Friday, November 9, 2018

#momand : Sara Jo Waldron, mom & pastor & adoptive parent

I’m excited to introduce my the second interviewee from the #momand series, Sara Jo Waldron! Sara Jo is a #momand pastor and adoptive parent of a child with a rare medical condition. She has three children: 8-year-old Penelope, 5-year-old Lydia, and 2-year-old Hezekiah. Her family lives in an apartment below the boys’ dorms at Tabor College in Kansas, where her husband Lee is a Resident Educator and sports chaplain. 

At the age of 17, Sara Jo knew she was going to do some form of public speaking about The Good News of Jesus Christ. She is now a full-time youth pastor as well as a part-time worship director. She says that full time ministry has brought some of the deepest pain she has ever experienced but has also brought her so much life. Soon, she plans to start full time seminary. Though being a female church leader is difficult, she dreams of answering the call to have a preaching/speaking tour.

Sara Jo has seen clearly the grace of God through her career in ministry. In the summer of 2017, she was preparing to preach a sermon on social justice, and it was only the fourth time she had ever preached at their church where not everyone was supportive of having a woman preach. Monday morning of that week, she rushed to the hospital to see the mother of one of her students. The mother had trusted in Jesus and experienced a life transformation just four months prior. By the time Sara Jo reached the hospital, her friend had passed away. Later that day, she found out that her own mother was in the hospital and would need surgery the next day. Tuesday morning, she met at the funeral home with the family of her deceased friend, and they asked her to officiate the funeral—which she had never done before— on Thursday. She left the funeral home, drove an hour to the hospital where her mom was, and waited with her family during surgery before finally getting home that night. She sat on the floor of their living room and prayed desperately, “Jesus, I have to write this sermon. There is so little of me left. Please, just give me an outline.” She wrote the sermon, spent Wednesday with funeral preparations, and officiated the funeral on Thursday. Friday morning, she arrived at her office, afraid to even read what she had written for the sermon she had to preach on Sunday. Though she knew that what God had given her to say would be difficult for some to receive and she was filled with anxiety, she now says that it was one of the best sermons she has ever preached. She says, “That is Jesus. That is grace. 100%. It was fitting, too, because I had preached a few weeks prior about God’s power being made perfect in our weakness and I guess that got put to the test that week.”

Sara Jo also sees God’s amazing grace through parenting. Her third child, Hezekiah, came to their family through adoption. Interracial adoption adds another dynamic in their family as Sara Jo and Lee are white and Hezekiah is biracial. Lee and Sara Jo are conscious of the fact that while Hezekiah may be more accepted when he is with his white family, people might treat him differently based on his skin color when he is apart from his family. Sara Jo wants to really see her son and celebrate the things that make him who he is, including his black heritage. The difficulty of trying to find books with pictures of kids who look like Hezekiah is a small-scale example of the intentionality required for raising a child whose whose skin is a different color than your own. 

Sara Jo’s family talks a lot about differences with respect to race as well as other physical differences. Adults often become uncomfortable and apologize when their children ask questions about physical differences. Sara Jo tells them, “It’s ok! We aren’t ashamed to talk about Hezekiah’s differences. I’m happy to answer their questions.” One of the gifts Hezekiah brings to the family is that his sisters have the privilege of growing up seeing differences as just differences and not as “less-than.” Sara Jo tells the story of when her sister was working on a degree in social work and asked Penelope, who was three and a half at the time, about how she felt when she saw children with differences. Seeing Penelope’s puzzled expression, Sara Jo’s sister asked, “Well, what about Hezekiah, like, does he have all of his toes?” Penelope jumped up and ran to grab Hezekiah’s feet and pulled his socks off, carefully inspecting each foot. She exclaimed with relief, “Yes! Yes he still has all of his toes.” Though Hezekiah has one big toe and two tiny toes on each foot, Penelope understood that he did, indeed, have all of HIS toes, and for him, everything was exactly as it should be. Penelope and Lydia have learned the art of loving in a way that protects and builds up their brother without shaming those who still need to learn the acceptance that comes naturally to the girls as a result of being Hezekiah’s sisters. The three children are privileged to have each other, and their mama says that the fact that they belong to each other is one of the most wonderful things in her world.

Hezekiah was born with multiple physical differences and medical conditions that are not life-threatening but are life-altering. Most of these differences are due to a very rare genetic syndrome called Hartsfield Syndrome, which was diagnosed when Hezekiah was almost a year old. He has had multiple surgeries for a severe case of bilateral cleft lip and palate, as well as ectrodactyly in both feet and syndactyly on his left hand. He is missing all or most of the corpus callosum, which is like the main highway of communication between the sides of the brain. Later, he was diagnosed with Panhypopituitarism, which means that his body doesn’t produce several necessary hormones, so he receives daily, life-long medication for treatment. Additionally, he has diabetes insipidus, an uncommon disorder unrelated to the more common Types 1 and 2 diabetes

On a practical level, Sara Jo advises that parents of children with special needs let in as many people as possible by teaching trusted others early on how to administer medication, give shots, and watch for signs of crisis. Making videos and writing up documents can help parents let other people shoulder the weight of all the pieces that have to be managed.

Despite these medical conditions, Hezekiah continually exceeds everyone’s expectations. This joyful, delightful little boy has blessed their family beyond measure. Sara Jo strongly desires for others to understand that adopting a child with special needs is not a burden, but rather, an incredible privilege. Sara Jo has already learned so much about Jesus through her son. She would encourage moms who are considering adopting a child with special needs to trust in the grace of God. She says that His grace is so miraculous, so good, and so all-sufficient that even in the toughest moments, you will not view your child as anything other than a precious gift. She says, “You’ll be rocking hopelessly and exhausted in some hospital room in the middle of the night someday and be overcome with the weight of truth that this is exactly how your Heavenly Father looks at you.” Amazing grace comes to us in many different forms. In the Waldron family, it often takes the form of a beautiful 2 year old little boy.

If you would like to read about the sufficiency of God’s grace for parenting a child with special needs, see Sara Jo’s blog post called, “Grace is the how.” To read more about the origin of her desire to parent a child with special needs, you can read this post.

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

#momand : Leila, author and mental health advocate

Welcome to the second interview in my #momand series! I’m so happy to introduce you to Leila Tualla, author, poet, maternal mental health advocate, and mother of two miracle babies. Both babies were premature and spent time in the NICU, so her transition to motherhood was filled with challenges from the very beginning. Currently, she cares for a 6 year old daughter who has a rare autoimmune disease.

Leila was diagnosed with Preeclampsia when she was 26 weeks pregnant with her first child and was told to prepare mentally and emotionally for a premature baby. The first six weeks of her daughter’s life were a blur. Leila’s own feelings and needs were pushed aside as she dealt with the stress of caring for a premature baby. Her thoughts were consumed with concern for her baby’s growth and development.

Because of the traumatic experience with her daughter, Leila had anxiety throughout her unplanned pregnancy with her son. Shortly after he was born at 34 weeks, Leila was diagnosed with postpartum depression. She describes her depression not as an all-consuming sadness but as a lack of feeling that gave way to pent-up rage. As she vacillated between these two extremes, she had difficulty thinking of ways to cope.

During Leila’s treatment for postpartum depression, as she was attending support groups, she found a Twitter poetry chat. Though she had blogged through both pregnancies, she had never thought about writing poetry before. She found it easier to write in short poetic words than to write out something more lengthy to describe how exhausted and isolated she felt. Writing poetry was therapeutic and led to a memoir/poetry collection called Storm of Hope: God, Preeclampsia, Depression, and me.

Leila’s poetry is featured in several mental health anthologies and is one way that she advocates for maternal mental health. She wishes that more people understood that everyone experiences mental health issues differently and that generalizing it isn’t helpful to those who are suffering. She talks openly about her sadness, anger, and anxiety online as a way to connect with other moms and to combat the isolation that mothers often feel. She is passionate about sharing her struggles so that other moms will realize that they aren’t alone in their particular season of motherhood. Speaking up about her mental health journeys enabled her to connect with many other moms who need someone to talk to. She hopes that the more she shares, the right person will connect with her writing and will seek help.

As an author, Leila gravitates toward stories about faith and hope. She is captivated by the story of God’s grace and mercy and loves to express it through her writing about motherhood, identities, discernment, and distractions. She has written one novel and is planning to write a second. She has also written a chapbook called not your Token about her identity as a Filipino-American. She discusses the effects of the stereotyping she experienced growing up in a world that saw her as an immigrant, brown-skinned, Token Asian. While her parents advised her to assimilate and try not to stand out, Leila’s six year old proudly tells people about her mixed heritage. Leila’s family lives in one of the most diverse cities in the country, so she says that her children will know that other people pray, dress, and eat differently. She is hopeful that this generation will be more embracing of others. When asked what she wishes other people knew about being a Filipino-American, she answered, “That we aren’t merely ‘just’ nurses, as typically depicted. We are creatives, engineers, students, teachers and scientists. We are all proud of our heritage and hopefully we won’t be as silent in embracing that.”

One of the challenges Leila faces in her current season of motherhood is caring for a child with a rare blood disorder called Idiopathic Autoimmune Hemolytic Anemia, a condition in which immature red blood cells (reticulocytes) die off before they can become mature red blood cells. This leads to a shortage of mature red blood cells to carry oxygen in the body. Before the diagnosis, Leila noticed that Ellie was often fatigued. Leila assumed that this was due to her daughter’s asthma and too many activities. Ellie was diagnosed shortly after a hospital visit in July for low hemoglobin. 

Recently, Ellie came home from school with a fever and had to go to the Emergency Room. Though there was no indication of extremely low oxygen levels, they discovered that her hemoglobin count—which is considered normal at 11.5 and low enough for a blood transfusion at 7 or 8— was alarmingly low at 6. The doctor gave Ellie a high dosage prescription and sent them home to watch her condition overnight. Leila says that she has never been so scared in her life. On the drive home, Ellie began to sing this song:

As Ellie sang, Leila was comforted when she needed it most. She realized that in contrast with her young daughter’s pure faith, her own faith had conditions: “If only I was good, if only I didn’t do this, say this…” Rather than relying on her own worthiness in order to receive Jesus’ grace and help, Ellie trusted Jesus to rescue her simply because that’s what Jesus does: He rescues. Leila says, “That’s amazing grace… my daughter who should be scared out of her mind, who should have felt the rising panic, sang her heart out to Jesus. I’m in awe of her and her faith.” This story is one of many instances when she experienced God’s grace and mercy in the midst of motherhood. 

If you would like to read more about Leila’s postpartum story, check out her memoir/poetry collection, Storm of Hope: God, Preeclampsia, Depression, and meLeila has poems that will be published in several mental health anthologies. They will be linked through her social media when they go live. You can find Leila on Twitter and on Instagram @leilatualla 

Leila’s suggested resources for postpartum mothers:
2.     Leila says you can find a peer support perinatal group on Facebook based on your region.
3.     whentheboughbreaks (Instagram)
4.     momandmind (Instagram)

Thursday, November 1, 2018

#momand : Wendy, mom & transformed by Jesus

Top Row: Dylan holding Clay, Wendy holding Clint (Jojo)
Bottom row: Claire and Carly

Welcome to the very first post in my #momand series! I am so excited to introduce you to Wendy Thompson, homeschooling mother of 4 children aged 9, 8, 6, and 3. Wendy has been a pediatric nurse and foster parent and is now a stay-at-home mom.

Wendy grew up in a large family and always wanted to have children of her own. The hardest part of the transition to motherhood for her was the tension between her love for her job and her desire to spend more time with her baby. When baby Carly was six months old, Wendy transitioned to part-time work and loved taking care of Carly at home. Shortly before the birth of her second child, Clay, she began to feel stretched too thin at work and decided to quit her job altogether. She loved the simple, very “un-glamorous” day-to-day work of taking care of her young children. She says that the simplicity of life during those early years kept her from feeling burned out.

Wendy and her husband Dylan see foster care as a means to obey the mandate in the book of James to care for widows and orphans. They became licensed as foster parents a few years ago after befriending several other foster families. The Thompsons eventually had two different foster care placements. Wendy describes the second placement as the hardest thing she has ever done and quickly realized that it was not the best path for their family. She and Dylan believe that their role for now is to be a support to other foster families.*

Wendy describes her third child, Claire, as her six year old miracle. God used Claire’s premature birth to lead Wendy to a powerful, transformational encounter with Jesus. She had pregnancy complications including marginal placenta previa (the placenta was partially covering the cervix) as well as subchorionic hematomas, which are blood clots in between the uterine wall and the baby’s sack. Just before she hit the 32-week mark of pregnancy, Wendy was at a barbecue restaurant with her two children, who were ages 3 and 1 at the time. She began to have bleeding that continued to increase. No one in the restaurant offered to help, so Wendy had to take her two young children to the bathroom while she waited for her mother and husband to arrive. The doctor determined that she needed to have an emergency c-section, which Wendy says was the scariest moment of her life. She shook uncontrollably and was desperate for some kind of reassurance that this was the best plan. When she awoke after the surgery, she wasn’t allowed to see her baby and felt completely overwhelmed. Thankfully, Claire was healthy, aside from issues that are typical for premature babies (high bilirubin, lung problems, and the temporary need for a feeding tube).

Over the next month, she experienced the relentless pursuit of the Lord during Claire’s hospital stay. Wendy was grateful to be allowed to stay in a room at the hospital the whole time Claire was there, but it was an incredibly difficult time. She had never been away from her other two children for so long and felt helpless, frustrated, angry, and alone. 

Then, in the midst of her brokenness, everything shifted. One day, she began to sense God’s presence and suddenly knew that she wasn’t alone anymore. The Lord began revealing Himself to her as she began to see how He had cared for her in the details leading up to and after Claire’s birth. She realized that He had guided her to make preparations far in advance of her due date but just in time for the premature birth: she had washed and put away all the baby clothes, set up the pack n play, and gotten everything ready in her room. She and her husband had made the unlikely decision to buy the bigger vehicle they would need to fit three car seats even though they hadn’t originally planned to until closer to the baby’s due date. Wendy’s mom sold her house just two days after Claire was born and had no where to live, so it worked out perfectly for her to move into Wendy’s house and take care of the two older children while Wendy and Claire were in the hospital. She was amazed to realize that God cared enough about her to orchestrate these details — right down to the fact that she had gotten her maternity pictures taken early. She had wanted to have them taken in the same spot in her mom’s house where she had taken previous maternity photos and therefore had to take them early before her mom sold the house. Through this process of realizing how He had taken care of her and her family, Wendy began to learn that the things that are important to us are in turn important to Him, no matter how insignificant they may seem.

During the hospital stay, Wendy could see God’s signature in other details. A young man who worked in the hospital cafeteria asked her why she was there. After she told him, he took her by the hand and said that the cafeteria staff would be praying for Claire. He continued to ask for updates daily. A mom in the NICU also began praying for Claire, and Wendy was overwhelmed by the kindness of strangers who prayed for her baby when Wendy didn’t have the strength to pray, herself. The Lord’s intervention in her life and in Claire’s became undeniable. 

Before this encounter with Jesus, Wendy saw herself as a victim of her circumstances, but afterward, she saw that God used it all for a purpose. Before, Wendy believed in God in a vague sense but had no personal relationship with him and no real belief that he would intervene on her behalf. Afterward, she says she had never felt anything more real and comforting and had never been more at peace. God overwhelmed her with Himself in a powerful display of His love for her, and she still is amazed at His faithfulness. Claire is a daily reminder to Wendy of the Lord’s love and faithfulness. 

When asked how she would encourage other moms who are struggling, she says not to be overcome with worry and anxiety but to simply be still, listen, and trust that God has His hands all over your situation. Finally, Wendy says, “Life has been unexpected and scary and uncomfortable at times, but each step, each mistake, each triumph has changed me into who I am, and I don’t want to change a thing on the journey that God is taking me.”

The song "Defender by Upper Room captures the transformation Wendy experienced:

*Wendy shares a few ways you can help support foster families:
1. Bringing meals is a huge help because the first few weeks with a new placement are 
    challenging, and having a ready-made, hot meal is a tremendous blessing.

2. Simple things like just showing up with a coffee and spending time with them is huge. 
    There were days that she would have loved to have another adult sitting with her, an 
    extra pair of hands, or someone to pick up her biological children and take them to do 
    something fun. She says that her kids needed breaks just like she did

3. Praying and being a listening ear to the family is very helpful.

4. Getting certified to babysit is desperately needed because in order to babysit foster kids, 
    adults have to have a background check and be CPR certified. 

Sunday, October 28, 2018

stronger than hate: how to be where Jesus is

Image created by Tim Hindes

This evening, we came from churches, synagogues, and mosques to gather together. We parked on the grass lawn of a local synagogue that, despite its massive size, did not have enough parking spaces for all of the people who came to grieve. In the wake of the tragic shooting yesterday at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, Jews, Muslims, and Christians came together tonight to lament and to stand in solidarity, love, and unity in the face of antisemitism, hatred, and division.

Last Sunday while I was praying at church, I felt the Lord guiding me to Luke 8:2. For context, I’ll back up a verse and add verse 3:

After this, Jesus traveled about from one town and village to another, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God. The Twelve were with him, and also some women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases: Mary (called Magdalene) from whom seven demons had come out; Joanna the wife of Chuza, the manager of Herod’s household; Susanna; and many others. These women were helping to support them out of their own means.

I read these verses repeatedly, turning them over in my mind, and I loved thinking about Jesus surrounded by a following of women. As I read the verses, I felt Jesus’ love for women, and a thought--or perhaps I should say a deep longing--struck me. I knew suddenly and with great clarity that I want to be one of those women. I want to be a woman who is found wherever Jesus is; the more time I spend with Him, the greater my desire is just to be near Him.

While I was at the vigil tonight, surrounded by men and women of different faiths, ethnicities, races, and generations—people who decided to focus on love and unity instead of on all the ways we are different— our pastor’s sermon from this morning echoed in my mind. He read about Abraham showing hospitality to angels (Genesis 18:1-7and said that the way we treat the stranger, the vulnerable ones, and the ones in pain is a direct reflection of our relationship with God. He spoke of our need to recognize people as coming to us from God and said that when we bless others, we are blessing God. 

As I stood just outside the doorway to the synagogue sanctuary that was overflowing with people, I looked out over a sea of yarmulkes, hijabs, taqiyahs, and uncovered heads. I sensed Jesus standing next to me, directing me to keep my right hand at my side for Him to hold on to. We stood there together and bore witness to the voices offering words of encouragement, support, hope, and love. As the sound of Hebrew songs washed over me from the Jewish members of the synagogue, I thought of Jesus singing hymns with His disciples.

As I was leaving, I wondered why Jesus chose that moment to let me feel His presence standing next to me. A thought bolted into my mind with the suddenness that lets me know it did not originate from me: I had said that I wanted to be found wherever Jesus is, and this is where He was tonight. Of course He is all places always, but scripture says that He is near to the brokenhearted, so He can always be found right in the midst of those who are in pain. If we want to be found wherever He is, we have to be wherever there is suffering. 

In one of my very favorite books, Tattoos on the Heart, Gregory Boyle talks about moving beyond serving others until we are instead standing with them. He writes, “If we choose to stand in the right place, God, through us, creates a community of resistance without our even realizing it. To embrace the strategy of Jesus is to be engaged in what Dean Brackley calls ‘downward mobility.’ Our locating ourselves with those who have been endlessly excluded becomes an act of visible protest.” When I am tempted to blame others and rage against those in charge, this is such a good reminder that standing with others is an act of resistance. 

Later, Boyle writes, “Soon we imagine, with God, this circle of compassion. Then we imagine no one standing outside of that circle, moving ourselves closer to the margins so that the margins themselves will be erased. We stand there with those whose dignity has been denied. We locate ourselves with the poor and the powerless and the voiceless. At the edges, we join the easily despised and the readily left out. We stand with the demonized so that the demonizing will stop. We situate ourselves right next to the disposable so that the day will come when we stop throwing people away… Kinship is what God presses us on to, always hopeful that its time has come.”

In our passionate pursuit of Jesus, we will find ourselves drawn to places and people that we would not have seen or loved otherwise. The more I find myself wherever Jesus is, the more often I find myself among those who are hurting. And yet, as our capacity for pain and grief expands, so does our capacity for joy. When we allow ourselves to feel the full range of emotions involved in human experience, I believe that we actually become more human and connected to every other person in the process. Bill St. Cyr of Ambleside Schools International defines joy as “It’s good to be me here with you.” By that definition, this evening of sorrow was also one of great joy. Let us be found wherever Jesus is and find joy in standing with those who suffer as He stands there too, holding our hands and making us into instruments of His peace.

He was despised and rejected by men,
a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief;
and as one from whom men hide their faces
he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
Surely he has borne our griefs
and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
smitten by God, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his wounds we are healed.
--Isaiah 53:3-5

Thursday, October 18, 2018

the vulnerability of gratitude

As a person who struggles with anxiety, I pay attention to ideas about where it originates and ways to cope with it. I'm always on the lookout for helpful strategies. I've heard the claim that gratitude can be an antidote to anxiety because we can't be anxious and grateful simultaneously.

This led to some introspection. Am I a particularly ungrateful person? Is that the cause of my anxiety? I thought of all the times I thank others for help and thank God silently throughout a given day and didn't see myself as being ungrateful. 

Then, as He often does, the Lord used parenting to give me a healthy dose of humility. My husband and I were talking to my seven year old daughter about how much she was complaining after we had done something fun together. As she did a little dance of exasperation in front of us, her eyes wide and her arms gesturing dramatically, she said, "I AM grateful, but--" I cut her off and explained that while her words might be expressing gratitude, her heart was not grateful. "I'm grateful, but..." and "I'm sorry, but..." often indicate a heart that is not actually grateful or sorry. Usually when we start a sentence this way, we are acknowledging the fact that the other person wants or expects us to be grateful or sorry, but we really aren't.

As is so often the case, I saw myself in my daughter's dance of frustration. I thought more about my particular brand of gratitude. It sounds something like this: "God, this has been a really tough day, but at least __________." Or, to myself, "I don't like this, but I'm glad it's not worse." Because of my fear that my lack of gratitude will somehow lead to something worse than the thing I'm complaining about, I try to do my part to head off the inevitable disaster by throwing a little gratitude out there. I really hate when I see the dark places in my own heart exposed by a seven year old's temper tantrum.

Then today, someone was asking me how I'm feeling about the process of writing and trying to publish a book. I told her I was feeling sort of frantic about it, like I needed to get it done as soon as possible. When she asked why, I was surprised by my own answer. I told her about how I have always loved writing but until recently, I had never allowed myself to consider actually doing anything with it because it didn't seem like a safe, responsible option. I thought of the years in between pregnancies when I was a stay-at-home mom to a 2 year old. For me, the newborn stage was incredibly difficult, so the toddler stage felt easy by comparison. I remember thinking that life felt pretty easy and manageable during that time, but I was restless. I wrote a prayer in my journal, very timidly asking God for "more." I said in the prayer that I wasn't even sure what that meant, but I asked anyway.

Gradually and then suddenly, God burst onto the scene and made it abundantly clear to me that I was supposed to write for Him. He began working in me in areas I hadn't even been aware of, exposing brokenness and providing healing and giving me bigger dreams than I had ever allowed myself to have before. The past couple years have been an adventure that I didn't know to ask for and have fulfilled me in a way that would not have been possible if I had carried on with my own small plans for myself. So, for me, the dream of publishing a book is about so much more than publishing a book. It's a tangible display of God's hand in my life, the fruit of the abundance He has poured out. It's evidence of what can happen when I surrender my own plans and take a step of faith to follow the mysterious places where Jesus delights to lead me. This book represents a turning point in my life, when I left what was safe and reached for what was good. Writing has energized me and given me life and joy and purpose and fulfillment, which I believe is exactly what happens when we find ourselves in the thick of doing the work God designed us to do.

At present, even just having written a draft of an entire book is a dream come true. All of this--the way God has changed the trajectory of my life and the abundance He has lavished on me--is an indescribably precious gift to me. I told the person who was asking how I feel about my book that it feels like God has given me so very much already, I find myself afraid to hope or ask for more. "I think it's the vulnerability of loving something so much," I said, my eyes filling with tears.

Turns out that gratitude is more complicated than I thought. A lot of the time, what I have called "gratitude" is not authentic. True gratitude -- that deep-down, heartfelt "thank you" to God for something precious that has clearly come from Him -- carries with it the possibility of loss and disappointment. For the first time, I saw the vulnerability of gratitude. Google defines vulnerability as "the quality or state of being exposed to the possibility of being attacked or harmed, either physically or emotionally." When we are deeply appreciative of something or someone, we open ourselves up to the possibility of the pain of loss or disappointment. Instinctively, we sometimes try to protect ourselves by downplaying how much something means to us.

The problem is that protecting ourselves from disappointment is incongruent with gratitude, hope, and joy, and without these three, we can't obey many of the commands of Jesus. Obedience can make us feel vulnerable, but it's really the only way to live the abundant life that Jesus died for us to have.

I feel like I am taking wobbly baby steps toward Jesus, "tasting and seeing" that He is good. The old me wants to shrink back after every crumb I receive off of His table. If I love His gifts too much, I will be crushed when I realize there is no more. I have to remind myself that He is abundant, His love is everlasting, and the greatest gifts He gives come from abiding in Him and cannot be taken away. When we abide in Him and receive the gifts hidden there, we will find that there is always more. When something or someone we love is taken away or something we have dared to hope for does not come to pass, we may indeed experience loss and disappointment. BUT. If we abide in Jesus, the abundance is still available to us, and He will give us good gifts we never even knew to ask for.

All that research connecting anxiety with a lack of gratitude? Upon further reflection, I'd say it's pretty solid. God Himself spells out the connection for us. When we feel anxious, if we will pray and allow ourselves the vulnerability of being truly grateful, we trade our ineffective and even damaging self-protection for the protection of God, Himself. We can allow ourselves to feel the joy and gratitude of ones who have received many good gifts from a good God. When we do, scripture says that He, Himself, will protect our hearts with His peace. I think that just might be the best news I've heard all day.

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
-Philippians 4:6-7

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

in honor of the babies we never got to hold

“Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month was first declared by President Ronald Reagan on October 25, 1988. On that day he said:
‘When a child loses his parent, they are called an orphan. When a spouse loses her or his partner, they are called a widow or widower. When parents lose their child, there isn’t a word to describe them.  This month recognizes the loss so many parents experience across the United States and around the world.  It is also meant to inform and provide resources for parents who have lost children due to miscarriage, ectopic pregnancy, molar pregnancy, stillbirths, birth defects, SIDS, and other causes. Now, Therefore, I, Ronald Reagan, President of the United States of America, do hereby proclaim the month of October as Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month. I call upon the people of the United States to observe this month with appropriate programs, ceremonies, and activities.’”

Four and a half years ago, I joined the 25% of women who have experienced a miscarriage. “Experienced” is the word they use when you read statistics, but it sounds like such a cold, medical term for losing a person, a life that began and ended within your very own body.

My miscarriage occurred along with another medical complication that led from one emergency to another for several months. No one seemed to be sure what to do with me because of my HCG hormone level—the one that should have dropped when the pregnancy ended—and its stubborn refusal to fall to zero. For months, I had to have my blood drawn weekly to track the HCG level. I remember checking in at the hospital for this simple blood test. The woman who checked me in asked what I was there for. When I tried to explain without going into all of the confusing details that had been my life for the past weeks and months, she looked at me, pen poised in the air, unsure of what to write down. 

“So are you pregnant?”

I didn’t even know how to respond, trapped in the hell of being pregnant-but-not-pregnant. My grief had been shoved aside by my mounting anxiety after an emergency surgery, problems with anesthesia, injections of a chemo drug that made me sick and drastically slowed my recovery from surgery, blood test after blood test, and my doctor’s maddening lack of confidence coupled with the concern that was written all over her face every time she spoke to me.

When my physical problems resolved at last and my body slowly began to normalize, the grief finally hit with the subtlety of a semi-truck. I hated the bitterness I felt when I saw other friends’ bellies swelling with the growth of healthy babies due to be born close to when mine should have been. I could hardly stand to be in the company of women who complained about the typical discomforts of a healthy pregnancy. I was ashamed of my bitterness and anger, but I couldn’t find a place to put them. I had become extremely anxious after the medical scares that had caused me to be overly in tune with and concerned about my body. I sought counseling but was annoyed with the way the therapists spoke to me and overwhelmed by the thought of trying to find a new one. I began to have frequent, unexplained crying spells and was shocked and ashamed when I was diagnosed with depression, along with the anxiety I had known was present.

Eventually, I found a therapist who was helpful. After much time had passed and my desire for another child eclipsed my fear, the Lord was gracious to bless us with a baby girl. She came to us just shy of a year after her brother should have been born. A small part of me felt guilty for my happiness as we rejoiced in this baby’s new life. 

“Am I so easily forgotten?” I imagined my son whispering.

Last spring, four years after my miscarriage, a friend gave me last-minute information about a women’s retreat called “The Power of Story.” I was just finishing up the first draft of my first book, so it seemed providential. We were instructed to bring an item with us that would help us tell about something significant to our personal life story.

From the moment I read the instructions, I knew what I was supposed to bring. I had just been writing about the story of my miscarriage, so it was fresh on my mind. The only tangible item I had from the baby I had lost was a onesie that I had made when I found out I was pregnant. I had intended to use it as a pregnancy announcement. It was a red onesie with the Dr. Seuss character “Thing 2” on it to match the “Thing 1” shirt I had made for my firstborn. After the miscarriage, I didn’t want to see it and be reminded of my loss, but I also couldn’t seem to part with it. I didn’t know what to do with it, so I had shoved it away in a dark corner of my closet. 

It seemed like such a dark and heavy thing to bring with me to talk to a room full of strangers at a women’s retreat, but I could think of nothing else. I kept putting it off, hoping I would come up with another idea. 

Minutes before I needed to leave for the retreat, I gave in, mostly because I had no other ideas. I got the onesie out of my closet, when suddenly, it hit me. This onesie was not complete on its own. It didn’t belong by itself, and loss wasn’t the defining characteristic  of my motherhood. Though I had lost the baby, I was still his mother.

I’m the mother of THREE babies! I thought, I suppose for the first time ever. 

I ran around the house and through the garage like a mad woman, frantically pulling out old bins of baby clothes until I found two more onesies: one that had been my firstborn’s when she was a baby, and one that had been my second daughter’s. 

I took all three outfits together to that room full of strangers and told them about how God had transformed me through each of my three children. For the first time, I understood where my son’s onesie belonged. His memory, his onesie, belonged right between his siblings. The grief that I had shoved aside, mentally and even physically into a dark corner of my closet, seemed to come out for some fresh air. My sadness and bitterness had felt shameful before and I had sent them into hiding. Now, it felt like fragmented pieces of myself were integrating as I allowed myself to place his life into our family. Everything felt whole and right.

This month is complicated for me, as it is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness month and also the month my second daughter was born. Isn’t that the way it usually goes, though? Joy and grief, pain and comfort, integration arising out of the fragmented pieces of brokenness, beauty for ashes. I’m still sad when I think of him… sad and grateful. He changed me and made me more whole, but I wish it had not been at the expense of his life. 

My feelings about it are still complex and jumbled at times, but I believe that God, the Creator of life, creates every life on purpose and is glorified in the creating. Today, I honor the son I never got to see but who affected me and shaped me profoundly as a mother. I honor his life and each life that was over after it had just begun. To you who are grieving, whether it is the loss of a pregnancy or a different loss, every one of your tears is precious to Jesus. May He bind up your broken heart, comfort you as you mourn, provide for you as you grieve, bestow on you a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy in stead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of despair. You, precious ones, are oaks of righteousness. You are a planting of the Lord for the display of His splendor.

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
    because the Lord has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
    to proclaim freedom for the captives
    and release from darkness for the prisoners,[a]
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
    and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
    and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
    instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
    instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
    instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
    a planting of the Lord
    for the display of his splendor.

—Isaiah 61:3