When I Am Afraid

June 29, 2015 § 2 Comments

 
The hour is drawing near. 

In as much as a week, or as little as hours – I will be preparing to bring my daughter into the world. My heart has never known such terror and joy. 

Though this is my second child, I’ve never been 9 months pregnant. I’ve never been close enough to the finish line to reach out and grab hold of the prize. Everything is new and fresh and altogether lovely. Contractions, leakage, and all the other magical signs that accompany impending delivery are my daily reminders that soon and very soon, I will once again hold my very own child in my arms. A child that I have grown and cherished and agonized over these last 9 months. I have equally loved and feared the hold that this tiny girl already has over me for every moment of this pregnancy. 

If you have experienced a stillbirth, you know. You know the joy and the fear. You know that every movement, hiccup, kick to the rib, and alien-inside-your-belly-roll is a gift. A moment to treasure. On the other hand, you also know and almost daily experience the coldest, deepest fear when your little one is still. You know the panic that constricts your heart so tight and fast that it makes your vision tilt as you quickly run for the coldest glass of sickly sweet juice you can find to chug down before you lay on your side and pray for movement. You know those moments that stretch out for an eternity while you wait, almost afraid to hope, until suddenly you feel that reassuring wiggle that causes such swift relief it takes your breath and all the strength in your body away. 

All the joy. All the fear. All the hope. 

It’s taken a long time to get to this place, and we aren’t finished yet. The enemy of my soul loves to remind me -daily- that my daughters life could still be snuffed out in a moment. He loves to remind me -especially in my weakest moments- of the trauma and whirlwind of fear and sorrow that surrounded the birth of my son. He loves to remind me that has taken from me before and could easily do so again. And sometimes, I am afraid. 

What he fails to recognize, is that in those brief moments of fear and doubting, he is actually working to increase my faith. Because the only way I know to fight back against the torment of the enemy is to trust in the infallible, indescribable and incomparable truth of God. 

I love to remind that lying, thieving sack of trash that MY God has already won the victory over all his lies, schemes and treachery. I love to remind him that my life, and the lives of my husband, children and all my family have been bought and paid for with the blood of Jesus and because of that, I don’t have to be afraid of anything he tries to throw at me-including torment and death. I love to remind him that he is a loser and I am more than a conqueror. I love to remind him that when he comes against me, he’s also coming against a whole heavenly host – and that if he was smart he would turn and run. 

And the crazy thing? When I begin to remind the devil of his place in my life, he does run- just like the coward that he is. Because there is NONE that can stand against the truth and power and sovereignty of God. He has promised life and life abundantly. It’s the truth I can cling to when I am weak. It’s the strength I can draw on when I feel overcome. And it’s the anthem I’m going to sing out for all the world to hear when they place my daughter, filled with radiant, abundant life safely in my arms. 

Running

June 4, 2015 § 1 Comment

A year ago today, I was lying in the hospital wishing I was dead. Like my baby. 

I can’t even begin to tell you how heavy those words still feel. I can’t explain how even though a full year has come and gone, they still pierce through me in a way that no pain or trial or sorrow I have or ever will experience will. To lose a child that you have loved and cherished from the moment you knew he was to be, is the cruelest form of torture that I have ever experienced. To be forced to let go of every dream you have ever dreamed for your baby is an unimaginable heartbreak that never ends. You don’t get to just bury those hopes and dreams – they haunt you. They are there, in the face of every new parent and every new baby. Each new happiness and joy like a physical death blow to your being. Wanting to crawl in the grave right along with the tiny metal tin that was all that remained of my little baby boy. No – there aren’t enough words in any language to convey the heaviness that comes along with those types of wounds. 

So I’ve done a lot of running this past year – both physically and spiritually. I’ve beaten and broken and rebuilt my body, trying to find an outlet for the rage and the sorrow – and most of all, relief from all the heaviness. I thought that if I could just make physical self lighter and smaller, I would be able to breathe again.

It didn’t work. 

All that rage? I turned it loose on God. I blamed Him entirely for taking my son from me. I ran and I raged at Him, for miles and hours and days and weeks and months. I put as much distance between myself and the One who I believed responsible for all my pain as I could. And I found that as I became physically lighter, I became spiritually heavy. If I could have, I would have stopped believing in God altogether. But then who would I be angry with? I couldn’t even blame the devil if I stopped believing in God because if I acknowledged one, then I had to acknowledge the other. I felt trapped in my hate. Unable and unwilling to ever consider that God was just as grieved by my hurts as I was. So I just kept running. 

Until one day in October, and I just couldn’t run any farther. I instantly knew, despite every effort we had made to prevent it from happening – I was pregnant. I didn’t even need the plus sign to confirm what my heart already knew. And I was terrified. There was no hope or joy in my heart. Fear like I’ve never known and thoughts of “I can’t live through this again” began to overtake me. As I sat alone on my bathroom floor and cried, every pain and hurt came flowing out. And for the first time since I left the hospital without my baby in my arms, I cried out to God instead of at Him. I begged Him to carry me and hold me, as I knew only He could. And I wept as I felt the love and lightness that that I had been seeking for months wash over me. Though I had not opened my bible in months, His promises and truths began to flood my heart and mind in a way I have never experienced. His love for me, and my life was so palpable in those moments I could almost taste it. All the miles I had tried so hard to put between us were closed in a moment as He embraced me and whispered His words of love over me. 

Once again – in a miraculous, mighty and completely unexpected way – God has come in and redeemed my broken life and is bringing forth something beautiful out great pain. As I sit here, 8 months pregnant with my daughter, I am reminded of His great Grace. I am reminded that He does not cause pain without allowing something new to be born. I am reminded that He has great plans for our lives, even when we can’t see them. 

Are there moments of fear? Yes. Are there moments my heart hurts and feels heavy when I am missing the baby I’ll never get to watch grow? Yes. Am I struggling, even today, with the idea that tomorrow I should be baking a cake for my sons first birthday but instead will be left missing him? Yes. Is the enemy of my soul still trying to fill my heart with doubts that I will see the child I’m carrying today filled with life? Yes. Daily. 

But. 

Instead of letting those yes’s consume me, I’m choosing to let The Great Comforter draw me close and do just that – comfort me. I’m choosing to believe that my sweet son, is having his party and celebrating in the presence of Jesus – the greatest gift he could ever receive. Because the story doesn’t end in death, but in abundant life. And I’m going to run to the One who gives it. 

So tomorrow, my husband and I will celebrate our little Boy’s first birthday. And while I am certain there will be pain, and tears and even some heaviness – there will also be great rejoicing over a small life that made a big impact on the lives of so, so many. 

  

Being Ugly

September 24, 2014 § 3 Comments

I never wanted to get anything out of losing my child. No lesson. No higher calling. No meaning. Nothing. I never wanted to be able to think “I’m at peace with what happened because now I can:
1. Help others in similar situations
2. Appreciate my future children more
3. Have a better relationship with God because he brought me through a great trial
4. Any other lousy “try to feel better” answer.

Now, I still feel that way. There is no equation where the solution ends up making me feel thankful for this experience.

But.

It’s happening anyway. Against my wishes and all my will, there is good happening. And I think, somehow, because I really am am so against it, that it almost makes it ok.

When I pour out my heart through this blog, I’m really not looking for anyone to read or care. It’s just an outlet, something tangible and non-destructive for me to center my thoughts with. The fact that people are actually listening and responding completely blows my mind. In the moments where I talk about feeling so broken, people are telling me that my words bring them comfort and hope. What? People are telling me that the God I feel so far from is using me to speak to them. How? I didn’t understand it. But what I have come to realize, is that people just want someone to tell them it’s ok. It’s ok to be hurt and have feelings that aren’t all blue skies and sunshine. They want to know that it is entirely possible to follow Jesus, love God, and feel like life isn’t worth living another day, simultaneously. They want to know that you can be a follower of Christ, and a human being at the same time. Depression, anxiety, rage, sorrow, bitterness, jealousy – they are all real. They aren’t a secret or shock to God. The bible is filled with stories of men and women more holy and godly than I could ever hope to be, who struggled and often gave in to the curse of human emotion.

I don’t know when people started believing that following Jesus meant having all of your crap together, all the time. I don’t know when the “Church” stopped being a place for struggling, hurting people to come and be ugly together. I don’t know when all these misconceptions and faulty belief systems came in. I don’t know. What I DO know, is that it’s time to tear them down. Because as far as I know, my Jesus didn’t willingly crawl up onto a rugged cross and give His life for people who were already perfect. People who didn’t have an overwhelming, desperate need for His redeeming, gracious and life changing love. Jesus died for ugly people, with ugly crap so that when we go through ugly times, His grace can manifest in our lives and turn our ugliest into glorious.

So be ugly. Be a hot mess. Be rough around the edges. Be unfinished. I know I am. I know I will always be needing Jesus to redeem me in some new way. Because I’m weak and He is strong. Because He loves my ugly.

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Broken Pieces

September 22, 2014 § 2 Comments

A week ago, I didn’t care. It didn’t matter if the sun was shining or it was pouring rain. It didn’t matter if we we had money in the bank or were down to our last dollar. It didn’t matter if I lived another day or closed my eyes and never opened them again.

I didn’t care.

There’s something so healing in being able to say that out loud. To admit to that kind of weakness takes a measure of strength that I didn’t know I could ever again poses.

Grief is so strange. Some days, it’s almost an afterthought. Some days, you can forget about the pain, the longing and the sweet, tiny face that is the source of all your heartache. Some days, it devours you. Some days you want to die a thousand deaths so you can

Just.
Stop.
Hurting.

That’s grief. It’s where I’ve been existing lately. And yes, I do mean existing. You can’t really call what I’ve been doing “living.” Surviving might be a better word, but that almost makes it sound like I’ve been putting forth effort, which just isn’t true. I’ve certainly been doing all the right things – Going to church, taking my vitamins, working out, eating organic, drinking less – all while trying to care. My husband would tell you that I’m doing much better because I haven’t tried destroying my sons nursery in a drunken rage for almost 2 whole months now. I’m not crying every day anymore, and I can actually sleep through the night without drowning myself in a bottle of wine. My first and last thoughts for each and every day haven’t been, “why couldn’t You just let me die, too?” for at least a month now. So, sure. Better.

Most of that has been replaced by this listlessness for life. I have adopted Ecclesiastes 1:14 as my mantra. “Everything under the sun is meaningless.” This was my reality. My personal buffer and defense mechanism against the pain of life was to simply stop caring. Then my grandma died, and in my searing, soul shattering sorrow, I realized that my buffer was really just a dam that had burst wide, wide open. All the pain of loss that I had been hiding from came flooding back. All the self loathing and blame and deep, dark hopelessness were waiting for me right where I had left them.

Consumed

So I came home to Florida, to my family, to my momma. Broken in more ways than one, believing that the sole purpose of this life is to suffer alone and try to hold on until the end. What I found, is that I was wrong. Though the circumstances that brought me here are not what I would have wished, I am grateful non the less. Stepping off of the plane and into the arms of my family and church family, was like having a searing heat wave shot straight into the winter wasteland that was my heart. For the first time in months, the weight of my soul wasn’t crushing the life out of my spirit, and I felt like I could breathe again. Just being near all of them, enveloped and hidden in their loving support has been the most healing and uplifting time I have ever experienced. I have seen and felt the heart of God in more ways, from more people than I can count on two hands. If I could name each and every one of you, and gather enough words to express my love and gratitude, I would. I came here shattered, choking and suffocating on all of the fragments of my broken life. I’m leaving with a new heart, filled to overflowing with hope and healing.

I’m so thankful to belong to a God that finds beauty in brokenness. I’m thankful that while there is great pain and great suffering in this broken world, there is a GREAT reward waiting for me at the end of this life. I’m thankful that when I am broken, I can cling to the One who will put me back together again.

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I Loved You First

September 14, 2014 § 2 Comments

In the past 3 months, my thoughts have often turned to Job. I’ve pondered the silence in which he endured his suffering. I’ve wondered if perhaps, the reason he was silent was not for lack of words to express his grief and despair, but because he was experiencing the silence of God.

Was he quietly waiting, alone in his own world of sorrow, for a word of comfort, explanation or reassurance from the the Almighty? Was he hoping to hear the still small voice in the wind? The voice known by the mountains, the wind and the waves? I believe he was. It’s exactly what I’m doing. Listening. Waiting. Hoping.

Just over 3 months ago, I lost my baby for reasons unknown to man. Less than 12 hours ago, I lost my grandma to cancer. And today I can tell you without a shadow of a doubt, “answers” do not mean a damn thing. There is no magical explanation button you can push to ease the pain of grief. Knowing that cancer is the reason my grandma is dead does not make it ok. I am furious. I am broken. I am human.

Our humanness, the very thing that makes us all at once detestable and precious, compels our hearts and souls to demand answers when the unimaginable happens in our lives. When the innocent and the righteous die long before their time. Those moments, when the promises of God feel like a lie and we are left wrestling with our all consuming need to have some kind of explanation for our suffering.

I have to believe that the God I know and love understands this need. He has to know that my soul is weary beyond anything I could ever imagine. He has to know that once again, my heart is broken and so very disappointed that He did not intervene. He has to know that my flesh wants to deny His very existence in the aftermath of such great destruction. He has to know, I can’t. Because as much as I want to deny Him in this moment of humanness, my spirit knows that without His love and truth in my life, there is nothing.

I can’t say that I understand, or tell you that my heart is at peace. What I can say, with great confidence is that God is good. He is sovereign and He is holy, and He is worthy of all my praise, my hope and my trust. When my world is shaken, when I can’t see His hand in my life, and even when I don’t believe any of the words I just spoke, I can take refuge in the unwavering truth of His great love for me.

The title of this post, “I Loved You First”, are the sweet words that my grandma always said at the end of our time together, to which I would always counter, “I”ll love you longest!” Words, that will remain truer than true for all of my tomorrow’s. She called me Sunshine, taught me how to be brave and was everything I could ever hope to be.

As deeply as my heart is hurting and longing for just a little more time, I can’t be sad for her. For even in the midst of MY great and momentary suffering, I take great comfort knowing that she is not. I know that she is basking, as I long to be, in the eternal glory of THE Sonshine with her son and mine. If there was anyone who could deserve such a priceless gift, it would be her.

Grandma,
You already know, but I have to tell you again. I’ll love you longest. Always, always and forever.
Lovelovelovelovelove,
Your Sunshine

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Being “Good”

July 14, 2014 § 8 Comments

I’ve told more lies in the past 6 weeks than I have in my entire life. Mostly to my mom and my husband. Mostly to everyone I know. It’s just so much easier to paint a smile on my face and say “I’m good” or “I’m OK” and be done with it, than to say ” It feels like I’m dying inside, and I wish I was” and have to deal with the resounding chorus of “it will get better” or “you just have to choose joy” or “just have faith, God’s got a plan” or, (oh God please no) “there will be more babies.”  Because, while all of those things may be true, when I hear them now I just want to scream “It’s not, I can’t, I don’t, I’m scared.” Don’t get me wrong, I get it. I know that those uttered phrases are meant to offer hope and encouragement, and for the person that is speaking them, I believe that they do. I’ve come to realize that there is a selfishness in most of us that makes us feel the need to say something when we come face to face with someone else’s pain. Something light and fluffy and full of good intentions, to try and help lighten the mood of the situation. It’s almost like a buffer against the other persons pain. I remember being that way; wanting, needing to be able to offer words of comfort in the midst of unspeakable grief to try and make myself feel lighter. But now, standing on the other side, I have come to realize that there are no “right words”, and sometimes silence is the most helpful, healing gift you can give to a broken person.

Truthfully, as morbid as it may seem, I don’t want to “choose joy” or “fake it till I make it.” I want to be sad. I want to experience the hurt. All of it.

Every-single-moment.

Because the alternative, feeling nothing, pretending to be something I am not, stuffing my emotions and true feelings deep down inside – that only leads to more pain. Pain that eats away at you every day of your life. Pain so unbearable, you self destruct in the most agonizing, horrifying ways. Pain that causes you to starve and cut and abuse your body and mind. Pain that steals your dreams and makes living unbearable. Pain that makes dying seem ideal.

I know about that pain, and even now, walking through the most devastating, heartbreaking loss of my life, I can’t go back to that place. I can’t let myself become that person again. So bring the sorrow, the rage, the fear and the emptiness. Let me walk, or even wallow in them for a while. My son is dead. My baby died before I ever got to see his eyes light up with life, or see him smile at me. That is devastating and infuriating and just all wrong even . So right now, for me not being OK, is OK. Not having words to speak or prayers to pray or songs to sing or hope to offer, is OK. In my heart I know that one day, all those things will come.

But for today and as many tomorrows as it takes, I’m not good. I want to cope in all the wrong ways. I want to scream and cry and break things. Some nights I lay in bed sobbing hearing “I’m sorry, I don’t see a heartbeat”  overandoverandoverandoverandoveragain until I’m paralyzed and I can’t breath. I replay the last “normal” day of my life, wondering what I was doing when my little boy’s heart beat for the last time, wondering if he was scared or in pain. I ache for my husband, who will never get to experience teaching our son how to golf, or ride a bike or take care of cars or any of the other things a father dreams of teaching his son. So many moments, lost before they ever came to be. That’s not “good.” That is horrible. That is agony. That, is where I am.

 

Untitled.

July 8, 2014 § 9 Comments

I have been thinking about writing this post for the past 38 weeks and 2 days. I had a long list of all the wonderful things I wanted to share about finally being a mother; a dream I’ve been dreaming since before I can remember. I wanted to tell the world how awing and humbling it was to have something so perfect and beautiful and good, come from someone so imperfect and undeserving. I wanted to say that I finally understood what scripture spoke of when it talks about Mary treasuring the first sweet moments with her son and pondering them in her heart.

And I can.

But, I can also tell you that I understand the burning rage of Pharaoh, the unspeakable grief of Job, and the maddening sorrow that drove the woman in Solomon’s court to steal a living child.

My beautiful son, Lincoln Allen Hartley, was stillborn on June 5th. And now I know that silence is the loudest thing I have ever heard. Waiting, aching and longing for a cry that never comes, a heart that doesn’t beat – those are the “sounds” that haunt me.

There are no words to describe the feeling of knowing that something has died inside of you. Something that you nurtured and loved so fiercely from the first moment you knew it was to be. Something that you had dreams, hopes, and so many plans for. Something that you wanted and treasured over all things. When you love someone with the entirety of your being, losing them feels like you have lost yourself.

The emptiness is unlike anything I have ever known. Most days I want to crawl outside of myself, just to feel a moment of respite from the sadness, the longing, the pain. The anxiety and stress of simply being has never been more overwhelming. I can’t rest. I can’t relax. I have to stay busy or else I am overtaken. But every moment can’t be filled, and every morning my barely conscious mind betrays me and I find myself reaching for a baby belly that is no longer there, and it all comes flooding back. Once again I am lost in the aching and pining for the child I will never know, the voice I will never hear saying “I love you mommy.”

The 34 weeks, 3 days and 12 hours I had with my sweet son were the most beautiful, fulfilling and wonderful days of my life. In that time, I learned how to love with a capacity that I didn’t know I was capable of. In the space of a moment I learned what selfless, self sacrificing love was all about. And in the end, I learned that sometimes, God says no.

One day, I know I will be able to talk about how God has perfect plans, and how He has loved me, my husband and our family through this time of sorrow. But right now, I’m still trying to wrap my heart and mind around the fact that the arms I would normally run to for comfort, are full of my baby boy.

So here I am. Broken. Trying desperately to sort through the pieces of my shattered life and find a new strength and a new beginning.

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