SGM Christmas Giveaway Day Five: Books!

books

Not Pregnant

This year, we have been delving into some bible studies that can be life-changing. God’s Word is so powerful and life-breathing…and…alive. A great time to start a study is at the beginning of the year. So, Christmas is the perfect time to offer some of our favorites.

We’ve included Seamless by Angie Smith (a study that ties the bible together as one story)
Anchored (a study offering hope for those walking through the loss of a child)
One Thousand Gifts Study (A companion to THEE Ann Voskamp’s One Thousand Gifts opening our hearts to gratefulness by counting the daily simple gifts we’re given)

As well as some beautiful books for those who have endured loss or other challenges to their faith…

Empty Arms by Sherokee Ilse

Celebrating Pregnancy Again by Franchesca Cox (one of our favorite resources for those expecting a pregnancy after a loss)

Sufficient Grace by Kelly Gerken (the story of faith and beauty from ashes as the Gerken family faces the loss of three of their five children…also a great resource as the second half includes topical grief-related information and the birth of Sufficient Grace Ministries)

Not Pregnant by Cathie Quillet (a NEW book for those facing infertility or secondary infertility)

To enter, leave a comment telling us which book or books you’d like to read. You can enter to win more than one. :)

We will be announcing all of our winners to this week’s giveaways late tonight or early Saturday morning. So, make sure you keep an eye on our Facebook page for that post. Love and grace to all!

SGM Christmas Extravaganza Day Four: Words and Pictures

Today’s giveaways are…

1…. a Wooden frame with various slides you can display, offering words of comfort for grieving hearts.

20161208_145148-1

2. A memorial picture frame
20161208_145000

To enter, please leave a comment telling what you hope to win and some words that have been an encouragement or comfort to you in your grief. ♡

SGM Christmas Giveaway Extravaganza Day 3: Dreams of You and Angels, Too

Each year, Sufficient Grace Ministries sends hundreds of Dreams of You memory packages to grieving parents worldwide. We never charge parents for our products or services, but do ask for shipping donations. However for the rest of this week, we will be offering our FREE Dreams of You packages with FREE Shipping thanks to the BGSU Alpha Sigma Phi fraternity who recently held their annual Build-a-Bear for Moms fundraising/bear stuffing event! Comment on the link on Facebook to let those amazing gentlemen know how you feel about their efforts. We are so grateful they have the courage and compassion to help spread awareness, stuff our Comfort Bears, and support SGM as we support grieving parents. (We will be writing a post soon to share more about their amazingness!) We will accept up to 50 orders. So EVERYONE (up to 50 families) who would like a Dreams of You package can request one here. Please allow 3-12 weeks for delivery as we finish making the Comfort Bears.

Dreams of You items Carmine2

Also…Yesterday, I forgot to add 2 angels in our heaven post…so they are options for today’s giveaway! :)

1. 20161207_113325

2. 20161207_113347 (1)

Leave a comment to enter. Share on Facebook and Twitter for additional entries. Please leave an additional comment for each entry or share.

SGM Christmas Giveaway Extravaganza Day Two: Heaven

I love to think of what my loved ones may be doing in heaven. The hope of heaven is what makes living amidst the brokenness of earth bearable. We have that hope because Jesus came for us…and we celebrate the gift that He came each Christmas. No matter the broken. No matter the pain.
He came, bringing promise of no more tears.
A promise to make all things new.
A promise of beauty for ashes.
A promise in Isaiah 61 to comfort those who mourn.
He came bringing a thrill of hope.
And, one day…all that lays in ruins will be rebuilt…
Because He came.

DSC_3017

DSC_3018

Today’s giveaway considers the thought that our loved ones are looking down from heaven. I always think they get to see the good stuff from heaven, and the bible speaks of them cheering us on. I think my mother is especially near at Christmas-time. She loved to decorate and give gifts, spreading the beauty created from her heart and hands wherever she went. I’m sure she is soaking in joyous moments with her grandbabies, and her father. Faith and Grace surely have the prettiest Christmas dresses. They are perpetually 5-8 in my mind (even though they would now be 20 years old)…with long flowing chestnut waves and sparkling brown eyes. Thomas is wearing a light blue Christmas suit, age 3-4 in my mama-heart (18 in earthly years), wisdom gleaming in the eyes that mirror his father and brothers. I remember my other grandparents and wonder how they spend their days in eternity as well. Some sweet day, we will be reunited again.

To enter today’s giveaway, please comment on this post, sharing what you believe your loved one is doing in heaven.

SGM Christmas Giveaway Extravaganza Day One: Ornaments

Welcome to the week of Christmas Giveaways known as the SGM Christmas Extravaganza! So many are missing someone this Christmas. We like to help offer a bit of comfort and joy during this season of missing. Today, you can enter to win a memorial ornament. Just leave a memory of how you feel your Christmas tree tells your family story and/or a memory of your loved one in the comments to enter as well as which ornament(s) you are entering for.

1. 20161205_082441 (1)

2. 20161205_082536

3. 20161205_082509

4. 20161205_082343

My Grandfather: King of the Little Things

Attachment

James Bodenbender was born in 1933. He died on November 13, 2016. His mother was dearly loved by all who knew her for the way she made her home a haven to those who entered. His father died when he was just 10 years old. He didn’t graduate high school, because he signed up to join the army. He fought in the Korean War, serving his country well. He was a scrappy young man with a love for beer and ladies. Always ready with a swagger and an outrageous story to tell.  He was a boxer, and no stranger to bar fights. Apparently even once fighting a peacock in a bar! That’s the man I’ve heard tale of, but he isn’t the man I knew in my lifetime. He would always tell us stories…elaborate, unbelievable stories. We never really knew if they were true or not, but then again, Grandpa was such a character anything seemed possible. Some were from his boxing days…or stories about other interesting characters he knew. We had nicknames for him…Grandpa Dundee because of his Crocodile Dundee hat and most well-known, Grandpa Holy Mackerel…due to his vivacious love for the phrase: “Hoooooly Mackerel!!”

What I didn’t know about my grandfather is that he achieved the unheard of honor of working his way from general laborer to superintendent in his construction career, educating himself on engineering by reading books. My mother described his work as blowing up mountains to build roads and bridges through them. I’m sure it was much more complex than that, of course. But, he was a proud, hard-working, intelligent man who did not allow the lack of a traditional education to keep him from educating himself and achieving his goals.

15036227_10209693089196641_479701218242504299_n

He married my grandmother, Marge, and they had six children. Their relationship was tumultuous, as he continued his outrageous antics. Both with fiery personalities and a strong will, they divorced while the children were still young. Proud and stubborn, neither admitted it much, but a tender place remained in their hearts beneath the pain. For, they did dearly love each other once. And, that kind of love doesn’t just disappear.

Doris was the woman I saw him with the most when we were growing up. He would smile with his entire face, eyes disappearing, as he put his arm around her, or my mother, or me. Many of our family vacations included visits to the various places he lived. He usually lived in places that had hills or mountains…so it was always a beautiful drive. Much more to feast our eyes on than the flat lands of our home in the Midwest. I especially loved to visit him in the fall when the trees were changing colors. Gorgeous tree-covered mountain splendor. We would play car bingo and eat snacks on the way. He had an Atari and an Intellivision that we loved. And a keyboard that played different rhythms. One time, we found the best walking stick ever and walked around the mountains with our find. My brothers loved it! You really can’t beat a good walking stick. Grandpa was telling us stories about mountain lions (which may or may not have actually lived in the area) while we walked. Doris was a southern lady, and always looked at our grandfather with such admiration. She was welcoming and kind, although they two had their troubles. After they parted ways, he moved to our small town for a time, much to my mother’s delight. She always had a special bond with him and it meant so much to her to have him close. My youngest brother, Sean, took a special liking to Grandpa in those days and they’ve continued their bond through the years. They  are two peas in a pod, full of bologna, crazy antics, and unbelievable stories.  His time with us included a whirlwind road trip, a pet pig (in town), and holidays with his famous grin.

Elaine was the woman who loved him during the last 12 years of his life, caring for him in sickness, watching the Molly B Polka Show, and laughing with him. They called each other each night at 7pm if they were apart.  Grandpa loved her and her children and grandchildren as if they were his own. He was so grateful for her part in his life, and so are we.

Reflecting on his life and love in the last few weeks, I wrote…

We talked today about the thing that matters most as we reflect back on our lives…love. He held my hand tightly, whispering, “There’s so much love…so many different kinds of love…in this world. So many, I don’t even know. It’s the only thing that matters.”

My grandfather was a simple man, shopping at the Goodwill store and flea markets. Oh, how he loved a good deal! He found simple treasures everywhere. Jars and jars of his beloved marbles. Bells he collected, rescuing and repairing the broken ones to fill his time. In the last days of life, he said, “You don’t think the little things matter much, but they do. They mean so much. The little things are everything.”

He loved nature, building a house in the country with a fish-filled pond near the woods where deer and the occasional fox would wander. He made the best venison jerky around. He fed the birds and laughed at the squirrels from his porch swing. A mighty, strong man, he overcame a stroke, various forms of cancer, heart disease, and more throughout his time on earth.

Regarding one health scare in 2009, (from a former blog post):

“Grandpa was just battling for his own life in the hospital recently. He woke up not able to walk. He crawled to the door and drove himself to the hospital. After frightening a nurse when he motioned to her to come to the car (it was the middle of the night.), someone finally brought him a wheelchair and got him into the hospital. Yes…most people would have just called the EMS. Grandpa Dundee is not most people. After being told, his chances were very grim. And if he walked again, he would have to recover in a nursing home, Grandpa said, (not so sweetly) that he would have none of it. He walked out of the hospital several days later. And he is currently at home, in his house in the country, refusing a nurse’s care. Watching the squirrels slide down the pole (that he greased, so they couldn’t steal the bird seed in the bird feeder!) And eating his six year old turkey jerky. Because he can.”

He lived 7 more years after that.

Much of his last days brought back memories of watching our mother at the end of her life. I wrote these words one week ago:

At the end of her life, my grandfather sat beside my mother’s bedside, just to her left, for 4 weeks. While others were in and out, it was mostly the three of us: my youngest brother Sean, Grandpa, and me…sitting by her bed, interpreting her moans, listening to her raspy breathing patterns, stroking her hair. Me singing or saying a prayer. Mom occasionally waking for a one-liner.

I have buried three of my children, and I can honestly say…those 4 weeks of watching her suffer were the most traumatic of my life…of our lives. It was an honor and a privilege…beauty in the broken…but it was utterly…life-changing…devastating.

The three of us understood like no one else what she endured. My love for our grandfather…and desire to honor him for staying with her…with us…is beyond description. Not only did we not want to leave her in those days…we didn’t want to leave each other…like soldiers in battle together.

Yesterday, I walked into the hospice center…and sat beside him to his left…

We spent so much time with him this month, soaking in his last days. He spoke some of his regrets and I reminded him of the grace and forgiveness Jesus gives us. Nothing can separate us from His love. While looking through boxes of pictures and other mementos he kept throughout the years, I sat in awe, picturing him with a proud grin as he cut out newspaper articles from when his son ran for County Sheriff, my feisty mother’s letters to the editor on a crusade to right the wrongs of the world,  or when his grandchildren were featured in the newspaper for their sports achievements. He was quiet and proud, spending so much time alone. But, it was evident that his family was never far from his heart. I had no idea how much every note, every picture displayed with pride on his refrigerator…meant to him. How he treasured every little piece of our lives. He was in hospice care for 3 weeks at home and spent one week in the in-patient facility before passing on to glory. He said several times that those 3 weeks had been the best of his life, surrounded by love and family. He had seen his family more in the last 3 weeks than he had in the last 30 years. Those words pierced my heart in a way I hope to never forget.

Many precious hours have been spent holding my grandfather’s hand the last few weeks. In the picture above, as my sister-in-law, Megan, and I were holding his hands, he put them together. Such beauty in the holding of a hand. Even when there are no words spoken, love is expressed.

Time stops at the beginning and the end of our earthly lives, so that we soak in the moments that matter. I wish we stopped a little more in the middle, sometimes.

 

20161027_160855-1

 

 

 

Ways to Create and Keep Memories With Your Baby ~ Before and After Goodbye

DSC_0214

Guest post by Andrea Soergel

                It is a naturally human thing to desire to be remembered.  In our quietest, deepest times of soul-searching, I think most of us would admit that we ponder what we have done that will leave a mark on this world.  What will be left for future generations to know that we existed?  That we were here, and we lived and loved and we meant something.  There are some things we can do to leave that lasting imprint.  First and foremost, if you’re a parent, you can raise children that are made to feel loved and secure.  We do our best to guide them and provide boundaries that will create adults who do THEIR part to have a positive impact.  If we don’t have any living children, we may do some kind of work that has lasting value, be it our actual job or volunteering.  We can all leave a positive impression on our world.

                So, what are we to do when our anticipated and much-loved child dies?  Where is their legacy?  Where is the chance for them to leave their touch on this life?  It lies with us.  The living, who loved them and nurtured them, whether it was only while in the womb, or for brief moments or days beyond.  We can carry their torch.  We can make sure their story doesn’t end with their physical exit from this earth.

                I was in this spot, and truthfully, feel that I will forever be in this spot, as long as the Lord allows me to be here.  Our son, Haven William, was diagnosed with anencephaly (a fatal neural tube defect) at twelve weeks into my pregnancy.  We were blessed with twenty weeks to enjoy with him, cherishing every little kick and hiccup.  He left us quietly at thirty-two weeks and was born still on February 13, 2004.  Our planning for honoring Haven began before his death and subsequent birth.  We have continued to keep him present in several different ways over the last twelve years.  I have also heard of a lot of really cool ways that other people are remembering and honoring their sweet babies, too. 

Before Birth:

                -Capturing your baby’s heartbeat.  One site (mybabysheartbeatbear.com) provides everything you need to record the heartbeat and place it inside a stuffed animal.  This is not the only place out there, of course, but you get the idea.  Doctor’s offices can often provide print outs of the heartbeat as well.  Some people even choose to then have this turned into a tattoo.  Of course, you can always just have the recording to treasure without doing anything fancy with it.

                -Paint your belly.  This one is fun for siblings to be involved with.  There isn’t a lot of prep work or cost involved~just get some paint, bare your belly, and go to town.  Of course, pictures to document are a necessity.  It is also a good chance to talk to your other children about what is happening with their baby brother or sister in a more light-hearted setting.  I also want to emphasize that, while this may be super fun for kids, you can have just as much fun doing this with you and your spouse or partner.

                -Make a belly cast.  This one obviously involves more prep work and cost, but can be a really meaningful remembrance to have.  Some people choose to have the casts painted and then display them in their home.  They are just as lovely unpainted and stand as a testament to the little life you carried.  The popularity of belly casts is growing and you can even buy kits at places like walmart.com and target.com, as well as many other places.

                -Maternity Photos.  This one is self-explanatory, but there are so many lovely ideas out there.  You can choose a place that is particularly meaningful or fun for you and your family and have photos done there or virtually anywhere.  I have seen beautiful portraits done in studios, as well as in the outdoors or their home.  Maternity photos are always meaningful, but even more so for a baby whose life is expected to be brief.  You can use a professional photographer or even just grab a friend and ask them to help out by snapping a few pictures.  You will be glad you did!

                -Celebrating the kicks.  Full disclosure here-this one is my favorite and it doesn’t require much explanation.  We loved having our other children and family feel Haven kicking away.  We enjoyed it immensely and it is something I will never forget.  One suggestion that I wish we had done was to record some of those sweet moments.

The birth day:

                -Photographs and more photographs.  Some people choose to have professional photographers there for the birth of their child and some prefer just to have family or to take the pictures themselves.  You can’t have this day to do over again, so make it what you want it to be.  Whatever direction you choose to go, you will never regret having a LOT of pictures.  Don’t forget the shots of different family members with baby, too.  My dad passed away two years after our son was born and I treasure the photos of him with Haven.

                -Footprints, Handprints, and molds.  You can purchase inexpensive mold kits in many different places.  Usually the hospital staff is very kind about helping you with the molds and prints.  Once you have them you can do different things with them.  We have Haven’s footprints framed on our wall and we also have a stamp that was made from one of his tiny, perfect feet.

*I have to take the opportunity to plug Sufficient Grace Ministries in this area.  The care they give to families and their babies is top-notch and they provide photographers as well as mold kits and supplies for hand and footprints. If you are in the state of Ohio, they will provide trained support doulas and remembrance photographers to walk with you and help capture precious memories of your time with your baby. They can also help perinatal hospice families with birth planning and offer online and teleconference consultations for families and birth professionals worldwide.

Beyond:

                This is the part that can be so daunting.  It can be easy to come up with ideas to honor our babies when we are right in the midst of the situation.  It is always present in our minds and hearts.  But, as time passes, it can take a little more effort to think of ways to keep our baby’s story going.  Of course, it is always right there in OUR hearts and minds.  It doesn’t go away.  There are some creative ways for your precious child’s memory to endure, even beyond the walls of your home.

                -Love letters in the sand.  I cannot take credit for coming up with this idea, but it has really been huge for us.  When our friends or family travel, they write Haven’s name in the sand, take a picture, and send it to us.  Sounds pretty simple, and it is, but I really can’t tell you how much it means to us.  When we first started doing this, about eight years ago, I wrote a post on Facebook asking anyone who was going on vacation that summer if they would write Haven’s name for us.  It has taken off in a way we never would have expected!  We don’t have to ask anymore and people have sent us pictures from all over the world.  At the time of this writing we have Haven’s name on four of the seven continents.  We hope to get all seven eventually! (Sidenote:  Know anyone in Antarctica??)  This is so easy and I think you will find that your friends and family are more than happy to do this for you.

                -Book drive.  When the year arrived that our son would have started kindergarten we felt like doing something a little bigger.  I am a book lover and so it seemed a natural fit that we would do a book drive for our school library.  We have two older children and we sent out letters to their classmates’ families, as well as to our family and friends, asking them if they would consider donating a book to the school library in Haven’s name.  It was very successful and we added over seventy amazing books to our collection.  They had their own special shelf and each book has a label that says, “This book was given in memory of Haven W. Soergel by the loving donation of family and friends.”  We also had friends and family who donated books to our church library, as well.  I know that any public library would also welcome a donation and they are happy to have labels inside with your baby’s name.  In a similar vein, for one of Haven’s birthdays we requested donations of the book A Gift of Time be given to Sufficient Grace Ministries in his name.  SGM puts a label in the book, which they send out to grieving families all over the world.

                -Random acts of kindness.  I really love this idea.  The idea behind this one is to ask people to do a “random act of kindness” in honor of your baby and then report back to you what they did.  This is such a great example of using your pain and loss to put beauty out there in the world.  An example of what this looks like can be found on the Facebook page, “Acts of Kindness for Manny’s Birthday”.  Stacey and her husband lost their son, Manny on August 7th, 8/7.  Their idea is to try to get at least 87 acts of kindness done in Manny’s name on his birthday.  How cool is that?  This could obviously be tweaked in a lot of different ways to make it personal to your child.  It costs you nothing, brightens someone else’s day, and honors your baby’s memory.  It doesn’t get any better than that.

                -Christmas pictures and family pictures.  I love Christmas and I really get into writing a family Christmas letter and planning out our Christmas picture of the kids each year.  One of my favorite parts of the picture is figuring out how we will include Haven.  Sometimes we do it in obvious ways, for example, one year we had the bigger kids holding a picture of Haven.  Sometimes it is more subtle, and we actually have friends and family who look forward to see how we have incorporated our boy each year.  We have positioned the children in front of the tree so that one of Haven’s ornaments is in the picture.  We have a blue bear that represents him in other pictures.  Some families use their Comfort Bear in each family picture or other beloved item to represent their baby. One year our youngest son was wearing a Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Ribbon.  You can get so creative with how you include your little one.

                These ideas are just a little taste of the numerous ways you can memorialize your baby in your life and the lives of your family.  An added benefit of doing any of these activities is opening up the door for others to speak to you about your baby.  In the babyloss community we all know that so many people are afraid to talk to us about our children because they don’t want to upset us or “remind” us.  When our loved ones see us actively including our baby, it gives them permission to do the same.  And ultimately, don’t we all want the chance for our baby’s story to continue and have an impact?

For more ideas and information about creating memories during pregnancy when a baby’s life is expected to be brief, to find in-person or online support, to request resources, or for memorial ideas after birth and goodbye, please visit the links on the Sufficient Grace Ministries below:

SGM Perinatal Hospice Services

Making Memories Before Birth

Birth Planning

Memorial Planning

The Sacrifice of Servanthood

amanda singing

As I prepare for an upcoming SGM Perinatal Loss Support Training in Nebraska, I’ve been mulling over how to convey the heart of servanthood. How can one explain the incredible beauty of sacrificing yourself for someone else, laying down your own needs to look after aching soul? How can I describe the hearts of the volunteers who enter to stand on the sacred ground where heaven meets earth to walk with a family as they say hello and goodbye to their precious baby? Women who hold a mother’s hands in the wee hours of the morning as she looks into your eyes with the anguish of “why” when there is no earthly answer to her agonizing question.

Last night, while most people were sleeping, SGM volunteers did what only could be described as a Cuddle Cot Tag Team Relay to get our Cuddle Cot back to NW Ohio from the Cleveland/Akron area to serve a family in need. We are currently sharing one for all of our Ohio branches. (For anyone who doesn’t know what that is, it is a piece of medical grade equipment that enables parents to spent more time with their baby who has passed away.) Four drivers, including a spouse and child of one of our NE Ohio Regional Coordinators drove in the middle of the night…each taking a leg of the journey to pass the equipment on to the next…to get the CC to the parents in need, who were over 3 hours away, as another SGM volunteer supported the family and captured images of their time with their baby.

I have no adequate words to describe the type of valor displayed amidst a different kind of battlefield of brokenness. One that’s hard to grasp for those who have not stood in that place. All I know, is the women and men…the families…who serve together on this mission field are the very definition of servanthood. In all their imperfect, grace oozing through the cracks, hands and feet of Jesus as His love pours through them…glory. They are kind of gladiators who not only serve alongside you, they lift you up when you’re too tired to keep going…one on each side…pulling you along…saying…”I’ve got you” with every teary cry lifted toward heaven.

(Last night one of them quite literally found me exhausted and sleeping in the church parking lot where we agreed to meet for me to drive my leg of the CC journey…and said, “Get in my car. I’m driving you.”)

If you see any of them…of us…and we are scattered and distracted, disheveled and forgetful, tender and emotional, if we never call anymore…please know there is a reason for our brokenness and embrace the beauty found there buried under what appears to be weakness. If we cancel at the last minute, miss out on events, can’t man the concessions, know we are doing something few are willing to do…something hard to imagine for most…but so very essential to the people who are saying goodbye to their children. Please give grace to those who have chosen to serve as we stumble to the golf match without sleep or get our child’s physical at the last moment…or can’t pick him up because the hospital called…because everything stops when that happens.

For those wanting to embark on this journey, I want to ask the question, are you ready? Have you counted the cost…because, there is a price to serving others. Is your heart fully called to enter in with those suffering through unimaginable grief….grief  you can’t carry or mend with your human hands or the  best intentions of your human heart? So much more than good intentions, or even the desire to build a legacy for your own children in heaven, will be needed for you to leave your bed at 2am, to leave her debut in the dance recital, his solo, her soccer tournament, his golf match…when the call comes. While it will bless you, because we are always blessed and filled in the pouring out when done with the heart to serve, it can’t be about you. It must always be about loving the one in front of you. Because love lays it all down.

Humbled and grateful that there are those willing to answer this call to serve others. And, grateful to stand with families on the sacred ground where heaven meets earth. Again and again.

As a side note, SGM is currently sharing one Cuddle Cot, generously donated by Owen’s Gift in memory of Owen Plunket. We need more Cuddle Cots so that all of our branches have this much-needed piece of equipment to give parents the gift of more time with their baby whose life was brief.  Another amazing SGM family, baby Gavreel’s family, is planning to host a garage sale this month to raise money for a second Cuddle Cot and Moses baskets (valued at about $3,500), so that more families can receive this amazing resource. If you are local, please stop by or donate toward their sale. You can also donate from anywhere using SGM’s donate button on our support page (please specify that you would like the donation to go toward the Cuddle Cot.) We have many other needs listed there as well.  SGM needs three new laptops with DVD/CD burner  and SD card reading capability, high quality to handle many files and to edit photos. And, a whole ongoing list of items.

What Qualifies You To Do This?

because every life matters pic

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