Monday, October 13, 2008

When My Heart Condemns Me

Several months ago I happened upon on a blog that quickly found a place in my heart. Check it out to read the entire story of this precious family: Abby and John Gjertsen have graciously given me permission to include parts of their story here for you.

Almost everyone I've talked to about miscarriage has felt some twinges (or large amounts) of guilt, wondering what they did wrong or could have done more right. Abby addresses this very issue in a recent post. Their son James lived 482 days; just this past August he died. A few months earlier they miscarried their daughter Dora. Please keep them in your prayers.


when my heart condemns me
Posted on September 4th, 2008 by Abby.

Today would have been James’s swallow study at the hospital. I have the detailed instructions for it marked through on my calendar, leaving no space to write anything new on today’s date. (That’s a good metaphor for my time right now–recently very full, and presently very empty.) The swallow study was supposed to give us a better understanding of what was making James choke on certain foods and thin liquids. I regret not spending more time trying to feed him by mouth, but we were waiting for the results of the study. He did enjoy eating, though. I wish I had tried to fit in more spoon-feedings simply because he liked it, at least until the coughing or retching began.

I regret a lot of things, looking back, and although everyone tries to talk me out of it, I feel a pretty sizable sense of guilt about James’s death. He was my responsibility. I was on duty. What if it was not his neurological problems that killed him, but something I did wrong? Maybe I should not have let him sleep on his tummy after he came home from the hospital (and was off all the monitors). The cloth diaper he was lying on might have kept him from breathing (although he was able to turn his head). His sugars were good…I had been giving him free water at night, but water should not cause any problems…I go through the list over and over in my mind.

I have confessed these things to God and begged His and James’s forgiveness. So when the guilt-tape starts playing again, I go to 1 John 3:16-20.

This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth. This then is how we know that we belong to the truth, and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence whenever our hearts condemn us. For God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything.

God knows that I really did try to lay my life down for James and love him with actions and in truth, although I was not perfect in faith, diligence, or courage. Christ enabled me to do what I did do, partly by setting me the example of love through His literal sacrifice. Hebrews 10:14-23 confirms that Jesus’ sacrifice was sufficient to secure our complete forgiveness for sin, and not only that, but also to cleanse us from a guilty conscience. That is the source of the hope we profess. And that is what I tell my guilty heart, as many times as it needs to hear it. God forgives me through Jesus, and Jesus has also cleansed me from a guilty conscience. God does work creatively and redemptively, even through my mistakes and bad decisions.

I like to think that James has forgiven me, too, if he needed to at all. I never knew him to hold a grudge when I had to hurt him in life, at least not for long. He seemed to understand that it was all meant for his good, and he would put it behind him pretty quickly (after an angry shout sometimes).

I will write soon about the divine comfort and joy God has given me since James died, but I wanted to share these thoughts first. I suspect that there’s a lot of guilt out there amongst parents, especially “special needs” parents (and medical professionals), who are responsible for life-and-death decisions and interventions day after day. I just wanted to share the verses that help me avoid the temptation to listen to my heart and despair.

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