That’s the devil’s game.

bible picI had a revelation this morning when my Bible fell open to this page. I shared with my small group last night that I’d been angry with God since we lost the baby. I knew the anger was there. In fact, I’d kind make a joke out of it and my prayers would sound like, “I love you but I’m a little ticked. I’ll get back with you.” Only I never did and just drifted and drifted for months until I was sick of myself–exhausted from trying to heal without the Healer.

Anger is a normal, necessary stage of the grieving process, but I can’t forget the One who walks through my grief with me hand in hand. When I saw the note on the top margin where the devil tempts Jesus, all the dots connected. Satan places conditions on Jesus, tries to strike a little bargain with the King of Kings. Huh. What a dangerous game–to attempt to thwart the plans of someone who is in complete authority over you, the Living God. But now I realize that this is the place where my anger has taken me. I’m not going to pray, or study, or worship right now. I’m angry! Fix it, and then we’ll talk.

But Jesus doesn’t play. When I enter into that negotiation, I’m playing the devil’s game.

Last night at Bible study we talked about obedience. When God tells you to do something, you do it or you sin. No two ways about it. But that doesn’t mean that he isn’t simultaneously holding your hand and heart as you grieve. And just like I draw so much support, affirmation, and comfort from unpacking my grief with my sisters in Christ, conversations with the Father have all of that to offer and MORE.

My act of obedience today will be to bring my grief to worship with me. I think Jesus is eager for us to unpack this together. Here’s a verse I’m meditating on: “His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness…” II Peter 1:3

If you’ve lost your way in the grieving process, I invite you to come with me to the Father and claim this promise. Wait expectantly for His divine power to heal your broken heart.

 

Katie Revisits Pain and Purpose–or, She’s Back in Black

I shocked myself a little bit this week when I realized I hadn’t published anything on this blog since February. FEBRUARY. Dang. Where’ve I been?

It’s not that I haven’t written at all. I’m working on a bible study that I hope to have published. My biggest obstacle is deciding when I’m done with research and can actually write. I’d like to have it done by the first of the year. Don’t hold your breath, though. I sure won’t.

We launched Sunday morning services for Renew Church in February. It was awesome. Euphoric. What a joy to see it all come together! After all those years of wrestling with God’s call to move and plant a church, we now see a long inspired vision spring to life. My insight into this rather lengthy test of faith was that God indeed has a plan, that the plan is most often challenging if not downright painful, and that the pain of the plan puts me on my knees. I get to be a part of what God’s doing, and it draws me to Him like a gravitational pull. The more challenging the test, the stronger the pull.

The church launch was the last time I wrote for this blog. Since then? More of the same. Husband, kids, teaching, church plant.

Oh yeah, and then I got pregnant.

You’ll find these two principles sprinkled throughout my blog: God has a plan, and God gives me more than I can handle. Then there’s a third principle—that the first two are for my benefit (among many other things). What follows here is more of more than I can handle.

When I found out I was pregnant, I almost didn’t react. Back in the day, when getting pregnant made sense, I would stand over the little pee stick and wring my hands in anticipation. A positive test would be met with squeals and then a high five to the good Rev. But this?

Unplanned. Unplanned for a 45 year old. Unplanned for a full-time working momma and wife to a bi-vocational pastor. Unplanned after many miscarriages had gone before.

One time in all our pregnancies we heard a heartbeat, but it was still so early that there was nothing to see on the scan. All we knew is that the baby’s heart was beating. Back then, I thought a heartbeat meant that everything would be okay. But four weeks later I was bleeding.

Last summer, we allowed ourselves to get excited when we saw our 8 week ultrasound. With this scan there was more to see. Peanut had a head and body. There was a picture of a little person there.  I knew that we weren’t out of the woods.

Two weeks later, I went in for another scan. There’s a horrible moment when the tech doesn’t say anything. Just tick, tick, tick on the keyboard, and you know that it’s bad news.

Loss is not uncharted territory to me. I’ve done this many times. But it’s doing a fine job of wrecking me.

My husband took my girls on a trip this weekend, so I’ve been alone. It’s actually been really good for me to have a couple of days to reflect. People have a great capacity to sweep grief aside in order to perform. The only way for me to function was to put this loss on the proverbial backburner. Day in and day out, I had this peculiar feeling that there’s some loose end that needed attention, but I couldn’t bring myself to face it.

Since Friday night, I’ve been facing it. What I’ve found out is that when I can assign a purpose to my pain—when I see how it figures into God’s plan—I go straight to Him with that pain. But when I can’t figure any way that He can use it? When it seems purposeless? I bolt.

All my planned pregnancies, and subsequent miscarriages, led me to something. They led me to adopt. They taught me about His authority. They strengthened my marriage. They deepened my empathy and provided me with an avenue to minister to others. I see their purpose.

But not this time. I got nothin’.

As I took all this to the Lord this weekend—finally—I realized that my obscured view of His purpose is the purpose.

If “faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see”, then certainly I must apply faith to this situation. I can’t see his plan. I don’t know His purpose, and yet it is my deep hope that He has one. It’s the lack of understanding—or perhaps the lack of accepting—His purpose that is the opportunity to build my faith.

Before I found out I was pregnant, I read a blog which asserted that everything doesn’t happen for a reason. It bothered me. Maybe we’re splitting hairs here. Maybe you say God doesn’t have His reasons yet still believe that He will “cause all things to work together for the good of those who love Him, who are called according to His purpose.” The writer who published that blog contended that Romans 8:28 does not mean that everything has a purpose, but that I can choose a response to my circumstances that benefit me. The obvious question here is, what if my response is wrong? What if I make the wrong choice? And I definitely chose wrong in the past. In the beginning of our miscarriage journey, I chose anger, and it got me absolutely nowhere.

I say that interpretation of Romans 8:28 makes too much of me and my ability to respond and not enough of God. He is bigger than my ability to make the right choice. His Word declares that God Himself makes all things work together for my good. I believe it, and yes, believing it is a choice.

Picture this. You take your last breath. Your spirit departs your body. You hear ethereal singing and the Holy, Holy, Holy of the creatures around the throne. You see Him—complete with the holes in His hands that are now reaching to embrace you. When you pull back from the most heavenly of hugs, He offers to answer your most disturbing question.

Why did I suffer? Why did I have so many miscarriages that I lost count?

“Oh,” says the Word, who has been with God since the beginning, “no reason.”

No. That can’t be right.

I choose faith—the assurance that though I can’t see or understand His purpose, He has one. When I ask Him why I suffered, I believe He will point to my participation in the work of the kingdom, to others who were moved by my testimony, and to how my suffering was the gravitational pull that put me before Him and kept the cross before me.

For I am God, and there is no other;
I am God, and there is no one like Me,
Declaring the end from the beginning,
And from ancient times things which have not been done,
Saying, ‘My purpose will be established,
And I will accomplish all My good pleasure’

Isaiah 46:9-10

ADVENTures Day 2–It’s the bad news that makes the good news . . .

How delightful it is to see approaching over the mountains
the feet of a messenger who announces peace,
a messenger who brings good news, who announces deliverance,
who says to Zion, “Your God reigns!”
Listen, your watchmen shout;
in unison they shout for joy,
for they see with their very own eyes
the Lord’s return to Zion.
In unison give a joyful shout,
O ruins of Jerusalem!
For the Lord consoles his people;
he protects Jerusalem.
 The Lord reveals his royal power
in the sight of all the nations;
the entire earth sees
our God deliver.       Isaiah 52:7-1

Day 2. I’ve been in the car all day, driving home from Thanksgiving at the farm. As tired as I am, there’s no way I’m skipping the second day of Adventures in Advent! Especially since God has made this scripture real to me.

Tomorrow is the last day of National Adoption Month. For weeks I’ve wanted to get some thoughts on my blog about our adoption experience, but time is at a premium and other topics were easier to tackle. As I looked over the second Advent scripture, I saw my experiences with adoption peeking out from behind the words. I know what good news is!

Possibly, I know good news so well because the bad news was such a piercing to my heart.

I was ten weeks pregnant when I went to my first OB appointment. Todd went with me, and we were so excited. Todd had spent months looking for a church job after graduating from seminary. The appointment was on a Monday morning, but the day before Todd preached at a church in Tulsa in view of a call to a staff position. The whole weekend had been one long interview, and we felt sure that this job was the one we had prayed for. Now we were off to see the first images of our first baby. Everything was coming together. A new job, a new home, and now the beginnings of our little family. I was going to quit teaching and be a stay at home mom. We had the world by the tail.

The doctor was all smiles, offered an extra VHS tape since we hadn’t known to bring one, and I was all set up for the ultrasound and the first recording of our sweet little one.

Maybe the reason I’ve held off on writing about these experiences for so long is that words just fail me when I try to describe that pain. I remember every excruciating detail, but to write it is to relive it, and maybe deep down, I don’t want to go back there.

The doctor went from buoyant to business in a fraction of a second. Quiet and grim faced, he simply tapped my knee, saying to get dressed and come to his office. We, of course, were seized with fear. I remember my limbs going limp and clumsily going through the motions—tumbling into my pants, getting lost in my shirt sleeves, gripping my equally shocked husband, numbly making my way to a seat in another room.

The doctor delivered the news factually but compassionately. He seemed particularly concerned that I not blame myself. Todd stuttered his way through a few questions—I couldn’t find my breath. It felt like I’d been body slammed. Then I was given a choice: I could schedule a D&C or wait until I miscarried naturally. At that moment, I was suspended somewhere between denial and complete despair. I just wanted out of there, to find a place where I could cry or collapse or scream or throw things or any other socially unacceptable behavior I chose.

There is so much more to this story. I could fill a book. But for the purposes of this post, I’ll stick with what is relevant to our Advent passage. We went through this pain several more times—being told by a doctor that our baby had not survived beyond the seventh week. Those three miscarriages were particularly traumatic—the first two I ended up in the ER. But I believe that there were a number of very short pregnancies in between where I miscarried before I knew I was pregnant.

So what does this have to do with Advent?  For about five years, all we got was bad news. I wish I could tell you that these were years that were fruitful in my walk, years I spent pressing in, studying His Word and allowing Him to reveal His character during my times of suffering. Ha! Not even close. I was unbelievably angry with God. If He loves me, why doesn’t He heal this? It’s like my situation didn’t reflect what I thought was true of God, so I just held Him at arm’s length for a long time. I did not see any new revelation of God’s character because I wasn’t really looking. What I wanted was an answer to my prayer in the only way that I could see where the healing of my heart could take place. He simply had to give me a baby.

Then one day, after four years of miscarriages and heartache, I started praying the right prayer. Instead of praying that God would give me a biological child, I prayed that He would heal me in whatever manner He chose. I just didn’t want to be angry anymore, and I wanted my relationship with Him to be what it had been before all this mess. I wanted Him to restore the joy of my salvation.

One thing led to another that led to an adoption agency in Houston, Texas, called Alternatives in Motion. We waited a long year for the phone call. You know the one I mean? THE phone call!

The phone rang on a Sunday night when we were least expecting it. We were a few minutes into the conversation before I realized what was happening. I remember saying, “Wait, are you saying that this baby is available for adoption?”

On the other end of the line was the agency director, Jan Deets. She laughed a little. “Katie, I’m saying this is your baby!” I’m not even sure what happened for the next few minutes of the conversation. Todd was on the phone in the bedroom, asking a few questions and getting all the details. I was too busy dancing! Finally!

Jan with Emma Kate

That’s Jan on the day we met our second daughter, Emma Kate. I’ve always loved this picture.

 

Within a few weeks of having our sweet Eden home, I realized what God had done. He had revealed Himself through the adoption of our daughter. Even though I was a believer for a lot of years before, I now saw salvation in a different light—that God deeply, deeply loves me and made all the arrangements so that I could be His child. I had doubted for so long that God could work all this pain together for good. I had felt for so long that God was punishing me by not allowing me to carry a baby to term. I had grown accustomed to thinking of God as angry, and cold, and distant. But here He was showing Himself. He does good things! I pined for that baby for so long; finally I was able to bring her home, call her mine, and lavish her with love I’d been carrying for years since my first pregnancy.

Eden day 1

The good Rev with sweet Eden on day 1. This picture is another one of my all-time favorites.

 

Isn’t that a beautiful picture of salvation as well? He pines for us, for our repentance, so that we can be forever in His love—never to be snatched from His hand. Todd and I went through a whole rigmarole in order to adopt—paperwork, interviews, workshops, and payments. But God made His payment for my adoption in blood—the blood of His own Son. And if I, being so imperfect, could so love this little baby girl who was only mine because of a legal document and the say-so of a judge, how much more could a perfect God love those for whom He paid so immeasurable a price?

As for our scripture, Isaiah spent many pages describing judgment and exile, using words like fire and wrath. These people got bad news, over and over, unlike anything that we can comprehend. God’s people would not only hear the bad news in prophecy, they would live out its horrors. They must have doubted His goodness at times. They must have wondered if they had been forever cut off from His love. Imagine the joy, the expectancy, of a people who so suffered to hear their salvation proclaimed! Not only that, how they must have treasured the assurance that they belong to the God who reigns over all—and that every nation everywhere would witness their redemption.

Guess what? If you are in Christ, these words are for you as well. Sometimes, the good news is best understood in light of all the bad that has gone before. None of what you have suffered has been wasted. Your God reigns, and He will return and comfort His people. Every nation everywhere will see what our God has done to redeem us.

If you don’t know Christ, then know this–He wants to adopt you. You’ve been separated from Him because of your sin, but He’s pining for you. All the work is done, signed in the blood of the perfect Christ, who will buy you back from your sin. We celebrate His birth at Christmas, but it’s His death and resurrection that are the true tidings of comfort and joy!

 

 

Pray boldly–even when it doesn’t make sense.

Though Zechariah and Elizabeth were well along in years, the angel says his prayer had been heard. No doubt the couple prayed for a son when it made sense to pray for one—but all those years later?

A few years ago I prayed for a son. I’m not sure that it made sense praying to that end—I was 41. Emma Kate, the younger of our girls, was about 2 at the time, and I believed that we were “done.” We put in five hard years of miscarriages and indecision before God led us to adopt. Our family was indeed complete.

But I was not.

Still, I was in part unaware of my feelings about having a biological child until the doctor tossed out the word hysterectomy. He only meant to inform me of my options—I might endure endometriosis until I completed the change, but if not, I could always go under the knife and have my womanhood removed. No big deal.

I was not prepared to hear those words. At all. He left the room and I burst into tears. Where was this coming from?

I’d always held out the possibility of getting pregnant again. I just did my best to pretend it was something I didn’t need to do. The results of our genetic testing a few years before had shown that biological children were certainly possible; in fact, according to the genetics counselor, we should only miscarry one pregnancy in five.

So we prayed. Maybe we were praying when it no longer made sense to do so. I was labeled advanced maternal age, high risk, and I’d already lost six or seven babies at this point.

I prayed very specifically, very boldly, for a healthy son who would not carry the chromosome translocation that increased our chances of miscarriage.

But it didn’t make sense. It was unlikely that God would give me the answer I wanted.

Was this Zechariah’s prayer? Was he hoping that God would act on their behalf and take away his wife’s disgrace? If so, how strange that he doubts the angel’s news! Zechariah’s reaction to Gabriel begins a pattern that is repeated throughout the gospels. People will see something supernatural right before their very eyes but will not receive its message nor recognize the identity of the Christ. Ritual religion does not help you detect the movement of God. Looking eagerly for Him helps you recognize Him.

Prayers have been heard

The answer to Zechariah’s prayer is unified with God’s purpose.

He will be a joy and delight to you . . . Many of the people of Israel will he bring back to the Lord their God.” Luke 1:14, 17

That purpose is always to engage in meaningful relationships with people—not just in ritual religion–to turn them from their sin, to discover the value of eternal life in Christ Jesus.

And—for Zechariah—did this begin with a prayer that he never expected the Lord to answer?

When I prayed for a son, I miscarried, but that doesn’t mean the prayer wasn’t answered. Maybe, if I peel back the layers of the last few years, I’ll see clearly the Lord’s purpose. Maybe it was to engage in a more meaningful—less ritualistic—relationship with me. Maybe it was part of the greater work of preparing the Beasleys to be on mission–leaving what is comfortable and leaping into situations where we have to depend on HIm. Maybe it was simply to prompt me to pray more and more unlikely prayers—and ask boldly—so that I might better see that His purpose is for my good and His glory.

Always pray boldly, even the prayers we think He is unlikely to answer. His answers–the ones we hope for and the ones we don’t–are unified with His  purpose.

When He speaks, it is so often not the words I want to hear, but I can always be sure that that they bear His purpose. He always draws me closer so that I am engaged more deeply in my relationship with Him. As He answers each prayer, He prompts me all the more to turn from my sin, to submit to His authority, and in doing those things I discover the value of the life I’ve found in Christ. He brings the supernatural right to my doorstep, and I look all the more eagerly for Him–not just for the answers to my prayers.

Because of God’s tender mercy,
    the morning light from heaven is about to break upon us,

to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
    and to guide us to the path of peace. Luke 1:78-79