Our Expectations and Our Reality

Jasmine Holmes was so very kind to review my book, Inheritance of Tears: Trusting the Lord of Life When Death Visits the Womb, at The Gospel Coalition today. In her review, she quotes a paragraph from one of my favorite sections of the book entitled, "What to Expect from a Sin-Broken World."

I say that this section is one of my favorites, but it is not because I got to explain a happy thought. Rather, it is because I had the opportunity to express an essential truth that every Christian must lean on in times of great disappointment and pain in order to find hope and peace in the gospel message. I will post the entire section below in the hopes that it will bless all who are currently struggling through trials, but especially those dear sisters who have lost little ones.

For many of us, the effects of this fallen world seem like distant theological concepts that carry little weight in everyday life. As a result, we live with expectations befitting a pre-fall Eden, rather than a sin-broken Earth. We expect to live healthy, fulfilled lives. We expect to have marriages in which we perfectly understand and communicate with our spouses. We expect to become pregnant easily, carry our babies full-term, and deliver them in perfect health. Our hearts yearn for the creation to function as God intended it to, and thus we don't naturally expect pain, discord, or death. Yet, this is exactly the inescapable inheritance we've received from our first parents.
The daily manifestations of God's beautiful grace, which we are blessed to experience despite our fallen state, are like windows into a world we do not yet fully inhabit - a world where God's goodness flows, unhindered by sin, to his created beings. A world with no more pain or suffering or death. In short: heaven.
Yet we tend to believe that we deserve such comforts and perfections in this world. We picture ourselves living out our lives in peaceful delight, doing work we always love, serving in churches where nothing ever goes seriously wrong. We buy pregnancy books, fully expecting our babies to grow according to each chapter's description. Rarely do we consider the awful truth that our babies are conceived in sin-infected bodies walking around in a sin-infected world. Indeed, even our babies' genetic make-up is subjected to the same futility as the rest of creation. Though pregnancy books may encourage us to put off distressing thoughts such as miscarriage and stillbirth, a biblical worldview demands that we have a realistic view of what pregnancy can and sometimes does look like in a post-fall world.
It certainly isn't my aim to pain a hopeless picture for those already experiencing grief. There is real, good, credible hope in the gospel of Jesus Christ for every daughter of Eve. I want to encourage you - if possible - with the knowledge that miscarriage is indeed a terrible thing. Women who experience miscarriage rightly feel as though something horrific just happened to them and their child. They need not feel obligated to treat the event as something common that they should simply "get over" and "move on" from. It is common, but that does not lessen its horror! Miscarriage, like every other manifestation of the fall, is the opposite of what God intended for our world - it is not good, it is very bad. Knowing this is essential to our finding encouragement in Christ.
For many women, miscarriage will be one of their first experiences with the serious physical effects of the fall. I distinctly remember the emotions that surged through me when we lost our first baby to miscarriage. Suddenly, the idea of death took on a whole new meaning. As my womb was robbed of the life it once carried, the groaning of creation became terribly personal. Later on, when I delivered the lifeless body of another of our precious babies who had died at 15 weeks gestation, my soul yearned like never before for Christ to return and do away with death forever.

You can read more about Inheritance of Tears here.

Bookmarks

Here are some articles that I found encouraging and edifying this week. Perhaps they will be a blessing to you as well.

The Whole Truth: To the Christian Woman Who Just Discovered Her Husband's Affair

"Your husband did not make this choice because you weren't pretty enough, available enough, submissive enough, talkative enough, quiet enough, sporty enough, or smart enough. He did not make this choice because you've spent the last five years pregnant or breastfeeding. He did not make this choice because you've been in the throes of hot flashes or because your skin hangs in wrinkles around your neck and bags under your eyes. He did not make this choice because you were not enough.

He made this choice because he was not enough."

Should Women Wear Head Coverings?

"Isn’t it inconsistent to reject Paul’s appeal for women to wear head coverings while affirming his command for women not to teach or have authority over men, since in both contexts Paul uses virtually the same (creation-related) reasoning?"

4 Simple Ways Fred Elliot Discipled His Children

"None of us will be perfect fathers, but, by God’s grace, we can be purposeful fathers and maybe some of our own sons will shake the gates of hell much like Jim Elliot did."

The Truth About Margaret Sanger

"By no means am I defending Sanger. Rather, I am simply pointing out that Sanger’s views as they have been memed through Facebook may not be the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. And as Christians, we need to concern ourselves foremost with what is true, even if it seems like the truth won’t serve our cause as much as a half-truth."

The One Who Holds the Needle

...being knit together in love...
— Colossians 2:2

During my husband's seminary days, I tried - with little success - to take up the hobby of crocheting. A few of my dear friends were great crocheters and made the most beautiful creations: colorful blankets, sweet baby hats, and cozy scarves. They made their work look easy as they twirled their crochet hook around the yarn, pulled it through a loop and then quickly repeated this process over and over again. They were so skilled at this art that the repetitive motion it required was, for them, somewhat of a leisurely activity. Their hook, yarn, and hands seemed to work together almost without conscious effort.

I, on the other hand, would have to sit there and laboriously wrap the thread around my hook (with it often coming unravelled and needing to be re-twirled). I'd then have to stop every few moments to ponder what the next step I needed to perform was, before attempting it. Finally I would ever so carefully pull my hook through the loop and, feeling like Napoleon after a successful conquest, move on to the next one. Often this process was performed with my tongue unconsciously sticking out of my mouth as I focused my full attention on the yarn that was determined to escape my hands. 

It truly felt as if the yarn simply didn't want to be attached to my creation. It didn't want to fall in line with the other loops. The tool I was using - that terribly big hook - seemed so unnatural in my hand and would often end up catapulting itself across the room in revolt to my fumbling efforts. Getting a full row of  loops attached to each other was a monumental accomplishment for me. So much so that I felt content to stop my adventures in the world of crocheting after about five successful (yet terribly crooked) rows. 

When I read Paul's words in Colossians I am reminded of this painful experience. He says that he desires for Christians' hearts to be "knit together in love." He longs for the church to be a unified being that is functionally and emotionally connected. Elsewhere he uses the metaphor of a body to describe the church - each of us playing the role of different parts, but being absolutely necessary for the entire body to function properly. Our talents and gifts, he says, are given to us for the good of the whole church. They are not to bring glory to ourselves, but rather, are meant to be used to serve our brothers and sisters in Christ. 

But being knit together into one unified being, isn't an easy task for sinners. Our natural tendency is to care more about our own individual needs being met by the church than for the Church's needs to be alleviated by our humble service. Nor do we easily bond with people who are unlike us - people whose odd quirks annoy us or whose background cultures are completely foreign and strange to us. Indeed, it is hard work to live in unity and be knit together because we are all so very different and we are all so very selfish.

Our sinful desires encourage us to act like rebellious yarn in an unskilled knitter's hands: unwilling to connect, unwilling to be a part of a whole. Rather than practicing the humility and service necessary to live in unity, we'd rather go our own way and do as we like. It's much easier to do so.

But God calls us to something higher and harder. He calls us to lay down our rights and likes and desires and preferences for the good of his church. He calls us to do so in love.

Be "knit together in love," Paul says in Colossians. We see this exhortation in 1 Corinthians as well. After speaking about the members of the body serving one another and using their gifts for the good of the whole, he explains that the only way to submit to the Spirit's dispersal of various gifts is to walk in love. Nothing - not the gift of prophecy, not the gift of tongues, not the gift of knowledge or faith - means anything of it is not practiced through love.

The practice - not the feeling - of love is what allows us to serve one another in humility and to bear with one another when we begin to feel as though we simple cannot stand a particular member of the body. It causes us to rejoice when the other parts of our body rejoice, and it causes us to mourn when the other members of our church mourn. Spirit-wrought love is the  invisible glue that knits broken, rebellious sinners to one another.

But if we are honest with ourselves, we don't always love our church body, much less the individual members within it. We find it easy to love ourselves, but altogether unnatural to love those who are unlike us. Thankfully, there is something altogether unnatural occurring with in us.

We are indwelled by the Spirit of Love, himself.

God's love - that remarkable, holy, and altogether giving attribute - "has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit (Romans 5:5)." Incredible! This is what allows us to fight for unity. It is what gives us the ability to deny our self-serving tendencies. It is what knits us together as one body.

Our daily battle as members of Christ's church is to step aside and allow the Spirit of God to work through us. Our prayer must continually be for his love to eclipse and transform our natural selfishness. And we needn't fear that he will deny us. For he cares for his sheep and their well-being. He who died for us will not forget about us.

In the end, we rebellious loops of yarn are no match for his skillful hand. He will sanctify his church.

And so, just as our creator God knit each of us together in our mother's wombs, so too is he knitting us together as a church. Joyfully, we concede that he is the one holding the needles and we wait with great anticipation for the revealing of his masterpiece.

For he is the master of his craft.

Miscarriage and the Hope of Heaven

The final question I answered over at The Purposeful Wife about my book, Inheritance of Tears, was on the topic of infant salvation. Rachel asked, "I also appreciated your theological look at the question, 'Do all babies go to heaven?' So many Christians today hold to this view without having a clear Scriptural foundation for their belief. Have you always held this position? How did you come to land on your current understanding?"

You can read my answer here.

On this topic, I would also recommend a recent article from Sam Storms which makes similar arguments for infant salvation as I do in my book.

Is Miscarriage Divine Punishment from God?

In the third interview question I received from Rachel at The Purposeful Wife in regard to my book, we tackled a very important question:

"You discuss how miscarriage is never God's punishment of our personal sin, because of our standing in Christ. While I am 100% in agreement here, I couldn't help but think of David and Bathsheba's infant dying as a result of their sin. How do you understand this story within your theological framework? How could we give Gospel hope to a woman who brings it up in concern that her miscarriage was divine punishment?"

Inheritance of Tears is a short book, and purposefully so. We wanted it to be resource that could easily be handed out to grieving women--both to those who have a theological foundation and those who do not. For this reason, many of the topics I cover in its 100 pages, can certainly be studied in greater depth. This topic is one of them. I was so grateful to have the opportunity to further explore this idea with Rachel: that while death and suffering are a result of sin, we shouldn't immediately link a specific sin to a specific trial.

You can read my full response here.

How Jesus Comforts the Woman Who Miscarries

Today, over at The Purposeful Wife, I am sharing one of the many incredible ways that Jesus is able to identify with the woman who miscarries. The fellowship that he offers to us in our suffering is a blessing that can often be overlooked, but if we are careful to seek him in the midst of our pain, he is faithful and willing to help us in our time of need. I'd love to share with you how Jesus did that for me. I hope you will join me over at Rachel's blog.

Today's Question from Rachel: "I loved the part of your book in which you identified specific ways that Jesus can relate and minister to women suffering miscarriage. When and how did this first occur to you?" (Read my answer here.)

Tuesday's Question from Rachel: "What has your personal grieving process after your miscarriages looked like? I know that every woman is different, and thought this might be encouraging to moms who have recently lost little ones and are wondering if the pain ever abates. While my miscarriage of six years ago seems distant, the more recent one still stings. Do you feel completely healed at this point, or does the memory of your losses still profoundly affect you at times?" (Read my answer here.)

I will be answering two more questions from Rachel next week, so be sure to like her page on Facebook so that you don't miss them.

What My Grieving Process Looked Like After Miscarriage

I'm so happy to have the opportunity to share more about my miscarriage experiences over at The Purposeful Wife today. While every miscarriage and every woman is different, I know that it can be helpful to hear the testimony of God's faithfulness to another when you are walking through a similar trial. Therefore, I pray that this little description of my own healing process will be a blessing to other women who are in the midst of miscarriage.

Over the next two weeks, I will be answering Rachel's questions regarding pregnancy loss and my book Inheritance of Tears: Trusting the Lord of Life When Death Visits the Womb. I hope you will join us as we discuss this painful trial in the context of the good news of the gospel.

Also, I'd like to invite you to send in any questions you may have about miscarriage, grieving, or the book. You can do so through the comments of these posts or by emailing me. I look forward to hearing from you.

Marmee's Wisdom: Work and Play

One of my summer reads this year is Louisa May Alcott's classic, Little Women. It is a book that I have wanted to read for some time, as I have long cherished the film adaptation starring Winona Ryder. My dear husband has had to sit through that movie more times than he would care to admit! Of course the book has been leagues better than the movie, making it a virtual feast for my imagination and a peaceful retreat as the whirlwind of my own little children swirls around me. Indeed, lingering in the home of the March family and exploring all of the nooks and crannies of their story has been such a joy.

One of the greatest joys of this book has been the opportunity to meditate on some of the spiritual lessons and themes that pervade its pages. Many of these lessons come straight from the mouth of the matriarch of the March family, affectionately referred to by her girls as "Marmee." For instance, take this little gem that she shares with her girls after they've experienced the uncomfortable affects of neglecting their necessary and good work around the home:

"Very good! then I am quite satisfied with the experiment, and fancy that we shall not have to repeat it; only don't go to the other extreme, and delve like slaves. Have regular hours for work and play; make each day both useful and pleasant, and prove that you understand the worth of time by employing it well. Then youth will be delightful, old age will bring few regrets, and life become a beautiful success, in spite of poverty."

I love the instruction to "prove that you understand the worth of time by employing it well." It calls to mind this sobering principle found in Ephesians 5:

"Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil." (Ephesians 5:15-16)

Time is such a precious commodity and the way it tends to slip through our fingers if you are not careful in the way you use it can be disheartening. I must admit that I am not an expert in employing it well-- fault has been glaringly exposed recently as the constant needs of the four little ones in our home bid for my attention.

More than ever I am in need of this reminder to keep regular times of focused work as well as play. Setting boundaries for each of these necessary and good activities brings greater peace and order to my home (as well as my own soul!).  It is a simple principle, but one that takes much self-control.

Spirit, please continue to develop this character quality in my soul, allow me to redeem the time you've given me, and give me grace to glorify the Lord in my work as well as in my play. 

From the Domain of Darkness

He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son..
— Colossians 1:13

When a person places their trust in the Lord Jesus' sacrifice on their behalf an incredible thing occurs. The Bible tells us that they are instantly and irrevocably transferred from one kingdom into another.

One kingdom-the place we are all born into-is characterized by utter darkness.

It is cruelly ruled by the "prince of the power of the air" (Eph. 2:2) whose character, Jesus said, is innately deceptive and murderous (John 8:44). This "prince" is leading a kingdom of blind slaves-who are shackled to him by their own sin-into the very pit of Hell.

And we all, before placing our trust in Jesus' substitutionary death on our behalf, willingly followed him, pledging our allegiance to his kingdom of death (Eph. 2:2).  

We were completely and utterly blind to our desperate state (2 Cor. 4:4), like cows being led to the slaughter.

But.

The one who spoke the first brilliant rays of light into existence-the one who brought something beautiful out of nothing at all--is able to break through that terrible darkness (2 Cor. 4:6). 

In one magnificent moment, when a person repents of their sins and places their trust in Jesus for salvation, the kingdom of God rips through the dark casket they've been lying dead in and breaths life into their lungs!

Yes, the God who died on a cross over 2,000 years ago to ransom a people for his own possession, breaks the heavy chains of sin and guilt that shackle men and women to certain damnation each and every day. As he removes the scales from the eyes of the blind, they see him as the God and Savior he truly is. He immediately embraces them as blood-bought brothers and sisters and qualifies them to be members of his kingdom-a kingdom ruled by truth and love (1 John 3:14).

This is my story.

This is the story of every single person who believes that Jesus died to save them from their sins.

We are those who have been delivered out of darkness and transferred into the light.

It isn't something that is yet to occur, it has already happened.

Right now, in this very moment, we are citizens of God's glorious kingdom.

And yet here we are, walking around in our sin-infested bodies, in a sin-broken world. We see death and destruction all around us. We see the handiwork of our former ruler in our families, in our country,  and in our world.

We see darkness.

Lots and lots of darkness.

The kingdom of light is alive in our hearts, but is at the same time yet to be revealed in the physical world. In these moments-these small moments before eternity-we are called to have faith in a spiritual kingdom where our Savior reigns. We are called to live as citizens of that world while walking about in this dark one.

How blessed we are to have our eyes open to the heavenly beauties of the the kingdom of God while being surrounded by such evil! How privileged we are to experience the love of the good and kind King who cares for us and lavishes his grace upon us in every moment.

We were not worthy of the light, but he gave it.

May we cling to it today; may we be filled with it today; and may we allow it to shine through us today, so that others may be beckoned to follow this glorious light.

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.
— 1 Peter 2:9