Monday, November 24, 2014

An Attitude of Gratitude

Late last week a friend posted the following on Facebook: Stop and take the time to be thankful in the very moment you are feeling ungrateful.


Sadly, when I read that, I was feeling ungrateful that my day wasn't going as well as I had hoped.  In all honesty, I've always tried to live life this way - but have needed the reminder more often.  So, I was thankful to that friend (even though she had no idea I needed to read that) for sharing that reminder.


I've been using this phrase and replacing the word ungrateful in different circumstances.


Stop and take the time to be thankful in the very moment you are feeling angry.
Stop and take the time to be thankful in the very moment you are feeling depressed.
Stop and take the time to be thankful in the very moment you are feeling impatient.
Stop and take the time to be thankful in the very moment you are feeling sad.
Stop and take the time to be thankful in the very moment you are feeling guilty.
Stop and take the time to be thankful in the very moment you are feeling weak.


The holiday season is approaching and many of my friends are preparing for "firsts" with their new babies.  I would be lying if I told you that the flood of holiday photos with sweet little babies wearing Santa hats and darling dresses didn't make my heart hurt.  I'd be lying if I told you that every time I "liked" one of those photos on Facebook that it was an automatic click of the thumbs up button for me.  Truth be told, I often have to scroll through those statuses/photos a couple of times before I go back and like them.  It's not that I don't actually like them, but envy begins to set in and I have to remind myself that the baby is really cute, the picture is really sweet and it's no one's fault that I don't have a baby of my own to post pictures of.


Stop and take the time to be thankful in the very moment you are feeling jealous.


Gulp.


My husband and I have hosted Thanksgiving for quite awhile now. It has become my favorite holiday and I love having my whole family together.  Growing up, since my parents were divorced, I often had to spend my holidays traveling back and forth - from one side to the next - only getting a short amount of time at each stop.  Between my parents, my grandparents, my step-parent's parents - there were so many people to visit! It truly brings me so much joy to have my whole family under one roof!  It's the only holiday I get this, and I live for those moments.


I love the week preparing for Thanksgiving.  I enjoy doing all the shopping for the meal, preparing the meal, watching holiday movies, starting to listen to Christmas music, getting goodies for the service project we always do and then ending the week trimming the house for Christmas. When I was pregnant I would try and imagine what this holiday season would be like with a baby. 


Would I finally allow people to bring side dishes so that I wouldn't have to do as much?  I was secretly excited for an excuse to sneak up to the nursery to rock the baby to sleep in the midst of the holiday hoopla. I pictured myself sitting in the rocking chair, the door closed but the holiday chatter still loud enough that I could sit back and enjoy the laughter from a silly joke that my grandpa told or hear the roar of the group when someone scored a touchdown. Then, after everyone left and the house was quiet again we'd build a fire, put on some music and watch our little one become mesmerized by the twinkling lights on the Christmas tree.


No, the holidays won't be anything like I imagined it to be this year. Being thankful can take some effort sometimes, can't it?  I've struggled quite a bit these last 4 months to find things to be thankful for.  Yet there are many things, right in front of my eyes - each and every day - that I have to be thankful for. It's often just remembering to "stop" long enough to reflect on them!


I am thankful for the support of so many family and friends - the constant outpouring of love is still so appreciated.  I hope you all know how very much I love each and every one of you and keep you in my prayers.  I am thankful for a supportive work environment - co-workers who understand that Mondays are therapy days and I'm still a work in progress.  I am thankful for my amazing therapist, who I look forward to being with and feel a thousand times better after I leave her office.


I am thankful for this incredible group of mothers I found on Facebook - women who were strangers but a year ago and today have become one of my greatest support systems.  Mothers who respect me, encourage me and give me hope for the future.  I am thankful for my midwife - a woman who took care of Olive and I for 40 weeks and kept me calm (and still keeps me calm) in some of my most difficult moments.  A woman whose door is always open to me (what other practitioner would invite you to her hospital room after SHE had surgery so that you could just come hang out and vent?). 


I am thankful for the network of parents we've met through Children's Hospital, other bereaved parents that have reached out  and new friends that I'm certain will become lifelong friends because of the bond we share.  I'm thankful for my church family - especially our incredible pastors who remind me weekly (sometimes more) that they are continually praying for my husband and I.


I am thankful that I've got the energy and motivation back to start taking care of myself again - and for special people in my life who are helping to keep me encouraged in my physical needs. I am thankful for my sweet neighbor and her friends who have welcomed me into their bible study and keep me encouraged in my spiritual needs. I'm thankful for a God who looks past my weaknesses and the "what's in it for me" attitude I so often have -  a God who loves me and reminds me that things don't have to be so complicated.


I am thankful for my husband.  I am more in love with him today than I ever thought possible.  He is patient, kind and forgiving.  Lord knows I haven't been the easiest to live with the last 4 months (4 years?), but he understands that we grieve differently. He doesn't bat an eye when I don't know what I need, what I want or what I'm feeling.  He's doesn't change my radio stations (even though I know he'd rather listen to rock than Christian rock), even if he needs something he doesn't interrupt me if he sees I'm reading my bible and he only rolls his eyes once when he comes upstairs and sees I'm watching a cheesy Hallmark holiday movie (hehe).  I am thankful when he opens up about Olive or shares a song that reminds him of her.  I love how many date nights we have set up in the next month and that whether we're out in public or hanging out at home we find ways to reconnect and prioritize each other.  He truly is my best friend.


I am thankful for our little lovebug that made us parents.  Olive was a baby who was in our hearts and on our minds long before she was even conceived.  She was the perfect answer to our prayers and I am so thankful that she is our firstborn.  Her life has taught me more about myself than I ever knew possible.  She brought my husband and I closer and our families closer. Her life helped make friends out of strangers, and God continues to amaze me at the beautiful miracles he's allowed from both her earthly and heavenly life.


Stop and take the time to be thankful in the very moment you are feeling happy.
Stop and take the time to be thankful in the very moment you are feeling strong.


So whether I find myself sitting in my car screaming at the top of my lungs, laughing with my husband, feeling green with envy as I scroll through Facebook or feeling accomplished after a hard workout - I'm trying to stop and show gratitude in each of those moments.  It doesn't happen every time - (remember when I said I was a work in progress) - but it's happening more frequently, and I really can see and feel a difference in my attitude.


Stop and take the time to be thankful in the very moment you are feeling anything.













Thursday, November 20, 2014

To Whom Would I Go?

One year ago tomorrow I found out I was going to be a mother.  I awoke from the most peaceful dream that I had just delivered a healthy baby, and knew that would be the day.  I had been anxiously testing for a week or so before that - but I would never get discouraged at all of those negatives, I knew that month was the month.  That morning, November 21, 2013, my feelings were confirmed - I was going to be a mother.


Looking back, I wonder if I would have reacted differently if I had known that I would only get 36 precious hours with my daughter. I mean, none of us are guaranteed any specific amount of time on this earth, right?  But we assume.  We assume that our children will outlive us, that we will outlive our parents and that our parents will outlive our grandparents.  When things happen "out of order" it throws us for a loop. 


Which brings me back to my question - would I have been just as joyful knowing that God needed parents for Olive for just a short time on earth?  Would I have fallen to my knees giving thanks to God that morning if I had known that my role as a mother would not be like my friends?  If I had known that my days of motherhood would be filled with tears and grief and heartache - what would I have done?


I'd like to tell you that I would have been just as happy - praising God for blessing me with the honor of being chosen as her mother, regardless of the time I got with her.  I'd like to tell you that I would have worshiped and praised Him for thinking me worthy to have any time at all with that sweet baby.  But I can tell you that wouldn't have been true.  I would have thrown up my hands, I would have wailed and bargained with Him.  I would have spent more time throughout my pregnancy dreading my due date instead of enjoying the little moments, the sweet flutters, kicks and hiccups.


Earlier this month I had begun experiencing emotions that I haven't felt in awhile.  Month 3 brought me to my knees - literally - but again, not in the praising and worshipping sense, more like the "why me" sense.  I have been angry and overwhelmed this month.  I have taken on more than I can handle - trying to return to "normal" faster.  Saying yes to everything, trying to fill my time with more obligations - trying to make myself feel needed and wanted.  I felt, when Olive died, that I had lost my identity.  Everything I thought I was supposed to be was no longer, so I attempted to return to my pre-Olive life in an attempt to make things fall back into place again. Month 3 came and I felt like I had hit rock bottom - like things were out of control again. 


How did I get here? 


How did this happen?


I often think of Job - a man who literally lost everything, and yet in the midst of it all, faithfully replied "Shall we accept good from God and not trouble?" Job 2:10 NIV


If I had known that my life was going to be where it is right at this exact moment I would not have been as faithful as Job.  I'm still not as faithful as Job, and my problems aren't nearly as severe as his were. I am trying - really hard to be more accepting of my life -to take these burdens and bear my cross faithfully, full of hope and trusting that God will fulfill his promises to never leave me or forsake me.  Even in this. I'm tired, I'm empty - but I will never stop trying to be more faithful.


Someone recently asked me how I can stay so committed to following God in all of this.  It's interesting because not being committed to God was never an option for me, it's never even crossed my mind.  I have doubted Him, I have questioned Him, I have believed at times that I could have done a better job than He - but I've never, not for one single second, considered a life without Him.


I'm reminded of Jesus' ministry when he was teaching and preaching - telling people things that were hard for them to understand, things that didn't seem to go along with how they thought things should be.  Many people began to turn away from him, as it was easier to believe this Jesus-guy was kind of strange - talking about taking his body and blood and being the bread of life - crazy-talk, right? 


At this point many of his disciples turned away and deserted him. Then Jesus turned to the twelve and asked, "Are you going to leave too?"
Simon Peter replied, "Lord, to whom would we go? You alone have the words that give eternal life. We believe them." John 6:66-69 NLT


To whom would I go? 


Who else do I have as an option?  Myself? My husband? My family, friends or therapist?  Of course these people are great listeners, offering advice and encouraging words - but none of them can offer me the opportunity to see my daughter again.  Not a one.  There is only ONE way for my little family to be reunited someday - and that's through this crazy Jesus-guy who takes me down paths I don't understand and does things I don't always agree with. Paths where I think I know the way and then He makes us take a sharp left when I was trying to go right - reminding me both of His love and His control.


So - here I am on November 20, still tired, still broken and still sad - slowly allowing the empty parts of my life to be filled with the hope and promises of God. My hope is that tomorrow I'll be able to wake up remembering fondly that cool November day that I got the best news of my life. Instead of a heavy heart - I am going to have a joyful heart and praise Him just as I did that day, exactly one year ago.  Praise Him for giving her life, for choosing me to be her mother and for taking good care of her until I'm able to see her again.


*The title of this post is taken from a devotion I recently read, The One Year Book of Hope by Nancie Guthrie



Thursday, November 13, 2014

It Could Be Worse

After three weeks it finally happened - I had my first rough day at work.  Ok - not my first rough day ever, but since I've been back.  It's interesting how perspective changes after losing a child, you realize normal everyday "problems" shouldn't really feel like problems at all.  Yet today I found myself getting frustrated, wondering why I felt like I was the only person fixing issues and dealing with cranky clients. In the grand scheme of things, these "problems' are not really THAT big of a deal.  We make them into big deals though, don't we?


I'd like to tell you that I live in a new world where I never complain and thank God for my blessings every single day.  I'd like to tell you that after suffering through loss like this that I appreciate the little things at any given moment.  I'd like to tell you that small things don't shake me anymore.


But I don't.  And they still do.


Being back at work allows my brain a break from the grief, but work has it's own stresses.  After a stressful day at work I get to come home and pick up where I left off grieving. I came home today to do just that, but I turned on the news and that all changed. I've suffered an unimaginable loss - but I still need to put things into perspective too.  It could be worse.


It can always be worse.


I had a bad day today and my daughter died 3 months ago, but today, today there are others suffering too.  I read a story today of a young father who not only lost his wife shortly after childbirth, but he also lost his premature son at 4 days old.  Today I read about a local baby that passed away in the NICU right next to a sweet friend's son - that baby was 20 days old. This week people are burying spouses, siblings and friends.


There are people wondering where they are going to go to escape the harsh bitter night, mothers wondering how they are going to feed their children, people being persecuted and dying because others don't believe in the same things they do. There are families who have never drank clean water, and parents who live in other countries to work and provide for families they see once every two years.


People are suffering.


And I had a bad day.


Let's be honest - most of my days still stink, but I have a good-paying job that welcomed me back with open arms.  I have a car that runs and is paid off.  I have a warm home and clothes on my back.  I have food that is going bad in my refrigerator because I decided I'd rather eat out than eat leftovers.


I had a bad day today so I'm drinking a glass of wine, flipping through Facebook and I'll probably complain to my husband when he gets home.  I might start a fire or take a warm bath to relieve my stress.  When I'm done, I'll snuggle up with my dogs until it's time to climb into my warm bed and drift off to a peaceful sleep - a sleep that won't be interrupted by a grumbling stomach, bullets flying overhead or dropping temperatures.


Don't get me wrong - I'm not making light of my problems or yours.  We've all been given our burdens and crosses to bear in this lifetime. If you're having a bad day like I am, you're entitled to your feelings and shouldn't feel bad or guilty for them.  Maybe, just maybe (if you're anything like me), you need a little perspective. 


Tonight - if you're inclined - just stop for a moment....and pray.  Say a prayer for all those that are hurting or are suffering great loss.  Pray for the sick, the needy, the hungry and the persecuted. Remember others who are living lives that we can't even imagine -lives that don't include the beauty and joy that we have taken for granted. After you've prayed for those people - don't forget to give thanks for what you do have.  Give thanks for this day that you've been blessed with - and join me in trying again tomorrow.







Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Not Your Ordinary Monday

I've been back to work for two weeks now, and life feels to be falling back into some sort of routine again.  I actually enjoy waking up in the morning and making my way into the office.  I thought I would want more time at home - but I'm finding that there is a good balance of being around people again and having some down time to just work at home in peace.  To an outsider I look like any other employee of the company - I go to work with my coffee mug, check emails, sit in on some conference calls, meet with clients and go home.  I've even caught myself believing that I'm just a normal employee back at my normal job living a normal life.  And then I have days like Monday.


While the rest of the work world was going about their emails and conference calls I was just leaving therapy to go pick up my daughter's autopsy report. If that's not a snap back to one's reality, I don't know what is.


For three months I had been preparing myself for that day. For three months I have been convincing myself that this happened days before I delivered, as some of the doctors had mentioned in passing at one point. Like any other grieving parent that hadn't slept, I took those comments and I held on to them - I told myself that must have been what happened.  I told myself that because this had happened days prior - that someday, should I become pregnant again, we'd be able to see this distress or "catch it" before it got this bad and save our next baby. 


You see, there will be no normal pregnancy for me again.  God willing, if I'm able to have another baby, I know that those 40 weeks will be filled with anxiety and uncertainty.  There will be no naivete with another pregnancy - once infant death has rocked your world, there is no rest. I now live with the reality that I am not exempt from another loss just because I suffered one already. There will be no rest until I have a healthy crying baby in my arms.  That's my reality - that is something my husband and I have to mentally and emotionally prepare for. But, knowing that any other pregnancy I may have will be monitored more closely than this one had been, I found comfort believing that we'd be able to "catch" this if it had indeed happened leading up to Olive's birth.


What I learned on Monday is that I had a perfectly healthy baby.  A baby with organs that were healthy and the right size for her.  A baby whose body was structurally perfect, a perfectly plump and healthy baby.  What I learned on Monday is that there were two sections of the umbilical cord that had bruising and looked as though they had been compromised "shortly before birth".  Two spots where blood flow and oxygen were cut off from my perfectly healthy baby.  Two spots that, at some point during my labor, began the slow process of killing my child.


What I read, sitting in my car in front of Children's Hospital, was this:


Healthy Baby.
Damaged cord.
Cord that was attached to my placenta, which was attached to my uterus, which is a part of my body, which was her lifeline....failed.
My body failed.


This reality hit me like a ton of bricks.  I couldn't help it - how did I not know this happened?  What kind of mother can't tell that her baby is in distress? I replayed that day in my head over and over again.  Was it a position I labored in?  Should I have listened to my midwife and walked more instead of sitting all scrunched up in a chair or on the toilet? If I had walked more maybe the lip of my cervix wouldn't have been stuck on her head. I should have done those lunges they told me to do. Who doesn't listen to their midwife?  Me.


Me.
Me.
Me.


That night I went to church.  I didn't want to go anywhere, but I knew I couldn't stay at home.  If I stayed at home that night I would beat myself up and I needed mercy. I needed grace.  I needed truth.  I knew it wasn't my fault, I did - but I didn't have an answer to my own question.  If it wasn't my fault what really happened?


I was a blubbering mess in church, but I left there feeling a little better.  I still didn't have many answers, but I felt a little better - until I got home.  When I returned home I found my husband standing in the kitchen reading the report.  What would he say when he realized I failed her? Failed us?


Instead of telling me that he never wanted to have babies with me again (which is what I felt like he should say to me because the doubt started to creep back into my head and clearly I can't be trusted to birth a baby) he told me he was happy there was nothing wrong with me.  He told me that he was so relieved that there was nothing genetic that we have to worry about.  He told me that he believed in me and in my body - and that yes, we will be cautious and anxious and worrisome when we/if we become pregnant again - he told me that this was not my fault.


We went to bed that night like any other Monday night, like the "normal" couple we still are, taking the last 20 minutes of our day to read before calling it a night.  I opened my devotion book to the next page - which was focusing on God revealing himself to us through the Holy Spirit.


His Spirit searches out everything and shows us even God's deep secrets. No one can know what anyone else is really thinking except that person alone, and no one can know God's thoughts except God's own Spirit. And God has actually given us his spirit (not the world's spirit) so we can know the wonderful things God has freely given us. 1 Corinthians 2:10-12 NLT


"Significant suffering leaves us with significant questions. Before the hurt invaded our lives, perhaps we were content for our understanding of God's sovereignty and his way of working in the world to be fuzzy. But now the issues are not theoretical. They're very real, and we want real answers. We want the truth, not just clich├ęs or religious-sounding pat answers. This is when we need the Holy Spirit like no other time, when we're facing an uncertain future and trying to make sense of it all."


It hit me.


If I say I trust in God and remind myself daily, Dear Lord, help me to believe and trust your perfect will in your perfect way, then I need to believe this was bigger than an accident, this wasn't just the odds being against us.  If this was just the odds then what was the point? If this was an accident then God wasn't in control, and since I believe he has been in control this whole time, then there had to be more. I do not believe I will EVER know the real reason this happened, but I do believe this happened for a reason.  I believe every life has a reason and a purpose.  Some of us get 75 years for that purpose, some 36 hours. Olive is not the first person on this earth to die and she won't be the last. There was a plan for her life, and I had a role.  My job was to create her, grow her and birth her.  My job was to bring her into this world for the 36 hours she had to make her mark. My body did it's job.


Is that the perfect answer? No - not for my human mind, anyway - and it's certainly not as easy to believe, trust and live God's truth - but I'm a work in progress. Her 36 hours somehow fit into God's perfect will in HIS perfect way. I know the only way I can continue to move forward is with and through Him.


"Questions about the suffering in the world send so many on a search for truth. They study world religions, travel to sacred places, seek out secular saviors. But the truth - God's wisdom and an understanding of the big picture - is not something that can be discovered with our minds. It is something that can be revealed to us only by the Holy Spirit. And the Spirit does not reveal the truth to those who are on a mere intellectual exercise without their hearts or wills engaged. God reveals himself to those who earnestly seek him. As he dwells within us and as he illumines our understanding of his Word, he helps us understand the "wonderful things God has freely given us."


I pray God continues to open my heart and mind to his truth.


*Direct quotes from "The One Year Book of Hope" by Nancy Guthrie