I first picked up The Ragamuffin Gospel over ten years ago. My parents forewarned me that Brennan Manning was basically a heretic, and that I probably shouldn’t read it because I was easily confused. I was rebellious enough to insist I had the wisdom to discern truth from error, but inwardly terrified I’d be led astray. I skimmed it, then promptly reported to the authorities that they were absolutely right and should I throw the book in the trash now?
This time I actually read it.
Manning delves deep into the relentlessness of God’s love. He reminds the reader how small, broken, and messed up we are, ragamuffins all, and how only those who embrace their own innate neediness can be open to the unfathomable love of God. I know there are many who feel Manning is a bit of an extremist when it comes to the overwhelming nature of God’s grace, but I found his book refreshing and beautiful. Though, I also don’t feel the need to agree 100% with everything I read in a book in order to find it encouraging or enlightening.
The church culture of my youth was your stereotypical hellfire and brimstone kind of church. I wasn’t truly introduced to the idea of a compassionate God who relentlessly loved me until I met my husband and began to study the Bible with him. I think that’s what made the experience of reading this book so moving, especially with its timing on my personal journey. The heavy discouragement I’ve experienced in the past year has made this reminder of my position before Abba like a cup of tea after a long winter’s walk.
“On the last day when Jesus calls me by name, ‘Come, Brennan, blessed of my Father,’ it will not be because Abba is just, but because His name is mercy.”
~ Brennan Manning, The Ragamuffin Gospel
I haven’t been well since I got pregnant. I am currently waiting for my endocrinologist to clear me for gallbladder surgery. The idea that I require clearance for surgery is still hard for me to believe. It feels like pregnancy ripped my body to pieces. For months now my first thought upon waking is, “how much of today will I have to spend in bed.”
I’m so tired of being sick.
I am perpetually afraid of becoming a burden to the people I love, so this season of needing constant rest and assistance is both an emotional and physical strain. My husband is falling down under the weight of my needs, and for all I know so are all the other people I reach to for help. I keep pulling back and telling myself “No, don’t call them, you can do it.” I try. I fail. I end up back in bed, alone with my self loathing, until my depression gets heavy and dark.
During one of my depressive episodes, I sat down with my sister-in-law and told her a dream I’d had earlier that day. I dreamed I overheard everyone discussing how draining I was and how they wished I wasn’t part of the family. I slipped away, devastated that Tim’s family had rejected me, just like my own. I sought out my husband, but he was too involved in his seminary work to comfort me.
I don’t know if she could tell how broken I was, that I was low enough to wonder how much truth there was in my dream. She looked me in the eye and said, “That is direct attack from the Devil, Rachel. Don’t believe it.” She reminded me of how he wants to discourage us, to steal our reasons to hope, and keep us from turning to the God who loves us.
I don’t know where this path of suffering is going to lead me or my family. I don’t know when it is going to end. Finding meaning in all this pain has been a daily battle. But maybe I’m not meant to know the whys right now.
Hope is bigger than whys.
Hope is beyond the mess of my every day. Hope stands beyond my health, my family, my husband’s job, where I am living or if I ever have another baby.
Hope is that I will see my Savior’s face. Hope is that He loves me here in my bed, even when I’m so depressed I turn from the life He gave me. Hope is that He prays for me, even when I’m too angry to pray myself. Hope is that He embraces me, even when I’m too weak to crawl into His arms.
Facebook memories are one of many garbage notifications I get on my phone. Why do I need to remember that article I posted a link to back in 2010, or one of three hundred book memes that I liked, shared and posted.
Over a week ago, a photo from 2015 popped up in the feed. It was my feet and the screen of my laptop in front of a window that looked down onto a snow covered lawn. The caption read, “Writing at the library.”
Nostalgia choked me, not for this moment specifically, but for the time in my life it represented.
Our life on Young’s Drive is enshrined in my memory as ideal. Rarely a day goes by when I don’t compare my now life with life then and feel deprived of something beautiful. The apartment, the town, the pace of life. Those Friday nights, just Tim and I, curled up on the floor with paper plates covered in take out, a board game spread out between us. Evening walks, and hours spent reading and writing and sitting in my favorite library.
Every walk we take is not like the ones down Corcoran street. Every library I visit is not organized properly. Every meal we cook, every game we play, every day I live is not as lovely as…
I lowered my phone, letting the sunlight framed memories slide away and looked over at my sleeping daughter. Downstairs, I could hear my in-laws voices, indistinct but comforting, like the warm smell of a fireplace floating in the winter air. My husband was asleep next to me. The house began to settle and still around me until all I could hear was the sounds of my two love’s breathing and my fingers clicking softly as I typed.
Perhaps it’s because I’ve been sick for so long, all these days I’ve spent depressed and disheartened, I’ve been reaching for what seemed a perfect time to erase all the pain and exhaustion of my current life, falling to a point so low that I actually look forward to seeing my daily Facebook Memories notification.
But Young’s Drive wasn’t perfect. I was locked in a codependent relationship that sapped my marriage. I felt like an outcast in my church, and went to sleep every night feeling like something was missing from my life, something more than just the empty bedroom that was supposed to hold in it the baby we lost.
Now is different with blessings and pain all it’s own, but what I would miss out on most if I were to trade then for now is the wealth of personal and spiritual growth I’ve gone through to reach this place. And though this time of pain and sickness is not yet over, God never promised us comfort in this world.
…I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. …For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. (Romans 8:18-23 ESV)
Yesterday may be worth remembering, but it’s not worth sacrificing today’s blessings and even sufferings for it’s sake. I’m going to count my now blessings, and put aside then as well as my fears for tomorrow. For my hope is beyond all this and today is enough.
Pardon for sin, and a peace that endureth, Thine own dear presence to cheer and to guide, Strength for today, and bright hope for tomorrow, Blessings all mine with 10,000 beside. Great is Thy Faithfulness, Great is Thy Faithfulness, Morning by morning new mercies I see. All I have needed Thy hand hath provided. Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord unto me.
The days leading up to it were crazy. At one point I said to Tim, “This whole thing is reminding me why I wanted to elope.”
January 13th came and my stomach was in knots. My husband told me it was just my sympathy nerves, but I think there was also a fear that something would go wrong, that it might not be special enough for the sister I love.
Now I’m standing on the other side, trying to describe what it was like. All I’m getting is a picture of her face. Jess. Simple, beautiful, loving, selfless, God honoring, Jess. I’ve become convinced that the reason she is all I see is because the day was like her. Simple, beautiful, full of love and generosity, and, above all, focused on Jesus Christ.
The ceremony vacillated from solemn to joyful. The bride and groom randomly giggled, their joy was so effervescent. As the vows started, Jessica passed her bouquet back to Deborah to have her hands free, and got caught in a snippet of conversation. Winston was already speaking his vows, and the room erupted in laughter when he tugged Jessica back.
As Dad spoke the words that would end the ceremony, I watched Winston’s eyes widen in disbelief. He mouthed something that looked a lot like, “Wait, that’s it?” as though he couldn’t believe they were now actually married. The two of them began to laugh again.
Dad furrowed his brow, “What’s funny?”
Winston shook his head. “Nothing.”
“Oh.” Dad shrugged. “I thought I said something funny and didn’t know it. That happens sometimes.”
Thus two families became one, and love swung its arms around us all. Love that originated in Austin, Texas, where God began to write the story of Jessica Svendsen and Winston Terry.
The day was a together-happiness that began and ended with praise and worship to Jesus Christ. He wrapped us all in his embrace, a new family here on earth and a forever family in Him.
Congratulations, Mr. and Mrs. Winston Terry. I love you both. ❤
When the new year looms in December people begin to reevaluate how they spent the past year. We look over the good and bad and decide what needs to change. I think what turned me off to New Years Resolutions was hearing too many people say something like, “Okay, so I really need to stop kicking baby goats. Oh look! January is two weeks away. I can kick a few more goats between now and midnight January first, but then I’ll stop for good.”
The idea of “new year, fresh start” is lovely, but every day is a fresh start and every moment you’re breathing an opportunity to try again. Why procrastinate addressing your bad habits if you know it needs to change now. Personally, I stopped doing New Years Resolutions and switched to setting yearly goals. This gives me a years worth of time to break my habits so I don’t have to hate myself when, one week into the new year, I’ve screwed up my diet and have to start over.
I started this new practice in 2015 by writing my 2016 goals down in my journal and dove into the year with gusto. Unfortunately, I made my goals unachievable by overloading myself. When December 31st came I was pregnant, flat on my back, and desperate to keep fluids down. I thought, If pregnancy is going to be this difficult, I’d better make my goals smaller, so I won’t end2017 feeling like such a failure. I made two goals for the year: 1) live through pregnancy 2) spend more time with God.
Unless this post has been literally ghostwritten, I lived through pregnancy (HURRAY! *throws confetti*). In reality my survival of pregnancy was never in question (though at the time it felt touch and go) so that goal was like those already completed items you put on your “to-do” list just so you can tick them off. This means I really only had one goal.
And to be honest, I flunked it.
It’s arguable that any time is more time, but that wasn’t what I meant. I have always fought against myself to have regular daily time spent on my personal relationship with God. Pregnancy was hard and exhausting, motherhood equally so. I feel like I’ve been non-stop sick since I was three weeks pregnant. It’s frustrating and humiliating and all the more reason to fall into the arms of my creator and father. But I didn’t, not really.
So December 31st rolls past and I’ve failed again, failed to even do the equivalent of a weekly 20 minute phone call to the God who loves me more than I can understand.
Two days later, I’m thinking it over, and the hot tight sensation of panic starts to settle into my chest. I realize I’ve stopped caring. I’ve given up and just don’t care about anything of eternal weight. I’m too tired, frustrated, and drained from everything I’ve been through in 2017. I had so many moments in the past four months where I didn’t even want my next breath that I’ve forgotten the value of time. The panic attack starts. My mind is on fire with self loathing and pity. I wanted to wake my pastor-to-be husband and have him pray over my wayward, sinful self so that I could find hope and salvation.
Then I remembered why I didn’t make New Years Resolutions.
My yearly goal method had become the same limping cop-out that I rolled my eyes at in other people. I was chain smoking my way to midnight with an “I’ll fix it tomorrow” attitude. Tomorrow I’ll spend time with God. Tomorrow I’ll pray. Tomorrow I’ll start reading my Bible. Tomorrow, when I’m less exhausted, less sick, less frustrated, less depressed.
Tomorrow when I have less time.
I stopped waiting. I prayed:
You know I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired. You know I’ve a list of bad habits that could circumnavigate the globe, but I’m here now. Forgive me. I know we’re going to have to do this again, maybe even tomorrow, but you just keep waking me up to what matters. It doesn’t matter if I have to fight through 365 panic attacks this year if at the end of every one we talk until I fall asleep. At least then I’ll have spent more time alone with you.
I had a frank conversation with the God who loves me, the most important relationship in my life that I’d been neglecting. I didn’t wake my husband to do it for me. I stopped and right then spent time alone with God.
I resolved to start over, and immediately did. And that’s what I’m going to keep doing until I get it right, even if I’m doing it with each breath for the rest of my life.
Tah-Dah! We are twenty weeks people (twenty-one by the time this posts), and therefore halfway through this thing called pregnancy!
My morning sickness is almost completely gone! I’m finally starting to gain weight. I stuff my face with spinach, eggs, and avocados. I still have an aversion to butter (most dairy actually), toast, and white flour tortillas.
Last Monday, Timothy and I went for the BIG ultrasound. They call it an Anatomy Scan, and they measured and checked out our baby from her adorable head to her sweet little toes. She’s healthy and beautiful and I’m on target for my due date of August 18th.
Even before I met Timmy, whenever I pictured my future family there was always a little girl there. I pictured boys too, sometimes lots of them, but even in a family with 6 kids, there was always at least one little girl. Sometimes she was fair, sometimes dark, sometimes with blonde curls, sometimes with two brown plaits laying against her shoulders. She was sporty. She was a fairy princess. Her nails were dirty from digging up worms. She hated mud and slime. No matter what form she took, she refused to leave my imagination.
I had a laundry list of worries walking into that ultrasound, but the one that upset me the most was, “what if it’s not a girl.” Yes, it mattered more to me that the heart and brain and feet and hands were all looking healthy and strong. I say “upset me,” because I didn’t want the baby’s gender to matter to me at all. I prayed so many times, “God, just let me not care. Please, give me peace.”
Looking back, I think he answered that prayer the first time around. I think he was telling me, “Rachel, stop worrying, because I’m giving you your girl,” but I was too scared to believe that it was His voice speaking and not just my own desires. My mother-in-law later said to me, “Maybe God gave you that desire, because he wanted you to have it.” God didn’t have to give me my little girl. He chose to. He has control over the whole cosmos, and knew which soul to put in my womb because he has a purpose for her life.
One of the wacky theological teachings I heard a lot growing up was a kind of “be careful what you ask God for,” strain of belief. Ask God for patience, He’ll give you trials. Ask God for contentment, He’ll burn your house to the ground. But the HUGE thing always missing from these sermons was the truth that God isn’t sitting on his throne rubbing his hands together with glee because you’ve asked for the wrong thing, like a cosmic genie who grants your wish for a million dollars by handing you your loved one’s life insurance policy. True, ugly things will happen to us, but as I learned through my miscarriage, by His grace those ugly moments are never too much to bear.
Whatever he takes, he replaces. Sometimes materially, sometimes with more of Himself. Either way, he will satisfy.
I prayed for God to take away my desire for a girl or to change my desire to meet his plans for my life. He answered my prayer. He kept my desire there, strong as ever, and waited for me to take hold of the peace he offered me because of the ernest nature of my prayers. I never took that peace, but at least now I’ve got the lesson.
While my pregnancy was a planned pregnancy, it was still a shock to me. I just figured it wouldn’t happen when it did, and while it’s still overwhelming at times, it’s become just another one of those times in my life where I can see how perfect God’s plans are when we submit to his will.
First: My Crazy First Trimester
I mean, I was sick for my first pregnancy, but all these people kept saying to me that what I was feeling “wasn’t normal.” Since they never specified what part of it was so abnormal, I guess I just assumed that a heathy baby would be less horrible to carry. As wrong as I was, the miracle of it all was the impeccable timing of my bedridden stage. My morning sickness began the week of finals, but most of my finals were papers I’d already drafted and merely needed to hand in. After that I had the entirety of winter break to do nothing but rest and vomit.
Second: Returning to school
The oncoming spring semester was looming in the background like the malevolent flaming eye of Sauron. Every day that I spent laying in bed, incapable of anything more than watching Shawn the Sheep, the soft voice of anxiety whispered, “And how do you think you’re going to manage that?”
My early religious education emphasized the idea that once you’re a wife or mother the Bible allows for you to be nothing else. I’ve come to believe this as not accurate Biblical teaching, but I wrestled with what I was supposed to do next. Was God trying to tell me through illness that being a wife and mother was all he wanted from me?
No longer wishing to blindly follow the teaching from my youth, I prayed that God would make it clear what he wanted from me: finish my degree or quit for the baby. Maybe he’d let me finish my degree later, who knew? Only Him, and I just needed to know clearly what step to take next, one semester at a time.
There were so many times when I was leaning over the toilet bowl with Tim rubbing my back when I’d gasp out the words, “I think I should drop all my classes.” Tim, ever patient, ever wise, always said, “Just wait and see. There’s still time. Just wait.”
I waited. I saw. God provided me just the right amount of miraculous strength I needed to get to every class. Even the week before my first day I was too sick to go, but despite the fact I was still throwing up to and from school, and napping on a foam mattress between my classes, I have remained on my 15 credit class schedule.
And Tim? Well, who could expect him to be anything but my guardian angel. He walked me to all my classes, carried my books, and for several weeks sat right outside the door to my class in case I needed any help, even though it made his butt fall asleep. Speaking of blessings from God, let’s not forget the man I wake up next to every morning. Him. Always. ❤
Third: The Due Date
The baby is due August 18, 2017. Even if I go late, I will still give birth this summer, before classes can start for next semester.
Fourth: Online Classes
One night, just out of curiosity, I looked over my degree evaluation at WPU to see what else I needed to graduate on time. The idea of returning to school with a two week old infant in tow is daunting, even if your husband doesn’t mind looking after him while you’re in class. I worried if it would even be healthy for the little one.
As I looked through what I needed to graduate, I saw a lot of online courses being offered. I grabbed a notepad and began to jot down courses. Soon, I had over 7 online course options I could take in the fall, all of which were perfect for keeping me on track to graduate Spring of 2018. I now fully believe that God will allow me to take most if not all of my courses online for my first semester after giving birth. My heart nearly burst with thanksgiving for this.
Fifth: Our Living Situation
I’ve never really been in close contact to infants before, except for bits of exposure during my time working the nursery at church. Basically, I’m terrified, and given my penchant for panic attacks and overreacting due to my struggle with anxiety disorder, I know that I’ll be as neurotic as any three new mothers locked in a dark tight space for 48 hours.
First on the emergency contact list will (of course) be my dear husband, eldest of 7 and widely recognized “baby hog.” His relatives know that when they bring their little one into the room, my husband will make puppy eyes at whomever is holding the baby until somebody lets him settle down with the little one so he can snuggle and play with it.
But if even he should fail to calm me and the infant (both of us probably screaming), we will still be living with his mother, grandmother of my child and veteran parent of 7 children. Honestly, watching my husband’s parents raise the two little ones at home (6yrs and 10yrs) has grown me tremendously. Their grace and patience is something I pray I’ll have in my parenting, and it is truly a privilege to watch. If I could be half the mother Mrs. Svendsen is, my children will never suffer for love and acceptance, the two things I found most lacking in my own childhood.
I will have one full year under her roof, blessed by her wisdom and tutelage before my husband and I pack up and move across the country for him to complete his seminary training.
There is too much perfection in all the timing of this baby for me not to step back, look up and say, “Thank you Lord. Thank you so much.” ❤