Permission to Grieve

When a boyfriend in college broke up with me, I thought the Christian thing to do was to try to slap a smile on it and talk about how I was confident in God’s plan.  After an initial 48 hours of lots of ugly tears, I pushed down the rejection, inadequacy, and sadness.  Almost a year later, those feelings finally came pouring out.  It was ugly.  I felt them with the same intensity I should have originally.  In some ways, it felt like they came out with a vengeance because they were also mad about being locked in the closet of my heart for over a year.  When they did make their way to the surface, it was long past the time when it is socially acceptable to be grieving a break-up.  It was painful.

Stuffed down feelings come out, often at the most inopportune times.

One of my younger friends has been one of the most thoughtful people in my life since December.  Her wedding date was closely tied with when we had hoped baby #2 would arrive.  All of her wedding events were bittersweet for me.  Out of town events I “shouldn’t” have been able to attend due to proximity to my due date.  It was an honor to love and celebrate her this spring, but also a painful reminder of what might have been.

LauraWith each upcoming event, she would reach out and let me know that it was okay if I was sad while I was there and that part of her was sad with me.  It’s okay if you need to take breaks and get away.  It’s okay if you cry at an event for me.

In the season of engagement, when it’s easy to think “it’s all about me,” she choose the selfless path and still saw me.  She gave me permission to feel whatever I needed to, whenever I needed to.  It was one of the biggest and most gracious gifts I’ve ever been given.  What she essentially told me was, “Ali, you don’t need to perform here.”

In one conversation where she had been especially caring, I asked her how she was so good at this and so thoughtful (she’s wise beyond her years this newly 24-year-old former YL girl of mine).  She told me, “Ali, you made my high school mantra ‘When you’re a mess, be a mess.’  I’m doing for you, what you did for me.”  In the most lovable of ways, she’s a recovering people-pleaser-I’ve-got-it-all-together-all-the-time-gal too.

I like being a great friend.  I like having my act together. I like being productive.  I like being the girl you can count on.

One of the hardest parts of grief for me is the way it keeps knocking me down.  It’s been hard for me to give myself permission to be okay with being knocked down.

There have been several situations where I’ve heard the lies, “You need to get it together.  You need to act this way.  You are not meeting my expectations.  You need to get over this.”

There is no fast way through grief, no shortcuts.  If there was, I’m confident I would have found it already because I have been looking for them.  The only way to battle grief is to go through it.

Like my friend generously did for me, I’m trying to do for myself: You have permission to feel whatever you are feeling.  You have permission to let it out.  You do not have to hold it in or press it down.  It’s okay to admit that it’s hard.  It’s okay to acknowledge the pain.  It’s okay to still have waves of powerful sadness.

I’ve chosen to let myself be sad about everything I miss about never knowing Maizie outside of my womb.  I’ve let myself grieve the ways her pregnancy is different than this current way.  I’ve longed for the way she moved and felt in my body.  I’ve let myself feel anger towards God or others and then worked to reconcile.  I’ve allowed myself rest.

As I get through this, I want to be a deeper, more complete, more empathetic, more aware-of-others-and-their-story person.  I want to experience what it says in scripture that God transforms us from one degree of glory to another.  To go through this transformation, I’ve had to be willing to submit myself to the furnace of trial.  I am not going to attempt to control what this process looks like.

God is changing me.  He has been changing me.  I see the glimpses of it and I know I’ll see the markings of Maizie’s life on mine in bigger ways over the years to come.  I want that, more than I want to look like I have it all together.  It’s been one of the most terrifying experiences of my life to look grief in the face and say run your course.  But I have had all the comfort and strength in the world as I rest in God’s hands.

To my dear friend Laura, thank you for the gift of permission.  No words will ever be able to describe what you did for me in those first four months following our loss.  I want to be that type of friend for other people in the future.  Sometimes I had to take you up your permission and sometimes I was able to rise to the occasion.  Either way, knowing I had it made me feel safe and known in a way I can’t describe.  Love you forever dear one.

harness smith

 

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Pain in childbearing

During my first pregnancy, I was never nervous or full of worry.  I looked forward to OB appointments.  Besides a pretty significant battle with morning sickness throughout the entire pregnancy, everything else was fairly easy.  I thoroughly enjoyed pressing the red button for more pain medicine during labor.  My daughter entered the world perfectly.  At the time, I thought I had escaped the whole “pain in childbearing” thing thanks to modern medicine.

Smith family birthMy second pregnancy started out similar.  Although, by this time I had more friends who had endured terrible pregnancy stories.  I wasn’t worried, but I also wasn’t naive this time around.  Then on December 6th, at 21 weeks pregnant, we found out that our daughter’s heart had stopped beating.  In an instant, I became very aware of the pain that can be found in childbearing.  Once we entered the second trimester, we felt free to dream and plan for this little life.  With the results of one sonogram, all those dreams and plans shattered.

Oddly enough, my greatest comfort over the past three months has come from Genesis 3.  When God created the world, He created it good.  He made Adam and Eve to be in relationship with each other and with Him.  However, Adam and Eve choose to disobey God and do things their own way.  God lays out the effects of their decision in Genesis 3.  To Eve he says, “I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children” (Genesis 3:16).

Childbearing.  Noun.  The act of bringing forth children.  Pregnancy.

I had read this section of scripture hundreds of times before.  I always thought it referred to labor and delivery.  But in late December as I studied the words, I realized it actually means all of it.

The longing for a husband to come in order to one day have kids.

The years of infertility and of trying to get pregnant.

The jealousy as others celebrate pregnancies and welcome infants.

The anxiety and fear over what if’s and questionable test results

The unplanned or unwanted pregnancy.

The abortion.

The stillborn child in the third trimester.

The early miscarriages.

The premature infant with disabilities.

The newborn who only lives a few minutes, hours, or days.

My child who left me at the halfway mark.

The lack of care and empathy from others as you suffer in one of these areas.

There is much pain in childbearing.

I’m sitting here thinking of my own pain and the stories of all the people I know.  Over the past three months, I’ve heard so many stories of loss and pain when it comes to pregnancy.  So many of my people have bleeding wounds or scars due to this area.  Many of you reading this know this pain well.  I honestly don’t know how to respond when people share about their new pregnancy right now.  Good Luck? I don’t think I’ll want to hear congratulations in the future, maybe simply a promise to pray for God to be near.

The comforting thing about Genesis 3 is that God tells us the world is going to be this way.  Pregnancy is the area for women where we are going to be very aware of the brokenness in the world.  God is not surprised by our longing, worry, sorrow, pain, heartache or disappointment.  In fact, He has a purpose for it.

Our pain in bringing forth children is supposed to be what makes us long for redemption, for a Savior.  It is supposed to be what makes us long for a new way of living and for a new earth.  It is supposed to make us yearn for Jesus.

There are a lot of things I don’t understand about this form of suffering. There are so many why questions that go through my brain.  But there is something comforting about knowing that God was prepared for this.  I may not have known it was coming, but He did.  None of it was a mistake, especially not her little life.

God wants me to want Him more.  As my longing and wanting for my daughter increases as the day approaches when I thought I would hold her, I am praying that my want for Jesus would be even deeper than the pain.

Pain in childbearing is part of His plan for the redemption of the world.  I don’t understand it.  It is not my plan.  But, I’m going to trust Him.

 

To anyone who is currently enduring this type of pain or has in the past, I am so sorry for your heartache.  I wish I could wipe it away.  But, I do know the One who promises to make all things new and who will wipe away every tear from your eyes.  He is the one who remove mourning and pain.  My prayer is that your pain will push you more towards Jesus.

“In this world you will have trouble. But take heart; I have overcome the world” – John 16:33

 

Glimpses of joy

This week has been one of the hardest for me.  It has been a can’t-stop-crying-please-don’t-make-me-get-out-of-my-pj’s-I-can’t-accomplish-anything week.  The closer we get to April 18th, the bigger the difference is between my dreams and my current reality.  I thought at this point it would feel like we are three months out from the loss.  Instead, it feels like it all hurts even more.

Part of the hurt is from my perception of some of my prayers being unanswered.  For 21 weeks, I had no idea that there was anything wrong with the child inside my womb.  I prayed each day for a healthy baby.  That did not happen.  With any loss, there are prayers that we feel are unanswered.  It is easy to question if we have been forgotten or simply ignored.  In these situations it is hard to reconcile what we know to be true from the Bible with what we are experiencing.

Tuesday was a particularly terrible day.  I remembered one of my friends had told me to listen to a specific song the day before but I hadn’t taken the time to do it yet.  I pulled it up on spotify and enjoyed it.  Then the next song came on, “Sovereign” by Chris Tomlin.   One of the repeating lines: “God whatever comes my way I will trust you.”   As I listened to the song, I realized I recognized it.

For our rehearsal dinner almost four years ago my amazing mother-in-law had put together a photo slideshow.  As the song played, I started seeing the photos in my head.  This song played at the end of the show as photos of JR and I together flashed on the screen.  I remember sitting in that moment – in a room full of people that I love, the night before my wedding – thinking, “Yes, God has worked everything for good.  Whatever comes my way I will trust you.”  It seemed so clear then in a moment of joy that everything in my life up to that point, including past heart break, had led me to that moment marrying JR.

As I sat crying listening to the song God seemed to whisper to me, “What you believed about me in the best of times, is still true about me in the worst of times.  As you trusted me then, you can trust me now.”

Prompted by the song lyrics, I came to a point of surrender.

All my hopes.  All I need.  Held in your hands.

Two daughters close in age, a healthy pregnancy, a big belly this spring.  Peace, joy, energy, good health.

All my life.  All of me.  Held in your hands.

My health, my well being, my blood.  My desires, my thoughts, my faith, my passions.

All my fears.  All my dreams.  Held in your hands.

This repeating again, no more kids, miscarriage, depression, problems getting pregnant, being forgotten, never feeling joy again.  A big family, a loving family, intimacy with friends and family, feeling healthy in ministry.

God whatever comes my way I will trust you.

God and I have wrestled this week.  It has not been fun.

Emerson and I made plans to go to the zoo today with a good friend and her son.  For the first time in awhile, I felt free this morning to ask God to give me glimpses of joy today.  I am so tired of being sad.  There hasn’t been joy here in awhile; not in me, not for others.

And this happened today.

Feeding birdsWe were randomly asked if we wanted to do the junior ranger program for free so they could train new staff.  We had a backstage pass to feeding animals, petting animals and setting up their habitats.  For a few hours as I watched my daughter and her friend enjoy their special treatment, I forgot about my pain.  There were glimpses of joy.

Junior rangerThis grief stuff is messy.  Some of you know it so much more intimately than I do.  It’s a heavy backpack that you are carrying regardless of what you’re doing.  It steals your energy and your laughter.  It puts you on edge.  It makes sadness, anger and apathy your best friends.  It makes you wrestle with God and with scripture and with what you’ve always thought to be true.  It can convince you that there will never be good days again and you will always feel this terrible.  It tries to tell you that God doesn’t hear you or see you or remember you.

But today I’d like to call grief a liar.  In little ways, God is reminding me that He seems me.  He has heard every prayer.  He will not forget me or cast me aside for another.

toddler plantHe sees you.

He has heard all of your prayers.

He will never forget you.

He will not cast you aside for another.

Toddler hands