Tag Archives: miscarriage

Hot Water

I’m not so much on the science, never have been. It explains away so much of the poetry in life. I remember being actually sad in the third grade when we learned that rainbows were merely light passing through water. I’d rather them simply be a sign from God, like in Noah’s story, rather than banal scientific fact. Same with flowers that spring up where you didn’t plant them. Why do we have to attribute that to bird poo? In my book, they’re just a beautiful surprise from a romantic God. My distaste for demystification goes all the way back to my very young days in which I was amazed at how the insides of an egg went from soupy to solid after some time in hot water. How could something so simple bridge the difference between splat and boing? How could the possibility of bouncing exist in the same egg that minutes before had been such a mess on the inside?

I want to think this is what trials, the “hot water” in our lives, are for: to get us from being so easily splattered to people who bounce. If we’re supposed to equate problems with “great joy” (James 1:2), it had better be for something worthwhile like that. Personally, I am not holy enough yet to respond naturally to trials with joy. I will not be joyfully cheering if my car explodes tomorrow. But…to see the grace of God while I rebuild my life, that would produce joy. Albeit slowly, I’m guessing.

In Philip Yancey’s What’s So Amazing About Grace, he claims God gives away grace in a way that is “almost wasteful.” It’s sloshing out of the too-full bucket with every step. In fact, this is how God gives everything. The disciples needed some fish. When they did as Jesus suggested and threw the nets over the other side, “they couldn’t haul in the net because there were so many fish in it” (John 21:6, NLT). A crowd needed dinner. Jesus created so much that everyone ate and twelve baskets of leftovers were collected (John 6:13). You need a Savior who loves you. The love of Jesus is so wide and so long and so high and so deep that it’s literally impossible for the human brain to understand (Ephesians 3:18). You have a life, but Jesus offers you one that is “richer and more satisfying” than anything you’d have by following your own desires (John 10:10b). Jesus is all about infinitely more, fuller, bigger, greater, wilder than you can ask or even imagine (Ephesians 3:20). It’s not just that Jesus is all you need; he’s all you need and a billion percent more.

If the hot water fortifies your heart and mind and the fortification of your heart and mind allows you to bounce, then I suppose I can stand the heat. As Dallas Willard wrote, God’s “overriding concern” is for my joy, and it’s clearly more fun to bounce than splat.

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Eight Things You Have to Stop Saying to Women Who Struggle with Infertility.

Last month I wrote a paper about counseling women who struggle with infertility. Having received that diagnosis myself and living through multiple miscarriages and failed attempts at pregnancy, it’s a pain I know much more intimately than I would like. It’s also a pain God is redeeming by allowing me to study counseling. I hope one day to sit with women who experience this sorrow, comfort them, and let them know so much joy and magic are out there for them when they’re ready. Here are eight things I believe no woman in this situation should ever have to hear (and also four things I bet she would love to hear).

  1. “God has a plan for you,” “God gives us the desires of our heart,” or any variant of any Scripture. Like you, I believe these things too. If the woman in your life who is struggling with infertility is a Christian, then she believes them too. But when the plan she has always dreamed of is stolen, she doesn’t want to hear Scriptures, even if she believes them. She’s confused and heartbroken; platitudes, even Scriptural ones, aren’t helpful. When Jesus comforted people, he did not spurt Scripture and leave it at that. He cried with them (John 11:35), affirmed them (Luke 7:9), and spoke gently to them.
  1. “I couldn’t have a baby for years, but now we’re on Miracle #2!” That’s great for you. But it feels like you’re rubbing it in her face, not giving her hope.
  1. “Everything happens for a reason.” Where is this in the Bible? We do know that God works out everything for the benefit of those who trust and love him, but she doesn’t want to be told that right now. She’s hurting, and it feels like you don’t care when you say things like this instead of putting your head on her shoulder and crying with her.
  1. “You can always adopt.” She knows. She might decide to later. She’s heard the same stories you have about how beautiful adoption can be. But if adoption isn’t in her heart, it won’t suddenly change her countenance for you to bring it up. She won’t say, “Oh, you’re right! I never thought of that!” She’s dealing with jealousy, confusion, fear, anger, grief, shame, stress, and probably other painful emotions. Right now – and maybe always – adoption sounds to her like raising someone else’s child, not being a mother.
  1. “Just relax, and it will happen.” Sure, there’s science to back up the fact that plenty of women have conceived after it seemed all hope was lost. But telling her it’s her own fault that she hasn’t yet conceived because she’s too stressed isn’t a welcome theory. A little wine and a bath won’t cure grief. She needs support while her heart finds its way.
  1. “My kids fight all the time / cost us so much money / still don’t let us sleep through the night.” She would love to hear kids fighting in her house! She would love to have a baby who wakes her in the middle of the night! Even though you’re trying to tell her “kids aren’t all they’re cracked up to be,” you know you would never trade yours, and so does she. It’s like complaining that you have to take your Lamborghini to the mechanic.
  1. “Never give up hope!” Here’s the truth: she might never have a baby. Neither of you know what will happen in the future. Let her deal with the uncertainty on her terms. She might choose to keep trying to get pregnant or she might not, but that’s her business, not yours. 
  1. “I know how you feel. My cousin/sister/etc. couldn’t have children either.” Unless you have been diagnosed with infertility – actually had the sentence leveraged on you by a medical professional – you don’t know how she feels. Fearing you might not be able to have children doesn’t count. Having a relative who couldn’t have children doesn’t count. Taking longer than you wanted to get pregnant doesn’t count. No one knows how she feels except Jesus and the people she chooses to open up to. Let her tell you how she feels if she wants to.

Four Things a Woman Struggling with Infertility Might Love to Hear.

  1. “This isn’t fair.” Let her know she can vent her anger at the situation, even at God, if she needs to. It really isn’t fair that some teenagers get pregnant without trying or wanting to and some wives/stepmoms/aunts/Sunday school teachers/etc. are ready and deeply want to, but never conceive the first time. It’s not fair that she, this woman who so desperately wants to experience motherhood, isn’t “getting her heart’s desires.” Let her work through it.
  1. “If you don’t feel one speck better tomorrow, it’s okay.” When the third specialist confirmed my diagnosis, it seemed my some of my church acquaintances wanted me to starting getting over it immediately. Witnessing grief can make people uncomfortable. I went through times of hope, times of anger, times of feeling stolen from, times of jealousy, and I would’ve loved for someone to say, “If a bad day turns into a string of bad days, I’ll still be here. I won’t lose patience with you. This is hard, and it’s okay that it’s hard.”
  1. “I am here for you.” Don’t say it unless you mean it. But if you’re willing to truly walk through the darkness with her, she would be grateful. It’s a hard thing: if you say this, you’ll have to be ready to let her feel her feelings in all their intensity, call you at 11:00 p.m. because she read someone’s Facebook post and got insanely jealous, question her faith in front of you, and cry with her on Mother’s Day. But if you mean it, she could certainly use a friend who is willing to understand her.
  1. Nothing. Just hug her.

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Easter’s coming.

One of my professors just suffered the loss of a dear friend, right here before Easter. The next time our class met she told us about it, and even in the middle of that pain, she repeated, “Easter’s coming. There’s sadness now, but Easter’s coming.”

I think that’s one of the reasons the gospel of John calls Jesus “the Light.” John 1:5 says, “The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it.” We who have Jesus aren’t limited to the dark scope of our pain; we have the Light to see past it into the future. Easter’s coming. Regardless of how deep the darkness of our pain can be – and most of us have known profoundly dark pain – it can’t extinguish the Light, who is our hope. We can see more than the hearts not lit up yet. It may be in the distance, but we can see it: Easter’s coming.

As we know from John 1, Jesus is more than the Light; he’s also the Word. Because John 1 is so familiar to me, I decided to read it tonight from my French Bible. It’s absolutely beautiful: La Bible en français courant calls Jesus the Parole. As is the case with most French words, this is a great one. Parole does mean “word,” as we’re used to in John 1:1, but it also means “promise,” as in, “I give you my word [parole].” So in John 1, Jesus is our promise that Easter’s coming. He’s our promise that we never have to live without the Light. He’s our promise that “God’s got it,” as my hero Anne Lamott says, no matter how big “it” is. He’s our promise that it will all be okay in the end – the paroles of Revelation confirm it.

But parole has another meaning in French. It’s tucked away in English too. If I ask whether you know “the words” of a song, you know I’m referring to the lyrics. Same in French. If Jesus is the Parole, he is our promise, but he’s also our lyrics. And his song doesn’t end with heartbreak, so ours won’t either. His lyrics are the substance of that crazy hope lodged so far in our hearts that the worst pain we’ve ever known hasn’t extinguished it. He’s the reason we believe that the song isn’t over, even though some of the verses feel interminable. He’s our lyrics, our music, our joy.

I’ve known pain in the last eight years. But Jesus is my Light, so I can see past the mess to the hope that lies beyond it. Jesus is my Promise that it isn’t over until he comes back for me. Jesus is my Song that keeps my heart vibrant. And in fact, I wouldn’t trade the pain because it’s shown me where my idols were. As I dealt with years of infertility, I realized I had made an idol of the motherhood dream. I wanted a son or daughter more than I wanted to learn how to serve the Lord without children. As I dealt with a failing marriage, I realized I had made an idol of wifehood, wanting to be in a romance with a man more than with my Savior. No epiphany minimizes the pain of infertility or divorce or anything else, of course, but it can remind me to keep in check where my worship is going and whether I’m trusting my Promise and my Light to guide me. Jesus is the Promise that even the pain has meaning, and it won’t last forever.

However heavy your pain might be, you have a Light. You have a Promise. You have a Song. And I can promise: Easter’s coming.

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Filed under Broken Beauty, Jesus Loves Me, Ooh Là Là!

Love Wins.

The church my man and I attend has real people in it – people who have excelled and fallen short in their efforts at relationships, being Christians, and life in general. In an environment like that, I shared my story out loud for the first time last Wednesday night. An unexpected thing happened: as difficult as it was to admit some of my more embarrassing mistakes, I became so proud of Jesus. So proud that my God is the kind of God who pursues diamonds in the rough. So proud that my God accepts me as I am – and you as you are – because he revels in the journey we’re on. So proud that my God is in control of the whole thing.

It’s like this. Addiction was a fourteen-year way of life for me – from 1996 to 2010 – and it sometimes nips at my heels even now. I didn’t reason my way out of it or will it to stop; you can’t treat addiction that way. Instead, I went to the office of a counselor hand-picked for me by God. For some, that sounds extreme I’m sure: couldn’t it just be a happy coincidence? But here’s the truth. I ended up finally making my decision to get help on a Wednesday that Dr. Morgan happened to be sharing the walk-in intakes, something he doesn’t always do. I arrived at the Health Clinic during his office hours, which are fewer than everyone else’s due to his research activities. He happened to be the one to take me back, even though several other counselors were available. His approach to counseling proved almost exclusively cognitive, in the sense that we looked around my brain and applied logic where I wasn’t. Given that I live my whole life in my brain, the method felt tailored for me. It’s all these reasons, and a few others, that assure me God oversaw my healing process, even when I wasn’t consulting him. He put me in the right setting to recognize what I was doing, why, and how to stop it. Then, he gave me the strength to change. If you’d ever seen me binge, you’d know: only Jesus can do that.

When I got married in June 2007, sexual dysfunction ignited my addiction, causing whatever shards of self-esteem I had left to dissolve in the heart-wrenching pain of loneliness and anger. My body was too wrong, too large, and sentenced me to a sexless marriage. Every failed “treatment” plunged me into further despair, and I looked to food with renewed zeal each time. I reached a low after my third miscarriage; not only was my body oversized, not only did it reject my then-husband, but it also made a farce of my dreams of motherhood. My destructive behavior had no limits: I binged, entered an inappropriate relationship, wallowed in self-pity and hatred, and ignored God’s invitations to surrender. I couldn’t see a way out of the dark and depression; for a while, I didn’t even want one. And even still, when I’d had enough, when I shrugged and said, “Fine, You win,” there was Jesus. Even when I’d turned Him down. Even after my divorce. Even when the old patterns lured me back. And now I can’t even see a shadow of the wife I was for so long. I have eyes only for my man, and I thoroughly enjoy him – loving him, living alongside him, sharing an intimacy with him that is exclusively ours. I have been made entirely new. Only Jesus can do that.

I shouldn’t be here, in this place of lightness and joy, after the places I’ve been. I spent years destroying my body, being unable and unwilling to stop abusing food. I’ve been through the loss associated with infidelity. I’ve felt the pain of my babies fading. I’ve walked through the disappointment and rage of (supposed) infertility. I’ve tried to soothe myself, to protect myself when I felt assaulted by the storm, only to wake up drowning in further waves of pain. But I’m here – joyful, peaceful, and free. Only Jesus can do that. I am married to the sexiest, strongest, kindest man God ever created. I am mother-by-marriage of two beautiful children that look just like my favorite man. I am mother-by-blood of a 34-week-old pregnancy miracle who is about to forever change my world for the better. I am blessed to live in a lovely home with a wonderful family that makes my life a joy beyond words, beyond anything I could’ve made for myself. But even if I lost everything tomorrow, I have been shown that my God is greater than the gifts he gives and the pain I endure. Whatever I live through tomorrow, He has the answers. He meets my needs. He loves me and speaks tenderly to me and remains faithfully beside me no matter where we go. No matter what happens, there’s Jesus.

That’s all I ever needed to know, really. I’m loved, I’m of priceless worth, and there’s always Jesus.

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Filed under Addiction Recovery, Broken Beauty, Jesus Loves Me, Once Divorced, Twice Married

Positive Pregnancy Tests

I write my baby letters. Sometimes I speak them to her* when we’re in the car by ourselves. Sometimes I type and save them. Sometimes I pray them aloud so she can hear. There’s no telling what people will say to her when she gets here, so I want to make sure she’s got nine months of truth packed into her tiny brain. I tell her how much her dad and I love her, how wonderful her family is, how she can always trust Jesus. In fact, I never run out of things to tell her. The problem is I can’t seem to write about her. I wish I could tell you how miraculous she is and how much joy and wonder she’s brought us already. But every time I try, it comes out in a syrupy, overwrought voice that doesn’t sound much like mine.

I can tell you this. For a full decade, four medical professionals (three of whom are doctors) in two states assured me I couldn’t support a pregnancy past five weeks, and my body proved them right three times. It wouldn’t produce progesterone, and artificially spiking production didn’t work. PCOS seemed to be the culprit, but no one was certain. I also had scar tissue and cysts causing insurmountable problems, such as a lack of entry to the womb and wildly irregular ovulation, respectively. After several fruitless months of trying and three losses during my five-year first marriage, I didn’t have a reason to believe the doctors were wrong.

Then on March 8 of this year, I married the strongest, kindest man I’ve ever met. And almost immediately started vomiting.

We went on the honeymoon I’ve always dreamed of – mountains, cabin, fireplace, Jacuzzi, wine. And it was good. And never did “ovulation days” cross my mind because I was so obviously, certifiably, doctor-approvedly infertile. But then sneaky things started happening. A few mornings I felt so nauseated I couldn’t get my clammy self out of bed. And with a passion unrecognizable to me, I craved red meat. As in, I literally salivated over the raw hamburgers at the grocery store one day. I might have torn the package open with my fangs and feasted if the butcher hadn’t been right in front of me, asking from a healthy distance whether I needed assistance.

Then on the 17th of April, I put on my favorite dress, kissed my husband, and headed to work. I realized I hadn’t menstruated, an odd thing since my medicine keeps me from being even an hour late. So on a whim I picked up a pregnancy test and a decaf coffee on my way. Maybe a few prayers escaped into the air as I did these things, but mostly my mind raced with menstruation math. When I arrived at my desk, I set down my bag calmly. I sauntered to the restroom. My steady hands placed the test on the sink. Less than a minute later, I peered over and saw the two pink lines that had already formed. Two. “Oh, God,” I breathed.

People have asked if we were trying to get pregnant. Of course, the answer is no; not only were we not trying, but we didn’t think we could. That doesn’t mean, however, that my baby is a “mistake.” Even though she wasn’t part of our plan, she has always been part of the Great Design God has for the planet. Our plan is short-sighted and imperfect in a thousand ways. But this baby – the one whose mother has a reproductive disorder – is the one God has chosen. He wants a person created out of our DNA, to be parented by us, to make his compassion and power visible to others. So whether the timing seems right or wrong, whether my body seems capable or incapable, whether other people agree or disagree, my man and I will love and raise our baby to bring glory to God.

I asked God one night in an overwhelmed state, “How did this happen? And why is it happening now?” I got an answer, flashing in my heart like a marquee: For my glory. So I already know how the story turns out: God’s glory will be undeniable. What a perfect reason for a baby to be born.

* I say “her” for two reasons: 1) simplicity, and 2) I believe I’m carrying a girl. The night my first pregnancy ended, which I have already written enough about, I knew I would one day have a baby girl and her name would be Anna. I believe I am pregnant with that promise.

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God’s Ears

I have this thing with names. The thought of giving a blessing or honoring someone or telling a story with your baby’s name is precious to me. Many names are on my Love-It List, but as long as I can remember, my favorite name of all has been Kate. Growing up, my most beautiful Barbie was Kate. My favorite paper doll—yes, I played with paper dolls—was Kate. Just last year, I asked on FaceBook what my pen-last-name should be if my pen-first-name was Kate. It’s the perfect name—simple, elegant, and timeless.

So when I got pregnant in July 2008, I was beside myself with excitement. I kept thinking, Kate’s here! She didn’t stay long enough for me to know by way of scientific confirmation that she was a girl, but I know anyway because moms just know. When I daydreamed about what the rest of her name could be, a Buechner quote kept resurfacing: “Grace is something you can never get but only be given. There’s no way to earn it or deserve it or bring it about any more than you can deserve the taste of raspberries…or bring about your own birth.” Having for years worn that definition of grace like a pair of contact lenses, I knew my daughter could have no other name. She was something I could never deserve, something only God could give me. My then-husband let me take the reins with naming, so I chose Anna Catherine. Anna means “grace,” and Catherine means “pure,” so my baby girl would be named “pure grace.” Which is exactly what she was. But she’d go by “Kate,” of course.

Unfortunately, Kate faded from me on Sunday, 14 September. I cried steady, silent tears, sitting with my back against the tub. I was a heartbroken mother whose daughter had been taken in the night. I hadn’t protected her, hadn’t known how. I did the only thing I could: I crawled back into bed and prayed. At first, I heard nothing, but the tender presence of the Holy Spirit comforted my heart. Then I had a powerful, inexplicable urge to look up Isaiah 49:16, a verse I did not already know. Bewildered, I opened my Bible and read: “See, I have written your name on the palms of my hands…” My name. Kate’s name. The tears came again, but this time for an entirely different reason. The verse reminded me that I am so precious to God that when he looks down at his palms—or, perhaps, Jesus’s—he sees my name. And in a small way, I had the same thing going with my Kate. The veins in my right wrist, I had noticed as a child, form an unmistakable K. After that night, it became a sweet reminder. Kate was gone, but her name was written on my palm, so to speak, and God makes all things new. God restores.

Over time, he has restored my heart. Time, I believe, numbs pain, helps a wound scar over maybe, but God actually heals. Certainly, sadness hits me unexpectedly sometimes, or with unexpected force: it was the saddest and most unfair day of my life, being at once Mother and Not-mother. But God has guided me through the process of letting my daughter stay with him, of not begrudging the laws of nature that sent her his way. For too long, I carried her as a millstone around my neck. I feared that not thinking about her might mean she never existed. As her mother, it seemed to fall on my shoulders to acknowledge her fleeting presence. But God has taken my heart from that prison of grief into a position of grace. I do think about her occasionally, but in a peaceful, heavenly way. I imagine her spinning giddily in a white cotton dress in a field of lavender, so drunk with joy she dissolves into giggles. I imagine her sitting on Jesus’s lap, enamored with him, asking him questions with the ethereal wisdom that a heaven-born child must possess. I imagine her smiling when she sees me, if you do that sort of thing in heaven.

And tonight, when it was time for a little earth-born girl to fall asleep, she wriggled onto the couch next to me and settled into my arms. She looked into my eyes with a beautiful face lit by a grin and laced her fingers with mine. She and I do not share DNA. I do not have memories of her in the womb. She does not belong to me in the way she belongs to her mother. But she loves me, and I love her, and we both love her father more than we could tell you. She and her brother have become a part of my heart, and as I look forward to many years with the man I love, I feel doubly blessed to be their friend as well. I never knew life could be this good, this full. But when God restores life and fulfills promises, he doesn’t do a halfhearted job of it. Speaking of promises, those letters the veins in my wrists so clearly form happen to be their initials—hers and her brother’s. As someone who does not believe in coincidence, only divine winks, you can imagine how this hits me. Especially since her name is “pure grace,” too. And she goes by Kate.

If you ever wondered whether God listens when you cry out, whether he knows who you are…he does.

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Gentleness.

“So when are you and Jeff thinking about starting a family?”  I cringe every time I hear it.  Before we married, there were winks and questions like, “Is he The One?” or “Have you two set a date?”  And then when we had, there were wide eyes and raised eyebrows:  “Well, that was fast!”  People always want to judge.

Since I was a child, I have always wanted to do things in my own time.  I don’t like being pushed into molds shaped for me by others, whether it’s the church, society, or even people I love.  If I am asked to do something that makes sense, I will do it; if I am expected to do something, I’ll resist.  So naturally, when people assume that because Jeff and I have been married three years, it’s time for children, my real face, the one located just under the surface of the one I show the public, adopts the look of a woman who just drank vinegar.

The truth is, Jeff and I were once slated to be parents.  But one week after I found that out, six weeks after the blessed event, I was in my doctor’s office having “hemorrhage” explained to me.  Six weeks is very early on in a pregnancy, so I’m sure that many people escape unscathed.  By all accounts, I should’ve, since we weren’t even trying to have a baby.  But “unscathed” doesn’t describe my emotional condition after the doctor’s appointment.  I called my parents, sobbing.  I called my best friend, sobbing.  I spent a long time in the bathroom, praying and sobbing.  I threw away the other (unused) pregnancy test from the box.  I wrote the baby a letter.  I reread favorite passages of Scripture.  I asked for prayer at small group.

A year and a half later, in April of this year, I found myself in another doctor’s office, looking for answers about a constellation of symptoms that have bothered me since I was 12.  I was informed that I, like an estimated 10% of Caucasian American women, have polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), which is the likely culprit for the loss of my first baby.  Unfortunately, it’s not out of the realm of possibility for it to happen again, perhaps as many times as I get pregnant.  It’s also not out of the realm of possibility for me to have as many healthy pregnancies as I want.  But there’s no way to tell before we start trying whether and how possible it will be for my body to carry a child.  Obviously, this is distressing—especially since, for the first time, I’m starting to feel that I could actually make a good parent.

In no way do I believe that God took my baby to teach me a lesson; however, one thing did become crystal clear in the process.  C.S. Lewis (or maybe someone else) once said that we must always be gentle with one another because we never know the uphill battle our fellow human is fighting.  And I know from my own experience that almost no one knew the battle I was fighting:  it’s not something you want to tell everyone.  Gentleness is not just a trait stereotypically attributed to women; it is a practice that we must, we must, exercise every single day with every human we meet.  Gentleness is not cooing and speaking softly; it is being careful with our words, showing respect, and building love and trust.  Imagine the marriages that could be saved, the families that could mend, the pariahs who could be welcomed if we would only learn how to communicate this way.

I will one day be a parent.  I know it because on a May afternoon in 2004—before the PCOS diagnosis, before the miscarriage, before I’d even met Jeff—God promised me that Isaiah 44:1-5 was something I could hold onto.  Never will there ever, ever be a day that I am not saddened when I think about my first.  But I believe that my experience will make me that much more thankful for my children, trusting of the faithfulness of God, and aware of the world’s need of gentleness.  I am praying for physical healing because God is capable of clearing my body of PCOS, but I am believing that even if he doesn’t, all will work out exactly the way it should because that’s the God I serve.

Isaiah 44:1-5

Now listen to me, my servant, my chosen one.  The Lord who will help you says:  “Do not be afraid, my servant, my dear one, my chosen one:  For I will pour out water to quench your thirst and to irrigate your parched fields.  And I will pour out my Spirit on your descendants, and my blessing on your children.  They will thrive like watered grass, like willows on a riverbank.  Some will proudly claim, ‘I belong to the Lord.’  Others will say, ‘I am a descendant of Jacob.’  Some will write the Lord’s name on their hands and will take the name of Israel as their own.

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