Wednesday, October 24, 2007

The Pain of Unanswered Prayer (Happy First Birthday in Heaven)

A year ago today, I was sitting in my first year Torts class text messaging under my desk with my sister Christine who gave me minute by minute updates as my sister Michelle was taken in for an Emergency C-section hours away in a NY hospital. I sat with my hands fumbling under my books unbeknownst to my teacher, anticipating the break so that I could run out of the room and give my sister a call. It was the longest two minutes of my life. (As my sister Michelle often says, it took two minutes for Abigail to be born and 10 minutes for her to pass away.) All I remember as I ran out into the hall was a text coming in from my sister Christine before I got out of the school that said in caps “SHE IS BORN AND BEAUTIFUL” and this picture which confirmed that message.

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We were all so overjoyed. Never could we have anticipated that a year later we’d reflect on that day with such pain. Today is Abigail’s First Birthday, in Heaven.

Last night, my women’s small group discussed the pain of unanswered prayer and we looked at verses 21-26 from Lamentations 3. It begins:

“Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the Lord's great love we are not consumed, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.”

I thank God that we were not “destroyed” by the pain that my family was subjected to just 10 months ago, but 10 months later, the pain is still so raw and there is still the lingering question of WHY. Last night, I confronted my anger towards God and spoke a lot of things that I’ve been bottling up for so long. I know that I will never understand why God allowed Abby to suffer or why THIS was His will but I trust Him anyway and there is peace in that. I know that His thoughts are higher than ours and that I do not know what bigger plan God has for any of our lives. Still, I admit that it was so hard to trust God again immediately following Abby’s death. But then I think back to the day that Abby passed away and the overwhelming sense of peace I felt after she passed. I KNEW that could not have come from myself. Feeling so greatly despaired, peace was not a feeling I could have manufactured. God’s compassion did not fail. And I pray with all my heart that they will not fail my sister or the rest of my family who suffer with her today.

Lon Solomon, the pastor at my church gave a sermon last month that really helped me to put this in perspective (text, mp3). He compared our perspective on the direction of our lives to us trying to watch a parade and not being able to see past what is directly in front of us. We cannot see what is at the end, but God can. I don’t know how all the pieces go together or what the purpose is, but God does and I know that His plan is not to harm me or my family and so I put my trust in Him and I just pray for comfort and understanding, though I resign myself to the fact that I may never fully attain the latter.

Today, I try to find comfort in knowing that my beautiful niece Abby, my sister in Heaven, is beyond pain and is happier than I could ever imagine, safe in the arms of the Lord… Though the pain of not being able to hold her or see her little smile or celebrate with her, as we always imagined we would, is more than I can bear at this time. There is always tomorrow…

“But there's one other thing I remember, and remembering, I keep a grip on hope: God's loyal love couldn't have run out, his merciful love couldn't have dried up. They're created new every morning.” Lamentations 3:21-23 (the Message)

Monday, October 22, 2007

Wife then BRIDE

I always have to do everything in my life backwards or it wouldn’t be my life. It would follow that I’d get married before I’d have a wedding. I guess I like being unconventional.

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In the summer of 2006, M and I asked his daughter’s permission (she was 6 at the time) to get married on our own, between just us and God. We promised her that we would have a church wedding when we got back from our trip to Turks and Caicos once I got a handle on law school and that she would definitely be a part of it. Never could we have imagined everything that would happen with my sister or her dear baby Abigail who passed away after just two short months of being with us. Wedding planning obviously got pushed to the wayside but after some discussions with my family and needed encouragement from my sister, we finally pulled it together and decided to have the wedding we’d planned on. God knew my family needed a HAPPY reason to come together…

So, on August 11, 2007, one year to the day M and I became man and wife, we had our little church wedding so that our loved ones could come together and celebrate the joining of our two families, here in Arlington, VA.

It was beautiful.

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I stood at the altar as I imagined I'd do since I was a little girl and felt more peace than I'd ever felt in all my life.

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And my very tall groom stood staring back at me. We both stood so still. I barely breathed. I watched him mouth the words "wow." I laughed. It helped distract from the fact that both my sisters were crying, which was making it harder for me to keep my composure. We all had a good laugh when M wrinkled his brow when asked his intentions before saying "I do." After that the day went by in a flash.

Our families prayed together.
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M and I fed each other communion for the first time.
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The pastor prayed over M, V and I.
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My step daughter got to participate in everything and now has a tangible memory of us all becoming a family.
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We really had a chance to celebrate.
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And there was much dancing!
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V even got her first father daughter dance!

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And it was great to see my sisters...

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and my family....

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SMILING again...

.. especially my sister Michelle, who has had such a rough year....

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The day was more than I could have hoped for.

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And now I have pictures I can show my grandchildren (God-willing) someday ☺
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If we’d never had our church wedding I could have survived but I’m so glad we did. I got to marry the man of my dreams AGAIN. My family finally got to see where I've been living for the last 4 years and meet our friends. Our families got to know each other better. And we all have beautiful memories to take away from it.

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I feel very blessed.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Remembering Abby, Six Months Later...

Six months ago today, my sister’s life and the lives of every member of my family were changed forever. Six months ago today, our precious Abigail Rose, my baby niece, passed away. When I looked at the calendar today, it hit so hard. Has it really been that long? Or that recent? Sometimes, I’m not sure which it is.

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I’m haunted by the memories of those final days, I can recall with such clarity the drive to the hospital the day we knew would be her last. The music playing in the car, “10,000 miles” a song that still haunts me and reduces me to a puddle with the first few chords. [listen/watch] The last time I held her in my arms and kissed her little face. The day we said goodbye. Walking away from the place we knew her tiny body would be laid to rest. And the trip home. I took all of it with me. None of it was left beind, except the little token I left beside her in her coffin, a tiny silver heart inscribed with the words “we will miss you forever.” I knew it wouldn’t be forever before I’d see her again, but they were the best words I could muster at the time and best described the sorrow that was so overwhelming. -- and still is.

Fortunately, as a Christian, I know that Abigail is not in Staten Island, where my sister is headed in a few minutes to visit and lay flowers on her grave. I know that she is in heaven, that she is in the arms of our Lord, that she is free from all pain and suffering. I just wish sometimes we had had more time with her. I just wish I could kiss her little face again, look upon her navy blue eyes, and see her little "Elvis" sneer that I loved so much.

I know that everything happens for a reason but sometimes it is so hard to come to grips with. Fortunately, I know that even when I don’t have the words, I have God’s promises to stand on. I just pray that my sister would have this assurance and that she would realize that she never leaves her baby behind when her visit to the cemetery ends. Please keep that in prayer…

When we gather at our church and I see so many people singing songs of praise with such joy, I think about Abigail, my sister in heaven, and I think of how we will worship together someday – and that gives me comfort. In the meantime, I hold on to her memory, I cherish the short time I had with her, and take comfort in knowing she is more alive than I can ever conceive of.

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Still, I miss her...

Thursday, March 29, 2007

A Much Needed Reminder

“For I know the plans I have for you…”

It’s easy to wonder sometimes whether we are following the correct path in life, and this gives rise to doubts as to whether or not we have truly been “put” where we belong or if we have chosen it for ourselves. For those who choose to live their lives seeking God’s will in all things, it’s difficult sometimes to escape these doubts as to whether God chose our course and brought us where we are or if we chose it and brought Him there instead. These are doubts I’ve entertained for the last few months since beginning my second semester as a first year law student… They have truly tried my faith.

I had hoped to draft this earlier in case the novelty faded. I wanted to write this to preserve a reminder for myself in the event I become discouraged about the course I’ve chosen in life, which I’m sure I will do from time to time…

I must confess, law school has been harder than I imagined it would be. (This leads me to wonder if I perhaps watched Legally Blonde one too many times.) Given everything that took place last semester concerning the month long illness and eventual passing of my precious niece Abigail, I did not do as well as I’d hoped to do on final exams, which took place at the same time as this tragedy in my family. I let the fact that I did not score as well as I thought I could have get to my head. I started to wonder if maybe I wasn’t cut out for this after all. I started to wonder if I had chosen this course for myself and done so to my own disadvantage. I had once been sure that this was where I belonged, but I began basing the accuracy of my decision on the world’s standards and not God’s. Perhaps a truer statement is that I’d been pretty sure that this was God’s will, but I wasn’t feeling very sure that it was mine anymore. That was until last Saturday, when I had a powerful reminder.

Public speaking has always been one of my biggest fears, but in facing that fear in the past (through mock trial in college and L-D debate in high school) I felt strong and convicted; I forgot myself. I was worried that I had changed too much since then and that this would no longer come naturally to me in my mid-twenties when I learned that I had to compete in a first year Oral Arguments Competition last weekend. I was fortunate to have been proven wrong. Not only did I feel as strong and convicted as I did in younger days, but I felt stronger than I ever had. In the midst of arguing I nearly forgot the fictional state of my client. Every minute was a total rush that left me wanting more. The judge’s comments and encouragement at the conclusion of the round only fed this fire. I left the competition not knowing whether I would advance but feeling reassured. I prayed the whole way there making requests of God and the whole way home thanking Him just feeling something inside me reminding me that I was born for this. This is what I want to do. It’s what I was made to do. This was the reason I felt convicted to go to law school: so that someday I can stand and do this in an actual courtroom. I felt convicted that this was what God wanted for my life and I felt so grateful that He sustained me through it.

When I learned on Monday that I advanced to next round, which takes place this Saturday, I was thrilled beyond belief. It was icing on the cake. I already had my reminder and whether or not I go further, I’m positive I will not be one bit discouraged. The point, I guess is that sometimes we doubt and when we do, God usually gives us that gentle nudge (or great big push in some instances) to remind us what it is we should be doing.

How awesome is our God that He cares even about the trivial things, which we inflate to such great proportions in our tiny lives?

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Keeping God in the Details

It has been some time since I posted. It is not because I have been completely destroyed by the death of my precious niece. I have not stayed away because I’ve lost an ounce of hope or faith. It has just taken me some time for me to be able to write again. (Fortunately, I was encouraged and admonished about this recently by a dear friend I had not seen in many seasons.) Abby’s death still weighs heavy on my heart but I am secure in knowing that God has a purpose, even if I don’t know or understand what it is right now and even if the details leading up to her death still haunt me.

In the months that have followed, I have been consumed with trying to keep up with the workload for my second semester as a 1L, which has been quite challenging. I have also been trying to recover from another car accident I was in just a few days after Abigail’s funeral in NY that was certainly a setback to my progress. To quote my physical therapist, I am "back at zero." But in these months I have discovered that it is more than just mind over matter, it is keeping God in the details.

About two years ago, after having one spinal procedure and one major surgery that left me hospitalized for a month and not walking unassisted for some time afterwards, I was told that I needed a double spinal fusion. I’ll spare you the gruesome details and just note that it involves removing discs, bone grafting and inserting metal rods and screws into the spine and pelvis. (I guess that was still pretty gruesome. Sorry.) This was before this last accident and after the second of three that have taken such a toll on my body. For years I wondered why God would not heal me. I struggled with being in pain all the time and muddled through physical therapy, which only seemed to make matters worse and showed me how far I needed to go to get better.

This time, I decided to try something new. I decided to work this through without doctors and with God. M and I moved recently into a great building in Arlington that has a rooftop gym with an amazing view of Washington DC. For the last two weeks, I have been going up there almost every day and “working out like a rockstar,” as I like to put it. I’ve been on spring break this week and so I have had the gym mostly to myself. I’ve been amazed at what I am capable of doing if I approach it in prayer. I know there is a long road ahead to recovering completely and I may not be able to push surgery off permanently, but I feel stronger and healthier and more capable then I have in years. I have turned my workout into a time of worship. With Chris Tomlin and Matt Redman blasting through my ear buds, I feel strength that I didn’t know I had and it is taking me miles – literally.

Sometimes there are so many distractions that make staying in constant conversation with God difficult. But it is in the little things, such as washing dishes, cleaning the house, going to the grocery store, or taking care of our bodies that we can magnify Him. (I'm sure there are some better examples that don't involve chores that could be inserted into that sentence too.) It certainly has taken me further than I ever could have gone on my own. And who knows how far I’ve yet to go! It helps to know that I'm not going it alone... and never really was.