When Short Legs Happen to Good People
I first saw Corrie Johnson (then Corrie Reinhardt) about 10 years ago on the stage of a community theater doing a dandy job of portraying Anne in Anne of Green Gables. My daughter, Casey, was cast as Anne’s best friend, Diana. Casey, who dyed her hair black for the role, was a very good Diana. But Corrie, who came with natural red braids, stole the show as Anne. Like the characters they played, Corrie and Casey became fast friends.
A couple of years ago, I followed Casey into Corrie’s facebook world and was amazed at what I found there. It seems that in many ways, Corrie, in the adult world, is me. As Anne said, “Kindred spirits are not so scarce as I used to think. It’s splendid to find out there are so many of them in the world.”
Are we kindred spirits? I think so. Corrie is now married and living on a farmish place with a husband and several children. She seems to believe that children are precious and funny and make for good blog posts. Her stories are familiar. It seems like I have lived many of them. And her view of God looks a lot like mine.
A few days ago, I read an article she wrote and asked her permission to re-publish it here. This is the story of her third pregnancy. Read until the end. You won’t soon forget it.
A little over a year ago, we found out there might be a problem.
Actually, October 2nd, to be exact. I’d just thanked the ultrasound tech for using warm gel as she slid the Doppler over my belly. She laughed. She took measurements and clicked photos.
I asked, “Is it hard?”
She looked at me. “Is what hard?”
“When you see something that’s not quite right. When you see a problem. Is it hard to tell the patient?”
She smiled in a soft, painful way. She spoke quietly.
“Yeah, it’s hard.”
A few minutes later she left the room to go get my OB. Because, apparently, I’d just asked about myself.
They explained a few things. Not everything was measuring 20 weeks in average size. One of her legs wasn’t straight. And both femurs were short. And here, here’s an appointment on October 17th with a high-risk maternal-fetal clinic we’re referring you to…
Okay. Breathe a little. So her legs are a little short. No big deal. The next ultrasound is just to confirm that maybe she’ll be on the petite side. And I didn’t give a whole lot of thought to our next appointment for fifteen more days.
On October 17th, we had another ultrasound. Then, via Skype, we met my new high-risk OB that I was sure I’d be only seeing once. I’d never Skyped before and the computer wasn’t working. I laughed. Then the screen crackled and Dr. Lain’s face smiled at us. I waved.
I heard new words. New words that took my breath away. New words that slapped me in the face and punched me in the stomach. New words like “skeletal dysplasia” and “could be lethal” and “sometimes the baby is so fragile it can’t survive birth” and “if the heart and lungs grow at an average size and the ribcage stays small, the baby won’t be able to breathe past its first few moments” and “you have the option of terminating this pregnancy.”
I will hate Skype for the rest of my life. I sat there, frozen. I nodded. I bit my lip. And I didn’t have a notepad to write down words and questions because I really just had no idea we’d be having a conversation like that. Absorbing the information was like putting your hand on a hot stove and just watching a scar melt into your skin.
And although nothing about my pregnancy actually changed, what I knew about it changed, and the next 18 weeks were just as seared into my memory.
Ultrasounds were scheduled twice a month looking for clues – for hairline fractures or visible breaks in the bones. For specific telltale signs of common diagnoses. There were none. None to dread and none to give a glimmer of relief. Only that she was small. Only that her legs weren’t straight. Only that she might still not survive birth. Only that we didn’t have answers and would have to wait and see. Wait and see.
We kept friends and family updated, of course. I remember writing through tears –
We are so grateful to be expecting another baby. We don’t want fear to rob us of one moment of this joy. We are thankful that God chose us to be Lucy’s parents and that through this situation, whatever comes of it, she will experience what it means to be loved; that regardless of what Lucy’s life looks like or how long it lasts that she and our other daughters will be equipped to understand that we live in a broken world and that the hope and peace of Christ is relevant in all situations.
We know that God is always good, and we are small in perspective, but greatly loved.
We have been encouraged in remembering that when the Israelites wandered in the desert, God provided them manna. The literal translation of the word manna is “What is it?” In their desert wandering, their provision and sustenance was something they didn’t even have a name for. The mystery, the very unknown, was what God provided them in their need. Pray for our peace in this mystery as we work our way through what is unclear. Pray for wisdom as we carefully move forward on making decisions, for our acceptance of the unknown with open hands. This is our manna. Though this scenario is something we would probably never pick for ourselves, we have not been without peace. … Pray for us to continue giving thanks.
And let me tell you: when I look back on those words, it’s like I’m reading something that someone brave wrote and I.did.not.feel.brave.
There was a sadness and an ache present even on my most peaceful days. But one thing that struck me repeatedly were responses of support that went something like this –
I just don’t understand why this is happening to you. You’re such a good person.
Hoping for the best outcome, which is nothing less than what you deserve.
Lots of good vibes for you because you guys are awesome.
And I really have no answer to that. I only have questions. And please, please know that there were days I felt unraveled and all the kindnesses and prayers and words of strength hemmed me in and those words got me through eighteen of the hardest weeks of my life. But I have this to say:
Karma chokes on its own advice at the foot of the Cross.
Karma exists on the assumptions that you get what you deserve, that what goes around comes around, and that if bad things happen to good people there’s a glitch in the system.
That doesn’t hem anybody in. It leaves me feeling a little frayed.
Karma insists that God – if there is a god – owes me something defined by my own sense of justice and my own works of goodness. It suggests that my pregnancy doesn’t deserve to be tainted with fear and sadness. It doesn’t actually answer why bad things happen to good people, nor does it define what a good person is, nor does it suggest a moral standard by which divine favors are meted out.
Karma doesn’t answer why Jesus stayed on the cross if bad things don’t happen to good people and you get what you deserve.
But if not my pregnancy, then whose? As wildly as I pled with God Almighty to spare her, the question I had to face every time was – why should he? What does he owe me?
Karma doesn’t give me any hope. It doesn’t give me anything to grip tightly. And in my desperate, white knuckle grip, I wanted to know that even if my daughter died, I was still loved by a God who is actively redeeming crap and restoring wholeness in this broken world and that one day suffering will be over. Starving children? Karma doesn’t answer that. Babies born with AIDS? Karma doesn’t address that. Human trafficking? Karma comes up short.
I believe youth are walking away from the Church in droves because their concept of Jesus is based in a concept of karma and it’s letting them down because karma always will. The Church has to get with the program and get our answer straight on suffering. Suffering is part of the picture. It just is. How are we going to view and respond to it?
Karma doesn’t reach out and identify with your pain or cup your face and promise that one day you won’t be crying anymore. Karma doesn’t answer why your past has scars and it doesn’t give you any hope for the future. It doesn’t acknowledge your pain, answer your pain, or ever promise a permanent end to your pain. I wrote in another email update –
Our question is not, “Why do bad things happen?” but “How in the world do good things still happen when we are so undeserving?” There will always be wounding and pain as long as we’re walking this earth, there will always be unanswered questions, and there will always be brokenness, disease, loneliness, and strife. The cross is the only thing that can bind up hurt and transform lives. It is relevant and real, and we’re so thankful that God takes us where we’re at – whether curled up in a ball of tears or angrily screaming at him when it seems it takes all the life out of you just to live and make it through another day. He holds every broken heart and the pieces of every shattered dream. The cross stands alone in its promise of hope, peace, healing, and transforming the miserable into the incredible.
Those words? They don’t really seem that overtly brave to me. They’re just words that I believe and live. And they’re words that I want my daughters – all of my daughters – to live and believe, too. Life is hard – but God is good.
Corrie’s third daughter, Lucy, is 10 months old now. She has been diagnosed with Osteogenesis Imperfecta Type IV. She likes crawling and eating dead bugs. Corrie blogs at pigintheriver.blogspot.com