Grief made me a winter girl

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It feels weird to be coming up on another winter already. I guess I shouldn’t say “coming up on”… it’s just that I’m used to being in the south where I could probably still be wearing short sleeves right now. Alas, winter is in full swing up here in the mountain time zone. Ski season starts this weekend, which means nothing to me, but I think that at least means there’s a lot of snow on the mountains, so I’m calling it winter.

When I was in college, I had this thing for spring time. Spring brings this sense of newness that washes away the gray of winter and breathes life back into dry bones. There was one really special spring, my junior year of college, when I’d been believing God for a lot of really big, really specific things — and all at once, they all happened.

He was teaching me a lot about His loving kindness in that season. It’s still one of my favorite seasons of promises fulfilled to look back on and remember how faithful He is.

In my mid-twenties, though, I’ve grown this affinity for winter. It’s not the same “butterflies and excitement for something new” kind of love that I used to have for spring, though. It’s a deep love that has known suffering and grown to appreciate the way our barren days beckon us to enter into a kind of rest that makes way for a bigger, better spring.

Last winter was really hard. I remember heading into my second holiday season of believing God for a family, wondering why things were the way they were, wishing they were different. Hope deferred is a hard pill to swallow sometimes, and it seemed like I was having to do it often.

Within three weeks of each other, I would find out that both of my sisters and one of my closest friends were all unexpectedly pregnant. I wrestled with God through comparison and envy and just anger over the way He seemed to be forgetting about me. It was a pretty brutal holiday season.

And then God did the sweetest thing. He redeemed it all. He opened a door to give us a baby boy that was to be born within the same couple of months as all those babies of my sisters and my friend. It really was the sweetest spring.

As you know if you’ve followed along here the last few months, we didn’t get to meet that boy on this side of Heaven. Everything about our circumstances had me expecting for this to be my most painful winter yet. But something strange has happened: I feel more hopeful now than I did heading into last year’s winter.

There’s something about being shaken that tests the strength of your roots. And this year has taught me to dig deep.

I’ve learned that I can rest in my barrenness, because my roots have grown deep and they are connected to the life source.

And there’s something extra special about the winter snow here in Utah. The mountains that look rocky and jagged in every other season get blanketed in white, catching and reflecting light right back in to the valley.

For the first time in years — for the first time ever, maybe — I don’t feel afraid of the barren winter that’s suddenly crept in. I feel rooted. I feel hopeful. I feel at rest.

And you know what I’ve never wondered heading in to the winter? Whether or not spring will come after. It’s a sure bet, and until then, we let our roots go deep and we rest, and we watch as that quiet, healing snow falls and blankets every blemish in white.

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Therefore, we hope.

SCRIPTURE:

Lamentations 3:21-24

But this I call to mind,
    and therefore I have hope:
The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases
    his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
    great is your faithfulness.
“The Lord is my portion,” says my soul,
    “therefore I will hope in him.”

STORY:

I have learned to lament this year in ways I’m not sure I ever thought I would in my entire lifetime. Certainly not ways I hoped I ever would. I don’t think anyone ever sits around and thinks, “Gosh, I really hope I go through something so tragic that the mark on my life would be that I know how to grieve well.”

What I’m learning, though, is that leaning into pain these last six months has actually expanded my capacity for hope. Loss leaves gaping holes in our hearts and somehow when we hand them over to Jesus, they end up becoming greater spaces for hope to live.

A few weeks ago I was walking to a coffee shop to meet some girls, and it was still kind of dark outside. I could just barley see light beginning to come up behind the silhouette of the Wasatch Mountains on the east side of the city. I was praying for a friend of mine as I walked, asking God if He had any encouraging words for her that day.

I felt like He directed my attention to the mountains, and the way the sun was rising behind them. “Mercies new,” I thought. “They always rise, even over the mountains in front of us.”

I love the way these words are tucked right into the middle of Lamentations, a book in which the title literally means, “the passionate expression of grief or sorrow; weeping.” We grieve and we ache and we lay it all out at the feet of Jesus, because He can handle it. He’s so familiar with our suffering. He already went there for us.

And then we have that “but” moment.

But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope. His love never ceases. His mercies never end. He is faithful. I will hope in Him.

I don’t know what your mountain of impossibility is, but I sure know the feeling of staring up at it. Here’s what I’m certain of, though: His mercies will rise, even over our mountains.

So we write these words like a promise on our hearts. He never ceases to make beauty from ashes. His love is endless.

SONG:

“Constant One”
Steffany Gretzinger
The Undoing

(Purchase on iTunes or listen on YouTube)

Music from previous weeks:
Spotify Playlist  |  Apple Music Playlist

The cost of being an advocate.

A couple of months ago, I wrote this post for the #StandForLife Movement blog. Yesterday on my birthday, as I sat in reflection on what being twenty-five was like, I re-read this post & made a decision all over again that the heart of this post would be the mark of my life, no matter the cost.

Something has shifted in me in this season — a little more fight in my heart, a little more life in my bones. (More on that to come!) What I know is that God made Noland & me to be watchmen on the walls; advocates of people, even if there’s nothing in it for us. So I’m sharing this post again, as a declaration of the year(s) to come, that I will not let the things I walked through at twenty-five be lost in all the rest of my years. I intend to take back everything the enemy stole this year in the years to come — it will not be wasted. And it starts here: obedience, no matter the cost.

Six months ago, my husband and I began a journey that would change our perspective forever on what it looks like to be advocates of life.

Before I share my story that will undoubtedly be laced with my own opinions and convictions, let me be clear on the truth that cannot and will not be moved: the only reason I can stand for anything at all is because of what Jesus did on the cross. I am no more holy or righteous than the woman on the streets who chooses the same Jesus as me. And after the things I have seen in the last several months of my life, I would without a doubt call her the braver of the two of us.

Yet I’ve been given the opportunity to speak as I happen to be an upper-middle-class pastor’s wife who happens to have a bit of a blog/social media following — and I pray I speak on behalf of her far more than I speak on behalf of me and my story.

The bottom line is that we are to be banner carriers of hope. The kind of hope that rises even out of the grave. The kind of hope we have in Jesus, who is still the answer to every broken thing. And we are still God’s chosen vessels to carry that banner of hope to a dark and broken world. Make no mistake. We are not heroes. We are vessels… and we are broken.

Six months ago we were coming up on two years of infertility and had decided to put our dreams of starting a family on hold. We were getting ready to plant a church, and in the middle of so much transition we decided that neither IVF treatment or the long process of an adoption felt practical for this season of our life. Just as we were ready to shelf our dreams of a family for a while, God laid an invitation on the table that we knew could only be Him.

To make a long story short, we entered into the process of a private adoption with a woman with whom we had a personal relationship. She was a recovering addict, and I had walked closely with her through her previous year in a women’s recovery home where I was volunteering. After a year and a half of being clean and falling in love with Jesus, she relapsed and got pregnant — and she asked if we would adopt her baby.

We knew it had the potential to get messy, but we also knew God was asking us to stand in the gap and champion this little life. So we began to walk through this woman’s pregnancy with her, praying every day for our boy, who we named Judah Rise.

At around 24 weeks pregnant, Judah’s birth mom relapsed. I wish I had time to tell the entire story — the ways we saw God perform miracles to preserve his life even as she was losing a physical battle to her addiction. We wound up pulling her out of a drug house and sleeping at the foot of her bed for several days while she detoxed… sweating, crying, screaming and writhing in pain. We found ourselves in the trenches in ways we never imagined we would be, crying out to God through all hours of the night.

She was able to reach a healthy, stable place and had a few great weeks. Then on Mother’s Day, it happened all over again. We went back and forth with her for over a week, trying to get her to come back to a safe place to get clean again. When she finally did, it was too late.

She had been staying with a drug lord and pimp who wanted to sell her for sex. Knowing he couldn’t do that if she was pregnant, he forced an abortion on her. She was somewhere between 28 and 29 weeks pregnant. We were only 10 weeks away from meeting our boy when we learned that we had lost him.

I’m sure we can all agree that this was a tragic experience. I’m sure you can imagine the healing process we’ve gone through over the last three months since that Friday morning in May when it all came crashing down. But what I’m not sure you can imagine as you’re reading this, is what it’s like to actually enter into the depravity of this issue in this way.

I don’t know what it’s like to carry life inside of me physically, and there is no guarantee that I ever will. I don’t have a newborn photo to post with a LIFE filter on it and a birth story about how I’m so glad I chose life. But what I can offer to this conversation is an uncomfortable reality of what the other side of this issue looks like. The side that ends in death but still has an option of finding life beyond the ruins of a broken world.

Judah’s birth mom didn’t choose abortion. It was chosen for her. Too often we make our stances on choosing life and we preach this one-sided “it’s an easy decision” message, not realizing that for a lot of women, the option of choosing life isn’t even there. A large portion of this issue comes not from those of us with privileged lives “choosing life” — but from those that aren’t given a choice at all.

I hope you don’t misunderstand me — social media is a fantastic tool for raising awareness, and I believe this movement has the favor of God on it to help make a difference on this issue in our nation. I also believe that all of our voices and stories matter in that awareness raising effort. But it is going to take more than awareness for us to make a difference. And God’s “Plan A” to mobilize hope and healing in the earth has always been us. The Church.

The Church will change the world when we make a decision to be willing to have our lives interrupted on behalf of others, no matter the cost. It may cost us a life… and wouldn’t that be just like Jesus? Obedience to the point of death?

Oh, but friends — the life it will yield if we are willing to get our hands dirty. I can’t look at the life of Jesus and not believe wholeheartedly that this is what we’re to do if we want to be like Him. Enter into the mess. Like the Jesus who stooped low to the woman caught in adultery.

We can share our opinions all we want, but until we’re a people who actually walk alongside the broken population of our nation that face a mountain of impossibility in their every day lives, I honestly don’t believe our opinions carry much weight or authority. I love what Ann Voskamp says about this issue — that it isn’t about a woman having a choice, but a woman believing that she has no choice.

What are we going to do about this? To what extent are we willing to humble ourselves and reach across the chasm of our society to the woman who lives in that reality of hopelessness? What kind of inconvenience are we actually willing to step into on behalf of someone else? When there’s nothing in it for us. When at the end of it all, we aren’t going home with a new baby.

I’m not sure what the answer is for you. To be honest, I’m not sure what it is for me either. But I do know that the grace and mercy of God is so inclusive that it’s almost offensive to me. And I know that He intends to continue to lead me into uncomfortable places of advocating for life in ways that will probably cost me something.

I can’t think of a better thing to live for, though. We are not on this earth to build our own kingdoms and dreams. We’re here to build His. And it’s going to cost us something to be a people who step into impossible situations, right alongside those living in such depravity, leaving our own places of comfort and ease to do so.

This is an exciting hour in our nation for the Church. I pray we enter into the hard places and gain ground in every place that He intends for us to. It’s going to take more than our voices though. It’s going to take our hands and feet, surrendered entirely to a heart that belongs to Him… which means there may not be much in it for us.

How will YOU respond?