Category Archives: Lessons in Heartache

Lessons In Heartache #4

Written 8/22/2013

Lesson #4)  Learning to Live With Realistic Expectations

Hope and sorrow. Two words you never expect to tie together. They seem to be polar opposites, in fact. Some days the correlation between the two is very difficult to find. This has been the case for me in the last few weeks. Some days I am full of hope that I am making progress in this journey. Some days I believe that brighter days are ahead and we will get through this. Then the darkness seems to overwhelm. Something triggers a memory that brings the sorrow back. It’s like the knife is not just stuck there in my heart, but is twisting to make sure it hits as big an area as possible. Some days it feels I’m making progress and others it feels like I’ve taken giant steps backward.

I have these expectations of myself that are probably a bit unreal. Some examples include: If I were truly surrendered to God, I would not be hurting this much. If I really believed that God is taking care of me, I wouldn’t struggle when memories hit. Sometimes it is just telling myself I should be further along in my grief. I should be able to make small talk at family gatherings like I used to. Being in crowds shouldn’t bother me. Social settings shouldn’t bother me. Being away from home for a day shouldn’t bother me. I should not be so wrapped up in myself and my loss. The pangs of jealousy I feel at times should not be present. By now I should be past the anger. Maybe other people don’t want to hear about Lucy anymore. I should probably not talk about her because it makes other people uncomfortable or increases the pain I know they are still suffering. She was not just my little girl, she had a whole family that was excited to have her  and I don’t want my grief, my sorrow, my dark moments to cause anyone else more pain. So I carry it myself.  Well, at least the parts that I don’t emotionally dump on Jon (or my ride-to-work buddy).

Looking at it realistically, I think the expectations I have for myself are too high. God didn’t mean for me to carry this burden alone. There is a verse in Psalms that I have been meditating on.

Psalm 63:8  My soul follows close behind you; your right hand upholds me.

The thought always comes to me, “why the right hand?”.  What is so important that the scripture specifies the right hand and not the left.  I researched and found that the right hand represents strength. Usually that was the hand holding the sword in battle while the left was holding the shield. Spiritually speaking, when I am upheld by God’s right hand, the shield of faith is held in his left protecting me from the onslaught of fear and doubt. The very words of God are the sword of the spirit so that leaves his right hand free to hold me.

Since coming home from the hospital I have used exercise as a form of therapy. While on a walk the other day the sadness began to overwhelm me again. This scripture came to mind and it spoke to me. God brought me to this place. He allowed this loss to touch our lives. I know how big he is and that he does hold me in his right hand and I know that the shield of faith protects me. I need the very words of his mouth to go on the offensive and defeat these feelings that seem to overwhelm me at times. I know that ‘the word of God is living and active.  Sharper than any double edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit….’ And I know that because of the faith I have in who God is, I can ‘approach the throne of grace with confidence so that I may receive mercy and find grace to help me in my time of need’.  (scripture quotes from Heb. 4:12 & 16).

I still struggle sometimes. However, we are only 3 months into this journey of loss and grief. Realistically, what should I expect of myself?  What does God expect of me?  I’m not 100% sure. I do know that to take the first step, I just need to continue to get out of bed daily and breathe. To live each day the best that I can.  And let God hold me when I can’t seem to take the next step.

9/22/13

Lessons in Heartache #3

Written 8/16/13

Lesson #3) Everything is the same as before – but it will never be the same.

Tonight I went to a family birthday party. No, this is not the first one I have been to since Lucy’s passing but it still isn’t easy. And birthday parties are not the only thing that is the same but different.

When you are expecting a child, your whole perspective on life changes. You spend time thinking about how this little bundle is going to affect every aspect of your life. Your home life will revolve around this little one. You will have to arrange your life to make sure this blessing is taken care of when you are at work. Your sleep patterns are sure to change. In fact, you get a small taste of that while expecting. Sleeping through the night is a thing of the past and will remain an unrealized dream for quite some time! At least, that’s how it was for me.

When thinking of serving in the church, you have to consider who will care for your child while you fulfill your calling or your service. You wonder how God will use this precious gift to change you and those around you. At least, that’s how it was for me.

How you view your family – immediate and extended –changes. Gatherings become a more sentimental time for you. You sit and imagine what you will be doing with your child this time next year when the family gets together for this celebration or that holiday. At least, that’s how it was for me.

You experience a sense of belonging, a deeper love for all things family, for all things close to your heart. This is just part of the journey of expecting your child.  All these aspects of your life are going to be affected by this baby. At least, that’s how it was for me.

But then, with loss, the heartache comes. The dream is shattered. And the perspective changes once again. Not only are your arms empty but your soul feels empty as well. The excitement that you had for so long (even mixed with the fear that comes with any pregnancy, let alone a high risk one) seems to be only a dream you once had. You feel lost and alone even when surrounded by the closest of loved ones. At least, that’s how is was for me.

Your life is the same as it was before the pregnancy – but it will never be the same. Sleep may still not come. In fact it probably won’t until you have exhausted yourself with crying. Your house can go back to the way it was because now there is no need for a nursery. But the absence of that crib will be as difficult to bear as if you leave it up. Because in your mind, you know it should still be there. When you go to work, child care is no longer an issue. But you wish it were. At least, that’s how it is for me.

Concerning ministry, you still wonder how God will use your little one to bless the lives of those around you.  However, it will never be the way you once imagined because now it’s based on her absence rather than her presence. At least, that’s  how it is for me.

Yet, even in light of these different perspectives and the affects of this loss on every area of life, there is hope that God will see you through. I am not sure there will ever be a moment of complete understanding or clarity in this journey except in heaven. However, I am sure that somehow, someway, God will see me through each day.  I do have to surrender each day, sometimes moment by moment. I have to choose to say to God, “Yes, it still hurts but I know you can do something with that. I don’t know what and I don’t know how, but I know you can and you will.” At least, that’s how it is for me.

My husband recently equated our experience like a journey on a sailboat. The wind is blowing. The seas are rough at times causing us to wonder if the boat will hold up. But we are still afloat and hoping to see land on the horizon. Then suddenly the wind stops. There is no air moving. There is no way to get to where we were supposed to be going. We are stuck in the middle of the sea on a sailboat with no direction and no wind in our sails.

Physically speaking, we understand what happened. Emotionally and spiritually, we don’t understand why this happened. We feel like our lives are at a standstill. We have no direction. Where do we go from here?  For us, we go to the Bible. It is the very word of God and we trust that we will find direction there. Proverbs 3:5,6 tell us to “Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him and he will make your paths straight.”

While we feel that our lives are at a standstill, we can believe Psalm 46:10 which says “Be still, and know that I am God”.

We can know that Psalm 34:17 and 18 are true.  “The righteous cry out, and the LORD hears them; The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.”

We can pray that we will one day sing as the Israelites of long ago that “Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy.  He who goes out weeping, carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with him.”  Psalm 126:5,6.

We will live daily believing, even though everything is the same but different, that God will help us find our way, give us direction.

Psalm 130:5 “I wait for the LORD, my soul waits, and in his word I put my hope.”

At least, that’s how it is for us.

8/16/13

Lessons In Heartache #2

Lessons in Heartache #2 – written 8/6/2013

Lesson #2 – Even when I feel forsaken, I can trust Him.

This week began with a long-time friend of mine having her baby girl. While I am thankful they are both happy and healthy and there are no complications, my heart is breaking. The question of “Why do some mom’s get to keep their babies and I didn’t?” came to mind so quickly, I felt stabbed in the heart – again. I spent Tuesday – 7 weeks to the day after Lucy was born and died – trying to hold it together at work.
It was also the day that St. Louis Children’s Hospital was having their memorial for all those babies who passed in the last couple months. We chose not to attend due to work schedules and feeling we really didn’t need to do this emotionally. We had our graveside memorial with our close family and that was hard enough. Why put ourselves through that again?
However, when I finally got home from that long emotion-blocking day, it all hit full force. All I wanted was to hold my baby – and that, of course, is impossible. Then the thought of sitting around the house for the evening with my empty arms and emptier womb (I so enjoyed my evenings with Lucy kicking away in my belly and now that, too, is gone) made me feel so alone and hopeless, I had to escape. I tried to walk the mad and sad away, even leaving my poor husband in the dust, but that didn’t work. I was in worse shape emotionally when I got home than when I left.
Was there no way to escape this feeling of hopelessness and sadness? Any way at all to face this and not drag everyone around me into an emotional pit of despair? I don’t want people feeling sorry for me. I don’t want anyone’s pity. I just want to get through this. Feelings of loneliness, even when sitting with those people who love me and would do anything for me, who would even carry away this pain and sadness if they could, they overwhelm my soul. But I can’t let them carry this pain and sadness. I love them too much. I wouldn’t want my worst enemy to bear this, let alone those people I love – when I am capable of love these days. Some of you won’t understand that last sentence but some of you will. The loss is sometimes so great your emotions just shut down. You feel nothing. Except the hopelessness. Honestly, I do have those moments, even though they do not last very long. I know in my heart who my God is, even when my emotions don’t remember.
In the back of my mind always, is the fact that even though I can’t feel Him, I know my God is with me. The Holy Spirit has promised to be a comfort to those who mourn. To the mom whose arms and womb are empty. To the dad who has lost not only his child but that part of his wife that seems to have died with their child. Will she ever be whole again? Will she ever smile with her whole being instead of just her mouth? Will he himself ever find real joy again? And how do we learn to pray believing for anything when this is so far from what we were believing for? Has God abandoned us as it seems or is He really there even when we cannot feel Him?

My mind keeps running to how God must have felt when Jesus took our sin upon him and caused the separation between their spirits. We know from scripture that Jesus felt it. All four of the gospels tell the story of the crucifixion. When putting them all together, we get a couple different phrases that show us how that separation was felt by Jesus. He had never known a time of separation from God, his Father. In his ministry, Jesus said “I and my Father are One” (John 10:30) and “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:10). They were one. There was a bond there which is stronger than any earthly parental bond we can imagine. They had many years of learning the strength of that bond, of working together for the good of all mankind through that bond, of perfecting the oneness of mind, spirit, and soul that could only come through that bond. Jesus’ strength, wisdom, and power came through that bond.
As an expectant mother, you pour everything you have into that little person growing inside you. You speak to her. You speak for her at doctor visits. You alone know how she is ‘feeling’ by how active or quiet she is. By how you yourself are feeling. Is she taking more from you this week? Maybe it’s a growth spurt. Is she quieter this week?  Maybe you need to eat more proteins or be less active yourself so she can have more energy. There is truly oneness of body going on. It’s a bond that is un-imaginable if you have not experienced it. Though it is difficult to fathom, we know that the bond between God and His son Jesus was even stronger!
And yet, through the details in the four gospels, we knit together a telling experience of separation between the two. A severing of that strong bond. All for us. Jesus experienced a feeling of separations from God that is heartbreaking to imagine. He cried out, “My God, My God! Why have you forsaken me?” He felt the loss of that connection. There was no longer oneness with God. Our sin was upon Jesus. He held it. For the first time, he knew what it was to be separate from his Father. Take a moment to imagine the emotion, the heartbreak, the seeming hopelessness. If it were not for his time in the garden, surrendering his will to that of the Father’s, I cannot imagine what Jesus would have felt. Even in that unknown feeling of separation from God – which he had no prior experience with or knowledge of – Jesus knew He could trust his Father.
How do we know this? Because even during this time of separation, while our sin is still on him, knowing death is eminent and necessary for our good, Jesus gave up a loud cry (Matt 27:50, Mark 15:37) and said “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit” (Luke 23:46).  Jesus breathed his last breath, trusting his Father God. I have not read anything in scripture that makes me think there was any reassurance given Jesus between his feelings of separation and his declaration of trust in committing his spirit to God. His total surrender in the garden was demonstration of his trust in God to see him through. Even in this feeling of being forsaken, he knew that somehow his Father God would allow him to rise again on the third day (John 2:19).
In my own struggles with grief, I know I have to surrender to God. I cannot change what has happened. I can only move on from here. Am I committed to trusting Him even when I feel forsaken? Do I trust Him enough to lift my empty arms in surrender and praise because I know I am not abandoned and alone? Only He can fill them. Only He can satisfy. And only through surrender. Only when I can say “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit, my hurt, my life, my all.”

Lessons In Heartache

Lessons in Heartache

August 17, 2013 at 12:10am

Lessons in Heartache

I have learned some valuable lessons over the last 9 months or longer – mostly spiritual. I don’t know the answers to why some of the things have happened in my life that have brought sorrow and pain and the deepest heartache I have ever known. But I do know that my God has been with me through it all and will continue to be with me.

In this blog, I would like to record some of the things I have learned.

Lesson #1 – God is a healer – always has been – always will be.

How in the world can I say this after praying for my daughter’s healing and publicly asking for others to do the same with the end result being that she only lived outside my womb for an hour and twenty minutes? How?

Just because healing didn’t take place in the way I would have preferred, I promise you, healing has taken place and continues to take place.

At our sonogram on 3/6/2013 – I was 20 weeks and 5 days pregnant – we were told Lucy would not make it to term and if she did she would not live long due to a very serious heart defect – single ventricle defect. She also had a defect called CDH – congenital diaphragmatic hernia – which allows the abdominal organs to migrate up into the chest cavity causing issues with lung development as well as compression on the heart. Basically our baby had 0% chance of survival. To say we were devastated is putting it mildly. God used my husband to help give me strength to believe, to not give up on our daughter. Because that day I was ready to. I had lost our other child together in miscarriage. I had lost my sister in 1974. I had just watched some dear friends lose their long awaited and much prayed for twins at 23 weeks into the pregnancy. I was not in a place where God’s healing and faithfulness was anywhere close to being believable.
However, this man that God brought into my life reminded me that God could do anything he wanted. He created her, he could heal her heart. As long as there was movement inside me, there was hope. What did women do before sonograms? They were pregnant until they weren’t. God had 19 or so weeks yet to work on Lucy. There was no giving up just yet.
So began a more intense time of prayer for each of us – daily, hourly, minute by minute. I spent some time with God at the piano remembering that his blood was shed to not only wash away our sins but to heal our bodies. As a child who had grown up in the church, the verse Isaiah 53:5 was burned into my memory. And though I had prayed for others to be healed many times, the last part of the verse became more powerful to me – “and by his wounds we are healed.” Communion became more meaningful – something besides my own thankfulness for salvation. It became a reminder of the promise of our healer. His blood. His power. I needed His blood to be more powerful than I could ever imagine or had ever believed before. That old hymn “The Blood Will Never Lose It’s Power” was the turning point for me that night. God is either who He says He is or He is a liar. I had to believe. I reminded myself out loud of who God is. Knowing it and getting my emotions to line up with that knowledge can be a huge battle. One we will continue to fight for years to come as grief comes our way off and on in one way or another. That night, and for the months to come, I chose to live by faith – believing God is who he says he is – and not let fear dictate our lives. I would enjoy every kick, every pound I gained, every bout of morning sickness I had. Because it meant my daughter was alive in me and there was hope.
On 3/20/2013 we had another sonogram. This one was a fetal echo with a fetal cardiologist to see just how serious the heart condition was. Jon and I were praying for just one positive thing. That’s all we were asking for that day, one positive. And what a positive it was. The result of that visit was that Lucy had a right sided ventricle problem in her heart, not a single ventricle defect, and that it was surgically repairable. The doctor gave us some other encouragement about her size and told us not to give up hope. Prayers continued.
The next big doctor visit was down in St. Louis at St. Louis Children’s Hospital. We had a regular sonogram as well as another fetal echo. At this time we were one day shy of 25 weeks pregnant. Lucy was a little busy – all the time. I believe she had a bit of the “Lilly-spirit” in her. The sonographer doing the echo had a difficult time because Lucy was so active.  Jon and I had become used to these sonograms/echos taking well over an hour or two. Lucy actually changed her position at one point and turned completely the opposite direction. She kept us very entertained just watching her. We were totally captivated by her already. In the end, when the fetal cardiologist, the fetal cardiology nurse, the senior fellow of pediatric cardiology, and the sonographer were satisfied with all the images they had taken and all the blood flow they had been watching, we went to the consultation room. We were told that though the LEFT ventricle of Lucy’s heart (not the right) was small, it was performing as it should and the blood flow was adequate to sustain life after her birth and would not require surgery. The restated it as “though the left side of her heart is small, I can find no defect”. God is good. He is powerful. He is the healer.
At 25 weeks pregnant and about 15 weeks to go, we were now down to just the hernia to deal with and the organs besides the heart that were affected by it – lungs, bowel, and digestive system. I spoke to the head of pediatric surgery from St. Louis Children’s hospital and asked what the survival rates are for babies born at St. Louis Children’s with CDH. The typical CDH baby has 75-80% chance of survival after birth and surgery. If the CDH is severe chances decrease to about 50-60%. Not only was Lucy’s stomach and some of her bowel up in her chest, but Lucy’s liver was up in her chest as well so this was considered a severe case. Hope was still alive even in this. In 5 weeks, we had gone from 0% chance of survival to 50-60%. God can work with that. Look what he did with her heart! We fully expected healing to take place in the next 15 weeks. We fully expected her to come out crying.  (Not something that occurs with CDH babies due to lack of lung function)  We fully expected to take our little girl home. We did not.
So how can we still say that God is a healer? Because he allowed us to believe. He healed my hopelessness during my pregnancy. We enjoyed every kick. Every little movement. I took joy in every discomfort because we knew it meant our little girl was OK inside me.
When discussing with my sister in law some of the questions her kids were asking, such as “Why didn’t God just heal Lucy so we could hold her?” we wondered how in the world we answer that for these kids so that we don’t harm their faith in who God is? I told her that God is still a healer. He just doesn’t always heal the bodies of the people we are praying for. Sometimes he chooses to heal our hurt instead. He is still the healer.