Tag Archives: life

Ink Blots (Part 1 of 3): The Art of Focusing

Ink Blots Ink blots

It is suggested that when we are born, our visual acuity is about eighteen inches. This focal capacity is quite significant, since that is approximately the distance from a baby’s gaze (as they are cradled in someone’s arms) to the face of the one holding them. Not until a few months old, does a baby develop the ability to focus on something farther. Is there really a need to see long distance any sooner? Babies are completely dependent on another to keep them alive, fed and not alone outside of the womb – focusing on the face of someone who is ensuring their success to thrive (up close and personal) seems pretty intuitive. If you have ever held a newborn, you may be well aware of how they stare at you, as if peering into your soul. Maybe they are. Babies have been documented to prefer looking at soft lines of facial features, loving expressions and gentle emotional cadences. Every culture has been observed to care for their infants in similar manners – with sweet sing-song voices and tender glances. A stern or even apathetic facial gesture equates, for the infant, a relational disconnect has occurred. Babies will either look away to search for a more comforting focal point or initiate their own gestures directly to elicit reconnection. It may seem ironic for me, a visually impaired person, to be discussing focusing facts. Yet, whether fully sighted or not, we are all wired to focus. All of our senses have the capability to perceive things – visible and invisible. At least, our senses want to, including our “sixth sense”.

Within the womb, we were already trying to make sense of sounds and movements – what seems pleasant, harsh, safe and unsafe. Throughout our life, this interpretative art becomes either stunted or more sophisticated, influenced by environment, experiences etc. We consciously and unconsciously focus our attention on the world around us and within us to create an identity that includes not only our own self-concept but also a social construct that then dictates how we think and behave. It’s all quite complex to explain here…but then again, it can be very simple. In the 1920s, Herman Rorschach developed a tool to simplify this process of understanding who we are and how we “see’ the world. His Inkblot Test became a methodic means of determining the well-being or psychosis of someone’s mental status. Projection is one of many ways we assign meaning to life. How we see, hear, feel, taste and smell something outside ourselves can reveal dynamics occurring inside of us. Our memories of prior experiences can become relevant to current happenings. The past can persuade us to accept or dismiss something not based on its present authenticity but on our prior experiences with something else and may continue to impact future encounters. It becomes necessary to learn how to focus on the big picture as well as the scene playing out in front of us. This is easier said than done. It’s like listening to a symphony and trying to pick out each individual instrument while the song swoons along with all sorts of melodies and harmonies. What’s more important to focus on – the part or the whole? Is it even possible to focus on both “A” and “Not A” at the same time?

In this age of a gizllion buzzing signals and 24/7 access to worldwide information, ADD is inevitable. Our attention is practically sabotaged to malfunction and disengage quickly. Looking away is not only our knee jerk reaction, it is expected. Social psychologists are discovering that despite our constant bombardment of social media resources and connections, failure to thrive is not just a condition reserved for infancy anymore. Our brains and souls are looking at abstractions and charactures of life and so desperately trying to make sense of the mess we are faced with. Fatigue to keep trying sets in. We want to give up, shut down our senses altogether. We forget that we have the freedom to re-focus our attention on something/someone consistent and life giving. Amid the din of this world, God is still speaking to us, showing us visions of joy, offering us a banquet table to feast at and be held by eternal arms of love. The beauty of this kind of attention is that God knew how easily distracted humanity got a long time ago – that‘s why He sent Jesus in the form of humanity. Jesus provided our whole being with the ability to regain our focusing skill by becoming part of us. God’s Spirit now remains with us to guide, discern and redeem all that we experience. It can seem absolutely over-whelming, over-stimualting at times; but God is the ultimate resource to restore our strength to endure. When the apostle Peter walked on the water with Jesus, he began to sink when he looked away. His focus on Jesus was his life line, perceiving that it was completely because of Jesus that such miracle could occur. As Peter sank, Jesus attended to Peter immediately, hearing Peter’s cry and grabbing his hand. Now that is focus! Though we look away, God never does. And He is an arm’s reach away. He reaches for us and holds us up even when we can’t. We are no longer infants, but there is still an intimate embrace that can occur for us to know that we are cared for – “knowing”, not in the intellectual sense, but in the primitive place inside us that is looking for something/someone to trust to keep us alive and thriving.

References:

  1. Jamie dresses up as a psycho-therapist; photo by Sylvia Martinez 2002 (Halloween)
  2. Pregnancy, Childbirth and the Newborn by Penny Simkin
  3. Infant and Early Childhood Mental Health: A Comprehensive, Developmental Approach to Assessment and Intervention by Stanley Greenspan
  4. The Inkblot Test; Herman Rorschach

I See You

I see you

“Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, and in our likeness…God saw all that He had made, and it was very good.”  Genesis 1:26a, 31a

Throughout the ages, specifically since the age of Enlightenment, there has been much discussion and doubt surrounding the above statements from Genesis. Regarding its literal legitimacy, did God really speak all of creation into existence and did He really see it from some sort of ethereal perspective and evaluate its worth to be special? One may also ask, what relevance does such reality have anyway with daily life, whether or not the story of Genesis is literally or figuratively perceived? The way we see God seeing us makes or breaks our connection with all of life every day – how we value life, each other and circumstances each day. There is a legit significance to grappling with these verses in Genesis, not only in how we can come to understand our historical beginnings but also our poetic beauty, our reflective genius of the Poet Himself and what the poem will look like in the future.

Dr. Carol Kaminsky has made this exploration her life’s work. As an Old Testament scholar, she has looked closely at the Hebrew text with eyes that seek to discover the truth about who God really is and who we really have been created to be. She has outlined her research and contemplation in a timeline entitled CASKET EMPTY. She begins with the (C)reation story according to Genesis. She notes how the structure of the text repeatedly details that “God said” and “God saw”. Kaminsky details how believing in a God that speaks and sees connotes a relationship has been established. More poignantly, God wants to be heard, He wants us to see how special He sees us. After all, the way we see ourselves is a reflection of how we see God – we reflect God’s image. He reserved a superscripted way of speaking and seeing us when He created us. In the first chapter of Genesis, all God had made up to the final phase, before creating humanity, was seen and declared to be “good”. As the Genesis story unfolds, God created a man from the same stuff the preceding creation was formed from; but also added something extra special – His breath. Only after creating humanity did God add “very” to how He described the goodness of what He had made. In Kaminsky exposition of the ancient words, she underscores that the Hebrew term translated “good” is the declarative equivalent to “awesome”. That means when God made us and looked at us, He said aloud that we are pretty awesome! Do we see and say out loud how beautifully awesome God is for His creative genius?

Paul Tripp recently released a new book simply entitled Awe. Because we reflect God’s likeness and He sees and calls us awesome, Tripp writes that likewise we are capable of looking back at God and declaring His awesomeness. However, we are prone to look away. Tripp notes, “Awe is everyone’s life long pursuit. Where we look for awe will shape the direction of our life. Our source of awe will control our decisions and the course of our stories.” We so easily get distracted by the things we make – even the things we make in “our image”. We displace the connection God wants to have with us to other created things. This disconnect has had gross ramifications.

Wendell Berry, author and poet, adheres to a similar life perspective of our ubiquitous significance in this world. He suggests that we have a responsibility (the ability to respond because of how we were created) to care for not only the world in which we live, but for each other as well. In doing so, we acknowledge our Creator with awe. He advocates that these two aspects of care are not mutually exclusive but actually reflect our innate make-up; it reflects our Maker. He has written many poems, essays and books that explore where and how we have honored our original intent. He also speaks boldly about where and how we have grossly dishonored our Creator and, in turn, creation. In his book, Life Is A Miracle, he doesn’t mince words about how industrialism has not brought about “progress” in revealing a better world and a better humanity. In the midst of our modern societal focus, he notes how we have deceived ourselves in thinking that industry has liberated us from antiquated ways of living – that we can see the future more clearly by building bigger buildings, larger economies and faster methods of getting “there”. He speaks openly about “the displaced person” in terms of people being replaced with objects of our own creation – not unlike what we did to God, replacing Him with objects of our own design that see or speak as we program them to. There is no relationship; at least, there is no relationship present in the way God intended.

So where do we go from here? How do we live in the reality of what was meant to be? Jesus declared while He was here on earth that He had come to “open the eyes of the blind” (Luke 4:18). He spoke these words in both a literal and metaphoric perspective. God never stopped looking at us, though He altered his assessment of our situation to be in bad shape and that is why He sent Jesus – to refocus our ability to see God again; and, in turn, see how He truly made us. I find it to be my default mode to see and declare myself a loser, a failure and complete mess. But God is so gracious to get my attention over and over to remind me that I am awesome, because He is awesome. I can see His hands still molding me. I see His creation in all its glory glorifying Him as well as groaning for Him to restore, once and for all the destruction cause by us not caring for it the way God has cared for us (Romans 8:22). So we need to keep looking for ways to care about our earth and each other in the way God envisioned; and we also need to keep looking for Jesus’ return. Can you see the seasons changing? They are declaring that the time is near…

References:

  1. Kaia; photo by Jamie Wasson 2001
  2. CASKET EMPTY by Dr. Carol Kaminsky
  3. Awe by Paul David Tripp
  4. Life Is A Miracle by Wendell Berry

It’s Not Fair

Not Fair

“Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life. It is costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner. Above all, it is costly because it cost God the life of his Son: “ye were bought at a price,” and what has cost God much cannot be cheap for us. Above all, it is grace because God did not reckon his Son too dear a price to pay for our life, but delivered him up for us. Costly grace is the Incarnation of God.”  Dietrich Bonhoeffer

I don’t think it’s possible for any kid to make it through childhood and adolescence without voicing, at least once, the infamous assessment of life: “It’s not fair”. These three little words sum up so much. Saying this seems to be a rite of passage or developmental milestone that proves an accurate awareness has taken place of what the world is like, what we are like. This declaration of injustice seems to be further articulated by asking questions that begin with “Why?” For the average youngster, it may be as benign as asking “Why is his piece of cake bigger than mine,” or “Why can’t I stay up later?” And at some point for the conscious child, pouty faces and stomping feet accompany the experience of realizing how life is filled with disappointments and disenfranchised existence. As we grow up, we focus our attention on more intense areas of suffering and inequalities. Our outbursts of emotion can also become more intense. We wage wars to fight what’s not fair and to right the wrongs that we observe have occurred for ourselves and/or others. Is that the best way to respond?

Since I can remember, my dad has always offered the same response to my whiny utterances of what felt unfair. He’d say something like, “Not fair? Jesus died for our sins. That’s not fair”. Huh? As a kid, I would wonder what Jesus’ death had to do with me not getting more cake or not getting to stay up later. Yet, the profound simplicity of the statement “Jesus died for our sins” had its intended impact and instilled in me as a wee lass that my life is abundantly blessed because of the mere fact that Jesus died for our sins. Who cares that I didn’t get extra cake or an extended bedtime – I didn’t get death for not following all the rules all the time! The rules (or boundaries) God put in place for life were for our benefit to protect us from what is really not fair. The worst kind of injustice was resolved on the cross; and Christ’s resurrection empowers us to help others who are overwhelmed by the injustice that sin has wrought in the world.  God’s victorious gift of grace has often quieted my restless spirit and enabled me to willingly share my blessings with others, not just materially but also mindfully. Sure, in my early years, there were plenty rolled eyes at my dad, slammed doors and huff and puff mumblings about how mean my parents were. Though, as I’ve grown up, I’ve come to an increasingly deeper appreciation of this redemptive reality – Jesus died for my sins.

The implications of this kind of redemption, knowing that Jesus died for our sins, mean all of us possess an equal existence of needing grace. When Jesus preached about the golden rule while he walked this earth, he spoke to the core of his own mission – love others the way you would want to be loved, the way you have been loved, despite whatever you’ve done or have not done to deserve it. Can I love someone even if it is unfair? More specifically, can I love life even when I don’t get what I want? It is fair to say that there is much injustice in the world, in each other’s lives, that requires us to at some point let go of what is comfortable or coveted so that the discomfort and debt of others can be relieved – to more accurately reflect the shared value we all have. This is what it means to love as Christ loved us. Easier said than done though. But, the more I can comprehend the grace God has given to me, the more I am capable to extend it to others. I wonder what the world would be like if we all lived this way – what kinds of suffering would be eradicated; what hunger would be satisfied; what wars would cease? Alas, life is filled with injustice everywhere I look – this merely means there are always opportunities for me to love. I have no excuse – I only have grace to rely on to work in me and through me to prove how we are equally and eternally loved by God.

References:

  1. It’s not fair; pen and ink drawing by Jamie Wasson 1990
  2. The Cost of Discipleship; Dietrich Bonhoeffer
  3. The Jesus I Never Knew; Phillip Yancey

Face Forward

Lost and Found

 “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift all of you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.”  Luke 22:31 – 32

The heavy sound of old rusty metal scraped along the ground as the gate opened. The high tone of intersecting locks clinked and harmonized a dissident refrain, as the latch closed the gate behind her. She silently stood there and waited. It was almost noon and the summer sun made no apologies about its heat. Sweat had already formed on her brow.

“Face forward,” the guard instructed. These two words merely informed the prisoner what to do, not who to be. Today was different, though. This phrase had been repeated so often in her ears – years of hearing it instinctually made her react. She turned. But instead of seeing the long narrow hallways of the prison that had led her in and out of her cell block or day room or showers, she saw in front of her a parking lot and the big stone main gatehouse. The highway was accessible just a mile or so from there. She had entered through that gate to where she stood today, eighteen years ago – to remove her from the world as she knew it…or to remove the world as she knew it from her? It was a coin toss. She thought about this irony and smiled slightly, knowing her pockets were empty. She spent her last penny on the outfit she currently wore, which she had bought to wear for her release day.

She sighed, as the flashbacks started to fill her mind. She knew those memories would remain with her as long as she lived. Yet, she was determined to keep learning how not to let them haunt her. Something, indeed, was dead the first time she entered through the gate into the prison compound. She was found guilty for a capital crime that she did not deny committing. She was sentenced to twenty-five years. Her prison time was calculated according to her age and offense. She was tried as an adult; after all she had just turned eighteen. Ironically though, she had felt so childlike, but the courts didn’t care about that. She had no family to care about her either back then; at least, not the healthy kind that could solve problems without making more of a mess. She closed her eyes and sighed again. As she inhaled, she thought about the fresh air she breathed. She heard the swooning sound of the cicadas, and thought about them trying to find their mates to ensure something about them would live to another season. What was this new season for her going to look like? Did it matter that she was free now? She felt so alone. The air she breathed today was the same air that surrounded the prison the day before. The locusts in the trees were the same locusts she had heard yesterday, as she laid in her bunk thinking about how hot it was, just like today’s temp.

Then she opened her eyes and saw a car drive through the main gate and make its way around the perimeter of the parked cars to pull up to the place where she stood. The restless feeling inside her chest eased a bit. She sighed a third time, smiled widely and her eyes began to tear.

“They came,” she thought. Had she doubted? Maybe a little. The triggers were real and heartache would always be part of her life, regardless of whatever side of the prison gate she found herself.  Her parents pulled up a few feet from where she stood. Her dad was driving and put the car in park, leaving the blinkers on. Her mom got out first. These folks were not her birth parents. Her birth parents had died while she was in; though they had abandoned her before she ever went in anyway. The people that came to greet her now had helped give birth to her spirit. They started visiting from the local church a decade and a half ago, and an important connection was made – the kind of love and attention she had never known, always wanted to know. As her “mom” stepped out of the car and walked towards her, she felt a foolish blush come over her, as she thought about her doubt that they would come for her.

Her mom seemed to sense her moment of weakness and smiled as any loving mother would. “Did you think we forgot about you?” her mom noted, less as a question and more as a reassurance that her fears were not un-noticed. “We got stuck in traffic for whatever reason. But here we are!” her mom announced. Her mom embraced her tightly and they lingered in that pose for a few moments. They were allowed to now; since during visitation, quick hugs were mandatory.

Her dad, she had come to appreciate, was the strong silent type. He simply stepped up, put one arm around her, kissed her on the forehead and said, “Let’s go”.

She turned back to look at the guard. It was such a reflex. He nodded and said “Walk on”. Then he added, “God bless”. Her eyes scanned the concrete facade of the correctional facility that had been her home for what seemed a lifetime.

“Yep,” she thought, “what a blessing it’s all been.” She wasn’t just thinking about her parole that she had prayed would come for the past five years, but her entire incarceration experience was its own blessing in disguise. She had arrived there so long ago, dead inside and feeling like she was being buried. She was initially convinced that any sort of “living” was not possible within those walls. But she would soon come to find out what resurrection really meant. Feeling dead, discarded and alone were lies; and she had learned, while she was imprisoned, what it meant to be alive for real, loved unconditionally and acknowledged as something special. She committed her time in to learning how to serve others with the same compassion that was shown to her. How would she show it now? She was still committed to finding the right path to serve best.

She got in the back seat of her God-parents old Buick and belted herself in. Her dad looked at the center rear view mirror at her.

“Ready?” he asked.

She looked at him and then shifted her gaze to look through the windshield towards the gatehouse. “Yes,” she said. She did not look back. This intentional gesture felt significant.

“I think taking the back roads will be best, rather than the highway,” her dad said. “We’ll take the scenic route,” he added, looking back at her via the mirror again.

She faced forward and replied, “Okay”.

References:

  1. Lost and Found; oil painting by Sylvia Martinez 2015
  2. Prodigal God by Tim Keller
  3. Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson
  4. Cain’s Redemption by Dennis Shere
  5. Learn about Face Forward Re-entry Program; Volunteers of America

Wait, what?

Cathedral

Life is ironic. Trying to figure it out can be like looking through a kaleidoscope. Just when you think you’ve found some grounded perspective on what it’s all about, the world turns (as it always does every day) and changes the scene altogether. How do we make sense of it? Since the onset of humanity’s capacity to communicate, we’ve been trying to express our insight on the subject. Some of my favorite lines from literature are found within the pages of children’s books. Trying to articulate life in a way children can understand can be daunting; but such prose provide an accessible surmise of what matters and/or doesn’t, depending on one’s vantage point.

During my college days as a philosophy student, I well remember sitting in philosophical lectures all day and, by the end of the day, feeling like my head might spontaneously combust. I’d stumble back to my campus apartment in an intellectual stupor and lie on the couch to recuperate. I’d pull a children’s book off of the shelf to flip through and debrief from the day. Simply looking at the pictures told a story or, at least, offered a pre-verbal foundation to begin conceptualizing what life is really about. The irony of life is that it requires imagination to understand what is real; it also requires questions to arrive at an answer; it requires investment to appreciate its value, and it requires enduring love to utilize it in a profitable manner. How do we communicate these  metaphysical factors to children? One of my most beloved passages that sums this up so beautifully comes from a children’s book that I found years ago at a yard sale:

“What is REAL?” asked the Rabbit one day, when they were lying side by

side near the nursery fender, before Nana came to tidy the room. “Does

it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?”

“Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that

happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just

to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.”

“Does it hurt?” asked the Rabbit.

“Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. “When

you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.”

“Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,” he asked, “or bit

by bit?”

“It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse. “You become. It

takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who

break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept.

Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved

off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very

shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are

Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”

“I suppose you are real?” said the Rabbit. And then he wished he had

not said it, for he thought the Skin Horse might be sensitive. But the

Skin Horse only smiled.

– The Velveteen Rabbit

References:

  1. Salzburg Cathedral Ceiling; photo by Brian Wasson 2001
  2. The Velveteen Rabbit; by Margery Williams

The Rest of Our Life

Blossom2

“He’s got rest for the weary, peace for the confused, renewal for all the hearts that have been bruised. He’s got directions for the lost, faith for unbelief. He’s got every little thing you need.”  Greg and Rebecca Sparks

I was with a dear friend many moons ago, discussing a very difficult transition period she was going through at the time. She was saying goodbye to a long and challenging season of her life, trying to find hope to pursue something else (something healthier). I empathized with her heartache. She commented to me, “I just wish I knew what the rest of my life looked like.” We sat in silence for a few moments – her words resonated with me in a way that I did not expect. I repeated her hopeful words in my head, as my own hope too, “I wish I knew…the rest”. Then I said aloud to her, “Yes, we need to know what The Rest looks like”. At first, she didn’t understand my juxtaposition of her plea; but as we dialogued, we both soon came to a deeper place of peace in considering what “rest” really means.

The Rest of our life can certainly mean “the remainder or what’s next”. But if you read Psalm 23 from beginning to end, there is an ever present sense of being throughout the poetic text. I’d like to think that Psalm 23 (probably the most quoted psalm during significant and seminal moments) offers us the best summary of what The Rest of our life can look like. The reality of rest can also refer to “being restored, recovering strength, ceasing to work”. How often do we allow ourselves to reference “the rest of our life” in this way? How often do we allow the Lord to lead us – instead of our own attempts to rush ahead or even run back to what was before now. We can, in our own strength and stubbornness, try so hard to make things turn out the way we want them to. The first line of the epic psalm details, “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want” (Psalm 23:1). From the get-go, there is a sense of contentment and peace because of another’s provision. The psalmist, David, defines line after line of how God’s guidance and presence is with him through every season of life. Whatever occurs throughout life, David describes how God provides opportunities to rest, to be refreshed, to be strengthened, encouraged and to stop trying so hard. There is something so liberating in living in such reality – The Rest of my life can be found here and now. During any moment of a hectic or difficult day, I can find rest; I can have peace about where I am, who I am. I can take a deep breath (or two or three) and smile.

David ends his psalm by emphatically declaring “Surely, goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life…forever” (Psalm 23:6). The essence of rest is meant to be good. Yet, sometimes we find ourselves in a compromised place, as the result of our own mis-steps; we need a time out to regroup. That is when rest mercifully redirects us to find our footing again. As I so often declare, we are alive and loved and not alone…because the Lord is our Shepherd. What more do we want? The rest of life’s journey is best discovered walking along side of Jesus.

References:

  1. Blossom #2; fresco finger painting by Jamie Wasson 2012
  2. Res by Greg and Rebecca Sparks
  3. Life of the Beloved by Henri Nouwen

A Life Worth Living Again

hope

“The marvelous richness of human experience would lose something of rewarding joy if there were no limitations to overcome. The hilltop hour would not be half so wonderful if there were no dark valleys to traverse.”  Helen Keller
I recently witnessed a baby emerge from his mother’s womb. I am a birth doula, which is a fancy term for a professional support person who cheers on women and their families through the labor and delivery process and offers informational, emotional and physical support. I have assisted in dozens of births over the past four years and I never cease to be awestruck when a baby is born. As I watch such a momentous event take place, there are always at least a few tears that fill my eyes. I believe every birth is a miracle, no matter what the surrounding circumstances are; and I feel incredibly privileged to have a front row seat to see it occur. In fact, there are a few times when something so obviously synchronistic captivates me during the experience that I could easily start sobbing with overwhelming awe. My pre-emptive emotional gush could certainly be due to my extreme exhaustion, since some labors last a very long time and I get very little sleep…or it could also be the result of the residual hormonal release of o oxytocin that helps cultivate euphoria…but I’d like to believe that it is mostly an acute divine awareness that activates and compels me to acknowledge and celebrate the reality of life in all its beauty and scandal. This is how I have come to define resurrection, which is the best way of living that I can imagine. This most recent birth experience revealed this to me in a new way.

Resurrection is, indeed, a beautiful and scandalous experience. This provocative reality requires death in order for life to be re-born. Considering Jesus’ death and resurrection is certainly controversial; yet, I believe it is essential in making sense of life as well as enduring life with meaningful and triumphant purpose. I’m not going to attempt here to define or resolve the problem of pain (or why we die) in any over-simplified or sophisticated explanation. People have been doing this for millennia. Suffice to say, I am part of a long tradition of people trying to make sense of “why” and “why not”. Why does God allow pain to exist? Why not take it all away if God really is all-powerful? A beneficial book by Phillip Yancey explores the reality of pain and sums up the best question on the topic in its title: Where Is God When It Hurts? Such a desperate intrigue begs an answer, not from an existential perspective persay, but from a relational vantage point.

A similar question was asked and an explanation offered twenty five hundred years ago when Israel’s King David poetically penned Psalm 23. The first line defines God as a personal guide: “The Lord is my Shepherd (Psalm 23:1). From the start, a relationship is established. The identity and function of David’s Shepherd unfolds line by line to describe an ever-present and benevolent support. I am persuaded that any belief or description of God as anything less than good is not worth considering, let alone consulting. I must, from all starting points of understanding any part of life (its highs and lows), begin with the acknowledgment and acceptance that God is eternally good. Otherwise, I’m better off not believing in any such entity because it will only result in the worse kind of disappointment and disconnection. Death is the most disappointing and disconnecting experience. That is why God incarnated through Jesus came to earth. He lived a life not unlike our own – He was born, lived and even died, so that we never need say we are on our own. His resurrection is the everlasting reality that As a Good Shepherd, He walks with us through every aspect of our existence. His resurrection provides us the hope of life on the other side of obstacles as well as life after life – whether figuratively or literally. We can always overcome.

Pregnancy and birth are often used as metaphoric models of describing aspects of life’s journey. We wait. We mature. We suffer. We keep going. We think we won’t make it. We can’t take it anymore and then we turn the corner and we greet what we were waiting for. I have yet to birth my own children, but I have birthed a few life-transforming moments that came out of long suffering labors. A pastor told me in my twenties during a difficult phase of my life that “God does not waste pain”. I have come to embrace this promise, believing that God is good and He meant it when He created life and declared it to be “very good” (Genesis 1:31). I have sat on my couch, heart broken and beaten down by life’s disappointments and challenges, and have said aloud that “something good will be birthed out of this pain”. I take deep breaths and focus on that hope. That hope is its own healing – the expectancy of resurrection brings me peace to endure and press on.

During this most recent birth, the mama shared my faith in Jesus as something/someone special – a good Shepherd to help her along her journey. She selected a playlist of her favorite sacred songs to provide a sound track for her labor. Throughout her labor, they set a nice tone to the room and mindset with both peaceful or peppy melodies and lyrics like “You are my strength” and “I’ll never leave you alone” etc. At times, I would point out a line of a song to offer her encouragement. She smiled and sighed; and such sentiment seemed to resonate with her, as she notably had a peaceful resolve in her stature and movements. However, I did not anticipate how these songs would cycle during the delivery process to significantly offer encouragement to keep pushing onward. As each contraction surged and the baby began to emerge, she begged for relief. All she could really utter was “it hurts so much!” The doctor offered a few relief options, though she emphasized the most important option to consider was to just keep pushing because the baby would be born in a matter of minutes. So the mama kept pushing. Her husband placed the music by her head to see if that would offer reprieve. I’m not sure if she heard the song playing as she birthed her baby boy, since her efforts were very much focused on her task at hand. But I heard the song. It was an Easter themed song about resurrection, about Christ overcoming the grave and about how we, too, can live and thrive  because “He is alive”. I watched the mother in her agonizing attempts to birth her baby and heard her repeatedly cry “why does it hurt so much?” She also repeated that she couldn’t push anymore. As the song melody swelled to a climax and the lyrics reiterated the reality “He is alive”, I found myself in tune with both the mother’s longing for her labor to be over and the reality of how God endured pain to empower us to survive the valley and reach the mountain moment. I looked into that mother’s eyes and told her that not only was her husband, the staff, I and even her baby were with her to help her cross the finish line but most significantly that  God was with her. After a pause, I told her God purposefully brought her to this moment and placed the strength inside her to see it through to the other side. She took a deep breath and seemed to reach deep within to access that strength. She lifted her head and tucked her chin to her chest for a few final pushes and then the doctor placed her baby boy on her chest. The resurrection song played a few final measures and I thought I might start crying uncontrollably.

One of my favorite things about being part of this process with moms and families is watching the transformation on the mother’s face from before to after delivery. This birth was no different – I watched the mom’s face shift from intense distress and furrowed brow to a blissful glow of joy with softened lines and gaze. She sweetly greeted her little guy with gentle whispers of giddiness. Not unlike Mary did, as she stood outside Jesus’ grave that first Easter morning. The tomb became a womb and birthed a whole new reality for us to live life with renewed focus.  Resurrection keeps telling a story for me and is truly my inspiration to serve others – I love cheering people on to live like they are loved and are able to love deeply and can bring life into the world with joy that overflows and surpasses any and all grief.

Reference:

  1. Hope; pastel painting by Jamie Wasson 2010
  2. The Story of My Life by Helen Keller
  3. About Birth Doulas: DONA International
  4. Where is God when it Hurts? By Phillip Yancey
  5. Song: Forever by Kari Jobe 2014