Monday, December 31, 2012

mourn with those who mourn

One of my facebook friends passed away last week after her car was tragically hit by a drunk driver on Christmas Eve. 

I barely knew the girl, but had a few classes with her in college - enough to remain 'friends' on social media after graduation. 

The news of her passing is so tragic and sad.  Although I barely knew her, what I do know about her life and her passing is enough to tear deeply into what little understanding of faith, and death, and justice, and grief that I have. 

She was a beautiful and strong Christian woman. A new bride, with a new groom. She was serving God in ministry with her husband, and you could see Jesus in her eyes and in her smile.  

How could this happen?

When I think about her life, her passing, her purpose, I think about the dear friends and family who must now grieve what was and what will never be.  Her dear husband will ring in the New Year with new prayers of how to possibly survive without her.  Her loved ones will struggle, and weep, and shake their fists in the air, trying to understand such painful news that surpasses all understanding.

And me?

I will weep for them, for I know {in a small way} what it's like to miss someone and not understand why or how God allows loss to happen like it does. 

I will pray for them, for I know how difficult it is to find the words to pray in the midst of great suffering and loss.

I will shake my fists in the air along with them, because to truly understand loss requires us to question and cry out to God for understanding. 

I will pray the only words I know to pray right now in my own life:

{May God help us understand}

Alégrense con los que están alegres. Lloren con los que lloran. ~Romanos 12:15

Sunday, December 16, 2012

on city dwelling and fireplaces.

On days like today, I often convince myself that life would be almost perfect if only we had a fireplace.  We'd stand our Christmas tree somewhere close by, snuggle up on the sofa, and feel it's tingly warm air hit our faces as we rest.  

Rest.  I have always associated fireplaces with rest, and refuge, and comfort.  

Sometimes, I dream of where we'd place it - probably in our massive, expanded living room where nothing ever gets broken and everyone always feels like there's more than enough space for three or four more.  

Our living room (slash basement, storage closet, utility room) is small.  There's barely enough room for our Christmas tree, or Chris' new bike, or so-and-so's friend who wants to come to bible study. 

There's certainly not enough room for a fireplace.  

And yet somehow, in the midst of dinging doorbells, and sticky-kid fingers all over our brand new ivory painted walls, and having to park our cars on the street where they get assaulted by footballs and on really bad days, drunk drivers, I know I have to remind myself why we're here.  

I have to remind myself that by choosing Jesus, 
by choosing this lifestyle of dwelling in the city for Jesus, 
comfort {most days} does not come quickly.
Baseballs break windows, 
and babies are born addicted to crack.
Drug dealers flaunt their profit at the expense of young, easily-influenced minds, 
and people, precious and beloved people, must fight to death for second chances.
Trials come, 
and babies raise babies,
and then babies die. 
Doorbells ring,
and ivory-painted walls don't stay that way for long.
Chewed bubble gum and sunflower seed cases fall on carpet fibers,
and booms and sirens alert us in the night to something unjust.

But this is our home, and we have chosen to dwell here, in this place, that booms and rings and often times, tears us up in a way we cannot describe

This is our home, where we have wept for peace and justice and God's love to be present; where we love and serve and learn from those around us;  where we borrow spoon-fulls of sugar and sit on our stoop to watch kids kick other kids' butts in street football. 

This is our home, where we open our door to eight or nine or sometimes ten middle school boys weekly for bible study; where slowly but ever-so-surely, precious moms and grandmas are opening their doors and their hearts to us.  

This is our home, where 'M' came and went, right before our very eyes and where we were forced to experience tragedy publicly; where my dear neighbor and her boys baked us cookies, and in their own unique way communicated how sorry they are that we lost something so special.   

This is our home. 

And on days like today, when all I want is comfort, a big fenced-in backyard, and a warm, cozy fireplace, I can almost hear God whisper,

This is your home, 
and this is where I have called you.
Rest and be still. 

Yes, my soul, find rest in God; my hope comes from him. 
~ Psalm 62:5

Thursday, December 13, 2012

a christmas tradition.

Somewhere along the way, my husband and I decided that we wanted to be all about traditions

Traditions, little celebrations of our own, things that make our small-family-of-two {hopefully someday four or five} unique. 

In the spirit of Christmas, I'd like to share a tradition we started last year as a newly-married couple. 

Last year, we decided that we wanted to purchase an ornament -- our ornament {I call it} -- to hang on the tree as a reminder, or a symbol, of that year.  We go pick out the ornament together, usually with hot coffee or tea in-hand, and make a date of it.  It's a really fun, sweet time to share together as a couple.  We do some reminiscing as we try to figure out which ornament would best represent the year, and a whole lot of laughing about things like why it might {or really might not} be funny to just hang a pickle ornament on the tree and call it an evening. {This is what we call my husband reaching his capacity to shop.  It usually ends with him finding the nearest free-sample espresso machine and coming back to life after three or four 'samples' and a whole lot of mean-mugs from store employees.  True story.  My life would truly be boring without him ;-)}

In my opinion, this is a great tradition to start because as newly-weds, we have to work to build up our ornament collection.  If you're like me, you have way-too-many plain jane {jumbo pack buy-one-get-one-free} ornaments and it's nice to have something that actually means something on the tree.  This is why we started this tradition.

Last year, we chose this ornament from Ten Thousand Villages because we felt like it represented so much of what we were praying for: peace for our city, peace for our home.  This is one of my favorites. 

This year, we could have gone a lot of ways.  It's been a really eventful year.   As I debated back and forth between something that would represent our house, or baby, or ministry, or something else, I walked past a box of ornaments and only saw one thing: a raspberry.  

Our sweet baby girl, no bigger than a kidney bean, a grape, a bb pellet, a raspberry.

This Christmas, she will be remembered.  

I'm so thankful for traditions.  

What special Christmas traditions does your family have?

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

why we date.

Last weekend, my husband and I got all dressed up and went on a date.

Usually when we do things like this, the neighborhood kids stare {confusingly} and share with us their oh-so-wise thoughts about how married people don't have to go on dates because they're already married. We smile and then we kiss each other {on the lips} and usually they say ewww and run away. That usually does it.

Last weekend, we went on a date and I wore a pretty dress with fancy earrings and my husband got so snazzed-up that the neighborhood boys asked him why he was wearing a tuxedo. {Sport coat, tuxedo, same thing.}

It was really nice to get out of the city and relax together over good food and wine and cheesecake. Between 'M' and our car fiasco and ministry and the busy holiday season, we just haven't been able to do much of that. Let's face it... nothing says 'relaxing' like a massive piece of dulce de leche cheesecake, submissively rested under a mountain of whipped cream. And yes, it was the real kind of whipped cream. And no, we did not save any for later. {Life is short.}

During times of tragedy and healing, moments like these are important to share and important to remember.  

Today, I'm thankful.  

Thursday, December 6, 2012

eggplant parmesan for two.

Confession time.

This evening as I waited patiently for my eggplant parmesan to bake, I browsed random photographers' blogs, filled with photos of random families and babies and kids in little-matchy-match-sweaters.  I scrolled through the pages, filled with reds and greens - for the Christmas card of course; smiling babies with flower headbands, being tossed up into the air; and Brady Bunch families with five, six and even seven kids.

And then there was me {silly-ol'-me} feeling hopeless as the cheese bubbled over my tiffany-blue casserole dish and the kitchen exploded with smells of eggplant parmesan for two.

Let's face it, I don't even know if our {future} children will even eat eggplant parmesan.  They will probably take one look at most of the {primarily vegetarian} meals that we make and stick out their tongue at the green monster on their plate.  Or maybe at us.  I guess we'll have to work on that.

But these parents, in their picture-perfect matchy-match photos, they at least have the opportunity to offer eggplant parmesan to their children.  In fact, I bet their children love eggplant, and kale, and all-things-green-and-good for them.  At least that's what the photos say.

Hear me out on this one.  I love families, especially the families of my dearest friends.  I love your babies and your good news and your Christmas cards.

But stranger families on strangers' blogs?  It's complicated.

If I'm honest, today I'm mostly angry at myself.  I'm angry because I know I need to stay away from things like this that are just not healthy for me to look at {or throw things at}.  I know I need to not dwell on what would be right now if 'M' had never happened.

But it's so hard to forget. 

It's hard to forget that a few weeks ago, we would have had our maternity session.  Over the next couple of weeks, our friends and family would have placed our baby-bump news on their kitchen refrigerator.  Pretty soon, we'd be finding out if the nursery accent color should be pink or blue.  I'd be shopping for big flowy-stretchy shirts and we'd be planning our 'last' vacation as a married couple before kids.

Instead, I'm staring at photos of random families on random blogs and secretly wishing I could photoshop our faces into their seemingly 'beautiful' and 'perfect' reality.  {I know this is ridiculous.}

Instead, I bought Christmas cards for 50% off at the mall.  {Yes, the boxed kind with the graphics of donkeys and stars and warm-fuzzy-seasonal sayings.  This year, these will have to do.}

Instead, I'm making eggplant parmesan for two.  

But thankfully, I have a second-half who not only shares in all the mess and anger and sadness along with me, but who also loves my cooking.

Especially eggplant parmesan.

Someday, maybe for seven.

But today, only for two.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

why I share my grief.

On my way to jury duty this morning, I grabbed Anne Lamott's book, Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith, from our book shelf in a hurry.  I hadn't heard of Anne Lamott before, and frankly, I don't exactly know how her book ended up on our shelf.  It has someone else's name written inside the front cover with a note that says "People say she's the male version of Donald Miller.  She's crazy!"  That alone makes me think that this book was meant for me all along.  Lord knows I invite the crazy in far-too-much.  (And I have a writer's-crush on Donald Miller's work.) 

So all day long today, I waited, and read, and waited, and read.  Somewhere in there, I almost cried, but I couldn't actually cry in a room full of cranky, impatient, and hungry potential-but-maybe-not jury people {myself included}.  Sixty-eight pages later, I stumbled upon some thoughts that struck me; some ideas that put words to my thoughts about why I share my grief with the world.

Now I'm sure some of you read this blog and wonder why I'm hanging my dirty laundry out for all to see.  Maybe you're wondering when my blog posts will turn 'happy' or 'cheerful' or be about Christian-ese or Pinterest projects.   Don't get me wrong, I love me some Pinterest.  Those posts will someday make an appearance {Pinterest, not Christian-ese}. But in the meantime, we're all going to have to get real comfortable with that little gray donkey inside of us that we all love to hate, Eeyore.  My blog reeks of Eeyore-ese, and I know it.

So in this particular section of her book, Anne Lamott writes about her struggle to process her best friend's breast cancer diagnosis and her break-up with her boyfriend all at the same time.  She explains that for years, she has believed the lie that "grief should be gotten over as quickly as possible and as privately" (pg. 68).  We've all heard that, and let's face it, we've all done it -- faked a smile so that the world would carry on and people would stop freaking asking about that awful thing that happened to us.  A smile usually does it.  So does hiding in a bunker.  Anyway, here's what she wrote that stood out to me most:

"But what I've discovered since is that the lifelong fear of grief keeps us in a barren, isolated place and that only grieving can heal grief; the passage of time will lessen the acuteness, but time alone, without the direct experience of grief, will not heal it" (pg. 68)

I couldn't have said it better myself.  Only grieving can heal grief.  

When I read this, it became clear to me... this is why I write, this is why I share. 

Because during a season of my life when it's hard to really, fully believe anything, this is one thing I know to be true: Only grieving can heal grief.

In order to heal from our pain, we must embrace and experience that which has wounded us the most.

We must feel it - acknowledge our losses, our failures, our fears.
We must admit that we're not what we pretend we are.
We must give ourselves freedom to weep over what was and what might never be.
We must grieve in order to heal.

And somewhere in there, we must invite God into that grief and pray He binds up our wounds. 

Even when we don't want to.  Even when we don't believe.  And yes, even when we feel like Eeyore.


Monday, December 3, 2012


A few short years ago, I wrote about survival here on my blog.  I was in a pretty raw place when I wrote it -- I had a wedding dress that I'd never use now stored in someone's closet {somewhere}, I had sold or given away most of what I owned, and I had quit my job {and essentially my life} at Liberty to go to Ecuador for who-knew-how-long.  Surviving that season of my life was a miraculous surprise.  No one thought I'd make it out alive.  Heck, I never thought I'd breathe again. Some nights I barely could.  Yet somehow, here I stand.  Sort-of. 

Right now, it's really difficult to read that post. It's like I'm living those feelings all over again, as if I didn't learn anything from the last time God allowed me to get a fresh slap of reality right across my stubborn, naive cheeks.

You see, way-back-when, I thought I knew something about God; something fancy and true and admirable about Jesus, my faith, the world.  I was a mess-up, and then I met Jesus.  Well, actually... Jesus chased me up-and-down-and-all-around, tripped me at the knees, held me down with all of his might and tied me to a chair.  But when He did, I knew everything was different.  I was different, yet I understood so little.

I thought that since I had already lived in the ditch -- broken, self-seeking, afraid  -- that maybe I'd never have to go there again.  Maybe somehow God would have pity on me and spare me from those lowly places {that I knew so deeply}.  Maybe since I had already been through hell, somehow, someway, I deserved to live a beautiful, happy life with a little bow on top.  Maybe that was the testimony I'd share with the world: God picked me up from that ditch.  Now I'm free and live joyfully to tell you about it.  Snip, and snap, with a pretty little bow on top.  Man, her God is good.

I think that's why God hasn't stopped slapping me since.  

For as long as I can remember, my story has been full of ditches, some a bit closer to ground level, but nonetheless, still ditches.  In my story, the ditch always follows the slap - a rejection masked as newly understood and divine direction, a dream unrealized, a child gone forever, pieces of what was.

They say He's my father, so I think these are loving slaps.  Parents do this all the time, right?  Only in this version, I am not five years old and my father, way-up-there-in-the-sky somewhere {yet at the same time, somehow feeling the impact of the slap along with me}, is not holding a wooden spoon.  He's holding our baby, and our cars, and our marriage, and our joy.  Slap.

 Sometimes it just startles me, and sometimes it brings me to tears.  Most of the time, I learn something from it.  Nine times out of ten, it becomes a part of my story; the story I tell people when they ask me why I am a Christian, or why I live in the inner-city, or why I talk to drug dealers, or why I don't do keg stands in a skirt anymore.  Slap.

These are the moments that flip my world upside down; moments that cause me to question everything, including how I'm going to survive their impact.  They are the moments that somehow manage to take my breath away and remind me to breathe, all at the very same time.

Miraculous moments.  Painful moments.  Moments so heavy I wish I could hide from them.

Yet somehow, someway, I have come to realize this:  Without these moments, these slaps across my face, I could never survive this world.

Without pain, I'd never know the warmth that healing can bring to the soul;
Without loss, I'd never know what it means to appreciate a good gift;
Without chaos, I'd never know the sound of peaceful, life-giving solitude;
Without a slap or two, I'd still be who I used to be.

I guess that's reason enough to say Man, her God is good.  Maybe, just maybe.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

you aint my neighbor no more.

"Ms. Shelly, you aint my neighbor no more!"

I still remember the way little-man's nose scrunched up when he looked at me, with all of his six-year-old wisdom, spit these words right out, and stomped away from my stoop with anger in his step. 

I had hurt his feelings, refused to give him something that he wanted.  He was really disappointed and angry at me.  In all of his mixed-up emotions, this was all he could say: You aint my neighbor no more.  And even though he could not actually change the fact that I live {and continue to live} just four row-houses away from him, his words felt overwhelmingly real and true to him at the time.  

He tried to stomp away, to make a statement I'd remember, maybe even feel guilty about.  I knew why I had said no; it was for his own good.  After he thought I wasn't looking anymore, his tiny, exhausted body slumped down onto the street curb.  It is exhausting to stay angry.  Within moments, his face fell into his lap and he began to sob uncontrollably, as if every emotion he had ever felt came rushing down his fragile, soft cheeks and into the trash-ridden street gutters at his feet. 

The disappointment swept over him.  The only place it could go was out.  As I watched him from my stoop, I thought to myself, I love little-man so much.  He has no idea how much joy he brings to my life.  I love being his neighbor.  I had to say no because it's what's best for him right now.  I wish he could see that. 

I have remembered this story time and time again over these past few weeks.  Somewhat like little-man was, right now I am in a season of deep questioning, grief, overwhelming disappointment, sadness and exhaustion.  And the tears come often. 

And dare I say it, I have {several times} during this process been tempted to shake my fist in the air and tell God, you aint my neighbor no more.  
The pain is too much.
How could you let this happen?
Can't you see how broken and empty we feel?
Where is our relief?

A few things come to mind as I try to figure out the "point" of sharing this story:

1.) I think the way that I felt after little-man yelled at me is probably the way God sees me as I struggle through these very heavy emotions.  He looks at me with love and stands firm that what He gives {and does not give} to me is for my own good.  I haven't been able to reconcile this in my heart quite yet as it pertains to the loss of our baby, but pray that someday when I think back to this part of our story, I will have the peace and courage to say something like this: The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised {Job 1:21}.  I have a long way to go. 

2.) Our emotions and feelings cannot change what is true.  In his anger, little-man made a proclamation that I was no longer his neighbor, even though I still lived down the street {and wasn't going anywhere!}  If I question God and even decide in my mind that He is X, Y or Z, that does not change who He is.  Even if I still feel that way {as I'm typing this very sentence}.  I have a long way to go. 

3.) God knows what it's like to lose a child.  As I question how God could allow something so beautiful and innocent to be created, just to let it die, I am reminded of the story of Jesus.  Jesus was someone's child.  Jesus lived a miraculous {but brief} life.   As death approached him, he called out to God, pleading for Him to take his suffering, spare him from the pain of the Cross.  Do I think it pleased God to see Jesus hurting?  Absolutely not.  But it was apparently what was best for the world, for a greater purpose.  Again, I trip and fall over these words as I consider what they mean in light of 'M,' but somehow they still bring comfort to me.  They make me feel less alone.  Even so, I know I have a long way to go.

I am thankful for reminders like these, from stories in my neighborhood, and from little six-year old neighbors {with scrunched-up angry noses} like little-man.  

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

isn't it always?

I'm supposed to love all this {halloween} stuff.

All of the candy, 
and the squishy-cheek babies so hidden behind furry costumes that they're barely recognizable, 
and the princesses, the spidermans, the incredible hulks, the witches, and the zombies.
Their footsteps, getting louder as they approach our door, 
their eager and excited knocks {or in our neighborhood, pounds} on the glass, 
their curious peaks inside .... trick or treat?

I'm supposed to love all this stuff, but all I can think about is {her}.  

How right now, I'd be in my second trimester, 
trading my skinny jeans for a belly band, 
anticipating each visit to the doctor's office as it brought something new and exciting to our journey as parents. 

How this time next year, we'd buy a cute furry costume for our baby, 
and we'd squish her cheeks and we'd oooh and aaah about how cute she looks, 
how she has her father's sea-blue eyes, 
and her mother's button nose {and stubborn sass}. 

And then we'd pose for a family picture,
"Baby's first halloween" 
With smiles so real, and true, and happy.
Blessed, even. 

And then we'd turn to each other, my husband and me, and we'd whisper a prayer of thanksgiving, an offering of gratitude... thank you Jesus for blessing us so abundantly. 

I'm supposed to love all this {halloween} stuff.

But tonight? I can't.  Sure, I filled a bowl with candy and put on a smile for the {few} ghosts and goblins and pumpkins that knocked {pounded} on our door.  But each and every time a squishy baby in a furry costume approached my stairs, I had to stop and make sure I was still alive, still breathing, still somewhat whole, somewhere in there. 

This is harder than I ever thought it would be. 

... isn't it always?  

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

what has He done for your soul?

Telling our stories is a very daring, inviting, and bold thing to do sometimes.  

That's why most of us don't do it and instead choose to hide.  We tell ourselves that these are our secrets, our deepest disappointments, the places we run to when the world feels overwhelming.  We tell ourselves that if we share them with others, we will be disregarded or stoned or maybe even die of embarrassment.  We fear what it means to be vulnerable, to live in the light, to open ourselves to others' opinions, and words, and judgments.  Telling someone what happened to me would be too painful.  Telling someone what I did would ruin everything.  She will never understand.  He will leave me.  It's just not worth it to tell my story. 

And so, we keep our stories wrapped up in a box with a ribbon on top, high up on a shelf in a closet where no one could find them if they tried.  They are much safer there, we tell ourselves. Contents unexposed, safe and sound.  And then we put on a smile and tell the world around us that all is well.

{ Confession: The temptation to hide and to dwell in apathy is one of my greatest inner-struggles, and I hate it.  For that reason, I have decided to write again, to get in the habit of sharing my stories, even when they are messy and I just don't feel like it.  I need to do this.  It's how God works in my heart and brings healing, even when I don't want to get well.  I am only now learning how to do this again. }

Ever since I 'outed' myself and shared about my miscarriage here on my blog, I have been overwhelmed by how many people have 'come forward' and shared their stories with me.  Emails and messages and confessions through a computer screen: I lost a child, too.  I was depressed.  We can't get pregnant.  I struggle to have faith.  I have no one to talk to about this.  I don't know how to trust God anymore.

Let me tell you something, these stories have helped soothe my aching soul.  

They have reminded me that I am not alone in my struggles.  

These stories, your stories, are powerful and have the potential to move mountains, change hearts, birth empathy and understanding where there is none.  

Your stories are sweet testimonies, given to you by God for the purpose of sharing them with others. 

You and I were not created to hide

We were created to live in community, to bond over our pain and suffering and joy and peace, to encourage one another through the sharing of our lives, and yes, through the sharing of our most sacred and deepest personal stories. 

Your story might not be like my story, but it is valuable and treasured and important.  It is meant to be told. 

So go into that closet and get your story off that shelf.  {It was never meant to stay there.}  Unwrap it, piece by piece, and share it with someone you trust.  Speak it out loud or write it.  Send it in an email to a friend, post it on your blog, or share it below on mine.  Your story is welcomed here.

"Come and hear, all you who fear God, and I will tell you what he has done for my soul" - Psalm 66:16

So, what has He done for your soul? 

Sunday, October 28, 2012

lord, let that be true...

Lately, it feels as if loss has become a {not-so-welcome} guest in our lives.  As if losing a child through miscarriage is not enough, loss has decided to unpack it's bags and stay a while.  Allow me to explain. 

We officially found out that we miscarried our baby a few Monday's ago.  The next couple of days were really hard for us, and by Friday, we were exhausted and in need of some major r&r.  We spent the evening catching up on our favorite TV shows and enjoying a homemade pizza brought over to us by a neighbor.  But then, smack-dab in the middle of our quiet, restful evening, we heard a loud bang, and then a loud screech, and then another loud bang.  What was happening?

I ran to the front door and did only what {somehow} made sense to do at the time: open it.  It was hard to hear anything over the loud screeching and our now piercing-loud alarm screaming for someone to just enter the stupid code so it could take a breather, but I'm pretty sure my husband said {or yelled, for my own good}  some very wise words like what are you thinking?!? and close the door before we die.  Before I could figure out what I was thinking {I clearly wasn't}, we both saw truck lights climbing up onto our sidewalk and headed right towards our next door neighbors' house.  Yes, truck lights.  Headed towards the house beside ours. My husband grabbed me out of harm's way and slammed the door shut and together, we listened for the rest of the sounds..... another couple of screeches, another couple of bangs, and then the quiet. 

Our inner-city neighborhood usually doesn't get quiet, but after something like what happened with the truck, sometimes all you can do is stare in shock.  When we opened our front door again, we saw most of the block congregated at the other end of our street, staring at a cluster of smashed vehicles in the side of a house.  Our cars, to be exact.  {Here's a visual of my car after the crash.}


Loss, you see, is a difficult thing.  It rarely comes with a 'heads-up' tattooed in the sky so you can prepare for it, or a manual that you can read to know how to live beyond it.  Usually, loss just happens, like a thief in the night.  Or in our case, like a driver who decided to get behind the wheel after too many whiskey sours, or hits, or whatever panic led him to total both of our vehicles in a matter of seconds.   

Wasn't losing our baby difficult enough?  Now, both of our vehicles?  How much more loss could we possibly endure?

My husband turned to me with pain and confusion in his eyes: this has to be spiritual. 

A few neighbors explained what they saw from their 2nd story row-home windows: we heard a bang, he drove the wrong way down our one-way street, he hit a car, backed up onto the curb, smashed into your husband's car, panicked, smashed into your car, it spun, he pushed it into the side of that house, then he jumped out and ran that-a-way, something like that. 

My phone vibrated with a message from a neighbor {now friend}: I know everything seems as if its all coming to yall at once n its hard to handle but I believe there are brighter days to come n soon this will be all past yall.

I prayed, Lord let that be true.  We can't handle anything else.  We're not that strong.  

The truth is, we're not strong at all.  And as we have learned, we are not beyond devastating loss, and storms, and trials.  None of us are.  All we know to do right now is cling to each other and what we know to be true {even when we don't feel it}:

God is faithful.
He has not abandoned us.
We are not alone in our grief.
There is a purpose for these trials beyond what we can see.
We are being made new.
Our feelings and emotions cannot change these truths.
We are going to be okay. 

Lord, let that be true. 

Saturday, October 27, 2012

life after 'M': part 2

{ If you haven't read part 1 of this post, read it here }

What came next was truly a whirlwind of emotions.  I'm pregnant.  I knew it {kind-of}!  I'm not barren!  What will my husband think? He'll be such an awesome dad! We can surprise our family with the news at Thanksgiving or Christmas.  This is the best gift ever!  But then it hit me, abruptly and like an oh-so sharp pain to my soul: If I'm pregnant, what was all that pain and bleeding that happened two weeks ago?  Is our baby okay?

After speaking with an on-call nurse, my husband rushed me to the lab for a blood pregnancy test.  It was confirmed within minutes: {positive}.  My appointment to see the ob/gyn wasn't until the following morning.  That night, my husband did everything he could to try to encourage me and lift my spirits.  He told me things like God is faithful and let's just pray, and wait, and see.  I tried to believe him; I truly did.  But my thoughts wandered into the abyss, assuming that the worst had already happened and we would never get out of this pit of hopelessness and despair.  Our baby was likely gone, and there was nothing we could do about it. 

That next morning, I plopped onto a cold table in my ob/gyn's office feeling so vulnerable, so broken.  After some small talk about dates and details and symptoms, she pulled out the ultrasound machine.  I watched, expectantly, hoping to see some sign of life on that screen... anything that would remind me that God is faithful and real and true, that our baby was alive and healthy, that we'd have something to celebrate, not a devastating loss to grieve.  I had googled enough to know what a healthy baby should look like on that screen, yet I saw nothing but darkness and pain and sorrow.  No sign of life.  No sign of our baby.  Now what? 

She wanted to run some tests to be sure, so I complied.  If only a few pricks in my arm could take away the pain in my soul, I thought.  But they didn't.  Nothing did.  After day two of {arm-pricking} tests, I wrote these words in my journal: "I never thought I'd be in this place, waiting for news such as this.  You read about miscarriage and feel compassion for those affected by miscarriage, but us?  We're young and healthy and it doesn't make sense.  But then again, maybe she's still alive and needs a little help and supplements to survive this... maybe we'll get a miraculous result. God could do that, right?" 

I prayed Psalm 139 over our baby for days while waiting for the official results.  It brought me hope, peace and heartache all at the same time.

{ Lord, you made all the delicate, inner parts of her body and knit her together in my womb.  You watched her, so small and tiny, as she was being formed inside of me, as she was woven together inside of me.  You saw her before she was born.  Every day of her life was recorded in your book; every moment was laid out before a single day passed. }

And then, the phone call came, the one that confirmed our worst fears: {Your miscarriage happened two weeks ago. Your levels aren't consistent with a normal pregnancy. Your baby is gone. You should be able to try again soon.}

Try again soon?  What about this baby, the one that existed but is now gone? My thoughts couldn't manage to go to next month, next week or even tomorrow.  Our baby {with fingers and toes and little holes where newly-developing ears were supposed to someday hear her mommy and daddy whisper I love you} was gone. We would never hold her, or kiss her nose, or decorate her nursery, or send her off for her first day of school.  Sure, we may be blessed with other children in the future, but what about her?

Before I experienced a miscarriage for myself, I probably would have unknowingly said the same thing to a friend who lost a child You know, things like.... 'at least you weren't further along' and 'you're so young! you have your whole life ahead of you to have more children!' and 'well, God is sovereign and He must be sparing you and your child from something.'  Word to the wise, people: do not say these things to a friend who has just lost a child.  

You may mean them with a sincere heart {or you just might not know what to say} but there is nothing worse than feeling invalidated and forced to "get over" what others may perceive as not that big of a deal or your body's natural way of dealing with an unhealthy pregnancy.  Sure, this may be the case... but your friend, your patient, family member, wife, sister, whoever.... they don't need to hear this in the midst of their grief.  Instead, they need you to listen, to treat their loss as genuine and real, to do your best to try to understand the ups and downs of going through a miscarriage, to refer to their lost child as a human being {not tissue, or cells, or an 'it'}.  This is a true, heart-wrenching loss that is felt deeply and painfully in a way that is difficult to put into words.

Our baby is gone, and there is nothing we can do to change that

life after 'M': part 1

I never {I mean never} expected my first post in years to be about what I am going to be sharing over these next couple of posts.  I wanted my first post in my new blog to be about being newly-married, learning to give up my nomadic ways and choose to dwell, living and doing incarnational ministry in the inner-city of East Baltimore, learning what it means to be Jesus and show love to our neighbors, and all that comes with a life dedicated to these things.  I started and stopped several "introductory" posts, assuming I had writer's block and that nothing would be good enough.  God clearly had another plan, a story that now needs to be told in order for me to find healing and hope again.  This, my friends, is my story about life after M.

Recently finding out that we were pregnant came right out of left field, like an unexpected curveball that brought emotions of excitement coupled with fear.  We weren't necessarily trying to get pregnant, but in our words we "weren't not trying not to get pregnant," which in hindsight seems like the exact same thing. The results were surely the same, or so we thought.  But then came M.

I had unknowingly been pregnant for 8 weeks.  Actually, throughout my journal I swore up and down to the Lord that I felt "off" and pregnant, and that the tests were lying.  I took several tests over those first few weeks, but not one was positive.  I eventually stopped testing and chalked my extreme exhaustion up to stress or allergies or the flu.  Besides, anytime my husband suggested we wait a bit longer to have kids, I assured him that I was convinced God had made me barren and unable to have children, {in my mind} some type of punishment for my past or something.  To my husband, I only made this comment jokingly, but deep down {and if I'm honest}, this has been a fear of mine for many years.  I want to be a mother more than I can even explain in words.  I have always wanted to be a mother.  Anyone who knows me can attest to that, especially my dear {and patient} husband, who began shooing off my requests for a "honeymoon-baby" well before we started premarital counseling.  He {very, very wisely} wanted to kick-start our ministry in the city and grow as a couple. I wanted to kick-start our ministry and grow as one big happy family with a couple babies on our hips.  Who can blame me for wanting that? 

Before the miscarriage {at approximately 8 weeks gestation}, our baby had hands and feet, fingers and toes. She had eyes and eyelids, newly developing lungs and a brain beginning to learn to communicate with her tiny little body.  She actually wasn't yet a he or she developmentally, but in my heart, I'll always see her as our sweet baby girl.  No bigger than a kidney bean, a grape, a bb pellet, a raspberry.

The night that the miscarriage happened, I didn't know what hit me.  Intense pain and cramping consumed my body and left me feeling lifeless and exhausted.  And then the bleeding started.  That time of the month, I assumed.  My husband made dinner that night while I rested on the couch.  Little did I know, a miscarriage had come and gone like a thief in the night, only in his arms he carried with him our sweet little raspberry. I wouldn't even know she existed until two weeks later. 

The next morning, I took a pregnancy test {another negative} and wrote the following words in my journal: "No baby, but I guess that's understandable considering the horrendous night I had last night.  I would willingly go through all that for a healthy baby... but just because?"  I drug myself to work the next day, and the next, convinced that God had poured out the full curse of Eve {and that stupid apple} onto my uterus.  In my journal I wrote to the Lord: "one day I'll be able to write, have kids, and raise and teach our children... sometimes I feel so saddened by the 'not yet.'" 

I decided to try to put the "not yet" away in my pocket and focus on the "right now": my husband's wisdom teeth surgery, our first Sunday at a new church in our community, our annual fall trip to see friends from college, sweet little elderly clients at work whose problems {poverty, depression, failing health, pending death} seemed much bigger than mine.  I got as busy as I could before the nausea kicked in, right smack in the middle of our trip to Lynchburg.  I took a nap, sucked it up and went about the rest of our trip as planned.  When Monday morning came, I went to work and told my co-worker that I felt "off."  She told me to take a pregnancy test, to which I thought to myself 'oh, great, some more negatives that only confirm I'm either crazy or dying.'  I decided to go ahead and test anyway. 

After work, I went to the dollar store {yes, i'm a cheapo} and requested three tests at the check-out counter.  The attendee, younger than I was, chuckled and blurted out "Three? I guess you just want to be sure, huh?"  I smiled and nodded my head politely, thinking to myself that test #1 was prove that I was ill {and clearly not pregnant since I had tested a thousand times already}, tests #2 & #3 were to save me from this girl's smirky inconsiderate comments the next time I thought I might be expecting.  I came home and peed in a cup, the good-ol-fashioned way.  Four drips onto the cheapo test with the little plastic squeezy-dropper thing.  Then came the silent waiting.  I couldn't stand it.  {What was I waiting for anyhow?}  I peeked at the test a few seconds later and saw nothing but the control line.  I left the room, folded some clothes, and casually returned to the bathroom to check again.  Two lines.  I squinted my eyes to look again, held the test in the light, then switched to different {maybe better} light, squinting a second, third and forth time. Maybe my eyes were broken? The second line was faint, but there were definitely two lines.  I was pregnant. 

{{ to be continued }}