Jacob wrestling with the angel of God and not letting go!
(As told to me by my mother yesterday in a long phone call.)
After a scorching summer's day,August 3, 1953, my mother had finally fed her two little boys, 2 and 4, a light snack supper and sent them with my father to do the bedtime routine. The loud play and active antics of her two little ones had tired her out. Resting her swollen feet on a pillow as she sat on a stool at the kitchen counter, she munched the last few bites of her own sandwich. Suddenly, a gush of water started flowing from her body. Panic immediately struck her heart. "It can't be! I am only 6 1/2 months pregnant. What is happening?!"
Her shrill yell to my father brought him running to see what was the matter. A call to the doctor, their friend, the information that he was out taking flying lessons and it wasn't clear when he would be reachable. After one other devastating miscarriage, my mom began to pray, "Please, Lord, let this baby live. I need your help."
After waiting an hour for the phone to ring, the pains in her womb began to get strong. "I think we need to go the hospital immediately," she told my father in a trembling voice. He had placed the two boys in their king size bed and asked his friend to please sleep with them for the night. His friend crawled into the middle of the sleeping boys and watched over them as they slept.
After my father gingerly placed my mom in the car, he walked around the car with fear in his heart to drive to the hospital. "The doctor called and he will meet you at the hospital," his friend cried out from the house as he closed the car door. He crept in the dark of night, along the country driveway and then sped away toward the hospital, some 25 miles distant. The hollow darkness seemed to mirror the dread and fear they both felt in their hearts and they pray silent heart prayers for God's protection.
The next couple of hours was a blur. Being rushed to the delivery room on a gurney, anesthesia, and then the next memory of waking up out of a fog to see my father and the doctor looking over her with eyes of concern. "What happened?" she asked timidly.
Gently they told her that she had a little girl, somewhere around 3 pounds. But, time would only tell if she would live or die, as she was having difficulty breathing and was in quite a fragile state. My sweet mom was forced to go home by herself, without a baby in her arms. The little baby girl, (me!) was placed in a small bed with a gigantic oxygen tent hissing with oxygen. In the 1950's, children did not commonly live if they were born too early, and if they did live, there was a great chance that they would be blinded from too much oxygen exposure to their eyes.
Day by day, my mother was allowed to call the hospital to hear about my health. Waiting for ounces of weight gain was the hope, but some days, the baby seemed to move ahead and some days backwards. She walked many, many miles of country side during those days, praying and seeking to find some kind of peace and solace as she awaited the fate of her tiny little girl. Finally, after 2 months, it seemed the wee one would live and she was allowed to bring her home.
The next years were filled with asthma, respiratory problems, and hospitalizations. Yet, my stubborn spirit seemed to help me keep going. Perhaps it was through all the illnesses, when I so longed to be normal and play outside with all my other friends, that God was giving me practice at being strong, at forbearing, at overcoming. He designed me with my personality, but He shaped it through the circumstances of my life.It wasn't until I was a little older that it was discovered that my eyesight was very bad, possibly from the oxygen exposure and yet glasses, contacts, surgery, eventually after many years, brought my sight up to almost normal. I could always see, so not being blind like many others 50's premature babies, I was very blessed.
As I was sharing this story yesterday at a birthday lunch with some friends, one of my sweet friends said, "You know, Sally, it seems that you have been living against the odds your whole life. Coming into the world, battling for your very existence, seems to have been a foretelling of the rest of your life."
I think she was right. My whole life, it seems, God has called me to struggle and to battle. He called Clay and me to pursue ideals of family, motherhood, mission and discipleship against the cultural morals and values of our day. Yet, as we would seek God and read His word, it seemed we could not do any less. As we spent time reading our Bible and searching His heart, He seemed to lead us, again and again, to hold onto an idealistic family life, to stand against cultural messages in order to seek to bring redemption to our little part of the world, for the sake of His kingdom.
Even as my mother was fearful of the unknown of my birth, so there were many years and countless times of being in the dark in my own life, seeking God, praying for wisdom, reading the Word to find strength and guidance for one more day.
It was in the dark, quiet of my own room where I began to understand integrity. People in my life and culture always gave me permission to compromise and to give in--to take the easy route. Only God saw the battle of my heart through so many seasons. Only God would know if I made one more faith decision to trust Him, to keep going to hold His hand, to blindly believe in the reality of what His word said in the face of circumstances that suggested we "give up our ideals--our hard work to establish a ministry to families--the temptation to provide for our own needs when we could not imagine how we would make it--the feeling that "I can't go on. I am not adequate." and yet still keeping on, hard after God and His blessing on our lives.
There is something about getting older that makes a birthday a time of reflection. Yesterday morning, I lit my candles in my bedroom, got some strong tea, made some blueberry muffins for myself and climbed back into bed before anyone else was up except Clay--he is always up at the crack of dawn. I had the luxury of over an hour to read and have a quiet time and it was a blessed time as it happens so rarely.
I am at the age where I am gaining perspective. I can see the pathways that God led me on were intentional. As his child and He my Father, his standard for me is the best--excellence of character, holiness, strength training for the journey, humbling that I might have a heart of compassion for others, testing of faith, so that it could grow.
It was good to reflect where I had come from and where I was going. Yes, it had been a life of battle, and yet God himself had led us to and through this life. God was building all along, shaping souls and hearts and building our children, our ministry and our messages--one day, one decision of faith, one 24 hours of work at a time.
I also remembered Jacob, God's example to me in the midst of it all. Jacob, such a picture of life, wrestling with the angel of God, "I will not give up until you bless me!" And so, Israel became the new name of Jacob, the father of the jews--Israel means to wrestle with God. So, his life is the picture of what our lives will be like in a fallen world--wrestling to find righteousness, to seek God, to establish a life of faith, to raise a godly heritage. Wrestling seemed to be God's way for his children--that they would not let go--that they would seek Him until they found His blessing in the midst of a world raging against His ways. Yet, in Revelation, he says it is the over-comers, those who persevere, those who hold on to the end, who will find his blessing and His rest.
How grateful I am that His Spirit kept me going forward, holding on to ideals, living by faith while not seeing the end, sometimes barely taking one step forward at a time. Yet, how privileged to have been in the race for righteousness-and then seeking to pass on the baton to our children that they could run their race, and carry on righteousness in their generation. How satisfying it is to see God, Himself, speaking to my children as they begin to take responsibility for His call on them in this world. I quote from Sarah's blog, (the rest can be found here
Truly, it is worth all the struggle to see my children walking with God. From Sarah:
"I have prayed for ease because I was weary, but perhaps what I should pray for is vigor. Not release from struggle, but a newborn strength that will help me to bear the wilds of this wondrous road. Not escape, but a heart sparked by hope, a will empowered by supernatural courage. Who can walk to the high and holy places of God? Those who rise on the strength of His own wings. Who can traverse impossible ways with him, as Abraham and David, Joshua and Jesus? Those who pray not for escape, but for zeal, for Spirit’s breath in their lungs, and Spirit fire kindling their hearts to endure. We can run for the valley and God will still love us, but I decided last night that I don’t want to. With David, I want to believe that:
God girds me with strength and makes my way blameless. He makes my feet like hinds’ feet, and sets me on my high places. He trains my hands for battle so that I can bend a bow of bronze. His right hand upholds me. His gentleness makes me great. He enlarges my steps under me. My feet have not slipped. (Psalm 18)
Lord help me. Mountain life, here I come."
And so now, in reflection, my heartfelt prayer, with thanksgiving for His Faithful ways, is this, "Please keep me faithful, help me to hear your voice, to follow hard after you, to believe in you in all aspects of my life, to live boldly for your kingdom, to not give up in times of weariness or darkness, but to walk faithfully more and more until I see your face."
Grace and strength to you today, too, as you seek to live out your story faithfully before God who sees and God who gives life.