The Miracle of Grace

Once upon a time there was a young family: a mom, a dad and a darling baby boy. The baby boy had blond curly hair, and was cute as a button. He was quite intelligent, a bundle of energy and very creative. The mother worried that he was an only child. She had Polycyistic Ovary Syndrome so it was very unlikely she would have another baby without major medical intervention. In fact, the boy had been a miracle — helped along by many fertility doctors and nurses through over a year and a half of fertility treatment, culminating in over a dozen shots of Metrodin, AIH, pregnancy, and birth of healthy baby boy!

Three years later. December. The mother and father discussed options. Because of insurance changes there was only one more chance to try the incredibly expensive Metrodin treatment. This time, however, no egg was fertilized. The parents were sad, but tried to accept that another child might not be in their future. They decided another Metrodin treatment was not what they wanted — no matter if the insurance ran out or not.

January. Not long after learning the fertility treatment had failed, the mother had a very vivid dream one night. There was a warm golden strongly comforting voice (no image) that said: “Get a house, lose some weight and the baby need will be solved. Also, remember the story of Abraham and Sarah.” That was it. There really wasn’t a “you will have a baby” message in the dream. The young mother was left with a feeling of peace and woke with a sense of determination — and with a specific plan of action!

February. Though getting pregnant seemed destined for the back burner, two “by chance” conversations at church led the mother to a new fertility doctor in a nearby town. Soon the couple and the new doctor were getting set to try a less expensive and less invasive approach to solve the fertility issues. Then, suddenly the doctor had to leave the country for a couple of months to take care of a family emergency, so the plans to try again to get pregnant were put off for a few months.

In the meantime, the young mother called a realtor (just a few days after having the dream) and started looking at houses. In just a few weeks, a home was found. The couple felt a sense of peace in the new house. Though the house was old, it had the feel of being the “right” place for them to live. This was the place for them create a home with their son. They would be happy there.

At the same time, the young mother (who had struggled with weight issues since her teen years) was inspired by Oprah’s Make the Connection book and managed to lose about 15 or 20 pounds in a couple of months. She got up early, went to the gym and worked out even when the college football or swim team guys were there! It wasn’t easy, of course, especially because of her PCOS, but she was making progress.

April. After the couple of months had passed, the young family had moved into their new “old” house and were getting settled. It was time to call the fertility doctor’s office to set up an appointment. Though it had been 6 or 7 weeks since her last cycle, the young mother knew she was not likely to be pregnant. Three different doctors had told her she would not get pregnant without major medical intervention. Since the mother had been through months and months of treatments, she knew the first thing the clinic would ask was “when was your last cycle?” and “did you take a pregnancy test?” She knew they would not start any fertility treatments until a negative pregnancy test result is in hand. So — she took a test.

It was 6 am. It was the day before her 36th birthday. Odds of getting pregnant for people with fertility issues goes WAY down after 35. It goes down again every year after that.

With a sigh, she took the test. She waited the few minutes. She looked at the stick. She looked at the box. She looked at them both again. Surprise! Disbelief. Doubt. Who can she call this early?

Husband. He is already at work. She calls him.
Both are cautiously excited, but wary.

Anne. “Are these tests ever wrong?” Anne has 4 children. She did NOT have fertility issues. Anne said the tests are very accurate. This could be true!

Who does she call next? Her pastor.

Why? Several reasons.

A major reason is that the pastor also had had fertility issues. The pastor was one of the “by chance” conversations that had led to the new Dr. connection. She understood the issues of fertility because she had been through some of it herself.

Another reason was because of Lenten Vespers.

(Go back to March…) The pastor had done a series of homilies on the topic of healing. HEALING.

She talked about Namaan (2 Kings 5:1-19), about miraculous babies (Elizabeth, Sarah, and others), and about different ways healing could come. One might be healed because circumstances or desires change. One might be healed miraculously and immediately. (It does still happen!) One might only be healed after death, upon reaching heaven. Healing could come in a way different from what anyone might imagine or expect.

The young mother had lunch with the pastor one day during Lent. She told the pastor that she had never considered asking God to heal her, but that after hearing the series of talks it was weighing on her mind. The pastor replied that there would be a “Service of the Word for Healing” when people could come specifically to pray with the pastor for healing. The young mother said she would think about it.

(Early April) The night of the healing service, which happened to be on Sunday night at the beginning of Holy Week, life did not go smoothly in the young family’s home. The couple had a verbal disagreement, and the wife took a tearful walk down to the nearby neighborhood park. She was surprised to find an acquaintance from church sitting on the park bench.

Now this acquaintance was not a bosom buddy. They barely knew each other. It was clear that the young mother was upset, though, so what would turn out to be a very personal conversation got started.

The person in the park had had fertility issues as well. She had never had a child. She and her husband had gone through many rough years. She understood the push and pull of career needs and of family needs. They discussed the pastor’s series of healing messages. They discussed the young mother’s desire to have another child, a sibling for her son and to fill the baby shaped space left open in her heart.

She, the park bench sitter, urged the young mother to go back home to sort things out with her husband. She, the park bench sitter, would go to the healing service and pray for the young mother.

Life kept moving. The couple sorted things out. Holy Week went forward. A few days later, Ash Wednesday arrived.

The couple was new to being Lutheran. Lent was not a familiar concept or process to them. On Ash Wednesday, the pastor put ashes on foreheads and laid her hands on parishioners as they knelt to pray together. The young mother hesitated to go forward because this was a completely foreign concept to her. She believed in Jesus, and had been a Christian for many years. Her faith was strong. She just didn’t know what to think about the ashes and the laying on of hands. She thought it through, though, and decided to go forward. As she knelt, she was overcome with strong emotion — almost like being swept up in a strong wind — tears began to flow. She was nearly sobbing on the way back to her seat and was literally shaking. Embarrassed, she hoped no one could see how the experience had affected her. In the end, the turmoil left and she felt deeply peaceful.

Sunday. Easter Sunday.

Easter egg hunting in the yard, Easter Sunday, 1998
Easter egg hunting in the yard, Easter Sunday, 1998

After church, the boy searched for eggs in the large yard. He had on striped pants and his blond curly hair was adorable. He carried a basket and searched all over the yard (green grass for Easter!) for the hidden eggs. The young mother watched as the father took photos. The sun was shining, birds were chirping, the sky was bright blue with a few white clouds. She had an overwhelming sense of certainty that her son would be fine as an only child. He would have friends, he would attend the wonderful children’s center in town, he would be more than fine.

She realized this was her healing. She was healed of the desire (deep need) to have another child. She was content.

Fast forward and/or rewind back to the day of the pregnancy test, the day before her 36th birthday. April 28.

Hopefully, filling in those details explains why she called her pastor.

That day the young woman went to the Dr. to have the pregnancy test confirmed. It was TRUE. This was REAL. (Side note:  Another really cool thing happened that day. On the way back into her house, she greeted a neighbor she barely knew and invited her in. They ended up becoming best friends and created many happy memories together!)

It was clear in the young mother’s (now mother-to-be again!) mind and heart that the baby’s name would be Sarah. Her middle name was not as easy. Elizabeth? Maybe. Then one of her friends spoke of her dear old Aunt Grace. The Aunt used to say, “Everyone needs a little Grace in their lives.” She thought to herself, “Everyone needs a LOT of Grace in their lives.” Sarah Grace. It felt perfect. God had graced them with a miracle baby; Grace should be part of her name.

Months later, the young mother (now several months pregnant) was in a Sunday morning church service when the scripture from Genesis (21:1-8) which tells the story of Sarah’s miraculous pregnancy was read. The young mother heard the voice again saying “remember the story of Abraham and Sarah.”  She felt like she had a “miracle” sign flashing over her head.

In her heart, she realized she had not thought of the first dream as a check list. She really hadn’t focused on the “list” at all.  She had followed the path that seemed to lie at her feet. It was almost as if just by hearing the words in her dream, they had become the plan and had become reality. Not that she hadn’t worked hard at losing weight or getting the house. She had. She didn’t feel like she had been jumping through hoops or marking things off a “to do” list to “earn” the baby.

Another tidbit: At the first ultrasound back in May, the mother asked for information about the due date and when the baby had most likely been conceived. The answers: Due date was late December. Date of conception: Holy Week. (Service of Healing and Ash Wednesday prayers…remember?) God winks.

The bottom line is: It is hard to describe a miracle.

There are more “God Things” in this story, but I’ve gone on long enough for now.

Flash forward again. December 3.
She comes EARLY.
Three and a half weeks early!

Sarah Grace, 3 days old
Sarah Grace, 3 days old

The pastor visits the young mother in the hospital. She is holding the baby. The baby’s name is Sarah Grace. The pastor and the young mother pray. The pastor’s tears drop gently on the baby’s face as they pray together — Tears of Joy for the miracle of life that lay in their arms.

Grief. Tears.
Prayer. Tears.
Healing. Grace.
Miracle. Tears.

Flash forward to the very next Easter.  Sarah Grace was baptized by the pastor in a gorgeous lacy baptismal dress borrowed from Anne (which had been worn by her four children).

Another flash forward. The miracle baby, Sarah Grace, turned 15 this week.

Hallelujah! Joy. Tears. Gratitude.

The not-so-young mother treasures all these things and ponders them in her heart.

Thoughts for the Journey

I didn’t grow up with Lent. I’m not sure I even really knew what Lent was until at least college, possibly even after college. After we moved to Wisconsin, however, we ended up being Lutherans. I learned more about what Lent was then, but I still always thought of it as more of a Catholic “thing.” But since I was an active organist/pianist during those years at the ELCA church, I was intimately involved in the service music for each season. As I played, I learned. I learned about the liturgical seasons and colors. I learned about special days like Christ the King, All Saints, Epiphany and more. (For instance, one perk of being the organist is that you sometimes get to eat the leftover communion bread — usually homemade! — and drink the wine since it can’t be thrown away.)

During the “Lutheran years” I learned to love Lent.

Lent is a journey.
It has never been about giving something up for me.
It isn’t about denial (in my opinion).
It is about seeking something out.
It is about the mysteries of grace and love.
It is about the people with whom we share this journey on earth.

One of my favorite movies is Chocolat. If you’ve never seen the movie, I won’t spoil it for you — but it does a wonderful job of letting us live one season of Lent through various people’s eyes in a small village in France. If you have time, I highly recommend watching it. I also highly recommend that you have some very good quality chocolate to eat while you watch it! You’ll see why.

I’m considering a couple of ways to honor this Lenten season.
I found them on Fat Pastor’s blog. One is taking 40 photos, one a day through Lent.

Photo a day for Lent — from UMC rethink church

The other is writing handwritten notes to people, also one a day for 40 days.
I will be behind on either choice, I’m sure — once I decide which to do.
That’s just how I roll.

Maybe I’ll do a little of each?

40 notes in 40 days from Fat Pastor blog