in a cocoon of fear and grief. Yet, within the coccoon, the shield of faith kept me from being crushed. All at once, the promises of God were being tested, and they were holding up under the weight of the world as I embarked on this journey of loss. 




The Lord is my pilot, I shall not drift,

He lighteth me across the dark waters;

He steereth me in the deep channels,

He keepeth my log.

He guideth me by the star of holiness

For His namesake.

Yea, though I sail mid the thunder and tempest of life,

I shall dread not danger, for thou art near me.

Thy love and thy care, they shelter me.

Thou anointest my lamp with oil, my ship rideth calmly.

Thou preparest a harbor for me in the homeland of eternity.

Surely sunlight and starlight will favor me on the voyage I take,

And I will rest in the port of my God forever.

From “The Sailor’s Psalm,” by Captain J.H. Roberts (1874)


Thursday, October 9, 2014

Statement of Faith






After graduating from highschool, I had a choice to make. What next? Not wanting to leave home and ready to take learning to the next level, community college seemed the best choice for me. At least until I could break out on my own and move an hour away to be near the University.

In every class, I didn't know what to expect. Teachers were from all around the world, some hard to understand, but most were well learned and ready to impart their wisdom and knowledge.


My sophomore year, the class that impacted me the most was Communications II. 


Professor W made sure her class was no "easy A." One mistake could lead to a loss of a letter grade on an exam or worse on a final grade. Her strict methods helped me understand the true meaning and weight of a comma splice.


Originally from India and schooled in England, she was the epitome of refinement. A long braid that lay on her shoulder and a slightly raised chin exuded her confident demeanor.


Only on one occasion, she let down her hair, so to speak, and shared a story from her childhood. She was raised in the Zoroastrian religion. A Muslim schoolmate invited her to dinner, and she was not allowed to share in the communal bowl of food being passed around the table. Her friend's parents saw her as unclean. 


Though I did not share her beliefs, I empathized with her. The sting of persecution can be painful.

While reading aloud in class, there was mention in the short story of the apostles' creed. Professor W gave any Christian in the room who knew it a chance to stand up and give a recitation before the class. Sadly, nobody knew it. In fact, I didn't even know what it was.


When put to the test, I showed that I didn't know much about writing or the doctrines of my faith. But, in my failure, the Lord put it in my heart to learn. Not just about comma splices, but about Him. And, in knowing Him more, I knew to a greater degree His love for me. Even in our failures, God can turn it around for His glory.


Like Professor W, I have felt the sting of persecution. Though on a small scale, it still stunned me. To be cursed at on a Google+ Science Fair meme for my faith boggled my mind. I didn't understand why someone would hate me for what I believe.







Maybe because in bringing up my hope for eternal life, I shook the young man's hope that he won't have to face a holy God for the sins he's committed. So, he lashed out.

Uncertainty in life after death is a scary thing. I only have assurance that I will spend an eternity with Christ because the Lord has revealed Himself to me in His Word and in my life. And, I know His Word is true (Psalm 119:160).

Like the disciples, I will follow Christ to the end for He embodies the "words of eternal life (John 6:68)."


Eternal life is far different from the life in this world. Yet, we can live it out right now.

Eternal life is life above living. Looking past the biological to the spiritual in God's Kingdom. Where Jesus Christ is King. 

Eternal life is constant communion with God.

Conversely, the worldly life numbs our need for God and creates a disconnect from the spiritual. We fill that void with a host of idols, visible and invisible.


In the worldly life, negativity reigns, unbelief prevails, and discontentment leads to a slave life of sin.

The world, the way things are ordered, the systems and institutions that have been set up in all spheres of life are corrupt. And in this man-made life apart from God, there is one ruler; Satan (Eph. 6:12). He is the consummation of evil. In Greek, he is the kosmokrater, or the "world ruler." 


Even Christians can inadvertently come under the evil one's influence (Eph. 2:1-3). When we are drawn away from love for God to love of self, things, or exalting people to godlike status.

Keeping our eyes on Christ. Staying connected with God. Remaining in His love. Obeying Him. Staying in His pure and holy light. Confessing our sins. Knowing we are forgiven by Christ's sacrifice because of His mercy and grace.


These are the things that set us apart and set us free.

To live eternally. Always.

Let us praise the Lord for His grace and forgiveness and for the constant connection of eternal life.


May we seek His face in communion and communicate with Him about everything. We can truly, by faith, thank Him for all things (Romans 8:28). We can hope and rejoice in all circumstances. For His Kingdom is eternal and this world and the present order of things is passing away. But, the man who does the will of God will live forever.

Don’t love the world’s ways. Don’t love the world’s goods. Love of the world squeezes out love for the Father. Practically everything that goes on in the world—wanting your own way, wanting everything for yourself, wanting to appear important—has nothing to do with the Father. It just isolates you from him. The world and all its wanting, wanting, wanting is on the way out—but whoever does what God wants is set for eternity. 1 John 2:15-17, The Message

I love The Newsboys rendering of the apostles' creed, called "We Believe." It is a beautiful song to both worship the Lord and know what we believe. 







Saturday, September 20, 2014

Of Whales and Butterflies









Of Whales and Butterflies


Why all the wonders in the world?

In the sky, the land, the oceans swirl?

Creatures diverse and separate teeming, 

Migration sets the cycle streaming. 

Gathering and reaching, 

Through the womb of water breaching.

For breath of air and breath of life,

Prevail the whales and butterflies.

All that I cannot comprehend

Makes me give a great Amen.

                       ~C. M. Griese





He was a surfer dude with long hair that fell across his tanned neck. The class looked up to him for guidance. For inspiration. And for a good letter grade in Biology.

He scanned the room and grinned as if he was about to tell us wonderful news. "Raise your hand if you want to skip the chapter on evolution."

Hands sprung up, including mine. Some students were high-fiving; overjoyed for not having to learn another boring concept. Some breathed sighs of relief for skipping a theory they didn't believe in.

My hand was raised for both reasons. I was thankful myself that this teacher and surfer for Jesus didn't subject us to an idea that shakes the faith of many impressionable young people.

My sense of wonder remained. We were not an accident. We were made on purpose. For a purpose.

My ninth grade Biology class unanimously voted out evolution, and I don't think I missed a thing.

To be sure, I've since learned all about it. Through the media, textbooks, college professors, novels, and movies. Evolution has been clearly explained to me.

But, I don't believe it.

Sure creatures are equipped to adapt to their environment, but I've never believed that life was an accident. 

Yet we're taught from a young age, this marred world is all there is. It's no wonder so many suffer from hopelessness.

But, if we believed we were made on purpose, out of love and great intention, wouldn't that change our perspective on life?

The thing is, we really can't know for sure if God is real. There is nothing quantifiable to prove His existence.

But, the qualitative data is there.

His qualities.

His handiwork.

We were made in His image. To love. To create. To contemplate. To give order. To beautify our world.


We cannot see God, but we are His masterpiece.

As are whales and butterflies.


From great to small, all of creation longs for our Creator to reveal Himself and to heal, restore, and renew this broken world.

Salvation is found in no other(Acts 4:11,12).

Through wars and famine, peace and plenty, our God remains the same. He loves us. He has a plan. And, He is good.

And, He's going to make it all right.

One day, we'll see.

"We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved (Romans 8:22-24)."


Doxology

Praise God from whom all blessings flow.

Praise Him all creatures here below.

Praise Him above ye heavenly host.

Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.

Amen.






Sunday, September 14, 2014

Shine On




Sometimes the most unexpected things end up ministering to me right where I'm at.

For instance, a pizza box.

How, might you ask, could a cardboard box holding a piping hot pizza pie with pineapples, ham, and stringy mozzarella minister to my soul?

It was the words printed on the box:

MAKING THE OLD NEW

A little saying goes a long way. And, truth is truth no matter where you find it.

When we put our trust in Christ, we received the Holy Spirit, a pillar of cloud by day and a fire to guide us by night. 

Speaking to us. 

Reminding us. 

Of Who He is, who we are, and why we're here (Ephesians 1:3-14).

"He spoke to them from the pillar of cloud; they kept His statutes and the decrees He gave them (Psalm 99:7)."

When darkness clouds our vision, He will show us what to do.

 "Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for He who promised is faithful (Hebrew

 10:23)."

Gideon broke the fire-filled jars and the light shined in the darkness. Victory was won (Judges 6,7).

We can be brave. We can let our God-given holy fire light up the night.

"I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength (Phil. 4:13)."

The old, broken me is petrified of doing the hard right things. But...

"I have been crucified with Christ, it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself for me (Galatians 5:22)."

For in Christ, we are new people, created to do acts of His goodness. To be light. Shining His ever-bright love in our hearts with our hands, our feet, and our joy (2 Corinthians 5:17).








It's okay to be weak. We have this treasure in earthen vessels to show that this power is from God and not from us (2 Corinthians 4:7). The more cracked and broken, the more His blazing glory shines.

So embrace your brokenness through Christ our Savior and shine on!



Saturday, September 6, 2014

He Knew Me

He knew me. I mean really knew me. Knew everything that I had done or failed to do. Yet, I found myself wrapped in His warm embrace. I closed my eyes and rested, being filled up with His love.
  
He covered my tattered rags with His woolen robe, the color of blood. I breathed in his scent. Fresh and woodsy. And my skin had changed. It was clean. Cleaner than if I’d bathed in a cool mountain spring.

I glanced up, but he was already a distance away. His skin was covered in what used to cover me, this thick oily substance, black as tar.

His stride was determined. He didn’t turn back. A cypress tree blocked my view. And, then he was gone.

I scanned the horizon. But, all I could see were the mountains that surrounded this lonely valley.

Then I spotted him. Climbing up a mountain. At the top stood a lone tree with two branches, one on each side. I rubbed my eyes. No, it wasn’t a tree. And, those weren't branches. It was a cross.

Dark clouds rolled in and covered the valley. Lightening crashed. I jumped a little and pulled the robe on tighter.

He was gone again. Oh, no. He was somehow fastened to the cross. Streams of red flowed down from his outstretched hands.

I heard Him cry out. Then, fall limp. No. Don’t die. I. love. You.

The sky went black.

Thick darkness covered the valley.

I huddled against a nearby rock, trembling and weeping. Exhaustion overtook me.

When I awoke, there was a light. But, not the sun. It came from within the mountain. A circle of light, as from a cave. Or tomb.

A silhouette. His. He was alive. I cried, but not from sorrow. Joy. My Savior. My King. Please come back. Please take me home.

The sun peeked over the horizon. But, He was no longer there. Don’t leave me. I don’t want to be alone.

A voice. Not outside but within. Deep in my heart. “You’ll never be alone again. I will come back. Soon. Remember. You are mine. And, you have work to do.”







Sunday, August 31, 2014

True Calling




When I turned thirty, I remember thinking, this is the age of Christ, when he began His ministry. But, I didn't feel like I was doing anything special for the Kingdom of God.
Only cooking, cleaning, changing stinky diapers, wiping runny noses, getting little sleep, barely getting out of the house. You know, nothing special.




Life went on. Birthdays 31, 32, and 33. I was the age of Christ when He gave His life as a payment for our sins, was resurrected and left this earth. Still, I was nothing special. Still...me. Still, a nobody.

Time to throw a pity party, right? Unless...

Maybe I got it all wrong.

Nothing special. Useless. A nobody. Doesn't sound like my Father's voice.

The flesh, the world, the devil himself, all send messages about who we are, why we're here, and what makes us valued. 

The flesh, that old sinful selfish part of me says in order to be something special, I need to do something great and have lots and lots of friends to be loved or valued.

The world chimes in that I need to achieve a certain status, to attain a certain unattainable lifestyle, to be known on a broad range to be loved or valued.

The devil will do anything to keep me from knowing my true identity. He will try to get me down by convincing me that I'm a useless nobody or puff me up with vanity that I might be consumed with my own perceived greatness. Whatever works.

Whatever keeps me from realizing my true identity and true calling.

Because if I knew, if all of us knew and woke up from our complacency, like Christ, we would flip over the tables of those who profit by our drowsy coasting through life. Our world would be turned upside down.

We must wake up from our slumber. From the false lullaby of the flesh, the world, and the devil, lulling us to sleep, making us miss opportunities to love a broken world.

Cause that's why we're here. To love. Christ commands it. Love God first and our neighbor next. In small ways, ways that nobody else will even notice. But, that doesn't make us nobodies.

The truth is,

We are loved and valued by God because through Christ, our whole life, has been, is being, and will be redeemed.




Apart from the truth, it doesn't matter what we have come to believe about ourselves, or what others have told us is important.

Nothing else matters but what Christ did on the cross and what that means for us and the world.

Christ is the center, the core, the missing page that has been torn out of our history books.

Everything hinges on Him, whether we acknowledge Him or not.

But, when we do, we change.

Our world changes. Turns upside down.

Or, maybe it was upside down to begin with.

In Christ, we are made right. Turned upright. Back to God. Back to the place and the Person where we are most valued and loved.

In light of His love and grace, we can reach out to our significant other, our children, our friends, acquaintances, even enemies. With love. Agape' love. The giving kind of love that pours itself out to the utmost. Because that is what Jesus did for us.

And that is what will change our world.















Friday, August 22, 2014

Peace in the Wait




In the fog of uncertainty, look for His light.

While you wait, seek His face.

Seeking Your face:
In the morning,
Pulling weeds,
Vacuuming,
Wiping counters clean.

Seeking Your face:
Teaching children,
Hugging a friend,
Holding hands
In the late evening.

Seeking Your face:
In Your Word
That sets me free,
In my poems
In my dreams
You are everything
to me.


"I will hear what God the Lord will speak,
For He will speak peace
To His people and to His saints;
But let them not turn back to folly.
Surely His salvation is near to those who fear Him,
That glory may dwell in our land."

Psalm 85:8,9