Wednesday, November 23, 2011

i am thankful

    I am thankful. As I started to write this entry, I struggled with what to list first...we have so many blessings. So, in no specific order…
    I'm thankful for wonderful parents who taught me what it means to be Christ like and love, and who provided a stable home throughout my  childhood. I’m thankful for a brother and sister who are supportive, loving, and witty. I’m thankful for a sister-in-law who was my friend first, and whom I am proud to call family. I’m thankful for the loving grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins who have passed along or shared a heritage. Though our family has its quirks like all others, for the most part, we’re close.
    I am thankful. I’m thankful for the relationships that didn’t pan out but led me to the one that did. I’m thankful for the wonderful, godly man who is my husband. I’m thankful that I was able to marry my best friend. I’m thankful for his family. I’m thankful to be one of those rare wives who have no complaints about her in-laws because they are truly wonderful. I’m thankful for my niece and nephews, even the two who are family by choice (and their parents, who have been such a support for us). I’m thankful for true friends who know what a godly, loving friendship is really about and who have been there for us through the most difficult time of our lives.
     I am thankful. I’m thankful for a loving church family that has offered countless prayers on our behalf. I’m thankful for employment and having our needs met. I’m thankful for vehicles that are reliable and a home that I love.
     I am thankful. I’m thankful for my babies. I’m thankful for Paxton’s joyful laughter, inquisitive expressions, and for the opportunity to watch him grow and learn. I’m thankful to have a front row seat to his relationship with his daddy, knowing this is where his understanding of the Heavenly Father begins. I’m thankful for my sweet baby girl and for the hours we had with her after she was born. I’m thankful for a caring doctor and his staff. I’m thankful for the beautiful friendships I’ve made through the painful world of pregnancy and infant loss. I’m thankful for rainy days and the beauty of nature.
     I am thankful. I’m thankful that this entry only touches the tip of the iceberg of my blessings. I’m thankful for the people who have been a part of my life, and for the opportunities I’ve been allowed. Above all, I’m thankful for a loving, selfless God, and I’m thankful that Heaven is real. I'm thankful that one day (if we live life in a way pleasing to God), we will be in the very presence of God Himself, in a place where there will be no more tears, no more suffering, no more death.... no more tissues and snotty noses from crying.... only peace and love. I am thankful for the promise!

Revelation 21:4

New International Version (NIV)
4 ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Pilgrim Overboard

With Thanksgiving just around the corner, I wanted to take a moment to share some history I have recently learned. We know the general story of how the Pilgrims came to the Americas in search of religious freedom and landed at Plymouth. We’ve heard of the hardships they faced once they arrived, and how about half of the group didn’t survive the first winter because they weren’t able to finish building their homes or find enough food before the weather grew too cold and the snow came. I would like to share with you the story of one of those Pilgrims.

John Howland was about 27 or 28 years old in 1620 when he boarded the Mayflower to come to the Americas as a servant of John Carver. On the voyage across the Atlantic, there was a storm and John was swept overboard. He was able to grab a rope and hold on until he was rescued.

Pilgrim Overboard – by Mike Haywood

When I learned of John Howland’s story, I thought of his storms (both literal and figurative). He left the home he’d always known to voyage to an unfamiliar world, and as we know, the unknown can be exciting but also very scary. On the way, he was swept overboard and nearly lost his life. He was rescued and made it to his destination, only to endure such a brutal winter that half of his group didn’t survive. I’d imagine it was hard to not wonder if things were ever going to start improving.

I’d imagine that first spring was a welcomed sight, even if the hardships didn’t end there. Sources say that John Carver died that spring, and his wife died not long after. John Howland then married Elizabeth Tilly, a servant from the Carvers’ household who was about 15 or 16 years old and had lost her parents and an aunt and uncle during the harsh winter.

John and Elizabeth experienced their share of loss and uncertainties. I’m sure there were days that they felt overwhelmed, discouraged, and exhausted, but they kept moving forward. I know God had a plan.

John and Elizabeth had 10 children and 88 grandchildren. As I was looking for more information about John Howland, I learned from his monument on Burial Hill that he was known as a "godly man and an ardent professor in the ways of Christ" when he died in his 80’s. Talk about a legacy.

John faced many storms in his life. But I am reminded… God knew what would happen next, because God has a plan.


Jeremiah 29:11-13

New International Version (NIV)
11 For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. 12 Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. 13 You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.

It seems, even from that one line etched in his memorial stone, that John was able to learn from the storms and rely more heavily on his relationship with Christ. I think about what may have happened if he hadn’t been rescued when he was swept overboard, and now is when it seems appropriate to note a few of John Howland’s descendants.

According to (which is a good place to learn more about John Howland), “It is reported that currently there are over 10 million living descendants of the 52 Mayflower Pilgrims who had children.”

The site goes on to list the following as a few of John Howland's descendants you may recognize:

Maude Adams (stage actress)
Humphrey Bogart (film actor)
Phillips Brooks (wrote "O Little Town of Bethlehem")
George Herbert Walker Bush (41th U.S. President)
Barbara Bush (U.S. First Lady)
George W. Bush (43nd U.S. President)
John Ellis "Jeb" Bush (Florida Governor)
Nathaniel Gorham (Continental Congress President)
Esther Allen Howland (produced the first American Valentines)
Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr. (U.S. Senator)
Franklin Delano Roosevelt (32nd U.S. President)
Lillian Russell (stage & film actress)
Joseph Smith (founder, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints)”

As a final thought, I’d like to note that John Howland was my 13th great grandfather. I learned about his story from my mother, who made the discovery in her years of genealogy research. It’s a good reminder that regardless of what storms we’re facing, there is life after the rain.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Acknowledging Loss

     This past week, it seems there was an emphasis on the criticism grieving parents may receive when discussing the loss of their children. I’ve been thinking very much about what is behind that criticism. Pregnancy and infant loss is a topic that strikes a nerve with many people for various reasons. As a result, anger is often felt, and harsh or hurtful things are said.
     Without going into great detail, a friend and fellow baby loss mom was bombarded by a couple of different people who criticized her for finding ways to talk about and memorialize her son. She was told that her posts about him made them angry.
     As a therapist, I am frequently discussing anger/emotional management. What it seems to boil down to is simply becoming aware of the emotions you experience (remembering that anger is like a category heading – there are always other emotions under it, such as feeling insulted, hurt, afraid, frustrated, disappointed, embarrassed, etc.) and learning how to respond to the emotion rather than allowing the emotion to control how you respond to the situation. If unchecked, we have the capacity to make some pretty destructive mistakes when we use anger as an excuse to respond how we “feel” like responding.
     The truth of the matter is simple. We all have a right to experience whatever emotions we experience. We do not have the right to use that experience as an excuse to take it out on someone else in a way that violates their rights.
     With that in mind, I think that the criticism comes from fear, lack of understanding, and unresolved grief. I say fear because many people respond to discussion about pregnancy and infant loss by downplaying it or acting like it’s not as important as the death of an adult. It’s a scary thought.
     Whether you’ve experienced a loss of your own or not, you may agree that losing a child is not the normal process of things. Babies aren’t supposed to die before their parents. It doesn’t seem natural. New babies are supposed to be joyful, exciting experiences. To speak of a baby’s death is “depressing,” and we’re often afraid to allow ourselves to feel sad. We treat painful emotions as if they are wrong to feel. That’s not fair. When we attempt to stifle our painful emotions rather than experience and work through them, we create problematic symptoms, such as depression and anxiety. We also become more prone to feeling angry when someone brings up a topic that threatens to expose those stifled emotions… because we fear opening that floodgate.
     I think a lack of understanding is another common factor in the criticism. If a person has no concept of the pain involved in pregnancy and infant loss, it’s obviously not going to be easy for them to be compassionate.
     The third common factor I mentioned is unresolved grief. Because of the tendency for society to be critical of parents who openly grief their pregnancy and infant losses (by saying such things as, “well the sooner you forget about it, the better off you’ll be” or “you can always just have another baby,” etc.), many parents are not allowed the opportunity to really work through their grief and find healing… which goes back to the stifled emotions and related problems.
     Grieving is a part of loss. The loss of a baby, whether during or after pregnancy, is no exception. I believe that any time someone has a strong emotional response to a situation, there is a strong personal belief or interpretation attached to it. When my friend shared with me the hurtful correspondence she received, I found myself wondering about motivation. One later said she felt guilty for being able to bring her own baby home without complications. The other (to my knowledge) never did own up to her own emotions. Maybe she was expecting a baby or hoped to be expecting a baby and the thought of infant mortality was scary. Maybe she’d had an abortion and to admit that the loss of the baby was a significant loss would mean that the loss of her baby was too. Maybe she’d had a natural loss and was stifling the painful emotions because she thought they were too difficult to process or those around her wouldn't approve…. Maybe...  I don’t know what her motivation was, but I know something struck a nerve. We don’t have strong reactions like that unless there is some significant meaning attached to the situation for us.
     When I think of how often pregnancy and infant loss isn’t recognized as a “real” loss, it hurts more than I can say. As I process my own grief, I need to know my daughter is acknowledged. She lived. When people say things like the death of someone older is worse because they lived longer is … well…. Ridiculously insulting. As a mother, I can say it’s never long enough. Even so, the seven hours and 13 minutes I was given with my Carys after her birth have forever changed my life. 
     I hope that some day society will more readily accept that pregnancy and infant loss is significant and freely acknowledge that parents have a right to grieve in their own way. It would be nice if we could all speak openly about how we feel, while being respectful. I'd probably be out of a job if that happened, but I'd gladly find a new career if that was the case. Meanwhile, though, I'll be looking for opportunities to defend our right to grieve.

To do your part, check out this link; it was passed along to me this week.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Please, Fleas?!

I've not posted much lately. Not because I've had nothing to say, but it seems like life just doesn't slow down. My sweet baby boy has been sick off and on since the beginning of October and it has just been hard to take time to just breathe. Thankfully, I think we're on the tail end of the sickly days.

Speaking of giving thanks... I shared the following with the photography club because our (obvious) one-word theme this month is "thankful."
1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
New International Version (NIV)
 16 Rejoice always, 17 pray continually, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

Give thanks in ALL circumstances... not just the pleasant ones. There are many things I could say here, but I think the best example here is an excerpt from Corrie Ten Boom's book, The Hiding Place, where Corrie described her experience and spiritual journey through the Nazi Concentration Camps.
“Fleas!” I cried. “Betsie, the place is swarming with them!…How can we live in such a place!”
“Show us. Show us how.” It was said so matter of factly it took me a second to realize she was praying. More and more the distinction between prayer and the rest of life seemed to be vanishing for Betsie.
“Corrie!” she said excitedly. “He’s given us the answer! Before we asked, as He always does! In the Bible this morning. Where was it? Read that part again!”
I glanced down the long dim aisle to make sure no guard was in sight, then drew the Bible from its pouch.” It was in First Thessalonians,” I said…In the feeble light I turned the pages. “Here it is: ‘Comfort the frightened, help the weak, be patient with everyone. See that none of you repays evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to all…’” It seemed written expressly to Ravensbruck.
“Go on,” said Betsie. “That wasn’t all.”
“Oh yes: ‘…to one another and to all. Rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus–”
“That’s it, Corrie! That’s His answer. ‘Give thanks in all circumstances!’  That’s what we can do. We can start right now to thank God for every single thing about this new barracks!”
I stared at her, then around me at the dark, foul-aired room.
“Such as?” I said.
“Such as being assigned here together.”
I bit my lip. “Oh yes, Lord Jesus!”
“Such as what you’re holding in your hands.”
I looked down at the Bible. “Yes! Thank You, dear Lord, that there was no inspection when we entered here! Thank You for all the women, here in this room, who will meet you in these pages.”…
“Thank You,” Betsie went on serenely, “for the fleas and for–”
The fleas! This was too much. “Betsie there’s no way even God can make me grateful for a flea.”
“‘Give thanks in all circumstances,’” she quoted. “It doesn’t say, ‘in pleasant circumstances.’ Fleas are part of this place where God has put us.”
And so we stood between piers of bunks and gave thanks for fleas. But this time I was sure Betsie was wrong.
During their stay, they were somehow allowed to lead Bible studies/worship services nightly with the other women who shared the living space. The guards never interrupted, and never came to inspect the barracks. Though they didn't understand why, they were blessed by the small freedom. Corrie went on to write:
“You’re looking extraordinarily pleased with yourself,” I told her.
“You know we’ve never understood why we had so much freedom in the big room,” she said. “Well–I’ve found out.”
That afternoon, she said, there’d been confusion in her knitting group about sock sizes and they’d asked the supervisor to come and settle it.
“But she wouldn’t. She wouldn’t step through the door and neither would the guards. And you know why?”
Betsie could not keep the triumph from her voice: “Because of the fleas! That’s what she said, ‘That place is crawling with fleas!’”
My mind rushed back to our first hour in this place. I remembered Betsie’s bowed head, remembered her thanks to God for creatures I could see no use for.
[The Hiding Place, pp. 197-199, 209] 
SO... your challenge is to be thankful for the fleas. What are YOUR fleas?