God is holding on

I sat nursing Holden in the living room a few nights ago and I could hear JR singing to Emerson as he put her to bed.  It was a moment that thankfulness completely washed over me.  I love this little family and feel honored to call them mine.

During the weeks leading up to Holden’s birth, I felt an increase in worry.  We were approaching the moment we’d been waiting for a long time, when we would hopefully hold our next child in our arms.  That moment would either come or it wouldn’t and there was nothing I could do to control it.  I played one song on repeat consistently after hearing it at church, “King of My Heart” by Sarah McMillan.  There are two lines sung multiple times which struck something deep in my soul: “You are good” and “You’re never gonna let me down.”

These two lines are true.  They are true even on our darkest days.  Tears may fill my eyes as I think back on the pain of the past year, but I know those two things are true.  God was no less good last year on December 6 when we found out Maizie had died than He was on November 13 when Holden was born.  His goodness has never been in question.  His character is not determined by my circumstance.  God was good even in the darkness.  He showed us His goodness in His provision for us.  He surrounded us with community.  He preserved my life.  He kept us nourished.  He listened.  He comforted.  He healed some broken places and relationships.  He kept our eternity secure.  He forgave my sin and selfishness. He protected our marriage.  He remained in control.  He gave us many blessings we’ve done nothing to earn.  He opened my womb quickly.  Ultimately, He has shown us His goodness in the way He has loved us all when we have been far from Him and sent His Son as a payment to bring us back to Him. He is always good.

As I faced our due date, God’s goodness is what I wanted to remember.  This is what I preached to myself.  God is good.  In any possible outcome, He is good.  He never lets me down.  He has promised us much in scripture – He will make those things happen.  I can’t expect Him to be my personal genie, giving me a perfect life.  Suffering is not Him letting me down.  In fact, He tells me I will face it in John 16.

It was this song that I wanted played on repeat the last portion of my labor and for delivery (Sorry to the others in the room that had to hear it on repeat for 40 minutes, luckily its a 6 minute version).  The last lines I love are “When the night is holding on to me, God is holding on.”  As I think about the past year, nothing has been more true.  Part of the reason I loved the name Holden was because of this lyric.  His name stands as a reminder that even when the darkness, the pain, the waiting, the suffering are holding on tight and seeking to destroy me, God is holding on to me even tighter.  His grip on me is secure.  It will never let me down, even when I feel almost unable to hold onto Him.

Holden Ryan SmithFor the past three weeks we have celebrated this new life joining our family.  We could not be more delighted with Holden or in love with him.  Emerson constantly wants to hold him or touch him.  We love him.  I’m soaking up every snuggle because this season goes by in the blink of an eye.

Emerson meeting HoldenWe decorated our Christmas tree the weekend after Thanksgiving.  About halfway through the process, I found myself crying.  Holden was napping.  Emerson was helping.  The ornaments representing memories and trips and people were going up on the tree.  It felt like something was missing, someone was missing.  The seven month old little girl was missing.  Her ornament was missing.  The pain stung.  I could picture her developmental stage so clearly because of her due date’s proximity to Emerson’s birthday.  As I was pregnant with Maizie, this Christmas was the furthest thing into the future I had truly imagined with her.  That night I ordered an ornament for her, with her name so that we would always remember.

Maizie ornamentToday marks one year since we discovered that she was no longer with us.  It’s been a hard week as this date has approached.  We continue to live in the sacred dance of joy and grief.  Last night as I rocked Holden, so completely thankful for who he is, his health, and his placement in our family, I cried longing to rock the one I never held.  I don’t have the words to fully explain the dance of these two things.  All I can say is that joy and sorrow are not mutually exclusive.  They are currently co-existing in my heart in a full and deep way.  While we are so smitten with our little man, there are moments where we remember the loss with a new intensity after being reminded of what it’s like to nurture an infant.

God is good today on December 6, 2017, as I snuggle a healthy little boy whom I completely adore.  God was still good on December 6, 2016, as I saw a sonogram lacking a beating heart.  God has never let me down.  When the darkness holds on to me, God is holding on.

 

Cardboard testimonies

At YoungLives camp two weeks ago, I had the opportunity to share about some of our story with Maizie by writing a cardboard testimony.  We often end a week at Young Life camp with a visual display of the way God has transformed the lives of some of the leaders in the room.  On one side of the board the leader writes what their state was before Christ and on the other side they share a way God has transformed them.  This visual shows off God’s ability to transform death to life and to make old things new.  To a room full of teenage mothers I wanted to put our story out there because I assumed that in a room with a few hundred moms there were going to be some who had also lost children during pregnancy.

I keep wondering how big a part of my whole story and my shaping Maizie will be.  As I sat debating what to share, I tried to think about what has really been transformed by the Lord since December 6 when we were made aware of her death.  Besides sadness, what did I really live in following the loss?

Fear.  Lots of fear.

Fear that I wouldn’t have healthy children.  Fear my body wouldn’t recover.  Fear that maybe God wouldn’t be good to me.  Fear that people would continue to hurt me.  Fear that broken relationships wouldn’t be restored.  Fear of being misunderstood.  Fear this loss would cause irreconcilable damage on our marriage.  Fear that the darkness would stay this dark forever.  Fear that fear would rule my next pregnancy.  Fear that I would always be imagining worst case scenarios.

And what has God slowly replaced that fear with?  Hope.

Hope in Christ in all things.  Not hope in a healthy next baby but hope in the One who has purchased my soul.  Hope that God works all things out for eternal good.  Hope that my future is secure with Him.

Satan can completely destroy my life on earth.  If permitted, he could end it.  He gave me a good run for my money in 2016.  But he can’t eternally damn me.  There is light, even in the darkness.  Even if it is just the small glimmer of future redemption.  There is always light.  There is always hope.

I stood up to testify to the light I see even in the darkness.  Fear is replaced with hope, even if circumstances don’t change.  Hope did not come with a new pregnancy.  Hope came when Jesus paid the price for my sins on this earth and made my eternity secure.

As I stood backstage at camp, I thought about how truly dark the first six months following our loss were.  So painful.  I couldn’t find myself during that time.  I often couldn’t find God.  My heart ached.  My body went through so many changes.  Some relationships couldn’t handle the strain.  We had to fight to keep our marriage strong.  It was so much pain.

Part of me wondered if I was silly for sharing the other side of my board.  Can I really claim some victory here?  It was almost as if Stan was whispering, “Do you have hope?  Is God really good?  Are you faking healing?  Have you actually made any progress?”  Part of me debated getting out of the line.  “You’re right,” I thought, “I do still have fear.  Some of me is still hurting.  Maybe God hasn’t done much here.  Maybe He will forget me and leave me.”

I realized that God’s work in this area is not complete; but it doesn’t have to be complete for me to start sharing about His work.  In fact, it won’t be complete until I’m face to face with Him in glory.

I choose to claim victory, though I am yet to experience it fully because God has done a significant work to restore my hope.  I believe that is the work God will do in my life – to bring me to FULL hope.  Hope that will be made a reality in eternity.  2 Corinthians 2:14 came to mind, “But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere.”  While I go forward, I want to march triumphantly.  Even though its not over or fully complete, I want to claim the future victory that is mine.  I have seen God work in the past eight months.  I have seen Him transform my fear to hope.

I went out on the stage and I showed both sides of my sign.

Fear after losing a daughter during pregnancy.

Hope in Christ in all things.

What happened after I shared?  I was bombarded by teenage mothers.  Some who had lost babies early in pregnancy, some who had lost later like us, and one who shared about losing a twin in the delivery room.  The last one asked how I grieved and how I trusted God because she has tried to just stuff it all down.  I told her to grieve that baby and be as sad as she needs to be over the loss; but at the same time, to look to all of the promises of God and to know that she can trust His forever goodness.

Younglives camp

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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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