Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Faded: When Life Isn't What You Expected

Do you remember the last time you looked yourself square in the eye? I find myself only looking to check eyeliner or engaging in the infrequent use of dental floss. Any pause that allows my eyes to engage with my eyes in the mirror and I can sense the comfort being chased from the corners of my soul. I strategically avoid my own glance because somewhere inside the woman who stands there, when distraction and rush are placed to the side, I come face-to-face with often sad eyes. Eyes that carry disappointment.

For a long time I have been negligent to uncover the places of disappointment and loss because I genuinely didn't know they existed. Your life is your life...so deal with it is the cruel whisper that makes me think that I'm brave and infused with confidence and perspective but denial is not strength, it is weakness. It lingers as a dark and dying place in the heart of people who cannot confront what is most real and most heavy at the bottom of our hearts.

So at the bottom of this deep ocean of my being is the sunken idea of who I thought I would be and how I thought I would be a wholly-LOVEr, vibrant-LIVEr, gracious-mother and good-wife. People said we would make great parents but I feel like it only brings out the worst in me. I thought I would have better maintained my waistline and committed to home-cooked meals every night. I just knew, as a 24-year-old, that I would find a rhythm in being a wife that would make our story look like a fairytale on the 4th of July. I thought I would have figured it out by now, ten years into marriage and entering my mid-thirties, but my life is not what I expected. And it might not even be what I wanted.

This conversation is often condemned and its mouth covered with a kind of webbing that not only discourages the plea for help but it shoves it back into our souls. I cannot help but think that even this darkness is always looking for the light, desperate for its own death. Open the doors, open the windows and let in the light. 

I guess because, honestly, I think it's hard - even impossible - to love the life we have until we grieve the one we've lost.

It's the paradox of growing and aging and maturity: we can carry deep gratitude for what we have, for what our hands and wombs create, for the time that has come and gone and for the time that is yet to envelop us. All this can live and thrive right alongside the gut-wrenching and take-your-breath-away sorrow that life is not what it should have been or what we had hoped it would become. It is the perfect union of our humanity and our other-worldliness.

There is a theology floating around today that makes us believe that running alongside the trajectory of our life and its brokenness and realities, is a path of the should-have-beens or what perfection would have brought us, had humanity never plummeted in the garden of Eden. As if God's script for humanity was originally written without "flaws" as defined by our hearts and minds. As if the fall was out of His divine and sovereign plan but when I look at the scriptures and fall back into what God says about what comes and goes and how He moves and breathes, I see that the life we have and the life we are living is His plan. It is His plan for us to live in brokenness, it is His plan for us to face trials and suffering, it is His plan that "bad things happen to good people," because He knows that our hearts cannot find rest and peace until we find Him. He will set aside or take away from us the gifts, circumstances, and even stability when He sees it replacing His role in our hearts and how that shapes our affections. So rather than fix our eyes on the imaginary path we call "Should Have Been" and wish we lived there, we "run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God." (Hebrews 12:1-2)

The disappointment that comes with being unhappy with how our life unfolds is placed there to create a deep desire for God himself, not the life we wish He had given us. It's really easy at this point for fear to creep into this way of thinking and cause us to fold into ourselves and away from Jesus. Unless we know Him, unless we've studied Him, and unless we have seen His beauty and goodness shining for us.

"For the Lord your God is living among you.
He is a mighty savior.
He will take delight in you with gladness.
With his love, he will calm all your fears.
He will rejoice over you with joyful songs.
Zephaniah 3:17

"Those who look to Him are radiant 
and their faces shall never be covered with shame."
(Psalm 34:5) 

I am more convinced than ever that all things unfold for His glory and our good. I've given myself freedom to grieve the life I thought I would have and instead of finding a great void or emptiness, I've found myself falling deeper in love with Jesus. He can graciously fill the places of our hearts that writhe with disappointment and give us greater measures of Himself: the better and most satisfying. Treasure Him, friends, and you will find your life. 

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Happy Father's Day :: How to Help the Grieving

June 22nd, 2012 @ 6:47pm. I birthed our beautiful, stillborn Olivia into the world and said goodbye to a piece of my heart that still flares with phantom pain. We drove home that night and I knew that everything had changed. 

Standing beside me through it all, was the most tender and amazing man. I love you, BT, more than a thousand blogs can convey.

Brad held Olivia for nearly all the time we had with her in the hospital but said to me days later, "You had so much more time with her." I was puzzled because she was cradled in my arms for just minutes, but then he explained. "You had her for the five months you carried her." In those months she learned and knew my movements and voice and heartbeat and I learned her frisky movements and felt her popping limbs. He was right, I had so much more time with her. 

For whatever reason, we are just not good at comforting the men who walk through the same trials. For every baby that dies, there is a father who had hoped for fishing trips and first dances. For every miscarriage, there is a silent suffering that happens beside the woman who cramps and delivers. We make Hallmark bereavement cards with flowers and pastels and put "pretty" covers on grief books. Blogs are written by women, for women, and come with gooey writing that solicits tears. 

And we silently communicate that grief is not for men. 

So my Father's Day gift to you is a compilation of things that blessed us and helped us along the grieving process. Up first are ways to bless the men:

Ask Questions
Men should be asking men how they're doing. Take the dude out for beer and wings and just hang out. He might want to talk about work or he might want to talk about burying his child. Brad sat alone in the funeral director's office and picked up the box that held our cremated daughter. He had to do the hardest things and he needed to be pastored, loved, and pursued in that season. Ask if he's escaping or coping in something that isn't healthy (alcohol, pornography, distance) and help him find ways to grieve well. Exercise, golf, batting cages, or a long drive alone in a car where tears and screaming is hidden.

Help Him...By Loving Her
There's just a way that friends and family can meet needs that the husband sometimes just doesn't know how or what to do. So it might look like mowing their yard so he can take her to a movie. Or gifting them with a housecleaner so they can sleep in and watch movies all day. Buy him a stack of paper plates and plastic forks so dishes don't have to be done. Gift him, too, if you're gifting her (see ideas below) and ask him if he needs help picking out something for her.

Send Flowers
The bouquets and arrangements that we received literally took my breath away and validated a death in our lives. I took multiple pictures of each one and can still smell the roses and carnations. Those flowers brought colors and dimension to a very bleak and broken backdrop. Pink and white petals might wither and sink deep into next week's trash but the thought remains - literally forever.

Text/Call/Email...and Expect Nothing
Old friends surfaced, friends of friends messaged me on Facebook, and emails poured into my inbox. The love and prayers expressed in those paragraphs stuck with me and helped knock some of the "funny" out of my mind. The words that didn't help? People telling me their story and feeling the need to compare it to what we had just experienced. 

Also, refrain from phrases like "God needed another flower in His garden," "God wanted another angel," and "She's in a better place." Words like that...they just don't make sense and were most certainly invented by people who have brain damage from shock therapy. In fact, walk past the bereavement section of the greeting cards and go to the "Thinking of You" and err on the side of fewer words.

Show Up in Pajamas...and Stay
I am amazed at how people become afraid of grief and loss and death. Unfortunately, that fear turns into distance and that distance from friends and family feels like invalidation and judgment. Don't be selfish; press into the uncomfortable and just be there. Show up in your pajamas with a bottle of wine and good movie and be flexible - be ready to stay, be ready to leave, be ready to laugh, be ready to cry. We need you when we have no idea what else we need.

Feed Them...or Send Restaurant Gift Cards
We had so many weeks of meals that followed and there is no doubt that my children would have otherwise starved. We reached a point where I couldn't handle visitors (especially people in the "acquaintances" category) so we asked for gift cards. We had one family give us $300 in gift cards to Jason's Deli, Chick-Fil-A, and Pei Wei. Their generosity was stunning. 

Practical Tips & Gifts
  • Care packages: journal, a great novel or movie, wine, cookie dough or candy. Drop it off on the front door and text to let them know it's there as you drive away.
  • Personalized gifts: jewelry with initials, name, birthdate, etc. Picture frames and even non-grief related items are so meaningful.
  • Redbox or iTunes or Amazon or Barnes & Noble credit/gift cards.
  • Gift cards to Starbucks or Sonic, fast food if they have kids.  
  • If the couple has kids: gift bags with movies, independent crafts, and snacks
  • If you bring a meal, bring items for breakfast and lunch the next day. Cinnamon rolls, a package of coffee, their favorite muffins, artisan bread and cheese.
  • Bring them groceries: a couple bags full of food they'll eat, a yummy candle, and Clorox wipes. 
Time Heals...and People Disappear
We still grieve what happened to us exactly two years ago. We still cry and send each other sad text messages and catch our breath when we stumble across her photos. People think that the sadness goes away after six weeks or once the bleeding has stopped but it just doesn't. The pain lasts forever, even when protected by grace and gratitude. Love them months later, on the birthday, and at random moments or holidays and parties.

**For BFFs Only
There were only a handful (like 2 people) who I felt truly safe to grieve and process and share what I really needed. For those people (if you consider each other best friends), text and tell them you're coming over and what do they want from Sonic or Starbucks. Tell her you're coming to do dishes or watch a movie - her choice. Or text her the night before and tell her you've schedule pre-paid pedicures and you're coming to pick her up in the morning. There's something about a best friend being slightly aggressive that just catches us when we're free-falling.

**Pregnant Bellies & Newborns
The truth is it's hard to see your growing belly or healthy baby. Wear a loose t-shirt if you're going to see her or leave the newborn with Grandma until the first month has passed. If she wants to see and hold the baby, she will let you know. If she wants to acknowledge and rub your belly, she'll do it when she's ready. And her heart will break regardless.  

There is always opportunity in the midst of grief and death and loss to display something that is other worldly. Kindness, compassion, generosity, and service are some of the things that we get to witness this side of heaven in our darkest days. Thank you for truly considering how to bless and love the brokenhearted.

Friday, June 6, 2014


Congratulations on making it through the set of double doors and getting a cart. By the time you're placing your lightweight purse into its spot and getting out your iPhone notes with a grocery list, I'll be noticing the smear of ketchup that made its way onto my white t-shirt at breakfast and still wondering why we needed it with oatmeal. I'm in the middle of unbuckling myself when I notice the cup holder with the coffee that is no longer "extra hot, hold the whip" but I'm gonna freaking need this today so I gulp it down while my toddler launches a Hot Wheels at my head. He barely misses.  

While you're making your first stop in cosmetics to get a bottle of nail polish, I'm only just now getting the sliding door of the minivan open, catch falling toys and say goodbye to a receipt blowing away in the wind, only to find all three children without shoes. I know they had shoes when we left the house and I'm (still almost) positive that the locks on the windows work so they have to be here. The boots are found, shoe laces are tied, and I don't care that half the shoes are on the wrong feet.  

Now we make our way through the parking lot and I yell so no one gets hit by the passing cars or trucks backing out of the handicap spot and I wonder WHY THE HELL there is no family parking. (Damn you, Ikea, with your childcare and family parking spaces and tiny meatballs.) We're finally inside and I have to explain, yet again, to the six year old why he cannot ride on the side of the cart: Remember, honey, when it tipped over sideways last month and you almost cracked your skull open? That's why! in my velvety voice because people are walking in behind us.

I have my mostly-list because it's never succinct and I hope today is not the day my iPhone drops and shatters on the floor. The kids are begging for the toy aisle but are content when I say no but I know the countdown has begun. 

Side note: I am thoroughly convinced that grocery stores, ahem Target, sends beams of rays that target a mother's intelligence and common sense because I start thinking that surely THIS IS THE TIME that I can get a shirt for 70% off in peace. My better sense of judgement kicks in and we beeline towards the groceries.

You'll be doing wine pairings for this weekend's hipster entertaining, grabbing an IPA six-pack, and answering a casual call from the BFF. Meanwhile in aisle six, I'm measuring distance from my youngest's fingers and the glass jars of spaghetti sauce. Wait, how did you get that toy from ten minutes ago? Please put it on a shelf, I don't care whereStop wrestling, we are indoors and this has never been acceptable behavior at a store.  

One last glance at the list and we're down to the last three items and produce will be easy because the bigs (my oldest two) will stand at the bakery looking through pictures of cakes while I make sure our potatoes aren't moldy and ensure the cheapest apples get in the cart. The youngest is screaming because he can't join the big brother and sister and you are happily walking past me, pause to pick out fresh flowers for your DIY table you finished over the weekend, and I'll glance at your skinny hiney, blink back jealousy, and debate between red or orange bell peppers. I have altogether forgotten what life is like without my kids but the sound of avocados rolling across the floor snaps me back to reality.

Considering the deep love I have for Target, I should be best friends with every cashier but I'm too exhausted for chit chat and I will cut you if you slow down so stuff those paper bags like your Christmas bonus is on the line.

You've driven off to meet girlfriends for a casual patio brunch by the time I'm opening the automatic hatch and my kids are asking "Did we do good today?" like pitiful little pups who know this routine all-too-well. I remind myself how amazing my little people are despite the look of death they all received when I was handed the receipt because they were trying to shoplift ChapStick.

We're almost done loading our bags into the back of the minivan, or Pearl, as we affectionately call her, and I am still scanning the parking lot for kidnappers and purse thieves because I am their perfect target and I have the most beautiful children in the world and they can sense my distraction. We're like the wildebeest on water's edge. The cart goes to the corral and we are all buckled and no purses were stolen and I can exhale because no one peed on the floor or dumped the bag of popcorn behind the clothing rack.

And for the briefest moment, I wonder if I could get away with drinking a Raz-ber-Rita on the way home.