I am beginning to realize that people often have expectations of me in this situation. I don't always fulfill them. This isn't limited to strangers. Sometimes it's people very close to me. It can be frustrating for people to try to project their expectations onto me in a time that is so challenging. But I'm realizing something.
I'm not "normal."
In fact, no one is "normal" when it comes to a situation like ours. Everyone reacts differently and has different needs. Even Cameron and I, who are sharing this journey as husband and wife, are reacting to this with extremely different emotions and needs. God reveals different things to us at different times, and it's all based on his sovereignty and omniscience. He knows us better than we know ourselves, and provides what we specifically need to get through this. So when people don't understand me and my reactions...it makes sense.
Up to this point, I have been literally carried by God's grace. That is no exaggeration. Every time I think about our baby girl, it hurts. If I let those emotions rule me, I would never get out of bed. I am able to function on a daily basis only because I can rely on God to get me through the day. I am completely serious. This time with Caroline has made my trust in the Lord and reliance on Him increase exponentially. I would never have been able to imagine something like this happening before we got Caroline's diagnosis. I can understand why people look at me like I'm crazy when I say I'm doing ok for the most part. How can I be doing "ok" when I'm dealing with this incredibly difficult situation? By the grace of God, and nothing else.
I have recently felt as if I need to explain myself, not because I feel like I have to justify my actions and emotions, but because I want people to know the source of my strength, and to truly understand what I'm feeling so they know better how to pray for and/or support me. It's wearying to try to explain over and over that I'm not angry or depressed (at least in the clinical or common knowledge sense). I am more subdued and somber than I would be if Caroline didn't have anencephaly, but I am not overcome by those emotions. I have days where I let those emotions have more free reign, certainly, but it's not all the time. People are, I feel, expecting me to feel deeply seeded emotions of anger, fear, denial, and other such grief related emotions. I will explain why I'm not. At least yet.
For one, I have nothing to be angry about. God has blessed me with a child that is doing more for Him in-utero than most of us do in an average life span. He has blessed me with increased faith, gifted me with more grace than I knew existed, and granted me a peace that truly passes all of my limited, earthly understanding. Does it hurt to think I might lose my first child, a little girl I have already come to cherish? Absolutely. Do I wish it wasn't happening to me? I wouldn't be human if I didn't. But I honestly, truly, in all sincerity, am not angry. I'm not angry at God, I'm not angry at the world, I'm not angry at myself, I'm not angry at the condition. I know what anger is. I have struggled with anger in my life for a long time, but in this situation, God has granted me the grace not to be angry. Is it possible I will face feelings of anger at some point in this journey? A resounding yes. It is quite possible. But I don't know the future, and can only speak for right now. How can I be angry at the God who is sustaining me through this time, and who has the power to change my situation in an instant if he so chooses? How can I be angry at the world, which is powerless to control anything about my life because God is in control? How can I be angry at myself when I did nothing to bring this on, and cannot do anything to change it? Why would I be angry at a condition that is a direct result of a fallen world, which was/is caused by human sinfulness and nothing else? For me, it doesn't make sense to be angry, and it takes too much energy to be angry. My energy is focused on getting through each moment of every day, doing my best to glorify God while doing so. I don't have the energy left to be angry. In fact, the only times I have felt anger since Caroline's diagnosis is when I feel other people have said or done things that have been insensitive or hurtful, and it usually doesn't last long.
Fear is something I perhaps struggle with more than anger, but it's not a constant companion. Fear is something that is allowed to take root when trust in the Almighty God is absent. God is in control. What do I have to fear? "I sought the LORD, and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears." -Psalm 34:4. "God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging." -Psalm 46:1-3. "So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand." -Isaiah 41:10. "The LORD is my light and my salvation— whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life— of whom shall I be afraid?" -Psalm 27:1. "There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love." -1 John 4:18. I do not need to be afraid, for myself or for Caroline. God is in control, He is my help in trouble, He upholds me in His righteous hands, He is my salvation. What do I have to fear? I want to be made perfect in love, and that love will drive out my fear. Am I immune to fear? No. But I CHOOSE to subject those fears to the Lordship of Christ. When thoughts of fear begin to plague me, I ask God to help me not be afraid. And He does.
I am not living in denial either. This may be the most difficult to explain because I'm not sure human language can express some of the emotions and spiritual truths that I encounter on a daily basis. I'll do my best. I have a child growing inside me. She is very much alive right now, and I feel her every single day, punching and kicking and rolling and stretching. It feels very much like a normal pregnancy. I also have pregnancy hormones running through my system, hormones that are preparing me to be a mother, honing my maternal instincts, making me think about Caroline as my child, bonding us together. It doesn't matter that I know the medical "certainty" of her condition. These things are going to continue happening, and I want them to. She IS my child. I DO love her. She IS alive. She MAY die. She MAY come early. I MIGHT have to bury her shortly after delivering her. I live in the present, because that is the gift God has given me now. I have plenty of time to deal with the ugly truths coming in the future. "Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own." -Matthew 6:34. And I have faith that a miracle is still possible. If it doesn't happen, I trust that God will give me the strength and grace to handle it when the time comes. But I will NOT live in constant mourning for the only time I could possibly have with my first child. It is a choice I have made, knowing everything that is facing us, and not because I refuse to plan for or face the future. I will make the decisions I need to make as we need to make them, but I'm not going to dwell constantly on that aspect of our situation. Not only that, but I also don't see the point. Grief will come when it's time. But it won't be without hope. "Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope." -1 Thessalonians 4:13. Even in my grief, I will have hope. I will not despair, even though I will mourn, if God does not choose to intervene. So what's the point of dwelling on something that may not happen if God decides to heal Caroline, and something that I will have plenty of time to do later? For now, I have my baby girl, and I will make the most of the time I have with her.
I want to emphasize something that I believe is important. Nothing is normal when it comes to grief or hard emotional situations. Every person is different, and every response will therefore be different. I don't want to ever assume that I completely understand someone's pain just because I've felt pain. I don't want to expect certain emotions or reactions in someone else just because it's what I've experienced.
I also don't want others' expectations "forced" on me.
In all of this, I am learning the importance of choices. It was a choice to keep Caroline and not abort her. It is a choice to turn to God instead of away from Him. It is a choice to live without fear and anger, when those emotions are very natural in a situation like ours. It is a choice to trust God with the future and not try to retain control by over-thinking. It is a choice to leave my entire self, and all my desires, at the foot of the cross every. single. day. It is a choice to continue praying for healing for Caroline with the caveat that I want God's will to be done even more. I am not living this way because it comes naturally to me. Quite the opposite. I am living this way, and handling this situation as I am, because I choose, every moment of every day, to give in to God's grace, to lean on Him and not my own understanding, and to ask Him to make me this way. I cannot force myself not to feel anger or fear. I cannot force myself to live in the present and let the future take care of itself. I can only ask that God would make it so in my life, and watch Him do the work in me to make it happen. I am not perfect. I make a lot of mistakes, every day. I give in to fear and anxiety sometimes. I give in to self pity. I give in to faithlessness and discouragement. But in all of this, God is in control and leads me back to the cross. He leads me to Himself. And when I am resting in His embrace, everything changes. Feeling right isn't important. If I know the truth and choose to embrace it, even when I don't feel like it, I am choosing righteousness.
I expect God to work a miracle. If it's not to heal Caroline, it will be to heal me (and Cameron). I expect God to stay beside me every step of the way. I expect Him to continue teaching me, to continue using Caroline's story for His glory. Those are expectations I want to have.
All other expectations are meaningless. Others' expectations of me, and mine of others. Meaningless, if it's not before the cross. When those expectations bring me pain, I have to lay them at the foot of the cross and ask God to maintain my focus.
"I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain." -Philippians 1:20-21.