Why Can’t You Just Get Past It?

“I don’t understand mothers who lose a child. Why can’t you just get past it?”

People have whispered these words about me in conversation, especially in the early days after losing our babies, measuring grief “performance” by how much I spoke of my children or how easily tears came, or whether or not I was out in public functioning at a “normal” capacity. She will be ok when she is “herself” again. Always happy to comply and perform, I learned quickly to put on a face for them. To not make anyone uncomfortable by speaking of those dead babies. I put their pictures away. I tried to look as “normal” as possible to everyone but a few who could handle my remembering, my speaking their names. A few who were willing to remember them with me. Without squirming in the chair.

For eight years, I was quiet. I’m an excellent performer. An astute pleaser of people. Never wanting to be an inconvenience, an annoyance.

And, then….God, the One much bigger than all the people I know, spoke to my heart, breathing truth in the broken places, blowing off the layers of dust, the words laying dormant, surprisingly still desperate to be written or spoken aloud…and He gave me a voice. It’s the same voice He gave me in my mother’s womb. The one with words that demand to be expressed, and flow through my fingers like liquid therapy. It’s the voice that sings worship songs while babies are ushered to heaven from their mother’s arms. My voice crackled and wavered, trembling as I remembered how to speak. Mustering courage I cannot explain. Because He is bigger than anyone else…bigger than what they may think…bigger than displeasing someone….bigger than being understood or misunderstood…bigger than our comfort levels.

And, He said…speak. Tell this story.

I have never in the seventeen years since burying my children heard those whispered words from others spoken directly to me. Until recent months. Family members questioned an article I had written for a well known magazine for bereaved mothers (Still Standing), because if you talk about missing your babies or your mother or your husband, or anyone who has died (although society may place a bit more value on the loss if that person breathed breath and lived life on planet earth for a designated number of years. I’m not sure how much time must pass before a life is worthy or grieving, remembering, mentioning, recognizing, or missing. I’ve never really been good at rules like that. You’ll have to consult the experts who deem themselves worthy to decide such things.), if you speak of the missing…something must be wrong with you. The more that I speak outwardly about babies in heaven, and supporting families who grieve. The more I write or talk about the experience of returning again and again into raw grief to walk with another family, the more others feel it necessary to form an opinion, to judge my performance. (Which in all instances, I would think is an indicator that I’ve experienced a great deal of full circle, “healing” to be in a healthy enough place to enter in to support someone else. You know…as opposed to wallowing in grief.)

But, it is interesting. The more I talk about the reality of grief and missing, the more people step away, uncomfortable. Or, like the acquaintance who recently asked me on Facebook why I couldn’t get past it (losing babies) and what my children think of me for not getting past it. Not that my children are anyone’s concern other than my own, as you know…their mother…but what they think is that they have two sisters and a brother in heaven. Two sisters and a brother who lived, who’re worth mentioning. They don’t dwell on it, and in fact, we don’t speak of them often in our home. But, we do occasionally. Because, they’re worth mentioning. And, my children know that every life matters. My children know that Jesus cares about the brokenhearted, and if we can do something to help someone else walking through loss, we ought to. My children know how much time and sacrifice is poured into walking with another family. They know that their mother would do almost anything to help carry that burden alongside another broken heart. My children stuff bears and set up tables and the older one stays with me when I’m working at the office late at night, to help walk me safely to my car. They and their friends paint walls, carry trash, dig weeds, and stuff endless Comfort Bears. College students, boys who grew up in my kitchen, and girls who sewed bears at SGM…bravely stand in front of their peers to speak about baby loss…and the work Sufficient Grace Ministries does. Not only are my children just fine with their mother’s line of work…and her insistence on mentioning that there are people walking through grief and babies worth remembering….I would go so far as to say that they wholeheartedly support it.

Like my thirteen year old said, when the woman’s questioning prompted me to ask him his thoughts: He said very definitively, “No! Why would I think that?! We lost kids in our family. Nothing weird about helping other people who lose kids.”

So, here’s the thing. We as a society are not very good at respecting and understanding bereavement, or loss of any kind. We get uncomfortable when someone speaks of missing someone they love. We are uncomfortable by many emotions. And, often confuse a person’s mentioning of a memory as not “adequately healing or getting past it”. Those words kind of make me want to vomit, if you’re wondering. It is part of the way that we support others at SGM, being real about the missing. Giving a voice to it. Making it ok to speak it aloud. The missing never goes away. You don’t get past that. It doesn’t mean you aren’t functioning just fine as a healthy member of society. It doesn’t mean you’re wallowing in grief. It doesn’t mean you spend your days crippled by emotion and will never laugh again. And, it certainly doesn’t mean you aren’t leaning on and trusting in God to carry you. For the love of Pete…if you weren’t, you may not get out of bed at all. Life on planet earth is tough.

I laugh and cry more than anyone I know. It took me so many years to speak their names. To stop worrying about if it made someone uncomfortable or caused them to question my sanity or whether I was “moving on” well enough. I used to hate that I cried easily, felt deeply. I hated it because other people didn’t understand it. My strong mother, other women in my family…and most people. Most people think showing emotion is weak, or an indicator of some unhealthy part of you that needs fixing….a cry for help…or, my least favorite, an invitation for advice. I don’t need a reminder to be grateful for what I’ve been given…the preciousness of the people I love is not lost on me. I am one of the healthiest people emotionally that I know…and I cry and laugh every single day. Part of being healthy for me, is being ok with that. There is nothing wrong with having a heart brave enough to feel. Do you have any idea the courage it takes to keep a heart soft in this cruel, broken world, to resist the urge to cover feelings with layers of walls, to resist the safety numbness offers?

I speak about the missing, not because I spend every moment crippled and overcome by it. Not because I am wallowing in death and unable to function in the land of the living. There is nothing meant to invite anyone to fix or be concerned about. I speak of the missing, so that others quietly carrying this weight know they aren’t alone, and that it’s ok to miss someone. It’s ok to remember them. Mentioning a memory is not wallowing in grief. I will remember and mention my babies, my mother, my grandparents, my dear friend Dinah, and anyone else who goes on to glory ahead of me until we’re reunited in heaven. Because they’re worth mentioning. They’re worth missing. They’re worth remembering. They’re worth honoring. Their lives matter. And, I gave up being afraid to speak of what makes someone else uncomfortable, because it’s more valuable to be free to offer comfort and hope in the speaking…than to concern myself with the comfort level of someone else who is choosing to judge what they do not know…and who themselves may likely being carrying unexpressed pain. Just because emotion scares someone else, doesn’t mean I have to be afraid to speak…and neither do the mothers I know, missing their children, everyday….as they drive to carpool, make peanut butter sandwiches, watch school programs, and sit down at the dinner table, living life fully…but always with one (or more) missing.

A dear friend and beautiful mother spoke these words recently in the above-mentioned Facebook discussion on mothers “getting past it”. Leigh Ann’s words are an excellent answer to anyone wondering what it’s like for a mother and family, missing children, and they were and are a great blessing, honor and encouragement to me:

“I so admire Kelly and the work she does on behalf of other grieving families. I have wanted and contacted Kelly to physically help at her ministry and then when it comes right down to it I can not. You see I am not as brave as her. God gives her grace to step into other’s lives and minister to them in their darkest hour. Her work through her grief ministry puts her in situations that can only trigger feelings of sadness at losing not only 1 child but 3 beautiful children, but yet she has the strength to do it. We all grieve so differently…and I am so thankful the Lord lays it on Kelly’s heart as well as other brave parents who come along side her. I only wished in December of 1996 that our family been on the receiving end of such a wonderful ministry.

What would you say to your 6 year old daughter when she asks how her baby brother will go to Heaven, when he was to little to ask Jesus in his heart himself? Or the 11 year old brother who asks if he didn’t pray correctly because his brother died? Or the 9 year old brother who tells you not to cry because Jess is in a better place? Or to the husband who comes home from work defeated because no one seems to realize how hard it is on Dad’s to lose a child? What do you say to yourself when you wake up sobbing even years later because of a dream you had about your son and the suffering he went through, and you don’t want to share those feelings with someone else because it has been 17 years ago and my goodness….probably for fear that someone may think your crazy and you should be over it. Please let me explain, my older children have been wonderful and the Lord blessed us with another beautiful daughter after Jess passed away, whom, by the way, never took Jess’s place but brought much joy and healing back into our family, but there is not a family event, birthdays, Christmas, weddings, and just plain ordinary days that I don’t feel like something is missing. I don’t pout about it or even speak it out loud at the time, but it is an awareness that he is not with me physically.

I am thankful to know that I will be reunited with him in Heaven some day. So you see, although some of us, like Kelly, are in the day to day trenches helping others, some of us are silently in the background praying, and yet others help out her Ministry with finances, time and donations. But rest assured, we never get past it….my prayer for you is for further understanding in this area and to be gentle with those who you felt responded harshly…maybe now you could be one of those who could be strong enough to come along beside and support a truly wonderful ministry in a way the Lord would lead you to do so?….I hope my rambling helps you to understand our feelings a bit better….love and prayers….”

For more information about Sufficient Grace Ministries and the services they offer to bereaved parents visit: www.sufficientgraceministries.org

The Cloak of Shame

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I knew the moment they left my body, two tiny baby girls who would never breathe a breath on planet earth…I looked at him and knew we would never be the same.

It was among of the first words I spoke to my friend, Ginny. After.

“I need you to know, I’m not the same.”

I will never be who I was. That day, a part of me died right along with them. And, in the death, there was also a birth. Not just theirs…but mine.

There are many things we don’t know while still living under the veil of innocence. I didn’t know a woman whose babies died in her womb would labor before giving birth. I didn’t know about standing beside a tiny grave at the tender age of twenty-one. I didn’t know about living this life in the same skin, as a very changed me and loving the boy beside me, both of us all broken. I didn’t know about the silence. Silence so thick you can’t breathe.

I learned.

The moment the nurse answered my whimper of aching arms with a cold vase placed abruptly on my lap, wheeling me passed the nursery full of crying babies, I learned. I felt the first weight of it draped across my young shoulders. The cloak of shame, whispering, “Don’t you dare be an inconvenience. Cover this. No one wants to see your broken.”
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I suppose if we dig even deeper, passed what makes sense with our minds, to the places in our psyche we rarely graze for fear of what lies beneath our layers, we would find an even more harsh accusation. Where does the shame come from anyway? Is not the loss and the pain of grief enough? Why does shame drape over us, heavy and dark? Is the healing and the breathing not enough without finding the strength to emerge from the heavy, dark garment of shame?

Buried beneath, the ugliest of questions. The wounded often carry the most shame. And, why…why is that?

“You’ve already been enough of an inconvenience. Pain in the place of joy for your family. Your body failed. You brought broken babies into this world. And, you are now broken. No one wants to see any of it. The least you can do, is cover it up, keep it to yourself.”

“If you speak of your broken places, someone may think…

…you are weak, a victim, looking for pity, wallowing in grief.”

When none of that is true, why do we believe it? Why are we held captive by it, gripped and covered and silenced by it? And, why, when we are finally ready to stop wearing the cloak of shame that never fit right, anyway, do others react in such strong ways, sometimes with opposition, or ridicule, misunderstanding, or lack of compassion?

Can we muster the courage, brave rising from the deep…can we find enough to lift the cloak of shame, to peer out from the layers that have become a familiar covering, a place to hide….falsely offering shelter? It took years for me to find my way out. To find the brave, enough to just speak the names of my children aloud. And, even more years, not to run back to hide under that tattered garment, apologetically, when faced with scorn or averted eyes.
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Shame whispers, “You’re a disappointment. A blemish.”

To be truly honest, I’m still finding my way out, still tuning my ear to listen to the “Voice of truth that says, ‘Do not be afraid’“, in place of the crippling lies shame whispers in the dark. Part of healing is to shed the weight of a cloak that isn’t meant to fit. There is nothing shameful about speaking their names. Or living beautifully broken. Or walking with a limp. No shame.

In rebellion of the shame, I seek boldness. Freedom.

In fact, I would venture even further to say, that you are courageous, not weak.

Victorious, not defeated.

Beautiful in your broken, not blemished beyond repair.

You are not the same, but you are even more precious, made of the kind of tilled fertilized soil that grows a tall, strong, deeply rooted plant.

You have value and worth…and so do the sweet babies who left a hole of missing in your heart.

Lift your head, and look out from beneath that clumsy garment stifling you. Pull it down from your face. Let your hair fall free. Feel it slide off your shoulders and fall to the ground. Leave it there. And, walk away…limp and all.
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You are more than an inconvenience. And, so are the babies you carried in your womb, and carry still in your heart.

He has sent Me (Jesus) 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;

Isaiah 61:1b,2b-3a

Finding Christmas in the Broken

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A couple days ago, a pure white blanket of fresh fallen snow covered the earth, or at least my little corner of it. Today, rain has washed it all away, leaving behind a muddy mess. What a picture of facing Christmas after losing someone you love, or when your world for whatever reason, doesn’t match up with the picture perfect Christmas we envision. Facing Christmas after your world has been torn apart, and the beautiful innocence disappears like the pure fallen snow, washed away with a painful goodbye. You are left with the muddy mess.

The heaviness weighs down on your heart, stealing joy. You watch others rush around swept into the inertia of the swirling tornado of celebration and preparation. You may even join in as well. But, your heart weighs heavy with the burden of how. How to celebrate the holiday when all ideals are held in front of us…picture perfect families and gifts, decorated homes, a season of joy and laughter while deep in your soul the lonely ache howls deep, and a pained smile is hard to muster.

You may wonder about this Jesus. This Jesus we celebrate, the One who was born in a manger to the virgin and the carpenter. Where was He when the rains of death came and washed your innocence away? And, where is He now?

My own heart weighed with the daily heaviness of the pain others endure mixed with my own missing, wondered how. How do I speak of the beloved Christmas story…the coming of our Savior, in the midst of a mother’s broken?

How does the celebration of His coming mesh with the pain that keeps a weary heart from lifting her head?

Who is the Jesus? And, does He see? Does He know of her broken? Did He see her stand beside the tiny, cold grave? Does He see her now, navigating life without her own mother, and a trail of broken from the generations before?

People want to speak for Him everyday, to paint a picture of this Jesus. If we are known as Christians by our love, then we are often failing to allow our Jesus to be shown the way He is. He is the One that loves us so much, He will hunt us down in the deepest, darkest pit of despair.

Christmas isn’t found in the hustle and bustle, in the gifts, in the busy, in the lights, in the merry-making, or in the perfect picture of all the ideals we hold up as a standard. It isn’t in the perfect family or the perfect memory or the perfect red dress.

The broken aren’t meant to hide pain behind a strained smile, wondering what they are supposed to do with the pieces of life shattered and scattered about.

Christmas is for the broken.

If you want to know my Jesus. This is my Jesus. This is why He came. He came for you.:

“The Spirit of the Lord God is upon Me,
Because the Lord has anointed Me
To preach good tidings to the poor;
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 proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord,
And the day of vengeance of our God;
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.”

And they shall rebuild the old ruins,
They shall raise up the former desolations,
And they shall repair the ruined cities,
The desolations of many generations.

From Isaiah 61

He sees your broken. He saw it before you were knit together in your mother’s womb. He saw it before He left Heaven’s glory to make a journey to the cross He bore to rescue you. He saw your ruins, your former desolations, the ruined cities, the desolations of many generations. He saw. And, He came. To comfort all who mourn, to make beauty from your ashes, to offer you one day the oil of joy in place of your mourning…and a garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness that cloaks you in this season of grief. He saw. He sees. And, He came. To heal your broken heart. To set you free.

He saw. He sees. He came.

 

 

WWY Holiday Survival Guide for Grieving Hearts

treeSo many are feeling the extra ache of missing as we walk through the holiday season. Thanksgiving, Christmas, another New Year. A year without those we love. Many are looking for a survival guide. How? How do we get through this first Christmas without our baby/child…this first Christmas…or the twenty-first? Much gets easier with the passing of time and the healing of wounds. One thing doesn’t leave…it’s the missing. And, it washes over us anew with each season.

What does happen, is that the missing becomes familiar, like a part of your family, your memories, your celebrations, your heart. The missing is almost part of you in time, welcomed even, because it means someone was here…someone precious and valuable and worth the remembering.

So…here are some “tips” but by no means are they an answer. There are no quick fixes to ease the longing brought about by the holiday season. Nothing I can say to make all the wrongs right. This group isn’t about trying. It’s simply about knowing that we aren’t walking alone. Knowing, there’s hope and grace for this journey along the way. And, beautiful gifts…even in the missing.

I miss my daughters, Faith and Grace and my son, Thomas. And, I miss my mother. Life and especially Christmas will never be the same without her…without them. But, I’m still grateful for the love in my heart, the dreams I still dream, the ornaments on my tree, and the memories I hold dear. Most of all the truth that because Jesus came, I will see them again.

1. Give yourself grace. Take care of you. If you can’t “do” Christmas like you’ve always done or do it at all, just do what you need to. Be you. Protect your fragile heart.

2. Do something…or many things to honor the memory of your baby/child…to include your child in the celebration. Ornaments on the tree, donating to a favorite charity, buying presents through Operation Christmas Child or Angel Tree, ask others to join you in doing random acts of kindness. Decorate the cemetery or a special place in your home…or don’t. And, don’t feel guilty if none of those suggestions happen or fit your plan for where your heart is.

3. Survival mode is ok.

4. Laughing and joy is ok, too. If you do want routine and tradition and find comfort in it, there is nothing wrong with still celebrating. Don’t allow guilt to steal joy. And, cry when you need to.

5. Take a hot bath, read a good book, go slowly. Don’t plan too much or put too much pressure on yourself. Make sure you have some quiet time to refuel. Grief is hard work, And, it’s happening even when we don’t realize it, taking much of your energy. Eat healthy, exercise, and rest…plenty. (Some good reading can be found in Isaiah 61…if in the hurt, you need to be re-introduced to the One who came to save you. This is the Jesus I know.)

6. Some people take a little trip, escape for a bit together, and change it up. That’s helpful for some.

7. If you do a tree or don’t, that’s ok. Whatever you need to do to survive is just fine. There are no rules and should be no judgments.

8. If you choose to celebrate with extended family and friends, they may follow your lead. If you are comfortable talking about your baby, they may feel at ease, too. Often they don’t mention your child or say the wrong thing, because they are uncomfortable or unsure. That isn’t always the case. Plenty of people said the “wrong” thing or nothing at all to me. For many years. Be prepared for that.

9. No one is or should be allowed to judge your “performance” in grief. Don’t allow that to rule your thinking. They aren’t walking this. You are.

10. Spend some time with your safe people…people you can talk about the missing, your baby, or nothing at all. Spend time with those you love the most…just being. Time with your husband/partner. Time with your other children, if you have other children. Time with anyone else close to you, and understanding of your grief.

One other thing…this isn’t a hard and fast rule. There are no rules in grief. No handbook. No answers that fit all situations or hurts. So. Much. Grace. Is. Needed. But, it is good to remember that often…the anticipation of a day is much worse than the actual day. Not always, but often.

Sending so much love and prayers for all of you today and in the coming year, dear mamas, dads, and families.

When You Can’t Pray

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I stood beside her bed, watching her slip away. Cancer stole her hair, her health, her energy, but it couldn’t steal her stubborn spirit. My mother died like the beautiful gritty, graceful lady she was in life. But, the suffering she endured pummeled my faith, stole my breath, and quite literally brought me to my knees.

There are stories about that month she spent in hospice that I carry tucked away. One of them marks the lowest I have been during my life on planet earth. About once a year my youngest brother and I revisit the day, about a week after she was admitted, when he carried me out of the hospice center, exhausted, beside myself, not forming coherent words, crying, vomiting, collapsing. It was the closest I’ve ever been to losing my mind. Literally, over the edge, complete lack of control, loss of senses. It turns out, when you are deprived of sleep for so many days, your body reacts as if intoxicated. I felt it coming. I tried to prevent it. Desperate not to lose control, I felt sanity slipping from my grasp. I didn’t want my baby brother to see it. I have to protect him. I am strong. I have to be strong. Women of faith don’t fall apart. Because God is big. And, we must not have much faith, if we fall apart.

I remembered that lie, from years before, whispered by the slithering one as I ran to the church restroom to hide the tears just weeks after I stood beside the tiny grave with the pink lined casket, the one holding my only daughters. Christians don’t grieve without hope. My babies were in heaven. Didn’t I believe enough? Why was this smothering grief knocking me over? I am strong. I have to be strong. Women of faith don’t fall apart.

The same lie that accused when we heard the words incompatible with life in reference to our son, Thomas. Where is your God now? The voice questions, snarling. Stealing. Diminishing. Breaking. Twisting every truth I clung to desperately.

Don’t you have enough faith? What lesson didn’t you learn the first time that another child has to die? Why are you wrestling to find the answers…don’t good Christians blindly trust and accept…don’t those who are truly faithful never wrestle with doubt or fear? Don’t they know the answers?

I didn’t even try to answer that time. I just wept over my bible.

The months I carried Thomas sucker punched my faith more, blow after blow. I just kept reading. And, I learned that being faithful doesn’t mean not feeling doubt or fear. Faith is trusting God anyway…when you’re most afraid and filled with doubt and questions. Believing when you don’t see.

Those weeks in the hospice center, I sang to her. I read the Word to her. I prayed over her. I answered the questions of those around me. I was strong. Except for the day my baby brother had to carry me out. Otherwise, I was strong. I had to be strong. That’s what women of faith do, right?

I was a woman of faith. My God is big. Only, underneath, I was really more like the girl who had to be carried out by her baby brother as she fell to pieces in front of his eyes. After my mother died, when He finally took her home, I couldn’t pray. For the first time in my life, I couldn’t talk to the God who carried me.

I told my pastor, “I can’t pray right now. It’s really bothering me. Every time I try to pray, I can’t…all I can say is: ‘I’m sorry God, I can’t talk to you right now. It just hurts too much.’”

My pastor said, “That’s still prayer.”

I have thought of that truth often. And, many times, when grief is raw and you feel stripped naked, beaten to the core with the pain and disappointment of it all….how. How could our God, our big loving Father God…let this happen? Why didn’t He listen to our prayer? Was it because we aren’t worthy…aren’t enough…didn’t pray right…didn’t have enough faith? Why?

Grieving mothers ask those hard questions. I don’t have all the answers, although, God has been patient to teach me many things in the surrendering and trusting, over the years. But, the longer I walk this journey, and the more brokenness I see along the way, I’m convinced that for some things, there are no answers this side of heaven. I can say all the words…and they’re even true…those words…that God is good, that nothing separates us from His love, that He will never leave us nor forsake us…even in the darkest pits of despair. I can say them and I can promise that I’ve seen Him keep those promises in my own life. But, it won’t take away the pain a heart feels when that which is most sacred has been ripped from her, and her heart lays in pieces at her feet.

In this time of thanksgiving, yes…it is a freeing, healing, soul-balming surrender to offer broken praise to heaven…and the sound is sweet to God’s ears. He loves the broken praise. And, somehow showers healing back to us in the midst of the offering. But, if you can’t muster it through the pain just yet….if it hurts beyond words forming on lips. If you are just too hurt to talk to him right now, tell Him that much. Yell, scream, cry, sit there in silence.

That’s still prayer.

He hears you, even when you can’t utter the words. He hears the words of your broken heart, catches the falling tears in a bottle, and thinks of you more than the grains of sand on the longest beach. Even if you can’t bear to talk to Him right now. Even if nothing He has allowed makes one ounce of human sense to your betrayed, broken heart. Even then, He holds you. He loves you. And, He fights for you.

And, that’s still prayer.

The truth is, I am weak. My faith is small. But, my God, He is strong. And, my God is big. Big enough for my broken. And, big enough for your broken, too.

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.

 

The Courage to See

I once described the doctor who walked with me through our pregnancy with Thomas and later our youngest son, James…as a man who was courageous enough to look upon the things that others are afraid to see, and to allow hope in a hopeless situation.

I wish I could teach that kind of courage, that kind of compassion. When I stand in front of doctors and nurses. I wish I could bottle it up and give it to people who cower away from the reality that babies die and other harsh truths of this world.

We are afraid, in our culture, afraid to acknowledge the difficult and painful things of this life, as if it’s a disease we might catch, if we admit it’s there. So, we skim over it. We ask “how are you” and we don’t really listen to the answer. And, we answer, “fine”, when in reality we are all kinds of broken inside. A dear friend recently expressed concern for me, because she felt my posts were showing the dark side of grief. In truth, I rarely express the dark side of grief, or the sheer numbers of those suffering with gaping wounds, those we walk with each day. But, the reality that such a hurt exists is hard for us to look at. Like the starving children on the TV commercial, or the homeless man limping past us asking for spare change. Reality is dirty and inconvenient and takes us to places of our minds that feel unsafe, unpredictable, out of control. We don’t want to know that hurts can hurt so deeply. We don’t want to know that babies die. We don’t want to know that cancer can steal someone we love. We don’t want to know the hard things. But, us not knowing doesn’t keep us any safer, and it doesn’t make those hurts cease to exist in the lives of those around us.

When a doctor tells a patient her child’s life is expected to be brief, he uses the words, “incompatible with life”. Words devoid of compassion and hope. Clinical words, like fetal demise and tissue are spoken in a hospital setting, referring to someone’s baby…a longed for and loved baby. I understand the need to distance oneself, to make the work scientific and the losses less…well, human. But, to a mother and father, there is nothing clinical about saying goodbye to the hopes and dreams they held in their hearts for their babies…their sons…their daughters. The prayers they prayed. The hopes they hoped. The love they already poured into their little families.

And, when well-meaning people tell a mother how to grieve the loss of her baby. She doesn’t want to make those around her uncomfortable. Who wants to know that babies die? So, she holds her grief inside and puts on a mask. She goes through the motions of her day, her life. She cries quietly, trying not to flinch in the face of the clichés being hurled at her in the midst of her brokenness. “It was God’s will. You can have more children. Time heals all wounds.”

Most of us walk around with masks, because it’s easier, and we don’t want to upset anyone. I spent so many years, not saying the names of my children, my babies…babies who lived, who grew inside my womb…babies who are always in my heart…babies whose bodies we laid to rest in tiny graves…because I didn’t want to upset someone. We don’t want to appear weak. We don’t want to make others uncomfortable. We don’t want anyone to know that we’re broken. That isn’t just for grieving parents. That’s for all human beings. We all are walking around with a limp of sorts, broken places hidden behind masks. I get it. We can’t go around spewing our messes everywhere for all the world to see. We must pull it together and function. But, sometimes I wonder if we hide too much behind our masks. Who are we to say that we should always “have it all together”? As Christians, we are sometimes the worst mask wearers, afraid to admit our struggles, to reveal our pain. Because a good Christian. One who trusts God completely, shouldn’t have such struggles and hurts. Right?

I suppose to that I would say…have you ever read Psalms? The anguish. The ups and downs poured out of David…the one God called a man after His own heart. Have you seen the struggles, the emotion poured out of a man like David? Have you read of the struggles to have faith, to trust…and of the stumbling on those honored in the Hall of Fame of Faith in Hebrews?

God has always loved broken vessels. And, He’s never been afraid to use them to bring glory to His kingdom, to accomplish His work, and to reach out, offering hope to the broken hearts of the broken people of this world.

I could keep the mask on, and perhaps that would make me appear to have it more together. Perhaps, that would make a more likely, more polished-looking leader of a ministry.  But, I am choosing to be real. To enter in. And, to have the courage to look at the places that are hard to see. To see the beauty in every life. To weep with those who weep. It may leave me bedraggled and tired, noticing the heavy and ugly…leaning into the pain. But, it is real. And, not hiding. It is trusting my Savior with burdens way too big for me to carry on my meager shoulders. And, in that trusting…even as my own pain blends into the mix, my own ache of missing…in that trusting, there is healing. In my weakness, there is strength. His strength. In my desperate need, in my not enough…there is grace…sufficient, beautiful, miraculous grace.

Grace you don’t see when you’re hiding behind a mask.

 

Torn Wide Open

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Today I’m going to be real and raw. Today I don’t have the answers. Today, I am just a grieving mother. Before I delve in, please be aware of this disclaimer. What I am about to share doesn’t take away from the truth that I have long ago accepted God’s plan for my life and lives of my children. Please don’t feel the need to tell me that there all kinds of miracles…the kind we see this side of heaven and the kind that live in eternity. I know that. And, I’m grateful everyday for the beauty from ashes God has made from my life, and for the thousands of lives touched because Faith, Grace, and Thomas lived.

But, today, I am just a mother. Thomas’ mother, aching for the life of my boy, shattered into pieces, and staring deep into the face of what-if.

And, I am not alone.

This blow has taken me by surprise. It is not lessened by the fact that it has been fifteen years since I saw the beautiful face of my son, who was taken from us due to a condition called Potter’s Syndrome, after living for six hours. The passing of time does little to comfort this gaping wound that I keep hidden and covered and bound, but now oozes unbridled.

Today, I read about a miracle. A miracle I prayed for and longed for…for myself, and for so many others. Fifteen years ago, I prayed for a miracle while planning a funeral. I longed for an answer. I had already stood beside the grave of my twin daughters, and I needed to know that we did everything we could to save our son. I researched online for answers. I went to see specialists. Fifteen years ago, I asked doctors to do the very procedures that were recently done to save the life of baby Abigail, daughter to Senator Jaime Beutler. Her daughter is the first baby to ever live after being diagnosed with Potter’s Syndrome. I asked if we couldn’t just put fluid in there to help his lungs. I asked if they couldn’t just give my boy a kidney. I asked. I was desperate to save my son. They said those procedures couldn’t help.

But, I had to accept, surrender, trust when I couldn’t see. I did, I do, and I have.

I put away what-if, and realize it’s fruitless to go there. I can’t go back and save Thomas. But, today, what if is unavoidable. Because if they tried the procedures, he could’ve lived. I know the answer to what if. The medical technology to insert saline into the amniotic sac was there fifteen years ago. That isn’t the issue. The issue was finding someone willing to listen, willing to try. I am grateful the senator was able to find doctors who were willing. And, grateful that many lives may be saved because of her persistence.

But, I am straight up torn wide open and devastated to know that my boy’s life could’ve been saved.

Today, I am 23 years old again and feeling the desperation, feeling the devastation, feeling the deepest longing for my beautiful son. I rejoice for her miracle, but I ache unspeakably with an ache buried and hidden for fifteen years, an ache as raw and real as the day I stood in the hallway after hearing the words incompatible with life.

There are not words to describe this pain.

And, I know I’m not alone.

Hear this, mothers who are aching for your babies right now. It is still true that there are all types of miracles. It is still true that sometimes we see the miracle this side of heaven, and sometimes God works eternal miracles. But that does not take away the pain of today. Our babies were worth saving, too. And, our babies are worth grieving. So, just like we don’t begrudge the rejoicing over this miracle in the senator’s life, we do not begrudge the grief flowing freely today for what could’ve been. That doesn’t make us weak in our faith or our testimony. It doesn’t steal the glory of all God has done in carrying us.

It just make us mothers, longing for our babies. Babies who are worthy of the ache.

So much love and many prayers going out to the aching hearts today, to those weeping, even as we rejoice.

Were You Born First or Second?

Yesterday at our youngest son’s sports physical, the nurse asked, “How many brothers and sisters do you have?”

He said, “One, a brother.”

She said, “Were you born first or second?”

He sat for a minute on the edge of the examining table, paper crinkling as his legs shifted, trying to think how to answer, looking down, then looking at me.

He mumbled, “Um…I don’t know.” And, the nurse looked at me, confused as to why my 12 year old didn’t know whether he was born first or second.

I waited a moment, as he sat quietly. I have stumbled on that uncomfortable silence, myself, wondering how to answer similar questions. It is something altogether heart wrenching to watch your child stumble in that agonizing silence.

I sighed, then said, “We lost babies in between the boys. He is having trouble answering you, because he is actually our fifth child. We had twin daughters who were stillborn from twin to twin transfusion syndrome, and a newborn son, who died six hours after birth from Potter’s Syndrome.”

He kept his eyes on me, thankful for the rescue and unsure what would come next. And, she said, “I’m sorry.”

I said something to try to make the moment easier, telling her “it is ok, we talk about our babies. We have a ministry for grieving parents. It’s ok”.

And, we went on.

All, these years later, their presence and their absence still speak volumes in our family.

April Happenings, Sacred Paintings, and a Plea for Prayer

The calendar flipped to April, much as I willed it not to come. My stomach flip-flopped right along with it’s turning.

April is a marathon of happenings at SGM, and for me. The kind of happenings that leave me standing before audiences, stretched and spent, and not-at-all in my comfort zone. I am breaking every vow we’ve made to limit our engagements to one a weekend, or once a month. We have fundraisers, speaking engagements, musical performance engagements, deadlines, presentations before grant boards and hospital funding boards (where committees will decide if SGM is worthy of their support…support we very much need), and the regular day-to-day ministering needs, along with the unexpected curve balls that will surely be thrown into the mix.

So, before I begin to share more of what’s on my migraine-laden heart and mind in the wee hours of this morning, my first request to you is…

Please pray.

Please…if it is laid on your heart to do so…take some time this month to fast and pray for SGM, and for those serving here. For health, strength, clarity of mind, focus, grace, and for every detail seen and unseen. For His provision…every step of the way…every need that stands before us…every person that crosses our path. May the Holy Spirit enable us to do what seems beyond our human limitation to do. As He always faithfully and abundantly does. Please, please pray for us. That we may swim in His grace through this month, which I admit to both anticipating…and dreading. (Listed at the bottom of this post, are some of April’s planned events.)

Many of you know that as part of our ongoing preparation for the new SGM Perinatal Hospice Services we will be offering, several SGM staff are training to be SBD birth and bereavement doulas. We have all taken our final exams for the 8 week portion of the course, and now continue our studies as we prepare two book reviews and a community project. I have chosen to read Heidi Faith’s book The Invisible Pregnancy, which dares us to step out of our comfort zones, to peel back the layers of our own grief and muck, to delve further into this grief journey. I often marvel at the way God chooses to heal and cleanse us, through the bubbling up of all the yuck, so we can feel the pain of it, chew on it a bit, and allow him to make all things new, within our tattered hearts and souls. Only God can restore like that. I am on an adventure, learning to let Him, learning to anticipate. It is a marvelous grace that carries me.

So, part of the past couple dares was to paint. I am a word girl, as you well know. Not an artist. At least not the kind that paints. All the crafty, artsy genes went to my mother. I have the big mouth and the plethora of words. She made beauty with her hands. I am typically petrified to try things I will surely fail at, or fall short in the doing. I like to succeed. To be good. To accomplish well. Hate to step out of my comfort zone. But, there is a freedom in the stepping. A freedom in the falling…and in the realizing that there is no failure in embracing what is, and accepting it. There’s merely truth. In that regard, the outside of my comfort zone has become…well, comfortable. There’s no safer place, really, than in being so free…so stripped naked and real…so baring your heart and soul already that little is hidden. Because, you my dear…are covered completely…even in the stripping…by His perfect and merciful and wonderful grace.

So, I dug up my mother’s old craft paints, and with preschool level skills attempted to pour from my fingers all that entangles this heart of mine, full of the years. I put on some music that speaks to my heart. This song that I would like to call my “In your face, death” song…played often when faced with my own mortality after the passing of my mother. And, this song. Which represents the way God loves to make beauty from broken things, and a very special person, whose unlikely friendship reminds me to live free and love fiercely.

And, tears fell as the paint spread across the page, unleashing pieces of me, carried precious and close, wounds exposed. This first painting is one I’ve carried in my heart, a vision. Tim and I danced to Two Sparrows in a Hurricane at our down-home wedding celebration in Tim’s aunt’s basement 19 years ago. Little did know how prophetic the song would be, and how it would mirror our lives. We were the two sparrows in a hurricane, and God carried us through the storm. So, here we are in His hands…along with the three babies He carried home.

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The exercise was so healing and moving for me…seeing my heart poured on to the page, I decided to invite the mothers at our Walking With You support group to join in the exercise.

We first painted our feelings about and during pregnancy before our losses:

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Mine is below. This is before. I am expecting Faith and Grace. Hopeful. Anticipating two sweet baby girls. Planning. Hoping. Confident. Innocent. Looking forward to a pink-filled nursery.

We all agreed that it was more difficult for us to revisit and paint the before feelings. It was painful to remember what once was…what was lost. I thought of the day when my 90 pound mother twirled me around in her driveway after I shared that I was carrying twins. The joy. The hope.

Oh, the agony-filled ache of remembering.

 

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And, below…our view of pregnancy after loss, as shared by the brave, beautiful mothers walking together on a Monday evening at SGM.

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This is my after. Tears covering my bible, mixing with the surrounding storm. Broken. But, clinging to Him still.

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So grateful for the brave, beautiful women who allow me to walk alongside them on this sacred path…and grateful that after all these years, my own layers are being revealed, discovered, and uncovered, right along with them.

April’s events

Monday, April 1, 2013 ~ Walking With You Bereavement Support Group

Week of April 3-5, 2013 ~ SGM Facebook Auction at Caring for Carleigh

Saturday, April 6, 2013 from 9-11am ~ Comfort Bears

Sunday, April 7, 2013 ~ One Way at Salem United Methodist Church in Findlay

Tuesday, April 16, 2013 from 7-9pm ~ Comfort Bears

April 16 ~ Kelly presenting to grant board

April 20, 2013 ~  SGM Scrapbooking Fundraiser hosted by Sheryl Nickels

Sunday April 21, 2013 ~ One Way at Wesleyan Church in Liberty Center

April 21 ~ SGM/BGSU Work Day with the gentleman from Alpha Sig at 2pm

April 24 ~ Kelly speaking at St. Stephen’s in Hamler to the ladies’ group

Sunday April 28, 2013 ~ Kelly speaking at UM Church Rebekah circle in McClure