Sunday, October 26, 2014

The Journey of Loss {Part 2}: In the Potter's Hands






“For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.  I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well…

All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.”
(Psalm 139:13-16)



Taking a deep breath, I lay down on the table. Ever so slowly, it glided into the darkened tunnel of the MRI machine. The clang, clang, clang, clang of the machine sounded like a railroad worker banging a heavy hammer against a spike, driving it further and further into the dark, wooden railroad tie.

The noise was deafening, but I was provided earphones to muffle the sound. With each reading, I had to hold my breath until I felt light-headed.
 
The thought crossed my mind that the tunnel looked like a coffin. My heart began to race, and I felt myself feeling more and more anxious. 

bilateral 

renal 

agenesis 

no formation of kidney

on either side

prognosis: grave

death

Genesis

life

     Instead of letting myself delve into the dark abyss of morbid thoughts, I closed my eyes and let my mind wander to something beautiful. 

Genesis.

 Life.

     I imagined Adam and Eve, perfectly made for each other, racing hand-in-hand, through an endless garden bordered by ferns and a myriad of flowers—orchids, hibiscus, lilies, and more all perfectly arrayed. The air was thick with a delicious smell of perfume and sultry earth. 

Hearts beating wildly, and nearly out of breath, they came to a cliff that overlooked a river. Holding hands, the two fearless figures jumped in, creating rippling ringlets of turquoise that faded out into the emerald deep.

The world was beautiful, perfect, and holy, but in one small act, it was broken.
    
Refreshed and glistening in the sunlight, the couple strolled into the middle of the garden. It was a variable orchard filled with every fruit tree imaginable. Letting go of Adam’s hand, Eve wandered into the center of a ring of trees. 

There was a hush and heaviness to the air, the closer she came to the very center.  Barefoot on the soft, damp grass, she padded ever more slowly to the center.  There, towering over her, was the Tree of Life, and next to it, stood the other tree; the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. She felt magnetically drawn to its bright and shiny fruit dangling within arm’s reach.

“Didn’t God say you must not eat of any fruit in the garden?” a voice hissed from above.  Looking up, a vermilion serpent hovered overhead, its body coiled around the lowest branch. 

“No, I can eat of any fruit, except this one,” she said with chin upturned, pointing to the fruit that was suspended in front of her. “God said I could not eat of it or even touch it, lest I die.”

“Don’t you want it?” bid the voice. “Reach up. Grab it. One bite, and you will not die. You will become just like God and know all sorts of things you do not know. Why doesn’t He want you to know those things anyway?”

The devil, disguising himself as a serpent, deceived her and she took a bite, then offered some to Adam, and he ate it.

Suddenly, their eyes were opened to the endless possibilities of good and evil, and they realized they were stark naked in the middle of the garden. They reached up and grasped some fig leaves in order to cover themselves. 

     They dashed into the thicket for a place to hide.

“Adam. Where are you?” whispered God.

Adam’s cheeks burned with the guilt and shame of his sin and his newly realized nakedness. He peeked out from behind a tree.

“I don’t want to come out, because I'm naked.”

“Who said you were naked? Did you eat of the fruit I forbade you from eating?”

Adam confessed that he ate the fruit, but blamed it on Eve. Eve blamed it on the devil.  Darkness shrouded the garden. God was grieved and angry because they had rebelled against him. Covering them with animal skins, He barred them from the Tree of Life and forced them to leave the Garden of Eden.  

Adam and Eve had to reap what they sowed. The Lord gave them the just consequences for their disobedience. Eve would suffer in childbirth and in relationship with her husband. Adam would suffer frustration and futility in his work.

They deserved their punishment and much more, but God offered them grace. He told them One would be born who would destroy the works of the devil.

The Lord said to the serpent that when the Promised One came, “He will crush your head, and you will strike His heel (Genesis 3:15).”

The snake opened its mouth wide in defiance, revealing its four curved teeth.  Strings of venomous saliva blew in the wind. Four teeth, sharp as nails that were destined to wound the One and Only Son of God, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords (Genesis 3:1-22). They would pierce His hands and His feet (Psalm 22:16).
 
 Clang, clang, clang, clang. Then, silence. 

I glided out of darkness and into light. As I lay on the table, I could breathe again.  Holding my protruding belly, I kept thinking about Genesis. The garden of Eden. Where life began.

Although I knew that a diagnosis of renal agenesis meant our son would die, our Creator God, the Giver of Life was able to work out even the worst situations for our good and for His glory. Knowing He was in control gave me peace and filled me with hope.
  
Taking off the earphones, I stepped into the next room. 

Instead of getting the results right away, the technician explained that the MRI specialist needed to look at the films and write up a report on his findings. We would find out the results from our obstetrician in a few weeks. 

It was excruciatingly hard to have to wait several more weeks for the results. Rather than wait until our next doctor’s appointment, we found another high-risk doctor, for a second opinion. 

It wasn't long before the appointment day came.

The new obstetrician, Dr. F, had received the MRI results and performed his own ultrasound. 

Billy stood by, arms folded around his chest, bracing himself for the news. 

The doctor was very kind and down-to-earth. He looked at me sympathetically and held my arm. “This really sucks, but the prognosis is gravethe baby has no kidneys, and the umbilical cord is wrapped around its neck. Your amniotic fluid is completely depleted, and the baby’s lungs have not been developing. Most likely, the baby will be stillborn or live one or two hours at the most.”

Crushed by this news, I felt desperate to hold our baby. I wanted our little one to know we were its mommy and daddy and feel loved by us. My eyes welled up with tears, and I turned to my side, holding my belly. 

I started to weep right there on the ultrasound table. “Can't I have my baby now, before it dies?”
 
Dr. F said it was still too early, and that the only way I could force a delivery would be through an abortion.
 
I loved my baby.

I just wanted to hold my little one alive for as long as possible. 

If abortion was the only way to give birth early, then I would have to wait. 

And, if I was going to have to carry our child for as long as the Lord had planned, He would be right by my side every step of the way.







The next few days were hard. In the mornings, I could barely get up out of bed. Still, I found the strength to get up and spend time in prayer. I wrote in my journal everything that overwhelmed me—all my disappointments, my fears, and my pain.
   
In the house where we went met weekly with others in our church for prayer and fellowship, we broke the news that unless God intervened, our child would not live. Our friends cried out to the Lord for us in prayer. I also shared with my women’s Bible study group, and they all placed their hands on my belly and prayed.

It was comforting to know that people cared about me, and were seeking God on behalf of my unborn child. I told all the Christians I knew to pray for the baby. I even e-mailed the pastors I knew in Ukraine, so people were praying for us globally. A wave of peace washed over me, as I felt covered in prayer.





I knew that a miracle was possible. God could heal our child. When April was a baby, a young woman in our church, named Heather, developed liver cancer. She had several rounds of chemotherapy, but her body couldn’t take any more. Her doctor said the cancer was terminal by then, and nothing more could be done. 

Our church held a prayer meeting at a friend’s house for Heather. Billy was praying with everyone in the living room. I stayed in the kitchen with April and fed her Cheerios in a highchair, adding my own desperate prayers for Heather.
 
At Heather’s next doctor appointment, more tests were done, and her cancer was completely gone. It was amazing to witness this miracle firsthand. It confirmed to me that God still does the impossible and our prayers do matter.




Billy and I kept hoping and praying that the Lord would completely heal our baby. But, with each ultrasound check-up, the doctor couldn’t find any kidneys, and our hope for this miracle waned.

Researching on the Internet, we found websites that helped us understand our baby’s condition. Bilateral Renal Agenesis is also termed Potter’s Syndrome. I was able to read stories of other women who had babies with Potter’s Syndrome and how they coped with it all. 

It eased my mind to discover that babies form kidneys in the first month after conception.  On the mission trip to Ukraine, I was already three months pregnant, so that ruled out the baby somehow acquiring Potter’s Syndrome there.
 
I didn’t know why my baby had Potter’s Syndrome, but I believed that God was in control of all things. Ultimately, He had allowed our baby to develop this way. Could I still trust Him when He allowed the bad as well as the good?         

“Yet you, Lord, are our Father. 
We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand.”

(Isaiah 64:8)







This is the second part of The Journey of Loss series. For Part 1, please click here.


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

     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!