Friday, December 1, 2017

Six Hundred Bibles

Ling longed to have a complete Bible of her own so she could study it and help other believers understand it. So when she heard that a woman only four miles away had Bibles available, she couldn't get there fast enough. It turned out a woman had a few Bibles that had washed ashore after members of a Christian mission group had been forced to throw them overboard while attempting to smuggle them into China at night. Some believers along the shoreline had recovered the Bibles, and this woman had carefully dried the pages one by one in the sunlight.
When Ling asked her for one of the Bibles, explaining how God had called her to preach the gospel, the woman became alarmed. "No, no, no!" she answered. "These Bibles are very valuable. Do you know how hard it is to get a Bible? And how do I know you are even a believer?"
Ling persisted in her pleadings, but was unsuccessful. The woman would not part with a single one of her Bibles. Poor Ling looked so crestfallen the woman told her that if she could recite the Lord's Prayer without a single mistake, she would reconsider.

Ling left, encouraged that there still might be hope. She traveled back to a village where she knew there was a Bible in the home of an elderly believer. The brother cherished the Bible with a holy reverence, and when Ling saw it, she understood why. The old man's Bible was completely handwritten. In fact, the brother's hands were now permanently twisted from the thousands and thousands of hours he had spent carefully copying each verse character by character.

Hearts of Fire: Eight Women in the Underground Church and Their Stories of Costly Faith, page 204-205

Today Johnie and I send our six hundredth Bible overseas. I have so many emotions.

A little more than ten years ago, just a few months after we were married, we bought our first home and moved in. I felt completely overwhelmed by home ownership. I worried that a small leak would require a complete roof reconstruction that would surely bankrupt us. We argued about whether or not to install lawn sprinklers. They're very common in Kansas, but I grew up in Kentucky (where the rain takes care of the ground) and am pretty cheap to boot. I could not fathom spending time and money to pour perfectly good water out on the grass, even if it was brown. What a waste.

I was homesick. I was struggling to love this big dull city I had landed in the middle of. I felt vulnerable without mountains and lifelong friends and family around me.

I didn't know what to do with my time. Should I work? Should I volunteer? Should I have a baby? (No. But was I wrong to feel that way?)

It was during this time that my eyes were opened to modern-day Christian persecution. I didn't realize our brothers and sisters were being tortured and martyred in other parts of the world. I heard some of their testimonies. I read Tortured for Christ by Richard Wurmbrand. And I bought a book that would forever change my life: Hearts of Fire: Eight Women in the Underground Church and Their Stories of Costly Faith.

These were eight unimaginable stories of women living and breathing on the same earth I was living and breathing on. They were ripped from their families. Tortured. Faced with unthinkable circumstances and still praised the Lord.

The roof. The sprinklers. The skyscrapers and one way streets. The distance between me and my family. They all faded away. I saw how insignificant all of those things actually were and just how significant faith and service to God are.

I was convicted anew of a love for the Holy Word when I read the story of Ling, a woman in China who became a Christian as a young girl and would walk from village and village to read and copy and memorize snippets of the Bible. She worked toward getting her own copy of the full Bible for many years before she finally secured it. And then she dedicated her life to sharing it with others. She eventually began smuggling Bibles to churches in China and faced several prison sentences and was tortured for those efforts. Still she persevered and never gave up on her mission. Each time she was released from prison, she continued to share the Word.

I read this story from the comfort of my climate controlled living room couch. With multiple copies of the Bible on my bookshelf. Days and weeks would sometimes pass without me even opening one. And while I relaxed in apathy, she risked her life and well being for that same book.

I read her story in 2007. It ended:

Ling now has a vision for the International Olympics, which is coming to Beijing in 2008. She believes this will be an incredible opportunity for the house churches to grow and flourish. Back to work...

I am one of the least evangelic Christians around. After I outgrew a horribly embarrassing vocal and ugly (and wrong) condemnation of others phase in my teenage years, I don't really feel compelled to share scriptures or verses or sermons. I usually live out my Christianity in other ways, and thank God for those who are called to evangelism. (I think its part of the beauty of a body with each member serving their own function.) But I wanted to help Ling distribute Bibles. If people were literally dying for a copy of this precious book, the least I could do was help them.

The same organization that published the Hearts of Fire book had a program called Bibles Unbound. For $30 a month, they ship five Bibles to people in the underground church who request them. The Bibles are translated into their native language and packaged in such a way to look like a non-religious book.

At the time Johnie and I didn't really have any disposable income to speak of. We would have to cut something out to take part in this program. Giving up a meal out each month seemed like a small sacrifice in the face of a sister who was giving up her freedom. So we signed up.

I was given the names of the Bible recipients each month, and in those first few months I actually packaged the Bibles up myself to mail out. I would hang the names on my refrigerator and pray over those people.

Month after month ticked by. Johnie got a promotion and I got a full-time job and we no longer even felt that monthly donation for the Bibles. Eventually, I opted for the organization to send the Bibles on my behalf in an effort to help expedite the process and cut down on overall shipping costs.

I signed up for the "where most needed" option and was given a ministry page. It felt uncomfortable. The header: "Mission Page of Mrs. Amy Rose Karr." I'm not 90. (I was uncomfortable with "Mrs." and "Karr" at that point in my life but I've grown into them over the years.) And how was a small monthly donation a "mission?" It felt too grandiose for my little contribution.

But over the years, my "mission page" has grown. Bibles I sponsored have been sent to North Korea, Indonesia, Vietnam, Hmong, China, Nepal, Sri Lanka, India, Pakistan, Iran, Egypt, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Columbia, Cuba and Chiapas, Mexico. And now there are nearly 600 names to scroll through (a few dozen Bibles were given covertly, so I only know the name of the field worker who distributed them).

When Johnie and I sponsored those first five Bibles, we weren't sure if we'd sponsor any more. There have been times when we haven't missed the money as it left our account. And other times when we have scrounged up the funds for that month's donation knowing we might not have one the following month.

But, by the grace of God, the story of a young girl in China reached a young, self-absorbed girl in Kansas. And even though she didn't really appreciate or share the Bible as she should, she was motivated to take a small step to send out a few Bibles to unknown Christians overseas. How beautiful is the work of the Lord.

I share this because I grapple, like many, with things like my purpose and my calling and God's will for my life day-to-day. Should we buy this house or this car or this bar of chocolate? Do I really need a smartphone or a TV? How many toys should a two year old have? Should I lay in bed and pray or push through and get out and get some work done? Or just watch TV? Is this vacation too much? How do I honor the Sabbath? To what, specifically, should I give my time and my money and my attention? How in the world do I make things different? When should I speak up? When should I step back? What, for the love of God, should I even do?

I've made a lot of mistakes and I've gotten a lot of things wrong.

Once when I was listening to a radio story a few years ago about a child just coincidentally meeting their sponsor after they grew up, I began dreaming of how beautiful that would be in my own life. I was driving around Kansas back in those days training nurses on a parent education program to reduce stress (and abuse) related to early infant crying. Those early mornings and late nights on the road I often asked God, "What have I prevented? Will I ever know if any lives were actually saved or bettered from all of this?"

And as I began to imagine one day, possibly from Heaven, getting to see the actual reach of my God-blessed efforts, I realized that it would pale in comparison to all of the people I have passed by and not helped. If the Lord ever showed me the extent of the damage I have caused or allowed to occur because of my actions and inactions, I don't think I could bear it.

It was a crushing thought to me then, but I feel like I have gained a better perspective over the years. The Lord can fix my ignorance and my disobedience. His grace covers me. And it covers my shortcomings.

For a long time I focused on all the things I didn't do well enough. There's plenty there to keep a mind busy. But I have decided instead to focus on the things I am getting right. Though $30 is a meager offering from a comfortable middle class American, the Lord can bless it and multiply it over and over and over again. And if you keep offering up your "little" service, eventually five Bibles become 600 spread all over the world.

This is a time of year when we consider generosity and resolutions and changes in our lives and our habits. It is also a time when we get bogged down in grief from the past or anxiety for the future or dissatisfaction for the day. Turn instead to the little pieces of good you can do. Plant the seeds. The Lord will provide the growth. It may be awhile, or even a very long while, before you see any fruit, but it is there. Give your offering, whatever it is. The Lord will make it more than enough.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

To those who love Matthias, on his birthday

I've been looking for you, baby, in every face that I've ever known.
And there is something about the way you love me that finally feels like home...
I wasn't ready then. I'm ready now. I'm running straight for you.
You will only be, eternally, the one I belong to.
The sweetest devotion hit me like an explosion.
All of my life I've been frozen. The sweetest devotion I know.

Its a miracle that he's here, and its even more amazing that he's healthy. That's what I tell everyone about Matthias.

I realized very early in his life that Matthias belongs to God much more than I could ever lay claim to him. And as I've watched him grow this last year it has become clearer and clearer how little control I have over his life.

The day I learned I was pregnant, Matthias sure didn't feel like a gift to me. But in the days since, he has grown beautifully and perfectly into the meaning of the name we chose for him: Gift of God.

As I get to know him better, and as I reflect on the sweet, gracious way God gave him to me, I am overwhelmed by how intimately He knows me and how deeply He cares for me. In Matthias that has been most evident. The Creator of everything spares no detail in His gifts for me, one little unknown person among billions.

I have also been humbled by all the wonderful people who love Matthias. Who pray for him and delight in him with us and support us in so many ways as we strive to raise him.

Matthias is first a gift from God, and second a gift from all of you.

Over and over again I hear sweet stories from loved ones about their specific, diligent prayers for Matthias and for me. God heard and He answered, and is answering, and I am blessed to be the beneficiary.

Many of you taught -- and are teaching -- me how to be a mother. I was completely unequipped, but you all have given me everything I have needed so far. Through love and by example and in more concrete ways as you have showered us with gifts.

You have done more than I have words or time to recount. And though it doesn't feel adequate I felt compelled to say thank you as we celebrate his first year.

Matthias is a joy, but I am not blind to the fact that motherhood would be a lot more difficult without all of you behind me. I appreciate you more than you know.

As I look forward to future birthdays with a mixture of hope and anxiety, happiness and sadness, I am thankful Matthias and I will have you with us. Here's to many, many blessed more!


Sunday, December 20, 2015

The Birth Story

Can't you feel it ever closer?
We breathe it in and then we exhale.
We touch both sides and now eternal
standing closer to the veil.
-All Saints' Day, by Carrie Newcomer

I've been anxious to write the birth story. Actually, I've written and rewritten it over and over again in my head and on paper these last seven weeks. In truth, I feel like I have multiple birth stories and wasn't sure which one I wanted to tell.

My water broke while I was simmering a big pot of soup and baking pumpkin rolls one Saturday afternoon when Matthias was just shy of 37 weeks gestation. Right at thirteen hours later I was holding him in my arms. I only felt contractions about six of those hours. No epidural. The world watched its first triple crown winner since Secretariat race as I lay in bed that evening waiting for real labor to start. There was an influx of laboring women and my midwife joked she was having her own Breeder's Cup that night. She said I was her American Pharaoh.

Matthias was healthy and a couple weeks later I had made a near complete recovery.

Sounds lovely (and obnoxious), doesn't it?

Told another way, I went into pre-term labor one weekend after a long, hard pregnancy that had me pretty sick and mostly in bed for 18 out of 37 weeks. I chose to take Cytotec after having no progress and no real contractions for several hours after my water broke. I can't really find words to describe the pain. I would have had an epidural if there had been more time. I required stitches and Matthias suffered a broken collar bone. While I delivered him quickly, the final stage of labor (after the baby) sort of stalled. I then received a dose of Pitocin. I continued to bleed and no one was sure why or where specifically it was coming from. My midwife had to be careful in choosing medications to help stop the bleeding because I was also at risk for blood clotting due to other complications of the pregnancy. I passed out five times in the next twelve hours. I eventually received a blood transfusion. The IV line quickly failed and leaked blood into my ever swelling arm for a little more than an hour before anyone actually thought to check it as I complained of throbbing from what I understood should have been a relatively painless process. I had three back-to-back migraines. In some ways I feel cheated of my son's first week of life.

That's really more drama than I care for.

The birth story I really want to tell (while being honest about the good, the bad and the ugly) is one of God's grace.

I was not interested in having biological children. I was actively and diligently trying to prevent them.

I felt what I would learn eight days later was my very first pregnancy pain and symptom while I was singing Turn my heart, O Lord. These waters were slow to turn. Because when I did see those two little lines I immediately began praying for it not to be so.

Even when I realized the Lord was asking me to be pregnant. Even after I had prayed for years for Him to make clear to me what He wanted me to do -- and expressed my willingness to do anything. This was an assignment I didn't want to take.

Though my heart and my attitude were ungrateful and rotten, He was sweet to me throughout. It isn't hard for me to believe that every baby ever born is appointed by God, but I felt especially aware that Matthias was so.

I received a card from a local ministry with a very specific prayer and scripture they were praying for me that spoke directly to some of my fears and anxiety. Before they even knew I was pregnant.

Once, about midway through the pregnancy, I was feeling especially burdened. I began to worry I would always think of Matthias as a burden. And I began to feel sorry for him. I worried he would always feel like a burden to me, and I didn't want him to carry that load. I wanted him to be confident that he brought joy to my life. And I prayed that one day -- even if it would take years -- I could tell him with complete honesty how joy-filled his life was to me.

While I was praying, my husband was out having lunch with a friend. Randomly and off the topic of their conversation, this friend felt moved to tell my husband he knew that Matthias would bring us so much joy in the years to come. It seemed odd to Johnie, but he came home and told me about it. It didn't seem odd to me.

Due to lupus and antiphospholipid antibodies, Matthias and I were at risk for a whole laundry list of complications and significant health issues. Miraculously, we escaped them all (save for what was technically a pre-term delivery). That didn't stop me from worrying and praying about them. As I poured out my heart to a trusted spiritual director in the early weeks of my pregnancy, she beautifully prayed for grace to surround my womb. It became a prayer I continued to offer.

How poignant, then, that some of the first words out of my midwife's mouth when she saw me in labor were, "You're going to have a baby tomorrow. I love Sunday babies. Sunday's child is full of grace."

Beyond that, I had prayed and prayed for an early November birth. My due date was smack dab in the middle of the eight day span between the anniversaries of my grandparents' deaths. I didn't want to have a baby during that time and wasn't sure I could bear my child being born on the same date I lost my precious grandmother. The Lord answered those prayers beautifully.

Just for fun and to show just how well He knows me and loves me, the Lord more specifically timed Matthias' birth at precisely one minute prior to the end of Daylight Savings Time. My good friends know the day we get our hour back from the government is my all-time favorite day of the year. The first hour I spent with Matthias was that redeemed hour. Plus, we think it's pretty cool that his medical record says he was born at 1:59 a.m. but received his first shots, his first diaper and began nursing in the minutes leading up to that.

In the weeks following, as I prayed about a positive screen for a possible genetic defect, I would realize his birthday is also All Saints' Day.

I felt like God was telling me during those weeks of not knowing about my son's health that Matthias belonged to Him and I could trust Him. I know well that God doesn't protect us from all infirmities, but was relieved to learn the Lord spared him and the positive screen was the result of a (relatively minor) deficiency in my own body.

While I initially had some complications after his birth, a couple weeks later I recovered almost completely. Seemingly overnight. I and many others had prayed for my health throughout the pregnancy and the days following the delivery. It was like a miracle. I feel like the Lord healed me. My midwife admitted at my follow-up appointment that there was no medical explanation for me to be doing as well as I was so quickly.

I trusted that the Lord would answer my prayer for joy in time, but I was surprised with how quickly it came. Newborn babies are my absolute favorite people. But I was quite ill on Matthias' first day. I was passing out and struggling through a migraine. Our sweet friends were visiting throughout the day (I welcomed them), but each time Matthias would be wheeled into our room to meet people I would tense up at having to manage this squirmy little stranger.

Johnie was instantly enamored. I wasn't. When he asked me if I thought Matthias was cute I said, "I don't know." (That was also the moment -- I kid you not -- Matthias chose to give me the stink eye for the very first time. I still wasn't sure how I felt about his looks, but that at least made me chuckle.)

It was in the early minutes of November 2nd when I fell in love. A nurse brought him into the room so I could feed him. But he was sleeping so soundly and I didn't feel like wrestling to get him to nurse. So I just laid his little body against mine and felt the rise and fall of his breaths. I rubbed my hand up and down the little back I had felt inside me just days before. I looked up at the clock and realized Matthias had one more hour left of his very first day of life. And he and I spent it alone in the dark and quiet. I wept and thanked God for the miracle of his life. And the joy I have felt has only increased from there.

I have always defended motherhood as a high calling. But I didn't think it was for me (and still know it isn't for everyone). I didn't realize how much fulfillment one can find in changing diapers and cleaning spit up. The joy in fighting through bleary-eyed exhaustion to hold a sleeping baby and drink in that precious peaceful face for just a few more minutes. Sure, it has its hard moments. I have times of anxiety and frustration and sadness and every other emotion conceivable. But some cliches have merit. The rewards truly are immeasurable for me.

Boy, how those rivers turned. And they flow with joy and contentment I have never felt before.

Yet still, as warm and fuzzy as that sounds, my very first words to my newborn son will forever and forever be: Oh baby... You almost killed your mama. And if I had to sum the whole thing up in one sentence, that'd probably be it. I would only add but for the grace of God.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Pregnancy Anthem

From my mother's womb, You have chosen me...

I have been anxious about this pregnancy since the moment I felt that sudden, sharp twinge of back pain ushering in a dull ache that stayed with me those first few weeks. I figured I was either exhibiting some new lupus symptom or -- the thing that made my heart race -- I was finally experiencing firsthand the back pain my mom always described as unlike any other, felt only during pregnancy.

A week later the fear ratcheted up a notch when two lines confirmed my suspicion. And the fear only increased a few weeks after that when antiphospholipid antibodies, what I had prayed so fervently against, were positively identified in my lab work.

This pregnancy has made me afraid. I've dealt with fears and anxieties I couldn't have even anticipated.

Now that I am in my final weeks, free from so many of the bad things that could have happened, I still fret about what is ahead. Even if everything goes "smoothly" I can't think of a non-scary way to get this boy out of my body. A newborn onesie never looked so big as when I considered getting something out of me that could fit into that thing! (Please do not do what Johnie did and hold up a 0-3 month sleeper and say, "He might even fit in this when he's born.") Then after that, you know, I'll have a son to raise.

But anxiety is not a new friend. It has been with me before. I have fought it and by the grace of God it has yet to completely overtake me. When I feel its rough, gnarled fingers curl around my neck and tighten, I cling to Jesus.

While I battle back fear, I strive always to remember that I belong to Jesus and because of Him I do not have to be afraid. I try not to live a fear-filled life. As Johnie and I have made several decisions over the years, we have chosen to go for many things when we see our "no" list is just fear based.

The first time I heard Bethel Music's No Longer Slaves I was driving. It immediately resonated. What a beautiful thing to proclaim: I'm no longer a slave to fear. I am a child of God.

The pregnancy hormones have leaked from my eyes in buckets of tears. And that's what I blame for sobbing down the interstate the moment I heard the line "From my mother's womb, You have chosen me. Love has called my name."

Over halfway through the pregnancy, with a clean bill of health from the anatomy scan and finally starting to regain some strength and energy that had abandoned me around week nine or so, I felt like I could turn my prayer attention more toward Matthias' character and life outside the womb. I could feel his movements and kicks inside of me. I could dream about the things we would do together, the things he would do in his life. As I began to dream and pray about what I hoped he would accomplish, I realized those decisions were best left to God.

Just the night before I had prayed for the Lord to knit him together specifically for the kingdom work He wanted for our boy. To place in him the character he would need to serve the Lord in whatever capacity He deemed best. To put in him the desire to do His will. To plant in his heart the safeguards he would need to withstand whatever temptations he would face. And to equip us as parents to nurture those things and help them grow. To open us up to support the Lord's will in Matthias' life even if it wouldn't be what we would pick for him.

The song painted a beautiful picture of the Lord doing just that. Already choosing our son. Already covering him in grace and love and weaving him into the beautiful tapestry of His kingdom. Something He had been doing for me since I was in my own mother's womb. How profound. How overwhelming is His love.

So much about Matthias is a mystery. What will he look like? What will he enjoy? Where will his talents lie? What kind of struggles and triumphs are ahead for him? For us? I don't know. But the Lord knows. Thank God, He knows.

All my fears were drowned in perfect love.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

A prayer request

Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God.
-Corrie Ten Boom

I can't begin to express how thankful I have been for all the people who are joining us in praying for our baby. You all have brought me so much comfort through these rough weeks. At just the right moment I'll get a card or a note or a text or a gift or a word that speaks directly to what I'm needing. It helps me know and remember that God is near and that He cares and is taking care of us in the sweet, all-knowing way that only He can.

I wanted to post a prayer request this morning, but it kept growing longer and longer. So for those willing to read an emotional pregnant woman's early morning jumbled-up thoughts, I figured I'd write a full blog post.

First of all, I am so incredibly thankful for a medical team that has been so concerned - and loving - with the health of my baby and me. All the appointments and blood work and ultrasounds are a bit stressful, but I'd rather know all of these things than just be left guessing. And, it is like soothing balm on my anxious heart every time we see or hear something "normal" about our baby.

Through my second chorus of "is that normal?... Are you sure?" yesterday, our midwife was patient and reassuring. I think I asked at least half a dozen times if she saw anything to be concerned about. And I couldn't help but add, "would you please tell me if you see anything at all?"

I sort of thought that yesterday's ultrasound would be similar to the one before. I would leave with a reassurance that everything was fine that would carry me through several weeks. I am not sure if it was because yesterday's ultrasound became a bit more about deciding the sex of our baby, or if most of the discussion centered around all the things that will happen at the next appointment, or if it was something else all together, but I was even more anxious leaving than I was arriving. And I was anxious arriving.

Our "big" mid-point ultrasound is scheduled for next time. This is when they will check for a number of abnormalities, and when a lot of complications are discovered for many women/babies who have complications/health concerns. Maybe it is a normal mom thing that everyone experiences, but I just want so badly for the baby to be healthy. And I feel like I don't have the most stellar genes to work with, nor is my body well-equipped to support a healthy baby. My body attacks healthy things. The baby seems blissfully unaware in the ultrasounds, but I feel like he must be fighting a battle. And as I pray for the Lord to knit him together, I know that this baby's health and well-being rest squarely on His shoulders. Even more than most, I just can't do this.

I will have follow-up blood work done to measure my antiphospholipid antibody levels. Those test results, in part, will determine whether or not I should take blood thinner injections. I pray I will not have to deal with any more complications at all. And while I am willing to take blood thinners for the health of the baby, I would rather not have that issue at all. I am most nervous about blood clots causing some type of issue for the baby or me. And if the doctors feel strong blood thinners are necessary, I am uncertain what to do. This treatment comes with its own set of worries, concerns, side effects and dangers. As of now, I am unsure how I will proceed if the doctors feel that stronger medications are needed.

So, above all else, please continue to pray for the health of our baby, Matthias. (I am still transitioning from calling him "baby" to calling him by his name.)

Beyond that, learning the sex of our baby brings a whole new dynamic to pregnancy. Johnie and I have always said we are much more concerned with our baby's health than our baby's sex. But we are glad to know we are having a boy. On the scale of boy-girl preference, I leaned slightly toward girl. Even though we tried not to think about it much, we had dreams for a little boy and dreams for a little girl. Giving up our little girl dreams were a little sad, but I think there would have also been sadness to give up our little boy dreams.

There is so much I am excited about - and relieved about - with having a boy. I remember how much fun my brothers were when they were babies and toddlers. To get to experience that again will be great. (If Matthias is anything like my brothers.) Also, if Matthias looks like Johnie or acts like Johnie in some ways, I think I'm going to enjoy it. (There are some traits of my brothers and my husband I'm hoping he doesn't get. I had been praying for this baby to be protected from bad/negative traits/genes and my brother shared with me what he had been praying for the baby: That the good things from the Roses replace the bad things from the Karrs and that the good things from the Karrs replace the bad things from the Roses so the baby is made of only good things.)

But, still, I've never been a MOM to a boy. I feel like I have so much to learn. (I'm open to any book suggestions you think may help.) I felt like Johnie must have felt shortly after we learned we were pregnant, when he wanted to make all of those decisions that won't affect the baby for several years. I felt an overwhelming need to start planning and working on things we won't have to deal with for more than a decade from now with our son.

I felt much more prepared to raise a girl than to raise a boy.

There's still so much we don't know about Matthias. Most of our questions are ones we would have whether our baby was a boy or a girl, it's just that we've only really started to ask them now. Will he be athletic? Will he be adventurous? Johnie and I aren't either of those things, but we want to encourage him. Thankfully we have a diverse extended family we hope will help fill in our gaps.

Will he share my love of cooking or of writing? Will he enjoy going hiking or fishing with me? Will he be interested in technology and programming like Johnie? Will he love Christmas? (If Johnie's bah-humbugness is a gene, I hope he didn't get it.) What will his favorite season be? Will he be quiet and reserved or way more outgoing than either of us?

I hope he loves to read books. I'm assuming he won't be very interested in my childhood dolls and toys, or with building a dollhouse with me, but maybe. Judging from many of my nephews, I'm trying to prepare for many more superheroes and legos in my life. (Though my life is currently void of either of those things, so any child would change all of that.) We'll just have to wait and see.

I have prayed a lot for Matthias in my womb, but I feel led now to pray for his life post-birth. I want him to be strong and independent. I want him to be respectful and loving and kind. I want him to be confident. I want him to always feel surrounded by the grace and love of God and to be completely sold out for His will in his life. I want him to love his mom (and his dad) a lot, but not too much.

And as I think of what I want for him through all the stages of his life, I just go back to my original prayer. I hope he makes it to all the stages of his life, healthy.

Again, thank you all so much for praying with us!

Sunday, May 24, 2015

An attitude adjustment

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.
Matthew 11:28-30 

I've kind of made it a point to emphasize just how unplanned this pregnancy was. Just how not on board and unexcited I have felt about it. I realize I crossed a line somewhere from honesty to rottenness.

I wholeheartedly believe it is completely okay for women (and men) to react with shock, anger, frustration and a whole plethora of emotions on the opposite end of the spectrum from joy and elation upon learning of a pregnancy. One of the things that has helped me the most pre and during pregnancy are those friends who were open and honest about their less than happy pregnancy and parenthood feelings and experiences. In a world where we all try to paint on smiles and present perfect, polished selves, I think we need more people willing to be raw and authentic.

I realize I wasn't always being true to myself so much as I was wallowing in muddy self-pity. Constructing a pitiful sword to fall on. And God got the brunt of it. I'm ashamed of how I've acted toward Him these past couple of months. He can handle my anger and He can handle my frustration. I don't even think He's upset about my questions. But He sure doesn't deserve the ugly spirit I have had toward Him.

I'm finding it hard to put into words.

In the midst of my frustration and incomprehension I (somewhat unknowingly) withdrew a part of myself from God. As quickly (within 24 hours of learning of the pregnancy) as people began talking about the possibility of future pregnancies, Johnie and I had already beat them in discussing how we planned to prevent any other pregnancies. I was still mostly rational at that point. After learning about the antiphospholipid antibodies, logic went out the window. And so did some of my trust in God.

To His credit, He never stopped being so incredibly sweet to me. (Which I may forever be in awe of. Such gentle, loving responses to my brash pigheadedness.) But while I trusted Him a little bit, I didn't trust Him fully. And while I submitted to Him a little bit, I didn't submit my will fully. I went from "we can still trust God after this baby is born" to "how can we get my uterus taken out after this one."

Johnie made the clever joke that we're like Coach Calipari's players: One and done. (I really hope you laugh at that because it was a proud wife moment for me.) But I went further than that. I felt so done I wasn't open at all to any possibility of anything beyond this one. My heart was calloused and I basically told God, "I'll carry this one for you, but never again. Never. I don't care. P.S. I don't even know what you were thinking with this one in the first place. But, I'll do it. Just for you. I hope you're working on some kind of medal for me for it. Because, if you remember, I didn't actually want to do this. But I am. Since I love you. Seriously, though, I really don't think this was your smartest move."

I told myself He was trustworthy and out for my good and all-knowing. But my heart wasn't listening. Aches or pains that couldn't be soothed the way I normally find relief, plans that couldn't be made or followed through because of this pregnancy I would hold up to God. "Do You see now why I didn't want to do this? If this is supposed to be teaching me something, I'm not getting it. What could this possibly be accomplishing?!"

As I finally just poured out all my ugly feelings to a trusted Spiritual Director, she asked me simply, "Do you believe you've sinned?"

It took a couple minutes for me to fully process my immediate "probably" into a completely sure "definitely." Not to be overdramatic, but it was like the scales fell off my eyes. I had been a stinky brat to a sweet, loving God. I mean, like, majorly stinky.

But I confessed and we prayed and slowly my burden seemed lighter.

This pregnancy has felt like such a heavy burden. Shoulders drooped over, unable to take deep breaths, not knowing if I'd collapse with the next step heavy. Why couldn't I just mother children who are already here? I actually want to do that, and that's something I thought You wanted me to do. If You want to introduce a new life into this world, why -- of all places -- would You put it in my broken body which, You must know, is set on destroying healthy things? It felt like I was being set up for failure.

Again, words are still failing me.

I realized my perspective had been wrong and my heart had been wrong. I had listened to untruths. And I chose then to turn back to God. To accept His trustworthiness and His Sovereignty and, thank Him for it, His grace. Though it was spiritual chains being unbound, I felt physically freer. Like I could finally move and breath and unhunch my shoulders.

And the verse came to mind: "My burden is light."

How had I not recognized that such a heavy burden was not from God?

This is where I want to conclude with something profound or thought-provoking. Make some sort of renewed commitment or dream of a perfectly healthy pregnancy from here on out. I don't have any of that. I'm simply trying to take each day, each thing, as it comes. Sometimes I do that well, other times I do not. If you've read any of my previous posts you know this is a continual work for me.

P.S. You will probably be relieved to know that my plans to allow someone in a back alley of a foreign country to cut me open and rip out my uterus for a nominal fee have been canceled.

Note: I also feel like I need to add another post script for those who may be reading this and may be struggling through incredibly difficult trials. I, in no way, was trying to make some kind of doctrinal or theological statement, or say that just because something feels heavy or hard doesn't mean God isn't with you, or isn't present, or that you're doing something wrong. This is just my experience from one day of going through a surprise pregnancy I feel especially unequipped for. Please don't take it as anything more than that. From my experience, God gives special mercies through the especially dark times.

Friday, May 15, 2015

The appointment when nothing bad happened

Everything grows rounder and wider and weirder, and I sit here in the middle of it all and wonder who in the world you will turn out to be.
-Carrie Fisher

From the moment I learned I was pregnant I started thinking of all the things that could go wrong. Each day, each step, each new pregnancy thing I had to do, I thought of bad things that could happen. And sadly, some of my fears have already been realized. The (stupid) antiphospholipid antibodies. Spending two and a half weeks in bed while lupus and migraines got to reign my body.

At eleven weeks pregnant, I prepared for my fifth (fifth! Ridiculous.) pregnancy-related doctor's appointment with trepidation. My cheerful midwife thought it would be a great idea to schedule the appointment the Friday before Mother's Day. That way I could hear my baby's heartbeat -- and maybe even have a sonogram -- as a sweet first Mother's Day gift.

It was a nice gesture, but it sounded like a horrible idea to me. How sad to find out my baby didn't have a heartbeat, or has a heartbeat but some tragic abnormality, going into Mother's Day weekend. Not only would I grieve but so would all our friends and family, on a weekend filled with celebration. I had thought about how and when to tell them the bad news in the best way possible. Couldn't we postpone such bad news until some normal weekend? How about wait until after Mother's Day to get the bad news?

I know that it's possible that I could have a healthy little baby to snuggle in November if God sees fit, but it's kind of in His hands. I don't know for sure exactly what He's going to do in this situation. As far as my own self goes, I feel like the odds are stacked against me and this baby. So I tried to steel myself for more bad news that Friday afternoon.

Johnie and I planned for heavy construction traffic, and actually made it to Lexington more than an hour before my appointment and did a little shopping. We got to the office pretty close to my appointment time and settled in to wait for a long time, but were called back immediately. Thank God, my blood pressure was normal - again.

The nurse pulled out the doppler to find the baby's heartbeat. I held my breath, reassuring myself it was okay if she didn't find it. She said she did find it, but I couldn't even tell it was a heartbeat. She repositioned the wand and I heard it. Strong and steady. Like beautiful music.

I went through the exam with my midwife and we went over my bloodwork. My numbers had slightly decreased. Still no bad news. She didn't mention the sonogram, so I assumed we wouldn't be getting one that day. But she excused herself and wheeled in the machine. Once again I held my breath until the image came on screen. I could see a head and body but couldn't make out much more.

She was talking about arms and legs and a pulsing umbilical cord. I didn't see any of that, but Johnie and I began a chorus of "Is that normal?" that lasted for the rest of the appointment. Then, she saw the baby's little hand. "Oh, see that hand," she squealed. "And that tiny little thumb!"

"I see it!" Johnie said.

I felt like Rachel on Friends when she couldn't see her baby. "I don't see it," I sheepishly admitted.

The midwife froze the shot, enlarged the image, and scooted the machine closer to me. "See?" And finally I was able to see it.

She printed out that shot, and then took another picture of the head and body and printed it out for us.

"What about the other hand?" Johnie asked.

"Oh, it's in there," she said.

Silly husband, I thought. Worried that the baby doesn't have two hands just because we only saw the one. I chuckled a little.

We waited while she added another roll of printer paper and watched the baby for several more minutes. I was able to make out things more clearly now and was just in awe getting to watch. S/he did a flip. At one point, s/he brought his/her hands up to his/her face. We all laughed. I wondered if maybe the baby could feel the pressure from the sonogram wand and was distraught that his/her comfortable home was being disturbed. Hands to face, "Is this how it's going to be in here now?!?"

And then it hit me. Maybe Johnie's concern had rubbed off on me. I hadn't seen the baby's legs. I could clearly see the arms - even the fingers and thumbs. I could see eye sockets and a nose and mouth. Why were there just two little nubs where the legs should be? I decided I would ask the midwife at the end of the sonogram and assured myself that we would be okay even if our baby didn't have legs.

Just then, the baby kicked both legs out with a flourish. I was able to see them clearly. I thanked God and started crying. What a fast and sweet response to my worried heart.

I had prayed and prayed throughout my pregnancy that my baby be protected from any illness in my body, and that the Lord please protect my baby from any mistakes I am already making as a mother. I pray throughout each day for the baby to feel calm and peaceful, safe and loved. Protected from anything bad in my body or in the world.

I couldn't help but watch the sonogram in awe. It felt like my prayers were being answered. I know that bad things could still be discovered, but my baby looked healthy and was active. It seemed like s/he was chillin'. Hangin' out. Exploring his/her own small little world. Oblivious to any bad thing. Exactly how I hoped my baby would look.

When we got out to the car, I just started sobbing. Johnie was a little confused, and worried.

"Of all the ways I imagined this appointment could go, I never let myself think about the possibility of nothing bad happening."

It was such a sweet gift from God. I could only feel thankful. And a little hope started bubbling up inside of me: What might it be like if we actually do get to have a healthy baby?