What Qualifies You To Do This?

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I pled my case to the anesthesiologist on behalf of the mother I was supporting. These memories, those initial moments in the operating room when her baby emerges from his mother’s womb are precious and fleeting. They may be all she has of his time living earthside. It is her desire to have a photograph of those moments. I promised to respect the need for a sterile environment….to scrub up, cover up, hold my breath.

Not budging on the strict policy not to allow a remembrance photographer into the operating room, she shook her head. And, with resolve and authority looked into my eyes, asking…

“What qualifies you to do this work?”

It’s a legitimate question and one I don’t mind answering.

“I am the founder of Sufficient Grace Ministries, one of the nation’s few stand alone perinatal hospice birth and bereavement centers in the country, a certified SBD birth and bereavement doula. I’ve supported thousands of families online and more than 100 in person since 2004…”

She shook her head again…interrupting.

“But what qualifies you to do this work? What DEGREE to you have?”

“I took training to become a birth and bereavement doula. It is not a degree. It is a certification. I also developed my own birth professionals training (2006), teaching birth professionals about the importance of compassionate care…”

“No…what college degree do you have?”

“I only have an associates degree in early childhood education, ma’am. No college degree in this particular field. But, I do have more than eleven years experience. And, I’m a published…”

“So. What QUALIFIES YOU to do this work?”

“I’m a mother who lost three of my own children, and I know how important it is for this mother to have these precious memories captured of her brief time with her baby.”

She nodded. No more questions.

I am also a professional, highly qualified and experienced to provide the support that we offer, to develop and lead hospital trainings, to publish written materials and resources. But, she is right. I am lacking in the letters behind my name. It doesn’t mean that I’m not skilled and quite knowledgeable in this field. It doesn’t mean that I’m not educated and experienced. It does mean that what qualifies me to walk with another broken-hearted family in the wilderness of grief isn’t something that can be taught in a university, the kind that values letters behind your name. The best way to become an expert on being a poured-out vessel of God’s love is to allow yourself to be poured out in service to another human being in need. I didn’t tell her that what really qualifies me to be in that room comes from an authority much higher than she or I or any university in existence. That there are no letters that she will recognize behind my name, because brave women had to create this model of care.

I am amazed most often by the openness of birth professionals and hospital staff to bend or even change policies to on behalf of a grieving family facing the loss of their baby. Most of the time, they are so compassionate and accommodating and I have nothing but gratefulness for the work they do and the ways they allow us to come alongside families and offer hope as we honor tiny lives together in that hospital room…in the place where heaven meets earth. We stand together, and I’m honored to stand with them.

But every now and then, steely eyes ask that question…what qualifies you to be here? And, I smile.

I smile as I think of the loving God who fills the room with grace for every soul. I smile as I think of my own children and the way that simply being their mother qualifies me to do things I never thought possible. I smile as I think of every tiny baby footprint I’ve placed on the pages of a Dreams of You memory book…footprints carried forever in my heart. I smile as I think of the birth professionals who thank us for being there with the families…and with them. Who hug me as they reflect on a new perspective after attending our training. I smile as the hesitant doctor looks up at me with a nod of respect. Respect earned. Because despite the lack of letters behind our names…we are good at this job. Not because of our own ability. But, because we said yes to a very big God who fills us with love and abilities beyond our own to care for families and their tiny babies in the most broken of moments…shining impossible beauty in the midst of it. I smile, because He doesn’t care and isn’t a bit hindered by the lack of letters behind my name. And neither are the families we serve.

I took the pictures in the operating room that day. If you’re wondering. And, I’m grateful to the anesthesiologist who didn’t allow my lack of “qualification” to keep me from doing so…and to the God who is more qualified than both of us.

———–

If you have a heart to serve bereaved parents with the support described above, SGM is hosting our annual volunteer retreat and training. Learn more about it at our event page. Those outside Ohio, register here.

The Broken Stuff

It’s been awhile since I’ve waxed poetic in the wee hours. High time for some heart ramblings. They usually flow so easily, begging for release. Tonight, they are tumbling around in this head and heart of mine, in a nonsensical dance.

The past few weeks, I’ve felt like I’m living in The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis. If you haven’t read it, do so. It is one of the most accurate pictures of spiritual warfare I’ve experienced. The same taunting themes dangled in front of me again and again, a parade of mockery and discouragement. I find that speaking truth aloud steals the power from lies. Fleeing the one tempting you toward destruction quiets the noise…for a bit, anyway. Until the next wave.

“Take every thought captive into the obedience of Christ.” I cling to the reminder, run to the truth like a desperate, starving escaped prisoner, finally free.

On Monday, we started our first in a series of weekly bible studies we will be doing on the book Anchored by Erin Cushman. (If you’re local, please join us in person Mondays at 6:30pm EST at SGM…and if you’re anywhere in the world, the study will be streamed live and recorded. Week One video displayed here. You can join the discussion and find other support in our Walking With You Facebook Group.)

Anyway, as the part of the study we had to choose five words that would maybe describe us 10 years from now as a woman…after walking through loss. One of my words was brave. I shared during the study that I think my definition of the word brave has changed over the years as I’ve walked through grief and healing and life. I used to think brave meant…looking strong and tough, not being afraid. Now I find vulnerability and realness and often tears or the sharing of struggles to be brave…more courageous than hiding behind a façade. Doing something anyway when you’re most afraid and filled with doubt and fear.

After a long couple weeks filled with struggles on all fronts, I was preparing to go to lead an after school program where SGM talks with high school and middle school students about healthy ways to grieve and express emotions. I was feeling kind of broken today as I prepared to leave. Kind of emptied and unsure what was left to give. It’s often when I feel that way the most that the loaves and fishes flow from my not enough.

I had forgotten once again, in my weary, about God’s extraordinary math…the way He fills in the pouring out.

Today’s activity was to use the acknowledgment pages from my book, Sufficient Grace, to share about the ways that people influence our lives. And, how even the painful relationships or the broken things in our lives can shape us for good and can be part of the acknowledgment pages of our lives. Then, each student would take some time to write their own acknowledgment page. Who would they thank for making them who they are today?

It’s seriously a soul-searching thing that everyone should do at least once. I’ve mentioned before, it was the hardest thing for me to write in the entire book. It’s a powerful thing to do. Even to reflect on those who may have hurt us the most. Those who left some of the broken stuff we carry around in our hearts. Or the people who were there for us when no one else was, the people who believed we could and the ones who doubted our worth and abilities.

So, as I stood before them in my secret weariness, loaves and fishes came forth. They displayed the brave that few know. They with their broken stuff oozing real and beautiful. They who sometimes have been forgotten, cast aside, treated with ugliness, abuse, and neglect. They who wonder if anyone sees…if anyone hears. Finding hope in knowing that they matter. Finding hope by standing together. Finding hope by searching through the rubble of all the broken pieces for the beauty that shines forth beneath the destruction. The beauty God places in the depths of a human heart, beating hope with each defiant breath. Hope that fights to survive and shine light in the dark places. They with all the brave and beautiful broken left me with tears hanging in the corners of my eyes. Thankful once again that I didn’t miss this divine appointment. This work that matters throughout eternity. Because my God is the one who seeks to save that which was lost. My God is the King of finding beauty in the broken…of hope rising eternal…of survival…of light in the dark places…of the brave of vulnerability. And, He will hunt us down with His love.

As I see them, He whispers, “I see you.”

And, I am a puddle of humbled small thinking how I was just hours before wrestling with my need to know that the work I do is relevant or worthy or blah…blah…blah. Somehow whatever seemed so pressing disappears in the face of the raw beauty of realness and courage to speak about the hard things…the heart things. Most of the time we who teach are actually the ones learning. Suddenly all that was weighing on my heart before I walked in seemed so inconsequential in the presence of their brave, beautiful, broken offerings. The fact that they allow me to see a glimpse into those sacred places a gift of unspeakable value.

It’s easy to get distracted from the real work…the work that matters…the purpose God has laid out for us. Before we know it, our energy has been wasted on something that will never matter in the grand scheme of eternity. While fighting the good fight to resist the temptation to allow discouragement to take over and steal my focus from the sacred work there is an ongoing battle to remember to keep my eyes fixed on Jesus and serving others by pouring out His love. Not to look at results or measure the worth or relevance or the number of people who will stand with you or acknowledge your efforts….but to be truly hidden in Christ…so free from being swayed by the constant distractions or whispers of doubt because I’m just His and the “me” part just doesn’t matter. It is a constant battle to die to self.

The verse below was a good reminder. Do what matters. Do what will last. Do it for the right reasons. Don’t look at anyone else. Spend your time on the precious stones, the gold and silver…and forget the wood, hay, and straw. Leave that to someone else.

“For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each one’s work will become clear; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one’s work, of what sort it is.”
I Corinthians 3:11-13

broken stuff

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