Monday, November 26, 2012

A Prenatal Ultrasound Warns of a Problem

For You formed my inward parts;
You covered me in my mother’s womb.
Psalm 139:13 NKJV
            My doctor requested another ultrasound at the end of February. Once again I ingested the required amounts of water and waited excitedly for another glance at my unborn baby.
            Instead of my physician, an ultrasound technician performed the procedure. It was yet again another professional money-saving decision that proved to be catastrophic for me and for my baby. (Only later did I learn that static ultrasound pictures were of little use in diagnosing potential placenta problems like mine, since the placenta needed to be viewed dynamically – pulsing with blood – while the ultrasound was being performed.)
            The technician slowly moved the ultrasound head over my swollen abdomen and carefully pointed out all the crucial anatomical parts, except the reproductive organs, since I remained adamant about not knowing the baby’s sex until the birth. Initially the baby slept, refusing to reposition itself for better pictures. Finally, the little body wiggled, then flailed its arms and sucked frantically on its thumb in response to the ultrasound vibrations. The technician commented several times about my baby being exceptionally photogenic. I gushed with joy.
            I’d experienced a stunningly intense surge of love when I first witnessed my son Parker, with his tiny beating heart, on an ultrasound screen. It was the unexpected impact of first hearing, then actually witnessing that life-sustaining organ thumping out a loud, steady rhythm. Nothing had ever affected me the way his beating heart did.
            The identical emotion engulfed me as I viewed this new child; this baby who needed me to protect it as completely and selflessly as I could, even before its birth. The awesome responsibility God entrusted to me suddenly seemed overwhelming and fearsome.
            Suddenly I thought about how I was caring for my baby – how I should be caring for both of us in the future – then squeezed my eyes closed as tears dribbled to my nose and cheeks. I felt convicted. I hadn’t been doing a stellar job of caring for either one of us. Those lifestyle changes I’d thought about while confined to bed with severe morning sickness sprang to mind.
            While I contended with my emotions, the technician continued to move the ultrasound head around my abdomen. Suddenly, she ran over a tender area on my stomach that had been causing me pain. The monitor showed a bulge of the uterus into the womb. She said it looked like a large contraction of the uterine muscle. Whatever it was, it hurt, and pressing on it produced considerable pain.
            Yet it wasn’t that symptom that worried her. With her eyes fixed on the monitor and worry registered on her face, she spoke in a concerned voice, “Your placenta is really low, and you have tissue over your cervix.” She pointed to it on the monitor. “But I can’t make a judgment call about it; your doctor will have to make the diagnosis.”
            My mind raced. A friend had experienced a condition called placenta previa, where the placenta attaches itself partially or completely over the cervix. They discovered her pregnancy complication following an episode of spotting – usually the first sign – in her fifth month. Because of the problem, she needed confinement to bed for three months. I knew it meant an automatic Cesarean-section delivery. But I was ignorant of the possibly serious – or fatal – consequences this condition poses to both mother and child. My heart pounded wildly as my fears escalated and euphoria deteriorated.
            The technician completed the ultrasound and copied the pictures for me. The calculations indicated I was close to sixteen weeks, and my photogenic, active baby looked great. That was what I really wanted to hear! That’s what all mothers and fathers long to hear: that their babies appear physically healthy and active.
            We’d made it through the worst of the severe morning sickness and survived. And Chris and I were tough enough emotionally to handle any unforeseen physical problems that might be diagnosed after the baby’s birth. Everything was progressing well, according to schedule and the well-ordered plan.
            The technician sent me home with a small bundle of pictures to show the proud father. But show and tell would be delayed until after I returned from another late night at work.
            I’d think about the lifestyle changes I needed to make later, when I had more time.


NEXT WEEK: The complication is misdiagnosed, and I make the tragic mistake of not insisting on another in-office ultrasound.

Until then, thanks for joining me!



For more information on prenatal ultrasounds and their safety, drawbacks and benefits, please see the following links:


Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Can You Thank God for the Thorns in Your LIfe?

This is a special, additional post dedicated to Thanksgiving, which those of us in the Untied States of America celebrate Thursday, November 22. My regular, promised post, with the same entry date, is directly below this one. I'll be back on November 26 with the regular post.


            Thanksgiving is special to me. It should be, since I’m a direct descendant of two of the Pilgrims who sailed to America in 1620 from England – a little band of mostly like-minded, pioneers who desired to worship God without fear, persecution or worldly influences, and who sneaked away from England on a tiny boat to bravely start life over in another world. (As a side note, do not confuse Pilgrims with Puritans. The Pilgrims were Separatists: they wanted to separate from the church to worship their own way. The Puritans, in contrast, wanted to purify – not separate from – the Church of England.)
            When I think back to that first Thanksgiving – the three-day feast the Pilgrims celebrated with the Indians – I wonder just how many of them were thinking: “I’m thankful.” Were they doing it with humble, joyful, or sober hearts?
            Certainly, they were thankful for the Indians, one of whom intervened early to teach them how to add fish to the soil to improve its growing condition. Massachusetts was not where they had intended to set up house. Farther down the coast in what is now the state of Virginia had been the plan. But they arrived too late in the season and had to settle for the more northern location. They also missed planting adequately for the upcoming growing season, in Massachusetts’s terra that wasn’t prime crop-growing soil. Then, most of their tiny band was decimated in the first six months by disease, starvation and freezing temperatures.
            And this is where it gets personal. My great-great-great, etc., etc., etc. Pilgrim grandmother, Priscilla Mullins, arrived at Plymouth in Massachusetts with her brother and their parents, ready to start a new life. Within months, the teenager’s mother, father, and 14-year-old brother had been buried, along with so many others, in unmarked graves. By the end of the winter, 102 had died; fifty-three had survived, including only four adult women out of the original eighteen. Priscilla was suddenly an orphan in a strange land.
            A year later, during that first Thanksgiving, what could she have been thankful for?
            Was she at all thankful for the thorns in her life?

            About twelve years ago, I started deliberately thanking God for the thorns He’s brought me, or allowed in my life, because it has been in and through these thorns that I’ve grown the most emotionally and spiritually.
            My thorns remind me that I’m really a helpless, puny human without much control over my life, although I often entertain, placate and blind myself by thinking I have more control than I do. The thorns keep me humble, relying on Something, Someone greater than myself.
            My thorns still hurt. After all, thorns make you bleed. And they leave nasty scars. Yet they remind you where you’ve been and what you’ve survived and where you should be going.
            What I will now write, what I have told others, will shock or disgust some of you and cause others to nod their heads in collective understanding: As much as I still grieve over my infant daughter’s death, as much as I still long to have her and day-dream about her possible life, and mentally replay the dreams I had for her, I am grateful – thankful – that I walked that dark, horrible road, because doing so brought me into vivid, eternal life, with the Supreme give of life. Life in the here and now, and life in the eternal. *
            I’d like to think that it really didn’t need to happen that way, but in my heart, I know it did. I would have kept going just as I was, with one foot in the world and the other on a spiritual banana peel. I’m thankful for those thorns. They remind me to Whom I belong. And they remind me that I will one day see my daughter face-to-face and rejoice. They give me one more reason to look forward to heaven.

            So what was Priscilla thankful for? I can only guess. Even though she was a firm believer in God, His word, and His promises, I suspect she went through the normal stages of grief that all of us encounter: shock, denial, anger, etc. Being a Christian doesn’t make you immune to suffering the affects of death and profound loss.
            She probably sat at the table, thanking God for His protection over her and the other survivors, for the memory of her parents and brother, for the hope of the future, and probably for the new man in her life, John Alden, with whom she would have ten children and produce more descendants in the United States than any other Pilgrims. I often think of her and wonder if her unwavering faith and prayers for her children and children’s children paved the way for the blessings I’ve received in my life, that my blessings may indeed be the result of her generational faithfulness. For that, I also give thanks.
           What are your thorns?
            And have you been able to turn them into roses?
            May you give thanks this Thanksgiving Day, for everything in your life!

Until Monday,

*If you have questions, and struggle to understand what I’m talking about, stay with me in this blog, and you’ll find out what I mean.

Monday, November 19, 2012

When the Dream Dies, Who Are You?

Beloved, I beg you as sojourners and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul,..
1 Peter 2:11 NKJV

            My parents instilled in me some sense of moral values, but having a mere head knowledge of them – the concept of morals minus the divine foundations on which to cement those truths – was inadequate, especially in the late seventies and early eighties. My values were assaulted, criticized and stressed to the breaking point during my late teens and early twenties on an ultra-liberal and permissive college campus. And break they did. Built on a weak foundation, the wobbly, insecure fa├žade finally crumbled.
            Within five weeks of arriving at college on an out-of-state, full-tuition athletic scholarship, (rare for women in 1977), I suffered a career-ending, leg-deforming fracture during a disastrous vault landing at the Big Ten Championships. The athletic activity to which I devoted more than half my eighteen-year-old life was over. Overnight, my life altered. My social circle flip-flopped, my goals evaporated; the negative effects of prescribed, sleep-inducing painkillers and my inability to stand in three-hour laboratory classes leaning on wooden crutches forced me to drop classes.
            With beer on tap until 12:45 AM in the dormitory snack bar, (back in the days when eighteen was the legal drinking age), and alcohol flowing at the twenty-one bars within a one mile stretch of road cutting from campus to the state capitol building, I was introduced to a life of drinking and partying by other college students, college student hangers-on, and recent (and not-so-recent) flunkies who seemed determined to earn their college degrees in those two disciplines. My father was a social drinker, so this activity – at first – didn’t faze me. I was just doing what my dad had done so many Friday and Saturday nights with his friends at the Elks Club. Except I soon added Thursday nights and Monday nights to my social schedule.
            A shattered existence arose in the wake as a substitute for a life of discipline and intense focus, a life previously intermixed with profound adrenaline rushes and nosedives – the excessive highs and lows of practices and competition, success and failure. My dream died, abruptly murdered. No proper burial or memorial service. I felt robbed and directionless. Lost. My life had orbited around athletics; to me, gymnastics and I were one and the same. It gave me my self-esteem, my purpose for living. If I were no longer an athlete, what, or who was I?
            Drinking would help me find out.
            Without the dream and its purpose being alive to dictate good choices, I unconsciously sought to recreate the highs and squelch the evermore frequent lows another way. I drank to mask my introversion and insecurities; I drank to dilute my psychological and physical pain. I drank to feel accepted in my new surroundings, with my new friends. I drank to become someone else, an uninhibited life of the party who could still gain attention. But mostly I drank to drown the blossoming depression from being forced to relinquish something I loved passionately, obsessively; something in which I had invested my life. Something I didn’t know how to surrender. Something I’d erected as an idol before my God and unashamedly bowed down to.
            But the more I drank, the more depressed I became. And the more I drank, the more I found myself saying and doing things only a few months earlier I’d found reviling, repulsive, unthinkable. Impossible. Eventually I didn’t care what I said, what I did, or what I looked like. One day a concerned friend asked me when I was going to stop covering my hair with a bandana, change clothes and take a shower. Unknowingly, I’d sunk into a deep, mind-deadening depression, suffering shipwreck in my faith and in my life. Years of misdirection, lack of discipleship, hard-heartedness, hard-headedness and foolish choices led me to flail in a self-destructive pit for nearly two years.
            A legitimate child of God who consciously rejects God’s loving presence and who wanders away to deliberately wallow in slop is the most miserable of creatures. Miserable doesn’t begin to describe my emotional, physical and spiritual condition.
            Either God wearied of looking at my back or could no longer tolerate watching me cause myself so much pain and self-destruction, because He jolted me awake my sophomore year. Thankfully, He knows His sheep by name, and they hear His voice. And hear His voice, I did. In one eye-blinking moment, in a way only God can shock someone into responding to His Divine voice. In one powerful, High Definition instant, like an electric current shot into a nerve. Yet it took another semester for me to realize that I needed to avoid circumstances and people who preyed on my weaknesses and provided temptation leading to a fall. Like an alcoholic needing a new support network, I needed to avoid destructive friends.
            But good-intentioned human effort and simple courage don’t destroy strongholds. Two-and-a-half-years later I fell again. Yet this time there’d be no heavenly rescue. God obligingly stepped aside and allowed me to crash with a resounding thud. I felt His firm hand of discipline on my broken, confused heart.
            A twelve-year valley bound my life before I returned to church and Sunday morning worship then firmly informed my betrothed – Chris – that if he didn’t believe in Jesus, there would be no “us.” (Thankfully, he did, and thirteen months later we were married.) After so many barren, wasted years the process of fully, unabashedly identifying myself with the Lord commenced. It would take almost eleven more years and a heartbreaking tragedy for God to fully penetrate the self-protective fear, accumulated anger, thick pride, competitive spirit and calloused, double-minded heart.
            I was going to find out just exactly what, and who I was, with and without God.


NEXT WEEK: Another ultrasound indicates a potential problem with the pregnancy – which the doctor dismisses.  

Thanks for joining me!



NOTE: We’ll be celebrating Thanksgiving here in the United States on Thursday, November 22, so I’ll be adding a special post Wednesday in honor of this special holiday.


Monday, November 12, 2012

Running From a Pursuing God

"I fled Him down the nights and down the days 

I fled Him down the arches of the years 

I fled Him down the labyrinthine ways 

Of my own mind, and in the midst of tears 

I hid from him…."
“The Hound of Heaven”
Francis Thompson

Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened.
Romans 1:21 KJV

            I now reflect and wonder: Why did my parents allow me to devote my life to perfecting athletic skills only to abandon the most critical issue – the cultivation of my faith and spiritual life?
            Answer: They obviously didn’t think it was critical. For years my father and I argued about Christianity and faith, and he made it clear that he found organized religion a waste of time. Late one night while I sat alone on the living room couch watching a televised Billy Graham Crusade, my father entered to inspect what I eagerly watched. His eyebrows shot up in surprise, he shook his head in that, “Boy, you can’t be serious, and I’m about to burst out laughing at you,” kind of way and returned to bed. I was crushed because I felt – I knew – that my father thought I wasted my time.
            At the age of eleven, a nun at the Catholic girls school I attended opened my heart and eyes to the fact that I – everyone – is a sinner in need of a Savior, and that Savior is Jesus Christ. Accepting that, I suddenly possessed a burning desire to know Him, share Him with others and pray often. I opened my Bible, but reading it alone – minus proper discipleship – became a monumental effort I soon abandoned. Because I am a Protestant who didn’t convert to Catholicism, the meager discipling I’d been receiving from the nuns soon evaporated. I was on my own.
            My friends recoiled from my two-by-four-over-the-head evangelism, and I became alienated and isolated. They already considered me a bona fide square who spent too much time in a gym walking on a four-inch piece of wood, and they readily, and often, openly expressed their beliefs that I was a geek. Only now I was a geek with a heavy dose of pious pretense. I eagerly desired to share the source of my joy, and I didn’t hesitate to beat them over the head with their shortcomings. They made it clear they didn’t need, or want my prayers and often ridiculed me ruthlessly. Years later, one of these friends, who also happened to attend the same college as I, sat in my dormitory room, reminiscing about how much of a freak they all thought I used to be.
            No support from my parents, no support from school, no support from friends, no support from a church family. Consequently, my conviction soon sputtered and withered.
            Being an eleven-year-old geek is difficult to handle; it was easier to keep quiet or go along with the crowd than be alienated from everyone. I groped and floundered, even though I continued to pray for strength and survival, eager to hang onto the tiny, planted seed. Without mentoring or discipleship, I lost much of what I gained, the fate of my soul lay discarded as I continued to primarily devote after-school hours to homework, perfecting athletic skills, and competition. My spiritual life settled into a stagnant holding pattern.  
            During my junior year in high school, while living in California for a year in order to compete on a nationally recognized gymnastics team, my born-again uncle encouraged my faith in Christ, spoke often of God’s mercy, grace and love, and the power of His word. I’d call him for spiritual guidance and once met him at his office in a moment’s notice to talk and pray. He encouraged me to read the Bible, which I once again hungered for. The hibernating seed was once again watered and nourished.
            Eventually, instead of attending the early afternoon practice, I preferred to spend time reading through the pages of my contemporary Good News Bible he gave me. The flame was rekindled, but this time I didn’t make the mistake of trying to share my faith with my classmates or teammates – except for one girl my age who joined our team late in the competitive season. She made it clear – in subtle, loving, nonjudgmental ways – that she was a follower of Jesus Christ. I was drawn to her demeanor, her quiet sense of security, hope and joy. One night we sat talking and praying in my car after an intense practice session. She amazed me when she confessed how little value she placed in her medals and put them in a box in her closet rather than on display. Aside from my shear love of the sport, and addiction to it, accolades and awards were the reason I competed. I was trained to do so. Hungering for Christian friendships, I spent more time with my high school chemistry lab partner, Maggie.*
            Maggie was a Pentecostal Christian who tried to guide me into a more grounded faith. One night she took me to one of Chuck Smith’s Southern California tent meetings, where she appeared eager to see me traverse the aisle to make a public commitment in front of the cheering, hyped-up crowd. I remained nervous about public confessions of faith. Since I’d already done that years earlier – and received ridicule for it – I didn’t think it necessary to walk an aisle to do it again. How would another decision change my relationship with the Lord? Besides, if I did go up, everyone would think I hadn’t known the Lord before my arrival. And I couldn’t have that.
            Despite a longing for a deeper faith, my pride remained resistant to making drastic life changes. Because my early church years gave me the knowledge Jesus was the resurrected Son of God, the world’s Savior, I didn’t feel a need to do anything further with my faith, although I knew in my heart that something was missing. In retrospect, I probably feared what a deeper commitment meant, that I might really become weird, a marked outcast. I bore the scars of ridicule and inherited the stiff-necked tendencies of my ancestors, which I was perfecting. I continued to pray, read the Bible sporadically and “search.” Singing old, classic hymns of praise to God also worked as a cathartic for me; they served as a thread to my spiritual past. Yet, without the consistency and guidance I needed, I floundered and traversed highs and lows in my faith – and life.
            Through it all, it remained impossible to flee the annoying, persistent awareness that God – the hound of heaven – always peered over my shoulder, approving or disapproving my choices. He seemed persistently present, hovering close enough to gently whisper into my conscience His opinion of my actions or words. I knew when my decisions were risky, contrary to His will, plain old-fashioned good judgment, or good character, but I was growing up in an era where morality was vociferously questioned. As I aged, I deliberately, arrogantly, rebelliously ignored that voice more frequently and walked farther and farther from His merciful, protective arms.
            Eventually, it became easy to outright reject His gentle, loving touch of caution.

~  ~  ~
Next week: I continue my self-destruction on a liberal college campus in the late 70’s, and God gets my attention in a miraculous way.

Thanks for joining me!



*name changed to protect privacy