On Grief and Grace

For the past month I keep thinking, “My baby is almost three.” It crops up all different times of day, recurring without warning, causing me to pause.

One problem, my baby is almost two. The one I have here with me, anyway.

This weekend, my first baby, the one I carried in me for eight weeks before miscarrying, would have turned three.

Henley, baby, I never met you but I miss you.

I have to stop myself sometimes from wondering what life would be like if that baby had lived. I don’t even get to justify the thought that if it weren’t for my miscarriage, I wouldn’t have Clarabelle. My body has the propensity to bounce back fairly quickly. Just one month after miscarriage, within three months of giving birth. And I know I am blessed in my fertility, I know that from my own miscarriage and from watching friends experience infertility. I am so blessed. But the February due date and Clarabelle’s birthday will always be reminders to me that I could have had both, biologically speaking. They would have been 13 months apart and life would be interesting and complicated, but it could have been possible for them to both exist in my life.

But that’s not the way they both exist in my life.

I can’t focus on the way things could have been because that’s not the way things are. The reality is, I have Clarabelle, and I have a three-year-old in my heart whom I will not know here on earth.

For the first time in three years, I am not overwhelmed with grief at this empty birth date. It is not with bitterness I approach this weekend, but with thankfulness and even joy, tear-tinged with sadness as it might be.

Grief, in different ways, has some joy and gratefulness about it, doesn’t it? When I learned that I had miscarried, I was sad, but I also remember this unusual feeling of peace. My anxieties had eased. We had lost our baby, but I knew. The time of fearing the worst was over. The worst had happened, and that was all there was to it. Yes, I wanted desperately for things to be different. But I knew there was no better thing than going to be with Jesus. I was a little jealous of my baby getting to go there before me. I was a little jealous of Jesus that he got to hold that baby when my arms would remain empty. But I get to look forward to a joyful reunion and a beautiful face–as if we ever needed more to look forward to when we get to heaven. God is gracious in the most unexpected ways.

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Sidenote: While looking on my phone for a potential image, I found this photo, taken on this day 3 years ago. Thank you, Lord, for the beautiful, healing sunshine.

Speaking of God’s graciousness, this weekend is also the 9th anniversary of when Garth and I were snowed in at Luther College, the first night we stayed up all night talking (an all too regular past time of ours–you’d think we’d learn). That was the weekend that started this whole crazy thing. Without Garth, I would have been spared a whole lot of heartache, but I would have missed out on a whole lot of goodness, too. So this weekend we honor grief and we celebrate.

So to quote the words I sing to my daughter each night before tucking her into bed, regardless of what happened that day, “God is so good. He’s so good to me.”

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What I’m Up To

It’s a new year, but what does that mean, really? Here in Iowa along the Mississippi River it’s still winter, still the middle of the school year, and I’m still the same me I was two weeks ago. I keep considering my resolutions or my “one word” to inspire me for the year, but in doing that I’m also confronted with the way there’s always time later. Goals are good, but mine are ever-changing. What’s a new year when my plans are uprooted in the middle of July?

My goals this year:

  • Write more often (as in more than once every other week. Twice a week? At least?)
  • Read at least a few pages from an actual book every day
  • Set goals for starting my nonprofit (like are we doing that this year or next year?)
  • Give a little more grace to everyone, myself included
  • Be content with just being me (more on that in an entirely different post later)

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    Me at my me-est, courtesy of my sis-in-law (who is totally gorgeous in this photo) on New Year’s Eve.

Yes, my goals are mostly to just actually set concrete goals. And they mostly involve getting better at writing. I keep sitting down to write, and words elude me. I’m not blank. Words string through my mind all day long, a constant monologue interrupted only by conversation or the 8 pm episode of whatever we’re currently streaming on Netflix. But when I sit down? Words jumble to the front of my mind, all trying to come out at once.

My draft count on WordPress alone is currently 17. That’s 17 blog posts started and probably hardly looked at again. I’d love to say that I at least have notebooks filled with shitty writing, but I don’t even have that. I’m stuck between a desire to engage, build a platform, gain a following, and this nagging idea that it’s all just shouting into a void and hoping for a reply that may never come. Because who cares? But if anyone does care why do we care? And is it important?

I’ve also been struggling with what to write. What is my purpose? Where do I draw the line? How do I protect the people I love–my relationships with them–while still telling the truth? These are serious questions, and if you have your own operating theory and ethic for writing, please share that with me. I’m very interested in knowing what you have to say.

The facts are these: I desire to write. I love it. I want to get better (hence the goal of reading more). Also, I mostly suck at writing. Who doesn’t? Natalie Goldberg has been my guide in that understanding recently, as I reread her book Writing Down the Bones. For that reason, and the conflict of conscience I outlined above, writing has involved a lot of fear for me lately. However, I’m convinced that most writers start out with 70-90% crappy writing, what we get to see is the 10% that comes out good. My job right now is to write, write, write. That may not include sharing. I’m not sorry for it. The payoff will come later.

I know I won’t live forever, which is good, it gives me a sense of urgency. But I’m okay with later.

I’m also learning how to live with anxiety, raise a child, be a good wife and functioning member of my community. For me, right now, those take precedence. But I’m finding the balance.

Balance will come, right? As long as I keep working at it and praying for it, I know it will.

Balance is relative anyway.

For now, I’m just trying to make out the target. I’m a little aimless right now, but I know even now I’m still working toward a goal. “The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps,” says Proverbs 16:9. I have an idea in my head of where I’m going, and the Lord goes before me, he’s already done all the work, I just have to follow the path carved out for me.

And, without trying to sound fatalistic here, I kind of have no choice. All I can do is put one foot in front of the other, keep going, and as I go I’ll gain clarity. I’m believing that today, this year. For you and for me.

Christmas Eve

I’m remembering this time last year – praying that the new reflux medication would be the last, trudging through post partum depression and the depths of severe anxiety. I remember worrying about baby calorie intake and watching the clock for naps, anger that bubbled up every time my mom mentioned that she never had to see a Gastroenterologist, just generally not feeling like myself. Did last Christmas even have any joy?

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Photo credit: Twinkle Toes by PV KS via Flickr

This year, I’m finding it hard to believe that it’s really Christmas Eve. Today doesn’t feel like Christmastime. I’m thinking of grieving friends, our sin-drenched world, how completely unfair it seems and yet how completely undeserving we are.

I’m remembering 5 days of consistent contractions with no progress. A season of waiting. Of holding onto the promise but not seeing it come to fruition. I’m thinking back to a virgin on a donkey, riding long through the desert with no place to stay, probably not without signs of imminent birth.

I’m thinking of a world waiting in labor pains.

If internet memes are any indication, we can all agree that 2016 has not been a welcome friend. Yet, letting go is hard too. What will the next year bring?

Looking back at photos and videos from one year ago today, Christmas Eve 2015, it’s hard to believe I was in such a dark and fearful place. I see myself laughing as my 9 month old daughter learns to shake her head “no.” I see that emaciated little face filled with curiosity and wonder as my dad knocks ornaments on ribbon so they swing like pendulums in the window. When my sister asks, “Do you like them?” she squeals.

Was it ever really so bad?

One ordinary night, over 2,000 years ago, shepherds were met by angels singing, “Glory to God,” and they left to find the promised baby, lying in a manger. He had yet to do anything really, but that night God came down to dwell among men.

God with us.

God for us.

They didn’t know then how the promises of God would look in the end. All they had was this little baby, marked by a star, the prophesied Messiah. King. Savior of the world.

Love came down. Love is with us. Love sustains us.

This year, I remember the promises. I hold them close like the most precious gift, close like the newborn baby, in awe and wonder at how heavy and emotional blessings can be. And the light that indwells it all, if only we look again.

Homecoming

It felt like an eternity, but it was only two years. Or maybe three, counting the first bout of depression. Today, for the first time in a few years, I made a schedule for the evening. I used to be a person who made schedules, and I’m astonished that I’ve made it to a place where it’s become my natural tendency once again. I didn’t even have to think about it.

I didn’t delve deep into depression and anxiety on purpose. It’s not a hole you dig for yourself–more a pit you fall into. I didn’t realize I was there until I looked and saw a little glimmer of light and realized that I had been living in complete darkness. It looked like a whole lot of work to get out, and it was, but I think I’ve stepped out. I’m more me again. And I’m coming to think that there is always an end to despair. Hard times reveal to us our strengths. Believe your strengths. (Hint: 2 Corinthians 12… your weakness is where you will find strength!)

So, tonight I have a schedule. Not just intention to do laundry or make dinner, but a timed-out plan and a husband to hold me accountable (because of course I sent him a text outlining the night).

After a three week visit “home” I am feeling refreshed. More myself. I can do this.

Daily Bread

There’s Garth in the kitchen again, saving me from myself. I tried to make our go-to brownie in a mug with almond flour–it didn’t work out. Actually, it exploded in the microwave, leaving me with boiling brownie-flavored goo in a mug. I shouted to him that it was a failure and sat down to sulk at my computer. He rubbed my shoulders, gave me a kiss, made grilled s’mores sandwiches with Nutella and marshmallow fluff.

It’s not his job, by the way–the saving. And, for a moment of complete transparency here, right now I’m struggling with this idea of marriage as a blessing. A friend of mine was recently widowed, and grief has taken hold once again. One of the ways it’s manifested is making every single thing about my marriage…well, sad. I love my husband so much. I love watching him be a dad. But it breaks my heart completely to know what my dear friend is going through. And I hate how this has affected our relationship right now too, how I know, how I feel. I am wife while she is widow, I am married mom while she is single. And sometimes I can’t go on a simple ordinary date with my husband without breaking down in the car first, because it is so completely unfair.

But I know the Beatitudes. I know how blessing carries weight. The poor in spirit will inherit the kingdom, the mourning will receive comfort. The thorns of life make us more aware of our weakness, and our weakness is where God fills us in with his unfathomable strength.

So I guess you can say in our weakness we become glorious.

Strahan’s words waft in from the kitchen with the smell of melted butter, “You are my daily, you are my daily, you are my daily bread…”

Not my husband. Not my child. Not what I have but to whom I belong. The rest is just dessert, a bonus. It’s not what we’re lacking but what we have that really matters. And it’s enough.

Daily bread.

More than enough.

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“Give us this day…” by Kris via Flickr

 

No Bad Babies: When Parenting is Hard

The last few days have been hard. The baby is napping and I don’t know how much time I have, hopefully at least an hour, so I sit down with my warm coffee and open Facebook on my phone. The first post I see is from a mom on my favorite mommy group.

“My baby is such a good, easy baby. I’m afraid to have another. What if the next isn’t this easy?” asks a mom, with what I have a hard time thinking is a legitimate concern.
“Good” baby? Easy, sure, but good? Are hard babies not good babies, too?

She has no idea, I’m sure, how this cuts into the hearts of mothers like me. Mothers with the reflux babies, babies with intolerances and allergies, the babies that cry for a whole day at a time and keep us up all night and make us wonder if it’s something we’re eating or if a new medication is in order or when this nightmare of child rearing will end.

If good means easy, what will keep me from resenting my baby?

I want to tell her how lovable hard babies are and how mysterious and sweet and strengthening it is to love a difficult child. Not that the baby herself is difficult, but that her start to life has been just as unpleasant as my entrance into motherhood, and that to be pushed to the brink together every day tugs our hearts a little tighter through each trial. We’re in this together, no matter how alone I feel. That hard baby is somehow a blessing.

I want to help her know what she can’t know without the experience I’ve had that a hard baby can still be a good baby. That “good” doesn’t mean easy or even enjoyable but that it makes us something better than we were. And I’m sure being the mommy to a generally easygoing baby makes you better than before you were a mom, but please, give me credit. Not pity, but credit. Give my baby credit, because her life so far has been hard, and it’s not her fault.

Being a mom–for me so far–has meant giving up control. So if “good” means “if I’m not in control I at least want it to be easy,” then I guess she has a good baby. But I think good means more than easy. I think good tests us, molds us, leads us to a new understanding.

Having a hard baby has left me vulnerable to the very depths of depression and anxiety. Most days it’s difficult to motivate myself to mother beyond I have to. I second-guess everything and sometimes have a hard time feeling like I really love my child. Some days I feel I hold and coddle her too much, other days I feel I don’t give her nearly enough attention and she and I will grow detached. And then Saturday happened.

It was an anxious day for me. One of those days that I couldn’t put my finger on what was wrong, I was just off. I was also very hands-off and left most of the parenting–comforting, diaper changing, entertaining–to Garth. He was on full-time Daddy duty for most of the day. As I had a break-down in the kitchen after spilling steamed half and half on the floor (and almost on my child), there was Clarabelle. My hard baby. My hard to love baby. This nine-and-a-half month old crawled into my lap, pulled herself up on me, smiled, gave me a hug, and pressed her head against my cheek. We sat that way for a good few minutes until a smile broke my sadness.

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girl/afraid via Flickr

All of my questions about how I’m parenting just disappeared. How did I do this? How did we do this?

The baby who we’ve had to give up comforting and just let cry for 20, 30, 45 minutes at a time until she’s tired and will finally go back to sleep. The child who always needs to be held, who cries at our feet when we have to put her down just to wash our hands, who sometimes screamed through most of a day because of pain from reflux. This baby came to comfort me.

I must be doing something right. She must not be bad.

And actually, aside from all the stressful, fearful things that have happened this first year of her life, she is a good baby. She explores, smiles, laughs, experiments, hugs, cuddles, sings herself to sleep at night. I can’t even focus on all the hard things. I used to and it destroyed me. I forgot all the good things. As I paid more attention to the good things intentionally I noticed them more. She is a good baby, I was just too busy comparing my experience to those of others and feeling sorry for myself. But the good is there, all around.

There are no bad babies.

 

I Won’t Suffer in Silence

WordPress kindly notified me that my blog-anniversary was a year ago. Last week. And I missed it. Life gets away from me sometimes.

The last two and a half years has been an ongoing battle. Or an on-and-off battle, maybe. I don’t know. I have the test results to prove that the battle was at one point off, but recent tests show it’s most definitely back on. That sick intuition that something just wasn’t right with me was confirmed two months ago when I was diagnosed with post-partum depression. But no, not enough alone, this time it’s doubled up with anxiety.

I know the good memories are in my brain somewhere, I just can’t remember them. They’ve been buried under the stress, the sleepless nights, the burden of anger at a helpless little human who can’t communicate through more than tears and screams. Most of the time I can’t take it.

But I have to. I’m a mom now. There’s no vacation from being a mom. And my heart hurts.

As always, I’m finding the burden of mental illness gets lighter when I just talk about it. I need to dig out, and I can’t do it alone. By the grace of God I can say I know we’re not meant to do it alone. Don’t try to dig out alone.

I’m not just talking about prayer, about “casting your cares on the Lord,” about the yoke that is lighter than my worry. No. Heck, guys, we are the church. What does that even mean, anyway, to be the the hands and feet of Jesus?

I won’t suffer in silence because I can’t. It’s not safe there. It’s not safe in my quiet prayers that when left alone I feel fall on deaf God-ears. I need you. Yes, you, my friend. So what can you do?

Don’t tell me I just need more Jesus. I have plenty of Jesus. I know his love and his grace, his comfort, his mercy. I’ve found that often we need to receive those things in tangible ways to get out of our own heads. I’m sure it’s not just me. It has to be true for some of you too. Be those tangible means. I need you to come and show me through your actions and your words and your spoken prayers that God is listening. That he hears me and I’m truly not alone. Because this darkness is a damn lonely place and I know the love is there all around me but I just can’t see it most of the time. Don’t always wait for me to ask for help. Just come. Come wipe the grime from my mind’s window and show me the reality that lies on the other side. The love and the comfort and the peace and the joy. Be Jesus to the suffering, friend.

Most days I’m just angry. Angry that this is happening again— this time getting in the way of me feeling the love I know is there for my daughter. And I know with time I’ll probably get better. But what if I don’t? Does that make God less compassionate or powerful? Does that mean my faith is less than someone who fully recovers? I just don’t think so.

God has a purpose. And cognitively I know that he still loves me. My heart needs to get there, too. Because of my miscarriage and other little threads of life, I know that the commonality of experience heals others when we’re honest about our stories. The only thing holding me back from sharing is my own self-talk. Life isn’t about having everything you want anyway. It’s not about marriage or sex or family or money or even happiness. My happiness may be muted most days, but I still have joy. Love may not come easy for me all the time, but I know I am God’s and that he loves me. He delights in me, he delights in my daughter, and that cracks open my soul to receive his joy.

I’ll hold on to what I know is true. Though depression takes my happiness and anxiety tries to take my peace, I am saved and I am beloved and I am, somehow, free.