Thursday, October 8, 2015

Be Aware

October is a month of awareness.  According to Wikipedia, there are twenty-eight things to be aware of this month, more than any other month of the year.  May is in second place, with 19, and September has 16 things to think about.  December has none. 

The list for October is long and some of them I’ve never heard of.  You’d have to live under a rock to miss Breast Cancer awareness.  As a former teacher, I always planned a fire safety unit during fire prevention month.   I’m aware of pit bulls and just how cute and poorly treated they are.  While I am neither Hispanic nor Italian, I love their food and appreciate them.  I support bullying prevention and I’m aware of domestic violence.  I love my Pastors and plan on appreciating them this month as well.  I even knew it was Dwarfism awareness month (thanks, Katie!).

Some of these are fun and some of them strike a certain passion in people.  Awareness is an important thing.  I will wear pink if I’m going to a sporting event in October.  I am committed to ending bullying and domestic violence.  I’m not one to discriminate against someone because of their Italian or Hispanic heritage (I’m more likely to invite myself over for dinner!).  I know just how capable people living with Dwarfism can be (and not from reality TV shows). 

Footprints on Our Hearts:

I know about these things because others have shared so that I might be aware.  I’m thankful for that because while we can’t contribute to every worthy cause out there, we can be aware that it exists.  Awareness months exist to promote one major thing:  awareness.  Yes, raising money for that awareness is good and helping people is important, too.  But if people aren’t even aware, how can those other things happen?

Everyone has their one thing they are passionate about, the one thing they want to raise awareness about.  (If you don’t, maybe this month is a good month, when there are so many options for awareness and involvement!)  All the above being said, I want to share the thing I am passionate about this month.  October, among many other things, is National Infant Loss and Miscarriage Awareness Month.

This is my passion.  Too many women are forced to suffer the pain and heartbreak of miscarriage or infant loss alone because there is a general rule that you don’t talk about it.  My conversations with family members about my losses are often redirected to other topics because others just don’t want to hear it.  Unfortunately to the grieving mother, ignoring the loss or minimizing it makes the hurt worse.  Others are allowed and often expected to share their children.  I have four children but by the standards of our society today, I have but one.

Attitudes like this seem to minimize the lives of Faith, Reese, and Wynn, my sweet babies in Heaven.  But they did live.  I saw them on the ultrasound screen.  I saw two of their heartbeats.  I felt Wynn and Faith leave my body.  I held Faith after she died and kissed her tiny but perfectly formed fingers with the miniscule nails.  Just today I pinned a book on Pinterest called “I Didn’t Miscarry Her…She Died”.  I’m anxious to read it because that’s how I feel.  When we use the words miscarriage or stillbirth, we minimize what truly happened.  My babies died, three babies, all in Heaven with Jesus.

our children change us, whether they live or not.:

Be aware.  Don’t minimize the loss.  Don’t pretend it didn’t happen.  Don’t expect the mother who lost a baby to forget about it or be quiet about it.  Honor the baby who did live and then died, no matter how few weeks along.  My baby that died at six weeks is just as much my child as my seven year old daughter dancing through my living room.

It might make you a little uncomfortable.  Can you give up a bit of your comfort to comfort a grieving mother?  Because while we might heal, grieving mothers never quit mourning the loss of their child.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Worshipping Him When I'm Angry With Him

It’s 10:45 on Sunday morning.  Most weeks at this time you can find me in one of two places:  the children’s wing or the sanctuary of my church.  Today is no exception as I stand next to my husband while the familiar music starts.  Usually worship is my favorite thing ever.  I could sing along to praise and worship music for hours.  But today I’m not feeling it.  

Because today I’m mad at God.

I’m mad at God and I’ve spent two weeks avoiding speaking to Him.  Because two weeks ago He let my third baby die.

But I’m still standing here.  I’m still singing the words on the screen to my Savior.  As I sing along, the dialogue of a thirteen year old mouths off at God in my head.  (Yes, I know He can hear my thoughts.  I just didn’t want to horrify the nice older couple to my left by speaking them out loud.)

We’re singing Hillsong’s “Here I Am To Worship” as I mouth off to God reminiscent of a hormonal teenager…

Here I am to worship…Here I am to bow down…

I don’t really want to bow down to you right now, not after what you let happen to me.

Altogether lovely, altogether worthy, altogether wonderful to me…

You don’t feel so wonderful, God.  This does not feel wonderful at all.  I don’t feel thankful.  I don’t feel freedom in You.

This continues for all of the worship portion of the service.  I stand and sing praises to God while mouthing off to Him in my head.

Despite my anger, I’m still singing praises.  Despite my anger, I still showed up on Sunday morning.  I still encouraged women to come to the new Bible study I’m leading this fall.  I still planned with my friend and co-leader to make the Bible study successful and meaningful for the women who attend.  Some days I get my Bible out and read it.

But I can’t bring myself to directly talk to Him, unless I’m mouthing off.  I’m not ready yet.  So I just stand and sing praises.

Because I know…I know He’s still there.  The Jesus I asked into my heart thirteen years ago has NEVER left me or forsaken me.  God is still good and has good plans for me.  The Bible is still the truth.  I live in a fallen world where bad things happen.  Babies die before they take a breath, not just mine but the babies of many mothers.  Horrific crashes kill innocent people.  Cancers eat away at the bodies of the best kind of people.  Yes, God can do miracles.  But none of us were meant to live forever, at least not here on Earth. 

Someday my husband, my daughter, myself, we will all die and be reunited with three innocent babies in Heaven.  In the meantime, God has plans for me and He will use this loss, this pain, this struggle for good.  I don’t know how.  But I know He will.

How?  How can I know?  I know because He’s done it before.  I know because I spent twenty years under a dark cloud of anxiety and depression only to be completely healed and at peace in my heart.  I know because out of a sinful union came the most beautiful, precocious daughter and an amazing marriage.  I know because each time the enemy tries to knock me down, God sends an army of love my way, believers and non-believers both, to remind me that the people I’ve surrounded myself with want to support and help my family through each difficulty.

So someday I’ll live in a place where death has NO hold.  Someday my husband and daughter will, too.  We’ve prayed to Jesus.  We’ve told Him thank you for His gift of life and asked for forgiveness.  We’ve been reborn.  We’re just not living in the world we were reborn for.  My babies are waiting for me and when God’s plans for me are finished, I’ll join them in Heaven.

God does have great plans for me.  He’s carrying me through the tough times.  I know this.  And sometime soon I know He and I will talk it out and His arms of comfort, mercy, and grace will wrap around me.  But right now I’m still feeling angry.  So I’m going to stand there and sing praises.  But inside, I’m thirteen and I’ve slammed my bedroom door.

It’s okay, though.  My Father in Heaven is big enough to handle me.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Holding Her Tightly and Loosely

Messy ponytail...glasses slipping down her nose...giggling smile on her heart skips a beat at the sight of this girl child...

I read an article today about a woman who was a 'weekend mom', whose ex-husband had custody of their daughter.  The woman wrote about how this was the best decision for her daughter and then began to list all the ways it was better for her own life.  It was phrased very eloquently, but what it essentially boiled down to was this:  there was no "inconvenience" keeping her from going out drinking all hours of the night, traveling wherever she wants, and staying up late talking with various friends.  I found it sad that the life of her daughter was boiled down to an inconvenience.  And I thought that perhaps her daughter's life is better, despite this woman's primary concern being only herself.  I also wondered if this little girl would feel the suffering effects of a mother who wants only the fun parts of motherhood and is unwilling to suffer through the hard.

She snuggles up against me, emotions spent after having an argument with the cat.  She's just returned from ten minutes pouting in her room and I hold her close, feeling my precious firstborn still yearning for the comfort of her mother's arms.  This girl and I, we've been through the good:  birthday parties, Christmas, trips to the beach, reading the Ramona books together as we laugh over her escapades.  This girl and I have been through the hard stuff, too, stuff I can't shield her from.

My firstborn girl child, oldest of four, still living as an only child after seven and a half years.  She'll be almost eight before my fourth child makes an appearance in this world.  Two babies lost, not just to me or my husband.  Two babies lost to the little girl who has been excited about having a sibling since she was three and her little friend Sophie was getting a baby.  

This eldest daughter of mine has seen three siblings on the ultrasound screen.  Her sister Faith did flips and waved at her twelve weeks into pregnancy.  Five weeks later, the older sister holds her baby sister's lifeless body in her arms.  It is Christmas Eve.  Three months later, on her seventh birthday, she will see the body of her second sibling on the ultrasound screen, lifeless once again.

This child rapidly growing up too quickly for me clings to me as I comfort her.  Despite the traumas she's experienced, she finds herself hopeful for this new baby.  She clings to her faith in God, childlike and leaps and bounds ahead of my own faith simultaneously.  I hold her tight in the arms she knows to be a safe place.  I hold her tightly against the struggles of this life, even something as simple as an argument with a cat over a box.

At the same time as I hold her tightly, I must also hold her loosely.  She is not really mine.  She is a gift, loaned to me for a time.  If there's anything I've learned from losing two of her siblings, it's that my children are not always going to be with me.  Whether she moves away for college, gets married, moves off to a foreign country to minister to the world, or when that time comes that one of us goes to Heaven while the other is left to wait here on earth...there will be separation.  Because she's not mine.  She's His.  

She belongs to the Lord she gave her heart to almost exactly two years ago.  She belongs to the Lord she gave testimony to as she stepped into the baptismal waters, dying to sin and rising up to new life.  She belongs to the Lord she knows so much about...much more than me when we have theological discussions.  She belongs to the Lord whom she accepts with the most childlike innocence, despite the trauma life has brought.

She's not an inconvenience.  She's a complex, beautiful, intelligent child and as I type this I watch her head poking out of the box of a microwave we bought two months ago.  I can't help but pray the years don't pass too quickly.  But I know better.  The first seven and a half have already gone too quickly.  So I hold her tightly when she's snuggled up in my arms.  But I have to hold her loosely, too.  Because she's not mine.

She is the adopted princess of the King.

Friday, August 7, 2015

My Thoughts on Pregnancy After Miscarriage

Well, it happened.  We got two pink lines!  At the beginning of March, we are expecting a beautiful miracle to come screaming into this world!  It has been almost four years since we began trying to conceive a sibling for our daughter.  In that four year period, we have conceived.  Three times, actually.  The first two never lived outside the womb.  The third is currently growing beneath my heart.

Beneath my heart, I've nestled four children.  One of them keeps me busy all day.  I was blessed to be able to hold my second child, Faith, after delivery although she had not survived.  I did not even know about my third child, Reese, until I was miscarrying.  Then there's this fourth little bean growing steadily along after two ultrasounds.

I'm thrilled.  I have dreamed about this child in it's infancy twice already.  I've also spent some time feeling terrified.  It's much more of an emotional struggle to be pregnant after losing a baby.  I had a hard time believing it was real until we went to our first appointment.  I was 6 weeks, 1 day along and I woke up early to spend some time with God before I went to the doctor.  I needed to find some peace.  The following verse struck me as important that morning:

Brothers and sisters, as an example of patience in the face of suffering, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.  As you know, we count as blessed those who have persevered.  You have heard of Job's perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about.  The Lord is full of compassion and mercy.
                                                                             -James 5:10-11-

I felt strangely comforted.  I didn't feel like God was telling me this child would live or die.  But instead what I felt was peace.  God's peace had permeated my heart and I knew that no matter what I would be able to persevere.  I also knew that no matter what, the Lord is full of compassion and mercy.

My perseverance may come from nine months of waiting on a child, counting the milestones...8 weeks...10 weeks...end of the first trimester...past the 16 week mark when Faith died...when the baby would be viable outside the womb...third trimester...counting down all those days, feeling more encouraged after passing each one.

Or my perseverance may come from another loss.  I know that.  I pray regularly for this baby to be safe.  I also know my risk factors (obesity, previous losses) give me just a slightly higher chance of loss again.  At this point it's a less than 5% chance.  But it's there.

I'm walking through my days, rejoicing in the life that grows inside me and dreaming of what life will be like with this child.  I'm pinning baby things, I'm sharing with family and friends, I'm on the pregnancy app on my phone.  I've bought bigger bras to accommodate growth, I've quit running* on the advice of my OBGYN.  I've already found my playpen/bassinet/babyseat three in one.  I enjoy browsing the Target baby section and have thought about my gender reveal party.

I also check my underwear each time I sit on the toilet.  I check the toilet paper for evidence of blood.  I pray when I feel a cramp in my lower abdomen that it is gas and not the beginning of a miscarriage (man, it is HARD to tell the difference sometimes!).  At our second ultrasound, I held my breath as I waited for that little bean to show up and flicker.  I teared up with joy when it finally did.

As I walk through both the joy and the struggle of a mother experiencing pregnancy after loss, I know the Lord is full of compassion and mercy.  I can feel it pouring out on me daily in the form of prayers from those close to me.  I can feel it pouring out on me in the people who rejoiced with me when I shared the news.  I can feel it pouring out on me in the compassion and mercy I've been given every day since my water broke in December.

My babies may have died.  There is no guarantee this baby will live.  The next nine months (well, seven now!) will not be easy.  But He has not forsaken me for a single second.  He is full of compassion and mercy.  That is how I will persevere through my pregnancy after miscarriage.

*I understand that not all women need to quit running after becoming pregnant.  Some women have been running for months or years.  I had run twice before becoming pregnant.  While my doctor was fine with me continuing to walk, as I'd established the habit over the course of six months and it is a low impact exercise, for me and my situation running is not recommended at this time.  Please consult your own doctor about running, while pregnant or otherwise.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

What Jesus and my Uncle Mike Taught Me

My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this:  Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.  Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you.
                                                                               -James 1:19-21-

I recently attended a memorial service for my great-uncle Mike.  There was a time for people to share their memories of him and I noticed a theme.  What people remembered most about him were
1. His brilliance...he had more knowledge in his head than almost anyone I've ever met.
2. His amazing ability to listen to others.  Even as a child, I knew he was listening to what I had to say and that he actually cared about what I was saying.

While people were amazed by the brilliance, it was his innate ability to listen that really touched people.  He listened, truly listened, and got to know the heart of the person he was talking to. 

More often than not, we find huge chasms created by people of all beliefs and political associations.  The focus is on shouting angrily without hearing the person we're shouting at or even really knowing the heart beating inside that person.

If we as a society would listen twice as much as we speak, truly listen for what the heart of the other person is saying and waste less time on our anger, we may not agree with what the other person's opinion is.  But perhaps we'd find some compassion for the person speaking to us.  

In turn, our ability to listen to the other person may foster respect in them toward us and bridges would be build between those with opposing viewpoints.  If that were to be accomplished in our current society, imagine the ability we could have to solve the struggles we face!

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Surviving South Beach Phase One

Normally I am not a fan of elimination diets.  Diets where you have to completely give up something forever, or at least until you reach your goal weight.  This is not realistic because we live in America.  And unless the people you spend time with regularly are completely committed to eating the same way you will be around the foods you're asked to elimitate indefinitely.  This isn't to say self-control isn't important.  It is. I'll talk about that another time, though.  

My point of the above is to explain WHY I chose the South Beach diet over all the other diets offered on the marketplace.  South Beach asks you to give up ALL fruits, starches, and carbs for two weeks.  I can do a lot of things for only two weeks.  At the end of the two weeks, introducing fruit back into your diet is encouraged, along with limited whole grains that you choose as you work your way into Phase Two.  Phase Two lasts long enough to achieve your goal weight.

After Phase Two, you move into Phase Three, or the lifestyle maintenance phase.   Essentially you're committing to eliminate the majority of unhealthy foods for the long term and replace them with healthy grains after you've curbed your sugar addiction and once you lose enough weight you remember to eat more moderately in the carbs and starches department to avoid regaining that weight in the future.

It's doable because it's teaching you how to make a lifestyle change instead of being a diet that stops once you get to your goal.  Phase Three lasts as long as you live or you can put yourself into phases one/two if you gain a bit, say after the holidays or a long vacation.

My breakfast for 14 days

I planned my meals very carefully for the two weeks I did Phase One and I followed the rules almost completely.  I did not switch out condiments that contain sugars, such as ketchup or ranch, because that can get spendy and switching from buying inexpensive carbs to more chicken and fresh veggies is already a bit on the expensive side.

A delicious dinner, with a side of salad!

One way I kept my meal plans simple was repetition.  I ate the same meal for breakfast, lunch, and  snacks for fourteen days.  Dinner time I varied the menu.  This made life much easier.

Secondly, I had an accountability partner.  She knew I was doing it and I didn't want to fail.  We talked regularly about what each one of us was doing to eat healthy.

Finally, I kept reminding myself it was for just two weeks.  After two weeks, I would have accomplished the hardest part.

I met a couple of challenges while going through this plan.  The little things are just how picky I am and an allergy to fish (which would've been a filling, yet low-fat protein to eat).

The bigger challenges had me thinking a bit more creatively.  In my area, the average high in June is 73, but the western states have been in the middle of a major drought for a few years and June seems to love ninety+ days this year.  Today, the last day of June, topped at 97 degrees.  Cooking the South Beach meals I'd planned involved days where I turned on the oven for dinner.  I switched a couple of meals around and utilized the grill a few nights to make it work.

Steak and a side salad...who says eating out is unhealthy?

The other big challenge was people being nice.  My in-laws, in a generous mood, offered to take us out for dinner at the beginning of my second week to avoid the heat.  I could've gone off plan and indulged in a free meal.  But I didn't.  (Which actually may have ended up costing my in-laws more!)

Instead, I ordered a 7 oz steak and a house salad without croutons.  Very delicious, very filling, and I stayed within my plan the entire time.  

While it wasn't always easy (like when my seven year old ate a delicious brownie when we went to help with our local soup kitchen) I accomplished it and moved into Phase Two with strength and conviction to keep going strong.

She sat next to me and made yummy noises while she ate!

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

What's Your Mile?


A while back, I arrived at church for an evening Bible study class.  I was feeling worn out; I’d done my walk that day but I didn’t get up in time to walk before church so I donned my tennis shoes after church and did my mileage for that day.  It was a beautiful day, after 1 pm, so it was quite warm, which zaps me of my energy quickly.  Plus my bad ankle decided to get cranky with me that day.

I felt like I had something to moan and groan about with my lack of energy.  I was all ready to give my friends my pity speech in conversation when another friend arrived, barely able to move.  She had spent most of the day running about twenty miles up and down a mountain.  Why?  She was training for an ultra-marathon (30 miles), full of elevation gains.
I was impressed and shared that with her, commenting, “And I was feeling worn out from walking a mile today!”  She said something that struck me as super important, not just in exercising but in all areas:  

“Everyone’s mile looks different.”

I knew that but I wasn’t looking at it that way.  I was looking at what others were doing, what others had to offer.  People who seemed like they had more to offer than me tended to make me feel envious.  People who offered less than me often brought out judgment.  But that wasn’t right.  Envy is a sin, right there in the Ten Commandments.  Judgment is God’s job, not mine.

I decided I needed to look at what my mile was.  My mile, an assignment from God, was not what my friend’s mile looked like.  (I didn’t want it to be; running 30 miles of hills does not sound like fun!)  I needed to turn to God and ask Him what my mile looked like.

I figured out that I was doing my mile.  I was doing it but I was looking at everyone else’s instead of looking at what I was accomplishing.  God doesn’t want me to focus on other people’s miles unless He’s asking me to help with their mile.  He wants me to focus on doing the best I can do at the mile He’s given me.  

I may not be running 30 miles in a day.  But if I’m focused on giving 100% to the mile He’s asked me to walk, then I’m right where I’m supposed to be no matter how difficult it might look to others.

What is your mile?  Are you giving it 100%?