undisguised blessings

If I had a dollar for every time someone told me one of my miscarriages was a “blessing in disguise” …I would have a lot more money than I do now.

blessings in disguise

 

***

A few months before Annie was born, I carefully watched the unfolding news about that Christian doctor in the Sudan who was imprisoned on false charges of religious conversion. She was also pregnant, and a little younger even than I was. I “just knew” she was having a girl, too, and I immediately sensed a fellowship with her. I thought about how uncomfortable she must be, facing the rest of her pregnancy in shackles, with an order for torture and execution to come after delivering her baby. I hoped she could still believe that God would take care of her. I wondered if I would be brave enough to obey in the same circumstances. Knowing that Annie was growing strong in safety, I felt more blessed than I ever expected to, and I was so humbled to have the luxuries of safety, freedom, and good health care during this miraculous pregnancy. When I saw pictures of this woman holding her daughter and visiting Pope Francis in Italy after escaping Africa, I wept. About that same time, we read that Christians in Syria were crucified as martyrs. (It’s hard to type that out.)

On the way to the hospital for Annie’s birth, Aaron had several powerful sneezing fits and hoped aloud that she would be blessed with not inheriting his seasonal allergies. When she was born, we heard her (very cute-sounding) sneeze over and over. He was especially nervous… Turns out it’s normal, since babies are a bit waterlogged at first; we don’t know about seasonal allergies yet. But we noticed those sneezes, and tears sprung to my eyes every time I responded, “God bless you, baby Anne. God bless you.” It wasn’t just me being polite — this was a prayer. I wanted God to take care of her, to give her good things, to keep his hand upon her. I meant it.

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A few hours after Annie was born, after a nap and several hours of nonstop eating, I laid her on the bed next to me and marveled at how perfect she was. I think my sense of awe, relief, and gratefulness may have been a taste of how that Sudanese doctor felt when she landed safely in Italy. I noted that Annie’s small feet were shaped just like Aaron’s, which was no surprise to my ribcage, and she had the sweetest fringe of soft brown hair hanging over a tiny roll of chubbiness around the back of her neck. That same day I heard rumors of Christian children in Iraq (a country already fraught with emotion for us) being beheaded by more of those violent radical persecutors who had been in Syria. I’m sure moms in the middle east think their children’s hacked-off necks were particularly adorable, too.

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I can look at my life and say I am blessed because I have this hardworking husband. Because I have a house – with three bedrooms, two bathrooms, a fenced-in yard, and a refrigerator so full of food that I lose track of things and end up throwing some of it away. Because I have this daughter – who came to life where babies before her did not, who is healthy and robust and vibrant and sleeps almost all night. Because we are managing without a full-time income from me, so I spend the majority of my days caring for my child, walking my dog, running the home. But that’s pretty prosperity-gospel-ish. My friends who are single, or renting, or living off the generosity of others, or childless, or balancing work and parenthood are also very, very blessed.  I was blessed –that is, receiving undeserved gifts from God– before this, when I did not have a baby. And there is blessing in challenging babies, awkward-looking babies, non-sleeping babies, or babies who won’t latch on to nurse… and there is profound blessing in babies who develop differently. So we misuse the word blessing when we think it only references things we want to call “good.”

In fact, scripture gives us an entire paradigm shift about a blessed life. God doesn’t really mention the specifics of my circumstances in the description of blessing. Instead he says, “Blessed are you…
…when you are poor in spirit.
…when you mourn.
…when you are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.”  (Matthew 5)

And this is not the sort of “persecution” wherein you petition the local library to keep objectionable content off the lowest shelves and then have an awkward moment seeing your opponents at the store later.
It’s the sort where you give birth in a dirty prison because your brother-in-law called for your death while you were pregnant with his niece.
It’s the sort where you race your kids up a mountain without enough food or water because you’re being pursued by people who will chop off their heads.
It’s the sort where you get beaten up and nailed to a cross and die in agony.

This is what God calls “the blessed life.”

***

Now, if I had a dollar for every time someone talked about my daughter and asked, “isn’t she just such a blessing?” I would also have more money. The answer is yes, she is… but that barely scratches the surface of what a blessing even means.

The same Lord is Lord of all, who richly blesses all who call on him.  (Romans 10:12) 

14 thoughts on “undisguised blessings

  1. Abby, I really really really love this. You capture so much of the angst I feel when people toss around the word blessed (or #blessed). I’ve kind of started using lucky instead because somehow it better captures my astonishment at being able to live such a secure, stable, happy life. Thank you for remembering the persecuted church! Also, I cried a lot reading this. Nicely done.

    • Oh thank you, my friend. You are one of the good-feeling kinds of blessings in my life. But let’s be honest here… putting a hashtag in front of anything radically marginalizes the significance of the words. Except for #totesjelly which is pure social media gold.

      God loves us and there are many things in our life that hold together, but correlation does not equal causation, so… we can proclaim the truth that God’s love stands firm in prosperity and affliction.

  2. I have none of the things that are the traditional tent poles of “blessing” “god’s favor” etc – unmarried, no children, etc. yet I am so fulfilled in the goals that mean something to me, my career goals. Not trying to entirely hijack your post except to add a quiet voice to say…the church also doesn’t have room for me. Not the same pain as the childless at all!! But, there’s still no room for any grief that doesn’t fit into the paradigm. Which is a small grief all its own? Maybe?

    • Sharon — you are absolutely right, and it is a crying shame. The blessings of someone who is unmarried and childless are not second-rate blessings, but unfortunately it doesn’t get communicated well in churches… Which must make it even worse, because people are either happy about those things and not really able to celebrate what is going on in your life, or unhappy about them and surrounded with reminders of how much you don’t measure up.

  3. Abby, thanks so much for posting this. What beautiful (and difficult) reminders of God’s goodness and faithfulness, they are surely the biggest blessings we can know…giving hope and steadfastness to those who are truly suffering. (I also wonder if I would be faithful under the same circumstances, and am reminded that it is God who keeps his children blameless.) And how beautiful that God’s goodness and faithfulness to us makes every different stage of life full of meaning and blessing. Sharon’s comment makes me think that we (as in, the church) need to be much more thoughtful about drawing out and celebrating the very real, deep, and substantial blessing (and struggles) to be found in seasons of life other than just marriage and parenting.

    • Kathryn, you hit the nail on the head… we need to be much more thoughtful about the substantial blessing and struggles in everyone’s life. Especially if they don’t fit the “easy” mold. Always good to hear from you. 🙂

  4. Abby, I attended college with Aaron and stumbled across this. I echo the earlier comments in commending the beauty of this writing. You took feelings we all wrestle with and put them into words, cohesive and clear. 15 years ago my family walked through a very hard time, and I battled with the idea of “blessings.” Was my family not blessed because of what we walked, or were others more blessed, or were we more blessed because of the hard things we faced? I came to redefine blessings not as “good things that happen,” but rather as anything that draws me closer in relationship to the Lord. That leaves room for blessings to be both good things that happen and bad/hard/painful things as well. I love the Laura Story song, “Blessings.” It captures exactly the sentiment you write.

    Also, congratulations on the birth of Anne. She is blessed beyond words to have you both as parents.

    • That means you were also in school with me, we just didn’t cross paths there! 😉 I love your definition- it’s a good one. I’ll be mulling that one over for a bit. Thanks for stopping by and chiming in. It means so much!

  5. Pingback: Reclaiming Martyrdom | abby hummel

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