Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Jesus, Come

Outwardly, everything is fine.  Inwardly, it has been a rough week.  I think I have some latent anger simmering under the surface.  Bitterness isn't a foe you only have to beat once.  I struggle to defeat him every day or at least every week.
Every part of my life is different from what is was before we lost Cora.  Not a thing is the same.  I went from working in full time in ministry, which I loved, to now staying home and teaching from home, which I'm learning to love.  We moved to a new house.  I'm in a different church, different community.  Everything has changed.  'Out with the old' can sometimes be good, but out went my sense of hope and cheer and optimism too.  Evan and I are different people than we were one year ago (almost exactly) when we found out we were pregnant.  What good news that was!  I wish I could get some good news in 2012.  As it is, the new year can't come soon enough.
I know others out there who are hurting, just as badly, and some worse....physically.  And I weep for them.  I weep for all the hurts.  Because I know when hurt is staring you down and seemingly winning the battle, all you can do is cry.  And cry for help.  I'm training my ears to hear Jesus' rescuing answer.  I'm straining to catch the whisper of his voice.  I so look forward to the day when what we hear is a victory shout resounding, thundering through the eastern sky.  Jesus, come.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Mundane Faithfulness

I was recently invited to share my story on Kara Tippett's blog.  Kara and I have known each other for a few months now, but we've gone deep with each other really fast.  The week that Cora died, Kara found out that she has breast cancer.  Since then, she has been a warrior for Jesus through her pain.  She has an amazing testimony, and a staggering transparency through which you will see Jesus.  Kara's husband, Jason, was hired by Village Seven Presbyterian Church (where my husband works) to plant the Westside Church in the Rockrimmon area of Colorado Springs.

You can visit Kara's blog and read my guest post at Mundane Faithfulness.

Happy reading and blessings on you today.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Whistle While You Wait?

"Be strong and let your heart take courage, all you who wait for the Lord."  Psalm 31:24

Waiting for the Lord.  Oh how we hate to wait!  Isn't it so true?  I don't know anyone who truly enjoys waiting.  And here I find myself as one who waits for the Lord.  I don't think the Psalmist would say "be strong and let your heart take courage" if waiting for the Lord was easy and comfortable.  It's not a walk in the park, but waiting for the Lord may have an up side.  It's like waiting for Christmas morning.  The child is bursting with anticipation, eager, expectant, curious, ready to receive.  This could be a good spiritual attitude to have--expectant, eager, receptive to the Lord's Word, work and purpose.  On the down side, Christmas can also bring out the greed in a child's heart.  "How many presents do I get?  It's mine!  Gimme, gimme!"  Likewise, I can sometimes fall into seeing God as the cosmic Santa Claus who gives gifts to good little children and  buckets of coal to bad children.  "Okay God, I've been good!  What's in it for me?  Bless me!  Where's the good stuff?"  The challenge is to be expectant and receptive but also patient and trusting because what we receive may not be our idea of a good gift.  We have to trust that what God gives us, good or bad, is part of his perfect plan for our lives, and that is why we are told to be strong and take courage.

So, while I'm courageously and patiently waiting for the Lord, what should I be doing?  Twiddling my thumbs?!  I get the feeling that we are not called to be passive or sit idly by.  God calls us to actively participate in what he is already doing -the stuff we don't have to wait for because it's already happening.  This requires eyes that are open to see where God is moving.

All over Scripture and all throughout history there is a thematic dichotomy between the already and the not yet.  God is working and moving now, but there are also things yet to be revealed.  As I'm waiting for what's still to be revealed, I need to be joining in the work that God is already doing.  So I'm beginning to understand that waiting is a gift of time and space not only to rest, recover and hope but also to get to know Jesus more, to learn, study, pray, encourage others and engage in God's Kingdom work.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

An Odd Sort of Joy

I think my patience in waiting for God's "good purpose" has been wearing thin.  I need renewed joy in this trial!  My endurance in suffering is shabby.  I'm already out of breath!

Trial, we are told, is God's way of refining his children, making them more like Jesus, deepening the character and filing off the rough edges.  I think we are to "count it all joy" because the trial is ultimately for a good purpose.  Pain has the ability to either make us calloused and bitter or to soften us further.

Several times, I've caught myself thinking that losing Cora is God's punishment for sin in my life.  Eek! It sounds ridiculous, but let me tell you, it's easy to believe when you're the one being "afflicted."  I seriously struggled with guilt thinking that this wouldn't have happened if I had only been holier.  I wrestled with this lie until I heard Pastor Mark Bates say this in a recent sermon:

"Punishment gives you the result of your sin.  Discipline, however, sets you on a course of correction."

He went on to elaborate that Jesus already paid the full consequence of sin.  Jesus' death on the cross is a finished work.  He paid it all.  He took all the punishment on himself, not just some of it.  So, I can safely say I am not being punished for my sin.

On the other hand, God disciplines us because he loves us too much to allow us to keep going the wrong way.  He corrects our course, our behavior and attitudes, because he loves us.  And, you guessed it, one way that God corrects us is through trial.  Divine discipline is often experienced as earthly suffering.  (Disclaimer...I'm not saying this is true in all cases.  Job's suffering, for example, was for an entirely different purpose.)  One thing that is for sure, trouble drives us to our knees before the Throne of Grace, and that is always for our good.

This Divine discipline has to be another good purpose for me because when I take the "long view," as my dad often encourages me to do, I see that the Lord's correction is just like a parent's correction of a child.  It's for the child's safety, growth and understanding.  But boy, it hurts!  He has redirected my works-oriented way of life to a grace-filled way of life.   He has exposed my hypocrisy:  "To obey is better than sacrifice."  He has revealed my idols and the objects of false hope and smashed them.  He has confirmed to me that he really is sovereign and in control.  And so much more!

Often I find myself saying, "Okay, God, I'm ready to be done with this now.  Thanks for the stuff you're doing through Cora's death, but I'm ready to be done with this hurting.  I've learned enough lessons.  Can I get my badge and go home now?  I mean, really, how long is this going to take?"

And I imagine others silently asking the same thing..."how long will she continue to grieve, be sad, awkward or whatever?"  Again, I imagine this.  No one I know has actually made me feel this way.   "But seriously, can't she be over it by now?"  Ah, pesky, little voice in my head, no, I can't.  Believe me, I would if I could.

So, I must be patient and bear up, knowing that the Lord is doing something far greater through my pain.  He has saved me, and now he is sanctifying me in the Refiner's Fire.  And even now, I feel an odd sort of joy at this realization.  Indeed, it is a very odd sort.

(If you are reading this, and you are going through the Fire right now too, I pray that the God of all comfort will guard your heart, hold you up and give you the strength to find his good purpose in the midst of your pain.  You are not alone, and you have my prayers.)

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Dear Cora Lane

For the past six weeks or so, Evan and I have been attending a grief workshop at First Pres Church which has been a really positive experience for both of us.  We have gained some great tools for working through the loss of our daughter, and we've learned a good deal about ourselves and each other.  One of the recent activities of the workshop was to write a letter to the person who died.  Here is my letter to Cora.

Dear Cora Lane, my baby girl,

At this moment I am a bit sore, both body and soul.  I've been working on the back yard, and I feel I'm doing it for you.  Every bit of effort I put forth feels like grief seeping from my body.

You should be here.  Everything about life now feels incomplete because you're not in it.  I wish you could have heard me say "I love you," face to face.  I wish I could have heard your voice and cry.  You have given me the gift of becoming a mother.  You are my first, and so I thank you for ushering me into motherhood, although I am not the kind of mother I would have liked to be.

Cora, I believe you are not worried about me, but I want you to know that I love you very much.  Your daddy and I miss you, and we can't wait to see you again in Heaven.  I can't even describe the ache I have now to hold you in my arms, to rock and feed you; to give you all my love.  Daddy aches too.

I'm angry that I didn't get to experience you, and I'm sad that God took you from me.  I feel deprived (robbed, even) of your cry, your laugh, your eyes, your crawling, walking, running, singing and playing, your thinking, first day of school, first loose tooth, first boyfriend, your wedding day, your children.  I can only imagine the life you are living now in Glory.  How amazing that must be!

Some days I feel guilty for taking advantage of having our "child-free"days extended.  Honestly, it's nice at times, and that feels selfish.  Most days I don't care about being "free."  All I want is you.

I have had to ask the Lord's forgiveness for hating him so much the day we found out you were gone.  I felt totally abandoned by him.  Nowadays, I know God is with us, carrying us through.  He has loved us well through this, and I'm learning more about him because of our experience.  (I love the fact that you know Jesus intimately now, much better than I!)  But, we don't dream like we used to.  When you were still here, we would take walks and talk about your future, what color eyes you'd have, if you'd be musical, athletic or both.  I miss the dreaming.  Now our walks are just quiet.

I think I have accepted that you are really gone.  Somedays it still doesn't seem real, more like a nightmare from which we have yet to awaken.  Most usually, however, I feel your loss acutely -physically, spiritually, emotionally.  Now I have to face moving forward and all that comes with it:  possibly getting pregnant again, feeling joy and hope again, trusting God (even though at times that seems the most difficult).  I want to find ways to take you with me into the future.  I'm afraid of my next pregnancy even though I want it.  I'm afraid of losing you further through it.  I'm afraid of the next baby dying.  But, I'm more afraid of not moving forward in life.  I love you, Cora, but I don't want to get stuck here.

It was so hard to make the adjustment from expecting joy at becoming your mother to accepting the confusion and pain at your death.  There are more adjustments to come as we journey on.  Through it all, I do want to hold on to that sweet, motherly pride I felt when I saw you for the first time.  I suppose I will never let go of that.  I need to keep remembering you, to keep writing and praying and throwing myself on the mercy of God.  It is there that we all must fall.  I thank God that you always were and always will be there with Him.

I love you, Cora,

Monday, October 8, 2012

Like a Tree

Psalm 113:7-9
"He raises the poor from the dust
and lifts up the needy from the ash heap,
to make them sit with princes,
with the princes of his people.
He gives the barren woman a home,
making her the mother of children.
Praise the Lord!"

Oh to be the mother of children!  This desire has not waned since Cora's death.  No, it has intensified.  Last night I dreamt I had a son.  This morning I woke with hopes for a quiver full of children!  Waking up like that after weeks and weeks of sadness is a pretty big victory in the Nelson home.  I know my next pregnancy, should the Lord bless us with one someday, could easily be filled with fear and anxiety.  It will be hard to go through nine months knowing that again all could be lost in a moment.  Yet, that too would be in God's hands.  It will be scary and hard, but I do want to enter in to that battlefield.  I call it a battlefield because my heart and mind will be warring to fight off fear and anxiety.

As we talk and pray about trying again, I've had to ask myself the question if I'm really ready to go there.  Remembering Cora, it is difficult to imagine facing that sort of devastating pain again.  But her little life, however short, was worth every tear shed upon her death.  The same would be true for any sweet baby that God creates through us.  My job is to be the Lord's vessel, broken as I am.
So, as I continue to daily ask myself what life would be like if we were to get pregnant again, I've projected that I will probably be faced with choosing between two attitudes:

1.  "God does what he wills, and such is life...." -Grumble, grumble, hands thrown up in the air and eyes rolling...cynical and resentful.
2. "God does what he wills, but he is good...." -Prayer, prayer...trusting and peaceful.

I want to trust the Lord and rest in his peace, but I confess that cynicism and resentment are very tempting (and maybe even understandable) modes of operating.  Which one honors God and holds out faith in the goodness of his character?  That is the one I will choose because like all attitudes, it is most certainly a choice.

Jeremiah 17:7-8
"Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord,
whose trust is the Lord.
He is like a tree planted by the stream,
and does not fear when heat comes,
for its leaves remain green,
and is not anxious in the year of drought,
for it does not cease to bear fruit."

Psalm 107:9
"For he satisfies the longing soul,
and the hungry soul he fills with good things."

When the time comes -and I pray it does in God's time- I will still trust in the Lord.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Living Hope

"...We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us."
Romans 5:(2), 3-5

Hope does not put us to shame.

"...That you may not grieve as those who have no hope."  1 Thessalonians 4:13

"Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be fervent in prayer."  Romans 12:12

And this is my favorite:

"He has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled and unfading, kept in Heaven for you.  In this [hope] you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials SO THAT the tested genuineness of your faith (more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire) may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.  Though you have not seen him, you love him.  Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls."
1 Peter 1:3-9

Oh my goodness, I love these passages!  Almost every time I see the word "hope" in Scripture it is associated with suffering, trials or grief.  Or should I say, almost every time I read about suffering in Scripture, hope is there, right on the heels of trial.  Hope is the desired character trait, and it seems like it is best obtained through suffering.  We hope for salvation.  We hope for healing from this sin-sick and hurting human body.  We hope for God to win the final battle on the last day.  We hope to be reunited with those we love.  We hope for Satan to be crushed and for death to be defeated.  Hope gives us an eternal perspective.

Through losing Cora Lane, God has been redirecting my hope.  Until she died, I had never really been all that jazzed about Heaven.  All those old gospel songs about Saint Peter and the pearly gates never made sense to me.  I didn't get it.  But now, Heaven is so much more real to me.  It's not just a place with fat, baby cherubs and gold everywhere (honestly, I don't think the fat, baby cherubs exist at all--I could be wrong! ;), but you get the point.   Heaven is the place where all is made right and new, where God's perfect will for his beloved children is fulfilled.  It is where our "inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled and unfading" is kept for us, according to Romans.  And it is in that hope that we rejoice.

It's interesting that Peter goes on to say, "though for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials."  Apparently, God deemed it necessary for us.  But this necessity means our trial and grief is not pointless.  It's necessary, Peter goes on, "SO THAT the tested genuineness of your faith may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ."  He is the point.  It all comes back to him, always.  Faith is knowing that our hope in Jesus will not disappoint, our hope in Him will be fulfilled.  That is why hope does not put us to shame.  When we hope in the right thing, in Christ, we can rejoice in our suffering because Christ will return and be revealed.  He will make all things new, and Cora and I together will sing his praises on that day.  (And to quote Psalty, the singing songbook -in honor of Leli- "Heaven is a wonderful place, filled with glory and grace.  I wanna see my Savior's face, cause Heaven is a wonderful place.  I wanna go there!")

Sunday, September 30, 2012

His Jewel

Lately I've been revisiting one particular Wednesday in my memory.  It was the last day of Cora's life.  I probably keep recalling it because I so desperately want to remember her as a live baby.  Unfortunately, reliving the sweetness of that day always leads me to the inevitable disaster of the next.  I attended a farewell party at First Pres that Wednesday.  I pulled weeds.  I ate Vietnamese food with my mom.  Weird little things like that come to mind.  I remember being so tired of pregnancy.  My feet ached.  I felt huge.  I was huge.  In the weeks after Cora died, I struggled with real guilt for having been so "miserable" in those last days of pregnancy.  There's nothing like death to put mere discomfort into perspective.  In retrospect, I would have endured the worst of aches and pains with joy if it meant getting to hold my Cora alive.  If I had known she was going to die, I would have cherished every minute of being huge and uncomfortable with her.

Revisiting those days is like torture, but not ever going there is almost worse.  I need to remember our daughter.  Remembering her validates her life.  She was a person and still is a precious part of God's creation in Heaven.  She is a gem in His crown.

The song, "Jewels," has become our theme song for Cora Lane.  Evan used to sing it -rather obnoxiously I might add- all through our dating and early married years.  Seriously, for the better part of five years I was annoyed by this song!  But, on the afternoon that my family and I sat around planning Cora's funeral service, it was the first song that came to mind.  Its lyrics (which I had actually not really known before) rang perfectly true with ironic yet sweet clarity.  He has gathered her to himself like a precious jewel, his loved and his own.

"When He Cometh" or "Jewels"

When He cometh, when He cometh to make up his jewels,
all is jewels, precious jewels, his loved and his own.

Like the stars in the morning,
his bright crown adorning,
they shall shine in their beauty,
bright gems for his crown.

He will gather, He will gather the gems for his Kingdom,
All the pure ones, all the bright ones, his loved and his own.

Like the stars in the morning,
his bright crown adorning,
they shall shine in their beauty,
bright gems for his crown.

Little children, little children, who love their redeemer,
are the jewels, precious jewels, his loved and his own.

Like the stars in the morning,
his bright crown adorning,
they shall shine in their beauty,
bright gems for his crown.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Two Months Ago Today

Two months ago today, Cora died in the womb.  Two months ago today, we found out there was no heartbeat.  Two months ago today was the worst day of my life.  The following day was the hardest.

What do you put your hope in?

Earlier in the summer, before we lost Cora, the Waldo Canyon Fire raged out of control.  My dear friend, Cliff Anderson, died of cancer, and then the horror of the Aurora shooting took place.  My thought was, "Cora Lane's arrival will be one bright spot in this summer of darkness."  She represented hope to me.  And, when your hope dies, literally, what is left?

I think of the disciples when Jesus was crucified.  He was their hope, and he died -literally.  They had put all their stock in that guy.  The kicker part is that he had tried to tell them that he would come back, that their hope would not disappoint.  Yet, they still lost hope, they didn't remember his words, and if they did remember, some didn't believe it would happen.  Imagine the despair they must have felt on those dark days between his death and resurrection.

My hope has been in the wrong things.  -Husband, house, children, "happiness," adventure...  It has been the kingdom and all its blessings, not the King, that I've desired.  Do I believe that God will make all things new like he promised?  Even if I do, the glory is in Jesus, not in the retrieval of what was lost.  The objects of my deepest affections have been all wrong.

It may sound like I'm nay-saying my love for Cora.  Fear not, I'm not condemning parental love or the desire to have children.  Rather, I am recognizing that Christ alone should be my real hope.  Christ alone should be the desired Jewel.  In my heart, Christ alone should be the object of my worship, not the accouterments of a happy life.  How many times I have sung "In Christ alone, my hope is found" and it hasn't been true!

Two months ago today was the beginning of my open heart surgery.  The Surgeon reveals all the decay and cleanses it with the Truth.  I'm still on the operating table and will be for a long time.  There is much more work to be done.

"But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ.  Indeed I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus, my Lord.  For his sake, I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes from God that depends on Faith -that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead."
Philippians 3:7-10

Sunday, September 23, 2012

My Tantrum and The Victor

This was a hard week.  My guess is I've been stretching myself too thin and not taking enough time to grieve.  All the evidence points to it...I've been short, easily annoyed, slow to smile and quick to cry.  Grief makes me feel like a terribly selfish person.  Then I feel guilty for being selfish!

I think I need to be more thankful.  No, I know I need to be more thankful, more aware of the blessings in my life.  But, I really don't want to thank God for anything right now.  I don't want to give in and let him win.  It's like I'm a willful little child all over again!  If I begin thanking God for the good things it's as if I'm giving up on being sad over Cora or like I'm letting God off the hook for taking her.  I want him to know I'm still mad about it.  Sometimes I want to try to punish him by witholding myself -my love, my approval, my worship- from him.  What sin!  Am I God that I should judge his actions and attempt to punish him?!  Yet, this is what I do in my heart.  -As if I am anything that God would be less without me!  Ha!

So, I will breathe a big sigh and surrender.  God wins this battle in my heart, and I become his restored daughter once again.  

Jesus, forgive me.  Lord, thank you for:

-My husband who loves me
-My mom and dad who cling to your truth and encourage me with it
-Today's sunshine and blue sky
-The glorious fall weather and golden aspen leaves
-Our cozy home
-The wildflowers blooming out back (They're Cora's flowers.  I had given up on them, but they began blooming around the time of her due date.)
-The Weerasooriya family and how they've blessed me
-My mother-in-law who carries the burden of grief with me and sits with me in times of fear and sadness
-My Gracie dog whose cuteness ought to be bottled and shared with others who need to smile
-Students for my music studio
-Your forgiveness of my many sins
-The Grief Workshop and the people there who are walking through their own valleys of death
-Old friends, near and far, who challenge me to extend the same Grace that God gives me
-The prayers of saints around the world which have upheld us
-Music that speaks the language of the soul when mere words cannot express the depths
-Tears that are a meager meal but that satisfy and enable me to face the day

Thank you, my God, for you -the Victor.  You win every time.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Living in Freedom

Excerpts from Isaiah 53

"He was despised and rejected by men;
a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief..."

"Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.
But he was wounded for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace;
and with his stripes we are healed."

"Yet it was the will of God to crush him;
he has put him to grief."

Does Jesus know my sorrow and relate to my grief?  If ever there was a question (and there was), this passage answers it.  He not only knows it, it says he has borne our grief and carried our sorrows.  He became the afflicted one so that we could know freedom and grace.  "With his stripes we are healed."

Lord, help me live in your freedom!

Speaking of living in freedom, my friend, Rushika, and her mother from Sri Lanka visited me today.  Year's ago, Rushi's mother lost her 16 year old son and then lost her baby during labor and delivery shortly after her older son's death.  You would think that this woman's life would be completely defined by sorrow.  But quite to the contrary, she lives in absolute peace and joy!  She hands out encouragement and comfort like lifelines to those around her.  Because she is so closely acquainted with grief, she now knows the Lord's character very well and makes it her mission to extend his love to others.  I was so blessed by her today.  She spoke truth to my soul and prayed for my empty womb that it would be blessed with Cora's future brothers and sisters.  She said, "God is not testing you with sorrow, he is trusting you with it because he knows you can handle it"...without losing faith in his goodness.  Such a perspective makes me feel almost as though it's a privilege to carry this grief.  I pray I will be like her one day, encouraging those around me with blessings and truth.

Thank you, Rushika, for setting up our meeting today.  And thank you, Lord, for the Body of Christ near and far who extend your love in amazing ways!

Sunday, September 16, 2012

The Hurt that Heals

September 7, 2012

Sometimes fulfilling God's purpose for your life means trudging through the trenches of doubt, confusion, sadness and fear.  I really cannot see beyond the dirty walls of this ditch.  Imagine a World War I infantry trench.  That's what it feels like in my heart some days.

I used to have such fantastical dreams of the glorious things God would call Evan and me to do in life!  -Me and my tender-warrior-husband, hand in hand, changing the world for Jesus, cresting spiritual mountain tops and basking in God's blessing!  Boy, what a reality check we've had!  Could it be that following Jesus may mean wading into the dark, swampy valleys of pain and loss?

In the days just following Cora's death, I felt so betrayed (tricked, even) and hurt by God.  I recall asking, "Lord, why are you hurting me?"  He gently replied, "Joy, I was hurt."  I cried, "God, I feel so betrayed!"  He even more gently replied, "I was betrayed."  And when I remembered that he was hurt and betrayed for me, I had no more words.  It was as if he was just patting my hand saying, "I know.  I know."

...But I wanted answers!!

Instead, he told me to be satisfied with his peace and presence.  I'm not entirely satisfied with it yet -it's a daily process.  I still cry out, "why?!" more frequently than I want to admit. (It's amazing the pressure I put on myself to be "better" already.  It's been only six weeks!)

Looking back, I love how God didn't rebuke my bad theology, and he didn't slap my hand for blaming him or calling him a betrayer.  He just said, "I know."  He entered right into my hurt.  At that moment I realized that he had hurt far more than I could ever imagine.  And his hurt is the hurt that heals.

Friday, September 7, 2012

True Metal

It seems like somehow suffering is linked to our worthiness of the Gospel of Christ.

"Therefore we ourselves boast about you in the churches of God for your steadfastness and faith in all your persecutions and in the afflictions that you are enduring.  This is evidence of the righteous judgement of God, that you may be considered worthy of the Kingdom of God, for which you are also suffering.  ...To this end we always pray for you that our God may make you worthy of his calling and may fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power."
2 Thessalonians 1:4-5, 11

We suffer for the Kingdom of God, and by it, God makes us worthy of his calling.

I'm not entirely sure how this translates to me in losing Cora.

Could it be that how we handle suffering is what makes us worthy or not?  The "steadfastness and faith" of the Thessalonians is what caused Paul to boast about them.  Because of their steadfastness and faith in the face of persecutions and afflictions, he considered them worthy of the Kingdom and worthy of God's calling.

Now, I ought to be careful to not to slip into a doctrine of works here.   This is my disclaimer!  Steadfastness and faith are certainly works, but they must be fruits produced by the indwelling Holy Spirit.   It seems to me that I cannot, on my own strength, be perfectly steadfast nor faithful!  Neither are a natural response in the face of trial.  My human condition -my frailty, sin and feeble mind- impair me from standing strong and keeping faith.  It is only God's Spirit within me that allows me to bear up under such sorrow and to have faith beyond all hope in God's goodness.

So in reality, it is the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives that is the true metal of the Christian and it His work which makes us worthy of the Kingdom and of the call of Christ.   It just so happens to be showcased best by affliction.  In this way, suffering not only makes us more like Christ, it makes us worthy of the calling of God and of his Kingdom.

This may be part of his purpose for me in losing Cora.

I don't like it.  I wish He would have chosen to do it another way.  In truth, I'd still rather have my baby, but I am learning to trust that God's calling is greater by far than any earthly joy.  I must remember and believe this.

Lord, make me worthy of your calling and Kingdom through this pain.  By your Spirit, help me be steadfast and faithful.  Help me stand the test and through it be made "perfect and complete" (James 1:4) for your purpose, pleasure, glory and praise.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

A Good Cry

August 26, 2012

Sometimes all you need is a good cry.  I find that any sort of change in circumstance sends me reeling.  For instance, my sweet family was just visiting and left today.  How wonderful it was to have them here!  The kids were a therapeutic delight, and holding my precious baby nephew was so good for my soul.  I even enjoyed having a noisy house!  But when all is quiet again, now that they've gone, the tears well up at the floodgates and burst through.  All the old questions come screaming back, and I sit helpless to take myself out of the torrent of tears and hurt.
I know it sounds miserable and sad, but crying is a release!  I feel such freedom to then go about my day.
Thank you, Lord, for creating tears and for creating us humans with the ability to cry them.

"The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit."  Psalm 34:18

Monday, September 3, 2012

"We are destined for this"

“…to establish and exhort you in your faith, that no one be moved by these afflictions.  For you yourselves know that we are destined for this.  For when we were with you, we kept telling you beforehand that we were to suffer affliction, just as it has come to pass, and just as you know.”
1 Thessalonians 3:2-4

I continue to be impressed by the thought that ‘this was no accident.’ –That Mary’s vial of perfume was always meant to be shattered and poured out at Jesus’ feet.  –That Cora was always meant to go directly to Heaven.  –And that we would have to “sacrifice” her in our hearts to the Lord.

"We are destined for this."  God knew this would happen.  Whether he cause it or allowed it doesn't matter to me.  They essentially are the same.  They both imply that if God is in control (and I believe he is), he knew already (or planned beforehand) that we would lose Cora.  It was destined, as Paul says regarding affliction in 1 Thessalonians.

In these thoughts I start to get the tiniest inkling of the "why" or at least a hint of the purpose for this "tragedy." 

First of all, is it really tragedy if losing Cora is what God had planned, if it's what he had purposed all along?  Yes, from our earthly, human perspective this is definitely a tragedy.  No parent should have to experience the emotional whiplash of joyous expectation being turned into bewildering pain and sorrow at the loss of a baby.  Being denied the reward of a precious child after nine months of pregnancy is truly devastating, and we should mourn...we DO mourn that loss.

However, aren't we as Christians called to have the mind of Christ, an eternal perspective?  We are told that in this life we see "only through a mirror dimly."  I realize that my perspective is so very limited.  Attempting to peer through the lens of eternity, I begin to find comfort knowing that Cora never had to battle with sin, never had to experience the wickedness of this world, never had to know hurt or sorrow.  Instead, she knew only love here on earth and now knows nothing put perfection in the presence of Jesus.  With that in mind, isn't Cora fulfilling God's perfect and good will for her life?  And if so, then is it really a tragedy in an eternal sense?  No way!  As a parent who wants the Best for her child, I can't imagine any better outcome for Cora's soul.  I praise God that she was ushered immediately into Glory.  Cora's destiny was to meet Jesus face to face; to know him, worship him and be loved by him.  What a high calling and what a good God!

I'm still struggling to praise God for our destiny, being the bereaved parents who are left behind, but there is comfort in knowing that the Lord, in his sovereignty, has a purpose for Evan and me in this.  I finally want to get in line with his purpose for my life, my destiny.

Friday, August 31, 2012

The Real Problem

August 15, 2012
Sometimes grief turns its unattractive little head around and points the finger at you.  In some ways I feel like I've let my whole family down; as if somehow it's all my fault that Cora died.  I know those feelings are nonsense, but like I said before, grief is unpredictable and doesn't always make good sense.

My husband lost a daughter.  Our parents lost a grandchild.  Our sibling lost a niece.  Their kids lost a cousin.  Already, Cora was so loved by everyone.

What color would her eyes have been?  And would she have been musical?  Athletic?  Spunky?  Sweet?  I just want to know her!  I want to hold her and rock her and give her my love.  I was happy to sacrifice everything for her.  My precious baby girl.

I feel like I failed Cora too.  It's easy to slip into the "what ifs" and the "if only's."  (Feel free to imagine a whole bunch of them being inserted here.)  And if only....then she might be here!

Instead, we had this nightmarish trauma unfold.

But, I have to remind myself that Cora is in Bliss.  Do I really believe that?  If do really believe she is in Paradise, then I have to believe that the Lord cares for her.

Sometimes I struggle to believe God cares for me.  Why would he take her?
to punish me?
to sharpen me?
to change me?
I don't like the idea that God allowed this to happen just to show me his love and comfort in deeper ways.  Couldn't he have done that without taking my child?

I will never know why, and even if I did, it wouldn't ever be a satisfactory reason. test my faith?
Ah...And herein lies the real problem.  Honestly, I would have rather lived with my mediocre faith and had my baby than love God above all else.  And that is idolatry.  Period.  This is where my heart gets laid bare, and it is not pretty, sweet or comfortable.
In his book, "Safe in God's Arms," John MacArthur talks about moving on in grief from asking "why" to asking "what now."  If there is a "what now" for me, it is to confront this very core problem in my heart that I have not loved Him above all else.  The Lord is asking me now to pour out this most precious and costly perfume, my Cora Lane, at his feet in unadulterated worship of Him alone.  This truly is testing my faith.

"...for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.  And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing."  James 1:3-4

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

A plea from Psalm 119

August 13, 2012
The rest of the lessons from Philippians are a little too advanced for me at this stage of grief.  I will come back to them.

And so I turn to Psalm 119 and these are the verses I underlined.

25  My soul clings to the dust; give me life according to your word.

28  My soul melts away for sorrow; strengthen me according to your word.

In both, it is God's word that gives life and strengthens.  I need to be in the Word to recover from the blow of Cora's death, but in my flesh, the Word is the last place I want to be.

50  This is my comfort in my affliction, that your promise gives me life.

It's in these sorts of Scriptures that I have to trust because at times nothing seems farther that the truth.

In my flesh I'd rather say:
"God's promise?  What promise?!
God doesn't answer prayer.
He doesn't bring life, he allows death.
God doesn't love me, he afflicts me.
God can't be trusted."

Oh how the Tempter twists and deceives!
Giving in to these tempting thoughts does nothing but worsen my grief because not only then will I have lost Cora, I will have lost my faith.  Instead of one tragedy, there would be two.

It is the grace and mercy of God that keep me hoping in Him even while I'm angry at Him.

68  You are good and you do good; teach me your statutes.

Perhaps verse 71 is true:

71  It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statutes.

75  I know, O Lord, that your rules are righteous, and that in faithfulness you have afflicted me.

76  Let your steadfast love comfort me according to your promise to your servant.

Lord, 82  When will you comfort me?  For I have become like a wineskin in the smoke, yet I have not forgotten your statutes.  116  Let me not be put to shame in my hope!

132  Turn to me and be gracious to me, as is your way with those who love your name.  133  Keep steady my steps according to your promise and let no iniquity get dominion over me.

Jesus, 169  Let my cry come before you, O Lord, give me understanding according to your word!
170  Let my plea come before you, deliver me...
173  Let your hand be ready to help me...
176  I have gone astray like a lost sheep; seek your servant for I do not forget your commandments.

Oh God, hear my prayer.  Do not forsake me to unbelief.  Lord, increase my faith that I may see you in this.  Please don't let Cora's death be in vain.  Hold onto me, Lord.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Fear and Trembling

August 12, 2012

We were in Sonoma for a week to get away, and the time with Evan was good.  We laughed, cried and talked about Cora.  We talked about God.  Evan has such a strong faith, much stronger than mine.  He is unwavering in his assurance of God's goodness and thank God for that!   I, however, struggle with all kinds of thoughts and questions.  My experience of losing Cora actually makes me fearful of God and His plans for me in moments of weakness.

"But he is unchangeable, and who can turn him back?
What he desires, that he does.
For he will complete what he appoints for me,
and many such things are in his mind
Therefore I am terrified at his presence;
when I consider, I am in dread of Him.
God has made my heart faint;
the Almighty has terrified me"
                                 Job 23:13-17

My thoughts exactly.  I think Job knew how I feel.

Yet "the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom."
I don't feel wise, I feel broken.

It's not that I'm tempted to doubt the existence of God.  I know he does exist.  It's rather like what C.S. Lewis says in A Grief Observed...."it's the terrible things I come to believe about God" that frightens me.  (forgive the paraphrasing!)  Satan would love to use my pain to cause me to doubt God's character.  I have to choose not to give in to those dark thoughts, but it helps to know I'm not the first, nor the last, to question God's goodness and to be fearful of his plans.  The answer as to whether or not God is good, however, has not and never will change.  He is good.  I will myself to believe it.

We are home now, and this is the first time in almost a month that I have been alone.  Truly.
The house is quiet.  All the voices and faces are gone.  Evan is at work, and I am left, sitting on the couch.  As I reflect, I can hardly believe it's all real.  This really happened.

My belly is flat ('s by no means flat).  There is no sweet kick or roll from within, no toes tickling my ribcage like before.  -Just an empty, confused body and a hurting heart.

As good of a book as Job is, I failed to be comforted by it.  It was helpful in making me see that "God is" and "God does" are absolutes.  It helped to keep me from cursing God or sinning against him in my anger, but it didn't salve my wounded soul like I thought it would.  Job suffered.  We suffer.  Suffering happens, and God allows it, even uses it, which is not very comforting.  It does however beg the question, "what does God want to produce in me as a result of this pain?"  I'm not ready to answer that question yet.

Then Evan and I read Philippians.  Paul exhorts them to be pure and blameless.  He tells them that God began a "good work" in them and that God will complete it.  And then he says,

"Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for His good purpose."
                                                     Phil. 2:12-13

(Side note:  So, not only do we have to be pure and blameless and obedient, we also have to work out our salvation with fear and trembling?!  C'mon, God!  Blast the human condition!)

Back to the fear and trembling.  Well, I've got that part down.  Now for the "good purpose" part.

Monday, August 27, 2012

"Why have you made me your mark?"

August 10, 2012

Evan and I read through Job together.  The poor man!  All his children were killed, his livelihood destroyed and his health taken away; yet he did not sin against God in his complaining and anger.  How did Job have the grace and fortitude within himself to restrain his thoughts?!  I guess that was God's whole point in allowing Job's suffering.  God knew that through it all his servant would not curse God or stray from the truth.

"...Therefore I will not restrain my mouth;
I will speak in the anguish of my spirit;
I will complain in the bitterness of my soul."(Job 7:11)

This tells me that I can "complain" to God and speak my thoughts to him.  He can take it.  But, in my complaining I must not sin.

"In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong."  (Job 1:22)

How do I yell at God, knowing that He is the one who took Cora away, and not accuse him of wrong?  "In your anger do not sin." (Eph 4:26)  I've tried to be careful in my prayers.  Authentic but careful.

Job did not, however, hold back from crying out to God.  I identify with his sentiments....

"What is man that you make so much of him,
and that you set your heart on him,
visit him every morning and test him every moment?"
                                             Job 7:17-18

"...if I sin, what do I do to you, you watcher of mankind?
Why have you made me your mark?..."
                                             Job 7:20

In other words, "why me?"  Why me, God?  Why us?  I remember distinctly feeling like God had singled us out, like we had been targeted almost.  "Why have you made me your mark?"  It still feels like that at times.

I was one of the masses of pregnant women. In retrospect, I was enjoying it (for once)!  In pregnancy and childbirth you want to be normal!  My pregnancy was uncomplicated and quite easy in comparison to many women who experience sickness or discomfort.  So when I was in the hospital, the last thing I expected to hear is that I'm one woman in a thousand to whom this happens in this way.
The cord was wrapped around Cora's neck four times.  It was an unusually long cord.  Poor baby, she didn't know she was getting herself into a mess.

And yet, now she is richer than I'll ever be this side of Heaven.  She is without sorrow or pain or grief.  She is truly alive and truly who God made her to be.  This was no accident....

"But ask the beasts, and they will teach you, the birds of the heavens, and they will tell you; or the bushes of the earth, and they will teach you; and the fish of the sea will declare to you.  Who among these does not know that the hand of the Lord has done this?  In his hand is every living thing and the breath of mankind."  Job 12:7-10

It is okay to be angry and sad.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

She is In His Hands

Evening sketches....

Death and Resurrection

I am resurrecting this blog following the death of my baby girl, Cora Lane Nelson.  Sounds depressing, doesn't it?  I assure you my purpose in writing is not to depress anyone.  My purpose, rather, is to share with you both the shadows and slivers of light shed on this dark path of grief and in doing so, hopefully encourage your heart and mine with the truth of God's Word despite the difficulty of understanding it amidst this loss.

Some of what I share will be painfully honest, but there may also be times when I choose not to post something because it wouldn't have been edifying.  Grief brings many kinds of thoughts, helpful and destructive.  I do my best to choose the ones that bring life and light.  It's not always an easy choice, but I believe that's what I'm called to do.  I apologize in advance for my frankness about infant death, but when it happens to you it's almost impossible to be anything but frank.  If you are one who may be put off by it, this blog is probably not for you.  And that's okay!  But, if you have experienced something similar or have some connection to Cora herself, I pray you find these thoughts encouraging and at least informative.

I began journaling specifically about my grief about two weeks after Cora went to be with Jesus on July 27, 2012.  I recently asked my husband, Evan, if I should share some of my writing on a blog.  He thought it might be a helpful way to process both for me and for others, friends and strangers alike.  What I share on this blog will be portions of my written journal.

But first, let me say a bit about Cora.  She was a wiggly baby!  Everyday for the past four months or so I delighted in feeling her stretch and squirm.  My due date was coming up fast, and my mother had flown in from Pennsylvania to be with us for Cora's arrival.  We busied ourselves with yard work, shopping, dining out...all the fun things moms and daughters like to do while waiting for babies to arrive.  My due date came and went.  The doctor had been talking about induction, but when Cora scored a perfect ten on her "health tests," the doctor said it would be okay to wait and let Cora come on her own time.  I wish we had induced.  Three days after my due date, our world fell apart.  I had stopped feeling that sweet stretching and squirming, and Cora's heart had stopped beating.

We prayed there would be an obvious reason for her death that would be revealed upon delivery.  There was.  The cord was wrapped around Cora's neck four times.  It was impossible to have known or prevented her passing.  As my mother said, "She twirled herself right into the arms of Jesus."

And so began our journey down the road of grief.

August 6, 2012

"For the thing that I fear comes upon me,
and what I dread befalls me.
I am not at ease, nor am I quiet;
I have no rest, but trouble comes"
                                              Job 3:25-26

"Therefore I will not restrain my mouth;
I will speak in the anguish of my spirit;
I will complain in the bitterness of my soul."
                                             Job 7:11

What I feared most happened in late July 2012.  Cora Lane, our sweet baby, died in the womb, three days overdue.  She was small and lovely, even though her little head lolled lifeless and her tiny jaw fell open.  Six pounds, eight ounces, she was perfectly formed.  Her long fingers were slender and graceful though they did not clutch mine.  I held her body tight though her soul had long since departed to Heaven.  She had soft strawberry-blonde hair and perfectly intricate ears.  My Cora, God's Cora.