Saturday, May 13, 2017

Love and Loss on Mother's Day

Tonight I spoke at an interdenominational memorial service "for any who mourn a child lost through miscarriage, premature birth, stillbirth, abortion, or infant death." Never having personally lost a child, it was a sobering and honoring experience to hear the stories of many who are grieving. 

Until last year, I experienced Mother's Day exclusively through the lens of a child. One year I wrote about the love and faithfulness of my own mother toward me. Another year I wrote about the "mommy wounds" many of us carry and how the motherhood of God heals us. This year is the first time I've really reflected on the pain of Mother's Day from a mother's perspective. Below are  some notes from that reflection in honor of all those who have lost children. 

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I’m speaking to you tonight as a new mom- last year around this time, my first Mother’s Day, I was sleep deprived with a brand new 3-week-old son. It’s been a wonderful, life-changing first year, in which time I’ve had a recurring thought-- a thought that's new to me since I became a mom-- and that’s this: the worst imaginable loss anyone can experience is the death of a child. 

And I’ve asked myself why is that? I lost my father when I was a teenager, so I know—many of us know— that any kind of death is horrific, but I think that children especially represent to us what is most pure and good and beautiful about this world; and so when a child is taken, we encounter the worst kind of evil. 

So at this service it’s appropriate for us to be talking about Mary, the mother of Jesus. She is a model mother, but also a woman who has experienced the death of a child. Now Jesus was an adult when he was crucified, but his death was a weight that Mary carried with her even from his infancy: in Luke 2:35, Mary and Joseph take baby Jesus to the temple and Simeon prophesies to Mary that ‘a sword will pierce your own soul also.’ Anyone who has lost a child, or who is watching a child suffer, can relate to these words: A sword will pierce your soul. 

If you are here tonight and you are grieving for a child, whether it’s because of miscarriage, stillbirth, abortion, or some other form of loss, please know that your grief is valid. Someone close to me suffered a miscarriage this past year, and she said it’s a strange loss because in many ways society does not give her permission to acknowledge it. People don’t talk about miscarriage-- they don’t treat it like a big deal. So it took courage for her to express her pain. Maybe you can relate to that. Or maybe you’ve lost a child to abortion and you feel guilty about admitting your sadness because it’s something you chose at one time. Or maybe you have other children and you feel that you shouldn’t be so sad over the one you lost.
 
But whatever your circumstances are, the fact that you feel this ache is part of what makes you a mother, or a father: We identify with our children so closely that their pain pierces our own souls also. And Mary shows us that this pain we feel is not a sign of our weakness, but it’s a sign of our humanity. Mary, the ideal mother, was not above grief. She did not dispassionately sit back while her son suffered and died; so you have a friend in Mary. She knows the pain you feel, and it is a pain that pierces the soul. 

But tonight I encourage you, whatever your circumstances, to also know that you have a friend in Jesus. He is unique in all the world b/c not only can He relate to our suffering, but He shares in it. This is what the Cross is all about: in dying for our sake, Jesus took our suffering onto Himself. He took the sword that pierces our souls and drove it into His own hands, his own side, his own feet. 

And then he rose again three days later so that you and I might also rise with him; so that the evil in this world that snatches our children away from us will one day be put to an end, so that one day all will be healed. Every tear will be wiped from our eyes, and every child will be restored. 

When we come to know Jesus as our friend, He gives us hope in the midst of our pain, because He is proof that our loss doesn’t have the final say. There is death, but because of Jesus there is also resurrection. And when we come to know Jesus as our friend, He gives us courage to continue in the painful ministry of motherhood and fatherhood: of opening ourselves to life, come what may.

That’s what I want to leave you with tonight. Each time you welcome the other, whether it be a child in the womb or a neighbor across the street or a refugee from across the world, you are being the ideal mother or father-- following in Mary’s footsteps, saying yes to God, saying yes to life, even if it means a sword may one day pierce your soul because of it. This is the Christian vocation, and it does come with scars. But it also comes with resurrection.  



 

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Life, Death, and Holy Week

This week presents very different realities for two of my friends here: one is eagerly anticipating the birth of her first child while the other is grieving the one year anniversary of his father's death. Yesterday, these friends sat side-by-side as we prayed for both of them in turn. Lamenting and celebrating. Grieving and hoping. Remembering and anticipating, in one breath. In one prayer. 

One of the reasons I fell in love with the local church is that it holds the breadth of human experience together in one place. On any given Sunday, there will be babies and widows, yuppies and divorcees, fiances and old married couples standing together. The church is the place where baptism and burial happen, where I can be reminded that my personal life-stage is simply one in the mosaic of life in all its beauty and fragility. The church forces me out of myself and into the dynamism of a family. 

But this week, it was especially poignant to pray for my two friends in their two different life-stages because this week is the reason we can hold life and death together in one place. In it we recall the death of Christ as well as his resurrection-- the events created the Church in the first place and which tangibly and permanently remind us that death and life now both belong to Him. 

I think that in the complexity of our broken world, it can be difficult to properly grieve or to properly rejoice. Bad things happen and we feel tempted to minimize them-- "death is just another part of life," or "he is in a better place now." There is truth in these things, but they often are claimed in an attempt to diminish the gravity of what has actually happened. The crucifixion of Jesus-- his willingness to take on death for our sake-- validates our grief and our rage over death. 

We feel this on some level which I think is why we also tend to minimize the good things that happen. Babies are born, but they are born into worlds full of pain and loss and turmoil, so we feel timid in celebrating too fully lest we diminish the suffering of others. Good things happen and we feel tempted to dismiss them-- "it's not that big a deal," or "I don't want to broadcast it when others are hurting." There is sensitivity in these sentiments, but they also can anesthetize us from joy. The resurrection of Jesus-- the proof that the stuff of this world is being made new-- means we ought to celebrate it. Jesus' commitment to redeeming creation validates our enjoyment of it.  

In my own life, I've wrestled with this dynamic of grief and joy and often sought to "balance" the two as if one invalidates the other. However, yesterday I was reminded that instead of invalidating each other, they belong together: without a proper celebration of the good, we don't properly mourn the loss of it. This is seen most clearly in the God-Man Jesus, whose body is now resurrected but still bearing the scars of his passion.

Wherever you find yourself in the breadth of human experience this week, consider the Person of Christ. In Him is death and life, suffering and joy, pain and promise. In His Cross, we find the most profound validation of our grief available; and in His resurrection, we find a hope beyond imagination.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Grief's Timeline

My father died 14 years ago today. It's a new layer of sad and strange to think that after today, I'll have lived more of my life without him than with him. That makes his death sound like some distant event long forgotten when in fact it's been-- and in some ways continues to be-- the most formative event of my life. 



Time is a kindness and a curse to those who've lost loved ones. It is kind to watch the sun rise day after day and realize that beauty still lives in the wake of grief. But is it also cruel that we are expected to "move on" as if death is just a passing thing.
 

This morning I was reflecting on time-- from our perspective and from God's. We live in the linear, but He lives in the eternal now. He is the Lamb who was slain from the foundation of the world: He is past, present and future. I find comfort in this fact because in Him, my father is not a long-lost memory. In Him, my grief is not old or stale. In Him, there is no contradiction between the fourteen-year-old child watching her father be lowered into the ground and the twenty-eight year old woman now holding her own child. He holds all things together, including me.



I also find comfort in the fact that this Eternal God has promised to bring our linear history to a climax by uniting us to Himself. On that Day, the finite will be wed to the Infinite; the perishable will put on the imperishable and even death will be swallowed up in victory. On that day I will see my father again.
 

But I'm reminded this morning that our glorious future will never invalidate our current pain. I'm reminded that when we see Him face to face, our Infinite Lord will still bear the marks of His own passion. He is past, present and future and He holds all things together.

To myself and to friends who've recently lost loved ones, this morning I say: there is no timeline for grief. You do not need to "graduate" from loss any more than you need to graduate from the love you still have for your departed one. I do pray you find hope in the God whose story can resolve your own, but know that His healing does not mean forgetting. It simply means His holding you together.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Sappy Mom Stuff

This past Sunday our son Isaiah was baptized. If you've ever laid eyes on my child before, you'd know that he is objectively the cutest baby of all time, so I naturally giggled and stared at him endlessly and took a thousand pictures of him in his bowtie. However, I also was moved by how sobering the experience ended up being for me. 

Presenting him to our church and asking them to make vows on his behalf-- "will you do all in your power to support these persons in their life in Christ?"-- was a surprisingly vulnerable moment. And presenting him to God and making vows of my own-- "will you be responsible for seeing that the child you present is brought up in the Christian faith and life?"-- was humbling. 

In the aftermath, I wanted to share some of my thoughts with Isaiah, for him to read one day (once he can read :) Writing this little letter to him reminded me of the words I wish I could now read from my own father who has left this place; but it also reminded me of all those who have been raised in the Church and who are not sure what their baptism might or might not mean to them now. So I share this letter with you on behalf of sappy moms everywhere. 

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My Son, 

On Sunday, January 15th, 2017, you were baptized at Truro Anglican Church. There is so much I could say about it! Your grandparents were all there. Your godmother Kate flew in. She-- and all of us-- took vows on your behalf. It was a humbling and sobering privilege to pledge before God to "do all in our power" to support you in your life in Christ. 

My precious son, I know I have and will fall painfully short of living up to this vow. I am so sorry for the times I let you down-- the times I fail to love, to model and point to the good; for the times I am selfish or proud or hardened toward you and toward the world. I ask for your forgiveness and I invite you to take whatever pain I've caused to our Lord. He alone is the perfect father, the perfect mother, the perfect friend. He is the Source and Perfection of my love for you, and He alone is your hope. 

My sweet son, I hope to devote my life to showing you the beauty of Christ by my words and actions. He has given you everything, including His very self: "this is my body, broken for you." He is the great treasure to lay hold of in this life. We long for you to respond to His grace and make Him your own, just as He has made you His-- but the choice is yours. Every day for as long as you live, He offers Himself to you. No matter what you have done, how much you have strayed, how much you doubt. He is the Rock from which you were hewn, and there is no shadow of change with Him. In all your wanderings, He is your home. 

I know from experience that we-- your physical parents-- may not always be here for you. As much as we want to be, we might not have that privilege. But we are not your hope, my son. He is. Look to Him. 

I love you so much,
Mom  


Sunday, January 1, 2017

Sex, Politics & Religion in (My) 2016

2016, it’s been wild. I’ve got way too many thoughts to write anything coherent, so I’m going to share some of the highlights. I’ll keep it light by touching on sex, politics, and religion.



Sex: This year I got pregnant for the first time. And I was a little scared. I theoretically wanted children, but honestly was a bit hesitant about following through. God in His great wisdom gave me the gift I was not yet asking for, and it has changed my life. Now when I hold my son I think, what was I so scared of? Losing sleep? Losing freedom? Getting fat? Falling behind in my career? Well, in a way, all of those fears have come to fruition. And yet on the other side of them, it seems that they were all like smoke-screens: illusions designed to keep me from seeing the truth that human life is the greatest treasure imaginable. The infinite worth of my child and the joy I experience in knowing him has brought my fears to nothing. To give my life to and for another is the reason I was put on this earth.



Politics: It is impossible to say anything on this subject without making someone uncomfortable or upset, and yet this dovetails with what I’ve learned in the past year about politics: It is good to disagree. It is good to have real dialogue and to really try to hear and understand the perspective of the other. It is a good and humbling discipline to move toward my perceived opponent instead of ranting in my echo chamber. Michael and I have said on multiple occasions this year that we feel fortunate to have real friends on both sides of the political spectrum. We respect and admire people who voted differently from each other, and who voted differently from us. One of my new year’s resolutions is to keep listening to people of various perspectives and to seek to be a person who can stand in the gap between increasingly polarized communities. Because the truth is, I see Jesus in both of them. And he Himself stood in the gap to tear down the dividing wall of hostility between brothers.



Religion: One word I’ve repeatedly spoken this year is, “why?” Why did my friend have to bury her mother? Why did another lose her baby? Why are some countries ripped to sheds while others enjoy decades of prosperity? It seems that in the here and now, there are no straight lines. The healthiest people get cancer and die. The holiest mothers remain infertile. Innocent families watch their neighborhoods get blown to bits. It is an illusion to think that if I play by the rules that I will somehow be immune to the effects of evil. It is an illusion to think that I can make sense of what happens to me or to the people I love. There are no straight lines. 



This year perhaps more than any other, I’ve realized that my hope cannot be not found in a religious system or a spiritual formula that promises certain outcomes if I behave the right way. This year I’ve realized that my hope—and the hope of the world—is in the person of Jesus. And Jesus doesn’t hand out a chart which can be used to dispassionately analyze or explain away suffering; instead, He gives Himself. To the point of death. God entered into the chaos of our pain— He knows what it is to ask “why (have you forsaken me?)”—and by His Cross He has redeemed the world.  

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What about you? What are some of your big takeaways from 2016? Anything I've said here you disagree with? Let's talk about it over coffee! 

Sunday, December 11, 2016

All I want for Christmas

I have not blogged regularly in like, years. Maybe my "blogger's block" will be cured or maybe not, but in the meantime here is something I wrote for my church last week. I share it here because my own life has been so deeply impacted by people who engaged in the ministry I describe below: people who took notice of me when I felt I was "on the outside looking in" and who named me as their own. If you are one of those people, thank you. Don't underestimate the significance of your hospitality.
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I was amazed to discover last year that the UK’s number one “Christmas hit” of the decade is a pop song called, All I want for Christmas is You. It’s a contemporary rejection of materialism—“I don’t care about the presents underneath the Christmas tree”—in favor of intimacy with another (“all I want for Christmas is you”). It seems that holiday seasons, despite the commercial fanfare and the noise, remind us that the real gift we all long for is love.

This gift of love seems to come naturally and abundantly to many of us, making Advent and Christmas a magical time to hold those loved ones a little closer. But for others, this season can be one in which the pain of loss—not the celebration of love—is heightened. Many of our coworkers, neighbors, friends, fellow parishioners, and extended family members often feel as though they watch the magic of the holiday season from the outside in.  

Thankfully, the good news of Jesus is no less than inviting the outsiders in: giving them a place at the table, a permanent sense of belonging, a share in the Family name. In Christ, we who once were far off have now been brought near (Eph. 2:13), and in Christ we are empowered to share in his ministry of love. 

How can you make this Advent not just about enjoying the love you already have, but sharing the Love that God longs to give? Who around you is lonely, longing to be invited to the family dinner? Who might be blessed by an invitation to help decorate the Christmas tree? This isn’t about doing something “extra,” but about doing what you already do with an open door and an open heart— not just to our own loved ones, but to all of God’s far off sons and daughters.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Made for Love

Another arbitrary return from my blogging hiatus here, with a post I actually wrote for my church a few months back-- right before giving birth. I've thought of it multiple times since then, and may emerge with a postpartum version one of these days (depending on how much sleep, caffeine, and free hands are in my immediate future). Until then, know here is my experience of motherhood so far, in a nutshell: 

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When I first began “showing” in my pregnancy, I struggled to adjust to the fact that my body was undeniably expanding. Looking in the mirror at times I felt that I did not recognize myself; that my body was being taken over by someone else (of course, it was!). Now as I approach childbirth, similar anxieties about what will happen to my body have surfaced. It surely is a great privilege to partner with God in bringing life into the world, but it is not one without pain.
 
Bringing these thoughts and feelings to church week after week, I’ve been invited to gaze upon the Cross of Christ which hangs high in our sanctuary. There I have been reminded that He, too, experienced the pain of self-giving as He bled for us. He, too, gave his body for love. Jesus was not a mother, but He has become my example: “this is my body, broken for you.”
 
In becoming flesh, Jesus Christ dignified the human body beyond comprehension.  And then, through simple acts—touching lepers, blessing children, washing feet, carrying a cross— He showed us exactly what the human body is for. It is not for maintaining perfection or for self-promotion, but rather for giving. The body is made for love.
 
If you happen to find yourself in a church sometime soon, gaze upon the Cross and remember the One who gave His body for you. He did not turn away from the pain that it required to bring you life. And whether you are a mother, a father, a friend, a spouse, a child, a brother or sister, ask of Him, our great example, what it means for you to follow in His footsteps. How is He calling you to give yourself, body and soul, for the sake of love? It might be uncomfortable or even painful at times. But it is what you were created for.