I Danced

dancing

Last Saturday morning, I walked with a family as they said goodbye to their baby. My heart ached for them as we created some tangible memories. I carried them with me…pieces of their pain, forever woven into the fabric of my heart. Every time I wash a tiny baby foot, the humbling privilege of washing feet, as mentioned in scripture, washes over me. How our Jesus values every single life.

As I left in the van, the tears I carefully held back dripped down my face. I watched them holding hands, entering a world without their baby. I felt the ripping raw pain as I drove. Their pain. My pain. The pain of thousands of other parents who once walked out that door into a completely different world.

Life was waiting for me at home.

My son’s band was playing at the Corn City Festival, and our house would be filled with guests. Soon the combination of music and being surrounded by people I love, lifted my heart a bit. I thought of Angie Smith’s famous words, “Life is a sacred dance of grief and joy.” Yes. Yes it is. There’s so much grief carried in this tattered heart of mine.

But…there is also joy. And, sometimes, these tired feet just have to dance.

I danced most of the night, thanks to friends and my darling kitchen boys. I danced with every one of them. At first, I felt a little self-conscious. I’ve never been heavier or older than I am right now. Curvy girls jiggle when they dance. For just a wee moment, I was uncomfortable, silently focusing on my flaws. And, then this fabulous freedom swept over me, as one of the kitchen boys twirled me around in the middle of the street, in front of the stage, at our tiny railroad town festival. This life is short, and I may never have the chance to dance in the middle of the street with my beloved, beautiful kitchen boys and half the town…and eventually in the arms of my husband…again. (Even he can’t resist that kind of contagious joy.) We don’t know what tomorrow holds. So, I danced, with complete abandon. For hours.

And, once I stopped worrying about the things that just don’t matter this side of heaven, I began to feel beautiful. And, loved.

I felt loved by my friends, my kitchen boys, my Tim…and most of all… loved by God.

I felt Him whisper as I laughed and spun…

You are cherished. You are beautiful. You are dearly loved. You are Mine. And, I see you, dear daughter of my heart.

Oh, how grateful I am that I did not allow a few extra pounds and some grey hair to keep me from dancing freely. The kind of dancing that heals the soul-ache of a weary heart. Dear women everywhere, there is nothing more beautiful than a confident, joy-filled, free woman. No matter how she is packaged.

You are cherished. You are beautiful. You are dearly loved. You are His. He sees you, dear daughter of his heart.

So, dance. Dance freely, covered in His grace and love for you. And, remember…radiant joy covers a multitude of jiggles (and other flaws).

 

Photo credit

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

Redemption

The following is from Kelly’s heart. Not on behalf of Sufficient Grace.

I can tell this will be one of those nights when sleep eludes me. Words, begging for release, like they do.

I’m not sure where to begin these ramblings from my depths.

There is a woman, quite dear to me, who no longer lives earthside, but has made her home in heaven. For her, all has been redeemed. Which makes my own wrestlings regarding her life and the sorting through of my thoughts on the matter seem rather futile. Except…the thing about complete redemption… It is not so this side of heaven. We still ache for full redemption in our broken state, for the day when our Savior returns to make all the wrongs right, once and for all. How it must grieve His heart, the damaged state of our current dwelling place.

Her body lies in the ground, but her soul lives. This woman who is dear to me.

When she walked on planet earth, she was never loved as she deserved. Not once. She didn’t even love herself the way a woman of her stature ought. For she carried more grit and grace in her pinky than most people do in their entire being. She just didn’t know it. She didn’t see herself the way He saw her. If she did…if she knew her worth was of far more value than rubies, life would’ve been different.

What she didn’t know, was that it was a man’s job to protect her, to love her, to treasure her. She learned a different lesson from the women she knew. And, some of the men. The men who gave her their names during various seasons of her life didn’t behave worthy of being called her blanket of protection. In many ways, they weren’t.

So, the dilemma in my wrestling is this. I know that all the broken that occurred this side of heaven has been redeemed for her on the other side, where she now lives. She is covered in the blanket of the love of Jesus, clean and set free from everything that entangled her and held her back in this life. She is all that He created her to be…and she knows…deep in her deepest depths that she is lovvvved….loved like we have never known this side of heaven. Every wrong has been made right.

So…why…why do I still long to give her back her name? To take a piece of the land back for her? Pieces that were stolen. What does that say about my heart thumping and stumbling along earthside, trying to shake off the broken and longing…always longing for redemption…even as we drink in grace?

Redemption is an interesting craving. And, I’ve been mulling it’s inner parts…the longing desire we have within us…for rightness and justice. For brokenness to find restoration.

I tend to be drawn to the broken hearts and people, seeing…always seeing…the redeemable qualities in another. (Well…almost always.)

Recently, my “therapist-ish” friend asked me about the attraction and fierce love I feel toward broken people as we sorted through my inner pieces.

She said, “Are you trying to fix them?”

“No,” I replied, “I can see the beauty…the good in them. I can see the redeeming qualities. And, I want the good to win.”

I want the person I see and love to see and love themselves…to know their own redeemable qualities, the ones God sees, the things in them Jesus saw when He laid down His life on the cross…to redeem every broken place inside every mess of a person.

I want to see redemption in the souls of those I love. Of those around me. I want to reflect back to them, like a mirror, shining light on their best side…on the potential I see in them. I want them to lift their heads and hope.

I want them to look to Jesus to be their Redeemer, for He is the only worthy one who can.

And, even still…I long to give that woman back her name. At least this side of heaven. In eternity, it likely won’t matter so much.

The Grief Bearer

bc2

A dear friend was working with me at SGM Headquarters this week. I was preparing a package containing a tiny casket we would be delivering for young parents who had lost their baby. His observation, his words, as I packed the sacred package, have not left my mind since they left his lips.

He spoke of the idea of sin bearers. People who were called to the death bed to take upon themselves the sins of the one leaving this earth. They would carry the sin and the penalty for all the sins of the dying soul. The biblical definition of a sin bearer is: A person or animal that acts in God’s sight in a substitutionary capacity, to whom are transferred the sins of others, together with the corresponding penalty for those sins. (biblegateway.com) We saw this often during the times of animal sacrifice. Before Jesus came to be the once and for all, ultimate, and ONLY worthy sin bearer, to take upon Himself the sins of the world.

It was what he said next that I can’t shake, because for me, one of the most powerful and freeing gifts is to be able to give words to the things that mull around in my depths…to give a name to the sacred wrestlings. Sometimes the names come from unlikely vessels in mundane moments. Most of life is lived in those moments, the worthy things anyway.

“Mrs. Gerken, you are the Grief Bearer. You take some of the pain onto yourself when you enter in with a family. You take their grief. Some of it goes with you.”

I stopped for a moment. It is exactly like that. Some of the pain from each heart enters mine, and we carry it together. Every life I’ve had the privilege of honoring goes with me…both the gifts, and the heaviness. It is a rare gift to be seen and understood by another. And, I will be honest. Few people see me these days…few grasp the heart of what I do, and the consuming craziness of this calling. There is a lonely melancholy to being unseen and misunderstood, but oh… the soothing balm, when someone sees. One beautifully broken soul to another…

I can be the Grief Bearer, bringing shreds of hope to the pits of despair, shining flickers of light in the darkness, only because I don’t have to carry the heavy weight alone. Because, in the carrying…I am carried. Covered by His grace. Filled with His love. Moving as His hands and feet. I won’t say I’m always adept at remembering to give it all over to Him. Some of it is worn on me, with me always. The deep lines in my face…the wrinkle in my forehead, the tired eyes, the dark circles from little sleep, the weary ache in my bones to match the ache of my heart, and a face permanently stained with tears…as if tattooed in a stream down my cheeks.

I wear the evidence with great honor, knowing that it is an unspeakable privilege to be used in this way. Poured out, grace oozing from this broken vessel…this vessel whom He loves. I can bear it, because of Him…and because…There are other things that stay with me, as well…

The grateful hug of a mother clinging to hope. The “thank you” that speaks volumes. The celebration of a life, however brief…but always worthy. The otherworldly experience of standing again and again in the place where heaven meets earth and peace that makes no earthly sense fills the room, overwhelming my senses…and quieting every inch of turmoil in the hearts that beat in that place, in that room. That room, where Jesus comes near…as much for the church goer, as He does for the drug addict.

Joy is sweeter after tasting sorrow. And, laughter escapes my lips as often as tears stain my cheeks. This too, is a gift that comes from bearing grief…my own…and the grief of others.

And, most of all…the gift of knowing Him. Of knowing about the love of my Jesus, the One who sees the most broken individual and says, “I choose that one.” The One Who hunts us down with His love. Each soul. Every soul. No one overlooked. No one unworthy. No one deemed hopeless. No one.

I will wear the name Grief Bearer with gratefulness, because He lives. And, because of His grace and love. And, so the next family doesn’t walk alone.

———-
Kelly Gerken is a certified SGM/SBD doula and SGM Remembrance Photographer. She walks with families facing the loss of a baby, helping them to embrace the time they are given to say hello and goodbye, to make precious memories. She has served thousands of families through Sufficient Grace Ministries, since founding the organization in 2004.To learn more about the services offered through Sufficient Grace Ministries, click here.

To request a Dreams of You package, click here.

To find out how to get a copy of Kelly’s book about her experience with Sufficient Grace after the loss of three of her five children and the birth of SGM, click here.

Grace Rebel

grace rebel

I’m wondering how to speak these words tumbling and churning inside, begging for release. The trouble is, the conveying…the truly nailing it on the head with explanation. Lately, I’m feeling rebellious. And, by lately, I mean for several years now.

These molds we try to force ourselves into. They aren’t fitting. Just like when we try to force our very big God into a box. He will never fit.

Do you feel sometimes that the closer you get to understanding who Jesus really is, the further you drift from fitting into molds, or identities, or expectations, or even friendships? I think it’s a challenge, to try to fit in places we were meant for. But, oh…the sweet freedom when we stop trying. Even if my freedom is a rock of offense to some, I can’t go back.

I’m surprised by how alone we sometimes can feel when we delve further into knowing the One who shed blood for us, while we spit in His face. How separated…even from those who sit beside us in the church pew, professing His name. Or those we’ve known as family all of our lives. Or those we call friends. The connections change. The path narrows. The numbers dwindle to a close few, real friendships. The ones who know all your broken and love you anyway…the ones who get it…who get you.

When my oldest son was young, I felt fiercely protective of every nuance of his being…physically, spiritually, emotionally. The weight of that responsibility on my young momma shoulders drove me to many prayer sessions on my knees. I never wanted him to taste a drop of sin, or harm, or disappointment in this broken world. The thought left me undone.

I had buried three children before I was 24 years old. So, I knew that there were no guarantees in this broken place.

I never wanted him to have unsaved friends, to hear or speak a curse word, to drink, or lie, or drive too fast. I wanted him safe.

A friend who’s currently trying to make sense of our desperation for safety in a very unsafe place spoke truthfully about that wrestling we do prior to surrender. There is a frightening freedom and the strangest sense of peace in surrendering. In knowing that there is no safe place from loss, from death, from sin.(In case you’re wondering, I’m not offended or frightened by her wandering in this wilderness, or by her questions. And, I don’t believe our very big God is either. I believe He is wooing her to find him, even in the wandering.)

Something stirred within me, in the depths of grief, when all had been stripped from me in the burying of babies…and in the surrendering…in the clinging to the hem of His dirty garment…the One full of muck from all the walking with broken people. Something life changing. In my letting go. In my learning that true faith is gritty and messy and dirty and full of way more questions than answers…way more believing without seeing…knowing, even in the desperate broken places when prayers can’t be uttered…that even in that, His grace would meet me and it would always be enough.

It began to fall way, the lie that faith is about my performance…that my Christian witness has more to do with a perfect picture with a checklist of rules than a real gathering around my kitchen table to listen to stories, offer good food, and cherish the gift of lives and friendship….being the hands and feet of Jesus, rather than merely speaking of Him with a bunch of shoulds and requirements attached. Letting His love ooze through and pour out in the sharing of laughter. In the shedding of tears. In the holding of hands. In the walking alongside. In the breaking of bread. In the telling of our stories. Letting that speak louder than eloquent prayers prayed just right. Not covering the cracks and mismatches in my “picture” which upon closer inspection reveals so much more beauty in the imperfections.

Ironically, I’ve learned the most about that freedom from the son I was once so desperate to protect. He brings a wide range of friends to my kitchen table. Some who maybe have never set foot in a church. He is one who loves his Savior, and shows it much more in the living than in the words he speaks. Not perfectly…in real life, messy fashion. The kind that leads to discussions on truth. During a recent conversation, he said, “If you really want to share your faith, you can’t only surround yourself with people who think like you. You have to live out among everyone. Share conversations. Get to know people. Listen and discuss differences with respect.”

And, do you know what happens? In the sharing. In the living. In the gathering and telling of stories. Naturally, easily…opportunities to share what you believe and why.

I love that.

That’s how our Jesus revealed Himself. Humbly, quietly…in the living amongst the people. No one…not a leper…or a drunk…or an adulterer…or the mentally ill…the poor….the sick…the broken….the dirtiest sinner…the thief on the cross….no one was too far gone…no one too dirty for Him to touch….no one worthless. Every life mattered to Him.

And, if we say every life matters to us, we really ought to live that way. Instead of spending so much time trying to keep our pictures looking perfect. Trying to measure our own performance, or that of those around us. We should be so busy in the loving and following the lover of our souls, that we don’t even notice that bologna. If I can boldly keep it real, I’m done with it. Disgusted by it. And, don’t have the time for it.

Anything that wreaks in the slightest of performance, I feel a rebellion rising within. I’m not talking about disobedience. Not rebelling against God and His ways. Rebelling against man’s…or in most cases, more accurately, women’s ways. Ladies, we can’t grow if we’re divisive and not encouraging and loving, if we’re so worried about our measuring sticks, we can’t see the hearts around us. Put them down, for the love of Pete. Put them down and just look at one another with love and grace. Can we do that? Can we walk worthy of this calling for a bit?

This grace rebel is longing for the grace to see the measuring sticks broken and tossed aside with the fervor that the feminists displayed when they were burning their bras. (I’m not advocating that, of course! But, if you did, I won’t judge you or quit speaking to you….just sayin’. )

If you’re wondering what I mean when I speak of a grace rebel…and if your heart is perhaps longing to be unleashed with the freedom with which we were meant to love…here is my best attempt at a definition:

grace rebel

 

 

 

Birthing Miracles

I stayed as far away from birthing rooms as possible after experiencing four traumatic labors that resulted in five births. I was the queen of the cascade of medical interventions phenomenon spoken of in the doula realm. Pitocin and other labor inducing interventions. Check. Epidurals. Check. IV’s. Check. Forceps. Check. Long, stalling labors with ineffective contractions. Check. And, don’t even get me started on my track record. Three of my five children were born alive. Two remain alive. Two left this earth before leaving my womb.

The celebration of the miracle of life experienced in pregnancy long ago lost it’s luster for me. So, I find it rather intriguing that my heart has awakened to the love of all things birth related, some sort of redemptive path I never would have chosen or orchestrated in my limited human imagination. God loves to restore broken things. To send us into unlikely territory, stripping us of the heavy, muddy cloak holding us back, and clothing us with a new garment.

My friend, Heidi Faith, from stillbirthday.com speaks of the miracle of birth…saying simply, “All babies are born.”

I love that. And, I’ve found it to be true. I have spoken of the miracle that occurs when we enter in to walk with a laboring mother, most of the time, one expecting a child whose life will be brief, or whose life on this earth has already ended, beginning anew in heaven. It is a sacred ground, the place where heaven meets earth, and Jesus bends near to carry the wee one home as He brushes past, comforting the mother. Sometimes, he allows my arms to be felt as His, wrapping around her. Comforting her with His comfort, dressing her baby in the most beautiful hand-made garments. Through me, through us. What a humbling honor to be allowed to serve as a vessel of His love. He is ever close in the birthing room. Whether a baby lets out life’s victorious cry or takes his first breath in heaven, He is ever close. So close, we could reach out and touch the hem of His garment. So close, miracles still happen…even when a baby lies sleeping in her mother’s arms. Even when goodbye follows hello.

Because every life matters. Every life is worth celebrating, welcoming. loving, honoring, and grieving.

And, because birth is always a miracle, a powerful, divinely-bestowed gift, offered to women.

Eve, the first woman….her name means life. She is known as the mother of all living. God gave her that gift, that powerful, mighty, beautiful gift…to be the bearer of life. This world is all sorts of broken, from the moment of the fall in the garden. But, the gift remains…precious.

I’ve been reflecting on the beauty God means to weave through our lives, the purposes He has for the gifts he gives to us. Women often feel devalued and left longing for something more. We miss the gifts in front of us. We long to be empowered, significant, accepted. And, yet, what greater power (the good kind) has God given…what greater honor than to be a vessel through which life is birthed? The power to conceive and give birth should not be overlooked. I am not just speaking of the ability to birth a live, healthy baby. Not all of us have been blessed with that gift. However, the ability to birth life…to encourage and enliven this world, that treasure lies in the hearts of all women.

“God gave the woman an ability not just to have babies but also to release life in a variety of expressions. In fact, one translation says that Eve means ‘to enliven’. ” ~ This Day We Fight, by Francis Frangipane

“Women excel in intercession, in spiritual sensitivity and the release of new beginnings…To possess a national awakening, the ‘birthing’ power God has placed in women must be released.”

“You have been created by the almighty to birth breakthroughs on planet earth! God has designed you with a latent ability to release life through your intercession…Through their intercession, these godly women will prayer-birth powerful ministries on earth, of both male and female.”

“Revelation 12:1 speaks of a ‘woman clothed with the sun.’ This word is not just talking about Israel or the Church. It also reveals how God sees spiritual women: They are honored and crowned with distinction; pure and clothed with the glory of God. With confidence, they tread upon the powers of night. Dear army of praying women, it is your inherent destiny to birth that which will rule the nations.”

From chapter 13 of the book ~ This Day We Fight, by Francis Frangipane

The above book has inspired me, as a woman, not to overlook the incredible, divine gift of bearing life…whether it be in delivering a baby, or whether it be in encouraging another or going to battle in prayer for another soul. Women are treasured in the sight of our God, and we are not ever insignificant or overlooked in His eyes. He has entrusted us with a power great and mighty, a gift to be honored and cherished.

Be blessed today, beautiful woman of God, and be a bearer of life…in whatever capacity you have been called to enliven this earth, birthing breakthroughs through prayer, melting brokenness with love, covering the wrongs with grace.

 

 

 

Scandalous Grace

Some difficult questions have led me back to one of the most excruciating times in my life.

And, I am wrestling with the agonizing depth of those questions, wrestling just like I did all those years ago, around my kitchen table, searching for answers to the impossible. You know, the kind of life and death questions that will change the course of things and define everything else, every other moment for the rest of your life. Those kind of questions squeeze your chest tight and lay heavy in your depths. You can’t escape those kinds of questions, not even when you sleep.

I have stayed away from these questions, because they are difficult, riddled with personal conviction, and uncomfortable to address.

There isn’t anything black and white or easy about hearing that your child, the child in your womb, the one you would do anything to protect, the one you prayed for and longed for, dreamed dreams for…is most certainly going to die. Some people know right away what kind of choice they would make if they heard those words…”incompatible with life”. Or, they may tell you they would know the answer.

Maybe they would. Maybe they would be brave enough, see clearly through the fog enough not to wrestle in that moment.

I wasn’t. I wrestled.

I wrestled like most mothers, hearing frightening words about what can happen to a baby growing in a womb without amniotic fluid. I wrestled like no other time in my life, wondering what was right. What did God expect from me? What could my family endure? What would it be like to stand beside another grave? Was there any easier way, and was there anything I could do to spare my son pain, or my family?

I asked the hard questions. I wavered. I hesitated. I didn’t know if I had the faith for what lay ahead, carrying a baby doomed to die.

In my mother-mind, I had visions of a damaged and broken body, that could be harmed by growing without fluid. Doctors don’t know how scary those clinical words sound to a mother. It wasn’t so easy, choosing life this way. Not so cut and dry. It was a nitty-gritty, messy, dirty faith that carried me through those days. A faith full of fear and doubt…that just kept desperately believing even when I didn’t see. Real faith, the kind that separates the men from the boys, the kind that tells you who your God really is, that kind of faith is desperate like that, a clawing, grasping kind of clinging.

I carried my son. I have never regretted that choice, not for one moment. And, if a mother ever stands before me, filled with fear from a diagnosis, I will gladly tell her the story of my Thomas Patrick, and so many others. I will encourage her to carry that sweet life and fill the time with as many memories and as much love as possible, every moment she is given. I will walk with her, and give her whatever resources I can. And, I will pray and weep with her. And, if she is close by, I will even help her dress that sweet baby and take his or her pictures. I will hold that life in my hands and honor every life that crosses my path, and every grieving heart that stands before me.

But, I remember well the agony of that decision. And, because I understand that so many families do not even know they can carry a baby with a fatal diagnosis, some are not given that choice. I also understand there are so many medical conditions, and even times when a mother’s choices are limited….because of that…I would not stand in judgment over a parent who wanted her baby desperately, and was told delivering her baby early would be best, if she made a different choice. There are a myriad of circumstances a parent faces that we cannot even imagine. It isn’t so simple sometimes.

And, I don’t have all the answers.

What I do know is that our God’s love and grace are so beyond our comprehension. He loves us with a scandalous grace, a grace we don’t deserve. He goes where no one else will. My Jesus would look into the twisted pain of a grieving heart, regardless of circumstances, and offer comfort and peace the world could never give or understand. I do know that He has called me to be a vessel of that grace and comfort to every grieving parent who crosses my path and to honor the precious life of every baby I have the privilege of meeting. I do know that.

God doesn’t care about the level of brokenness. He doesn’t view some as more or less broken and sinful or deserving of grace than others. We are all the same broken mess in His eyes. I stand beside the hospital bed of mothers from all walks of life, mothers from all backgrounds and faiths, mothers with all kinds of broken. But, only one thing matters in that moment. Regardless of who we are before, or what we’ve done, in that moment, we are just two grieving mothers. And, nothing else matters, but comforting that pain with the comfort we have been given, as our Jesus stands in the midst, stroking the straggly hair of his broken girls, wiping the tears, holding us close.

But You are God, Ready to pardon, Gracious and merciful, Slow to anger, Abundant in kindness, And did not forsake them.

“Even when they made a molded calf for themselves, And said, ‘This is your god That brought you up out of Egypt,’ And worked great provocations, Yet in Your manifold mercies You did not forsake them in the wilderness. The pillar of the cloud did not depart from them by day, To lead them on the road; Nor the pillar of fire by night, To show them light, And the way they should go. ~ Nehemiah 9:17b-19

Our God never leaves us. Even when we “deserve” to be left, (and that includes all of us at one time or another). That’s the scandalous grace of the One who laid down His life, so that we could live.

 

Plenty

I stood in the paint aisle of the hardware store two days ago, scanning the prices, kicking myself for not buying enough for the conference room a couple months before when it was on sale…for less than half the price.

I knew what was in the budget….the budget that had been stretched, like the oil in the lamp, so many times in the past few months. Every time I looked, seeing “not enough”, somehow there would be “just enough”, still. A generous heart would donate time, skills, finances. A ridiculous sale on fabric would lead to 70 yards of fleece on the shelves of our storage room and boxes of stuffing, books on the shelves. And, we would fill the boxes, shipping tiny offerings of comfort to empty arms and broken hearts.

“Plenty”, He would answer in that still, small voice of certainty and gentleness. “Plenty”, He answers to my every “not enough”.

So, I negotiated the price with the store clerk, who consulted the owner, who discounted my purchase by $40.

I left, wondering if I bought enough paint.

Yesterday, bones aching from the reaching and stretching, breathing in the fresh coats of paint, I looked at the unopened gallon of paint sitting next to the additional half gallon leftover. The large conference room was covered with two generous coats of paint, using only two-and-a-half gallons of the four we had purchased. Abundance…

“Plenty”, He spoke in the silence of the freshly painted conference room at the SGM building.

I closed my eyes, picturing the boys rolling paint on the walls, and my friend Nancy, still healing from surgery pushing a chair along to lean on as she added paint to our wall, old country hymns crooning from her iPad, her voice and mine lifting quietly to How Great Thou Art, brushes swishing in rhythm. My little Lynette, smoothing on the trim, noticing how far the paint stretched…noticing His plenty, walking in for round two, that evening, with her grown-up boys to finish the job, just when I thought I would be painting the rest alone.

“Plenty”, He whispered. I can see His face spread into a smile, eyes sparkling with delight, as He shows me. Again and again.

I brushed my hand over the full paint can. Knowing it was so much more than leftover paint.

As we ate lunch, I marveled at His love for the broken people. My son, and his friend (another son in my heart) spending the day, covering the walls of a place meant to minister to brokenness with beauty. Painting over the dirt with clean…the old with new. Only hearts tender from the breaking can listen, with gentleness, to mothers remembering, while eating lunch and painting walls. Strong arms, soft hearts. Hearts that have known loss. They gather here, the people, with the broken pieces. I smiled, thinking of the gifts they have at the tender age of eighteen…gifts many never know. The full that comes from emptying.

“See”, He says, smile widening, eyes gleaming…”Plenty”.

Even still, as I schedule a time to meet with the grant committee review board, I feel the tugging of “not enough”, my inadequacies screaming small in the face of His big.

He smiles again, reminding me of His faithfulness. “Haven’t I always given plenty? I will cover your not enoughs with my grace. All of them. I will go before You, speak through you.”

My phone blinked blue. I wiped the paint off my hands and read a message from one of my top 3 favorite authors of all time, a woman God has used to speak grace into so many of my not enoughs, teaching me to count the gifts and see so much that I had missed…so much full in the emptying. I typed hastily in reply, blessed that Ann Voskamp knew my name.

Days before, I left a comment to enter a contest on her blog, hoping to win an amazing camera to use for SGM’s perinatal hospice. We are planning to add photography services for the local families we serve, in addition to the support and materials we currently offer…capturing precious moments with babies whose lives are brief.

I submitted my entry later than intended, noticing my comment was number 400-something in the midst of a mounting list. I shared my heart in the comments and offered a whispered thought to my Father, the One with the smiling eyes. Then, the next day I bought the paint and went back to work.

Until the light flashed blue.

And, later green…with a touching email from Ann, fellow lover of grace…telling me I had been randomly (although we know that nothing is random with our God!) chosen from a list of I don’t know how many. Last check, there were over a thousand comments on her blog post. Laughter and overwhelmed sobs emerged from my depths as I shared the news with my youngest and looked up to praise God for the plenty. Grace, sweet grace, always filling my empty, covering “not enough” with plenty. Abundance. Overflowing beauty I don’t deserve…sweet mercy. Humbling…on my face grateful.

Sufficient Grace Ministries will now have access to a  Nikon D90 {& 18-105 mm f/3.5-5.6G Zoom Lens to photograph tiny lives and capture grace.

“Anticipate”, He whispers, smiling still. “Anticipate my faithfulness, daughter, to do more than you could ask or imagine.”

In the morning O Lord, You hear my voice; in the morning I lay my requests before You and wait in expectation. ~ Psalm 5:3

Chasing the Sun

I’m participating in Carly Marie’s beautiful project, Capture Your Grief.

This morning, we were prompted to capture the sunrise. Since I live in town, it was a bit of a challenge. I slipped on a hooded sweatshirt and my Nikes, my breath clouding in puffs before me, against the cool autumn morning, chasing the sun.

This was my first glimpse. Even with a view impeded by trees and houses, it caught my breath. Have you ever really stopped to watch the miracle of a sunrise, to soak in the exquisite beauty? It’s hard not to stop, and catch your breath, in awe of the majesty.

 

I zoomed in to capture the light more vividly…

 

 

But, it wasn’t enough. As I stood in my sweats in the middle of the road, enamored with the beauty, I longed for more. With an urgency, I jumped into my oldest son’s car, windows still clouded with dew, and drove off in search of more….chasing the sun.

 

I rounded the corner, and captured this moment, the world awakening, sun chasing fog from the night. Slumber slipping away. Hope rising.

Still, I wanted more. I wanted it all laid before me, heaven meeting earth, land touching sky. I continued my pursuit.

 

I breathed the beauty in, the soul-soothing promise of morning dawning, gracing earth with another day. The Master Artist, gifting us with His latest masterpiece.

I closed my eyes, remembering the promise I have clung to, when the nights were long and their darkness blanketed me heavy.

Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning. ~ Psalm 30:5b

 

It isn’t only the sun that rises, but with it, hope. Hope rises through the darkness, chasing away the mist. Hope of a fresh day, bringing new mercies. And, it wasn’t only the sun I was chasing this October morning. It was the Son, and the glory of our Creator, shining down on our humble earth. I chase after Him, to see what glimpse of beauty He has for this day, this moment.

Oh, how He longs to show us…if we’re looking.

 

 

The Power of Words

I’ve been pondering the power of words, lately. The way they can cut and wound, rolling over in our minds, whispering darts of accusation and condemnation, leaving our hearts shattered. They can be crippling or empowering. Encouraging or heart-breaking.

The book of James has quite a bit to say about the power of words and the importance of taming our tongues.

For we all stumble in many things. If anyone does not stumble in word, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle the whole body. Indeed, we put bits in horses’ mouths that they may obey us, and we turn their whole body. Look also at ships: although they are so large and are driven by fierce winds, they are turned by a very small rudder wherever the pilot desires. Even so the tongue is a little member and boasts great things. ~ James 3:2-5

For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and creature of the sea, is tamed and has been tamed by mankind. But no man can tame the tongue. It is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our God and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the similitude of God. Out of the same mouth proceed blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be so.

~James 3:7-10

About eight years ago, I attended a conference for children, called Junior Jam, with my oldest son, who was maybe in 4th grade or so. In one session the facilitators built a big tower using many large boxes. It took many boxes to painstakingly build the tower until it reached the ceiling, but it took only one box strategically thrown, to knock it all down. Words are the same. It takes many words filled with grace and truth to build up another, but only one cutting word to devastate and break someone into pieces. I have tried to remember that truth, as a mother and teacher. Of course, I’ve had my moments when my speech was less than grace-filled. I’ve said the words that cut in moments of brash reaction. But, most of the time, I try to remember that tower, and the great effort to build it up, along with the destruction so easily brought with one blow.

In this ministry, we must consider often the power of words…to lift up or to wound. Many people struggle to find the right words when someone dies. And, the death of a baby seems to bring some of the worst of the inappropriate and often hurtful responses from people who mean no harm, but simply do not understand. I have heard those words over the years, spoken to me and to others. It is especially difficult to respond in grace when our hearts are so vulnerable.

This quote sums up well what I believe almost every grieving person wishes those around her knew:

“Honestly, when I’m hurting, I’d rather have a friend who stands and weeps with me or wonders with me than one who rattles off his or her thin take on the universe.” ~ Patsy Clairmont (Stained Glass Hearts)

A thousand times, YES, Patsy Clairmont. That’s exactly what we need when we’re hurting. Someone to come alongside us, to weep with us, and to walk with us a bit on this path. That is what we hope to do for those who come to us in need. Please let us know if we can walk with you a bit…whatever you are facing. We are here to pray with you…and offer a listening ear.

My prayer for all of us called to minister to one another in difficult times:

Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers. 

~Ephesians 4:29

Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how to answer each one. ~ Colossians 4:6