Red Vine Spirituality

Taylor K. Arthur balances Bipolar 1 Disorder, marriage, and motherhood with a nitty-gritty faith inspiring a twisted, blissful life.

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Come get your cheer on over at “Grace for Moms” today!

And as for you . . . sisters, never tire of doing what is good. 2 Thessalonians 3:13

Red Vine friends,

God is so good. On a very hard day, I am blessed to be guest blogging over at “Grace for Moms.” His timing is so perfect, and I am so grateful. If you need some encouragement, please come join me to read Where’s the Cheer Section? We all need a “that-a-way!” every now and again.

Gratefully,

Taylor

Rainbow Stories: the Relentless Rainbow Butlers (May it be so)

I have never met McCayla Butler in person, but if you are a fan of Rainbows for Noah, you’ll understand what I mean when I say I feel like I’ve met her heart. McCayla, and her husband, John, have endured more than any couple should ever have to. They have buried two sons, Noah and Isaac, in less than one year’s time. I remember sitting in my car outside the Lifeway store when I heard that they had lost Isaac, after a last-minute plane ride down to Lousiana to meet their new son. I wept for McCayla like she was my sister, because you see, once you share the bond of a child in heaven with another woman, they truly are your sister.

When she announced Baby Miles’ name immediately after finding out his gender, I understood because I did the same thing: defying fear and embracing hope and claiming a future for this rainbow child in spite of the darkness clinging. When you have lost a child, you realize that every moment with a child born and unborn is a celebration. And we rainbow mamas won’t waste one of those precious moments, even if every one is a crazy mix of crushing, soul-tearing heartbreak mixed with deepest joy and gratitude.

When Baby Miles was born alive, we cheered for the Butlers. Then I sighed, and cried again. Because coming home with a rainbow baby is its own unique journey I have yet to put into words. What I love the most about McCayla is that she deeply loves Jesus. And yet, she is so very honest about how deeply her grief has affected to her, what it feels like to lay to rest a person who was supposed to lay you to rest. I treasure her commitment to truth, her commitment to the nitty-gritty, and her refusal to give up. She wrote a sweet blog, about a simple rainbow moment with Miles at Costco, and I wanted to share it because I have thought these same thoughts, and lived these full-circle rainbow moments. Without further adieu, McCayla Butler, everyone:

COSTCO HOPE
by McCayla Butler

life is funny sometimes.

last night this happened:

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my husband was in line to purchase some delicious costco treats and miles and i were hanging out saving a table.

baby was uncharacteristically gitty. like giggling, throwing his head back and laughing type gitty. it made my heart swell with love and pride. then i got a little self-conscious for a second. if there are people around us who just experienced a loss of a baby or who are having trouble getting pregnant, this blatant scene of baby sweetness could be really hard to see. so i kind of tried to tone it down, but miles wouldn’t have it.

too. much. joy.

then it hit me.

you may recall, last summer i wrote a blog post about going to costco and how hard it was to see a happy couple there with a smiling baby. i had forgotten about it until that very moment with miles.

i ended the post by saying, God willing, in a year or so, my husband and i will be that happy couple at costco. giggling with our rainbow baby whilst chowing down on a $1.50 hot dog. and when others see us i pray they find hope.

it gives me goosebumps just reading that again.

my deepest desire is that miles’ life is a living demonstration of hope. hope in the flesh.

even at costco. may it be so.

Best of 2014: Saying goodbye to Sylvia

As I have wrestled with suicidal thoughts over the years, I have learned to remind myself again and again that there is no romance in ending my own life. Every chance I get, I want to reaffirm to the suicidal that this life is worth living for. It will get better! God bless all of you, my friends, who wrestle with this vicious demon of depression.

Please be advised: this is an unusually graphic post including a crime scene photograph, and other gory details of suicide.

Virginia Wolfe by the Indigo Girls.

They published your diary
And that’s how I got to know you
The key to the room of your own
And a mind without end

And here’s a young girl
On a kind of a telephone line through time
And the voice at the other end
Comes like a long lost friend

Read more: Indigo Girls – Virginia Woolf Lyrics | MetroLyrics

I met her in the fall of my senior year in college, a forest of trees ablaze in my manic brain. I didn’t know I was manic, and I didn’t know she was either. But I knew she was a friend to me like I had never known before.

But wait: there was another: senior year in high school. I fell in love with a young woman going mad over wall paper, inventing a world with no men. If she were alive, I would have hunted her down. Jack thought a world without men sounded nuts. Crazy talk. I thought she was genius.

After I was diagnosed, I became obsessed with them all. I felt close to them in a way I could only feel to someone who shared the bests and worsts of my illness. They were mad, and bright, and genius, and beautiful. They were misunderstood and shocked and psychotherapized and abandoned and written off. Still, they were a special class of genius.

I was hunting down the full set of Virginia’s diaries one day in a mega book store. I already possessed every word Sylvia had written, absorbed it, worshiped it. I was standing in the book store musing about just how fantastic my literary friends were: Sylvia, Charlotte, Virginia, Hemmingway, Sexton . . . How much I felt a part of a secret club, this puffed up lithium girl trying to find a reason.

And then, like an arrow shooting through fog, Truth stopped me in my tracks. I stood dead still and shot through as one, single sentence changed my trajectory,

BUT THEY’RE ALL DEAD.

Gasp.

Virginia filled her pockets with rocks and walked into the River Ouse near her home. He body was found days later.

Sylvia prepared breakfast for her children, sealed their bedroom off as they slept, and stuck her head in the oven.

Charlotte overdosed on chloroform, choosing “chloroform over cancer.”

Hemingway shot himself with his favorite shot gun.

Sexton drank a glass of vodka and started her car in the garage.

The list of creative geniuses who died by their own hands is astoundingly long. 94 artists pop up when you enter “Artists who committed suicide” in Wikipedia. 310 names appear when you enter “Writers who committed suicide” on Wikipedia. Three hundred and ten.

I discovered something else truly horrifying while researching for this piece:

CRIME SCENE PHOTOGRAPHS.

sylvia head in oven

Yes, that is Sylvia dead with her head in the oven. Suicides notes and details are initially controlled by the sheriff or medical examiner, since all unnatural deaths must be investigated. Under the Freedom of Information Act–except in Washington and Ohio–these notes and details may very well end up in the hands of the press. For more information about this, see Slate.com.

As the details about Sylvia’s death were made public,

[Her ex-husband Ted] Hughes wrote to A. Alvarez [who wrote the first account of Plath’s death in The Savage God] of his frustration of the outlining the details of Plath’s death, which he didn’t want their children to know: “now you have defined the whole thing, and handed it to the public. In a real way, you have robbed them of her death, of any natural way of dealing with her death. This will add up through every year they live.” – See more at: http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/jacketcopy/2009/03/sylvia-plaths-s.html#sthash.YSfAs8HI.dpuf. Also see the article Ted, Sylvia, and Me at www.theguardian.com.

And, it did add up through every year they lived. Her son Nicholas, just one year old at his mother’s death, hanged himself 46 years later. To read more on this, see Nicholas Hughes, Sylvia Plath’s Son, Commits Suicide. Below is a picture of Sylvia holding baby Nicholas.

nicholas plath w sylvia plath

Children or teens who lose a parent are three times more likely to die of suicide, according to the May 2010 Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatyr (reported on by Hopkin’s Children’s Hospital. “Losing a parent to suicide at an early age emerges as a catalyst for suicide and psychiatric disorders,” says lead investigator Holly C. Wilcox, Ph.D., a psychiatric epidemiologist at Hopkins Children’s (www.hopkinschildrens.org).

All of the beautiful pictures of Sylvia’s life, all of the creative genius is undeniably tainted by these gory and tragic remembrances.

And please do not misunderstand me as I write this: I do not judge Sylvia and the others. They lived in eras in which psychology, psychiatry, and pharmacology were at best experimental nightmares for the mentally ill. They were shocked, poisoned, wrongly prescribed, and written off. They, in many ways, served as the guinea pigs for modern psychiatry.

They believed what they were doing was right and fair for those around them. Virginia wrote to her husband in her suicide note:

Dearest, I feel certain that I am going mad again. I feel we can’t go through another of those terrible times. And I shan’t recover this time. I begin to hear voices, and I can’t concentrate. So I am doing what seems the best thing to do. You have given me the greatest possible happiness. You have been in every way all that anyone could be. I don’t think two people could have been happier ’til this terrible disease came. I can’t fight any longer. I know that I am spoiling your life, that without me you could work. And you will I know. You see I can’t even write this properly. I can’t read. What I want to say is I owe all the happiness of my life to you. You have been entirely patient with me and incredibly good. I want to say that—everybody knows it. If anybody could have saved me it would have been you. Everything has gone from me but the certainty of your goodness. I can’t go on spoiling your life any longer. I don’t think two people could have been happier than we have been. V.

But this is what I had to ask myself that day in the book store:

ARE YOU GOING TO CONTINUE TO ROMANTICIZE YOUR DEAD FRIENDS, OR SEE THEM IN CONTEXT?

ARE YOU GOING TO REALIZE THAT FILLING YOUR HEAD AND SPIRIT WITH THEIR IDEAS WILL LEAD TO THE SAME PLACES THEY ENDED UP: as bloated corpse floating in the river, as skull blown to bloody bits about the living room, as corpse in heels with head in the oven, as corpse in a car enveloped by poison gas, as corpse hanging from the rafters, bowels given way, rotting . . . with pictures smacked across the internet? Are you willing to leave your children, spouse, parents, siblings, nieces and nephews and cousins haunted by a legacy of death?

That’s what mental illness did to these friends of mine in an age where there was little to save them. Mental illness ravaged their own lives, haunts their legacies, and clings to their families. But we can stop it. At least, we can try our damndest.

So, that day in the bookstore, I said goodbye to Sylvia. I walked out without Virginia’s diaries with a new purpose: to find those who are fighting these demons, who persist at surviving. Their names include Kay Redfield Jamison , Marya Hornbacher, Terri Cheney, and John Nash, among many others.

Since that fateful day in the bookstore twelve years ago, I persist on living. And I am still here.

So, goodbye, Sylvia. I will honor you by living every breath God gives me as sanely as possible.

Taylor

Giving this Tuesday?

Happy Tuesday, everybody! It’s a big day on Red Vine, as I have a post going live on incourage.me. It’s also “Giving Tuesday, the day when we can GIVE instead of just cybershop while eating the last of the pumpkin pie and hoping the LeapTV goes on a bundle sale (ok, so that’s my life.)

If you’re still in a turkey coma and need some inspiration, this video will get you there:

So, now that you’re awake and ready to give, I have an awesome cause for you. His name is Baby Travis, and he is stinkin’ adorable. His mama, Carra, is one of those people that light life on fire, who so loves Jesus that He emanates from her every movement. She prays warrior-style, and when I was pregnant with Samuel and desperate, she’s the kind of friend who fasted for three days for my baby.

You can imagine how devastating it was this last Mother’s Day, to receive a text that Carra’s own new Baby Travis was inpatient at the local children’s hospital in heart failure. Our mutual friend, Kasi, and I visited Carra and her husband, Travis, in the hospital as baby Travis lay in his crib, attached to multiple wires and monitors that I have become too accustomed to. We wrapped our arms around our friend and prayed for answers, for a reversal of his grim heart failure diagnosis. We prayed for a miracle.

It took months to unravel Baby Travis’ complicated diagnosis of Barth Syndrome (affecting only 1 in every 300,000 to 400,000 births in the United States) hard-won by Carra, who wouldn’t take “no” for an answer from any doctor and kept searching for answers. Barth Syndrome is a complicated genetic disorder, and involves not only Cardiomyopathy (heart disease), but also growth delay, underdeveloped skeletal musculature and muscle weakness, Neutropenia, and more. For more information about Barth Syndrome, please visit the Barth Syndrome Foundation.

Currently, Baby Travis’ heart is functioning “normally,” though the doctors continue to assert that it is severely damaged. Carra and her mother provide round-the-clock care for Baby Travis, constantly watching him so that he does not rip out his feeding tube upon which he’s dependent. They rarely take Baby Travis out into social settings, due to his fragile condition.

We are hoping to raise money to secure some nursing care for Baby Travis, so both Carra and her mother could be afforded some much-needed time to rest. We are also hoping to fund a hopeful future trip to Baltimore’s Kennedy Krieger Institute, where the specialists there accept patients into their clinics only four times a year.

Let’s raise some money and lift a small part of the burden for this deserving, beautiful family!

Visit Support Baby Travis Palmer’s Family and be a part of “Giving Tuesday” 2014.

God bless you all and thank you!

Taylor

In Pursuit

It was right then that I started thinking about Thomas Jefferson on the Declaration of Independence and the part about our right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. And I remember thinking how did he know to put the pursuit part in there? That maybe happiness is something that we can only pursue . . .

-Christopher Gardner, The Pursuit of Happiness

We never count on good weather when we go to the beach in March. We’re not necessarily there for weather. Rather, we come for the roar of the ocean, overwhelming and larger than anything we will ever hold. We go to feel the salt on our faces and the whip of the wind, to know our footprints still hold weight. We write Caleb’s name in the sand, hoping that maybe — just maybe — the same waves that will wipe his name clean from this beach may write our names on the shores of heaven for him to see. We bring our grief, our living hope, to spill out like a bucket of seashells upon the shore. We return to the sea to feel it all and wash it away and return home clean.

This past March was our 6th year. I can’t remember another year when the sun has shone as brightly as it did that day, right in the middle of Caleb’s week. We ran, all four of us, like a bunch of starved refugees, to fill our toes with sand and eat the light of this August-like March afternoon. Two-year-old Miracle and I sat deep in castle-making, his toddler gibberish dancing with the wind. I turned to watch Jack teaching our four-year-old Rainbow how to fly his first kite and caught a feeling I hadn’t hoped for.

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I can’t tell you why the sight of that tiny boy flying a cherry-colored kite, with Daddy crouching over him, struck me so. Was it the sunshine or the wind that wound me up into — dare I say it? — happiness? Was it that after so many Marches gray and salty, this beach surprised me with bright? Or was it that for the first time in so long, I could feel sand and absorb light and laugh at cherry red in blue sky?

What is happiness, anyways? Is it real? I remember happy, believed it was possible. But for me, now? Maybe not for me. Maybe what I could have, I thought and prayed, was just a bit of joy to make the days more bearable. And so, a whole year before this moment at the beach, I started to pursue joy – what it means and how to get it. I found 242 mentions of joy in the Bible, but only 6 mentions of happiness.

He will yet fill your mouth with laughter and your lips with shouts of joy. {Job 8:21}

But when a lifetime’s worth of Marches string out, how do I laugh and visit my child’s grave? Will there really be joy again?

I once sat in this house, in this room, with no children stomping down the stairs in the morning. There were no smudges on the windows, no little feet. I survived on the words of Jeremiah 29:11: “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares The Lord, “plans for hope and a future.”

I learned I can hold onto God in an empty house or kneeling at my son’s tiny grave. I believe in His goodness through bed rest and preeclampsia and the terminal heart diagnosis of our thriving Miracle because I know He is working it all out for His glory, my good, and a forever past every tear.

The sun rose this morning, pinking up the sky over the backyard fence. I sipped my coffee and marveled at how this house rocks with boydom, kisses offer themselves up from little boys’ fish lips, and tiny voices cry “Mama” when they’re scared. These hardwood floors I picked out so long ago, swollen large with a baby who would never come home, are covered with crumbs and the tiny trails of chubby feet. This hunk of a man who partnered it all with me, bore the burdens and the tear-soaked nights, still comes home, parched through for us.

I get it now, how simple it really is.

Taste and see that the LORD is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in Him. {Psalm 34:8}

Yes, I still wake hard some mornings to the loss of my sweet child. But I know now that the Son shines in winter, and joy breaks me open to see it. No matter the day or the loss or the break, I know that living in joy is the only way to pursue happiness.

This post first published December 2, 2014 on (in)courage.me

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