An Offering by Taraneh Kerley

“Pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our consciences, but shouts in our pains. It is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” C.S. Lewis

 

As an introvert and someone who struggles with small talk, Darin suggested that I share a piece of myself during an Offertory to hasten my introduction to this wonderful congregation. Of course, my first reaction was of muted terror, but my second reaction was to remember the power of words to fill the blanks that exist between us. I considered several topics before settling on the story I am going to tell you today. It is a story of how I came to learn that God’s challenges in our lives are never His way of abandoning us. Rather, I have come to know God in a deeper, more profound way, because of what happened. That story is the story of how I was destroyed, and made new, by bringing my son, Beren, into this world.

What follows is the shortest version of a long story, a story I have joked requires wine, and time. Without either of those now, I will do my best to share with you what I believe is the best way to know me. I have come to know God in a deeper, more profound way, because of what happened.

To come back to the quote I shared with you- the great Christian writer, C.S. Lewis, wrote that “Pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our consciences, but shouts in our pains. It is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” Before I became pregnant with my son I thought of myself as a believer. I heard God’s whispers. I shaped my life around Him. My husband and I shared God in our marriage.  I poured my heart into ministry. Yet, it wasn’t until God shouted to me in my pain that I realized He was rousing me from a deaf world to a living, hearing world of deeper faith, greater love, and more powerful hope.

 Just a few weeks after my husband and I were told we would not be able to have children, I got to tell him I was, indeed, carrying our child. Less than two weeks after exalting in our news I was in the hospital, diagnosed with a severe pregnancy complication known as hyperemesis gravidarum. Hyperemesis gravidarum causes extreme and nearly constant vomiting, severe dehydration, electrolyte imbalances, an inability for the mother to gain or maintain weight, collapsed veins, etc., all of which threaten the life of the unborn baby. Thankfully, there are medications that make life livable and help keep the pregnancy viable. However, the side effects of those medications are serious in and of themselves.

 Many women suffer from morning sickness and struggle with nausea or vomiting at some point of their pregnancies, and I can commiserate with them. What I could not bear was the women, and some men, who told me “Oh, it will pass” or “Oh, all women go through this”. I wanted to shout at them, that NO, not all women go through this, that less than 1% of all women will ever experience what I was going through. But, instead, I went mute. I didn’t feel like talking much at all.

 How can I explain to you what hyperemesis did to me? It became my Devil, my worst enemy, a shadow lurking in the back of my mind at all times, a demon wrenching my body and breaking my heart with each passing day. Depression is not a strong enough word to capture the depths that my soul sank to during those first weeks, which soon turned into months of daily sickness, daily fear that my child would die before I ever knew him. I began missing things that mattered to me, avoiding people I wasn’t ready to talk about it with, skipping church, half out of illness, half out of spiritual exhaustion. I did myself a disservice by brushing over it, making jokes about it, not sharing with even those closest to me, like my sister, for example, just how bad my health was, and just how bad I was hurting. Worst of all was the despair that set into my heart; God was so far from me.

 Yet, the worst had not yet come. When I was four months pregnant I felt a sharp pain in my stomach while I was at work. I distinctly remember my first thought was “I do not want to lose him here. Let me lose him at home, at least”. I left work and went to see my doctor. He immediately sent me to the hospital, where hours later, I was given a choice: undergo surgery to remove what was thought to be a cyst putting pressure on my womb, or, wait and hope the cyst would not kill our baby. Although this specific operation’s risks to me were low overall, there was a 50% chance the surgery would kill my son, but a nearly 100% chance he would die without it. It was an easy choice for us.

When I woke up in the recovery room I heard two heartbeat monitors. He was alive. I barely heard the surgeon explain to me that it hadn’t been a cyst but a non-cancerous tumor, the size of a baseball. It had consumed the right side of my reproductive system which was removed during the operation. All I cared about at the time was that my baby was alive. The recovery from the operation was extremely difficult; I was still suffering from hyperemesis, abdominal surgery, and internal sutures that were used to hold my growing baby in place since some of the supportive organs had been removed. I do not share these details with you out of morbid sincerity but rather to flesh out the depths of the struggle I experienced.

 The trials of my impending labor seemed like a respite.

As with every other part of my pregnancy, though, Beren’s birth would test me. He came early, my labor was irregular, and another emergency operation was needed to bring him into the world. I will spare you the worst of the details, but that operation, and my recovery, were as challenging as the rest of my pregnancy. I remember lying in the operating room as the realization hit me in waves: it was all over. I had survived, and so had my son.

 Several weeks after Beren’s birth I was diagnosed with a specific form of short-term PTSD that affects people whose lives were endangered for prolonged periods of time outside of combat. Thanks to the support of my incredible family, friends, doctors, pastors, and husband, I recovered.

I struggled, after he was first born, to understand why everything had had to be that way, why this sweet, tiny miracle’s creation had caused me such pain and heartbreak. I wasn’t angry with God so much as I was numb to Him where I had been alive in Him before. I went through the motions of being a Christian, but I didn’t feel like one.

A beloved mentor and pastor of mine, Dave, finally spoke some sense into me. He told me it is okay to cry. It is okay to hurt, it is okay to struggle. Knowing how much I loved C.S. Lewis he told me about Lewis’ dear friend, Sheldon Vanauken, who lost his wife. C.S. Lewis shared with Sheldon his ideas of pain and how pain is one of God’s clearest and brightest ways of teaching us the depths of love. Vanauken wrote in response to Lewis that our overwhelming pains, our tragedies, need a mercy as severe as the ache in our hearts-
“A mercy as severe as death, a severity as merciful as love.”

What I experienced in bringing Beren into this world was the deepest challenge to my faith. It was my deepest pain, God’s megaphone to my deafness. I needed from Him a severe mercy. God did not go back to the beginning and spare me the physical, emotional, and spiritual pain, but, He did replace that pain with a love for my son as severe as the traumas I experienced. So even though I felt alone, even though I despaired, even though the earthly pains felt too heavy to bear with a heavenly faith, I now know that I was never alone. HE was with US.

He was with Justin, with my siblings, with my parents, my in-laws, our friends, who carried what they knew of our pain with us. God’s mercy was in their helping hands, their loving hearts. God was in the days my mother spent living with us, helping me walk when I was too weak to move alone. God was in the dozens of times my father cooked me meals he knew I wouldn’t or couldn’t eat. God was in my brother’s jokes that sent me into laughter even when I was stubbornly miserable. God was in my sister’s check ins, the hours she spent sitting with me when I couldn’t do much else. God was in my brother-in-law’s visits and the little treats he’d drop off. God was in my dear friends whose support was and is immeasurable. God was in my mother-in-law’s bags and boxes of food, treats, and supplies, and in my father-in-law’s Reese’s McFlurries when they were suddenly the only thing I could eat. God was in the doctors who saved my life, who saved my son’s life, and who helped guide me to health again.  Most of all, God was in Justin, my husband, my breath, my rock, my True North, who carried me physically and metaphorically, when I didn’t have the strength to do it alone.

 I hope that in sharing this condensed version of my story with you, I have made a few things clear. One, that my son is a miracle. His little smiles, his crazy chattering, his fat little hands grabbing onto my fingers, every moment of his life is a miracle. Two, that I had earthly support beyond measure in the form of my family, friends, and pastors. We are Christ’s family here on earth and I have come to know and love that family and the depths of the support we are able to give to one another. Third, that my husband is my hero. Without him, there were several moments where I may have faltered and my strength would have failed. Among other things, this experience taught me the power of marriage and its ability to guide use through the stormiest seas. Lastly, that faith may be shaken by the tragedies, suffering, and struggles of your life, but that these are the moments where God is most loudly shouting “I am with you”.

 So, Iron Works Church, this is what the Lord has done for me. Through His providence and His mercy, He made me a mother, He made me a warrior, He made me a survivor. Most of all, He taught me that I am never alone.