Knowing and Believing

After three and a half years of trying, waiting and hoping, it had finally happened. A positive pregnancy test. After three and a half years of trying and waiting, I wondered if my child bearing years were maybe…just…over. Only those closest to me knew how much I longed to hold another baby in my arms, how many pregnancy tests I’d taken, how discouraged I was when they all came up negative. When you have three happy, healthy children already, you don’t necessarily talk about wanting another—it almost seems selfish. So we waited. And hoped. And trusted. Then, finally, there it was: “pregnant” printed boldly across the test I’d just taken. I burst into tears. The first thing I did was offer praise to the Giver of life who’d seen fit to bless us once again. Onan and I were ecstatic. So were the kids. We told our families, our church, and our closest friends–those who knew our story, who would rejoice with us, and who would pray for this little life growing inside of me. As is our custom, my husband and I immediately began to argue about baby names (thank goodness for veto power!). We discussed fun and creative ways to “Facebook announce” the pregnancy. And we could not stop dreaming about the new little one who would join us in the spring.

But at the first sonogram, when I should have been almost eight weeks along, the screen showed that I was only measuring just past six, and when I asked the technician about a heartbeat, she said, “If there is one, I’m not able to detect it.” Still, my doctors were cautiously optimistic. “Your hCG levels are high,” they told me, “maybe your dates are wrong? Let’s do another sonogram in a week to see where you are.” I doubted my dates were wrong. When you are waiting and hoping for a baby, you keep careful track. But I held tight to a scrap of hope, knowing that dates can be wrong and that God can do anything. We assembled our prayer warriors, and pray, they did—every day with us for that week of waiting.

But at the next sonogram, the screen showed the exact same picture it had the week before. No growth. No heartbeat. This time my doctors said “Miscarriage.”

I had felt mentally prepared for this outcome. I know the statistics. More importantly, I know women—many, many godly, precious women—who have endured miscarriages. Why should I be spared? I know Romans 8:28—I shout it out to anyone who will listen! I’ve lived it. I know people who are living it right now, suffering unfathomable loss. And I had wanted to trust no matter what. I wanted to say with Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego that my God is able to deliver me from fiery furnaces, but even if he does not, I will still trust him. I wanted to say with Job, “Though he slay me, I will hope in him.” I wanted to sing that the Lord gives and takes away; blessed be the name of the Lord. I know God is good. I know that he is sovereign. I know it.

But in bed that night after the second sonogram that confirmed my baby had died, I struggled to believe it. As I cried angry, bitter tears, I asked God what kind of cruel joke miscarriage is. I told him that this baby was supposed to be my rainbow baby. I asked him why taking one of my children couldn’t have been enough.

When Job questioned God, he got a whirlwind and three chapters of questions fired back at him by The Great I Am. But do you know what he did for me? As I laid there, broken and weeping, I told God what I know is true about him, and I begged him to help me believe it. I prayed for him to shift my focus. Shift. My. Focus. As soon as I uttered those words, do you know where he took me? He took me to the cross. And I saw Jesus, hanging there, bloodied and broken, as clearly as if I had been standing beneath the cross on the day he died. I saw him, and the weight of what he was doing, and why he was doing it, took my very breath away. Talk about a shift of focus! In the most loving and gracious way possible, God answered my prayer. And in an instant, I remembered. I remembered that God loves me in ways that I cannot even begin to understand. I remembered that he is the kind of God who sacrifices everything for his people. Of course he is good. Of course he will work all things together for my good. He is a God who knows suffering, One who has suffered. He is a God who cares for his children, who walks with them through the valley. I can trust him because he’s already proven that he is trustworthy. I can rest in him because he has already given me everything that I need.

We are back to waiting. I have no idea when, how or even if God will grow our family in the future. I am sure that I will need to ask him to shift my focus again and again over the next few days and weeks and months. Unbelief is the root of all my sin, after all. I don’t know why he’s chosen to take another one of our children. But I can shout from the rooftops that he is good, and that I trust him.

How to Love The Mean People

(Disclaimer: This post is about loving those who are rude and inconsiderate, *not* those who are manipulative and/or abusive. If there’s someone in your life who is abusive, please seek help and professional counsel if you have not already done so.) 

Recently God has been teaching me the beauty in loving “unlovely” people. Here’s a super simple, totally obvious truth: It’s really easy to be loving and kind to people who are loving and kind…and it’s really hard to be loving and kind to people who are not. Right? I can love the heck out of my awesome friends and the precious woman in line at Target who tells me she adores my earrings and the sweet, older gentleman who goes out of his way to engage my kids at church. But people who are mean, rude and inconsiderate? I’d rather not show kindness to them, thanks. But I’m a Christ follower, and am called (ahem, commanded) to be loving and kind to those God has brought into my life.

When I was 16, I got my first job as a sales associate in the ladies department at Sears in the Coral Square Mall. Upon getting hired, my dad gave me some excellent advice regarding my customer service: “Leah, people generally respond to the way that you treat them. So be nice, and they’ll probably be nice back.”

This is true, of course. Crabby elderly ladies who came to my register to return something could usually be softened up and maybe even be made to smile a bit by the end of the transaction. But some crabby elderly ladies weren’t just having a bad day–they were bitter and mean–and no amount of yes ma’am’s or I’m sorry’s would make a difference.

In life, we’ll always have crabby, bitter or mean people around us. If you’re like me, you kind of just want to write them off. Shut it down and walk away. I’ll be totally honest and tell you that I’m pretty much the opposite of confrontational, so my technique of choice is usually to retreat and avoid. Maybe throw in a little passive aggressiveness if the opportunity arises. Yeah…not okay. Also, definitely not what Scripture teaches.

Ephesians 4:32 immediately comes to mind, “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”  There’s also pretty much all of 1 John 3, the theme of which is, “Believers in Jesus — LOVE ONE ANOTHER!” And of course, Philippians 2:3-4, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.”  Paul goes on to beseech the Philippians to make Jesus their example. Jesus, “who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”  So, there’s that. Going out of my way to be kind to someone who has hurt my feelings now seems pretty small in comparison to the way the Creator of the Universe humbled Himself for us, the created.

Please allow me to exhort you. Extend grace to the family member who has offended you (heap some burning coals on their head!). Pray for the neighbor who scowls when you wave to them (and keep on waving!). Befriend the mom at play group who sometimes says hurtful things to you (because she needs one!). Seek out the people in your church who have a tendency to make you bristle (and strike up a conversation!). Show genuine kindness when you don’t feel like it, because that’s when kindness is needed the most. Be quick to give people the benefit of the doubt, and for Heaven’s sake, don’t keep a record of wrongs, because that’s not loving at all. Know that there will come a time when you are the one who hurts or offends someone. Think about the kind of forgiveness you’d want to be extended to you. Above all, remind yourself of the Gospel often. Jesus offers unfathomable grace to us, completely undeserving sinners. We can offer grace to others.

This is humbling and hard. It’s also what we’re called to do, and we have the Holy Spirit who equips us to do it. You have no idea what may happen in a person’s heart when you are willing to show them the love of Christ. Someone who initially rubbed you the wrong way may turn out to be a great friend. You may come to find out that the person who hurt you with their words or actions has dealt with incredible hurt in their own life. Loving people where they’re at, unconditionally, is the literal work of Jesus. It’s transforming. For them and for you.

And one more thing I’ve been learning? Practicing obedience is like working out for your spiritual muscles…the more you do it, the easier it becomes and the stronger your faith will be.