Category Archives: Kara

Gifts of goodness, gifts of grace

steve holt 014Some days I have a keen sense of observation. Keener than usual. I notice every movement of my babies’, especially my big one who seems to be growing at an outrageously unfair rate. As I type I am watching him set up for his guitar practice—it is a painstaking process for a 2-year old and one he does every single day. He gets out his music stand, puts his book on it, then finds four or five of Papa’s guitar pedals and puts them on the floor by the music stand. He finds a guitar stand and puts his guitar (ukulele) on it. He gets the peg winder out of his guitar case and “tunes” his guitar. He looks for a pick and then is ready to play, tapping his foot and making good use of the pick that looks big in his toddler hand.

He has moved on to the piano, clearing all of my music to make space for his own. He climbed on the bench all by himself and is playing away, occasionally stopping to look for my approving smile and words of affirmation. He doesn’t bang the keys—he explores them, playing high notes and low notes, loud and soft. He will sit there for 30 or 40 minutes plunking out compositions with his index fingers.  He just turned to me, laughed, and clapped for himself. “Well done, Von; that is nice music,” I say, and I mean it. He is now singing gleefully with a big grin on his face. I shared this weekend on Facebook that he finally sang his first song—not “Twinkle Twinkle” or “Jesus Loves Me” like I had expected. Instead, he belted out part of the chorus of New Kids on the Block’s “The Right Stuff”: Oh oh oh oh oh. Oh oh oh oh.

He’s got amazing rhythm and I love hearing him develop it in his baby ways.2nd bday 032This kind of day makes me a slave to my babies in a good way. It seems I can’t help but watch them. I have a laundry basket of cloth diapers waiting to be assembled, and I really should mop the kitchen floor. I overcooked the lasagna noodles, so distracted was I by these little ones. My eyes seem glued to them, I gather them in my arms for as many cuddles and kisses as they’ll tolerate.

v 012I’ve been wondering what it means to be happy, to take delight in things in this broken world. I know it’s dangerous to allow my heart to become too attached to anything here—I could lose any or all of it without a moment’s notice, including my beautiful babies. I know that these gifts are meant to point me toward Jesus, that He is my source of true, unending joy and hope. I know that He is the giver of all good things. But I struggle to live in this world that demands our attentions—and rightly so—to help carry burdens and soothe hurting hearts and walk alongside suffering people, and all while experiencing our own sadnesses.

This past weekend marked the second anniversary of the stillbirth of our nephew. Timothy would be 6 weeks younger than Von. His mama and I enjoyed being pregnant together and plotting how these two boys would be best friends. We imagined their faces and personalities, and I got them matching outfits. While we miss the presence of Timothy, my heart aches most for his mama; I can imagine Timothy’s face, but I can’t imagine his mama’s grief. And in all honesty, I don’t want to.

When we suffer such impossible grief, how do we reconcile the gifts of goodness in this ugly world that could snatch away our gifts tomorrow? Sometimes I feel like happiness is a consolation prize meant to comfort me until the next shoe drops. I struggle to believe God is benevolent and I try to pound into my head that His definition of Goodness is bigger, wider, more comprehensive than mine. That I can only see the here and now and a lot of my suffering is caused not by the absence of something or someone I love but my lack of trust in a loving God who promises eventual Goodness and Glory that I will not only finally understand but revel in.

In the middle of writing this, Von stopped playing the piano for a moment. “Mama? Mama?” he called. I looked up and couldn’t help but smile at his little voice, his dimpled hands on the keys, his smooth blonde eyebrows raised in question. “Yes, my babylove.” He patted the piano bench next to him. “Mama!! MAMA!!” He was asking me to sit next to him. How could I resist?!

I sat next to him, my right arm around him to reach the keys. We copied each other’s rhythms and notes, observing each other’s hands on the keys. His content head rested against the side of my breast, safe and happy.

My son is no consolation prize—he is a gift of grace. Yes, a gift that could be taken tomorrow, but a gift that has eternal significance as well as significance to me in this moment. This baby boy proves to me that God is Good, even if I don’t understand what that means. I don’t need to understand—I just need to believe, to trust, to be thankful for the gifts of grace I have been entrusted with in this minute. That gives me the strength to trust that if my gifts are gone tomorrow, maybe God will continue to be generous in giving me the faith in Him to get through loss. And the faith to focus on my biggest Gift, the Gift of Grace that will ultimately satisfy my every longing and that will heal the scabby wounds of my ever-grieving heart.  016

Mundane Faithfulness

Birthing trust

The birth of our son last year was a joyous, tremendous occasion; however, it was a difficult birth and left me with a bit of emotional trauma from which I’m not sure I’ve recovered. That was an eye-opener for me—while I’ve had some suffering in my life, I had never physically suffered like that. During the aftermath, I didn’t respond in a way that pleased my heart, and I realized I just didn’t have a good theological foundation of suffering that I could fall back on when needed. So I started intentionally trying to build that foundation. I read books and created a file where I’ve stored more than 50 articles on suffering that have taught and encouraged me. And because I have a tendency to distrust happiness and to always be wondering when the other shoe will drop, I wondered and sometimes worried that God was preparing me for suffering in some way. Different horrible scenarios would run through my head, and I’d try to figure out how I would respond and if I were in a place of trusting God in the midst of each situation.

When we got pregnant again, I struggled with trusting my fears to the Lord—was my baby the other shoe? Was I going to be asked to suffer as a result of something happening to her? I couldn’t answer that question, so I started preparing myself mentally, emotionally, and spiritually for another difficult birth. I desired a birth experience where I could draw near to God during the labor but also trust him and trust his goodness in the days that followed.

The pregnancy was high risk, and I knew the doctor would want to induce like he did last time. At my 39-week appointment, he communicated that he wouldn’t allow me to go much longer, so I anticipated that he would schedule an induction at my next appointment. An appointment that was scheduled for the exact time that my friend Kara would be in surgery in which the doctors would remove the tumors that held Kara’s fate. I had a difficult time focusing on my doctor that morning. Thankfully, Auntie Polly took care of Von so I didn’t have to worry about him as well. But several minutes into my appointment, the doctor had my attention—his concerns about our daughter were elevated and he was scheduling my induction for that day.

That afternoon as I made preparations to leave the baby and go to the hospital, my mind kept wandering to Kara. I prayed and prayed and prayed—for a miracle, for Jason’s peace of mind, for healing, for Kara’s heart. I had heard no news by the time we left for the hospital. I remarked to Aaron that was a bad sign—surely if the news were good, we would have heard, right?

As the nurse checked me in to the hospital, she asked if I would like them to contact my clergyman in the case of an emergency. I opened my mouth to answer, but instead, sobs just poured out, imagining Jason trying to comfort us while his own heart was broken.

The next day as labor was getting intense, my thoughts were on our son. I had never been away from him and I missed his little body, hearing his inquisitive “Oh this?” a thousand times a day, watching him “reading” his books in his crib, cuddling him before bed. With each contraction every two or three minutes for hours, tears would come. Even though he was in trusted hands, I couldn’t bear the separation and knowing that as wonderful as his aunties are, no one can replace mommy.

I think my attendants thought I was crying from pain (which I did indeed do later!) during those hours, but I was crying for the brokenness of our world. I was crying for my little boy. I was crying for mommies separated from their children. I was crying for the news about Kara I was sure would come. I was crying for her heart and the hearts of her babies. With my contractions, I prayed. Because of the physical exhaustion, my prayers were simple and childlike, but as I surrendered my physical pain to the Lord, I surrendered my fears over Kara’s situation. I surrendered her, trusting God’s love for her and her family.

We were in the hospital for two more days, during which I did not have internet access. I heard from Kara from her hospital room across the city, and still she was silent about her news. Aaron and I talked about the paradox of bringing life into this world just as Kara was finding out the providence of her own. I didn’t have the courage to check her blog until almost two days after I had been home; my fears and suspicions were confirmed. I looked up at Aaron from my laptop and couldn’t speak—the tears were coming too furiously.

When I started asking God about how to handle suffering biblically last year, I assumed I was headed for direct suffering. And I realize I am headed there eventually and inevitably. But short term, I didn’t realize that I would be asked to trust God with the suffering of someone I love. I didn’t know my suffering would be the painful result of watching a friend’s heart and body break. I was ignorant of the fact that my first battle would be one of fighting for faith, praying for mercy, and begging for hope.

I don’t know Kara’s story. I don’t know my children’s stories or even my own story. I have no way of writing a happy ending for all of us; and yet, my heart understands a peace that trumps my worst fears. For despite all I don’t know, I do know a God who loves passionately and who creates beauty and goodness from ugliness and brokenness, who will redeem his children from the excruciating pains of this failing world, and who promises his children blessings that will make our trials somehow worth it. He works miracles, extends mercies, and never leaves us alone. That is enough for me to cling to.

Isaiah 43:1-3

Fear not, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name, you are mine.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
and the flame shall not consume you.
For I am the Lord your God,
the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.

Joy in the morning

It’s 9:45 in the morning, and I’ve just put the baby down for a nap. I checked Facebook as a cheap substitute for some kind of feeling of connection to those I love. It’s Sunday morning and instead of being at church, I’m home with Baby V. In the middle of the night, I checked on him on my way to the bathroom, and as I was walking out of the nursery, I heard those dreaded sounds…By the time I had taken those four or five steps back to his little body, he had thrown up.

Aaron came in to help while I changed the sheets and got everything straightened out. The two of them were cuddling in the rocking chair under a quilt when I tip-toed out of the room and crawled back into bed. A few minutes later, I heard Aaron whispering comforting words to the baby as he tucked him back in, and a moment later, I felt his hand on my back. Even in the dark he knew I had tears soaking my pillow; he knew the implications of the baby being sick and how they hurt my heart.

This morning I tried to be cheerful and helpful as Aaron was getting ready for church. Baby V seemed better—he appeared to be super tired but his fever was gone and there was no more vomiting—but I knew that I wouldn’t be able to check him into the church nursery after the night we had. As he left, Aaron hugged and kissed me and looked at me with such compassion I had to turn away.

I hate missing church. The people at Westside have become our family. Every Sunday we worship with them, taking communion and singing songs and learning more about our all-loving God. I get to see and talk to women I wouldn’t otherwise see during the week. I check in on the Covenant children who seem to be growing much too quickly. It is precious time and some of my favorite hours of my entire week.

Today is an extra important day to be at church. Our pastor’s wife and my sweet friend, Kara, is having surgery tomorrow. We’ve known about it for months—after her battle with breast cancer over the past year, this was supposed to be a routine procedure. But at a pre-op appointment, Kara and Jason heard some potentially terrible news—Kara might have another battle with cancer ahead of her. They won’t know for sure until tomorrow when the surgery is complete and pathology tests are done. Friday morning, one of Kara’s dear friends hosted a time of fellowship and prayer for Kara and I missed it because Baby V had a doctor’s appointment. My heart was heavy and sad wanting to be with those ladies, wanting to encourage Kara but also needing the fellowship and love of other women who are also gripped with fear that our beloved sister might be facing the worst.

So instead, I’ve looked forward to today, being with our church family—the people who know and love me and have loved Kara and her family so very well through their journey. They are the people who understand why some days I wake with a heart frozen in fear, why I lose my breath when I think about tomorrow, why I want to throw up when my mind starts playing out different scenarios of “what if.” But instead of being across the aisle from Kara where I can watch her worshipping with her children and take joy in their smiles, I am sitting on my couch listening to lullaby music streaming from the nursery.

Somehow I feel even more helpless than I would sitting helplessly at church. I know that’s ridiculous, but my heart yearns to give Kara a huge hug and make sure she knows how much we love her and her family, how we’ve got their backs. I had wanted to talk to her biggest little this morning about occasionally helping me once Baby Girl is here. I looked forward to seeing her other children chasing each other and catching rolly pollies. Yet I know those are all selfish desires. Kara knows my love for her. She doesn’t need my tears and weak smiles—this morning she’ll have the encouragement of the Bride of Christ and Jesus himself in all his glory. She will sing songs that remind her of the strength, power, and love of God. She will participate in the Communion of the Saints in which she joins the immense family of God in celebrating and humbly acknowledging what Jesus did so we could have this sweet fellowship with him and each other.

Church has started by now. Since Aaron is the worship leader, I know what songs they are singing. I know the basic order of worship. And I can participate—maybe not in person, but I can pray and worship from a distance. I can claim the joy of being a part of this body of people even if I am not physically present. I know the heartbeat of this group, I know what is on their hearts today. And while I can’t experience worship with them in person, I certainly can in spirit. I can praise the Lord, thank the Lord, petition the Lord, and be encouraged by the Lord, knowing he is doing the same for my church family. I don’t know what his story is for Kara long term, but I know that this morning, his story for her is to love her and to show that love to her through the arms, words, and prayers of others. And because he loves me, too, I can be a part of that from right here on my couch.

Christ Is Risen

 

My heart hurts

I was 20 when my parents died, and for the first time, I understood that people had problems. Real problems. Life isn’t a Hallmark movie where tears may flow, but everything is wrapped up in a nice, little bow after all is said and done; life hurts and is full of heartbreak and is ugly messy.

It took me a long time before I could drive without fear, and I remember being so sensitive to bad drivers—maybe their parents just died in a car accident, too. Maybe their baby is sick. Maybe their wife is in labor. Maybe their mother can’t remember them.

I’m also the kind of traveler who thinks everyone else is doing the same thing I am. When I’m headed somewhere fun, I assume everyone else on the plane is, too. When I’m exhausted and grumpy headed home, I think everyone else is surely doing the same. When I travel for funerals, I looked around and wonder how many people around me are grieving.

I guess I am selfishly close-minded like that. I assume everyone is going through what I am experiencing. Or maybe I have a hope that people will understand what I’m going through and have a little grace.

This is different. I have known all my life that illness strikes. My parents died suddenly, but I’ve been around sick people. My aunt had cancer for 23 years. A close friend of my sister’s has also had long-term cancer. But this is the first time a friend of mine who is my age has gone through something like this. Since hearing her news, which is inconclusive at best, I have walked around in a haze. I can’t be surprised—I know the statistics of illness—and yet I can’t seem to process what I’ve been told. Maybe that’s because of the uncertainty of the situation?

Instead of walking around wondering who else is sick and giving grace to people because I’m keenly aware in this moment that sickness affects so many, I want to ask people, “Do you know my friend? Did you know she might be sick? Because she’s amazing. Smart. Funny. Beautiful. She loves my baby boy. She laughs at my jokes. She touches lives wherever she goes. You need to know her!” I have a frantic feeling, wanting to scream from the rooftops the unfairness of this situation. But I can’t because it’s not fair for anyone to be sick. As special as my friend is, she is no more so than the next beloved person who falls ill.

We took a 6-pack to her and her husband after finding out the news (un-news? Is it news when you really don’t know anything yet?). I sat on our couch beforehand thinking about her, hoping that we could be an encouragement. My Bible sat nearby, but I couldn’t pick it up. I couldn’t even think of an encouraging passage. Instead, I wanted to pray. Yet my prayers wouldn’t come. I heard my voice say, “God, I just need to be with you right now. I just need you to draw me close. I just need to hang out.” I once told this friend that I wish I could fix her—she said, gently, “I don’t need to be fixed—I just need grace.”

That was me in this moment. I didn’t need perfect words of advice or the perfect Bible passage. I just needed to be reminded of God’s grace. Of his presence and his character—his goodness, his Sovereignty, his tender love. That’s enough for now. And I take great comfort in the fact that when my friend’s un-news turns to news, it will be enough then, too.