Red Vine Spirituality

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

Category: Surviving Stillbirth (page 2 of 9)

Bless this temple

You are altogether beautiful, my darling;
there is no flaw in you.

Song of Songs 4:7

One afternoon on vacation, Jack sent me to the pool to relax while the kids took a nap. As I settled down into my lawn chair, I didn’t even think about how I looked in my swimsuit. After three babies in four years, bedrest, NICUs, and endless doctor appointments, I couldn’t have cared less what I looked like that blessed afternoon I spent by the pool alone. I ordered chips, guacamole, and a glass of wine and reveled in my nap-time freedom.

That is, until a young woman about 17 sprawled her perky body across the lawn chair next to me. She wasn’t overly provocative or flirty, behaving no differently than I would have at her age. But she just was, ya know?, that fresh gorgeous that turns heads.

I’m not a very jealous person by nature, but it was difficult to not start asking myself how in the world Miss Fresh Gorgeous turns into–well, to be honest–me. I sat there, remembering my own first bloom at seventeen, when I wasn’t even sure of this gift of a body I’d been given. I had just stared in the mirror in shock over the way a bikini did, in fact, fit me.

As the afternoon progressed, I noticed how much my young and gorgeous counterpart fidgeted with her suit. She turned and readjusted herself, as if she was working out this new body of hers, like a new car she hadn’t yet gotten comfortable driving. And while I wistfully admired and even envied her perky hot number that day at the pool, I didn’t for one second wish to return to her phase of novice womanhood.

That night, while my family slept, I brushed my teeth in front of the mirror and stopped to look at myself for a good long while. I stared at my sunburned shoulders and my pore-pocked face, along with the new wrinkles starting to form from too much stress or just too many days by the pool. I tried not to focus on the lines running down the sides of my nose from the way I’ve always scrunched my face up to smile. I made a mental note to get home from vacation and buy wrinkle cream.

As I washed my face, I let my scrutiny fall to my hands. Sporting the same rings and holding the same man’s hands every day for a good fifteen years, I failed to wear gloves or get manicures after washing mountains of dirty dishes and planting gardens. You can tell by their wear. Yet, they’ve served up love in countless meals and softed feverish heads, typed hundreds of blog posts,and folded thousands of loads of laundry.

And as I slipped on my pajamas, I couldn’t help but wince. I sport more stretch marks from my lithium weight than my swelling humongous to deliver three babies. And, oh, these legs! I’ve had a love-hate relationship with them since girlhood. I’ve always wanted the other girls’ skinny “chicken legs,” to wear skinny jeans and look like something other than a stuffed turkey in them. But turkey or chicken, these legs have rocked me and my babies back and forth in Aunt Ginny’s old glider, paced waiting room floors, and sprinted at the sound of my babies’ cries. And I am grateful for them, to be carried through this life by sturdy and reliable if not chicken legs.

I don’t know when it happened, but somehow between all the ways I’ve been angry at this precious, God-given body for failing me, all the ways I’ve punished her for falling short, I started to see all the ways I needed her and all the ways she’s come through for me. I started to cherish her for the temple she is, for the spirit of God she houses, not just for the sum of her parts (1 Corinthians 3:16). And when I started to see my body as temple–as sacred–I started to say thank you more and scrutinize less.

As I closed my eyes that night, I whispered to heaven,I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made, not only in spirit, but in this body as well. I have been blessed with a precious temple in which I’ve loved a man, co-created children, fed, dressed, held, rocked, hugged, and danced. I have been blessed.

but I did hunt down that wrinkle cream when I got home . . .

Good luck at the pool;)

Lovingly,

Taylor

The Double Drown

And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God.
Phillipians 1:3-10

I’ve been trying to get some writing done. Trying to write out a love story about two young kids who fell in love, threw it all down before they knew what it would cost. Then, she got really, really sick. And I think God gave them an incredible love to survive so much. To be married, still. To survive years that felt like stretched-out midnights. Years they felt forgotten. Years they didn’t know where that God they cast their lots for went. Years when they wondered if He even cared.

I can’t say there aren’t hollow places I’m still finding. Angers and griefs and blank spots that I stifled just to survive. Now, between picking out kitchen cabinets and finishing up this one truly crazy love story, we find ourselves in our bedroom closet screaming at each other. At each other.

Because who else could understand? Who else stands here and is willing to be yelled at or take any blame? Who else was here? Just me and that rugged, unshaven face through all the midnights of terror and loneliness, through all the days we looked at each other and couldn’t recognize that war-beaten partner of ours for the bride and the groom we were so many lifetimes ago.

There is so much we can’t blame each other for. And yet, when the waves of grief come, we still fail to be anything other than human. No matter how much Jesus, no matter how many prayers and devotions, when the tidal comes, we are both just desperately trying to stay alive. And if you have ever struggled not to drown, you’ll agree with me that there is a force so deep within a human being, so powerful and so unyielding, that it will fight for my own survival above all else. If my Love drowns alongside of me, my instinct will fight to use him as a buoy: to use his body to keep mine alive.

And maybe this is the ugly truth about why so many marriages die when the unimaginable happens. No one wants to own it: how ugly this being human and drowning alongside another really is. No one wants to admit their marriage is a double-drown. And, yes, we both contribute to the other’s ultimate submersion. It’s the nastiest perversion of this love we treasure. And when we finally wash up on shore, we look at each others’ torn bodies. We look at the gashes and claw marks from the other. And where should the anger be pointed? And how do we get rid of it?

I thought it was all going to get better one day, and we’d learn how to manage the double-drown. But now I don’t know, because there are mornings on my knees when I am begging for relief, begging for a different perspective and an easier breathe, that I still beg for healing for a marriage that keeps disappearing under tidal.

We couples who bury our own flesh, who look at a child every day and wonder how long?, we live a high stakes reality (and I know there are others of you out there, fighting different demons, who find yourselves at a high-stakes table, as well). It makes our worlds small and our marriages so very important. It makes us surviving our double-drownings so very necessary, so impossibly crucial. The stakes stack so high on one connection, and we wonder why we break at the pressure points?

We know there is no where else where anyone could ever bleed as we two bleed in that bedroom closet. Screaming in there at that face is the closest intimacy I’ve ever known: the hide I crave, the unraveled no one else would forgive. Beyond the struggle of the drown, past the crumbled dreams and the disillusioned life we’re trying so hard to fill back up with hope, we are a couple in a closet. We’re screaming at each other just to be heard, and loved, and ultimately chosen again.

Sometimes it takes a while to find our way back to each other. The shreds need to stitch back up into whole pieces again. The bleeding needs to stop. There are prayers said, and salve applied.

Life goes on, and love somehow persists. Maybe because there’s one thing I still believe with all my heart:

I’d rather go crazy,
be drowning in debt,
live in an unfinished house,
bury a baby,
and fight tooth and nail for two more,
all alongside this man
than have a perfect life with any other.

I retrieve our wedding vows way back from that golden day. Again, I whisper them to myself:
How naturally it is I should feel this way about him, for together we have shared the blessings of God. He is sealed in my heart with permanent betrothal. I will go where he goes, live where he lives. His people are my people and His God is my God. Philippians 1, Ruth 1

Say them again, friend, the next time you two find yourselves washed up on shore. Bind the wounds; lick them for a couple of days if you have to. Then say the vows again until you mean them.

These are the real rules for marriage: Wash, Bind, Vow. Repeat.
Amen.

To the most mysterious work of loving in all my life,

Taylor

Broken Together by Casting Crowns

When You Feel Alone in Your Pain

Then God opened up the hollow place in Lehi, and water came out of it. When Samson drank, his strength returned and he revived.
Judges 15:19


Crank it up with me this morning, friends: “Rise Again” by Need to Breathe

You looked at me the other day and you said, “I can’t find anyone like me.” What you meant, really, is that you can’t find anyone who has been through what you’ve been through. I nodded, because I get it. I get it not because I’ve experienced what you have, but because I, too, have been set apart by the events of my life.

I know what it’s like to stand in a room full of people and feel utterly, entirely alone. I know what it is to not be seen in broad daylight, to bleed loud and violent in the middle of a holiday and marvel at how they cannot hear me, how they walk through my blood and don’t slip.

I wondered why for years.

You spoke true words this week on the phone, and you took my breath away, “I don’t want this to be my life.” I knew what you meant. This isn’t the life I signed up for either, and every day I lose my breath in one small moment of clarity: yes, this is my life. I thought eventually it would sink in, but I’ve been swallowing lithium for a long, long time.

The word Bipolar still sticks in my throat.

Even just today, I missed the son we gave back to heaven. Surrounded by children, happy and free on a spring break adventure, there’s always some detail–their three to my two, another mother leading three little boys around–to prick this mother heart. I keep aching for my missing child. I do, and that’s the truth, and I hardly ever like to admit to it. Admit that some aches don’t leave. Admit to you that I just keep bleeding.

Admitting to you scares me, because I worry you don’t understand.

You asked me two springs ago, before the loss that changed your universe: “How can you stand to listen to someone talk about something so much less important than samkicker?”

I looked at you, and I knew you didn’t know yet: there is no hierarchy of pain.

True, deep pain has one Godly purpose on earth: to open us up. We get to choose: are we going to wall it off, cope, lie, freeze our pain into shards of glass we tiptoe around all of our days? Are we going to interview perspective friends and lovers until we find someone else who has been through enough atrocities to understand ours? Are we going to climb high up into an ivory tower and look down upon those who haven’t felt this much death? Are we?

True, deep pain opens us up to each other if we let it.

I see you, friend. I see you lonely, and I see you afraid. And I know that anger roaring when your pain gets compared, belittled, stepped over.

If I could tell you anything? View this chasmic shift in your heart–this breaking–as a chance at new life. See every redefinition, every bitter pill swallowed, as your way through.

Yes. I know what I’m saying, and I hate it as much as you do. But my pain unresolved is the piece of me that connects the best to others. It’s the piece of me that writes to you today.

Let your pain live out its life cycle. Don’t suppress it. And understand this: when you suffer chronic, when you live through the unimaginable and the unnatural, your life will look different. Like ground the farmer tills and seeds and plows and tills again, so are our hearts. So are our yields if we let Him work.

You are the holy ground, friend. Your heart bleeds and breaks and floods. If you allow it, your heart can yield crop after bountiful crop of beauty.

This brokenness that sets you apart was never supposed to be understood. It was meant to be given. So go give it. Flood it out into another’s barren waste land. Open it up for another’s nourishment. Stop trying to fix it, and start trying to share it.

True deep pain, like the stream carving a canyon into mountain, will find its way through to fertile ground. There, friend, as you water another? There, for one blink, your pain transforms into nourishing purpose.

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 my 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


Lenten Cup: Planting Ahead

Those who go out weeping,
carrying seed to sow,
will return with songs of joy,
carrying sheaves with them.

Psalm 126:6

It’s that time of year again. I wait with anticipation for Caleb’s birthday, pregnant with longing and an ache my body feels to the marrow, never quite sure of how I should feel or what I should be doing. It will be his 7th birthday this week. And, as our family grows, our schedule changes. Caleb’s birthday must change, too.

We are stepping further and further away from our first born the more we step into the world with his living, thriving, growing brothers. Abraham attending full day kindergarten means we will not be going to the beach as many days as we normally have. I am venturing into the world–for my living boys’ sakes–on days I have, up until this point, hidden. Life moves me forward.

Samuel’s teacher approached me about celebrating him in class during March, due to the fact that his real birthday is in August. Of course, the day that worked is right in the middle of Caleb’s week. Our God is so good that He plants blessings right in the midst of my grief. I am now busy making cake pops for my miracle son, while my heart grieves Caleb. And do you know that the alternate meaning of Caleb’s name in Hebrew [is] כָּל (kal) “whole, all of” and לֵב (lev) “heart”? Thanks, cousin Kelsie, for that!

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So we will be celebrating St. Patrick’s day, green shirts donned and leprechauns leaving jellybean trails, and we will celebrate our Samuel‘s half birthday, thirty homemade “banilla” cake pops and all. Because we are crying, and we are laughing, and we are praising a God who weaves all of us together.

Leprechaun traps

Leprechaun traps

The more I live this twisted, blissful life, the more I understand there is no way I should do this. I’m not white knuckling or stuffing down these tidal waves of tears. I am throwing seeds as I walk through this grief, as many as I can. I’m planting ahead for the times of joy to come, the times of trial when I can look back and see how My Provider harvests righteousness from these seasons of pain. I’m birthing the joy of the Lord this March, as the tulips bloom and we visit our son’s grave, because I’ve learned now that this pain will yield. The tide will turn, friend. And His joy comes in the morning.

God bless your tears, that they might yield.

Taylor

Thanks to my Aunt Keely, who pointed this verse out during one of her “Living in the Unforced Rhythms of Grace” talks. I can still see you crying and throwing seed during your talk!

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