This past summer, Chris and I have had lots of time to enjoy each other’s company and soak up these final moments with just the two of us before the arrival of our baby. We’ve gone on dates, been intentionally spontaneous (whatever that is ;) to take advantage of those last minute trips out, gone to the pool most of the summer, and spent some time with family on both sides. The time that the Lord has given us has truly been so sweet leading up to meeting this little baby of ours - our first.
One of these sweet times together, we went to see Disney Pixar’s latest and greatest Inside Out. In this silly and sometimes eccentric movie, a young girl transitions from the one-dimension emotions of childhood to the deeper, complex mixture of emotions of adulthood. Chris and I laughed (and cried - mostly me, but hey! I'm pregnant.) at the journey of these emotions within a young girl's head as they try to create and maintain order but realize that those memories most strong and stable include not just one of them. While many within the Christian community have debated its merit, I'm only choosing to focus on one element: that life throws various circumstances at us that challenge the previous pillars of normalcy we had once known.
This past week, I endured one such experience. But through this time, I’ve learned a valuable lesson as well from the Lord as well - one that I humbly submit I thought I had already known.
If you had asked me five weeks ago if I was prepared for child birth, I could have at least said that I was trying. But all of that changed at last week’s 36 week check-up.
Chris and I walked confidently into the doctor's office, prepared for another standard OB visit, only to learn that our baby was in a breech position...still. Yep - we had known that he/she was, but we had always been reassured not to worry - that some babies wait until the last minute to flip. So even when our doc, who we love, told us that baby was breech, I was still living in a place of being unconcerned...until we heard the next words from him - we were quickly and rather nonchalantly informed that our doc was going to send us in for a procedure to manually rotate the baby and should it not be successful (about a 50/50 chance of success), we’d be scheduled for a c-section. “A c-section?!” I thought. I had never even anticipated this occurring. Our pregnancy had been so seemingly "typical" thus far. I had thought baby still had plenty of time to turn down and hadn't fully realized that a breech baby at 36 weeks was cause for concern.
You see, since the beginning of this pregnancy, I have been eagerly preparing for unmedicated, vaginal childbirth - with hopes of seeing what God had created my body to do. I have researched. I have trained: (mostly tried ;) to eat right, taken vitamins, exercised as often as possible, stocked up on items that would encourage a good hospital environment for the big moment, and taken courses both through the hospital and one-on-one with a “natural” childbirth coach. A c-section was not on my birth plan radar. How had I been so naive to miss this possibility of c-section?
My initial reaction to this unforeseen news was anger...especially after I went home and began to research more about this manual rotation procedure for which I'd been scheduled. I tried to be cautious in my internet searches, but it was difficult to ignore the amount of women who forewarned me of how “excruciatingly painful” this procedure was. I was embittered that I didn’t know about all of the exercises I could have been doing starting around week 33 to get baby to flip. I was frustrated that all of my preparation for unmedicated, vaginal birth was seemingly becoming worthless. And I quickly found myself with a discontented heart - truly wrestling with the Lord as to why He’d allow me to figure all of this out - in this order...making me feel so unprepared.
(I have to insert that I fully know many women have far greater concerns - concerns that are far more serious - some even directly related to the fact that they can’t achieve pregnancy. I in no way want to communicate a lack of gratitude for this baby in my womb. I merely am attempting to express what the Lord has taught me through this time - my experience. Please don't hear any other tone in it.)
But what was disturbing me even more was that I was allowing myself to be in this place of anger and sadness. I'd tell myself, "I’m a Christian; I have a greater hope, and this isn't a big deal." After all, I know the Lord I serve, and my advice to others in a similar situation would have frequently included words such as: “The Lord loves you and has your best interest in mind - just trust that.”
After a couple days of being angry and frustrated - sometimes sobbing out of the sheer disappointment of it all - I began to change my approach to the situation. Rather than tell myself to trust the Lord and His perfect plan for me, I chose instead to meditate on what I know about who the Father is and what He feels for me. I repeated his promises to myself: He is for me (Romans 8:31); He loves me (John 3:16; Romans 5:8); He knew me when I was formed in my mother’s womb, just as He knows this baby already far better than I ever will (Psalm 139); He is unafraid of this situation (Numbers 23:19). As I meditated and repeated these out loud, I started to trust the Lord in this situation rather than my mixed bag of emotions. My circumstance had not changed, but my outlook was changing.
I also learned something else truly important through this week-long lesson.
After sharing my story with a friend at the end of last week (knowing that she had a similar experience with her first birth), her words to me truly opened my eyes to the error in my own way. She said that she was so sorry for my situation and gave me permission to be sad - that I had felt a legitimate loss.
In that moment I realized that I had tried to talk myself out of the sadness of it all - only making me further angry. I had made myself feel guilty for being disappointed rather than immediately trusting the Lord. You see, I do trust the Lord. But I’m also a human who has to go through phases of emotions. And reaching that place of truly trusting Him, rather than just paying lip-service to the phrase, necessitated me moving from anger to sadness to confusion to contentment and finally to joy in this story.
The principle lesson that I’ve taken away from this experience within the last week and a half is that I’m oftentimes forcing myself and others to skip an important step in life’s disappointments - grief. I believe many of us do this out of good intentions - desirous of victory for ourselves and others. But we must not be afraid to give others and ourselves permission to grieve. To do so is to pass over a necessary component of the healing process.
I can say this with confidence because I can look to my life example, Jesus, and see where even He - the one who knew how all would end in every situation - allowed himself and others to grieve.
First, when Jesus went to Lazarus’ family following his dear friend’s death, he felt deep sadness before bringing Lazarus back to life. Many of us may find this odd, especially knowing that Jesus knew he was preparing to bring his friend back to life. We may have expected him to walk in confidently and tell his friends “don't worry; just trust me. I’ve got a plan that you’ll love.” But he didn’t; instead, he wept. And I believe a short, un-commentary-like answer for this oddity is that Jesus found it appropriate to first feel the loss of his friend before he gave himself permission to rejoice in bringing him back to life. He felt the gamut of emotions with the family - recognizing that the full response included grief before joy was restored through raising Lazarus from the dead.
Another example of Jesus expressing his own sorrow comes in the Garden of Gethsemane, as he sweats drops of blood in anguish over that which the Father has asked Him to do. Again, He could have just said, “I trust the Lord, so I won’t be scared. I know how this ends.” But Jesus instead felt the full weight of grief before submitting under the Father’s plan.
As Christians, it’s easy for us to demand immediate joy from others or ourselves - encouraging each other to just trust God and let it go. And while I think that comes from a place of sincerity and love, and I believe that it should be our ultimate response, I also think that we must remember that it’s okay and necessary to give ourselves and others some time to feel the sorrow of our circumstances. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that we oftentimes come across as unfeeling and insensitive when we seemingly force ourselves or others to skip their grief.
I realize that there are varying circumstances. For example, how should we handle the friend, family member, etc. who won’t come out of the place of grief? That’s an excellent question for another day - one that I’m not going to address. But my encouragement for us all is to understand that we are not one dimensional in our emotional responses. Adulthood often mandates that a series of emotions be processed before we can land at true joy. The difference in Christianity is that the Christian should be fighting ardently for that true joy on the other side of sadness. We should never be content to stay in that place of grief.
The end of the road of healing for many of us is absolute, refined joy. Although the last week and a half, and possibly the weeks to come, have held some moments of confusion, anger, doubt, and frustration for me and Chris, I can now say that we’re feeling so much joy - NOT because our circumstances have changed, but because the Lord has helped us to change the way that we look at our circumstances. Chris and I have been able to see that regardless of how this baby must be born, we will be bringing this baby home much sooner than we had anticipated! And that is a thing of pure joy!
Let us all be mindful of the emotional journey that oftentimes must progress for true healing to occur! Praise the Lord for His patience with us in this. And may we always remember, our goal is absolutely to seek joy and trust Him for whatever the future holds! But our human hearts must oftentimes experience many emotions before landing there. Why? It's simple - so that it can be genuinely rooted in our choosing to believe God's promises for us above our sadness and not a pithy, unfeeling response to life's unexpected challenges. Praise the Lord for that!