Sunday, April 30, 2017

Piece by piece

I can't believe it has been 6 months since Levi was born and almost a year since I found out I was pregnant.  It feels like that was another lifetime... and maybe it was.  When I see myself now, I feel hardly recognizable, but not because I see the grief stricken mother wondering how to keep living in a world her children won't get to see (although I do still see images of that mother at times).  But, I see a woman who has been rebuilt after brokenness into something that is strong, but flexible, tender, but fierce, and most of all full of hope with hands open to receive whatever may come - joy and heartache.  It is hard to put into the words the shift that has occurred inside my heart as I have wrestled with the Lord and with myself over why I have to belong inside this story I never wanted.  But I have learned some valuable lessons along the way that I want to memorialize so I won't forget what God has done.

1) There is no healing in pretending, there are no short cuts to grief.  It doesn't unfold like a neat 5 point pathway that you naturally progress down and then you reach the end and it is finished.  It is like a violent and unpredictable ocean that you can fight against or learn to lean into so that you can find the surface again.  God doesn't take the pain away just because we ask him to.  I didn't experience perfect peace just because I wanted it.  It wasn't until I allowed myself to feel each moment authentically and process those feelings and thoughts taking them to the feet of Jesus and just telling Him whatever my truth was in that moment, that I began to feel the weight of grief lessen.  When I experienced those moments with Jesus, I discovered that He had feelings too and was not simply observing my pain from a distance, but actively experiencing it with me.  I so desperately needed to know that my Father hurts too and suffers alongside us.  Pretending the pain away by quoting scripture at it or chasing after the multitude of platitudes that inevitably follow a disaster didn't do anything to heal the deepest brokenness of my soul.  Showing up in your pain matters, being authentic about your struggle matters and it was only when I decided to keep showing up and telling the truth of my heart that I began to experience hope again.

2) We can do hard things, but we don't have to do them alone.  It is easier to hide our pain, to distract ourselves from experiencing it's weight, to smile because we think we're supposed to.  It is uncomfortable to see someone in pain.  Our human instinct is to heal it, to fix it, to make the pain stop.  But, what if the only way to heal is to hurt deeply?  I've learned in this journey that not everyone can walk next to you - and that's okay, you don't need an army.  But you need a few trusted soldiers - who will go to war with you and will sit in the darkness with you for as long as it takes.  By being open about my journey I have had the privilege to show up for others, to walk into their darkness, and to hold the hands of hurting women in need of hope.  I am so grateful for that.  God often brings deep healing in community, and I'm thankful for those who continued to show up, to listen, and to trust God's work in my life.  What hurting people need most is for others to not be afraid of their pain or try to fix it, but to be embraced in the midst of it and to experience the validation of others who will hurt with you. 

3) Fear only feels like the truth.  To have some of my worst fears realized more than once made those fears feel much more real than the Truth of God.  Fear is a normal human instinct, one that has enabled survival and can be adaptive for us to respond to.  Fear is real and its visceral expression only solidifies the feeling that it is the truth.  To deny it or try to stifle it seems a little delusional, because it tends to show up even when we don't acknowledge it - nightmares, anxiety, feeling out of control - all of these physical experiences are rooted in fear.  For me, the only way to overcome the feelings of fear that I experienced when I thought about the future was to chose to trust God's heart.  This was actually the most difficult part of my healing.  I wrestled intensely with what it means to trust a Father who doesn't promise to prevent this and then doesn't rush in to fix it.  I can't even pinpoint exactly what shifted for me, except that I quit trying so hard.  I prayed and wrestled and begged God to repair the broken trust I felt between us, but He didn't - at least not right away.  He gently reminded me that it is His job to repair the brokenness and to quit trying so hard - and I did.  I continued moving forward in this journey, but chose to operate on an underlying belief that God is exactly who He says He is.  I began to experience this hope that was coming alive in my heart that God was building something much more beautiful than the tiny dream I was holding onto for myself.

4) Brokenness is beautiful.  When I finally quit clinging to the life that I felt was robbed from me, the dreams that seemed to shatter the moment I reached for them and started living in my present life - I realized that it was so beautiful.  As I began to lean into this life, appreciating the moments with my children and experiencing joy again with the recognition that it was truly joyful - I realized that this is an abundant life and that I was living this life because of my brokenness.  Without the darkness, the pain, the terrible suffering, you can't experience the power of hope.  Who hopes for what he already has?  Suffering has a way of bringing life into focus and it allowed me to feel joyful, and alive because I could recognize it and because I have a hope that is not rooted in the things the world says will bring happiness.  Opening my hands and trusting God doesn't mean that He is going to grant my wishes or that I will be spared from more pain.  But it means that until I can let go of my fear and hurt I can't be open to receive whatever good things He has for me - even when it doesn't look good.  I am so grateful that God has taken me off the nice, neat, normal path where I don't experience my need for Him and I got everything I ever wanted - I would be an entirely different woman.  This story, the one I never would have written myself, it has led me to my Great Inheritance, the one that cannot be destroyed and where hope is anchored so deeply that it can always be found.

I didn't think this place existed, I had no clue how to get here and I certainly couldn't imagine living in a place that felt full, joyful, and abundant.  God's grace is deep and his promises are true, we can give God the glory and it can still hurt.  But when I look back, I don't see the tragedy that I expected, in fact, it looks pretty damn beautiful.  He has brought so much restoration, piece by piece transforming me into something whole again.  Thanks be to God - I know He's still working.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Saying goodbye before hello

" To the bereavement of my soul.  I humbled my soul with fasting and my prayer kept returning to my bosom.  I went about as though it were my friend or brother; I bowed down mourning as one who sorrows for a mother."  Psalm 35: 12-14.

I held my breath reading this a couple weeks ago.  It reads like a dedication to grief, which admittedly seems a little strange - and yet, when you lose, grief is what you have left.  To consider grief a friend or a brother - I can relate to that.  It feels authentic and true when your heart is broken and you need something that won't betray you - grief will show up with you.  The end of those verses talks about sorrowing for a mother... It seems there is no greater grief than a mother mourning for her child or a child mourning a mother.  God designed it such that mother and child are bonded from conception, intricately linked in a relationship that is beyond understanding.

There is so little left to show of Levi.  So few of us got to see his face, hold his tiny frame, see his small white coffin.  Those memories are treasured and haunting at the same time.  There is nothing else to look forward to, nothing that will grow or change with him.  All that physically remains of his life is contained in a silver box of ashes and a box they give you at the hospital when you don't get to come home with a baby.  I will never forget the feeling of being wheeled from labor and delivery holding a box of pictures and the few items that touched him instead of a baby.  This kind of loss, pregnancy loss, stillbirth, infant loss, infertility - it seems it is inheritently an invisible loss.  It is saying goodbye before you get to say hello - which makes goodbye even harder somehow.

I know so many women have and will experience this invisible loss and while each experience is unique, what I wish others understood is that while I keep moving and living, this person I am missing exists as an invisible extension of myself.  He is never far from my thoughts, his name forever written on my heart - you can speak his name - I long to hear it again.  Knowing and loving Ethan and Levi in the time I was granted to be their mother... it has shattered my heart such that the pieces will never go back together the way it was before them.  Yet, my heart keeps on beating in this new assemblage of parts. I find that rather than only seeing the missing pieces, it has somehow made my heart larger.  It certainly has some jagged edges, but the brokenness didn't destroy my heart, rather, it made it a vessel that can pour out more easily because of all the cracks.

The baby I hoped for and expected is not coming soon.  He has come and left me too soon and although his life is invisible to the watching world - Levi Robert Priour will forever be celebrated in my heart and his memory alive in the way I remain "attached" to Jesus in hope and expectation. It is tempting to believe this is an ending - I can't see him anymore, so it is over.  But, I know that with God as the Author, Levi's death is not the final word.  I am committed to pressing in and holding on and showing up - each day - even when it feels impossible.  I have continually experienced in these 'darks nights of the soul', that when I lift my eyes, dawn is just on the horizon.  I don't need a fairy tale, or even a happy ending - although, sometimes I would really like that.  What I really want is a story that matters.  A story of courage and truth and redemption.  Those are exactly the kinds of stories that Jesus loves to tell - that's how I know this one isn't over yet.  I am learning that somehow, it is not about the outcome - it is not the happy ending that matters - it is about the encounter and the transformation and continuing to tell my truth.