Joy for Mourning

To appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, to give unto them beauty for ashes, the
oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that
they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that he
might be glorified. – Isaiah 61:3

  It was the worst of times.  Never before had I been so physically ill, and then so emotionally spent.  We wonder if this event triggered the start of my celiac disease, but we’ll never know for sure.

  Thrilled to be pregnant, to be providing a sibling for our firstborn, I didn’t mind the constant nausea and constant throwing up so much.  You do what you have to do, to get the result you want.  Weight fell off me.  The couch became my resting place, day and night.  Counting down the days until I would be in the clear, and have more energy to be more present for my family.  Just when I thought that it would be safe to announce the news to friends and family, just after a new trimester had begun, we were faced with the news of loss.  Of emptiness.  Of deep, deep sorrow.  There was no heartbeat.

  Faced then with an awful decision – should we wait for my body to expel the lifeless form of the child itself and risk needing a D&C anyway because of the chances of infection, or should we go ahead and schedule the D&C.

I wanted neither option.  I wanted the weeks and months to progress – my dreams and hopes to be fulfilled.  I wanted to Mother again.

But we chose the operation.  As much as I was aghast at the thought of having the baby ripped from me, and scared silly at the thought of my first general anaesthetic, we chose that option.

I remember farewelling my firstborn for the day – aching to just hold his little hand in mine, to seek comfort from what I already had. I remember the awful blue gown and the plastic underwear.  The procedural questions and the signing of my rights.  The little white pill to help me relax.  The tears when my husband was not allowed to come past a certain point.  Sitting on a hard bed, my boney butt aching, just wanting to be living another life.  I remember being wheeled into the green and metallic room.  My arm sticking out at my side, being poked and then counting backwards……10 9 8.  It doesn’t just happen on tv programmes.  Then the waking up, all of a sudden, tears flowing right away. Not a woeful ‘poor me’ cry, but that deep sobbing,’ my heart is aching’ cry, that gutteral from the depths of my being cry.  I remember counting down the hours until my husband could pick me up, being wheeled in a wheelchair down to the hospital lobby and then out to the car.  I remember being glad that I wore black trousers that day, so that the leaking was not so obvious.

 I felt so anonymous yet so obvious.

Then it was time for the healing.

That’s part A of my story.  It was awful.  It was hard.  It was painful.  It was sad beyond sad.  BUT.  Don’t you love God’s BUTS?  However grammatically wrong they are – they are significant – BUT God was there.  There was a part B of this story.

When I was waiting to be wheeled into the operating room, a woman came to sit with me.  She said her name was Joy and she was a student, doing a midwifery course.  She asked if I minded her sitting with me, and we exchanged small talk, and then she walked with me as I was wheeled in.  She was allowed in the operating room, and I saw her face, and then I didn’t.  She wasn’t around when I woke up, and I didn’t see her for the rest of the afternoon.

A few weeks later when I was thinking about the whole ordeal, I was remembering how appreciative I was, to have her there, how her presence had brought me some comfort.  I wrote ‘Joy’ a thank you card and then rang the college that her course was through, to get her last name.  They had no record of a ‘Joy’ doing their course.  I thought maybe she had been attending another course, so I sent the card off anyway.  But then the thought came to me.  What if ‘Joy’ was actually an angel?  What if God had sent her to be my comfort when I needed it most?  I’ll never know for sure – but it is my opinion that she was an angel.  I was mourning, yet God had given me Joy for mourning, in the best way he could.  In the presence of someone that could just be by my side.

So often when we are going through ‘stuff’ we feel so alone.  We’re not.  We are never alone. We have everything we need through Him.

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Picking and choosing

My family is made up of wannabe dog owners.  We have a habit of befriending our neighbours’ dogs and acting like they are our own.  Charlie the chihuahua was a firm fav, and Polly the schnauzer, then Tana the labrador/ border collie cross quickly became the most frequently walked dog in all of Cracroft, Christchurch when we stayed with him for three weeks.

At the moment Top Dog position is held by Frankie the unknown mix.  He lives to the left of us and we hold a relationship with him through the fence.  Somehow he even managed to score a starring feature on the personalized lego Christmas themed wallpaper that is currently on our desktop monitor.

One day, probably when we own our own home we’ll become dog people for real.  In the meantime I was humoring myself the other day by using this online tool – choosing the right dog breed for us (based on all sorts of interesting things) and I was struck with this idea – how completely different this is to how our families look, with the mishmash of personality types we end up in our family groups. Ain’t no pre-conception, before they are even a ‘twinkle in our eyes’ picking and choosing of personality types in our kids, is there?

You see one the most challenging things we face as parents is in seeing all the different personalities our children have, and learning to appreciate all that they encompass – and not try to change them into what is best suited to us, or to what we know and can understand better.

Our oldest boy is a planner and an organizer.  He’s extremely detail specific and has a very high idea speed.  He wants to know by 8pm one day, what the entire plan is for the next day.  Now both my husband and I are organized people too – we like routines and structure, especially my ‘oldest of 6 kids’ husband who has quite the reputation for organizing his whole entire family.  His rearranging of his Mother’s pantry in ’98 is still quite vivid in all of their minds and there may or may not have been great appreciation for this gesture.  Anyhoo – as parents we are organized. However, sometimes we’re tired, we’re hot and bothered, we’re waiting on other people, we’re doing housework or other jobs, we’re spending time with our other children or we’re distracted by a gazillion and one other things and we can’t answer the multitude of questions that are fired at us by Mr Tell Me Everything You Can Right Now.  Then I get frustrated by his need to know so much. Then I feel bad for getting frustrated.  Spiral, spiral, spiral.

But lately, I’ve been realizing more and more that Nathanael’s personality is a gift – it is part of a package deal of what makes him unique and gifted in what he is gifted at.  He is who he is for a purpose.  And although I wouldn’t have picked and chosen such a planner and such an organizer for a firstborn (and yeah I know it is a common trait in a firstborn) when I look at Nat’s interests right now those personality traits make complete sense – and fit him to a tee.  Right now Nat loves all things aviation.  His main interest is planes – and everything about them.  He can look at a plane from a huge distance and tell you what make and model it is.  He is adept with flying his plane simulator computer game.  If he continues with this interest, I can think of no safer hands at the controls of a big or small plane.  I would trust him in a heartbeat – he would be an educated, responsible, knowledgeable and ultra competent pilot – if he so pursues that career path.  And by golly he’d do his utmost to get you to your destination on time.

I need to see and appreciate all of Nathanael’s personality (as well as my other children’s) for what is it – special, designed with a greater purpose, well beyond my limitations and short-sightedness.

It is just as well you can’t pick and choose your kids’ personalities, otherwise I wouldn’t have daily opportunities to develop my patience in particular…….but you mark my words, I’ll be super picky about that breed of dog we eventually get……

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The silent bedroom trials.

From time to time people react in a surprised way when I rattle off the ages of our boys.  At the moment they are 13, 9 and 4.  Yes all three were very much wanted and very much planned.  And yes those are big age gaps.

Sometimes things don’t happen according our carefully planned timetables – and sometimes things don’t happen at all.

Along with my three boys here on earth, we have another two kids that I firmly believe we’ll see again in heaven. But that’s for another blog post.

The whole getting pregnant and staying pregnant was a very hard journey.  No-one likes having the word ‘infertile’ on their medical records. You’re dealing with the loss of dreams, and hope is lost. And when it is ‘unexplained infertility’, well that makes things worse.  We like answers and solutions in our lives.

If you’re walking down this journey too – my heart goes out to you.  There is a lot in the blogosphere for women – stories told, encouragement given, kindred spirits reaching out to help you.  But often it is the menfolk who are left to suck it up, and be a rock for their woman.  Well if you’re a man experiencing this very situation, the silent bedroom trials, please head over to this blog and read this here post.  It is written by a bloke for blokes.

Women – if you have a brother-in-law/ friend/co-worker/brother/ cousin who needs to read these good words – send them that link.  Shared human experience is priceless – especially for menfolk who don’t talk about these issues.

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Making More

‘What we are is God’s gift to us.  What we become is our gift to God’

– Eleanor Powell

Behind my house is a whole bunch of apartments.  ‘Nothing wrong with them’ apartments.  The grounds are kept well maintained and they are reasonably quiet and they are not an eyesore or anything.  Just a whole bunch of apartments.  Each of the ground floor apartments has a little area of garden.  Some of these gardens have stayed uniform with the rest of the apartments……wood chips and shrubs.  Some of the gardens have barbeques stored in them.  Some of them have toys there.  Some of these gardens look better than others for sure, but I’ll have you know I’m no snob.  They are just apartments.

One garden that I walk past has been utilized though and has a whole bunch of produce growing there and flowers in bloom. The tenant of that apartment has sourced some bricks and rocks from somewhere and built tiny little walls to separate the little growing areas.  The tenant has put some time and effort into her little area.  And it is little.  But it looks good.  What she had available to her was the same as all the other tenants.  She started with a blank slate.  She has used it and created something better.  Something that bears fruit, quite literally.

She has made something more.

I want to be like that in all areas of my life.  I want to make more.   With what God has given me to work with – I want to grow it and become a gift worthy for a King.  Yeah?   In the midst of mothering  – of feeding and cleaning, of driving and initiating friendships…..I want to make more.

It is well

Horatio Gates Spafford.  Now that’s a name.  A fine and dandy name for a fine and dandy man.  Do you know who he is?  I do now.  We sang that beloved hymn ‘It is well with my soul’ on Sunday, and I listened, really listened to those beautiful calm words, and thought to myself I need to find out more about this man.

Now I already knew that this man had written this song after facing terrible tragedy – his four daughters had just perished at sea and he wrote this song on the way to join his wife after the awful life-altering event.  That part of his life seems to be well known, but I wanted to know more….what made this man tick? How could his faith be so rock solid?

I’ve done a little research and will share my thoughts thus far – but I reckon there is much, much more to learn from ‘ol Horatio.

Ok so Horatio was an American.  He was a lawyer and also an investor, and lost a lot of what he had in assets in the Great Chicago Fire (1871).  Two years later Horatio decided his family needed a holiday – can’t blame him really, and they chose England as their destination because…get this….he was good friends with the preacher D L Moody and he wanted to hear Moody preach in England.  A ha!!!  Horatio had a deep faith – helped no doubt by the company he kept.  If he could call Moody a friend, and decide that out of anywhere in the world he could go, he chose to visit Moody and be a part of Moody’s’ inner circle’ I guess.   Which speaks to me that Horatio kept some pretty cool company…..wise move Mr Spafford.

Anyway Horatio had some last minute business to attend to, so sent the family on ahead.  His four daughters died as a result of the ship they were on being struck by another ship – but his wife survived.  ‘Saved alone’ were the words on that now famous telegraph she sent to her husband once she arrived in England.

Horatio penned the words to the song while on the journey to join his wife, in England.

When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well with my soul.

(Refrain:) It is well (it is well),
with my soul (with my soul),
It is well, it is well with my soul.

Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
Let this blest assurance control,
That Christ hath regarded my helpless estate,
And hath shed His own blood for my soul.
(Refrain)

My sin, oh the bliss of this glorious thought!
My sin, not in part but the whole,
Is nailed to His cross, and I bear it no more,
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!
(Refrain)

For me, be it Christ, be it Christ hence to live:
If Jordan above me shall roll,
No pain shall be mine, for in death as in life
Thou wilt whisper Thy peace to my soul.
(Refrain)

And Lord haste the day, when my faith shall be sight,
The clouds be rolled back as a scroll;
The trump shall resound, and the Lord shall descend,
Even so, it is well with my soul.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t think I could say ‘It is well with my soul’, after having four kids die.  I really don’t think I could say it directly after their deaths, and I wonder if I could even say it in the following months or years…..but maybe, just maybe it was something Horatio had to say.  Just had to proclaim, to speak aloud what he knew to be true.  To speak it into being – thus becoming easier to believe.  I don’t know, but maybe, just maybe, in the process of telling himself it is well, it is well….then slowly, but surely, his nightmare turned into a situation where God was still acknowledged and still in control…..just maybe it was part of his healing process.

The story of Horatio doesn’t just end there with a great song, that is still blessing others today.  O no.  Horatio and his wife went on to have more children (two girls and a boy – sadly the boy died of pneumonia) and the Spaffords moved to Jerusalem, as part of the American Colony.  They led a group of thirteen adults and three children to set up a Christian colony to engage in work with the Muslim, Jewish and Christian communities in Jerusalem.  During and immediately after World War One the American Colony played a vital part in helping these communities by running soup kitchens, hospitals, and orphanages.

Horatio and his family didn’t just limit themselves by what they had experienced and let their heartache eat them up.  No they persevered – they worked for the Lord, through the thick and thin. I doubt it was ever easy.  But, by golly, I bet there was rejoicing in heaven when Horatio entered (he died of malaria and was buried in Jerusalem).  Well done my good and faithful servant.  And when I meet ‘ol Horatio in heaven, I’m going to thank him for his song and the fact that it really sums up the Christian walk so well.