How Miscarriage Affects a Marriage

Today, please welcome guest poster, Lindsey Bell, who shares her heart-wrenching story and wise advice from experience.

How miscarriage affects a marriageHaving a baby is supposed to be one of the most exciting events in the life of a couple.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t always happen that way. Far too often (approximately one in three to four pregnancies) what began as an exciting new phase of life ends as a nightmare.

Here’s a little bit of my story.

My husband and I waited as our doctor began the ultrasound, anxious to see our little one’s heartbeat again. We were twelve weeks along and had already begun planning our baby’s nursery and thinking of names. Our oldest child was at home with Grandma, but he too was excited about having a new baby brother or sister.

Because we saw the heartbeat three weeks prior to this appointment, we thought we were in the clear. That the risk of miscarriage was gone.

But we were wrong.

As the smile faded from my doctor’s face, the silence was deafening. Then came the words no parents ever want to hear: “I’m sorry, but your baby’s heart is no longer beating.”

That was miscarriage #1.

In the next two years, we lost three more babies to miscarriage.

Four miscarriages in two years wreaked havoc on nearly every aspect of my life.

Before our first miscarriage, I assumed going through something like that would be painful, but I had no idea how much it would affect my marriage.

Baby loss can either bind you to your spouse or tear you away from him.

Here are a few things I learned through my miscarriages that helped our marriage remain intact:

1. It’s okay if his grief looks different than yours.

After our first loss, I expected my husband to cry. I was in tears all the time, after all, and it was his child too. When he didn’t cry (or didn’t cry enough), I was hurt. Scratch that. I was angry.

How could he not cry about the baby we just lost?

Didn’t he love our baby as much as I did?

Didn’t he care that we weren’t ever going to get to hold him or kiss him or hug him goodnight?

What I failed to realize at the time was that everyone grieves differently. Just because he didn’t cry as much didn’t mean he didn’t love the baby.

I also failed to realize my husband might not have been as attached to the child as I was. This child was growing inside of me. It was a part of me from the beginning. I loved it from Day 1.

Some men might feel this strong of an attachment from conception, but others won’t. For some, the attachment grows with the relationship. At birth, when he holds the baby, it grows a little bit more. And then again as he feeds him in those early months of life.

This doesn’t make him a bad father, and it doesn’t mean he doesn’t love the child. It simply makes him a man.

2. Let him help you.

One of the hardest parts of our miscarriages was that my husband couldn’t fix it. He wanted to make it better for me with all of his being, but he couldn’t.

Plain and simple, it was out of his hands.

But that didn’t mean he couldn’t do anything to help.

One of the best things I did after our miscarriages was tell him exactly how he could help me. This made him feel like he was doing something at a time when we both felt helpless.

3. Give each other some grace.

Grief can make you angry. It can make you irritable. It can make you weepy. When two people are both in different parts of the grief cycle, it’s easy to understand why conflicts arise.

For the months (and possibly years) following a miscarriage, try your best to extend grace to your partner. You are both hurting, and fighting with one another will only make the pain greater.

4. Don’t give up on intimacy.

Miscarriages affect intimacy. For a woman, she might fear another miscarriage and therefore avoid sex altogether. Or she might want to get pregnant so badly that she urges her partner to have sex so much that it becomes a chore.

What used to be something that was fun and fulfilling can easily become scary and upsetting.

Give yourself some time, absolutely, but don’t give up on intimacy altogether. Allow this loss to bring you and your spouse together-not push you apart.

Let’s talk: What other things help a marriage stay intact after loss?

Lindsey writes often about miscarriage on her blog. You can read her miscarriage posts here: http://www.lindsey-bell.com/search/label/Miscarriage.

IMG_0685Lindsey Bell is the author of Searching for Sanity, a parenting devotional that will be released in January 2014. She’s also a stay-at-home mother of two, minister’s wife, avid reader, adoption advocate, miscarriage survivor, and chocolate lover. You can find Lindsey online at any of the following locations:

Her blog: www.lindsey-bell.com

Her website: www.lindseymbell.com

Twitter: www.twitter.com/LindseyMBell

Facebook: www.facebook.com/AuthorLindseyBell

Pinterest: www.pinterest.com/LindseyMBell01

17 Years Ago I Said Good-Bye to My Son

On September 3, 17 years ago, I said good-bye to my son. He passed away in the wee hours of the morning on September 4. So I’m thinking of my baby boy today!

My husband and I were talking recently about how his death impacted us. It’s a very hard road back from something like that to trusting God again. As we were leaving our oldest daughter at her new university last weekend, we had to put her in God’s hands. And as my husband said, that’s really tough. If you lent some tool that you loved to a neighbour, and they returned it broken and scratched up, you wouldn’t be so ready to lend to that neighbour again. And when a baby dies, it’s easy to feel that way about God.

It is hard to trust again.

And yet Christopher is not broken and all scratched up. He is alive and he is thriving with God.

Christopher, I’m so glad you’re able to run and jump and laugh and do all the things you would have found challenging here on this earth.

And I’m glad that each day that I spend here is not one more day that I’m away from you; it’s one more day that I’m closer to being reunited with you. I’m still your Mommy.

On this day, to honour him, I thought I wouldn’t write a new post. I’d just link to other things that I’ve said about my precious boy.

Remembering…here’s my recollection of our last day together, and how God helped me to let go.

How Big Is Your UmbrellaHeaven is For Real…how a glimpse of heaven last year helped me to get through the anniversary of his death. We all need a little glimpse of heaven!

And for those of you who have also lost babies, here’s  A Prayer Through Tears, a column I wrote as a prayer for all of us walking through this.

I talk a lot about Christopher when I do women’s retreats, and about how having him helped me to be able to truly say that God is enough. And I learned how to trust God in new ways. I’ve written a book about it, How Big Is Your Umbrella–just a short book to help people walk through the things we often yell at God when life is tough, and the things that God whispers back. You can see it here.

Or, if you’re interested, here’s an audio download when I tell my story, but also weave in other illustrations of finally being able to fully trust God.

And now we’re going to have a family day where we celebrate those we have to hold here, and those we are waiting to hold in heaven.

Sometimes We All Need a Glimpse of Heaven

Note: I had my column up from this week on the site, but I didn’t want to leave it here because it’s really more political in nature. So if you’re wondering where it’s gone, it’s just that I want to keep this blog about marriage and family, not politics, even if sometimes I write about politics.

Instead, I thought I’d reprint this column from several years ago. We’ve had a lot of deaths in our small town lately, many young people before their time, and it made me think of this again.

GlimpseofHeaven
My mother always warned me that time goes faster as you age, but I never really believed her until this summer, when I started to notice how fast my own girls are growing up. Yet it is not only the younger generation that is growing older. Last week my husband’s oldest friend lost his mother, after a very long illness. Life suddenly seems rather short.

A few weeks ago my mother-in-law was listing various health complaints, when I commented, “growing old sure doesn’t sound that fun, but at least it’s better than the alternative.”

Heaven Is For RealMy dear mother-in-law then said something very wise. “But how do we know?” She asked. “I’m sure heaven is far better than what we have here.”

I believe it is, and yet often that belief doesn’t translate into my everyday life. Too often I live thinking only of the here and now. Yet if there is something beyond this life, shouldn’t we spend some time figuring out what that is?

Perhaps that is easier for children, who seem to have a better grasp on spiritual things. In just two short weeks I’ll remember the anniversary of my son’s death, fifteen years ago now. His memory is still so much a part of our family, and so my daughters have grown up without being shielded about death, as many children are. And yet it has not made them sad. I remember listening in on a conversation then 6-year-old Katie was having with a friend who was over to play. The friend had picked up a picture of my son and asked Katie about him. She replied, “That’s my big brother Christopher. I never got to meet him on earth, but when I get to heaven he’ll be my tour guide.” I’ve always liked that image.

It is in times of grief that these images are often sealed, either for good or for bad. We either reject the possibility of a deity and an afterlife, or we run desperately into God’s arms for comfort. I have chosen the latter, and I have found that even in tears, it brings peace.

It was that peace that radiated at the funeral last week, as my friend Bruce reflected on his mother’s Margaret’s life. The service was a beautiful testimony to her sense of humour and her faith. And Bruce ended with a story from December 23, 1986. He had called his mother to come and pick him up in Belleville, but she could not find the keys to the car. “Check your pockets,” she said. He did. And the keys rattled. She told him that perhaps it was time for him to learn a lesson and walk home.

With no other alternative, he started to trudge to his house northeast of the city. Over the years, Bruce admits, the story has become embellished. He admits now that he did not walk uphill the whole way. He was not barefoot. He did not have to climb over mountainous snow banks. And yet, on that day, he remembers his overwhelming thought was of his mother, safe and warm at home, while she left him to walk alone. And as he stood at his mother’s funeral, he had that same overwhelming feeling: she was safe and sound, at home, and he was left to walk alone.

When we lose someone we love, that overwhelming sense of loneliness is inevitable. I know those days will descend upon me again, whether it be soon or decades in the future. I hope, though, that those days come, I will be able to keep three images in mind: the God who welcomes me; Margaret, safe and happy at home; and my son, waiting to be my tour guide.

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Evil Knows No Social Class

Every Friday my syndicated column appears in a bunch of newspapers in southeastern Ontario and Saskatchewan.  This week, I want to talk about evil, where it is found and what to do with it.

This week’s column deals with a horrible murder that took place in Ontario, the province where I live, just a few weeks ago. Tim Bosma went missing from his Ancaster home right when I was in the middle of a speaking tour in that neck of the woods, so I saw his posters everywhere, and just really feel strongly about this case.

Tim advertised his truck on kijiji; two guys came by to see it, and he took them out for a test drive. He was never seen again. Millard was arrested a week later, and Tim’s remains were found on Millard’s property.

Tim was a strong Christian (well, he still is, as now he is face to face with his Saviour). He and his wife Sharlene and their 2-year-old daughter attended the Ancaster Christian Reformed Church, which has come alongside them wonderfully. I just ask that you keep that family in your prayers. How absolutely awful to have your husband killed like that.

Ancaster resident Sharlene Bosma spent Mother’s Day in agony, wondering about the fate of her husband Tim. After taking two guys out to test drive a truck he was selling, he was never seen by his family again. His body has now been found.

Police charged aviation heir Dellen Millard. Bosma’s truck had been located at his mother’s house. He had been identified as having been with Bosma. Yet when he was taken into custody, his lawyer, Deepak Paradkar, expressed incredulity that the police would zero in on his client. According to the CBC, Paradkar said, “He’s a very unassuming, humble person. He’s intelligent, well-educated and financially well off, so there’s no motive here.” He went on to note that Millard had attended the Toronto French School. How could someone who attended an elite private school be suspected of doing such a thing?

Forgive me for feeling a little sick to my stomach at that statement. Evil knows no social class. I do not know whether Millard is guilty or not; but I find this “why would a wealthy person do this?” statement offensive in the extreme. Are we supposed to believe that rich=good and poor=bad?

A few years ago I read a brilliant book by psychiatrist M. Scott Peck of The Road Less Traveled fame. In People of the Lie, he wrote about the most frustrating part of his practice: coming face to face with evil. And evil people, he thinks, can’t be cured, short of a major spiritual intervention. What they need is a priest, not a doctor.

Over and over again Scott Peck saw in his office people whose state of mind couldn’t be explained by their upbringing, or by psychiatric theory, or by conditioning. He saw people who chose to lie when the truth wouldn’t have harmed them. He saw people who cared nothing of those around them, while still giving the impression that their love could not be questioned. He saw people who would lie to your face, but when accused of it would question your sanity. These people were dedicated to deception for one reason: to deflect any responsibility for their own moral choices.

It’s not the fact that evil people do wrong that is so terrible, says Peck. All of us do wrong. But, Peck says, “the central defect of the evil is not the sin but the refusal to acknowledge it.” It’s narcissism to the nth degree.

And these people are everywhere. They’re doctors, and lawyers, and executives. They’re married. They look outwardly normal, but they cause chaos wherever they go. Many of us have experienced this in our families or at our workplaces. There’s someone we could never quite get along with, but every time we question them they turn it around so that we’re the ones with the problem. They can’t be pinned down. They’re slippery. They’re slimy. And they’re scary.

Peck ended his investigation weary and disheartened. Psychiatry does not have the answers for evil people. They can’t be “cured”, except perhaps by an exorcist. Therefore, it’s time to call a spade a spade and not muddy it up with diagnoses making it sound as if these people aren’t culpable.

So, Mr. Paradkar, I don’t know if your client is guilty, but I do know that rich people can cause havoc just as much as poor people can. And until we admit that evil has no bounds and no excuse, we’ll be living a lie as much as they are. Instead of lies, let’s tell the truth: Evil exists. Evil can be anywhere. And evil needs to be resisted, not excused.

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On Rick Warren, Tragedy, and Prodigals

On Tragedies and ProdigalsRick Warren and his wife Kay suffered unbelievable tragedy over the weekend when their youngest son Matthew committed suicide last weekend at the age of 27. He had been battling mental illness and severe depression for years.

I can’t imagine how horrible this would be for a parent. To lose your child in a car accident is a tragedy indeed; to lose a child to suicide is even more so. There’s stigma, and there’s all the questions about what else you could have done (even if there really is nothing you could have done).

A good friend of mine’s brother committed suicide when he was 16, and she was just a teen. They were a strong Christian family who did things well. He had become moody and withdrawn, but nobody knew the depth of what he was feeling, and he left no note. Later on stories came out in the press about things that a high school coach had been doing, and there were always questions as to whether or not this had been a reason. But those questions cannot be answered on this side of heaven, and perhaps it’s those questions that drive us the most crazy.

I pray that Mr. and Mrs. Warren receive a ton of comfort, and prayer, and space. In fact, I’d ask everyone reading this to say a prayer for them right now.

Unfortunately, that isn’t the attitude that’s been in much of the media, and even many of the Christian blogs. When tragedy strikes, people are quick to assign blame. And so there’s so much vitriol on the media, and in news websites, and even on Christian sites of people who disagree with him politically.

I think this is completely wrong and completely unbiblical.

I read an amazing article about this phenomenon last night from the blog Rage Against the Minivan, where she says this:

When we hear about grieving parents it can be so tempting to try to assign blame, because if they aren’t to blame, then we have to grapple with the reality that sometimes, tragedy is senseless. This is an uncomfortable truth: awful things happen to children that parents cannot prevent.  It’s a truth so painful that we would rather throw grieving parents under the bus than face it.

Read the whole thing.

I believe she’s exactly right.

Whenever we hear of a tragedy, we immediately start to list all the reasons why it can’t happen to us–and therefore we implicitly blame the parents that it did happen to.

The Newtown school shooting? Thank goodness we homeschool. A child abduction? That’s why I don’t work outside the home; so I always know where my kids are. A teenager gets pregnant? At least we do family devotions every night.

We need to stop that, because it’s not biblical. We are to “mourn with those who mourn”, says Paul in Romans 12:15.

And we also need to become a little (or a lot) more humble.

I find the story of The Prodigal Son so fascinating on so many levels. One of those is the fact that the father figure in that story represents God. Is God a good father? You bet. Did God work so hard so that he never saw his kids? Nope. Did he discipline inappropriately? Nope. Was he prone to fits of rage? Of course not. God parents perfectly.

And  yet He had a prodigal (and, we know in fact He has many). The story is meant to illustrate many different points, but I think one of them is this:

When we have prodigals in our families, we should not assume that this reflects badly on the parents. Kids make their own choices. We all have free will.

That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t learn how to parent well, or that we shouldn’t try to raise our kids to love the Lord and to do what’s right. But there are never any guarantees. I’m not implying that Rick Warren’s son was a prodigal, by the way; anything I’ve read in the news says that he was a strong Christian; he just suffered from mental illness. I’m just saying that often we look at parents (not the Warrens, but others) who have kids who have turned astray and we tend to do just what people are doing to the Warrens: we blame them.

Why? Because we want those guarantees. We want to know that if we do everything right, everything will turn out okay, because we love our kids so much and we don’t want anything to touch them. We don’t want them to make mistakes and wreck their lives (or, God forbid, end them). We want to know, as we look into the face of a cherubic 4-year-old, that he will grow up to not use drugs, to love God, to get a good job, and to marry well. And please, no horrible illnesses.

But that doesn’t always happen. And perhaps one of the main lessons that God wants us to learn from parenting is that sometimes we just have to trust and realize that “to live is Christ, and to die is gain”. To live is not to be a parent. Our children cannot be our whole lives, and they cannot come before our love for God. And our relationship with God isn’t like that of a genie, where we do all the right things so that He’ll come through for us.

Our relationship with God needs to be one of trust and submission.

Not trust that everything will turn out the way we want it to; but trust that no matter what happens, God will carry us, and God will be enough for us.

When our son died seventeen years ago, we had people say hurtful things to us, things that they likely didn’t realize were hurtful. Things like, “it was just God’s will”, or “you have to ask what God is trying to teach you through this” (as if implying that if we failed to learn, God might zap our daughter Rebecca next), or “this is a good time to examine yourselves before God”.

No, this is simply a time to cry, and to weep, and to be a mess as you lie down before God and beg Him to help you be able to climb out of bed each morning, and continue to breathe even when your chest aches, and to one day be able to laugh again.

God did that in our lives. That doesn’t mean I didn’t learn anything from Christopher’s death; I did. I learned to trust God more. But that does not mean that God causes tragedy because there is something wrong in our lives. Like Jesus said of the man that was born blind, he and his parents didn’t sin so that he was born blind; it was just so that the works of God could be displayed in his life. (John 9:3).How Big Is Your Umbrella

When tragedy strikes, let’s resist the temptation to list all the reasons that it won’t happen to us. Let’s resist the temptation to blame the parents. And let’s instead pray for those who are grieving, and use that opportunity to throw ourselves once more on God’s mercy, asking Him to teach us that no matter what happens in this life, He will always be enough.

Struggling with saying “God is enough”? Sheila’s book, How Big Is Your Umbrella, that she wrote after her son’s death, can help walk you through this journey of trust.


Wifey Wednesday: Hope For those in Hurting Marriages

Christian Marriage Advice

It’s Wednesday, the day when we talk marriage! I write a post, and then you all can either comment or link up your own marriage post below!

Everyday I receive so many heart breaking emails from women in dire straits in their relationships (I’m sorry if I haven’t gotten back to  you yet. I try to answer my emails, but I’m really inundated right now).

I firmly believe that it is lonelier to be an unhappy marriage than it is to be alone. There is a unique kind of loneliness when you feel that the person who is supposed to love you and care for you doesn’t. It hurts. Badly.

Lonely Woman in a Lonely Marriage

Yet I also believe that one reason it hurts so much is because of the “Myth of Marriage” that our culture has, and that Christians, perhaps, have propagated. And that myth goes something like this:

In this life, the best happiness you will ever experience will be feeling like one with your soulmate. Nothing is as fulfilling as to love and be loved in return. When we feel completely intimate, we reach a high that nothing else can compare to. And all of us can experience that, with the right person. Indeed, that is God’s will for us: that our marriage will mirror what He feels for us, and that we will feel completely and utterly completed in our marriage.

I have to admit that I talk like this sometimes, especially because I do have a good marriage. And I do believe that relationships are supposed to reflect Christ.

But here’s where the danger comes in: we start to believe that the GOAL of this life is to achieve that kind of oneness, that kind of happiness. And when we don’t have it, we figure that we’re missing out on something so dear that our lives will never be complete. Maybe it would be better to start again! Or, if we do stick with the marriage, we know that we are sacrificing God’s real will for our lives; we know that we will never have the kind of life that we deserve.

I think that’s a misunderstanding of both the role of marriage and the purpose of our lives.

We are on this earth to learn to hear God’s voice, to obey that voice, and to lead other people to that voice. That is all. We are on this earth to decide to follow Christ, and to start living that out. That is what we will be doing in eternity.

As such, even if you don’t have a great marriage, you can still completely fulfill your purpose. Look at all the people around the world who live in horrific circumstances! Christians are imprisoned for their faith. People spend decades in prison camps. People live without food. Orphans grow up on the streets. We have it so easy here that if our biggest problem is that we have a bad marriage, we’re actually doing pretty well. Life is full of hardship.

But that’s only to be expected, because God never promised that our reward would be in this life. In fact, Jesus said that those who had easy lives had received their rewards in this life; other people’s rewards were still to come.

And that’s what we often miss: this is not your real life. This is not all there is. Heaven is our home, and it is heaven that we should be looking forward to. Sometimes the wait between now and heaven is really difficult, but in the light of eternity it is only a blink of an eye. And as Paul wrote in Romans 8:18:

For I know that the sufferings of this present time are not even worthy to be compared to the glory that will be revealed in us.

Our hope is in heaven, not in this life. So if life isn’t perfect, that’s okay. It just gives you a longing for heaven that God wants you to have.

I believe that we have made marriage into an idol. This is partly a reaction to families falling apart all around us; the church responded by trying to boost marriage, and by saying how wonderful and fulfilling it can be, all of which is true. But let’s never forget that our hope is not in our husbands; our hope is in Jesus.

Yes, it is possible to have a great marriage. And it is possible to turn a difficult marriage around. But marriage is not the main thing we should be living for, and marriage is not the source of our hope. God is.

So if  you’re in a difficult place right now, let me reassure you that what you are experiencing is not all there is. This life is eighty plus years, if you’re lucky. The life that is coming is forever. This life is full of hardships; the life that is coming is full of joy. This life is rooted in the here and now; in the life that is coming, you will talk to saints from all generations. You will know a heap of new friends. You will experience true intimacy that you have never dreamed of.

Yes, life is hard, but God never promised that it wouldn’t be. What He did promise was that no matter how hard it was, He would carry us, from this life to the next. And perhaps if we kept our eyes on things that were eternal, rather than on things that were temporary, we’d have a better perspective on marriage, life, and everything!

There is hope, ladies. But that hope is not in your marriage; that hope is in God. And He is faithful. Looking forward to heaven is not a crutch; it is simply basing your hope on a reality. So don’t feel like you have failed, or that God has failed you, if your life is not perfect or if you are lonely here. This is not all there is, and Jesus is already preparing a place for  you.


Now, what advice do you have for us today? Or has God ever really comforted you with the hope of heaven? Leave a comment, or link up the URL of a marriage post in the linky below!

Sheila is the author of The Good Girl’s Guide to Great Sex.



My Jesus Does Stuff

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Last month my family and I ventured to Europe, to see the sites of Rome, and Florence, and Greece, and some others. It was tremendously fun, very educational, and extremely hot.

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But one day, after my husband had I had toured the Renaissance art gallery in Florence (the Uffizi), I was struck by a rather melancholy feeling.

I couldn’t really put my finger on it until the next day, when we visited another church and looked at all the breathtaking artwork. In Italy, I never saw Jesus do anything.

Jesus was everywhere–though perhaps Mary was in slightly more paintings. But everywhere that Jesus was, He wasn’t doing anything. He was either a baby, or else He was dead. Now, I’m not trying to say that dying on the cross wasn’t important, but more often than not He wasn’t even depicted on the cross; He was off the cross, with his bleeding head cradled in some women’s arms. So he’s a baby, or He’s weak, helpless, and dead.

I found the artwork beautiful, and the cathedrals stunning, but I can’t say that I had very many profoundly religious experiences, because I didn’t really sense the Jesus that I know. Rarely did I see Jesus feeding the five thousand, or talking to the woman caught in adultery or the woman at the well, or pulling little children to His lap, or making a whip out of cords, or even rising from the dead! No pictures of empty tombs here.

In the Sistine Chapel there were some paintings of other scenes from Jesus’ life, but in all, His death and his baby-hood took the pre-eminence, as if there was nothing between and nothing afterwards. And I thought to myself, that’s a very hard Jesus to relate to. You know that He suffers, and you know that He was human, but that’s really it. You can’t get a sense of His personality, or His very real-ness. He seems almost impotent.

In contrast, the saints were always doing stuff–slaying dragons, or writing letters, or debating. The apostles were, too. Even the women in Jesus’ life seemed to take the initiative and do something. But not Jesus.

But then I started to wonder: in all my criticizing of this art, do I honestly believe that Jesus does stuff? Or am I just comfortable with the Jesus that I know from Bible stories, too? Do I think that Jesus’ whole life can be depicted in paintings, and that it somehow ended 2000 years ago? I’m not talking about whether or not I believe that Jesus is alive now–I do, and I think most reading this blog do as well–I’m talking about whether or not we believe and we act as if we believe that Jesus is still active now. There’s a whole lot of difference between being alive and being active.

Do we really believe that God does stuff, even today? Do we really believe that He can make a difference in our lives, or are we trying to follow a God who we know about through the Bible, but that’s really as far as it goes. We haven’t experienced Him. That was the overwhelming feeling I got in those cathedrals: they knew about Jesus, but I didn’t see Jesus being an active part of anyone’s life.

We’re in the middle of Revive Your Marriage month, where I’m joining three other bloggy friends to talk about how to make your marriage stronger. And this week we’re talking about prayer.

So let me ask you: do you really believe that prayer can work to change a heart? Do you really believe that Jesus can do miracles in your life, and in your husband’s life, and in your children’s lives?

We’ve had some hard posts lately on this blog, and I was quite moved by many of the stories in this post about how submission doesn’t mean you put up with abuse. So many women testified about how God did provide, and God did show up, and God did rescue them and show them that He is real. I love those stories!

But how do we experience that in our own lives–especially if our situations aren’t as dire? I know that I have felt God the most in my life during the very tough times, and with today being the sixteenth anniversary of my son’s death, I’m taken back to how much I did feel God carrying me. But what about the times that aren’t as tough, but are still difficult? Just the day to day of life, living with someone that you don’t always see eye to eye with. Living a life that didn’t turn out as you hoped? There’s nothing earth-shatteringly wrong, it just doesn’t feel as right as you were expecting. Can you feel God then?

I don’t have all the answers, but I do have some thoughts. I’ll share them, and then please chime in in the comments and tell us how you’ve worked this through in your own life!

1. It Starts by Recognizing Who is God and Who Is Not

That may sound strange, but I think it’s very hard to feel and experience God when we approach Him feeling as if we know how life should be. When we set the agenda–God, you need to do this! If you would just do X, Y and Z everything would be so much better!–we’re not being humble before God. We’re saying we know best.

If you’re going to feel God, you have to approach Him saying, “I really don’t know how things should go. I want you to take control. I want to give you control, even if that’s scary.”

2. Then, Pray God’s Will

And that’s not a cop out, either. I get kind of tired of prayers that go, “Lord, if it is your will, let X, Y and Z happen, because that just seems obvious to me.” We throw in the “if it is your will” so that if it doesn’t happen, we can say, “well, it’s not my fault. It’s not that I didn’t pray enough. It’s God’s will.”

Yes, but we’re still focused on what we think God should do. I think a better prayer isn’t so much about specific actions God should take as it is about the qualities that we want to see in people afterwards. So rather than pray, “God, teach my husband how to show me love by helping him to see that I need him to talk to me at night, and not sit in front of the TV all the time,” you can pray, “God, make my husband into a man who seeks you first, and then shows your love to others. Let him experience your love in a powerful way, and let that spill over into all aspects of his life.”

In other words, you’re not focused on what you want your husband to do; you’re focused on praying what you know IS God’s will for your husband’s life: that he become more Christ-like. I think that when we focus our prayers for ourselves and for others onto seeing Christ’s characters flow out, those prayers will be more powerful. And they change our hearts, too.

3. Keep Your Focus on Him

Finally, remember that God is enough. When we make God enough, and find our worth and peace in Him, and not in our kids and our husbands, we’re actually freed up to enjoy our families far more than when we’re always finding they fall short. Focus first and foremost on God, rather than on what God can do for you, and you’ll find that you experience Him much more powerfully.

That’s what I’ve come up with, but I don’t know if those are necessarily satisfactory answers for everyone. What do you do when you just need to feel God, and you don’t? When you really do need a certain outcome? How do you cope in prayer? Let’s talk honestly about it in the comments, and help each other!

How God Used Poison Ivy

I have a dear 16-year-old friend named Liam. My girls have grown up with him and his younger brother Paul; our two families camped together every summer and spent winters at a rustic cabin in the woods.

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This summer my mother led a missions trip to a Kenyan children’s home, a place which has rescued over 3000 children. Our family has been there three times; my mother six. But this year, for various reasons, we just couldn’t go. But Liam did.

The week before he left, he took a canoe trip with his family and got poison ivy on his eye. How horrible! And right before a trip to Kenya. Everyone was grumpy and rather perturbed at this intrusion and inconvenience.

'Poison ivy' photo (c) 2007, Erutuon - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

The doctor said, because it was eye, and because he wouldn’t be near great medical treatment, a cream likely wouldn’t be good enough. He needed steroids. And so Liam was put on Prednisone.

Fast forward to Kenya, and Liam starts to develop a rash on his legs. Nothing serious, and it’s not itchy, so my mother, the team leader, isn’t alarmed. My aunt, who is also on the team, and who happens to be a physician, is very worried indeed. Because it turns out that Malarone, the medication you take to ward off malaria, has a weird, rare side effect that can result in vasculitis (an inflammation of the veins) and eventually, well, death. And it turns out that this all starts with a rash.

The treatment? Prednisone.

My aunt almost didn’t go on the trip, and had she not been there, my mother would not have recognized that this was anything to be concerned about. Liam would have kept right on taking Malarone. And that would have led to–well, you get the picture.

And if he had not had the poison ivy, the reaction would have been worse, because the Prednisone was already calming it down.

I’ve thought about that incident lately in regard to prayer. My blogging friend Rachel has recently put out an ebook, The Sensational Scent of Prayer, looking at what prayer smells like–what is its purpose to God? What does God like to see?

I’ve found myself wondering lately, wouldn’t it have been easier, God, if you had simply prompted Liam’s parents to put him on a different anti-malarial drug in the first place? It’s wonderful that you arranged for my aunt to be on the trip, and for the poison ivy, but it would have been easier if you simply hadn’t have had them choose Malarone in the first place.

But God is not the God of the easy. God’s primary purpose is that we bring glory to Him. As Rachel says in her book, that is what prayer is about: learning to focus on God and praise God even in your circumstances. And what did this episode show Liam? It showed him that God was in control–in very weird ways. Sometimes, as Rachel says, God is in control of things we don’t like. Rachel follows the story of Hannah, Samuel’s mother from the Old Testament, who desperately wanted a child, but “The Lord had shut her womb.” How must it feel to know that God did this to you?


Rachel knows what she’s talking about. She has a special needs daughter, Taylor, with a debilitating illness called MPS, which brings a shorter lifespan, and a more difficult and painful one. I know what it is to have a child with a terminal illness. When I was pregnant with my second child, we were told that he had a terminal heart defect. He may live into his thirties, but he may also die very young.

The latter came to pass. Christopher only lived 29 days. And today would have been his sixteenth birthday, and so I write today in memory of him. I know what it is to pray desperately for God for a miracle, only to see nothing happen. The obvious thing that you wanted to happen, the thing that you felt would be best, didn’t come to pass.

I’m sure that Rachel has felt that, too, and yet she still has learned to turn to God in prayer. And while God has not answered any prayer for healing, God has answered other prayers in marvelous ways.

God is in control. That needs to be the starting point for prayer. And His plans are not always ours. We want the shortcuts, the obvious things. What He wants is a relationship; a deeper trust; a revelation.

Would we have had that if Liam hadn’t have gone on Malarone in the first place? Nope. But because of his reaction, we got to see how God can use something as awful as poison ivy. We saw how God put all the jigsaw pieces together because He cares about Liam. His parents saw that. My mother saw that. Even my aunt, who was nervous as she was treating Liam (rashes and reactions aren’t exactly her medical specialty as an anesthesiologist), saw God in control. And I got to think again that too often I expect God to do the logical, and forget that there are others factors at work.

Today my son would be 16. No, let me rephrase that. Today my son IS 16. He just isn’t sharing a birthday cake with me. And through these difficulties in our lives we either are drawn more towards prayer, or we give up on prayer, thinking, “it never works anyway!”. Yet perhaps the reason it doesn’t work is because we’re looking at it with our perspective, instead of God’s.

If you’re struggling with prayer, why not read The Sensational Scent of Prayer, and follow Hannah’s journey of prayer with Rachel. Maybe you just need to be reminded of who is in control, and that He really does love  you and wants to bless you–even if things aren’t working at as you think would be logical and obvious.

Today, I’m realizing that even though my prayers were not answered as I had wanted, I have been blessed indeed. And my son is safe. He is celebrating his birthday with my grandparents and my uncle, and with others who I’m sure adore him. And we remember him, and thank God for the difference he made in our lives. And that gratitude, even in grief, is the sensational scent of prayer.

The Hard Truth

'Sunrise over Flynn Reef 2' photo (c) 2006, Alpha - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

Every Friday my syndicated column appears in a bunch of newspapers in southeastern Ontario and Saskatchewan. This week’s in Ontario actually had to do with a local issue: they’re thinking of putting a wind turbine farm in Prince Edward County, right where millions of birds pass by to migrate. As a new bird watcher who spent last Sunday there, I was appalled and wrote about it. But I thought I’d throw out an older column that’s more generic for you all today!

A while ago I read a story about a man who was convicted of molesting a seven-year-old girl. At the sentencing, the judge, who was suitably outraged, accused the defendant of “ruining this girl’s life”. I appreciate the emotion. I’m not sure I agree with the stance.

This little girl is starting her life with huge strikes against her. She is going to have to fight hard to have healthy relationships, to form good attachments, even to feel good about herself. Her life will not be easy. But that is not the same thing as saying that it is ruined. Too often, I think, we look at people and see only the strikes against them, rather than the potential inside them.

But how do we encourage that potential? Some people are going to have much easier lives than others do, and we have two possible approaches to this disparity. We can sympathize and demand that society fix this injustice, or we can encourage and teach people to help themselves.

Perhaps these two approaches don’t have to be mutually exclusive, but I’ve found that those who favour the sympathy approach often find the latter approach—trying to help people help themselves—somehow offensive, as if asking people to help themselves is judgmental. If someone is badly off, then it’s up to everybody else to fix it.

That may sound noble, but I don’t think it actually is, because nobody can determine the outcome of someone’s life for them. I am not saying that society should not play a part in helping people succeed; only that ultimately success is something you have to grab for yourself. Success is an internal, not an external, quality, bred from a sense of accomplishment. It is making the right moral choices, making responsible and mature decisions, and attaining a sense of purpose in our lives. Even if others help us, we have to do some of this work ourselves.

And if effort is necessary to success, then the most compassionate thing you can do for someone is to encourage them to make that effort, not steer them clear of their own responsibility. When we try to excuse people of very necessary work because we’re trying to preserve our sense that life can and should be fair, we’re thinking of ourselves, not them. But let’s remember that if their lives remain awful, we’re not the ones who suffer. They are. Intentions count for much less, it seems to me, than results.

Of course life isn’t fair. Some people will have to work four times as hard to accomplish anything in life than others will. I know single moms who have gone back to school at night to get that education they wished they had pursued when they were younger so that they can build a stable and better life for their children. Was it easy? No. Was it fair? No. Often the fathers of these children were living in relative luxury. But it still had to be done, and nobody could do it for these moms except themselves.

That’s why I believe teaching and mentoring and giving people the tools they need to improve their own lives is the mark of true charity. We won’t all be rich and life will not always be fair or easy or smooth. But I think knowing that all of us—regardless of our backgrounds, the hurt done to us, or the betrayal or abuse we have suffered—hold the keys to our future is hopeful, not judgmental. I would rather be told that my future is limitless and up to me, than to be told over and over again that my life is ruined and this isn’t fair. Wouldn’t you?

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The End of the Story

'Resurrection Sunday' photo (c) 2008, Luz Adriana Villa - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

Every Friday my syndicated column appears in a bunch of newspapers in southeastern Ontario and Saskatchewan. After writing it for 10 years I always have trouble coming up with new things to say about holidays, and Good Friday and Easter are no exception. And I really liked my 2006 column better than this year’s, so I think I’m going to post that instead!

As parents, we try to impress on our children important lessons about life. If you’re nice, people will tend to be nice to you. Eat well and you’ll be healthy. Listen to your teacher and you’ll learn. But there’s one lesson we learn all by ourselves. Sometimes life just isn’t fair.

I was reminded of this anew last week by a long-dreaded email. It was the invitation to a funeral for a woman I had known years ago. We were never close, though I do know her family. But her story makes me cry nonetheless. When a 31-year-old woman dies, leaving a husband and two children who are too young to even remember her, what is there to do but cry?

I know what it is to bury someone you love. I am still haunted by the memory of my husband picking up my son’s tiny casket, and carrying it to his grave. Such things are the very blackest parts of life.

When we are in mourning like this we face a crossroads. The most inviting route is often the grimmest, for in our darkness, despair is almost welcome. I believe, though, that there is another choice. As difficult as it is, we must not let death steal our life.

I will never be the same since my son died. I only had him for 29 days, but they were the most precious of my life, and I will cherish them forever. My friend Kerry only had two years to smile upon her children, but her mark is still there, for it is the mark of an undying love. And that’s what love is—undying. Death does not end a relationship. It only changes it.

My grandfather was married three times to three wonderful women. He had each wife for almost the same number of years before cancer stole all of them, until, at the age of 88, he decided maybe it was time to remain single until he was called home. In these later years his house was adorned by pictures of all the women he had loved—the grandmother I never knew, the one I had called “Nana”, and the one who had stood so proudly at my wedding. He had such sorrow in his life, but his life was also bigger for allowing room both for love and for grief. We cannot, and should not, block out our tears. They are just as much a part of love as the hugs and kisses were. But let us not shut out the smiles, too. Smiles and tears can coexist. And that is the challenge that, I think, faces all of us at that bleak crossroads.

Perhaps it is appropriate to be thinking such thoughts as Easter is upon us. After all, on Good Friday life seemed extremely unfair. The Teacher was dead. And yet, the story did not end on Good Friday. For Sunday was just around the corner, and on that day we were shown, once and for all, that the bad is not the end of the story.

Easter Tomb--The End of the Story
I do not know if you believe the Good Friday story; I do, and it’s one reason I can smile through the tears. Yet all of us, at some point, will need to decide how to deal with the grave. Dylan Thomas once wrote “Do not go gently into that good night; rage, rage against the dying of the light”. It’s poetic, it’s passionate, and I think it’s wrong. Death is not the dying of the light.

Changes come, even those that aren’t welcome. But with those changes often comes a greater ability to love and cherish both those we can hug, and those who are now beyond our reach. The bad is not the end of the story; the sorrow is not all that is being told. Life may not be fair, but it is still good, and there is so much more to be written. That’s a lesson no one can teach us. We must learn it ourselves as we stand at the crossroads, reject despair, and choose the road bathed in tears, but full of hope.

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