Monthly Archives: November 2010

Hope is a Hard Thing

Having Rebekah has been perhaps the most emotional, and emotionally confusing, experience of my still-short life. On the one hand, there is a great joy and wonder. A new life has come into this world, a new life that is in some sense mine. I look at my tiny premature daughter and there are feelings which I can’t quite put words to, mythical feelings of fatherhood, of protectiveness and delight. Yet at the same time, there are other feelings – grief, and an overwhelming fear – at her helpless state. I suppose every life is fragile, but its not philophizing about life in general that concerns me. It is my daughter’s life, so uncertain because of her early exit from her mother, that brings home to me in a way I’ve never experienced before the uncertainty of tomorrow.

It snowed yesterday, and I found myself dreaming about a year from now when I might take my little girl, all bundled up, to relish the fat flakes which drifted from the sky. Yet as I dreamed, I felt something in me recoil. It was like the guards on the bulwarks I’ve erected around my heart were calling out, warning me that I was on uncertain ground, that the enemy might strike at any moment and snatch her away. They called for me to retreat back to the safety of their walls of cynicism and fatalism. I could barely dare to hope, because at any moment I knew my hope could be taken from me.

This struggle to hope has characterized my days since Rebekah’s birth. There are beautiful moments. The first time I touched her hair, stroking it,  I wept in gratitude over her isolette. Yet those moments are hard to keep; they are quickly overwhelmed by the terror that we might receive a midnight call from the neonatal intensive care unit and I might be plunged again beneath the torrent of grief. Continue reading

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A Prayer for Rebekah

(For those of you who don’t know, yesterday my wife and I gave birth to our first child. She is premature by three months. While she is alive and stable, there is a long road ahead of us. This is what I’m praying tonight. You don’t have to pray it; many of you might not even agree with it. But there are few things I’ve meant more.)

Almighty God,

A pious saint might stand over the trembling, fragile form of his too-small daughter and sagely nod, noting that your ways are beyond searching out. But I do not believe you are a God for pious saints, but for broken human beings desperate for mending in every way. I do not know your plans, I do not know the future, but I do know who You are.

You are the great Triune God, Father, Son and Spirit. Father, I beseech you to have mercy on your tiny child. Jesus, I beg you to consider the youngest of your sisters. Spirit, I groan with desires I cannot twist through my lips, and I pray that you might intercede with me for my little girl.

You are Yahweh, Covenant Lord. You have given your promises to me and to my children. You have knit my daughter together in her mother’s womb, known her hidden form, counted her among your people. You are the God who says the kingdom belongs to little children, and I can think of few smaller than my own.

You are Yeshua, God with us. You came not in heavenly majesty but with labor pains and afterbirth. You sympathize with us in our weakness, and her hand is the size of my fingernail. You show mercy to the least of these, and she struggles to move her mouth. To work salvation you took on frail flesh and bone, and I can see her lungs laboring beneath stretched skin.

God, I know you are a king, but you are no petty tyrant who breaks men’s backs with an iron rod. You are the Servant King, the Lamb who wins the victory at the price of His own life. In this knowledge, I do not hide behind platitudes, but ask plainly. Grant my daughter protection, peace, and many years. Let me hear her speak, let me watch her grow up in faith, or at least let me hold her in my arms.

They say men pray to lift their sagging hearts, but I have no interest in self-delusion. I bow my head and lift my hands in supplication because I know You are the most real thing in this universe. Your palm holds the ocean, your voice sets the cosmos spinning, and your will includes every day of my daughter’s lift. I bend my knee because I know it is your right to take her away if that is your desire; she already belongs to you. Yet this power cuts both ways, and I ask that you would watch over my Rebekah tonight with your sovereign mercy and uphold her with your omnipotent grace.

I do not presume to approach you as one worthy of your ear. I have no more to offer you than does my premature baby. I approach instead in the name of Jesus, to whom both I and this covenant child belong. In your mercy shown us on behalf of Christ, watch over her. She is my child; she is Yours as well.

Amen.

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Which Happy?

Marc Chagall, "Abraham Slaying Isaac"

Recently, Elizabeth and I had our first childbirthing class. It was interesting; given my personality, I loved the details about biology and grimaced my way through the doula’s rants about hospitals and glowing endorsements of homeopathy. (Side note: I have no problem believing in demons, resurrection, or a dude walking on water. But homeopathy? I often wish its proponents would drink one part arsenic diluted in one million parts water – only a threat if homeopathy works.) That aside, one thing that stuck out to me in the class was a discussion of the pain that accompanies childbirth. Within the curriculum, what was stressed was that this pain wasn’t like the normal pain our culture teaches us to avoid. Rather, the pain of childbirth was good pain, a pain that was worth it.

There is a true happiness that can only be birthed through hardship – through pain. For whatever reason, this thought keeps forcing its way to the front of my mind. There seems to be two camps in the discussion of Christianity and happiness. One says that God wants you to be happy; while meaning well, these folks often end up promising you sports cars or saying you should probably abandon your less-than-perfect marriage. Hey, God might say that’s wrong, but he couldn’t mean you shouldn’t do what will make you happy. In response, other Christians insist that no, God doesn’t want you to be happy at all. They instead recommend a regimen of discipline and guilt-driven obedience suggests everything short of buying a whip and becoming a flagellant.

I’ve never been able to join either camp. The happy-Jesus crowd have no place for crosses or a faith that gets you fed to lions; the dutiful martyrs miss the earthy joys and heavenly raptures with which the heart of Scripture pulses. The real problem, I think, should be highlighted by the question “which happy?” Continue reading

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