What I Gave Up for Lent…Every Lent

(warning:  mildly graphic)

With everything in me, I knew I was pregnant.  My body screamed it to me.  I was late, my breasts ached, I was nauseous.  Pregnant.

The urine test said “no.”  The first one I had taken with Chris was negative, too.  I’d had an ectopic pregnancy six months ago, so they ordered a blood test, to be safe.  There was HCG.  Yep.  The one next week didn’t go up as much as it should’ve, but it was up.  Same with the next week.  In the ultrasound, the baby was clearly in the uterus, but it was too small to make out a heartbeat.  “It’s early.”  The doctor said.  “We’ll try next week.”  That was Monday.

The bleeding started Wednesday afternoon…it was light.  Rest.  Maybe that’s what I needed.  We’d already lost one baby.  After that, innocence is lost.  Until you see that heartbeat, anything can happen.  No heartbeat… Rest.  I’ll rest.  Chris and I will stay home from church.

Ash Wednesday.

Jeff left to go prepare for the service. He was a fresh-faced young pastor.  He kissed me and then kissed Christopher before he walked out the door.

It wasn’t long after that the contractions started and the bleeding increased.  I tried calling the doctor.  Got the answering service.

I was upset.  Upset with a toddler…that always works out well. A toddler who isn’t weaned and wants to nurse.  Nursing while in labor intensifies contractions.  Did you know that?  I’d read it before.  By the way, if you’re curious, it’s true.

I could already hear the inner critic – maybe my doctor when she called, or her nurse, or a faceless someone, maybe you.  “What are you doing?  You could make it worse!  You might make yourself miscarry if you breastfeed him.”  Even in the midst of all of this, a young mother is surrounded with critics in her head and without.

What was the other option?  On top of this hell, I could spend the next several hours pushing my 1 year old son away from me while he screamed and I bawled, or I could give him what he needed.   I was alone.  I was miscarrying.  It wasn’t going to stop. There was one thing I had control over.  I could comfort my son.  Nursing him wouldn’t have stopped it, I told myself.  It certainly made it more intense.  I could feel my uterus clench into a fist as he latched on.  But holding him was real.  A comfort. It was right.

The doctor called back.  I told her I was having contractions and bleeding is getting worse.  She said to just let it all play out, since I wasn’t hemorrhaging.  There is nothing that could be done.  She also wasn’t surprised.  The heartbeat wasn’t there.    God, I wanted Jeff.

Most of the evening I spent wailing on the toilet, nursing my upset toddler, feeling my body dilate and push.  I didn’t think I would labor this early.  I didn’t think it would happen this quickly.  Honestly, I was beyond thinking anything besides “Please God, no.”

Eventually, I laid down on the bed and Chris fell asleep.  I left the room and laid on my side on the couch.  I willed the contractions to stop, every breath a conscious effort designed to calm my body.  It seemed to work, or more likely, the work was done.

By the time Jeff got home all there was to do is hold me while I cried.  For all I know, Jessica might never have been alive, but either way, she was gone.

Was I Supposed to Call You Back?

Somewhere along the line, I started hating the phone.telephone

Not sure when.  I was constantly on it when I was in junior high and high school.  Jeff and I had a 3 year, long-distance relationship where we talked to each other almost every day.

But I don’t like it now.  In fact, I come pretty close to detesting it.  I’d much rather text or instant message.  If I need to make a call that actually will involve conversation, I mentally prepare for it.  I often don’t answer my phone if I am doing something, such as shopping, driving, reading, sleeping, daydreaming, etc.  If I wanted to talk with people while doing these things, I’d take them with me.

The fact that my smart phone actually does have the ability to make and receive phone calls is not a selling point for me.  I would probably be fine without that feature.  I don’t want to carry a phone with me to all places.  I want to carry a computer with me that is tied to the internet to all places, because it tells me where I need to drive to, any necessary facts I might need to know, and possibly communicate with people on Facebook and email.

If my phone happens to ring at these times, that’s what voicemail is for, to let me talk to someone on the phone (something that, as was stated before, isn’t my favorite thing in the first place) when I feel ready to talk to someone on the phone, and usually to get an idea what this conversation will be about in the first place — maybe it can be resolved with a text.

It’s nothing personal.  It’s the phone.

The Timing of Hamlet

For my 2015 Reading List, I want to read five Shakepeare plays.  I’ve read Hamlet many times before, but I am getting ready to study it with Chris and Maggie.

Shakespeare gets his stories from legends belonging to other cultures.  When we studied Hamlet in high school and college, teachers always gave the setting as sometime in the Middle Ages, without much attention to it beyond that.  That’s okay.  Shakespeare’s stories are timeless, as the most recent trend of putting them in modern settings shows us.

During this last reading, I noticed that the King, when preparing to send Hamlet to England to be executed, mentions that England will gladly agree to follow his orders because they do not want retribution at the hands of the Danes who have frequently been victorious over them.  There is still reference to the Danegeld — the tribute that the English paid the Danes to keep them from attacking.  So this is 12th century or before — and very possibly before William the Conqueror and the Norman Invasion (1066).Hamlet

Writing a play gives a playwright many freedoms, though.  While this gives a context to the period that the story probably took place, Shakespeare also introduced a blatant anachronism.  Hamlet and his friends studied at the University of Wittenberg, which was founded in 1502.  It was a strong seat of Reformation Theology in Shakepeare’s time, but did not exist yet when Hamlet is set.  I wonder if there is any thought to why Shakespeare would pick Wittenberg?

When Spring Came Quickly

When I was a kid, I was a chronic insomniac. My parents, being merciful (or wanting their own sleep), let me have a TV in my room back before kids having TVs in their rooms was a thing. My already sleepless nights were full of Logan’s Run, Sybil, and the Deerslayer – the shows that made “Movies Until Dawn.” If you ever see me shudder when I see a picture of Sally Field, you will know why.

With fascinating shows such as these, it’s no wonder that I was usually happy to occupy myself instead of having to create my own nightmares (please Lord, make them stop). But every year, on a grey, pre-dawn morning in early February, I would be drawn to the window that overlooked my backyard, and I could see Spring arrive – no groundhog needed. We had a small orchard outside – about twenty-something fruit trees – peaches, plums, apricots, nuts, apples, pomegranates….I know their branches were naked the previous afternoon. But one dark night later,  they were blooming in all their glory, promising that life was beginning again.

Beyond the six foot block wall that surrounds just about every house in Las Vegas, there was the desert with its scrub, and beyond that, the purple mountains.   Soon, lizards would be scurrying, birds would be chirping, and the air would be warm and vibrant.

Every year, I never expected that morning, but every year, it came.

Book Review: Dead Poets Society

A few months ago, before Robin Williams died, I was looking for “Dead Poet’s Society” on Netflix and Amazon Prime, in order to show my kids.  At that point, neither of them were making it available for streaming, but it showed up under the book listing.  It had never occurred to me that it was a book before it was a movie, though most really good movies are.  Plenty of bad ones are, too.  I downloaded it to my Kindle and added it to my 2015 reading list.

If you remember the movie, you know that “Dead Poet’s Society” is a book about rich kids in a boarding school who are on the fasttrack to the executive life, fulfilling not their own dreams, but their parents’.  Enter Mr. John Keating, an alumnus of the school who encourages them to live and figure out who they are through poetry.  His yearbook entry mentions that he was in “The Dead Poets Society.”  He tells them a little about it, leaves one of the boys the book that they used for meetings, and things go forward from there, as each of the boys figures out a way to express his own will in one way or another, before the system comes in to crush them.

The movie is pretty true to the book, but, most unusually, the movie is far more brilliant at telling the story.  In the book, the story is simplistic, the dialogue is artificial, and the antagonists have only a little less depth than the protagonists.  It’s clear in the book that so much more can be done, and the movie actually succeeded where the book just skimmed the surface.

It was a fast, easy read.  I’d give it 2.5 stars.

My Favorite Book

Favorite Book

I’ve never been the type of reader who is done with a book as soon as it’s finished.  I devour a book, and then if it proves to be a friend, it will be read again and again over several years.  The first dozen times, I will notice things that I hadn’t noticed in previous readings.  Eventually, it will become so familiar that the comfort becomes finding the same things right where they are supposed to be (Which to be truthful, is the only thing in my life like that, so I can’t overemphasize the actual amount of comfort that can bring.  At least in the midst of chaos, I can escape into an orderly world for a little while).

Sometimes good books come back off the shelf because I am subconsciously trying to process something — Anna Karenina was read and re-read as I was getting used to being a wife and again when I was becoming a mother — not so much the parts about Anna and Vronsky, but the relationship of Levin and Kitty draws me.  Since I’ve been in Papua New Guinea, I find that I am once again attracted to Isak Dinesen’s Out of Africa and Beryl Markham’s West with The Night..  Africa and Papua new Guinea are plenty different, but there are similarities, too.  We are at the same altitude and nearly the same latitude as Blixen’s Ngong Hills, we just get a lot more rain in Enga.  The way she describes the air and the atmosphere is achingly familiar.   At times when people are telling me of their leg aches or I am trying to comprehend situations that don’t quite click, I almost feel like I am channeling Karen.  “Come to my house, I have medicine.” I have said.  After feeling this a few times, I pulled Out of Africa off the shelf and began reading.  The expectation of a new life, processing a fairly similar culture — the first time we heard about the PNG concept of compensation as a form of justice, I already knew it – Karen had told me about it.  Karen Blixen even describes the sensation happening to her that I am describing — that Africa has a way of making you feel like you are living something out of a book you have been reading.

The Harry Potter series is also a soothing friend.  In the brain fog of Winter in the Midwest, my mind cannot grasp new ideas, and it seems our entire family entrenches themselves in our worn set of seven — different volumes spread out all over the house, each of us picking up whichever is nearest and leaving it behind for everyone else as we sleepwalk about the house and wait for sunshine and warmth.  The Horatio Hornblower series serves the same role, as does Narnia.  Just as Spring is about to burst through, the males in the family shake the cobwebs from their brains by immersing themselves in Lord of the Rings and discussions start to take on a more animated turn just before the daffodils break through.

But my dear, true friend is the true friend of most women, for some reason — Pride and Prejudice.  When I was in my teens, it hadn’t occurred to me that her books were Jane Austen’s way of communicating her very solid ideas on how to pick a good husband or wife. I simply enjoyed the story over and over while soaking all of that in, too.  It is also a book about basics — basic good people — good-natured, clever, virtuous; and basic bad people — self-centered and vain, self-centered and un-self-aware, self-centered and grating, and self-centered and downright evil.  But the basic component to the bad was self-centered.  The good people could be self-centered, too, but something brought them to repent of it.  Jane Bennett was all-goodness because even at the start, she was not self-centered.   Elizabeth is more what most of us hope we are — she doesn’t particularly excel at anything but people just like her company because she’s clever and funny.  She’s only mildly flawed — she wants to believe the best of the people she likes, and the worst of the people she doesn’t.  Her hardships are mostly not her own doing, but a few of them are (like believing the best of the people she likes, and the worst of the people she doesn’t).  But she figures it all out in the end and things turn out okay.  As involved as the plot is, Pride and Prejudice pretty much mirrors life, shows us our own flaws, but there’s a happy ever after.  I don’t need to be enamored of Mr. Darcy — he’s a little too much work for me, but I can be happy for Elizabeth and I always close the book feeling content but not ecstatic – but it made me think and I came away a little better for it.  Exactly how I like to feel when hanging out with a friend.

My Favorite Post from 2014: Baptism and Pain, a Counselor’s Perspective

This is my favorite post from 2014.  It was one of my first on this blog.

Baptism and Pain — A Counselor’s Perspective

“Baptism doesn’t come up much in a counseling session,” I remember a colleague stating in a meeting.

I was surprised.  I was still in my internship as a Mental Health Counselor, in the last year of my Master’s program.  I didn’t have years of experience behind me, but in my own sessions, it came up ALL the time.

In seeking out a Lutheran counselor, whatever situations bring my clients through my door, their issues are accompanied by a profound struggle with faith.

“How do I know God loves me?” they ask with pain in their eyes.  “I don’t think He does.”

“Are you baptized?”  I would ask.

Sometimes the answer would be a simple “yes,”  often followed by  “but I was a baby andbaptism I don’t remember it.”  Other times, a dam would break, and all the doubts and pain would gush out.  I would let them go ahead with whatever they needed to say, because  it takes a lot of courage for a Christian to even speak their doubts, fears, and anger.  Having these negative thoughts and feelings makes them afraid.  They are afraid that God will turn their back on them and they are afraid I will turn my back on them.  They are afraid of rejection, and that rejection could bring their faltering faith closer to dying.   When I don’t condemn them, their relief is palpable.

Thus would begin a discussion about all the beauties of baptism, because in many ways, baptism is an answer to whatever doubts that person has with their relationship with God.  In baptism, they were adopted by God.  By God’s promise and through no accomplishment of their own, they have become entitled to His love and attention (Romans 6 and 8).  They were made one in Christ’s death and resurrection, and given new life (Romans 6:3-7; Colossians 2:12).  They have been set free from the bonds of sin (Romans 6:8-11) and given salvation (1 Peter 3:21, Mark 16:16).  They received the gift of the Holy Spirit, The Comforter, who gives faith, strengthens faith, and, well, comforts.

God does all of this for each one of us.  Why would He do that if He didn’t love us?

“Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.  Are you not more valuable than they?”  Matthew 6:26 ESV

We have been promised that, as Christians, we will suffer — but it is sin that causes the suffering, not God.  We sin and people sin against us, and it hurts like crazy.  Sin nailed Jesus to the cross.  Christ knows our pain and He promises to carry us through it.  He is there because He promised to be there.  He gave us His Holy Spirit at our baptism, to be with us always.  Our baptism is a fixed point in each of our lives where our Lord, our loving Father,  gave these promises to each one of us, calling us individually by our names, each precious child.

Baptism ImagePointing to this Sacrament is useful precisely because it is so real.  Whether the person remembers being bBaptism Imageaptized, they know they were.  They’ve heard their parents tell them about it, they’ve seen the certificate, and they’ve watched others be baptized.  The promises that are tied to their baptism are what they have forgotten and what they need to hear.  This is where you were washed of your sin.  This is where you were born into Christ.  This is where you became a child of God.  This is where you become tied to the death and resurrection of Jesus.  This is where you become a member of the Body of Believers – His Church.  This is where you have tangible, witnessed proof that God loves you with everything He is.

In the end, it doesn’t matter if my clients are dealing with crisis, loneliness, and/or mental illness.  Through baptism, they are my brothers and sisters in Christ.  We will find ways to deal with false thinking, diagnosis, how to heal, practical coping mechanisms, etc.  But this is the first thing and often the very thing that they are most hungry to hear.  As their sister in Christ, and a fellow layman, I am not there to hear their confession or grant absolution, but I am there to give the encouragement that a fellow Christian can give and is supposed to give.   Being a Christian counselor, thankfully, I am not just limited to the psychological tools that I do believe have value; but I can also point to the Means of Grace (Holy Baptism, Holy Communion, the Proclamation of the Word) as the places that God has promised us that we can find His grace and His comfort.