The Next to Go

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Fourteen years ago I was on break from work, eating lunch at the park, devouring a mystery novel. I was closing in on solving the case when my husband called, interrupting my investigation.

“She’s gone. Emily is gone.”

That morning, on her way to work, our sister-in-law had been hit by a car and killed. Six months earlier, I’d stood with the wedding party at the front of the church and watched her and my brother-in-law exchange vows.

I’d hugged her goodbye only four months ago, after she’d driven down with us to our new home in Arizona. The four of us had gone on double dates, smack-talked through rounds of Skip-Bo, smiled as we charted out futures that would be so closely intertwined. Twin brothers and their wives pursuing their dreams, championing each other through thick and thin, laughing at and with one another along the way.

Not anymore. I’d lost the sister I’d just gained.

I dropped the book I was reading. The sandwich I ate nearly resurfaced. I couldn’t chew, couldn’t breathe, couldn’t think past that awful moment.

“Jenn, are you there?”

Read full article at Fathom Magazine.

[Photo courtesy OC Gonzalez on Unsplash]

Surrendering ‘Supposed to’

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Guest post by Christy Britton

Through this past year of writing more and contributing to different websites, God has given me an unforeseen blessing of forming friendships with other writers. (Yes, as surprising as it seems, it’s possible to develop genuine relationships through social media channels pervaded by fake or misleading content.) One of my dearest friends is Christy Britton, whom I consider a faith and writing mentor. She is also a boy mom to four biological sons and shares my love for adoption, a passion which led her to pursue adopting a young girl in Uganda.

Her story breaks my heart. Things didn’t go as she’d hoped. The plan that was supposed to bring another child into the family never came to fruition. Yet even in deep pain and loss, she kept loving her daughter and her heavenly father who had brought them together as a family. She continues to grieve with open arms, submitting her shattered expectations to our good and holy God.

It’s a tremendous honor to share her story through her own words, and to honor the life of her daughter, Gracious. I pray this will accomplish what I know is her desire: to uplift others who are hurting, and encourage us all to turn our sorrows over to our Savior.

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“It wasn’t supposed to be this way.”

Have you ever said these words? Thought them? I suspect I’m not the only one. We all experience circumstances not of our choosing, situations that don’t go the way we want or expect.

Our supposed to’s may seem harmless, but they can easily become idols. If we’re clinging to our supposed to’s, we’re not clinging to Christ. When we prefer our own plans, we reject his. When we think we know better, we deny his wisdom and authority. We’re back to the garden. Like Eve, we think God is withholding something good from us, and we doubt his goodness.

There is tension between our wills and what our good father wills for us. There are gaps between our desires and his. In this tension is a sweet invitation to trust God. In each gap is an opportunity to release our grip on what we want and reach for what he offers.

I’m learning to let go of my own supposed to. Honestly, it’s a work in progress with much work to be done. I had a plan for my life. A good one that would have brought glory to God. I thought it was what God wanted for me, too. I was mistaken.

A trade-off
As an orphan advocate with 127 Worldwide, a nonprofit that partners with local leaders around the world caring for orphans and widows, I get to travel to Africa. Three years ago, I met Gracious, a little girl living in Uganda,  and immediately fell in love with her. My husband and I began to care for her as best we could from afar. We visited her, prayed for her, and made sure all her physical needs were met. After much prayer and wise counsel, we felt God stirring us to pursue her adoption.

While the adoption process was difficult and costly, we made our best effort to bring our girl home. After 18 months of paperwork, we were preparing to relocate to Uganda for the required one-year residency to complete her adoption. However, right before our scheduled flight, we received the news that our daughter had passed away.

She wasn’t supposed to die. She was supposed to be a Britton.

I’m supposed to be in Uganda right now. I’m supposed to be caring for my daughter.

These are my supposed to’s.

I wake up each morning with the temptation to give into the bitterness that comes from not getting my way. I wake up each morning to the reality that the plans I had will never come to fruition. Each morning begins with a dull pain that reminds me of what was supposed to be.

But do you know what else each morning begins with? New mercies (Lamentations 3:23). God is with me in each of these starts to my day offering fresh mercy. He holds his hand out to me.

Taking his hand forces me to release my grip on my supposed to’s. Holding onto him means letting go of the comfort and familiarity of my plans. God gives me himself, on his terms. He invites me to trade my supposed to’s for him.  

As beloved as I’ve built up my supposed to’s in my mind, he is better still. As good and holy as my plans are, his plans are better still.

Better vision
What about you? Do you live with the tension between what you think should be and what is? What “supposed to” do you need to release?

Maybe you, too, are missing the child you were supposed to raise. Perhaps you’re not in the job you’re supposed to have. Maybe you don’t look the way you’re supposed to look. You weren’t supposed to be sick; your best friend wasn’t supposed to move away; your marriage wasn’t supposed to be this hard.

These supposed to’s we hold onto must be let go in favor of something better – God’s will for our lives. He wholly offers himself to us, but wholly on his terms. He gives us a vision of himself, so we will turn our eyes away from lesser things.

Our father is not careless in what he withholds; he is purposeful. We may not understand the why, but we can trust the who.

Our God is for us (Romans 8:31). He is with us (Matthew 28:20). His plans are for our good (Jeremiah 29:11). He promises that we will share in his glory when we share in his sufferings. He offers life through his Son when we die to ourselves. Death is painful, and we should not expect to die to our wills without hurting.

What we can expect is that our temporary affliction is preparing for us eternal glory beyond all comparison (2 Corinthians 4:17). My affliction exists in the form of grief, in an unfulfilled longing. My day can easily get derailed at the sight of the empty chair at the dinner table. But I cling to the promise that afflictions don’t last forever. In heaven, all my longings will be satisfied in my Savior.

Take his hand
I want to want God more than I want anything else, including my supposed to’s. I look to Christ for motivation. His prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane before his crucifixion demonstrates the tension between what he wanted and what his father wanted.

“Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done” (Luke 22:42).

Love caused him to release his own desires and submit to his father’s. Love for us. We were supposed to suffer God’s wrath. We were supposed to pay the penalty for our sins. But Christ died on the cross in our place. He paid the debt for our supposed to’s.

Jesus surrendered his will to the father so that we could be adopted into his family. As his children, will we not surrender our own wills to him? Will we refuse to let go of our precious plans? Our father who gave up his own beloved Son to secure our redemption can surely be trusted with the way our lives are supposed to go.

I don’t know what your supposed to’s are. But I do know that you can release and entrust them to a good father.

When you wake up and feel crushed under the weight of unfulfilled longings, reach for Christ. Take his hand and accept the new mercies he holds out to you. Live in this mercy. Ask him to transform your desires into longings for him. Allow your earthly disappointments to lead you to your father who always satisfies.

This is how your life is supposed to be lived.

ChristiandGraciousmeet

Christy Britton is a wife and homeschool mom of four biological sons. She is an orphan advocate for 127 Worldwide. She and her husband are covenant members at Imago Dei Church in Raleigh, NC. She loves reading, discipleship, Cajun food, spending time in Africa, hospitality, and LSU football. She writes for several blogs, including her own, www.beneedywell.com.

Every New Beginning Comes from Some Other Beginning’s End

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It’s here. A day I’ve been simultaneously dreading and anticipating. The first day in a chain of revolutions that will repeat and progress, accelerating toward spinoff.

Both my sons are now attending school full-time. They’re still under my care, still living at home. I hope to always represent home to them.

But they’ve grown up. Those wings they’ve so desperately wanted to spread unhindered are getting airtime. They get to expand their minds and explore new terrain, spending a good portion of their day learning from others. They’ll gain skills, make mistakes, help and be helped by friends, mature into men of wisdom and integrity, all without me present. I don’t have to supervise, referee, lecture, defend, or nag them ’round the clock.

Each of us is ready for the change.

Firsts and lasts
Going to school is exciting, as many firsts are. First words, first steps, first time sleeping in a big boy bed. Each new action precipitates wonder and possibility. We love celebrating all that’s new.

A first also necessarily brings a last. If something new is coming, something old must pass. You quit a job to start a new one. You dump singlehood status to enter into marital bliss. You leave home to move away to college. You drop your youngest baby off to his first day of kindergarten and end your role as an all-day caregiver.

It’s the end – not of the world, not of life as I know it. Some call it the changing of a season, or closing of a chapter. I’m calling it death.

That phase of scheduling my day around meals, naps, playdates, bathroom stops; of whipping out wipes like a gunslinger when a cup inevitably spills; of trips to the library and park and loathsome grocery store; of cozying up on the couch, reading away the afternoon; of losing my temper, again, and coming to them, sobbing, embracing them in sweet reconciliation – it’s done. I can remember, but not bring it back. That stage died.

Yes, of course, I’m being dramatic. No person died. My life isn’t ruined now that my kids are in school. My identity, though closely interlinked with my sons, doesn’t hinge on being a mom. I have a husband, for one thing. We like each other, and like doing activities together. I keep busy, invest in relationships and ministry, look for ways to create and connect. Better than all that, I know Jesus, and am known by him.

No, life isn’t over for me, even as a stay-at-home mom whose kids aren’t home all day, anymore. This next phase of parenting holds bright expectancy for joy. Yet I can’t deny, and don’t want to suppress, the real grief over the ending of an era.

It’s OK to be sad that I’ll miss it.

Mourning dust
That’s life for ya – an inexorable series of deaths and resurrections. It’s the circle that moves us all, if we’re to believe the philosophy espoused by The Lion King. From a tree centered in a garden to a tree staked in a skull-shaped hill, the cycle repeated throughout biblical times, and continues ad infinitum today. Like a line from a ’90s pop rock favorite of mine, “Closing Time,” copping a quote from Stoic philosopher Seneca, the world echoes:

Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.

Endings come in waves – through a flood, across a tumbling wall, in a veil torn apart; by winter’s invasion and crushed dreams and relational doors slammed shut. Death never wins, though. Just as winter cedes to spring, so do ashes birth life. Jesus rose from the dead and raised us up with him, granting us a new home, new family, new richness in living for him.

If death is merely a vehicle to greater life, why do we loathe it? Victors in Christ have nothing to fear; he defeated condemnation. At some point, you’d think we’d get used to it, the cyclical pattern of dust to dust.

Yet when the dust is beloved, and it flits away, accessible only by reminiscence, we cry. The end of something is the loss of something, and those left behind are made losers.

God has made us for eternity, and we crave its permanence. Even in small shifts from one season to the next, we feel the pains of labor, groaning along with creation for ultimate restoration – when all will truly be well. Our bodies of dust are continuously handed death in order to unveil resurrection.

Every passage of an age shows us greater glory awaits, and weighs on us in the meantime.

Paradox united
I recently read my boys a chapter from a children’s devotional that whacked me with irony.

“When Stars Die” explains how those big balls of gas eventually peter out, shrivel up, and soak in massive energy until they explode in a jaw-dropping supernova. The author compared this phenomenon to Christ’s death on the cross, and how it was both a horrible tragedy and beautiful spectacle of grace.

This paradox will never cease to amaze me. I doubt I’ll fully grasp the depth of the gospel mystery this side of heaven. Why would the only Perfect Person die to save a thoroughly imperfect me?

Only God knows.

I see him now, but dimly. I thought I knew him, but am just now awakening to how all of life points to Christ – the small and momentous ways that recite his miraculous narrative. Moments like saying goodbye to my youngest at his first day of kindergarten display a necessary death that initiates joy unfolding. It’s exciting and hard, as you’d expect any birth to be.

All the emotions that accompany the birth/death cycle – tears of anguish and rapture for arrivals and homegoings – coexist at the cross. Life doesn’t spin in futility. We have a Savior who secured a future without pain, fear, or sorrow, and who stays in us and with us, renewing our hope for the unseen.

We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. ~ (Romans 6:4)

There’s a carpet unrolling before me, leading to new life ahead. Sure, it’s just one goodbye in a series of beginnings and endings that will repeat all the days I’m alive. Yet this one small goodbye reminds me that death’s next of kin is birth, and weeping for joy and grief can be exhaled within the same breath.

I’m sitting here, typing this, crying because I miss my baby; glad because we’re being reborn.

Image courtesy Element5 Digital on Unsplash.

God Never Wastes the Space Between

“I’m sorry to tell you it didn’t work,” the doctor said gently, then exhaled: “We didn’t get any embryos.”

And with her sigh, my dream of motherhood disintegrated.

It had been a long haul to reach this point. Tests, medications, surgeries. Unsure diagnoses, ineffective treatments, bills upon bills. And all for what? One tiny, pink, glaring negative line, month after month, year after year.

So much invested in fulfilling this deeply rooted longing, only to produce nothing but tears and prolonged ache.

What a waste.

God led me through this place of defeat so that I had nowhere else to turn but to Him.

Read full post at incourage.

Out of muddy water

My friend Jessica and I went to college together years ago. We lived in the same dorm, and she served as my sister’s RA our senior year.

Since our days as Ballard Babes, Jessi has endured some incredible ups and downs in her family life: marrying her husband, Ryan, giving birth to her first son, Lucas, losing her brother, John, and facing the breast cancer diagnosis of her mother, Cyndi. Earlier this year, she experienced another heartache: delivering and saying goodbye to her second son, Brody, in less than the span of one week.

When someone is slammed with such tremendous tragedy, those of us who have not lived through that kind of loss often find the only words we can utter are an admission of our incomprehension: “I can’t even imagine what that would be like.”

 That is my heart with this post. By sharing Jessi’s story – the story of Brody’s life – I hope to help those of us on the outside, looking in, to imagine and thus better empathize with the thoughts and feelings and daily life motions of one family navigating the loss of their child shortly after birth.

 I thank Jessi and Ryan for courageously sharing their son’s life, granting us a glimpse into their sorrow, and demonstrating how those who know Jesus can grieve with hope.

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Brody was born on February 20th. He was with us for five days.

Those five days were very much up and down. They were doing everything they could to save him, and thankfully, the doctors were making sure he wasn’t in pain. Before his birth, they prepared us that we may not even be able to touch him at first. We were grateful when they told us we could touch him; we just couldn’t caress him. When we placed our hands on his little foot, he would stretch and reach out, craving that touch.

Ryan and I were able to stay in the hospital with him for three days, until I was discharged from my C-section. On Brody’s last night the doctor said we could go home, reassuring us we could call anytime. We agonized over it, and decided to go home. On the way home, we talked, trying to grasp what this was going to look like. Brody was going to be in the NICU for a long time. How would we juggle it?

We got home, showered, called in to check. They told us things weren’t looking good.

We rushed back to the hospital and spent the night in his room. The next morning the doctor told us what they were doing to keep Brody alive was starting to cause irreparable damage. His little heart was strong; he was a fighter. He did not want to give up, but his body just wasn’t compatible with life.

An organization called Forget Me Not came in and asked if I wanted pictures. In their experience, they said, most families appreciated having the pictures, even if they don’t want them taken at the moment.

I didn’t. In my mind, we were praying for a miracle. We wanted a miracle. Everyone was praying for a miracle. When they handed him to me, I was going to hold him, and he was going to be healed.

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Two summers ago, in August, we shared the news with family the day we took the pregnancy test.

Our 20-week appointment was the week before Thanksgiving, and there was a huge windstorm. We took Lucas with us.

The ultrasound tech did a couple things and started acting flustered; she didn’t come out saying if it was a boy or girl, which was fine because we didn’t want to find out the gender. The doctor came in and said things weren’t looking right, red flags had popped up. She threw a bunch of possibilities at us, told us we needed to see a specialist. I started bawling.

Ryan was supposed to be leaving for a Young Life retreat, and I was supposed to join him later, but I wanted to isolate myself. He talked me off the ledge. People at the retreat prayed over us. It’s crazy when you’re experiencing pregnancy issues, how many people come out of the woodwork and share similar stories.

The next week we met with a genetic counselor who ordered series of tests. We got our results back after Thanksgiving and everything came back negative. We were ecstatic, and thought that if it was something like learning disabilities, it would be OK; we could handle it.

After two great months of scans, I went for an ultrasound in February. The doctor said there was fluid in the baby’s lungs, and that the point had come where the baby would be better on the outside than on the inside. That brought up the issue of me wondering, Why can’t my body take care of my baby?

The doctor said we needed to do a C-section. I had wanted a natural, vaginal childbirth, but I also wanted what was best for my child.

They brought Ryan in right as they were doing the swipe across my stomach. A team of doctors swooped in to take care of the baby, and another team came to take care of me. Watching those doctors work on my baby – they were so amazing with what they did. The anesthesiologist held my hand the whole time after Ryan left to be with Brody.

Ryan got to announce that it was a boy. Beforehand, we had picked out a couple names.

We decided to name him Brody, which means “out of the ditch,” “out of muddy water.”

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After Brody died, when we were driving home from the hospital, Ryan and I talked about how we were not going to get a divorce. We were fully aware of the statistics of how some couples who lose a child struggle in their marriage.

The week leading up to Brody’s service, we didn’t have family in town, so we had to make all the funeral decisions on our own. That helped, though, keep Ryan and Lucas and I really tight together.

We buried him in the same place as my brother. I love the idea of Brody being close to John.

I didn’t go to church for a while. It’s not that I didn’t believe in God; I just didn’t want to be around people or large crowds. They would look at me with sympathetic eyes, scared to say something to me, scared to say his name. But there was one woman – someone who had gone through several miscarriages – she’d ask me all the time, “How you doing, Brody’s mama?”

Right after he died, a ton of people poured out their love on us – bringing us food and flowers and gifts. One set of friends chipped in funds to send us on a trip over the summer. Another friend got Lucas a bike trailer so he could ride with us. We were absolutely blown away by people’s generosity.

When people ask me now how to help someone who lost a baby, I tell them, “Just do something.” We know how much it meant to be on the receiving end. And when people didn’t do something, or seemed afraid to say something, it was really lonely.

I wouldn’t say that anytime, through any of this, we questioned our faith. We know through thick and thin, we may not like what God allows, but that He does love us, and is there with us. We didn’t have a crisis of faith, though there were times we were questioning God a lot about what had happened.

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It took us awhile to go back and do more genetic testing. We found out Brody had Noonan syndrome, a genetic disorder that prevents normal development in certain areas of the body. Noonan syndrome is a spectrum – some people can live a full and happy and healthy life, perhaps facing some learning disabilities. Brody was on the other end of the spectrum. He also had fetal hydrops, and those two things together put Brody in a spot that made him not compatible with life.

The five days he was with us, Brody taught us so much: the need to fight, to not give up, that life is short. We don’t know when our last day will be, so we’re not going to do things we don’t want to do.

I have been a high school teacher since 2003 and have enjoyed (almost) every minute of teaching, but we made the decision for me to stop working and stay at home. My heart wasn’t in it like it used to be, and I wanted to be home with Lucas and supporting Ryan. I now share essential oils with people and am able to work from home.

Two words that we have clung to – described in the intro of a devotional called “The One Year Book of Hope” – are manna and grace. Just like when the Israelites were wandering in the desert, and needed their manna, we also need our manna to survive, getting into the Word somehow every day. And grace – we need to show people (and ourselves) grace. Some days are harder than others to do that.

{Ryan}
One day we were pretty upset with each other, and then realized it was the month anniversary of Brody’s due date. When we recognized that, we were much more understanding of why we had bad attitudes.

Every day we have to be mindful of why we might be angry, and to be honest with our emotions. It’s helpful to know the times I am upset because we lost a child, not because someone didn’t pick their shoes up. It keeps me in check to show grace to my wife and son.

{Jessi}
Our immediate family has gotten so much closer through all of this. I am so thankful for Ryan and Lucas.

We have pictures of Brody around the house, and an ultrasound picture of him in Lucas’s bedroom – Luc was insistent we put it there. When we told Lucas that Brody is in heaven with Jesus, it was funny; he’d point up to the sky and say “Brody with Kevin” (not sure if he was meaning “heaven” or a character from “Despicable Me”).

There’ve been times when I’m reading him books before bed, and he’ll look at me and ask, “Momma sad?” and I’ll tell him, “Yea, momma misses Brody.” He’ll run and get a scrap of toilet paper to dab my eyes. Then, he will ask, “Happy now?”

I’m learning to find that balance, letting him in on my grief.

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There’s a place in the hospital called the angel room. It’s where you go after your baby dies, so your family can come say goodbye. You can be there as long as you want with your child.

The Forget Me Not people earlier had recorded the sound of Brody’s heartbeat and put the recording in a Build-A-Bear type stuffed animal. I picked a monkey. It was neat for Lucas – he called it his Brody Monkey.

Lucas Brody monkey Boschma family infant loss remembrance

I was worried about bringing Lucas into the angel room, worried about his little spirit. We decided if he started to freak out, Ryan would take him and leave.

Right away Luc asked to hold Brody. He tried to drive one of his little cars over Brody’s face. The Forget Me Not people took lots of picture, cut a lock of his hair, did footprints – those in-the-moment activities that were the farthest thing from my mind.

It was so hard to call the chaplain. It was late in the evening when we finally did. We gave up Brody to this sweet, gentle old man. I have that memory so clearly – I can see him, holding Brody, standing in the angel room as we walked away.

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I want to remember Brody. I want his life to help other people. He taught us SO MUCH about what it means to have true grit.

We want people to hear about Jesus as we tell Brody’s story – because without Jesus, I honestly do not know how we would be facing each day. We had prayed for a miracle – that Brody’s life would be spared – but the true miracle is that we were given five days with our sweet boy.

Years ago, I started the John Eagon Scholar-Athlete Award as a way to honor and remember my brother’s life. I run in marathons and half marathons and raise support for the scholarship. All the money is managed through a local Community Foundation and is therefore tax-exempt. A few weeks ago I ran in the Hayden Lake Half Marathon in honor of John and Brody. It was therapeutic doing something physical to remember Brody. And it brings comfort thinking of Brody in heaven with his uncle.

If you feel led to donate, please visit https://bmcf.fcsuite.com/erp/donate/create?funit_id=1136.

Jessi invites anyone who would like to talk through their losses or ask questions about Brody’s story to contact her at jessiboschma@gmail.com.

No more miracles

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Warning: This post will rock you. Not in a way that will astound you with my wit or eloquence. If anything, you’ll think less of me and question my sense of rationality and perhaps even my faith. So be it.

What I mean is that the following post is about as raw as you can get. For some reason, I feel compelled to write my feelings – unprocessed, unfiltered, full of shame, glowing with transparency. It is not intended to be a woe-is-me post, or a self-glorifying look-at-how-real-I’m-being post. It is simply a description of my emotions at present, and if you’re a woman who is or desires to be a mother, you may very well feel these emotions as you read my honest, admittedly melodramatic words. Expect tears and proceed with caution.

You see, I want another baby. I have two wonderful, dynamic children, and I want a third. I have more love to give, a not-quite-depleted supply of energy, and a resolute desire to mother another child. I don’t feel done yet.

My exceedingly patient and loving husband agreed to pursue an addition to the family despite his feelings of being done already. We decided to attempt the “easiest” route and try for one year to conceive again. We tried, and we failed. Again.

I went into it eyes wide open. This wasn’t my first rodeo. I knew the potential for letdown, but figured it was worth it in case God wanted to grant us another miracle. Probable, no; possible, yes. Damn that glimmer of possibility and the inevitable disappointment it brings.

I took my own advice I tell others who are undergoing fertility treatments or otherwise struggling to get pregnant and took it one day at a time, one two-week wait at a time, one cycle at a time. That strategy backfired. Last December – the 12th and final month of trying – the moment I went to the bathroom and discovered I wasn’t pregnant, the weight of the emotions I’d been shoring up slammed into me like a semi-truck and knocked me out of my I’ve-got-this-and-can-totally-keep-it-together façade. And, since it was during the holidays and we were staying with family, I couldn’t allow myself to fully process the depth of my pent-up grief.

So that’s what I’m doing now. And man, does it suck.

I cry at odd moments of the day. I try to avoid going by the guestroom, with its empty crib and closet full of baby clothes and toys that will all need to be disposed of in one way or another. I stare off into space as my kids repeat random questions, which they would do anyways regardless of my melancholy state, but I should nonetheless pay attention to them since one out of every 25 inquiries might actually merit an answer.

I’m also avoiding people, skipping church events and meet-ups with friends. I haven’t felt up to putting on a happy face, acting like I’m OK, like my life hasn’t just hit a major redirection. How could I explain to anyone what I’m feeling?

How could I explain that I’m so grateful for my two boys – both miracles in their own right – and yet feel so hurt that I won’t receive another? I am not despairing, like I was before I became a mother, but I am grieving. Whereas before, although my plans for having child #1 and child #2 didn’t pan out the way I’d expected, in time, I could see that God had something better planned. This time, I don’t see that better thing that God has planned since there will be no child #3. Before, although I felt so beaten down that I should give up the dream of having a child, I didn’t. This time, I have to.

I feel defeated. Bereft. Overwhelmed with that oh-so-familiar, didn’t-realize-I-still-had-it kind of ache. What do I do with this persistent urge to mother a child from infancy? I love my kids. I love other people’s kids. It’s part of who I am – a creative nurturer.

If you tell me to get another pet, I’ll punch you in the face. A pet is great, but it is not a replacement for a child. Neither is a career, hobby, or even a ministry. A loss of one kind in your life cannot be replaced by a gain in another area of your life.

Also, please don’t ask, “Why don’t you just adopt again?” The answer is: “It’s complicated,” and that’s all I can say about that in a blog post. (As an important side note, this is not a question I recommend posing to someone going through primary infertility for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is it implies that adoption is easy, which IT IS NOT. Find more explanation on this note here.)

And this is going to sound bad, but don’t talk to me about how my contentment should be in Christ alone. I already know that and believe it. I realized after an awful period of introspection that having kids wasn’t going to complete me, that motherhood wasn’t the be-all, end-all. Sure, it’s a huge blessing, and rewarding, as well as, at times, the most frustrating thing in the world, but it’s not the best thing in the world – that’s reserved for knowing and walking with Jesus. So I know this to be true, but it doesn’t invalidate the loss of not being able to fulfill this God-given desire.

I feel angry. Pissed, to put it mildly. Mad that my pristine vision of a beautiful family of five is ruined, irreparable. I know God loves me; He has a purpose for this plan; He is good and sovereign and just. But I’ve never understood and doubtfully never will why He sometimes does not enable someone to fulfill a strong, noble desire He gave them in the first place. It seems cruel.

Then there’s the guilt. Why am I questioning God’s intentions, when He has already given me two incredible, unexpected gifts, and allowed me to experience the joys of both adoption and pregnancy? Shouldn’t I simply be grateful for my two kids instead of blessing-grubbing? I tell other women facing secondary infertility they shouldn’t feel guilty, but it’s hard not to succumb to this temptation, especially when you are also working through some major conviction (hello, right here, bigtime). It seems shameful to admit my distress over this intangible loss when others have endured so much more significant heartache in this life. I accuse myself: “You shouldn’t feel that sad about this. Why don’t you just count your blessings, let go and let God, insert another Christianese comment, and get over it.”

I feel confused. What do I do now? How do I reconcile this unyielding desire and view of my family as unfinished with the apparent “no” God has decreed in reply to my prayers? And why the heck am I facilitating a support group for women dealing with infertility and infant loss when I’m acting thoroughly whiny, ungracious, ill-tempered, and lacking in faith and self-control – basically how NOT to respond to this type of trial? Take that as evidence that God appreciates irony.

These questions are all rhetorical. I’m not writing this post to solicit answers to my plight, or invoke clichéd expressions of sympathy, or inspire fabricated reasons for why God allows pain in our lives. Believe it or not, I decided to write this post to impart hope. I’m refuting the lie that I’m the only woman on Earth saddened at the prospect of not having any more kids and affirming a vital lesson I have learned am learning through this process:

You can be disappointed about something that went wrong in your life and still love Jesus. You can trust in His goodness and believe in His promises and still be hurt by His plans. It’s called a paradox. Look it up. The Bible is loaded with ’em.

It’s not that this place of disappointment is somewhere you should linger. I know I’d rather not stick around here. It’s better to fully embrace God’s sovereignty and acknowledge the kindness of His will than to wallow in pity and all things self.

But one of the most unfathomable parts about this relationship we have with our Creator is that even when we’re failing at handling our hardships, He still cares and carries us through them. His faithfulness is not predicated upon my faith or lack thereof.

Defining a “right” way to grieve is impossible, and grieving this kind of a loss – wherein no one has died, thank goodness – but you nonetheless feel empty, drained, like someone stole something from you, something you never had – is difficult to articulate in a way that others can understand. Even more complex is the process of feeling forsaken by God, but believing He loves you beyond comprehension. Jesus knows; He experienced it.

So, without seeing a resolution to my present disappointment, I will cry out to my good, good Father, and be thankful for His grace, and be sad for my loss. For when I am weak, then He is strong.

You are not alone

 

I sat, staring at the backyard.

My eyes perceived the scenery before me – the pale sky, the slender birch trees, the too tall grass – as my mind envisioned children laughing, rolling down the hill, blowing puffs of dandelions, and running to me for a kiss after falling down and scraping a knee.

I cried my heart out.

My yard was empty. I didn’t have any kids; didn’t have any co-workers, since I was working from home; didn’t have any friends, since my husband, Colin, and I had recently moved to the area. He was at work, and I was by myself. I sat alone in our empty house, gazing out the back window like a mental hospital patient, thinking about how I was never going to be a mom.

Later, I learned that the neighbors whose property bordered the back of ours – the ones who owned the fence into which my eyes bored holes during my patio reverie – were also experiencing difficulties trying to conceive. The wife had been diagnosed with endometriosis, just as I had. The two of them had undergone a few unsuccessful rounds of IVF and were prepping for another attempt at the procedure, just as we were.

Around that same time, we joined a church small group, where we met another couple who had fertility challenges and were beginning the adoption process, just like we were.

Then I met another woman who had struggled with infertility for years until finally conceiving through IVF, and now wanted to help other women facing similar issues by starting a support group, just like I did.

When we launched that support group, I met woman after woman after woman who knew The Ache – who desperately wanted a child but couldn’t get pregnant, and was wrestling with frustration, disappointment, worry, and anguish, just like I was.

Through these experiences, I learned that I was not the only one grieving the loss of the ability to bear children; I was not the only one living life with this unfulfilled desire to be a mother.

And once this desire eventually was fulfilled, I discovered that having children wasn’t the only redeeming result of this difficult season. Through infertility, I gained numerous new friendships and deeper, more honest relationships that I never would have experienced if I’d gotten pregnant that first month of trying.

I treasure those friendships now, and certainly appreciated them back then. Because when you’re going through infertility, you need a friend who understands the vicious cycle of hope lifting off at Day 1 and crashing down around Day 28, accompanied by an unseemly obsession with charting various bodily functions.

You need a friend with whom you can swap crazy Clomid stories, or laugh about the embarrassing thing you and/or your husband had to do at the doctor’s office, or joke about how you had to hide all your weapons before the adoption social worker paid a visit.

You need a friend who will stay with you for several hours after a medical procedure, when you are too weak and dizzy to do anything but lie down and talk about your favorite cooking shows.

You need a friend who will encourage you to give purpose to your pain by blogging about your experiences so others know they’re not the only ones struggling with this issue.

You need a friend who will buy your old Barbie collection to help fund your IVF cycle, save the dolls, and then re-gift them to you to pass down to your daughter, as one of my high school youth group pals did to support that friend who inspired me to blog.

Jessica bought a Barbie collection from Heather to help fund her IVF cycle, then saved the dolls to return to her Barbie sister in hopes of her one day having a little girl. Heather’s daughter, Emily, now enjoys playing with her mom’s collection.

Despite your friends doing all these wonderful, amazing things to uphold you, there will still be times when they are unavailable. Your calls will be dismissed; your texts will go unanswered.

You need a Friend who will truly always be there, who is better than all the friends Facebook has to offer, who is better than all the babies you could ever wish to mother.

You need Jesus. He will never leave you, or forsake you. He will carry your burdens, even when you think you don’t care anymore, and revive your hope, even when you feel like giving up.

And, knowing that you have the ultimate friend in Jesus, you can be a friend for Jesus. By that, I mean you can share the love and comfort of Christ with those who are hurting, even when you are hurting. He’ll give you the grace and strength to do it.

You might just be the friend someone needs to tell her she is not alone, either.

In the world we live in today, it shouldn’t be hard to find someone who is going through a difficult time and could use some encouragement. Look no farther than across the fence in your own backyard.