I’m sitting on the back porch this morning….coffee in hand, feet bare, listening to bugs and birds.
I look at the green of the garden and trees, and I can’t help but wonder……
Why do I feel more alive on days like today than on the barren days of winter?
Physically, it makes no sense. My body’s vital signs beat just as strong on the 11th of January as the 11th of July. I try to live with the understanding that every day is a gift; that God has planned each day and they are all to be treasured…..
…..But if I’m being honest, on bleak and grey February days, it’s more than possible to feel only half alive. And yet I am carried through those times by the belief that some day, once again, there will be a day like today. Though it’s difficult to picture as I gaze upon lifeless landscapes, deep down, I have to believe.
Still….on days like today, I cannot help but recognize that soon, all will be silent and still once more.
It was not my intention to write and share this story, but one evening while telling it to a friend and her son, my honorary nephew, Colton, he sat riveted, shushing anyone who made a noise as I spoke. When I was done he requested, (well, perhaps demanded would be a better word) “Tell more stories like this!” I reminded him that it was still early days with my new job, so this is the only one I have for now… but more importantly, I wasn’t sure I wanted any more to tell, because the problem with having this kind of story in your reserves is that before you can tell it, you have to live it. : )
For most of my grown-up life, I’ve worked in management, dealing with the public every day. Well…..except for that one year when I tried an office job, only to discover that I wasn’t built to sit in one place all day long…. Then there were those three years I spent at home raising a small child. (For the record, I still count that as time in management since one of my accomplishments during this period was “managing” to train a toddler to ball a watermelon.) Last month, as that three year period at home drew to a close, I found myself, once again, managing a store, though on a smaller, more specialized scale than before.I was full of mixed emotions as this change began…. I’d loved my time at home with Carter; the opportunity to be there for all the firsts that come with childhood…the luxury to be home with him if he wasn’t feeling well, and not having to be concerned with what it may mean for my career…. but we all knew the time had come: He was ready for preschool.
After a few months of looking for a job, I happened upon an opportunity that excited me, though it would mean returning to retail. Steve was hesitant about me pursuing this job because of the nights and weekends, (more on that in a bit) but as I pointed out to him… this is the kind of work I enjoyed, and it really wasn’t available Monday – Friday, 9 – 5. I finished our discussion with this: “I’m going to apply for it… who knows? I may not even get a call back, but I want to try.”
Turns out this one was meant to be. I went from phone interview, to interview, to second interview, to job offer in a dizzyingly brief period. Then, all too soon, Carter was enrolled in preschool, I’d worked through my first few weeks, and then found myself closing a store for the first time in years.I dreaded closing, not because of work, but because of what I imagined may be going on at home. Even when Steve and I had been childless, there’d been some issues when I wasn’t home in the evening. I would come home after closing to find that the dogs had not been fed or watered. I would then fill their bowls at 11, they would drink them dry, then wake me up three hours later to go outside.
Things only became more difficult after Carter was born. Though he was less than 6 months old when I quit… those four months I worked while he was a baby were tough. I’d usually come home to find the house turned upside down, the baby awake and fitful, and… as usual… very hungry and thirsty dogs.
In an effort to circumvent some of the closing-shift mayhem this time around, I got a chalkboard for leaving reminders, (and instructions) for when I couldn’t be home. My first closing shift was on a Thursday. Hoping for the best, I wrote out some notes for the evening and headed to work.
As it turned out, I was pleasantly surprised. Everything at work went smoothly and I came home to find the house in order and everyone sleeping peacefully. As I contemplated my closing shift scheduled for the following day, I was relieved. This was all going to be OK…..
….. Or maybe not.
I can’t pinpoint the exact moment when I realized that Friday night was not going as well as Thursday. Was it when the toilet nearly overflowed, (where I work, managers deal with this) or perhaps when the grown man drinking milk from a clear Starbucks cup waylaid me, insisting that I recite my college transcript? I can’t be sure. What I do know is that by the time a woman and her daughter approached us (I was closing with P., another manager) to report a shoplifter, there was no longer any doubt; my evening had definitely headed south.
We followed the reporting customer to an isolated area where she presented us with an opened box of sparkly, scented gel pens. Taking the box from her, I did a quick count and realized that one was missing. “I watched her open the box and dump it, then head to the restroom,” the lady reported. “I can show you the girl,” she added.
Locking eyes with my P., I said, “I’ll go with her,” just as she said, “I’ll check the bathroom.”
We split up, and I soon found myself looking at the alleged thief; a blonde in her early teens. I thanked the customer, who walked away just as P. rejoined me. Jerking my chin, I said, “that’s her.”
“There was nothing in the bathroom…. though someone took some silk flowers from the sink and put them in the pad receptacle.”
Weird. And things were only getting weirder.
As the two of us headed through the aisles, the customer with the cup full of milk appeared from behind. Gesturing towards his old fashioned flip-phone, he said, “I have something I want you to hear.” He then hit play on a recording… it was a message he’d made, telling himself that he was a loser and a failure. I barely had the chance to think, “What in the world?” before we were face-to-face with the pen thief. Surprised, she blanched and rushed away. As if by magic, the flip-phone guy disappeared.
Allow me to digress a bit. Having spent many years working in retail, I’m no stranger to dealing with shoplifters. There are many guidelines you must follow so as to be absolutely sure they’ve got something and have passed the point of purchase before you can make a clean stop. I’ve worked with people who get all amped-up about catching people and having them hauled away by the police, but I’d much rather get them to drop what they’ve concealed and perhaps make them uncomfortable enough that they decide stealing isn’t worth the risk. Over the years I’ve developed my own technique which violates none of the guidelines and is wildly successful at bringing about this desired outcome. Though I’m not going to share what I do, I will say that it requires a steel spine and intense focus mixed with just the right amount of subtlety.
So, back to the night in question. I’d explained to my co-worker what I was going to do, just as she was called away to assist a customer. I’d moved into position, and all was going perfectly…. then out of nowhere, once again, I was flagged down by the milk guy, who inexplicably tried to corral me into working quadratic equations with him. (I will forever remember him as “Quadratic Equation Guy”.) I was now in a tight spot. I was where I needed to be, but as I said, what I was doing required a high level of focus. I couldn’t make an excuse and go somewhere else…. nor did I see a polite way to remain where I was while extricating myself from working quadratic equations. Moments later P. reappeared, and I decided to just walk away.
As all this came together, the girl we’d been watching made another break for the bathroom, and though P. followed her in, she found no evidence that she’d dumped the pen. I’d not been able to carry out my usual plan and it seemed I’d failed. (Sigh!)
As the weight of defeat settled uncomfortably onto my shoulders, my phone chirped an unwelcome alert: Our closing cashier reported smelling smoke in the back room, and a thorough investigation, (translation: storming quickly into the room and sniffing vigorously) revealed that he’d been right. Fortunately, there was a happy ending. We opened the back door and peered into a dark night, illuminated by the glow of the rising full moon, and discovered a bonfire wafting smoke from across the street.
Case closed. The rest of the evening? Not such a tidy conclusion….
At closing time, as we were scooting the final customers out the door, I breathed a sigh of relief…a bit too soon. I’d thought everyone was gone, yet a final customer remained. He was a young man, clad in jeans and a suit coat, sweating profusely and wearing a snarly expression; his arms laden with last minute purchases. Considering it was 11pm on a Friday night, I couldn’t help finding it a bit odd that one item he struggled to carry was a full-size globe…. (but perhaps I only feel that way because I’ve never been in a predicament requiring a late night globe purchase). I watched as he hoisted his items onto the counter and then verified that he’d been escorted outside with the doors locked behind him. With that out of the way, I walked to the other side of the building to grab a till, then made my way back to the front, only to find the cashier and P. all shaken up.
“What?” I asked lamely, struggling to steady the till in my hands.
“That guy we just let out forced his way back into the store!” P. exclaimed. “He’s gone now,” she added, as my eyes darting around looking for him.
It seems he’d left his backpack in the store and somehow managed to force the door open. When confronted and told he must leave, he refused and became hostile, before deciding to comply rather than have us call the police. Reluctantly, he agreed to wait outside while his backpack was retrieved.
I’d only been 20 yards away… how had I missed all this? Still… it was all over now… nothing left to do but run a few reports and count some money. The rough stuff was behind us.
This may be a good time to explain that I am not at tip-top condition late at night. For years I’d gone to bed between 9 and 10, and willing myself to remain alert to learn closing procedures was becoming problematic. Perhaps this odd sleepy state was responsible for painting the evening with surreal qualities. I’m not sure… All that I know is that when the other manager poked her head into the cash room and asked if I minded if she let the other employees go, leaving the two of us to finish up together, I felt as though I was responding through a fog as I said, “No, I don’t mind.”
With everyone gone, the deep quiet settled over me. I kept working…. balancing tills and trying to remember which color copy of each report went where, when it began to dawn on me: P. had been gone an awful long time. How long should it take to walk to the front of the store, let some people leave, relock the door, and then return? Not as long as it was taking. Unsettling thoughts began forming: I was behind a locked door, but I was alone and had no idea what lay beyond. The person meant to stay with me should have returned several minutes before… and yet there I sat….alone in the eerie silence.
I thought back to the moment I’d first seen the job posting, and was excited to apply. Steve had been against it at first, but I’d insisted I’d had a good feeling about it. That all seemed so foolish now.
Why did I decide to go back to work? Why???? (I can get dramatic when I’m tired and several weird things have happened.)
At the moment I’d decided to investigate, I heard the ‘beep, beep, beep’ signaling someone using the code to open the door. I found myself looking at P. and the closing cashier. Turns out my dramatic thoughts hadn’t been quite so ‘out there’. When P. had opened the door to let the employees leave, she’d spotted our last customer’s car (without him in it) still in the parking lot. The cashier had volunteered to wait for us so that we wouldn’t have to walk out alone.
Finally we were all finished and exiting through the front door. Though the customer was nowhere to be seen, his car was still there! Looking all around, we couldn’t see him, and we knew he couldn’t be in the building… yet this was all so unsettling. As we were getting into our cars, I couldn’t help but muse: “What is he doing out still? Shouldn’t he be home learning geography?”
Before guiding my car onto the road, I fiddled with my phone, bringing up the audiobook I was listening to, The Magician’s Nephew, from C.S. Lewis’ TheChronicles of Narnia. As I drove through the late hour, with the misty glowing fog all around me, I couldn’t help but notice that a particular passage suited my evening all too well: The children had just met the White Witch (though she was not yet the White Witch) in the creepily blighted world of Charn:
“Low down and near the horizon hung a great, red sun, far bigger than our sun. Digory felt at once that it was also older than ours: a sun near the end of its life, weary of looking down on that world. To the left of the sun, and higher up, there was a single star, big and bright. Those were the only two things to be seen in the dark sky; they made a dismal group. And on the earth, in every direction, as far as the eye could reach, there spread a vast city in which there was no living thing to be seen. And all the temples, towers, palaces, pyramids, and bridges cast long, disasterous-looking shadows in the light of that withered sun. Once a great river had flowed through the city, but the water had long since vanished, and it was now only a wide ditch of gray dust.” 
By now I was in my neighborhood, so ready for the night to be over. I’d wound up driving through the increasingly dense fog behind a slow-moving car; one that made every twist and turn that would guide me home, which only served to heighten the creepiness pressing in around me.
Finally, I pulled into the garage before wearily making my way into the house. Resolving to have a snack and unwind with some TV after checking on Carter, I headed for the steps. Yet the evening held one more surprise. As I reached the landing, I registered an unnatural glow coming from behind the closed bedroom door. Charn and her cursed sun flashed through my mind as I made it to the end of the hall and yanked open the door.
Though Charn colored my thoughts, I truly didn’t expect to find anything odd when I opened the door…. and yet…. I did. All of the lights were on, (in the bedroom, the walk-in closet and the adjoining bath), and the TV was on, though stuck on an all-blue screen. Steve lay blissfully asleep on the bed; Ichabod slept on his floor pillow, and Lucy, also on the floor, glared resentfully at the bench where she usually slept. The reason for her rancor was the most inexplicable part of the scene before my eyes… Carter had fallen asleep on Lucy’s bench… and he was buck naked!
Striding to the bed, I roughly shook Steve awake. Smiling sleepily, he asked, “How was your night?”
“WHAT IN THE WORLD HAPPENED HERE, TONIGHT?” I demanded in a whisper; gesturing wildly.
“Huh?” came the reply.
I quickly realized I wasn’t going to get any real answers… whatever had gone on, Steve had slept through it. I began looking around and found the potty seat on the toilet and Carter’s discarded clothes on the floor right in front. Carter must have gotten out of bed, turned on all of the lights, stripped off his clothes and went potty while Steve remained sleepily unaware.
I gathered Carter gently in my arms and placed him on the bed before dressing and covering him. With one last exasperated glance at Steve I went downstairs for my midnight snack. Blessedly, my crazy night had come to an end.
After a weekend off I returned to work bright and early Monday morning. Word of our Friday night exploits had been discussed and re-discussed all weekend, and I learned there was an unexpected positive… because we never recovered the missing pen, the entire pack was scanned out, and we were allowed to use them.
“There’s one thing that still bothers me,” I told a group of managers as we waited for our weekly meeting to begin. “The box didn’t list the colors and scents of the pens… we’ll never know which one we are missing.” I breathed out a sigh, then headed for the restroom.
As I reached for a seat cover, I was still contemplating the missing pen as a flash of unexpected motion caught my eye.
What was that?
Sticking my hand into the seat cover box, my fingers closed around something… could it be?
The missing pen!
And now I knew…. the missing scent….grape!
 The Magician’s Nephew by C.S. Lewis, Copyright 1955, pg. 68
Here’s a story of mine that was posted to another site. I discuss Lucy’s crazed reaction to fireworks, and here’s a shot of her from that evening… It was impossible to get a focused photo of her due to her constant motion. : )
“If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.”
1 Corinthians 13:1
Planned Parenthood. Cecil the Lion. Two of the most explosive revelations to hit the news this past July. And, for good reason, we’re still talking about them. People need to know what is happening to our discarded babies; not only are they denied the love and protection of their mothers….they are regarded as little more than frogs dissected in biology labs, (although truth be told…. I have a problem with that, too.)
And then there’s Cecil the Lion. I admit I’m biased. I’m an animal lover, and the concept of killing a creature simply for the thrill of it offends me, deeply. I remain haunted by photos I’ve seen…. a woman smiling next to the bloody giraffe she’d just slaughtered; a beautiful elephant lying dead next to an elated group; the flowers she was eating when she’d been surprised and killed still visible in her mouth.
There are common elements here: Killing a person or creature who has no chance to defend themselves….death for profit…. lives snuffed out, and for what? We have the responsibility to ask these questions. But what’s happening now just leaves me feeling very tired. Nearly every time I get online, I see something to the effect of, “I am so sick of hearing about Cecil the Lion… what does that matter when (insert your chosen atrocity here) is happening, and no one cares?” Some people have even taken the time to create little memes…many with the Joker. And really, what better way is there to express to someone that what moves them to empathy matters very little to you?
Let me be clear…. if I am comparing which issue is more devastating, it’s the baby harvesting… no debate about that. But why are we comparing? Yes, there is truth there… babies rank above lions…. But when we, as Christians, get online and start spewing that what “the rest of the world” gets upset about isn’t a big deal… where is the love? Paul addressed this very issue thousands of years ago, reminding us that what is true doesn’t matter so very much if it’s not said in love.
“Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church.”
I have a really hard time believing we will ever move non-believers to the arms of Christ by making it clear that their feelings aren’t as important as our agendas.
A few days ago, I clicked on a link shared by a large Christian blog. The post included a video clip of Jimmy Kimmel in tears, discussing Cecil the Lion. Following the clip, a lengthy paragraph unfolded, ridiculing Kimmel for his emotion and “misguided sympathies”.
Why? Why do this?
“Lord, when you called my name, it wasn’t because I was righteous, or because I had all the right answers. I was, and am, just a sinner in need of a savior, and, in love, you took me. When I’m speaking to others, please whisper to my heart to always keep love first, because that’s always what you do with me, and my goal, always, is to be more like you.
Have you ever been in the same place as me? Where you’ve offered all you have to God…. but there’s one shadowy place protected deep in your heart…. and you secretly hope that God will leave that place alone…. you can’t see how him probing that particular area would enhance your life…. or (what you perceive to be) your calling. So you say to Him, “Yes, Lord… anything!” And mostly you mean it… and yet…. mentally, you’ve tacked an asterisk onto the word. We don’t know our God very well when we think this will be acceptable to Him. In my experience, when we offer all, yet hope that He’ll leave this one thing (whatever your personal ‘one thing’ may be) alone, He blows past all you want to offer Him, puts his finger on this one guarded place and says, “What about this?” This is my story of how I learned what it means to surrender. I wish I could say I learned gracefully, but the only grace in this story came from God… as for me… I went kicking and screaming.
As 2011 began, I was content with life. I was in my early thirties, married with two dogs and working at a well-paying job with a promising future. My husband and I didn’t have kids and planned to remain childless. For the past few years I’d been growing closer to God, regularly attending church and my small group as well as serving in different ministries as my schedule allowed. I told myself that I could serve God better with no children, but the issue began haunting me.
Around the time my inner turmoil reached a fever pitch, Vicki, my small group leader, shared our next focus. We would be studying The Prayer of Jabez (1 Chronicles 4:10) for four weeks, and were to spend this month prayerfully considering whether we wanted to partake in an oil anointing. “I did this years ago, and my life changed,” Vicki explained. Elaborating, she added, “If you do this, you may be asked to let go of things you aren’t comfortable letting go of. Everyone likes their comfort zone, and this anointing is all about leaving that behind to serve God from a place of purity… to obtain a new level of intimacy in your relationship with Him.”
I craved answers. I wanted specifics. “What changed?” I asked.
Vicki watched me for a few beats before answering. I could see it in her eyes. Her soul understood what I was asking, but she didn’t have a way to explain it that would help me understand. That’s just part of the mystery of how God works. And honestly, I really don’t think she would have explained even if she could. Some things are best left between a person and God, and my question was intrusive. She was kind, though. Finally, she answered. “I can’t explain it. But my life changed.”
I was scared to do this. I spent the next weeks pondering the implications. I liked my life the way I liked it, and I liked feeling like I had some control over my destiny. This would mean surrender. Giving up control. I didn’t feel ready, but reasoned that if I waited until I did, it may never happen. Gradually, I talked my head around to what my heart understood right away. I needed this. I was doing this.
The day I was anointed with oil stands out as one of the most important of my life. It was February, 2011, and our group met in a small classroom usually used for children’s ministry. The room was overwarm, and I stood holding hands with the other ladies in my group. We prayed for each other, then each took a turn being anointed with a simple cross drawn in oil on our foreheads.
I’m not sure if it was the heated room, or the influence of the Holy Spirit, but I was lightheaded; shaky with expectation. The odd sensation was so strong that I had to sit in my car and gather myself before I was capable of driving home. Something was going to happen, something that would change my life forever. I just didn’t know what that ‘something’ was. I didn’t know what blessing lay just out of reach. Nor did I anticipate the fear or the pain that was coming. I didn’t know that this blessing would far out-value what it would cost me. I’d stepped out in faith, offered God all that I had. And he accepted the offering. As I said, I didn’t know exactly what to expect, but I expected something. And so I waited.
The weeks following the oil anointing were among some of the best of my life. Anxiety had been a lifelong habit with me, but that morning when I offered my all to God, it was simply gone. I was on fire and ready to do whatever huge thing God wanted me to do. The problem was, He wasn’t asking me to do anything huge. He kept whispering to me about my childless state, but I tried my best to ignore Him. I thought I knew the best path for my life…. it seemed I’d not truly surrendered at all…. I just wanted God to go ahead and bless the plans I’d made for myself; to accept what I wanted to offer and let me live the life I desired. But that’s the funny thing about God…. When you offer your all, you’d better mean it. He doesn’t accept half-hearted offerings.
As I continued to argue with God about what I felt He was asking of me, the fire and assurance I’d felt after the anointing began to fade. The baby issue was constantly on my mind, and I couldn’t stop myself from talking about it. For more than five years I’d faithfully taken birth control pills, and for four of those years I’d suffered periodically from vision-altering migraines. After switching to a different pill a few years before, I’d only had one such headache. One evening while in the midst of this inner-argument with God I happened to discuss this problem with a friend. I finished up by saying, “I think they are related to my birth control pills. If I have another headache, I’m going to stop taking them.”
Those words turned out to be prophetic. That same night, I was struck with a vision-altering migraine. True to the words I’d spoken, the next day I stopped taking the pill. Barely a month later, I learned I was pregnant, and was suddenly filled with a juxtaposition of emotions. I became depressed. I was like a spoiled child shaking my fist at God because He wasn’t allowing me to live out my plans. Though I more or less allowed free reign to this selfish side, there was something else at play; something basic and elemental. Though I tried to shove away the emotion, I loved the child within me. I just tried not to think about it; I was too busy with my temper tantrum.
As I continued to keep God’s blessing at arm’s length, I became more and more distant from Him. Then came the day that changed everything. I was due at work that morning before dawn, and as I left my neighborhood, I couldn’t fail to notice the glory of the full moon, glowing orange and looking low enough to touch. As my soul rose up to worship, my mind shut it down. I was still mad at God for changing my life. I didn’t feel like praising Him for His wonder. And so I willfully chose otherwise.
My heart would be forever altered by the time the moon rose again.
That day, April 19th, 2011, while still less than two months pregnant, I experienced an expectant mother’s worst fear. Blood….. lots of blood. After being advised by my doctor’s office to go to the hospital, I got my husband home from work and we set out for the emergency room. I was hysterical; raw with emotional pain, fear and guilt. I believed I’d been ungrateful for God’s blessing, and now my baby would be taken from me. I was ashamed of myself and chastised myself for not being the mother my baby deserved.
We arrived at the hospital and rushed through the check-in process only to begin a hellish night of waiting. After hours passed, a cute young girl came to get us for an ultrasound. Finally the moment I’d dreaded since first seeing the blood was upon me. I tried to prepare myself to see the lifeless ultrasound screen, but there’s no preparing for that. I tried to keep my mind in neutral as the tech prepped the machines for the procedure. All too soon she was moving the wand while squinting at the screen. Seeing what she was searching for, she pointed to a spot and said, “OK, there’s your baby.”
Her words shook me, though I dared not hope. It didn’t sound like the baby was gone. Could it possibly be? With all the courage I could gather I asked, “So the baby isn’t dead?”
She didn’t answer. Instead she flipped a switch on the machine, and suddenly, the room was filled with the sound of a fast and strong heartbeat. Realizing what this must mean, I reached for my husband’s hand as tears filled my eyes. Together we looked in wonder at our 7- weeks-old baby. At the time there were no arms or legs, just nubs in place of hands and feet. He or she was floating around, oblivious to all the turmoil outside of the safety of the womb. As I watched my baby, everything changed. All of the trivial things I’d been so consumed with, such as what in the world we would do for childcare no longer mattered. This little person was meant to be, and I was his momma. Finally, nothing else mattered.
The doctors could not give a definitive answer as to what caused the bleeding, but the fetus was strong and healthy, so we were satisfied. After seeing our baby on the screen I felt tranquil. I lay on the ultrasound table for a long time as the tech snapped photo after photo of my uterus…. the baby was no longer on the screen, so her work didn’t interest me. I didn’t know enough about what was happening to find this questionable. After, when I spoke to the doctor, she insisted I follow up in my office right away, but I wasn’t concerned. The baby was fine, I figured this was all routine. I would find out in a couple of days that I was very wrong.
Two days later I arrived for my follow-up appointment believing it was simply a formality. As I reclined on the bed, I was not at all prepared for the doctor’s arrival. My practice has many doctors and I’d not seen this one before. He burst into the room, shook my hand, and without further ado asked me how long I’d had the tumors.
“What?” I asked him, not understanding his words.
“The ultrasound taken in the ER shows that your uterus is filled with fibroid tumors. How long have you had them?”
This wasn’t making sense. My mother had suffered from fibroid tumors, experiencing intense physical symptoms, so I knew what they were, but as far as I knew, I didn’t have any. For a mad second, I wondered if they’d somehow gotten my mom’s chart. But that didn’t make any sense.
“If I have fibroid tumors, this is the first I’ve heard about it,” I explained. “This isn’t a big deal for the baby, is it?” I asked as my hand shot protectively to my stomach.
The doctor expressed his surprise that I didn’t know that I had the tumors and that I’d never experienced any symptoms associated with their presence. Finally answering my question he replied, “We don’t know yet what this could mean for the baby. If there were a few, I would say it probably wouldn’t be a big deal, but your uterus is filled with them, and some are quite large. There are some cases where the tumors divert the blood flow away from the baby and stop the fetus from growing. We can’t yet know what this means.”
His words were stark and brought no comfort. Since I’d believed this would be a routine visit, I’d come alone and had no one to help me process what he was saying. He scheduled me for an appointment with a high-risk doctor and told me I would need to get frequent ultrasounds to check on the baby’s development and the growth of the tumors. In a fog, I left the office and drove home, calling my husband and parents along the way.
I think that was the day I allowed the fear to begin taking hold of my heart. Without realizing what I was doing, I began shutting everyone out as much as I could, and this included God. For years I’d done daily Bible reading and journaled my prayers. I stopped writing my prayers. I didn’t want to open myself up that far. I became afraid to feel. I was terrified, and instead of letting God comfort me, I closed up.
As the pregnancy progressed the tumors grew, but they didn’t impede the baby’s progress. Towards the end of the summer, I learned that one of the largest tumors was completely blocking my cervix and I would most likely be scheduled for a Caesarean, though they were hesitant to commit, just yet.
With each new doctor reviewing my chart, most were shocked that I’d become pregnant in the first place. While thumbing through my paperwork, one doctor looked at the photos of my insides and said, “Wow, congratulations! Just out of curiosity, how long were you trying before you managed to get pregnant?”
She was incredulous when I explained that not only were we not trying, I got pregnant two weeks after ceasing the birth control pill after more than 5 years of consistent use. With each new thing I learned, I became even more convinced, though I’d not planned this child, clearly God had.
The stress I carried with me began eating me alive. Just as my third trimester began, I started suffering from high blood pressure. Though I was checked for preeclampsia many times and was once hospitalized for fetal monitoring, there was no trace of preeclampsia and I managed to work right until the end of my pregnancy.
About a month before my due date, I was at the doctor’s office for my regular appointment. I’d come alone, and as I sat waiting for the doctor to join me, I was startled when she burst into the room. Without greeting me she asked, “Did you get the results of your last ultrasound?”
My mind and heart began racing. “No, what’s wrong?” I asked. I’d seen this doctor before, it was odd for her to rush in and get right down to business.
“Nothing’s wrong. But the time has come. That lower tumor isn’t moving out of the way. By law I have to allow you to push if you choose to do so, but I’m telling you that there’s no way the baby will make it to the birth canal. I suggest we schedule you for a caesarean.”
I was relieved. Though they’d hesitated to formally decide, in my gut I always knew it would go down this way. My relief was a bit premature, however. As the doctor began studying a calendar, and factoring in my due date she informed me that she would be the one delivering my son. While squinting at dates, she was mumbling to herself and I heard “We usually don’t like to go more than a week out so the baby can fully develop, but we also don’t want to cut it too close so that labor doesn’t start…. that would put us on Sunday, but I don’t want to do it on Sunday when there is only a skeleton crew, so we’ll do it on Monday.”
Her words rocked me, and I didn’t want to ask, but I asked anyways: “Why don’t you want to do the surgery with only a skeleton crew?”
Misunderstanding the reason behind my question she said, “Oh, if you want to have the baby on Sunday, we can do that, it’s not a problem…”
I cut her off. “No, I don’t care about that. Why don’t you feel comfortable performing the surgery on a lightly-staffed day?”
She paused, carefully choosing her words. “Your uterus is filled with countless blood-filled tumors. I will be very careful, but with this many tumors, there’s always the chance that one may get nicked. If that happens, I’ll have to make some very fast decisions to stop you from hemorrhaging. I may have to do a hysterectomy and if something like this happens, I would feel better doing it with ‘all hands on deck’.”
I nodded, scheduled the surgery and numbly headed for the car. Over the last several months I’d become adept at not feeling my feelings. I held it together as I drove home, but then I went upstairs to the nursery we’d decorated for our baby. I wound the mobile, allowing the sounds of “Rock-a-bye Baby” to fill the room. I sat down in the rocking chair where I’d planned to nurse my son, looked down at my belly; slowly caressing it, and finally allowed the doctor’s words to wash over me. I might bleed to death. I may never get the chance to come home, sit in this chair and hold my son. I was so scared, but I wasn’t mad at God. I was mad at myself. I felt this was no less than I deserved for being so bratty when I learned I was pregnant.
I shared these feelings with no one, not even my husband. I falsely believed that saying them out loud would make them more real; more scary. And so the pressure inside me continued to build, just as my blood pressure continued to climb.
All too soon, the morning of the delivery arrived. I’m not sure how I made it through getting ready and leaving for the hospital, filling out paperwork and making my way to the pre-op area. Finally I was clothed in my hospital gown, lying on a bed, and there was nothing left for me to do.
When I was wheeled into the operating room, my husband had to wait outside while I was prepped. I was quickly numbed from the waist down and pushed into a horizontal position as a tent was hoisted into place, blocking any view of what was happening. Suddenly my husband was back, and a man appeared from the other side of the tent asking me if I was ready for them to open me up. I said, “Yes, I’m ready.”
Laughing, he said, “That’s good, because she’s already got you wide open.”
Moments later, my son was safely out and being carried across the room. I gazed at the tiny, red, crying boy, unable to comprehend that this was the child that I’d spent the last 7 months worried out of my mind about. And he was out! He was fine! In a matter of minutes, I was all stitched up….no drama. The doctor who’d been so concerned about the operation happily said, “I can’t believe how smoothly this went!” And I was wheeled to recovery. But my problems were only beginning.
Everyone, myself included, believed that once my son was delivered that my blood pressure would return to normal. But it didn’t. As time went on, my numbers continued to climb. I spent an extra day in the hospital because of the problem, and was only discharged after being medicated and scheduling a time to come to my doctor’s office to have the reading checked.
The next several weeks were difficult. In addition to taking care of a newborn and recovering from surgery, I also had to deal with the blood pressure issue. The medicine made me feel so strange and once I nearly fainted. I was still barely talking to God. But then one day I had to get up before dawn to take some medicine, and suddenly I could no longer ignore the scorched bareness in my soul. I did the only thing I could think to do. I sat down and read a chapter of the Bible. It was my first step I’d taken towards obedience in a very long time.
Eventually I recovered physically, though fears about my blood pressure continued to stalk me. By the time my maternity leave ended, I was just a wounded ball of a person. My heart was shattered into tiny bits, but with each and every piece of my broken heart, I loved my little boy. But I was broken. Before I’d gotten pregnant, I’d believed I was surrendered to God. The experience of my pregnancy showed me the truth: I didn’t know the first thing about surrender. I felt like I’d messed everything up and I didn’t see how I would ever be right again.
After spending only three months as a working mother, I felt that God was calling me to be home for a season, so when my son was five months old, I quit. After years of planning my career and building towards a high-paying future, I walked away. I was obedient, but I felt like a damaged person, like there wasn’t much substance to me anymore. I believed that staying home for a time would give me the opportunity to allow God to take me to the root of my issues and heal me. Though I believe that is what happened, (is happening) it looked nothing like I expected. I quickly learned that staying home with an infant is much harder than going to work. I also learned that the wounds I wanted God to heal went much deeper and much farther back than I ever imagined. What I’d assumed would be a few weeks of soul searching stretched into months… and then….more than a year.
The best thing I can say for myself during this period is that I never gave up. Because I’d deliberately shut God out, I knew what it felt like to willfully reject His presence, and I knew I couldn’t do that again. I held on. I was faithful in my Bible reading and prayer life, but things were still off on the inside. Somewhere I’d stumbled across the words, “Once you take a good look at Jesus, you’ll never be the same.” These words plagued my mind. I felt that I couldn’t have taken a good look at Jesus because I was still so very broken. As I sat pondering this question in my prayer journal one morning, right before Christmas in 2013, in a flash, I understood things that had previously remained shrouded in mystery. This is what I wrote on that morning: (grammar doesn’t count in a journal)
“….Lord, show me who you really are. Let me take the look at Christ that will – I was going to say ‘that will leave me never the same.’ But before I could write the words – you showed me the truth. 25 months ago today – the bright lights of the delivery room. My first peak of my baby as he was taken from my imperfect womb – a perfectly healthy baby – to be cleaned. I’d done literally everything wrong: I’d tried not to get pregnant, lamented being pregnant, learned in a flash how much I loved my baby, felt guilty for not wanting him in the first place… when I learned about the tumors I felt you were punishing me for not wanting him, I generated a blood pressure problem – worried about that – made it worse – shut you out – blamed you deep in my heart – worried, worried, worried – I thought I was going to die, I hated myself, I was racked with guilt because I knew my mind was responsible for all of my misery, but I couldn’t shut it down. I messed up. I did everything wrong. But then came the moment when I saw him for the first time – absolutely beautiful and healthy. An easy C-Section – good thing since his cord was wrapped around his face. Maybe that’s why I had the tumors. But you brought him through perfectly – in spite of my gaping imperfections. That was my first hard look at Jesus – it’s just taken us 25 months of untangling the knots for me to see that.
“As I sit here, tears running down my face, in the darkness of the living room by the light of the Christmas tree – the symbol of the cross – I am starting to get it. We are a mess. And this is what you do…..“
It wasn’t until my son was a couple of months old that I learned just how concerned the doctor had been about my delivery. I got a bill in the mail that made no sense, and when I probed the origin, I learned a shocking truth. The bill was for an extra medical team she’d requested to be on-hand for the surgery. They weren’t assigned to a specific hospital, but were called for when trouble was expected with a delivery. Having never had a baby before, I didn’t know it was unusual to have so many people in the room during a C-Section. While looking at the imperfect state of my body, she’d felt they were necessary. But in one final act of showing me who was in control, God rendered their services unnecessary.
After the delivery, I knew I was a mess. But I believed that I was so raw on the inside because of the terror of my pregnancy. After I’ve had time to live with this, I know it’s not true. The way I handled the ‘what ifs’ of my pregnancy; the way I refused to see the ‘what is’ of it; that God was in charge and had a plan, was merely forcing into the open what was true of my soul: my lifestyle was not one of faith or surrender. That December morning marked the next leg of my journey, the morning I gained a perspective that previously alluded me. That was the morning that I knew without a doubt that I’d seen Jesus, and that I would never be the same. It’s not been easy since then, in many ways, it’s been harder… but each act of obedience shows me a little more of Christ, and a little more of my old and faithless character dies away. So…. what’s next for me and my family? Only God knows… and for the first time in my life… I’m OK with that.
This is a link to a story I had published on the devotional website Devotional Divaa few months ago. It’s another tale from my days of pregnancy. I’ve meant to post it here as well for a while and am finally getting around to it. : )
Most of my pregnancy was scary, but one thing I really enjoyed was THE FOOD! My sister Amanda and I were pregnant at the same time and our kids were born exactly 10 weeks apart. She is now in her 38th week of her second pregnancy, and I was amused to come across this post on her Facebook page the other night:
In honor of my sister’s pregnancy I wanted to share one of my favorite (interpret this to mean ‘not terrifying’) stories from my own pregnancy.
Before getting pregnant, I didn’t believe in “pregnancy cravings”. I believed that women used them as an excuse to eat whatever they wanted. Probably some people reading this are seething with rage over the words I’ve just written, but you must understand something about me. I grew up as a chubby kid. And even as an adult, for the most part, my mind centered on food. I sort of assumed that everyone was wired this way, and that when women got pregnant, they used the unavoidable weight gain as an excuse to stop fighting off the constant food fantasies that I assumed floated through everyone’s minds. So, that’s what I believed. Right up until the incident of the steak-grilled-stuffed-burrito.
I worked a closing shift at the store on the day of my 12 week ultrasound and appointment with the high risk doctor. I had packed my dinner; my usual; a peanut butter and jelly sandwich on wheat bread with a side of carrots and an apple. I was hungry that night, and ate my dinner early before returning to work.
Shortly after dinner, the phone clipped to the waistband of my pants chirped as I was straightening toys. I grabbed the phone, and saw from a glance that Steve was calling. “I stopped and got dinner from Taco Bell,” he began. “ I didn’t know if you’d be hungry when you got home, but I got you a soft taco and pintos and cheese.”
Regretfully thinking of my already-eaten dinner I confessed: “Oh, thanks, but I already ate.”
Sounding a bit deflated, he said, “Well, if you are hungry for a snack when you get home, it will be in the fridge.”
We chatted for a couple of minutes and then I got back to work.
As I bent to retrieve and replace discarded toys, a new thought suddenly possessed my mind: Taco Bell. But I wasn’t thinking of the soft taco and beans waiting for me at home, but a grilled steak burrito. My mouth began to water.
I should probably back up here, a bit. Years before, I’d committed to healthy eating, and for the most part, I stuck with it, even with some episodes of weight gain. (I’d gained that weight without fast foods.) Though not a vegetarian,I ate meat only sporadically. (This is a result of living with cows in a field two doors down from your house. It makes you think about what you are eating. At least that’s how it worked for me.) I could barely remember the last time I’d eaten fast food, but when I did indulge, it was always with the healthiest choices. This grilled burrito that was suddenly the object of my fantasies was something I’d not tasted in nearly 10 years, and I wasn’t even sure if it was still available. But suddenly, all I could think about was the old memory of biting into the crispy grilled shell, the melting sour cream, the dripping, oozing, grease…. the perfection!
I spent the evening fighting a fierce mental battle. “You’ve already had dinner, and Steve has that food at home for you, you can eat that,” I told myself.
The part of me that longed for the burrito didn’t have anything of eloquence to say, just “but… but… I WANT IT!” And this part did not shut up. Nevertheless, when I left work that evening, I was prepared to do the right thing, the adult thing, the healthy thing, the rational thing. I was prepared to go home and eat my taco and beans, which, I reminded myself, was already a bonus meal.
I walked to my car, climbed inside, closed the door, and started the engine. I snapped my seat belt into place, sat up straight, put the transmission into ‘Drive’ and headed for the exit. When I came to the traffic light, I was faced with two choices. If I made the ‘right’ turn, I would drive through the country and towards my house. If I made the ‘left’ turn, however, I would still be heading towards my house, but via highway, so this would also put me on the path to Taco Bell. I decided it was too much temptation. I turned right and headed through the country.
As I drove through the darkened night, I congratulated myself on this commendable level of healthy maturity. The feeling of smugness lasted right up to the moment I had to make the final turn, taking me, once and for all, away from the highway and towards my house. And in that moment, I just couldn’t do it. Instead of the ‘right’ turn that would lead me home, I jerked the wheel to the left and headed towards the interstate.
As I gunned the motor, speeding up the on-ramp, I kept thinking, “What are you doing? What are you doing!” I had no answer. I didn’t know what I was doing, but apparently I was committed to doing it (whatever it was), so the time for questions had passed.
Moments later I found myself in a place I’d not been in some time: In line waiting for fast food, late at night. As I inched forward, I squinted my eyes towards the menu board. Did they still carry the burrito? I prayed they did. I’d given into this madness, and I didn’t know what I would do if I found myself thwarted now. I’d gone past the point of no-return.
God was smiling on me. Not only was the burrito still on the menu, it had been upgraded to an ‘XL’ status. Part of my brain cheered, “Yes! Excellent!” The other half said, “Well, just because the burrito is XL doesn’t mean you have to eat it all. Just eat half of it and throw it away.” I ordered my burrito and a drink.
As I sat waiting to pick up the food, I mentally planned the rest of my evening. I would drive home, change into my pajamas, and sit down to eat my burrito in front of the TV. I decided to throw away the food Steve had gotten for me…. perhaps even bury it in the trash. I was ashamed of this craving madness, and didn’t want to fess up to this evening’s antics.
All too soon, it was my turn to pay. After the clerk swiped and returned my card, I was presented with a bag of food. I thanked her, placed the bag on the seat next to me, grabbed the steering wheel with the perfect “10 and 2” hand placement, and with a straight back, maneuvered myself from the window and towards the road.
Then a funny thing happened. The smell of the burrito began to waft, enticingly from the seat next to me. I’m not sure about the science behind this explanation, but to me, this is what happened: Dragging my eyes from the road, I stared at the bag. The scent of the meat entered through my nose, and somehow traveled down to my stomach, causing it to cry out in insatiable need. And then my stomach overpowered my brain, overrode my will, and took over completely. I had to have the burrito! Now!
My fingers ached to rip the burrito from the bag, to tear it from the paper, but there was still a tiny part of me putting up a fight. Longingly, I thought of my plan of eating the burrito in front of the TV, all cozy in my pajamas. I still wanted that! I tried to reason with this ravenous, barely controlled side of myself. “It’s just a few more minutes, you can wait, right? It will be worth it.”
The other side of me longed to scream out, “NO!” But the primal, stomach led-side of me had a more sly and cagey plan. “Sure,” this side agreed. “But maybe you should just take one bite, just to see if it tastes as good as you remember…”
This seemed like good sense. Just take a bite, wrap it back up, and wait to finish the rest until I got home. As the car climbed the interstate on-ramp, I steered one-handed as I worked to free a corner of the burrito from the wrapper. Gingerly, I took a delicate bite.
The next thing I remember, the car was coming to a stop at the end of the off-ramp. I looked down to see grease stains on my work shirt and two shriveled diced tomatoes in the empty wrapper… the only remaining witnesses to what had most assuredly been a savage devouring. Aaahh, the guilt! But so worth it.
I arrived at home, brushing a few pieces of dehydrated lettuce from my lap, and quietly destroyed the evidence. Then I changed into my pajamas, ate the food Steve had gotten for me, and went to bed.
This was only the beginning of the food-mania. Days later I received a phone call from the high-risk doctor. The results from my most recent blood tests indicated a protein deficiency. I was brusquely informed that they would continue to monitor my levels and I may need to take supplemental pills. He made to wind down and end the conversation. But I wasn’t having it. “Hang on a second,” I said, stopping him. “What should I be doing?”
“What do you mean?” he questioned. He sounded baffled.
“If my protein levels are low, I assume that means I should eat more protein. Is there anything else that would be helpful?”
It seemed I’d stumped him. Surely I wasn’t the first mother who asked what I should do to correct this problem. Could I be the only person he’d encountered who was not satisfied with increased medical monitoring and supplemental pharmaceuticals? Slowly he answered, “Well, like I said, we’ll keep an eye on it, and there are pills….”
I cut him off. “I don’t want to take pills. What can I do to fix this without pills?”
Half-heartedly he rattled off a list of foods to add to my diet. Since cutting down on meat, I’d amped up my bean and nut consumption and assumed it would give me all the protein I needed. It seemed I was wrong. I’d have to get back to the animal products.
I was chilled by his response to my query on fixing this problem without meds. Is that really where we are now? Where when there’s a medical problem, the pharmacy is the first place you go to fix it? But, that’s a rant for another day. I’d like to focus on another truth gleaned from this brief exchange: pregnancy cravings are real! My body wanted meat, and it seemed that was behind the inexplicable madness of the burrito adventure. Ah, such a relief to know I wasn’t going crazy.
Though I now believe in the legitimacy of pregnancy cravings, I can’t, in good conscience, hold them responsible for all of the food-lust-related antics I got up to while pregnant. With a mixture of wistfulness and sheepishness, I still recall a work lunch from this particular period.
It was just a regular Monday morning at work, and I was doing all of my regular Monday morning things. I was only going through the motions, however. My mind was occupied with a problem, and while on the outside, I was making signs for the store, on the inside, I was wrestling my way through a mighty battle. This is the essence of the battle: The night before, Steve had grilled filet steaks and baked a couple of potatoes for dinner. Dinner was fabulous, and I’d brought my leftovers for lunch. But it was Monday! Monday was the day the chefs prepared the Cuban sandwiches for the lunch cart. This sandwich included several varieties of pork products, a few different cheeses, and pickles. I was hooked! I thought with longing about the Cuban sandwich, but, in the end, I decided to do the responsible thing. I was having a baby. I couldn’t allow expensive steak to go bad while I ordered a $5 sandwich that I didn’t need. It was wasteful. Though I believed I’d made the right decision, that knowledge didn’t bring contentment.
When I decided it was lunch time, (I was the one who usually decided this for the group. Even before becoming pregnant, lunch was the highlight of my workday. Since becoming pregnant, it took on the significance of near-religious ritual,) I began paging the other managers to inform them it was time to eat. After making the calls, I morosely took my food from the refrigerator and began microwaving it as I waited for the others.
This fateful Monday was Carl’s* (Carl is not his real name. He is a super nice guy, and my description of him was filtered through my food-lust…. this should make ME look bad, not him…. so for that reason, I changed his name) first day at our store. Carl had worked for the company for many years, quit, and returned. He was really talkative, and in an extremely exhausting way. He wasn’t content just to talk, he wanted feedback on each and every point he made. I learned this the hard way when I called him to give him his schedule for his first week. The call lasted about 45 minutes. Face-to-face conversations were more difficult. He maintained piercing eye contact throughout each exchange. It wasn’t possible to allow your mind to wander while talking to Carl. He made sure of that. If you lost focus for one second, he would rehash each and every comment. Better not to risk it. Still, he seemed like a nice guy, so every time I found myself feeling irritated with him, I mentally called myself down.
The real trouble began when Carl arrived in the office as I was removing my food from the microwave. He walked past me, all high energy, and asked where we ate. I pointed towards the boss’ office. I couldn’t speak. I couldn’t trust myself. He’d bought one of the sandwiches! And I wanted it! With all that was in me, I wanted it! And he was casually talking away like nothing catastrophic was about to happen.
With trepidation, I joined him in my boss’ office and took a seat. As I would soon learn was his habit, he quickly launched into an intense business-related conversation. Talk. Make an expressive hand gesture. Stare soulfully into my eyes. Talk. Take a bite. Try to assess if I agreed with whatever he was saying. As far as I was concerned, he may have well have been saying ‘blah, blah, blah.’ I had no attention for his words. My focus was completely on his sandwich. Like in an old cartoon, the scent coming from the sandwich seemed almost visible…. I could almost see the smells wafting up towards my nose. And it was difficult, oh, so difficult, to carry on normally.
Without much appreciation I began stabbing at my expensive steak. I just couldn’t keep my eyes off Carl as he ate his sandwich…… bite. after. torturous. bite. I think I actually started to sweat. Suddenly my mind was flooded with scenes from Lord of the Rings… Bilbo, by chance catching a glimpse of the ring under Frodo’s shirt, his face suddenly transformed into a demonic mask as he lunged towards Frodo in an instinctual and unplanned attack…. Gollum and Frodo rolling around on the lip of Mount Doom, each trying to keep the ring away from the other, Gollum biting off Frodo’s finger as he tried to gain what his withered soul longed for… This sandwich was driving me mad! I was fantasizing myself into the role of a Tolkien character… and not even one of the beautiful elves, but a character tortured by the presence of The Precious and willing to attack or worse, to get it.
Alas, my quest went unfulfilled. I didn’t attack Carl and steal his sandwich, or, less dramatically, go buy one. I just waited it out, feeling the sadness. I feel it still. Before leaving my job the following year, I had several Cuban sandwiches, but I’ll always be sad that I never had that one. It was, indeed, the one that got away.