When Mother’s Day is Hard

When Mother’s Day is Hard

Mother’s Day can be hard.

For me, this year at least, it’s because we are finally seeing light after a full 10 days of a virus coursing through our children’s bodies, causing our home to become a quarantine hospital and school, with me as the doctor and headmaster. I took two – yes, two – naps today. Eventually, I will recover. But maybe not before Mother’s Day.

Mother’s Day 2008 was harder. My work involved a camp that overlapped Mother’s Day, and one of our thoughtful male colleagues had bought flowers to give to each of the mothers who were spending their special day with university students instead of with their own children. It was so sweet, but my mind was already full of remembering my first little baby who had died from miscarriage just 5 months earlier. As he came around with the flowers, I was torn. I was a mother but had nothing to show for it, no child to hold.

Mother’s Day can be hard for a lot of other reasons as well, ones which are not so familiar to me but are well known to some of my dearest friends. Mothers and children are distanced from each other, either physically or relationally. Women long to have children, but that desire seems impossible to fulfill. Mothers have passed away, leaving so much wisdom untapped. Children have died, leaving an aching void in their mother’s hearts.

In our exhaustion, our loneliness, our wrestling, we thirst for a place where we can be honest about how we feel on a day like Mother’s Day. What I love about the Bible is that so many of its prayers, poems, and songs are incredibly raw, and the words resonate with those cries of our hearts that are difficult to speak aloud.

There is the story of Hannah, who was ridiculed and bullied because she was childless. 1 Samuel 1:10 records, “In her deep anguish Hannah prayed to the Lord, weeping bitterly.”

Then there is Psalm 13:

“How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?

How long will you hide your face from me?

How long must I wrestle with my thoughts

and day after day have sorrow in my heart?”

But the psalm ends with a change of tone so abrupt that it almost feels like whiplash.

“But I trust in your unfailing love;

my heart rejoices in your salvation.

I will sing the Lord’s praise,

for he has been good to me.”

How can the writer so confidently affirm his trust and joy, while still in the midst of sadness?

The answer is in the “salvation”. Isaiah 53 stirringly describes the agony and the beauty of the death of Jesus Christ that would actually take place hundreds of years after Isaiah’s writing. It explains that he took the punishment that we deserved because of the ways that we have rejected God and hurt other people, so that we could have forgiveness and peace when we trust in him. But the fullness of salvation doesn’t end there.

Verses 3-4 say, “He was despised and rejected by others, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem. Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering…” (highlights mine).

Luke records a time when Jesus stood up in a synagogue, read a portion of Isaiah 61:1-2, and claimed that he had fulfilled those words. These verses, along with verse 3, are helpful to our understanding of Jesus’ purpose. Here are some highlights.

“The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.

He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted…

to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion-

to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes,

the oil of joy instead of mourning,

and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.”

You see, with Jesus Christ there is space to be vulnerable and real, because he intimately knows pain. But we can also expect healing and restoration of joy, because he took our pain for us so that we don’t have to carry it forever. Sometimes we hang on to our pain because we don’t know there is another option or because it has become familiar, but Jesus wants to comfort us, to bestow us with beauty, to anoint us with joy, to clothe us with a spirit of praise. And because he defeated death by rising to life, we know that he has the power to give us these things.

There I sat, on Mother’s Day 2008, in a room with many other mothers, unsure of whether I was worthy to take a flower. Thankfully, I had shared very openly with my team about my loss and heartache, so everyone knew what I was processing. They had given me space to be real. As my colleague came near with the flowers, I decided to reach out and grab one. Even as I was still grieving in that moment, I received a measure of healing from my community and from the Lord. And the healing process would continue.

Maybe for you, this Mother’s Day will be the day that you will take your flower, that you will begin to receive healing and joy. Maybe you will seek out someone who can give you a safe space to be honest but will also believe and pray with you for the healing that Jesus offers. Maybe you will spend time with the Lord alone, handing your pain to him and asking him to give you joy and praise in return. My hope is that you know from experience, this Mother’s Day, that you are deeply loved.

And just because I can’t do it for you… feel free to go out and buy yourself a flower.

A special note of thanks: Thank you to the women – great-grandmas, grandmas, aunts and great-aunts, babysitters, teachers, and friends – who have invested in the lives of my children. Your love and support of them is priceless. Thank you also to my dear friends who remind me to enjoy the gift that my parents are to me.

Finding Hope

Finding Hope

My heart is heavy. Between Ferguson, world upheaval, ebola, friends back home who have desperately prayed for their child’s life, and others who are wondering “why” about their situation… there is so much struggle. So much pain.

I have several posts in mind about our journey to Asia, but I want to write about the things that matter, about the things that are hitting deep. My words will not do justice to what I feel and think at the moment, but here is my feeble attempt.

 mother child necklace

This is my mother and child necklace, with a birthstone for each of my four children. As my kids and I walk the streets of Shanghai, bystanders ask “San ge?” incredulously. Three of them? All yours?

Yes! I will gladly claim all three of my kids, and yet we are missing one. Our first.

I was eight weeks pregnant, expectant and joyful, waiting to tell our families until my first doctor’s appointment. Josh and I went out to a movie for my birthday and got to bed late. That night, I awoke to massive cramps and bleeding. I remember sitting in the bathroom, sobbing as I realized what was happening, while Josh, unable to help me, tried to get some sleep.

The calls to our families the next morning were bittersweet. “I was pregnant… but the baby died.” My mom gave me good solace and wisdom, saying, “Never say that you lost the baby. It’s not your fault.”

Josh and I bonded in this, our first big challenge as a married couple. We grieved, we wept, we loved a child that we never held. Even now I wish that I could have seen that baby for a moment and told her that I loved her.

In the midst of the doctor’s appointments that day, the tears and sense of deep loss, God gave us hope. I can’t explain it. There was no good answer to the question, “Why?” There were rational explanations, physiological explanations, but no explanation to satisfy the ache.

And yet, I had hope. It was not a peace per say, or a resignation to reality. It was an expectation for the future and an assurance of God’s goodness. I knew that something beautiful could, and would, grow out of the ashes.

After all, this is what Jesus Christ came for. The prophet Isaiah describes Jesus: “The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion – to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.”

Miscarriages in particular are awkward because there is little public space to grieve. There is no funeral and few people share this private experience with others. But Josh and I chose to make room for remembering. We named our baby Xiwang (Hope). Josh bought my necklace with her birthstone. We would not pretend it didn’t happen or that it wasn’t painful, but we would remember and expect God’s goodness.

hope plaque

My dear friends throughout the world, much of what you are going through is significantly harder than my experience. I wish I could sit down with you face to face, listen to you, and cry with you. You are courageous, and you are my heroes. I don’t have platitudes for you because nice words will not satisfy your ache. As my friend and colleague Rick Mattson says, evil is not a respecter of persons. We live in a battlefield where there is disease, death, hatred, and it hits all of us in different ways whether we have been “good” or “bad”. No one is exempt. No, what you are going through or what your loved one is going through is NOT fair. Satan doesn’t care about fairness. He is not just.

So where is hope? The Bible speaks frequently of suffering and hope linked together. If you are in a place of hurt, I ask God to fill you with hope. He loves to give us good gifts like that. Psalms 42 and 43 are raw songs of grief and hope. I wish for you, like the author/s of these psalms, the space to grieve, to be honest, to remember what God has done for you, and to renew your trust in Him. Know that Jesus Christ has felt EVERYTHING that you are feeling and is not a stranger to suffering. May something beautiful grow out of your ashes.

Although we are in the battle, the war has already been won. God’s kingdom has broken through into the world through Jesus. Evil and injustice will be eradicated when Christ returns. Some days, I just long for Christ to come and set things right, for tears and pain to be wiped away.

In the meantime, those of us who are followers of Jesus Christ get to be His ambassadors to bring hope into the world, to give folks a little taste of what the fullness of God’s kingdom will be like.

If you are a Christian reading this, who is God asking you to bring hope to today? It may be your own child. It may be your spouse. It may be a friend. It may be someone you’ve never met. It may be an entire people group. You can’t be everything to everyone, but you can make a difference for someone. Be their financial contributor. Be their cheerleader. Be their safe place. Be their prayer warrior. Be their advocate.

Final words: “May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by His grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word.” 2 Thessalonians 2:16-17