The Shadows Call

IMG_1818.JPG

There have been many different creative expressions in my life. From quilting to scrap-booking. Painting to pastels. From writing one poem (and only one) to a 400-page novel.

I think there are life lessons hidden in each one if I were to look hard enough. But the one that stands out to me the most comes from a very, very brief stint with watercolors. I hated them in high school and I still hated them when my mom (an amazing watercolorist) suggested we paint together. A bonding time. Mother-daughter. How could I refuse?

I worked on the painting for days … then weeks. I threw it away and drew it back out of the trash. Then, threw it away again. It was awful. But it was awful, not because it was truly bad, but because I couldn’t see the finished piece. And here’s why…

If you’ve ever painted at all, you know that with oils and acrylics, you can pick a spot on your canvas and paint exactly how you see something—with all its shadows and highlights, right from the start. All its depths and heights. But not in watercolors. With that medium, you start with your lightest wash and build up layer after layer after painstaking layer.

And the lesson … it’s impossible to see depth without shadow.

The painting was flat and lifeless until the very end. I couldn’t see it. Not at first. Not until the final brushes of the darkest layer. And then, and only then, did the painting reveal itself. When the brush strokes of shadow went deeper and brought out the contours of the image, the painting had life. Real, authentic life.

I didn’t realize it then, but I have determined it since. That watercolors are a lot like real life.

When my first child was born two months early at 2 ½ pounds and we fought for her life for six months in the NICU the Lord said, “Call upon Me in the day of trouble. I will deliver you and you will glorify Me” (Psalm 50:15). All of His promises were right there. He was all I had to hold onto. And I clung with all my might.

The brush stroke of shadow contoured my life, and I went deeper.

When the Lord called us out on the mission field to the desert of Mexico, I left my home, my family, my friends, my language, my country. Everything that grounded me. The Lord said, “See I am doing a new thing. Now it springs up. Do you not perceive it? I am making rivers in the desert, streams in the wasteland to bring drink to my people … that they would praise my name” (Isaiah 43:18-21). He called. I followed in obedience because I knew there was no greater, no safer, no better calculated place to be, then in the center of His will.

And I went deeper.

When I was diagnosed with colon cancer at 42 years old, my doctor said if it had moved to my liver, I would have six weeks to live. Six weeks. “Indeed we had the sentence of death within ourselves in order that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God who raises the dead; who delivered us from so great a peril of death, and will deliver us. He on whom we have set our hope” (2 Corinthians 1:9-11). Ten years later, I remain cancer free. But in that trial, in that moment of staring death in the face, I knew where my hope came from.

The shadow deepened and the girl grew in faith.

You see, with every brush stroke of our lives, every high and every low, every highlight and every shadow, we have the opportunity to go deeper. To experience the grace of God more fully. More completely.

My friend, if you are in a shadow of life, know this for certain:

fullsizeoutput_c90.jpeg

And remember … remember this most of all … It’s not easy to see the Master’s work of art because it is not finished. There may still be shadows and contours to reveal in the greater masterpiece.

 

The End

The fight was nearing its end. And we were losing.

The fight was nearing its end. And we were losing.

For six months, we had been in the hospital. In the NICU. Christmas was just around the corner. Snow fell on Morristown square. And baby Meagan had undergone a surgery as a last-ditch effort to save her life. But the surgery had failed. She was on maximum life support, and the doctors had come to the end of their abilities. They ushered us into their office and told us they could do nothing more for her. That Meagan would not make it through the weekend. They wanted us to prepare for the worst. The worst. Imminent death. The loss of our child.

The fight was nearing its end. And we were losing.

My life was out of control. So, I tried to find some control wherever I could. I fixated on the machines and found hope in small increments of change, then defeat in the reverse. I studied the schedule of doctors and nurses, hoping for the ones that would bring life, those who became our favorites and our forever friends. I took notes on the medications, the doses, the ups and downs of her progress searching for some pattern, some upward change for the better. Anything to hold on to. But it was fleeting. Control was a façade. I had none.

As I drove to the hospital one morning over that dreaded weekend that I thought would be our last, I turned to my mom and said, “I need to pray something. Something I haven’t been able to pray. Until now. Would that be okay?” And I began…

Lord Jesus, I understand the truth now. I understand that she is your little lamb. And that You love her even more than I do. As her mommy, this is so hard for me, because I love her with everything in me... everything I am. But You… You love her even more. And because of that, I give her to You, Jesus. I trust her into your hands. She is yours. And whatever happens with her… if You choose to take her, or let her stay… I trust You. I let go…

The hands opened. The one's clutching everything I held dear. Opened in abandoned trust for a love so much greater. The tears poured down my face. Healing tears. Trusting tears. For I was not in control... but He was. He who loved her... and loved me... even more.

When I got to the hospital and sat at her bedside, everything had changed. It didn’t matter what the machines said. What the noise said. It didn’t matter what doctor was on call, or what nurse was treating her. It didn’t matter that all things pointed to death. Oblivious to the swirling chaos, I sat with her... I held her little hand in mine and sang.

A few days later, on Christmas Eve, Jesus healed her.

My baby came home. But it could have gone either way. We never know.

If you, my friend, are in a place of suffering today, sorrow that feels so out of control. If you are struggling to find purpose in the pain, joy in the heartache, I tell you this from the depths of my heart: He loves you even more... even more than you could ever fathom.

And I'll tell you this...

As much as I would never want to relive one moment, one day in the NICU… when my soul, my very being, broke so completely…

I never walked closer to Jesus than in those hours.

His Favorite

My son, Zach, used to have a t-shirt that read: Jesus Loves You… But I’m His Favorite. Deep down, I felt that to be true, for myself. Surely, God had the whole world to love, but I was one of His favorites ;). We were tight. After all, He had seen me out of many tough spots. For sure, I had my own special place in His heart. I could struggle and fail, but in the end, everything would work out… not just according to Him, but also according to me.

Some would call this optimism… others narcissism ;).

My childhood (into adulthood) lenses had an abrupt splintering when I hit my first tragedy. When our firstborn struggled to live. I was not prepared. It would seem many of my life lessons were learned around that plastic isolette (incubator, we called it).

For the most part, Meagan had been born healthy. Small (2 Lbs. 15 oz.), but healthy. Once she was over the initial hump, the doctors said she merely needed time to grow. I remember sitting at her bedside feeling quite content with the direction things were going. Hard, yes. But she just needed time. A little time and she would be home.

During one of those afternoons, a new baby was wheeled in next to us. He had tubes and wires everywhere. It seemed he had an IV port on every hand and foot. Even across his head. My heart was sad for him, and I prayed a silent prayer. But I’ll be honest, it was a selfish sympathy I gave. One that said, “You poor thing. That’s so hard that you have to suffer like that. We are good, though, and nothing like that will happen to us. We are safe. We are going home. All we have to do is grow. But, you poor thing. I hope you get better.”

A distancing. A separation from the pain. From entering into where it hurts. A bubble of protection I thought could not be broken.

A few days later, Peter hung a scripture card on the side of Meagan’s isolette. It read: He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak (Isaiah 40:29). I secretly thought, That’s nice, but we’re good.

The next morning, the hospital called me before I was up. Things had changed overnight. Taken a turn for the worse. Meagan had contracted some intestinal bacteria that was destroying her gut. Destroying her body from the inside out.

When I got to the hospital, I barely recognized her. She was ashen and lifeless. Not the thriving little baby I had left just the night before. Everything changed. She would need surgery, they told me… life-threatening surgery for a two-and-a-half-pound baby. The odds were not good. Fifty-fifty she would even come out alive.

In a moment’s time, I was staring down through the glass of the isolette, my baby had a shaven head and five IV ports across her tiny scalp. And we were on our knees for her life.

My lesson was hard that day, but one I desperately needed to learn.

I was not, am not, above anything. Not IVs, not Necrotizing Enterocolitis, not Cancer, not Death. Nothing.

All of us suffer. Not because He doesn’t love us, but because we live in a broken world. A world so outside of His original plan. And in that world pain comes… through others (abuse, violence), through a creation affected by the fall (natural disaster, disease), and through ourselves (selfishness, denial).

Yes, Jesus loves me. He gave His life for me. He also said, “In this world, you will have trouble.” It is inevitable. We all face it. And it comes when we least expect it. But Jesus also said, “Take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:13)

Wherever you are today, whatever you face, “You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.” (I John 4:4)