I sat on my couch with kids piled up on my lap as long as I could, soaking up every moment before I left for the hospital. Closing the front door and riding through town felt strange- I would not see these familiar places or even feel the rumble of a car for thirty-one days. Thankfully we live close to the hospital, so I can see my family often and will visit the NICU often after our daughter’s early delivery. For the back story, read the first post in this series.
My days here are still and quiet. I am restricted to the antepartum unit. I read and draw and write and sit in the little courtyard- I’m thankful for that plot of green, my only taste of the outdoors for the whole of November, with its tendriled vines, fading flowers, little birds, and three-story white walls all around up up to the blue sky. Some evenings a nurse wheels me to a valley-facing window to watch the sunset. At night, I watch old videos of my three kids and smile and cry at the same time. I miss them. They miss me. But my mom brings them to visit most days. My daughter climbs under my quilt with me and kisses me all over my face and shoulders down to my fingertips. She is struggling the most with my absence. My son brings me rocks he has collected and crafts made of pipe cleaners. Friends visit too.
Every morning a nurse straps wires to my belly to track my baby’s heart rate and my contractions. I love to read my Bible while I listen to her heart beat on the monitor and think about how thankful I am for her. I am thankful for modern medicine- that my ultrasound tech discovered our condition (a miracle, really), that wise doctors are literally saving her life, that she can grow in a world-class NICU, that people have surrounded our family with prayers and help. In other circumstances, this pregnancy would have ended in an unanticipated stillbirth. I feel like God has orchestrated our daughter’s rescue. He is turning our mourning into dancing. At home, I felt gratitude beyond my circumstances like I never had before. I did not know then that in the hospital God would reveal a whole new layer of gratitude to my soul.
My spirits were high for about one week. On day eight, I sunk. Something triggered tears on Saturday evening and I cried for 12 hours. Now I am not a crier, so this took me by surprise. And it annoyed me that I could not explain why I was upset. I scolded myself for crying when I should have been thankful. But I just felt low. All night, I would lay down then cry so I’d get up and read (and cry) then lay down and cry then get up and draw (and cry). I hate crying in bed- I can’t breathe right and my wet hair sticks to my face and there are only four ways to flip a pillow. Finally I sneaked out of my room in search of a rocking chair and a sunrise-facing window with brother Lawrence’s The Practice of the Presence of God tucked under my arm. I rocked and stared at the crimson growing on the horizon. The silly tears continued.
As I read, I discovered something new and amazing within me. Something I did not plant there and could not have conjured up on my own. As sad as I felt, my gratitude and hope in the Lord were bigger than my feelings.
I knew of believers whose faith outweighed their circumstances. For years I desired such a position for my own heart. I had even prayed for it. But over and again, minor upsets would fog my view of God and I would be overcome by emotions rather than overcoming emotions with faith. I had often been frustrated at myself for being so inwardly focused when I knew that my God was so big.
But there I was rocking like a child, feeling more vulnerable than I had ever felt, up all night crying, yet full of hope and joy.
This hope was not in my circumstances, it was in spite of my circumstances. It was in who God is and in who He says I am. He says that I needn’t be unwaveringly cheerful, but that I can be unwaveringly hopeful even when I am sad.
My hope billowed huge, like I had inhaled more air than my chest and cheeks could hold. My gratitude lifted me weightless.
As I realized that I had attained a faith bigger than my emotional state in a temporary situation, my gratitude grew even bigger. Suddenly, I was not only thankful for God, I was thankful for my circumstances because through them God had brought me to this new level of faith.
I stopped crying. I laid down, not quite happy but smiling, and fell asleep.
Before that night, I did not understand that one can experience sadness and gratitude at the same time. It is not wrong to lament. We needn’t hesitate to weep before the Lord. The Psalms are filled with weepy prayers. But, psalmists do not cry without hope. Almost all of their laments include statements of faith that God will restore joy. This month, I read Psalm 42 and 43. I admire its writer who thrice repeats, “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me. Hope in God; for I shall again praise Him my salvation and my God.” Like me, this man did not know why his soul was in turmoil. He asked himself a question, then he preached truth to himself. That means he had the spiritual discipline to fix his eyes not on how he felt at the moment, but on what he knew of God. Surely God had brought him through trials- how else could he have learned about God’s trustworthiness? Even though he felt sad, he had hope that he would again have hope. I want that perspective for my own life.
If it is trials that bring us to a greater knowledge of God, the giver of hope and the bringer of peace and the reason for gratitude, then I am thankful that He sent me a trial rather than leaving me unchanged.