Holidays, Recovery, Tragedy

For the One with the Tough Christmas…

This is a beautiful time of year. Snow starts falling, Christmas trees in every window, and cookies bake in the oven. It’s a time where we all try to focus on the things that truly matter: faith, family, and love. But for many of us, it’s been hard to get this place of “merriment.” For many, this time of year leaves a hole in our hearts and reminds us what we lack.

The photo above is of our home during Christmas in 2015. It was the year I miscarried twins and felt deep sadness, grief, and loss. Many feel this during the Christmas season. I remember talking to a counselor about it even before my miscarriage [you can read about here], when my mom left. I told him how much I dreaded this time of year and how utterly empty I felt. What he said to me still rings true ten years later.

Every Christmas is a just a piece of a sewn quilt, one of a huge tapestry of Christmases that will be in your lifetime. It’s just one.

And I can tell you there is hope. I can now look back on this picture and remember it clearly, but not feel the pain. Now we have a tree up in our home and we have our almost one-year-old son, born a year after and the same day as my D&C for the miscarriage in 2015. We are grateful. Somehow the pain of the “older quilt pieces” the Christmases of the past, hurt much less and are a dim memory.

So if you’re having a hard time this Christmas season, know that it’s just one in many. There will be new ones, new memories to create and the old hurtful stings dissipate over time. Losses never go away, but they do hurt less and less, rolling back like the oceans tide. May you have hope and healing this Christmas season.

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News, Tragedy

Even Texas

As I’m sure you’ve heard, there was a mass shooting in Texas. It was in a Baptist Church, no less, nothing anyone ever wants to think about. It caused me to reminisce about Sunday mornings as a child with my family.

As a little girl going to Sunday service, I never really imagined the idea that some madman or woman could walk into a church and inflict murder. I knew we had a security system but other than that, I always felt relatively safe. It was a place where families gathered and most of my first friendships formed — it was a loving community and safe.

Nearly twenty years later, I don’t have that same feeling. I see the guarded police at the door and the entrance of our house of worship, and I wonder if he’s there for more than just “directing traffic”. I know that they are there for the potential of much more… and I hang my head at the somber reality.

But this morning, after hearing the news of Texas, was eerily different. I stood during the service and had the same fleeting thought I usually have nowadays. What if a killer opens fire in here? What will I do? Drop to the floor? Run to the nursery for Chase? Run with Greg to the exits? I find it so uncanny that this thought plagued my soul this morning, where shortly after many were shot in the south.

After the numbing effects of tragedy after tragedy, I think we have two choices. We can either become obsessed with how horrific this world has gotten and discuss it at length, feeling worse about ourselves and the situation. The second choice is to understand the limits of our own humanity. We are only flesh and blood, sent with a purpose in this life. To become obsessed and bitter doesn’t help us live a fuller life nor does it fulfill our purpose.

The pulsating sound of a bullet, and the image of dropping to the ground should be our every morning thought.

If I die today, can I say I’m at peace? At peace with God, with my family, with myself?  The realization of our finite existence should provoke us to live with the end in mind.

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Faith, News, Tragedy

Terror in NYC — Again.

Terror ripped through Manhattan yesterday –literally– and I’m less than stunned. Terror seems to become more common place these days — a cyclical pattern, similar to the weather. It is the “hurricane season” that never really goes away. And every time it blows it’s howling winds through our country, we all feel a little less of it’s destruction. Regular terrorism is a poison that is it’s own anesthetic.

I’ve watched the television screens before and thought, “Thank God it’s not me.” It’s selfish, but I take a moment to distance myself from the event. Maybe you feel that same. The Boston Marathon bombing, the attacks in Paris, the concert in Las Vegas… “Not me.” I’m still struck with the sadness for those who fell victim, but out of the interest of self-preservation, I’m grateful that my friends and family made it out of “this one.” But yet– there’s still that nagging reality that hits and makes you realize, even you aren’t invincible.

Post-attack, sentiments like “what is this world coming to?” and “wow, how horrible to raise our babies in this?” And I understand those thoughts — I have many times thought the same.

This is when I remember we are on Earth and it is imperfect. As real as good is on the Earth, so is evil. I don’t believe it will ever truly go away, that’s what Heaven is for and our souls long for it. But this Earth is flawed, as is humanity. But the awesome news is that good always wins. Maybe that’s what we need to tell each other.

Good always wins.

We may not see it right now and it may look like all there is in our world is destruction. But evil won’t persist forever. The things that are wrong will be made right. And those who are responsible will have a Judge to decide their fate.

And good always wins.

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overcoming, Struggle, Tragedy

Breaking Out Of Survival Mode

It doesn’t matter what way it presents itself. No money in the bank, medial bills that were unexpected, an unexpected loss, or any combination of them all. We all have those times in life where things seem more like uphill battles than smooth sailing. For me, that started ten years ago, when my mother was overtaken with mental illness and ditched our family. Though I wished I felt further ahead from that event, there’s been a feeling of being in a “survival mode”.

Even though I’d accomplished a lot after she left, a degree, a marriage, and a child, life still got much harder after that. It was harder for my dad financially, my sister emotionally, and me in both ways. That event made it harder for us all to recover from and “bounce back”. It was defining. I do know a little something about what it feels like to have the wind knocked out of you and trying to constantly catch your breath.

But I don’t think we take the time to think about all that we go through in life. I took an inventory of what occurred in the last year and it was a little horrifying… a miscarriage, a job change, a spouse who was in ICU with a heart that stopped, and a complicated delivery. When I took the time to think about what we’d gone through in just a short time I realized just how hard life really can be. And yet–it felt like it was still survival mode. Don’t take time to think and grieve your losses, but just keep moving, keep trudging through the mud.

So what do we do when we feel this internal pressure? When we feel like the noodles in the middle of a pressure cooker that’s been cooking just a little too long? Honestly, I don’t entirely know. But here are some things that I do know that have helped along the way.

  1. First, make a list. I don’t know why but somehow listing things out on paper just makes me feel better and makes life feel more manageable. You can’t possibly conquer everything at once, whether it’s debt, bills, or just a huge to-do list.
  2. Take an inventory of what is going right. So many times when life gets challenging, we take the simple graces of every day for granted, the warm coffee, the sun shining, the helpful friends. Thank them and thank God for those simple pleasures.
  3. Take five… whether it’s a short walk, a moment to read a book, play with your kids… it doesn’t matter what. But it’s hard to keep enduring difficulties if you’re burnt out. You’re your best advocate and asset, so handle with care. YOU matter.
  4. Know it shall pass. When you’re in a hard situation it can give you tunnel vision, like it will NEVER get better, but it will. It might still be challenging for a while, but little by little you’ll dig yourself out and be proud you did.

I can honestly say that over time, I have gained a lot of internal strength from the hardships. It hasn’t always been easy. I used to resent those that I thought I figured didn’t really have a lot of struggles, like they had a simpler ride and I felt that wasn’t fair. But the truth is, no one has it easy, we just all handle it differently.

And there really is no use in getting bitter about what you cannot control. So choose to be happy anyway, make a decision to be grateful for what is going right. You’ll be glad you did.

 

Family, Growth, Self Help, Tragedy

My Life from an Adidas Bag: A Journey to Stability

To most people an Adidas bag isn’t something too special. It’s what you put your sweaty gym clothes in or what you carry around when traveling. This bag did all of that with me, but it’s more than that. This bag has a story.

When my mother’s mental illness began to “peak” around high school, when it was undeniable and in “full force”, staying at home became an impossibility. You didn’t know from minute to minute if she would be nice mom or angry abusive mom; it was probably akin to living with an alcoholic. My sister and I were at the mercy of her manic episodes. Knowing this, I pursued my driver’s license right away and passed on my first try; I knew what would happen if I didn’t, so I was highly motivated. I would take this adidas bag with me and pack my belongings and overnight items in it as well as my backpack for school. Some nights, I’d stay with my friend Katie, sometimes my friend Sara. Other nights, I’d stay with Jim & Sally and their therapy dogs. I became somewhat of a gypsy, a product of what I’d grown up trying to escape.

The experience that lasted from about age 17 to 21, created an adulthood and an independence in me at a very tender age. From age 12 and on, I always had at least one job. When I started to live with extended family and friends, I usually had at least two jobs. I’d go to school during the day, and then work as a waitress from about 4 to 12 PM, and on weekends, I worked filing at a dental office. I learned the value of work, and work took my mind off what I knew I couldn’t change. I grew up in those years, more than I wish I had. I sometimes regret not being able to go to sporting events with friends, and to not have my mind wonder. I regret not being able to know what it means to “just have fun”, “just be a teenager”. It was hard to relate to my peers, hard to become friends because I felt the need to be so serious, so stoic, so invincible. Truth is, I wasn’t. The truth is, there were days I had such a hard time and I wanted to give up. But I kept putting one foot in front of the other, day by day. Eventually, years later…life started to become a little easier, my past a little less painful, and my future, a little more bright.

When I look back on this bag, it shows me the importance of stability in someone’s life. It’s hard to save money, to do well in school, to stay on the straight and narrow, and to have meaningful relationships, when you feel you have so much to fear, so much to constantly worry about. I was in a constant state of “looking over my shoulder”, listening to the garage door for my mother to come home, and just dreading what would happen next. What a gift it is now, to sit on my couch, to just “be” and to not worry about walking on eggshells. To have the freedom, the luxury, to let your guard down, to simply relax in your cup of coffee, or sit down and read with a good book, it’s such a gift to me now – I’ll never take it for granted. Eating family meals, going to get-togethers, I remember a time when that was so hard for me to do, but now, I fully savor it. But I never forget those days of struggle, they’re a part of me. Now, I have such an appreciation for those constants in life, the stability of friends and family. Slowly, those earlier years, are fading and being replaced with newer and kinder memories, all a part of a greater tapestry that is my life.

Family, Growth, Loss, overcoming, Tragedy

To the Daughters who lost a Mother

It took about nine years before this holiday didn’t make me fight back tears or run to the bathroom to vomit. I remember seeing all the girls at lunch dressed up in matching mother-daughter dresses or on their way to a special outing. Honestly, it disgusted me–I have to admit. Why did they get to experience all that love and admiration from their moms and I didn’t? I was left with a gaping hole in my heart, one that I thought would never quite be whole again. When would that not hurt?

Maybe I could accept it more if I had lost my mother in the traditional sense–she had passed away. But no, mine had simply been carried away, far away, by the demons of her past- from her mental illness. She tried to fight them off, she tried to love and be the best in public, to appear “normal” but she never really could pull that off. Until one day I’d started in high school, woke up, and she was gone. No address, no way of knowing. She’d threatened to leave, to not come back. We assumed it was just another manic illness episode. But no, it really happened. And after that day, I never saw her again.

The next day I went to school, holding back the sobs that so desperately wanted to come out, and played my clarinet in first period next to my best friends, Katie and Sara. They could tell something was wrong, but didn’t push. I somehow made it through that day and the next 3,285 days following, to today. I went home a few months later, pulled her old comforter over my head, smelling the perfume that still lingered from her, and softly cried and mourned her loss. I choked down my tears and I asked myself, why she didn’t want my sister and me? Why she couldn’t love us? Why she couldn’t have stayed and gotten better? But she just couldn’t. She loved us and did what she could to the extent that she was able, and I simply couldn’t ask for anything more.

See a lot of us, who have lost their mother to illness in some way or in a traditional loss, we always seem to feel a little out of place in certain circumstances. And our friend’s mothers try to help, try to welcome us into their fold, but it’ll never quite be the same. Even a mother penguin only recognizes the sound of her own chick. She’ll reject the others because she knows the sound of her chirp. Your mother, she will never love another quite like she loves you. The way she gingerly folds your hair behind your ear, or brags to others about your accomplishments, no matter the size, or the way she tells people about the day you were born. That is so unique, so one of a kind, and she’ll only feel that way about you. My friend’s mothers tried their best to welcome me in, and for their kindness and love, I’m forever grateful. They tried to help make me feel like one of their own, but that love is custom made and it simply can’t be the same. So if you are out there, and your mother is around and can love you with that capacity, don’t fight it, be annoyed–it’s a gift that can easily be gone tomorrow.

I thought about hope, and what I can offer, what got me to a point of acceptance and health. I know a lot of people say, you’re stronger for the tragedies in life and I’d disagree. I didn’t feel stronger over time. But with distance and perspective, I became whole. 

My mother was a fantastic cook. She could make a dinner party come alive. Her hugs were one of a kind just like her meatballs. Her intelligence was superior and her paintings, beautiful. I have learned to somehow love the parts of mom that were good, and to focus on her memory in that way.

I don’t know where she went that day, nine years ago. I don’t know where she lives, what she’s doing. There never was a sense of closure. People asked me if I knew, and that just made me angrier.

But try to not remember the illness, the rejection and pain. And over time, my healing came. Somehow in the midst of that pain, God surprises you with a collection of people that add so much color and vibrancy to your life–that somehow you become more of youimagesrself again, more whole. They can never replace, but with each smile, relationship, and caring moment, they bring a little bit of healing and restoration back into your life. You begin to see yourself as a ship in the ocean that slowly moves away from a wreck and closer to a divine sunset.

 

So to the daughters who have experienced loss, I understand–wholeheartedly, I get it. But it will get better, you will breathe again and it will be okay. And if you feel angry toward her, remember, no matter what mistakes she’s made–she gave you life. And that is a gift that is superior to any pain she’s caused you. You are her gift to the world, the best part of her. To those that have their mother, love her for everything she is and isn’t, treasure her. Realize that the bond and the way she looks at you, it’s one of a kind, and not replaceable. Because one day you might wake up–and find just how much you miss her.

Family, overcoming, Tragedy

My Silent Miscarriage

I knew it. The night before I took the test, I just felt like I knew I was pregnant. This wasn’t unplanned, my husband and I had decided to start a family, the timing “felt” as right as it ever would. I felt a whole mix of emotions: joy, excitement and a little bit of a healthy panic. I’d been taking my prenatal like I was supposed to and eating well.

Typically, twelve weeks is customary before sharing the “big news” with the family. But when we had our first ultrasound and saw the heart beating that, “tha-thud”, “tha-thud”. I held my breath as the ultrasound tech showed us the baby moving and the heart beat, going so consistently, so miraculously. We knew we were out of the woods for a miscarriage–or so we thought.

I’d sent out the Christmas cards to the family and friends, letting them know that baby Bennett was on the way. And that was true–until I went for another ultrasound the next week. This time I was alone, and the tech had a very blank stare on her face–stoic. Last time, I had remembered there was a lot more fanfare, she showed us the monitor screen. This week, there was nothing.

“You can go ahead and get changed, hun. I’ll go grab the doctor for your consult. But stay here,” she ordered kindly but sternly.

I panicked, something was definitely wrong. This couldn’t be right? I mean, she didn’t show me any pictures, didn’t have me hold my breath for the heartbeat, nothing. My palms were sweating and my head raced to the worst case scenario.

After the tech came back she led me to a new patient room and I sat there, waiting. More damn waiting. Why can’t they just tell me what’s going on already? What’s the deal with this?

Eventually, after what seemed like an eternity but was really maybe five minutes, my doctor entered the room with a female student in training.

She looked at me with the saddest blue eyes, full of compassion and said, “I’m sorry, Christina. But unfortunately, this is a miscarriage. I’m so sorry to have to tell you this, you did nothing wrong, but sadly, this does happen.”

I felt like the wind was knocked out of me.

“So what does this mean? There’s nothing that can be done?” My mind raced to denial, I couldn’t take in the words she was saying, not yet.

“It looks like there wasn’t enough growth from last week, and the heartbeat can’t be found. It also looks like there were twins. I’m not sure how we missed that last time, but we did.”

Okay, so you missed that from last week and now you tell me my kids are dead? I couldn’t grasp all this news, not now and not at once.

Trying to be calm and methodical I asked with tears in my throat, “So what do I do now?”

“Well we could give you some pills to take home and that will release the in-viable pregnancy, you could wait to miscarry naturally or get a D&C procedure. Or for peace of mind, we could do another ultrasound next week, and then you can decide.”

I chose the latter.

She asked, “Is there anything I can do for you?”

I nodded no, really fighting the tears at that point.

“Can I give you a hug?” She asked softly.

I nodded, yes, as words just weren’t coming from my mouth.

As she hugged me, sitting there on that patient table in the doctor’s office, my tears came, came hard and unapologetically. Whatever dam I had been able to create to keep them back, had broken. She eventually stepped back and said she’d give me some time to sit and then check out with the receptionist. I did.

When I left, it felt like lead blocks had replaced my shoes. Every step felt like a mile, every moment felt like eternity. I cried, I made phone calls, I prayed. But nothing really brought me comfort. Nothing but time and that second ultrasound could bring a true sense of peace that I so desperately wanted, hoped for, begged for.

Those next few days before that second ultra sound felt like a lifetime. I didn’t sleep, didn’t eat, didn’t really know how to act. I cried until I had nothing left in my tear ducts. Why was God taking away my child? As much as my faith meant to me, at that moment, I yelled, I cried, and I defied. What use was God if He being all powerful, couldn’t stop this? And reader, I’d like to say that I know why, that I have the answers, but I don’t.

I went to that second ultrasound, and the news was the same, but this time, I felt calmer, more relaxed. I had a new sense of hope that the things God promises, will come to pass but it may not be when we think it will be. But somehow, He gave me the grace and the ability to keep going when I felt hopeless, devastated. It’s amazing how much love you can have in your heart over a person you’ve never met. But I did, and I don’t regret that. Someday when I’m before the pearl door of heaven, I’ll see them. But for now, they’re truly little angels, in God’s hands.