Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Remembering Someone I Never Met

This month (October) is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month.  In 1988, President Ronald Reagan designated this special month proclaiming, "When a child loses his parent, they are called an orphan. When a spouse loses her or his partner, they are called a widow or widower. When parents lose their child, there isn’t a word to describe them."

In December of 2002, I found out for the very first time that I was pregnant.  I made this discovery on a whim while shopping with some girlfriends, who coaxed me into taking the pregnancy test right there in the store’s bathroom.  When I saw that it was positive, I was so excited.  But I didn’t know how to share the news with my husband.  I think I knew deep down that he would have wanted to be the first to know, rather than my friends.  They helped me come up with what we thought was a fun way to tell him . . . but unfortunately it didn’t soften the sting that he had missed out on being the first to know.  He was so disappointed that I found out without him.

I regret that, to this day.

Just a few weeks later, I began to experience some cramping and spotting.  Fear engulfed me.  Within 24 hours my husband and I found ourselves at a clinic (not my doctor’s office), having an ultrasound.  The sonographer didn’t say a word to us, but I could clearly see a tiny blob on the screen, surrounded by my womb.  That blob was my baby.  When the doctor called me later that day, he said it was too early to tell if I was going to miscarry.  It was pretty early in the pregnancy, and maybe that’s why they couldn’t find a heartbeat.

So we waited.  For several weeks I spotted, but there was no more cramping.  I tried to hold out hope that everything might be all right.  I had friends encouraging me to have faith, to “name it and claim it.”  So I tried.  And I prayed – hard.  I poured over the scriptures.  But the fear still engulfed me.  In a bit of irony, I had even put together a Christmas drama for our church, and I played the role of Mary.  It honestly felt like torture to have that balloon under my costume pretending to be pregnant, and to carry that little baby doll as if it were my child.

For Christmas my husband and I traveled to visit my family in Georgia.  Despite the instability of the pregnancy, we shared the news that we were expecting with the rest of the family by wrapping a note up as a present and letting my younger brother open it.  Everyone was excited right along with us.  But I remember that night explaining to my sister and my sister-in-law how things weren’t looking good.  And I remember crying in the shower the next morning, singing that song “You Are My Hiding Place.”  And weeping.

When we returned to our home in Colorado, I visited my doctor and had another ultrasound in his office.  My husband couldn’t come with me because of his job, so one of my best friends went with me.  I’ll never forget that day, and the doctor’s voice when he said, “Well, I’m sorry to give you this news around the holidays, but there’s nothing there.”  I felt like the world was literally crashing around me.  I walked around in a daze for the rest of the evening until my husband got home from work and I fell into his arms sobbing.

After that I didn’t really want to talk about it with anyone.  A wonderful woman from our church even came to visit me at our condo one day, but I hid in the bedroom while my husband told her that I didn’t feel like visiting.  I wish I could go back and change that day.  I think it would have helped me to open up to her.  Especially when my body actually completed the miscarriage at home two weeks after the doctor told me that nothing was there.

It was several years later before I truly began to heal.  I got pregnant again fairly quickly, and every day I was completely consumed with fear.  Terror.  I went back and forth between being angry at God and being angry at myself, thinking that either God was honestly cruel, or that it was my own fault I had miscarried.  I knew I was depressed and that I needed help.  But no one had the answers I craved.  So I began to ask God for help.  In between my bouts of hating myself and feeling rejected by God, I asked Him to show me someone who could help me. 

Eventually He brought a friend to mind.  She referred me to a wonderful couple who were lay counselors, and who ended up spending an entire day with me in 2005 (months after I had delivered two healthy children, my full-term daughter and my premature son). 

As we talked and prayed through my entire life, I dreaded the part where I would have to tell them about my miscarriage.  But they were very sensitive and let me take my time.  They led me through a time of conversing with God about those dark days.  They encouraged me to go back to that worst moment in my mind – that moment in the doctor’s office when I knew for sure that the baby was gone.  They told me to picture Jesus there with me.  Because HE WAS THERE.  When I did, what I saw was my wonderful Savior standing beside me, holding my baby.  I feel like this was the Lord’s way of telling me, “Yes, this baby was real.  But he’s with me now.  I’m taking care of him.”

If I am honest, there have been moments where I have doubted that vision.  I have doubted that my miscarriage was real, that there was truly a baby there.  But every time I do, the Lord quickly brings to mind the feeling I had when I first envisioned Him holding my sweet little one.  I cannot deny that experience, and I cannot deny that He spoke to me on that day about many, many things. 

It is painful for me to go back and relive these experiences as I tell this story.  But I feel compelled to share the Hope that God has given me in Christ.  And now I can say truthfully that I look forward to meeting that precious child in Heaven one day.  I like to think that he (or she) will meet me right at the gate.

You are my hiding place.
You always fill my heart
With songs of deliverance.
Whenever I am afraid,
I will trust in You.

I will trust in You.
Let the weak say
I am strong,
In the strength of the Lord.
I will trust in You.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

My Heart

Dear Friend,

When God brought you into my life, I knew from the very beginning that there was a reason.  He pricked my heart with a measure of His unconditional love and divine compassion, especially when I learned about your story of suffering.  I could plainly see the gaping hole in your heart.  Pain and heartache was evident in your eyes.  I knew you needed Jesus . . . but you hesitate to give your heart to Him.

I have watched in agony as you continue through life, trying to make it on your own strength.  Each time you fall down, my heart breaks a little more.  In my mind’s eye I envision you one day running into the arms of Jesus, your Savior . . . but in reality I know that day may never come.  The choice is up to you to accept Christ.  He will never force you.  And I can’t will it to happen.  But I can pray for you; and I do every day.  In fact, the Lord brings you to mind constantly.  The only other thing I can do is find ways to love you, and tell you from my own experience how Jesus Christ has changed my life -- and hope that it touches your heart.e He

Admittedly, I have never gone through circumstances exactly like yours.  I cannot relate to all of your experiences.  But I have suffered.  I have been rejected by others, by people I thought loved me.  I have experienced loss and deep depression.  I know what it is to walk through a valley.  I know what it is to be stuck in a pit and see no way out.  I have been mad at God, and felt let down by Him.  I have doubted God’s love for me, and even the truth of Jesus.  I have cried out for God’s help and heard nothing but silence.

BUT THEN . . . Jesus Christ, the Son of God, reached down from Heaven and touched my life.  He sent specific people to encourage me and point me to the truth.  It was like I had been walking around blind, with scales over my eyes.  But His touch made them all fall away, and finally I could clearly see – Jesus loves me.  And He loves you!  I hope that simple truth comforts you as much as it does me.  God showed me that He had been by my side through every single hurt.  Even when I had messed everything up and done wrong, He was still there telling me how much He loves me. 

And this is what I hope you will one day come to see and understand.  God created you, and He has a purpose for your life.  He knew that you were going to mess up along the way (because we all do), so He sent His Son Jesus Christ to live on earth as a perfect man and then die on a cross to take your punishment.  He didn’t deserve to die, because He never did anything wrong.  We are the ones who are tainted, and incapable of getting to Heaven on our own.  But the good news is, He didn’t stay dead for long!  On the third day after his death, He came back to life to show His power over death.  And this power over death is passed on to us when we accept Jesus for who He is and ask Him to come into our lives.  When we leave this earth through death, we won’t really die but will join Him in Heaven forever and ever.  And He is preparing such wonderful things for us there, we can’t even fathom them. 

Accepting Jesus is so simple.  He wants it to be simple, like us coming to Him as a little child.  All you need to do is believe in your heart that Jesus is God’s Son and that He died and came back to life for you.  Then, confess it out loud!  Tell someone about it. 

And it doesn’t stop there.  Jesus wants to be a part of your life while you’re still here on earth, too.  Invite Him to come into your heart and mind.  Talk to Him every day, whether you’re thanking Him for the good things He’s doing for you, or asking Him for help with your struggles.  Because He has promised to never leave you.  And He always keeps His promises.

He’s waiting for you to come to Him.  And I’m waiting too.  No matter how long it takes.

Friday, July 20, 2012

What I Learned in Germany

Earlier this month my family made a 10-day trek to Cologne, Germany and back.  We have some missionary friends there who invited us to stay with them and work alongside them as they strive to touch people there with Christ’s love.  Taking our entire family on this trip was an eye-opening experience for all of us, and I would like to share a little bit about what God taught me.

  1. Patience.  Unfortunately, the first thing I learned in Germany is that public restrooms are not free.  They are not always clean, or supplied with toilet paper.  And they are definitely not always easy to find.  Traveling with children, we naturally needed access to a bathroom many times.  Needless to say, we had many interesting, frustrating, and creative bathroom experiences.  So the Lord brought His Word to mind:  “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient …”  (Ephesians 4:2)
  2. Blind faith.  Cologne’s Cathedral (K├Âlner Dom) was awe-inspiring.  Its construction began in the 1200s and wasn’t officially completed until 1880.  That’s over 600 years!  This means that the men who designed and began building the cathedral never saw their work completed.  Countless men poured their lives into the building of this masterpiece, knowing that they would never get to see the finished product.  This reminded me of Abraham, Moses, and all the others in the Bible who did not get to see the end result of what they were moving toward.  “All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth.”  (Hebrews 11:13)
  3. Trust.  This was the first time I’d been to another country where they speak a language other than English.  It’s a hard feeling to conceive of unless you’ve experienced it, but it can be quite frustrating!  Imagine you’re wandering the streets, trying to find your way, but you can’t read any of the signs.  You try to ask for help, but the people’s words sound like gibberish.  Or imagine that you’re a child trying to join a friendly game of soccer with some other children.  You want to make friends and joke with them while you play, but you can’t understand a word they’re saying.  A language barrier can feel like you’re trapped behind a wall or inside a bubble – you can see what’s happening on the other side of the barrier, but you can’t join in.  It was in these moments that I turned to God the most on our trip.  Because I know that our God can speak any language, I talked to Him whenever I felt frustrated with the communication obstacles.  I found myself relying on the Lord more and more, which is something I know He wants me to do all the time anyway!
  4. Love is a verb.  However, volleyball can be played in any language!  Our missionary friends     hosted a 4th of July/German outreach event while we were there, held in their neighborhood park.  An American mission team from Georgia was on-hand to perform American music     and lead some line dancing.  I attempted the line dancing for one song, but when I saw that there was a group of young people playing volleyball, I opted for that instead.  I bet we played for over an hour, and it was a lot of fun.  It was a friendly game where we didn’t keep score, so there were a lot of laughs.  And even though I couldn’t verbally share Jesus with those kids, I prayed that He would shine through me anyway.  “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden.  Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.”  (Matthew 5:14)
  5. Passionate compassion.  God is moving in Germany, and He has a great compassion for the lost there (just as He does for all of His lost sheep everywhere)!  Honestly, for a long time the first thing that came to mind when I thought about Germany was Adolf Hitler and his horrible holocaust of World War 2.  And naturally, that thought does not exactly spring up a well of compassion in me for the Germans.  But through the experience of this family mission trip, God opened my eyes and my heart to a people who are not that different from me.      Immersing yourself in another culture reveals a new world that exists and functions thousands of miles away – but is filled with regular people who do ordinary things every day, and who go through pain and hard times just like everyone else.  As I sat in the train station one night praying for Jeromy and the missionaries who were trying to engage passersby with free coffee and tea, I was suddenly overwhelmed with compassion for everyone I saw.  The God of the universe gave me a glimpse of His unconditional love and steadfast longing for the precious     souls of this world.  “The Lord . . . is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.”  (2 Peter 3:9)
This trip wasn’t your typical mission trip, with lots of pre-scheduled activities.  We were simply one family joining another family for a week, walking alongside them as they live a missional life in the everyday things.  We got to experience grocery shopping there, life without a car in the city, an end-of-the-year school program, along with several trips to some unique playgrounds.  We focused on prayer a lot, tilling and preparing the soil for seeds to be planted. We are so thankful that God gave us this experience, and I know that it opened our eyes to a whole new world of people and opportunities.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Prayer of Thanksgiving

Dear Lord,

I am so overwhelmed right now, and so overcome with humility and thankfulness. Saying “thank You” is nowhere near enough. Because I know I don’t deserve the blessings You’ve given me. And how fitting that this experience, this prayer is happening on Easter morning!

Father, we define Your grace as “unmerited favor.” This morning, I am fully aware that the huge gift You gave my family this weekend is totally and completely unmerited. I can’t speak for my husband or my children, because of course I think they deserve every happiness and blessing. But speaking for myself, I know that I do not deserve a gift like this. But somehow, Father, in Your unfathomable Love, You always manage to show me just how unconditional Your Love is in the most amazing ways.

For one thing God, I know that my children would not even be here if not for Your grace. I was going through such a tough time of depression, anger, and isolation from You . . . it’s not as if I can say that I was like Hannah, praying with an unwavering faith as I asked for a child. No, You decided to bless me with two beautiful, healthy children DESPITE MY LACK OF FAITH. What is that? Why do You do that?

Why did you do that again for me, for my family? To be honest, my faith has been lacking. I’ve even consciously thought to myself, “God will never bless us like that.” But then, Lord, You did. You answered my prayer that was offered to You with only a mere mustard seed-sized faith. Perhaps even smaller. It’s almost as if You saw my heart and said, “Okay Jessica, I’m going to prove you wrong again. Let me just show you how much I love you, despite your shortcomings and even your failures. Nothing you could ever do, say, or think will ever lessen the unending love I have for you.”

So, God . . . thank You. I can now shout from the rooftops without any reservation that the One True God is a God of love and grace, and that He always gives good gifts to His children. And thank You for this glorious Easter morning, and for what it means. We are filled with joy and hope because of Jesus’ death and resurrection!

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? . . . For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation [not even ourselves], will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
~ Romans 8:31-32, 38

Friday, February 3, 2012

Some Reasons for the Hope I Profess

Some Reasons for the Hope I Profess

In no particular order…

If ever I find myself doubting the truth of Jesus, all I have to do is look at the
changed lives and subsequent heroic deaths of the original disciples – to me
that is more than enough proof of their encounter with the true and living Son
of God.
Whenever I end up lying in bed and crying into my pillow out of utter sorrow, worry, or
fear . . . He always stills my heart with His inconceivable peace.
He is taking my experiences with miscarriage, depression, and a premature baby and
working it all for good.
Even in the midst of my rebellious days, He gave me the gift of a precious best
friend who was grounded in His Word and loved me unconditionally.
At my lowest point, when I couldn’t even love myself . . . He showered me with
love and blessings incalculable.
He has answered my prayers, giving me immeasurably more than I could have asked or
I have heard His still, small voice.
He has given me purpose, letting me do things that I’m passionate about.
I can know more about Him and His wonderful character by reading my Bible in a
free country.
Jesus has never left me or forsaken me.
I can see in my mind’s eye the wonderful vision of my lost friends running into
His arms.
Even my children speak truth to me in moments of profoundness.
At my poorest, He provides for me and sends gifts through family, friends, and
even strangers.
My God saved me from the pit, and kept me from sinking into submersion.
He inspires me to create and share things with others.
He continues to purposefully bring needy people across my path . . . people whom I
can comfort with the comfort I have received.
I have seen Him perform miracles, even healings, as an answer to prayers.
When I have failed, He has always lovingly helped me get back up and move forward.
He has shown me that His forgiveness knows no bounds.
I see from my own life and from the pages of the Bible that God has a tendency to
want to use flawed people for His purposes.
I am blown away that even though God knew we would rebel against Him and sin, some
of us choosing not to love Him, He created us anyway.
While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
(Romans 5:8)