Monday, October 24, 2011


What oxygen is to the lungs, such is hope to the meaning of life.
-Emil Brunner

I've used many metaphors to describe these 9 weeks and 4 days of bed rest. It's been a stormy sea, a marathon, a roller-coaster, a journey. It's been both bothersome and blessing, chaos and calm. When I look back on the past 2 1/2 months, I can barely remember them because they've been so very full and so very empty. It's as if my mind and spirit can't define or contain this time into a single definition or category. 

But if I must choose one theme to cover the ups and the downs, the chaos and the calm, it is this: 


I remember the very first full day of bed rest. 20-some hours after the jarring news from the high-risk specialist, Tyler and I found ourselves sitting across from our regular obstetrician. We were still in a bit of shock, listening intently for any bit of information and explanation we could gather. We heard it in sound-bytes.

21 weeks. 24 weeks. 28 weeks. 

We were at 21. We wanted to get to 28. But it seemed like the doctor was stuck at 24.

I know I've written the most heart-breaking words I've ever heard in a prior post: "If you go into labor before 24 weeks, there isn't much the hospital can do. They might admit you, but the babies probably won't survive." The doctor said this with a ridiculously matter-of-fact tone. (As if there is anything matter-of-fact about losing life after 21 weeks of it!)

Her voice said "if" but her eyes said "when."  She looked at me with an intense gaze, staring at me to be sure I understood. I looked back at her from behind a rippling waterfall, the tears starting to well in my eyes.  Then I looked at Tyler. 

"Remember, you're on strict bed rest," she continued, "That means no leaving the house, no laundry, no doing the dishes, no going up and down the" As the doctor's list of what I couldn't do grew longer and longer, my heart stretched farther and farther to find hope. It felt like a rubber band being pulled tighter and tighter, stretched beyond its usual capacity in order to keep something together. I felt like it might snap and break, as rubber bands are bound to do when stretched too far for too long. I looked back into the doctor's eyes as she continued...

"Nothing we can do...We can pretty much guarantee you're not going to make it to full term..."

That was it. I was done. I couldn't hear any more. I'd gotten the picture, heard the words, felt the heaviness. My senses were overloaded with despair. I don't remember anything said after that. Tyler and I left the exam room in a daze, arms around each other, tears on the verge of flooding the entire 2nd floor of Chagrin Medical Center.

That evening we processed what had been the second doctor's appointment in two days. We revisited the words we'd heard and the words we hadn't. We admitted to one another that we felt significantly heavier and more despairing after this day's appointment. The day before had been full of "when's." We'd been given a set of milestones and timelines that extended beyond the point of viability. We'd been given something we could do (bed rest) that might help us get there. That day, we'd only been given the raw, painful truth of our immediate situation. 

One day we had hope. The next day we didn't. It wasn't that our situation had changed, or that the information being given to us was any different. It was all the same.  

We decided to listen to the first doctor (he was the specialist, after all)...and we chose hope.

Those first few weeks of bed rest were the most difficult. It was a battle to keep hope front and center in our minds and hearts. But we knew we had to keep it there. We knew that the minute we succumbed to the spirit of despair, our babies were lost to us. Deep within, our intuition told us that if we decided inside that they wouldn't make it, they wouldn't. So we reached, stretched and searched for hope in just about everything.

And alone, I don't think we would have made it. There were too many scary moments; too many sleepless nights, spontaneous tears, startling symptoms and overwhelming odds. Soon, we realized that just like the chores building up around the house, we needed help.

I remember receiving an email from a friend at church just a week or two into it all: 

"We certainly already all love those babies," she wrote, "and I have every faith that all will be well." After reading the last line, I laughed in between my tears. Although I was thankful for her words, I was NOT so sure that all would be well. Hope was dangling on a string in our house, and we were scrambling to reel it in. Yet, the note made me laugh because here I was, the pastor, the one who speaks of hope on a regular basis, running dangerously low in hope... and hearing my own words being spoken back to me. Even more, hidden in those words were these unspoken words: “it’s okay if you feel hopeless right now. We’re holding on to hope for you. It’ll be here when you need it.

Soon after, the cards started flooding our mailbox. In 9 weeks and 4 days, I could probably count on one hand all the days we haven't received a card or email of encouragement. Some of the cards have messages, some are simply signed...but we know that all come with a prayer. We have received over 100 tangible prayers and reminders of hope in the mail. (side note: I think my church is single-handedly keeping our post office branch open!)

This is why faith communities ROCK. Literally, our church has been a rock of hope for us during a time when life itself seemed so unstable. If I ever needed a reason to believe in the institution of church, this is it. Sure, I can and do find God every day in the trees and the sky or as I walk silently through the metroparks...until I can't leave my living room. I can say prayer after prayer as part of my own individual spirituality...until I find myself speechless with despair. And in those moments when my own spirit is struggling, when hope has been thrown overboard in a sea of doubt, someone has brought it back with a life-preserver, holding onto it and holding it out to us until were were ready to take it for ourselves.

Emil Brunner had it right. Life cannot be sustained without oxygen. Life cannot be sustained without hope. Sure, many people survive crippling illnesses and spirit-crushing situations without a church family or close community, but Tyler and I know that the reason we’re still breathing and loving deeply is because we’ve been held afloat by the prayers and love of true community, real family. It’s not something we could have done alone. We needed the people who have held onto life-preserving hope for us (and the babies) when we didn’t have the strength to do it ourselves.

Today, we are almost to 31 weeks -- 10 whole weeks of bed rest filled with every kind of emotion possible (and a little extra frustration and exhaustion thrown in there for good measure). Today, we are just a little over 6 weeks away from what the doctors consider "full term" for Gummi Bear and Junior Mint. Yes, contrary to what doctor #2 believed, we can actually see the beacon of light ahead and are filled with hope. From here on out we can be certain that all will be well.

And we are so. very. thankful.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011


And the (slow) race to the finish line continues...but at least it's not raining, right?

Today the sun is shining in Cleveland and my heart is happy. It's my dad's birthday and also the 28 week milestone for our two little ones. Hooray for good lives of love! Without really knowing how, Tyler and I have made it through 7 weeks of bed rest with our bodies, minds, and spirits intact. To be honest, we didn't really think we'd get here. Seven weeks ago, even one week seemed like a marathon. Seven weeks seemed nearly impossible. Tyler may have felt a bit more optimistic than I did (if so, not much), but I was certain that even if the babies made it to this point, the rain clouds would settle in and my spirit would be hovering just above depression. Just the thought sent me looking in that direction listening for thunder.

And yet, here I am, nowhere near the pit of despair. Each day has been a struggle, but each day has brought us closer to hope and deeper into grace. I've finally allowed myself to buy some decorations for the nursery. My wonderful family is throwing me a small family baby shower in a week (something I thought I'd have to give up since I can't leave home). Tyler and I even agree on four full names--perhaps the greatest miracle of all! With greater than a 93% chance of survival, we can finally believe that our babies will be in our lives, arms, and home for the long-run. That, in itself, is grace and beauty.

However rocky, there have certainly been an overwhelming number of times over the past seven weeks when we have been able to praise God and celebrate. I've tried to share those with you and others who I have written or spoken with. The concept of bed rest was and still is daunting, but finding and sharing the moments of hope and joy have been part of what gets me through each day. At the same time, this journey has been one of the most difficult I have ever been through. Yes, it's gracious...but it's also grueling.

More than one person has said to me over the past weeks, "Be thankful for this time of rest -- it's like an extended paid vacation!"

Say, what?!?

It always takes me a few moments to figure out how to respond to this comment (sometimes said honestly, sometimes passive-aggressively). My first inclination is usually to laugh at what must certainly be a joke...but then I hesitate.

I hesitate because it's true -- I am so very thankful for my loving church family who are continuing to pay me even though I am not able to be fully present with them right now. I hesitate because I know that most people would do anything to have a day or two of breakfast in bed, reading, writing, watching a TV show or ten, crocheting, friends coming to visit and bringing food. Seriously, I know hope that I will never again have such an extended amount of forced down time (especially with kids in the mix) and I am trying to make the most of it! I especially hesitate because I understand the jealousy that may arise in others who are overworked and under-appreciated, or even those who haven't had good time off in much too long.  I hesitate because I am a huge advocate of Sabbath. I believe with my whole heart that God has created us and the world to take time for regular rest and renewal. Every living creature deserves good rest and not enough of us get it these days. Why not agree and be thankful?

I hesitate to respond by justifying myself to the passive-aggressive ones because even if this is restful time off of my regular (fairly stressful) routine in ministry, doesn't scripture tell us in the story of Creation that even God rests after a time of fruitful work? Aren't the Hebrew scriptures (Old Testament) full of mandates to allow workers and fields a Sabbath time of rest every 7 days or 7 years? Don't we all know that good rest can be crucial to the renewal of our energy, passion, and commitment to our areas of work and ministry? I hesitate because I don't think I should feel guilty for resting. Even God rests without guilt!

But then I speak up. Truly, this isn't a vacation in any sense of the word! I'm not really sure that I can even count it as Sabbath. To fully rest, to find that renewal, we need time and space to care for three different aspects of our selves: body, mind and spirit.

I may be able to call this a Sabbath rest for my body. I am able to sleep enough during the day to make up for interrupted sleep at night and I am certainly not stressing my muscles by over-use. But then a good friend reminds me that my body isn't fully resting.-- ever! -- it's working hard to create and nurture not one, but two lives! Plus, my muscles may be at rest, but they are surely not thriving. Many aches and pains are intensified by muscles crying out to me for exercise and care that I cannot give them. Overall, my body feels far from rested as it is stretched, pushed, and even neglected in places.

I certainly can't call this time Sabbath rest for my spirit and mind, either. My mind has been full of information and worry, working through scenarios and counting down days if not hours that the babies stay put. Navigating multiple doctors means keeping track of who-said-what-and-when so that I can be sure the babies and I get the best care. I count contractions and glasses of water, servings of vegetables and hours. I worry that I haven't been able to go to prenatal classes (will I know how to go through labor without someone explaining it beforehand?!? Of course! With these complications, I am 500% sure that there will be an over-abundance of people in the room to help. But I still worry)! I can't visit possible daycares, or interview pediatricians. And even though my congregation is continuing ministry without me just fine, I am still thinking about them -- planning worship by email, praying when they're sick, thinking about what I wish I were able to do with them during these months and what I hope to do in the future (and yes, wondering whether I'll be able to keep up with my hopes and plans for ministry when I also have two tiny babies throwing off my entire routine. Church folks-- who wants to babysit?) Seriously. My mind is far from's on overload!

And my spirit? Well, there are three things keeping me from the brink of insanity. The first is an overwhelming community that has spanned multiple states and countries! We have received the gift of food from family and friends here in Ohio, someone sponsored house cleaning every other week, and a friend comes to straighten things in-between. I've received more books than I can read in a lifetime, and care packages continue to roll in from other states. Soon I will be writing a blog post about community  -- because I've realized that even if people find God by being "spiritual but not religious," there is something holy and crucial about a church community. My spirit, my connection to God, the very substance of my faith would not be where it is today without a community who have represented God to us in these days.

The second thing keeping me from the brink of insanity is attitude. Tyler and I could have responded to this overwhelmingly difficult journey in so many ways.  Understandably, anger, frustration and depression are almost impossible to avoid in times of illness and stress. We have experienced our share of those. We do our best to acknowledge and share them with one another; If we don't, they may turn into bitterness. So we've shared all of these crazy emotions with one another -- sometimes at the most ridiculous hour of 3:00am! But the biggest saving grace is that we made an intentional effort to keep light spirits and loving  appreciation for one another. We cannot change our situation, but we can make every effort to keep our relationship healthy through the storm. Heaven knows, we'll need every string holding us together when the stress of two newborns becomes a constant part of our marriage! (Wait, what?!? Didn't someone tell me once that all a baby does is sleep, eat and poop? How hard can that be, right?)

Finally, watching for God, watching for grace, and working toward growth has been a huge part of my every day. I guess it's part of that attitude-thing. I could lie here feeling resentful of the situation and frustrated that I cannot go out to enjoy the changing leaves or coffee-shop dates that I miss so much. I could let my over-active mind control me (and, to be honest, too often I do). But my most healthy times, the most beautiful times, have been those in which I channel my frustration or worry into growth. I have learned so much about myself and how I deal with stress during these weeks. I have grown in my identity as mother and wife, not to mention what it means to be a good friend. (And oh, have I been showered with examples of "good friend" these days. Sheesh!) I have encountered situations much like those whom I care for in the congregation -- the starkness of hospitals, the agony of awaiting test results, being home-bound, struggling to adapt to a quickly changing identity -- and these situations have (hopefully) made me a more compassionate pastor and person.

Honestly, this time isn't really a Sabbath and it's certainly not a vacation! It's stressful and challenging in mind, body, and spirit. In these seven weeks I have worked so very hard -- not only nurturing dear Gummi Bear and Junior Mint into life, but also becoming my best self in the face of adversity, giving crucial attention to my marriage, continuing to grow in faith and hope as I rely on the Spirit of Life to sustain the babies and me when medical care cannot, and finding ways to put all of this into words so that others can understand and share in the journey.

And, wow. What a marathon of a journey this is...

...People cheering on the sidelines, offering a cup of cold water here and there, exhaustion and hope mixing to form adrenaline...will someone be holding a "finish line" sign and a gold medal at the end?!? Please say yes!