Thursday, October 27, 2016

Waiting for the Lord to Teach Me

Navigating through life's challenges requires much more than we can gain by sight and sound. While grieving the death of my unborn son, this became more apparent to me than ever as I found myself grappling with the mystery and doctrinal silence surrounding miscarriage and stillbirth. But the Lord has promised, "I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you." (John 14:18)

As I sat on my bed pondering on my topic for an upcoming speaking assignment, I loved hearing the sound of the wind rustling through the trees outside my window. At the same time, the low setting sun projected a beautiful display of light dancing through those fluttering leaves onto the wall across from me. As nice as this was, the sound of my family watching a movie in the other room became too distracting for me to concentrate on the message I was to share, so I inserted a pair of earplugs, and went to resume my work in relative silence. However, I immediately found I was now distracted and agitated by that same dancing sunlight on the wall.
I was struck by how much that light, which before had been in beautiful harmony with the sound of the rustling leaves, now seemed so drastically changed in the absence of my sense of hearing. It seemed to be moving too fast, jittering, crazy, bright, and flashing. What moments ago had brought such a sense of serenity, was now jostling to my senses, distracting, and even a little frightful without the accompanying sound to make sense of it, and this was despite my mental awareness of what was causing the light.

This sudden change in my perception when missing the input of one of my senses reminded me of motion sickness. This sickness is caused when the perception of our sense of movement, is incongruent with or is simply not receiving the confirming input from our sense of sight. In our family this happens most often to our young children before they graduate to the forward facing car seat, especially on winding roads or in stop and go traffic when changes in motion are frequent. The incongruences in the senses are alarming and agitating to the body so much as to cause physical sickness in response--perhaps as the body’s subtle way of saying “STOP IT! I DON'T UNDERSTAND THIS, AND I THINK IT MIGHT BE DANGEROUS!” And we do stop because we have to clean up the smelly mess it has made.

Spiritual Senses

These examples made me consider how important each of our senses really are in helping us understand our environment, our circumstances, and ourselves. When our senses are allowed to work in harmony, they can bring greater peace and greater enjoyment. Or at times they may also help us to correctly identify and respond to danger when it really is present. However, there is one critically important sense which is most often neglected, ignored, or plugged up as I did to my own hearing to avoid unpleasant perception; or sometimes it is simply forgotten, unused, and unhoned to its potential usefulness. That sense is our spiritual discernment.

There are many things in life which, in the absence of the feed we should be getting from our spiritual senses, will seem scary, confusing, agitating, and might even make us feel sick, worried, or alone. Were these perceptions of our physical senses rightly paired with the perceptions of our spirit, things that seem agitating might actually feel incredibly peaceful and serene, things that seem scary might appear to be minute and unalarming, things that are sad might feel more joyful, and things which cause us to despair might be beaming brightly with hope.

Without our spiritual senses we might fall victim to dangers we could have otherwise avoided. It would be like trying to back up my new 12 passenger van without the new back up camera we recently installed. Now that is dangerous! The man who can attest to that is the man whose parked car I dented before we installed it.
Many things could go unseen without the backup camera.
And, as with any of our senses, there are some things which must be primarily observed with our spiritual senses. The beautiful melody of the piano cannot be fully appreciated by sight, though you might see it played. A fresh baked apple pie may also be pleasant to the eye, and perhaps it’s texture is nice to the touch, but primarily we want to smell and taste that pie. So it is with spiritual things. They may have an effect on our other senses, but primarily the things of the spirit can only be learned and experienced spiritually. 1 Cor. 2:14 says, “But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.”

Testing and Refinement

Though my own spiritual discernment has developed by degrees through various necessities and experiences throughout my life, never has it been been as desperately needed and as sorely tested as it has been throughout this last year beginning with the unexpected death of our unborn son, Matthias.

photo by Jessica Benson

As many of you know, traversing the world of emotions and grief while and trying to assemble an understanding of what it means for us and for our child when death precedes birth is extremely challenging.  At first I felt sure that this child was a living and eternal spirit: I had seen him kicking and waving on the ultrasound, I had felt his movements, and I had bonded with him immensely. However, when I turned to the word of God for comfort and guidance, I found very little. Nothing by way of official doctrine has been revealed in relation to the unborn except that the spirit enters the body sometime in the space between conception and birth, and of course that all unborn life is sanctified and should be protected.

Perhaps this and similar unrevealed issues are particularly more difficult for members of the church of Jesus Christ than for those of other faiths or non religious backgrounds simply  because we are accustomed to having so much of sound doctrine revealed through authorized servants of God to rely on.

To me, not having the written and spoken word of prophetic doctrine about something so significant as the spiritual state and eternal destiny of my own deceased child, was extremely difficult. I felt like there was so much revealed about infants and children who died after birth to assure parents of their spiritual and eternal well being and their opportunity to be sealed eternally to their families. Why would the Lord be so merciful and plentiful in binding up the wounds of those grieving parents and yet remain silent to the similar grief of others?

I trusted the Lord. I knew he was perfectly merciful and just, and I knew he had compassion for my grief and that there must be reasons for his silence on the subject, but I started to doubt and fear, wondering if his silence meant that there was no spirit there and there were no such promises intended. Perhaps this child that I mourned was not an eternal being and that life I had loved would never be mine again. As much as these possibilities seemed to contradict the logic of life and the mercy of God, I didn’t want to rely on assumptions and logic for something so important to me as the existence and eternal destiny of my child.

I remember feeling like Helen Keller. There was nothing I could see or hear from the Lord on this subject. It was all darkness and silence, and I wept helplessly as I saw myself groping my way through this pain without any way to understand it. I started to search for anything I could find to reassure me. I bought books from the LDS bookstore, I scoured the internet reading about the experiences and feelings of others. I came across a large body of people struggling with similar grief, but also a large swath of various opinions and theories that only added to my confusion and increased my doubts.

When the temple finally opened again, after it had been closed for cleaning during the weeks after my delivery, I fled to it to find relief. There I was chastened and humbled, but comforted, by what I learned. I had received a blessing when the baby died that had promised me the Lord would reveal to me his mysteries. I realized now that I had been so desperate and anxious for answers that I was searching out the philosophies of  men, when all I needed was the faith and patience to wait for the Lord to teach me in his own time, as he had promised to do.

I began to understand that I really was Helen Keller in this matter, but like Helen Keller, I had been given the opportunity to develop and refine my other senses to a degree I would have never achieved otherwise and to gain greater fluency in the language of the spirit, to navigate through this darkness. Little by little, and line upon line, I began to receive greater understanding, and actually discovered that these packets of truth and light had been coming all along. As I rose above my anxiety and fear and trusted in my Heavenly Father, the Holy Ghost was able to bring all these things to my remembrance and touch my heart with truth at various times, but especially during prayer, scripture study, and temple worship.  

Finding My Missing Glass

One of the most powerful experiences came unexpectedly one night when I had gotten up and gone to the kitchen in the dark to get a drink of water. I went to find my glass, which I remembered placing to the right of the sink just before bed, but it was not there. You have to understand that this was my favorite cup: the only tall glass which had not been broken by my children over the years, so I looked all around, but still it was nowhere. I could see the plastic kids cups everywhere, but I’m not a fan of them, especially in the dark when I'm not sure what might be lurking at the bottom.

Then, just as I was ready to give up and grab a kids cup, a distinct impression came to me: “You know where you left your cup, you just can't see it. Reach for it. It’s there.” I stared at the spot again confused. I could see nothing there. Still, I slowly reached out my hand and, sure enough, it came directly upon the invisible cup. I stood marveling at how invisible that cup had been. I had expected to see it because I could see everything else on the counter, but the other cups were opaque, and the one I sought was too pure and too clear, rendering it completely invisible to me in that level of darkness.

I stumbled back to my bed, anxious to resume my sleep, but, just as I closed my eyes, another powerful impression came to me: “Your son is there, you just can't see him.” The impression had come so powerfully that I was emboldened to pray with faith that I might know of my son. At the very instant I had uttered the prayer, an overwhelming, beautiful experience commenced where I felt my son’s presence and the power and the love of my savior, Jesus Christ, more than I had ever experienced in my life.

I prayed again in my heart asking, “Lord, how is it done? How could I but ask and receive so great a witness?” It just had seemed too easy.

The answer came directly and astonishingly to my heart which said, “There are special privileges given to mothers with children beyond the veil.” The simultaneous understanding unfolded to me that, as parents, we have an eternal calling and relationship to our children that God enables us to exercise through our love, faith and prayers regardless their physical or geographical location. A parent with a child on a mission across the world has this privilege, and that connection extends across the veil as well.

This amazing experience with my son continued for several hours that night, and my belief in his existence as well as my faith in God and my Savior, Jesus Christ, by whom these experiences have come, have been strengthened immensely as this same experience has repeated itself multiple times since.

Trusting The Lord

Though some of my experiences have been powerful and miraculous like this, most of them have been small and subtle, but clear spiritual promptings. Through these, I have learned a great deal about these mysteries, and though there are a great many more I do not yet understand, the things I’ve learned spiritually have brought irreplaceable strength, joy, and peace about our son and his mission. Moreover, they have taught me to trust the Lord, his wisdom, and his timing, and solidified my faith that he has prepared all things for my good and that he will reveal all things to me as fast as I am ready to receive them.

I have also found that some missing pieces to the puzzle which looked like gaping holes and brought me great angst, were never actually missing at all. As I have humbled myself enough to give all my pieces to the Lord, he has sometimes helped me to see a different picture entirely than the one I was trying to construct.

We Are Spiritual Beings

I testify that, like my son, each one of us is a spiritual being. Our spirits have existed long before our bodies, and have abilities to communicate and receive communication from our Creator in ways that we don’t yet fully realize. No matter what particular challenges you are facing in your lives, I promise that the spirit can help, and in many instances, it is the only way to receive what you truly need. I’ve since understood that, although some parents may have written and spoken assurances from God, no parent who has lost a child will ever be satisfied and fully at peace until they have received those truths and assurances for themselves by the Spirit of God.

But we must pay attention. Just as we can’t enjoy a sunset without pausing to look, we have to give ourselves time free of distraction to ponder and take in what the Holy Ghost has to teach us. If we pull out the spiritual ear plugs, things will make sense. Difficult things will become beautiful things, and frightening things will become peaceful things. I know that God lives, that His Son is our Savior. His church has been restored upon the earth with the fulness of the everlasting gospel to offer each of us, and if we reach out in faith and take hold of it spiritually, that fulness can be ours.

A Note to my Grieving Sisters:

If you you are here because you have experienced or are experiencing a similar loss, I am so sorry. You are in my prayers. I feel a great love for you and I ache for your pain. I have prayed to know how to administer to you the way so many sisters have me through this, and I continually pray that God and his angels will administer to you in every way that I cannot do. In sharing what I have, I hope that you will be strengthened in your courage, hope, and faith to seek diligently and wait patiently for answers from the Lord. 

However, I don't want to interfere with your own personal spiritual learning and I would encourage you to make no inferences from my experiences in regards your own child, nor to discredit any of the promptings and guidance you have already had that might appear to contradict my own. This was one of the mistakes I made and it wasn't helpful. These are personal answers and personal experiences and yours may be the same or different regardless of gestational age or other similarities or differences. The Lord has reserved these truths to reveal to us personally for our particular circumstances when and how we need to receive them. I also do not claim to have a perfect knowledge of any of these things, only a growing belief that has come line upon line, and I know the Lord can, and will, and has probably already begun to teach you as well according to his infinite love and wisdom. 

I have found this favorite verse of mine very much applies to me in this situation: "Verily, verily, I say unto you, ye are little children, and ye have not as yet understood how great blessings the Father hath in his own hands and prepared for you; And ye cannot bear all things now; nevertheless, be of good cheer, for I will lead you along." (D&C 78:17-18)


Sarah said...

This was so beautiful and touching to read; truly sacred and holy grounds. I wept thinking about your personal loss, Jeanine, and the loss of other mothers like you. My prayer is that those who mourn in this way will be comforted. Thank you for sharing your message.

Julz said...

You're an amazingly strong and spiritual daughter ... and a wonderful mom. I'm very proud of you and your continual effort to learn and understand mysteries and events that impact you and your family.

Daphne Constantinou said...

I am so moved by your experience and hope that I can learn to have a fraction of the faith you have. Much love to you and may you continue to be comforted.

Daphne Constantinou said...

Thank you for sharing this moving experience. Your faith is truly an inspiration and may you continue to be comforted in your journey. Lots of love to you

LGH said...

Very poignant and tender...And, very like you to have such a moving spiritual experience in the wake of such a tragedy. You are just inspiring in so many ways, dear Jeanine.

Stacey said...

Beautifully written Jeanine. Thanks so much for sharing! Love you friend!!

Havilah G. said...

This was touching, beautiful,and truly sacred. I am truly moved. Thank you so much from sharing.