The Crucible of Pain
About the Guest
There are times in life when all we have is our faith to see us through. And that’s enough. Carolyn Weber tells how a difficult labor and delivery with her twins lead her to death’s door and how God sustained her through that trauma she calls the crucible moment in her marriage.
Carolyn Weber tells how a difficult labor and delivery lead her to death’s door and how God sustained her through that trauma she calls the crucible moment in her marriage.
The Crucible of Pain
Bob: Carolyn Weber remembers the experience of an emergency C-section without anesthesia. The whole experience, she said, had a clarifying effect for her and her husband.
Carolyn: You would never ask for trauma, of course, and the Lord tells us that we are going to have suffering in this world; but He is with us in that suffering. That transforms everything. What it did was it made everything very clear. All of a sudden, I realized my priorities.
I think many folks I’ve spoken to about near death experiences have the same thing. You get this clarity of your priorities, and you get this gratitude. That helped us decide what we wanted to do in our lives to better grow closer to God.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Wednesday, April 16th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I’m Bob Lepine. Carolyn Weber joins us today to explain how, following a near death experience, she came to realize that every day is a holy day. Stay tuned.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. You know, I’ve got to tell you—if I had gotten a scholarship and gone to Oxford, and gotten a degree from Oxford, and gone on to get my PhD, and I wrote a book—
Dennis: —from Oxford.
Bob: —I would, sure enough, have Dr. Bob Lepine on the front of my book.
Dennis: But her—it’s not there, Bob.
Bob: Our guest, with a PhD—all it says is Carolyn Weber. There is no “Dr.” Weber on here. What’s up with that?
Dennis: What’s up with it?
Carolyn: I’m not a doctor, first.
Bob: Aren’t you a PhD?
Carolyn: I am. I am a doctor; but I don’t go around saying to people, “Hi, I’m Dr. Weber.” I think—
Dennis: Even when you were a professor at Seattle University and also at Westmont College, you didn’t use your title?
Carolyn: Well, when it needed to be done formally, of course; and students would call me Dr. Weber in that forum. But in my own life—and I think reaching out, hopefully, to my readers in terms of encouraging them in their faith—I think I’m a believer first and then a wife and a mom. The doctor’s connected to the teaching platform.
Dennis: Well, let’s talk about that aspect of being a mom. You’ve written about this in a book called Holy Is the Day. Really, how you start the book is one of the more fascinating days, I think, a woman could ever imagine. Take us to that day.
Carolyn: Well, thank you because it’s an example of how the book doesn’t have anything to do with being a doctor—[Laughter]—quite the opposite. Our professional lives are small elements of really who we are and, ultimately, not part of who we are in Christ.
But that opening, for me, was a turning point because I had had a daughter. When I had my twins, I had a very good pregnancy and was actually feeling very self-sufficient and excited about things. Then—boom—we went in for the delivery. My first son was born without a problem. My second son, I ran into an issue where he got stuck. Actually, it became very dangerous quite quickly; and I had to have an emergency C-section—and the medication didn’t take. In short, there wasn’t a lot of time.
I had this anesthesiologist who gave me very good advice and helped me through it; but in that moment, I think it’s an example in life where we face trauma—we face something that happens that is both a horrific moment but also a clarifying one. In that moment, I really did taste death. I really did sort of feel death about me.
Dennis: The anesthesiologist gave you advice, but he didn’t give you medication to put you out?
Carolyn: No, because the problem at the time was the medication. It was much more complicated than just administering.
The first one hadn’t taken. They were administering the second, and there was a lapse. That, sometimes, happens.
Dennis: So, you were cut on—
Carolyn: I was cut open while I was fully-awake. It wasn’t pleasant, to say the least!
Dennis: Tasted death is a pretty strong word.
Carolyn: Yes, you know—up until this point, as a believer, on my faith walk, I—when people spoke of spiritual warfare, I was always a little skeptical—but I mean, I’m Canadian, we’re not really people to be sort of—
Dennis: There aren’t spiritual battles in Canada?
Carolyn: No, no, we’re very—somebody bumps into you; and you say, “Sorry.” We’re not about sort of anything too overt and unpleasant.
And I saw darkness in the room. Later on, it was actually—I never thought of it, at the time—but later on, when I was teaching John Milton’s Paradise Lost to my students, the way he actually describes death is this black, ominous, shapeless thing—was actually what I saw in the room,—
—moving towards me. I felt the presence of good and evil, and I held on to God in that moment.
That’s why I entitled the chapter, “Four in the Furnace,” because it reminded me of the story from the third chapter of Daniel, where the three men go into the furnace, but the king—and he raises it seven times hotter than the norm—and the king sees actually the fourth man, like a god, walking among them. And that notion that there was myself, and Kent, and baby in this moment; but then, there was also this other presence with me.
I have to say—for lack of sounding cheesy or whatever else, coming as newbie to spiritual warfare—“I felt God’s presence with me.” Yes, it was painful. Yes, it was horrific; but when I clung to that peace, I felt it, and the darkness dissipated.
Bob: What was the lasting impact of that moment on your life, spiritually? What did that define for you?
Carolyn: At that moment, when things were going fine, the doctor was bustling about a little bit; but when things started to escalate badly,—
—the doctor yelled out one particular word—and again, I’m a word person—and I remember, at the time, it striking me. And the word he yelled was “convert.” Now, that’s a medical term in which, all of a sudden, 15 nurses rush in—and they start preparing you for surgery and all of this—but talk about a loaded word. I would say that in my faith walk, at the time, and for Kent, too—you know, we were just feeling dry, spiritually.
As a result of this situation, I was actually called to grow deeper in my faith. What it did is it threw Kent and me into this crucible where, afterwards—in the midst of it, we were drawn closer together—but also, growing out of it afterwards, it makes everything clearer.
I say in the book that trauma prepares us for resurrection. Really, what it did is—you would never ask for trauma, of course—and the Lord tells us that we are going to have suffering in this world, but He is with us in that suffering. That transforms everything. What it did was—it made everything very clear.
I think many folks I’ve spoken to about near death experiences have the same thing. You get this clarity of your priorities,—
—and you get this gratitude. That helped us decide what we wanted to do in our lives to better grow closer to God.
Dennis: You’re a wordsmith.
Carolyn: I would hope. [Laughter]
Dennis: You like words; okay?
Carolyn: I love words. Yes.
Dennis: I want to ask you to take the word, trauma, and give us the five words that best describe what you went through.
Carolyn: Wounded, opened, vulnerable, terror, and peace—which might seem like they can’t exist together.
Bob: I was going to say those don’t go together.
Carolyn: They don’t seem like they go together; but why I say those—and actually, when I thought about them, they’re also, I mean, manifest in something like the crucifixion. That’s actually how I was—literally, tied down. I remember, at the time, I was tied down in a crucifix manner. I remember thinking, literally, at the time, “This is how the saints must have felt when they were quartered.”
So, there’s this horror that goes along with it and this incredible vulnerability; yet, there is also—this peace does descend. It does descend. I think, as a believer, you have the tools to recognize that. As a non-believer, sometimes, it actually gives you the ability to see Him in your life.
Bob: Here’s how you wrote about it in your book—you said: “The crucible moment in my marriage”—and that’s how you describe this, the crucible moment in your marriage—“it cracked both my husband and me so wide open and set in motion a change so radical as to reorient our entire lives. Together, our shared trauma brought to the surface other traumas. The process deepened our faith and gave us newly-won perspective.”
Talk about the reorienting of your entire lives, and what was different after that moment?
Carolyn: Well, that’s why one of the words I identified to was “opened” because I was literally cut open—but also, emotionally and spiritually cut open. I think that’s also what trauma does—is it cracks us open. So, afterwards, when we began processing what had happened, I realized I needed counseling. I would have never known that initially; but I started having post-traumatic stress. I would lie down to sleep at night, and I couldn’t lie down without feeling I was being cut open.
To have the privilege of a believing marriage—you know, being able to, again, go to a man who is Christ-centered and share that with him—and for him to pray with me and to be with me—but also to think, again, that wonderful male ability of problem solving because I’m just like: “I’ll push through. I’ll nurse the twins, and I’ll go on—no sleep”; but he’s also: “What can we do here to break this pattern?”
That’s when I was able to—I mean, the poet, T.S. Eliot, has this play where one of his characters says: “You don’t need therapy. You need redemption,”—but I needed both, combined together, after that kind of particular event.
I had wonderful therapy as a result. It allowed us to—what it did is it reopened a lot of wounds I hadn’t looked at in my own life—in terms of my father-wound. It can actually become a great opportunity for healing.
Dennis: And when you say that—not just from the healing of the trauma you experienced—
Dennis: —but other traumas in your life—
Dennis: —that you may have suppressed or have hidden.
Carolyn: Of course, because the physical trauma is nothing to be downplayed; but the emotional pain is so far worse than physical pain. What it did is—it raised for me old wounds of being made to feel vulnerable—made to feel hurt, or alone, or terrified, or—you know, all the ways that we have wired those old wounds into ourselves. It allows us to hand those wounds over to be healed.
I’m always struck by the image in Revelation of Christ’s wounds and His resurrected body. You know, He brings them into the restored world with Him and shows them to us as proof.
It’s not that they are gone. It’s not like you take this Jesus-placebo and everything’s fine and dandy.
You know, we’d been married for eight years—so, years, at this point. Sure, it was wonderful in that—and you’re going along, as a believer; but God’s calling you to go deeper with Him all the time. Sometimes, those are big wake-up calls, and sometimes, they are subtle; but they come with great gifts if you tune into them.
So, that was what I mean by preparing you for resurrection—because then, what it does is—it does lay a path for your further healing.
Bob: How did your marriage and your family change as a result of all of this? How did you change, as a wife and a mother; do you think?
Carolyn: I think, first, as a wife and a mother, it made me realize that God has not removed His presence from us. We have removed our presence from Him. That memory of that trauma is so crystal clear. I didn’t romanticize it because I’ll tell you—it hurt!—but it gave me a crystal clear gift. I’ve heard this from other folks with similar experiences of God’s presence there.
That has made me more alert, I think—as a wife, as a mother, in my own walk as God’s daughter—of His presence with me.
Jesus is in your boat. He is in there together. That helped my marriage in that—since I wasn’t alone with Kent in my marriage—it’s us all married with God in our marriage. As a mother, I don’t always attain this—and again, that’s where grace is so great because we always fall short of the mark—but being more present with my children—just simply, really even, on a physical level of making eye contact with them, instead of always racing around to do things.
Dennis: So, this book, which is subtitled, Living in the Gift of the Present—what you are saying here is that the experience you had with God—His presence giving you peace in the midst of terror—has ultimately helped you to be present with your children, heart-to-heart connected to them—
Dennis: —as they’re growing up to ultimately do life.
Dennis: It’s interesting, Carolyn, I went to the book of Joshua, 1st Chapter—and I asked the question—because it’s a book about courage—and I asked the question, “Where does courage come from?” In Joshua 1, there are three places where it comes from: Number one, from knowing God’s mission—knowing you’re about what He wants you to do. Secondly, it comes from His Word. The Scriptures give us courage to live. And third is the one that confronted you on that gurney—His presence. “Do not be afraid,” God commanded Joshua, “for I am with you.” That’s what has given you courage to handle all the past traumas; and yet, courage to face the future in raising your family.
Carolyn: Exactly; exactly. I have twin boys, and one is particularly willful. He was the tantrum thrower and everything else.
It gave me the ability, with him, to love him purposely—to calm down instead of entering into his anger, to love him from God’s presence, and to be able to say to him: “These are the wonderful gifts that God has given you. He’s given you a strong spirit. He’s given you courage. He’s given you this strength, but you need to steward those gifts to glorify Him.” And his little body—I would feel, is all tense and it’s—I mean, you can feel his energy when you just touch him and hold him. And I could feel him, though, just relax—and love that burden.
Dennis: And instead of seeing him as disrupting your day and your life,—
Carolyn: Exactly; exactly.
Dennis: —instead, you’re speaking into his life the strengths he has and saying, “That can glorify God.”
Dennis: “You need to learn how to do that.”
Bob: I mentioned that you are Dr. Carolyn Weber. You’ve got a PhD from Oxford; and yet, it’s not on the front of your book. It’s not Dr. Carolyn Weber.
You said, “It is a portion of your identity, but it’s not the leading portion of your identity.”
As you think about priorities and about how you have chosen to order your life—there is something you are well-trained for and that you really love—and that’s teaching students. You’ve had the opportunity to do that in a lot of settings and have that opportunity available to you today, if you wanted it; but you’ve set that aside for right now. Why?
Carolyn: I believe, prayerfully before God, it’s not where He wants my gifts used at this time. I believe that in my marriage, my husband and I—he’s taken the lead in praying with me and working through how best to help steward my gifts.
And we have a young family. My children need—especially in these early years—they always need us—so, those little lives are really important. I know what they can amount to;—
—and I know the gift I’ve been given, and the responsibility, and the privilege I’ve been given to mother those little lives and participate in that.
I once had another professor at Oxford. I so admired her. She was an older woman. She stepped into her position kind of accidentally, taking it over when her husband had passed away. She had raised four children. She said to me once, “The books will be all written, and the papers will be all done, and the students will always be there; but your children, at this age, will not be.”
I think everything has its season. That doesn’t mean that we don’t have gifts in other areas, but they don’t have to be all the same gifts being used all at the same time. I think we have to weigh them against what we are doing, and that gift of being present is really important. We have to be realistic. We can’t be present in all those things at once.
Dennis: You’ve chosen not to believe the world’s promise that: “You can have it all.” You’ve chosen to invest in the next generation and in your marriage—
—and discriminate in favor of that next generation and your husband.
Bob: —in spite of the books that make The New York Times Bestseller list that say: “No, you may drive your kids neurotic if you obsess over them the way you’re obsessing over them. You need to be a little more balanced and diversified in what you are doing.”
Carolyn: Which I find actually interesting because there are a lot of research actually that points to the fact that when you do fill their little wells, they need you less in needy ways—in unhealthy, needy ways. We all need our little buckets filled, and we do have it all—as Christians, we do have it all. That’s not just jargon. We already have it all. It’s already been given to us.
We could lose those things at any time. We can hoard all the money, or we can take all the jobs, or we can take all the promotions, or we can have all the credentials; but grace shows us that those things have to be used discriminately to the glory of God or else it—Ecclesiastes tells us that it won’t matter otherwise.
But that gives us such a tremendous freedom.
I know that, daily, I’ll beat myself up that: “I didn’t teach the kids this,” or, “…get this written,” or, “…get this wrapped,” or, “…serve parents in this way,” or whatever; but ultimately, to then, you’re given that rest of: “I have been bought. I’m already purchased, and anything I do above that is hopefully—if I do it well—is candy.” [Laughter]
Bob: “You don’t have anything you have to prove to yourself or anybody else.”
Carolyn: It’s tremendously freeing. That was the great freedom I had when I first became a Christian. That was one of the clicks on the combination lock because I had worked so hard to be this self-achieving person: “How dare Jesus come in and actually tell me that there wasn’t anything I could do to get grace!”
Dennis: You know, I’m listening to your answers to our questions, and I’m thinking, “You are a remarkably grounded person in the Scriptures with the right perspective of who you are, as God made you.” I think I know the answer to this question,—
—but I’m going to ask it anyway. Not diminishing your own study—I’m not diminishing that in any way—your own pursuit of Christ, which you, undoubtedly, have done to be able to be sitting here today—who has been the most influential Christian in your life?
Carolyn: My husband.
Dennis: I thought so. The reason I asked that question—there are some husbands, listening, who need the challenge to disciple their wives—to care for their soul, protect them, develop them, and help them become all that God made them. Give them a challenge to do that.
Carolyn: Love them. Then, love them more. That’s what Kent does to me—is when I am exhausted and the baby has been up all night—and he takes the next night, and the next night, and the next night, and the next night to let me sleep. He reminds me, again and again, that what I do is great and he’s proud of me;—
—but that’s not who I am before Christ. He’ll say to me: “Oh, I know you’re a great teacher. I know you could write anything you wanted and you’re an awesome mom; but you know, you’ve got Christ. You’ve got that squared away.”
I hope, too, husbands will also see that it gives their wives the freedom to be who God wants them to be. It gives them tremendous breath in their lungs; but it is a beautiful, beautiful thing when you are realizing how you are being loved and you respond to that too.
Dennis: Well, Carolyn, I’m grateful you’ve written—not only Holy Is the Day—but also the book, Surprised by Oxford. I think you’ve got a lot of gifts that—
Carolyn: Thank you.
Dennis: —right now, are being poured into one man and to those four little ones; but you’ve ministered to a lot of us, here on FamilyLife Today. I just want to thank you for surrendering to Christ—
—because you were an incredibly valuable person before you met Christ; but you are a redeemed, valuable person after you met Him. I’m just excited you’re in the family.
Carolyn: Well, thank you for having me and glory be to God.
Dennis: And your father-in-law bragged on you, extensively; and he did not lie.
Carolyn: Oh. I have never known him to do such. Thank you.
Bob: And I have to imagine that he has been tuned in and listening to our program this week because he’s very proud of his daughter-in-law.
We have copies of Carolyn Weber’s books: Surprised by Oxford is her memoir of her time in graduate school as a skeptical, agnostic who is converted to Christianity. And her new book is called Holy Is the Day: Living in the Gift of the Present. It’s all about ordering our priorities around what really matters. Go to FamilyLifeToday.com to find out more about both of these books from Carolyn Weber.
Again, the website: FamilyLifeToday.com; or call 1-800-FL-TODAY and order the books over the phone—1-800-358-6329, 1-800- “F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
Now, this season of the year—in particular, this week, every year, is a sober week for those of us who are followers of Jesus as we reflect on His death, His burial, and then His triumphant resurrection. The Scriptures remind us that Jesus is right now ever interceding for us, as His children. Following that example, God has invited us before the throne to intercede on behalf of our spouse, on behalf of our children, and behalf of others.
FamilyLife has put together a packet of three prayer cards,—
—designed to prompt you to pray specifically for your spouse and for your children. And this month, we have been sending those cards out to those folks who can help support the ministry of FamilyLife Today with a donation during the month of April. You get a card for wives to use to pray for their husbands. There is a card for a husband to use to pray for his wife. And then, there is a card that you guys are going to have to fight over, as husband and wife, to figure out who gets to keep the card—maybe you can just trade it off each week—and be praying for your children.
We’d be happy to send you these prayer cards as our thank-you gift when you support FamilyLife Today this month. We are listener-supported. We depend on your donations to cover the costs of producing and syndicating this daily radio program. You can go to FamilyLifeToday.com. Click the button that says, “I Care,”—make an online donation—and we’ll send the prayer cards to you. Or call 1-800-FL-TODAY. Make a donation over the phone, and ask for the prayer cards when you do. And of course, you can write to us and request the prayer cards.
Send your check to FamilyLife Today at P O Box 7111, Little Rock, AR. And our zip code is 72223.
And I hope you can join us back tomorrow when we’re going to talk about God’s heart for the orphan and about what all of us can do to be a part of caring for the needs of orphans. Johnny Carr joins us tomorrow. Hope you can join us, as well.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas.
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