Am I Thankful I Was Pregnant?

Awhile back at church, we sang a song that had the line, “The cross is the way to joy.”

The first verse talks about Mary, and asks whether she was thankful for being pregnant with Jesus even though she knew she would have to lose him to death. This got me thinking for the days that followed: Am I grateful I was pregnant even though they ended in loss? Would it have been better if I had not been pregnant?

I have hesitated to ask anything resembling this question because I did not want to enter the terrible theology that comes with responses to loss like “It was God’s will” (then God’s will sucks) or “Blessing in disguise” (wtf) or “God had other plans” (I prefer the first plan—I thought God was pro-life) or “God wanted to bring me closer” (surely God is smarter than thinking that killing the thing I love will make me want to hang out with God) or “God needed another angel” (God is God—make an angel out of something else) or “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” (what doesn’t kill you immediately can still kill you slowly, daily, with each new pregnancy announcement, negative pregnancy test, and fruitless trip to the doctor) or any of that other garbage. I say this lovingly. Theology that points to dead babies and says “God is in control!” as a first response is not good theology. I cannot stress this enough. But I am getting away from my question.

IMG_7042

Am I thankful that I was pregnant even though the pregnancies ended in death?

Am I a masochist if I say yes? Am I faithless if I say no?

Well, I am grateful for the sojourn that has resulted from the fruitless pregnancies.

I am grateful for the depth that has come from grief’s deep cut.

I am grateful for the strength that has come from weakness and despair.

I am grateful for experiencing the mystery and wonder that comes from a sonogram and morning sickness and two pink lines. It’s like a part of the universe has just been illuminated and opened up, and though I don’t get to walk in that part right now, I have seen it.

IMG_6958

I am grateful for the way that pregnancy and subsequent loss have made me think about the transcendent.

I am grateful for the way that pregnancy and subsequent loss shuffled things into different perspectives, though the shuffle was bloody and painful and not the dance I envisioned.

I am grateful for the way that pregnancy made me desire both motherhood and a career. I am grateful for the way loss has expanded my view of both of those desires.

I am grateful for the way that pregnancy has made me think about God’s womb, God as a mother, too, and God as a grieving parent. I read a piece of theology this semester that described the suffering of the cross as not just the suffering of Jesus, but also the suffering of God, a parent who lost a child.

I am grateful for the way loss has made me ask questions about providence, doubt, faith, and the meaning of life. The change and loss of an existence tends to prompt existential questions.

IMG_8317

I can’t imagine pregnancy without loss at this point. I simply do not know it. That experience has not been opened to me, so it is hard for me to say simply, “I am grateful that I was pregnant.” And I still cannot say, “I am grateful for my miscarriages,” and I’m not sure I need to.

But I do think that I can be grateful that beauty has come out the dark, formless void. When I was in Europe last spring, the phrase “watery grave” kept coming to my mind in regards to my womb. I held not only death inside me, but also a tomb, a deathbed, a haunted place.

As God’s Spirit hovered over the waters of the earth, so, too, God hovers over the empty, lifeless waters of my womb, my life, and is creating, is teaching me to create. Perhaps we are creating something different than I had always planned. I read somewhere that creating is “making something beautiful out of shit.” Maybe that’s what we’re doing.

God, having lost a child, comes beside me, and says, “This is how we do this, reckoning with loss.”

I am grateful for a suffering God, a mothering God, a God for those who leave and those left behind.

IMG_7220

I am grateful for a nuanced understanding of loss and grief and God’s (lack of?) role in it. I am grateful for the dissatisfaction that came with answers I previously thought were sufficient.

I am grateful for the cross of pregnancy and loss, for liminal space, for waiting room vibes.

So I suppose I am grateful I was pregnant.*

I wrote the following a few months ago as I was sitting in a church that was not my own, listening to a sermon about this passage in Philippians, a verse so often appropriated by sports teams and people who do not know what “all things” means, and I was grateful for the perspective that Christ is not so much an empowerer but a companion. Christ does not tell us to “Man up” or “rub some dirt on it” but rather gets underneath the cross we carry and helps us carry it and sits alongside us in the dirt when we get tired.

“I know what it’s like to be pregnant, and I know what it’s like to be not pregnant anymore. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.

I know what it is to desire pregnancy; I know what it is to fear it. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.

I know what it’s like to see the heartbeat on an ultrasound, and I know what it’s like to hear the words, ‘There is no heartbeat.’ I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.

I know what it’s like to feel joy when a friend announces her pregnancy, and I know what it’s like to feel envy, resentment, and sorrow. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.

I know what it’s like to barely get through the day because I have the ultimate secret, and I know what it’s like to barely get through the day because I carry the ultimate grief. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

Philippians 4:12-13, my application

IMG_6963

*This is my own personal experience and reflection. I do not believe that one woman’s experience with reproductive loss is prescriptive for all women. If a woman has a different response to miscarriage, that is completely okay, healthy, and welcomed. We are all just trying to navigate life with empty wombs. There is no one right way to do so.

When Love Helps Clear the Fog

IMG_5502

My feet shuffle across the kitchen floor as I reach for coffee and make my way to the table. It’s early Saturday morning, the neighborhood is lazy in bed, quietly holding reverence for the sacred weekend. He’s still sleeping—we sometimes laugh that our college selves would not believe that 9 AM is a glorious Saturday sleep-in.

It’s chilly—we left the A/C on too high last night, and now the windows have fogged up. June mornings were still bearable, but July mornings become too hot too quickly. Lucy, tail wagging as always, presses her nose against the glass door to the backyard, confused why she can’t see out the window. The fog obscures her sight, and she runs to the front window to check out the garbage truck. Her frustrated whine tells me that she can’t see out that window either.

The morning after a big fight leaves my mind foggy. My eyes are swollen from tears—fight tears, grief tears, fear tears—and my head hurts worse than an all-nighter. I let the steam rise from the mug, wafting into my nose as I gaze at the wet window, thinking about all the things we said to each other in the darkness of the night.

When it’s dark and late and your life was pummeled this year and all you see is one big moment of transition in the next, the fear is great, the hopeless panic a slick water slide to Despair Falls.

The sleep was short and fitful, my eyes angry and my nose blocked as the sun woke me up. I pretend for a moment, at the table with Lucy’s head on my lap, that I’m the only one that exists. That I have no contact with the outside world because I can’t see them and they can’t see me. The fog blocks our views, and I’m in the house by myself. I find a little comfort in thinking that I’m safe, if only for a moment.

Nothing has felt safe. People get divorced over fruitless baby attempts, but we have fought hard to hold onto each other. My body feels like a death trap, and my future as obscured as the backyard through the fog-filled window. What will become of us? I wondered through the night.

Some nights I scour the internet reading about my chances to deliver a healthy baby, and other nights I drown out my fear with one more episode. Every night, he waits for me, with me. He holds my hand and strokes my hair. If he’s scared, he doesn’t say anything.

This stretch of time in our lives feels like a leg of a trip, and we’re unsure when we’re taking off for the next leg. We’re just wandering around the airport, trying to find signs that we understand, dragging our bags behind us, trying to keep in good spirits, wondering if we’re going to be able to sit down and take a breath soon. But we’re holding hands. He won’t let go—there’s a fierce grip telling me that he’s not letting me get lost and we’re not going to get separated from each other, and even if we wander the airport for the rest of our lives, we’ll wander together.

I sip my coffee slowly as I consider this metaphor, stroking Lucy’s head as the fog begins to fade away on the windows. I can hear him stirring in the room, and when he opens the door, as I predicted, he walks the long way around the table so he can touch my arm on his way to the coffeepot. We are are going to be okay.

Communion Thoughts: The Original Prodigal Son

Every once in awhile, JD and I are asked to give some thoughts before the Lord’s Supper at church. They typically have something to do with the table as a liturgical practice, but they also recognize the function of the table as a communion outside of the church building. I want to record them on the blog because they are something that JD and I have worked on together to put into words. And words go on the blog.
——————————————————————————————
“Do this in remembrance of me.”

Jesus said these words at a table the night before his death.

A few chapters before, Luke recounts a story that Jesus told of the Prodigal Son. Though “prodigal” is often used synonymously with “wayward”, it actually means “wastefully extravagant; having or giving something on a lavish scale.”

In the story, the Prodigal Son is a man who deserts his home to spend his inheritance wastefully and extravagantly, bringing shame on his family. But when he returns home, to his humble surprise, he is welcomed, celebrated, and given a place at the table.

Ironically, Jesus, too, is the Prodigal Son–he has given lavishly, he could be considered wastefully extravagant, giving his life and dignity to us, for us.

He did this in the hope that we, too, would come home, that we would sit at the table in the place left for us.

So this charge by Jesus, “Do this in remembrance of me,” is twofold:
1. We are remembering the place at the table for the original Prodigal Son, Jesus.
2. We are remembering the places left open for those who we hope will come home, who have a place at the table. There will always be room here for you, for me, for Jesus, for our brothers and sisters returning home.

Table

Build a House, Plant a Garden

We lived in Searcy, Arkansas for three years, and for most of the time, I wanted to get out of there as fast as I could. I’m from Texas, and a defining trademark of Texans is that they think their state is better than everyone else’s, and I was no exception. And if I’m being honest right now, I still believe that a little, but I’ve only lived in 3 states in my lifetime, so I’m not really a good judge of states.

Anyway, about 6 months before we moved from Arkansas back to Texas, I started feeling like Arkansas wasn’t so bad. We had made friends, learned where to go grocery shopping, helped friends move into and paint their houses, and established our lives there. I actually kind of liked Searcy. I didn’t want to leave a whole group of people we loved.

Then we moved to Austin, and while many things have been great about our move, there have also been some real challenges like finding affordable housing, maintaining friendships when we live in north Austin and our friends live in south Austin (45 minute drive!), and figuring out who we are in the midst of a vastly different setting. For the first year, I thought wistfully about our lives back in Arkansas. Why did we move again?

We chose to move to Austin, so we weren’t really banished or dragged here, but I found some camaraderie with the exiled Israelites. In some of our difficulties transitioning, I did feel like God had brought us here and then wished us luck on His way out. As some of our first friends moved away months after our first dinner together, we felt loneliness in our hearts though we lived, worked, and drove next to thousands of people each day.

This didn’t feel like home. Home was where we could navigate streets and call a friend for help and walk to church and take communion with a familiar face.

Slowly, over the past year, home has been settling in our hearts. But it hasn’t been an overnight transition. Instead, it’s been a grueling, sometimes seemingly barren journey in which we felt, at times, God had brought us here to abandon us.

A few months ago I was reading through Jeremiah and commiserated with the exiles:

“Thus says the Lord…to all the exiles…build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce…seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.” Jeremiah 29: 4-5, 7

This is what God said to His people when they were in a place they didn’t want to be. He said build a home. Plant a garden. Those take time and they mean settling down. He encouraged them to pray for the welfare of where they were living.

BECAUSE.

“When 70 years are completed in Babylon…[I] will bring you back…For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you…”Jeremiah 29:10-14

Exile and displacement don’t mean abandonment and hopelessness. He told His people to carry on and build a life in exile. Waiting for life to return back to normal or to begin doesn’t have to be passive. Create things, build a life, carry on. Do these things in hope.

He promised to bring them back. His plans were not to forget and to forsake. His plans were of hope, of intimacy with His people. While I think verse 11 is often taken out of context and stamped on bracelets and bumper stickers too hastily, in the story of Israel’s countrylessness, we can look at it with hope. God asks us to put down roots and become part of our community in hope that He will fill us with life again. In hope that He will hear us. In hope that we will find Him in these things.
So build a house. Plant a garden. Settle down. Pray for the community you’re in. He has not abandoned you.