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Growing in Grace

cover.jpgI must admit that I never understood what people were talking about with the term “Grace.” Sure, sure — I learned “God’s Riches at Christ’s Expense” like every other good little indy-fundy Baptist girl. And I was a good girl too. I “asked Jesus into my Heart” at 4 after listening to Little Marcy singing “Jesus Knocks, Knocks, Knocks,” and I had my “second blessing” or “dedication” at nearly-9 at Camp Good News after hearing the story about the American Indian and the circle. I attended Christian Day Schools from first grade through twelfth. And I attended Bob Jones University — receiving only 11 demerits total my whole four years. I married my college sweetheart, the man I met in my Freshman English tutorial, the only man I have ever loved. There we are in that picture in 1990 which graced that year’s Calendar of Events, Bulletins, etc. Please don’t laugh too hard at us. We were young and thin. And it was 17 years ago! That blush was the style at the time. Two BJU degrees later and with four years of teaching under our belts, we headed off to Indiana University and received our doctorates. We then returned to BJU to be “lifers” as we all called ourselves.

That was the year 2000. And after 32 years in fundamentalism, I still didn’t get Grace. I had lived a squeaky-clean life. Everything had gone pretty smoothly. Just few months after returning to BJU’s faculty, I discovered we were expecting. We had already lost one little one to a miscarriage just 7 months earlier. But this little person felt “sticky,” and stick she did. I wrote my dissertation while feeling her dance in my tummy to the Big Band music I played in my home office.

She was due on July 3, 2001. But on the 6th — our eleventh wedding anniversary — she wasn’t moving, and an ultrasound proved the worst had happened. Her heart had already stopped, and on the 7th our little Elise was born to Heaven.

It was while sitting in that hospital bed just before, during, and after her birth that I started to understand God’s Grace. God surrounded us with dear friends and hospital staff and carried us through that time. Even as I wept through 9/11 (feeling like the nation was crying with me rather than me crying with the nation), that first Christmas, that first dreaded Mother’s Day and her first birthday in Heaven, God was so near. He cried with us and held us close through all those hard times. I was starting to get a glimpse of Grace.

People commented that we must be doing something right because it was clear that they could see God through us. I always looked at them quizzically when they said that. I didn’t feel like I was doing anything. I felt so feeble. I regularly begged God to tell me what it was I was doing because I wanted to keep doing it so I didn’t tick Him off and lose more children. I didn’t want to endure all that again!

But we lost two more babies to miscarriage after Elise’s still birth. When God finally blessed us with our Isaac in December 2003, I literally laughed for joy when I heard him cry that first time. He was, in fact, so eager to breathe that he breathed in too quickly and had to stay in the NICU for ten days to clear up that fluid. Our nursing relationship, then, got off to a very rough start. And I had to nurse him. After having my body prepare to nurture Elise when Elise was not there to nurture, I knew that to heal I needed to nurse this little “screamer.” But it was so rocky. None of the nursing advice I received was working. I finally chucked that whole series in the trash and went the exact opposite direction. I nursed him on cue which ended up being a lot of nursing and a lot of sitting! So in those quiet times, I read all the Scripture passages I could find on nursing, and I realized how often God describes Himself as a nursing mother. I learned that God loves me as much as I love that little child. God aches for me just like I ached for my Isaac.

When you feel God’s love on such a cellular level, everything changes. I admit, I was raised in what I now know was a historically recent view of the Christian walk. Some call it a dispensationalist view of sanctification, some label it Semi-Pelagian or Chaferian. Previously, I’ve called it just another sort of Keswick camp sermon. But the rhetorician in me sees this dispie story of sanctification to be a relationship between employer and employee. I think J. I. Packer says as much. You give a little, and God gives a little. Back and forth. “God gives grace to the humble,” after all, so you have to work hard to get a lot of grace. Like a bonus check or Fuji apples in the office vending machine. That’s why I begged God to be clear with me as to what I was doing to gain His blessing. The message came back loud and clear, “Nothing!”

In processing Isaac’s birth and my growth in Grace, I realized God was my Father, not my boss. He didn’t taunt me with threats; He picked me up and carried me. He didn’t deliver vague orders; He lovingly (and sometimes firmly) showed me the next step. He didn’t withhold blessings until I earned them; He lavishly showered them on me when I didn’t deserve them. He hadn’t hired me; He pursued me and loved me. He didn’t toss me out alone to grope my way to His best; He took me by the hand and led me all the way.

So then I needed to minister that same Grace to those around me — especially my Isaac and now my Gavin. So often the children are forgotten in our one-anothering — sometimes considered “vipers in diapers” and other times treated as disturbing God’s work. But Christ cherishes the little ones. The ancient Hebrews were unique among their contemporaries for including even the unborn in their Covenant with God!

I now hear my little preschooler minister grace to me. “Mommy. You are having big feelings. You need to go sit in your comfort chair. Here. I’ll bring you a book to help you feel better. Do you need a hug?” Kindness I don’t deserve, but that comes so easily from him.

Sometimes I wonder if Satan was trying to throw herbicide on my growth in grace as we lost all those children. Knowing that mothering a child would teach me God’s Grace anew, I wonder if Satan was doing his best to stomp out that seedling. But I relish the fact that God took those tragedies and didn’t just give them a happy ending; He rewrote them entirely. He turned my ashes into His Beauty and my mourning into the joy of His Grace. God’s like that. After all, He took dust and made life and took a sin-sick sinner dead in her trespasses and sins and made her His child. Every last bit of it was by His Grace alone.

Amen!

** I first published this post on another group blog, but I wanted you all here to see it as well. So it’s a duplicate posting.

14 thoughts on “Growing in Grace

  1. Camille, you made me cry. Since we lost our first baby a year and a half ago and our daughter was born eight months ago I have often thought and said that only now do I have a glimpse of what it means when God says he loves us. We wondered why the circumstance were such, that despite our best efforts, I got pregnant twice within two months, but I know now that it was to teach us the very thing you learned through your pregnancies and births: you can’t just read about grace to fully understand it; you have to experience it.

  2. Looking at the “slip” post and this, I think we could whisper discretely, “God’s grace is showing.”
    When I think of Elise’s perfect lips, dark curly hair and warm skin “sleeping” in your arms, I think the schoolday nightmare/dream applies as your walking to/from class “You forgot to put your “you” skirt on over your slip (slip = God showing that He is Sovereign and His hand is on, over, under and around you). I’d say the same for Grant, but the skirt/slip thing…nah, I don’t wanna go that direction…

  3. The amazing grace of God. And I totally agree that our children (and the care for them) really show us what it means to show grace, receive grace, love unconditionally, be loved undeservedly. Thanks for the post.

  4. What a beautiful post. 2 years ago we induced labor early for our daughter who couldn’t survive outside of the womb and whose pregnancy could kill me if carried to term. Induction was the hardest choice I’d ever made, and I was honest about what I was going through, posting about it on my blog. I was blown away by amount of criticism, hate mail, and negative comments I received from fellow Christians who couldn’t seem to see how much I needed their ministry. And at the same time I was touched by the kindness and concern of others. I also feel that my loss showed me the true grace of God. Because when I was so grieved as to lack the will to get out of bed, He never left my side. Not when the formula samples came in the mail, not when it seemed pregnant women and new babies were everywhere, not when the first person asked me if I’d had a boy or girl, not even the first time I held someone’s baby, and thought my heart would break from missing mine.

    My Sarah is safe in the arms of Jesus, and I know that she shares sacred space with others like your precious daughter. Thank you for sharing your story with us. My loss had different circumstances, but so many thoughts and feelings are the same.

    Peace.

  5. What a beautiful post! I too have been on that ultrasound table looking at a screen with no visible heartbeat. And I too had to deliver our son, Sam. I’m still touched when I think about how God surrounded us with so much Grace at that time….and even into the future. After Sam, we had a sweet little guy named Gus. Gus had a lot of medical issues but he was a very happy-go-lucky child. We were waiting on a liver/small bowel transplant for him but his little body just could not hold out and we layed him before the Lord last year. He was 16 months old. I struggle with finding the words to explain to people what an honor it was to give Gus to God…to hand him over even when I wanted to keep him…it was only through God’s magnificent grace that we are able to even do that. God’s grace is sufficient and abundant!

    Thanks for sharing this post…

  6. Wow. Thank you for bringing this over here; we’ve talked often, but I never knew the whole story.

    Your point about how it is Christianity that brought value to a child’s perspective and to individual hildren challenges our paradigm. No wonder Christians and pagans are equally eager to ignore it. Read either Chesterton or D. James Kennedy for this point.

    As usual, Chesterton has the best quip. “Peter Pan belongs not to the world of Pan, but to the world of Peter.”

  7. Wow. Powerful post. Grace truly is amazing, and experienced best in the most painful of circumstances.

    So much of your story resonated with me. I also have an Isaac, my miracle baby on so many levels. I too laughed at his birth — in the mere moments before it became apparent that he too had “breathed too early”. That afternoon we almost lost him; hours later, he was given only a 20% chance of survival. By morning, his chances had been upgraded, amazingly, to 50%.

    I learned that the “peace that surpasses understanding” is not just a nice phrase. I learned that God’s providence can be hard, but His grace sustains us, even when we are looking at our beautiful newborn child who is full of wires and tubes, and the doctors and social workers are referring us to resources that will help us raise a child who will, if he survives, surely be handicapped.

    He is now 17. He has always been our biggest and strongest child.

    But, even in that darkest night, when I pondered that maybe his name was Isaac because we were being asked to give this child back to God, I knew that there is no heart so broken that God cannot — somehow and oh so mysteriously — still be our loving and gracious Father.

    Some years after that, when I did lose a child in the second trimester of pregnancy, I learned that God’s grace was sufficient for that too.

    Thank you so much for your story.

  8. I ushered at Elsie’s memorial service in the M&G. When you walked through leaning on your husband’s arm. I was praying for you, as were many others. I am so glad to see that God has brought much Grace to abound in you. And your family. Blessings to you.

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