Wednesday, August 27, 2014

In Which I Don't Try to Do What Is Godly

Recently something stared me straight in the face, daring me to deny it:

I am a writer. 

You might think I know this because I see veritable talent in my prose, or because other people have told me how my writing has been a source of grace in their lives. Those are never the kinds of things that get to me. I push against thinking I have a gift, for fear that I might be prideful about that. I also resist the idea that people might be blessed by what I do because I never want to find my identity in what other people think of me. Which, if I am honest, a healthy amount of wisdom gets drowned out by fear of pride, and I deny the ways God has gifted me by focusing on avoiding sin. Don't be proud. Don't care too much what other people think. Don't try to be wrong. Don't be wrong. Don't do. Don't say. Don't think. Don't feel. Just don't.

Ironically, the avoidance of sin is often the biggest sin of all. It means I am looking at myself to figure out what is good and bad, and then I try to be good / do good and avoid the bad. I call myself a Christian. A Christian is simply a person who recognizes they are a sinner, incapable of pleasing a perfect God. But God himself became a man, the God-man Jesus Christ, who lived a perfect, sinless life and died on the cross. His blood, perfect and sinless, atones for my sin if I believe in my heart and confess with my mouth that I need Jesus to be my substitute for the death my sin deserves. Upon becoming a Christian, God accepts Jesus' record and not mine for the rest of my life, even when I fail. Repeatedly.

A Christian is a person who needs Jesus. A truly godly Christian transparently lives in such a way that they allow others to see it.

The Gospel is quite simple: I am a sinner who needs Jesus because he is perfect and I am not. The beauty is that I have a new nature capable of choosing surrender to God, yet I am still a sinner who chooses my own comfort, my own glory, my own pleasures, instead of God. The sin is in my motives, my thoughts, my desires, my actions. Yet, as I continue to fail, God continues to see Christ's perfect record. He then frees me to stop trying to be perfect, to stop trying to avoid sin, and just admit that I need him. I can't be perfect. I can't think the right thoughts, feel the right feelings, crave only always his glory and never my own. 

Talk about freedom. To be truly free is to rest in my desperate need for Jesus, to no longer try and be him.

Who cares if I have wrong motives? Wrong thoughts? So what? I am not embracing licentiousness, nor am I endorsing sin. Rather, I am allowed in my faulty ways to see that Jesus' death was necessary and is now sufficiently powerful to atone for the fact that I am a sinner.

Jesus didn't die on the cross so that I could live in fear of needing his grace. Nor did he suffer the rejection of his friends, the shredding of his flesh, the impaling of his limbs, so that I might spend my life trying to perform in such a way that he would have done all of that for nothing. I need Jesus. So it's his grace to me to live like it, simply admitting that I can't do what is godly because I am not God. I am a human who, despite my deep love for Jesus and desire to please him, forgets that what pleases God is his son.

When I confess my failure to be godly, to be perfect, is when I am best able to surrender to my need for Jesus. It is in that surrender, the repentance of (turning away from) self-reliance, that Christ is most clearly evident in my life. God gets the glory because people don't need to figure out how to be like me, do what I did--they see that only Jesus pleases God and my repentance of self-reliance allows them to see the beauty of Christ's faithful forgiveness and restoration of those who cast themselves completely on him and his grace.

Why am I writing all of this? Most of my readers are Christians themselves, so it probably seems like quite a bit of preaching to the choir. I might contend that plenty of choir members have been fooled into thinking the Gospel is to read the Bible, pray, go hear pastors who teach the little-g gospel of "do the godly thing and be like Jesus" that runs rampant in American churches and culture. One of my favorite preachers, Tullian Tchividjian, often says that it is not offensive to tell people that they have failed, but that they can follow these 8 steps of self-sufficiency godly living back into the good grace and favor of God. Even worse is thinking the offensive part is to say "I used to be bad but I'm good now," as though getting better over time is what is offensive about the gospel.

No; what is offensive--what makes the Gospel truly an offensive attack on people's philosophy of how to live--is telling people that there is nothing they can do. They cannot give their money or time or resources enough; they cannot pray or study their Bible or attend church and church functions enough; they cannot build wells and provide housing and schools and medicine and churches to the poor around this world enough; they cannot evangelize their neighbors and coworkers and families by being "on mission" enough; they cannot commit their lives and livelihoods and careers and hobbies and families to Christ enough. They can do nothing. NOTHING. Christ has already done it all and their efforts to be like him do not please God, do not impress him.

Much of American (and beyond, I am sure) Christianity just does. not. get. this. Even churches who pride themselves on getting the gospel "right" think that repentance and godliness is to, in the face of controversy and strife, rightly discern and then do "what is godly." Discernment bloggers make names for themselves on the treatise that they have figured out what is godly and then teach others how to...well, not discern for themselves, but rather to trust the writer and keep coming back to them for how to rightly discern whatever situation or product or cultural ideology the writer is now talking about. Maybe at best they give minimal personal opinion but then a bunch of other resources for the people with whom they agree. Entire coalitions for the Gospel throw around the word antinomian* (meaning no law, or basically, you are saved so do whatever you want and God is cool with that because, you know, Jesus) when people talk about Christ's perfect record rendering our efforts futile.

You probably see this with the articles your friends consistently post on Facebook--"This person gets it right. Read this article and then agree with me--I mean them." Maybe it's about faith, but maybe it's about suicide / depression / homosexuality / gun control / Israel and Palestine / anything related to parenting / Food Babe vs Monsanto / buying local / your Forever 21 jeans creating 2 year old sex slaves / etc. Are you as exhausted as I am? Are you as weary of know-and-think-and-do-and-feel-and-say-the-right-thingism as I am? Are you as frustrated with yourself for doing this yourself--feeling good when you see posts that agree with you (even clicking "share"), deflated or even angry when you see ones that don't--as I am?

I just can't do it any more. 

Yet this is why I haven't been writing. For fear that, despite my best intentions, I might unwittingly slip right into a crevice, my own little niche, on the stumbling boulder to the Gospel engraved "I think I am pretty godly, so here is what I think about things, and now you can think like I do and we can be right together." I just don't want to do that. So you remember that fear I spoke of toward the beginning of this post? Fear of pride and fear of doing things for the approval of other people? This issue of "do the right thingism" is something I fear will be deep in my bones, undetected, but then evident to others who read my words and feel that pressure to be right like I am, so I don't want to write. 

Enter grace. So what if I have some wrong motives? Is there not grace from Jesus to reveal them to me over time, and then I can repent later if that happens? Can I not allow you to see that I desperately need Jesus by...well, actually needing him and telling you that? And, *gasp,* what if maybe I don't have deep, dark, overruling sinful motives and it's God's grace to me to write? To possibly, maybe, be led by Jesus to write, to lean into him as I do so, and let his grace wash over me and those who read the words that pour out?

So you remember what I opened with? Realizing that I am a writer? My family and I took our very first vacation last week. We went to the Oregon Coast. I, in a delirium of calm, texted a friend that in one hour of relaxing in a little chair in our cottage near the beach I experienced more rest, more peace, more actual relaxation than in all attempts in the last year combined. That little respite, a week of ocean and a cheese factory and more ocean and a gigantic cave for sea lions and the coolest tree and a lighthouse and then another lighthouse and then more ocean and, oh, some more ocean, brought some much needed clarity and rest. 

As an aside, sweet Jesus, I love the ocean. I need more ocean in my life.

The last 15 months have been a wringer for our family. Both of our children were diagnosed with autism. It was a heavy hit financially and our medical insurance isn't the best, so my husband has been working himself to the bone to cover our needs. I was diagnosed as pre-diabetic, insulin resistant, explaining why my own wearying efforts to lose weight had been futile. Another hefty financial hit. An incredibly restrictive and difficult diet that has helped me lose weight, hopefully healing the potential diabetes, though the pounds are coming off much more slowly than they are supposed to because my thyroid is just beyond freaking out, and this has made me incredibly dizzy and sick, feeling worse than I ever have. And then, after two years of struggle, we finally felt the freedom and call to leave our church. A church we attended for all but 2 months of our nearly 7 year marriage. It has been incredibly difficult, particularly as we uncover layers of spiritual abuse and poor teaching that have infiltrated our souls to the point that some days we feel like Pontius Pilate--"What is truth?"

I haven't written much. A lot of it is lack of time. Another chunk, quite the slice of the pie, is lack of will due to the fear I spoke of. But then I think most of it is that desire to not come across as having the answers, never wanting to seem like I think I know what is right and expecting others to agree with me.

And yet, I know I am a writer. I am a writer who finds rest and comfort and joy in writing about life as I go through it. That includes autism and the Gospel and my experience and perspective regarding Mark Driscoll and Mars Hill and my sin and struggles and thoughts I wrestle with as I wander purposefully through this world. 

The reason I know I am a writer is that when I encounter life, be it in the wringer or when I'm getting that bit of rest away from it, words bubble up in my soul, and I feel like I'll burst from the pressure of them if I can't make the transfer through my fingertips and into legible form. No matter how infrequently I write, the desire never ebbs or fades. I never stop contemplating what life will look like, how I need wrangle the colors around the Rubik's cube that is my hectic harrowing schedule, to be able to write regularly. To make it a part time job, regardless of pay. This isn't about making a living; by grace, my husband makes enough to financially meet our needs. I can do this as an actual livelihood. Because I want to

And here is how I knew, finally actually now tying up that loose end from the introduction to this post (though, if you read me much, you know I don't so much care for trying to be carefully constructed; I write like I talk, as things flow through my mind): as my husband and I were making our way toward Tigard, OR, to get him a new MacBook to use for his software developing work, I was thinking ahead toward the day when we'll be getting me a MacBook for writing. When it will be something I am consistently able to do as a part of my life, that livelihood I mentioned. Without meaning to, I realized that all week long I had been writing in my head, filtering the events of our vacation the way I have been filtering all of the last year, all of my years, really: in how I would write about them. What form the effervescent thoughts would take in their translation to prose.

I am a writer.

So enough. Enough of the fear. Enough of attempting to evade "do the right thingism" via silence. Enough suffocating because I am censoring myself. Enough. 

And, I hope, more. More writing. More words. More courage. More entries here. More posts that journal my journey. More.


Now, our vacation, in photos. 
















*Or, if not using it themselves, let in hang in the air like a bad stench and don't clear said air when others use the word.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Our Daughter Juliet and More Uncomfortable Grace

As you may or may not know, last year on May 10 we took our son Roger into Kindering, a center offering services for kids (ages birth to three) with developmental delays. He was 2 years, 2 months old and wasn't talking.  at his 18 month appointment I was on bed rest in my pregnancy with our daughter Juliet, so when he still wasn't talking at age 2 we took him in for testing.

That was the first day we heard the word "autism" regarding our son; he didn't fit my stereotype of autism so I really did not see it coming. My husband Jason wrote this post, Our Son Roger and Uncomfortable Grace, as our public announcement upon psychological confirmation of Roger's condition. I wrote this post, May 10, last month talking about what we have learned in the last year.

In one of my most raw posts I think I have ever published, I wrote in late August last year (I know the timeline is out of order; it will make sense why in a minute) about the ways I was processing the pain. One thing, upon re-reading the post now, that I find particularly interesting was my deep need to believe ever since May 10, 2013 that Juliet was not autistic. She seemed more aware of Roger than he was aware of other kids at her age. She engaged more and started talking a bit much earlier than Roger and without any therapy. Roger's speech therapist even noted that Juliet mimicked sounds that Roger was learning in his sessions (Juliet and I were always there with him) and she seemed semi-interested in whatever manipulative toy he was using. These are not typical behaviors on the spectrum.

But then, even at 9-10 months old, I started feeling like something was off. No, Juliet wasn't as delayed as Roger, but she also wasn't like her peers. At her 18 month appointment, in the autism screening (I think it's called the m-chat or something like that) they give, we marked over half of the warning signs. And in my gut I just knew that even though she's not like Roger, there's a very good chance Juliet would also be on the spectrum. Roger is a bit more severe of a case (a 6-7 out of 10) while still being moderately high functioning now and, hopefully, very high functioning later in life.

So, then, almost two weeks ago on June 10  I took Juliet into Kindering for her evaluation. I sat in the same room where Roger was evaluated exactly 13 months earlier, and as I answered their questions and watched Juliet be evaluated I just knew. Their preliminary results were that they see many of the markers of autism and that she qualifies for all services. But I knew long before they said anything. And I cried, because it was the same room. Like time just catapulted me back 13 months. I was more prepared than I was with Roger to hear the word autism and yet that didn't really matter.

Two days later we received her psychological evaluation results; because she's under age 2 it's a provisional diagnosis until we retest in about 6 months. But Juliet has autism, is on the spectrum.

We "won" the genetic lottery, in a sense. The statistics for a younger brother of an autistic child also being on the spectrum are 1 in 4, or 25%. For a younger sister they are 1 in 8, or 12.5%, which is to say fairly rare. Yet Juliet is definitely on the spectrum. Much of it is her lack of awareness of other children, her missing of social cues, that she doesn't imitate, her speech is behind--particularly for other girls her age--but both her receptive and expressive language are very, very behind.

It's all real. It's all happening again and it's all real.

What even to say? It is yet another paradigm shift. On the one hand, we have walked this path before and much of it is familiar. On the other hand...it is familiar. Excruciatingly, painfully, heartbreakingly familiar. I didn't even realize how much hope I had that Juliet wouldn't be autistic until that dream ended. Another twist in the road that I didn't see coming, but God did.

People say a lot that they are so glad that we are the parents of Roger and Juliet. Friends, people at church, each of the various therapists and people we have met that are working with both kids thus far, they all say the same thing. I know in part Jesus is speaking to me through them as a balm to my soul, that he has created and nurtured me as a loving Father to be a loving and nurturing mother to our kids. So much of my own painful past has been redeemed by God, and he has tenderly molded me into a mother that I know my kids are blessed to have. This is grace, unspeakable grace.

But then there is...the rest of it. The mixture of loving my kids beyond comprehension yet wishing I knew what it was like to raise a neurotypical, non-special needs child. I don't really wish I had a three year old who knew how to scream, "I hate you!" at me but then I do think that would be worth them being able to spontaneously tell me they love me, too. Roger has started repeating it back to me when I say, "I love you, Roger. Can you say, 'I love you, Mama,'?" It's beautiful and so sweet for right where he is. But it's hard not to ache with wonder at what Roger would be like without the chains of autism on his brain. For what sweet spirited, feisty Juliet would be like free from the bondage of autism.

Then there is the fear that we are genetically predispositioned for all of our children to have autism, including the ones we haven't had, Lord willing, yet. I cleave to Jesus through it, yet I hear the sneaky whisper that Jason and I are cursed and if we choose to have more children we are willfully cursing them. Even though the Holy Spirit is gracious and I don't believe the lie just hearing it is an endless stabbing of my soul.

Not to mention that I just never anticipated being a mother to special needs children. I do not resent this, because I adore Roger and Juliet and truly wouldn't change them if taking away the autism made them different people. This isn't the script I foresaw, though. I thought my difficulty as a mother would be not yelling at my children and constant repentance because I am so impatient and just want to be listened to. And it is that. It's that plus so much more that I never thought would be interwoven throughout the chapters of my book in the category of "motherhood."  I think about the murmurs of sympathy when someone mentions the exhausting grind that it is to raise a special needs child. And then the bewilderment, the, "Oh, wow, how does she even do it? Poor soul," when a mother is said to to have multiple special needs kids. And I think, "Man, that is a hard lot to be called to."

Yet that's meThat's my lot.

I'm just heavy hearted. Grieving yet moving forward. The grind is already in progress--we went from free and relaxing summer to multiple therapies multiple times a week between the two kids. The financial burden of paying for what insurance won't cover is heavy. The planning and organization I have to build into our daily lives, things like visual schedules and planning out activities and the mega-intentionality I have to utilize at every turn just to help with simple skills like drawing or pretend play, etc, is just a lot. I can be uber organized and meticulous, but I don't like it. I like to wake up and go, "What should we do today?" and see which way the wind blows. 

Plus the emotional burden on both Jason and me...how to even figure out somehow having alone time for each of us or together-alone time or resting...oy. It's honestly not even on our scope right now. Maybe it should be, but it just isn't. We don't even know where to start and while rest is good trying to figure out how to get it is so much work at this point that it feels like a burden to even think about. I fear that sounds melodramatic, but it's just the truth.

But here is our hope: Jason's and my hope for every individual in our family--now existing and any future additions--rests not in therapies nor my ability to organize and keep it all together. Our hope is in Jesus, because no matter how I feel, the truth is that he loves us. Yes, he willed this. Yes, it is still uncomfortable grace, but it is grace. It is grace that simply reveals how desperately we need him.

If you are like me, your preferred way to know how desperately you need Jesus would come snuggled up with your Bible, a hot drink (a moooooooocha for me. I cannot have them anymore. This, too, brings mourning.), a blanket, and utter quiet as you enjoy Jesus' presence.

Ha.

First of all, I can't remember the last time I sat alone, with quiet and my Bible and time to have prepared a drink beforehand. Like, literally cannot remember. Pretty sure Roger was a baby? I had a coffee date alone once last summer for a bit while a friend watched our kids. Except I ended up people watching at Starbucks because if I'm alone in public then that's what I do (while checking Facebook, let's just keep it real here). But, more importantly, my desperation for Jesus--for the Gospel of his perfect record taking the place of my sin laden one--is always found prominently in living my life. Most poignantly it is found in my need to repent of sin, which I tend to be much more comfortable with, and through suffering as an innocent, which is a consistent theme in my life and yet I am never comfortable with it. Likely this is why it recurs, as Jesus is, again, a good God of uncomfortable grace like that.

This is the scripture that was preached recently that really spoke to my heart. It is yet another balm to my soul to remind me in a fitly spoken word that God is in absolute control and I can trust him:

Now the word of the LORD came to me, saying,
“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
and before you were born I consecrated you;
I appointed you a prophet to the nations.”
                      Jeremiah 1:4-5 ESV

Just as God had every detail of Jeremiah's existence orchestrated and divinely willed before he was even in his mother's womb, I know he has the same providential sovereignty over my life, Jason's life, Roger's life, and Juliet's life. I can trust him. He has been faithful and tender to me my entire life, but particularly this last year Jesus has been so sweet to me. So patient and loving. So faithful to place people in my life who love me with a clearer shadow of his love than I have ever before experience. So in him alone I hope.

But let's end with the beautiful little girl that Jesus gave us. She is just the most delightful little girl and being her mother is a gift. I am thankful that when God said it was time to bring her soul into a body, my womb is where she began forming, just as God always predestined it to happen. Juliet is sweet and loves to give hugs and kisses, looooooves to laugh, loves to dance and giggle some more. Her little voice is beyond precious and as she speaks more and more my heart is enraptured with this gorgeous little girl that I am blessed to raise. When my face is near hers and she points to my nose and says, "Noooooousssse," my heart melts just as much as the moment they placed her newly born body onto my waiting chest. She has always fit snugly and perfectly into my arms, a shadow of her perfect filling of the space in my heart, one whose breadth I didn't realize until she settled in. Juliet's my mini-me and I couldn't be more grateful for the daughter Jesus gave me. So now, enjoy some pics of this little lighthouse of our family.

The moment we found out Juliet was a GIRL!!
If you haven't seen it, this is the video of the moment; 2/3 of the views on YouTube are probably me because I have watched it so many times. I LOVED finding out she was a girl.

One of my favorite photos of my pregnancy with her--look at how little Podge was!

My first photo with her. Utter bliss. Perfect fit.

Our first photo as a family of four.

Seahawks!

Juliet's first birthday party and one of  my favorite pics of our whole family!

How cute is she?

From our 5k last week. I love this little family.

The day after her official diagnosis, needing time to keep the diagnosis to ourselves
 for a few days and soak up special snuggles with my precious babe before entering the
litany of therapies that await.

Lastly, because I couldn't choose a fave, here are Juliet's newborn pics. Because sooooo sweet!

Friday, June 13, 2014

5k!

The Hagglund fam after our first 5k as a family of 4 in May.

As you may know, I had been training to run two 5ks this spring. Though health issues forced me to stop running, our family is still walking a 5k tomorrow to raise funds for Eastside Academy.

EA is our very favorite charitable cause--because it's helping students who are on their last legs. These are kids that society simply gives up on. No two kids are alike--some have been to rehab, others have simply found themselves with nowhere left to turn. Some kids have invested, loving parents desperately finding anything that can help with their child while others are functionally orphaned.

We have seen EA play a role in changing the lives of young people we love very, very much. It is our joy to raise money that helps pay for teachers, facilities, and the many bits and pieces it takes to run a school. Our favorite part is that every student gets the opportunity to hear that they need not succeed just to have a "good citizen" life; rather, they get to hear that Jesus LOVES them. Not all students become Christians but many do, and that plays a huge role in their changed lives.

So, would you consider helping us raise funds for these amazing kids and their equally amazing educators? If yes, please go here to donate:

Hagglund Family EA 5k Fundraising Page

Thank you so much!