Thursday, February 18, 2010

The Lies Pain Tells Us

Isn't it amazing the level of denial some people can exist in? Isn't it even more amazing when we finally realize that person is us?


I have been there.

There was a season in my life when I honestly believed I was the victim. The victim of a husband who wasn't there for me like I felt he should be and the victim of a God who apparently doesn't answer prayer after all.

In my eyes I had done everything I could do, I had done more than my part, it was everyone else who was letting me down. Even God. And I felt pretty entitled to be upset about it.

So I wallowed. I wallowed for a long time. Months and months of pitying myself.

I didn't deserve this. I really didn't. And I dwelled there day and night.

Then I suddenly switched gears. I no longer felt like a victim. Instead, I felt like a failure. It was all my fault. Everything. My struggling marriage, my dead babies, every wrong and bad thing in my life was all my fault. I did deserve it. All of it. Bad people deserve bad things.

I spent months overwhelmed with guilt. I grew to hate myself in a deep and scary way. And any hope of a good life again was fading away. I wasn't worthy of it.

I eventually realized that I was stuck. Stuck in the lies pain sometimes tells us.

And I wanted out. But I didn't know how.

I tried all kinds of distractions. Exercising. Reading every self-help book on the shelf. Drinking an entire bottle of wine on more than one occasion. Even seeking out an inappropriate emotional relationship. None of which fixed anything.

Sin always promises to relieve our pain.

But it never does. As a matter of fact, the pain only got worse.

No one tells you how confusing grief can be or how vulnerable you'll be in your pain. I look back on those days and I hurt all over again. I was so disoriented, so alone, and so overwhelmed. I heaped more pain on myself as a result. And recovering has been long and slow.

Trusting God's word is what got me through. Its what is getting me through.
Relief only came when I let God's truths defeat the lies and accepted the comfort that God promised. I also sought very good counsel (I saw a therapist) to help me see what my pain was blinding me from.

It didn't happen overnight but healing did come. I was able to stop blaming others, including God and myself, for my pain and let go of the guilt and shame that had eroded away all my self-esteem. I don't hate myself anymore nor do I hate everyone else. I have learned to accept that not everything is in my control.

Mostly I have stopped believing the lies.

The funny thing about lies though is that you can't just stop believing them, you have to replace them with what is TRUE.

My life is not perfect, but at least I see it clearly now. There is still lots of work to do and healing to take place, but at least now it can happen.

Healing is what it true for me today. Hope is true. Joy is true. God's comfort is true. God's love is true. My pain is still true as my girls are still not with me. But the lies are gone allowing the good truths to help heal the difficult ones. Sorrow and joy can coexist. Pain and peace. Emptiness with fulfillment.

Lies heal nothing. They only wound more deeply and seek to rob you of any opportunity for real healing.

Don't live another minute in denial of what you need to make it through the grief you carry. Healing will only come when you accept the truth about where healing comes from. It does not come from yourself, your strength, your reasoning, from time, distraction, or medication.

Only God and the truth of his Word can heal your pain.

My soul is weary with sorrow; strengthen me according to your word. Ps 119:28 NIV

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Don't Wake Me Up

I just finished watching a moving called In America for the thousandth time. It came out when I was still in college and I loved it then, but I love it more now. If you have never seen it, you absolutely must!

Especially if you have lost a child.

The movie is based on a true story of a family that illegally immigrated to New York City from Ireland in the 1980s so that Johnny (the father) could pursue his dream of acting on Broadway. The more meaningful and beautiful subplot to the movie is that, before they left Ireland, they lost their young son Franky to a malignant brain tumor. The family desperately tries to move forward with life after their devastating loss but it proves more difficult than they imagined. When Sarah (the mom) finds out she is expecting, the joy of the new baby is thwarted by complications with the pregnancy. The movie touchingly portrays the complexity of grief, the blessing of hope, and healing power of love.

There is a particular scene in the movie (beware, it will make you cry) where Sarah is in the hospital after giving birth to their new daughter prematurely. The baby needs a blood transfusion to survive but Sarah doesn't want the baby to get "bad" blood and becomes frantic. From her bed she is screaming to her husband, "Save my baby Johnny. Save my baby. I want to see my baby. Why can't I see my baby?" Nurses come rushing in to calm her down and administer a sedative. Just before she closes her eyes she looks up at Johnny and says...

"If my baby dies, don't wake me up."

The first time I saw this movie those words broke my heart. When I was finally brave enough to watch this movie again after my girls died, those words took on a whole new meaning.

I said those exact words to God as I was rushed into my c-section.

"If my babies die, don't wake me up."

There are some realities so terrifying, it seems death would be a better alternative. I simply could not fathom living if my children did not. And at that time, I didn't even want to try.

In that moment, my fear was bigger than life itself. Bigger than my love for my husband and for my son, bigger than any dream or goal I had ever had, even bigger than my faith.

Fear can be that big sometimes.

And it isn't just a perception. My fear was real. Very very real. And it was certainly the most real thing in my life at that moment.

But God knew that moment would pass. He knew that my fear would fade and I would again see that He was the most real thing in my life. And He would give me everything I would need to face whatever was ahead...because I did wake up.

I woke that day to two ALIVE babies. I was so thankful to wake up. Just to see them and meet them and name them and love them seemed worth being brave for. The fear was still there, but it was different, and along with it was hope. For the time being, they were still with me. We were all together. And everyday I woke up was one more day with them.

Thirteen days later however, I would have given anything for God to honor my prior request. I crawled in bed that night completely numb and feeling desperately hopeless. I was perfectly content to close my eyes and never open them again. But morning came, and I awoke.

And I have woken up every day since.

590 times to be exact.

590 new days to face without my girls. 590 showers to cry in. 590 breakfasts, lunches, and dinners eaten without them. At least 590 cups of tea to remember them during. And 590 nights lying in the dark missing them with tears streaming down my face.

But also 590 days to heal. 590 opportunities to dream and hope again. 590 days to hold and kiss my son. And most importantly, 590 chances to experience God's love, strength, and comfort during the saddest time of my life.

I think if I ever find myself overwhelmed with fear again, instead of telling God what to do, I'll just tell Him I trust Him. I'll remember the time I woke up anyway...

Because 590 days later I'm glad I woke up.

I'm glad He woke me up, each and every time.

God always knows best. His ways are always good. His love is always enough. His grace is always sufficient. His promises always endure.

I lie down and sleep; I wake again, because the LORD sustains me. Ps 3:5 NIV

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Don't Worry, They Grow

For some reason today I keep hearing something a stranger said to me the day my Aubrey died.

Something that I have resented for months now.

Aubrey died after Ellie so when Aubrey died it was not just the day I lost a daughter, but it was the end of the fight for us, for all of us. It was the end of hope and the end of maybe and possibly. It was the end of life as I knew it.

I walked out of the hospital that day knowing I would never go back. No more babies to visit. No more meetings with doctors. Just funeral arrangements and a world-shattering grief. It was over. Both of my babies were gone.

That day, as I walked out of the NICU, after seeing my Aubrey for the very last time, the mother of the baby in the space next door, was walking back in. As we passed each other she said something I will never forget.

"Don't worry, they grow."

I cannot explain to you the agony of those words.

I realize that she was only trying to encourage me and that she did not know both my babies had died. I often wonder if she realized when she walked back in that Aubrey was not in her incubator anymore and felt horrible for saying something so careless. Part of me hopes she did.

You see, my babies did not grow. They would never grow. They died.

Everything didn't work out for us. And I resented her assumption that it would.

But today I have been thinking and examining my heart as I wrestle with why I can't seem to let go of those words.

The truth is I am guilty of doing to others exactly what that woman did to me.

It is never ok to impose your reality on someone else. It is never ok to assume that how things have worked out for you is how they work out for everyone. And it is never ok to offer an impossible guarantee to someone desperate for hope.

Yet I know that I have done it too. I have said to people who can't get pregnant, "Don't worry, it will happen." I have said to friends with crumbling marriages, "Don't worry, you'll make it." I have said to people struggling with depression or finances or loss or tragedies of other kinds, "Don't worry, everything will be ok." I've honestly said those things.

They've been said to me. Before and after my girls died.

But either way, it was never right.

I want to be better than that. And I can't believe it took losing my daughters for me to realize how many times I said the wrong things, how many times I offered the wrong advice, and how many meaningless promises I made on God's behalf.

When people are going through hard times the best thing to say is sometimes nothing. At the very least we should utter only the words we are sure of.

God will carry you.

What else is there to say really?

My babies did not grow. Maybe yours did not either. Or maybe it was your marriage that didn't heal. Or the house you lost anyway. The cancer that came back. The spouse killed in a car accident. The drug addiction your brother never kicked. The adoption that fell through. The pregnancy that never happened. The parent with Alzheimer's.

Quite simply, yours was the situation that didn't workout ok in the end.

I have spent the last 19 months coming to terms with being in the "everything didn't work out ok for us" group.

Just like I wanted it for everyone else, I wanted it for myself even more. I wanted to be the miracle story, the success story, the mom who never lost faith and watched her babies beat the odds. I wanted so desperately for everything to work out in the end.

But it didn't.

Hearing "Don't worry, they'll grow" sooner might have actually encouraged me. But that day, that moment, it only rubbed my face in my less desirable and horribly painful reality.

I don't know what you may be going through or what you may be facing. And, although I wish I could, I can't promise that everything will be fine nor can I promise that it will all work out the way you hope.

I can only leave you with this.

Don't worry, God will carry you.

Let Him.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Abnormal Life

Life is pretty good these days.

Southern California is having amazing weather. I literally blow kisses to the clear blue sky while the sun shines on my face in February. I love it here. Always have.

I am almost 14 weeks pregnant if you can believe that! All is well. Healthy mom and healthy baby.

Dustin is growing like a weed. I just got him new shoes today as his toes were hanging over the front of his sandals. He is the big 4 now after all (since January 7th) and truly growing up, revealing his God given gifts more each day. In the grocery store this afternoon I watched him volunteer to help one of the employees arrange a crate of fresh salsa containers in a box of crushed ice for display. The employee was so sweet to oblige him and together they set out forty containers or so in perfect rows. I waited patiently with my cart and beamed with pride. My son has a rare and special disposition. He really does. I praised him for his helpfulness and thanked the employee for his participation. It is a beautiful thing to encourage character, even in a four-year-old. Dustin gave me a smile as we walked away. Just another ordinary day for him. I could see that he was quite content to be of use. God blessed my sock off when He gave me my son. And he is a blessing to many more than just me.

My tea company is finally getting off the ground. Our forward motion is exciting to say the least. We are only weeks away from our official keep us on your radar! I'd love to bless you with tea in the very near future.

All the drama with my puppy seems to have come to an end. When she ran away last Thursday I was a mess. I thought for sure she had been hit by a car. The fear of losing her really got to me, but the worst case scenario was not realized and she miraculously ended up at our local Humane Society. I picked her up the next morning and met her with "scolding" hugs for scaring me like that. However, on Monday she got out AGAIN, this time by digging her way out under the side fence. I was furious. I guess puppies just don't understand grace! Clearly she wanted to push her luck...or perhaps she was just doing what puppies do. It is hard to say. This time my neighbors saw her escaping and put her in their backyard until they saw we were home. A knock on the door that evening revealed our teenage neighbor holding our 35 lb puppy like a baby to prevent her from running away again in transit. I was thankful, and relieved, despite my frustration. My husband fixed the hole immediately, despite having twenty more important things to do, and so far "Chevelle the Escape Artist" seems to be at least for now.

Things are getting back to normal I guess you could say.

Or not.

I don't even know what I am saying.


I hate that word.

What is normal anyway?

I will tell you what normal was.

Normal was calling my family to tell them I was pregnant and five weeks later calling again to tell them it was TWINS! Normal was measuring my explorer to see if three car seats would fit in the back side by side. Normal was searching Craig's List for a double stroller. Normal was potty training my son at two years old so that I would not have three in diapers. Normal was climbing in bed at night will a growing belly and a fast asleep two year old in his toddler bed feeling that all was as it should be.

But it is not as it should be anymore.

Normal is a naive word with no place in my life anymore. I think now I use it only to make other people feel better about my life. I describe things (life after losing my babies) as normal and everyone breathes a sigh of relief. But I know it is not really normal at all.

It is abnormal.

I am comfortable describing my life as abnormal. Abnormally blessed, abnormally ordinary, abnormally hard, abnormally sad, abnormally _______________. Whatever fits, it all makes for a proper description of life after loss.

My life is still abnormally difficult. Yet filled with abnormal joy. I mean, think about it. There is nothing normal about having joy after such sadness or normal about experiencing goodness again after so much pain.

Normal implies what we are used to, and no one gets used to living without their children. I certainly haven't. And I won't.

I have experienced all kinds of things since my daughters died. Grief, sorrow, guilt, sadness, anger, peace, joy, restoration...the list goes on. But normalcy is not one of them.

Life is abnormal from here on out. From the moment of Aubrey and Ellie's last heartbeat, normal faded away never to be seen or heard of again.

It is only a matter of time until we all lose our normal. Like me, some of you already have. Normalcy may be an illusion anyway, like control. It is all relative.

But one thing is not relative. One promise remains. Our life may be normal one day and abnormal the next, but God remains the same; good, loving, gracious and merciful. He is our only constant in an otherwise schizophrenic existence. He is our only hope to successfully navigate this constantly changing terrain.

I have been reoriented by His power alone. My life does not need to be normal, it only needs to be His. Only Christ can transform an abnormal life into something meaningful.

Only Christ can take something so bad and use it for good...and their is nothing normal about that.

It seems that an abnormal life might have a few redeeming qualities after all.
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