fostering a grateful spirit

"If you have good thoughts they will shine out of your face like sunbeams, and you will always look lovely." -Roald Dahl


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october, finally

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Today I am feeling grateful. I am grateful for the sleeping dog lying next to me, barking and wiggling his nose. I am grateful that I live in a world where dogs get to have dreams.

 

And, as the above photo states, I am grateful that I live in a world with Octobers. I love fall. October is my favorite month of the year, and now even more so since our wedding anniversary is in October. 

And this year I’ve been looking forward to fall even more than usual. As many of you have read, this summer was the most difficult season of our lives. A change of seasons is refreshing. Fall is particularly refreshing for me– cooler weather, waking up to cold air through open windows, apple orchards and pumpkin farms, and a much needed reminder that some things are more beautiful in their season of death than even in life. It is a precious hope I cling to, that, though we still ache and long for our sweet baby, she is truly in the arms of Jesus, beautiful and pain free, in constant and perfect relationship with her Creator. 

And I’m grateful for this blog post that showed up on my facebook news feed today (though the article is from March) and put words to something I’ve been wanting to address, especially over the last several weeks. I have had many well-meaning people (both Christian and not) respond to the difficulty of this season with old sayings and Christian platitudes that are meant to offer some comfort, the most frustrating of which has been”God doesn’t give you more than you can handle.” Though there are many sayings that we throw around (both as Christians and not) to “comfort” those suffering and in pain, many of which do the opposite, but would you please allow me to address this particular one?

First, can I just say (though I know the people that have said this mean to be helpful) it’s not a super kind thing to say to someone who is in pain. I understand that the intended message is “you’ll get through this” but, at least for me, it makes me feel like even more of a failure. God thought I could handle this, but I certainly don’t feel like I can. Am I not as strong as He thinks? Am I not depending on Him? I think maybe the most painful part of this saying is that it’s often used as a response to someone who has questions that are too big to answer. It serves as a way to quiet the questions that we’ve worked up the courage to ask God during these difficult seasons, the questions we know we will probably never get the answers to, but we ask anyways because we are struggling to reconcile what we know about who God is with the crap we are wading through. “It will get better.” “But what if it doesn’t?” This, and other questions like it, are not the questions of the weak and tired, but the questions of the courageous, those who know that life may always feel hard and choose to seek God in the midst of the crap. These are the questions of the weary, who feel beat down, but haven’t given up. These are the questions of those faithful enough to believe that God is listening, even when He seems to be silent.

I had a dear friend and discipleship group leader in college who had just suffered her 4th late term miscarriage in just over a year when I met her (though I had heard her speak several times). I had just had my 4th surgery to have tumors removed in about the same amount of time. Although now, having lost a child I wouldn’t say the pain is comparable, at the time we were both going through some of the most difficult things we had experienced. We both felt alone in the desert. And at our most honest, we were both so hurt by God that we weren’t even sure that we wanted Him to draw us near. He didn’t feel safe. We were hurt and angry. But I will never forget that, when I was asking God big questions for the first time, really, she encouraged me, reminding me that God wants a relationship with us, not blind followers. And if any other person in our lives hurt us, or could have stopped pain in our lives and chose not to, we would question them. There is something beautiful about the relationship between someone who is suffering and the God that the desperately want to see act, who isn’t acting in a way that makes sense to us. It isn’t difficult to see God from the mountaintop, but to continue to seek Him when you’re in the valley and know (or fear) that may be where you spend the rest of your days is brave. Please don’t be afraid to question God, friends. Even Jesus, who was God in a human body, asked, in His final moments “Father, why have You forsaken me?” If He can question God’s presence and plan in the painful moments, surely we are free to do the same. And please don’t diminish the validity of other’s questions by trying to quiet them with platitudes because the questions are too big to answer and scary to address. As Nate beautifully states “Limp, anemic sentiments will not stand in the face of a world that is not as it should be.”

Secondly, and much more importantly, it isn’t true. The verse that is referenced by this saying is 1 Corinthians 10:13 “No temptation has overtaken you except that which is common to mankind. And God is faithful; He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, He will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.”  Not only does it not say anything about trials (but specifically about temptation), it also does not say God gives it. I think these are both critical points to understand. From what I understand about this verse, the implication is that God will not allow you to be tempted beyond what your faith can handle. This does not mean you won’t be tempted, or that you won’t succumb to temptation, or that you won’t feel like the temptation is overwhelming and more than you can handle, but rather that the Lord will provide a way out of temptation, should we choose to take it. We live in a fallen world (though I think, if we’re honest, none of us need to be told that. We can feel it deep within ourselves constantly). We will be tempted. We will fail to beat temptation. But God will not allow Satan to tempt us beyond what we can handle to maintain our faith. Not what we can handle to feel great, to feel untested, for life to be easy, but just for our faith to remain. God will allow us to be tempted. God will not allow us to be tempted to the point that our faith is unable to be recovered.

The other thing that is painfully wrong about “God not giving us more than we can handle” is that it implies that God gives us trials. God, who is love and goodness and sent Jesus so that we could have life abundant, does not give us trials to make us stronger or more compassionate or to grow us, nor does He tempt us. (James 1:13 “When tempted, no one should say, ‘God is tempting me.’ For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He tempt anyone.”) However, we live in a fallen world and we do experience the pain of separation from God. But God, who loves us and desires good for us, does not cause pain in our lives. He, instead, uses the trials we endure to draw us to Himself, to make us more compassionate, to remind us of what and who we were created to be and who we were created for. In His compassion, even when our trials are a direct result of our own sin, He allows us to grow as people as well as in relationship with Him, if we choose. 

So friends, when you encounter someone in the middle of a great trial, please choose the words you say carefully. Please make sure that they are Truth and even more importantly that they are full of grace and abundant in love. Please make sure that they encourage true relationship with Jesus and don’t discourage someone from asking the brave, hard questions of God. That dear friend who is walking through the valley or the desert, they could turn away from God because they can’t see or feel Him, but instead they’ve chosen to turn to Him, to seek His heart in the midst of pain, and that is a beautiful, courageous, and honorable venture.

I am grateful for a God who knows and understands my hard questions, who seeks me even in the valley, and who encourages my spirit with just enough when human words fail and the day feels too long and hard to get through.


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{held}

“this is what it is to be held
how it feels when the sacred is torn from your life and you survive.
this is what it is to be loved and to know that the promise was
when everything fell, you’d be held

First, please let me say that Drew and I are humbled and amazed by and grateful for your prayers, words of encouragement, text messages, emails, snacks, visits and phone calls in response to my last post. I cried often as I read your words of encouragement, prayers, scripture, and deeply personal stories of your own pregnancies and loss. Losing a child, no matter at what stage, has to be one of this world’s most painful experiences. I hope and pray that none of us have to have that experience again. Statistically, though, I know that is unlikely, so if one of us must, I pray that you are encouraged and understood well.

We are still early in our grieving and processing, but I am so grateful that we have occasional days now that feel almost normal. I don’t forget- I think about our sweet baby every single day. If she had lived and been healthy, we’d be safely into out second trimester now, telling the world, celebrating and planning. Instead, we try to laugh and be silly, not to lose hope, and to continue to be kind to ourselves and each other when a day is harder on us than it “should” be. On the days that hurt the most I try to cling to God’s promises, cry, and try to do something that relaxes me. I joke (but it’s sort of true) that I’m drowning my sorrows in scarves because I’ve made more than 40 (no joke) in the 12 days since I learned how. It sounds ridiculous, but keeping my hands busy with something other than the internet or obsessively playing dots or temple run has been good for my soul. Sweet friends continue to send me songs, Scripture and words of encouragement that remind me that there is hope and point me towards Jesus.

I am still struggling to understand this season in our life (and, in truth, likely never will understand), but I am beginning to feel “held.” I know that every text at the perfect moment, song that speaks to my heart, and verse that gives a glimmer of hope are just a part of the way that God has been and continues to hold us close. It hurts. I can’t and won’t pretend like the being held makes me thankful for the pain. I am not. I want to hold my precious baby. But just as I know that holding my baby would not protect her from the pain of living in a fallen and sometimes cruel world, I realize that my expectation to be protected from this kind of pain isn’t realistic. I still pray from the depths of my heart that Drew and I will never have to experience this pain again, I also know that I wasn’t promised a rescue from the pain of this world (quite the opposite, actually). I deeply long for my baby, but I know that the biggest reason I so long for her is because I was created in the image of God- who is full life and joy and love. Truly, this world feels far from Home in this stormy season.

As I said, we are very much still processing and still, I’m sure, have much to learn about ourselves and God. Please continue to pray for us as we grieve and slowly heal.
Thank you, again, for your support and love. Thank you for helping us to know and feel that we are truly being held during this painful time. We are blessed to be surrounded by such amazing people.


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{worn}

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I am going to start this post out with two disclaimers:
1. What I need to write about tonight is a pretty difficult topic and deals with some very personal things going on in my life. If you don’t want to know about the deep and difficult things we’re dealing with, that’s totally fine (truly, I understand), but then this blog post is not for you.
2. There are many people that we love dearly that we have not shared this news with. PLEASE, if you are someone important to us that is finding out this news from this post, please be gracious and know that we love you and desire to share our lives with you. You are not, by any means, in the minority by not knowing what’s been going on. I was not planning on blogging about this, as it is difficult and deeply personal, but have, for various reasons, felt like I am supposed to. Even though I am writing about this news, it is still extremely difficult for us to actually say out loud, and besides the initial discussion with Drew, I’ve only actually said this news out loud once. I am sorry that you’re finding out this way, but its the best we can do right now, so please love us anyway.

A few weeks ago Drew and I found out that I had a miscarriage. I didn’t even know for sure that I was pregnant until I had miscarried, and though, in theory, that should make this easier, it doesn’t actually do much to ease the pain. I have been feeling very sad, angry, lonely and ashamed.
I was not planning on blogging about this. I actually have told very few people. I think, besides it being an extremely painful topic, the other reason that I haven’t talked about it much is because I felt ashamed–partly because of my tendency to determine my own value in my identity as a woman, and partly because no one talks about miscarriages. The statistics on miscarriages are widely varied, but (on the conservative side) 10-30% of all pregnancies end in miscarriage (and that is not counting fertilized eggs that implant incorrectly and are never viable, which skyrockets the percentage to 50-75%). If any other single thing was taking the lives of 10-30% of our children, there is no chance that people would be so quiet about it. Why are we not talking about this? If I had lost my baby at any point after birth, my grief, hurt, and anger would all be completely understandable. Why then, when a woman loses her unborn baby, does she feel alone and ashamed? It isn’t right, and that is why I’m writing this difficult (to write, and probably to read) post.

My body feels weird. Empty. Like something is missing. I feel it pretty close to all the time. I can’t get away from my own body, as much as I’d like to. So I have spent a good portion of the last few weeks dealing with feelings of anxiety, grief, anger, frustration and fear. Though I know logically that at only 4 weeks and 3 days old, there is nothing I could have done to save our sweet baby. I know that it wasn’t something I ate or drank or medicine I took. Apart from heavy drug or alcohol abuse, there is pretty much nothing you could possibly do that would cause you to lose a pregnancy that early. I’ve read tons of articles. I know it is not my fault. It would have happened no matter what I had done or not done. But I still feel responsible. I still wish, with every fiber of my being, that I could have known that I was pregnant so I could have done everything imaginable under the sun to keep that sweet baby safe. I know it wouldn’t have worked, but I still wish. On top of all of that, I also feel like a failure as a woman, wife and mom. Our bodies were created to nourish and protect our babies, and for whatever reason, mine did not. As I said, I know that there is nothing I could have done, but it is still a very real daily struggle to convince myself that I am not worth any less because my baby did not survive.

I am scared that I will not be able to carry a baby to term, although 80% of women who experience an early (in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy) miscarriage go on to have completely healthy babies. I am afraid that this will keep happening, and that even if I have a healthy pregnancy, I will be so terrified that the baby will not live that I won’t be able to enjoy the miracle and beauty of pregnancy. I am worried that though, as my mom said, I was “born to be a mom” I will never get to have that experience. It’s discouraging and frustrating and sad. What if this is just the beginning of a very hard journey that still ends with me not having the kids I’ve always wanted and prayed for? The what-ifs are enough to make even the most sane person crazy.

I am also just so sad. A few days after we found out I was having a particularly rough day and started sobbing while cutting potatoes. I was alone in the kitchen, cutting potatoes, sobbing. I felt (and sort of still feel) like a crazy person. How in the world could I possibly miss someone that I didn’t even know existed until she* was gone? It doesn’t make sense. But I do. I miss our sweet baby every single day. I am heartbroken that I will forever be a mother to a baby that I will never get to hold in my arms (on this side of Heaven). I had a baby growing inside of me- our sweet baby– and now my arms and my body are empty. It feels absolutely cruel.

And God, God and I are not in the best of places. Because I have been through difficult times before, in this situation I haven’t even really asked “why?” I am not, by any means, okay with what has happened, but I will not know the answers in this life (and even if I did, there is no answer that could be good enough for this mama who just wants to hold her baby). In all honesty, even if God Himself told me the reason that our sweet baby couldn’t keep living, it likely wouldn’t feel like a good enough reason for me. I am human and my mind cannot comprehend all that He knows and sees. I want what seems good from my perspective, and from down here, a growing, healthy baby seems pretty damn good. All that said, I know and believe that God is good. Even in my worst moments, there is something in me (the Holy Spirit, I believe) that absolutely refuses to stop knowing and believing that truth. When I am the most sad and lonely and angry, I still can’t help but believe that, somehow, God is still good. He is still in control, and He still loves me dearly. He knew and created my sweet baby, He knit her together in my womb, and about the only shred of comfort I’ve been able to find is the knowledge that I know the One who is holding our sweet baby, although we desperately wish it were us holding her. Some days I cling tightly to Him, to the Word, to the promise of life with Him and our baby. Some days I feel too hurt and angry, and I keep Him at a distance. I don’t want Him to go away, but I also don’t really want Him to come near. Thankfully, He is a gracious and loving God, who knows my heart and understands my pain, so He patiently waits until I’m ready to let Him get close again.

This is a process- a very painful one- and we are certainly still in the midst of it. I don’t have amazing insight or answers that will fix everything (or anything). But I couldn’t let this chance pass to tell you, if you stand where I do now, you are not alone. Certainly I believe that God is with you, but also the number of women who have been where you are is staggering. It doesn’t take away the sting, and it shouldn’t. “It happens to a lot of other women” is not meant as a platitude like “well, you’re not even close to the only one.” It is meant as a comfort that you are not alone. You don’t have to walk through this alone.

If your husband (or significant other) is anything like my sweet husband, he will try really, really hard to comfort you and to understand and to do whatever he can to make things better. He will tell you over and over that it’s not your fault, that it is okay you’re crying a river into your potatoes, that he’s not going anywhere. But his experience and grief will still be vastly different than yours, and that’s normal and okay. But please don’t believe that no one knows how you feel. Your experience is unique to you, your significant other and your sweet little loved one, but I promise you that you are not alone in the grief you’re experiencing. It is a tragic loss whether it is your first pregnancy that ends in a miscarriage, or you have had several, or you have several healthy children before you lose your baby. It is unbelievably painful and horrific whether your sweet baby is 4 weeks and the news of the pregnancy hadn’t sunk in yet, 10 weeks and only you and your significant other knew, or 16 weeks and you’d told everyone under the sun because things were going so well. I’m so sorry for your loss, and there is nothing I (or anyone else can say) that will make it right. It isn’t right, it’s tragic. But please don’t believe the lie that you don’t have the right to grieve or that your feelings aren’t valid just because your baby was not yet born. I wish it hurt less because of that, I really do. But it doesn’t because that sweet baby was part of you, and now that part is gone.

To close this very long post, I wanted to share with you just a few of the things that have made me feel understood, given me a moment of comfort, or even a moment of hope. Every person’s process is different, but I share some of mine in hopes that it may help someone, someday, with theirs. Thanks so much for bearing with me through this post, and thank you for letting me share such an important and personal part of my story.

ImageI found this on Pinterest (and cried) but love the Truth and grace of this quote. My sweet baby, who I love and miss, opened her eyes and saw the face of Jesus. The first, and only experience, she will have is perfect fellowship with her Creator. I long for her, I wish I could hold her, but I am thankful that she will never have to experience the painful parts of life or the sting of the effects of living in a fallen world. Jesus, hold her close for me please.

This song has been meaningful to me in my grief. I especially like this line: “I want to know a song can rise from the ashes of a broken life and all that’s dead inside can be reborn.”

This song is older, but helps me put words to some of my feelings, and also reminds me that, though this pain is unimaginable, I am still being held by my Creator as well. Sometimes I think “peace that passes all understanding” looks like God supplying you with just enough (peace, energy, encouragement, faith, hope) to get through a day you never wanted to have to live through.

I also found the following quote “How terrible it is to love something that death can touch,” which I have drawn up with our sweet baby’s details and framed in our room. This was therapeutic for me (I think it was the first thing I did that made me feel like I was actually doing something) and was the thing that really helped make the loss real for Drew.

*I find myself referring to our sweet baby as “her.” Clearly at such a young age, we have no confirmation of the gender of our baby, but we believe that our sweet baby would have been a girl and it’s simpler to just refer to her as such, instead of a constant “her (or him)” every time she is mentioned.