A Beautiful Curse: Reflections on Pregnancy

“When a woman is giving birth, she has sorrow because her hour has come, but when she has delivered the baby, she no longer remembers the anguish, for the joy that a human being has been born into the world.” – John 16:21

In the creation story, God curses the human race for its sin and lack of trust in Him as a Good Creator. This curse results in an increase in pain and suffering for both men and women. The specific curse for women was increased pain in childbirth. Often times when Christians speak of childbirth, we completely skip discussing the effects of the curse and jump right to the amazing joy that children bring. Often times, the consistent pain of gestation and the agony of labor are completely avoided in our conversation about the beauty of pregnancy. But, part of redemption is knowing the suffering, pain, despair, and darkness that comes before the gladness, joy, happiness, and the light. Part of the Christian’s witness to the beauty of pregnancy and childbirth is being honest about its inherent pain and suffering. When the whole of pregnancy is acknowledged, then and only then, will we see the true beauty of pregnancy and new life.

I see no better way to discuss this truth then expressing the deep admiration I have for my wife, Stephanie. Stephanie is currently seven and a half months pregnant with our twin boys, Abel James and August John. Her pregnancy has not been easy, and the labor will not be any easier. But, Stephanie amazes me every single day with her love and deep affection for our sons. And, her love for our boys is best realized in showing all the pain she has, is, and will suffer for them.

Stephanie’s pregnancy started with seventeen weeks of morning sickness. Often she would vomit more than fifteen times in a single twenty-four-hour period. Cologne, Indian food, having an empty stomach, even elevator rides, would all trigger her digestive system to revolt in disagreement. Even if there was nothing in her stomach, she would experience constant acid reflux and dry heaving. At week sixteen she hit the climax of her morning sickness when she also got a stomach bug and had to be hospitalized for two days. The stomach bug depleted her body of all its electrolytes and made her tachycardic. The boys didn’t help, because they just kept taking what they needed from their mom. For two days, she had a heart rate of over 125 bpm and could barely walk because of how week she was. But, she persevered.

After the hospitalization, Stephanie’s morning sickness did start to subside, and she had a brief respite from any major discomforts. But starting at around week twenty, her body began to prepare for the birth, and the constant pains of a changing body structure started. Abel and August’s growth has started to hurt and pain Stephanie’s body. Her abs are stretching and separating, causing consistent pain and discomfort. Every part of her body has become more sensitive, hitting into something by accident feels like getting punched. Around week twenty-six, Stephanie started to get increasingly short of breath. Abel and August are getting so big that they’re constantly pushing Stephanie’s intestines and stomach up, which presses on her diaphragm and lungs. Stephanie can actually no longer sleep on her back because she literally cannot breathe. And, her nighttime sleep, in general, has transformed into three power naps, causing increased tiredness. These are just some of the physical and anatomical changes that cause constant pain for my wife.

But, Stephanie also has emotional pain as well. When she was hospitalized, we sat in the emergency room and had two nurses try and find the babies heartbeats. These labor and delivery nurses could only find one. An ultrasound was then scheduled to check on the health of the boys. We waited for three hours, and those three hours were some of the most painful in our lives. Stephanie, more than I, felt the emotional weight of not knowing if one of our sons was alive. We cried together, read Psalms, prayed, and waited. God was good to us, and both of the boys were healthy. At our week twenty ultrasound, we found out that both the boys were very small even for twins. One was the 11th percentile (for the size of babies in the U.S.A.) and the other the 13th. Stephanie felt for the boys, wanting desperately for them to grow. They did grow for a while, but at week twenty-eight we were told that one baby was growing while the other’s growth had been stunted. Abel was at the 27th percentile while August was only the 9th. Stephanie and I were both devastated and scared. But, Stephanie is the one who literally feels the boys grow and move in her. One of the boys in hidden under her placenta and is harder to feel. This paired with knowing one was smaller caused increased emotional pain and anxiety for Stephanie. We cried together more and prayed desperately for God to grow August. And, grow August He has. All this to say, mothers do not only have physical pain during gestation, but they also experience emotional pain.

Let’s be honest. For almost all women: pregnancy is difficult; it is painful; it is stressful; it is hard work; and, in reality, pregnancy is accursed. But, what a beautiful curse it is, for it is a curse that displays fully the message of divine redemption. Gina Loehr wrote on pregnancies saying, “Women will be saved through childbearing,” St. Paul wrote in his first letter to Timothy. If bearing a child in one’s body is salvific, it is because the experience leads us into the redemptive mystery of the cross. As Christ offered his body and shed his blood to give us life, so too every mother offers her body and sheds her blood to give life. The new life every mother brings to the world follows the “Passion” of pregnancy and labor. Let’s not pretend the Resurrection should come without the cross.” These words ring true for a husband watching his wife experience the pain and suffering of child-bearing.

Stephanie has been such a beautiful display of Christ to me these past seven and a half months. She is literally giving of herself every single day. She is giving her body, her nutrients, her hormones, her oxygen, her blood, her literal life to our beautiful twin boys. She is giving shelter and food to these helpless human beings. Jesus once taught, “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me…Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.” I do not think it is far off to say that mothers, when they bear and raise children, are doing these same actions to the least of these, the most vulnerable, unborn children. For when a baby in the womb is hungry, the mother feeds it; when it is thirsty, she gives it drink; the baby is a stranger to her body, and she welcomes it; it is naked, and she covers it.

Stephanie has yet to give birth. But, her labor will be the climax of her pregnancy, the darkest night. It is in this darkest night, that we by the grace of God will see the light of our children’s faces! If gestation is represented by the passion of Christ, then labor is the cross. As Rachel Stone writes, “Birth is not passive, pointless, cruel suffering. It is active work—labor…These mothers suffered pain, perhaps even risked death, to bring forth someone new, to bring forth new life…And so when Jesus goes to the cross “for the joy set before him,” as the writer of Hebrews puts it, it’s not masochistic, nor is it passive. He puts forth strength and endurance; like childbirth, it is a commitment to struggle.” Even in Acts Chapter Two, when Peter is preaching on Christ’s death on the cross, the specific Greek word ōdinas (ὠδῖνας), used for the “agony” of Christ’s sufferings, is best translated as “birth pangs.” This paints for us a vivid image of Christ’s salvation of mankind through his death on the cross as a birth. How beautiful it is that our Lord empathizes with women by speaking of his salvation of all mankind as birth! The same way Jesus gave birth to new spiritual life in his death and resurrection, so to Stephanie will give birth to the new life of our twin boys. Birth is the last great sacrifice before the joy of new life and resurrection! As Jesus taught his disciples, “When a woman is giving birth, she has sorrow because her hour has come, but when she has delivered the baby, she no longer remembers the anguish, for the joy that a human being has been born into the world.” And, this is the beautiful curse, known as child-bearing: that deep pain brings even deeper joy.

Women experience pain, and then bring new life into the world. And, we need to continually proclaim how beautiful this process is, but also how hard childbearing and birth is. Women experience continuous pain and the greatest pain in the world to give children life. And, all women and mothers deserve constant support, praise, love, and honor for the way they carry their cross. The more we understand and discuss this pain the greater we can support the needs of women. We need a culture that understands the deep pain that child-bearing brings, so we can more fully experience the joy of new life.

I write these words as both a praise to my God who gave birth to resurrection life in the person of Jesus Christ and as a thanks to my wife, Stephanie Augusta Elliott. Your pain, your sacrifice, and constant work to support Abel and August do not go unnoticed. You are a beautiful image of Christ’s sacrificial love every day. I love you, and always will!

As the Ruin Falls: Pain & Beauty; Destruction & Resurrection

Photo Credit: Philippe Wojazer / Reuters

Saturday morning my wife, Stephanie, and I with our friends and family celebrated the new life and coming birth of our twin sons, Abel James and August John Elliott. Gray clouds covered the sky, and a steady rain fell on the ground, a typical spring day in the South Puget Sound. I awoke early to bake four country loafs and slice apples for our charcuterie boards. After packing our car with food and supplies, we drove to pick up our morning coffee and then headed to the baby shower. The morning continued and we helped my wife’s family setup the event room with flowers and other decorations. People trickled in little by little: immediate family, extended family, old friends, new friends, loving pastors, and my beautiful wife, carrying my two twin boys surrounded me. Everyone was smiling and laughing. The happiness was palpable, and the party was the exact opposite of the dreary, depressing weather outside. During the baby shower, happiness overcame me, and, in that moment, my heart was overfilled with contentment and joy, similar to reaching the peak of a mountain or watching the sunset at the beach. It was a moment where one is thankful just to exist, to see and experience beauty, to love, and to be loved. It is in these moments that God’s presence feels so close, that mankind is able to “taste and see that the Lord is good.”[1]

But, what does man do with the evil that befalls him? What happens when we taste the bitterness of this world rather than the goodness of God? Where is God in these moments? For even in our happiness, mankind cannot escape the cold grasp of death. Even in celebrating the new life of my beautiful twin boys, I am unable evade the business of the grave. Today is the twenty-first anniversary of my father’s death. And, his death makes bitter even the joy of new life.

People say that time heals all wounds, but my father’s death seems to become more painful every year. The more joy I experience in my life, the more pain I feel from his death. The more goodness I experience in my life, such as graduation, marriage, and now children, the more I long for my Father to be alive to experience it with me. It is so painful to have children and to know they will never meet their grandfather. My twin boys, Abel and August, will never get to sit on Grandpa John’s lap; my twin boys will never feel my father’s strong hands hold them ever so gently; my twin boys will never see their grandpa pray by their bedside begging God to guide them in his ways; my twins will never know the love my father had for God, my mom, my siblings, and me. Even more so having children reminds me that I will never experience handing my son to my dad to hold; I will never feel the loving and firm embrace of my dad; I will never experience my dad telling me how proud he is of me as a father, a husband and a man. But, I surmise that the pain I feel is simply a product of the beauty I experienced in being my father’s son. Memories of my father’s laugh, of my father’s love, and my father’s faith are still with me to this day. The pain I feel is simply the absence of my father in my life.

It is strangely poetic that the Notre Dame cathedral caught fire today. The 856-year-old cathedral, captivated millions of admirers and pilgrims who walked through its doors in awe of its beauty. In Notre Dame, we saw a physical embodiment of beauty. And to lose that pains us. The pain of its destruction is so deeply felt exactly because the world knew its beauty and wonder. So, is the death of a human soul! To know and love someone only to see their body deteriorate over time or suddenly collapse, causes humans deep pain. Yet, we are powerless to stop this destruction.

Jesus Christ, our Savior, saw his beautiful creation dying and deteriorating. But, unlike mankind, he was not powerless to stop its destruction. So, he in fellowship with the Holy Trinity descended into humanity and assumed our nature. Christ Jesus was goodness, justice, love, and beauty encapsulated in a human. He was fully God and fully man, and we rejected him. He was the most beautiful thing that this world has ever experienced, and we killed him. ­And, mankind watched his body crumble in weakness. Jesus’ body was broken and soul crushed for humanity, like Notre Dame burning, the human embodiment of beauty was destroyed.

So, why did the triune God allow Jesus’ humanity to taste this bitterness? Why did Jesus experience this immense pain? Why was the beauty of Jesus allowed to be extinguished? Why was man permitted to eradicate the goodness of Jesus? Doesn’t this seem counter-productive to saving mankind?

Death became intertwined into the fabric of humanity after the fall of Adam and Eve. Death in a way represents our destroyed beauty, our fall from grace. Death is like the flame that just consumed Notre Dame, it is a sweltering fire that consumes beauty. And, Jesus, as God, assumed all of humanity, which means he assumed even the experience of pain and death. Jesus willingly allowed himself to experience the ugly reality of pain and death, because He wished to restore mankind’s beauty. He experienced death to bring new life. He experienced sickness to bring a remedy. He experienced sorrow to bring joy. He experienced pain to bring relief. And, that is what the resurrection shows. The true beauty of Jesus Christ is that he did not stay broken, dead in the ground. No, our Savior rose triumphant. Like a phoenix from the ashes, like the sun from the darkness of night, like a bright diamond from the darkness of the ground, our Savior was raised anew. Jesus was the firstborn of the dead, and He is a sign of the great things to come. For, Jesus is going to return and remake this world. Jesus resurrected not for his salvation alone, but for the salvation of the world. Jesus wants to heal the world; he wants to make the world beautiful again.

Many of the great moments in our lives are connected to parties. Birthdays, graduations, weddings, and baby showers are often moments of sheer happiness and beauty. In these moments, surrounded by friends and family, we love and feel loved. Our Savior, Christ Jesus, is going to throw a beautiful celebration for the world when he returns. At this party Jesus will restore all of our brokenness. All of our physical ailments will disappear, death will be no more, and all tears of sadness will be wiped away.[2] The brief momentary joy I felt at my sons’ baby shower was just that, momentary. But, that great and beautiful party when Jesus returns shall be eternal. For, when Christ returns all things will be made beautiful and indestructible, and mankind will once again be in perfect fellowship with God, who is beauty itself.

I have now come to terms that the pain of my Father’s death will never be resolved this side of eternity. Our Savior thinks it fitting that we should experience pain to grow our dependence on him. As C.S. Lewis once wrote in a poem, “For this I bless you as the ruin falls. The pains you give me are more precious than all other gains.”[3] When our life shatters and we experience deep pain and brokenness, it is those who seek Jesus in humility that will experience true life. For it is in Jesus that all temporal things will find their eternity. And, this is the hope that I will teach my sons: Pain is a reality of human life, but the beauty of Jesus Christ is greater than this pain.

[1] Psalm 34:8.

[2] Revelation 21.

[3] http://www.pford.stjohnsem.edu/ford/cslewis/documents/notes/Wordsworth%20SBJ%20As%20the%20ruin%20.pdf.

 

20 Years

John Francis Elliot, my father, died twenty years ago on this day:

 

Where were you at my soccer games?

Where were you at my high school graduation?

Where were you when I graduated college with honors?

Where were you when I joined my soul with my wife in marriage?

Where were you?

 

Where are you for mom?

Where are you when the Patriots game is on?

Where are you to offer me advice on my marriage?

Where are you when I have my anxiety attacks, because I think I’ll die young?

Where are you?

 

Where will you be when I call mom to tell her Stephanie is pregnant?

Where will you be when I hold my firstborn child lovingly in my arms?

Where will you be when my children ask, “Why is there no Grandpa Elliott?”

Where will you be when I have questions on how to be a disciplined yet gracious parent?

Where will you be?

 

These questions haunt me,

my soul cannot find rest

These questions go unanswered

though my mind knows the truth

These questions keep me up at night

my body is tired

 

God where are you?

Where were you to comfort a confused toddler?

Where are you to quench my anxious heart?

Where will you be in the hour of my death?

 

I hear a voice

It questions me

 

Where were you when I created the earth out of nothing?

Where were you when I breathed divine life into humanity?

Where were you when my Son experienced the pain of death at your hand?

Where were you?

 

Where are you when the earth quakes?

Where are you when the waters rage?

Where are you when the winds terrorize?

Where are you when kings and politicians war?

Where are you?

 

Where will you be when I come to judge the world?

Where will you be when I destroy sin, death, and the devil forever?

Where will you be when I melt the elements and rebuild the earth anew?

Where will you be?

 

Triune God, I know that no man can thwart your will

I know that life and death are in your hands

I know that you are present with me now.

 

Father, I know that you direct all the ways of man

Eternal Son, I know you will judge the living and the dead

Holy Spirit, I know that you are the seal of the resurrection and eternal life in God

 

Triune God, I knew you with my intellect

but now my heart knows your presence

Cause my soul to love your Word

Cause my heart to walk in daily repentance

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thoughts on Fatherhood from One Who is Fatherless

Today, being the sixteenth anniversary of my father’s death, I reflect and meditate on the truths of God pertaining to death and life. This is my consolation. Reflecting on the nature of God truly is the only consolation I have found in this life, in my sorrow. Asking questions of God, and meditating on how He Himself is the answer is the only source of contentment and satisfaction. The triune God is the summum bonum, the ultimate good, and until we find satisfaction in Him we will never find peace, we will never be content, we will never find happiness.

So then, let this be my meditation:


C.S. Lewis once wrote that his literary mentor, George Macdonald, believed that Fatherhood must have been at the center of the universe. Yes, fatherhood, specifically, the fatherhood of the triune God to his creatures, for we are not only called his “creatures” but his “children.”


We see this theme throughout all of Scripture, and we see it most in the relationship of God the Father and His Son. We are told by God through the incarnation of Christ that the Triune God is in Himself a family, a divine family. The triune God is a Father, who eternally begets the Son, and in their union they emanate the Spirit. This is beautiful, for God fashioned us in this very image. God made the base structure of humanity the family unit. Fatherhood and Family is at the center of the very universe. The entire structure of our world, civilizations, and economy is the family unit. Without it, we would fall apart. I believe that this is a beautiful reminder of the nature of man, that we are secondary, that without God we fall apart. The temporal family is then a means of seeing the eternal, divine Family.


But what of those who are fatherless? What of those who are motherless? What of the orphans? This is a question I have often asked in the absence of my Father. The answer to this question is beautiful, the answer is God and His work in the Church. We know that Christ is the head of the body, and that with Christ’s mind unifying His body, it acts as the hands and feet of God. The Church is used as the physical manifestation of God’s nature, for we know the Spirit indwells to testify of Christ, who being the physical manifestation of the Father, we imitate. Thus the body should testify of God’s nature through God, for God is at work in us for His good pleasure (Philippians 2:13). We are the family of God, being fathered by the triune God.


 This is why the Bible talks of the Church as a family unit. This is why Jesus is the husband, and the Church is the bride. This is why God is our Father, and fellow Christians are our brothers and sisters. We are His children, and He is our Father! This is why Jesus stated that only those who obey the will of the Father are His brothers, sisters, and mothers. Jesus as our co-heir lovingly led us to His Father. And, as His children God lovingly disciplines us as Hebrews 12:7-8 states, “God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons.” This is also why God is known in the Old Testament as a Father to the fatherless and a helper of the widow. And in the New Testament, this is why pure and undefiled religion is to visit the fatherless and the widow!


 So then, the Church is a family in itself. It is a family that has a greater bond than even the biological family. Our God truly is the Father to the fatherless and a defender of the widow. I can tell you that in my own experience, as I was raised fatherless, the Church provided fathers for me. Loving men, some were married and some did not have children and were single, came alongside of me and taught me. They mentored me, took me to baseball games, and showed me the truth of the Gospel. My mother who would sometimes be unable to provide, received help from the church. God worked through his Church; He was my Father, when I was hopelessly fatherless! He was my mother’s defender! This is what God shows us in how Paul relates with Timothy. Timothy, who did not have a Christian father, receives fathering not from his biological father but rather from Paul, his spiritual father.


So then let this be a challenge to you! Take every opportunity to help those who are fatherless and widowed, who are abandoned, who are weak. Take it from one who was fatherless, God is displayed through the familial relations, which He designed and commands us to follow. We are fallen; we experience death. God then has given us redemption! God is our Father, and by His Spirit we cry out to Him, “Abba Father!” Let us then act upon this. Let us proclaim to the world through both word and deed that our Father will father the fatherless, he will defend the widow, for He is the redemption of humanity. In human despair, God is the answer. In suffering, He is joy. And when death rears its ugly face, He is our life. Living out the Gospel requires being part of a family, an eternal family. Let us through the work of the triune God show the world that our God is Love, our God is Life, our God is the Father of the universe.


In loving memory of John Francis Elliott: Child of God, Gracious Husband, and Loving Father.

You are remembered because you attached yourself to the truth of God, which is eternal.