Friday, July 24, 2009

This morning, I woke up and thought about the past six months. Where I was one month ago, two months ago, etc. I thought about who I was, and who I am now. How different my plans look. It was all in an effort to focus on how God has taught me and held me through it all. But when I got to four months, sadness stopped me in my tracks.

Four months ago, I was sitting on the beach in Mexico with my friend Tish watching our husbands try to body surf in the waves. Great entertainment. :-) I was seven and a half months pregnant. Tish was three and half months along. We were both engrossed in good books, lounging in chairs under grass umbrellas. Interrupted only by an occasional, “For you, I will give half price,” from a man carrying a case of jewelry, ready to bargain. So carefree. So light-hearted. Our biggest concerns were baby names and birthing plans.

Sometimes I wish I could travel back in time to those girls on the beach and warn them of what was just around the corner…how their innocence would soon be replaced with great sorrow…how their concerns of birthing plans would, in a moment, become funeral plans and decisions mommies should never have to make.

When I got the news a month after we got home from Mexico that Mike and Tish had had to say good-bye to their sweet baby, I was devastated. I thought to myself, ‘I wish I could call Tish and tell her how heartbroken for her I am.’ But at 38 weeks pregnant, I felt like I was not the one who could offer comfort…and, honestly, I felt like it might be too scary to relate. Little did I know that I would soon feel that same pain…that we would walk through the fire together and understand each other without saying a word.

In the pictures from our trip to Mexico, I see a girl who was relatively oblivious to the heartache that life could bring. The smile was innocent. Life was simple. But in losing that naivety, I have acquired much. I gave up something incredibly precious, but I gained something eternally valuable. I hurt for others…I mean, I really hurt for others in their pain. Probably for the first time in my life, to be honest. I no longer say to someone who is struggling, ‘I’ll be praying for you,’ without spending significant time pleading for them on my knees.

What I have learned is heavy…much too heavy at times for a 22-year-old. I told Shaun last night that I feel like I’ve aged 20 years in 2 months. My smile is not so ever-present, there are constant dark circles around my eyes…but I am no longer unaware. The mundane of life doesn’t bore me. And I see others in a new light, as children of God, and I choose (and will continue to choose) to enter into their grief. I want to be a display of God's faithfulness, and in doing so, be a comfort to those around me who are hurting.

Please pray for us. We leave on a much-needed 10-day vacation tomorrow. Pray for safety, for sweet, memorable time with family, for God to do some cool things in our marriage, and that we would take time to be still and quiet before the Lord.

"Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows." 2 Corinthians 1:3-5

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

I had an insightful (and tearful) conversation with my friend, Brittany, yesterday afternoon. I shared with her how I feel what I had planned for and looked forward to has fallen I'm stalling and waiting for something, and I have no idea what that might be.

This is what my dear friend so gently pointed out to me: God has asked me to take some big risks in my life, and many times, those risks have required movement. I planned and worked hard and chose to be obedient by actively following God's leading. But God has now called me to take a totally different risk...a risk to be still.

Yesterday morning, I woke up and thought, 'What now? What do I do with my time? What's next?' I felt like I was at a "blind corner," as my friend Jeni puts my failed plans and shattered dreams have left nothing but quiet, empty space.

And this is the risk before me; I have to stay here for a while and let God work. I have to reside in this empty space. There's no call to action...just to be...and to be quiet. That's a big risk because it gives God the stage in my life...His voice can be loud and clear...and what He says, I might not want to hear. He might lead me to places that are unpredictable. This refining work might really hurt!

But maybe, just maybe, in this empty space, I will find more than I could have even imagined...more than the "happiness" I had pictured...more than all I had planned...more than surface-level Christianity and Sunday school answers. Maybe I'll understand that God just might intend for the twists and turns of life to make me more holy than happy...that He always provides, but that His provision might not always make sense to me. Maybe I'll even come to terms with the harsh reality that losing Zachary has changed me more than raising him ever would have. Maybe I'll figure out that there's something bigger...that God uses our lives, including our brokenness to orchestrate a beautiful symphony, even if we can't always hear it. And maybe at the depth of this empty space, I will be enveloped in God's healing mercies.

This unscheduled time is okay. It's temporary...and, quite possibly, a gift. And in this empty space, I can wait expectantly for God's voice...His instruction...His comfort...His peace...His healing. And I can truly learn to believe that God's purposes for me are good..better than I can comprehend, even if life hurts sometimes!

Maybe, as I risk staying in this quiet, empty space, I'll find Him.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

It’s been two months, and it still doesn’t feel real.

Last night I had dinner with a bunch of my co-workers. When I announced to my friends at work that I was pregnant months ago, I was one of seven employees expecting the arrival of a sweet baby. Five of those babies have arrived, including Zachary, and three of those babies were at dinner last night…all adorable baby boys…but mine was missing. I didn’t get to join the conversations about nursing in public or diaper blowouts in the carseat. I had nothing to contribute…I just sat there and smiled and nodded. Physically, I look like I just had a baby, just like the other new mommies, but my baby is missing. Missing. My baby boy is gone. It really, really hurts, but it’s also so surreal. A couple of times during dinner, I just reached up to touch the silver heart that hangs on a necklace around my neck…a momento that they sent home with us from the hospital…I just needed to be reminded that what we’ve been through really did happen. And I got to snuggle those precious, little boys against my chest. It’s so ironic…to hold a baby boy is so comforting, but such an incredible source of pain all at the same time. It feels “right”, but I just end up thinking, ‘Zachary would be just a little bit smaller…his hands were bigger…his hair was darker and longer…’

When I got home, the house was quiet and empty again. I sat in the baby room. I hugged the blue, knit blanket that I snuggled Zachary in on May 17th. I held the little Zip-loc bag filled with clips of his hair. I looked at ultrasound pictures…pregnancy pictures…pictures of the day he was born. I just needed it to feel real. As I flipped through pictures, my eyes locked on one of the three of us…Shaun and I sitting in the hospital bed hair’s a mess, I’m in an ugly, blue hospital gown, our eyes are swollen and bloodshot…but our son is resting peacefully in my arms, and we’re both looking down at him and smiling…smiling.

Yes, it’s all very real. Yes, there is joy in the sorrow…but the sorrow is deep and dark and all-consuming at times. I wish God was not so mysterious. I hold to the belief that this is a really bad chapter of a really good book...and that the Author really does know the end from the beginning, and every word in between.

Small Enough
(Nichole Nordeman)

Oh, Great God, be small enough to hear me now.
There were times when I was crying
from the dark of Daniel's den;
And I have asked you once or twice
if You would part the sea again.
But tonight I do not need a fiery pillar in the sky.
Just want to know you're gonna
hold me if I start to cry.
Oh great God, be small enough to hear me now.
Oh great God, be close enough to feel You now.
There have been moments
when I could not face Goliath on my own.
And how could I forget we've marched around
our share of Jerichos.
But I will not be setting out a fleece for You tonight.
Just want to know that
everything will be alright.
Oh, great God, be close enough to feel You now.

All praise and all the honor be
To the God of ancient mysteries.
Whose every sign and wonder
turn the pages of our history.
But tonight my heart is heavy,
And I cannot keep from whispering this prayer.
Are You there?

And I know You could leave writing
on the wall that's just for me.
Or send wisdom while I'm sleeping,
like in Solomon's sweet dreams.
But I don't need the strength of Samson
or a chariot in the end...
Just want to know that You still know
how many hairs are on my head.
Oh, great God, be small enough to hear me now.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

I spent the afternoon yesterday out on the lake in the boat.  It was pretty close to perfect.  The dark blue mountains provided a beautiful backdrop for clear water and a bald eagle that swooped overhead.  

The serenity was only slightly interrupted by my 14-year-old sister and her friends discussing the latest gossip about Zac Efron, the use of pre-wrap in your hair to hold back your bangs, and the fact that moisturizing chapstick with 15 SPF is much more protective in the sun than lip gloss.  No kidding.  :-)

Nevertheless, I was seriously refreshed.  God's been teaching me a hard lesson in letting go of control, and yesterday it came almost easily.  And as I sat there on the boat, I started to think about all of the things in life that bring refreshment to me right now...without consciously choosing to do so, I started to dwell on the things that I'm thankful for...and the list was long.

One of the greatest blessings in my life right now is my family.  Along with my awesome husband, I am continually influenced by parents (all 4!) who love God and listen to His voice.  I also have brothers and sisters who, I know, are carrying our pain with us and for us and lifting us to the Lord in prayer when we don't know how.  Our family is an incredible channel of God's grace, and their constant encouragement is a source of refreshment like no other.

And, if that were not enough, God has surrounded Shaun and I with a church family who truly grieves with us and intercedes on our behalf.  I still get cards and notes daily from brothers and sisters in Christ who empathize fully because they have experienced loss in their own lives.  And, even though our losses are often different, they are still losses.  There is great comradery in suffering.  Knowing that we are not alone is, in a very significant way, a source of renewal.

I also have many women who have chosen to enter into my pain and love me in the ugly emotional state I'm in with a fierce love.  Sometimes in the middle of the night, when I am overcome with sorrow, I ask God to wake someone ...anyone...up to pray for me.  I, almost inevitably, get a text message or a call or a note in the morning from one of those women to tell me that they were praying for me through the night.  I read a quote in a book this week that said if you walk closely with wisdom, it will eventually wear off.  I certainly hope so.  I am definitely surrounded by godly wisdom.  You, ladies, speak truth to me when I need it, spill tear upon tear of love for me and my little boy, read Scripture to me when you don't have the words yourselves, and remind me of God's promises.  You have nurtured my soul more than you will ever know.  I will never be able to thank you enough.

But, as I sat on the boat, I realized that the ultimate source of refreshment right now (and always) is the time that I've been privileged to spend in God's Word.  I'd love to say that I've come to Scripture over and over in the past two months out of habit or because I thought it would be a great idea...more often than not, I've opened my Bible out of sheer desperation...I need God to give me something to hang on to because I'm crumbling.  But He does!  Psalm 19 says that God's words are perfect, "reviving the soul."  His Word has been a little CPR at times for my failing spirit!  And I want to encourage you that if you've never opened a Bible, or it's been a few weeks, months, would be a great day to do so.  There is joy, unspeakable joy, in the presence of God!  And when our eyes are focused on Him and His truth, we become thankful people, just as He intended, and we are shielded by His peace.  Streams of refreshment in the desert.

"Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!  Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.  Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, 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.

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirableif anything is excellent or praiseworthythink about such things Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you."  Philippians 4:4-9

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Most people say that when you hit the 6-week mark after a loss, you hit your low point. Well, six weeks came and went for me, and I was doing just fine...until the 8-week mark. After a really wonderful week, last Sunday was my lowest low-point yet. I wanted to quit...throw in the towel. I felt like everything was falling apart, and I just wanted to dare God to take one more thing away from me. I felt so defeated, that I figured it probably wouldn't have mattered.

By 5pm, I couldn't stand it any longer, and I decided it would be better to get out of the house. I slipped my running shoes on and went out to the trail for a run. Just as I walked out of the garage, it started to rain...and not just any rain...thunder-and-lightning, black-sky, sideways-rainfall kind of storm. 'Of course it's pouring,' I thought to myself... 'Anything else, Lord?' I was so furious. And so done.

In case you've never gone running when you've hit rock bottom, believe me, it's really challenging, and probably not the best idea...the further I ran, the harder I was screaming/sobbing, making it exceptionally difficult to breathe. Mud was splashing up my legs. And everytime the thunder rolled overhead, it felt like the entire sky was going to shake loose and come crashing down. But I ran...hard...partly because I was so mad, and partly because I didn't want to stay in one spot for long for fear of being struck by lightning. The storm must have been right over me, because the thunder just roared...the kind that you can feel hit you in the chest. My muscles ached, the rain pounding on my face stung...I was so fet up, that I finally yelled at God, " Why don't you use even a little bit of this power to fix something in my life! You can make the entire sky shake with thunder and lightning, but you can't stop everything I want from being ripped out of my hands?! Do you see what's going on here? Make something in my life good enough to keep going! You've got to do something!" I've never felt so desperate. I hope I never will again.

Immediately, (I don't think I had even finished my shouting match at God!) a verse in Isaiah pierced my mind...a verse that a close friend had shown me just days before. God says to His people...and at that moment, directly to me, "I will not forget you! See, I have engraved you on the palms of My hands."

Oh, man.

Those words kept circulating over and over in my mind. I had to stop running. "I will not forget you...I will not forget you..." My anger melted to utter brokenness. How could God forget me? The scars left on the palms of Jesus, the King of Kings, from the nails that were so brutally pounded into His hands were reminder enough! He knew suffering...He knew pain. God knew what it was like to lose His Son. And at that moment, I knew more than I ever have before that if I had been the only one on this earth, He still would have done it! He suffered for me. He remembers me. The psalms say that God "bottles my tears"...not one of them escapes His knowing. My hurt matters to Him. He gets it. And maybe if my hands were raised open to Him instead of clenched so tightly around all the things that I want, it wouldn't hurt so bad when God chooses to take them away!

It didn't make me stop heart was still broken...maybe even more so. I still wished God hadn't chosen to take my baby boy home to be with Him. I still wanted the details of my life to fall into place and make sense, even for a second. But I understood, as I stood there soaking wet on the trail, that God isn't oblivious to my pain. He gets a matter of fact, He gets it all. He sees the big picture. He understands the full purpose when I don't have a clue. And all of this...this life, even, is so temporary. Why is it so hard to trust trust Him? Why is it that, in my oh-so-finite mind, I allow my perception of my problems to become bigger than my perception of my God?

But He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon Him, and by His wounds we are healed." Isaiah 53:5

"And we pray this in order that you might live a life worthy of the Lord and may please Him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to His glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light. For He has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son He loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins." Colossians 1:10-14

"As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts. As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is My word that goes out from My mouth: It will not return to Me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it." Isaiah 55:9-11

"Remind me why You woke me up,
and why You wake me every morn."
- Bethany Dillon, (Imagination)

Sunday, July 5, 2009

I've had quite a few people in the past few weeks ask me if and when we will try again to get pregnant again. As a result, I've been thinking about it a lot...I've been kind of preoccupied, actually.

Now, some people might read this and think that I'm sick for thinking about having another child after having just lost our firstborn 7 weeks ago. I often have those feelings, times I am wracked with guilt by the concept of having more children.

A couple of weeks ago, a good friend spoke some incredible wisdom to me, though. She said that the emptiness I incessantly feel is really two separate voids. The first void is for my baby boy...and that void can never be filled in this lifetime. I will always have a deep hole in my heart left by Zachary. That's just how it is, and I will carry his memory and an intense longing for him every day for the rest of my life. The pain will lessen over time, but that void will always be there. The second void is for a family...for constant noise and chaos in our home, to have our empty baby room be occupied, to comfort a crying child, to watch my wonderful husband do the same, and to do all of the other things a mom gets to do. And that void can (and I believe with all my heart will, one way or another) be filled! The desire for a family is one that God has placed in my heart, and the dream of being parents did not die with Zachary. I will not be replacing my firstborn's impossible. And having more children in the future is in no way dishonoring Zachary's memory. So I am excited at the possibility of having the opportunity to raise children in the future.

That being said, however, now is not the time. Physical implications aside, I'm not ready. When we first left the hospital, and even until just a couple of weeks ago, I wanted to get pregnant as soon as possible. In part because I deeply desire to have a child in my arms, but I also figured if I just got pregnant right away, it would almost feel as if I had never gone through such a traumatic loss. I wanted to have something to look forward to again as soon as possible. And I'm convinced that whether we get pregnant in the next year or ten years from now, I will still be grieving...maybe not as intensely, but still grieving. And pregnancy will bring to mind all sorts of memories of my first pregnancy. I will, in a way, be grieving a whole new dimension of this loss.

But now is not the time. And I have no idea when the time to get pregnant again will be. All I know is that God knows when my body and my heart have healed enough, and I will have a peace about having our second baby. I don't have that peace right now. And I've been battling this mindset that, because God chose to take Zachary, He "owes" us a healthy family. God doesn't "owe" me anything, and it's ridiculous for me to demand anything. He knows the desires of my heart, and He will fulfill those in His timing and in the way He knows is best. My job is to trust Him and to be grateful for everything He gives me, even the small things...even the most painful things.

And I feel like God's not done changing my heart through this process. I'm certain that He will never be finished using Zachary's life to transform my own until I get to heaven, but I want to dedicate as much of my attention as possible to His transforming work for the time being. I'm not through the intense phase of grief yet, and I need time to feel whole enough in order to pour my love into another child without reservation. I just want God to use this pain for all it's worth...and to make it something powerfully beautiful! I want Him to refine me like gold, even if the heat is excruciating. I want God to get rid of everything in my life that does not make Him proud, even if that pruning feels crippling at times. He is faithful...sometimes believing that is simply a matter of faith these days, but I've also never known it to be so true. I will know when it's time to have another baby, and God will be faithful then as He is now...but until I have His peace about it, it's not time.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

On Saturday, Shaun and I left for Colorado for a few days for a beautiful wedding and then a family reunion with some of Shaun’s extended family. I don’t think I realized how secluded I’ve really been since Zachary died because just walking through the airport was overwhelming to me…I’m pretty sure every other person who walked by me was a young woman who was either pregnant or had a baby in her arms…or both!! And even when we got to the lodge where we stayed with Shaun’s family, I was surrounded by babies. Don’t get me wrong, they are wonderful kiddos, but it was like having what I’m missing right in front of me all the time. But I told Shaun on the flight home tonight that what I thought would be difficult this week was even harder than I expected (like the fact that I planned for months to travel to the reunion with my newborn and instead, all I took were black and white photos of my dead baby…and when it was time for all of the great-grandkids to take pictures with Shaun’s grandparents, my child wasn’t in the picture, etc.), BUT what I hoped would be good was even better, and I felt genuinely cared for. There were many instances when someone would ask about the day that we found out Zachary had died, or what he looked like, or how we felt now…and all of those conversations, even if they were brief, validated not only my feelings, but the fact that my son’s life counted for something and has made an impact, AND that my Zachary truly is part of the family.

Nevertheless, these days I go from wanting to isolate myself and shut the world out to standing in line at the grocery store and just wanting to scream, “My baby is dead!”. It’s confusing, to say the least. And emotionally and spiritually I keep going through a cycle…it’s becoming almost predictable, really. 1) I feel the presence of God inexplicably and find true rest in His grace, despite my (or maybe because of my) brokenness 2) but then something causes me to realize what I was “supposed” to have, 3) so I become angry and resentful towards God and towards everyone who has what I was “supposed” to have, 4) I hit rock bottom once again, knowing that I have nothing and am nothing apart from God, 5) and I cry out to Him…over and over and over.

And I hate focusing on what I think I was “supposed” to have…like the chance to wake up in the middle of the night to Zachary’s cry rather than silence or the chaos of traveling with a stroller and a carseat instead of just a piece of luggage… But I hate even more the bitterness that I feel taking root in my heart when I stay focused there. It entangles my soul and affects every part of my outlook and ability to function. It chokes the life out of me…I have no idea how to navigate through this pain. And, truthfully, I don’t even know how to trust God to navigate me though this most of the time. But allowing that bitterness to continue to grow makes this journey so much more challenging.

And again and again, even when I become resentful, I hear God say, “Just come to Me.” Even if I’m so angry I can’t think right, He wants me to tell Him what I feel. Even when I feel trapped in the depths of depression, He wants me to lay it all at His feet. And when I feel like I just might feel like this forever and that there’s no way life can be good again from here on out, He wants me to be honest before Him. God is not intimidated by my anger. He’s not offended by my hurt or the ugliness of my emotions. He just wants me to come to Him and trust that He hurts for me and with me…even when I’m mad. It’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, but I also know it’s been a pivotal point in my relationship with Him. To trust God when I don’t see His purposes laid out in the ‘hell’ that I’m walking through and feel nothing of His nearness is nearly impossible some days. But, as ugly as it may be, I’ll keep coming to Him, even if I’m dragging my feet. And as the cycle repeats, maybe I’ll spend a little more time in stage 1 and a little less elsewhere.