Idol. Simply put, an “image or representation of a god used as an object of worship.” (Webster). In terms of faith, and far more pointed and personal: “It is the thing loved or the person loved more than God, wanted more than God, desired more than God, treasured more than God, enjoyed more than God.” (John Piper)
What do I love more than God?
My children. My husband. Myself. And most good things; the very things, when asked, I would say He created. But even more than the things and people, a greater and all encompassing addiction…busyness. Because my busyness keeps me from the hard questions, the hard feelings, and makes me feel a sense of purpose and success. My search for perfect running shoes, life-changing (cellulite hiding) yoga pants, body composition, tooth whiteness, bank accounts, education, books read, places traveled, foods enjoyed, the ever-flattering photo, adventures with kids, dreamed travels without kids, new haircuts, long walks, running goals, witty responses to questions…an obsession with busyness. And myself. For someone who spends so much thought life trying to improve myself, the features I love or hate, I am the center of my universe.
“But you spend so much time taking care of your kids,” you might say. And while, yes, these little people absorb much of my hours, my thoughts are still largely about me: if I want to go outside, paint or color, goldfish or pretzels, watch Daniel Tiger rather than Thomas (always), have a self-pity party when they are uncooperative with my personal plans and goals. Me. Myself. I.
This is no fun to write.
This isn’t what I meant to write about when I sat down. But given the nature of the last paragraph, it seems excessively narcissistic to delete it…even if I’m now off topic.
(I now feel miserable and want to delete this. Also, according to HuffPost, I think I’m a narcissist. Dammit.)
I wanted to write about tonight. I went to small group my normal 35 minutes late wearing a hat (because, yikes!) and pants I now know to have holes up and down the inner thighs (because thigh gap is an unobtainable lie), and I listened to a moving and personal account of a search for true love for God, contentment, and sincere worship amidst relationships, motherhood, and pursuit of career. Nearly twelve women, most stationed here at Ft. Bragg, listened and then several shared current hardships and struggle. I intended to share, too: how my idolatry is busyness (see above and now note current relevance), I don’t make time for God since having children, I don’t intend to but do idolize nice things (tell funny story about Lululemon pants), etc. But what came out of my mouth was:
A year ago tomorrow, I hemorrhaged for the first (of three) time(s) at 28 weeks pregnant.
(Cue tears and long pauses to regain composure while making eye contact with no one.)
I remember that day so clearly. I was an emotional train wreck do to PCS preparation and hormones, and because I am always surrounded by the best friends ever created, I was gifted a time to myself to cry it out. I remember sitting on the long wooden bench in Dana’s dining room, crying and writing, eating chocolate intended for the road trip from Alaska to North Carolina. I remember the autumn-scented candle, the box of tissues I grabbed from the bookshelf. It was really one of my greater “woe is me” cries, save maybe the night someone broke into my car after I moved to Georgia alone, waiting for Stuart to return from six months of training; or maybe the first cold sore I ever got that kept me from visiting my premature baby in the NICU…but on that fall day in Fairbanks, the latter hadn’t happened yet. I wouldn’t have been able to dream up that scenario.
What I meant to say, what I thought I would say tonight, was that my faith hadn’t been the same since the trauma of that pregnancy. Because even while I laid in bed at the hospital after the transfusion, I really didn’t believe I would bleed again. Or maybe my head did, ever in a worse-case scenario posture, but a big part of me (and the part of me I wanted to believe most) was waiting with expectant hope. I was waiting for God to save me from all of it. As naive as it may sound, I didn’t think He’d let me bleed again.
But I did. About ten days later, I bled again and had to be rushed to the hospital lying on the floor of the car at one in the morning. Even still, I remember writing scripture on strips of construction paper. I made a paper chain to represent every day that I was able to keep Rosie in my belly. Every night before I tried to sleep, I had Stuart or a nurse (because I couldn’t get out of bed) move a strip from the “countdown to term pregnancy” to the “days on bed rest” chain so I could see my progress. Days pass rather slowly when you’re confined to a hospital bed. (Everyone who entered my room asked if I was an elementary teacher. Also, it turns out other women on strict bed rest knit blankets, sewed quilts and made elaborate scrapbooks. No one else had Scotch-taped non-matching, misshapen slips of paper covered with colored pencil doodles to their hospital walls. Who’d have guessed?)
But I still thought I’d make it to 34 weeks. For whatever reason, this was my heart’s goal. Believing that Rosalie would truly be okay, her lungs developed enough, that if only I could lie still enough, remain calm enough, she and I could make it. Surely all of this would be over, and she would still be miraculously healthy without any further hardship. But on my birthday, I bled again. The last time. Pregnancy over.
And while I’m dredging out all of the hard things, let me just add…. were all future pregnancies over, too? Due to my condition I knew that it was possible that I would awake from my c-section to find I had a hysterectomy, too. So, just like that…are my childbearing years over? Because I have all of the risk factors to have another complete placenta previa, who in their right mind would want to be pregnant again? Right? Who?…
…but it’s not that simple, is it.
I held everything together pretty well through my bed rest. I even stayed calm through my surgery prep. Alone. I managed to keep breathing calmly when my spinal failed and they had to put me under, even when I awoke to the pain. Seeing Rosalie for the first time, calm. Relieved even, to have this impending doom over. But when I found out that I had a cold sore, that I had kissed her with my lips and possibly put her in grave danger…when I was forbidden to see her for a week…
I couldn’t get over the danger I put her in. Yes, the cold sore…but the premature delivery, too. I am her mother. I was her home, her safe keeping, and I failed. My body failed me, it failed us. I wasn’t supposed to bleed again. It wasn’t 34 weeks. The first time I saw the tubes in her nose, struggling to breathe, I couldn’t keep my composure. And while Rosie grew stronger, those 41 days in the NICU were not life-giving to me. I fell apart, and when I put the pieces back together, they arranged themselves differently. Stronger, perhaps. But harder, yes.
Rosalie is eleven months old today. This year has been a whirlwind of rushing, movement. If I’m not still, will I know that you are God?
Like quicksand, if I slow down, things get harder. And deeper. Why did the placenta implant over my cervix? Why did I bleed? Why wasn’t my story of God’s grace that He pulled me from the fiery furnace without any burns?
This is the first time I’ve ever voiced Why Me? (My rational robotic mind usually filters nonsense questions like this.)
Because God’s graces are infinite in our situation, I find guilt and shame creeping into my throat. Humbling thoughts of God’s care: the medical jet, the blood transfusions, friends to watch Lucy, family to help with childcare, Rosalie born so big, extensive medical technologies, the healthcare and insurance coverage, Stuart staying in Anchorage with me to help, living at the Fisher House, excellent doctors and nurses, remaining uterus, healthy Rosalie, supportive and faithful friends, ad infinitum. And while I remind myself that suffering is not best understood by comparison, my heart breaks for those with very different outcomes. Families leave hospitals every day without their babies.
So why are all of the ways in which I was provided for, all of the things that went right, why are those most easily forgotten? One year later, the things that remain are the pains of the suffering we had to walk through, the pain I so desperately prayed to be spared.
Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind and said:
“Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?
Dress for action like a man;
I will question you, and you make it known to me. “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?
Tell me, if you have understanding.
Who determined its measurements—surely you know!
Or who stretched the line upon it?
On what were its bases sunk,
or who laid its cornerstone,
when the morning stars sang together
and all the sons of God shouted for joy?
“Or who shut in the sea with doors
when it burst out from the womb,
when I made clouds its garment
and thick darkness its swaddling band,
and prescribed limits for it
and set bars and doors,
and said, ‘Thus far shall you come, and no farther,
and here shall your proud waves be stayed’?
“Have you commanded the morning since your days began,
and caused the dawn to know its place,
that it might take hold of the skirts of the earth,
and the wicked be shaken out of it?
It is changed like clay under the seal,
and its features stand out like a garment.
From the wicked their light is withheld,
and their uplifted arm is broken.
“Have you entered into the springs of the sea,
or walked in the recesses of the deep?
Have the gates of death been revealed to you,
or have you seen the gates of deep darkness?
Have you comprehended the expanse of the earth?
Declare, if you know all this.
Job 38: 1-18
Oh Job. I am so sorry you had to take that one for the team. I even cower when I read it. I know that I don’t get to know, and I’m working on accepting that. See? Isn’t that the problem? I can’t work on this. I just need You, God, to do it for me, or with me…through me? More than that, if I am sincerely going to be grateful for Your provision, I might as well start by honestly saying what You already know:
God, I feel like you let me down. I am not, by nature, a hoper. Trust is hard for me. And I really sincerely hoped you would stop the bleeding. I believed that You could and You would. And I hear the spoiled tone of voice and the small-mindedness I so often get from my three year old. I am sorry for that, too. I don’t want to feel this way. I want bold faith without doubts, grief or mess. I want to just be thankful.
And I don’t like being still.
But He gives more grace.
It’s a new day. I wrote everything above late last night, crawling into bed after midnight…nursing a baby at four in the morning, first cup of coffee a little after six. I just got back from a run. The baby is napping. Lucy is dismantling the bookshelf around my feet and sprinkling peanut butter cracker crumbs for the petting zoo I’m certain we are advertising to critters near and far. My community group filled my inbox with loving, thoughtful messages this morning and late last night. I am supported. I am loved. I am prayed for.
But I am still embarrassed that I wrote this, that I feel this. Why did I write this? Maybe HuffPost is right; narcissism? External processing? Is this just an emotional “picture of what I had for dinner”? Maybe.
But maybe, if I actually share this (currently undecided), you’ll say “me too.” Maybe you’ve seen some stuff. Maybe you’re walking through it. Maybe you are mad at God…your Mom has cancer. You’re infertile. You lost your job. You’re in debt and unhappy. You threw up your dinner because it made you feel in control. You’re lonely. Maybe you’re holding a newborn baby and weeping because you feel miserable in this new position. Maybe you’re scrolling through Facebook looking for a way to feel better about yourself. Maybe you bought the Lululemon pants and you still don’t like your thighs. Maybe…it’s not just me.
Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.
Romans 5: 3-4
I’m not sure I’m ready to “rejoice in my sufferings.” But surely, this has produced endurance. Character? Maybe. Hope? Not quite yet.
So let me go even further back to “access by faith.” I need faith. We need faith. A faith bigger than the love of comfort, bigger than the hard feelings. Deeper and stronger. Let us ask together. Honestly, openly…admitting doubts and fears, waving our white flags over our head. Let us not stay here. We don’t have to endure the same troubles, the same pain again and again. Our being still does not have to be staying same.