Results tagged “sorrow” from Reformation21 Blog

Whate're My God Ordains is Right


May 10, 2018 was the most beautiful yet painful day of our lives. Our long-awaited daughter, Dayna Euphemia, safely entered into the world and became part of our family. This is our family's story about the pain, hope, sorrow and joy that have come with the twists and turns in the adventure that is our life - an adventure we've learned can't be scripted.

Even though we had close family experience with infertility, we never thought it would be something we would personally experience when we got married in 2009. It's so natural that you fall in love, get married, establish a household and then have children. For us, this plan was falling in place perfectly until 2013. Infertility creeps up on you slowly but arrives with ferocity. The progression from wondering if it's going to take some extra time to conceive to doubting that you will ever have your own children consumes your life in the space of a year. Four and a half years, countless medical appointments, numerous procedures, thousands of dollars and one confirmed miscarriage left us feeling hopeless with the situation last summer.

We got used to pain every month - but just because it was expected didn't make it hurt any less. Infertility was a burden that was intimately woven into the fabric of our daily life. Our relationship as husband and wife grew so much deeper and stronger as a result of the pain.

Graciously, the last five years were not a negative black hole for our lives, on the contrary - when we weren't grieving we were living a great life. We have a passion for traveling and we have had the opportunity to go lots of places, including Italy, Greece, Portugal, Germany, France, Iceland, Slovenia and Croatia during our season of waiting. I'm sure many of our friends with small children looked at our social media posts with a tinge of jealousy! On many of those days life felt perfect and we felt that things would turn out alright in the end. Our desire to become parents never diminished and we knew God would fulfill that calling in His own way. As Jenn once put it, we were living in half agony and half hope.

We always seemed to have our most important conversations when we were traveling. On August 19, 2017, we had one of those conversations walking along the beach in Grado, Italy. Earlier that evening we had eaten some remarkable pizza and later than night we dodged a prodigious downpour from a thunderstorm to get back to our car. But our conversation was about neither of these things - it was an agreement that we were near the end of our journey with medical intervention for our infertility. Flying back home the following day, we could not have imagined that our prayer for a child had already been answered!

That evening was the finale to perhaps our best trip ever. During the previous week, we had road tripped through portions of Slovenia, Croatia and Italy and had a sense we were fully living life each day. In Croatia, we stayed in the gorgeous coastal town of Rovinj, where the main church was dedicated to Euphemia. Inside the church, through both our guidebook and artwork, we were drawn in by the story of Euphemia, a teenage Christian who was martyred for her faithful witness during the reign of the Roman Emperor Diocletian. Her story reminded us of Stephen in Acts 7. The name Euphemia became special to us not only because of where God answered our prayers but also because it was a name to live by.

Pregnancy after infertility and miscarriage can leave you in a constant fear of what could go wrong. During the next nine months, we cautiously yet with great expectation checked off exciting milestone after milestone while all the scans showed a strong and healthy baby girl was safely developing. The pregnancy culminated in the greatest moment of our lives at 11:42 a.m. on May 10, 2018, when Dayna arrived! Her arrival wasn't without a little bit of drama when it became apparent that she had the umbilical cord doubly wrapped around her neck. It was a scary moment as she was whisked away and took longer than normal to breathe. But the medical professionals were skillful and we soon heard Dayna's little cries - the moment we had waited so long for was finally here - we were overwhelmed with joy!

After Dayna had stabilized and been given back to us, the neonatologist came in to speak with us. We expected he would simply tell us how Dayna was doing and what work had been done on her following her birth. Instead we heard phrases such as 'features of Down syndrome' and 'I'm very concerned' and that we needed to do a blood chromosome test. It was the most shocking moment of our lives. It all felt surreal, like we were watching a movie and that this wasn't actually our life.

It is impossible put into words the rollercoaster of emotions that come with shedding tears of euphoria and tears of gut-wrenching sorrow within the space of hours. During the years of infertility one of the things you dream about is that first meeting of your child; what they will look like, will they have your eyes, nose, mouth, etc - that feeling of their skin on yours for the first time. While we held Dayna's perfect form on our chest, the endorphins pumping through our body, it seemed impossible that what this man was saying could be true.

Over the past several weeks we have learned that joy and sorrow are not mutually exclusive emotions. We are thrilled at the arrival of our baby girl yet look towards the future with trepidation knowing that during her life our daughter will be challenged with disability. We are grieving for our set of dreams and expectations for her life and it is still an active process. There is no quick fix to this emotional pain, though every word of encouragement we have received has slowly soothed the hurt.

Tears have been shed so many times over the past two weeks. Tears worrying about Dayna's future. Tears in coming to grips with a different set of expectations for her life. Tears at having to schedule seemingly endless medical appointments. Even more tears when the Down syndrome diagnosis was confirmed.

But there have also been tears of joy and so many wonderful moments. Tears seeing her cousins fight over who gets to hold her, be close to her and touch her. Tears in seeing her snuggle up in a perfectly peaceful way with her parents. Tears in seeing the joy in family members' eyes when meeting her. Tears in seeing each other being able to finally live out the role of mother and father. Tears in knowing that this is the child that so many prayed for so long.

During the past week we have felt our relationship grow even closer through this experience. Meanwhile Dayna is completely unfazed by any of these developments. She is a happy, content and lovely baby girl who is already exhibiting so many strong characteristics. We are filled with love for our daughter and recognize that she is the absolutely beautiful gift from God that will bring so much richness to our lives. It is touching to see the love grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins and friends have for her - she will have an amazing support network of family and friends. She is fortunate to live in a community where there are so many excellent resources for people with disabilities that will give her great opportunities for success and happiness in her life.

This is our family, this is our story, this is our call to live in obedience to His plan. The page has turned to a new chapter in our lives and we can't wait to see what will be written - and we certainly cannot imagine turning back.

Whate'er my God ordains is right, though now this cup in drinking
May bitter seem to my faint heart, I take it all unshrinking
My God is true, each morn anew
Sweet comfort yet shall fill my heart
And pain and sorrow shall depart - Samuel Rodigast

Jennifer Weitz blogs at Unexpected Realities. She is a member of Potomac Hills Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Leesburg, VA. 

Calvin assumes that Abraham's divorce from his nephew Lot (Gen. 13.8-9) caused the eminent patriarch considerable pain. "There is no doubt," the Reformer writes, "that the wound inflicted by that separation was very severe, since he was obliged to send away one who was not less dear to him than his own life."

Such assumptions about Abraham's regard for Lot might surprise present-day students of Scripture. The biblical text, after all, seems to say precious little about the patriarch's sentiments towards his nephew. One could, perhaps, deduce some degree of affection towards Lot from Abraham's later efforts at intercession on behalf of Sodom after Lot had taken up residence there (Gen. 18.22-33). But Calvin's assumptions about Abraham's feelings for his brother's son (Gen. 11.27) seem to stem from other considerations.

There is, firstly for Calvin, the simple fact that Lot is family to Abraham. Calvin, in other words, seems to take it for granted that extended family relationships necessarily entail fondness. That assumption might prove foreign to present day (especially American) persons, simply because, whatever expectations we harbor for affection within the nuclear family, we tend to accept cooler relations with extended family members as fairly common. There may be multiple reasons for that reality; the fact that modern folk are far more mobile than their predecessors, and thus less likely to live in the vicinity of extended family members, surely plays some part. Whatever the case, it's likely that Calvin's expectation of closer extended family relations reflects, more so than modern (American) social norms, ancient near eastern reality.

Calvin's assumptions about Abraham's feelings for Lot seem to stem, secondly, from consideration that Abraham had, thus far in his life, no immediate children of his own. God's promise of progeny for Abraham was yet to be fulfilled. This, coupled with the fact that Lot's father Haran had died when the entire family still lived in Ur, leads Calvin to suppose that Lot was something like an adopted child to Abraham. The patriarch, Calvin asserts, "held [Lot] in the place of an only son."

Thirdly - and, I think, most compellingly - there is the fact, well spotted by Calvin, that Scripture goes out of its way to highlight the fact that God spoke to Abraham in the immediate aftermath of the split between uncle and nephew. "The Lord said to Abram, after Lot had separated from him, 'Lift up your eyes and look..., for all the land that you see I will give to you and to your offspring forever'" (Gen. 13.14-15; emphasis mine). Calvin reasons that God addressed Abraham at this precise juncture, and repeated his promise of offspring to him, precisely in order to lift Abraham's spirits from his state of sadness. "When it is said, therefore, that the Lord spoke," Calvin writes, "the circumstance of time requires to be noted; [it is] as if [Moses] ... said that the medicine of God's word was now brought to alleviate [Abraham's] pain."

Calvin is not, of course, claiming that God repeated his promise to Abraham at this precise juncture solely for the sake of providing the patriarch with a pick-me-up. The repetition of the promise also (or rather, ultimately) served to "cherish and confirm Abraham's faith." Calvin is ever keen to make the point that faith rests wholly upon God's promises, and cannot be sustained without regular recourse to them. God's promise of a seed as numerous as the sand (Gen. 13.16), and his promise of the Seed (Gen. 3.15; cf. Gal. 3.16) among Abraham's seed who would ultimately reverse the effects of the fall, was necessary to keep Abraham's expectation and reliance upon God's (saving) provision alive and well.

Nevertheless, Calvin emphasizes more than once his conviction that God's word of promise to Abraham at this particular juncture was both a prop to Abraham's faith and medicine for him in his season of sorrow. "Thus we see how greatly the [divine word] had profited him: not that he had heard anything from the mouth of God to which he had been unaccustomed, but because he had obtained a medicine so seasonable and suitable to his present grief, that he rose with collected energy towards heaven."

Abraham's orientation towards heaven in response to God's promissory medicine requires careful note.  Calvin makes it abundantly clear, with this and more extended statements, that Abraham discovered solace in God's word because he grasped the true nature of God's promise. Abraham realized, in other words, that God was offering him and his (spiritual) descendants, based on the person and work of one particular Descendant, much more than a piece of prime ancient near eastern real estate. And, to be sure, Abraham would appear somewhat ignoble if his sorrow over the loss of one whom he "held... in the place of an only son" could be remedied by reminders of his own pending biological children and increased land holdings. The source, rather, of Abraham's succor was his conviction, based on God's word, that he was ultimately heir to the true Canaan, a land where pain and sorrow have no place (Rev. 21.4) and perfect, permanent relationships -- with God, and with one another -- prevail.

This point is particularly important, since it permits us to recognize that God offers us -- with equal generosity and equal sensitivity to our own seasons of grief -- the very same "medicine" he proffered to Abraham in the patriarch's time of sadness. Indeed, Scripture's record of "the medicine of God's word" of promise which answered Abraham's "pain" ultimately "teaches us that the best remedy for the mitigation and the cure of [our own] sadness is placed in the word of God."

Sadness, of course, can stem from any number of factors. The loss of loved ones, whether through death or the breakdown of relationship, poses particular pain to God's people. Calvin's reflections upon Abraham's grief over the loss of Lot, and God's tender "remedy" to him in the form of his promise, point us towards the best source of solace when we find ourselves suffering similar sorrow. Worldly pleasures might provide temporary distraction from heartache, but God's people have recourse to "medicine" which is particularly "seasonable and suitable to... grief," and they would do well to swallow it whole, as often as they can.

Aaron Clay Denlinger is professor of church history and historical theology at Reformation Bible College in Sanford, Florida.

Smiling through the tears

There seems to be a growing appetite for funerals that seek to avoid the fact of death. This tendency is developing not only outside but within the church. Typically, the day's business begins with the burial (or, indeed, the cremation), getting the bit in which death cannot be avoided out of the way, and often the bit in which 'religion' might be obliged to intrude at least a little. Then the gathering is able to ditch the serious element and move on to a 'celebration of life' followed not so much by a reception as by a continuation of the celebration in something more like full-on party mode.

I wonder if, for the world, this is just a desperate attempt to avoid the horror and finality of death, a way of not having to face the fact of departure, or of swamping the sorrow of the last goodbye in a wave of sentimental remembrance in which assurances that these memories will never die and that the departed will always be with us figure prominently. Is it an attempt to sentimentalise death and anaesthetise the heart against the miseries of the grave?

When this model intrudes into the church it is even more out of place. Of all people, believers in God through Christ ought to be able to face the facts of death soberly, honestly and joyfully. There is, of course, legitimate scope for the glad remembrance of the one who has gone home, an offering of thanks to God for the blessings received by the departed friend or family member and for the blessings bestowed through him or her. It is a time for facing - often painfully - the sorrows of loss, and the reality that we will not see that face or enjoy that relationship again in this life, and recalling the delights of the friendship we have enjoyed. Yet, at the same time, our sorrow is tempered with the joy that the one lost to us is not lost to God, but has gained Christ in a particular way and has been gained by him in a distinctive sense. We are those who sorrow because we recognise the ravages of sin and its cruel impact, as our Lord did at the grave of Lazarus, but we are those whose hope cannot be dented by death itself, for we know that Christ has triumphed over the grave.

In recent days it has been my privilege to attend Christian funerals that were true to this spirit: they were sober, sorrowful, joyful, hopeful occasions. They were fitting testimonies to the character and priorities of those who have gone before us, they were full of Christ as the Saviour of those who call upon him and from whom not even death can separate his people, and they were opportunities for the saints to express their sorrow and testify to their hope. The death of the saints is precious in the eyes of the Lord, and we ought to make as much of him in our passing as we have in our going. It is the best testimony we can offer to those who are not yet in the kingdom of God.

Let us not, then, as Christians, slide into that sappy sentimentality which looks at anything but the tomb as if we can make it all go away. Let us rather be marked by that sanctified realism and vibrant faith that can look into the grave, mourning over the one who lies there but confident that it will one day be empty, and so smile through the tears.