Sitting in the darkened auditorium, I watch a young girl do her best to depict the yearning and maternity of Mary, holding her stomach tenderly, singing “Breath of Heaven.”
“I have traveled many moonless nights
Cold and weary with a babe inside
And I wonder what I’ve done…”
Her voice is stronger than I expect, and sincere- as sincere as a high schooler who has never carried a baby can be. And I think to myself that she cannot know what the words really mean.
“I am waiting in a silent prayer
I am frightened by the load I bear…”
The words are familiar to every woman carrying her first baby, wondering how she will survive the birth, what she will do with the baby once it’s born. And yet there is more here.
“Do you wonder as you watch my face
If a wiser one should have had my place
But I offer all I am
For the mercy of your plan…”
The song euphemizes the “mercy of [God’s] plan”. But to me, this is the key. How much did Mary know of that plan, as she hid these things and pondered them in her heart? Did she know the full mercy of that plan? What did she contemplate, even as the song writer imagines her poignant plea?
“Breath of heaven
Hold me together
Be forever near me
Breath of heaven.”
Because I watch this sweet young lady imagining a hypothetical baby, and I know that I have held my children in my arms, grieving. And while this girl is thinking romantically about carrying a baby, was Mary thinking about Calvary?
In my mind’s eye, I see the Pieta, Mary holding the dead Christ in her arms. I feel the emptiness of my arms, that phantom weight that has plagued me for the past eight years, and over again three times, and think of the weight of our dead Savior in Mary’s arms.
It is not what we are accustomed to associating with Christmas. But as I listened to the actress praying,
“Breath of heaven
Lighten my darkness
Pour over me your holiness…”
It was this she was praying for. How to carry the Messiah. How to watch Him grow, and how to let Him go, as any mother eventually has to. And then how grieve the Child who was her Savior.
There is great joy in Christ’ birth, the birth of a King. But that juxtaposition of birth and death, Mary cradling her infant as she would cradle him in death, is the reminder of what Advent means. It is a light in darkness, but it is not angels and pyrotechnics. The truth of this world is that we live with sin and death. As someone has duly noted, “the moment that we’re born is when we start to die.” The biggest reality of life on this earth is that it will end.
And yet, it need not end in darkness. Because that is the hope of Advent- with His birth, His life, and His death, Christ has resurrected all who believe. Advent is the door that brings us out of the outer darkness, weeping and gnashing of teeth, into the presence of Light, the Lamb Who is the Lamp of the City of God, through Whom shines the glory of God. And the truth of that world is that there is no death.
As “Mary” cradles her borrowed baby, and to be honest, my heart twists in sharp jealousy, I realize the miracle of the child symbolized here, surrounded by an assortment of mock wisemen and shepherds, and overshadowed by a brave  angelic child in a sheet and harness, is that the darkness of death is only temporary, and I will cradle the babies lent to me so briefly by God. Our hope is that death is past, and we wait only Christ’s second advent to be brought into life. And this is the glory of God.

Gloria in excelsis Deo.


In Memoriam

In the horror of the ongoing expose of infanticide mills, one image has stood out in my mind, my heart, and my shuddering soul.  I do not know if it is a real photo, or if it has been digitally altered- the article it illustrated was exaggerated and hyperbolic, and taking and publishing such a photo would carry certain risks.  And yet, whether the image was truly a photo, or merely an artistic digital representation of fact, it broke my heart. Because I’ve “seen” something like it before.

The image purported to show one of the children mutilated for “parts”: a head here, a leg there, something unnameable in the foreground.  It was intended to have a shock factor, but while most peope can feel shocked and be proud of themselves for their humaneness, I couldn’t so easily  be content in my self-righteousness.  Because this is my horror, this is what I have seen in my mind’s eye, and feared and imagined.  Ever since my stillborn son was returned to me after autopsy in a bloody plastic shopping bag.

This is not something I have ever publicly shared, because it was, and should be a private horror.  I respected and loved my son too much to present him before the public as the victim of the calloused and immoral medical community.  But this is the reality: when you allow the “guardians of the public health” to deny their vows in disrespecting the genesis and essence of life, do not expect them to preserve a respect for your life or love of your humanity.

I do not know if the Russian medical community uses the corpses of babies for experiments.  I would imagine they do, but I have no means of knowing.  But they don’t have to sell babies, or experiment, to destroy their souls.  The current scandal is horrible, frightful, disgusting, unthinkable, revolting- but so is the infanticide of over 3,000 babies every day.  Would eliminating the evidence of murder in a nice, tidy incinerator make the horror any less of a holocaust?  This unconscionable parceling out of humanity is not worse than the original murder- it is only the next step.  Shudder in horror, yes, but shiver in fear.

Another doubtful article suggested the satanists  hold rituals and sacrifices in abortion clinics.  Again, I mistrusted the origin of the article.  And yet, there do not need to be black-robed warlocks, or whatever they call themselves, in attendance to make infanticide a satanic ritual.  God created life.  God created man.  God created procreation, in fact, and He created birth, motherhood, and families.  The wilful taking of innocent life (and I’m not talking about sin nature here) is an alliance with the devil and active rebellion against God.  The murder of babies for promise of monetary gain is the most literal picture of selling one’s soul to the devil that we could imagine.  It is not only a betrayal of the Hippocrates oath, and any other oath a self-respecting doctor might take.  It is a betrayal of humanity and life itself, and it is not going too far to say it is a betrayal of that doctor’s own creation in God’s image.  Is abortion a satanic ritual?  In the clearest, most essential sense of the word.  Not play-acting misanthropes who think it’s fun to challenge society with a lot of weird occult symbols they don’t fully understand.  These are men and women who in their free will choose to be a part of a true cult of death and destruction.  And when we do nothing but tsk-tsk about this cult, we allow it to continue, we allow it to grow, and selfishly speaking, we curse our own future.

As my husband’s niece told me, in my first horror after burying my son- dead due to malpractice, mutilated for no purpose (the autopsy revealed nothing, but that he was completely healthy), and disrespected by his doctors even in the tragedy of his death- “Why should they think anything of it?  They’re up to their armpits in the blood of the babies they’ve aborted.”  I had to argue with several doctors to make them even agree to release my son’s body to me to be buried.  They asked why I would bother- they told me that normally they bury “all of those” together.  They told me to bring a coffin, and not to open it- and then they tossed a plastic bag in the coffin, and dumped the receiving blanket I brought on top.

And don’t think this is just an instance of bad social medicine in a struggling, semi-Third World country.  This is what happens when people are permitted to take innocent life with impunity.  It destroys their souls.  The Lord Jesus Christ came to bring us Life; the doctors embracing the cult of death are embracing the antichrist.

I am not a theologian.  I cannot prove whether or not a soul can die, independently of the body.  I cannot tell you at what point God gives men over to their reprobate minds, and denies them repentance.  Nor am I a true historian, to quote the dates and specific latitude/longitude of cultures that embraced death.  But I am someone who has lived a horror, and seen parallels, both modern and historic.  Whenever a culture loses wonder and respect for life, it loses humanity; the greater the disregard for life, the more animalistic and inhumane the culture.  Whenever a culture loses sight of man’s creation in God’s image, it loses wonder and respect for life.  If we are divinely created, there is something to respect; if we are randomly generated by a void, there is nothing more to respect in our lives than in any other molecules.  Disrespecting our lives, we hate them; hating our lives, we hate those around us, and their pointless lives that underscore the pointlessness of our own. And then- we embrace death.

I think it is something to keep in mind that one of the specific instances described in scripture of a culture cursed to destruction was an ancient nation that practiced sacrifice of its children to Moloch.  God commanded the Israelites to completely obliterate this nation, men, women, and children (which seems counterintuitive, except that the children were already indoctrinated in the cult of death).  This strikes us as not only harsh, but horrible and unbelievable in modern times.  But this is how seriously God sees the sin of child sacrifice, and the guilt of its perpetrators. Thankfully, we are only commanded to speak the truth now, not to violently enforce it.  And yet we blush even to speak out too strongly.

I do not want to be bitter and hateful towards the doctors who wronged my son and I.  I am angry; it was an evil and unjust act.  At the same time, I know that those doctors are sinners in need of God’s grace just as I am, and their deeds were organic to their sin natures, and even justifiable in their minds.  Nor do I hate the women I know who have had abortions.  Most of my friends in Russia – where abortion is even more common than in America- have had abortions.  They know that I believe this is sin.  They also know that I believe Christ died for all sins.  I am not judging- that word warped out of meaning in modern usage- anyone.  But I am not going to shy from Truth either.  Killing a baby, at any age, in or out of the womb, is sin.  It is a direct rebellion against God who created life and man in His own image.  Perpetuating and profiting off that murder twists and perverts and destroys the soul.  It leads to a worship and cult of death.   And whether you choose to make it your concern or not, it does touch your life.  Selfishly, it affects the doctors on whom you may eventually rely for the continuation of your life.  It affects the people whom you meet or could have met.  But more than self-preservation- which is what the abortionists are arguing for, anyway- think of just one child.  Created in the image of God.  And destroyed.

Remember how Christ wept at the death of Lazarus.  Remember how Christ wept on the cross at the weight of sin.   Remember that Christ has conquered death.  Forgive those who perpetuate the cult of death- their sin is not against you, but against God, against whom you and I have also sinned, and Christ has already defeated that death.

Embrace life.  Deny death.


I’m all for creative titles.  Sometimes I make up random titles while I’m washing the dishes, just for fun.  But I just didn’t have one today.  I’m more or less speechless…

This title is actually quoting myself… or quoting a puppet in a puppet play I wrote.  In context, one puppet says, “Wow.”  And the other answers “Yup, that’s what we say about miracles.  Wow.”  Hardly scintillating dialogue, but whether it’s the brain fog from constant lack of sleep, or several hundred brain cells lost in pregnancy, this is about as witty as I can be right now.  Not because I’m really that mindless, but because I think my mind’s been blown away by God’s miracles.

I really cannot believe that our baby, the one I wasn’t sure would be born, is going to be a year tomorrow.  This is the only baby my husband has seen born- because I wanted to be sure he saw her at least once if we lost her.  (Yes, I just went to make sure she was breathing…)  It is amazing to me – what God hath wrought.

I am not praising God for being faithful, which I think is normally the first thing on the tips of our tongues, maybe because we are not.  God was and is and will be faithful even when we don’t get to celebrate a first year birthday.  And I’m not praising God for being the tooth fairy (slight mix-up there: Sofia told me with six-year-old wisdom that fairies aren’t real, and the tooth fairy is really God…) and granting my wish. I am not even praising God for His grace, though it abounds and overflows, and brings me to incredulity.  I am praising God for His imagination, and for His will, and for His laughing with us.

Does that sound odd?  Well, I could certainly never have written the story He has in our lives over the last few years.  I stopped believing impossible things before breakfast several years ago, and my mind doesn’t run to the wonders and joys that God sees and wills for us.  I can only suppose that  God is laughing with us in the joy and love of having this extra little smiling, laughing person who came whether we willed or no.

This is a child who should have been named Isaachina- because she laughs so much and because she makes us laugh.  Or Abigail, daughter of joy.  Some sources say that Mariana (Maria, bitter, and Anna, grace), means “grace refused”.  But this grace came burbling and chuckling over the rocks and rills, sweeping everything before it, impossible to deny.

Mariana has brought so much joy to our lives; God has used her to renew our spirits in so many ways.  Not to fill the places left empty by our children in heaven- those places remain empty, and there is a part of my mind that stays behind closed doors.  But the joy of Mariana has leached out the bitterness of loss, leaving only the unavoidable sorrow of separation.  It has become possible not only to trust God, and have faith in Him, but to rejoice in God, and to wonder at His gifts.  Gifts we didn’t have the imagination to wish for.

It is true that I have seen God’s faithfulness and love most clearly in tragedy; but it is also true that sometimes He gives us grace to see Him in joy as well.

“O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out!”

In other words. Wow.

The world in which I’m supposed to be raising my children is scary.  Politically explosive, morally depraved, environmentally toxic.  World war is a very real possibility; though I try to comfort myself by thinking that surely none of the world leaders would be that stupid- they would.  People have lost the habit of self-denial, and politicians are always one step worse than people.  If they want or don’t want something- well, that’s the way it has to be.  Amorality is the new morality, and the old morals are the new immorality.  It’s life through the looking glass, turned upside down and backwards, and lacking in any logic.  We don’t even know which foods are safe to eat; cancer is on the rise, and first world problems are becoming third world problems.

It’s scary to think of raising children in a world that may blow up into new borders  and tensions.  A world that may revoke everything my grandparents, and parents and I have known, and replace our rights with requirements.  A world that may create ever more layers of discrimination as it seeks to do away with prejudice.

It’s terrifying to think of raising children in a world that contradicts everything I might teach them about life.  A world that is not only sinful, as it has been for ages, but that calls its sin righteousness.  A world that is working as hard as it can to teach my children that what I believe is wrong, and that they should not only not believe, but rebuke me for my belief.

It’s frightening to think of raising children in a world that is genetically modified, steroidal, and caught in a vicious cycle of illness that is treated with medicines that cause side effects that become illness.  A world that immunizes against childhood diseases but creates more childhood cancers.  A world that has advanced science but continues to kill us.

There have been times that I was grateful I didn’t have more children; that I have two children in heaven, and I don’t have to worry about them.

When Sofia talks about her prince (her synonym for “husband”) and the baby Rosa she’s going to have, it’s frightening to think that there may not be any princes by the time she’s seventeen-ninety.  What am I raising children for?  What is their life going to be?  Will they be a part of a small subculture that tries to stay under government radar?  Will they be under persecution?  Will there be an America or a Russia, or will we all live in satellites of Iran?  Will they speak Chinese?

If I let myself go, I can think up quite a few worst-case scenarioes.

More to the point, can I hope that my children will escape the mass exodus of “Christian”-raised children from the church and the faith?  Is the hypocrisy and failure of saved, but sinful mankind surmountable?  Is it possible to triumph over the propaganda and bombardment of false ways of life?

Will my children even survive to adulthood without the mental illness that seems to plague the modern generation?  Will they avoid the first world illnesses that are killing more and more people each year?  Will there be food that is safe to eat?

It seems to be the verge of dystopia.

And yet.  There have been ages that were catastrophic politically.  All those Assyrian city-states, with their land-hungry king deities?  All those European estates that changed hands with the wind and the death of the monarch? Those countries that have been invaded, oppressed and freed in an unending cycle for hundreds of years?

There have been cultures in which it was impossible to be a Christian.  For example, the culture in which Christianity was birthed.  Rome was depraved, corrupt and self-indulgent, just as America today.  Abortion? Check.  Euthanasia?  Check.  Homosexuality?  Check.  About the only sin that wasn’t acceptable was incest, and that was probably because they kept at least a bit more common sense and logic than a large part of the population today.

Technically, life expectancy has never been as high as it is today.  The Black Plague has disappeared from civilized lands; smallpox, the first illness to have a vaccine in America, is only in Africa today.  Death in childbirth is no longer the leading cause of death for women.

There have always been reasons to fear.  We live in a world ruled by sin, and sin is death.  Fear is part and parcel of the culture of sin and death.  Yes, many of the reasons I may list are legitimate concerns.  And God has warned us to beware the signs of the end times.  But for hundreds of years, believers have huddled in corners, whispering and grumbling about what times are coming to.  For hundreds of years, women have read the verses proclaiming woe to her who gives suck to a child in those days, and trembled.  And for hundreds of years, we ignore the fact that with all the fear and risk and danger- God has never left us.  And He will never leave us. 

He does not promise that everything will be lovely and have a happy ending.  But God is there.  He is here.  And our efforts are nothing compared to His might.   Can we really affect anything, even if we lived in that fabled America of the Judeo-Christian roots, the Monroe Doctrine, and apple pie?  There is not one saint in the Bible who was able to force his family to be that ideal little picture of the Christian family that we all aspire to.

We fear and worry and fight because we’re afraid we won’t live up to the standards we have set for ourselves.  Our pride shakes in its shoes at the coming failure of our own self-respect.  It’s frightening, because like Adam and Eve, we want to have the say of it.

But when all is said and done, we come to the realization that it is God who convicts, God who saves, God who keeps.  It is God who protects, God who avenges.  It is God who holds the future.  I can do two things:  I can realize that my vision is my vision, but God knows what His will is; and I can pray.  I can pray that God’s will will be done, and that I will see that, and accept it.  I can tell God of my hopes and dreams, and I can know that His plan will be better, because it will be right.

I continue to struggle with the elemental fear of death or bodily harm to my children; but I have learned to pray and ask God to remind me that He loves my children better than I am or will be able to.  This is all that has allowed me to sleep some nights, when I thought I heard or felt or sensed something that sent my oversensitive mother instincts into overdrive.   I have to admit that I can’t actually do anything.  Even if I worry.  There is nothing virtuous about worrying over your children, you’re not affecting anything but your health.  I can’t sit and watch all night.  But God can.

I do not expect it to be easy (have you read the Old Testament?!) but I do know- when I let God remind me- that it is not my responsibility to make my children be good and have good lives.  My responsibility is to pray and trust.  And for my own sake, not to read the last chapter before I’ve read the middle- or even to think it is the last chapter, because sometimes it’s not.

I would never have written my life the way God has.  I suspect that He will write my children’s lives differently than I would.  And I may not always appreciate the plot.  But I am not God’s literary critic.  I am His creation, and as such, I have to let Him create. 

I have to remember that God loves my children better than I do.  When I indulge myself in fears of my own failure to achieve my ideals as a mother, I am negating God’s power over their lives, and doubting His love for my children and myself.  Because actually, He loves ME better than I love myself.

So I pray to be faithful in little and leave the lot to God.  I pray that He would keep my children in His will, not mine. And I thank Him that He loves my children better than I do.

Therewith Content

When Paul wrote about being content in any state, I always assumed it was rhetorical.   A mere turn of the phrase to emphasize the necessity of not complaining about your troubles.  Why not be content when all is well?    But of course, it’s not that simple, because nothing ever is.

It is not easy to abound after having been abased.  It’s confusing.  It’s scary.  It’s a bit deadening.  It’s learning to live upside down- again. 

It is difficult to come to terms with pain, but once you have, once you have embraced it as a part of your life, it is difficult to let it go again.  After gripping pain in a boxer’s embrace, it throws you off balance to have it melt out of your arms.  It’s scary, because pain has become your companion, your security, your way of life, so it’s a kind of loss; and it’s scary, because what if it comes back?

It’s confusing too, because you’ve learned to adopt pain into your experience, and to understand that only God knows why it’s there; and after the long, uphill struggle to trust God and trust there’s a reason and a good, suddenly it’s gone.

And without the reminder of that thorn in the flesh, you could lose all you’ve gained.  You could become so self-satisfied that you lose everything but your own image and lusts, like a cat licking cream off her paws, and forgetting how to mouse.

And finally, and perhaps most deadly- it’s humbling.  Because you’ve become used to having a different portion from other people, and knowing God has a different plan for you, and now you’re no different than anyone else.  This may seem incredibly twisted, but it’s true.  I suppose it starts as a survival technique, but the human ego is ready to expand on any convenient opportunity.

Of course, there is the truth that we gain more in pain than in plenty, so I suppose the concept of abasement and abounding may be elastic.  In a through-the-looking-glass manner, plenty may be abasing, and pain bring more abundance: there is a Jewish teaching that the curses God gives in the Old Testament are actually blessings, if you look at the spiritual depth beneath them.

In reality, I’m not sure what state I’m in (beyond Arizona), so I’m not left with a choice of being content or not.  “All” I am left with is the knowledge that God will never leave me nor forsake me; that He will work all out for good; and that He created joy as well as sorrow.

A sermon illustration I heard in Russia talked about a man who was depressed because everything in his life had gone wrong.  A friend reminded him that things wouldn’t always be that way, and in an effort to encourage himself, he wrote those words on his wall.  Years later, when thing had looked up, and everything seemed to be great, the friend asked the man why he never erased the words.  “Because I know that things won’t always be this way, either,” he said.  I suspect my mother would see that as Russian negativity, but it’s true, and the greater truth of it is that only God will always be Who He is.  And that is why we can be content.

We don’t know why God allows either sorrow or joy in our loves.  Sometimes, we don’t even know if something is a sorrow or a joy.  But we do know that God doesn’t do bad things.  As the Jewish author said, God does two kinds of acts: those that are good and we see them as good, and those that are good but we see them as bad.  Regardless, if we are in His will, they are blessings.

So for three or four years I lived in varying stages of grief and loss.  And I was very blessed.  Now God has put me in a place where joy and abundance seem to be tripping over one another in their hurry.  And I am very blessed.  And I pray that I would be content, and that I never lose sight of the only reason to truly be content.   And that is, that God is.

O taste and see


There are very few people who can claim not to love the way a baby’s skin smells… or who have never wanted to “eat up” a baby, round cheeks and all. And no, I am not referring to Jonathan Swift’s famous proposal to solve the “Irish problem”. It’s just that impulse one gets when holding a clean, fat baby; maybe the way to the heart really is through the stomach, or maybe our gluttonous instincts associate love with eating.

I did not honestly think I would have this opportunity again; I did not think there would be baby’s cheeks, round or otherwise, or the smell of Johnson’s baby lotion in my immediate experience. I did not expect to ever have that ecstatic burst of love that just wants to “eat up” a baby. And I am being serially dumbfounded as I watch this incredibly, amazingly healthy child. It’s quite a shock, and I haven’t yet readjusted my ideas and assumptions.

It is a tremendous blessing, and a tremendous grace. I do not know why God chose to give us this great joy; it is not, as the pediatrician insisted, something we have deserved. Nor is it something we have achieved, by dint of following all the appropriate recommendations (though I grant you, there really should be some sort of reward for following the diabetes diet in pregnancy.) It is truly just God’s love, His grace, His will.

But. There is one thing I do know. I know that God is good, not because He gives us the desires of our hearts (and sometimes much more.) He is good, because He is God. It is not only in the feast of rejoicing that we can “taste” His goodness. It is also in the cup of sorrow.

God is good. And He has blessed us literally to overflowing in the last year. And we are amazed and grateful and humbled by all that He has done. But it is not ingratitude when I say that in some ways, I have seen God’s goodness more clearly, more immediately, when the world around might have assumed we were cursed. When our hearts were wrung dry of tears, it was not the promise that joy comes in the morning, but the knowledge and the confidence that God was with us that was a comfort, a hope, and an irrefutable proof that God IS good. I know that God is good now, when each day brings another evidence of His abundant care, and His gentleness as a father, because I knew God’s goodness when cares, and trials, and sorrow seemed to pile up higher and wider than we could reach.

Our pastor was talking about vegetables in church the other day- you may not like them, but you have to eat them because they’re good for you. If we didn’t eat vegetables, would we still eat cake? Would we be able to appreciate the flavours of other foods if we hadn’t learned to appreciate vegetables? Most of us feel better fed and more at ease with our stomachs on vegetables than on cake. If there were no vegetable tastes, wouldn’t the sweets soon become much of a muchness- something we liked and enjoyed in the same way as a sunny day in Arizona?

I am not trying to say that God allows sorrow so that we can appreciate joy; that would be rather twisted. What I want to say, to testify, is that God’s faithfulness is in sorrow as much as in joy. God is the same yesterday, today, and forever. We are the ones who waver and change with the weather. God is all-present, and He is good; He is good and present in sorrow, as well as in joy. And in rejoicing and enjoying in the blessings of joy that He is currently heaping on our heads, I do not want to forget or deny the blessings of sorrow that He has already given. God is good. He is present. Ultimately, He IS.

I do not want to store up blessings against a future drought, as Ruth Bell Graham suggested in a poem, because it is a faithless exercise. God is not going anywhere. I may wander and falter and fall away, but He is eternal. He is here, whatever may betide. And He is good.


“”Hope” is the thing with feathers—
That perches in the soul—
And sings the tune without the words—
And never stops- at all-”

Um, no.  Sorry, Miss Dickinson.  This is not hope.  

Hope is not a candle in the dark.  It is not the light at the end of the tunnel.  It is not the equivalent of wishing on the evening star.  Not optimism, not a belief in the greater good, not even the power of positive thinking.

That feathered thing is something that we imagine is hope; it’s our human understanding of hope, what we’re accustomed to visualizing when we say “We must have hope.”  But real hope, the hope we must have, the hope that never fails, is something entirely different.

No feathers, no singing, no warm, fuzzy feelings.  Those are the optimist’s tricks of (positively speaking) encouragement or (negatively speaking) self-deception.  There’s nothing wrong with them, per say- different people have different needs.  Emily Dickinson’s poem is lovely, and I suspect God allows the human hope she describes to teach us to know His hope, true hope.

But when the Bible says that our hope is in God- that is exactly what it means.  Our hope is in God.  Our hope is God.  Not what God will do, not nice little neat plot endings: introduction of conflict:rising conflict: first crisis: plateau: second crisis: resolution: falling action: conclusion.  We crave this because we are created in the image of God, and therefore we know that there must be resolution, and that there is meaning.  However- it is not yet.  The resolution of the age-old conflict between God and evil is only imminent- not present.  We do not yet have the tools or the ability to see the meaning in all that happens in our lives.

God gave Job new wealth, a new family, health- but He did not give Job an explantion of his trials, as far as we know.  Job’s second family did not erase  the loss of his first family.

Paul was given an explanation for the thorn in his flesh, but he was not given relief.  The Bible does not tell us of any eventual healing.

The Old Testament Lazarus found his recourse only in heaven; he died in misery, poverty and injustice.

History tells us that several years after saving her people, Esther lost her position as first wife, becoming just another member of the harem- she never came out of obscurity again.

There are also biblical characters who had “happy endings”- Jacob’s son was restored to him, and he died in great old age surrounded by his children.  Naomi had her “grandchild” placed in her arms to raise, and a “family” restored to her.  But not every story is the same. 

God knows each one of us as individuals.  I think sometimes that is so difficult for us to grasp that we assume He uses plot formulas and assigns them by type or lot or some other method.  But He truly knows each one of us, and He knows both our needs, and our place in His will-He does not give us someone else’s “fate”.   We each stand before God alone.

“…God’s purpose according to His choice [stands], not because of works but because of Him who calls… ‘I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.’  So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy.” Romans 9:11b, 15,16

Hope is that God is. Hope is that God will be.  Hope is that God always was- yes, even then.   Hope is that God has chosen us by His will.  Hope is that God will not let us go when He has written us on His hands.  Hope is that wherever we are He is.  Hope is that God knows the end when we don’t.  Hope is that God never leaves us nor forsakes us- He gives us grace as our day- not as our tomorrows or yesterdays, but today.

This is hope.  No feathers, fluttering, blushing.  Just God.



It is almost viciously ironic that several hours after writing about happiness and faith I lost my baby.  The baby  that I believed was God’s blessing, the baby I believed He had promised to give me.  He was God’s blessing, each child is, whether they are in our arms, or God’s, but I thought this blessing would be in my arms, and he never made it there.

There is an physical sensation of emptiness that you feel in your arms when you lose a child.  It is not a state of mind; it is an acute recognition of the weightlessness of your arms.  There is nothing there, and you don’t know where to channel all of the energy and love that was building up for this child- it can’t go anywhere, so it boomerangs back at you, and you feel like you will either burst or choke on it.  Eventually, it goes away somewhere in your subconscious and hovers like emotional indigestion.

And nothing will ever change this.  There is no emotional TUMS to make frustrated mother love fizzle out.  You can’t just transfer it to another child, your own, or adopted, or borrowed.  I now have the statistical facts to support what I instinctively felt every time another insensitive person told me “You’re young, you’ll have more children”- being pregnant again made me miss our daughter Liza more, not less.  I cried more, not less, than I had before pregnancy.  And I grieved more over not being able to share this part of our life with her, and over my hope that this time things would be better- because I thought that this time we might be able to give our child what we hadn’t been able to give Liza, life.

So there is another hole in my life, something like a wisdom tooth that will never grow back in again.  But I want to say this: notwithstanding some admitted bitterness, and a lack of understanding, I stand by what I already wrote.  We don’t have to be rainbows-hearts-flowers “happy”; that’s not the point of life.  Even when things look more clouds-thunder-lightening-frogs God is still God.  He still holds the pieces, all those broken bits of my life.  They hurt, all those jagged edges and splintered corners, but I don’t have to be afraid because God knows what to do with them.  And no, that doesn’t actually make me happy.  But it does give me peace.  “I know Who holds the future, and I know He holds my hand,” and no matter what terrible things may happen, He’s still holding the future and He’s still holding my hand.

Happily Ever After

The catachism says that God created us to be holy and happy.  I believe this must be another one of those things that is buried deep inside us- because most of us have an attitude about being happy.

We believe we have a right to be happy; and if we are not happy, then not all is right with our world.  I don’t know how much of this attitude may be the times or culture, but considering that most sin is committed to please ourselves, I suspect an insistence on happiness is age-old and borderless. 

At the same time, I do think the modern tendencies toward instant gratification, being true to yourself, and fighting for your rights have exasperated the situation.  Especially in the United States, where life is admittedly easier than in many other countries, benefits more numerous, disadvantages fewer: the only thing to do when you have it all is look for more.

It is not a sin to want to be happy.  In fact, wanting what we were created for is not only the right attitude to have but pretty much inescapable.  The problem begins when we confuse what being “happy” really means.

A child assumes that an entire chocolate bar will make him happy- and when there’s a chocolate bar right there, and other people are eating chocolate, it seems an unjust exercise of adult authority for his parents to refuse him.  There is nothing wrong with chocolate, and it would certainly provide a period of pleasure.  But it would be pointless, harmful, and lead to insignificance if his parents permitted him to spend his life eating chocolate bars- or even promised him periodic chocolate retreats for good behavior.

And yet that seems to be what most of us not only want but expect.  We expect to be happy.  And the more fools we, to be honest.  Yes, God loves us; yes, God gives us hope; yes, God has promised us eternal life through His son in eternity with Him.  But we are not in Paradise yet, we are so far from Paradise that we really can claim a parallel universe.  We live in a world that has been dominated by evil for close to 8000 years.  We are sinners, living in a sinful world.  Yes, we have, thank God, been redeemed.  But we have not yet been perfected, we are not in our glorified bodies.  And even if we were- there are millions, even billions of our neighbors who are not only not perfected, but not even redeemed (yet- there is always hope).

Makes it seem kind of foolish when we want to live in Lemony Snicket’s story of the Happy Elf, doesn’t it?  We look at other people’s lives, and it does seem as though some people’s lives are remarkably free of turmoil and trial- but, even ignoring the fact that God may have different plans for different lives, I am certain that there is not a person alive who has never known despair and fear at 3 am.  What we see is not always what is there.  And trivializing another person’s life can be just another way to judge him.  We never know another person’s heart; only God does.

And when we return to contemplation of our own lives, and reflect that we’ve “paid our dues” and it’s time for a vacation- we’re forgetting the very nature of life; man IS born to trouble as the sparks fly upward.  We live in a fallen world; and while God does occasionally perform a miracle when it is right and needed, if He constantly interfered in entropy we would no longer be creatures of free will- and we would have no need for faith.

Because God has given us so many blessings, we see our way clear to demand more, to imagine something of the life promised us in Heaven.  But this is not Heaven.  We are here, now.  And we are here, now, for a purpose. 

I certainly do my fair share of complaining.  Bewailing. Pitying myself and wondering why it always has to be me.  And yet at the same time, I do see God working in my life.  It’s certainly not the most rewarding work He’s ever done, most of His lessons take much longer to reach my heart than my brain, but I can see Him changing my thinking.  I am beginning to see the trappings of our “happiness” for the shadows that they are, and realizing that the truth is much rawer and deeper.  That the real point of life is not being “faithful” (read “marking off the checklist”) and therefore having obedient children, a loving husband, and a glowing testimony at church; the real point is being full of faith- in each and every catastrophe, major or minor, and the dull times in between, and those elusive”happy” moments when you think you’ve got it made- praying, and leaving it up to God.  The real point is not whether I have good children (my WORKS as a good mother) or a good marriage (my WORKS as a good wife) or a line of people thanking me for my witness (my WORKS as a good Christian) but whether I am in communion with God, praying in each and every circumstance or without them, not taking events into my own hands to micromanage a happy ending but just abiding in God (His GRACE as God).

And this is where the catechism really comes in- because it says God created us to be HOLY and happy- not the same thing as  being happy.   Being happy might look like a day at the beach, a picnic with hotdogs, hamburgers, friends and family; but being HOLY and happy means knowing that God’s will will be done, and that far from picking up the pieces, He holds them in His hands.

No pain, no gain

Sometimes we don’t think at all, and sometimes we think too much.  Sometimes we over-spiritualize things, and sometimes we don’t take the fact that everything is God-related into account.  Sometimes we feel like we’re stuck in an anecdote where one person of two is telling the truth and the other is lying, and we have no idea which is which…

So, self-sacrifice is a good thing.  Maybe almost the best thing, after all, Christ sacrificed himself for us, and we are supposed to identify with Him.  As a matter of fact, if we have a choice to do something we want to do, and something someone else wants us to do, we should always choose the latter, because that is what God wants us to do, and we musn’t be selfish or egotistical.

And we can feel noble when we sacrifice, whereas we only feel guilty if we don’t sacrifice.

Actually, God never told us to be noble.  Nowhere will you find that concept in the Bible.  As a matter of fact, He never even told us to be the bigger man.  He did tells us to forgive, and to love, and not to insist on our own.  And somehow we inferred nobility from that.

Nobility is pride, when you come down to it.  I only realized this after C. S. Lewis did, of course.  He shows how the devil tempts the Eve-type character on Venus to sin by appealing to her nobility and calling for self-sacrifice.  What?!  The devil is tempting someone into self-sacrifice?  (And no, it isn’t a blood offering.)  You could read the story (Perelandra) to get all the details, but it’s related to sacrificing her own holiness for the supposed benefit of her husband.

I think this is one of the hardest and most confusing aspects of the New Testament.  I say the New Testament, because although stories in the Old Testament may show some self-sacrifice, only the New Testament talks about it.  We automatically assume that self-sacrifice is good, and that if we are trying to determine God’s will and one way requires self-sacrifice, that’s probably God’s will.

And we’re right back to humanly over-simplifying and trying to make rules to make things easier for ourselves.

Self-sacrifice is sometimes more prideful than being selfish.  It’s sometimes more selfish than being selfish, if you can get your mind around that one.  Every story has two sides; my father-in-law never accepted any sacrifices his wife made- insisted that she eat the last piece of fruit, etc.  From his side, he was sacrificing so his wife could have something nice.  But from her side, he was refusing her the joy of being able to give him something- even the blessing of sacrifice, if you really want to spiritualize it.

Not that I’m going to talk about my poor beleaguered in-laws again.  Well, actually, I am, but in a slightly different setting; this just struck as one example of a way sacrifice could go astray.  Another example might be the man who “sacrifices” his free time to work overtime to provide more for his family, and who justifiably feels he’s doing a good thing- but his family only wants him to spend time with them at home.  Or the person who sacrifices due to a subconscious desire to manipulate certain rewards or benefits.

Or the person who sacrifices health, work, friends, family life, etc to live with her elderly in-laws, because it’s a good thing to do, but her heart was never in it.  Right, that would be me.  And I totally flunked that test- again. 

I really did assume that refusing this sacrifice would be wrong.  A sin.  And that sacrificing would be right, and would result in certain ways.  Maybe not physical blessings, but certainly a more exalted spiritual state.  And I really did read way too many Grace Livingston Hill books when I was developing.  (And I think some Louisa May Alcott got in there too.)

Well, I was wrong.  In the short term view, at least, my “sacrifice” did not exalt anyone, and made pretty much everyone miserable.  But I did feel very noble.  And even if I wasn’t exactly serving with my heart, I did sincerely believe that I should sacrifice, that it was the Christian thing to do. 

In the long term view, I do believe that God does not drop stitches; that there are regardless lessons learned, which is part of what we’re here for.  And that though we often may not see the point, there is one, and God always sees it.

But how did I so deceive myself?  What contortions of thought brought me to a sincerely misguided sacrifice that was perhaps not ultimately, but immediately pointless?

I guess we’re right back to those nice, convenient little rules we make to make our lives “easier”.  Only they don’t; they make our lives more complicated, and less faithful.  Living the faithful life seems so very difficult, and seems to require so much faith- it really does seem easier to follow “spiritual” logic.  1. My husband felt we should do this, so I was submissive (good, right?) 2 We’re supposed to take care of our parents, and not abandon them like the Pharisees (and these are my husband’s parents, not mine, so double good- me and Ruth, saints together) 3.  We’re supposed to be humble and not insist on our own happiness (and I was miserable, so that had to be good). 

Well, it may be logic- of a kind.  (And empirical reasoning is not really the best kind of logic.)  But it is not “spiritual”.  (We do misuse that word so.)  In fact, I was going right back to rules and forms and religion.  And while my intentions were for the most part good, the results showed the faultiness of my reasoning.

Or maybe not.  I am perhaps being a little over-harsh here, because it is a very difficult situation, and there are no easy answers or solutions- and we truly don’t know what God intends in having allowed it.  But I do believe that this simply underlines my growing conviction that we are too prone to have our list of answers and whatever they call them in the army, those responses to crisis situations.  I do not think that there can be one answer to a particular problem, even for Christians.

And that means that self-sacrifice is not always the better path.  Sometimes there’s just too much self in self-sacrifice.  Not that it’s unnecessary, or wrong.  No; there is a very real place for self-sacrifice, and without it we could not live at all (just ask the woman who gets up three times in the night to nurse a baby.)  But just because it’s self-sacrifice doesn’t mean it’s right- unthinking self-sacrifice is no more reasonable or virtuous than any other unthinking act. 

It all comes back to that little point about waiting on God and abiding in Him.  Not attempting to manipulate things based on our own efforts and works, but listening to God’s voice, and doing what He calls us to.