Monday, May 16, 2011

I Will Tell You of the Wrestle Which I Had Before God

"Mary and Baby" by Liz Lemon Swindle

Please understand this is my story. It comes from my heart. It isn’t meant to make anyone feel bad or to influence anyone’s decisions. It is just my story, my experience, and how the Lord has softened and changed my heart. I am only sharing this because I can’t shake the strong feeling that the Lord wants me to share the miracle He has worked in my life —and I’ve learned it is never wise to ignore Him. I’m turning off the comments on this post because I don’t want anyone to feel like they have to justify their choices or compare them to mine. I also don’t think I could handle any criticism on this one. It is too much a part of me, too close to my heart. We each walk different paths, and this is where God has led me.

As I was holding my two-hour-old son in my arms I felt a still small voice whisper to me “Be ready to have another baby sooner than you plan. One is ready to come.” In my mind I scoffed. I was still reeling from the exertion of natural childbirth and I was certain that I didn’t want to go through that again for a long time. Yet in my heart I heard the message and tucked it away.

A year later I was pregnant again and I knew, deep in my heart, that this baby was suppose to come to our family. I’d been expecting her.

After giving birth to my daughter I waited again for the still small voice. I didn’t hear anything. I waited. I prayed. I pondered and the only thing I heard was “It is up to you.” Those words, whispered so softly to my soul, sent me on one of the hardest and grueling journeys of my life.

It is up to me? What in the world do you mean by that?

Can’t you just tell me?

You mean you are going to make me work to find out?

Weeks earlier I’d scoffed when one of my friends had mentioned that she was considering not using birth control. She said she was ready and willing to consecrate her fertility to the Lord. I thought she was crazy. I thought that there was no way in the whole wide world that I could ever do that. My husband was willing but I didn’t think I’d ever be able to give up that much control.

Still her words came back to me, and back to me, and back to me. For weeks they wouldn’t leave me alone.

I began pondering on the word “consecration”. Elder D. Todd Christofferson explained that the Lord’s law of consecration

“…has an economic role but, more than that, is an application of celestial law to life here and now. To consecrate is to set apart or dedicate something as sacred, devoted to holy purposes. True success in this life comes in consecrating our lives—that is, our time and choices—to God’s purposes.”
Did God expect me to consecrate ALL of myself… including my fertility to him? That seemed like a lot to ask, almost too much.

Yet when I thought about consecrating myself fully to the Lord-- from an eternal perspective-- I was completely unafraid. I felt my heart reach out to the spirits waiting. I felt infused with power beyond my own and knew that God would give me the strength to handle anything, or anyone, who came. I felt the heavens rejoice and the gratitude of those yet unborn. I was filled with joy and peace that I can hardly describe.

Yet almost in the same breath I would begin to think about the world, about the people who would judge me for having too many children or children too close together. I could have 10 kids! I thought about how my family would react. Are people still excited for you when you are having your 8th baby? When would I ever have time to do what I wanted? I wondered how we would provide for all those children. I’d have to drive a bus! What would my body look like after? I’d most certainly go crazy.

Those thoughts filled my heart and mind with fear, paralyzing fear, that closed off my heart and sent me reeling with doubts.

For months I agonized. I cried. I prayed. I argued. I pleaded. I rationalized. I studied. I cried some more. Yet no matter what I did the still small voice persisted.

It is up to you.

Like Jacob in the Old Testament and Enos in the Book of Mormon, I literally wrestled with God.

I knew what He was offering… but my will wouldn’t bend.

Then one Sunday afternoon I came across an interview with a young woman who was 27 and had just given birth to her fifth child. She spoke very honestly and openly about the choices she and her husband had made, the challenges they had faced, and the blessings they’d received. In speaking of her children she explained that she and her husband “Try sincerely to accept what we can take, not just what would be convenient.” She also went on to say that she felt that, “These children’s spirits are going to go somewhere and I want them to come here. I know they will be coming to a loving place. It is a really committed form of missionary work at its heart. These children will be born in the covenant and they will always be a part of that, always a part of what we share.”

As I read those words I felt my testimony burn within me and I felt the presence of those spirits who were waiting. I felt my heart turning to them and I knew that in their eyes there was no greater gift I could give them than to clothe them in their immortal bodies. Could I tell them no? Could I one day look those spirits in the face and explain to them that they had to wait, that they had to go to a different mother, to a different family, because I was afraid of what the world would say or because I had “better” plans?

It made my heart ache and I really began to re-examine my testimony of the gospel. If the gospel was true, and there really were hosts of spirits waiting for their turn at mortality, then nothing else in my life would compare with the opportunity to help God clothe those spirits in their immortal tabernacles. Bodies, which because of the atonement, would all become immortal and could one day house Gods and Goddesses. Was there anything greater I could do with my “plans” that that? Yet, if the gospel wasn’t true and giving birth was really just giving existence to the non-existent, as so many in the world believe, then consecrating my fertility to a non-existent deity was the stupidest thing I could ever do.

Did I really have a testimony of the Plan of Salvation? Was God really serious when He said “be fruitful” or was He just giving a suggestion? Did I really believe God when He promised that “children are a heritage from the Lord? (Psalms 127:3)” Did I truly believe?

I felt my spirit yielding but still my mind pushed back against God.

I continued to wrestle.

A few weeks later as I was swimming laps at the gym I was pondering over my choices when a thought hit me so powerfully that I began to cry mid-stroke (yes, such a thing is possible) as the spirit rushed over me.

“It is all based on your willingness,” the still small voice whispered, “Are you willing to be a handmaiden of the Lord?”

Through my tears the image of Mary, the mother of Christ, flooded my vision. I saw her as she wrestled within herself asking, “How shall this be, seeing I know not a man?”. I saw understanding come to her as the angel testified “…with God nothing shall be impossible.” Then I heard her speak the words that must have made the Heavens roar with joy, “Behold the handmaiden of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word.” (Luke 1:38)

Mary didn’t have to become the mother of the Savior. If Mary had refused God would have found someone else. The Lord was offering her a great honor and blessing but it was up to her to accept it.

Mary accepted. She was willing to do the Lord’s work even though it meant she might lose her betrothed, that she might be stoned to death, that she would lose the respect and love of her family and community, and that she would know unfathomable sorrow because of what her son would suffer. Still, she didn’t let rationalization or worldly cares influence her decision. She consecrated herself to the work of the Lord and, ultimately, her one choice made the plan of salvation possible.

Over the next several weeks these truths began to distill upon my soul. My heart began to change. I saw that the only thing I truly had to offer God—the only thing He hadn’t given me—was myself and my willingness to be an instrument in His work.

“Stubbornness, rebellion, and rationalization must be abandoned”, continued Elder Christofferson said in his talk on consecration, “and in their place submission, a desire for correction, and acceptance of all that the Lord may require.”

I knew it was impossible for me to know what the Lord would require of me. God might only give me the two children I already had or…. He might give me 10 more. I could also have health problems or life circumstances that would change my ability to have more children. Yet no matter what was in store I wanted God to know my heart and all that I had was His. Then if circumstances beyond my control influenced my family size I would be able to say, like King Benjamin counseled, Lord “I give not because I have not, but if I had I would give.” (Mosiah 4:24) I also knew that, like Mary, choosing to walk down the road of consecration would not be easy but that it would bring me joy greater than I could ever imagine.

So, was I willing?

I knew what God was offering me and my heart yearned for it; but accepting it required the biggest and scariest jump into the unknown I’d ever taken. It required letting go of fear. It took surrender. It took letting go of my “control” and it took faith to know that if I jumped He would catch me.

As much as I wanted it my spirit wouldn’t yield.

Then one day, after another exhausting wrestle with the Lord, I decided I couldn’t keep living my life in fear. I could no longer stand on the edge of the chasm and cower. I either had to jump or retreat. I knew that either way He would still love me, but I knew that there was a great gift waiting for me on the other side. I just had to trust Him.

I closed my eyes and held my breath

And

I

Let go


“Behold the handmaiden of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word.”


Our wrestle is now over

I know in whose arms I’ve landed

And

I trust Him

Completely