Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Comfort and Joy Advent

Thanksgiving hasn’t arrived yet, but the hints of Christmas are everywhere you look—from television commercials to Target, it seems as if the whole country is ready to bust out the tree and the tinsel.
But maybe the holidays are bittersweet for you. Maybe a season that once held so much joy and anticipation is now touched by grief and longing. Longing for what was, longing for the Hope to come.
This year, l created the “Comfort and Joy Advent” social media event with you in mind and l invite you to join in. Each day there will be a writing prompt to prepare our hearts for the season, as well as to recognize the components of lamentation and anticipation that can be found in the advent season.
Each day (or as often as you choose), use the prompt as a starting point to share your heart in as many or as few words as you wish. Post a photo on your Instagram, Facebook, or blog, along with your response for the day. By using the #comfortandjoyadvent hashtag, you’ll be able to follow along and connect with others as they too prepare their weary hearts for Christmas.

Daily Writing/Post Prompts:
December 1-Winter
December 2- The empty seat at the table
December 3- Hope and expectation
December 4- Oh come, Emmanuel
December 5- I wish they knew
December 6- Scripture
December 7- Traditions past
December 8- New traditions
December 9- Silent night
December 10- Faith
December 11- Christmas mourning
December 12- Light in the darkness
December 13- Scripture
December 14- Savoring the season
December 15- The first Christmas
December 16- Community
December 17- Joy to the world
December 18- Fear not
December 19- Love
December 20- Scripture
December 21- The new year
December 22- Comfort
December 23- The gift
December 24- Peace on earth
December 25- Praise

Monday, November 13, 2017

Video: 8th Annual IE Walk to Remember 2017

The 8th annual IE Walk to Remember is an annual walk that takes place to honor babies that have died due to pregnancy loss and infant death. Parents, and their loved ones and friends, are invited to come walk the steps our babies will never take.

You can read more about my involvement in this year's IE Walk to Remember and my full speech here.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Walking to remember our babies

 Yesterday we celebrated all the babies in the Inland Empire who went to heaven so very soon at Forever Footprint's annual I.E. Walk to Remember. It is always such an honor to be surrounded by so many brave moms, dads, siblings, grandparents, and friends, who shine so brightly in spite of everything they've been through. I had the immense privilege of being this year's keynote speaker. It is seriously not lost on my what an immense honor this is.

Two years ago, I attended my first Walk to Remember. It had only been two months since I had last held my infant son, Ethan, in my arms and said goodbye, and the sting of grief was fresh. The past two months had been devastating, painful, and often lonely in ways that I couldn’t put into words.  My stomach was in knots as we arrived at the Cal State San Bernardino Campus and followed signs to the event. I had no idea what to expect.

It didn’t take long for my fears to dissolve and for me to realize that I was surrounded by my people. Upon arrival I met Amanda. Amanda asked me who I was walking for and I told her about Ethan. I showed her his picture. She oohed and aahed over how beautiful he was and asked me more about him. She said his name. She got it.

My walls crumbled down with each person I spoke to. As each baby’s name was spoken and each rose was passed out, I felt less and less alone. While it didn’t take away the grief of losing my son, stepping into this community of like-minded people softened the jagged edges of grief in ways I never expected. I received an indescribable gift on that day—the gift of hearing Ethan’s name, the gift of honoring him, the gift of being surrounded by people who didn’t try to brush him aside or just tell me to “think positive”. I received the gift of meeting other parents and hearing about their babies--the simple gift of “me too”.

Last year, I attended my second walk—this time walking for three babies. Ethan, and two other tiny babies that I don’t know much about, but wish every day that I did. This time, instead of fear, I felt excitement—although often accompanied with tears. My heart swelled with excitement thinking about the beautiful ceremony I was about to be a part of. Of knowing that I’d be surrounded by my tribe. Of knowing I was about to be surrounded by some of the most beautiful, brave, and broken people, who shine so bright in spite of all they’ve been through.

Today, I am walking for the third year—this time for five babies, including the identical twins who joined their older siblings in heaven last July. When I look back on each year, I cannot help but see how much I’ve changed—I see the ways grief has brought out the worst in me, but far more I see the ways being a mother to five babies in heaven has made me better. And for that I cannot help but thank God for his faithfulness in the midst of something so horrible, and for introducing me to people just like you. It is people just like you--people who just know, people who have walked through the unthinkable--that have helped me to keep going when it felt impossible, have given me a safe place, and have made all the difference.

I may not know your story, but I do know that a special baby has touched your heart in a very big way. Whether you are a mother, a father, a brother, a sister, a grandma, a grandpa, an aunt, an uncle, a friend, a doctor, a nurse—we are all here because someone very small left a very big footprint on each of our hearts. I want you to look around for a moment and notice the people around you—though the details of our stories may be different, these people around you know. Whether you’ve walked through any of this yourself, or you’ve held the hand of someone who has, you are surrounded by people who have stood where you stand.

They know the pain of a due date that never comes—of “what ifs” and unfulfilled plans. They know the devastation of the words “not compatible with life” or “I’m sorry, there’s just no heartbeat”. They know the pain of laboring and delivering a child who never opened their eyes, or one who did but couldn’t stay long. They know the long days in the NICU, they know the devastation of planning a memorial service for an infant.

They also know the joy of knowing someone so small, but so special. They know the joy of knowing a love that is stronger than death. They know what it’s like not to take one sunrise for granted. They know the pride of being part of such a beautiful legacy, sparked by someone so small.

I truly believe that each life is meaningful and was created for a purpose, and your baby is no exception. Whether your baby left this earth before you ever knew, before you ever had a chance to hear their heartbeat, or after holding them in your arms—your baby’s life has meaning. Whether you said goodbye after hours, days, or months of holding them in your heart or your arms—your baby’s life has meaning.

To the parents out there, I want to leave you with this—that you, of all people, were chosen to be your baby’s parent. You are the best mother or father they could have asked for. You, of all the mothers and fathers in the world, were hand picked to experience a love stronger than death and to carry their legacy.

Let’s take another step toward that today—together.  

*Shared at the I.E. Walk to Remember on October 28, 2017.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

All the time: the (true) Facebook comments that hurt

I was scrolling through social media and stopped to read a few posts. One was from a friend who had recently purchased a new home. Another had accepted a new job offer. Another announced her pregnancy. Another’s loved one was finally in remission from cancer.

As I read each post, I rejoiced with my sisters. I had been praying that many of them would receive these gifts. Through it all, I wanted what was best for them.

But I’ll be honest—the comments were incredibly hard to read, and in some instances moved me to tears. Not happy tears, but tears of frustration and confusion.

We knew you’d get the house! Our God is so good!

Praise God! We have such a good Father.

It was only a matter of time because God is good!


My frustration with these comments caught me off guard.  Why should I be frustrated with the truth of God’s goodness? In spite of our struggles, I still believed in God’s goodness with a whole heart. So why did the comments hit my ears like screechy nails on a chalkboard? Was it jealousy, anger, disbelief, or something else?

I realized my frustration came from extracting underlying messages beneath each comment—many of which had hurt me through the years. The commentators may not have even meant these words, but I could not help but hear them.

Beneath the comments, I heard: God always answers our prayers exactly how we want when we ask with faith because he loves us. God is good because your prayer was answered and the healing came. When good things happen, it means God is good. When bad things happen, he must be bad or maybe just doesn’t love you as much as everyone else.

The above comments weren’t written in words, but I couldn’t help but read them underneath the words appearing on the screen. Each one hurt to see. So many times I wanted to step in and assert God’s goodness even if the deal never closed, unemployment remained, the womb was empty, and the cancer spread. I held back simply because the gifts of the original posters each warranted a celebration, not an argument.  This was a time to rejoice with those who rejoice.

Yet as I wrestled through these comments, something important occurred to me—the statement that God is good is true. You get the house, the car, or the job—God is so good and provides for his children. A new life is conceived—God is so good and sovereign over each life. Your loved one is healed of an illness—God is so good and has the power to heal even the most critical form of disease. There was nothing wrong with the original statements, free from the underlying meanings. The commentators should continue to declare God’s goodness. His name deserves to be praised. At the same time, it is important to acknowledge God’s goodness when the earthly good we hope for never comes. God was and is good in the season of waiting, in the pain, and in the "no". His goodness is not conditional.

I must add that we can know something is true, and not always feel it. I know God is good all the time, but there are times when my feelings don't match up and I wrestle to make peace with this tension. When you don't feel the goodness, cling to the promise that it is there--but don't feel shame for the deep grief or the struggle. I think God knows this is all going to be pretty uncomfortable, and beckons us to keep our eyes fixed on Christ--the one who will set all of this discomfort right for eternity. At the times when I felt the most pain, I needed others to show me God's love--the words didn't always comfort, but the love displayed through shared tears, warm meals, and unconditional availability did.

You lost the house—God is still good in this hard season, even when we cannot see. What a blessing that Christ is preparing an eternal place for us with him.

You still aren’t pregnant—God is so good and draws near to the brokenhearted. He provides opportunities be fruitful in our lives, even when the womb is not.

The physical healing never came—In the midst of the pain and anguish, what a blessing to have such a hope in Jesus. God is so good and sacrificed so much to offer us eternal healing.

So yes, God is good. All the time. May we declare his goodness not only in seasons of celebration, but when our dreams unravel and our hearts ache. May we fix our eyes on Christ and all he has done of us, and allow our hearts to be overwhelmed by the glory of his goodness.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

I still have hope

The surrender of a dream is a painful process. In fact, we rarely allow ourselves to consider that some plans may never come to fruition. When we see our friends’ plans begin to unravel, we often offer platitudes such as “Don’t give up” and “Don’t lose hope.”

But what do we mean when we say these things? What does it mean to “never give up” or to “cling to hope”?

Hours after our newborn son passed away, a nurse squeezed my hand and spoke the words. “Don’t lose hope,” she said. “You’ll have another one.” I heard the same words after our second loss and again after our third.  

I heard the words again after we lost our twins—raising our count to five babies in heaven. A nurse intently listened to my medical history with sympathetic eyes. “Don’t give up,” she said gently.

I tiredly shook my head. “I think this is it for me,” I said, doing my best to offer a kind smile. I cannot describe the disappointment and the shock I saw on her face. Her eyes glistened with tears and I felt as if I had crushed her spirit.  “Oh honey, don’t say that,” she said. “Don’t give up hope.”

In that moment I wasn’t quite sure how to articulate all that I hold in my heart. I haven’t given up hope; I’ve simply redirected my hope to where it should have always been.

I want to make it absolutely clear that there is nothing wrong with hoping for children.  We have a God-given desire to be fruitful and to disciple. Children are a blessing and Jesus has made his love for children extremely clear. We have the freedom to desire children. Many of us are given the opportunity to birth and to raise the future generations. This is a beautiful, God-given task.

In the same vein, we’ve also been given the freedom grieve those we have lost. Death is the result of a broken world and we have complete permission to mourn and lament this brokenness.

The problem isn’t in what we hope for. The problem is when we completely place our hope on something other than Jesus. The very best things in the world—most of which are things God has blessed us with and are worth celebrating—will never bring us true contentment. Only Christ can fill the void that is in our hearts. 

I have no expectations of ever becoming pregnant again. Could God open my womb and give us more children? Yes. Will we be pursuing this? No—not unless he clearly leads us in this direction. Could he give them to us anyway? Absolutely. I do not know God’s plans for the future and I will not try to predict them--I never expected to become pregnant again before our twins, yet I was graciously given time to carry and cherish them. I trust him with the rest of our story. 

People are combative toward this answer. I’m often met with reactions similar to that of the kind nurse—shock, horror, and the assumption that we’ve simply lost all hope.

The truth is, our hearts have been filled with such hope. Something changed in us after our third loss. For the first time, we both felt excited about a future that may not include additional pregnancies. The realization rocked us at first, but we came to embrace it with joy—it was, and still is, a genuine realization. It was not a “coping mechanism” for heartache or “lowering our standards” to make ourselves feel better—the realization was true and still stands. We are able to look forward to the future with excitement, even if that future does not include more babies.

Before the twins, God began to stir a new thing in our hearts. The specifics were, and still are, a bit hazy—but we began to feel so dissatisfied with our hopes for an easy life where all of our plans unfold without a hitch. We began to feel drawn toward the broken, the unreached, the forgotten, and the orphan. Our hearts yearned for the adventure of missional living. The pull is still there—the specifics still hazy. But we have hope that God will continue to open and close doors as we continue to run forward, just as he has through our entire journey thus far.

Hope and grief can live hand in hand. This hope does not take away from the ache that is in our hearts. This ache is a reminder that this broken world is not our home, and makes Christ’s death and resurrection that much sweeter. We still grieve, ache, and cry out with tearful eyes. But just as our hope does not take away our grief, our grief does not take away our hope.

I have not given up, nor have I lost hope. I’ve simply redirected my hope to where it counts. While we may have completely changed lanes, we have not given up. Please do not mistake the two.

There is joy in this sorrow. God had promised me many incredible things—but good health, an easy life, and even healthy babies were never one of them. In fact, he promised that this life would be full of suffering—but to take heart and cling to hope, because HE had overcome and would return to restore all that is broken. When I think of this, I cannot help but be filled with such hope.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Tearful eyes fixed on eternity: our twins

I’ve started to tell this story over and over, but have changed my mind each time. Vulnerability is terrifying. Over the years, I have come to see that there is such power in the community that is built through sharing our stories. It has resulted in some embarrassment, discomfort, and pain—yet at the same time, being vulnerable has created community, served as a source of encouragement, introduced me to some of my dearest friends, and opened doors to share Hope. With this in mind, I want to let you in. I want to share our story—their story.

On July 20, Chris and I learned that our identical twins’ hearts had both stopped beating.

In the nearly two years since our infant son, Ethan, went to heaven, we have been hit with the pain of miscarriage three times. I wish I could say that it gets easier each time, but it doesn’t. Although each time was painful, this time felt so different.

This pregnancy was incredibly unexpected. Of course we were thrilled, but after three losses and worsening PCOS we never expected to become pregnant again. Chris and I had both come to peace with this. For the first time in years, we both felt such joy and excitement in our current situation and we had (quietly) begun to (excitedly) pursue another adventure—which was rerouted at the news of this pregnancy.

Last May, I walked into my ob-gyn’s office to discuss a treatment plan for my PCOS. You can imagine our shock as my doctor discovered that my cysts were completely gone—and I was pregnant instead. Unlike any of previous experiences, this pregnancy felt textbook normal. Weeks passed and my HCG levels rose perfectly. I was plagued with horrible morning sickness. A later ultrasound revealed wiggly babies and healthy heartbeats—two heartbeats. We were pregnant with identical twins, and we weren't even trying. The timing felt perfect and Chris and I both felt so hopeful that we would be bringing babies home at the end of this pregnancy.

I visited my OB on July 20 for what was supposed to be an uneventful appointment. I had already had an ultrasound and heard heartbeats. The doctor rolled the ultrasound wand over my belly and peered at the screen for a long time. I immediately knew something was wrong. Both babies laid perfectly still and I could not see the flicker of their hearts. I held my breath as the Doppler was switched on. I desperately hoped to hear the whooshing sound of our babies’ hearts beating, but I was met by the sound of silence instead.  I stared at the ultrasound monitor, hot tears pouring down my face, and knew this would probably be the last time I’d ever see our twins. I wish I had asked for a recent photo to add to the one we had received weeks before. 

Three hours and a second opinion later, we received confirmation that both of our babies had gone to heaven about a week before.  Their hearts had stopped beating, but my body had not yet realized what my heart now knew so clearly. It would be too dangerous for me to miscarry on my own and I needed to have the twins at the hospital. My D&C was scheduled for the following day.

We know that God is still good, loving, and sovereign in this pain. We have many questions and feel somewhat as if we have been led into the desert, but we do know that God is a good father. He does not leave his children empty-handed, even if our arms are never filled with babies. 

God has been revealing many different things to me during this time, and I’ll be writing more, but for now I want to share a few things that have been on my heart.

I recently reread a few posts that I had written during a season of peace and purpose. I'll share the links here, rather than repeat the entire post--because I could and it would perfectly fit what I want to say. 

Reading the words today, I still believe them. I still stand by everything I said then. Yes, my heart is broken again. I have questions. I feel confused. My arms are aching, yet I still believe.

In situations like this, we need to be reminded that our lives have purpose and value even if our original plans never come to fruition. The barren womb, the never-married, and the still-waiting need to know that they matter and that they can have a full and fruitful life, even if they continue to wait. I do want to encourage anyone in this place that you are not “giving up” or “losing hope” if you chose to stop walking in a particular direction, while continuing to place your hope where it really counts. I have much more to say on phrases such as “don’t give up” and “don’t lose hope”, but I’ll share more later. I’m clinging to Hope, but probably not the way most people mean when they speak the phrase. God has promised me so much, but He never promised good health, children, or an easy life—yet I rejoice that He has promised me so much more good than I can even begin to imagine.

Our tearful eyes are fixed on eternity, as we continue to grieve with hope.

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