Category Archives: Soapbox

Fighting for forgiveness

DSC00895I have a few topics close to my heart that I love to soapbox about: shame, community, pursuit, adoption. These are things I’m passionate about because they’re part of my journey and I’ve wrestled through them in some form or another. Recently, I’ve been wrestling with another issue that might become one of my soapboxes—forgiveness.

I have struggled with bitterness since I was a kid. And not necessarily the you-sinned-against-me-big-time-and-I’ll-never-get-over-it-and-will-make-you-pay-for-the-rest-of-your-life kind of bitterness. More of a general, life-hasn’t-gone-my-way-and-I-feel-sorry-for-myself bitterness. This is a bitterness that, regardless of what I’d like to believe about my heart, is pointed at God. He is the only one who has the power to have made my life go a different way, so ultimately he is the object of my anger and hurt. Over the years, God has softened my heart toward him as I’ve learned that regardless of my feelings and how I’d like to plan my life, God’s plan is always Good—better, in fact, than the best scenario I could imagine. That’s difficult to believe a lot of the time, so I fight for faith to trust God’s Goodness and love.

Through different relationships, God has helped me realize that the reason I am prone to feel bitter isn’t simply because I want to control my life and think I would do a better job than God; it is because I am hurt and feel overlooked. When things don’t go my way, sometimes it feels like I have been discounted, like God’s purpose and plan are way more important than my feelings, my heart. And they are, I suppose, but that doesn’t mean that my heart is not important to God. I picture him pushing me aside as I try to hold the fragile pieces of my life together. “Move over, kid,” he says. As he nudges me, the pieces I was balancing so carefully all fall to the ground. My hard work and planning has counted for nothing. In the meantime, God’s big, beautiful, mighty plan is getting all kinds of praise and accolades, while everybody stomps on the pieces of my life in their hurry to rush by me. In fact, sometimes it feels like people are running away from me.

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That’s not the case. The case is that God tenderly gathers me in his arms. My fragile pieces start falling, but they don’t shatter; instead, they vaporize and my Father whispers, “You never held them anyway. I carry those for you.” As my heart hurts and the confusion threatens, God holds me tighter and tighter, gently reminding me to not take my eyes off him—that  pain does not equal bad, that God’s story is sweeter than mine, that I don’t have to fear not having control.

As these truths started taking root in my heart, my bitterness started to slowly fade.

As for forgiveness, I’ve never been one to withhold it. I am grateful for forgiveness being extended to me, and I always want to readily extend it to others. But the other day, I ran into someone from my past. From years ago. Someone who held the promise of friendship and community in her hand and then snatched it away with nastiness and criticism. Her actions had consequences in my life she could never have imagined. She apologized at the time, and I forgave her, but the consequences remained. The wounds she created are still being healed, and kind of scabily. Anyway, at the mere mention of her name, a righteous vindictiveness arose in my heart. I jumped up onto my metaphorical pedestal and recounted every last bit of the scenario in which she hurt me, including my gracious and generous forgiveness. By the end of my recounting (which was just in my head, by the way), I was a pathetic, self-righteous puddle, shocked at how quickly I tried to take back forgiveness and justify my anger, my bitterness.

Am I not wanting to forgive because I want to justify my own hurt and anger at what she did to me? Am I wanting to prove a point in my heart about how awful she was to me? Is my bitterness so valuable to me that I am okay with withdrawing my forgiveness and stewing about this old issue and reliving all the hurt and rejection I suffered originally?

No. It’s not. My mind wandered until it came across that sad place, the pieces of my life scattered around me as everybody rushed past me, not noticing me, my tears, or my brokenness. And it hit me—I allowed bitterness to overtake me in that moment because this woman will never know the consequences of what she did to me and how widespread they were. She thought her offense was small, but to me, it was big. Her apology was for her actions, not the future impact of her actions. My brokenness went overlooked. I went overlooked. Only my husband and Jesus ever knew about it. I didn’t feel big and loud and justified at the time—I felt small and unimportant and unnoticed and loserish.

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So what does this mean? I do not like the ugliness of my heart that this encounter revealed. I am reminded that forgiveness means forgiving the action as well as the long-term consequences. That it means paying the price for this woman’s act against me so that she doesn’t have to. Even though we are not in relationship, in my head I could force her to pay the price of what she did over and over again OR I can Let It Go. Withholding forgiveness means I am defined by her act against me; I don’t want to be under her control in that way.

Maybe instead I can crawl up in God’s lap and rest, knowing that he understands what happened, he knows best the hurt of my heart, he is healing me, and his story that he is writing for me is full of redemption and life, not bitterness and hate. Maybe I can trust God, trust his love for me, trust that he cares that my heart was broken, and trust that he wants to make me whole. Maybe I can trust that as little as I am, God still sees me and he cares. Maybe.

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Smitten Mouse mish mash

Like many bloggers and as I did on my last blog, I think it would be fun to occasionally post links to neato sites and blogs I come across in my perusing. I follow more than 100 blogs, so I find a lot of fun things, but I promise to only link to the ones that are spectacular. :)

When I think of Albania, I automatically think of Albi the racist dragon. So I had no idea that after WWII, Albania was one of very few countries that actually had more Jews than when the war started. I wish this article told more personal stories, because this is amazing and inspiring!

This is a very fair and insightful article on two Christian families’ callings to adopt. I love how it gives a clear picture of their situations–both the good and difficult sides. I can’t imagine adopting special needs children, but one of the mothers in the article says if she had known what she was getting into at the time, she would never have made the decision to adopt. And yet, of course, she wouldn’t change anything for the world.

I thought about devoting an entire blog post to this article. It talks about women being sexually short-changed in hookups. Because I believe in monogamy and sex as a gift of marriage, I would argue that this situation modern women are finding themselves in is not surprising–that it points to God’s design of sex being for one man and one woman for a lifetime; in that capacity, a woman (and a man) could actually be fulfilled sexually. Of course, I would have to define my terms, like “fulfilled,” which would be fun, but it would take forrrevvver.

This is a spectacular piece of literary criticism, which I usually (i.e. always) only find in literary publications. How fun to read such an article in a mainstream publication. Anyway, the author is looking at the question of the marriage plot and whether or not modern marriage (and the ease of divorce) has made using marriage as a plot frame outdated because of the lack of societal and even personal consequences for a woman from divorce.

At my parents’ funeral, my creative writing professor (whom I’ve mentioned before…) handed me a journal and said, “I hope to hear some powerful poetry from you at the poetry reading next month.” Her expectation, void of even a trite expression of sympathy, angered me. Not only was I unable to write for many years, I was unable to read poetry as well. The writer of this article experienced something similar when her mother died. In the years since, she has found her voice again as well as some others’ who have poetically explored death and grief.

This is a heartbreaking collection of abortion stories–short, paragraph-long explanations of why mothers chose to end their pregnancies. It’s not easy to read, but it gives insight into how and why a woman would make this decision.

Bringing Jecoah home

I don’t recall playing House with my sisters when I was little. We played Star Wars and Star Trek; I have distinct memories of spinning in a fast circle in order to change into Wonder Woman. And I’m pretty sure the Incredible Hulk was in there somewhere as well the Bionic Man (and Woman). We played School, in which I was NEVER the teacher but always the idiot student who ended up in a dunce cap. We also played Barbies, but I can’t quite remember plot lines; I do, however, remember cutting their hair and using safety pins to poke nipples into their mountainous breasts.

So you can imagine my surprise when I was playing House with a friend one day, pretending like I played House alllll the time and was familiar with the common House scnarios, and she stuck a ball up her shirt. She said she was pregnant. I knew what that meant by now, having a baby brother and sister. But I didn’t know what it meant when this little girl laid down on my bed, knees spread, and started groaning and shouting. Suddenly, she was holding a baby doll and the ball was gone from under her shirt. “Say,” she said, “the baby came out and this ball was the baby but now this doll is the baby.”

What the hell. That was a definite party foul in my 8-year-old mind.

My idea of fun was pretending that I was a grownup with long hair (my mother’s brown, elastic-waist, polyester skirt on my head) living in a simple cottage who found a baby on her doorstep with a note, “Please take care of my baby.” Simple enough. Although I called the police, they left the baby with me because obviously I was a most competent mother and the biological mother thought this was best for her baby. I ended up with as many orphans-in-baskets as I had dolls; the word on my make-believe street clearly was that I was the raddest mom out there.

 

I was quite little when Ethiopia was struck by a severe and tragic famine in the 1980s. I have vivid memories of sitting on our green couch and seeing images of starving children on tv. I didn’t understand what was happening except that these children were far away and they were very hungry. For some inexplicable reason, I believed these children to be orphans, and at night when I couldn’t sleep, I’d cry about the poor children with the big, brown eyes who needed families to love them. Since then, I’ve had a passion for orphan ministry.

And then my siblings and I became orphans.

I was 20, a near-adult, but my little brother and sister were still very young and became the stuff movies are made of, except I can verify that being orphaned is not glamorous as Hollywood makes it seem. One of the most difficult decisions I’ve ever made in my life was whether or not my older sister and I should Party of Five our little brother and sister or send them to Texas to live with our aunt and uncle. We decided to send them to Texas, but it broke my heart to do so. They were blessed to have had options for people to care for them—most orphans in this world do not.

This brings me to my friend Shellie. We first met more than 15 years ago in college, not that I remember. Our latest meeting was this fall in Bible study, which I co-lead with Kara. I didn’t recognize Shellie from church so I took a deep breath, forcing my introversion deep down inside. I smiled and said something super clever like, “I don’t think I’ve met you.” To which she replied, “Actually, we went to college together—you’re Blythe, right?”

Oh, man. Every introvert’s nightmare. Now I was having to reply off the cuff and try to save whatever shred of dignity I could scrape up while trying to convince her I’m not a big, fat jerk. But before I could come up with something totally cool to say, Shellie had continued, talking about how she was only at CCU for a semester and there is no reason for me to remember her. Her grace for me in the moment when I felt like such a dork relaxed me and made my heart smile.

We became Facebook friends and I soon learned that she and her husband were in the process of adopting a little boy from across the world. Somehow and inexplicably during this time, I ended up watching “What to Expect When You’re Expecting,” and through my sobs during the scene when J-Lo traveled to Ethiopia to pick up her adopted son, all I could think about was Shellie and her baby boy. We started texting about it (she claims to have sobbed through that scene, too—either she is as emotional as I am when it comes to adoption or she just said that to make me feel less ridiculous—either way, she’s incredibly gracious) and then she sent me the link to her blog.

Here’s the deal. I’ve spent my life thinking about orphans and adoption. I’ve traveled across the world to love on them, I’ve supported them financially, and I’ve dreamed of adopting. In fact, my husband and I were actively looking in to it when we got pregnant the first time. But something Shellie said on her blog struck me to my core: in a letter to her precious son Jecoah awaiting his adoption in DRC, she wonders if his caretakers tell him that they love him. I felt my metaphorical wind get knocked out of me. Does this little boy know he is loved? Even if he can’t understand the impending adoption into a loving family who has sacrificed so much for him, does he know in his little bitty heart that he is worthy of love? That he was created to be loved? That passionate love is part of his story?

I broke down, not just thinking about this one baby who maybe has never heard the words “I love you,” but all the millions of other babies in the world, past and present and future, who may never know what a mommy and daddy’s love is. I almost could not catch my breath processing this single thought.

All of a sudden, bringing this baby home to his mommy became an urgent plea of my heart; this little boy needs to be held close by his mama and told a million times how loved he is. He needs to feel the strong arms of his daddy around his little lovable, squeezy body.

Some friends of Shellie’s have organized a fund raiser to help with the last of the funds needed for this endeavor. I have asked to be a part of it; it’s the very least I can do to love this boy and his family, and you also have the opportunity to love them; click here for information.

I implore you to consider helping; while we can’t wrap every orphan in this world in our arms, we can help this one—sweet Jecoah—and ensure he never closes his eyes at night without being smothered in kisses from his mommy, daddy, and three adoring sisters, knowing he is safe in their love.

Remembering the littlest ones

Something about autumn makes me sentimental. I think it’s the chilly weather forcing me inside where I light holiday candles, pull out the afghans, beg the mister to build fires, and sit on my comfy chair, which has a perfect view of the changing leaves. From this spot, I can hear Baby Boy in his room playing in his crib, and as I cuddle Baby Girl, I reminisce to 2 years ago when we were experiencing our first fall in this bungalow and I was pregnant with our son. Our sister in law was also pregnant with a little boy, and we loved texting back and forth, dreaming of these children being best friends, wondering if they’d look alike, planning when we could all get together.

Six weeks after our son was born, I was feeding him one night when Aaron’s phone rang. It was his brother. I knew from Aaron’s tone of voice something was not right; in fact, something sounded very wrong. Our sister-in-law had gone in for her routine OB appointment right before her due date, and there was no baby heartbeat—their son had died. The doctors couldn’t explain exactly what happened; no answers could make sense of this horrific loss. As I nursed my own son in that moment, tears fell onto his small body for the boy who wouldn’t feel his mama’s embrace until she joined him in Heaven. For months, we cried over this death. We knew that Timothy was with Jesus, and for that we were grateful. But we loved him and missed him, and more than that, we hurt for his mama and daddy, whose pain we knew was a hundred times deeper than our own.

That was in the midst of a strange and difficult season for us. Many people we loved were suffering the loss of their children. One friend, a woman I’ve known since she was 7, left me a voicemail saying she had something very important and exciting to tell me. I knew in my heart of hearts that she was pregnant, but I never got her return call sharing the good news; instead, I got news that yes, she had been pregnant, but she had subsequently suffered a miscarriage. I was devastated for her—I knew how much she wanted that baby, how loved that baby was already. The next Sunday in church my shoulders shook with uncontrollable gulping sobs. I couldn’t process this loss or the pain that this woman—someone I love so dearly—was experiencing.

Friends of ours who were in our wedding suffered two miscarriages during this time. More tears were shed as I read the blog of a cousin who is a missionary across the world. She described delivering her stillborn baby in the bathtub with her husband’s brave and compassionate assistance, and the grace of God that never left their hearts. Another friend also wrote about her loss on her blog; I have read this post countless times and marveled at my her faith in the Lord right in the middle of awful. She wrote in the midst of her grieving process, which struck me as brave and trusting. Another friend describes her miscarriage and offering up her suffering while her child passed from this life—a beautiful testimony to God’s sovereign and compassionate hand. I tried to imagine her in the ER alone, praying for her friend giving birth, dealing with this compassionate, mysterious God who gives and takes away.

I know God is in the business of redemption. One part of that for many of our friends has been the babies God has blessed them with, including a set of twins due in the spring. But the arrival of new life doesn’t erase the pain of loss. October is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day, and October 15 is a specific day set aside for parents and families to light a candle in memory of these little lives lost. I never knew this day even existed until Timothy died. We prayerfully, sadly light a candle for our little nephew and shed big crocodile tears. I pray for mamas and daddies who have lost a baby, especially my sister-in-law and her empty arms. I praise God for the story he is writing, even when it hurts. I thank him that someday we will all get to meet Timothy and spend eternity with each other, never having to part again. This year my sister-in-law and I texted back and forth a bit; she assured me that she was doing well and been able to celebrate Timothy. She is blessed in that she has friends who engage her in conversation about her loss, but I know a lot of people are uncomfortable talking about this subject.

Friends, it’s an ugly and unbearable loss. It’s an awkward subject to talk about. It’s something we wish couldn’t exist in our world, much less happen to someone we love (or ourselves!). But please don’t let the pain keep you from asking a parent how they’re doing in their grief; don’t pretend like everything is okay when it’s not. Honor the short, tiny lives; reach out to parents no matter how long it has—or hasn’t—been. Ask questions about their baby if that would be encouraging. Ask to see pictures if they exist. Lend dignity to the babies’ lives and comfort their parents. Let’s remember together the littlest ones.