Twins… “psych!”

miracle

Twins has been a surprising word theme for this summer and fall.

Three times in these recent months we have had friends secretly share surprise joy with us – not one, but two little babies on an ultrasound screen – with no explanation but amazement at the rare gift of an extra baby that God tends to give about once in every hundred fruitful pregnancies. Three times we have rejoiced to the best of our ability. Sometimes I’m giddy with joy, but sometimes I just try to ignore the shriek in my soul asking what maniacal mystery it is that some people get two of them at the same time?!  It got to the point that we joked everyone must be having twins. The fresh awkwardness has worn off somewhat, and we grieve that these three twin pregnancies are only resulting in five expected babies now, after all.

Very often I have contemplated Jesus’ disciple Thomas, whose name means “the twin,” the apostle who had to see, with so many unknowns for the future. We were rapidly approaching Aaron’s graduation date without any clue about what the coming year beyond graduate school would bring, and not knowing how to dream for the future. Do I have to leave all my piano students? Will it ever feel okay to dream of good things for a life that doesn’t include having the baby this spring? Is it even worth thinking about having kids anymore? I like to know things and found a great challenge in wrapping up Aaron’s season of grad school with these big questions in such limbo. 

Very often, like Thomas, I have felt that war between the twins of belief and doubt inside myself.

And then sometime this fall, we sensed our original ideas about where to live and what to do falling apart. Time for some re-dreaming. We began talking and thinking very seriously about the Twin Cities in Minnesota, where Aaron was invited to complete more research after graduating in December. This was the sort of job he hadn’t looked into, in a location we hadn’t considered before, and an income level we were not initially drawn toward before. In short, it was not on the list of options I already gave God. But as the details came to light, we thought and prayed, and before long it was clear there would be peace in no other path.

For years we have anticipated moving forward, living closer to family, getting smart phones, maybe going on trips(!!!), first-hand clothes, a big house with plenty of room for children and guests, and staying put wherever we were. Instead, we are moving to Minnesota at Christmastime, which alone indicates we must be crazy, and we are only committed for three years. This act of assumed insanity also requires selling this little house we love to get one even further away from our families and figuring out how to embrace the possibility of a temporary location again, though smart phones and a real guest room are pretty much non-negotiables for the next stage. (So plan on visiting, please. We will have room for you to stay with us and fancy gadgets to assist our sight-seeing navigation.) 

Godhead here in hiding, whom I do adore
Masked by these bare shadows, shape and nothing more
See Lord at thy service low lies here a heart
Lost, all lost in wonder, at the God thou art.

I am not like Thomas, wounds I cannot see,
But can plainly call thee Lord and God as he…
– St. Thomas Aquinas

This doesn’t offer a solution for everything I’m working through right now. There are still questions. I knew there would be. But for now, we’re walking (running!) bravely through the open door to a new adventure in Minnesota, and I get the impression God still hears questions there.

For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face. Now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known. – 1 Corinthians 13:12

Of course, this surprising turn of events spurs many interesting conversations at home. (Aaron is very hilarious so it doesn’t take much to induce an interesting conversation, I suppose.)
Me: “We always pray and pray, and when we finally make plans, the total opposite thing happens. What do you feel like God is trying to say to us?”
Aaron:  “He’s totally got an animated look on His face, delightedly exclaiming, ‘PSYCH!'”

Oh, my.

[image HERE]

[image HERE]

Sickie Blogging – Happy Fall!

Nothing inspires a thought such as, “Oh, I guess I could update my blog after a month to reassure people I’m not dead,” like being in bed with a nasty fall bug and a series of exhausting half-finished projects taunting me while I am home ill.

What has life been like in the past weeks? Busy. We remodeled the bathroom entirely. Our family had another wedding in Michigan, making it my fourth trip back-and-forth across the midwest this summer.

Aaron is feverishly working on his dissertation. My piano studio is keeping me so busy that I have a waiting list of students who would want to take lessons if I had a slot available. We have been working very hard for years, and these successes are marvelous gifts. In a way, this feels like we are getting that second burst of energy at the end of a race, as though the light at the end of a tunnel is blindingly bright.  We’re also doing some re-dreaming about the next phase of our life after he graduates, and discerning how to walk best with our desire for a family, our location, and our vocations. I’m pretty sure it’s not going to look like we had planned, but God has been very gracious to close and open doors in a way that takes some of the agony out of making these big decisions. A saving grace in some of these hectic days is that we have sold a significant amount of our stuff online, which streamlines some parts of life while we’re settling into a Fall that’s turning into a whole new kind of adventure.

autumn

Autumn is my favorite season, bringing the delights of soups, sweaters, candles, plaid, roasted acorn squash, hot wassail, and bonfires to accompany the witness of nature: God ordains a lot of beauty in seasons of ending and loss. I’m really thankful that is true.

to laugh or cry?

Before I share the following snippets of life in the past few weeks, I must note that while Scripture doesn’t explicitly teach that God has a sense of humor, I feel like it’s an undeniable truth.

As an expression of jealousy that the bigger chickens have successfully laid eggs for several weeks, Snowflake saw an opportunity to fly-hop herself out of the coop and decided to do a little free-ranging in the back yard. Oops. I eventually scooted the other chickens to their roost and created a Hansel-and-Gretel style trail of scratch and watermelon rinds for her to follow into the coop of her own volition. It worked. Considering that I will probably eat her someday when she has given me all the eggs her body will produce, it’s disturbing to see I am fitting into the role of the fairy-tale witch pretty well here.
downsize (8)

Though I have been mercifully spared from any additional medical catastrophes accompanying our recent miscarriage, I am obediently taking quite a bit of physician-recommended ibuprofen. I find this warning most …ironic, I suppose.
ibuprofenI found out Walgreens has been selling a generic product that makes a very, very bold claim. (I considered rubbing it all over my tummy just in case.)
downsize (7)Apparently the shower needed some ultimate healing, too, because the caulk mysteriously peeled itself up, so we were without a shower for a while until I VERY CAREFULLY cleaned it out and applied the new caulk. Then we waited even longer than label directions indicated before testing it out, just in case.0813131624In that process, I scratched my eye, which was depleted of it’s natural defense mechanism (tears) due to excessive crying jaunts,  and then ended up in severe pain with symptoms of infection that necessitated more visits to the Doctor’s office and a very expensive bottle of antibiotic drops, which made me gasp even after my insurance kicked in their share.
downsize (9)When I say this corneal abrasion caused “severe pain,” I really mean that THERE ARE NO WORDS to describe it, which is saying a lot coming from me. All is mostly well now, I’m just overly sensitive to bright lights yet and wearing sunglasses most of the time.

In every one of these little situations, I haven’t know whether to laugh or cry in response… but there has been plenty of both of those happening at our house, sometimes even at the same time. I think this is healthy. I have learned it is possible to be so overwhelmed by emotion that you are laughing and crying simultaneously, which happened when I was telling Aaron the only thing I wanted in life was to become hermits, get a dog, and hike the Grand Canyon until we died of old age, and I was suddenly struck with the inspiration to name the dog “Burro.” It is more awkward when one person is in agony, as I was during my opthalmological issues, and another unnamed individual is laughing, saying things like, “It seems you are a picture of perpetual misery.”

Other than all this, I snuck in another  summer road-trip to Michigan. Crazy? Yes, but it means I spent a weekend on the beach with some of the best girls in the world AND got to see almost everyone on both sides of our family for a few hours when we weren’t immediately setting up for a wedding, which is rare for us.beach weekendPlenty of laughter and crying happened during that trip, too, in addition to several stops at the same family-style diner for breakfast several days in a row, because that’s how we do things. This unpredictable mix of joy and sadness is all as it should be for now, I think.

too heavy

In the aftershock of bad news, I seek out solo projects. I think it’s a good system. Working in the sun and accomplishing something seems to bring mental clarity to the cloudy thinking of grief, but you can’t really avoid feelings the way aimless web browsing or watching movies allows for.  We have been touching up the exterior of the house, so it was high time I got around to painting a second coat on my garage door.

garage doorMy big confession here is that it was three years between coats of paint. We’ve been doing a lot in the meantime, and Aaron and I are both notoriously bad at getting things half-way done, so we’re trying to do a lot of “finishing” this year. The big push that got me started painting this the first time was our first miscarriage, and so I was thinking about that during the second round of painting. I was remembering the shock of a loss after falling in love with a really cute heartbeat on an ultrasound screen, about missing a little baby I would never set on my lap, about the million questions I couldn’t help asking then. At that point I was pretty sure I could get through things if I just “knew.” If I could just know I would feel better someday, and that I would be ready and able to have a baby at a certain time, even if it wasn’t as soon as I wanted, I thought I would be satisfied. Or even if I knew I would not have a baby, I could at least start making peace with that and build dreams for that life, too.

I would not have been satisfied to know that not only would there be a three year gap for touching up the paint, but it would also occur fresh off a third consecutive loss, when the doctors stop saying it’s a sad fluke and you’ll have a new baby in no time as they do at first. I did not know yet, when I was 2 years out of college, that sometimes knowledge isn’t the gift that we want it to be.

[Father] turned to look at me, as he always did when answering a question, but to my surprise he said nothing. At last he stood up, lifted his traveling case from the rack over our heads, and set it on the floor.
“Will you carry it off the train, Corrie?” he said.
I stood up and tugged at it. It was crammed with the watches and spare parts he had purchased that morning.
“It’s too heavy,” I said.
“Yes,” he said. “And it would be a pretty poor father who would ask his little girl to carry such a load. It’s the same way, Corrie, with knowledge. Some knowledge is too heavy for children. When you are older and stronger you can bear it. For now you must trust me to carry it for you.”
– Corrie Ten Boom, “The Hiding Place.”

This doesn’t mean I’m not angry and asking, or that there aren’t going to be dark days with hard questions, but I want to keep these conversations with God and my doctors in perspective. God doesn’t owe me an explanation, and it might not be one that would make me happy anyway. The doctors owe me any information they have, but they can’t always figure things out or solve them. I am glad I didn’t always know the future in past difficulty, and that same troubling ignorance may be a blessing now, too. (And maybe if I preach it loud enough to myself today, it will be easier to believe when I stop wanting to.)

Paint Disaster

Beyond these lofty thoughts, there is other frustrating news cropping up in the painting project. We have just discovered, after four years, that our house is at least three different shades of brown. It seems that there has been a lot of color-matching-of-a-color-match for paint supplies under the previous owner’s care, which looks okay until we try to repair anything. All three of these areas have been repainted, and the paint that is right for the window trim is wrong in different ways for both of the top two pictured areas. Scraping and repainting the trouble spots has become very complicated.

toenails

I don’t really think there’s an eloquent way to break bad news: We have welcomed and lost another baby. Yep. Ugh.

Today I painted my toenails in hopes of hanging on to some shred of dignity. I also took a shower, which is a big deal on days like this. I did nothing to my hair, though, which means it’s a wavy, floppy mess. I’m wearing no makeup, since it would just end up in a salty smear on my pillowcase at some point today. I’m swollen in the middle, far beyond my waist’s usual boundaries, as evidence that my body has been denying the reality of the baby’s death for a few weeks now. My stretchy shorts are a little, uh, unflatteringly stretched. I think about those verses in Psalms about being like a brute beast before the Lord on days like this. I’m glad my toenails look good.

Grief is funny, because even if I don’t think I’m overwhelmingly sad, unloading the dishwasher still seems like a task requiring significant emotional stamina. (At least I have a dishwasher, though. The hand-washing stage of the kitchen remodel was particularly difficult for our marriage.)

This side patio I’m sitting on has caught a lot of tears for a lot of babies over the years.

In my experience, the first trimester of pregnancy would be nothing to complain about if you get an actual baby out of it eventually, but when you don’t, it’s really annoying. I was so excited about coffee tasting good again that I drank two pots this morning. Now I’m agitated and shaky. It doesn’t help that I’m anxious about the possibility of needing a minor surgery during the course of this process. That’s pretty common, but letting the body proceed naturally, as has been my experience twice already, is far preferable. I don’t want to ignore the fact that this is hard work for the body, not just the heart. There is very little dignity in eating cottage cheese (protein!) out of the container and baby spinach (iron!) out of the bag for lunch like I did, but I think that’s the best fuel I can give myself. And really… if I use a plate, I’ll just end up putting it in the dishwasher and then having to put it away in the future. It’s probably best to save my strength.

No matter what difficulty comes, there are always gifts — and this is the one I’m really grateful for right now: Some girls I’ve been best friends with for eight years are visiting in a few days. These are the sort of friends who won’t care if I don’t clean the bathroom due to crying jags or impulsive crafting, and will bring fancy cheeses and wine and kleenex. It’s humbling and scary and wondrous that the cross-country road trip they scheduled before the baby existed is turning out to be a perfectly timed expression of God’s care and love, almost like it was planned that way. They will probably need to vacuum the guest room and put together the air bed upon their arrival because I can’t really see myself summoning the strength to take care of that.

But, like I said, I painted my toenails. So at least I’ve got something pulled together.

toenails

[What can you do? What do you say to someone who just had a miscarriage? I’ve written about it before, so mostly… if you want to say anything, just tell us you are sorry, that you love us, and that it’s okay with you if this is a big deal for a long time. And please remember, if you want to say something about the future or some divine purpose in this, that God does not owe me a baby or an explanation. You do not have the power to promise that I will get either one. I’m sure I’ll share more about that later when some of the shock and hormonal rush wears off, too!]

Only A Dry Tree?

Only A Dry Tree? Loving the Have-Nots this Mother’s Day.

Ack. Mother’s Day is coming up. I don’t begrudge the celebration of motherhood overall – Aaron and I are both so much like Timothy, taught and prepared for ministry by his mom and grandma. We are overwhelmingly blessed with Moms (and Grandmas, Aunts, and others!) who love us and I can’t imagine what our lives would look like without the selfless care and godly influence of these women. (I can’t even find pictures of us to share because, let’s face it, Mom and Other Mom were always taking the pictures.)

Even though scripture teaches a lot about honoring parents, I think it’s okay to question the typical holiday celebration because the roots of our modern Mother’s Day come from a pacifist protest of the Civil War. Though parents should be deliberately honored, it’s probably worth rethinking some of the way we talk about Mother’s Day.

In an informal survey of my friends, I quickly discovered Mother’s Day is challenging not just for those who have lost babies (like me) and can’t figure out how to identify themselves, or struggled to become pregnant in the first place. It can be challenging for single women who would love to be married with children, women whose husbands are not open to children, and women who are not honored for their role as adoptive mothers, too. They find these celebrations very hurtful in the places they are already most tender. Fluffy Mother’s Day sentiments crowd  TV commercials, Hallmark displays, and even church. (Sometimes women from the church give testimonies about motherhood, mothers are asked to stand and receive applause or flowers, and sometimes the sermon misguidedly praises motherhood as the most noble spiritual calling for a woman!) I have had bad experiences and I’ve even stayed home from church a few times myself; I’ve been avoiding the card section at the grocery store all month, too. No fun, but I think there’s a solution here:

Let not any eunuch complain,  “I am only a dry tree.” For this is what the Lord says: “To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths, who choose what pleases me and hold fast to my covenant — to them I will give within my temple and its walls a memorial and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that will not be cut off. …These I will bring to my holy mountain and give them joy in my house of prayer.” Isaiah 56:3-7

In Jewish law and culture, eunuchs were excluded from fellowship and not allowed to worship in the temple. Obviously, a eunuch can’t reproduce, and this imperfect analogy works for modern baby-wanters who feel like something inside of them has been cut off – whether it’s the function of their bodies, hope of marriage, or ability to receive something good they really wanted – and they also feel isolated from their community on some level.

This command to the childless person is really important: Don’t buy the lie that God isn’t using you to produce life and growth if you don’t have children. I think there is a good lesson that, by extension, it’s important to praise the spiritual fruit of someone’s life even when it isn’t the pitter-patter-of-little-feet-variety, too. (I received a marvelous gift among my Christmas cards this year when a friend quickly commented, “We continue to pray for your family, but we praise God for the fruit and blessing he is producing in your marriage either way!”)

The encouraging news from Isaiah is the promise of a “name better than sons and daughters” for those who hold fast to God’s covenant. We know that name now: Child of God. And since God says it is more valuable to be “Child of God” than “Parent of so-and-so,” we should certainly emphasize this in our conversations about motherhood. From the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks: the only way to make your speech reflect this is, parent or not, keep the good thing (raising a child) in second place to the very, very best thing (salvation) in your heart. That’s the key to experiencing the promised “joy in the house of prayer,” too!

I hope these thoughts were uplifting if you’re feeling awkward about Mother’s Day, and inspiring if you have people in your life who could use a little extra love this weekend. If you want to do any further reading, I really like this blessing from “The Messy Middle,” which offers some helpful ways for churches to encourage those along the entire continuum of motherhood in their congregations. Seriously, send it to your pastor – or at least look for a way to encourage someone in your life who fits into one of the categories she mentions! I think Wendy Alsup hits the ball out of the park in “A Mother’s Day for All Women” when she says, “Motherhood is not the greatest good for the Christian woman. Whether you are a mom or not, don’t get caught up in sentimentalism that sets it up as some saintly role. The greatest good is being conformed to the image of the Christ to the glory of God.” That’s a timely reminder for the “haves” and the “have-nots” this Mother’s Day.

Some poor bird built a nest in my wreath; she spent two days divebombing the front door when I took it down. Mother's Day might be hard for her, too.

Some poor bird built a nest in my front door wreath; she spent two days dive-bombing the house when I took her little creation down. I know how she feels. Mother’s Day might be hard for her, too.

(I don’t think conforming to the image of Christ as a mom means you can’t graciously accept the honor of people who will make you cards, give you flowers, and feed you french toast or take you out to eat. So if you have that option, you should totally take advantage of it and enjoy a day with your loved ones. Really.)

learning forgiveness

Hardship brings with it an unwelcome guest that stays much longer than the original suffering: a new and unfamiliar set of personal-connection tools. Life difficulties are hard not just because of the initial situation, but also because moving through dark suffering changes relationships and the way you interact with people, whether you like it or not. I was just marveling at how grief is not a one-time experience but an ongoing spiritual journey while managing an internal battle with myself, processing a bunch of recent conversations that were really hard and hurtful for me. They were challenging not because there was anything wrong with the others involved, but because I have suffered and then because of this I am different. Healthy, encouraging, refreshing relational connections for me happen under a very different set of rules than they might for someone else.

[Image credit HERE]

[Image credit HERE]

I live in the real world, and I am blessed with people all around me, so I connect with many others for work, fun, church, ministry, and community projects. Sometimes this blessing is a challenge to my heart – all this connecting means that, by default, I have to do a lot of forgiving. And it’s forgiving for things I can’t ask an apology over, wiping clean my heart’s slate of these very real offenses that will never be recognized as such by anyone else. I’m in the middle of a huge chunk of this right now. It feels like I have been doing this for a long time, and it is easy to grow quite weary.

But natural weariness isn’t the defining factor here; I’m a Christian, which means the gospel is always relevant to my life and there is supernatural strength accomplishing what I cannot. I read the Psalms and know God’s mercy is over all that He has made. So I have to remind myself these moments of salty-wound-rubbing and salty-tear-spilling are all covered by that mercy, preaching to my own heart that this is part of why the Lord has compassion on us, why he suffered and saved. His clemency is entirely superior over any of these perceived wrongs, and I need it extended to me even more than to any of this stuff going on around me. His mercy is over me, and them, and those flippant words, and the abundance of flippant words I’ve carelessly spilled, and my sadness, and all this every-day experience of the Fall.

The Lord is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
The Lord is good to all, and his mercy is over all that he has made.
The Lord is faithful in all his words and kind in all his works. 
The Lord upholds all who are falling, and raises up all who are bowed down. 
The Lord is righteous in all his ways and kind in all his work.
My mouth will speak the praise of the Lord, and let all flesh bless his holy name forever.
-Psalm 145, esv. 

Thoughts on “weeping with…”

“Contribute to the needs of the saints… Rejoice with those who rejoice; weep with those who weep.” -Romans 12.

Last month we were blessed to host a memorial service for “National Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month.” I’m not going to say I really “enjoyed” this, because it was challenging to spend so much time focused on these sad and heavy experiences, but I was blessed by this experience and I think the others there were, too. We lit candles in honor of the babies’ lives and spent some time mourning these losses in light of God’s mercy to us.

“I wish the ring had never come to me. I wish none of this had happened.”
“So do all who live to see such times, but that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us. There are other forces at work, Frodo, besides the will of evil.”
– The Lord of the Rings, by JRR Tolkien.

I’m often asked for practical advice about how to help a friend experiencing a miscarriage. I first commend you to think about miscarriage like a Christian, which means, to think of this in terms of the gospel. That is primary, but secondarily I offer the following tips.

PHYSICAL EXPERIENCE OF MISCARRIAGE.
To put it delicately, in most cases miscarriage is essentially a mini-birth. Just like a full-term delivery, some require surgical or medical intervention while others progress naturally. There are also hormonal and emotional fluctuations similar to those experienced by other post-partum women. If you are bringing food during or immediately after these events (because you ARE bringing food), she probably needs protein and iron. Bring steak, spinach, and chocolate. For some women, this is among the most physically traumatic events they have experienced; she may need to recount her “birth story,” just like someone who delivered at term. Or not.

HER FAMILY RELATIONSHIPS.
This experience brings stress and sadness for the whole family. Women usually take this harder, but I think men who mourn feel very isolated. Furthermore, many men may not realize they are grieving. Check in on both of them. Older children may be aware of this and often do not know how to process their sadness. (I remember sitting out of a gymnastics class after my aunt had a miscarriage, overwhelmed by the loss of a tiny  prayed-for cousin, not knowing what to do.) Keep in mind that this may be a huge stress on the marriage, too, and Satan is going to pounce on any opportunity to drive the family apart. A prowling lion does not have any qualms about seeking to devour someone who is empty with sadness or driving apart a couple when they need each other’s support the most. Pray often.

IDENTITY AS A MOTHER.
A mother does not forget her child. You do not need to worry about “reminding” her of grief by bringing it up. It’s there. She knows it’s Mothers’s Day, or that she should be 7 months pregnant, or that her child would be as old as the one running around in the next aisle at the grocery store. Most women identify their child with a name and a gender – be sure to follow her lead in speaking of the baby this way. It is always a gift to remind her that you remember what is most precious to her. Please be sure to tame your tongue while talking about the difficulties of your own pregnancy or parenting experiences if your children are alive. No one is saying raising children is easy, but statements like, “Diapers, crying, and stepping on legos! Life of a mom!” disregard the actual motherhood of a woman whose child died. Yes, motherhood is a hard and important job – but the mom with empty arms may have a harder road than the one with her hands full. I’ve even heard comments from overly-pregnant women like, “It’s so disappointing to not be having a baby on your due date!” Yes, but it’s not as disappointing as not having a baby on your due date because it died, I assure you. I make a point not to hold these things against others, and we can all seek merciful hearts here. But now that you know, pray about how your discussions of parenthood could seek to bless others who may be suffering instead of serving solely for personal expression. Maybe text another friend your frustration in the thick of things instead of posting a vent about it on Facebook?

NAVIGATING FRIENDSHIP.
Let’s level here: It’s awkward to have something that your friend wants and doesn’t have. Most of my best friends are single (one is even divorced), and would prefer to be married, or at least dating. I carried one of our babies longer than a coworker who shared my due-date. And really, my husband came home from Iraq alive while other people died. I know that sometimes there is hardship on the “haves” side of things… But it’s important to make sure that doesn’t cripple you from living compassionately. Remember that St. Paul’s admonition about weeping and rejoicing with others goes both ways, even though most people are only naturally inclined to do one or the other. If your friend is experiencing grief, the gospel compels and equips you to put aside your feelings of inadequacy and uncertainty to weep with her. It does not necessarily compel you to make her stop grieving. God put these commands together for a reason, and he works mightily in our humility.  (It will be easier for her to rejoice with you if you have wept with her, too, which leads me to…)

PREGNANCY ANNOUNCEMENTS. 

If you’re pregnant, I think it’s best to share your good news personally and privately – maybe an email or text message? A baby on the way is still good news. You don’t need to be ashamed or afraid, but know that it can bring up a big rush of hard, painful emotions for someone who is grieving. Give her a gracious way to avoid your public announcements and baby showers. And mostly, just remember: a sad reaction on her part doesn’t mean she isn’t happy for you – it’s just complicated. I can promise she’d much rather be happy than sad, too.
GRIEF & HEALING.
Take care not to add needlessly to your friend’s pain, but remember it is not your job to make someone else feel better. You don’t need to communicate annoyance or frustration if her grief lingers longer that you expect. She probably feels embarrassed enough without knowing her friends think she’s hanging on to this too long. Don’t take it personally if she struggles. God alone heals. Remember, too, that miscarriage is a real loss. It’s not like she’s healing from a cut on her hand; it’s more like healing from having that hand cut off. This will probably always hurt a little bit and it will probably change the rest of her life in some way, even if you don’t see it in those terms.

Finally, I’m going to go out on a limb here – it might be wise to consider these things when interacting with everyone.  Miscarriage is very, very common. I imagine those struggling with infertility would appreciate your tenderness as well.  You do not know if one of your friends may be struggling and hasn’t shared this with you. It’s always safe to assume that others carry some pain you don’t know about, so be gentle with people.

As always, I’d love to hear comments if you have anything to add to the discussion. What helped you through a miscarriage? What do you wish you could tell people about the way they helped or hurt you? Do you have other questions about caring for friends after pregnancy loss?

Greater Love…

I think this is the busiest fall Aaron and I have ever had together! I’m overwhelmed with gratitude for all the opportunities in my path, but I also haven’t been fully “caught up” on my to-do lists in any sphere of responsibility since August. There has certainly been much stretching and sacrifice in this season. I expected this, and it’s a good thing. Thanksgiving break starts in 8 days and that is a very good thing, too.

One of the hardest (and best) parts of this fall has been working on some miscarriage and pregnancy loss ministry. It’s really rough to wrestle with God’s goodness in the giving and taking away of little babies I love, especially when it seems like everyone else just gets whatever they want. That isn’t true, I know; I confess this because I’m terrified by how easy it is to believe these lies.

*****

But today I’m writing about Veteran’s Day, and I find myself wrestling with God’s goodness from the other side of things, where you face awful circumstances and still get what you want. It has been over five years since Aaron was in Fallujah, Iraq and he is, at this exact moment, home safely, married to me, able-bodied and humming the Star Wars theme song in the shower. I’m not sure which one of these things I’m most thankful for today.

And while he slept in earlier this morning, I tearfully composed text messages to dear ones certainly grieving their own beloved veterans who served and did not come home. They did nothing to deserve their sorrow. And even though Aaron is here and safe, we find life mixed up by the aftershock of war even now. There is destruction all around — though I do far prefer our circumstances over the alternative, of course — and this whole thing makes no sense to me.

 …His understanding is unsearchable. -Isaiah 40.

Tell me not, sweet, I am unkind that from nunnery
Of thy chaste breast and quiet mind, to war and arms I fly.
True, a new mistress now I chase, the first foe in the field;
And with a stronger faith embrace a sword, a horse, a shield.
Yet this inconstancy is such as you too shall adore;
I could not love thee, dear, so much, loved I not honor more.
– “To Lucasta, Going to the Wars” by Richard Lovelace

I often read this poem while Aaron was deployed, and I love how clearly it reflects all the conversations we had about war during our preparations for that time, that this military service was a natural extension of his sense of honor, duty, and self-sacrifice. Those qualities I most loved in him demanded fulfillment in these hardships; he would be false to himself, to me, and to God otherwise. It is a rare man who would risk his own life  for the sake of others, and it was true comfort to know this strength came internally, from faith demonstrated by life sacrificed. How can we consider these things and not humbly revere the greatest love of all, that Christ has laid down his own life for us?


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A voice in Ramah

“A voice was heard in Ramah, weeping and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be comforted, because they are no more.” – Matthew 2:18

Well! Fall has been outrageously busy for us and lots of good things are going on. I’m stretched far in all directions, but fall is one of my favorite seasons, and I’m really thankful that we haven’t spent these cooler months under the heavy weight of grief like we have during autumn in the last few years. One of my big projects has been working on some stuff about ministry and awareness for pregnancy and infant loss. I have some thoughts here to share as a follow-up to a conversation I had on a radio program on Friday about Christians ministering to each other after suffering miscarriage and infant loss. (If you’re interested, you can listen or watch that HERE.) Although Aaron and I are not particularly secretive about the babies we lost in miscarriages during the past few years, I haven’t really written about this topic publicly before. Privately, however, I have frequently shared from a huge file of unsorted thoughts and quotes, often sending these to people who are in their own pit of grief after a loss or are asking about comforting someone else going through this, and I thought I’d pull a few thoughts from there as an addendum to that radio discussion.

Mother and Son, by Fader.

Unfortunately, it’s touchy to talk about how to minister to someone after a miscarriage. The people who can write about it have likely experienced both miscarriage and plenty of botched comforting attempts from their nearest and dearest. It’s hard to know how to share without pointing fingers at those who gave you the comfort of Job’s friends instead of the comfort of Christ. And so I have often hesitated in commenting about this because I don’t want anyone who has mis-stepped to feel like they “failed” me in my grief! However, I doubt holding back is doing anyone a favor here.

It seems like many people hear about a woman who has miscarried and immediately think, “Oh no! That’s too bad. I have no idea what to say to her or how to help.” I have heard those hushed statements not meant for my ears:
“Did you hear about so-and-so? They lost their baby. It’s so awful.”
“I know. I have no idea what to say.”
“I hope she has another baby soon. It’s so sad. I just stay away and pray. She probably doesn’t want to be reminded of it, so I don’t want to bring it up.”
And then when this happens, there is conversational fumbling and perhaps some avoidance or awkward, pithy statements, and the bereaved woman is then left feeling more alone than she was before. This is not always the case, which I know because I’ve experienced many kindnesses from friends, family, and my church, but I have seen the dark side of “comfort,” too, and I think the general attitude about comforting in evangelical culture is usually one of uncertain helplessness or avoidance. After thinking about this a little bit, I’m coming to the opinion that this is not how Christians should respond. Why? Here are a few things to consider. I am referring here mostly to the mother, but many fathers also deal with their own set of emotions. I can only speak for myself, but if you are smart enough to read this article, you should be able to glean insights to help you minister to a man after his child is miscarried as well.
1) We know that God is the creator and author of every life. If He has knit every person together in their mother’s womb, there is no reason to hesitate to minister to someone who had a miscarriage. Her dear baby was created in the image of God, fearfully and wonderfully made. This miscarriage is not just a disappointment or a little blip on the road to having a “real” baby. I will not mince words here: she had a real baby who is now dead; she is a mother in the valley of the shadow of death; she has every right to miss this son or daughter very much, often for a very long time. Since we know these things are true, there is no reason to say something like “You can have another baby,” or “At least you know you can get pregnant,” because these statements brush off the value of the life of her baby who was very real, very loved, and very much created in the image of God. This worth of a human life is just as true of a baby who barely grew as it is for another born healthy at full-term,  or your brother, or grandma.
2) We know that death is real.  Any death is a stark reminder of the Fall, that things are absolutely not as they should be, that Jesus has not come back yet. And if someone is facing these things head-on, because perhaps she has very literally “carried death in her body,” it would be unloving to look in her face of grief, just telling her to cheer up and get over it. Proverbs 25:20 says, “Whoever sings songs to a heavy heart is like one who takes off a garment on a cold day.” Please know the days of grieving a baby are often quite cold. A more compassionate response would be to sit with her in the hour of grief and offer your love in the way she needs it, not just in the way you want to give it. Pray, and when the time is right, lovingly remind her of the gospel and the Resurrection. Because that’s one of the best parts of Christianity: Death is real, but the Resurrection is, too! 
3) We have the Bible as a “guide book” for our lives. Scripture has much to say about loss, personal darkness, and ministering to those in distress. You might have to do some extra digging, though, in analyzing entire chapters and books (like all of the Psalms, 1 Thessalonians 4 or Romans 8) instead of grabbing a verse and quoting it out of context (like Psalm 37:4 or Romans 8:28). You won’t find anywhere that scripture mandates you to comfort someone with a reminder of their possible future earthly blessings, but you will find a lot about clinging to the sufferings of Christ and the hope of eternal life. 1 Thessalonians 4 very specifically tells us how to comfort those who grieve: remind them of the truth of Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, and imminent return. That’s it. Keep it there. If you know how to say “I love you, and I am so sorry you are in pain,” and can really read your Bible, you can extend Christ’s comfort to someone who is suffering.
4) We have the gospel! We have a special understanding of the purpose of life, death, and salvation. We know any ability to truly comfort someone else comes directly from Christ, who has borne all sin, sorrow, and suffering on the cross. You don’t need to tell someone that “God will never give you more than you can bear,” when, in fact, there is nothing in life that we can bear apart from Christ and his work on the Cross. You don’t have to wonder how to approach someone in grief, because you can pray for them and lovingly share the gospel. In a season shadowed by terrible news, like, “we can’t find a heartbeat,” or “your pregnancy is over,” your friend needs now, more than ever, to hear the good news. It’s not just for the lost! Christians still need to hear it. And when everyone else is trying to comfort this woman with lies, half-truths, or unfounded prophecies (“I just know you’ll have another baby soon!”), you can lovingly recount the truth of her salvation with her. This is the greatest gift you can give anyone, and you have the opportunity to share it with someone in one of her darkest hours. 

There’s certainly more that could be said here, but I’ll wrap it up for now. If you’ve experienced miscarriage, what ministered to you the most during your grief? And if you have been afraid to reach out to someone suffering in this way, what holds you back?

Since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.
– 1 Corinthians 15:21-22

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live,  and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?”
She said to him, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.” – John 11:25–27

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