Saturday, May 13, 2017

Sisterhood of aching hearts [ a Mother's Day post ]

I couldn’t do Mother’s Day last year. 

It was only nine months since we had last held Ethan in our arms and I was only one month out from my first miscarriage. The mere thought of sitting in church next to a woman holding her baby or entering a restaurant filled with smiling families was enough to send me into a panic. 

It wasn't the first year that Mother's Day stung. Two years before, I blinked back tears as roses were distributed to each of the mothers in the church sanctuary. We were two years into our infertility journey and I yearned to count myself among the women who beamed with pride as their children handed them their rose. 

When you're hurting, it's easy to assume that your hurt is the greatest. I looked around at the smiling mother's, convinced that their lives must be so easy. The truth is, we all ache in some way. We all have our battles. 

As women, we're quick to place divisive labels on ourselves and on one another. We avoid association with anyone outside of our grouping, for fear of being misunderstood, for fear of not having anything in common, and for fear of judgement. Sometimes we even avoid association out of jealously over the things we want and do not have. 

In reality, there is such beauty in having a diverse community of sisterhood. While it includes various socioeconomic statuses, education levels, and races, diversity also includes a variety of life stages, stories, and ways in which motherhood has shaped our hearts. It is in this rich community of experiences, scars, and perspectives where we can grow and encourage one another. This rich community is where bitterness ends and understanding begins. 

I am so grateful for our different stories. I am grateful for friends in different life stages who have helped me to look beyond myself and to see the needs of others. I am grateful for the sisterhood of women who have been shaped by motherhood who have have spurred me on and have encouraged me, despite how different my life may look than theirs. 

This Mother's Day, I want to take a moment to acknowledge all of the women who have been shaped by motherhood in the most beautiful and devastating ways. I want to take a moment to say thank you for the things you have taught me about unconditional love and forgiveness, and the ways you have drawn me closer to Jesus. 

To the mamas who celebrate motherhood outside the traditional norms--the bereaved mamas, the adoptive mamas, the birth mamas, the foster mamas: You have taught me so much about unconditional love. You have taught me so much about selflessness. You each love your children with a love that is fierce and unbreakable. Thank you for giving me a glimpse of God's unconditional love for us.

To the women who long for motherhood--those who have faced challenges of infertility or who long for a family: You have taught me so much about finding joy in each and every season. You have truly shown me that my value does not rest in my ability to bear children. You have shown me what it looks like to nurture a hurting world and to pour the love of a mother onto everyone you come in contact with. You have inspired me and given me such hope.

To the mamas with full arms--to those who fight for their sick child, to those who are chasing toddlers, to those who are empty nesters, to who feel tired and overwhelmed: You, too, have taught me so much about unconditional love and selflessness. Thank you for showing me that a life where all of my "perfect plans" unfolded would not be without pain and struggle. Thank you for showing me that Jesus needs to be the deepest desire of my heart.

To all the women in my life, this day is for you. Thank you for all of the ways you have helped bear my burdens. Thank you for all the times you have joined with me and have used your unique gifts and experiences to counteract my weaknesses, and vice versa. Thank you for showing me what the body of Christ looks like in action. Thank you for your sisterhood.

"For the body does not consist of one member but of many.  If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body…If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.”

1 Corinthians 12:14-20, 26-27

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Prologue: The years in the desert

I have had many opportunities to share our family’s story at remembrance events, workshops, coffee shops, and grocery store checkout lines. Ethan’s life, death, and the beautifully devastating aftermath and the ways God has shaped my heart through both have usually remained the focus. I often begin with the day that we discovered that I was pregnant with Ethan.

The truth is, the story begins years and years before this. There is a prologue to our story that has shaped so much of the proceeding chapters. There were three years of pain, longing, and expectation that led up to that day.

Our pregnancy with Ethan was a long-awaited answer to prayer and I savored every moment, each ache, every sick morning, and every contraction. I loved and cherished my pregnancy, despite how turbulent and risky it ended up being. Each day I marched forward feeling the full weight and reverence that comes with years of longing. Not one moment was wasted on me.   

I felt the weight of the countless times I had slipped to the bathroom to cry after yet another woman had announced her pregnancy.

I remembered the countless times I had smiled and desperately tried to brush it off when someone had innocently asked me when my husband and I wanted to start a family.

I remembered how helpless I felt when the doctors continued to poke me with needles and run countless tests, only to find that I was “healthy”.

I remembered the feelings of guilt and failure when the doctor told me that I would not likely become pregnant without costly fertility treatments.

I remembered the feelings of inadequacy as a wife and a lover.

I remembered the nights I felt like failure. I remembered the disdain I felt toward my body. 

I remembered how lonely it felt to walk through life appearing completely healthy, yet feeling so broken inside.

I remembered hearing about a friend’s miscarriage and feeling heartbroken for her, while simultaneously wishing that I could trade places with her—if only to know what pregnancy felt like for a few days, even if I were to experience heart wrenching pain later.

Today I still feel the weight and the reverence that comes from the years that served as the prologue to our story. Today I still feel such gratitude for the sacred experiences of carrying, laboring, and delivering Ethan, despite the heartbreaking ending that would follow. I am thankful for each day I carried him inside of me, each minute I had with him in my arms, and each moment of physical and emotional pain that came with it. It was an experience that I so desperately longed for. It is an experience that I so dearly cherish. Ethan gave me the gift of motherhood. He is the most beautiful and special person we’ve ever met.

It’s National Infertility Awareness Week and I’ve wanted to say something, but have been at a loss for words. My sisters with empty arms have been heavy on my heart because I know. I know the weight and the depth of a yearning heart.

August will mark two years since I first held my son in my arms and said goodbye to him 93 minutes later. Since then, we have said goodbye to two more babies. Once again, I have found myself at the receiving end of a diagnosis—this time, more severe than the first. At times it feels as if I have been led out of the desert, only to be led back again to wander.

I’m no expert, but there are some things I’ve learned over these last few years that have equipped me to reenter this season with hope. Hope looks much different than it did before—it is not hope in a physical healing, although I do believe that God can do this. It is hope and confidence that God has led me to this place for a purpose. He has chosen me, just as he has chosen you, to live in this place—this desert place—to have the greatest impact.

I’ve shared this before and I’ll share it again because it has been one of the most powerful pieces of encouragement I’ve ever been given. Shortly after we found out that Ethan's health conditions may be terminal, a mentor figure wrapped me in a tight hug and said, “No matter what happens, I promise you that God will not leave you empty handed.” In that moment she encouraged me to cling to hope that God loved me, despite how terrifying this journey was. She reminded me that He had good things for me, even if they did not come in the form of healing. This was the truth that I needed to hear. Not an empty promise that Ethan would "be just fine". I needed to be reminded that in this world, I may lose everything—but if I have Christ, I have everything.  With Christ, my arms are full.

Matthew 7:11, Jesus says,  “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” Our Heavenly Father loves us. Like a loving Father, He will provide. He will satisfy. He will fill our arms with good things.

This doesn’t necessarily mean that God will provide us with an open womb, with biological children, or with physical healing. I confidently believe that He can—but I also know that he may have other plans that are still so good and so loving. He may fill our arms with something else—something so different than we could ever imagine, but still so very good.

For the first time in my entire life, I genuinely feel peace in the realization that I may never raise biological children. It’s not that I don’t care anymore—I do care. There is a corner of my heart that will always ache over all we’ve been through and all that is missing. There is a natural longing inside of me that will not die. But for the first time, I have such joy and excitement over a future that may not include another pregnancy. I have a sense of purpose and belonging, despite how unconventional my life has turned out. I know that I can still have a ministry and an impact, even if it is in ways that I never would have imagined. I know that my heart is exploding with love for my children, and that love has begun to multiply and spill out onto the world around me and I don’t want it to stop. If I never become pregnant again, I’m going to be okay—we’re going to be okay. 

Five years ago, I never in a million years would have imagined myself saying this. Today, I truly mean it.

If you’re finding yourself here today, know that it’s natural to desire pregnancy and there is no shame in joining Hannah and so many barren women in the Bible who cried out to God for children.  It’s okay if it hurts and it’s okay to question. It’s okay to cry when you see a newborn baby or to unfollow the friend who posts daily pregnancy updates. But when it gets really hard, I want you to remember that you have not been forgotten. You are not alone. Your Father loves you and will fill your arms with good things. You have purpose and have been placed in this very moment, in this very chapter, and in this very season for such a time as this.

Friday, April 14, 2017

The death of death

This year, I have felt as if I am experiencing Easter for the very first time all over again. Growing up in the church, I have been very familiar with the Biblical account of Easter. I could recite all of the details but I had grown so accustomed that I had begun to take it all for granted.

 I had taken the cross—the death and the resurrection of Jesus for granted. Ouch.

 After our son Ethan passed away I began to contemplate eternity. I began to question the meaning of it all and I was challenged to make a decision—when the rubber meets the road, what do I truly believe? As I watched my son’s soul pass from his body, I was forced to grapple with my beliefs and decide whether or not I truly believed that his soul was now with Jesus.
 In the following months, I questioned. I cried out to God, often times in anger, and I searched the scriptures for answers.

 The deeper I dove into the gospel—the story of Jesus being sent to earth to die on the cross for our sins, to serve as the atoning sacrifice for our wretchedness, and to rise from the grave 3 days later, conquering death for all time—the more I began to see the truth. It was through my doubting and wrestling that I truly came to confidently believe.

 Last week, I found myself in tears over what the resurrection truly means. The resurrection signifies the death of death. Through the resurrection, we have been given the opportunity to be brought from death to life, from sin to sanctification, from an eternity of grief and pain to an eternity with God.
 Consider this with me for a moment—the DEATH of death. As I let that sink in, I cannot help but rejoice that our God knows our suffering (even more so than we do) and came to abolish the very thing that has brought us the most pain.

Happy Easter to each of you. May we rejoice that He is risen indeed.

 John 11:25 “Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me share never die. Do you believe this?’”
 2 Corinthians 5: 1-5 “For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.  For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling,  if indeed by putting it on we may not be found naked.  For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened—not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life.  He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee.”

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Preparing for a baby you may not bring home

When my husband and I became pregnant with our first child, I counted down the days to our anatomy scan. I couldn’t wait to get a closer look at our little one and finally learn whether we would be bringing home a baby boy or a baby girl. Our celebration quickly turned to worry when the doctors told us that our sweet baby might not survive long after deliver. I can clearly remember the moment we were first told that our little boy would likely fight for his life. I remember staring intently at the geneticist, trying to soak in every word as tears poured down my face. I remember feeling deafened by the questions that swirled through my mind.  

Hydrocephalus. Missing cerebellar vermis. Heart defect. Possible chromosomal abnormality. Developmental delays. Potentially fatal. The room spun and I desperately tried to grasp at words I knew as I was bombarded with terminology that I did not understand.

We never considered that we might not be bringing home a baby at all.

We were left to consider a heartbreaking question. How do we prepare for a baby we may not bring home? How do we embrace life, when death may be eminent?

I wish there were a manual for this sort of thing. I wish there were a formula to outline the proper way to face such a heavy dilemma. There was nothing that could have prepared us for the road ahead. Yet in the same vein, I want to share a few of the steps we took that helped us immensely and a few we didn’t that I wish we had.

Choose a Name
Naming Ethan played a powerful role in preparing for our son’s arrival. Even through we cherished him from the beginning, choosing a name helped us strengthen the bond with our son. To us, he was our Ethan—our little boy. Choosing a name also made it easier for us to own our family’s story, share with others, and ask for prayer and support—We had a son named Ethan who we dearly loved, anomalies and all.

Educate Others
Talking about Ethan’s condition was difficult, but it helped our friends and family know how they could support us and it helped us feel more supported.

Determine how much or how little you want to prepare physically and don’t let anyone make you feel guilty for it
The question of whether to prepare a nursery and whether to have a baby shower are the two questions that I receive the most from other mamas who have been assigned the treasured task of carrying a baby who may not come home with them. This is not a clear-cut decision and there is no easy answer. My advice has simply been to not allow guilt or shame to influence their decision. 

Some people may say that it is foolish to purchase items for a baby who may not have much time on this earth; others may argue that showering your baby with gifts is an outward sign of love—perhaps even an act of faith. People you love will have every opinion in the book and I encourage all parents in this difficult position to remember that their child is not focused on the “stuff” that you can give them. Stuff is not a sign of love. They will feel the love you have for them whether you decorate the nursery or not. They will feel the love you have for them whether you have a celebratory shower or not.  

If you want to decorate a nursery and have a shower, go for it! Savor each moment and make memories in the process. Personally, we decorated Ethan’s nursery. Although it was painful to come home to the nursery I had always dreamed about without him, it has turned into a calming retreat on those especially difficult days. Over time that room has transformed from a place that caused me pain, to a place that only holds happy memories—memories of my husband making me laugh as he assembled the crib and dreaming together as we folded tiny outfits. 

Preparing for Delivery
Don’t be afraid to ask questions and to find a medical team that is supportive and sensitive to your needs. While many of our doctors suggested termination, my primary perinatologist was highly supportive of our decision to carry our son to term and treated us like any other family. That made all the difference to us.

Create a birth plan—and, though I hope and pray you don’t have to use it, a death plan. I am so thankful that we took our time saying our goodbyes to Ethan’s body after he passed from our arms into the arms of Jesus. However, the fog of grief (and post-childbirth hormones) I wish I had thought to ask to bathe and dress him—it never even crossed my mind that we were allowed to do that until it was too late. Although painful, it may be helpful to consider these things ahead of time.

My biggest and perhaps only regret was not arranging to have professional photography done at the hospital. There are several nonprofit organizations, such as Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep, who offer free professional photography to parents who are giving birth to a baby with a potentially fatal diagnosis. Part of me felt guilty looking into this ahead of time, since we did not know whether Ethan would live or die. In hindsight, I wish we had more photos. Don’t feel guilty connecting with a photographer, even if you are not 100% sure of the outcome—none of us ever are.

Savoring Each Moment
One of the scariest, yet rewarding, decisions we made was to do our best to fully embrace each moment that we had with our son. We were told that Ethan could die before birth, die during the delivery, live for a short time, or go on to life a long life. We had no idea how much time we would have with Ethan and we considered each day to be a gift. We went on walks. We ate delicious food. We went camping. We talked to Ethan all day. We introduced him to all our favorite music. We read to Ethan each night. Yes, it was terrifying in moments to open our hearts up so wide knowing that they could be shattered in the end, but it was worth every moment of diving headfirst into celebrating each and every day we were given. We have realized that none of us are promised tomorrow and are thankful for a little boy who showed us that each day is a gift.

To the mama walking this difficult road:

Sweet Friend,

I’m so very sorry that you’ve found yourself here. I know this is not what you ever envisioned for your sweet baby and I know you’d give anything to trade places with them.

I know that you feel as if your innocence and happiness was stripped away from you with that crushing diagnosis. I know that you feel as if some people want you to simply move on and "just try again", while others won't even acknowledge that your child is in danger. I know that people often say insensitive things to try to console you—they really do care, even though it may be hard to see. 

I know you are scared. I know this hurts in ways that words can’t explain. I know it all feels so horribly unfair. 

I know you may feel guilt and shame--I know that you didn't do anything to make this happen. I know you'd do anything to change it. 

I know that this is sensitive territory and I want to assure you that there is grace upon grace to be given, despite the decisions you have made or are considering making. I know that we are all trying to do what we think is best for our babies.  I know that this is all terribly confusing.

I know that this is the hardest trial I have ever walking through. I know, without any doubts or hesitation, that every discouraging prognosis, every ultrasound, every appointment with a specialist, every sleepless night, every contraction, and every tear that I have cried since saying goodbye has been worth it—I know that the seven months I carried my son in my womb and the 93 minutes I had with my son in my arms were worth all of it. I know that I'd do it all again if given the chance. I know that there can be some joy in something so broken.

How I wish I could wrap you in a tight hug and cry with you. If you are in this place today, please know that you are not alone. I want you to email me. I want to know your baby's name. I want to know your due date. I want to pray for you as you walk this road. 

You are not alone in this. You and your baby are so loved. 

So much love,

Ethan’s Mom

Friday, March 31, 2017

Changing the conversation on miscarriage

I had a miscarriage--two actually. 

Tomorrow marks exactly one year since our second child went to heaven. It had been seven months since our infant son, Ethan, had passed away and we had cautiously opened our broken hearts to make room for another child. We knew that we would never be 100% without hurt this side of heaven, but we felt confident that we had plenty of love to go around. On April 1, I woke up to discover that Ethan's younger brother or sister had joined him in heaven. It was as if our baby left as quickly as he or she came. 

Four months later, I became pregnant for a third time. A part of me was terrified of what may come, but my heart opened wide to the possibility of heartache. A mother's love starts at that first discovery of new life and I dove headfirst into embracing the life was grew inside of me. I breathed a sigh of relief when I passed the 6 week mark and began to dream about the future. 

Our third child joined his or her siblings in heaven when I was 8 weeks pregnant. My body, just like my heart, didn't want to move on. It would be an entire month before my body finally realized what my heart already knew--our baby was gone. 

Talking about my miscarriages hasn't come easy for me. At times, I've sat down to consider why it has been so easy for me to talk about the loss of Ethan and why I have hesitated to talk about the other two children that I have lost. In my observations, it all comes down to the way that our society views miscarriage--the way our society views life in general. 

One of the reasons that we don't talk about miscarriage is because society tells us that it isn't a big deal. Perhaps we have bought into the lie, even if only subconsciously. Perhaps we hesitate to share about our miscarriages because each time we have, we've quickly been dismissed and assured that our experience is scientifically normal. 

This happens all the time. 1 in 4 pregnancies ends in a loss. 

Your baby probably had a chromosomal abnormality. They probably wouldn't have survived or would have had a lot of problems. This is nature's way of speeding up the inevitable. 

It's no big deal. Wait one cycle and try again. 

At least it was early. At least you never had a chance to meet them and get attached. 

Yes, miscarriage is much more common than any of us ever realize until it penetrates our world. Yes, most miscarriages do occur because of a chromosomal abnormality. Yes, miscarriages are a natural part of life. 

But normal does not mean painless. Normal does not equate to "no big deal". 

It is for this reason that miscarriage brings women a unique, and often silent, kind of pain. It takes a toll on both the body and the heart. For me, our miscarriages opened the wounds of shame, inadequacy, and abandonment that I had battled after the death of our infant son.  Yes, the pain of miscarriage was much different than the pain of losing Ethan, but I refuse to compare them--it would be like comparing apples and oranges. Both types of loss are painful. Both carry their own unique set of sorrows. Both result in the death of a dream, shattered hopes, and ultimately, the passing of a child. 

At least it was early. At least you never had a chance to meet them and get attached. 

I wish I had a chance to get attached. I wish I knew the color of their eyes, whether they were boys or girls, and whether they looked as much like their dad as their brother did. I wish they were more than precious strangers, loved unconditionally without any knowledge of who they were. 

Your baby probably had a chromosomal abnormality. They probably wouldn't have survived or would have had a lot of problems. This is nature's way of speeding up the inevitable. 

Although this statement may be true, it shocked me to realize how much I subconsciously allowed this way of thinking to impact the way that I viewed new life. Perhaps the doctors were right; perhaps they were too sick anyway. Perhaps we were better off without them. Despite the possibility of any genetic "defects", these babies each have unique souls. Their conception was miraculous. 

Miscarriage is a taboo subject in our society and so many women keep their experiences to themselves. I know I did. Sometimes it was for fear of what types of insensitive yet well-meaning remarks I’d receive as a response. Other times it was because it was just too painful to bring up that I had been pregnant, only to explain that my third child had gone to heaven. Often it was because of shame and guilt. At times, it was from fear of being dismissed and made to feel as if my pain was silly. 

Let's change the conversation on miscarriage. May we join hands and encourage one another, regardless of when our losses may have occurred or how different our experiences may look. If you have had a miscarriage, you have permission to mourn. You have permission to grieve. You have permission to call yourself a mother. You have permission to call them your children. Each life, no matter how short, matters. Their lives, no matter how short, deserve to be celebrated and grieved. A loss is a loss. A life is a life. May we continue to cling to hope, knowing that our precious children are forever without defect, celebrating eternity in heaven. 

Sunday, March 5, 2017

All of it

Lately, I've been challenged to consider how much I trust God. It's easy for me to say that he is in control. It's easy to encourage others to put their trust in him when things begin to fall apart. The words roll off my tongue so effortlessly--put your trust in him. But how much do I really, truly trust him when the rubber meets the road and the unimaginable begins to unfold? 

Losing Ethan challenged my trust in God. When the doctors told us that our son may not survive, I knew that God had a plan. Yes, I was so afraid. Yes, my heart was filled with questions. Yes, I knew that God was sovereign. After years of unexplained infertility, we had miraculously conceived--I saw God's hand in every aspect of Ethan's existence. Despite my absent menstrual cycles and taking a break from "trying", he was given to us. Despite my fears, I trusted that God was intricately forming each piece of Ethan's body and held each heartbeat in his hands. I knew that God was sovereign in both life and death. As Ethan breathed his last breath, cradled in our arms, my broken heart knew that God was sovereign in each of the 93 minutes our son was on this earth and would continue to be sovereign as we grappled with his death. Not saying it was easy--but deep down I knew it. And that added to my questioning--I never doubted God's sovereignty, I only questioned his love for us. Through my groaning, searching, and seeking, he drew near to me and began to reveal just how deep his love is. I began to see how much he loves us--enough to send his Son to die in my place, to abolish death, pain, and suffering once and for all. 

It may be easy to assume that I was completely placing my trust in God. Yes, our journey with Ethan strengthened my trust in God--but there were corners of my life I still held with a tight grip. If we're honest, I think many of us find ourselves there. We fully surrender certain areas of our lives, while clinging fiercely to other precious pieces. This is my safe space, we say. I trust you with the other stuff, but this is mine. 

In the following year, we lost two more babies. Several months later, a doctor officially diagnosed me with an endocrine disorder that threatened the possibility of carrying more children. With each compounding loss, I struggled to trust. I cried out to God to help me to trust in him with my dreams. Help me to surrender the part of my life I've held the most dear. Help me to give it all to you. 

Sometimes trust grows through kicking, screaming, and wrestling--there was a lot of that. It wasn't perfected by any means, but it did grow somewhat. It's easy for us to think we have it all figured out when that happens. 

I lost three children and was diagnosed with frustrating, and sometimes physically painful, condition--I've proven my faithfulness. I look at those words and they sound ridiculous. Of course I didn't have it figured out--and I knew that then. But it's easy to subconsciously think we're doing OK. It's easy to subconsciously think we've paid our dues. 

Last Christmas, my husband was rushed to the hospital after what was supposed to be a quick Urgent Care visit resulted in an abnormal EKG. Before I proceed, I want to add (especially for those of you who know him)--He is fine. He had a bad flu the week before, which caused some inflammation around his heart...which caused his EKG to appear as if he were having a heart attack. He wasn't--but in that moment, we had no idea what was really happening.  

As you can imagine, I was a wreck. I held it together until my husband was safely in the ambulance and then I fell apart. I was terrified for my husband. I was terrified of what may happen next. On top of my fears, I felt the PTSD-like response begin to creep in--the noises, the doctors, the smells all attempt to drag me back to the moment the medical team attempted to revive our son. I couldn't let the anxiety creep in right now. 

I wasn't allowed to ride in the ambulance with him, so I followed in my car. I probably shouldn't have been driving, but I refused to let anyone drive me. I didn't want to wait for them to get to the Urgent Care clinic to pick me up. I needed to be with my husband. 

I screamed and cried the whole way to the hospital. "GOD. Why? Please, please don't take my husband from me. Please, please, please. GOD. I trusted you with our infertility. I trusted you when Ethan was sick, and even after he died! I trusted you when you took our second baby. And our third. GOD. I've trusted you in my diagnosis. I've trusted you with our future family. I trust you with my barrenness. HAVEN'T I SHOWN YOU THAT I TRUST YOU ENOUGH?"

I didn't hear a clear voice and I didn't see a sign from heaven. There wasn't a billboard on the freeway or a song on the radio. But in that moment, I felt a peace wash over me. The questions, the anxiety, and the panic all cleared away and I felt God clearly press this message onto my heart. 

Enough? Kristin, I want you to trust me with all of it. I don't want you to trust me with just some of it. Trust me with everything. Give me all of it. 

We do that, don't we? We give God pieces of our lives and think we've done our duty. We say, "Here God, take my possessions and my career, but don't touch my health. I trust you with my marriage, but not with my children. I give you my past, but let me determine my future. I give you my future, but let me cling to my past."

When we refuse to surrender certain pieces of our lives, are we truly trusting God? Even if we trust him with 95% of our life, can we truly say that we trust him if we are clinging to the other 5%? If we believe that God is who he says he is--that He is good, loving, just, perfect, infinite, all-powerful, merciful, holy, almighty, I AM, faithful--we should trust him with every piece of our lives. If we withhold even just one piece from him, are we truly believing that he is everything that he says he is? 

This probably goes without saying, but I am by no means trying to imply that I have this all figured out. Trust is a daily choice--easier on some days than others. Completely surrender is scary and sometimes even incredibly painful. But the pain is temporary--the process is beautifully refining, and often paves the way toward growth and intimacy.  The process is difficult, yet worth it. 

Haven't I trusted you enough? Part of the problem lies in the question itself. In putting perimeters on trust, I was implying that God could only be trusted with specific parts of my life. I was implying that other areas of my life were mine, not his. I've been challenged to consider what areas of my life aren't included in the "enough". What areas am I clinging to that I don't want to let go?

If we're honestly with ourselves, I'd guess that many of us have those areas--those corners of our lives that we don't want to let go of. Yet, God lovingly calls out to us--I want you to trust me with all of it. 

Psalm 139: 23 "Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts."

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Rethinking Comfort

(Long Beach Lighthouse, Feb. 18, 2017, the day after one of the largest storms in California history.)

It really scares me to admit this. Perhaps it is because saying it out loud invites others to hold me accountable. Maybe it’s because it’s just downright terrifying. In all honesty, a piece of me is afraid to completely embrace the terrifying unknown.

I am beginning to feel dissatisfied with my plans for the life I always envisioned. I am beginning to feel uncomfortable with my desire for comfort and predictability.

Phew. That is terrifying to admit because I love plans, predictability, and order. The unknown makes me uncomfortable.

When I was 18, I had a smooth path laid out for me. I had spent high school building up a good resume of extracurricular activities and graduated with scholarships to a private college. My future was set. I would earn my degree, be rooted into a community of deep friendships, and graduate with the skills and knowledge I needed to land a comfortable job and help support a family. When I was 22, I graduated with a degree and an engagement ring. My husband and I were married the following fall and moved into a cute one-bedroom apartment down the street from a fulltime job that I loved. We both were eager to expand our family and began to save up to by a house. We were set for the future.

My husband has always been more comfortable with the unpredictable that I have been and he held our plans loosely. I don’t think he’d even refer to them as our “plans”—they were always more like flexible goals to him. He is one of the most adaptable people I know and can face almost any challenge that life throws at him with a clear head. He is calm under pressure and lives each day with a true understanding that each day is a gift and some things are out of our control. He takes what life throws at him and makes something good out of it.

There couldn’t be a better match to balance me out. I aspire to be more like that. 

I’m resistant to change and I hold plans in a clenched fist. When life throws unexpected curveballs at me, I cringe and dig my heels in as life tries to nudge me in a direction that I don’t want to go. I’ve always admired my husband’s outlook on life—he is the perfect balance of optimism and realism, despite what happens. Me?—I try to fight change.

Over the next few months, my plans slowly started to derail. For three years, we struggled to conceive. Something was wrong with my health and the doctors couldn’t pinpoint it, despite dozens of blood tests and ultrasounds. A doctor finally told me that they had examined every possibility and gave me a referral to an infertility specialist. At the time, my heart was broken. I wanted so badly to be a mother and to experience pregnancy. Yet despite my desires, I was so tired of blood tests and medical visits. My husband and I decided to wait until after the holidays before calling to make an appointment.

We never made that first appointment because we unexpectedly became pregnant at a time when we least expected it. We were shocked and completely ecstatic. It seemed as if my plans were finally starting to come together.

And then the unthinkable happened. When I was 19-weeks pregnant, we discovered that our baby had major defects in his heart and brain. We were told that our miracle child might not survive and the following weeks were filled with regular visits to meet with specialists, detailed ultrasounds, and fetal echocardiograms. On August 16, 2015, our son Ethan entered the world and we were given 93 minutes with him before he passed from our arms into the arms of Jesus. Losing Ethan was the greatest pain we’ve ever experienced. When I was 26 years old, I became a bereaved mother.

Losing a baby is hard. The months that followed were hard. Depression is hard. Sorting through all of the emotions, heartache, and secondary losses is hard. Asking hard questions and entering into the intimacy of wrestling with God is painful and hard--yet worth it. The process is painful and refining.

I felt as if my plans were slipping through my hands like fine grains of sand. I couldn’t stop them being ripped away in the wind of the circumstances that swirled around us. I couldn’t hold onto what I had held onto so tightly for so long.

A few months later, we lost another baby at 6-weeks. We grieved, added another layer to the complicated un-linear process of grief, and decided to give it another try. I found out that I was pregnant with our third child on Ethan’s first birthday. We lost that child a month later when I was 8-weeks pregnant.

Our doctor offered testing, in an attempt to learn why we had lost three children. Each test came back normal. Each result brought a strange mixture of relief and sorrow—relief that there was nothing wrong with us, and sorrow that good results would not reverse the devastation that had already swept through.

In December, after years of looking for answers, a specialist diagnosed me with PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome—for more on PCOS, click here) without any question. All it took was a few blood tests and an ultrasound to confirm what I had suspected for years, but had never been tested for because I didn’t fit the “typical” appearance. My tests results each screamed PCOS (and pre-diabetes) and I suddenly understood many of the symptoms I had lived with for years. The diagnosis surprisingly brought quite a lot of peace, along with some expected grief and frustration.

Now, I don’t want to sound ungrateful for what I have been given because I most definitely have so many things that I am grateful for. God had been so generous to me with things that I was never promised and I don’t want to lose sight of that. I wasn’t promised a husband, a job, medical care, and the luxury of buying groceries. Earlier this week I was punched in the gut with the realization that none of these things were ever promised to me and that I have much more than I deserve. We were never promised an easy life. We were never promised that our plans would unfold without a hitch. But in our humanness it is so easy to focus on all that we long for yet do not have.  

At 28 years old, I’ve found myself at the edge of a wide-open expanse of what I once thought were my perfectly laid plans. Ten years ago, I could envision what was coming down the road. At the time I knew that I could not predict the future and I knew that some things would be out of my control, but I could at least imagine what the next ten years held. Sure, I was completely wrong—but in that moment, I rested in the comfort of the illusion of my “perfect” plans for my life.

Someone recently asked me where I picture myself ten years from now and I had no idea what to say. It is not that I don’t have hope. It is that I finally realize that I am ultimately not in control, no matter how tightly I hold on to my plans. It is that I am beginning to feel the call toward adventure and toward the unknown. Yes, the terrifying unknown is starting to sound appealing. What is happening to me? I never thought I’d feel that way.  Hope has begun to spring up in me like a soothing balm and I’ve felt an unexplainable peace radiate through my heart. But I can’t envision the future. I try and try and all I see is a wild, vast expanse, filled with things that I don’t understand.

I think back on the life that I envisioned when I was 18. All I wanted in this life was a good marriage, 2 ½ kids, a comfortable house in a quiet neighborhood, good friends, and to contentedly coast on autopilot for the next 70 years. Oddly, despite all we’ve faced, that doesn’t sound appealing to me anymore. Sure, I still desire to be a mother. It is a desire that has always been there and I don’t know if it will ever be gone, and that is okay—I do hope, God willing, that one day we will raise our children. Biological or not—they will be ours. But I’m starting to feel a stirring in my heart for much more than comfortable existence and it is both exhilarating and terrifying. The safe, quiet, conventional part of me is being broken, like a wild horse that needs to be tamed. Or perhaps, the opposite of “taming” is happening here. The part of me that once desired comfort is slowly being broken and refined through the fire of the trial. That part of me has been exposed to the reality of pain in the world and the need for compassion and hope. That tame part of me has had its eyes opened to the ministry that can rise from your deepest hurts.

The process is painful. It hurts to be broken from the familiar. There is still a part of me that grieves all we have lost and always will until we reach heaven. Yet simultaneously, that part of me has begun to rejoice over all that I have gained. A small glimmer of thankfulness is beginning to arise—there is a tiny spark of gratefulness over all we have been through. Yes, a tiny part of me is thankful for all we have faced, including the pain. It has opened my eyes to such beauty, such darkness, and—ultimately—the need for Hope.  

Now, I'm not downplaying pain here. If you are facing pain, I am so sorry. I know that it is hard. I know that you feel as if your life has been shattered. I know what it feels like to lose all hope and to literally not care what happens tomorrow. Tears fill my eyes typing this because I can vividly remember, and I still have days where I slip back into that place. I am not trivializing your pain--It is real and you don't need cliche answers. But please know that there is hope, even when the world feels so cruel.  

My broken heart is beginning to long for more than a comfortable existence. The part of me that longs for comfort has seen lives changed when all is stripped away and has felt the peace that comes when I lost the illusion of safeness and had nowhere left to go but to the feet of Christ. The part of me that once desired comfort has begun to realize the briefness of life and has begun to see the greater picture of our lives in the span of eternity.

I’m sure I’ll lose sight of this at times—each day is a battle, and the joy does not negate the realness of pain. My hope is that I keep my eyes fixed on eternity as I run into the wild expanse before me and hold my plans with an open palm.