The Leafless Tree

landscape photography of withered tree

Her hands wrenching against her still swollen– yet now lifeless belly. Mine equally wrenching against mine, where once I had nurtured her to life and held her and cradled her and dreamed all her same dreams. Dreams that had been dashed by a heart that stopped too soon.

Her hands barren of ornament, mine dotted with two; one symbolizing a lifetime commitment, the other an inexpensive sterling silver ring hand stamped with the word “loved” that I’d worn for nearly 20 years—most of her life. Continue reading

Grief’s Cocoon

insect-43478_1920Alone in the doctor’s office, our silence gave way to heart wrenching cries—cries that mingled between that of suffocating grief and one of battle; a battle where our only ammunition was to hope bigger, to hope deeper and longer and wider—and to pray ceaselessly for a miracle, for the doctors to have been wrong, for anything other than this. Defeat bullied its way into our lives and robbed us of life, of dreams, of the future that we had pictured in our mind’s eye; a future we’d fashioned in splashes of vibrant yellows, various hues of orange, violets, hot pinks, and all the colors in between. This dream had fluttered, tickling my daughter’s ribs. This dream’s heart out beat ours and seemed to lead us. And now, that was gone.

The sun’s morning rays filtered through the higher than normal windows, warming the room and highlighting the lilies that were beautifully arranged on its sill. Just the two of us, my daughter and I sat side by side in rare moments of silence dreading the visit with the social worker that had been provided to her through the hospital—standard procedure when a baby passes away in utero late into the second trimester. I looked down and realized that I had been wearing my daughter’s sweatshirt for a week straight. Dribbles of coffee and other unidentifiable substances, frayed hoodie ties, and watermarks of tears and runny nose streaks ran up and down my sleeves. I chose to wear her sweatshirt every day because I wanted to be near her, nearer to her than just proximity. I wanted to smell her, to feel her, to be with her in a way that superseded anything worldly possible. Maybe that sounds weird.

Only two weeks prior had we learned that her baby had been diagnosed with anencephaly. It’s not only a hard to word to pronounce, the diagnosis is equally, if not more so, hard to comprehend. Essentially, it means that her baby’s skull, brain, and/or spine had not developed properly in early pregnancy. It is a death sentence for the child. If, if, if her baby girl were to survive until she reached full term, her life expectancy would be hours, days at the most. My daughter was presented with the choice to terminate then, at 21 weeks or to attempt to carry to term. She wanted a different option, we wanted a different set of choices. Grief set in and in our own way we began to say goodbye to those vibrant dreams.

I talk to my daughter most days—she is, after all, one of my most treasured friends in all the world. She called one night with absolute resolve to carry her baby girl to term. Her words hung like a thick cloud in the air and as I began to wrap my mind around what the next 19 weeks would look like for her, I ached. I would have ached for her either way. “Mom, I heard her heartbeat. I felt her kick. I cannot be the one responsible for ending that.” Her conviction was strong and so well grounded. She was aware of the pain she was certain to encounter every step along the way and yet, she viewed this time as a gift. This was the only time they would have with their daughter.

Though they knew they would never bring their baby girl home from the hospital, they would spend these next months giving her a lifetime of love, read all the books, tell all the stories. They’d share their hopes for her and dreams of what seeing her at heaven’s gate would look like. They’d tell her how her life, though short, had taught them so much about themselves and propelled them to be the best versions of themselves. They would vow to live the life she would not get to live. They would chase ducks in the park and go down the slide. They would fly kites and build sand castles. They would finger paint and pluck flowers from the side of the road. They would sleep with stuffed animals and dream of sugary treats and long talks with friends. Her life mattered and they were going to make every moment count.

IMG_3447She told us then that they had decided to name their daughter Lilly, which means “pure, innocent, and she knows.” It was the perfect name for her. We designed a lily garden, planting a hundred or more bulbs; kissing some, hugging others, whispering “I love you” over others. The symbolism as we did this and then timidly covered each bulb with moistened dirt was beautifully hard. Little did we know that only a week or so later, we would learn that their baby girl’s heart had stopped.

It felt like we lost her twice.

A week later, we found ourselves in that high-rise doctor’s office, filtering through several appointments that would end with my daughter beginning the process to prepare her body to deliver her baby. The lilies on the window sill— a God thing, if I can be so bold, to communicate to my girl that Christ was walking with her each and every step of this journey. Both our eyes rested on those lilies and our tear-filled eyes and toothless smile nodded at the understanding that we were experiencing something sacred, something holy. It wasn’t about the lilies. It was about the peace that we found in that office and in the midst of utter destruction.

For lack of a better analogy, I felt swaddled, wrapped tightly, held, seen—my grief gave way to light and night gave way to song. This place was warm, secure, silent—a cocoon of sorts—safe. I wanted to stay in this place—this place that can’t be manufactured, only graced; this place that can’t be fully comprehended in the light, but fills every part of our mind, body, and souls in the dead of night. I wanted to stay in this sacred place, this sanctuary—with my grief, my loss, this agonizing pain–and this peace that surpasses all understanding. It’s not healthy to stay here forever, of course, but this gift at this time is more than my heart can articulate or dares to fully grasp. It is after all the very Spirit of Christ dwelling in and amongst us. That is Peace and He made Himself seen, felt, and known around each and every turn in that hospital.

IMG_3571

An afternoon in Lilly’s Garden revealed God’s promises in more than one way

I’ve known my Jesus a long time so it was easy for me to recognize His presence that day. I wondered if my girl recognized Him as well. I was a little apprehensive to ask her, to share what I was feeling. She’d wrestled with Christ for several years, always begging Him to make Himself known to her and always feeling let down. So I cleared my throat in that sterile room and timidly asked, “Does this feel sacred to you, like something more than this line up of appointments is happening to you, to us today? Does it feel bigger somehow? Intimate?” Her eyes filled with tears as she gulped hard and whispered, “Yes. I think it’s God.” I paused for a moment and said, “Yeah, I think it is too.” The social worker walked in the next moment and the dialogue that proceeded over the following three hours was laced with more peace and grace and a love between mother and daughter and their heavenly Father than either had ever experienced before.

The cocoon is still intact, but I know that when that butterfly emerges she will be more vibrant and more whole than she ever has been.

 

Single and Pregnant in the Church

pregnant-1245703_1920You know that level of gratitude where your eyes flood with tears and that lump gets caught in your throat; the kind that nearly brings you to your knees because—because well, grace? I find myself in this place often, actually.

These past weeks I’ve been transported back to a time of incredible insecurity, unknowns, and unfathomable fear. I was 19, pregnant, and unmarried. This hardly gets a second glance this day in age, but 26 years ago, it was taboo. Add to the situation that I came from a family of incredible faith, morals, and had parents who were upright citizens in both our church and town and you might glimpse the emotional distress I found myself.

To hide my indiscretion, to save face, to pretend I was still that “good girl,” I had an abortion. I could write about all the thoughts, the roller coaster of emotions, the battle that raged within me over that regretful decision and all that transpired thereafter– including a different kind of falling to my knees, but I’ll save that for another day.

The gratitude that causes my heart to beat without abandon this week is the incredible love and support my own girl has received as she finds herself in a nearly identical situation. Unmarried, pregnant and surrounded by a myriad of friends and family from all walks of life who unknowingly bring into every conversation their background, culture, beliefs, experiences, and good intentions. I’ve learned we can’t really separate our words from who we are—we just can’t.

Like me, my girl’s fears kept her isolated—just her and her secret—for months. She had witnessed portions of my own road toward healing post-abortion and knew that taking that route was not a way to escape distress and fear—but that in actuality abortion is like running into a burning building—you do not escape without scars.

As she revealed her news to us a couple months ago, I am sure she believed she was headed to the gallows, where she would receive tongue lashing after tongue lashing, spiritual spankings and rebukings before being shoved into exile. Her partial smile and dry eyes didn’t reveal this to me, but her shaking hands and her nubbed fingertips, ridged from continual nervous chewing did. Looking into her dark eyes and seeing my own reflection of my 19-year-old self, I quietly whispered the words I would have needed to hear all those years ago—if only I had had the courage.

I didn’t give my friends and family a chance to be gracious to me and as I sit for a moment with this fact, I realize that I also assumed the worst of them—that they would disown me. Being raised in a loving, God-fearing home, they never gave me a reason to think such thoughts and yet something deep within us tells us to hide for fear of losing reputation, status, love, belonging… I am certain that those fears do become reality for many, but we assume this is the overwhelming response when we share our wrongdoings, our sin, our embarrassments—whatever you want to call them.

My daughter bravely shared her news with the world and received so much love where she thought she’d receive hurt. In fact, she didn’t receive a single negative word. Can you believe it? Her fears held her hostage for months and once she faced them, they proved to be nothing more than vapors in the wind.

As my girl journeys into motherhood, she will dream about all the things she will do, say, teach, and pray over her child—just like I did—but what she will find is that her child will teach her far more than she will ever teach him/her—just like she has done and continues to do in my life.

Anything Worth Having…

sea-2252564_1280“Anything which gives us an opportunity to see God is worth having.” (C.H. Spurgeon)

My eyes brimmed with tears as I sat with these words—I sat so long that my criss-crossed legs began to cramp and my heart moved from a place of utter turmoil and unparalleled mourning to a spirit of gladness; to a spirit of unequivocal praise.

In those hours, my circumstances did not change. I still find myself at the brink of the Jordan River, so to speak, but instead of fear and questioning the unknowns—and even if God will *really* do all He said He would do–I gear up to tread across dry ground as the billows of raging, deafening waves surround me on all sides. Continue reading

“And Mean It!”

mammal-3128351_1280My parents had some unconventional ways of dealing with my siblings and me when we needed some….redirecting. For example, when my brother, Joel and I were about 7 and 8 years old, we got into trouble and as a consequence, my brother who loved to mow the lawn—was literally *obsessed* with mowing the lawn– was forced to watch me–who had never mowed a lawn in my entire life (and my OCD for all things straight and orderly had not yet taken root) struggle to mow our front yard. Continue reading

What’s in a Gift?

christmas lights

Twinkling lights cast their glow, causing shadows to dance and dreams of all things Christmas to enlighten our childhood eyes– no matter our age. If we listen carefully, we can hear our own squeals of delight from years gone by and if we listen deeper still, we can hear the cadence of a heartbeat that thumped vivaciously without restraint. The anticipation of what was to come, Christmas Day, left us giddy—a joy unmatched any other time of the year. Continue reading

I Won’t Break

bruised reedSo often my strength is a mirage; like an article of clothing, I shrug on each morning, covering both my nakedness and bruised spirit.

But in the quiet, dark sanctuary of my soul where only God and myself converse, where I kneel before Him as I really am, laying my impurities, brokenness, weaknesses, and reoccurring feelings of worthlessness at His feet, I have found– for much of my life– that I cannot bear to look Him in the eye. It’s too painful. It’s too embarrassing. It’s too…much. Continue reading

Half a Piece of Pecan Pie, Please

Calf length fur coat, oversized costume jewels and thick black curls that framed an aging beauty– her disposition was nothing short of graceful and her words feathery soft, but it was her smile that drew me in. It was a crooked smile lined with bright red lipstick that held a sadness that a bystander might miss. Her deep-set, chocolate eyes revealed shame– embarrassment– as they shifted downward and off to the side each time she felt seen. Continue reading

How I Overcame Fear

little-boy-1635065_1920I’m not usually a fearful person. I can harness those lurking shadows that threaten to quicken my heart rate and rob me of my joy. I can figuratively hold fear in my hands and evaluate it; deciphering what hidden truth is being masked as something altogether different.

I’ve learned to question my fear in an attempt to whittle it down to its truthful root. Once I know its root, I can acknowledge it, face it, and deal with it. It no longer holds power over me. I learned this tactic years and years ago and it has freed me from worry, anxiousness, and fear–most of the time! Continue reading

Triggered

hot-air-balloonHot air balloons glide over my rooftop endlessly through the summer months. I can hear the distinct whooshing of the flame’s warmth fill the balloons before I can see them. And inevitably I run outside to scan the sky. I’m not just looking for the balloon and the opportunity to wave to its passengers, I’m looking for a connection to my past. Continue reading