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.