Why I Love Papua New Guinea

December 20th started early, with Jeff, Maggie and I piling into the Land Cruiser.  We were going to Kaipale for their special Christmas service.  Pastor Ki had invited Jeff to come and preach.

The sun was shining, the air was barely warm, and the road was rough — as always.  As we drove, we looked out20141220_150347 over the trees and watched the warmth create clouds from the hillsides.  We rose over 3000 feet as we drove from Birip to Sirunki.  We were no longer in a valley, but were on the saddle of the mountain range.  We drove by Lake Sirunki where many LCMS missionary families used to go to relax and play with their families. The warm air turned cool.  Everything just felt good.

Jeff parked the Land Cruiser at the gate and about a hundred people lined up along the path from the car to the door of the church.  We shook hands with men, women, children, and lapuns (elderly).  Greetings of “Merry Christmas” were exchanged, even by those who only speak Engan, because “Merry Christmas” is “Merry Christmas” in Engan (it is always interesting to see what words have made it into Engan from English). I can never get over the welcomes we receive, especially from the lapuns.  Most of them don’t speak a word of English or Tok Pisin, but their joy is substantial.  They shake my hand with energy, speaking rapidly in Enga.  They consider the time when the missionaries were in Enga before as a golden age, a time when things were good.  Since they left, times have been hard.  They see our faces, and they have hope that things will come better again.  It is humbling.

The guitars started playing as we sat down on the bench to the side of the chancel.  The guitars play harder and the people sing louder when the missionaries come.  A woman was sitting there already with a young baby in her bilum.  She let Maggie and me peek inside “Her name is Michelle,” the mom said. “She is getting baptized today.  Another mom sat down with a very handsome baby boy.

The service started, and Pastor Ki’s warmth reflected from his eyes and his smile as he conducted the liturgy both in Engan and Tok Pisin.  Jeff got up and preached the sermon.

Kaipale is one congregation in Sirunki.   Sirunki is the center of The Spirit Movement, a false teaching that proclaims that the Father created the world and then went away.  The Son redeemed the world and then went away.  Now is the time of the Spirit — and dreams, prophecy, and intuition are better than Holy Scripture.  Kaipale is faithful to Scripture and orthodox Christianity and it is important to keep them strong.  The God who was born a baby and died on the cross to save them has not left and forgotten them.  In Heaven, He continues to love them, to prepare a place for them, to sit at the right hand of God the Father, who is also caring for them and providing them with their daily bread.20141220_124306

After the sermon came the baptisms — seven people stood in the first row in front of the chancel.  Six mothers holding six babies, and one old man.  Behind each of the women, forming a second row, was a man — the father of each baby.  In baptisms here, the mother holds each baby upright, and the pastor goes by and baptizes each one, taking water from a bowl held by someone next to him.  Today, Jeff baptized each person as Pastor Ki held the bowl.  I could see the water pouring from Jeff’s hand over each head.  When everyone took their seats again, seven small puddles sat on th20141220_125647e floor.

Two young female confirmands came forward.  The head man and head meri, the layleaders of the congregation, came forward and stood beside them to show that they had been examined and accepted.  The faith these young women professed was the faith of the Bible and that congregation.  Pastor Ki stood behind, with his hand on each woman’s head as Jeff blessed them, one at a time.

Then Holy Communion.  Everyone lined up for Christmas Communion.  All of the congregations in the area have not been able to have communion for a while.  Pastor Danny, who usually brings communion 20141220_130506wine from Lae, had his last shipment confiscated by the police, despite having a letter from the police chief.  So today, Communion was especially joyful.

More songs and then more handshakes and joy. A three hour service full of good teaching and the joy of bringing people dead in their sins into Christ through baptism.  If it had been five hours, it would still be too short.

The faith, the joy, and the perseverence of the Engans always brings us so much joy.  “I can’t believe they pay me to do this.” Jeff whispered to me in the middle of the service.  In a period of leaving the country, re-entering the country, and possibly re-leaving the country over and over again — it can be hard to remember this. It had been ten months since I’d been able to go out with Jeff when he preached. Being in the congregations always grounds me and reminds me why God has brought us here.  It truly is an honor and a privilege to work among these people who need the assurance of God’s love, and in return, give the same reassurance.

Merry Christmas.

Helping Children in Church

(In an effort to save some of the works that I’ve done that I really like, I’m reposting.  This was originally posted in 2010 at my old blog: The Rebellious Pastor’s Wife)

How children should behave in church (or whether they should be there) can be quite a contentious issue. I would rather hear children in church than not have them be there.  As a pastor’s wife and a La Leche League Leader, I’ve heard so many stories about mothers getting the evil eye when they walked into the sanctuary with a babe in arms or a toddler. Obviously, if your child is proving to be a distraction or too loud for others to hear, it is a matter of consideration to take them out and deal with it. What that means is defined by your family perspective and the age and temperament of your child.

I am a firm believer in “faith comes by hearing,” and children belong in the presence of their Savior. They need to be a part of the body of all believers from the instant they are baptized. I am always scared that nurseries, children’s church, and Sunday Schools during church give one of two (or both) messages to children

1. That they don’t belong in the presence of God,

2. That they should be involved in activities that are more fun than church.

Either message can be incredibly damaging to their faith.

That being said, having children in church can be a challenge. I ought to know. As a pastor’s wife, I am a single parent every Sunday. With so many men who are not involved in church anymore, and so many babies not born into nuclear, married families—many women are put in the position that if they want to go to church, they have to take care of their kids alone, and so many put off the challenge of having children in church until they are older, because they will be easier to handle.

The truth is, there is not an age that is “easier to handle.”  Children behave best in church who are used to being there.  Babies and toddlers are a challenge, but so are 6 year olds who don’t know what they should do, and definitely so are middle school aged children.  There is no magic age where you can say “It’s time to go to church now,” and they will be excited, if it isn’t a regular part of their lives.

I know this isn’t easy. There were many days I stayed home from church because I wasn’t up to the fight of keeping Maggie in the pew that day or dealing with Chris’s moods (he definitely was NOT a morning person). There were days when I wonder why I was there because I didn’t hear a word of the sermon, wasn’t able to go to communion, etc. and I was exhausted or in tears the rest of the day.  But my kids got older, and they are a joy to worship with.  In fact, they often go to church without me, of their own free will.

So here are some things that did make it easier for me:

1. Sit in front. Most parents have a tendency to sit in the back because they don’t feel like the whole church sees when their children act up and they can make an easy exit. But slump down in the pew to your child’s level or eyesight. They can’t see anything besides the back of people’s heads. They don’t see why they are there. They often behave a lot better when they can see what is going on.

In our church, there are side aisles, so while I sat up front, I didn’t necessarily sit front and center, so I could still make an easy exit. There even was a door off to the side to a hallway. But even if you don’t have that, it is less distracting to everyone than you think if you need to walk down the aisle (side) or the nave.

2. Bring quiet toys, non-messy snacks, and a drink in a bottle or sippy cup (or discreetly nurse). Young children don’t have the attention span to deal with nothing but church for the whole service, and having something quiet to do helps, and if nothing else, it helps you. Chris used to love to stack hymnals, and when he got done, he would put them in a new stack. Plastic animals, stuffed animals, Hot Wheels (if your kid is not the kind that goes Vrroomm) or coloring books can be a help. Kids also behave better when their blood sugar is even. Something like Cheerios is generally fine. And, having a drink right there means there is one less reason to take them out.  This means you get to hear more.

3. Pay attention to what is developmentally appropriate. For instance, a baby or toddler will have difficulty sitting still. He is not being rebellious or difficult, his mind is just hard-wired for movement at that age. Also, take into account temperament. My son Chris could sit still and become absorbed in books at an early age. At the same age, Maggie needed to move.

I would take my kids out if they couldn’t sit still, but somewhere around late two or early three, there were times when I could tell that this was less true.  That my child COULD keep from being active, he just didn’t want to. This was then more of an issue of limits rather than ability. When this became the case, leaving the sanctuary meant that we went and sat perfectly still in a chair for 5 minutes out in the parish hall. They then learned that since snacks, coloring books, etc. were still in the church, they could actually do more in church than they could if we left.

Children are hard-wired to challenge limits, some kids more than others. My rule was they could play quietly in the pew, but couldn’t leave the pew. Maggie would go to the edge of the pew, get “that look” in her eye and then bolt. We’d do the chair in the parish hall thing and then I’d ask, “are you ready to go sit in the pew now?” Often, especially at first, we’d be right back in the parish hall in five minutes. After a while, it became a non-issue. As frustrating as this is, it is quite normal, and it is part of their learning to think for themselves. Your job is to set good limits and make them stick!

A discussion on my homeschool board had where some parents with each five minutes their child was good they’d give them a pile of tokens and then take one away for each infraction during church. With my kids, just leaning over and whispering to them, “you are being SO good” was enough. If I were doing tokens, I’d be inclined to give them one every five minutes that they were good instead of the method of taking one away every time they misbehaved. Some kids will do anything to keep from losing one.  Maggie probably would’ve screamed bloody murder, and Chris would’ve tried to engage me in a logical debate.

3. Try 1-2-3 Magic. This is a book or video you can generally get in the library or at Barnes and Noble/Borders. When I was working as a social worker, this was one of the programs we taught to parents who were in the DCS system. The method takes the emotion out of it, which is nice, and sets clear warnings. I was going out of my mind with my daughter who bounces off the walls, and when I started using it, it helped SO much. It worked well in the home, but it worked MARVELOUSLY in church. Maggie was three, and very active. She’d forget to whisper if she had to tell me something, I could just hold up one finger. Three minutes later, she might start trying to walk out of the pew. I’d gently grab her wrist (my reflexes were getting pretty good by this point) and bring her back and hold up two fingers. If something else happened that was not right, within that ten minute time period, she got a time out. At first, I went out with her, but eventually, I could just have her stand in the hallway, in plain sight (remember, I mentioned we had an open door right next to my pew).  When time was up, I could just wave her back into the pew. I wasn’t missing church anymore because of her!!

After a couple of months, I never got to three anymore.  She had it down.

So, what worked or works for you? I’d be eager to hear, and I’m sure it would help other parents as well.

Who Am I?

Who Am I? by Deitrich Bonhoeffer
Who am I? They often tell me
I stepped from my cell’s confinement
Calmly, cheerfully, firmly,
Like a Squire from his country house.

Who am I? They often tell me
I used to speak to my warders
Freely and friendly and clearly,
As thought it were mine to command.

Who am I? They also tell me
I bore the days of misfortune
Equably, smilingly, proudly,
like one accustomed to win.

Am I then really that which other men tell of?
Or am I only what I myself know of myself?
Restless and longing and sick, like a bird in a cage,
Struggling for breath, as though hands were compressing my throat,
Yearning for colors, for flowers, for the voices of birds,
Thirsting for words of kindness, for neighborliness,
Tossing in expectations of great events,
Powerlessly trembling for friends at an infinite distance,
Weary and empty at praying, at thinking, at making,
Faint, and ready to say farewell to it all.

Who am I? This or the Other?
Am I one person today and tomorrow another?
Am I both at once? A hypocrite before others,
And before myself a contemptible woebegone weakling?
Or is something within me still like a beaten army
Fleeing in disorder from victory already achieved?

Who am I? They mock me, these lonely questions of mine.
Whoever I am, Thou knowest, O God, I am thine!

A Day Like Any Other Day

The rain is falling for the third or fourth time today.  Some days, I can’t keep track.  The dog is hiding under the house and the cats are cuddled up on the porch.  It’s a night like any other here in the Papua New Guinea Highlands.

We don’t know how many we’ll have left.

I lead devotions on Tuesday night, because it is the night for our regional conference call.  Tonight we prayed the Litany —

“To rule and govern Your holy Christian Church; to preserve all pastors and ministers of Your Church in the true knowledge and understanding of Your wholesome Word and to sustain them in holy living;

To put an end to all schisms and causes of offense; to bring into the way of truth all who have erred and are deceived;

To beat down Satan under our feet, to send faithful laborers into Your harvest, and to accompany Your Word with Your grace and Spirit. —

We implore you to hear us, Good Lord.”                                           (Lutheran Service Book, p. 288)

And we sang “The Church’s One Foundation” –

The Church’s one foundation is Jesus Christ, Her Lord;
She is His new creation, by water and The Word.
From heav’n He came and sought her, to be His holy Bride;
With His own blood He bought her, and for her life He died.   (Lutheran Service Book, p. 644)

That got me to thinking about Donna.  Donna is an incredibly special woman who has been a missionary for several years.  She retired from being a teacher and then went and served in Guinea.  After her term in Guinea, she signed up again and went to Indonesia.  At the school in Indonesia, someone accused them of evangelizing, and they were deported, and then she was sent to New Guinea, where I met her.  She hugged me with great energy the first time we met.  Donna equals warmth and comfort.

Our first weeks, we were neighbors with Donna.  She would sit on the porch swing every morning, singing hymns.  Often, Jeff and I were still lying in bed, trying to process this amazing place before we were inundated with it again.  Donna told us that before she was deported from Indonesia, she sat and sang hymns while she waited alone to find out what was going to happen to her.

I’ve been singing a lot more hymns lately — either out loud or in my head.

This morning, Anton sent me a picture of the latest article in the paper, accusing us of not even being missionaries and being criminals (who, us?  really???) and I’ve been thinking that it might be time to start getting a suitcase ready.  We have not been served any papers, and if we get deported, I am not sure that the laws will be followed – they certainly haven’t been thus far.

Tonight, the thought popped into my head:  “If I were to need to put my whole life into a suitcase, what would I pick?”  Thus far, I have my favorite mauve vest.  I don’t wear it here.  It’s usually too warm or too cold.  I’m not sure it even fits anymore. Without hesitation, I grabbed our Advent wreath, then our wedding picture and the kids’ baptismal portraits. I probably will try to cram in our Christmas ornaments — all of them were picked each year and commemorate something that happened in the year.  I will miss my Mexican blankets.  I haven’t used them here, but I’ve had them since before I was married, and they are still warm and soft.  I will also miss the spice houses my mother bought me as a wedding present.  Maybe if there is room somewhere.  It seems like a weird list of things.

The Christmas things have a particular value.  Our stuff hadn’t arrived yet last Christmas.  We had been traveling in early December and very eager to get home to Timothy so that we could be at church again.  Culture shock slammed into us as we sat in church on that 3rd Sunday of Advent, and they sang the exact same songs they’d sung since we arrived, and the exact same songs they’ve sung ever since.  The bush is the same, the weather is the same, the roads are the same.  Nothing was different.  I don’t want to feel that way again at Christmas.

There is a pervading sense of calm.  The newspapers may attack or defend, but here,  the rain falls, the cats cry on the porch as if I hadn’t just given them a pile of bacon rinds ten minutes ago, and the day just kind of meanders to night, like every other day.

Whatever happens, God is good.

Sinners in the Hands of a Merciful God

He has not dealt with us according to our sins,

Nor rewarded us according to our iniquities.

For as high as the heavens are above the earth,

So great is His lovingkindness toward those who fear Him.

As far as the east is from the west,

So far has He removed our transgressions from us.

Just as a father has compassion on his children,

So the Lord has compassion on those who fear Him.

For He Himself knows our frame;

He is mindful that we are but dust.

(Psalm 103:10-14)

Psalm 103:1-13 was the text today for Bishop Joshua Morai’s funeral.  He died of liver cancer at 41 years old.  He faithfully served a region that was not his home, caring for the pastors under him.  He left behind a beautiful wife, and five strong children, and many who grieve his death.

Still, plenty of people said that Bishop Joshua must have done something evil in order to be punished by God this way, ignoring the proof of all that God has blessed him with.

This kind of thinking isn’t unusual to Papua New Guinea.  We see it in the United States as well.  When we suffer, like Job, we cry out “Why did God do this to me?”

Then there is the other side of the coin – The Prosperity Gospel.  The religion of America – “God helps those who help themselves,” Ben Franklin proclaimed.  The chief agents of this message today are Rick Warren, Beth Moore, and Joel Osteen, to name a few.  They create their own lists of commandments and state boldly that if you do these things, God will reward you.

Before we went out into the mission field, I was finishing my training as a Mental Health Counselor.  Several people came into my office who had trusted in these false prophets, but could not see that they were false.  God must be false.  They did what was right, so God must not be just.  They were suffering, hurting, and angry.

But as the Psalm says “God does not deal with us according to our sins, he does not reward us according to our iniquity.”   The person that believes in God has His compassion.  He doesn’t reward the believer who sins the least with the most good stuff, and He doesn’t punish the believer who sins the most with the worst punishments.

Our reaction to suffering tends to be anger.  And it is anger because we do not have a concept of how sinful we are.

We forget that Christ promised that we would suffer because we belong to Him and instead we imagined that we would be prosperous, because we are on the winning side.  Satan wants us to be angry with God and to walk away from Him.

When you ask most people, even Christians, why they should go to heaven, the response is “because I’m basically a good person.”  I have heard this statement from child abusers, drug addicts, and adulterers.  We forget that Adam and Eve sinned against God by eating a piece of fruit.  They chose to listen to the serpent instead of God.

The punishment was that Adam and Eve, knowing good and evil, would experience pain and death.  All of their descendants, all of us, would deserve pain and death.  When Adam and Eve, the culmination of God’s creation, refused to trust God in a small thing, the whole of creation rebelled against them.  Work would be a struggle, childbirth would have pain, bodies would get sick, sons would murder each other, and death would come.  These are not punishments, but consequences.  A world with sin cannot work the way it should.

But death was not where it would end.  God was “mindful that we are but dust” and had compassion.  Adam and Eve lost their home, for their own good.  God clothed them and still caused the rain to fall and food to grow.  Most of all, He promised Christ, who would take on their punishment, because they could not.  He even tried to be gentle with Cain and gave Him a lifetime to repent.  But Cain would not trust God, he only feared his fate and blamed God.

“God does not deal with us according to our sins, He does not reward us according to our iniquity.”  When we are suffering, we tend to forget the good things we still have.  As the meaning to The First Article says:

…He has given me my body and soul, eyes, ears, and all my members, my reason and all my senses, and still takes care of them.

He also gives me clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, wife and children, land, animals, and all I have.  He richly and daily provides me with all that I need to support this body and life.

He defends me from all danger and guards me from all evil.

All this he does only out of fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in me.  For all this, it is my duty to thank and praise, serve and obey Him.

But how easy to get angry when when one or some of these things are taken away, as if they were not gifts, but entitlements.  We lose a job – “God has abandoned me.”   Our child gets sick — “How dare God allow this to happen!”  A spouse cheats on us–“God must hate me.”

There is one other reaction to suffering, or to lack of suffering.  There is the person who believes they are so evil that they don’t deserve God’s good gifts.  They look at their lives and feel condemned by the fact that they have good things because they had been so bad.  They think “God couldn’t possibly ignore those things.  He couldn’t possibly REALLY forgive me without somehow taking it out on me.”  That person tortures themselves with these thoughts.  They still struggle with certain sins.  How could God ignore that and be good to them?

But this chapter gives them comfort, too.  God doesn’t deal with us according to our sin. He doesn’t reward us according to our iniquity.  He has lovingkindness toward us and compassion.  He removes those sins as far as the East is from the West, as far as the Heavens are from the earth.

He did this by putting them into His Son and letting Jesus take the full brunt of this punishment that we deserved. Jesus, being God and man, and being sinless, took it, surrendered to it, and defeated it so now it is truly gone.

The compassion that the psalmist talks about is shown clearly with Jesus when He became a man and lived among us.  Those who were suffering with blindness, tortured by leprosy, and terrorized by demons, He blessed them.  He forgave their sins.  He healed them.  He had no problem with eating with sinners to lead them to repentance, and to honor that repentance.   He was infinitely patient with the men who witnessed everything when they still forgot what they had seen or misunderstood what they had heard.

Look at how He responded to Peter – when Peter started to sink on the water when he looked away from Christ, Christ reached out and grabbed a hold of Peter; when Peter denied Him three times, He restored Peter, three times.  The only time He was truly stern with Peter, was when Peter confessed that Christ was God, and then turned right around and insisted that Christ must not die.

When Thomas refused to hear the witness of ten or more of his brethren, and insisted that he would not believe that Jesus was alive unless he could put actually touch his wounds, Christ came, and using Thomas’s very words, allowed him to do what he needed in order to believe.

When Lazarus died, He wept.  He knew Lazarus would be coming out of the tomb, but He was brought to tears.

“He Himself knows our frame; He is mindful that we are but dust.”

God knows what we are made of and He has compassion on us as we suffer.  He knows it is hard.  He knows it hurts.  He knows we sin and are full of iniquity.  But He removes that from us and loves us.  He blesses us richly, still, in the midst of our suffering, even when it is hard for us to see.  He is with us through it.  “He has not dealt with us according to our sins, nor rewarded us according to our iniquities. for as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is His lovingkindness toward those who fear Him.”

And when Bishop Joshua met God face to face, He was not accused of His sins, but was welcomed in to heaven, being told “Well done, good and faithful servant (Matthew 25:21),” as will we.

The Haus Sik (Hospital)

Something takes us to Wabag once or twice a week –buying diesel, produce, and/or top up cards for our phones.  If we need one of these things (today was several things), we usually take care of the others, too.  if we are going to Wabag, you can also bet that a person or people want to come along.

Today, it was Bishop Nik who needed to go.  Bishop Joshua was in the hospital at Wabag.  He’d recently been diagnosed with liver cancer.  I have no idea how old he is, but he doesn’t look like he’s reached 30 yet.  Papua New Guineans when they are young look younger than they are.  When they are older, they look older than they are.

Joshua is bishop of the Mari Mari district — the remote regions.  He is a nice guy, handsome, well-dressed, very kind.  He always seemed to ooze energy.  A few months ago, we’d heard that he had typhoid. Liver cancer frequently follows hepatitis here.

Hospital wards are like you see in British movies — large, narrow rooms with bed after bed after bed of patients, only instead of evoking an air of cleanliness and organization, here they project misery and confusion.  The hospital provides the bare minimum — the bed.  The person often has to bring their own blankets, pillows, etc., if they want to have them.

People who come to the hospital also need to bring someone to come and take care of them.  This person buys and prepares food for the patient and stays with the patient.  They often sleep on the floor next to the patient (anyone who knows anything about how dirty the floors are in hospitals is probably cringing right now), and they also do not have blankets or pillows.   Plenty of times they don’t own them.  Houses are warm.  Hospitals are not.

As we went into the center room, the wards branch off from here, we met Pastor Maniosa and those caring for Bishop Joshua.  They were waiting for the doctor to be done with him.  In the next corridor, the one marked “Kitchen/Morgue,” a group of people were wailing.  Pastor Maniosa told us that one of the men who was a translator with him on the Enga Bible Translation Project had just died.  He was a Big Man, so there were plenty of people there grieving him and wailing.

Bishop Joshua walked by me and I didn’t even recognize him.  He was walking to the bathroom, just outside.  When he was done, he came back and sat down on a bench outside.  He shook hands with everyone, but held out just one finger.  He was so emaciated, except for his bulging belly.  The whole time we were there, he never even lifted up his head.

The doctor had prescribed medicine for him — but the hospital doesn’t have it.  It will have to be bought in Hagen, if it can be found there.  He also needs a wheelchair.  The hospital doesn’t have one of those for him, either.  Another thing to buy in Hagen (this is the hospital that didn’t have aspirin for Samuel two days ago).  Papua New Guinea has nationalized medicine.  This is what it looks like.

Bishop Nik and Jeff prayed with Bishop Joshua, and assured him that he was in God’s hands, that God had redeemed him, and was caring for him even now.  This is an important message in Papua New Guinea.  Sickness can be viewed as a sign that a person has been abandoned by God or cursed by a demon or a sanguma (witch – I pray that no poor, innocent woman is being blamed for this).  Suffering is part of a sinful world, but God is still holding us and caring for us.  God may heal, because we have more to do here, or He may bring us home to Heaven.  But even this, God will use for good.  It’s hard hearing this, looking at Joshua, and comforting at the same time, because it is true.

Words of Comfort — Miscarriage

I wrote this post six years ago on my other blog, The Rebellious Pastor’s Wife.  I have participated in several discussions lately regarding miscarriage, and I thought I would repost.

Words of Comfort

I meant to write this a couple of weeks ago, but there hasn’t been time, so I apologize that this is an unusual writing for Easter, but in some ways it still fits.

Between my son and my daughter, are three children who are in Heaven.

There was Mara – we don’t know if she was a girl, but we had a boy in our arms, for some reason, it was easier to consider her a girl — whether because we wanted one, or because it was too painful to relate it to the idea of losing Chris. Mara means bitterness. Naomi had chosen it for herself when her own name, meaning “pleasant” could no longer apply to a woman who has lost her husband and two sons, and all she had.

We were in in the emergency room until 3 a.m. the night before my husband’s ordination, and the process of losing her took weeks. It was probably an ectopic pregnancy that “resolved itself,” they never could find the embryo…just an empty sac in my uterus, and a blip near my ovary. The HCG slowly went up for several weeks, and then slowly started going down.

Then came Jessica. We lost her at six weeks, on Ash Wednesday. It hadn’t been a week since we’d found out about her existence. I cried through the contractions while holding and nursing my one year old while my husband was at church conducting the service. There had been a little spotting, enough for me to stay home that evening, but nothing to indicate that miscarriage was imminent. By the time he came home, everything was done, and my toddler was sleeping calmly. I haven’t been to church on Ash Wednesday since.

Noah we lost at 19 weeks. The midwife couldn’t find his heartbeat, but we didn’t believe anything could be wrong until we saw the face of the ultrasound technician who wouldn’t let us see the screen. After all, we’d made it past the “dangerous time.” But she just sent us back out again and told us that our doctor would be calling. The doctor wanted to send me to an abortionist to get a D&E, because they were expert at the procedure that most OBs never have to perform. I wouldn’t let a murderer chop up and suck out my baby. My doctor then checked me into the hospital, induced labor, and continually checked on me through the night. We held him in our hands, wept over him, had him cremated, and gave him a memorial service with my inlaws in attendance. God bless them.

The congregation didn’t know about the first miscarriage. We didn’t know them well enough to let them know what was going on. I cannot begin to express the pain of enduring the other two losses in the public eye, putting on a brave face while people assured me “it was God’s will” or “you could always have another,” or worse “At least you have Chris.” Those are statements made to people who do not realize that the children lost were real. They stabbed my heart.

There were two words that brought me comfort. Words directly from the Bible…words that usually only seem to draw attention for their smallness…the shortest verse in the Bible. “Jesus wept.”

Jesus wept outside of Lazarus’s tomb, knowing full well that He would be raising him from the dead in just a few moments….knowing alsol that he would soon conquer death. Jesus wept because it was NOT His will that any of us should ever have to face death. Jesus knew so completely the eternal horror we would face because of our sinfulness. We often glibly dismiss what to him was so tragic that He Himself took on flesh and endured our punishment and conquered it so that we would not be utterly consumed by it.

A few weeks ago, these words rang in my ears again because they were the gospel text, and hearing them brought to mind that it was near that time again. Nine years ago, these words brought comfort to my heart because Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead was the gospel reading near the week that would’ve been Noah’s due date. As far as I am concerned, it is one of the richest texts in the Bible (and it blows me away that it isn’t even in the One Year Series)– showing Thomas’s loyalty to His Lord, allowing the much maligned Martha to be the one to run to her Lord and utter the clearest confession of faith in the resurrection of the dead that is in the Bible…..and to show so clearly how tragic death is…that death even brings the Lord of Life to tears.

It was not God’s will that my children died. I will see them again in Heaven, but to know that Christ wept with me over their deaths even though He is victorious over death brought so much more comfort than “it was God’s will.” That didn’t ring true. God never made man to die — He didn’t want us to know what evil was. He wanted us to eat from the Tree of Life. Satan and man conspired to bring to bring death and evil into the world. It was not God’s will that Adam and Eve should die, or that Lazarus should’ve died (twice), or that as we age our bodies should break down and turn on us, or that the babies that He creates to live should die before even taking a breath…His tears show that, as does His own death and resurrection.

He is risen, He is risen indeed, and because He rose from the dead, I know that I shall rise also, and I know with confidence that my children are safe with Him. My heart misses them and will always grieve that I was not allowed to hold them, know them, be with them….. because that is what we grieve when we lose those precious to us. We don’t lose that grief even when we have the comfort of their salvation. But they are at the feast that I was at today at the communion rail and someday I shall look upon them and know them….because He is risen.