One of my favorite Christmas songs has always been “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.” I love the words. I love how it tells the tale of expectant longing for Christ’s first coming, and drives us to long for the second. But I also love it because it’s in a minor key. I have a soft spot for songs in a minor key. I grew up loving music for many reasons—one of them is how music is evocative. Music makes us feel. And as one who feels deeply and also tends towards melancholy, a minor key suits me.
A couple of months ago we had the stomach bug in our house. Whenever a parent mentions the stomach bug, collective groans of sympathy usually follow. Adults don’t fare well with the stomach bug. Barely verbal toddlers do worse. In rapid succession, all of our non-infant children succumbed to the stomach bug’s fury, and I was left weak, cranky, and dousing Purel on my hands every few minutes.
Few things confront you with your lack of God-like abilities like a multi-child case of the stomach bug. Someone is left to suffer alone when mommy can’t get to everyone. When one kid is sick, the others are left to fend for themselves. When multiple kids (and the parents) are sick it’s almost like Lord of the Flies.
One year ago this week I thought I was beginning to miscarry a baby. I had all the signs of miscarriage. So when I sat down on that ultrasound table it was with 100% certainty that I thought I would hear “there is no heartbeat.” I didn’t even pray for a heartbeat. Instead I prayed for grace to face another miscarriage again, to pass another dead baby—again.
But God had other plans for this baby. These plans were far beyond what I would have dreamed up. In many ways, these plans would have been my worst nightmare.
He had plans for this baby that I feared was dead.
“We are all just limping towards the finish line,” Daniel said to me a few weeks ago after we were talking about the great loss a friend had endured.
If you live long enough, you will find that this world is a dark and scary place. Very few Christians make it to glory without first walking through some deep valleys. Year after year, God breaks us and strips us of all self-sufficiency. He humbles us and brings us low. He gives and he takes away, and we beg for the grace to bless his name in the midst of it all.
We are a people of second chances. Even when it’s hard, we are prone to forgive those who sin against us, hoping that maybe they will treat us differently the next time. We give our children chance after chance after chance to obey (or try again next time). We give those who break the law second chances to live life differently. Second chances, in many ways, are built into our souls. We want them for ourselves and we grant them to others.
A few weeks ago my sons were watching the popular children’s show, Doc McStuffins on television. I’m a big fan of Doc McStuffins. I like the diversity the show brings to the table. I like that the main character is a girl and a doctor. I like that she is African-American and portrayed in a positive light. I like that she is kind and helps people. It even holds my attention when my kids are watching it.
I wish I could say I always pay close attention to what they are watching. True confession: I don’t. While we don’t let them watch things that we haven’t vetted, I don’t filter every piece of content once we have approved it.
I learned my lesson.
A few years ago I was struck by the reality that the life I now live is often harder than the one I lived before God saved me. I didn’t get saved until early adulthood, so I have vivid memories of life before Christ. My life was certainly empty, but it was very different, and in many ways easier. Life after Christ became richer, but harder. It became hopeful, but filled with greater difficulty. I had joy, but not necessarily unending happiness. My sins were forgiven, but sometimes there wasn’t much else to rejoice in. The more I grew, the more I realized that I’m not alone. I even started seeing that the pattern of scripture is pain now, relief later (Rom. 8:22-24). God’s people must walk through a lot before they get the promised land, before they get glory (Acts 14:22).
“So shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.”—Isaiah 55:11
I used to think that this verse was primarily about salvation. When I would pray for people who had heard the truth of the gospel, I would pray that God’s word would not return void in their lives. I saw it as a verse that spoke to the great value of continuing to proclaim God’s word to the lost. God will work. He will scatter the seed of the gospel, water it, and reap a harvest. Don’t lose heart. God is always working.
One of the hardest parts about moving on from the hospital experience is moving on from the reality that life hung in the balance every single day we were in that hospital. With a placenta abruption time is of the essence, and because I had a partial abruption I was always hovering over the reality of a full abruption happening at any moment. For context, a full abruption means almost certain death for the mother and the baby in a matter of minutes. A full abruption gives no warning until it is too late, and then you are on the clock to save mom and baby. That is where we lived for three weeks, death crouching at our door. Every day we begged God not to let it walk right through to take Ben and me.
I joked after my book was finished that now I could go back to doing the work of the home again. I thought finishing the book meant I needed to get back to actually doing the work. I needed the perspective and the headspace to do it. But what I didn’t know is that I needed to experience the work. God wasn’t concerned about me getting back to work. He was concerned about humbling me and making a recipient of the work.
Of all the things I wrote in Glory in the Ordinary, perhaps the hardest thing for me to accept in the book is the fact that I can’t do it all. I wrote it. I’ve spoken about it. But I have a hard time believing it and living it out.
And then I went to the hospital.