Abraham and Five Year Plans

Five years ago I sat on a couch staring at my husband across the room. I still own the couch, but it now bears battle wounds of small children, the latest of which is blue marker on its’ arm. That night, the couch was clean and smooth. And our world had just jumped out of its orbit.

There was going to be a baby. Five years ago this weekend we suddenly knew the initial emotions of being parents. We knew the timing was horrible. We had no idea the turmoil that year would hold.

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I was 29. We had just celebrated his 30th birthday. We had walked off the plane from a fantastic vacation in Florida that week. We headed home to our still new-to-us church where we were thriving and to life as we knew it. I was in my last semester of grad school, hoping to be finished with a dead end job I hated by the end of the year. The puzzle pieces seemed to coming together for me. Until that night when it seemed like someone grabbed all the pieces and threw them up into the air to land at random.

For three months I walked around numbly, not knowing why God thought I needed a child, convinced I was being punished for some latent evil or stupidity. Then our pastor resigned. I got mad at God. I usually try to avoid being mad at God because generally it doesn’t do any good and seems like a waste in the end, but I was mad. For two weeks I walked around mad. And then our landlord told us he had sold our house and we had a month to move. Suddenly I had no energy left to be terrified or mad. I knew I had to give up the illusion of control I thought I owned.

I pitied myself. I let every possible emotion eat away at me. I knew ultimately that circumstances were so far out of my control that God had to be in control and that I was in the safest place to be- in His sovereignty, under the shadow of the Almighty. At times though, I would be afraid to take a breath, not knowing what might come next.

For two months a new normal tapped its rhythm. When everything seemed to be settling, I developed preeclampsia. And had a baby eight weeks early. And spent five weeks in a NICU with her.

Five years and two beautiful healthy little girls later, I live in the house that our pastor owned and sold to us. The last five years have been jammed full of joy and dotted with sorrow. There have been births and laughter. There have been deaths and tears. There have been changes and struggles and adjustments.

I read the story of Abraham to my girls. I read about God asking Abraham to sacrifice Isaac. I’m tempted to skip the story. I don’t want to explain to my 4 year old why God would ask a daddy to kill his own son. I don’t want to endure the empathetic thoughts about giving up my children. But I read the story and I answer the inevitable questions as best as I can. But the story has new revelations for me. The picture of sacrifice and rescue that God showed Abraham and Isaac on that mountain is clearer than it has ever been.

As I read and answer, my heart aches, wondering how Abraham could have given up his son, his only son for God. As a parent I writhe at the thought. And then as a child of God, as a recipient of grace, I realize that writhing I feel is how God felt when He sent His only begotten son, Jesus. And paradoxically, He gave up His son to gain me, to gain many sons and daughters.

I cover my little girls with blankets before I go to bed for the night. I look at their perfect sleeping faces and I wonder how I could be so undeservedly blessed. Each night I get to tuck them in is a gift. I wonder how I ever thought I didn’t need their lives in mine.

The only way I could scrape the surface at truly understanding the implications of my own redemption was to become a parent myself. God is brilliant, to give us families, in order for us to understand Him as our Father. He knew that I needed to know and believe that He loved me. He knew I had to feel that ache inside to be startled by the gift He gave.

A few weeks ago I took my youngest daughter for an ultrasound. I knew going into the procedure that there was nothing seriously wrong. The doctors had basically told us what the issue was. But there was a part of laying her on that table that felt a little too much like placing her on an altar. What if something deeper was wrong? What do parents feel who know there is something seriously wrong?

I went back to Abraham in my mind. He was called to give up what he loved. He complied. And he still believed that God would provide the sacrifice, whether that provision was Isaac or (ultimately) the ram that ended up in the thicket. And the irony of the whole story is that Abraham was rescued from having to sacrifice his son by God, whose plan was to sacrifice HIS son to rescue the world. In giving up Isaac, both Abraham and Isaac saw the glorious picture of redemption to come. When we give up, we look back at the glorious picture of redemption. There is no sacrifice that we endure that God has not made already. Most often this story of Abraham is taught as a neatly packaged heroic “God comes in as an 11th hour genie and spares Abraham from tragedy” kind of tale. But when God doesn’t prevent sorrow or hardship, what do we have left from this story? We have to know that Abraham “trusted God more than what His eyes could see” (S. Lloyd-Jones) and that regardless of our outcomes, God has still provided His own son as a sacrifice for us. All that we are asked to give up, freedom, youth, time, loved ones, convenience and ease, security, whatever it is, is already under God’s sovereignty. His sacrifice has already provided our escape. Our resurrection is guaranteed and sealed, by an altar shaped like a cross, by an open tomb.

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We need to come up short and be startled by the grace of God. It is too easy to say the words “grace, sacrifice, death and resurrection, and to not understand what pain our salvation cost God.

Five years ago I had no idea how much God loved me. It may sound silly to say, but I had no idea how He could use what I viewed as a series of mistakes and misfortunes as an altar where, like Abraham, I had to offer up what I most treasured in order to understand the sacrifice of Christ.

When we give up what we most want, we can clearly see the glory and love of our Father.


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Wants and Wishes

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Most of us, whether we realize it or not, want to believe that God is good.  Being October, the month my oldest daughter was born, I find it impossible not to reflect on God’s goodness as a Father and Creator. The writing I have done here this month is part of that reflection.  So I was delighted to write today for Jen Pollock Michel’s series Found Wanting about my desire to believe that God was a good Father.

The series is a collection of stories that, to quote Jen, “…tell a part of the story that God is telling through us, even the beautiful and complicated story of being human and becoming holy.”  Read through the different contributors that are part of this project and see God’s hand at work in many lives. So enjoy my post, and the posts of others, as well as Jen’s beautiful writing on her site.

 

**I recently wrote about Jen’s book Teach Us To Want in a post here.  It is a book you will not want to miss reading.

 

 

On the night you were born

 

 

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“Heaven blew every trumpet and played every horn, on the wonderful, marvelous, night you were born.” (Nancy Tillman, On the Night You Were Born)

 

I can still smell the soap scent. Medicinal, sharply clean, pleasant and unpleasant at the same time. This scent will never cease to connect between my olfactory system and my memories of churning nerves.  It is the scent that was on my hands when the doctor told me, ” Your body is rejecting pregnancy.”

 

There always seems to be a high level of emotion surrounding the birth of a child. Emotions vary widely. Whether there is sheer joy, nervous anticipation, or the blatant sorrow that Genesis 3 confers on humanity, the emotional states surrounding these tiny newcomers is tightly woven.

 

My doctor was right. My body was rejecting pregnancy and so my daughter was born, a tiny baby girl at 3 lbs, 6 oz, just about 8 weeks early. Becoming a parent has doled out measures of dramatics and normalcy. Her birth was one of the more dramatic moments of parenting, ironically at the beginning of the trek. Four years ago this weekend, Psalm 125 churned through my head over and over.

    1 Those who trust in the LORD are like Mount Zion, which cannot be moved, but abides forever.

2 As the mountains surround Jerusalem, so the LORD surrounds his people, from this time forth and forevermore.

I found great comfort in the strong strains that these words declared. A mountain, solid, unmovable. Unshaken.  I had never known sickness like that weekend. My experience of becoming a parent was not a run of the mill, bundle of joy handed to me in a tightly wrapped blanket sort of experience. I held my baby for the first time when she was three days old. We waltzed with wires and adjusted tubes to hold her. But I held my baby. She and I were fine.

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Sometimes I say “God was good to me” and He was, more than words can tell. But is God good when the ending is not as happy? Yes, of course.

Looking back on those verses in Psalms 125, I remember thinking I could have faced death and yet those verses would have still been true. Because in those verses, I hear hints to a ripped veil in the New Testament, blood spread on a mercy seat, and all things working together for good for those called by God. I see a promise of secure hope as a reward for faith. Not my best life now. Not the resolution of discomfort into a pain free life. But the promise that being loved, called by, and cared for by a Heavenly Father leaves my future unshaken, by faith in the power of the resurrection of Christ.

For four short, flash-like years, I have been a parent. When I wash my hands somewhere and smell the medicinal soap scent again, my mind goes directly to the remembrance that my trust is in Christ, in God as a good Heavenly Father. I look back each year, not only in delighted celebration of my daughter’s life, but in the fact that God revealed incredible grace through this child, in merciful ways. In His kindness, He chose to reveal His nature to me by giving me undeserved blessings, now and forevermore.

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If four years of being a parent have taught me anything, it is that God, calling Himself my Father, loves me more than I can fathom. When I look at my child, I can see this love through a veiled layer of comprehension. When I think further that He gave up His own Son, in order to make me His child, the understanding becomes more than my mind can fathom. I really cannot imagine. I really don’t possess that kind of love in my natural state. But being the recipient of that sacrificial love, makes me a very grateful imaginer.

And so, each October, I will think back with profound emotions, deep gratefulness, and a fixed hope. I know that a Father loves and cares for us. I can breathe in the expectation that those who trust in the Lord cannot be shaken, from this time forth and forevermore.

the eliana child

Her name is not Eliana, but my second daughter’s existence carries the meaning of Eliana to me. “God has answered my prayer.”

I’m this proud person who loves to think I don’t doubt God. I like to think that I learned to trust God years ago and have never swerved from that trust. But in the middle of this firmly rooted jargon and head knowledge, I occasionally find myself like Eve, reaching out for that shiny piece of fruit. I find myself like the Israelites wandering in the wilderness, forgetful of that giant salvation act from slavery in Egypt. I forget that God has given manna, the ordinary everyday provision of my basic needs, without fail. I forget that, here and there, I am given quail instead of manna, delicacies that I don’t need, but want, because He delights in giving good things to His children. I’m the apostles cloistered away in an upper room, fearful that God won’t remember to take care of me as He promised. I doubt God’s goodness. 

And then, God swoops in, reminding me that he overlooks no detail. No hope of my heart is unknown to Him. As a parent with a child, He does not just care that I am part of His family, He delights in giving good to me. 
James 1:17 Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.

I was an only child. There was nothing wrong with being an only child.  It had, in fact, several advantages over having siblings and I had a great childhood. It was the perfect path for me. But from the time I was a child, I determined that if I ever did have children, I would find a way to have at least two. I knew God could have different plans, but I pushed that to the back of my mind. 

My oldest daughter was born eight weeks early at 3 lbs, 6 oz. I had a rapid onset of severe preeclampsia, which crossed over to HELLP Syndrome
syndrome. The doctors told me there was a 50% chance it could happen again.

I tried not to think about the possibility that I might have an only child. I focused on adjusting to life with a baby. I watched God’s faithfulness to us through difficult circumstances and rejoiced. I did not want to risk my life or the life of another baby irresponsibly.  I wanted a second child, but I feared this could be God’s hard way of teaching me to be content. 

Why I ever try to read God’s mind is beyond me, because I’m usually wrong. Two years later, I was completely surprised, excited, and terrified when I found out I was having another baby. I worried about having another preemie, an earlier, not as healthy baby. I held my breath from 6 weeks to the 32 week mark, the point when my older daughter had been born. I worried something would go wrong with this birth, with this baby’s health. 

What I had to learn, again, is that God doesn’t sadistically laugh at us from Heaven as He puppeteers our lives.  He wants to make us happy- like we want to make our own children happy.  He sometimes uses dark providences to draw His beloved children to Him, to help us depend on Him. Suffering exists because of the Fall. But He came to redeem and give life. The lie that God does not want us to be happy has been craftily used for generations to play out the enmity between God and Satan. 

God hears us when we pray- and when we do not. God knows the desires of our hearts. He created and loves us and knows us better than we know our own selves or our own children. The night before I was full term (37 weeks), I sat in the hospital ER and my tests showed hints of preeclampsia surfacing. That night, my healthy beautiful second baby girl was born at 5 lbs, 12 oz.  No major complications occurred; there was no time spent in NICU rooms.

We forget something in our worrying and stewing and chasing after dreams.  A Father who would sacrifice His son in an intricate redemption plan – to rescue our lives and souls- cannot possibly have our demise in His heart. There is only goodness and love in the Father’s heart. 

God is not a magic genie, granting our wishes as we squint and rub a lantern. But, God hears us, just as I hear my children speak. Just as I know what they love and want. He listens and answers. He did not have to give me a second baby, but He graciously did. He knew we had more to learn from adding a person to our family. He has unique plans for each of us and every family is different. But no matter the situation, be assured that God is loving and good. He does want us to be happy, to dwell in His grace, to find our peace and fulfillment in His arms. 

My Eliana child will be a year old this week. I watch her, trying to take steps on her own. I see God’s gracious character personified. I see the result of His listening and answering. I look forward to recounting to her one day soon, the goodness of God in her very own existence. 

Psalm 139:16 Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.

* Make sure to stop by tomorrow for a great book review, author interview, and… a GIVEAWAY!