A couple of weeks ago I found myself in the local Christian bookstore browsing through the book section for a gift for my friend. I happened across the book One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp and remembered reading a review of it and putting it on a mental list of books I'd like to read.
I bought 2.
Little did I know that this book would be a catalyst for change in me and around me and how I see the world. I started this journey of counting gifts 24 days ago... blessings God has granted me. I must admit that at first I was skeptical that doing such a thing would even be beneficial, much less produce joy unspeakable.
24 days in and I can say I was wrong.
I'm reading the book as I go through this journey - 100 days of listing 10 gifts per day. Each time I pick it up I find myself more and more intrigued, skimming to get ahead, then going back to re-read so I can soak it all in.
I love how God orchestrates things. Sometimes it takes days, months, even years to see. Or in this instance, a day.
Last Saturday I sent a text to my best friend saying that I've been having a random thought.
Why would people tell me that losing our babies (#3 and #4) was God being merciful to us? Why would they say that it may have been a blessing in disguise - that perhaps something was wrong with our babies and it's better this way? It seems so cruel. And literally years later, here I am wrestling with this question. Why? Was God being unmerciful when He blessed us with our sweet Eli? Should he have been taken since he has Asperger's/Autism? NO! Lord, no! What about when God grants someone a quick, painless death as opposed to the thousands upon thousands of children living out their days in hospital beds, bald heads all gloriously a glow? What of His mercy then? What say they now?
God knew I would be wrestling with those questions and that the very next day I would pick up this book and begin reading until my heart caught in my throat.
Can I just sidebar here for a moment?
I know that God is merciful. I know that God is gracious and kind. However, when someone loses a child, please realize that telling them that losing their baby was God being merciful to them is in no way helpful. At all. It's almost as if saying He doesn't love children with mental, physical, health, emotional, and/or learning disabilities the same. And my friends, He does. He so does love us all the same. It's also like telling a mom with a child with a disability or health problem that God wasn't gracious to her by allowing her to carry her child to term or for something to have been 'wrong' (I use that term very lightly) in the first place. And as a mom of one of those children, I can tell you I wouldn't have it any other way. Ever. My life is so blessed and enriched because of Eli, more than I could possibly ever come up with words to express to you. Words have the power to heal and to aid.... to cut and tear down. And while I know that those words were spoken out of the kindness of people's hearts trying to find something fitting to say during the most gut wrenching of times, they weren't helpful. And in a time when moms all over are questioning and asking "why?!!?" to say things like that cuts to the core and only adds to the questions we already have. When dealing with those grieving, choose your words wisely. Come to think of it, that's a pretty good philosophy for all of life. :)
So I picked up my book last Sunday morning and headed to the elliptical, as I often do, highlighter in hand, and I read. I re-read. I read some more. I paused, soaking it in, leaning up against the wall to reflect, to highlight and highlight some more until my pages were a splash of yellow neon starring back at me.
There it was.
"A good God plans everything. Everything. So a good God can only.... make plans for good? He only gives good gifts? A thing of evil cannot be created by a good God?" pg.88
"All God makes is good. Can it be that, that which seems to oppose the will of God actually is used of Him to accomplish the will of God? That which seems evil only seems so because of perspective, the way the eyes see the shadows. Above the clouds, light never stops shining." pg. 88
"See that I am God. See that I am in everything. See that I do everything. See that I have never stopped ordering my works, nor ever shall, eternally. See that I lead everything on to the conclusion I ordained for it before time began, by the same power, wisdom and love with which I made it. How can anything be amiss?" -Julian of Norwich as quoted in One Thousand Gifts pg. 89
"That which seems evil, is it a cloud to bring rain, to bring a greater good to the whole of the world? Who would ever know the greater graces of comfort and perseverance, mercy, and forgiveness, patience and courage, if no shadows fell over a life? pg. 90
"If Satan can keep my eyes from the Word, my eyesight is too poor to read light - to fill with light. Bad eyes fill with darkness so heavy the soul aches because empty is never truly empty; empty is only a full, deepening darkness." pg. 90-91
"Who deserves any grace?" pg. 93
"Isn't even one grace enough? Me with child alive, thinking of faces of mothers in cemeteries - my own mama - I want to yell, "NO!" No, it is not! I want to take both fists and splinter that door with an ungrateful demanding for more. Why can't we be allowed days indefinitely? How can God ever expect us to say good-bye to the eyes, ears, hands of those we cherish more than our own?
Is it because His heart awaits us at Home? Because if we don't say good-bye here, when will we meet Him there? Because these are the lens words for a life: Precious in His eyes is the homecoming of the saints (Psalm 115:15)". pg. 93
" When I realize that it is not God who is in my debt but I who am in His great debt, then doesn't all become gift? For He might not have." pg. 94
""Lord... that I'd day after day after day greedily take what looks like it's good from Your hand - a child gloating over sweet candy....." My voice catches hard. I've been a thief, trying to hoard away all the good. "...but that I'd thrash wild to escape when what You give from Your hand feels bad - like gravel in the mouth. Oh Father, forgive.... Should I accept good from you, and not trouble?" (Job 2:10)."" pg. 95
"What if that which feels like trouble, gravel in the mouth, is only that - feeling? What if faith says all is.... I think it. But do I really mean it? pg. 95
"...it's the Word of God that turns the rocks in the mouth to loaves on the tongue. That fills our emptiness with the true and real good, that makes the eyes see..." pg. 96
"It is dark suffering's umbilical cord that alone can untether new life. It is suffering that has the realest possibility to bear down and deliver grace. And grace that chooses to bear the cross of suffering overcomes that suffering." pg. 96-97
"Darkness transfigures into light, bad transfigures into good, grief transfigures into grace, empty transfigures into full. God wastes nothing - "makes everything work out according to his plan" (Ephesians 1:11)." pg. 97
"The ugly can be beautiful. The dark can give birth to life; suffering can deliver grace." pg. 99
"All is grace."
"God is always good and I am always loved."
All is grace."All is grace only because all can transfigure."
All can transfigure. Grief can transfigure into grace.
Grace. Perhaps that's the answer.
When I did a search of "what's the difference between grace and mercy?" it was often reported that people view them as the same. Even dictionary.com lists them as synonyms. However, if we're looking at it from a Biblical perspective, they are not the same.
Mercy is God not punishing us for our sins even though we deserve to be punished. Mercy is deliverance from God's judgment.
Grace is God blessing us even though we don't deserve those blessings. Grace is Him being kind to us... those who are unworthy of such kindness.
In short: Mercy is not getting what you deserve. Grace is getting what you do not deserve.
Maybe that's been the hang up - that those words are often interchangeable but don't mean the same thing.
To tell me that God was being merciful was in a way blaming losing them on something I did. It was saying that God was choosing not to punish me even though I deserved it (and we all deserve punishment, I'm not saying I'm exempt). And don't get me wrong, I know that God has chosen to take the lives of children as a result of sin. King David is a prime example of this.
But I don't believe that to always be the case, particularly with 1 in 4 (some estimate 1 in 3) pregnancies to end in loss. And so for the past 4 years I've carried those comments with me wondering why they didn't quite settle with me.
But more than anything, I read through those pages and realized that the bigger...nay, the whole of the problem has been me and the lenses in which I've been viewing life.
I have been the ingrate, hoarding up blessings and squawking at the trials... holding on to trivial comments instead of just seeing them for what they are - people's attempts at saying something comforting.
I have seen what God has granted as gravel in the mouth instead of stepping back to see how my grief has transfigured into grace. And make no mistake, it has.
Every time I think of the circumstances of losing #4, I can see grace in it. Grace that God actually granted my request that he/she have already passed so that I wouldn't have to make the choice to take medication that would end his/her life and pass him/her from my tube. God granted me that request and as morbid as it may sound for me to have prayed that God already took our baby and had him/her in His arms, that seemed easier to me than me having to make the choice between our baby and my health. I would not have made the choice. I would not have taken any medications. I would've just trusted that however God wanted it worked out is how it would be. I had already told Mark that was my decision. And if you've ever been in that situation and had to make that choice, my heart goes out to you. It's an impossible situation. And whether you had to make it or not, there's always grace in every circumstance if we choose to wear the right lenses.... choose to see things through the correct perspective. And there was and is. He was gracious during one of the hardest of times. Gracious that unlike #3, I at least got to see our sweet #4 - the little bitty, tiny dot in my tube, already gone to Heaven, yet evidence that he/she had been with us for the short while I carried him/her. That's grace. Grace that I've for too long chosen not to see.
It's grace that when I got the call saying #3 was gone that my mom happened to be in town visiting. Grace that I went to hear, fell into her arms crying, and that she was there to help pick up where I was physically and emotionally unable to.
Grace that when I was sitting in the JC Penney parking lot trying to compose myself enough to run in and find Mother's Day gifts instead of being able to share the news of them getting another grandchild that my phone lit up and I saw "Gramps and Grams". Gramps and Grams. Even after 14 months of Grandma being gone, I couldn't bring myself to edit my contacts list. And there Grandpa was on the other end, being a comforter to me just months after losing his wife of 60+ years. "You'll get through this, hun. You're stronger than you think you are."
Sweet manna on the tongue - not gravel.
But I've been blind.
I've held on to stupid, irrelevant comments for 4 years. Four years of wasted sight. Four years of choosing to think people would be so unkind as to say something hurtful when in reality they just didn't choose their words as wisely as they should have. It doesn't make them evil or horrible people - just ones who in the moment of awkwardness of not knowing what to say, said the only thing they knew to say.
I've missed it.
Missed the grace in my best friend not judging me for saying "Everyone keeps saying God is merciful. I don't want to hear that anymore! I don't!" and then, head in hands, sobbing on her couch, she waited it out. Waited for me to know that God is merciful but that those comments were just misplaced.
I've missed how many people God has placed in my pathway since losing them. People in a very similar situation. People that I now understand more than I could ever have possibly imagined. People I have the opportunity to encourage and comfort. And it's an honor.
But most of all, I've seen the transformation in how I appreciate the children I do have. I've thought a lot about how much I took being pregnant for granted, carrying Anna and Eli to term with virtually no difficulties. And despite all the fear, I tried to enjoy being pregnant with Emi. I soaked it up. I didn't take for granted that she'd always be there or that I didn't carry the risk of losing her too. Truth is, after 2 miscarriages the risks actually increase. And now that she's here, I often find myself asking would I love her and Anna and Eli so much if I hadn't lost #3 and #4. I've always loved them. I just love them with a deeper love now, one that acknowledges that at some point in time I will say goodbye to every person I love, either by them or myself passing. Time is short and so I want to love fully and deeply.
I want to transform grief into grace.
I want to see the sweet manna instead of the gravel.
I want to see and know that my feelings can betray me and that God is always good. And that from every circumstance, He is working in it and through it... that He wastes nothing.
Losing #3 and #4 was not wasted. Their lives mattered. And through losing them God is bringing about something glorious.
Because it's through counting blessings - all of them, be they good or bad - that we find true joy. My babies are helping me to realize that there's joy in everything.
He wastes nothing.
I don't know what you're going through. What trial you may be facing. But know that it won't be wasted. That He can turn grief into grace.
Then sit back and live a life of unabashed joy.
Joy... in Him.... through Him.... because of Him.
Because He wastes nothing.