Friday, July 31, 2009

This business of grief

My hair is falling out.

Nothing crazy-- mom warned me that it might happen a few months ago, with all of the hormones doing crazy stuff, and I thought I might have gotten out of it. No such luck-- it's coming out in the shower in long strands of mostly red, lately. Sigh. Oh well. I have a ton of hair, so it'll be alright.

But it's just one more thing to add to my list of things to feel sorry for myself about, and I wonder why I don't see "self pity" in Kubler-Ross's stages of grief: denial and isolation, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. I don't know. Maybe it's part of the "depression" stage. Here is what one site says the stages might look like:

Denial: “This can’t be happening to me.”
Anger: “Why is this happening? Who is to blame?”
Bargaining: “Make this not happen, and in return I will ____.”
Depression: “I’m too sad to do anything.”
Acceptance: “I’m at peace with what happened.”

Hm. Okay, so I am surrounded by wise people. My father is a counselor. I know that I will go through all of these stages, not necessarily in order and some of them more than once. But, while I'd read these stages before Ben, today they look completely different to me. They're just...true. I mean, there's more, but they're true. And you feel completely insane going through them sometimes.

For instance.

Yesterday, I was completely exhausted-- I've been surprised at how exhausting just being around people has been, honestly. I'm an extrovert, but I'm on people overload. Maybe because I really do feel emotionally unstable at times-- like I could cry at any moment. I can keep it together pretty well, but this...ugh...sadness is just always under everything, even when I feel good, and I can't ever tell when it's going to really grab me. Anyway, that's exhausting; always being afraid that I'm going to fall apart.

Then I'm physically tired, too. I read on a couple of the sites that this is part of the grief process, too-- grief manifesting in physical aches and pains. The week of pre-planning is exhausting for everyone, whether they've been hit by an emotional truck or not. Plus, I'm just getting used to being back at work. Anyway, so I'm tired, too.

After a series of events, I got home yesterday afternoon (back/pelvis ache; fight with Don over something so unimportant I can't even recall it; got a speeding ticket when I was NOT speeding, etc.) and was a basket case. I went back to my bed and lay down on it and wept like it was April 28 all over again. Deep, crazy-woman crying. Begging God, even though I know that it is not possible, to please change His mind about this whole thing. Begging Him to please fix it-- to go back in time and re-do everything, please please. I'd do whatever He wanted me to do. Why was He mad at me? I'm so sorry for whatever it was I did, etc. etc.

That's where the pity party comes in.

My little boat bounces between acceptance and bargaining mostly, I think, but depression/sadness hits hard sometimes.

Before this season, I never truly understood how people walked through this process. I mean, as an empathetic and fairly nice person, I understood that everyone has a right to grieve-- these things made good intellectual sense to me, but...oh how do I explain it?... I did not truly understand that people were not just emotionally moving through the stages. I did not understand that there is something in your head that is fighting sanity when you pray, "Oh God, please change your mind." You know that your child is in an urn or a casket. You know that he or she is gone. But this cry climbs out anyway, even while your brain is shaking its head, saying, "Um... hey, you know, this thing you're asking?..." You kind of can't help it... it comes gushing out, if you let it: "Please, Lord...bring him back to life."

And there it is. The world's most insane prayer.

I was lying on the bed, weeping like it had all happened yesterday-- I thought I had tapped out that kind of grief. I thought that all happened at the beginning and slowed down after a couple of weeks, but it doesn't. It's not 100% of the time, but for me, it has happened a few times (crazy, loud, can't-breathe-and-when-will-it-stop crying) and there is no end to the feeling. You just sort of have to wipe your face and be done for now. Life has gone on. Your husband needs you. Your family needs you. You can't lie on this bed and weep forever.

But it's such a compelling thought. Especially-- am I out of my mind?-- when I think about the fact that the Lord hears my prayers, my weeping, and He's in heaven...can Ben hear me? Does he hear that I miss him? Am I touching him somehow with my grief?

I told you that I sounded off my rocker.

And I know I'm not crazy-- it's just that grief does this thing to you.... Why isn't there a "Completely Idiotic" step to the grief process?

But it's just so weird, getting used to permanent loss. Permanent loss. I will have other children, or at least another child, but he... he's gone. It's like trying to make your brain comprehend eternity: you can't! It overwhelms you and it's kind of a fun way to freak yourself out. This loss is similar to that in a way. There's no comprehending it. No changing it. No end to it. It will never be okay.

So, the grief steps: I'm not in denial. If I was in denial, somebody would need to call the funny farm FAST because I can see Ben's urn from here....many indisputable facts, here. Depression. Yes, I could be dealing with some depression, but only if depression can come and go and still be depression. I'm not physically hugging the floor with weeping all the time. I can function and talk about things-- even Ben-- without crying or even tearing up. Anger. Yes, I'm a bit angry. But not violently angry. I get a little upset with God. I feel like I want to get angry, for sure, but there's no one to aim it at, so it falls away pretty fast. Bargaining-- in those crying sessions, where I feel like I can't breathe with the weight of it, I definitely do some bargaining. Of course, I know it's useless (which is when a sense of depression kicks in). And acceptance?

Acceptance is a funny word. If it means that I believe that this thing has happened, then yes, I have accepted it. If it means that I am alright with it, then no, I have not accepted it. So I'm sane. I've got that going for me.

OH, this business of grief. I feel so frustrated sometimes. I would pull my hair out if it weren't already jumping off my head on its own...


Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Here is what I hope...

I'm hoping for a lot of things this next school year, but most immediately on my mind:

* to make at least one child feel incredibly good about him/herself.
* to speak encouragement into the life of some person I see daily, whether it's a child or co-worker.
* to be real and approachable with my kids.
* to let the light and life of Jesus Christ shine through my every action, while never proselytizing-- legally, I'm bound to do it with my mouth shut, and it's a law I believe in. I don't think that I would like my child to be evangelized by a person whose faith did not line up with mine, especially when they're in such a powerful position in my child's life. However, I am persuaded that the God I serve is the one true and loving God, and that His desire is to love every person created...and to use me as a vessel for that love. And that's legal every day of the week :)
* to not complain when I am uncomfortable or put out in some way
* to not join in complaining when someone else is uncomfortable or put out!
* to find ways to inspire my students and to coax their most creative, confident selves out into the open
* to add to this list as it occurs to me...

I'm also determined to separate "this time last year" from this year in my mind and heart. Already, I'm remembering that it was when we were getting school IDs made that my friend Joy looked at me and said, "You're pregnant!" when I told her I wasn't feeling great. And it was true. It's true that, "this time last year" I was about three weeks pregnant with my son and I did not know it. I did not know that the most exhilirating and heart crushing season of my life had just commenced. On Monday, I will re-live that day when I visit with Joy while watching the kids, whose names I do not know yet, stand in line for their IDs. I will remember that she told me that I needed to eat some crackers. I will remember that she looked so proud of herself that she had been the one to tell me, and that even the next day, when I wasn't feeling as crummy, she was still convinced.

It will be important that I not cry.

There are some times that it will be okay to cry, but on the first day of school, I don't feel that it will be incredibly important.

I've been asked if I'm going to tell my students about Ben and the answer is yes. I kind of have to. The thing is, we know that teenagers are really great at getting the word out about things, but sometimes their information is...questionable. Honestly, I don't know what last year's students know or don't know, even though the counsellors at my school are personal friends of mine (one of them is a very close friend) and gave them accurate information the day after he died. I heard from one woman (read it in a thread on Facebook, actually) that she was at her doctor's office the Friday after Ben died (it happened on a Tuesday-- but of course, you know that...) and overheard two students talking about it. They were saying that Ben had died of swine flu or something...nice. She set them straight, thankfully, but it occurred to me then: go ahead and just tell them the story. Keep it brief, but let it be personal. They know that it had to hurt, and they'll appreciate my honesty, and they'll appreciate being entrusted with that information. It's not a secret and it is one of the most important things that has ever happened to me.

Which leads me to the "how" of what my plan is. On the first day of school, we'll do lots of stuff, but one of the things we will do is an introduction piece. I will introduce myself to them and share with them about Ben. Then I will ask them to think of the most important thing that has ever happened to them-- doesn't have to be the saddest thing, but just the most important thing so far-- and write about it (of course, I will remind them that I am a "mandatory reporter" and they should be very wise about what they choose to put down-- if they don't want the social worker to know, they should consider not writing it down...).

And voila: we begin to know each other.

And I have a platform for talking about the importance of literature in our culture, in our lives, in the lives of writers-- everything.

Alright. Off to continue the work of school.

It's good to have this new season. Even if it's not what I had envisioned for this year. It's going to be okay.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

They're new every morning...

This is my prayer in the desert
when all that's within me feels dry.

This is my prayer in my hunger and need
my God is the God who provides.

And this is my prayer in the fire
in weakness or trial or pain
There is a faith proved in more worth than gold
so refine me Lord through the flame

I will bring praise
I will bring praise
No weapons formed against me shall remain
I will rejoice I will declare
God is my victory and He is here...

Oh, is it even honest to write here? Is it honest that I go days and days of writing nothing, sharing nothing, because things are not dramatic, and then when grief grabs me and holds me tight I rush to write it down, to spell it out?

Is it alright? Why do I not record the moments that are just...maudlin? When I do not feel profound or thoughtful but just...sad? Oh God, my heart is so tricky, so flaky... I know that we do not just recover from this injury, but OH GOD, he was so beautiful and I want him back. My heart screams today that I want my baby, I want my child, I want him so deeply.

And yet still there is this thing inside me that says,

All of my life
in every season
You are still God
I have a reason to sing
I have a reason to worship....

ALL of my life,
in EVERY season,
You are STILL God and
I have a reason to WORSHIP

OH, He won't let me go... His love is so deep, so wide, so profound, so real and so front to back, top to bottom and I am FILLLLED with His spirit. He picks me up and folds me into His own hold-- and there we are, wrapped up together in grief and hope, too, somehow and HOW does He do this?? I will rejoice, I will declare, God is my victory and He is here...

And this is my prayer in the harvest
When favor and providence flow
I know I'm filled to be emptied again
The seed I've received I will sow

Where, oh where, to do people go who don't have You, Lord? I feel like I'm a spinning top, sometimes-- like there is no end to this sentence, no end to this horror, this choking grief-- and then there you are, reminding me and filling me up with this...oh, what IS it You are filling me with? Because it is good and it is lovely and it is filled up with tears and laughter and hope, hope, hope that screams in the face of despair and it doesn't make sense and yet, OH, it defeats the death that would try to ravage me and tear out my hair and crush my mind and my heart and my everything. Where does someone go who can't run to You? Where do they hide? Where do they go?

Oh God, I do not understand, but you hear my heart and yours grieves with mine in this lost and lonely place where women lose their children... and where those same women stand up again to shout praises to your name because You are real, and You are good, and we will not leave You because where else would we go? Only You have the words of life. Only You are life.

Hold me now, Father. Hold my heart and keep my tears and keep my mind stayed on you, where there is peace -- peace that defies logic, that defeats fact AND fiction and that does not deny or avoid tears, but see You through it...

Thank You, thank You, thank You-- for every moment of comfort, for every beautiful moment of remembering. Thank You for the words of women who have walked ahead of me and who lift their hands in worship before You. Thank You for their example and their testimony and their witness to Your great beauty and magnificence. Thank You that You are able to be glorified even in this. Thank You that You will take every tear I cry --that we cry-- and You will never, ever get over this loss any more than I will. Thank You for Your friendship and Your mercies. Oh God, help me to know about this seed that was me to be a good steward of this season, of this experience, and to bring praise. Thank You that You bring brand new and unexpected mercies every morning...

Bless Your name...

*"Desert Song," Hillsong United

Saturday, July 25, 2009

How Facebook Saved My Life

Now, I know what you're thinking: Facebook is dumb.

Well, maybe you're not thinking that at all.

But there was a time when I was in a serious minority when it came to ye olde social networking site. Yes, back in the day, when I was a nontraditional student at Agnes Scott, a couple of my little traditional buddies talked me into starting an account. At first, it was sheer silliness: there weren't any high school networks. It was all current college students, or their recent alumni. I joked back and forth with my friends-- across the library from each other-- and not much else. Eventually, non-college networks were allowed in and suddenly, old high school and YWAM friends were popping up everywhere. It was awesome.

Skip ahead to April 27.

I updated my status with a complaint about a rooster at around 5 in the morning, the morning of the day I was to be induced...

And the next thing you see, after lots of "we're so excited" posts, is "oh my gosh, what is happening?" posts...

I'm only just seeing some of these tonight...

And then the prayers, the love, the heartfelt messages from old friends, acquaintances, people who are right now in our world... all reaching out to us, enfolding us, wrapping us up...

People have asked us, "How are you doing this? How are you surviving this?"

A couple of answers: Jesus Christ. His spirit. His word. Our relationships with each other and with Him. Our family. The Body of Christ. The prayers of the saints. Writing. Being outside. Love.

And for me-- and it's just crazy and funny to think of it-- the community that exists on Facebook has been a lifeline. So many days, while I was home recovering and unable to go anywhere, I would get onto Facebook and friends from all over the world-- people in other time zones who were struggling with insomnia, or people who were at work and bored out of their minds, or people who were home for one reason or another-- would be there, waiting to chat, exchange stories, encouragement, entertainment.... A lifeline, keeping my head above water.

Leigh. Susan. The Housewives of New York. Laurel. Staci. Elizabeth. The Hudgins twins :). Melissa. Mary W. Delynn. Caroline. Kris and Susan, new sisters of mine in this sad sorority. I've left too many names out. I should just scratch this list because it's not enough. There have been so, so many... like in shifts...

And then there are the conversations... Neo. Leah. Leigh. Police department scanner. Oh yes: good times.

Facebook has saved my life so many times this season. This medium has been a platform for so many things-- first, how in the world would the word of Ben's death have gotten out so quickly without Facebook? Not just across town, but across the world! My friend Lisa, living in Switzerland, was able to find out only three hours after he died.... I so solidly believe in the power of prayer, and we are walking proof: so many believers, crying out to the Lord on our behalf, for His grace, mercy, peace....

There's more, but for now, I just love these captured images....

Thursday, July 23, 2009

"What I did over my spring break"

I'm in my classroom, listening to the gorgeous sound of rain pounding on our roof while the Ting Tings sing "That's Not My Name." I'm cleaning my desk out-- really, there's not a whole lot to do for next year because Caroline helped me one LONG afternoon before I went on maternity leave, throwing stuff out and organizing since I wouldn't be back before the end of the year. Mostly, I'm just straightening, moving stuff around, putting up a new bulletin board (thank you Melissa-- that thing is such a pain to do alone)...and being in here like I am, not pregnant, because I was literally pregnant all last school year. From probably the second or third week of school until April 24.

Sometimes I respond to daily writing prompts with my kids, and while throwing papers out I happened to find one of my responses. I know it's sad, but I wanted to record it here. Excuse the topic-- we were laughing at the old school "What I did on my spring break" writing prompt and decided to do it as a group.

On mine... I slept. I'm not kidding. I looked at Spring Break and said, "You are a quilt" and I tied it around my body and buried my face in it. I told my husband that I would be sleeping the entire break. I told my mom. I told all friends who wanted to meet for coffee or lunch: I'll be asleep. I'll be watching movies or re-runs of the Housewives of New York. And sleeping. And probably eating. But the eating thing has gone away. Replaced by severe heartburn and a kicking, rolling, big, beautiful baby who is wanting OUT! So my spring break? Was it cold? Did it rain? Was there snow? Not in my dreams or in my quilt. I was asleep, happily gestating and waiting for my baby to come...


Ben, you changed me in so many ways. How I wish you were here with me today...


Dear God,

It would be great if I could go to sleep. Please let me know what you suggest...



Wednesday, July 22, 2009

found poem for ben

I was working in my classroom today and sat down to a magnetic board with lots of words. It's kind of emotional, being back in the room where I spent so much time being pregnant, feeling him move, talking about him to my students. I missed him a lot today. But it's going to be fine-- because it was also an extraordinarily good day. That's a good mixture. Emotional and extraordinarily good. :)

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

at night

you come to me
when it's dark out.
when the crickets and tree frogs
sing and croak,
you float through my window
and wait in front of me.
you watch me,
you feel me,
you breathe with me,
you remind me.

and the eyes in my eyes
are open
and i am there
and it is bright
and green eyes whisper
that they'll see me in a minute
and everything is black,
but i still see.
i see them lift you from me.
i see them hush and pale.
i see you, little one...
i see you there.

and i am paralyzed.

i cannot help you.
i cannot move toward you or
hold you
or kiss you.

i am motionless
and my hands cannot find you or
touch you
or have you.

i dance here
between wanting to see it
again and again, this
horror film
sad, sad story
and wanting to forget it
for good and for all.

i know i'm in charge of what i remember
and that i pet these memories.
i know it.
i know i could make it stop.
i could make myself sleep.
but it's the same scene again and again
and i think
maybe i'll remember it differently this time
and maybe it will matter...

am i so insane?
am i so mad that i believe that i might
remember it better,
remember it right,
and this time you'll come home with me?

this time your father won't weep.

this time i'll hold you alive.

this time you'll see my face.

this time you pull in air
and you let it out in the loudest,
most amazing cry
that ever was heard...
not silence.

it's at night, little one,
that you come to me,
and i dread it and long for it
and i don't know what there is for it
but to keep asking

please tell him i would have loved him
please tell him that i longed for him
please tell him that i haven't forgotten him
and that you didn't ask me if you could take him
and i would have said no
no matter what
and that i wanted him so badly,
wanted him so much...
please tell him...

those are my prayers lately.
that and just

help. oh help.

Sunday, July 19, 2009


Hi all--

For those of you who subscribe to my blog, I'm sorry for all of the updates that I just realized you were getting!!!! I am bringing old blogs from a group blog over to this site.

If you're interested in reading them, they're listed under:

the availables


What if...

I was lying in bed, awake again, thinking about the future (okay, I'll admit it: worrying about the future), and thinking again about the day that Ben died, when a thought occurred to me:

What if a miracle did happen on that day?

I was joking to my friend Whitney the other day, telling her that I was wondering, "Look at the idiots who are reproducing and look at all of these amazing women in my life who have lost babies in the last few months... Hello? God, are you in charge of anything?" Whitney joked back, "Yeah, it's like He's got an intern running stuff up there right now...."

I had to laugh. That was really funny. Whitney makes me laugh on a pretty regular basis :)

And of course, we know it isn't true, that He's put a sophomore in charge. But dang. Sometimes it feels like it.

So I was drifting in and out of sleep, now worrying about what happens when I do get pregnant again-- will I live? And that's when it occurred to me-- I lived.

God is not capricious or weak or forgetful. He is not checked out, on vacation, or disinterested. He is not powerless in the face of Job-era-like taunting from the enemy. He does not lose bets, his glasses or his marbles. His plans are good and firm. His ideas are rich and complex. He created every blade of grass that grows in my yard and He knit together every one of us in our mothers' wombs. And on the day that Benjamin was taken, I was not taken. It could have just as easily been me, but it was not. Women die in childbirth, tragically, just like babies do. I did not.

And it is incredibly important that I not miss that. That we not miss things like that.

It occurs to me that He performs miracles on our behalf every day and we are often not even aware of all of our near-misses. And we shake our fists at Him and ask Him where He is...and His lovingkindness never ceases, even in the face of that.

Again, I lay my hand on my mouth...

13 I was pushed back and about to fall,
but the LORD helped me.
14 The LORD is my strength and my song;

he has become my salvation.
15 Shouts of joy and victory

resound in the tents of the righteous:
"The LORD's right hand has done mighty things!
16 The LORD's right hand is lifted high;

the LORD's right hand has done mighty things!"
17 I will not die but live,

and will proclaim what the LORD has done.
Psalm 118: 13-17

Bless the Lord!

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Loving You for this...

The picture at the right and the one in the post below are from yesterday-- the view from my parents' pool. I've discovered that the main exercise I can do right now is swimming (have I mentioned that the incision is closed??? Wanda has been GONE for about three weeks now-- I totally put her out of my mind the minute my fantastic nurse removed her and I completely forgot to tell you!), and I was just lying on my back, kicking the length of the pool, while gazing at the most amazing clouds and listening to two hawks screeching back and forth about something, and thinking about the Lord.

It felt so good to swim. My hips and pelvis did not ache. I felt weightless and jointless, floating cool and light. I stared at the sky and told the Lord, "I need You. I need You to touch me, my heart, my mind. I need something from You. I don't know what it is, but I need it. I have to hear something. I have to...." Tears rolled from my face and into the water around my cheeks, and I thought of all my tears joining the drops of water in that pool. How many years' worth of tears is that? How many have I cried this season? How many more will I cry? Where do they come from? How many can I make?

You have taken account of my wanderings; Put my tears in Your bottle...Are they not in Your book? Psalm 56:8

The sky was so beautiful. I stared at it, trying to figure out where He is. Where is heaven? Where is Ben? Is it up there or down here or over there...?

He didn't say anything. But the cry felt good and I went home to change for Salem.

I will write later about the incredible (but too brief!) conversation I had with my friend Casey when I got to Salem. It was about the kingdom of God and it distracted me so much that I haven't thought about much else since, but what I want to post right now is from my devotional this morning. Because God heard my prayer as I cried yesterday and began to speak to me....

July 16 (Streams in the Desert, Vol 1)

Because thou hast done this thing, and hast not withheld thy son, thine only son...I will multiply thy seed as the stars of the heaven;...because thou has obeyed my voice (Gen. 22: 16-18)

And from that day to this, men have been learning that when, at God's voice, they surrender up to Him the one thing above all else that was dearest to their very hearts, that same thing is returned to them by Him a thousand times over. Abraham gives up his one and only son, at God's call, and with this disappear all his hopes for the boy's life and manhood, and for a noble family bearing his name. But the boy is restored, the family becomes as the stars and sands in number, and out of it, in the fullness of time, appears Jesus Christ.

That is just the way God meets every real sacrifice of every child of His. We surrender all and accept poverty; and He sends wealth. We renounce a rich field of service; He sends us a richer one than we had dared to dream of. We give up all our cherished hopes, and die unto self; He sends us the life more abundant, and tingling joy. And the crown of it all is our Jesus Christ. For we can never know the fullness of the sacrifice. The earthly founder of the family of Christ must commence by losing himself and his only son, just as the heavenly Founder of that family did. We cannot be members of that family with the full privileges and joys of membership upon any other basis. C. G. Trumbull

We sometimes seem to forget that what God takes He takes in fire; and that the only way to the resurrection life and the ascension mount is the way of the garden, the cross, and the grave.

Think not, O soul of man, that Abraham's was a unique and solitary experience. It is simply a specimen and pattern of God's dealings with all souls who are prepared to obey Him at whatever cost. After thou hast patiently endured, thou shalt receive the promise. The moment of supreme sacrifice shall be the moment of supreme and rapturous blessing. God's river, which is full of water, shall burst its banks, and pour upon thee a tide of wealth and grace. There is nothing, indeed, which God will not do for a man who dares to step out upon what seems to be the mist; though as he puts down his foot he finds a rock beneath him. F.B. Meyer

There is so much here. When the writer says that "Abraham gives up his one and only son, at God's call," I know that what happened with us isn't the same. He didn't ask us and we didn't say yes, in any way. Where I see my obedience is in God's grace-- that now, in these after days, weeks, months, years, I would say "yes" to Him. Yes, I will not hate You for this. That not only would I not hate You for this, but that one day I would love You for it.

Yes, I will give him to You in my heart.

Lost in Translation

2"Will the faultfinder contend with the Almighty?
Let him who reproves God answer it."
3Then Job answered the LORD and said,
4"Behold, I am insignificant; what can I reply to You?
I lay my hand on my mouth.
5"Once I have spoken, and I will not answer;
Even twice, and I will add nothing more."
Job 40: 2-5

Oh Lord, I repent.

I repent, not for questioning or asking hard questions-- these You have asked me to do. You have asked me to be real in relationship with You, preserving honor and respect for You, the Most High God, Maker of Heaven and Earth. You have humbled Yourself so that I can look You straight in the eye and rail against You in my sadness and anger, yet You never banish me to death, though You could, for my insubordination. You love me where I am and how I am. These are things that I know and have known since I was a little girl, dancing before You all alone in the den, feeling Your presence pressing in around me. I have known You since I can remember knowing anything. I know that You are sitting with me in my grief and that You understand it all, but I am sorry for questioning You the way that I have been. You deserve all of my respect and all of my honor. You are real and worthy of my faith. Thank You for Your great mercy towards me.

I don't know how much you, dear reader, will be able to identify with what I'm writing today. Maybe every word will echo your own heart. Maybe nothing will resound. But after writing, a couple of days ago, that I doubted God's ability to give anything back to me-- Ben is dead, right? His ashes are here for me to hold in my lap if I was so inclined--I have been bothered and sad.

Then this:

"To trust in spite of the look of being forsaken; to keep crying out into the vast, whence comes no returning voice, and where seems no hearing; to see the manchinery of the world pauselessly grinding on as if self-moved, caring for no life, nor shifting a hairbreadth for all entreaty, and yet believe that God is awake and utterly loving; to desire nothing but what comes meant for us from His hand; to wait patiently, ready to die of hunger, fearing only lest faith should fail-- such is the victory that overcometh the world, such is faith indeed." George MacDonald

I do not understand the ways of God. April 27th, I probably would have said the same thing (in earnest), but secretly suspected that I did understand. Today, on July 16, I lay my hand over my mouth... I honestly say that no, I do not fully understand Him. I know some things about Him: He is good and all of His ways are good. But that is the shore upon which all of my waves stop: I do not understand beyond that. Here is what His words tell us:

In this world you will have tribulation, but be of good cheer: I have overcome the world. John 16:33

And the not fully understanding part? This, for me, is one of the biggest troubles of all. Because I know, just as my husband has reminded me, that even if I understood the why of all of this, the grief of it wouldn't lessen. In fact, something in me wonders if the grief would become impossible to bear if I had more understanding. That, in this, I am the child that God is guarding. He knows what I can know and what I cannot. He knows where the waves end for me.

But there will come a time, He promises, when we will have understanding. It's just that, here, it seems, certain things just won't translate:

9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part;
10but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away.
11When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things.
12For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face;
now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known.

So, for now, there's only one thing for it:

13But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love. 1Corinthians 13: 9-13

"For now," He tells us. I know that today, you cannot see. I know that today, You squint at yourself in the mirror and you pound your fists on the ground over gifts that do not look like gifts at all. Today, you are grieved and do not understand why, if I loved you, I would lead you down this path. Today, you cannot see. For now, I ask you to walk in faith, hope, and love, and I recognize that even that does not make sense and that it-- my very Word-- feels ridiculous. But it's because you see in a mirror dimly. Your eyes are adjusted to a world that I have overcome. So there's grace for that. There's grace for not understanding. There's grace for confusion. But I'll ask you again-- will you walk in faith, hope, and love? Will you just trust Me?

Oh gosh, my smart brain recognizes that faith looks ridiculous. It argues with every step I want to take down the path of "just trust God." My mind battles it, but my spirit resonates with it.

But every other path leads to death and destruction. Every other path is hopeless. A thousand smart friends can cluck their tongues at me and shake their heads at my naivete, at my desire to just trust and obey. Only He has overcome the world.

And only He speaks the language that would hold me close and tell me all of the why's my heart longs to know the answers to. One day, my lips will sing in that language. For now, only my spirit gets it-- but wordlessly.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Tenth Tuesday

I slept a lot today.

Couldn't sleep much last night. Had a weird dream.

School is about to start back in a couple of weeks and I'm ready for it, honestly. It's been good to have this summer to heal, physically and mentally and emotionally, but it's time to move back into the land of the living.

I've spent so much time alone this summer and it has been so good. It was largely self-imposed, though Don has gone on two trips where he was away all week and those have been the hardest. This time I had the choice to go with him (spending the night at campmeeting) or not, but I'm not up to it for a thousand reasons.

Campmeeting. It's an amazing event. This is the 181st year of the Salem Campmeeting-- apparently it was only skipped once for the War of Northern Aggression. It's an incredible time of the year, like a major family reunion, and the week is kept religiously by many, many people. The tabernacle is 150+ years old, and I'm always distracted by the craftsmanship I see in those rafters. Every year (I "married in," as they say, and have been going for 9 years now) I find myself looking at the rafters and trying to imagine what the carpenter looked like who made just...that...cut. I imagine that those men were strong and clever and maybe they were laughing as they worked. As an artist, I love just the roughness of it. You can feel the hands of the craftsmen in every nick.

Anyway, campmeeting is a simple but profound concept: there are a bunch of cabins ("tents") that were built all around the tabernacle. Every year, the families who own those tents move in on Friday night (or so) and set up camp (campmeeting happens here in our community). A couple of the tents have air conditioning, but mostly you just decide from the beginning that you're going to be hot. Hot and smelly. And every day of campmeeting you go to services at the tabernacle. There are two preachers who alternate am/pm times, choirs from surrounding communities, and this year, testimonies (fantastic new addition). There are countless youth events needled throughout all of this-- baseball, kickball, treasure hunts, crafts, swimming, bible study, and porch-sitting. There are people who can count five generations in attendance. Now, that's nothing but cool.

Sounds fun, doesn't it? Now that I've been going (any "real" camper would scoff at my statement that I've been "going"-- I don't spend the night any more and I tend to avoid the place during the day-- have I mentioned that this is happening in July in Georgia? Outside? 100+ year old tents?) for a number of years, I see the crazy growth of the kids: little ones who were babies last year are children this year. Boys who were skinny/chubby and short are suddenly taller/stockier this year. They have facial hair. They have zits. Girls notice them now. Girls who sat on the porch and gossipped about boys and followed them around and bugged it again this year.

How is it that the girls don't seem to change much? Hm. Weird.

But I struggle with campmeeting, and I understand why it's hard to understand for those who don't struggle with it. I mean, what's not to love about what I just wrote? It's the American dream, isn't it? Everyone sits on the porch and drinks iced tea or diet coke and passes out popsicles and talks about the events of the last year or how irritating the kids are being or whatever.

And as an extrovert, you'd think the thing was made for me. I mean, PEOPLE are EVERYWHERE!!!! And not just any people-- people that I really, really love!

But for some reason, every insecurity I have rises to the surface. I'll skip the list and just leave it at this: it's hot. That affects hair, wardrobe, everything. And then, being a youth worker (not as much in the last few years), the kids (who are now adults) always feel the need to point out whatever it is that makes you feel uncomfortable: why are you wearing that? Why don't you come earlier?

Anyway, those things are actually kind of funny. It's part of the tradition of it all.

Campmeeting means the world to my husband, though. He loves it. He submerges himself into it and lets it wash all over him. He would live at Salem year round if he could. He loves the tradition of it, the community of it-- he loves what it means and how much of a glimpse of heaven it really is. Homecoming. Focus on the Lord. Relationship. He asked me to marry him on that campus, a month and a half after the first campmeeting I went to (where I stayed at a different tent from his and didn't know anyone really yet...that year was a bit uncomfortable). His name is written in the cement of the tent he stays in, with the year "1976" right beside it. He lives for it, and Joshua, my 18 year old step son, loves it, too.

But this year is especially hard because of Ben. And it's not because of the other babies there-- there are tons and they're precious-- but because this is one of the things I knew I'd be doing with him. You know, most of the days between birth and now were just normal. We might have been taking him here or there. We might have done this or that with him. But this? We knew that Don would be holding a little baby during services at Salem this year. And where my arms have been conspicuously empty for ten weeks, I have a feeling that my husband's are this week, more than ever before. And it makes my heart ache for him.

This thing, this tradition, means so much to him. He was so excited to be bringing yet another of his sons into it all. That there would be people meeting the baby this year who would, in a few years, tell him "I remember when you were first born...." That's such a valuable thing-- being known from birth.

For me, I felt that Ben's presence would give me something to do at Salem. It would give me a place. I miss him so much this week. So much, I can't hardly stand to be there. And everyone is being so, so kind to me. It's like they know.

Ben, it's the tenth Tuesday since you came and went, like a whisper of smoke, and I want you to know that your absence is felt this week in a unique and deep way. We wanted to bring you into our lives and raise you up in community. We had a place all ready for you. We were going to take a thousand pictures of you this week. Everyone wanted to hold you. I fretted over how to dress you and keep you cool and had things set aside, just for Salem, from way back in March. I was going to finally stay for the family picture, and we were going to get Joshua and have pictures of the two of you together. Oh Ben, you are longed for. And even though the tears might not be hourly, or even daily, they're always here. I grieve for you all the time. I hold you in my heart, tight. Little boy, how we wanted you. Oh Ben, how I love you. I love you. I love you.

And again, for the thousandth time, my heart sobs Why? Oh why? Why did my Father let my heart get broken like this? Why did He bring me all the way to delivery, just to take him away? Why? Oh why don't I have a son today? Who did this to me? Who allowed it? Who perpetrated it? Who can I blame? What can I hit?

Last night, I dreamed that I was a wet nurse for a woman who was too sick to nurse her child. In my dream, my son had died and my milk had dried up, but I was able to get it to come back in. But even as I said yes to the person who was asking me to help this mother and baby, I thought, but what will I do when that baby is through nursing? When the mother can take him back? Will I have to go through the process of drying out my milk again? I avoided the pain of engorgement this last time-- would I avoid it again? I asked that question out loud and didn't hear an answer. But I chose to do it anyway.

I don't understand much from this season, but I want the mark on my life to always be yes. I want this season to be one where I can honestly say that I chose to believe God in the face of torment. In the face of total devastation. In the face of silence.

12 The righteous will flourish like a palm tree,
they will grow like a cedar of Lebanon;
13 planted in the house of the LORD,

they will flourish in the courts of our God.
14 They will still bear fruit in old age,

they will stay fresh and green,
15 proclaiming, "The LORD is upright;

he is my Rock, and there is no wickedness in him."
Psalm 92: 12-15

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Ninth Tuesday

O LORD, thou hast brought up my soul from the grave: thou hast kept me alive, that I should not go down to the pit.
Sing unto the LORD, O ye saints of his, and give thanks at the remembrance of his holiness.
For his anger endures but a moment; in his favour is life:

weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning.
And in my prosperity I said, I shall never be moved.
LORD, by thy favour thou hast made my mountain to stand strong: thou didst hide thy face, and I was troubled.
I cried to thee, O LORD; and unto the LORD I made supplication.
What profit is there in my blood, when I go down to the pit? Shall the dust praise thee? shall it declare thy truth?
Hear, O LORD, and have mercy upon me: LORD, be thou my helper.
Thou hast turned for me my mourning into dancing: thou hast put off my sackcloth, and girded me with gladness;
To the end that my glory may sing praise to thee, and not be silent. O LORD my God, I will give thanks unto thee for ever.

Psalm 30:3-12

I keep trying, every Tuesday, to be aware when 12:05 hits. That's Ben's official time of death.

I keep missing. Today I was doing something on Facebook or reading one of the short stories I'm planning to teach this fall. I thought of 12:05 at 9am. I thought of it again at 1:15. I don't know why it's something that has become so important, but I'm determined to pay attention next Tuesday, his tenth. His tenth. I'll just face it: for now, all Tuesdays are his.

A close friend of mine miscarried her baby last night or this morning. And my heart grieves for her, and my heart grieves for her midwife, who is an old friend of mine and also my midwife. And I wonder, where is this little baby spirit? Where did his or her little spirit fly? Is Ben now an old soul there, welcoming him in? If Ben is anything like his father, he would delight in that role. Welcoming, introducing, coming alongside. Oh, my Ben. Just to touch you for a moment...

The loss of these babies... it's minor chords and browns and deepest burnt sienna. These babies who are gone. Oh God, why?

And I ask myself, where have you been all these years? Every night that I drifted away to sleep, peaceful and snug in my not-yet-death-stained slumber, somewhere across the road or in town or in China, some mother was bent double, torn from the inside out with loss. Like finding the greatest treasure that ever was, covering it with a blanket, and running to find someone to help you carry it, the mother returns to find the treasure gone... only a scar is left. No mercy. Nothing left. Just dirt. Women have been grieving the loss of babies for generations and I had no idea.

Another woman that I do not know lost her baby last night. She was in her 8th month and, from what I understand, was induced this morning.

through shadow dark and valley deep, be merciful to me*

Another friend lost her baby in the middle of June.

Two more of my closest girlfriends lost babies seven years ago and five years ago.

And if we mean what we say when we sing, "All to Jesus, I surrender," do we consider what that really means? There is a faction within a certain denomination that is using a saying to defend their cause, and I feel that it means more than they think it means, even to them:

All means all.

What does it mean for us as believers to surrender all.

So then, any of you who does not forsake (renounce, surrender claim to, give up, say good-bye to) all that he has cannot be My disciple (Luke 14: 33)(Amplified Version)

What are we called to surrender? All of our rights to our health. Our possessions. Our rights to desires, to what we're "owed" and to live the life we think we deserve. Our hopes and dreams. All means all. All means everything. The good and the bad.

And I used to have a great line after that thought in my heart: because after we submit those things to Him, He will perfect them and we'll receive them from His hands instead of at our own will.

Maybe. But that answer just seems too neat now. Ben's not coming back. And neither are my friends' babies. If I handed him over, he can't give him back to me in any way at all. Perfected, not perfected, or in any form. I'll see him in eternity. Which, today, seems forever from now. I know that my perspective will change then, but I'm doing my best to live in now.

Still, the sentiment is sound. It's right. Give it to Him and let Him author the things in our lives the way He sees fit. But here is the theological quandry I'm stuck in sometimes: did He "take" Ben, allow Ben to be taken, or was it all just...fate? (chills-- I'm no fatalist, no matter what happens. That's not the answer)

I'm thinking something radical right now. Is it possible for us as believers to just let go? How about if I don't speak for you and just ask myself: Samantha, can you just let it go? What would happen if you just handed over the things that freak you out and break your heart? Do you think you could? What would it mean?

Hm. I don't know. I know it's what I must do, and will do. I need to work through that.

It might mean freedom.

*Caedmon's Call, written by Randall Goodgame

Sunday, July 5, 2009

The Things That Came After You Left...

It's amazing how long this process is. So long, it doesn't even feel like a process. It just feels like life going on, day after day, only different from before. Before I didn't have this constant ache, like an albatross, getting in my way whenever I try to do something. I lean over, I look around a corner, I touch a soft blanket, I hear a certain song, I remember that I can drink a margarita, I walk past his room, I hear a baby laugh, I turn left on the road, I feel grass under my feet, I drink water, I take my prenatal vitamins, I go to bed, I get up.... any one of these things might remind me of the gaping hole that I carry with me.

And then again, I might go a whole day not feeling especially bad. And I know that that's healthy, too. This week, I went two or three days feeling kind of normal (really, all that has changed-- I will always have a son who died. Whether I feel it or not, it is now who I am: I am a mother, and I am a mother whose son has passed away. Always). I went to the grocery store, laughed like crazy at my hysterically funny husband, cleaned the kitchen, hung out with my baby niece, put off thinking about school for a few more days, went swimming (hooray!!), got dressed-- accomplished all of these things without feeling sad or depressed.

And then, out of nowhere, BLAM. It hit me. I couldn't see to drive. And all I could think of was that I needed to stop driving. I didn't even really want to see anyone-- I was on my way to mom and dad's, where Don already was, but I didn't want to be with anyone right that minute. I just needed to weep and weep loud.

Oh God, oh God, oh God, oh Goooood-- and I will not apologize for still feeling this. One well meaning friend patted me on the shoulder and told me that she was glad that I was "finally starting to come out of this" and I wanted to hit her in the face-- it's only been 8 weeks! I was pregnant for thirty more weeks than that. I held him in my arms. I carried him full term-- he was supposed to be BORN that day, not die! He wasn't early, he wasn't late-- he was on time! He was perfect. He was supposed to be in my arms that day but instead was in a hearse on the way to some facility in Gwinnett to have his organs harvested. My son was alive and in minutes was dead. My arms will be filled with other children-- I know it-- but they will never hold Benjamin alive. I am not in despair, but I am not over it or through it or okay with it. I will grieve and I will grieve both quiet and loud and I will wallow in it and thrash around in it and shake my fists and cry and cry and cry....

And there are all of these reminders of him... a couple of weeks ago, his social security card came in the mail. Great. There's a conversation I want to have. To call them and say that he is deceased. The paperwork that will likely accompany it. How did they even get his name? I didn't sign him up for a social security card. Does this mean that he does have a certificate of live birth? Though he never breathed on his own? Ugh. I don't want to do this...

And then a letter came, telling me that he was a "high risk" infant and that the state was providing a nurse to come to the home to "help improve the health of your child." I'd say he's a goner in that department. How in the heck... how could a child who did not live be referred to such a service, and two months after his death?

And then a precious package arrived from the organization who harvested his heart, LifeLink. They had already sent us a book about grieving and the things that go along with knowing that your loved one's organ has helped someone else, but then came a beautiful card and a large, heavy medal, thanking us again for Ben's heart. Don and I smiled and kind of laughed about Ben's one and only medal-- we had hoped for soccer trophies and first place ribbons-- but it helps to imagine how another family will be comforted by the gift of his heart valves. But oh, how I wish my son was using them right now....

The other things that have come since Ben left... I'm not the same. I know that there is a sadness about me that wasn't there before. There's a sobriety. I know that this might fade with time, but something about this loss and the way the grief is always sort of standing around the corner, ready to mug you at any moment, kind of makes me a little nervous about groups. Where there was a deep joy that inspired poetry in the months of pregnancy, today there is something else... I am able to touch that joy while worshipping, I've noticed, or in quiet times with Don, but other than that... I'm not crippled with it-- I know that part of this is post traumatic stress-- but I'm aware of it. For now I'm not the extreme extrovert I always have been. It will return, but for now, I choose to be quiet.

I'm sorry that this post seems so...I don't know. Regressive? It may appear to be, but it isn't. I still believe what I've written about Ben worshipping before my God, and about new fruit springing up from this season of death. I believe all of that, and so many other beautiful things that only occur to me when I'm driving and I never remember to write about. It's just, it wouldn't be honest to say, "Okay, well, I'm done with that! Grieving over!" No.

I'm almost at the time of year when Ben was conceived and my heart is sad about that. I don't know why. We celebrated our anniversary last year (engagement anniversary-- more on that later) with the knowledge that we were pregnant. I remember that I wrote in a letter to him (part of our tradition), I wondered if we would bring the baby with us on our annual pilgrimage or if we'd leave him/her with my parents. But I distinctly remember wondering, what if there's no baby? What if something happens...? It was just newly pregnant jitters, but I remember being so afraid to hope.

So I give that fear of hoping to the Lord. Because it threatens to hang its hat on my door and move in. It asserts itself with proof ("see? no baby, just like you thought!") and dares me with mockery ("you idiot-- you can't do anything to prevent this. you don't even know how it happened. what's to say it won't happen again? loser.").

But my hope isn't in myself anyway, now is it?


8 -11 Just as each day brims with your beauty,
my mouth brims with praise.
But don't turn me out to pasture when I'm old
or put me on the shelf when I can't pull my weight.
My enemies are talking behind my back,
watching for their chance to knife me.
The gossip is: "God has abandoned him.
Pounce on him now; no one will help him."
12 -16 God, don't just watch from the sidelines.
Come on! Run to my side!
My accusers—make them lose face.
Those out to get me—make them look
Like idiots, while I stretch out, reaching for you,
and daily add praise to praise.
I'll write the book on your righteousness,
talk up your salvation the livelong day,
never run out of good things to write or say.
I come in the power of the Lord God,
I post signs marking his right-of-way.

Psalm 71:8-16 (The Message)

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Pray for Kate McRae

Please cry out to the Lord on behalf of this family...

Wednesday, July 1, 2009


My friend Caroline decided to have a garden this year. There's something you should know about Caroline-- in my opinion, everything she touches turns to pure gold. Or yummy food. Or gorgeous art. Or refreshed soul. Or encouraged student. You name it, it improves if she touches it.

I remember limping up to her above-ground garden at the beginning of the summer. I was still pretty weak, just getting mobile, when Don and I stopped by to say hey to Caroline and Robert and they had to show us the home-made garden box (made from Robert's old bunk bed from his UGA dorm days). The dark soil surface was scattered with tiny plants and herbs, and where there were no plants, Caroline would point and prophesy: "cucumber" and "zinnia" and "watermelon" and "lettuce." Lettuce? Who grows lettuce? How cool is that?

I remember being eaten up by mosquitoes as we stood there and admired their labor, laughing (because that is one funny group of people: Don, Caroline and Robert. I was their grateful audience) and looking forward to Caroline's first home-grown salad. Where there was nothing but a seed, dying and gestating in the earth in front of us, soon there would be something.

It leaves me thinking. There have been at least four weeks of long, hot, humid Southern summer days since we first saw the garden (I think in weeks these days, just like a new mother. Only I'm not marking off weeks between doctor visits and immunization, but weeks of "would have" and "supposed to be"). Her beds sit in the full sun, and she faithfully waters them in the prescribed manner (apparently there is a certain way to tend to raised beds). Today, the garden is virtually exploding. Ice box watermelons sit lumpy and cool looking next to tall, lovely zinnias, while tomatoes and cucumbers hang heavy and promising on the other end. Where before all we saw was dirt while we took Caroline's word for it, yesterday there was no arguing: she could definitely make a salad from the harvest she was reaping.

Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.

John 12:23

All those seeds were pushed deep into the ground by Caroline. She watered them and they died there. And they grew into big, huge, green life from the decay.

My prayer today, inspired by that itty bitty cucumber (sorry, Caroline-- I mean, that GREAT BIG CUCUMBER!), is that where there has been death in my life this season, much life would spring forth. And that, like Farmer Caroline as she pointed out the expected fruit from the bed of the garden, I would expect fruit to burst forth from the things that have died. Ben, the hopes and dreams that we had all wrapped up in him, and even my womb-- this baby was proof that I was not infertile. What now?

Life. That's what now.

(all of the pictures, except the one of Caroline posing with the fruit of her labor, were taken by Caroline!!)