SGM Christmas Giveaway Extravaganza Day Two: Remembrance Jewelry

I am so excited about today’s giveaway.

My beautiful friend, Amanda Plunkett, from Owens Gift and ABP Keepsake Jewelry has donated two gorgeous gifts for you all!!

Amanda creates one of a kind custom keepsake jewelry from your child’s/loved one’s/Pet’s cremation ashes, placenta, umbilical, dried flowers, teeth, small peices of fabric. She has given us two amazing items!

1. One is a bird nest necklace with Pregnancy and Infant Loss colors to wear in memory of sweet babies in heaven.

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2. A gift certificate for $50 for you to purchase a piece of custom jewelry from ABP Keepsake Jewelry with any memento items from your loved one or cremains.
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3. Footprints on the Heart Necklace

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4. Footprints in the Sand Necklace

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To enter:
1. Leave a comment on this post sharing who you are missing in heaven this Christmas and which jewelry item you would like a chance at winning. (You can choose as many as you’d like to enter for!)

2. For additional entries Like the SGM Facebook Page and follow on Twitter and Instagram (@SuffGrace).

3. Share this post or our event page.

Please make sure you leave a comment for each separate entry in order for them to count.

All winners will be announced on Friday. Please check back to enter for giveaways throughout the week!

SGM Christmas Giveaway Extravaganza 2015 Day One: Ornaments

Welcome to the SGM Christmas Giveaway Extravaganza 2015! Today is Day One of our week of giveaways…ornaments. Our Christmas Tree should tell a story, the story of our family. And, that includes those we are remembering in heaven each year. We would love to help you add to your tree of stories and memories with an ornament in memory of your baby or loved one in heaven.

#1. Our first ornament is so special. The Dreams of You ornament is hand painted and was created exclusively for SGM by Deanna Shoemaker from Payton’s Precious Memories. This ornament will be personalized by the creator with your baby’s name. Information about ordering can be found on the Support SGM page.

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#2. While this Hallmark “Born in Our Hearts” Ornament was created for adoptive parents, I also think it applies beautifully to parents whose babies are born into their hearts…but now live in heaven.

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#3. Add a copy of your baby’s handprint or footprint to this special keepsake ornament.

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#4. This one is for anyone missing someone in heaven…does not have to be a baby or child. “The ones we’ve lost are found in our memories.”

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To enter:
1. Leave a comment on this post sharing who you are missing in heaven this Christmas and which ornament/ornaments you would like a chance at winning. (You can choose as many as you’d like to enter for!)

2. For additional entries Like the SGM Facebook Page and follow on Twitter and Instagram (@SuffGrace).

3. Share this post or our event page.

Please make sure you leave a comment for each separate entry in order for them to count.

If Only You Had Enough Faith

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A conversation yesterday regarding a mother facing a life-limiting diagnosis in pregnancy unlocked emotions laying dormant in my depths for more than a decade. Those words, spewing the barbed accusations of not enough.

If you only have enough faith you will be well. Your babies will be well. Your mother will be well.

If you pray believing, then it will be so.

People are only sick because they don’t pray with faith, believing they will be healed. They have doubt in their hearts.

In one fell swoop, I was back there…on my knees begging God to show me how to pray with faith. Begging God to spare my son. Because if only…if only I could just learn the lesson I failed to learn the first time I stood beside the tiny grave that held my twin daughters Faith and Grace…then I wouldn’t have to stand beside the grave again holding our son Thomas who had been giving the fatal diagnosis of Potter’s Syndrome.

I was desperate to understand what was required of me. Desperate to have enough faith. To pray correctly. To be counted among the righteous. Desperate in my broken. Desperate as only a mother can be. Desperate.

I tore open my bible, laid on my face covered in tears. Drowning in tears. As the storm raged relentless, both outside and within.

Show me. Show me the kind of faith you require. Show me how to have the faith that pleases you. Show me what I failed to learn the first time, that we would be spared this agony. Show me.

And He did.

In Chapter 7 of my book, Sufficient Grace, I cover the faith-wrestlings by delving into His Word:

Was it enough to believe that God could heal our baby, or were we expected to believe with confidence that He would heal our baby? That seemed a little presumptuous to me. But I wondered about this faith thing. Was my lack of faith the reason for all this agony? If I could just learn the lesson somehow, would we be spared?”

I wanted to understand faith…so I devoured Hebrews chapter 11…known as “the hall of fame of faith.”

I read about how faith is the substance of things hoped for…the evidence of things not seen.

I read about Abraham and David and Rahab and Noah and Moses…all flawed and broken. All full of doubt and unknowing. But still considered faithful. Still considered His.

Most of all, I read about Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith. Did He skip to the cross…knowing all would be well, without a moment of doubt or hesitation? What did His faith look like? After all, He is our example. Did He ever wrestle with what lay in front of Him?

I read in Hebrews how Jesus endured the cross despising the shame…yet He did it for the joy set before Him. The joy of heaven, of our restoration. Yet, He asked the Father to take this cup from Him…if there was any other way. He asked three times, resisting to the point of sweating great drops of blood. And, yet…He is our example. He didn’t love the idea of the cross before Him. He knew the beginning from the end. And, it still was agony. Was I faithless because I didn’t love the cross in front of me? No. Even Jesus wrestled with the agony of the cross. And, yet…He surrendered to the Father’s will, believing Him…even in the midst of the agony.

In Hebrews, this powerful verse spoke to my tattered heart in those silent months of carrying our Thomas:

…the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground. These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised. God had planned something for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect. (Hebrews 11:38-40)

They had to believe God without seeing. To believe Him when things didn’t go as planned. To believe Him when He gave a different answer than they hoped. To believe Him when they didn’t see the promise this side of heaven.

What of Job? Job…counted as righteous, pleasing to God…and yet he lost all that he had.

And, what of Jesus’ conversation with Thomas in John 21…

You believe because you see, Thomas…blessed are those who believe without seeing.

I stumbled in my desperate search, still hoping I could unlock the code, even amongst all this evidence that faith wasn’t about me.

Faith isn’t about how well I believe, how certain I am. How strong. Faith is about trusting my God. No matter what. Believing when I don’t see. Sufficient Grace is about knowing that His strength is made perfect through my weakness. It is not about me getting it right or performing well enough. Such nonsense diminishes the power of my God.

Still…I longed for an answer. So when I read the familiar story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead, my mama heart lept. Could it be?

This sickness will not end in death. No, it if for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.

Will he save my Thomas? Is that what He is saying?

I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?

Yes, Lord…I believe this…and I finally understood. Over the course of a few days, the message sunk in. No matter what the outcome, Thomas will live. God whispered to my heart, whether Thomas lived physically on this earth or whether He was made complete in heaven, He would live. He would live…and his life would be a miracle…no matter what. So…I was expecting new life. New beautiful, amazing life. God whispered His promise in the quiet of my kitchen as my tears dripped on the bible before me.” (pg. 83 Sufficient Grace)

So many people praise God when they see the miracle this side of heaven, the miracle of physical healing. But, God is still good when He chooses to heal by taking a soul home to restore brokenness…by healing a marriage, saving a soul, restoring broken faith, deepening our relationships on earth and with Him.
God is still good and worthy of praise when we don’t get the answers we asked for or when there seems to be no answer at all.

This world is a broken place. Filled with brokenness and suffering. Not because God willed it to be so. He is not a Father up there…shaking His finger…saying “If only you believed enough. If only you sinned less. If only you could figure out some hidden lesson, then you would be healed.”

If you never hear anything I’ve spoken or written…please, please HEAR this…that lie that “if only we had enough faith”…is from the pit. It is NOT from God. If that were so, there would be much less suffering and many would never die. I prayed. Desperate prayers. Elders laid hands on me and prayed. But, God still chose to heal my Thomas by taking him Home. That doesn’t mean I am not His. That doesn’t mean He rejected me. That doesn’t mean I am not “faithful enough.” There is no such thing. There is nothing I could do to earn His love or salvation. To be worthy on my own. I am worthy solely because the blood of Jesus covers me. His love, His grace covers us…carries us. He longs to wipe our tears. To mend our broken places. He waits for us outside of the pit, offering a hand…He sits with us in the pit…until we are ready to take His hand. Nothing separates us from His love. Nothing.

I share much more about our faith journey in my book, Sufficient Grace. Because I just want you to know about His Sufficient Grace, I want to offer it at the special bulk rate for anyone who read this post and would like further encouragement in their own faith-wrestlings. Use the bulk-rate button this week until November 21, 2015 to get the $8 rate.

Sweet Surrender

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“Don’t ever stop,” he said. “Don’t ever lose your passion for this ministry.”

Those were the words spoken to me in the newborn stages of our in-person SGM Perinatal Hospice Birth and Bereavement Services support program, while requesting funding from a hospital committee a couple years ago.

“I won’t,” were my firm words. Words filled with resolve…promise…confidence…and enough passion to topple strongholds and move mountains.

Serving is weary work though. And, people leave often. People leave, and God sends someone else to stand in their place…and you keep serving. It’s not an aspect of ministry I was prepared for…the leaving. I’ve shared before that I am not very good at being left…you know…abandonment issues and all that nonsense. Also, I deeply love those I serve beside in ministry. They have become my family…my sisters. Fellow servants on a mission field…bearing grief and offering hope…together. Together is better than alone. When one moves on due to life circumstances or changes of heart or just the inevitable weariness of the soul, a very real brokeness occurs.

There is much laying down in ministry…much dying to self. Much that must be sacrificed and surrendered to the Lord. I find what He is speaking to my heart most recently to be both freeing and mysterious. His ways are so not our ways…His thoughts not our thoughts. His plans at times leave me gloriously perplexed and yet…they seem…right.

For instance…

When I received word that my book would be published, I was in the hallway of SGM preparing to go on a hospital call to serve a family whose baby died.

When I had an interview with perhaps the most prominent name in Christian circles….and then… months later when I received word that they chose not to pursue a broadcast sharing our sacred work, I was on the road to train more volunteers to serve families facing the loss of their babies.

Yesterday, when I read that another beautiful warrior mama and author was chosen to win The Butterfly Award…created to honor those who serve bereaved parents…I had just returned home from our annual remembrance ceremony celebrating our sweet babies with brief lives, sharing their stories.

We’ve been awarded grants and turned down for grants. People have written articles about our work…and people have ignored opportunities to tell others of this resource.

It matters not.

He has shone me the more sacred work. It happens in the place where heaven meets earth. In moments of triumph or the pits of despair…we are unmoved and our resolve remains firm…keep serving. Keep seeking to be His poured out vessels of love. Keep comforting others with the comfort He has given.

Press on.

Love on.

Serve on.

And, surrender…all of it…to Him.

People come and go…and there have been a few moments here and there…when discouragement and weariness shakes my focus…when I have wondered for a blink if there will ever be enough people or resources. And, He always answers my not enough with plenty. Always.

People will leave. He will send more.

Resources will seem scarce. He will fill to the brim of overflowing.

I will be the broken mess that I am…unworthy, inadequate. And, His grace will cover me…and it will never run out.
And, it will always be enough.

Yesterday at the SGM Day of Remembrance and Hope, we did a special activity with Feeling Hearts. I have done this activity many times with bereaved families and birth professionals. Each time, the heart speaks to me, wherever I am on this life journey.

Yesterday the heart I pulled from the bag seemed to have vines and flowering leaves growing off the vine. I thought of the obvious picture that God is the vine and we are the branches. We must abide in Him in order to bear fruit. I must abide in Him…cling ever close…not even look at circumstances, accolades, rejection, mounting needs, or anything else. I must look at my Jesus, and what He has called me to do…to love Him and to love the person in front of me. Period. And beyond that…I saw the other families on this path…families we touch…being grafted in to my heart. And, the leaves…the growth..the birth of something new and beautiful. Growth and life. He will give the growth…He will breathe life and healing into the broken places…if we cling to Him.

In moments of discouragement this week, I reflected again on my promise to never give up the passion God has laid on my heart for this sacred calling. It is different now…bloodied from the battle of serving alongside my fellow SGM sisters on the mission field of companioning families through the wilderness of grief.

A fiery resolve rises from the embers of my weary heart…and I remember…that passion lives on. Because the passion that God breathes through us…with the love that He pours through us is relentlessly unending.

When Anxiety Happens

Several mothers in conversations at last week’s Walk to Remember in Houston told me that some of the most comfort they found was in the posts where I was real about the broken stuff. It is why I try to not hide behind facades…and why I try to be open about struggles, even though that’s often misunderstood or judged by some. But, it’s in the realness others are encouraged.

I’ve never been a person prone to panic attacks. The idea of loss of control is abhorrent to me…well for myself. I’m quite gracious and understanding if someone else feels a loss of control. But, apparently I don’t afford myself the same grace.

After my mother died, having suffered more than I ever thought was possible for a human being to suffer, I felt differently about health issues or visiting the doctor. I developed a strong aversion and outright fear of any medical intervention or concern. The depth of this fear was realized when I had a migraine that landed me in the emergency room, disoriented from effects of medication on a trip home from a visit to our NE Ohio branch to offer trainings a couple years ago.

I stood beside the bed asking why my hands and feet were numb, refusing to lay down in the bed.

“You’re having a panic attack ma’am.”

“I don’t have panic attacks,” I protested vehemently, “I take care of other people. I don’t lose control.”

But, the lack of control was quite evident as panic literally gripped my body, squeezing my heart, stealing the air from my lungs, making my legs and arms feel like jello covered weights hanging from me. Five hundred anxious thoughts raced through my brain and I could barely pick out just one…enough to discern through the tangled mess of my brain to write a text to my husband to come and get me.

Later, we found out I was having a reaction to some of the migraine medicine I was given, which caused serotonin toxicity, a condition triggering unreasonably high anxiety and irritability. The loss of control for me was incredibly traumatic. And I’ve been hesitant to see a doctor for much of anything since that fateful Emergency Room experience. The entire ordeal…and the intense fear of being out of control of my body and mind, mixed with the stark reality of my own mortality caused me to make some changes in my own Healthcare regimen…and part of that included limiting any medical interventions.

Which brings us to yesterday.

When I….a woman who has birthed five babies and buried three, who has been poked and prodded…scarred from IVs and shots, had a couple surgeries, had needles placed in her uterus, stands in birthing rooms, holding the hands of mothers while amniotic fluid splashes and birth happens without missing a beat, a woman who calmly and gently cares for tiny babies…sometimes in various stages of broken and sees only their beauty…stares death in the face again and again, standing in the place where heaven meets earth again and again…

I had a panic attack. At the dentist. Tears streamed down my face as I tried to hide my racing heartbeat, the tightness of my chest, the rapid breathing, the legs and arms turning to utter jello. Embarrassed by the image of my forty year old self crying silently, unable to keep the tears from falling while in the dentist chair, I heard myself apologize, while making every effort to keep my breathing steady and my voice calm.

“I’m having a bit of anxiety. This is so embarrassing.”

They tried to explain the procedure, thinking I was afraid of the minor dental procedure. As a teenager I had 8 teeth pulled to make room for braces, and my wisdom teeth. Without missing a beat. I’m not afraid of the dentist.

Yet, the tears fell, as I willed myself to remain in the chair. Reminding me…that deep inside, there are still some broken places. Places that don’t listen to reason. Places that know how fragile life is, how we are not exempt from suffering this side of heaven, places that fear any medical procedure or lack of control.

It is something so misunderstood. Something I will admit I once perceived as weakness, at least in myself. Anxiety. Panic attacks. I choose to pray through mine. And use other natural remedies, like essential oils. I think of scripture that offers solid truth that’s unchanging when fear grips me….taking those thoughts captive as the bible instructs. But, in my human flesh, I can’t control my body’s fight or flight response.

I just want to speak to the stigma for a moment. Anxiety is a very real thing. It’s an intense battle in the mind. And having that battle doesn’t make a person weak or inept or unable to perform well. I am typically calm in many trauma-induced situations, entering into raw grief with others on an almost daily basis. My triggers are when my own health is somehow compromised and I fear medical interventions that affect me in ways I can’t control. I think anxiety is often trigger specific for people. And, at other times it can come over you without provocation. This post isn’t meant to be an in-depth research on the subject.

I just want to share one of my personal broken places…to say that being a bit broken doesn’t mean we are weak or less capable. Loss and trauma can leave a person susceptible to anxiety and post traumatic stress responses. Speaking it aloud can often help us understand one another as we all walk together with our own broken places, open and vulnerable…and real.

Real is my favorite…even in the broken.

When You Can’t Hide Your Mess

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You know that paralyzing fear or the nagging feeling that you’ve forgotten something really important? That nightmare that maybe you won’t show up for something…that you will drop the ball on an essential responsibility?

Well…it happened to me.

It seems I’ve been stumbling into the next thing for several years now. Overwhelmed and very stretched. And by stumbling, I mean quite literally…stumbling.

This week, I forgot about a hospital training I was leading for birth professionals. Forgot. Completely. Until my calendar notification alerted me. One hour before a scheduled event that’s one hour away from me. Imagine your brain malfunctioning to that point. Imagine realizing you’re supposed to pack for and lead a presentation in front of professionals and there’s absolutely no way you can make it on time.

I’ve been juggling more than I can carry for awhile. And usually I can hide my inadequacy. There was no hiding this.
And do you know what happened? I called to say I would be 30 minutes late, apologized profusely…they extended grace. Prayed all the way there.

And…
God did what he always does. He made me more than I am. The presentations were so well received. No matter that I led them disheveled and unshowered, and miserably late. No matter. And I realized something…
Something I preach. Something I don’t always know. Our performance is nothing compared with His glory and grace.

I laid down some things I’ve been holding that day. It happens that way, when you’re stripped…when your mess is revealed for all to see. When you have no facade left to hide behind. I’ve been so tired and weary…shutting down.

He whispered, “Even if you never stood in front of another audience with this message again, never took another hospital call in the wee hours…if you walked away right now…you will be loved and valued as my daughter no less. You are Mine, not because of what you do or how well you do it. I could not love your broken, beautiful self more than I already do. Lay it down. Surrender. It isn’t yours to carry. My purposes will prevail regardless of what you do.”

I’ve heard it before…but this time…I heard it in my deepest depths. No matter what, I’m His.

Don’t be concerned, I have no plans to quit or walk away. We are making some adjustments to make my schedule a little less daunting and organizing some checks and balances to prevent me from missing important events. Like the Marines, our God is good at allowing us to be stripped and humbled so he can lift our heads and build us up again. Stronger. Funny though…His ways…because His strength shines in our weakness.

When I lamented to Mr. Gerken, a hard-working, exhausted busy man in his own right…I expected him to say, “You need to slow down. You’re doing too much.” To view my debacle as a cry for help.

Instead, he gave me a firm “cowboy up and do the next thing” response. A loving…press on. After all…growth is the goal, right?

Please, if you’re lost in the weary…tired of the measuring….if you’re such a hot mess, you wonder how you will ever keep going…know this…

You are beautiful in your broken. You don’t have to be enough…because, He is. You don’t have to measure up…break that stupid stick in half and set yourselves free. And…if you’ve ever compared yourself to the girl in your newsfeed or next to you on the bleachers or the one on a cover of some book…stop. She is just as broken and messy as you. Maybe even more so.

Forced to Become a Mother

I need to be very clear. This post is not being written on behalf of SGM. It is purely my own.

My heart is aching as I type through tears. Never have I been so struck by the blatant brokenness we are experiencing…and many times walking numbly through on planet earth. Even as I type, I know that my words will not be understood by many. They may be twisted unrecognizable from their intent. They may sting an already gaping wound. For those walking through raw grief…for any wounded by my words in any way, I am so sorry. But whether or not I choose to hit the “Publish” button, the words beg to be released.

There is a hashtag movement called #ShoutYourAbortion trending “to break the stigma and shame of abortion.” The haunting words grieve my spirit in the deepest hidden places. As a woman. As a mother. Not in a self-righteous “How could you” way but in a truly broken-spirited, sorrowful moan of pain. For the friends I dearly love who felt they had no other choice. For the women who have grieved that choice. For others who celebrate it. For those who valued the life growing within their womb…and for those who will never know how much that tiny life would’ve impacted planet earth. And, most of all…my spirit grieves for the women desperate to become a mother and the mothers who have watched their much-wanted babies die helplessly.

My heart aches for all of us. Stumbling here, in this place. Missing the gifts the Giver of Life so generously bestows. Gifts full of grace and beauty and love, even amidst our most hideous displays. Even when we spit in the face of His gifts. Even then, He loves.

You may not know my Jesus. I get that. Not everyone does. And, yet here we co-exist in mutual respect and love…even if we do not understand one another. You may not want to be my friend after this. I understand that He has been so misrepresented by so many…that so much evil has been done in His name…that you may be offended by the very sound of it.

But, those haunting words being tweeted in an outcry by the multitudes. They can’t be left hanging in the air without a response. My words will unlikely be read…and even if they are, they will likely be misconstrued and may even cause unintended harm. They won’t change your mind if you disagree, and they aren’t intended to. But, for those grieving with me in silence…may they know they are not alone. And, for my own heart…I must not remain silent. Not about this.

One of the originators of the hashtag movement mentioned above said this:

“Having an abortion made me happy…why wouldn’t I be happy that I was not forced to become a mother?”

I don’t believe she speaks for every woman who made the agonizing choice to end her baby’s life. I don’t believe most women make that choice lightly. But, those words, regardless of where you stand on this issue. Those words, for me, transcend politics and opinions. Those words cut to the core of my heart as a woman. As a mother. As someone who spends a great of deal of time walking with mothers who were forced to bury their much-wanted, dearly valued babies…someone who was a teenage mother, whose own mother spared my life when she was a teenage mother herself, and bestowed grace on me in the moment that I deserved shame. My mother taught me that all babies are blessings, no matter how they come. I know not everyone feels that way. But, it is a core belief of my heart that every life is a gift to be treasured….that babies shouldn’t be viewed as burdens, and motherhood is something to be honored not squandered. So many long to be called mother. It is not a judgment on another person’s choices for me to say that in the deepest depths of my soul, I mourn the fact that our culture would celebrate such an idea. Truly…have we fallen so far that we must speak words that would so deeply wound one another? Blatant words of disregard for life. How does that lift us up as women? How are we empowered by tearing one another to pieces with disregard for the destruction left behind?

Forced to become a mother?

Choosing to become a mother was the greatest gift of my life. In fact, having my son as an eighteen year old saved my life. I gave up going to college to pursue a career in journalism or acting, or whatever to be the mother of five of the greatest people I know. What I “gave up” was nothing compared to what I gained. If you feel differently, I don’t expect you to understand how grateful I am to be the mother of my first born son, my last born son…and the three children in between who lived briefly on this earth before going home to heaven. Being their mother is the most incredible adventure. It has made me more than I ever could’ve been on my own. Taught me more of love and life and grace and beauty and the gloriousness of dying to self and serving another human being. It is worth a thousand…ney a million careers. It is worth infinitely more than I know to describe…the sheer undeserved gift of being their mother.

Some of the words I read were cruel and harmful, not lifting up…but tearing down. Speaking of babies not able to feel pain, in the name of science. I’ve never known science to prove that. In fact, I’ve held 22 week old babies in my hands, watching their hearts beat through the thin skin covering their tiny chests. They lived. They felt. They mattered. I’m sorry if my saying the babies I’ve loved and cared for matter hurts a mother who feels differently about her baby. But, for the sake of so many mothers who stood broken over tiny graves, it must be said. It isn’t only in defense of bereaved mothers that my heart breaks over the diminishing of the value of motherhood happening in our culture…it is also for the mothers who value the children they’ve held above everything else this world has to offer. For those who do not know the treasure of that gift…whose words perhaps in defense of their own position, and maybe not intended to be used for wounding another…cut deeply to the core of everything I hold dear. It may offend you for me to say so. But, for all the mothers who stand wounded and weeping, grieving anew at this latest outpouring of division…it must be said.

Whatever your broken places, I pray you find grace and healing. That you know that nothing can separate us from His love. Nothing. And, I pray…where ever you stand in the ruins of this battlefield where no one wins…you would be set free from whatever binds you. That we would learn together that nothing is ever gained by destroying one another.

He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted,
To proclaim liberty to the captives,
And the opening of the prison to those who are bound;

To comfort all who mourn,
To console those who mourn in Zion,
To give them beauty for ashes,
The oil of joy for mourning,
The garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness;
That they may be called trees of righteousness,
The planting of the Lord, that He may be glorified.”
Isaiah 61

The Love that Lives On….Because Every Life Matters

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We do not write every story, and try to guard the privacy of the families we serve. Some are more open to sharing their journeys than others. And, that’s completely understandable. Their stories are sacred and personal. SGM has walked with about 25 families at various hospitals throughout Ohio in the last few months. It is an honor and a privilege to meet and care for each precious life…to come alongside every family. But, I want to share about a recent experience that touched our hearts deeply.

I met Ahna at a restaurant just that morning to iron out her perinatal hospice birth plan for their baby, due to be born in about a month. Gavreel had a life-limiting condition known as anencephaly. The connections that brought us together were no accident. And, I marveled after our meeting at the mystery of our God and the ways He works.

Some of you may know that SGM has been blessed to have Bethany Conkel on our team as an SGM Doula and Remembrance Photographer. Bethany also is the the founder of Purposeful Gift, a non-profit organization founded to help connect and advocate for families carrying a baby with a life-limiting diagnosis who are seeking the option of neonatal organ donation. She connects families with the resources, researchers, and available organ recovery surgical teams through organizations like IIAM and Life Connections. Some families may find comfort in having the option to donate their baby’s organs to help save another life.

This family had chosen organ donation. And, it was my first time supporting a perinatal hospice family as a doula through SGM who had chosen donation. I have been so deeply touched by the experience and by the incredible family we walked with over the past few days including those who came together to ensure that we were able to give them the most we could during their son’s brief and amazing life.

We didn’t expect to get the call late on the night of the same day as our birth plan meeting. But babies come on their own schedule! When I entered the room, mother was about to deliver as her loving family surrounded her bed, holding her hand, stroking her hair. We talked through the contractions and pushing. And he was born not long after my arrival. I communicated with the incredible team made up of Bethany and the organ recovery surgeons from Life Connections as they traveled in the wee hours of the night/morning over 3 hours to perform the surgery…to honor this child’s precious life…to give this family one of their wishes for their son’s legacy…and to help save the next baby’s life…because he lived. Because this child lived…someone else’s life may be impacted. Because every life impacts this earth…no matter how tiny. No matter how brief.

He was passed around and loved on, held for his whole life. Knowing nothing but love during the hour he lived. I stood in awe of the love that filled the room. The familiar glory of comfort and peace while standing in the place where heaven meets earth. We captured the memories and created mementos. When the recovery team arrived and went over details and procedures, I stood in awe again of my beautiful friend, Bethany and the way God is using her to make such a difference in so many lives through her organization. I love the way he has brought us all together to give families all that we can, connecting them with resources.

I wondered about the surgeons who would drop everything in their lives to drive hours in the middle of the night. That act alone gave me a window into their hearts. When I met them, I saw the care and passion in their eyes for what they do. I saw first hand how gentle and loving they were, how much respect they had for this precious boy. And, I walked away thinking….they share the passion we carry in our own hearts at SGM. They’re our kind of people. People who would leave their lives in the wee hours to give what they have to give to a family saying goodbye to their baby. Mutual respect all around. Which in itself is a miracle born from those few days…because so few people understand the willingness to allow your own world to stop as you step into someone else’s story for awhile…in order to walk with them. But, they do. And, they did.

In addition to partnering with Purposeful Gift for this family, we had the privilege of using the Cuddle Cot, donated to SGM by Owen’s Gift (founded by another wonderful family we were honored to serve). The Cuddle Cot helped them keep their son in the room with them during their entire hospital stay.

I can’t say how humbled and grateful I am to have known this tiny hero. And, to have known his beautiful, love-filled family. Not to mention how my heart melts to think of all who came together to honor their wishes. It is always a struggle when there aren’t adequate words to say what’s rattling around in my heart. But, when such stark, take-your-breath-away beauty rises from the broken, there is nothing like it this side of heaven. No word worthy to describe it. It changes you, becomes part of you, humbles you, astounds you, touches you so deeply…so profoundly…that you carry it with you always.

Sometimes the raw beauty in the midst of brokenness is astounding. The love that can fill a room…love for a little life. Love for one another. The impact a tiny life can have on the entire world…on one soul…on a thousand souls. Because every life really does matter. My heart cannot even describe or contain the overwhelming beauty of what happens in the sacred place where heaven meets earth. Or the humbling privilege that I’m allowed to walk there bearing witness to the treasure of such love wrapped in the tiniest miracles.

How blessed am I among women to walk in such sacred places.

For more information about support offered by Sufficient Grace Ministries for families facing a life-limiting diagnosis, please click here.

To request support materials, please visit our Dreams of You Shop for Parents.

I’m an Elephant

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My Grace Rebel heart is in absolute love with this picture (shared by my friend Heidi Faith)…for several reasons.

1. The reminder to be yourself. I wish more women felt that freedom to embrace the person they were created to be…to put down the measuring stick…to quit the comparison game. It is nothing but a thief of joy. Be you. Be authentic.

2. I recently mentioned that I’m an elephant. Elephants take almost two years to grow their babies, the longest of any mammal. It takes me forever to gestate and birth the ideas God lays on my heart.

Exhibit A….it took me 10 years to write Sufficient Grace. Exhibit B…it took me 8 years after our losses to start Sufficient Grace Ministries. Exhibit C…It took me 6 years after I spoke the idea of peer support for families walking through loss as a key note at the Grand Rounds at Good Samaritan in Cincy to make it happen. In truth….that opens me up for watching others around me give birth to beauty much quicker. See number one for the remedy to that ensuing dilemma. Be you. Don’t compare. Do your thang.

3. While this is turning into a blog post…here’s the thing I learned about elephants after stating I was one (due to my long gestation time)…

They love to gather as women and stay together, serve together. YES!
They are altrustic. They have been known to go above and beyond to help one another…and even others in need. They are comforters, nurturers at times.

Excellent memory…well that part…we unfortunately do not have in common. But what I do typically try to remember is the good stuff about people…and rarely the bad. Sometimes that gets me in trouble…vulnerability takes courage…because it means repeated wounds…but that’s a blog post for another day.

(Let’s just say I’m more of a cards on the table…heart on the sleeve gal… than a keeping it all close to the vest gal. But, you already knew that.) ;)

#gracerebel

Because I’m in Africa

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I’ve described it before. This thing that has taken over my life. This calling…this consuming, life changing calling that fills the air I breathe. It’s like that when God calls you, when He says lay down your life…take up your cross…and follow Me.

You have a choice.

You can stay with all that you have known. Live your life here in this worldly realm. Or you can leave it behind. And, follow Him. Trading everything you once thought you knew, for a new life. Surrendering your plans. You may think in doing so, one loses her life. Not so. It is in the laying down that we gain the most. But, we never fully know until we let go. That’s the faith part.

It is very much like the call of a missionary, the sacred work of walking with bereaved families, caring for tiny babies with brief lives. The type of consuming some may call “crazy” that causes a person to sell everything they have and move to Africa, or some other far away land that is not at all like the life one knows in the United States of America. Most people going about their business in everyday life don’t understand the consuming. Why…why would you want to enter into the wilderness again and again?

Why do you not have time for the everydayness that used to matter to you? Why is it increasingly harder to make time for relationships outside of this mission?

I struggled for a time with the loneliness of this calling. The misunderstanding. And, sometimes, I still do.

A dear fellow servant and grief bearer in this sacred work, my friend Bethany described it well…

“It is difficult, because if you were in Africa the people in your life would understand. You would be gone…not just emotionally and mentally…but physically. But, they don’t understand that even though you are physically here…you’re really not. Because you’re really in ‘Africa’. You’re really completely immersed in this missionary work. Your heart is somewhere else.”

Sufficient Grace Ministries is my mission and where ever we walk with families is my mission field, my Africa…or China…or India…or some other faraway land. And, knowing that…understanding that truth, helps set me free from those who do not understand this consuming calling. To embrace the family and friends who courageously enter into this missionary work. The ones who get it. Your Africa may not look the same as mine. You may be called to a different mission.

But, setting others free sets us free…

To pick up the cross. Follow Him. And, serve the next person in front of me with love and grace.

So, if I’m missing from the radar. If I don’t answer the phone for a bit. Sometimes, it’s too much to explain where I’ve been, and what I’ve been doing…sometimes it is a sacred thing to carry quietly in my heart, along with the tears that were shed in that room. It isn’t personal when I need to retreat…to hide a bit. Just like I know it isn’t personal that not everyone understands my need to go…to do this work that few want to face.

Just know, it’s because sometimes I’m not here.

Sometimes…I’m in Africa.

photo credit