Monday, March 20, 2017

Why I'm Choosing Joy

 Five weeks ago I returned from a whirlwind weekend of airplane travel and little sleep.  I arrived home filled with exhaustion, nausea, and vertigo.  After some sleep and a few days home I expected it to subside.  When it didn’t I began investigating other causes and discovered I was pregnant.  This was a bit unexpected since we’d chosen to take a break after three heartbreaking losses.  However, while carrying another child isn’t without trepidation, I’ve decided to choose joy throughout this pregnancy. 

Choosing joy isn’t easy.  I fight fear each time I use the bathroom, concerned I might find blood signaling the end of the little life inside of me.  I fight fear whenever I feel a twinge in my abdomen or whenever I mistake indigestion for cramps.  I fight fear daily which is why choosing joy is so important in the weeks leading up to my due date. 

When we feed ourselves with positive thoughts fear has a harder time invading our lives.  I spent twenty years living a life of fear, scared of every little thing.  Most of the time, I wasn’t really living.  In the last five years, I’ve stepped out of my comfort zone, kicked fear to the curb, and decided to live instead of watching life pass me by.  So even in a difficult situation I have to look for joy or I’ll never have peace.

As I’ve shared the news with friends and family most people have responded positively and with promises of prayers.  They’ve taken the time to see how I’m doing with it emotionally, making sure I’m doing okay.  They’ve taken the time to embrace joy with me.  If you encounter someone experiencing pregnancy after loss, choose joy with them.  The few who have responded with no joy and a large dose of negativity cut me deeply. 

When a woman becomes pregnant, more often than not she begins dreaming of her child and its future.  The few who have responded with no joy, a large dose of negativity, and phrases like, “Wait to see what happens” or “Don’t get your hopes up” are asking me to not only spend time in a fearful and negative place but they’re also robbing this child of my hopes and dreams for them.  Why does this child not deserve its mother’s hopes and dreams?  Because there’s a chance it won’t live?

Franchesca Cox is author of Celebrating Pregnancy Again, a woman who went through a pregnancy after loss.  She writes, “I deserve this.  It is OK to dream.  It is OK to hope.  Pregnancy can and will be beautiful—for as many days as that may be.”

Will this pregnancy make it to October or end in grief?  I do not know.  I do know that at this moment in time there is a child growing inside of me.  Just like with my other four children, I will continue to hope, dream, and pray for the positive rather than dwelling on the possible negative.  This baby’s pregnancy is beautiful—for as many days as that may be.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Disowning Jesus

In the book of Exodus when the Israelites are fleeing the Egyptians, they begin to fear for their lives and become upset with Moses for taking them away from their life of slavery into what appears to be certain death.  This is just before God parts the Red Sea, allowing the Israelites to escape and the Egyptians to die instead.  Moses has to remind them just Who is fighting on their side.

Moses answered the people, “Do not be afraid.  Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today.  The Egyptians you see today you will never see again.  The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.”
                                                                                                ~Exodus 14:13-14~

This was not the first time God had provided miracles for the Israelites and He has performed countless miracles since His people wandered in the desert.  Over and over throughout Scripture, people seem to be on the brink of death or disaster and the Lord comes through and provides.  Over and over in my own life, He has continued to show up and provide miracles.

But I find myself like Peter and the rest of the disciples.  These twelve men were Jesus’ closest friends.  Yet it says in Matthew 26 that Peter disowned Jesus three times as the Lord foretold.

Then Peter remembered the word Jesus had spoken: “Before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times.”  And he went outside and wept bitterly.
                                                                                                ~Matthew 26:75~

And when Jesus was arrested, ALL the disciples deserted Him.

…Then all the disciples deserted him and fled.
                                                                                                ~Matthew 26:56b~

In the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus confided to these men He loved that He was “overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.”  He asked Peter, James, and John to keep watch with Him in His despair.  Yet they fell asleep.

“Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation.  The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.”
                                                                                                ~Matthew 26:41~

How often do I disown Jesus through my actions?  How often do I fall asleep and fall into temptation when I should be watching and praying instead?  Do I desert Jesus?  I’m sure I have on multiple occasions.  But the beauty of Jesus’ love for us is that no matter how often we disown Him, flee from Him, fall asleep on Him, He still stands up for us, marches up to the cross, stretches out His arms, and dies for us.  That is amazing grace.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

The Season I Come Alive

This is the time of year I come alive.  I’ve just emerged from a long summer’s hibernation with my fans, misting spray bottle, and window air conditioner to be greeted by my favorite time of year:  fall.

In September temperatures fall.  God’s majesty shows throughout the Pacific Northwest in glorious displays of autumn colors.  Everything pumpkin spice shows up along with soup season!  I love a good soup! 

Football season starts, bringing both the fun of watching the games on TV and the friendly (or not-so-friendly) competition between the Oregon Ducks and Oregon State Beavers.  

Mt. Angel Oktoberfest takes place with the sounds, sights, and smells of my childhood tantalizing my senses for four wonderful days.

Things take a more academic tone as students head back to school and relaxed summer schedules happily turn into rhythms and routines.

Stores begin to hint (or scream) toward the holidays, just around the corner, while my planning notebook turns to scheduling family events and creating budgets for my favorite people’s wish lists along with special ideas for celebrating my anniversary.

After more than six months, community-wide bible studies commence, bringing in-depth study of the Word, fellowship with groups of amazing women, and a feeling that I’m right where God has called me to be.

And so I awaken, much more quickly than a grizzly bear, as I anticipate all the amazing things God does in this season that seems to represent both change and consistency simultaneously.  As I observe and join in my favorite four months of the year I see God more clearly, realizing that fall is the perfect representation of the dance of life between God and I:  He is the epitome of a perfect dancer with flawless steps and I begin the dance by stepping on His shoes.  The longer we dance, the more I change and grow closer to Him

He and I are autumn…consistency and change…as I dance into my favorite season of the year.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Just Me & My Swimsuit

Today I took my daughter to a birthday party for one of her friends.  Little Miss was so very excited to go because this party was a pool party.  Rented pool, lots of people I know…and me in my swimsuit.

My swimsuit isn’t immodest; it has black legging shorts and a purple patterned top.  No midriff.  No upper thighs.  And I wear a pair of old green regular shorts over top of all that.  Just me in my swimsuit.

Kaley Cuoco on Instagram

There were about thirty kids in the water.  Maybe ten moms on the sidelines.  One dad in the pool with a preschooler.  And me in my swimsuit.

Yesterday I was telling my husband I was considering not swimming.  My daughter insisted.  And I didn’t have a good reason.  The group was nowhere near the cap on people in the pool.  My daughter isn’t the best swimmer yet.  No excuses.  Just me in my swimsuit.

So I packed my swim bag.  Flip flops.  Beach towel.  Green ratty shorts.  And me in my swimsuit.

At the pool I hesitated.  When I realized most adults weren’t even getting in the water, I really did not want to.  I wanted to sit and make chit chat with moms.  I wanted to sit on the sidelines like all the other moms.  I wanted to keep my clothes ON and not bare my arms/shoulders/chest/back.  But I slowly started changing my clothes, keeping the most of myself covered up.  There I was…me in my swimsuit.

I led my daughter through the locker room, showered, and opened the door.  I was standing on the pool deck…just me in my swimsuit.

I could have disappointed my daughter.  I could have made the choice and just said no to my daughter.  But I knew that was wrong.  I’d be teaching my daughter all the wrong things.  Giving up.  Hiding from the world.  Being ashamed of your body.  Fear over fun.  Letting others dictate what you enjoy.  So I waded into the pool…me in my swimsuit.

I love swimming.  The smell of chlorine hitting my nose as I felt the water around me was a euphoric experience for me.  As I played with my daughter the water mostly covered me to my shoulders anyway.  I could have missed that if I’d listened to the fear and insecurity telling me to cover myself up.  So there I was…more than 200 pounds overweight, playing with my daughter in the water…

just me in my swimsuit.

Just Me! 
(Not in my swimsuit...I was in the water, I couldn't take a picture!)

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Because I Know...

I’ve always felt sad when the news would pass my ears of a child dying through illness, accident, miscarriage, stillbirth, etc.  It’s the feeling you have when you see a story on the five o’clock news of someone dying prematurely.  But it was just a fleeting sadness.  If it was a friend or acquaintance I might send a card or a meal, give a hug, check in with them for a week or two.

Recently a person I’ve never met that I don’t really know posted that his daughter died at 97 days old from Trisotomy 18.  I instantly teared up.  Thinking about it, tears are welling up in my eyes.  Because I know.  I know what it feels like to have part of your heart ripped from your chest.  I know what it’s like to have a piece of you taken away until Heaven.  I’ve cried those tears and mourned that loss.  I know.

When my baby girl died last December, the most comforting person was my grandma.  She lost a child two and a half years before I was born.  So when my baby died, she knew.  She cherished the photos from the hospital and the hand and footprints.  She gave me a special ornament for my tree that year.  

More than any family member, she checked in with me.  Most family wouldn’t even speak to me about my baby after we buried her or the two that followed.  She knows better.  She’s cried those tears, mourned that loss, walked that road for 33 years before I started walking it.

On Memorial Day weekend I was at my mom and dad’s where we had buried our baby girl.  I took a small flower I’d purchased to place on her grave for both Memorial Day and because it was almost her due date.  There was already a flower decorating Faith’s grave.  I knew instantly from the arrangement and type of flowers it was from my grandma.  Six months later, she remembered.

She heard about donating wedding dresses to organizations that make dresses for stillborn babies.  Not only did she want to donate her 50+ year old dress, she wanted to share it with me and honor Faith in that way.

Grandma was the most supportive family member I encountered.  Because she knows.

I share my losses, my grief, and my journey to healing to help others who find themselves in my situation.  When I hear about the loss of a child, I do all I can for them.  Most importantly, I honor their loss and recognize that their child existed.  Because I know.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

When The Answer To Prayer Is No

I have been enjoying Priscilla Shirer's Armor of God study; my group is on week 5.  I'm showing War Room at our church on Saturday afternoon because it's a great movie on the power of prayer.  I've taken a trifold posterboard and turned it into my own personal War Board (my house is too small for a prayer closet or something like that.)

But I think when we talk about the power of prayer we forget that sometimes we send up a petition and the answer is no.  God isn't trying to punish us, although it feels like it.  Today I want to talk about what I learned when God said no to my most heartfelt prayer.

On December 13, 2014 at 2 o’clock in the morning, 15 weeks 1 day into my pregnancy my water broke.  Ultrasounds revealed a heartbeat and less than 5% chance of survival. I went into prayer mode.  Family was praying.  Our church was praying.  Other friends were praying.  About 500 members of my Facebook group were praying.  Close to 1,000 people were praying for a miracle for my baby. 

I prayed and was prayed over for 9 days.  Then, December 22, 2014 at 3:50 pm, 16 weeks 3 days pregnant I lost my baby girl.  We went home from the hospital and spent the next few days going through the motions of Christmas for the sake of our oldest.  The next Sunday we buried our child on the hill at my parents’ property.

God didn’t answer my prayer.  He didn’t answer the prayer of almost 1,000 people.  Nine days of praying and believing for a miracle.  He didn’t answer, at least not in the way I’d been asking.  Instead of healing my baby, God allowed my baby to die.  His answer to my prayer request was no.

I’d made it through the death.  I’d made it through Christmas.  I’d made it through the burial.  I was looking at a new year completely lost and unsure of where to go, what to do, how to move forward with my life.  I didn’t know anything.  All I knew how to do was to pray.

I told God I couldn’t do this.  I had no idea what to do.  I said, “God, You have to tell me what to do.  I can’t do this.  You have to tell me what to do because I have no clue how to keep going.”

And God answered my prayer by giving me four instructions, asking me to have an active faith, as Priscilla puts it.  He told me to go outside and walk every day.  He told me to ask our associate pastor, Nicole, if she needed help with the women’s Bible study.  He told me to keep going to the Sunday night class I was taking.  He told me I could take one month off from the Toddler room where I was a regular volunteer, one month and no more.  

He told me to do all these things and I knew it loud and clear.  I wanted to curl up in a ball and cry all day long.  I wanted to be mad at Him and stop believing in Him.  But I knew better.  I knew that I would either curl up and die inside my grief or I would follow His directions and find healing.

I went outside and walked and in a few months I’d walked over 100 miles.  I walked and then I started writing about walking and people started telling me they were being inspired by my walking.  So I kept walking and I kept writing about it.

I asked Nicole if she needed help with the women’s Bible study.  She was overbooked and overextended and I stepped in and learned how to lead a Bible study.  I was terrified to get up in front of the group and lead but I did it anyway.  This is the third study I’ve led and the first study where I wasn't scared to get up in front of the group and lead.

I kept going to my Sunday night class and through reading, class discussions, prayer from others, and a more positive devotional time I discovered a deeper faith than I’d even known existed.  In my study I started writing a devotional for women who’ve experienced baby loss.

I went back to the Toddler room and worked with the children in there.  I was eventually moved to the Preschool room and then I was given a job with the church as the preschool room coordinator.  After searching for a decent curriculum for the class, I’m now working on writing a preschool level curriculum for Sunday school that’s affordable for most churches.
God told me no to the most heartfelt, pleading, intense prayer I’ve ever had.

I’m not the only one whose prayer request was given a no.  In the book of Genesis, Joseph suffers at the hand of his brothers.  But in the end he was able to say “Don’t be afraid.  Am I in the place of God?  You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.”

In Mark 14:36, Jesus prayed, “Abba, Father, everything is possible for you.  Take this cup from me.  Yet not what I will, but what you will.”

Even Jesus, knowing that He was sent to save mankind, asked God to take the cup from Him.  God told Him no and through Jesus’ death and resurrection we are given a place in Heaven.

I'm not saying we're going to achieve what Jesus did.  But if we will do what God has asked us to do despite what He's allowed to happen to us, we can see amazing things happen.

Recently God spoke to my heart.  He said, "Baby girl, I love you.  I wanted to answer your prayer and I know your heart will grieve for your baby girl until you get to Heaven.  If I didn't need you to go through this more than I needed her on earth, I would've answered your prayer.  What I'm doing through this is so important I need you to walk through this.  But I will never leave your side as you walk this road.  When it's too hard for you to walk I will carry you.  I only intend this for good.  Just stick with it and there will be fruit."

When God says no to one prayer, don’t quit asking Him for help and guidance.  His no is intended for good…for the saving of many lives.  I will hold my baby girl in my arms again.  But if she hadn’t died I wouldn’t have asked God to tell me what to do.  I wouldn’t have been listening when He walked me down the path He created for me.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

I Saw The Shadow on Groundhog Day

I’ve been walking again.  It’s not daily and I’m only walking half a mile.  Takes me less than fifteen minutes in the morning.  Later in the day when my daycare kids are all happy and fed, I might pop them in the wagon and do the walk again.

This morning after reading my devotions I started to get ready to walk and I felt a bit nauseated.  Yesterday when I started to get ready to clean my house I felt so lightheaded that not even sitting made it subside; I had to curl up and close my eyes to make it go away.  I lost more than two hours of my day fighting the lightheadedness.  Thursday night, I had a nasty stomach bug that kept me on the couch all day Friday with fever and achiness.

So this morning as I got ready to walk I started to feel frustrated.  Then I used what I’d been reading about (The Belt of Truth) and I looked at the truth. 

The truth was that there wasn’t anything in my stomach to make me nauseous except a little bit of water.  The feeling likely came from me starting to get hungry and it wasn’t anything I needed to skip a walk for.

It was then that I saw the shadow.  I know the groundhog didn’t this morning but I sure did.  Fortunately, the shadow I saw can’t hold a candle to the God I serve.  The shadow I saw was satan, trying to take me from the path that God has set before me, one where I invest in relationship, invest in my health, and invest in God.  Satan doesn’t like this new kick I’m on where relationship, my health, and my God are my priorities.  Because I’m doing what God wants.

I saw the shadow.  When I measured it against the truth, against the light, I realized that this shadow is tiny, scrawny, and kind of rodent-like, similar to that annoying groundhog.  And I decided to walk.  I pulled on my coat and headed out the door to see what God had for me in the big, bright world.  Once I stepped outside the cold air relieved that nauseous feeling almost keeping me home and I found messages from God as my senses came alive.

I saw my new neighbors, just moved in over the last week, said good morning, and made a mental note to bring them some baking.

I smelled someone’s wood fire and remembered to work on planning that camping trip in early September.

I heard vehicles being started, doors opening and closing, children walking to school, people saying farewell for the day.

As I walked, I was able to observe the daily ritual of the world waking up.  I turned the third corner on my walk and saw light…the sun wasn’t up just yet but between the top of the mountains in the east and the clouds above I could see the light from the sun, waking up and starting a new day.

I walked past the house of the lady who sits on her front porch, smokes, and greets my daughter and I joyfully anytime we walk past and missed seeing her this morning.

I walked past the house of the man who has caused so many problems for our family in the six years we’ve lived here and wondered just how I can reach out to him.

Finally, I turned into my long driveway and I noticed that the path that was much darker on the way out was much brighter on the way back in.

I saw the shadow.  I exposed him to the Light and he fled.  Instead I opened myself up to what God had for me and I found a world waiting just outside my front door.