Grief

I cried on my way to work today. When I pulled into the parking lot, I parked my car and sobbed hot, anguished tears into my hands.

I cried again at my desk. Wadding up tissue after tissue. The kind of crying where your breathing becomes uneven, hiccupping.

I sent a text message to a friend, a long, rambling message. I told her I want to say that it’s not fair. I want to wail and rage and scream. I said I want to give up. I want to shut down my heart, give up on hope and joy and goodness. But I can’t. I can’t because Arlow and the baby need me. Giving up isn’t an option. I can’t wail and rage and scream against what is, I can’t sit here sulking in “it’s not fair,” because that won’t get me any closer to healing. It’s a useless waste of emotion, because the fact of the matter is, fair or not, this is what my life looks like right now. And I have to keep going forward, moving through.

And so I say all of that to my friend and it’s grief, liquid and hot and deep. But it’s the kind of grief that leads to healing because I refuse to quit. I refuse to live here in this place where what I have isn’t enough and what I’ve lost makes it hard to breathe.

It’s a balance, this letting your emotions rise and surface, feeling them, while continually coming back to acceptance, trust, hope. You take the deep and the heavy things of your heart and you bawl your eyes out. And then you leave them, over and over again, at the feet of Jesus. “I trust You,” you say. And you don’t give up.

And if you’re lucky, your friend responds to your text message with an “I love you.”

Grief and healing come in waves. They’re layered. You think you’re through, past it, or past the worst of it at least, but that’s not how grief works. It keeps showing up, surprising you, giving you something else to surrender (or surrender again).

“Lament is a cry of belief in a good God, a God who has His ear to our hearts. A God who transfigures the ugly into beauty.”

And that’s what this is. Lament. It’s not sin to feel this pain. It’s not faithlessness. It’s grief. Pure, plain, and simple. And I pour it out to Him, first childlike and wanting to demand things be different, but then coming to a place of being able to rest my heart in the truth that He is good.

And that’s where it always ends up- my head on His chest, tears dried to my cheeks. Letting Him be God.

 

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All Things Baby

The baby in my belly is active, rolling, it seems.

On Saturday I text messaged my sister-in-law: “Could feeling the baby move feel like muscle spasms/twitches?” I asked. To which she responded an emphatic: “YES!”

And now that I know what it is, I feel it often. Sometimes it’s just a twitch, and sometimes my lower belly flickers with the sensation of descending on a rollercoaster.

*

We prayed for babies in wombs at church on Sunday, and I hugged my belly, one arm at the top, and one arm wrapped underneath. Christie put her hand on my belly too.

And I prayed for this baby’s life, for its health, that I would be a good mom. That I will love it. That Arlow will be a good brother.

*

I told my boss yesterday how I cried when I found out I was pregnant because I was so worried Arlow’s life was going to change for the worse.

“People keep telling me I won’t love him anymore, or at least not in the same way, when the baby comes,” I said. And that thought, truly, still makes me feel awash with grief, guilt, sorrow. It makes me want to turn back the clock, run the other way, keep it just Arlow and I forever.

“That’s not always the case,” she said. “My brother has three boys, and their dog is still just as much their baby as their boys are.”

She can’t possibly know what a gift she gave me with those words.

“I love you, I love you, I love you,” I tell Arlow daily, placing my hand on his head. A promise. A prayer.

*

I don’t sleep through the night anymore. I’m up every hour, either to pee or to let Arlow out to go potty.

I swear, he needs out more often now, and I almost wonder if an increased need to pee is contagious.

Last night I swatted his bum when he woke me up, stepped outside, saw that it was raining, and turned around and came right back in. I felt immediately guilty when I swatted him because he jumped, startled that I’d do such a thing, and I knew he didn’t understand why I was upset. I swatted him because I was frustrated, not because it was the right thing to do. After all, you can’t make a dog pee any more than you can make a toddler use the potty. And I knew there was no getting around it- he’d hold it a little longer, and wake me up again shortly.

Maybe it’s all just really good practice, this waking up, this having to lay down your life for the lives of other living things. This choosing love, even when you’re frustrated.

*

I was cranky this morning because, no matter what I do, no matter how many nights I skip dinner in favor of going to bed with a tummy that isn’t full, I just keep EXPANDING.

Maternity pants sellers always advise you to just buy the same size you were before you got pregnant. As if anything else would be outrageous, a sign that you’ve become some sort of lard monster. But I know I don’t still wear the size I was before I was pregnant. My belly isn’t the only bigger thing- my hips and thighs decided they, too, wanted to be included. And don’t even get me started on my face. So, taking all of that into consideration, I rolled my eyes at the online “size chart” and ordered some work pants in a size bigger than what I usually wear, fairly certain that would be just fine.

And then they came in the mail.

Do they fit? Sure. Do they fit well? No. Will they last me until May? No way.

And so I wadded them up and tossed them on my bathroom counter, disgusted, because this new number attached to me, this new pant size, feels like shame and despair. Will I ever be me again? Will my body ever fit back into my old clothes? Will I ever again feel beautiful?

And then I threw on some leggings (not maternity leggings, so they’re ridin’ real low and not super comfortably) and an oversized sweater. And then I ate three cookies. Because a girl can only go to bed hungry and snack on carrot sticks for so long, AND KEEP GAINING WEIGHT, before she needs to live out fifteen minutes of “screw it.”

And is there freedom to be found in this? Freedom in the forced surrendering of all, my body included, to the Lord? Freedom, not just in giving Him control of outcomes and my aching heart and the answers to my prayers, but to thank Him for the life inside of me, even as my body becomes this foreign thing, this thing that I have to re-learn how to love and clothe and shop for?

And the baby inside of me moves.

And I can’t find comfortable underwear to save my life, and if you try to take a picture of me, I’ll likely lunge at you and demand it be deleted, and there is sorrow and grief and regret all mixed up in this life I’m growing,

but I know, I am living a miracle.

*

Just over 24 hours until I get to see this little being on a screen through the mystery and magic of a wand. I’ll get to see it move, to see its profile, to know this is a child that shares my very DNA, a child who has known no other home than the one provided by my belly. And I’ll get to know it’s growing okay, that it’s healthy, that both my body and his/hers are doing what they’re supposed to be doing. And, hopefully, I’ll get to learn its gender!

“Losses do that. One life-loss can infect the whole of a life. Like a rash that wears through our days, our sight becomes peppered with black voids. Now everywhere we look, we only see all that isn’t: holes, lack, deficiency.” -Ann Voskamp

“Humbly let go. Let go of trying to do, let go of trying to control, let go of my own way, let go of my own fears. Let God blow His wind, His trials, oxygen for joy’s fire. Leave the hand open and be. Be at peace. Bend the knee and be small and let God give what God chooses to give because He only gives love and whisper a surprised thanks. This is the fuel for joy’s flame. Fullness of joy is discovered only in the emptying of will. And I can empty. I can empty because counting His graces has awakened me to how He cherishes me, holds me, passionately values me. I can empty because I am full of His love. I can trust.” -Ann Voskamp

*

You hide yourself in Him.

That’s all I know.

Because there’s so much we have no control over. We live in this world where people will leave you and people will die and hearts will break and dreams won’t come to pass… and it’s all too much to bear.

But we’re here. And while we’re here, we can either live cynical and despondent and checked-out, or we can engage, we can live wholeheartedly- even when we know that our hearts are not impenetrable that way, that our hearts can (and will) break.

But we must take that risk. Because this life is a gift and God saw fit to place us here and keep our hearts beating and lungs expanding, and time is passing and this is the only life we’re going to have, and living the other way? The despondent, checked-out way? That isn’t really living at all.

So we hide ourselves in Him. We wrap ourselves in who He is and how He loves us and we don’t try to make our hearts impenetrable, but we choose to trust our hearts with Him.

And the fear doesn’t matter when you’re hiding in Him because you’re only in this one moment, wrapped in His arms. Fears of what might be in the future don’t exist because when you’re hiding in Him, when you’re wrapped in His arms, the future doesn’t exist. All that exists is this moment. And in this moment, you’re safe. And the future doesn’t belong to you anyway, but to the One holding you tight.

We hope we survive the hardest things. And we say we trust Him. In the midst of our grief and pain and sorrow and fear, we tell Him we trust Him. We bend our knees and lift up our hands and we don’t shut down our hearts.

*

And time keeps passing. And days feel like endless to-do lists. And where is the joy? Where is God?

We have to live differently, aware. Knowing no day is mundane, that He is always working.

So we live with eyes open to His presence, to His leading, to how He is providing so much for us to be thankful for.

And we create our own moments. We scroll Instagram for a bit when our brains need a break from work. We accept the chocolate mint cookie someone offers. We listen to a book on tape while we sit in traffic.

*

When my niece was born, it was before camera phones, so I couldn’t mass text her picture to everyone I knew. Instead, I went home that evening and printed out pictures I had taken on my digital camera. And then I drove to people’s houses at 9 o’clock and 10 o’clock at night with my pictures and I made them agree that she was the most beautiful thing they had ever seen.

I looked at her pictures daily and kept them taped to the front of my school binder, and I waited for any opportunity to show her off and talk about her.

I loved her, from the moment I saw her, with a love I had never known before. A giant, all-consuming, “I’d give my life for you in an instant,” love.

…Why do I think that my feelings for my child are going to be any less?

I love my dog. I love him so much that calling him “my dog” instead of by his name feels wrong and not true to who he actually is to me. I love him so much that when people ask me about him, I immediately smile. And when I think about anything happening to him that would make him less happy, I can hardly handle the thought. He makes my life harder and more complicated and more stressful and so much better all at the same time, and I wouldn’t trade him for any other dog, even a dog that’s better behaved or smaller or easier or whatever else. I love him. I love HIM.

If I can love my dog so fiercely, so completely and unconditionally, why do I think I won’t love my baby?

…I will love my baby.

*

And, in spite of my prayers and best efforts, someday this baby will know sorrow and fear. And I want to have modeled for him/her that they have an escape- they can hide themselves in God.

I want them to know that being in His arms is as real as any place they can see with their eyes. It’s as real as their school or bedroom or best friend’s house. And that His promises are realer than anything they feel.

I want them to go into their lives boldly, wholeheartedly, unafraid, because they know that, should the worst happen, it doesn’t escape the notice of the God who loves them. The God who beckons them close with outstretched arms.

 

When You Want To Give Up

I tell myself to suck it up. I tell myself it’s not that big of a deal. I tell myself to choose hope, to remember who God is. I reach over and rub my hand down the length of Arlow’s silky ear and I remind myself that giving up isn’t an option.

And then I just can’t do it. Because everything in me is SO heavy. And so I put my head in my hands and I give myself permission to just FEEL.

And I weep. And I tell God how badly I hurt. How I feel like I’ve ruined my life. How I’ve lost so, so much- jobs I love, a better income, my body, my family, a second family, the ability to have a future that is just Arlow and I…

And I cry because it HURTS. A baby that I don’t want is on the way. And I’m terrified of doing it alone. I’m terrified of finances and how Arlow’s life will change. I’m terrified of not loving the baby and I’m terrified that I’ll love it so much that letting a daycare raise it will break my heart. I am terrified I will fail the baby, that I will fail Arlow, and that I won’t ever again be effortlessly glad to be alive.

I cry because people love me, but also I’m doing my life alone. I cry because there’s no point in hanging stockings, and there’s no one who will be here to teach me how to be a mom, and there’s no dinner table that I belong at. I cry because I have friends, people I can call and text, people who will meet me for coffee or a movie or point me back to Jesus when I get lost on this journey, but there’s no one I’m doing life WITH. I cry because not having a family is excruciating.

And I used to have those things. I think back to when I was twenty and how much brighter my life and future looked. I knew sadness, but I also woke up each morning glad to have another day to live.

I remember what it was like to belong somewhere, to be held in hearts and arms, to know that if the worst happened, people would be there. No matter what. And maybe they’d be cranky and misunderstand me and maybe we’d fight and maybe I’d cry, but they’d show up, and they’d do so sacrificially, ready to help, because that’s what family does. I remember the comfort of knowing I had a safety net.

I never had to wonder if my birthday would go uncelebrated or if I’d spend an entire weekend alone. I could feel warmth and excitement during the holidays because it meant family and baking and taking pictures at Christmas tree farms and wrapping presents and signing them “From: Auntie Tamara” or “Your Sister.”

And I lost all of that.

And so I weep. Because it’s unfair and it hurts and HOW DO I KEEP CHOOSING TO LIVE THIS LIFE!?! And I weep because most of it is my own damn fault. It was the depression and the giving up and the chasing after things that my heart thought it needed to be okay because I tried to chase after God and that didn’t work.

I remember sitting on the floor in a hallway outside my doctor’s office. Nothing felt real. My body felt like lead and I knew I looked peculiar sitting there, but I didn’t care. Peculiar or not, it didn’t matter because I couldn’t have moved or blinked or spoken a coherent sentence even if I tried. I remember trying to think but my brain was filled with cotton. How was I going to get up off the floor? How was I going to get in my car and go home? How was I going to be in my empty house and survive the night? How was I going to do it all over again tomorrow? And so I sat. And my brain stopped formulating questions or the ability to look at my life as a linear, time-shaped thing. It was only the moment I was in, and even that didn’t feel real.

I remember long days where I spent most of my mental energy debating when and how and if I could/should hurt myself again. And it didn’t feel scary or wrong or bad because it felt like the only option. I was living this cotton-headed, lead-body, nothing-is-real existence and I couldn’t fathom continuing to do it indefinitely.

And so it was my fault, how I ruined my life, because the depression turned me into someone who alternated between doing whatever I could just to stay alive and doing whatever I could to die.

And I’m mad. I’m mad that my sickness, which is what depression is, has had such lasting and permanent consequences. I’m mad that I’ve fought so hard to live and now I have to live amidst the rubble of what has crumbled and broken and been destroyed during my effort to survive.

It doesn’t feel fair. But it is the reality of my life right now. And how did I get to this place??! How did I become this person?!?

And so I cry.

I weep long and hard into my hands and I pour my heart out to God in a way that feels like I am turning myself inside out.

And then, when I have no tears left, I sit my heart down and I parent it. I tell it to remember that ultimately I have two options- life or death. And with everything I do and think, I am choosing one or the other.

And death isn’t an option. Not because it isn’t an option for me, because I still haven’t gotten to a place where my life feels worth the fight, but it isn’t an option because of Arlow and the baby. Death isn’t an option. So, by default, I have to choose life.

And so I do. I go back to trust. I go back to leaving it all in His hands. I go back to choosing to see the future with hope.

And I don’t want to.

I want to tell God it’s not fair, that what’s the point of over and over and over again giving Him all this pain inside of me when it doesn’t ever go away?!

I want to yell about how hard it is to every day hold back this river of wrongness–all the loss and grief and disappointment and fear–to not look it in the eye, but to keep my eyes fixed on Jesus, to have my arms straining against the weight of holding it back, while I scream my gratitude and praises at the sky. I’ve given it to Him, so I’m not carrying it anymore, but my hands are still on it in an effort to keep it away from me, to keep it from crashing down over top of me. And my arms are tired.

I want to tell Him I’m effing exhausted and will it ever get easier and if not what’s the freaking point??!

I want to scream at him about all that is wrong, all the vast, expansive, seemingly all-consuming ways my life is not worth living.

And I don’t understand. I am angry and none of this makes sense and HOW and WHY and WHEN?!

But I know what scripture says.

I know it says our lives are directly impacted by our thoughts, so to choose our thoughts well.

I know it says to remember who God is and how He loves us and how NOTHING is too hard for Him.

I know it says our mistakes are covered by His grace and that redemption is real, that nothing is ever “ruined” when we invite Him in and surrender to Him.

I know that, even if my life looks wrong in so many big ways, each day is filled with His presence and blessing. I know I have so much to be grateful for.

And I know He is working, that my life isn’t a stagnant, permanent fixture, but that is it a fluid thing, constantly being shaped by His will and His love.

And it doesn’t make the pain any less real, and it doesn’t make any of the loss or grief feel okay in even the tiniest measure,

but I have two options.

Life or death.

And so I have to choose. I can live from the place of “it’s not fair” and “I can’t do it,” or I can take it a day a time and trust God with everything unresolved inside of me.

And that is what I choose to do.

*

Side-note:

Guys, after talking to some of my friends who read my blog, I feel like I need to say this: I’m not sad 24/7.

My blog is not an accurate representation of how I feel moment-to-moment throughout my day because this is where I come when my emotions are big.

Yes, everything I said above is true- I hurt.

BUT that’s not the only thing that’s true.

In addition to my sorrow and struggle, there are also moments, hours, sometimes even whole days where it doesn’t feel so hard. And more than I sit around feeling sad or dreading my future, I rub my belly and pray over the life growing inside of me,
I thank God for Arlow, who I love so much that just thinking about him makes me cry,
I laugh and engage with coworkers,
I smile warmly at clients and ask them how they’re doing,
I make mental lists of things I want to do and even feel mildly excited about the thought of doing them,
And I pray for my friends and meet them for coffee and go home at night feeling loved.

It’s not all sorrow and sadness. My list of things to be grateful for is long.

I hurt, yes.

But God has not, and will not, let me down. And it’s from THAT place more than the sadness that I try to live.

Eyes to see.