The doctors said our daughter could not survive labor. Thankfully they had a plan and I knew God would strengthen me for the five-month-long journey. I sought God more fervently than I had before, but I knew less about faith and strength than I realized.
SEPTEMBER. I thought God would empower me through some subconscious underpinning of my own strength. Ask and you will receive, right? So I asked for strength then bull-headedly prepared to shoulder the four-week hospital stay, 32-week c section, long stint in the NICU, and coming home of a preemie. I reread verses about perseverance like James 1 and Romans 5 where Paul deduces that “suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope.” I was determined to endure this trial and improve my character in the process. I even made a list of potential lessons God might teach me along the way.
OCTOBER. In mid-October I was semi-bed rested at home and humblingly dependent on others to take care of my family. I had many contractions and we talked of moving to the hospital early. I was scared for my daughter- If I went into labor, she would die. If I had an earlier c section, she may not thrive. I waited on the most important, most ambiguous outcome of my life so far. I had never faced such a personal, heart-deep trial as this. I had never been this vulnerable. But I was strangely okay. To my surprise, I was not a blubbering puddle.
God, in His mercy, did not correct my lopsided view of strength by letting me fall on my face. Instead, He gave me strength when my faith was yet small.
Through a friend, God reminded me of 2 Corinthians 9 where He says to Paul, “‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.'” Then I read Psalm 28:7 where David wrote “The Lord is my strength and my shield, my heart trusts in Him and He helps me.” God revealed the truth that I had read for so long but had not actually seen: God doesn’t just undergird our strength. He is the strength. I could rely on Him completely (Ps 18:2). I could cast my anxieties on Him (1 Pet 5:7) and find rest for my soul (Matt 11:28-30). I knew the realization marked a new beginning for my relationship with God- I thanked Him for not leaving me floundering and I couldn’t wait to start living the trial, and the rest of my life, His way.
Timelily, the speaker at my church’s women’s conference briefly alluded to Hosea 2:14. Little did she know that this little verse stood out to me more than any other she read. There, God says of Gomer, “I will bring her into the wilderness and speak tenderly to her.” I saw that God did not send this woman forth into the wilderness alone; He brought her there and He stayed with her. Then, despite her sin and resistance, He spoke tenderly to her. I already felt that God had led me into a wilderness and stayed there with me despite my undersized faith. But I saw in this verse that God did not just want to teach me some good life lessons in the wilderness; He wanted to speak tenderly to me there. How beautiful. God is so loving and gracious.
NOVEMBER. When I moved into my little hospital room, God taught me about gratitude and peace and hope, but I sensed that His promise to speak tenderly to me was even bigger than what I was experiencing. I wanted to know God Himself better and experience the depths of prayer. So I asked.
I wrote a prayer from my hospital bed, “I have not relied on you to be my strength yet. I think I have not invited you to speak as tenderly to me as you want to. I am still too much about you rather than with you, God. Am I missing something, overlooking something that you are holding out to me? Show me where to find you and how to hear you.”
I went back to Hosea 2 and read,
I will betroth you to me forever. I will betroth you to me in righteousness and justice, in steadfast love and in mercy. I will betroth you to me in faithfulness. And you shall know the Lord.
I prayed again, “Lord, how ready you are to answer a request that honors you. Please, lead me to better see your glory and deeper feel your treasuring of my soul. Grow my faith, Lord. I have no doubt You will answer this prayer. Tearfully, I thank you in advance.” God responded immediately. Immediately, I was flooded with a peace that I could not understand. Twice, I experienced what I can only call a big teary tingly supernatural fullness, an intense joy. I knew what David meant when he said his “cup runneth over” in the valley of the shadow of death. In Psalm 23, he writes,
Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil: for thou art with me;
thy rod and thy staff they comfort me…
my cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life:
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.
I was in a valley, in a wilderness, and God was “with me.” He “comforted me.” I did not earn this comfort by impressive devotions or any other deed. I just asked. He gave it liberally and freely. Peace, strength and perseverance are not earned. They are gifts given because of faith which itself is another gift (Eph 2:8-9).
I felt for the first time that I was “dwelling in the house of the Lord.” Before, I would have been slow to make this statement for fear I would be thought proud, as if I had attained it. But I did not attain it. I merely asked and watched, then received unconditionally.
DECEMBER. Now we are in our NICU days, which I might write more about later. Here, in this very different kind of wilderness, I can confidently say that God speaks tenderly to me… that He is my strength and my peace… that I am thriving in the house of the Lord (Ps 52:8). I do not say this with pride because it is not me saying I have attained anything. It is just me saying that God is gracious to me.