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

 

 

Holy Week

Holy Week.

This morning, while watching for school delays, due to a Spring Snow Storm, I heard the news mention that it was Holy Week.  It’s almost Easter.

Holy Week.

The words pierced through again. And, I closed my eyes. Fifteen years ago, I spent Holy Week on my knees, tears dripping on my worn bible, begging for an answer.

Asking for wisdom for what seemed an impossible choice.

I laid on the examining table wearing my dark green dress pants and soft ivory sweater. Usually by this stage of pregnancy, I was wearing full on maternity clothes.

Incompatible with life. Your baby has a condition called Potter’s Syndrome. This condition is incompatible with life. You have some decisions to make. They need to be made within a week….insert words about what happens to babies in the womb with amniotic fluid….poor lung development, no kidneys, possible contractures from trying to grow with no fluid….

You can induce labor early, or continue the pregnancy to term, or for as long as the baby lives. (There were other words. I can’t remember.)

We’ll need to know your decision within a week, due to the gestational age of the baby.

I didn’t even know what it would mean to induce labor early. Didn’t know what it would mean to terminate. I was 23 years old.

I called my regular OB doctor.

He said, “If it were my own wife, I would do the induction immediately. There is no sense prolonging the inevitable. It will be best for everyone.”

We sat around my kitchen table, Betsy, Dinah, Ginny, and me. Desperate to make sense of it all.

I wasn’t trying to be a hero. I was just trying to survive. To do what was best for the child in my womb and the husband and son who would have to watch me carry a baby sentenced to death for the next four months.

Would continuing the pregnancy in a womb without fluid hurt my baby?

Would my husband and son be better off if I just ended this quickly?

We had already stood beside one tiny grave and buried our twin daughters. How could we do this again? Would it be easier if I just took care of this?

In the middle of the night, I wrestled with the voice, dark and persistent, taunting…

Where is your God now?

I ran to my bible. Rain pouring outside, desperate tears pouring from me, lightning flashing, thunder crashing…the storm raging outside as desperate as the one raging inside me. Lord…help me. Show me.

That Holy Week, I searched. I asked questions of professionals. But, the real questions…none of them could answer. What does this choice mean eternally? What does this choice mean for my heart and soul? Not clinically. Not medically. But, spiritually.

And, how will we heal from this?

It was Holy Week, so eventually, I was led to read the scriptures leading up to the death and resurrection of Jesus. When I came to the part about Pontius Pilate, the words leapt from the page.

Pontius Pilate washed his hands…symbolically. He didn’t want the blood of Jesus on his hands.

I stopped.

The grief will come either way, I felt the whisper. I didn’t want the decision to be in our hands. We needed to leave it to God, to trust Him to carry us and to carry our Thomas.

And, He did.

The next day, I had an ultrasound scheduled. And, I had to deliver the answer. Our choice.

It was hard to see much on the screen, because of the low fluid. But, his face was turned toward me, and it was if we were looking directly into each other’s eyes. I never questioned my choice again.

This was my son. And, I was his mother. I may not be able to parent him long on this earth, but I would love and protect the baby growing within me for as long as he would stay.

You can read the rest of Thomas’ story here.

If you are facing this choice, and hearing only the clinical side from the medical professionals, we invite you to consider another path. To learn more or find support, visit our Perinatal Hospice pages.

 

 

WWY~ Finding Hope and Healing With or Without a Rainbow

For the final WWY post in this segment, we will share our experiences with longing for another baby to fill our empty arms. Some experienced a subsequent pregnancy after loss. Some may be fearful of embarking on that journey again. Some may not be able to have another child, whether due to infertility or other reasons. Some may have found that having another baby, however precious a gift, was not the key to healing the grief. Can you experience hope and healing…even if there is no rainbow after the storm? Lori  will be guest posting on this blog and I will share some thoughts as well. We hope many of you will also join in, linking your own posts.

Written By Lori 

It is never, ever easy to lose a baby.

Ever.

 

And though as we discussed last week that we wished we didn’t compare our situations, or ourselves the reality is that we do.

So I’ll just be honest and say that when I lost Matthew, I felt like there was something even more especially cruel in his loss.

 

We’d tried to become parents for over a decade.

 

That’s over ten years, folks.  Treatments that didn’t work, diagnoses that didn’t seem to make sense, adoption situations that didn’t come to fruition…
One that broke our hearts because we were so.close.  The closest we’d really ever been…a nursery full of things for a little girl I’d been told in my heart was born and waiting for us.

 

A little girl I’ll never meet.

 

When we finally turned to IVF ten years after first beginning to build our family, I was skeptical.

 

And utterly surprised when it worked.  FINALLY!  The hard part was over!  I was pregnant and the child I knew God had promised me (we’d had many discussions, He and I) was only months away.
So, when Matthew died…in a very dramatic, very unexpected and very rare way, I felt that his loss was especially cruel.  I’d suffered all that infertility, had a perfectly healthy, full-term and beautiful baby boy…and he died the day after he was born due to what is essentially a little-seen fluke.

Cruel.   Just cruel.

I remember the day I dared God to heal my heart.  If I am honest, I was nearly blasphemous.  After Matthew died, we transferred our remaining embryo and it was not a successful transfer.

Yet again, another empty nursery and empty arms.
So, there I sat one Sunday morning, listening to how God heals and makes all things new.  I dared Him.  I told Him there was nothing He could do, short of pulling a Lazarus, and bringing Matthew back.

Knowing that just wasn’t going to happen.
Obviously, it didn’t.

But, in a way that only God can do, I was shown a redemptive and restorative healing I never believed was possible.

After completing our second IVF cycle, we were given our sweet little Luke.

I learned the truth in God making beauty of ashes.  Luke was a balm for our hearts, and one only given by the Great Healer Himself.

I’ll be very, very honest.

I don’t know what I would have done without Luke’s pregnancy and subsequent healthy birth.  It was tough– grieving so heavily the loss of one precious relationship while building so tentatively but expectantly another one.  It seemed like a blessing and a curse, at times, and it was difficult.

But I don’t know what I would have done without the hope in bringing another child into my arms.
In this online community of what we call our Babyloss Friends, I came across so many women who were struggling (and many still are) with trying to bring another child into their world…a living child they can hold and raise.

My heart aches for them because I know first-hand how a Rainbow Baby can bring a healing like nothing else can.  I can think of fewer things that show how God can make all things new.  Even a bereaved mother’s heart.

So, last year, when we lost our third child, another son we named Trey, I took it hard.

Hard because again, dreams I’d dreamed and hopes I’d hoped were stolen.  Trey’s loss triggered memories of Matthew’s loss, and I found myself terrified.

Terrified because I knew how much Luke’s birth and his life give healing to my heart.

Terrified because the odds were that I would not have that same healing after losing Trey.
Years of infertility left me at an age that just exacerbated my infertility.

We tried several more cycles, but none worked, and we decided that we were done trying to conceive any more children.

Done trying to adopt any more children.
Done with having any more children.
No Rainbow.  No more restoration and redemption of my heartache in the sweet snuggles of a new little brother or sister.

And here I am.

It’s not like having Luke made losing Matthew better.  Impossible.

But Matthew’s death left my arms empty.  Luke’s life gives them new meaning.

Losing Trey left me aching again.

Knowing there are no more children for our family has left me asking God how He’s going to help me heal this time.
With no ‘balm’ like we were given with Luke, I find myself wondering how on earth my heart is going to be rescued this time.

 

God rescued my heart when He gave me Luke.

I honestly don’t see how He can rescue it again.

 

But that’s just how God is, isn’t He?  He laughed at me the first time I dared Him…said, “Oh, yeah????  Watch THIS!” and then came Luke.

 

And though I know it won’t be in the form of another baby boy or girl, I know He is good.
He is unchanging.

He rescues our hearts.

I’m holding on.

 

Psalm 130:5 “I wait for the LORD, my soul waits, and in His word, I put my hope.”

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Ok…this is Kelly popping back in. I love how honestly Lori shared her heart here…and the honest struggle with trusting God in the giving and the taking away. He is faithful in both. I just wanted to share a tidbit of my own journey.

We had our son Timothy. We lost Faith and Grace….and Thomas was our rainbow. We lost him, too.

I remember the years of struggle to trust God anyway, to  learn to hope and heal, the wrestling with bitterness…and, I remember the day I surrendered to much of it, weeping in the arms of our heavenly Father. His whisper that gratefulness would unlock the key to healing the bitterness sprouting in my heart. (Please note that this was more than a year into our grief for Thomas.) I also remember the realization that God could restore our family and our joy….even without another child.

I can’t explain what the Holy Spirit did in my heart that day, but I felt the surrender. I felt some of the heaviness lift.

And, God did begin to restore our joy…right there. We laughed. We lived. We started to accept the gifts of every moment we had with those we loved. Our little family.

Then God sent James. And, he came to stay.

But, whenever I share our story, He tugs at my heart, reminding that He could’ve restored our family as we were, without another baby. James was an unspeakable gift, a beautiful surprise. And, he has added great joy to our family, of course. But, it’s important to remember that God lifted some of the sorrow before his birth…He wanted that surrender from me…even before that precious added blessing came into our lives.

And, as excruciating as it was to come to that place of surrender, it was a sweet surrender indeed.

I just want you to know…that our God and His love are so big that He can restore and heal you…even if there is no rainbow after the storm. Even if…

It has been such a blessing to walk with all of you. Thank you for allowing us into the sacred places of your hearts. 



Walking With You ~ The Comparison Trap

February 4, 2013 ~ Mirror, Mirror ~ The Comparison Trap

Mothers often fall into the trap of comparing ourselves to one another. This is a trap many women fall into. We compare our families, mothering styles, fashion sense, careers or lack thereof, bodies, etc. Even mothers with babies in heaven compare the way we grieve our children. I know…sad…but we do it, if we’re honest enough to admit it. So, how can we find freedom from this? Sharing is a start…telling the truth…admitting the struggle. I think, then, we will see that we all love our children, regardless of how we choose to remember and honor their lives…whether publicly or quietly…with big parties or simple moments of remembrance. Be real on this week’s post, and let’s free ourselves from the trap of comparing!

This post is really for every woman, because if we’re honest, we all do it. Compare ourselves to one another…notice the ways we’re lacking. There is so much to say on this topic, I wasn’t sure where to begin. Until last night, when I was talking to a beautiful woman who spoke of the depth of her struggles and longing for children…pain so deep, she has attempted to take her own life more than once. I have been praying for her with such a heavy heart…and reflecting on her words. I wonder about our tendency to look at what others have with such longing, feeling the canyon of emptiness for what we do not have. It steals our joy. Whispering such blatant lies. And, yet, the longing is very real for the heart of a woman. Real and worthy of hurt, yes…but not meant to steal every ounce of joy, and deceive one into thinking her life isn’t worth living if she cannot have whatever it is she is longing for.

It may not be something as precious as having a child for some of us. It may be youth or beauty. Her eyes may wander to her flat stomached, tall young friend as they bounce alongside one another in exercise class. With a sigh and a shrug, as her eyes turn back to her own jiggling pouch, she wonders, Why did I eat those Doritos? Feeling the hopelessness settle in, wishing she would have just stayed home on the couch instead of subjecting herself to this. She’s just going to fail again anyway, and it’s easier to hide behind the food than try to change. She’ll never look like her friend. And, you can’t turn back the clock. Might as well at least enjoy yourself, right?…she justifies, slipping further under her stinky onion layers. Believing the lie. She felt good about working out, until her eyes wandered…until she noticed the woman beside her.

Mothers do it. We compare our kids…we compare ourselves to other moms. I am quite verbal with my children…and in weaker moments, I’ve even been known to yell from time to time. I’m not proud, but it has happened. All of my emotions get demonstrated…it’s how I’m wired. I try to reign them in, but sometimes they ooze. The benefits are a deep connection with my kids…and a great relationship. They will often talk to me openly about many things, and so do their friends. They feel, I hope, comfortable, safe, and loved here. God whispered to my heart when our oldest son entered adolescence that grace and love were needed much more than stringent rules. We have rules, yes…but we also have grace. The down-side is that my children sometimes take liberties with their words and cross the invisible boundary with me. I have a few friends who are more mild-mannered and quiet. Their children would never sass them, and they seem so obedient. In a frustrated exchange one day, I said to my oldest son “________________’s children would never sass her this way.” And, he said, “______________ would never raise her voice at her kids.”

Hmm. I didn’t like his response. And, he was right. For awhile it stung, because what he didn’t know is how I already internally battled the comparisons between my home-schooling, seemingly always patient, quiet, mild-tempered friends and me…willy-nilly, messy-housed, stay up talking to my teenager and his friends if they wanted to chat, cooking for them in the middle of the night, kids in public school, going shopping on a school night, feeding my children cold cereal and frozen pizza, bustin’ a move to some Just Dance with my middle-schooler, and even sometimes raising my voice…ok, like a banshee.

Eventually I have come to terms with the differences, and I’m ok with the mom I am, flaws and all. Because, while _________ may never raise her voice, she also may not enjoy the same heart-felt conversations.  It’s ok that I don’t parent like some of my friends. What matters more is that I parent in a way that pleases the Lord. He is working on my rough edges…and pouring grace over the places where I fall short.

I know this post is supposed to be about grieving mothers comparing themselves to one another…and I’m getting there. I guess the thing is…that this comparison dilemma is not isolated to grief. It’s what women do. And, it brings all sorts of destruction. There’s a reason He included covetousness in the top ten don’ts.

No.Good.Comes.From.It.

Only misery.

Now, as I said, mothers do it. Grieving mothers do it too. I know, it’s a bit disgusting to admit, but search your heart. I bet it’s in there. We compare each other’s experiences. We compare our responses. We compare where we are in the journey of grief. We compare our performance. We notice that Lyn has beautiful pictures of her child, and we didn’t think to take any. We notice that Mary cherished every moment of the time she had with her child and took all the opportunities to make memories that she could. She left nothing to regret. She did it with grace, while we stumbled along…just trying to survive, too oblivious to know we could. Bev did a balloon release. Ann seems like she’s healing so well, Penny is still a blubbering mess. Norma had her baby cremated after a private memorial. Louisa had a large funeral with family and friends, followed by a graveside service.

Do you do it? Does it stab your heart when you read of the way one mother walked this path…if she did it differently than you did? Do the regrets wash over you? The inadequacies? Do you feel them dark and accusing in your face…gripping your heart, distracting from the truth? What is the truth, anyway?

Hear me on this. The truth is….you are a beautiful woman, precious in the sight of God. Most of you on this walk are mothers…whether to babies on earth, in heaven, or both. Right now, I want you to really search your heart and see some of the yuck in there. I know it’s hard to look. But, you have to see it in order to do the next thing….LET IT GO.

You are not meant to carry these lies one more second. They exist only to steal your joy and distract you from what truly matters. However you walked this path…however you spent the time you were given with your precious children, you did it the best way you could do it in those moments from where you were in that season of your life. I didn’t do many things other moms do. I didn’t know I could. Every time I see beautiful pictures of babies whose lives were brief, or read about the ways you brave mothers honor the lives of your children….my heart aches a little. I’m so happy you know to do those things…so happy you are free to do them…and confident enough and knowledgeable enough. But, my heart aches because I didn’t. My heart aches for what I missed. And, I can’t go back. The only thing I can do is make sure that as many mothers as possible do have the opportunity to experience precious memories with their babies…no matter how briefly we are graced with their presence. And, Lord willing, that is how I will spend the rest of my days. I’m grateful for that privilege. But, I’m no better or worse as a mother because I can do now, what I couldn’t then. And, neither are you. You, beautiful momma, if the best you can do right now is brush your teeth and get out of bed, are no less a momma than the one who is able to write a book and speak on a platform at Women of Faith or the one who has beautiful scrapbooks full of memories from her time carrying her child/children. You love your sweet baby just as much as a mom who walks differently than you. Please stop judging each other’s performance or measuring love by the ways it is displayed or kept quietly in our hearts. And, most of all, please stop judging yourselves.

You are meant to walk in grace and freedom. The times I struggle most are when I take my eyes off Jesus and start looking around at others or my circumstances. Walk your walk with confidence….it’s the only walk you were created for, dear sister. And, no one can do it better than you. And, no one can be a better mother to your children than you. After all, God chose you for the job…and He never makes mistakes.

Colossians 1:9-11
For this reason we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; that you may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him, being fruitful in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; strengthened with all might, according to His glorious power, for all patience and longsuffering with joy…



WWY Overcoming Guilt ~ Embracing Joy

January 28, 2013 ~ Overcoming Guilt and Embracing Joy

One area so many mothers struggle with is guilt, especially those who experience the loss of a baby/child. We want to address this struggle in this post. It will help mothers quietly battling guilt for living life and experiencing joy to know they are not alone. Other moms silently battle this as well. Whether it is the startling first time you really laugh after losing your child, or whether you have experienced the healing balm of joy for years, share your thoughts on this week’s post.

 

I am so excited about this week’s topic. First, because I know that we mommas tend to battle the guilt from time-to-time…or you know….everyday. Well, mommy guilt is not reserved for those whose children are on this earth. It’s not just for the days when we didn’t take time for devotions, fed our children chicken nuggets or frozen pizza…again, yelled like a banshee after being sassed or annoyed, rushed through the day, ate dinner on TV trays, etc. Nope. Moms with children in heaven have mommy guilt too. In fact, in many ways, those of us who have lost children are plagued with an extra measure of guilt.

Powerful. Gnawing. Nightmare inducing. Ulcer creating. What-if filling. Anxiety ridden.

Guilt.

 

And, second, because the truth is…we aren’t meant to carry this heavy burden. Jesus wants us to be free. To experience joy. To laugh and live…even in the midst of this sorrow. Life is, as my friend Angie Smith often says, a sacred dance of grief and joy. It is. And, it’s ok to laugh. Your child is laughing in heaven, and living and well. Better than you are, actually! It’s ok to live, mama. In fact, live the best possible life you can. Nothing would honor your child more. I have carried the guilt. I have felt the heavy yoke. I have been weighted heavy with the albatross of guilt and fear and what-if.

But, Jesus has a different plan. He desires freedom for us.

This post talks about what Jesus says about the yoke we carry…

Jesus said:

Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. Matthew 11:28-30

The yoke represents all the things we try to carry on our shoulders: brokenness we try to fix on our own, our sin, our hurts, disappointments, regret, responsibility for those we love, expectations that will never be reached – both those unmet by others and those we fail to meet, grief, pain, failures, illness…every burden of this life. When we carry it alone on our shoulders, it weighs heavily on our back, stealing our energy, wearing down our resolve. Our shoulders slump under its weight and every step is cumbersome. Our heads hang in broken despair.

Then, One who loves us comes alongside and lifts the heavy yoke from our weary shoulders. Relief washes over us as we look up into the eyes of our Rescuer. He walks beside us, carrying the weight of the burdens that we created, the very buckets we filled with all of our “stuff”. His yoke is easy, His burden is light. This is the yoke He means for us to carry…the one with Him doing the lifting while we find rest for our tired souls.

He never meant for us to carry all of the things we heap into our buckets and try to carry on our backs. The only part we are responsible for is the moment when we are asked to release the yoke. Sometimes, He comes alongside us to lift the weight of our burden, and we hold on tightly…thinking we must continue to carry all of this heavy weight. I have been guilty of this stubbornness, and He has reminded me time and time again to release the yoke that is not mine to carry. Sometimes I only listen when it gets so heavy that I begin to stumble under the weight. What freedom awaits for the day I learn to let go sooner, or better yet, never pick up my heavy-laden yoke at all.

Please don’t be afraid to heal. Many mothers express being afraid that their baby will be forgotten if they experience healing. Or feeling guilty if they laugh. Almost as if clinging to sorrow is something we must do to honor their lives. That is not true. Healing does not mean forgetting or diminishing the life of your child. Take it from one of the moms whose been walking this walk awhile. Life presents plenty of opportunity for sorrow. If joy should find you, embrace it and soak it in.

When my mother was really sick, I was gripped with fear. She was my constant. She was the first person to love me…and loved me the longest. She was always there. Fear tore at my heart, years before her actual death. Fear had always been a close companion of mine, along with his good friend, anxiety. They work so well together. What-ifs I didn’t even want to think darkened my mind, with their smoky lies, bringing doubt to further cloud the haze. The smothering haze. Then, something shifted.

However cheesy it may sound, God used the song “I Hope You Dance” to speak to my heart around that time, preparing me for what was coming. I wonder if my answer would’ve been different if I knew what waited for me. He whispered …will you dance? I don’t want you to sit it out anymore.  Will you promise that whenever you have the choice to sit it out or dance…that you will choose to dance? In fact…the more afraid you are, I want you to trust, press into My truth and dance. Whatever it is…if I ask you to go, will you be willing to go?

I swallowed hard, and answered yes.

Just when the ministry was beginning…just as I started to learn dance, she was diagnosed with the cancer that would take her life fourteen months later. I stumbled and flailed, but I kept clinging and dancing, by His grace.

You may not be ready to dance. And, that’s ok. Even scripture gives a time for everything. This Christian isn’t going to judge your performance in grief. Or try to measure your faith by your response from the deepest pit.And, I hope you don’t take my words that way, because I know all too well the guilt that comes from the other end of the spectrum. Feeling guilty for grieving and hurting…because Christians should be joyful and hopeful, after all. Blech…don’t get me started about that line of performance malarky that keeps us thinking it’s about our performance, our faith…instead of God’s grace. In truth, it’s just another form of bondage that keeps us from true freedom. But, dear sister, please remember…Ecclesiastes speaks of a time to mourn, and a time to dance.

Just don’t stop dancing. Beautiful one, you are made to dance, even in the midst of the pain. And, your dance, can only grow more beautiful through the desperate clinging. Allow Him to heal you and lift the heavy yoke. Allow Him to comfort your tears and pain. Allow Him to move your heart toward dancing when the time comes.

Saying yes to Him was the best thing that ever happened to me.

Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy. ~ Psalm 126:5



Walking With You ~ Steps Back into Life

Welcome to Week 3 of Walking With You
Share about your first steps back into life. What helped you survive in the world outside as you took those first tender steps? Are there still tender areas for you today, living in a world that doesn’t embrace or understand the loss of a baby/child? How do you cope with those struggles? What advice would you offer those new to this walk to encourage and bring hope? How has this changed for you from the beginning? If you are in early grief, what do you fear/struggle with as you try to navigate a new normal….life without your baby?

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I wasn’t sure what I was going to write this week. Could I remember all those years ago, the first steps back into life after the loss of our twin daughters, Faith and Grace and our newborn son Thomas. It’s been sixteen and fourteen years since I took those first tender steps. But, something happened this week…a phrase spoken…that opened those old wounds, and I remember…for tonight, I traveled back there.

I was 21 years old the first time I would try to navigate a new normal. How heavy those steps were, leaving the graveside on that cold November day. I didn’t leave the house much in those early months, and was rarely left alone, as I mentioned. For months, I surrounded myself only with those who felt safe and would let me cry and talk about my children. That meant my mother and Ginny. The first time I went to church, I stayed in the bathroom through most of the service. I just couldn’t. But, I kept going. Until I could.

I remember being in awe that the world continued to turn and people continued in the busyness of life when my baby girls were dead. I knew I was forever changed. What struck me right away, was the people close to us who just expected us to get better, or stayed away, or cringed if we talked about them. We instinctively knew not to. I didn’t hang their pictures, for fear of making others uncomfortable. And, tried to put on a brave face when we finally ventured back into life with others.

With Thomas, I was even more protective in the early months, knowing that others would not understand. I was more able to go out in public, but I put on a “brave” face, covering most of it. I think of the verse in scripture about not “casting our pearls before swine”. It was too sacred to let people who didn’t really love us or understand to see the depth of our hurt.

It was many years that I put their pictures away, and sat quietly around most of our family who didn’t acknowledge our babies in heaven…perhaps as a way of coping with their own grief…too hard to feel the depths of it. Or maybe it was just easier to ignore. After all, they didn’t experience it, didn’t carry these babies or hold them in their arms. It has only been in recent years, that I speak freely about them, now that we have a very public and far reaching ministry. Thomas’ picture and the footprints of Faith and Grace are on our shelves and, pictures hang in the walls of my office. They are my children, just like the ones who walk this earth, and they are worth acknowledging. If someone is uncomfortable with that, that is their issue to work through.

I still wrestle with some of the hurts…the lack of support and understanding from family and others. We were so young, trying to navigate this path with very little guidance. We needed love and understanding…not judgment and distance. Sometimes, I’m in awe of the way God carried us through that time…with only a handful of close friends and each other to cling to this side of heaven.

God has comforted so much of our grief over the years…and as He speaks to our hearts about the beauty that rises from the ashes and as He restores our broken places, my own freedom and confidence grows. I don’t live to please others…or to perform a certain way…whether in grief, in healing, in serving, in parenting…or in any other way. I live to please the Lord and to serve Him. And, He views my children as precious and worth remembering and embracing. He values their lives just as He values my life and yours, the life of my husband and children, and everyone who walks the earth and lives in heaven. Every life is precious to Him…no matter how brief.

I will be honest…all these years later…remembering how difficult it was to take those brave steps back into a world without our children, and some of the lack of understanding from others…still stings. But, God is able to mend even those hurts. I pray for grace to cover us all, as I reflect tonight. May we impart grace and forgiveness to those who have hurt us…and may others learn to give grace to grieving hearts. Because….no one should ever judge another person and their performance in the depths of grief.

If you’re reading here, and wondering how to minister to a grieving heart, refer to this post.

It has been such a blessing to read your posts as you share about your babies and your various journeys. Thank you for joining this walk. Many have linked to the first and second posts, so please revisit those links to welcome and encourage those mamas. And, continue to encourage one another. One precious blessing of this walk is to know that we are not alone. Pray for and encourage one another, dear sisters. Love and grace to all…



Walking With You ~ Clinging in the Pit


This week’s WWY topic ~ Clinging in the Pit

Whether or not you are new to loss, talk a bit about early grief. What was it like, clinging for hope in the pits of despair? What did you cling to for hope? How did you survive the early days? What helped? What do you wish you could share with someone new to this walk, clinging in the pit? If you’re in the pit, currently, share your struggles. What can others do to encourage you?

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I haven’t written many new posts about the depths of despair…the days of fresh grief. Much of what I have to say has been written. But, tonight, preparing this post, I am taken back to a few of those days, playing in flashes, like scenes from a movie.

It’s 16 (Faith and Grace) and again 14 (Thomas) years ago

I am in the bath tub, tears streaming, as the water fills. The quiet sobs rising from my depths. My head leans against the cool side of the tub, too weak to hold up as the next wave rushes in. I’m not really in the tub at all, but in the midst of a tumultuous sea, as wave upon wave filled with the unspeakable pain of grief wash over me. I have no fight in me. In a heap, I hang my head and let them come.

Life is a haze. Everything covered in the film of broken dreams, an ache I never knew existed. Nothing matters. Nothing that used to seem so significant holds value. Numbness for the moments when pain subsides. Everything is lacking life and color. And, although I cling to hope and truth the best I can, there are moments when the grief is bigger than anything else…or that is the way it feels.

I crawl to my bible, tears streaming in the middle of the night. I don’t always feel like it. It’s like climbing a mountain in a hailstorm with 10 tons on my back to get to the bible. I know it holds the only hope of comfort there is, yet my arms are so heavy, it takes more strength than I can muster just to lift it.

Somehow, I do, and the tears stain the pages, as I cling. Sometimes I feel His peace wash over me like a soothing balm as His life-giving words combat the hopelessness that deceives. Sometimes, I have to learn to believe without seeing, or feeling. Still I cling, weeping on the pages.

I know He’s my only hope. The waves are strong. Sometimes it feels like I can’t breathe. I don’t leave my house. I don’t open the door or answer the phone. For two months…after we buried our twin daughters. My mother and Ginny take turns staying with me while Tim is at work. I am rarely left alone. I know life will never be the same. The hardest place to go is church. Not because I’m mad at God, but because being there brushes the most tender places of my heart…the heart that lays torn to shreds, ripped and raw. Worship. The music, stings. More than stings…my bedraggled heart cannot take it. I’ve talked to friends who felt the same…in grief. The heart is too tender…for anything that touches those raw places.

There were days Tim would come home to find me in a heap in the corner on the kitchen floor, crying like a little girl. After the loss of my mother six years ago, I would wake up curled up in the fetal position, crying. He would hold me until I could breathe again. When I woke up from nightmares in those early days, he would remind me where I was, and that it was ok. Again, I clung in the dark of night, when I wondered if He really met her and carried her home. Jesus whispered truth to my aching heart…shining light in the dark, truth to quiet lies….when again I crawled to Him, up the mountain, in the hailstorm. Tim held me when I cried through worship.

Sometimes, all these years later, he holds me still. And, still, I cling when doubt and pain rear ugly and big in front of me…weak, small me. Jesus whispers, “Fix your eyes on me. I am Who I say I am. I will never leave you, nor forsake you. I didn’t leave you in the darkest valleys…in fact, I was growing beautiful fruit watered by your tears. And, I didn’t leave Faith, Grace, Thomas…or your mother. I carried them home…and I am carrying you now…every step, every breath.”

Guess what…no matter how you’re feeling right now, He’s carrying you too. Even if you can’t feel Him…even if everything your eyes see in front of you on this earth spells hopelessness and despair. Cling to His promises…cling to His truth.

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From the Threads of Hope Study: Getting Out of the Pit

I have been in the pit, and through this ministry, I spend a great deal of time with others who are in the pit of grief. And, when you’re in the pit, it’s tough to think of anything other than the pain and sorrow weighing down on you, being heaped upon you as you sink further in.

Corrie Ten Boom – “There is no pit so deep that He is not deeper still.”

I love that…and I could also relate to what Gwen Kik shared:

After Hope died I felt as if I were hanging in a pit. The only think keeping me from falling to the depths was my grasp. On the edge of the pit was our Lord, offering His hand but I would not look at Him or reach for Him. I would only hold to the hem of His robe. Some called that faith. I called it desperation. He was all that I had to hold on to.

I hung there for many months before I had the courage to even look at Him. I remember the day clearly that I climbed out of my pit, into His arms and had a good cry. That was the beginning of my letting go.

When in the pit, we may not have the strength, desire, or will to even reach our hand up to take His…to even lift our head to look into His eyes, to even open our mouth to whisper…”help me, hold me, carry me”. Even that may be too much. Just breathing is a lot to ask in the smothering depths of the pit.

What I love most about Gwen’s picture is that the Lord is sitting outside the pit…waiting for her…offering His comfort and reassurance. Even when we can’t feel Him, even when we reject Him…He is there…waiting with unyielding love to gather us in His arms and wipe our tears.

I also love that Gwen says she clung to Him out of desperation. I think there’s too much emphasis placed on the strength of our faith. Faith isn’t about us…it’s about the God we trust in and what He is able to do. It’s not about how big or well we believe…or anything else we do. It’s not about having strong faith…and a faith that barely holds on out of desperation is not considered weak faith. Faith, after all is just knowing that He is the One to hold on to…it’s trusting in what we do not see. It is the “substance of things hoped for; the evidence of things not seen”. Call me crazy, but holding on to the little tiny threads of His robe while grasping in desperation in the pit…where you cannot see the hope, the light, the promise…that’s the most beautiful faith of all. The dirty, messy, nitty-gritty faith that comes when the world is falling apart and there are no answers.

At least, that’s what I learned from my own time in the pit…

“Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me.   In My Father’s house are many mansions;if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also. And where I go you know, and the way you know.”

Thomas said to Him, “Lord, we do not know where You are going, and how can we know the way?”  Jesus said to him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.”

John 14:6

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Last week, it was such a blessing to read about your sweet babies and to see the beautiful encouragement many of the mothers offered to one another on this walk. That is what this is all about, sharing our hearts and encouraging one another…so that each mother knows we are not walking this path alone. Thank you for the privilege of walking with you. I hope you will join us again this week. It’s a hard one, peeling back the layers. But, take heart…you are not alone.

Love and grace to all…

*Link your post below, or share your heart in the comments. And, please take the time to visit those linked here. Thank you!