What it Feels Like for Me to be a Christian Woman in 2012

Disclaimer – this one is going to get deep, and not necessarily be pretty. And I am not on FB or Twitter right now to explain or clarify my positions, so I just pray that my heart would accurately come across as I write and process. I just want to be light in darkness, and I pray that nothing I say would cause shame or hurt. This is my perspective – and I am warning you it is messy.

I know I can be more sensitive than most, but to be a woman in this culture of rhetoric and soundbites is really difficult. Politicians and the media are hurtling words across the aisle without thought – words like “rape,” “pregnancy,” “abortion,” and “contraception” – like these are arrows slung from a bow and not real personal issues that carry with them memories, hurts, fears, and a visceral reaction.

I feel assaulted by it.

I am tired of signing onto Twitter and seeing snarky comments about rape and abortion. I am tired of rhetoric about pregnancy and abortion without a meaningful plan to help women and reduce these shocking statistics that mask a terrible reality. I am tired of pregnancy, infertility, and contraception being issues hurled about in the public sphere without a heart for what these things mean to the women and men making these decisions. I am tired of women’s rights and women’s equality being words without complex meaning in a world where women are battered, raped, maimed, enslaved, and reduced to being less than we are worldwide on an astonishing scale.

Don’t people understand these are REAL women and REAL babies they are talking about? That these decisions and topics are gut wrenching?

Our world is so broken, and we need Jesus so much.

I hate abortion. I’ve written about it before. I hated it even before Roe, when it was done in the dark of night, when women were maimed in back offices, sometimes not even given a choice because they were too young and they weren’t the ones paying so they were ignored. They endured it without anesthetic or a voice. What a cruel world that would steal from a woman even the choice to bear life, but it happens worldwide every single day. Abortion isn’t an American issue – it is a world issue. I hate the fear and stigma that backs women into a corner, the broken systems that entrap women. I hate that even decades later in some homes, a past secret abortion is not dealt with so peace can be found, the growing crack in the wall that reveals the facade behind the “happy healthy family.”

I hate it now that it is legal in the US and “more simple.”  I hate when it is convenient and it can be done without thought, except that it is not without thought and millions of women will tell you it haunts them decades later because there isn’t support for after. I hate it when it is done in deception, when a “simple” pill is given that makes the woman horribly ill for days, in pain bleeding alone in her home, unable to tell anyone. I hate when it is done after viability, when the baby could actually live outside of the womb and should, without question, have the rights of every other human. I don’t understand how we justify that. I hate when is agonized over – a terrible choice in the middle of a difficult life made in quiet and shame and fear of discovery. I hate that anyone has had to face that terrible choice and live with the results. I hate that it has stolen from so many of us, including me, family members. I see tiny newborn children and I hate that so many of them have vanished in violent ends, taking with them a part of our world’s future. I hate that it has left some women as shells, pieced back together and afraid of discovery, unable to forgive themselves. I hate that it places the burden on these women and takes the lives of these babies, and either gives men no choice or voice at all, or it enables boys to stay in suspended adolescence and not grow into men. It leaves nobody unscarred.

I hate it. It has stolen so much. It is not a simple right, it is an anchor. And it is taking us all down with it.

And I hate that it has become a political tagline. I think that grieves the heart of God as much as it hardens those of us who hear it over and over. I think since the beginning of time we have tried to find human solutions to the problem of sin we created in the garden (God didn’t want to give us kings, but we wanted kings, and when we got them they ruled over us without kindness. God didn’t want to give us divorce, but we insisted on divorce, and we left untold damage in our wake. We keep demanding the things that only damage us and distance us from Him, and then we blame Him when the mess we insisted on creating is messy). Even still, I wish there was a human solution, like legislation, that could erase the terrible reality of abortion, but the reality is that abortion is part of our broken world and has been since Adam and Eve made their choice. The numbers have increased since Roe vs. Wade, certainly, and the price has been immeasurably high on our culture and our values, but abortion has been a reality since humans have had the ability to fear and the desire to control each other and our future.

I think abortion is a consequence of fear. Fear of the future, fear of consequence, fear of discovery, fear of inadequacy. And you can’t insulate someone enough, provide them enough healthcare and options and support, to erase fear. Only perfect love drives out fear. A genuine love for women, a genuine love for children, a genuine love for God and trusting Him with our days – those things are the only answer to the abortion crisis and they will never grow from a political affiliation. We have to ALL quit numbing ourselves and start looking around, not judging each other but jumping in and getting our hands dirty – loving women and men in the messy realities of life. Loves drives out fear. So it means we support our children and nieces and friends when they are faced with terrifying decisions. It means we love and trust others enough to cry out for help when we find ourselves entangled in a nightmare scenario. It means we love selflessly, opening our hearts, homes and wallets to help each other and to meet needs. And it means we stop ignoring the orphan crisis – how can we ask women to choose life when more than 170 million children worldwide need homes? We need to love the orphan and the birth mother – no matter how messy that gets. If our prayers are answered and there are less abortions, that will mean there are more adoptions, and we need to be ready for that.

And let’s all agree to stop using abortion as a hurtling arrow.

And let’s add rape to that list. Rape is not rhetoric, and it can never be boiled down to a soundbite. Rape is complicated. Sometimes it is violent. Sometimes it is quiet and quick, devastating in its ambiguity. The moments leading up to it are confusing, the years after it are devastating. I know women who only, after feeling safe enough to do an honest assessment of the past, have realized that what they experienced was, in fact, rape. That their rights and their bodies were actually violated and that it is okay to call it that. I would bet that the statistics on rape are far lower than the reality of rape. No politician has a right to judge it on the degree of force or desire. It is intensely personal and can devastating.

Rape and abortion are the epitome of brokenness and to treat them casually destroys the thing about us that makes us human.

This world is broken. And more and more, I believe that the political rhetoric is contributing to the brokenness, not solving it. It makes us hard. It makes us mean. Anything can be taken out of context and spun and the heart of the person and the complexity of the matter completely annihilated.

Don’t believe me? Try this. Go outside and spend some time in prayer and check your blood pressure after that. Take a look at yourself in the mirror, talk to yourself and listen to your voice. Then watch your favorite political commentator for an hour – the guy you agree with. Then try the experiment again. Look in the mirror and talk, listen to your voice, check your blood pressure. Even when you agree with the person, I have found you will sound and look more defensive and angry, your adrenaline will probably be flowing, and your blood pressure will be higher. People who watch and listen to the rhetoric all day are growing more numb, more angry, and more hard by the hour. We need to step away from it. I’m convinced this stuff is toxic to our systems. It is the same human solutions to a divine sin problem we’ve been trying since Adam and Eve sewed together leaves to hide their nakedness.

We need Jesus. We need healing. We need restoration. We need forgiveness. We need miraculous protection from the darkness in this world – the sin that so easily entangles. We need to pray. Prayer can help with the abortion statistics and the rape statistics. It will open our eyes and soften our hearts. We will draw close to God and He will lead us in the way we should go in helping and assisting moms and adopting these kids who need homes. Only God can grow a boy into a man – giving him the strength to be honorable in this deceptive world that tells him he doesn’t have to live with honor. When that happens, rape and abortion numbers will go down. When heart-change and heart-softening happens, as we turn to Christ and light, this darkness must flee. We have to pray for that – that God will do it. He’s the only one who can.

Jesus this world is broken. It makes me shake. I look at my children and I ache for them – the statistics are scary and I pray they never experience these things, but I know they will at least be touched by them in this world. I see the women I know who have experienced infertility, unplanned or lost pregnancy, rape, and abortion and I ache for them. They all carry the scars – they all have lost so much. I know if this rhetoric stuns me it may devastate them. Or maybe it doesn’t – maybe that part of them is so walled off. Either way, Jesus, please draw near to the hurting and offer your healing mercy. Help us please. Government is not our answer – YOU are our answer. Human solutions stink – they only make things worse. We need you. We have done it our way and we have screwed it up. Please call your church to be salt and light in a broken world. Thank you for the people who get this – for the men and women who stand on your Word as a light to the world – being light as they embrace the complexity of loving a broken world. This is not simple, and we need people brave enough to admit that. Thank you for pregnancy centers filled with volunteers and staff who actually love women and desire to help them. Thank you for people who are unafraid to jump in and do the heavy lifting. I know even as much as Planned Parenthood is reviled on one side of this debate, there are many people there who deeply desire to help women. Please lead all of those people to yourself  – you are our only hope. Help our country. Help our leaders. Convict them. Convict us to pray for them and not be cynical and hateful toward them. I need help with that – I can feel so hopeless about the weakness of our country’s leadership. Help us to turn off the rhetoric, turn on our ears to hear Your Spirit, turn from our evil ways, and turn from our dependence on human solutions. And Jesus, please, please, heal our land.

Dead Chipmunks and Rainbows

Seriously, parenting makes me laugh. Today, Grace wrote a book in an old journal of mine. She intently colored pictures and wrote words, and was so proud to read it to me.

And it was horrific.

It was about Alvin and the Chipmunks, a murderous bad guy, and the Chippettes (the girl chipmunks for those of you who don’t watch these movies) who were having a very bad day. The Chippettes were killed 3 or 4 times in the book, with really bizarre graphic drawings of dead Chipmunks and Chipmunks in cages and people in their bed afraid because they heard the bad guy coming in the front door. The bad guy kept finding the poor Chippettes and Dave would somehow resurrect them in eggs. I vacillated between wanting to laugh and wanting to call a therapist as she read it to me.

Bad guy standing over Dead Chippette

We love Grace’s creativity and want to encourage it, but after the 3rd or 4th murder, I started to wonder. We don’t want to encourage fears that may go from cartoon drawings to real fears at nighttime (because I was a child who really struggled with fear and we want to nip that in the bud as soon as it starts). So I did want to talk to her and make sure she was good. So a few hours later, after I knew it wouldn’t feel like correction and after I’d thought through it, I called her over beside me so we could talk about her book.

We talked about how the Bible says for us to set our minds on things that are pure and good, and not on things that are scary, because like seeds in a garden our thoughts grow and we want to plant good thoughts and not scary thoughts in our minds. She agreed with me with a huge smile on her face and kept saying “Jesus is good like good thoughts and loves the little children!” (Sunday school answer, anyone?) We talked about how we can draw pictures that are happy and wonderful, and not scary with dead chipmunks everywhere. We talked about drawing the Chipmunks at the zoo, or at school with friends, or swimming in the pool.

I’m not going to lie – I was feeling like a super-mom. Back up James Dobson (Christian-bubble parenting expert), I’ve got this one.

She asked me for a new journal and I gave it to her. She spent another hour drawing intently and then came to show me her book. This story was quite different. It was about Jesus, living in a rainbow, and how the Chipmunks saw him from a long way away and went on a journey in a sailboat to find him.

Jesus, in a rainbow, at the end of the Chipmunks long journey

I cannot tell you how hard it was for me to hold the laughter in. No doubt about it – this child is my daughter. We only operate in extremes. And I’m not sure, but rainbow Jesus may be as scary as the first book. I guess I’ll keep the Dobson book after all. Have a happy weekend friends!

The Quiet Danger

On Friday my dad and I took my girls swimming. Grace is learning to swim, and fearless in a way that makes every adult around her nervous. Rebekah wears one of those swimsuits with the life vest installed in it (which she calls her chubby tummy) and is terrified of going under the water. Grace swam from me to my dad, and at the same time, Bekah had reached for dad and was crying because her face had gotten splashed. So dad is juggling two kids, one of which is screeching. We get Bekah situated, and I turn around to see that Grace has slipped under the water. Her head was about 2 inches under the water and she was looking at me with this look of panic but unable to get herself up to breathe. I grabbed her up, she coughed up some water, and within seconds she was raring to go again. But the image of my little girl, underwater and in such danger without making a sound, has rattled me for days. Although she was only under a few seconds, that image of her little face in the water has haunted me.

I used to work for a ministry who had Proverbs 24:11 as their theme verse. Rescue those being led away to death; hold back those staggering toward slaughter. It so impacted me because, especially when dealing with kids and teenagers, it perfectly defined the state of so many students. For years I have seen teenagers staggering toward slaughter. Pushing boundaries, making quick thoughtless decisions, damaging themselves in some attempt to impress others. And I have felt like my calling was to prayerfully help hold them back from destruction. To somehow restrain them just enough until they could come to know Christ or reach adulthood and begin to make wise decisions. Many of my students are now lovely and responsible adults living lives worthy of their calling (having kids themselves which makes me thrilled but also feel very old). Others have lost their life, and I have mourned their loss. They quietly slipped away and I long for the day when I will see them again so I can tell them that they were loved, despite how alone they felt. I pray they have found the acceptance they longed for in the arms of our perfect Savior. For years I wore around my neck the emblem of Saint Christopher, the patron saint of travelers, given that title because the legend behind his life is that he helped a child across a river swollen from rain, getting the child to safety. I saw that as my call long before I had children.

Then I became a mom. And this calling moved into my home in a literal way. Keeping my children safe became a daily, constant, intensely personal battle. They have choked on food and given themselves medicine and tried to pull away from me in a parking lot and fallen out of baby beds and just Friday, one of them quietly slipped under the water. And thank God so far we have been able to hold them back and protect them well, but it is hard work and we can seriously let fear rule our lives if we let it. I am thankful for the grace of a God who saves. I am grateful for every missed loss. I am aware of just how much we are blessed.

But still that image of the face underwater has made me pause this week, has made me grateful, and has made me more aware. We are constantly, as parents, in need of mercy and miracles when it comes to our kids and the task we have been given. We are constantly, as members of the body of Christ, in need of wisdom when dealing with children and teens. Because whether it is our own children, or the children around us in our churches and in our communities, we need to realize that their default condition is not stagnant, but is headed downstream toward destruction. We need to actively, vigilantly, and prayerfully, engage to be forces that turn children toward Christ and toward life and away from the destructive pull of this world.

Because when kids are in trouble it isn’t always loud and they don’t always call attention to themselves. Sometimes they are quietly drowning, and they need our intervention. They need us to see them and recognize their need. Then we can help. We can pull them up, help them get their breath, tell them we love them and we are rooting for them, and help them swim to safety. We can be instruments of change and of life in the lives of the kids around us. I am grateful God allows us to be a part of such a worthy mission. May He help us do this task well with wisdom and grace beyond ourselves.

*That call to carry children across danger is also why we support Compassion International and other ministries aimed at helping vulnerable children around the world. When there isn’t a parent around or able to do the work of protecting children, ministries like Compassion and World Vision step in to fill that role, and obey this command. There are forces in this world aimed at the destruction of children and families, and these ministries actively fight those forces with the love and life of Christ. So we give what we can because it is important and children need someone fighting for them, helping them before they are led away to death.

Yea Though I Walk Through The Valley…

The Lord is my shepherd; 
I shall not want.
He makes me to lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside the still waters.
He restores my soul;
He leads me in the paths of righteousness
For His name’s sake.

Yea, though I walk through the valley…

This week I had a miscarriage. I realize many of you family and friends didn’t even know we were pregnant, and I am so sorry. We had just gotten to the point where we were excited to start telling people about the baby when I started having complications and everything became very uncertain. At first it seemed like the baby was strong despite the difficulties, but ten days later, the pregnancy was over.

I am tired, and aching, but grateful. Grateful for a husband who holds me, even as I am coming to peace with things hard to understand. Grateful for my girls dancing around me oblivious and so priceless. Grateful for a sister who held my hand in my darkest moments in that doctor’s office and a mom who took us in like she always does to carry our burdens and meet every need. For a dad who prayed and held me tight, and friends and family who called and texted and brought flowers and meals and prayed countless prayers that broke light into our darkness. They carried me through this experience. I’m grateful for practical mercies too – insurance literally days before we needed it, and a Christian professor and a Christian boss who allowed me to disappear from my life while I walked through this valley, no questions asked.

As this unfolded, I was astonished by what I didn’t know about miscarriage, and what I wish I had known. Not to make this experience easier, because frankly I don’t think there is a way to make it easier, but so I could have had empathy for my friends who have gone before me in this, and also maybe I could have anticipated this past week better. Because in general people don’t talk about it, except in very clinical, sterile words that aren’t accurate, but I wonder if maybe we should.

I just didn’t know. I didn’t know that a miscarriage sometimes takes days; days of fear and blood and pain and exhaustion and prayers and confusion and labor. I didn’t know the vulnerability and fear that came with simple acts such as standing up or going to the bathroom. I didn’t know that doctors and hospitals really don’t have answers when you are facing something like this. I didn’t know that hope and despair battle in your mind as you pray for mercy and a miracle. I didn’t know how hard it is to tell people what is happening because it is private and messy and terrible; plus most people didn’t even know you were pregnant, much less that the pregnancy is in jeopardy. I didn’t know about the feeling that your body is betraying your baby, the what-ifs and guilt  (that you must fight through because there is nothing you could have done to affect this outcome). I didn’t know about the moments begging God to make it stop, and then the moments where you have to reconcile yourself to the idea that it isn’t stopping, and that God is still good. I didn’t know how it drags on and on, as your house gets messy and your laundry piles up and kids need to be held and hugged and fed and taken to school and picked up and bathed and put to bed, but you can’t do any of it. So you rely totally on all of the precious people around you, and they do it all, balancing your life and their own, and you feel so guilty, but you also know that every time you stand up it gets worse, so you lay there, and they all work hard and carry your burdens.

I didn’t know, and I am sorry. I am sorry for people who went before us, I am sorry for anyone going through this now. This was so much harder than I thought it would be. I’m sorry if I ever judged your pain, or your reaction to pain. I’m sorry I didn’t help more or understand. I’m sorry for the little life that never grew up and for the moments you didn’t get to have and the loss of your sweet little baby.

I’m sorry that any of us ever had to go through this.

And the sad part is, this happens so often and many, many people I love have experienced this hurt, and many others will certainly walk through this valley. So let me tell you about what I learned about the goodness of God in this, because there was much I didn’t know there as well. I didn’t know about the way he prepares your heart for news you don’t see coming, or about the fog that surrounds your mind as you work through each step in this process, or about the peace that truly is beyond understanding even as you are facing things you never imagined. There are small mercies that help make this bearable. He allowed this to proceed slowly because he knows I am a person who needs time and he gave peace when I needed it at each step. He also brought people beside me who grieved this with us – family and friends who carried the burden of grief and cried with us and for us. I needed that so badly and for those of you who carried that, thank you. Looking back at this entire thing, from day one, I can see his hand of mercy. I returned to school today and my professor stopped me and told me that I looked good and that she was so thankful I was smiling, because she could tell that the Lord was with me. And I feel that. I can tell you that he never left me alone, not for a moment.

Now I am at the point where I am struggling to wrap my human, planning, finite little mind around this tiny life that was lost, and the idea that a child that is part me and part Justin is in heaven, who would have been my girls’ sibling, my siblings’ niece or nephew, and our parents’ grandchild. I’ll be honest and tell you that doesn’t feel real yet. But even in that – the Lord has spoken.

He spoke through Angie Smith’s amazing book What Women Fear, when she wrote these words, “I am still standing, and I still believe.”

I am still standing, and I still believe. I believe that God is good. I believe our child is safe in the arms of the Lord. I believe that death didn’t win.

But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed;  always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. 2 Corinthians 4:7-11

I know this post was personal and heavy, but I had to write about it. I write about it because I need to process the lessons of this valley. I write about it because I cannot imagine writing about anything else until I have written about this and explained how I was changed by it. I write because I wish I had something like this to read when I was in the middle of this searching for answers on the internet. And I write because I always share what I learn from my children, and this child is no different. I’m grateful for the lessons this little baby taught me, lessons of empathy for other moms and cherishing my girls and the mercy of God during dark frightening days. I write, and I heal, and we move on toward heaven ourselves and toward Jesus who does understand all of this.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil;
For You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;

You anoint my head with oil;
My cup runs over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
All the days of my life;
And I will dwell in the house of the Lord
Forever.  (Psalm 23)

All My Hope is in You

How many times have I sung that song? How many times have I breathed that prayer? How many times have I told hurting friends that God is in control?

And yet weeks like this – weeks where I can’t figure out just how you are going to work something out so I drive myself crazy trying to figure it out for you, where my fear overwhelms, where that human instinct to control and correct and protect myself kicks in as if you are not my shelter and provider, so before I know it I am running full-bore seeking comfort and answers everywhere but you, these weeks show the lie of my heart.

My actions show that my hope is not in you.

I confess all this poisonous doubt in my heart.

Ah, Lord God! It is you who have made the heavens and the earth by your great power and by your outstretched arm! Nothing is too hard for you! Jeremiah 32:17

My confession today is that I don’t believe this verse and the thousands like it, even though I want to.

My confession today is that the things we face are so much bigger than us, and we need you to work miracles again, and I feel needy and weak for asking, even though I know you are good and I know you love me. I see you sometimes as a last resort – instead of the lover of my soul who wants me to come to you first.

My confession today is that I so quickly forget how PERFECTLY faithful you have been to provide for us. You have never let us down, you have never let us fall – and yet each time I test you again as if I don’t know that.

My confession today is that I am so quick to doubt, and I ask you to give me more faith. You are the author of all that is good in me and I want you to have more of my heart – all of my heart.

I’m sorry my faithful mighty God. I remain, as always, lost without you.

My biggest confession is that all my hope is in you. I’m so grateful for that truth today. And I’m so grateful for forgiveness and grace deeper than the ocean.