Surviving Stillbirth Blog Archives
Mother of 3
October 30, 2013
Yet they say, “My Lord deserted us; he has forgotten us.” Never! Can a mother forget her little child and not have love for her own son? Yet even if that should be, I will not forget you. See, I have tattooed your name upon my palm, and ever before me is a picture of Jerusalem’s walls in ruins. Soon your rebuilders shall come and chase away all those destroying you. Look and see, for the Lord has vowed that all your enemies shall come and be your slaves. They will be as jewels to display, as bridal ornaments.
Even the most desolate parts of your abandoned land shall soon be crowded with your people, and your enemies who enslaved you shall be far away. The generations born in exile shall return and say, ‘We need more room! It’s crowded here!’ Then you will think to yourself, ‘Who has given me all these? For most of my children were killed, and the rest were carried away into exile, leaving me here alone. Who bore these? Who raised them for me?’”
The Lord God says, “See, I will give a signal to the Gentiles, and they shall carry your little sons back to you in their arms, and your daughters on their shoulders. Kings and queens shall serve you; they shall care for all your needs. They shall bow to the earth before you and lick the dust from off your feet; then you shall know I am the Lord. Those who wait for me shall never be ashamed.” Isaiah 49:14-23
I was having a very productive day a few weeks ago. I had finally taken the boys to the dentist, and was floating on air after being thanked by the dentist for their healthy little mama-scrubbed teeth. Phew! We popped into the pediatrician’s for Abraham to get his flu shot and sat down to wait. Across the fish tank sat a beaming, exhausted-looking mama with her gentle hand resting on a baby carrier. Dad helped wrangle their two older boys who appeared close to my sons’ ages.
Still caught up in my no-cavity moment of bliss, I asked her, “New baby?”
She smiled back at my recognition. “Yes, another baby boy. Three boys!”
I swallowed hard, feeling that monster Grief STILL waking up from the deep of my heart. You see, I used to meet mothers like this one and hate them. Why not? There were so many things to hate: her sweet, proud, happy smile; her peaceful exhaustion; her three, living, breathing, boys. But now? The thing I am most jealous of is her innocence. And, at the same time, I refuse to be the one to take it away from her. Because if I had it? I’d keep it, just as long as I could. And I refuse to make her feel guilty for having all of her babies safe in her arms. After all, that’s what each mama everywhere for all time who says “yes” to their child should have: a whole and healthy child to love into adulthood.
I looked at that fellow tired mama across the fish tank from me, living in another universe away from the land of twisted bliss I inhabit. I smiled at her. “Congratulations, Mama. I bet you’re tired.” I didn’t let the tears sting until I was safe at home. (But, that’s after five and a half years of practice.) She beamed back at me, “I am.”
All around me, babies continue to be born strong and healthy. Every time, I thank God that each mama I know and love leaves the hospital with her treasure, never knowing anything but bliss. Every time–I can’t help it–I look to heaven and ask, “But why couldn’t I?”
Even though you don’t see my oldest son, I will always be a mother of three. I may not know how to juggle buckling three kids under 5 into the back seat, but you should see the juggle going on in my heart. I carry Caleb with me every moment, as I carry the other two. The grieving that persists inside me is as constant as my concern for where Bram will go to kindergarten and how well (or not) he is learning his abc’s. Heartache consumes my thoughts just as I am consumed with how to discipline Samuel through the terrible two’s and where his oxygen levels are at.
I love Isaiah 49, because even though people will forget Caleb, I know I will never. And, I know when I am gone someday, my firstborn is tattooed on our Father’s hands and will never be forgotten. God has a way, my friends, of righting the wrongs. Even when they are this big! So, I trust this mother of 3’s broken heart to Him. And I know that He will make the desolate lands of our hearts so crowded we will ask Him, “Where did these people come from?” And we will know then–as we trust now–how only He could turn broken and empty into crowded and full.
Mother of 3,
October 23, 2013
In honor of Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month . . .
It had been a month since Caleb died. The dust was settling, and people were getting on with their lives. I was sitting on the couch in the living room staring at the television, googling crazy things like “Why did this happen to me, God?” and watching youtube videos made by other grieving moms that made me cry so hard I would eventually pass out from exhaustion. FUN TIMES. (Note: one of the unfair things about a late-term still birth or infant loss is that I (like many moms) was already on maternity leave. Our bodies are still recovering from delivery, even if there is no child to care for. There is a hole ripped in time, and we are stuck in a maternity-leave limbo with no baby.)
And then, I prayed, “Lord, please give me something to do or I am going to go crazy.”
Almost instantly, Jack received an email from a God-conduit–my friend Kasi–about the TEARS foundation. I went to therapy that week, and my therapist, Phyllis–another God-conduit–handed me a TEARS advertisement. Their annual walk was coming up; there was still time to enter a “Caleb Joshua Arthur” team. A path cleared before me: I would assemble a team to walk in memory of our son, and raise money for other families who needed help with burial expenses. God had answered my prayers!
I spent the next few weeks in a frenzied effort to honor my son and assemble the biggest, most lucrative team ever assembled for the TEARS foundation’s remembrance walk. We showed up in full-force with Caleb’s full name filling up our t-shirts. Family and friends from all around participated, and we felt a roar of support for this angel son of ours. This moment in history could never make up for every sports event we would not attend for him, every graduation we would not listen to his name being called, every first day of school and field trip and every single thing I was so happy and ready to share with Caleb as his proud mama . . . but this moment in history was a moment in THIS WORLD when my son’s NAME was called, there was a crowd to cheer for him, and we felt proud, proud, proud. I still have tears rolling down my face just remembering how proud we were that day.
The TEARS foundation became an important piece of our grieving Caleb. I plunged into support groups and volunteer opportunities that allowed me to spend time honoring my first born son with people who understood how important that was for me to do.
I gave to fill a hole I couldn’t fill by myself. I am still doing that, in every blog I write and newly grieving friend I reach out to. I don’t know what else to do. And, I promise: it helps. This grief is unbearable on the couch alone googling crazy things and watching youtube videos. It’s too much pressure on my marriage to expect my husband to be the only person I spill my bucket of tears on every night. But, it can be carried with a modicum of grace when we let God use our suffering, our experience, to help others who suffer as well. McKayla Butler is doing that with her blog, “rainbows for noah: what loss looks like from here.” Sarah Slack and her staff are carrying their griefs to balm others’ sorrows through every funeral they make possible and every support group they gather through the TEARS foundation. The Stillborn, Still loved Guild is working to create awareness and community for those surviving a stillborn child.
There are places for us, friends, to use our holed out hearts for good. There are places we can speak the names of our dead children and rise with pride as their parents. There are places where this deepest agony can be filled with grace. Find your place. And help. It helps, I promise.
God bless you, in your pain and your crazy google moments.
I pray He is with you.
I know He is . . .
Dear friend whose name I do not know
October 23, 2013
It has been over a year since I watched you from across the Cheney Stadium baseball field at the TEARS foundation annual remembrance walk. You were waddling, balancing a belly about to burst. You were surrounded by loved ones, your husband holding your hand. And you wore the same shirt I did. The names were different on the back of each of ours; my shirt had my baby’s name on it, and your shirt bore the name of your own baby. As you walked, head held high in grief and plain ol’ stubborn Mama Love that won’t ever quit, I watched grief slowly overtake you. You slowed your pace, holding your head with one hand, while grabbing that enormous belly with your other hand. Before you were completely hunched over, they led you to the side of the track. You grabbed the wall, your husband, kept your hand on your belly, as you wretched. Tears rolled down my face for you, my friend, and I wondered if you were thinking what I had: Lord, don’t let my flood of grief mark this next child. Lord, please give me the strength to survive this. Lord, how will we ever survive this?
I knew then that I would probably never know your name. I knew it wasn’t appropriate for me–a complete stranger–to run across that field that day and throw my arms around you, assure you you would survive, tell you that that baby you carried would provide a joy to temper this unrelenting pain. I wanted to tell you that in time, though you never forget the one you lost, a new normal can be found.
The life of a mother who has buried a child is, at best, twisted bliss. For every joy there is a sadness, for every happiness a haunt. Our bodies yearn for our dead children on holidays and would-have-been milestones, whether we acknowledge those yearnings or not. We are mothers, always.
So, dear friend whose name I do not know, I hope these words find you well with a healthy child in your arms and a life worth braving the pain for. I hope you have begun to see snatches of happy, if just for a moment, filtering through the curtains of your grief. Above all, I pray for a peace that can only come in the knowledge that your child is safe in the arms of God, and will be there to greet you when your eyes close for the last time, many years from now.
God bless you, my friend,
What can You handle?
June 14, 2013
No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted,he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it. (NIV)
No test or temptation that comes your way is beyond the course of what others have had to face. All you need to remember is that God will never let you down; he’ll never let you be pushed past your limit; he’ll always be there to help you come through it. (MSG)
No testing has overtaken you that is not common to everyone. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it. (NRSV)
1 Corinthians 10:13
I love this verse. It has been such a source of strength and encouragement since I was dating my sweetheart in high school, all the way through our current journey with Samuel. However, I do believe that it is one of the most misquoted and misunderstood bits of scripture in the entire Bible.
Anyone who has endured a difficult trial can probably recount at least one instance when a fellow Christian has tried to encourage them by saying, “Well, God never gives us more than we can handle.” If you are like me, a few times I’ve wanted to say something really nasty back to that well-meaning person, trying so desperately to come up with something profound to encourage me. In fact, I have slung a few nasty words after statements like that. I always regret it.
We are often confused about where temptation and testing come from. I really, truly, in all of the reading I’ve done on why there is evil in the world do not think God is sitting up in heaven with a bowl full of nasty, meting it out to the do-gooders like Job who will bring him glory, and to the evil-doers who really deserve a taste of their own medicine.
Instead, we live in a fallen world. This beautiful gift of free will our Lord has given us comes at a price: we live in a natural world with tsunamis, mental illness, cancer, heart conditions, stillborn babies. He allows the natural world to be naturally unpredictable and cruel because it is also incredibly beautiful and generous. He gives us the opportunity to choose to cling to the things and people of this roller coaster life, or to choose to hold onto Him. I’ve found holding onto Him always keeps me better than the things of this world.
The word “temptation” in the original Greek is synonymous with “testing.” Paul was not just talking about the temptations of this life; he was also addressing the trials we endure. I think this is an important distinction to make because while we all must be tempted from the venial to the moral, those are battles we fight internally. Testings, or trials, on the other hand, are battles we have no control over. We endure the troubles of this life–death, sickness, infertility, job loss, natural disasters–without a modicum of control. It is not as simple as not eating the cupcake or not smoking the cigarette. We must just hold on and “bear up,” waiting out the storm until it passes.
The fantastic truth of 1 Corinthians 10:13 is that we are not alone. God does not just watch from afar to see how many things can be piled on our little heads until we crumble. Rather, He walks beside us and helps bear our load. He helps bear our load. No matter what the trial or testing, He will provide your “way out.”
I think of David’s Psalms when I am feeling overwhelmed by circumstance. Time and time again, David speaks of the Lord as a rock to stand on or hide in. He doesn’t stop the storms of David’s life, but He provides shelter for David to withstand it.
I know that God continually provides people and circumstances to encourage me when I feel that I am about to crumble under the load I am carrying. The more I talk to Him and ask Him for help, the more provision is provided. I have carried burdens that should have landed me back in the mental hospital time and time again. The only explanation I have is that God was right beside me, carrying that load with me.
Never forget that He is good. Hold onto Him in the storm. He is the “shield about [us], [our]glory, and the lifter of [our] heads” (Psalm 3:3).
For he will command his angels concerning you
to guard you in all your ways.
On their hands they will bear you up,
so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.
You will tread on the lion and the adder,
the young lion and the serpent you will trample under foot.
Those who love me, I will deliver;
I will protect those who know my name.
When they call to me, I will answer them;
I will be with them in trouble,
I will rescue them and honor them.
With long life I will satisfy them,
and show them my salvation.
God bless you all today,
If you need extra encouragement while going through a difficult time, I have started a new page with lists of verses concerning different needs: Verses of Comfort and Encouragement. I purposely didn’t write them out for you, because I think there is power and solace in opening the pages of your Bible and reading and writing down the scriptures for yourself. This has served me in many moments of desolation and fear. I hope it will help you as well.
I also found the blog by Joe Stowell on his website “Strength for the Journey” helpful: “Load Limits”
For the Mamas with empty arms today . . .
Mother’s Day 2014
Praise the Lord.
Praise the Lord, you his servants;
praise the name of the Lord.
Let the name of the Lord be praised,
both now and forevermore.
From the rising of the sun to the place where it sets,
the name of the Lord is to be praised.
The Lord is exalted over all the nations,
his glory above the heavens.
Who is like the Lord our God,
the One who sits enthroned on high,
who stoops down to look
on the heavens and the earth?
He raises the poor from the dust
and lifts the needy from the ash heap;
he seats them with princes,
with the princes of his people.
He settles the childless woman in her home
as a happy mother of children.
Praise the Lord.
I woke up this morning to my darling men bringing me breakfast in bed: an array of gluten free cupcakes, strawberries, a box of Shari’s Berries, coffee and cards. Their beaming faces and ardent demands that I share my cupcakes with them brings tears to my eyes as I remember my first Mother’s day . . .
No one knows what to do with a childless mother on Mother’s Day. And yet, these mothers are everywhere. On my first Mother’s day, I woke to a quiet house, instead of to the crying of a newborn. I donned the hot pink dress I wore to Caleb’s funeral only weeks before, and we went to brunch to toast our sweet boy. We were grateful to sit in the bar where there were no children; I couldn’t bear to see mothers with their children that day. We then left brunch, unfettered by the baby car seat that now sat empty or a diaper bag or feeding schedules. WE took a book of fairy tales to the cemetery, I sat down at my child’s grave and read him Peter Pan . . .
My biggest challenge in life thus far has been surviving the loss of my son. Nothing can rival the hole his absence represents. The daily challenges of caring for my living children are sometimes overwhelming, but there is always a nap time or bedtime around the corner. There is relief from the terrible two’s and sleepless nights. There is no relief for empty arms and a grieving heart. That time between Caleb dying and Abraham being born was the most awkward grief of my life. I was a mother, just like the mother holding her child next to me in the grocery store or at church. I had suffered and given and loved . . . and yet, in this world, a mother is defined by her living children. Mothers of dead children are overlooked, forgotten. Mothers who beg for children and cannot have them are passed over.
But I truly hold to the belief that God loves reversals. He sees our hearts, my friends. He grieves with us. After all, His own mother grieved Him. One of the last things He did before He died was make sure she would be cared for. This God who made us to be mothers, heart, soul, mind, and body, is also the God who can take what you think is hopeless and lost and turn it into a dream come true.
I love this Psalm I chose for today because it is hard to praise God with empty arms. But I believe that the more in need we are, the more we need worship. I pinned a quote from pinterest:
And I know that I can’t tell you how it’s all going to turn out. I don’t know if you’ll have a dozen children, adopt some, marry somebody with a ready-set family, or mentor and mother those who need a mother’s heart to love them. But I know something: He settles the childless woman. He settles her–not in a tomb or a mediocre marriage–but in a happy home with children. Take care my friend, He is coming for you . . .
God bless you and keep you. And gosh darn it, have a Mimosa and toast your Motherhood, babies or not!
This twisted, blissful life
April 12, 2013
You have turned my mourning into dancing;
you have taken my sackcloth and clothed me with joy,
so that my soul may praise you and not be silent.
O LORD my God, I will give thanks to you forever.
Thank God for children and flowers. I don’t mean “thank God,” like “thank God” the roast wasn’t over cooked or “thank God” the blueberry stains came out of another tiny shirt. I mean “thank God,” fall down on my knees and raise my hands to the sky, “Thank God for children and flowers.”
Every spring since we buried Caleb, I am amazed anew at the persistence of nature. Even as we still feel winter’s chill in March and April mornings, the fibers of life refuse to yield, no matter the harshness of our winters or the darkness of night. They pop up undeniable shoots of color, demanding attention in the pouring down rain.
March brings fully round the deepest grief of my life; it also brings forth bulbs popping, green shooting. It was on a Wednesday of Holy week that I brought my first-born son into the world, only to bathe him and baptize him and wrap him in burial clothes. But it was also a Wednesday in Holy week when I took my little gaggle to the park to meet dear friends as we chat and drink coffee, chase after stray ducklings, kiss war wounds, and convince the three-year olds one rock per visit is enough to take home.
For several months now, I have been low: heavy, gaping, with little relief . . . it’s not something I can take more meds for. Believe me; I’ve had that conversation with my doctor. He asks me one question: “Is there joy in your life every day?”
I smile at him as I sit on the leather chair in his office and ponder the twisted bliss of my every day. My mind floods with story times in the pirate tent, falling asleep at nap time with a teething miracle child nuzzled into my arms, peeling apples for a crisp at the kid’s table and being told, “Good job, Mom! You’re a good cooker.” I think of walking down the beach in ten foot increments, stopping at Bram’s insistence to help dig up plastic shovel after plastic shovel of sand. I think of how all of my “shoesies” are disappearing and reappearing throughout the house, separated and stowed away by a toddling shoe thief. I remember Bram “helping” me weed in the garden, only to realize that he was weeding out the ground cover. It’s a good thing creeping Jenny creeps quickly!
I smile back at my doctor, at his kind eyes: “There is joy in every moment.”
I used to think that I could separate my life into strands, unraveling the sad from the happy, and the grief from the joy. The older I become, however, the more I realize that grief begets joy if we allow its soul-carving to be filled with the Holy Spirit. What is lost gives birth to new eyes of gratitude: what I used to pass over, now I stop, kneel, and give thanks for.
I recently read Ann Voskamp’s One Thousand Gifts. She proposes that life is one big gift: all the moments of happiness and sadness, fullness and emptiness. The joy of God fills these moments when we learn to stop and give thanks in all of it, for all of it. I have known this, but I forget it . . . like Peter walking on water for a moment, I lose my focus on Jesus and sink, sink, sink. But I am re-identifying myself with gratitude, resolving again to grab hold of everyday thankfulness.
So, this spring, as I do every spring, you will find me in the yard digging up dandelions and cursing at slugs. I will take multiple breaks to play swords or push a swing, rescue some little person from danger or kiss an owie. I will give thanks for the friend who brought me a pallet of hot pink tulips, only half of which I had time to plant. I will give thanks for the tulips, hot pink lipstick to the burgeoning face of our front yard, and marvel at how each flower twists and contorts to ensure its needs are met. I will scold the toddler who decapitates my precious hot-pink gifts with his chubby little hands, and then scoop him in my arms and thank God he is well enough–alive enough–to assault tulips and throw himself on the ground in a tantrum when I won’t allow him to execute all of my flowers.
I think that if I am to be who God intended me to be, I must somehow learn to hold both the grief and the joy, not denying one or the other. I must somehow give thanks in all things, and search for God in the midst of my every day. He is here, sitting on the couch with me as I write this and fend off chubby fingers who threaten to delete my work in every moment. He is here when I grieve. He fills it all with a glory I cannot conjure or even imagine. He fills it all, and then calls it good. Amen.
May you see the twisted bliss of your every day.
“Return to your rest, my soul . . . ”
March 10, 2013
I love the Lord, for he heard my voice;
he heard my cry for mercy.
Because he turned his ear to me,
I will call on him as long as I live.
The cords of death entangled me,
the anguish of the grave came over me;
I was overcome by distress and sorrow.
Then I called on the name of the Lord:
“Lord, save me!”
The Lord is gracious and righteous;
our God is full of compassion.
The Lord protects the unwary;
when I was brought low, he saved me.
Return to your rest, my soul,
for the Lord has been good to you.
For you, Lord, have delivered me from death,
my eyes from tears,
my feet from stumbling,
that I may walk before the Lord
in the land of the living.
I trusted in the Lord when I said,
“I am greatly afflicted”;
in my alarm I said,
“Everyone is a liar.”
What shall I return to the Lord
for all his goodness to me?
I will lift up the cup of salvation
and call on the name of the Lord.
I will fulfill my vows to the Lord
in the presence of all his people.
Precious in the sight of the Lord
is the death of his faithful servants.
Truly I am your servant, Lord;
I serve you just as my mother did;
you have freed me from my chains.
I will sacrifice a thank offering to you
and call on the name of the Lord.
I will fulfill my vows to the Lord
in the presence of all his people,
in the courts of the house of the Lord—
in your midst, Jerusalem.
Praise the Lord.
There is a song Whitney Houston sings on the movie, “The Preacher’s Wife,” that I yearn to hear in times of trouble. “I love the Lord,” begins with the lines,
I love the Lord
He heard my cry
And each and every groan
Long as I live,
and troubles rise,
I will hasten to His throne.
I think sometimes music can elevate us to a place we cannot raise ourselves to. I grew up in “hallelujah” churches (Jack calls them “active masses”), and still need to return to a place of worship to find God in the midst of a storm. If you pass me on the road and see me with one hand up, tears streaming down my face while I’m singing my heart out, you can now know it’s probably just a hard day.
I struggle with finding rest for my soul. I struggle to find peace, but I often wonder if it is something to be found. Maybe, instead, we are in pursuit of peace, like we are in pursuit of happiness. Like all of the fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23), we embody peace the longer we walk with God. But I can honestly admit that there are times in life when it’s easier to be loving, joyful, patient, kind, good, faithful and self-controlled than others! Sometimes I feel that all the goodness I possess is so overcome by circumstance that it is all I can do to hang on to the last of it, like hanging onto a balloon’s string in a storm. What if I let go? Still, I will be here with you, He whispers into my heart. I know . . . I whisper back. And I am reminded in that moment that it isn’t me that holds onto my faith or even onto Him; it is always Him holding onto me. I am the balloon; he is the wind and the string and the whole blue sky . . . all around me, all of the time.
So I will hasten to His throne, and like David, I will fulfill my vows in front of His people. I will remember the chains I no longer am shackled by; I will return to my rest, for the Lord has been good to me. He will do me good, not harm, all the days of my life. It is in Him I rest and hide and weep and dance and sing. IN HIM.
In the valley of the shadow
March 5, 2013
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. Psalm 23:4
I apologize for not writing sooner. It has been a rough few weeks. I somehow think that I must have all my sh** together to post, even though the very reason I started this blog was to speak from a point of not having it all together. I’m sitting on my family room couch, watching my husband and two sons eat a dinner I had enough sense to make multiple batches of weeks ago. I’m drinking wine and eating chocolate, the only things that seem appropriate tonight.
You see, I’ve been crying ALL DAY. Sounds crazy, huh? And I don’t know why. I know it’s March 5th. I know Caleb’s birthday is in 14 days, and I know that in 12 days–St. Patrick’s day, a lucky day!–is coming, and that is the day I sat with my beautiful sister-in-law, Semmelle, in a dark ultra-sound room and heard my doc utter the words, “There’s no heartbeat . . . ”
Before then, I had suffered. Before then, I had suffered more than most. And yet, those three words thrust me into a world of suffering I didn’t even know existed. You see, even though I had stared death in the face for myself, by my self, I didn’t know what it was to bury the one thing that is supposed to outlive you: your child! In this modern-day world, we’re not supposed to pick out pretty white caskets for our babies; we’re not supposed to birth them, walk out of the hospital without them, then write their obituaries. We’re supposed to die, warm in our beds, and they’re supposed to bury us. That’s the modern way of doing things.
But that wasn’t what happened with our first born son. And, that’s not what happened to my many friends who live and breathe almost sacriligiously as their children’s bodies lie in caskets and urns . . . and something inside each of their mother’s bodies waits for the time appropriate to lie down next to them . . .
And those of you who don’t wait to lie down next to your children? YOU ARE BLESSED. And don’t misunderstand me: I LIVE for my children who live, I PERSIST for them, through moments of a sadness I never knew could exist. And I believe that my persisting will play into the lives of the men we’re raising. I believe that they will grow with a depth and an understanding and a gratitude that is only possible being raised by parents who mourn and enjoy parenthood simultaneously. I pray for a depth for Abraham and Samuel that may be the reason Caleb was given up to heaven. They each have a purpose, to serve and to give: I pray that purpose is realized, that each of my three sons submits to the grandiose plans for their existence.
I wish I knew the reasons, my friends. Father Ed, our priest at St. Stephen’s, baptized Caleb moments after he was born. He told us months later that he truly believed Caleb had a heavenly destiny; I truly, awesomely, completely hope so. Because I knew him, and he was a great man-to-be. All my life, in every breath I breathe, I know heaven is real, and I pray Caleb is the one who meets me at St. Peter’s gates.
I knew the moment they told me he was gone that he was in heaven. I know that heaven is the place to be. But I also know that I am still here, and that God has two brothers of my first born here to raise.
I know that all of you have not lost children, but I know that if you live long enough, you lose dreams. Life is hard, and you’re really not going to get any more than that from me during Lent, during March . . . Life is supposed to be hard! We forget that! In the midst of every one of our busy lives, in the midst of all our choices, joyous and sorrowful . . .
We must all come to an end where NOTHING–NOT MATERIAL, RELATIONAL, OR SPATIAL–can fill the void that nags and pulls and itches each of us. That NOTHING is God! We need HIM to fill our hearts and heal our brokenness . . .
I keep praying, after five years of trying to fill my most brokenness with trips, purchases, friendships, blah, blah, blah, blah . . . FILL ME, because only IN YOU can I be healed, only IN YOU can the extremely broken be made to walk again.
Life is really, really hard my friends. I am a broken and humbled example of that. I haven’t mastered living through this life with this level of hurt without being a little excessive at times. But I will continue to try, and to reach toward a perfect Jesus . . . and ask for a frickin’ lot of help.
Broken, in Jesus’ name,
Taylor, Mama of Caleb Joshua, resident of heaven since 2008
Merry un-merry Christmas to you
December 14, 2012
Longing at Advent (Christmas 2008)
I have always been mystified by Advent. The four weeks prior to Christ’s birth has stirred within me a sense of wonder and longing. The emptiness of the manger until Christmas morning always awakens the empty spaces within my own heart. I have asked God to expose my mangers, and fill them with a new birthing of the Christ within me.
Still, this Christmas, there is something more rising, hollowing me out. This Christmas is the first Christmas I feel an emptiness for more reason than the deviance in my own heart. This is the first Christmas I have felt the reality of an empty manger, left only for Christ’s love to fill.
When I opened myself to motherhood two years ago, I experienced a conversion of heart unlike anything else I had ever known before. As a child and young adult, my love for God was as real to me as my love for my parents. I couldn’t put a date or a time stamp on it; still, it was my identity.
However, being a “Christian,” a “Catholic” did not necessarily mean that I was walking with Christ, giving up all that I had known before. I was, indeed, in love with the idea of being in love with Jesus. Still, the true cost did not display itself until I had something to sacrifice.
That something was myself. My entire life, I had fashioned a future. I did the right thing, staved off sin, emerged from the ashes of despair and gave the glory to God. I was a Saul. I deserved fair treatment, deserved for my life to go a certain way. I deserved to judge, to lord above others.
And then, something happened to me: God broke through. It was a horrible experience: a tearing down and a breaking that did not seem to end. I was tested in every way. I was hurricaned within, strung up and beaten by the winds of change.
No one could tell, really. I looked the same, and my life was going well. But inside I was a torrent. Inside, I was dying to myself.
One day, it happened: I started to pray Mary’s prayer. “Let it be done unto me according to your word.” There were no if’s involved, nothing about what I would do or accomplish. It was not really about me anymore. Instead, this prayer began to fashion within me (dare I say it?) a submission to my destiny, a destiny I no longer controlled.
I was in the church with my rosary, starting to pray it. I realized that throughout all of my schooling, I still had not memorized the prayers. How will I be a good mother if I cannot even remember this? I realized this pink string of beads in my hands was useless without my prayers. I lowered my head in embarrassment, only to hear the voices of several older women in the front of the church beginning to pray: Glory be to the father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit . . . Something said to me, I will teach you how to be a mother.
My head was empty that morning; I left the church with a full heart and a knowledge that the more empty-handed I was, the more malleable the clay of my soul became.
I became pregnant several months later. While I was full of joy, a cloud hung above me during my pregnancy with Caleb. I felt continually in a darkened world, with only brief interludes of peace. I struggled to maintain equilibrium, often finding no will to perform daily tasks, even the basic preparation for my child’s arrival. I was afraid of everything: not having enough, not being prepared, of leaving him alone in this world. I experienced fits of sorrow that would overtake me while I was driving in my car alone, forced to pull over because I couldn’t see through my own tears. I loved him, as if he had been my child for a hundred years. We talked daily, hourly, through the night. I felt that I had known him from some other place and time. I felt that I had been pregnant with him my entire life.
And then, he died. At my thirty-six week appointment, they could no longer find his heartbeat. I screamed and kicked; my precious Caleb was gone. I sat up from the ultrasound table in shock, and said to the doctor, “I’ve been a chaplain. Now I’m the patient”.
I laid in my parents’ bed in what I can only describe as a posture of submission. The people coming in the room to talk to me were like buzzing flies around my head. I held the phone, counting the minutes until my husband’s plane would land and he would be home with me.
I laid in bed the next night and day, laboring in silence and without physical pain, as my soul shook. I could barely string a thought, save one: Hail Mary, Full of grace! The Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, be with us sinners now and at the hour of our death amen.
She was there with me, a slight hand upon my back. She ushered me into her scene of agony, and there we stood, mother and daughter, beholding the crucified Christ.
What it is to be a mother! Christ’s words “This is my body, broken for you” parallels the travails of labor and birth. I prayed in the hospital bed, this is my body, broken for you, no longer angry or entitled but privileged to be a woman, to give such a sacrifice, to love past temporality. All that I am is offered up in this prayer: let it be done. Let me break, crack, swell, and moan if it is your will. I am nothing but for your grace indwelled. I cannot even reach for you without your offering of strength.
It has been a hard road since that holy night my son was born, silently and sweetly. We held him in our arms, knowing the nursery at home would never welcome him. My arms that had ached so long to hold him could not squeeze or feel enough to sustain me after I finally let him go.
I wondered at Mary’s arms, aching for Jesus as he lay dying on the cross. I wondered, even still, at the empty hollow He left within her as He ascended into heaven.
My empty manger this Christmas is not one I have to fashion for show. It is a real, hollowed room that is waiting, waiting . . .
The child growing within me will fill that room someday. But, there will always be an empty manger in my heart: a brokenness that cannot be filled but by the birthing of Christ’s eternal promise. I must ask for His renewal constantly; His power graces me with the will to ask.
Longing assumes new form when one stares at a manger and realizes that it is the picture of one’s own heart.
Greyhounds and Chiggys
September 20, 2012
Then He who sat on the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new.” And He said to me, “Write, for these words are true and faithful.” Revelation 21:5
So, this week I thought I would change course a bit. We can only get so heavy for so long without needing a break, right? And, why is that? Maybe because we’re human?
The details of the day we buried Caleb are too much for this “lighter” blog today, but the weight of the rituals my husband, my family, and I moved through was only bearable by moments of pure comedy. My brother and I experienced such a moment after the burial as we all piled into the back of my parents’ SUV, much like we used to as like little kids. His freckled face was flushed with the tears he was wiping away. We caught blurry eyes, and I whispered to him, “Now, let’s get wasted.”
His face immediately melted into laughter and we sat in the back seat howling as my dad drove us all out of the cemetery. I guess he didn’t expect that to come out of the mouth of the dead baby’s mama, Religious Studies major and all! But I, after making certain to NOT drink or drug myself for the first 10 days of this terrible new reality, knowing that to do so would only prolong the shock and make it difficult for me to begin a healthy grieving process (thank you, chaplain training!), knew now was the time to lighten the mood. We all desperately needed some levity!
When we arrived back at my parents’ for our family after-party, my father-in-law walked through the door carting the biggest bottle of vodka I had ever seen. It was a greyhound day. That day was truly one of the saddest days of my life, but being surrounded by the people I loved, drinking greyhounds and smoking as many cigarettes as I wanted on the front porch, was certainly one of the most profound. We will never have a baptism party or a birthday party for Caleb, and it seemed that that day, we celebrated a whole life of celebrations for him. We honored his life in tears, and also in toasts.
The sweet memories of Caleb’s day definitely influenced both baptismal celebrations for Caleb’s younger brothers. Our house rocked with loved ones celebrating the healthy births of Abraham, and then Samuel. So many in attendance were there, they said, because they had already been there through the hard times and wanted to celebrate our joy with us. And, celebrate we did! Wine flowed, good food abounded, and we forever will cherish that profound feeling of being surrounded by people who truly cared for us through the best and the worst life can bring.
Sam’s Godfather picked up the keg for his baptismal celebration. When Uncle Mark explained that this keg was, indeed, for a baptism, the bartender replied, “You’re Catholic, aren’t you?” Oh, yes, sir, we are!
I love John’s depiction of Jesus’ first miracle (chapter 2). Jewish weddings, even for peasants, lasted a week. Can you imagine? However, nothing could fizzle a party more than running out of wine. Now, Mary, Jesus’ mother, was the one who was concerned with the wine shortage–not Jesus. She came to Him with her concerns, and trusted Him to provide. Do we do that? Do we come to Jesus for help not only in times of crisis, but also in times of celebration? How often do we come to the Lord and pray, “Lord, please provide joy, moments of comedy, and new wine in my heart, life, and even in this party?
I also think it’s interesting that Jesus turned water–not grape juice, or vinegar,or any other beverage–into wine. The water was intended for the purification rituals for the Jews before they sat down to eat. Water is a symbol for new life, purity, baptism. It is also rain, floods, and tears. That by which we are purified is also that which we may be drowned by.
From this water, Jesus makes “the best wine.” Only those who know Him witness the miracle; the wedding continues, most in attendance oblivious to the spectacular miracle they are drinking. But, isn’t that the way of these kinds of miracles, when He miraculously turns our valley of tears into “the best wine?” We are left marveling at the fruit of our anguish, wondering how it is possible to turn mourning into dancing?
Truly, this is the God we serve! My tendency to be rigidly religious is challenged by this idea that Jesus cares not only for our spirits, but also inspired the creation of wine, and maybe even greyhounds and chiggys.
Look for Jesus
September 22, 2012
Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. Luke 24: 13-16
I wonder all the time about this passage. I think about the roads I have been on, when my entire vision of my future has been buried in the ground. The moments of shock quickly morph into the stark reality of what my life will now be, disastrously altered. For years after our first son, Caleb, died I would be overcome with waves of reality: this really happened. Again, and again, my brain would have to try to incorporate this tragedy into my identity.
This passage from Luke 24, the Road to Emmaus, reminds me of my grief roads. Why were two of Jesus’ disciples leaving Jerusalem? The other disciples were in hiding, believing at any moment they would be dragged away and nailed to a cross. Who wouldn’t believe that if their Lord, Son of God, could be killed, that His followers were next on the hit list? Their entire vision of a future with Christ as Messiah had dissolved as His spirit ascended. The safety, certainty, and hope that inspired them to leave all that they knew and follow Jesus now lay in ruins. What was there to hope in now?
When you have given your all to God, grief comes as not only a shock but also as a torment. Am I crazy? Have I imagined this connection to a God I cannot see, whom I have built my life around, stood up and claimed, been unafraid of being labeled a fool for? Where are you now, God? I imagine these two disciples walking together on their grief-filled, lonely road, quizzing each other . . . do you remember when He did this? Wasn’t that proof? Remember when he turned water to wine, raised Lazarus, caused the blind to see? What did we miss? Are we fools?
I have stood outside on my front porch in the middle of the night, unable to breathe, chain-smoking and praying . . . okay, it was a conversation with the sky. I was demanding answers, begging for a re-do, refusing to believe I had been given anything but a “screw you” from the God I loved. But, I wasn’t looking for Him. My grief clouded my ability to see Him, in all the moments He came to me, drew close and walked beside me.
A year later, when our family was knocked sideways with the tragic and untimely loss of my father in law, I again screamed and shouted over cigarettes with God. We endured months nothing less than confusion, frustration, and anger. We were bowled over by loss, unable to see anything but the blinding hurt we were enduring.
But, God has a way of walking beside us. We can look back on those dark journeys and see how He brought family together, strengthened bonds, created a new and lasting legacy in our families. We see the friendships made and the deep channels of empathy carved in our beings, making us better to love others and serve them in their crisis. We also see the children born since, the life that continues to be resurrected, the hope we live with.
The biblical commentaries suggest that God blinded the disciples from seeing Him as they walked their road. This doesn’t sit right with me. I don’t think He ever blinds us from seeing Him. I think immaturity and lack of faith blind us. I think when bad things happen we forget to look for Jesus. I think we are so overwhelmed with the realities of the funeral plans and what do we do for Christmas this year that we forget every step, every moment is filled and held and carried by Him. At least, that is what I have done. I get so caught up in my human despair that I forget to look for the Christ next to me.
When our third son, Samuel, was diagnosed with a terminal heart condition, we were again overcome with grief. However, I had learned from years of shaking my fists and chain smoking while screaming prayers to heaven, that I couldn’t survive another road to Emmaus without having the God I loved being present and real next to me. In my deepest prayer, in my worst moments, all I could utter to Him was “don’t let me lose you again, help me to hang onto you because without you carrying me, I won’t be able to keep my eyes on You.”
I still couldn’t sleep. I didn’t chain smoke because I was pregnant. But I did pray, and I filled my head with music that called me to continuously look for Him. And guess what? We walked the next 15 weeks, a week in the hospital with high blood pressure and magnesium treatments, his birth, his two and a half weeks in the NICU, and the last thirteen months with a Jesus real and present, making Himself visible over and over again. I have never in my life known more that God was present. And I have never needed Him more to continue to breathe, live, and survive for my family.
My friends, life is hard and we are all so human. Don’t give in to despair. Don’t believe you can hold on by yourselves. Simply pray: hold on to me, Lord, and don’t let me go! Guess what? He will appear. Just keep your eyes open.