Thursday, December 26, 2013

now I know better

(original image from here)

I didn't know I was supposed to say something.

A few years back, they shared the news of their miscarriage in casual conversation, and me -- I had no idea how I was supposed to respond.  Do I tell them I'm sorry?  Talk about the weather?  Look away?  Tell them God has a plan?

How was I supposed to know?  I had never been pregnant or lost a child of my own.  I was newly-married, living in the phase where everything was peachy and when we were ready for the baby-in-the-baby-carriage, it would come.  

Back then, I had never really heard about miscarriage or read any books about it.  I certainly had never talked about it with someone who had been through it {not really dinner conversation, I suppose}.  I had no idea how deeply painful it was to experience a pregnancy loss, or how much a miscarriage could flip a life upside down.  I had no idea. 

So I didn't say anything at all.  I think I may have even changed the conversation, as if the baby had never been mentioned; as if their miscarriage had never even happened. 

Come to think of it, I think I've done this more than once or twice. Cancer diagnoses. Death. Loss of a job or house.

I didn't know I was supposed to say something -- anything to let them know that I was there, on their team and grieving with them. 

Back then, I honestly don't think I knew how.  

But I know better now.  I know better now because I have been there {twice}.  My own life has been flipped upside down.  Pregnancy loss has touched me.  So, now I know. 

I know that telling a grieving someone I'm sorry is the most simple, yet beautiful thing to say.  I know that no matter how strong a person's faith, it just may not be the time to talk about God's refining purposes for our battles.  I know that losing a baby -- no matter how tiny or short-lived -- is losing a person and thousands of plans and dreams for the future.  I know that stories about our-friend-so-and-so-who-had-twenty-miscarriages-and-now-has-a-healthy-baby are well-intentioned, but give off a painful kind of hope, a hope that may never be.  I know that a grieving someone just needs space to be messy.  The healing process can be oh-so-messy.

I am no expert on grief, but I'd like to think that I know better now.  I know that I am supposed to say something.  And if I could go back and tell my friends those two simple words -- I'm sorry -- I would say it a thousand times to erase how deafening my silence must have been to their ears. 

Now I know better.  And I am better because of it.

For that, I am thankful.

Monday, December 23, 2013

when christmas invades

To be honest, I thought that all the what-ifs and the should-haves would swallow me up this holiday season.  I had already decided that there would be no listening to Christmas music, smiling at Christmas cards or placing our nativity scene on the shelf.  Christmas would come and go, and I would be swallowed up with it and spit out into the new year. 

Losing anything is really hard, especially when the world around you is rejoicing and skipping and singing fa-la-la-la-la.  Miscarrying our first baby, and now our second -- that has been harder than I could ever imagine.  This was going to be the week that announcements would flood our loved ones' mailboxes and we'd just be moving into what the world considers to be the safe part of a pregnancy {as if there is such a thing}.  The world around us would rejoice, and we would rejoice along with them.  We would offer prayers of thanksgiving to the bearded God-man for the little life squirming around inside of me. 

But none of that will happen this year.  And some days, the what-ifs and the should-haves and even the have-nots do swallow me up.  I stay in bed and neglect to eat or turn any of the lights on.  This is an inescapable part of what it means to grieve, and I am okay with that.  

But on days like yesterday, when I was sure I could never-in-a-thousand-years celebrate Christmas {or anything remotely joyous} this year, 

we hosted a Christmas party.

Eight of the boys from our neighborhood middle-school bible study flooded our little city row house and we rejoiced.

We made gingerbread houses {and insanely creative gingerbread football stadiums},



fought over giant whoopie cushions and candy and headphones during a white elephant gift exchange,


snapped hilarious photos,


ate tons of red-and-green M&M cookies, 

and speculated about whether or not these lumps of coal are really coal at all.

Christmas invaded our little city row house yesterday and it didn't swallow me up.  

It made me laugh, and smile, and feel really thankful for the life that we have.  

It did not take away the pain of losing our babies {because nothing can do that},

but it did help me to see that there can be joy in the midst of suffering;

that something happens when you put up the lights, embrace what makes you most afraid, 
and just live.

So, here's to the living and the rejoicing and yes, 

here's to the kind of Christmas that invades.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

for him.

I put the lights up for him.

I had already decided to hibernate throughout the holidays this year and ignore the trees and the songs and especially the lights.

To me, the lights are a symbol of something that I just don't have this season -- a glimmer of hope in the deep, deep darkness. A reminder that hope is coming.

It's a beautiful thing, really, to see so many lights twinkling in windows throughout our city; to think of the kind of hope that can give life and conquer death.  That's Jesus.  And that's Christmas.  Hope breaking through the hell to bring life where there is none.

But I'm just not there.  I can't see past the heartache of what hope did not do this year.  Hope breathed life inside of me, another precious little baby, but hope did not save it.  Miscarriage.  Hope knew how much our hearts had already been broken by the loss of our first baby, but hope didn't protect us.  Hope did not respond to our cries.  Despair.

It makes sense to want to hibernate -- to forget that this season of celebration and joy and birth is upon us.  To celebrate birth at a time like this seems so very wrong to me.

But I put the lights up for him -- my lover-of-everything-christmas runner-man.

I put them up because he is grieving the loss of his baby too.  He needs the lights and the trees and the songs to carry on, to be reminded of the hope that is to come.  This is how he will continue to heal.

He asked me for a corner -- just one corner -- that could have some Christmas things in it.

So I put the lights up for him.

Because I love him.  Because we are in this together.  Because no matter how deep my darkness, and no matter how hard I try, I know I cannot wish hope away.

Monday, December 16, 2013

the story of madeira {the beast}

My runner man and I had always talked about getting a dog, just like the way we talked about having a baby.  When we decide it's time, we'll complete steps 1, 2 & 3, and then TA-DA.  It will be. 

For so many, having a baby really isn't much more than making a simple decision to stop preventing and doing the baby dance more often.  

For us, adopting a dog has been a much easier process.  And since I share pictures on instagram and talk about our dog a lot on social media, I'm excited to share her story.  If any of you are dog-lovers or are considering adopting from a rescue agency, I think you'll be excited too. 

It started with a decision that it was time to get a dog.  We wavered between a newly-born puppy and an older rescue for a lot of different reasons:

Everyone told us that with puppies, you can start fresh and train them according to your household routine and schedule.  There is not much "re-training" to do {as you would with a rescue}, but you will of course need a whole-lot-a-patience to handle the challenges of potty training, teaching obedience commands, teaching your puppy not to eat your shoes and clothes and just about everything she sees, etc.  But of course, puppies are so stinkin' cute that none of the above really even matters.  They snuggle up in your arms and you forget all about your favorite shoes and your new rug.  Puppies are that adorable. 

Older rescue dogs can be just as adorable.  But we were told that sometimes, there is no guarantee what you will get.  Many rescue agencies receive dogs that have been abused, abandoned in horrific circumstances, or left to wander the streets and fend for themselves.  Agencies can often only provide guestimations about the age, breed, or history of a rescue.  Some rescue dogs can be be anxious, distant, depressed, or unpredictable.  Some have been trained by loving foster families, while others have bad habits that need to be broken.  It can be challenging to un-train and re-train an older dog who is set in her ways.  But, it is by no means impossible.

We learned quickly that when you adopt a rescue, you are not only providing a loving home for a dog in need.  You are supporting the agency that rescues animals from heartbreaking situations.  We have all seen the commercials.  There are really animals that are found in those terrible-awful situations, and there are people who work and volunteer their time to help.  When you adopt a rescue, you are joining in the battle. 

After doing some research about puppy mills, we decided against a few popular websites whose breeders were ready to hand over their precious newly-borns for thirty-percent-off the listing price in the ad.  It felt like we were buying a used car with no insurance and an engine that would explode once we got five miles down the road.  It didn't sit well with us, so we explored alternate options. 

Here in Maryland, there are a lot of animal rescue agencies that are doing amazing work.  There are places like the Lab Rescue of the LRCPAdopt a PetThe Maryland SPCA, etc.

We decided to submit an application to K-9 Lifesavers, an agency that rescues dogs of all ages and breeds and hosts weekly adoption events where you can meet the dogs in person.  Our adoption counselor {volunteering her time for the cause} was prompt, responsive and oh-so-kind.  She reviewed our application, conducted a phone interview with us, and verified that our house and daily routine was adequate to handle a dog.  We sent her a few names from the agency's Meet the K-9's online listings and waited to hear back about which dogs might be a good fit for our city dwelling lifestyle.

We went to our first adoption event a week or so later, never expecting to bring a dog home.  We thought we were just browsing, considering our options, thinking it over.

The adoption event felt crazy and overwhelming.  Within minutes of registering, I approached the foster-mama with the newly-born plott hound mix puppies and she handed me a brindle baby Gidget, the only girl left in the litter.  I cuddled with baby Gidget for about fifteen minutes while families hovered around me, waiting for me to make up my mind if this was the dog we were going to adopt.  I told my runner-man that even though she was the-cutest-thing-I-ever-did-see, I wasn't sure I could handle the demands of a puppy.  I knew if I handed her over, that was it;  the crazy-hovering-masses would snatch her up.  And they did. 

We were fine with that, and in turn, decided to get to know some of the older dogs at the event.  

There was the insanely hyper german shepherd-mix {who I could barely contain on a gentle leader leash}, the shy catahoula leopard mix {a cutie in my book, but not the one}, and few others here and there.

And then, there was Raven. 

The somewhat-shy, but adorable and affectionate lab {mixed-with-something} who had been rescued from a high-kill shelter in Tennessee.  She had a shiny black coat with splotches of white on her belly and legs, making it look like she was wearing white boots.  Raven's foster-mama told us she was somewhere between one and two {or maybe three} years old, and that she loves to swim and run around and play.  She hugged us and cried when we told her we wanted to take Raven home.

Raven licked my runner-man on the cheek.  And that just about sealed the deal.  So we signed the paperwork, paid the adoption fees, bought her tons of supplies, and gave her a new name:

Madeira {pronounced muh-deer-uh} -- the name of the first street we lived on together here in the city.

Then, we brought her home and made a city dweller out of her.

It has been an amazing almost-six-months with our rescue.  She is the perfect addition to our family and keeps us laughing always.  We have had our 'ups' and 'downs' {like when she decided to EAT the Christmas lights the other day!} and we have learned a lot since adopting her.  I hope to be able to share more about this {and many other hilarious stories} on the blog in the future.

Stay tuned!

Thursday, December 12, 2013

when there are no words.

Let's face it -- sometimes, there are no words.

No words to express how sorry we feel, how deeply we love, how heart-wrenching our pain.  We struggle to find them and get anxious when we can't.  Isn't there something? Anything?

A friend asks how is your heart, but there is nothing to return but silence.  You talk about the snow storms or home decorating or your new flannel bed sheets, because let's face it -- sometimes there are no words.

It's okay.

It's okay to not feel like writing or sharing or processing.  It's okay to not want to think about the terrible-awful for an hour or two {or twenty-four}.  It's okay to not always read about it and talk about and dwell upon it.

It's really okay.

It's okay if the only thing that you say to a grieving friend is I'm sorry. There are no words.  Because sometimes, you may find that nothing sounds quite right.

Homicide.  Suicide.  Miscarriage.  Infertility.  Human trafficking.  Addiction.  Abuse.  Fear.  Depression.  Birth defects.

Tell the truth when there are no words.

It's really okay.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

where are your kids?

When we first moved into our house in the inner-city, a five-year-old little girl knocked on our door and asked if we had any kids inside who could come out to play.

It made sense.  We moved into a neighborhood where everyone has kids.  That's one of the reasons we moved here.

Up until this point, it had been just me and my runner-man.  We had been married just under a year and were enjoying our lives as "honeymooners."  We were going on dates, doing ministry together, exploring the city and getting into new routines.  We bought a house with four-stories for the future.  Our lives felt full.

We had a joke that first year -- I'd tell my runner-man that I wanted seven kids {yesterday} and he'd reply that he would love to have a kid... sometime in the next ten years.

I knew he wasn't serious and that he wanted kids just as much as I did.  But we were newly married and our friends told us to enjoy it -- go on trips and see the world and make the most of the time you have alone as a couple.  Some of them even made having kids seem like doom, saying things like everything will change and you will never be more tired in your life than when you have kids.

I know what they meant.  And I know that parenting is no joke.  I'm thankful for this counsel.

But when the five-year-old little girl knocked on our door, something happened.  All of the sudden, it started to feel like something was missing.

I'd open the door or go for a walk and kids would ask, where are your kids?  I'd babysit for a friend and people would ask, Is that your daughter? Do you have a daughter?  Once, a kid asked us point blank why in the world we have so many bedrooms in our house with no one to fill them except us.

They did no wrong.  I was wrestling with my own insecurities.

A few months after moving in, we decided to stop-trying-to-prevent.  We got pregnant right away.  And a few weeks later, we lost the baby.

Where are your kids?  

It's complicated.

Several months later and while my body recuperated, we adopted the beast -- our rambunctious little lab-mix that we love and adore.  Everyone else loves her too, but I still get asked when we're going to have a real baby.

It's really complicated.

And now, almost a year to date after our first miscarriage, we have miscarried again.

Like I said, it's a terrible-horrible-no-good-complicated mess.

We have lived here a little over a year-and-a-half and I had hoped by now I'd have a better answer to this question.  Something normal and less messy like ... my kids are right here, want to hold them?

But this time around, when we are asked this question or questions like why Ms. Shelly hasn't really left the house for weeks or why bible study is cancelled again, we are trying to be as open and honest as possible.  It's challenging to talk about, but we are trying our best.

We are trying our best because this is what community is about.  It's about sharing and dwelling in the good, the bad and the really, really ugly together.

We are trying our best.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

are you a teacher?

Many of you know that the runner-man and I live in the inner city here in Baltimore.  We moved to a {tiny} apartment a few years back before making the decision to jump in head-first and buy a house in our neighborhood.

When we started looking for our house, I knew I wanted to live on a block where there were tons of kids.  I imagined a life of playing board games, blowing bubbles, drawing with sidewalk chalk, painting fingernails, baking cookies and more.  I knew it wouldn't be perfect, but it sounded glorious to my ears, especially since we did not have any children of our own yet.

So, we bought a used-to-be-vacant on a block with tons of kids and families.  When I say tons, I mean it. Like 20 kids who live here, and about 15 kids who come to play football here.  Our block is one of the only blocks near by that doesn't have a "No Ball Playing" sign -- meaning there are 10-15 person football games going on outside on any given day.  These are fun to watch, until your car gets dented by so-and-so's elbow after his amaaaaaaazing touchdown.  Everyone points fingers.  The runner-man reminds me that there's something bigger than the dents -- that some of these kids are forced into adulthood way too soon -- that they need to run and play football and be care free -- that the alternative could be drugs, or violence, or crime.  I remind myself that I love these kids and this block and decide to get over the dents.  Then I see a new dent. A bigger dent. { Repeat cycle. All the time.}

Where there are tons of kids, there are also tons of invitations to football games, science fairs, and Christmas concerts.  We try to say yes to everything we are invited to because we want to support the kids and see them get excited about school-stuff.  Most of the time, this means awkwardly walking into the school {clinging to my runner-man's arm} and finding a seat amidst parents and kids and teachers who stare at us and wonder who the heck we are.  We don't quite know where we fit in at these things, but we still go anyway. 

Once, a middle-schooler begged us to come to her choir concert.  She got us tickets and we shuffled our schedules.  It was important to her.  We sat through song after song, only to realize she never joined the singers on the stage.  She never came.  So there we sat, song after song and watched other parents' kids sing Joy to the World and Silent Night.  Again, we got lots of stares wondering who we are and why we are {seemingly randomly} showing up to a kids concert when we have no kids at the school.  I don't know, we just did. 

Time and time again, we have been asked by kids and parents alike: Are you a teacher?

The understandable assumption is that if we hang around kids and go to school-things, one of us must be a teacher.  It makes sense, really, but it's not the case.

We usually reply by saying something like, No... uhhh... we're neighbors. 

[Insert awkward silence and strange stare here.]

We don't know how else to put it. We just live here, have chosen to invest here, and take on whatever role or job title is required of us. We've been nurses, gardeners, chauffeurs, trash-picker-uppers, mediators, chefs, recreation leaders, coaches, mentors, counselors, babysitters, translators and most importantly, neighbors.

We're neighbors.

And though sometimes we may grow tired of the dents and the strange stares and the questions and the knick-knack-knocks at the door, we remind ourselves that this is the block we chose.

This is the life we chose.

And we wouldn't want to live anywhere else in the world but here.