Sunday, September 7, 2014

Oh Love That Will Not Let Me Go

This post isn't about how hard life is, or how bad I have it. It's about a God who redeems, who is just waiting for us to call out to him; who is so faithful every time we call upon him. I want to describe what the process of being far from him and being brought near again was like for me recently and to encourage you, if you feel like you are seeking him yet he is still far: he is coming; he hears you; he sees you; he loves you and he is working.

For reasons that seem too many to list, I've spent basically the last 24+ hours crying, feeling bad, being tired, or feeling overwhelmed (mostly a combination of these things all at once). My sweet, sweet husband has been a great encouragement to me, praying with and for me, and encouraging me with Bible verses about how near God is, and how good he is. But when you feel far from God sometimes that kind of thing can seem like head knowledge that has no bearing on your heart or mentality. I am grateful for how Jeff loves me like this, even if at the time it didn't help bring me out of my slump. At breakfast this morning I prayed that Jesus would remember his words in Matthew 28, "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest." Jeff later suggested I stay home from church this morning and enjoy the peace and quiet while he took the kids to church, and as tempting as that was I felt my spirit encouraging me to go to church and partake in communion because that was what I needed more than eating Pop Tarts and watching corny Hallmark movies on Netflix.

Our call to worship was a passage from Isaiah, part of which read "You shall no more be called Forsaken, and your land shall no more be termed Desolate, but you shall be called My Delight Is in the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you." (Is. 62:4, 5). I thought, "Wow, what a nice thought! That God would actually think those things about me. I certainly feel desolate right now, so I'm looking forward to not feeling that way." Yes, I needed to hear that. I felt God moving towards me.

Then, our assurance of pardon was a passage from Romans which included Romans 5:3-4, "Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope," In crept my cynicism and I couldn't help but smirk. I thought "Oh yea, I'm really rejoicing over here in my suffering. Looking forward to the part about hope, Lord!" And then God rushed in.

We sang "How He Loves" and I couldn't get through the words.

He is jealous for me,
Loves like a hurricane, I am a tree,
Bending beneath the weight of His wind and mercy.
When all of a sudden,
I am unaware of these afflictions eclipsed by glory,
And I realize just how beautiful You are,
And how great Your affections are for me.

And oh, how He loves us, oh,
Oh, how He loves us,
How He loves us 

In that moment, he was near and his love for me was real. My heart felt it and I cried tears of relief. That morning I had prayed for the rest the Jesus promises, and I had been wanting to feel that divine rest but in the midst of parenting a 2 and 4 year old, and being pregnant, and settling into a new house, it had eluded me. But here, in worship, God finally came! His Spirit awakened my heart and I was freed from the fog of discouragement and unhappiness that was weighing me down. I thought about how happy I was to be in church, to be with the people of God, praising God together, and listening to his words being taught alongside my brothers and sisters. I strongly believe if I would have listened to a sermon at home, or sang all those same songs at home in my living room I would not have experienced what I did during this sweet time of corporate worship.

As our pastor taught from the book of Hosea, he expounded upon how Hosea is a picture of what God's love towards us is like, in Christ. He loves me not because he needs me, but because he JUST DOES; he pursues me when I turn to other things to fulfill me; his love is a one-way love that never gets tired of loving and always gives more than it gets back; it's unconditional; it's not dependent upon my ability to perform but upon his promise to love me (and he ALWAYS keeps his promises); his love endures, there is no exit strategy. As the Jesus Storybook Bible describes it, it's a never-stopping, never-giving-up, always-and-forever love. 

We took communion after the sermon, and we were reminded that when we feel unlovable, unworthy,  and messed up, we might feel like running from God but really that's when we need God the most. And that's when he shows up and he shines, he LOVES us like that, just like when our kids come to us with scraped up and bloody knees, snotty noses crying and need to be consoled. Jesus said he came to save sinners, not those who think they are already good enough. The more aware I am of how short I come of being "good" the more God has to work with! In those moments when I have nothing to give, God rushes in and says, "I have been waiting for you to get to this place." The root of my sadness and discouragement, and most of my sin, is forgetting how much God loves me. When we forget this, the Gospel becomes irrelevant; situations seem impossible; being hurt seems unbearable. But when God's Spirit works within us we are reminded and we believe that we can do all things through Christ, who strengthens us (Philippians 4:13). 

I am thankful God is near. I am thankful for a church that consistently and faithfully preaches God's word and allows room for him to work in the hearts of his people. I hope that this post encourages you if you are in a rough patch and you are in Christ: God is coming. He loves you because he promises to love you always, it is not according to anything you have or haven't done and he will never stop loving you. Because he loves you, you can endure and he will bring your heart joy. "Weeping may endure for the night, but joy comes in the morning" (Psalm 30:5). If you aren't a follower of Jesus I would encourage you to come to him. He is inviting you to come to him and find true rest, true joy and true life. I lived the first 20 years of my life without him, and the last 9 years with him, and I can tell you there is no life apart from him. Anything you think you know about Jesus, forget it all and ask him to meet you. He is faithful, he is willing and he will meet you with a love that will not let you go.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Jonathan's Birth Story

On this day 4 years ago, I had been on bed rest in in the High Risk Pregnancy Unit of Florida Hospital for 1 week due to preterm labor. I had just slept through the night for the first time since being admitted there without a single contraction. I had been moved from Labor & Delivery to High Risk, back to L&D, back to High Risk, and this morning I was finally being moved to the Ritz of the High Risk rooms. I had a shower, a mini fridge, a big room where my mom and Jeff could visit with me and relax while I spent the remaining 16 weeks of my pregnancy on bed rest. My mom went to a nearby grocery store to get me some snacks and drinks to enjoy during my hospital stay. Jeff was packing up to head home to go to work, finally not concerned since it seems like my body was resting from a week of preterm contractions.

As he was preparing to leave, the nurse came in to give me the all-clear to take a shower: only my second one since being admitted. I was thrilled. I stood up to take a shower, and felt pressure in my pelvis that I hadn't felt before. I ignored it thinking it was due to me being bedridden for so long. Once I returned to bed the nurse came to check on me and I asked her if she would please check my cervix due to the pressure sensation I was feeling. She was in no hurry to do so since I was no longer contracting; "It's probably a UTI from being on bed rest," she assured me. We asked Jeff to wait to return to work for a minute while she got the on-call doctor to come check me out.

The doctor, nurse, and another medical resident came in and checked my cervix. "You haven't had any contractions?" she asked. "Nope!" I said confidently. Looking alarmed and concerned she informed the nurse that she could feel what she thought was either my baby's head, or the bag of amniotic fluid that he was  swimming in bulging through my cervix. I was dilated 4 centimeters, and my 24 week baby was coming.

"I HAVE A 24 WEEKER HERE!" the nurse was yelling as she rolled my bed, with me in it, into the hallway - back to the Labor and Delivery unit. "24 WEEKER!!" she would alarm everyone as she was rolling me down the hall. I was calm, I was embarrassed as stunned nurses and patients watched me roll by. This was the 3rd time I had been rushed to the labor unit in preparation for our baby to be born and I wasn't so sure he was coming today because I wasn't in labor.

She left me in my 5th new hospital room, and the labor and delivery nurse started asking all her questions. I began to feel some back pain and pressure that was new to me. After about 20 or 30 minutes I was writhing in pain. I felt like I was either going to puke, or poop, or both. I told my mom, "I don't know what's going on but I feel horrible!" "You're in labor, honey," my mom informed me.  "Oh," I thought, "this is what it's like. But I'm not supposed to be! I'm only 24 weeks pregnant! My baby isn't supposed to be born yet! The doctor said 30% chance of survival if I can't keep him inside me until 28 weeks!" I began to panic. "Don't push," the nurse said. That was like telling a drowning person not to try to breathe. I couldn't help it. My body began pushing my baby out, rejecting the life it was supposed to be protecting and nourishing.

A gush of fluid came out and Jeff ran out into the hallway to tell the nurses what had happened. I was taken across the hall into the operating room in case a c-section was needed. The doctor did an ultrasound and saw my baby's head was only 6 cm, and I was dilated 4. I had some sort of infection indicated by the color of my amniotic fluid. The baby had to come. I pushed, and delivered the top of his head. I pushed again and delivered his shoulders. Once more, I pushed and his hips, legs and feet were delivered. I am assuming this is how it happened, although I can't be sure because my eyes were closed most of the time, and all I could think was "This can't be happening...this can't be happening..." I opened them after he was born in just enough time to hear the tiny creature in the nurse's hands attempt to squeak before he was passed through what looked like a drive-through window. I heard Jeff exclaim, "Praise God!" and I thought how inappropriate it was to praise God at a time like this. What, exactly are we praising him for, because there is nothing here to be thankful for. I laid on the operating table as the nurses, medical students and doctor finished the delivery process. Mind blank, but also racing. Failure, embarrassment, and relief all coursed through my head and heart. I heard Jeff on the phone with his mom telling her the news and her hollering and crying.

 I can hardly remember what happened to me after that, except for being wheeled into the NICU in my wheelchair to see my newborn. He was laying on a warmer, like all babies, and he had 10 fingers and toes, perfectly formed. Everything was where it should be. But his eyes were sealed shut; his skin was almost transparent; he had no hair and reddish skin; his leg was as big around as my pinky. I was numb. I did not feel like this was my baby. No feelings of love washed over me. I just examined him and went to my hospital room.

Jonathan the day he was born.

A nurse came in and explained the process of pumping milk to me, and how important it was for my baby to have that once he was able to take milk instead of the concoction currently going through his IV. Then a doctor came in and explained he had a severe bacterial infection, and that in combination with the prematurity made him doubtful our baby would live to see the end of 72 hours. More numbness.

I didn't actually cry about any of this until the next day. My head and heart couldn't reconcile it with my faith or my expectations.

At that hospital, they would play a little lullaby tune every time a baby was born. You could hear it in the room, in the hall, even going to the cafeteria. Every time it played was like a dagger in my heart reminding me another bundle of joy was being brought into the world. I wondered if they played it when my baby was born? Probably not. He wasn't to be celebrated - he was an emergency to be put on life support.

The first time his daddy got to hold him.

I had no idea God had planned this for me since before I was born. I didn't know he used things like this to reveal himself to his sons and daughters. I didn't know in things like this, even this, that he was good and to be praised. Thank God for my experience!

Obviously our little emergency survived, and today is his 4th birthday. Our little miracle. He wasn't supposed to live; if he lived he wasn't supposed to walk or talk, and if he did those things it would be very poorly. But he was supposed to be born. My Father saw to it. All his ways are good. We are fearfully and wonderfully made, each one of us.