When Short Legs Happen to Good People

Editor’s note: Today’s guest post is from Corrie Johnson. She possesses a rare gift of conveying strength of emotion with spellbinding perspective, which means that I am either laughing or crying (sometimes both) when finished reading her posts, and no matter what, am always thinking about them for days afterward. When I landed a spot on TheoCult and was told I had one guest post to give away, I knew it would be hers. You can get your daily dose of Corrie on her blog, www.pigintheriver.blogspot.com, where she chronicles her adventures with “Lumberjack” and their “houseful of daughters.”

* * * * *

A little over a year ago, we found out there might be a problem.

Actually, October 2nd, to be exact. I’d just thanked the ultrasound tech for using warm gel as she slid the Doppler over my belly. She laughed. She took measurements and clicked photos.

I asked, “Is it hard?”

She looked at me. “Is what hard?”

“When you see something that’s not quite right. When you see a problem. Is it hard to tell the patient?”

She smiled in a soft, painful way. She spoke quietly.

“Yeah, it’s hard.”

A few minutes later she left the room to go get my OB. Because, apparently, I’d just asked about myself.

They explained a few things. Not everything was measuring 20 weeks in average size. One of her legs wasn’t straight. And both femurs were short. And here, here’s an appointment on October 17th with a high-risk maternal-fetal clinic we’re referring you to…

Wait, what?

Okay. Breathe a little. So her legs are a little short. No big deal. The next ultrasound is just to confirm that maybe she’ll be on the petite side. And I didn’t give a whole lot of thought to our next appointment for fifteen more days.

On October 17th, we had another ultrasound. Then, via Skype, we met my new high-risk OB that I was sure I’d be only seeing once. I’d never Skyped before and the computer wasn’t working. I laughed. Then the screen crackled and Dr. Lain’s face smiled at us. I waved.

I heard new words. New words that took my breath away. New words that slapped me in the face and punched me in the stomach. New words like “skeletal dysplasia” and “could be lethal” and “sometimes the baby is so fragile it can’t survive birth” and “if the heart and lungs grow at an average size and the ribcage stays small, the baby won’t be able to breathe past its first few moments” and “you have the option of terminating this pregnancy.”

I will hate Skype for the rest of my life. I sat there, frozen. I nodded. I bit my lip. And I didn’t have a notepad to write down words and questions because I really just had no idea we’d be having a conversation like that. Absorbing the information was like putting your hand on a hot stove and just watching a scar melt into your skin.

And although nothing about my pregnancy actually changed, what I knew about it changed, and the next 18 weeks were just as seared into my memory.

Ultrasounds were scheduled twice a month looking for clues – for hairline fractures or visible breaks in the bones. For specific telltale signs of common diagnoses. There were none. None to dread and none to give a glimmer of relief. Only that she was small. Only that her legs weren’t straight. Only that she might still not survive birth. Only that we didn’t have answers and would have to wait and see. Wait and see.

We kept friends and family updated, of course. I remember writing through tears –

We are so grateful to be expecting another baby. We don’t want fear to rob us of one moment of this joy. We are thankful that God chose us to be Lucy’s parents and that through this situation, whatever comes of it, she will experience what it means to be loved; that regardless of what Lucy’s life looks like or how long it lasts that she and our other daughters will be equipped to understand that we live in a broken world and that the hope and peace of Christ is relevant in all situations.

We know that God is always good, and we are small in perspective, but greatly loved.

 ///

We have been encouraged in remembering that when the Israelites wandered in the desert, God provided them manna. The literal translation of the word manna is “What is it?” In their desert wandering, their provision and sustenance was something they didn’t even have a name for. The mystery, the very unknown, was what God provided them in their need. Pray for our peace in this mystery as we work our way through what is unclear. Pray for wisdom as we carefully move forward on making decisions, for our acceptance of the unknown with open hands. This is our manna. Though this scenario is something we would probably never pick for ourselves, we have not been without peace. … Pray for us to continue giving thanks.

And let me tell you: when I look back on those words, it’s like I’m reading something that someone brave wrote and I.did.not.feel.brave.

There was a sadness and an ache present even on my most peaceful days. But one thing that struck me repeatedly were responses of support that went something like this –

I just don’t understand why this is happening to you. You’re such a good person.

Hoping for the best outcome, which is nothing less than what you deserve.

Lots of good vibes for you because you guys are awesome.

And I really have no answer to that. I only have questions. And please, please know that there were days I felt unraveled and all the kindnesses and prayers and words of strength hemmed me in and those words got me through eighteen of the hardest weeks of my life. But I have this to say:

Karma chokes on its own advice at the foot of the Cross.

Karma exists on the assumptions that you get what you deserve, that what goes around comes around, and that if bad things happen to good people there’s a glitch in the system.

That doesn’t hem anybody in. It leaves me feeling a little frayed.

Karma insists that God – if there is a god – owes me something defined by my own sense of justice and my own works of goodness. It suggests that my pregnancy doesn’t deserve to be tainted with fear and sadness. It doesn’t actually answer why bad things happen to good people, nor does it define what a good person is, nor does it suggest a moral standard by which divine favors are meted out.

Karma doesn’t answer why Jesus stayed on the cross if bad things don’t happen to good people and you get what you deserve.

But if not my pregnancy, then whose? As wildly as I pled with God Almighty to spare her, the question I had to face every time was –  why should he? What does he owe me?

Karma doesn’t give me any hope. It doesn’t give me anything to grip tightly. And in my desperate, white knuckle grip, I wanted to  know that even if my daughter died, I was still loved by a God who is actively redeeming crap and restoring wholeness in this broken world and that one day suffering will be over. Starving children? Karma doesn’t answer that. Babies born with AIDS? Karma doesn’t address that. Human trafficking? Karma comes up short.

I believe youth are walking away from the Church in droves because their concept of Jesus is based in a concept of karma and it’s letting them down because karma always will. The Church has to get with the program and get our answer straight on suffering. Suffering is part of the picture. It just is. How are we going to view and respond to it?

Karma doesn’t reach out and identify with your pain or cup your face and promise that one day you won’t be crying anymore. Karma doesn’t answer why your past has scars and it doesn’t give you any hope for the future. It doesn’t acknowledge your pain, answer your pain, or ever promise a permanent end to your pain. I wrote in another email update –

Our question is not, “Why do bad things happen?” but “How in the world do good things still happen when we are so undeserving?” There will always be wounding and pain as long as we’re walking this earth, there will always be unanswered questions, and there will always be brokenness, disease, loneliness, and strife. The cross is the only thing that can bind up hurt and transform lives. It is relevant and real, and we’re so thankful that God takes us where we’re at – whether curled up in a ball of tears or angrily screaming at him when it seems it takes all the life out of you just to live and make it through another day. He holds every broken heart and the pieces of every shattered dream. The cross stands alone in its promise of hope, peace, healing, and transforming the miserable into the incredible.  

Those words? They don’t really seem that overtly brave to me. They’re just words that I believe and live. And they’re words that I want my daughters – all of my daughters – to live and believe, too. Life is hard – but God is good.

Post script — Her official diagnosis is Osteogenesis Imperfecta Type IV. She is 10 months old and likes crawling and eating dead bugs.

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9 thoughts on “When Short Legs Happen to Good People

  1. Great post! Karma seems pretty nice when it’s applied to the “take a penny, give a penny” jar at Starbucks. But when put under any theological or experiential pressure it either falls apart entirely or gives you some terrible and hopeless answers.

    Also, thank you for not “ending the pregnancy.” You (like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego) have obeyed the will of God even when the cost was unimaginably high.

    • I like the penny analogy. 🙂 And it was our desire to be able to say, as Shadrach, Meshach & Abednego, that even if God did not deliver a “good” outcome that we would still praise him.
      Thanks for your encouragement, Mark.

  2. My daughter’s name is also Lucy, and like you we had that experience of a scary pregnancy with her after an ultrasound found some serious abnormalities. I appreciate your overview of karma vs reality and the suffering that is in the world. So many of us are so blessed with comfort and safety that we slip into thinking, consciously or unconsciously, that an easy life is the normal baseline of existence in this world and suffering is either injustice or God’s judgement.

    • LOVE that we have a special Lucy-girl in common. And yes, too often we mistake the blessing of comforts for the expectation that they’re a deserved. And isn’t that exactly what we ought not to do? Rather than respond in gratitude for an undeserved gift we carry on like it’s our every right to have it in the first place.

  3. Thanks, Corrie, for this post. My wife and I have two kids with cystic fibrosis, and wrestle with many of the same questions/issues that you faced/are facing. Your juxtaposition of karma vs grace is a thought I’ve not yet had and I so appreciated your expression of the truth of grace in the face of evil. Peace of Christ to you…

    • Thanks for your thoughts, Jay. The book of Job is incredibly powerful in meeting and answering pain. In all that Job lost and suffered, it culminated in *knowing God.* I have to ask myself, “What am I willing to lose in order to know Christ more deeply?” That’s hard question to actually ask – and even harder to actually answer. But it helps to frame our pain, to know it’s not a random roll of the dice and devoid of purpose or redemption.

  4. Thanks for sharing your story. You interweave your experience and theology simply and well in this. Especially liked your insight on areas and entitlement in our church mindset.

    I’d be interested to know how you would define the difference between karma and the biblical concept of reaping/sowing. They have similar language at times, yet I think they are worlds apart.

    Also, I’m glad your little girl is eating bugs.

  5. I think your little bug eater is just soooo precious and I am looking forward to becoming her friend more as she grows older! Four girls are so much fun!!! I know from experience.

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