The Only Lullaby

I was recently watching the movie Philomena, when I felt it. The sadness boiling up again, threatening to spill over and burn every part of me.

In the movie (spoiler alert), Philomena’s 3 year old son is taken away from her, against her will. She watches as he is crying and fighting and driving away with his new family.

I couldn’t stop the tears. Although I have never had to watch my child being adopted out to someone else, I have experienced the raw grief of having a child taken from me against my will. Her child was taken from the monastery where she lived; mine was taken from my womb.

I have recently started going to counseling (highly recommend it). Between the loss of Salem, the shooting an murder of our neighbors, and a couple of other huge things that have happened this past year, it seemed it would be foolish not to seek some outside help. Praise Jesus for professional counselors. Anyway, at one of my recent sessions, we talked about the loss of Salem for the first time. My therapist pointed out how my body was physically responding as we spoke. That I looked like my body was trying to pull itself into fetal position, but I kept fighting it.

A year and a half has passed, and to most of the world he has probably been forgotten. The world, after all, never got the chance to know him. I never got the chance to know him, although I have been changed by him.

Sometimes when I’m holding Copeland, I think of Salem. Copeland has my blue eyes, light hair, and fair skin. What would Salem have looked like? Copeland has my laid back nature and shares my love for sleep. What would Salem be like, as a 4 month old? Would he be a good sleeper or would I be up with him all night? Would he be laid back like his mama and his brother, or more proactive and ambitious like his father and his sister?

And sometimes I feel guilty, thinking of Salem while I’m holding Copeland. After all, if Salem had lived, Copeland would have never been born. It’s such a tricky thing and you just cannot follow all the feelings down their own paths to sort it all out. It’s just messy and mucky and it doesn’t fit together in a tidy way that can be explained. I wish I didn’t lose Salem. I wish he was here with me right now. I also cannot imagine my life without Copeland. And I want him with me right now too. They are both mine and both loved.

But I’ve started to notice that thinking of Salem while I hold Copeland doesn’t take away from the sweetness of the moment. On the contrary, it makes me realize just how much of a gift my little rainbow baby is. My appreciation for Copeland is even richer and deeper, because of his brother who I never got to hold.

In this time in our Western world society, we don’t know what to do with grief. We treat it as something we need to just eventually get over. A hurdle that we are meant to get over. Something that eventually has to move into our past, as a faint memory. That is so sad to me, and so wrong.

No, grief is not an obstacle. It is an end in itself. It is not something we must get over, but a pure and beautiful expression of love.

So I want to embrace the grief that will remain with me for the rest of my life. It may feel different as each year passes, but it is a part of my life from now until eternity. It is my love for my son. The ache and cry of my heart is the song I sing to him. The only lullaby that will exist between us.

This is a painting given to us by dear friends, that made them think of "peace" - the meaning of Salem's name.

This is a painting given to us by dear friends, that made them think of “peace” – the meaning of Salem’s name.

KM.

Cute Mom or Wet, Tired Dog?

A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to attend a women’s conference called “Pursue the Passion” with one of my best friends and our little babies. The worship leader was Meredith Andrews and the keynote speaker was Jen Hatmaker (my blogger/speaker/author crush), so it was pretty much a dream come true.

ma and michal

 

I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror before heading to the conference that Saturday morning, and I smiled. I actually looked like a cute mom. I was wearing a cute outfit, my hair was curled, my makeup was done. I felt good!

Of course, about 20 minutes into the first session, Copeland spit up all over me. And I’m not talking normal spit up. I’m talking PROJECTILE spit up, like a waterfall. I was soaked in it. My shirt was soaking wet, and so was my hair. As a matter of fact, I’m pretty sure I heard the people sitting behind us gasp!

I took Copeland into the bathroom and tried to figure out how to take care of the situation. Of course I had an extra outfit for him, but not for myself. I cleaned him up, changed his outfit, and then looked at myself in the mirror, trying to figure out what the heck to do. I no longer looked like a cute mom. I looked like a wet, tired dog.  That’s the image that came to my mind as I looked at myself.  A mangy, exhausted little creature.

But as I stood there and looked at my reflection, this thought struck me: This is actually more true to my reality. My life right now is much more similar to a wet, tired dog than it is to a cute mom. My reflection suddenly communicated more truth about my heart and my soul than it did when I had first walked through those doors into the conference that morning.

10 days before the conference started, some of our upstairs neighbors were shot and killed by one of our other neighbors.  We were home with the kids when it happened.  We heard the gunshots.  It was nothing short of terrifying and horrific.

I haven’t known how to process it.  I haven’t known how to write.  How do you get over hearing your neighbors get murdered?  I’m not sure that you do.

It’s a strange thing seeing our condo on the news, even still.  It’s hard living here.  I’m sad and I’m scared and paranoid a lot.

One of the reason I have not talked about this much and haven’t really publicly come out with it is because it felt wrong at first.  Jordan and I would remind each other “we are not the victims here.”  We weep and grieve for these three beautiful lives lost, for their families, and for the brokenness of the world.  But we did not dare want to make it about us.

But yesterday we met with a crisis counselor from the Police Department.  One of the things she said to us really helped me to be willing to open this up and let myself process it more.  She said, “Do not downplay this.  You are victims here.  Most people will go through their entire lifetime without coming even remotely close to experiencing something like this.”  She gave us permission to claim our pain and trauma.

I really regret never getting to know these people who seemed so incredible and lived so close to us.  I sometimes think about how my life may have been richer, had I gotten to know the victims.  For days after the shooting, I would watch videos and read everything about one of the victims and I was constantly struck with the thought, “Wow, she was so beautiful.” Inside and out.

And then I freak out when I think about the shooter; about the thought that someone so dangerous lived so close to us.

I am paranoid over the fact that I cannot always protect my children.

I am baffled at the fact that God doesn’t always stop bullets, and yet sometimes He does.

If anything, this past year has really opened my eyes to the fact that belonging to God does not guarantee safety in this world.  I have never so intensely had to look at the ugliness and pain of the world in its broken and distorted face.  I’ve never so deeply longed for eternity, and yet struggled to be close to God in my current reality.  It is a daily process to continue to trust God and walk with Him while constantly being reminded that there is no immunity for the here and now.  Our security in Christ saves us from the ultimate destruction that our rebellious souls lead us into; but our security is not a material one on this earth.

I know that God is working in my heart through this, and that there is an invitation to trust Him in an even deeper way.  I know that He is good, always.  But I also know that life is not fair and His mercy does not always feel evident.

I don’t really have any resolution to this blog post, but I know it is good for my soul to write.  I know that I need to process this, and I am thankful for my little space here where I can pour my heart onto a screen whenever I need that release.  There is so much going on in my heart, this might become more of a raw space than ever before and I think I actually want to let it be that.  Far too much of the internet displays the “cute moms” and yet I wonder how many of us actually feel more like wet, tired dogs.  I wonder how many of us actually long for the freedom of the mirror projecting back an accurate picture of our souls.  And how many of us need the permission to be honest about it.

 

KM.

The Waiting Room

Yesterday I had my 30 week pre-natal OB appointment. As I sat in the waiting room, I watched a couple walk back in from the Ultrasound room. They had the fresh pictures of their little baby folded up and gripped tightly. They both sat down and didn’t say a word to each other. They didn’t look at the pictures. They didn’t move a fraction of an inch for the entire 15 minutes I was there. They looked like they had seen a ghost. Judging by the expression on their faces, something was wrong.

I don’t know anything about this couple. I don’t know what their situation was and I want to be careful not to make assumptions. But watching them, I felt my heart drop. It wasn’t too long ago that I remember sitting in that same waiting room, completely devastated. I remember having to walk back through that waiting room full of happy, pregnant women after our ultrasound on that awful day, and trying to walk as fast as I could, eyes averted. I remember trying (and failing) to hold back the tears, and completely falling apart once we got into the car.

And here I was yesterday only several months later, sitting in the same room with a growing little boy kicking my ribs at 30 weeks into my pregnancy.

It seems like a bit of a cruel irony that the room that women have to sit and wait in for their quick healthy pre-natal visits is the same exact room that others have to wait in after hearing the worst news they could imagine.

As I held my swollen stomach to feel my son’s little feet dancing, I was acutely aware of the fact that I am now the woman that I couldn’t look at before. The woman that is too painful to see, because of the stark visual reminder of what you lost. I am now the woman I once tried to avoid in this very waiting room.

The room that holds both immense joy and deep pain, simultaneously.

I looked around the room and let this sink in. Some come here rejoicing. Some mourning. Some completely unaware of how great the gift is that they have; others painfully aware of the gift they have lost. I felt tears threatening to fall for those in the room that may be a part of the later group. My heart ached for them and I wanted to reach out and hold them. I wanted to tell them that their baby mattered. That it was a sweet life lost too soon. I wanted to cry with them and validate their loss and their pain.

I also felt a deep sense of gratitude, as I held my stomach a little tighter. There is nothing I have done to deserve this little boy. There is no reason that I should be here for a healthy visit. We are guaranteed nothing. I’m not even guaranteed that this pregnancy will end with a healthy baby in my arms, even though I’ve made it to 30 weeks.

Remembering our loss and reflecting on our pain isn’t exactly fun. It hurts. But it makes me alive again. It makes my heart beat for humanity. It makes me love and pray for others. It reminds me of the Kingdom of God and how desperately we need it, and it makes me cry out to our Savior for it to come! Because this world is hard to live in. There are so many people who need to be held. So I prayed to the One who created us all, from the day of conception. I prayed that He would see their hurt, hear their cries, and wipe their tears. I thanked Him for Salem. For the chance to be his mom, if only for a couple of short months of gestation. I have a son waiting for me with Jesus, and that is a gift I can look forward to for the rest of my life. And I prayed that God would not let me lose the soft heart that He had been forming inside of me, because of my loss. It made me more real, more raw, more human and more compassionate. I don’t want to forget that. I don’t want to forget those who are newly hurting. I want to ache with them as we call on Jesus and praise Him that one day every tear will be wiped away.

For you formed my inward parts;
you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works;
my soul knows it very well.
My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw my unformed substance;
in your book were written, every one of them,
the days that were formed for me,
when as yet there was none of them.
-Psalm 139:13-16

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”
-Revelation 21:1-4

remembranceday1

KM.

Although He was a Son

“Following Jesus is a lifelong journey, filled with glorious mountaintops and low, dark valleys.” – From She Reads Truth, Hebrews Study

Since our loss, I have found that I have become more fearful for Riley’s life.  There are many nights when I will feel completely gripped by terror, as horrific images enter my mind of something tragic happening to my sweet daughter.  It makes me feel panicky as I try to swallow the reality that God could actually let that happen.

I’ve had to ask myself a lot lately: How do I love and serve a God who could let my children die?  Who did let my child die?  Who is letting children die in horrific ways in Iraq.  It’s scary that He could choose to allow every single one of my children to die young.   That feels so scary.  I don’t feel very secure.  In most other difficult experiences in my life someone or something else has hurt me or let me down, and it has driven me into my Savior’s arms.  But what about when it is my Savior who let me down?  I don’t have a stable foundation to turn to, and it makes me feel like I have no footing.  Which kind of makes me freak out.

It has been difficult for me to not just try and hold God at arms length.  I can sing in worship, telling God to take all of me and have all of my heart and all of my life.  But the real song of my heart is singing, “All of me, except for this pregnancy.  You can’t have this baby.  All of me, except for Riley.  I can’t bear the thought of anything happening to her.  All of me, except for my trust.”

The crazy thing is, I’m acting as if I just learned something new about God.  That He may allow my children to die.  As if He deceived me somehow.  But I’ve really always known that!  I knew that God can and does allow horrible things to happen.  He allows pain and suffering and death.  And He has been upfront about that from the beginning – all you have to do is read the Bible.  That is how we learn about who He is and How He works, and the pages of scripture are chocked full of bad things that happened that God did not stop.  No, He has not ever deceived me to believe that He wouldn’t allow these things to happen.  Up until this point my theology of suffering wasn’t weak, but my experience of it was.

When I married Jordan four years ago, there were things I thought were true about him that are, there were things I thought were true about him that simply were not (wait, he’s not going to romance me and try to sweep me off my feet 24/7?!), and things I knew were true about him but I just hadn’t fully experienced yet.   In marriage, both spouses learn things about each other through the experience of doing life together.  If you see something that surprises you or something you don’t particularly like, I suppose you can walk away from that person.  But if you keep walking on in your covenant with that person, you will find more depth and beauty on the other side of the learning curve as each of you get to know more of the real person that you married and you stick by them (or so I’m told!).

So I find myself in a similar place in my walk with God.  He sure isn’t going anywhere and, by His grace, I’m not going to either.  I hadn’t fully experienced this part of who God is yet.  And I don’t know what this part of Him means for how the events of my life are going to play out. But here I am.  I’m trying to piece together the puzzle after the picture I had put together has been completely shattered.  I believe that there is more depth and beauty on the other side of this, and I thirst for the taste of it.

Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered. – Hebrews 5:8

Even God’s own holy son Jesus Christ was no foreigner to suffering.  He was not exempt.  As a matter of fact, he took on the full wrath of God, a form of suffering those of us who call on him will never need to know.  I take great comfort in that today.

He was despised and rejected by men;
    a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief;
and as one from whom men hide their faces
    he was despised, and we esteemed him not.

Surely he has borne our griefs
    and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
    smitten by God, and afflicted.

But he was pierced for our transgressions;
    he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
    and with his wounds we are healed.

-Isaiah 53:3-5

 

KM.

Prone to Leave the God I Love

It’s interesting: if you had asked either Jordan or I just a week ago about how we have been doing with our loss lately, we would both have answered “fine!”  We might say something along the lines of, “Of course we are still sad and miss our son, but overall we have been doing fine lately.”  But this past week, our perception of how we have been handling it was blown out of the water.  As we approach Salem’s due date this upcoming week, we have come to realize just how much our world has changed and how our mourning has shaped the ways that we have been functioning in life and in marriage.

 

July has been a busy month for us.  The first week in July was spent packing everything we own in boxes.  The second week was spent moving and unpacking.  The third week we were at the beach with my side of the family.  The fourth week we were in the mountains of Virginia with some friends for a spiritual retreat – which is where the heart of this blog post began.

 

On our beach trip, I wasn’t feeling or thinking much about anything really.  I was just enjoying the sand and the water, the leisure and my family :).  But Jordan and I had a bit of a rocky start to the week and even before the trip we had both referenced how our marriage seemed to be in a hard place and we weren’t entirely sure why.  As the beach trip was coming to a close, I started feeling really sad.  It was a heavy sadness that paralyzed me a bit.  We stayed an extra day because I just didn’t want to leave, but the sadness still lingered deep within my soul in a way that kind of scared me.  I knew that if I were to look that sadness in the face it might take over my whole being and cripple me.  So I chose to avoid it instead, where it just simmered below the surface of my appearance, threatening to overtake me at any minute.  It felt like it was slowly eating away at my heart, but I refused to acknowledge it.

 

Coming into the mountain trip, I started to fall apart.  The sadness was getting stronger and I really started to shut down and withdraw into myself.   When I mentioned to Jordan that I wasn’t sure why I was wrestling with sadness, he pointed out to me that we are getting really close to Salem’s due date.  The thought hadn’t even crossed my mind.  I honestly had not thought about Salem or our loss recently.  But it made so much sense as to why I would be feeling sad.  It is crazy how our bodies and our emotions can respond to things that are in our subconscious even when they are not on our minds!

 

One morning on the trip, I found the sadness gripping me in such a strong way, I could not avoid it.  With so many adults around to keep an eye on Riley, I escaped into a little garden area and just started weeping.  I thought of Salem for the first time in a while and it was so painful that it almost took my breath away.  As I sat there weeping, a very surprising question came to my mind:  Do I really want to be in a relationship with God anymore?  I’m not sure what caught me off guard more – the fact that I asked myself this question, or that my response was, “I’m not sure if I do.”  As I sat there I thought about how appealing it sounded to just give up.  To just pull away from everyone and everything and lock away the key to my heart.  To just escape into myself and hibernate.  At the same time, I knew that I could not actually walk away from God because I know the truth.  I know why we are here and why this world is a mess and what happens in the end.  I know the gospel and I believe the gospel.  So I can’t really throw in the towel all together.  I just don’t want a daily relationship with God right now.  I don’t really want to read His word or talk to Him and meet with Him.  BUT I also know that I can’t just have my ticket to salvation without a growing and daily relationship with God.  It’s one or the other.  This was conflicting my soul.  I wondered how long I had felt this way without acknowledging it.

 

One thing that was a huge gift about this particular trip was that each couple there was given the opportunity to meet with a Spiritual Director for 2 hours while the other couples watched our kids, and then we would also have the opportunity to go out on a date so we could process it together.  Our meeting with Joe (the Spiritual Director) was incredibly enlightening, helpful, and I don’t think it would be too dramatic to say it was life changing.

 

I realized that this was not the first time I had withdrawn.  That actually, I have been slowly withdrawing since January when we lost our son.  As Jordan put it – I have been externally functional, but internally I had been shutting down and shutting people out.  Especially the Lord and Jordan.  This has been affecting my life and my marriage.  Perhaps some of my friendships as well, I’m not sure.  I’ve been too busy licking my wounds to accurately evaluate the relationships in my life.   But one of the things that has been happening (Joe helped to point this out) is that I have been feeling and saying that I want the Lord and Jordan to pursue me, but at the same time I am running 50 miles an hour in the opposite direction.  I’ve been saying, “Come and get me!” but I won’t actually let them get to me.  I remember there being a time a couple of months ago when I felt that God was asking me to give this pregnancy over to him.  After a day of wrestling with that request and shedding many tears my final answer was, “No.  I just can’t.”  Jordan pointed out that there have been many days when he has come home from work and asked about my day but I would respond with, “I don’t have anything to tell you about my day.”  I don’t think it was in a mean spirit or tone of voice, but I had started building walls around my heart in an effort to self-protect, even if I wasn’t aware of it.

 

Sidenote: All of this ^ has been making a lot more sense over the past week as I have learned that I am a “9” on the enneagram scale (I can’t wait to read Richard Rohr’s book soon!)

 

One thing that was interesting was that Joe asked us where we were angry and what we were angry at.  While Jordan was able to list off several different things, I had said, “I don’t think I’m angry.  I have felt angry at other people at times for saying insensitive things, but I have not felt angry at God at all.”  But Joe pointed out that withdrawal can be a form of anger.  It’s saying, “You can’t have any more of me!”  I had never thought of that before and for the first time I realized that I probably am angry with God, even if I didn’t experience the emotion of anger.

 

Joe told me that I had a choice to make.  I have the choice to shut down and withdraw into myself.  To keep running from God and from my husband.  But he cautioned that I should seriously consider the implications of that.  He encouraged me to think about what that will really mean for my life and what it will look like if I continue down that path.  And then I have to ask myself: is that really what I want?  Is that really how I want to go through life?  If my answer to that question is, “no” then I need to take small steps toward God and toward Jordan.  It may not mean that I am able to quickly just jump back into the intimacy and the same place that I was in before; it may mean that each day I take whatever little space I do have and offer it to God and to Jordan.  To say, “There is a small crack in the door to my heart right here, and I want to give it to you.  I want you to walk into it.”  Baby steps.

 

But perhaps the even greater question Joe pointed out was the same one I had asked myself earlier in the week: Do I still want a relationship with God?

 

He pointed out to us that after this huge loss in our lives, our entire understanding of the world and of God had been shattered.  Now we are having to navigate this new world and form a new understanding of God.  He said that even if we knew these things about God, this had not been our experience of God in our lives up until this point, and that changes everything.  We are at a crossroads where we have to decide if we still want to walk with God given this new reality of Him.  He said that he has known several grown men who have walked with God a long time (and even had ministry jobs like his) who had come to this crossroads and had chosen the path apart from God.  The weight of this reality really pressed upon me.  It is kind of scary how fickle our hearts can be and how quick we can be to turn away from our Savior.

 

I thought about this and told Joe that I know I do still want a relationship with God.  Yes, shutting down can seem alluring to me at times, but I know that is no way to live life.  I think that if I had continually walked with God since becoming a Christian at 11 years old, this might actually be a turning point for me.  I might actually walk away from Him, at least for a little while.  But since that is not the case, since I had walked away from Him for 4 years of my life already, I really don’t want to do it again.  I want to stay with Him.  Because I know how miserable it is to live without Him.  I spent 4 years looking for what only Jesus can give me in everything but Him and I was always left wanting.  I was empty and desperate for love and acceptance and purpose.  I have experienced the fact that it can only be found in Him and I shudder at the thought of going back to a life without Him as the center of it.  I never want that again.

 

I left our meeting with Joe feeling renewed and full of hope.  For the first time in a while, I desired to meet with God.  I craved His word.  I told Him that I still want Him, and asked Him to help me each day to give Him whatever I have to offer and to let Him in.    Jordan and I went on our date that night and really felt connected to each other for the first time in a long time.  I actually gave him a little of my heart again that night.  We ate delicious burgers and laughed together and dreamed about our future together and enjoyed the beautiful breeze and absence of humidity in Lexington.

 

Grief really is a process and loss re-shapes our life.  When you lose someone you love, you never really “get over it.”  I am so thankful that God doesn’t expect us to get over it and that He wants to get in it with us.  With me.  That He loves and pursues people as messy as me.  It is humbling to realize just how quickly and easily I could walk away from Him.  Praise Jesus that He has kept me in Him time and time again, no matter how often I have pulled away.  These lyrics keep ringing in my head and they are my prayer today – both for myself and for any of you who may be experiencing similar things:

 

“O to grace how great a debtor

Daily I’m constrained to be!

Let that grace now like a fetter,

Bind my wandering heart to Thee.

Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,

Prone to leave the God I love;

Here’s my heart, O take and seal it,

Seal it for Thy courts above.”

 

 

KM.

 

Some vacation pics:

 

riley with an ice cream stache

Jordan Krystal and baby number 3

vacation pics 2014 b vacation pics 2014 c vacation pics 2014 d vacation pics 2014 e vacation pics 2014

 

mama and riley

The Communal Dance of Joy and Mourning

I saw it out of the corner of my eye, one second too late. Not soon enough to stop it from happening. Riley excitedly grabbed the “Big Sister” book off the library shelf – the same big sister book that we had bought her in the fall, that we had her open at her birthday party to announce to our families that we were pregnant; the same book that we used in our photography session to take our announcement picture that we were going to post publicly in January.

She ran with the book over to a cozy little reading nook, that just happened to be occupied by one very pregnant lady and two women holding tiny little newborns in their arms.

It was like a knife through my heart.

I happen to have several friends who are pregnant right now, most of them due right around the time that I was. One of my best friends just got married. I have a nephew due to be born in September. All around me there is joy and life, while inside of me is the empty casket that held the death of my second child only a few months ago.

It’s no accident that “rejoice with those who rejoice” is right next to “weep with those who weep,” smack dab in the same exact verse of scripture (Romans 12:15). These two things often happen simultaneously in our communities and in Christian community, we are called to enter into both of them together. Even when they are happening at the same time.

The Greek word for “rejoice” in this passage means to be exceedingly glad; the Greek word for “weep” used here literally means to mourn for the dead; to enter into the pain that is associated with grief.

And that is exactly where I am finding myself.

It’s not an easy thing. Seeing women who are pregnant is a very stark visual reminder of my son’s death. But it is also a stark visual of life and joy.

As crazy as it sounds, rejoicing and weeping are meant to be together. I shouldn’t be afraid of the tears that threaten to fall when I see the joy of a healthy child growing, because those tears show the value of my son’s life. And those who are in the season of rejoicing shouldn’t be afraid of my tears either. The tears don’t mean anything about them personally. And they don’t mean anything about me personally. They mean that death was never supposed to be a part of the equation and people are not designed to handle the sting of it. They mean that the person who was lost was invaluable and there is now a hole in the world and our lives because of his absence.

Nor should I be afraid to smile and rejoice with those who rejoice. Rejoicing does not mean that my son’s loss is forgotten, something that I am very fearful of. If anything, it actually validates the pain of losing him. When we see the picture of joy – what is supposed to be, we are also forced to remember the loss and why it was significant.

When I see a friend who is somewhere around 20 weeks pregnant, I see where Salem should be right now. When I see a mom holding a newborn, I see what Salem is supposed to be this summer. When I am at a wedding, I see what Salem should have the opportunity to experience.

But that is not a bad thing to see. Why do we try to run from pain? Every thing I see that makes me sad and reminds me of Salem, it whispers of his life and significance. It says that he was truly valuable and worth mourning. It says that he was and is deeply loved.

Likewise, those who are in seasons of rejoicing should not be afraid to enter into the mourning of those around them. It doesn’t subtract from their joy, but should actually add to it.

Mourning is made validated when you are reminded of what is actually lost. And rejoicing is made richer when you realize what you have, that could be lost.

This is the sacred dance that we are called into as Christians. Yes, it is painful. But running from the pain is only hurting us more.

If we just indulge in our rejoicing without willingness to weep with those who are mourning, then we aren’t going to experience our rejoicing in as rich of a way as we could. And if we pull away in our mourning without willingness to rejoice with those who are rejoicing, then we will just become bitter and resentful.

I’ve been the one who is in a season of rejoicing before while other friends were mourning. Now it’s my turn to be on the other end of Roman’s 12:15, only to realize that I should have been there (with others who are there) all along. Here is something I’ve learned:

It’s a great disservice to those of us who are mourning when we are treated like we should just get over it and move on, or we are encouraged to find some sort of “good” purpose in all of this. It is an impediment to us being able to enter fully into community and rejoice with those who rejoice when people expect us to be the hero of our own story; to pull ourselves up, move on, and be inspirational with “all of the ways God is working through this!” It makes those of us who are mourning feel like our pain isn’t validated, our loss isn’t significant, and that the life of the one lost wasn’t valuable. Yes, God can and will work good things, even out of tragedies. But my sanctification is certainly NOT more valuable than Salem’s life. How are we supposed to rejoice with others if those things are true?

There are many days when I don’t want to see a single person, other than my family. I don’t want to mourn by myself, but I also don’t want to mourn inwardly while everything else around me seems normal and happy. I am sometimes afraid to talk about anything good that God is doing in my life, for fear that people will grasp onto it as a reason for my son’s death – as if any of it is more valuable then he was.

But when those who are rejoicing are also willing to mourn with us and validate our loss? Oh, it is such a beautiful gift. In the same way that it is a beautiful gift to those who rejoice, when one who is mourning also rejoices with them.

I was surprised by what a gift it was for me to rejoice with two friends this week who are expecting their first child. The reason that it was such a gift was not because it erased my pain; no, in some ways it made my pain more prevalent, brought it front and center. But it was the way that these two incredible women mourned with me while I rejoiced with them. With compassion on their faces and listening ears, they ministered to me by mourning with me even though they are in a time of rejoicing. And hopefully I was able to minister to them by being excited with them and listening to the ways they are changing and things they are contemplating during their pregnancies. To be able to talk about falling into a pile of unfolded laundry in tears of pain over my son in the same conversation as talking about their birthing plans and pregnancy cravings was a rare and beautiful thing.

My situation may bring tears into their smiles, and theirs smiles into my tears; but that is true friendship. That is life in rich community. That is rejoicing with those who rejoice and mourning with those who mourn.

A few weeks ago at my friend’s wedding, I was standing at the back of the room when another friend from our church walked up to me. She is also in a season of loss. Without hesitation, we wrapped our arms around each other. And we wept. We held each other for a long time, and then we turned together and looked at all of our friends – laughing and dancing. And we smiled.

“Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.” –Romans 12:15

KM.

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“My Son is Gone” – My Husband’s Processing of our Loss

Recently, my husband wrote about our miscarriage.  I hope that this will be helpful for men who are also processing such a devastating loss.

Here is what he wrote (you can visit his new blog here):

My Son is Gone

(I wrote this February 25th but it has been hard to muster up the energy to revisit and edit it which is why I am only posting it today)

I am not sure how to go back and adequately explain how I felt 53 days ago when we found out that our second child – our little son Salem – had been miscarried.

Miscarried…I hate that word.  I hate what it means, what it represents, but even just how cold and how devoid of emotion it is.  The prefix “mis” is something we use to characterize small problems or something that was incorrect or wrong.

Mistake. Mistrust. Misuse. Misunderstanding. Misfortune.

There is nothing small about losing a child.  There was nothing wrong with him.  It wasn’t just some small error to be cataloged and anesthetized by medical terminology.  My son is gone.  He is dead.  I never got to meet him or hold him or play with him.

It seems like just one more way our society has found to treat miscarriage as if it is somehow less than death, less than losing a loved one.  There are those who would treat not getting a hoped-for job as more significant than miscarriage – losing a kid.  I don’t understand our world.

We found out we were pregnant right before Thanksgiving and our Thanksgivings (with both our families) were full of joy in letting our families know about this little life we had hoped for and dreamed of – a time to celebrate and imagine what he or she would be like.  A time of joy and hope.

When I got back on campus, I avoided answering any questions about my Christmas and winter break – each of those memories is too intertwined with joyful, excited dreams about our new kid…dreams that are now just pain and sadness.  I don’t want to remember what that felt like; I am not strong enough to confront the tidal wave of disappointment that threatens to newly pull me under with each remembrance.

It was Monday, December 30, my wife’s birthday, when we didn’t hear the heartbeat.  Don’t worry, we were told, it is probably too early; it doesn’t have to mean anything.  But it did mean something.  We had planned her birthday around hearing the heartbeat, going out to lunch or coffee to celebrate, spend the day delighting in this new life, and then going out to a fancy dinner.  Instead I spent most of the day trying to calm her nerves and assuage her worst fears.  “It’s too early to know.”  “If we hadn’t tried to hear the heartbeat, we wouldn’t have any concerns.”  “We can trust and believe that everything is ok.”

I was wrong.

It feels wise and helpful to preach patience and caution.  But fear is not patient and does not proceed with caution when flooding your reason, emotions, and intuition with panic.

Wait, we were told, in a few weeks have an ultrasound and you’ll know more clearly.  But we couldn’t wait.  We knew of too many others who had suffered the terrible and tragic loss of miscarriage and waiting weeks sounded too hard and so my wife scheduled a much earlier ultrasound for that Friday.

Again I tried to help her stay calm and try to trust the Lord.  But somehow between Monday, when I was the calm one, and Wednesday my misgivings had become complete terror.  My tiny little kid was in danger.  His or her life was being threatened (or had already been destroyed).  I am the dad.  I am supposed to protect my family – at the cost of my own life if need be.   I would do anything to protect my wife or our two year old…but how in the world could I protect this child?  I felt helpless.  I also felt clueless – my wife could get inclinations and gut feelings about the health of our baby based on how her body was feeling but I was completely dependent upon her intuition and medical science to tell me what was happening.

I remember laying on our couch on Wednesday weeping and begging the Lord to spare our child.  But, as it turns out, it was already too late.  He was already gone.

It felt very easy to cling to moralism – my wife and I were good people, we served God, we served others, we weren’t materialistic, we were good parents.  Surely, wedeserved to have a healthy baby.  And if we didn’t, then it wasn’t our goodness that had failed, it was God’s.  How could a good God bring such disaster and tragedy upon such obedient people?

Other times during that interminable week I found myself despairing over my great sin and depravity – I wasn’t a good person, I was selfish and lazy and self-centered and uncaring and judgmental.  Maybe if I was a better person than God would not punish me by taking my child away.  If only I had prayed more, then God would have answered those prayers and protected my kid.  If only I had fasted more or served more.  If only…

I knew none of this was true – that my moral depravity did not get the last word; Christ’s perfect righteousness on my behalf did.  I knew that God treated me according to Jesus’ moral purity and would not condemn me/us/my kid because of some inadequacy on my part.  I also knew that God is good and just and loving and wonderful and is redeeming all things and will put an end to death and suffering and tragedy… only He hasn’t yet.  Jesus hasn’t come back.  Bad things still happen.  Awful, horrific, unimaginable suffering still happens.

And I was scared out of my mind.  Some of my fear came from false beliefs that didn’t so much creep in as they kicked the door to my mind wide open and set up shop in the living room.  But some of the fear came from a right understanding that being a Christian absolutely does not mean a perfect, pain free life.  Jesus was our perfect example, the perfect human, had the perfect heart and mind… and His life was one of suffering, betrayal, poverty, loneliness, rejection, abandonment, recrimination, insults, constant demands, torture, horrific pain, and death at the hands of those He came to rescue.  To say that following Him will somehow not include at least a taste of those things is not only unbiblical but completely illogical.

All people on this planet experience pain and suffering to some degree.  Before losing Salem, compared to the rest of the planet, I had an unbelievably easy life.  Yes there was pain.  Yes there was true hardship and conflict.  But I had it good.

Not anymore.

I don’t know if there is any sense or wisdom or fairness in trying to rank who has suffered more – as if we can compare the levels of horror found in rape, murder, losing a loved one, abuse, being trafficked, starvation, terminal illness, etc.

I think our world would say that miscarriage is among the least of those.  After all, you never met the baby so you don’t know what you missed.  Plus, you can always have more kids right?  As if those future kids can replace the one lost.  As if it is somehow a guarantee that you can have more kids.  No one would say that if we lost our two year old.

It also seems like such a disgracefully individualistic way to view death – as if all that matters is how it affects me.  As if my son’s loss is meaningless.  As if he didn’t lose the chance to live and learn and grow and play outside and read books and fall in love.  He lost his whole earthly life.  Imagine if your entire life was erased and you never were born – that’s what he/we lost.

I am not saying I have suffered as much as anyone else.  I’m just saying once you are afflicted with admission into this horrible club, it doesn’t really matter who has it worse.  It’s all awful.

At one point during my praying and sobbing Wednesday morning, I recalled the story of Hannah and Samuel (1 Samuel 1).  Hannah was barren and desperate for a child and vowed that, if God gave her a son, she would dedicate him to the Lord’s service.

This story isn’t recorded in the Bible to give us some formula for negotiating with God; it’s simply a record of what happened.  And so I don’t know if this was my mind grasping for something or if it was the Lord speaking to me but I wondered if God was asking the same of me.  I got the sense that our kid would be called into some sort of dangerous (it very clearly felt dangerous) service to the Lord.  Through tears and with a lot of fear (I wish I could say faith), I told the Lord that – if this was really from Him – He could have our kid if only he’d/she’d be ok.  I got the sense that this could be significant for God’s Kingdom.

Losing Salem, finding out that he was long gone before I ever prayed that to the Lord, has made me wonder if it was real in the first place.  Was that really the Lord or just all in my head?  It made me question everything I believed I had heard from the Lord about our unborn child – after all, how can he serve God if he is never born?  It felt cruel at first.  I was mad at God.  I (somehow) didn’t believe that God is cruel even in those moments…but I didn’t understand.

I still don’t know if it was God but now I have a different sense.  The things I felt like God revealed to me about our kid – mostly small little feelings, a sense, a hope, that kind of stuff – I am thankful for them.  They are all I have of Salem.  I didn’t carry him in my body (which has strangely been one of the hardest parts because it means I have no physical experience of him).  I have no memories of him.  I don’t know what he looked like.  What I have are these strange, intuitive experiences of him (parents – I think that will make sense to you; if you aren’t a parent, I don’t really know how to explain the sense of connection parents can – but don’t always – have to an unborn child.  These “experiences” for lack of a better word were definitely stronger for Salem than for Riley so who knows how valid they are but I definitely don’t believe they are completely without meaning).

If that connection to Hannah and Samuel’s story was actually real and from God – again, I may never know – then maybe the Lord, knowing that Salem was already gone, graciously and mercifully was trying to tell me that Salem’s life (cut so short though it was) served a purpose on this earth.

No amount of purpose or meaning will ever validate his death.  Nothing will ever make me say, oh it was awful and tragic but now it’s all worth it because of x, y, and z…. Never.  To do so would be to diminish his loss; to act like we can place a value on a human life.  So I am not saying that at all.

What I am saying is – given that he had died, given that we had lost him, believing that there might be some good that comes out of that has nothing to do with balancing the scales (impossible – I would take my son over any amount of good that comes to us or others through his death… call that selfish if you want, it’s honest).  But I believe that God brings meaning into meaningless tragedy, that He can grant to a little baby, lost far too soon, a life of impact that far outlasts his scant few weeks in the womb.

 

I left that couch on Wednesday not sure whether to have hope or despair.  But I was not prepared for Friday.

I think I was in shock when the ultrasound tech (without an empathy whatsoever) told us.  I know I was in shock until we got into the car and both lost it.  When we got home, I went to the bathroom to wash my face and couldn’t stop crying.  My child was gone.  It was final.  Done.  Whatever bit of hope I had held on to was gone.

The weekend was a blur.  We wept.  We (barely) took care of our kid.  We wept more.  We held each other.  We talked and cried.  We let family and friends know… but we couldn’t really let them know.  We could only share the facts, not the agony.  We (somehow) survived.

The next week, mostly because we were in shock and not thinking straight, I went to a work conference from Tuesday-Saturday in St. Louis.  What was I doing there?  I couldn’t think about my job.  I couldn’t think about campus or students.

One of the greatest gifts of this job is the amazing people I work with – at UNC but also around our region and around the country.  But it was nearly impossible to be around even these great people.  I avoided the ones who didn’t know – if they asked me questions, I was going to lie… there was no way I could open up so raw a wound again and again.  Even though these are colleagues I like and respect, I barely had the energy to ask them questions or even care about their answers.

The people who did know – I wanted them to ask, to acknowledge the crushing reality that was staring me in the face every waking moment.  But I didn’t want them to ask because I didn’t know what to say and I didn’t want to start sobbing in public and have all the people who didn’t know suddenly wonder what was going on and ask.

God bless my friends that week.

I got back home that Saturday night – eight days after we found out.  It has been an exhausting and emotional week for both my wife and I.  Being home wasn’t easier but it was better to be together.

I went to work on Monday.  Why?  I don’t know.  Maybe to feel – in some tiny way –normal?  In control?

That night, this happened.

The following two weeks, as my wife was anemic from blood loss, I shoved the pain down to take care of her and our daughter.  At least one of us had to be physically functional.

It’s now been nearly three months since we found out.  Our baby boy has been lost to us for much longer than we had him.  And I have found that I still have not processed like I need to.

So that’s what this blog is:  an attempt to process; grieve; memorialize; heal.

The most helpful thing anyone has said to me during all of this is that, “If death is really what we think it is… what we say it is, then you should be falling apart.  You should be having a hard time being a good husband, a good wife, a good father, or a good mother.  Your daughter won’t remember this time, but if she did, it is probably good for her to see that you had a hard time caring for her.  Because it shows her that the loss of her sibling is real, and it is painful.  It makes it hard (almost impossible) for life to move on.  Death affects us.  We are not strong enough to handle it.  And if we try to act like we are, we are ignoring what death really is.”

My hope in making this public is that I can help others feel permission to fall apart, to grieve, to hurt, to not just repress and move on, to confront death for what it really is – horrible; tragic; wrong; not just something to power through.

My hope is that in some small way this can be helpful for others – especially fathers – grieving a similarly horrific loss.  If that is you…. I am so, so sorry.