Beauty to bless the world, Part 2 (Through My Husband’s Eyes)

A few weeks ago, Tom and Keith (his boss/partner in crime) were asked to give the sermon on February 20 and 23. There aren’t too many things that scare my husband, but this freaked him out. No matter how comfortable you are with communicating to others, preaching for a large church is daunting. There are a lot of people in the pews and bright lights on your face, and it can be overwhelming. 

I wrote last week about partnering with God to bring beauty out of pain. It is really special when you find ways to do it. However, practicing it isn’t always the easiest thing. So when Tom came home and asked me if he could share our story as part of the sermon, including the video of our baby’s heartbeat, it was hard to know how to respond. It is terrifying to be vulnerable, but even more so with a story that you don’t particularly like. I loved the story when it ended with a miracle heartbeat. This would have made for a great sermon! But our miracle was stolen from us. How can something like that be used for good?

But I told Tom “yes” for the same reason I have been blogging about our infertility and loss: because I know I am not the only one who suffers. It is scary to take off our masks on Sunday morning, scary to be vulnerable and authentic with people. We put on our best face, because we think that is the only way to receive love. But Jesus didn’t preach to the satisfied, he preached to those who were suffering. They were the ones to whom he offered hope. And I wanted Tom to do the same.

Miracles are great, but the more shocking stories are the ones in which the very worst happens and yet all is not lost.  And that is our story, the story of being crushed to the point of despair and yet finding that we are anchored to something stronger than our pain. It’s the realization that suffering does not mean we have been abandoned by God; if anything, it means he is nearer and the comfort is greater. That’s where we have found hope along our journey.

So Tom shared about our infertility and the loss of our baby, and as he did, something miraculous happened. He not only got through it, but he was the most comfortable and confident I have ever seen him while speaking. I could only sit through one of the sermons, and I can only re-watch snippets of the first 10 minutes, so I don’t really know how he did it three times. But he was so brave and there was so much grace upon him. It is a picture of partnership; Tom’s willingness to share and God’s willingness to uphold him while he did it. 

So enjoy these words from my meat-loving husband (vegetarians, know that I get you, even if Tom does not) and our brilliant spiritual formation pastor, Keith.

Whole-Hearted: Making Space for God and Others from White River Christian Church on Vimeo.

Infertility, Loss and Gratitude

The world of infertility is a lonely place. There are few words to describe it, few ways to memorialize or mourn the pain felt every single month. In this barren land of infertility, even loss seems better than the lack. For most of our journey, there was only a lack. No loss, only absence. No death, only non-existence. We endured years of this, years with a barren womb and empty arms.  We peered out our window at a world of fertility and life, so close and yet so separate from the room in which we sat.

It took 6.5 years to see a second line on a pregnancy test. I imagined that this moment would be filled with joy, but instead it was filled with shock. I used to chide myself for hoping, for thinking things could be any different than they always were. But it wasn’t until I got that positive test that I realized how little hope I had. Yes, the scraps of hope were there. But not enough to be able to look at a positive test and believe what I saw. Despite the money spent getting to that place, it still did not feel real or possible.

The positive test opened the doors to a a new world. A world of joy, but also a world of fear. We knew that there was a 1 in 3 chance we could lose this baby, and we knew that our luck isn’t great when it comes to these things. And I don’t believe in guarantees in this life, even when we pray in faith. Anyone who takes a good look at the state of this world knows that life just doesn’t work like that.

Our greatest fears did indeed materialize, and  we lost not one, but two babies. One barely got a start, and the other fought with every bit of might she had, defying all the odds during her short, sweet life.

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We love these babies, and we mourn their loss. They were a miracle, conceived during a month when we did not have much chance of conceiving (our IUI was cancelled in December, which means we somehow made these babies the old-fashioned way), and the pregnancy test came just days before our scheduled consultation with the doctor to discuss IVF. We were near the end of our rope, and then we got the news that kept us hanging on.

In many ways, a miscarriage after infertility is more difficult than it would be for those with “normal” fertility. These were not babies we tried a few months to conceive. We had spent years praying them into existence, and their loss is that much harder to accept. Surely after all this waiting, at least one of the babies should have made it. But neither of them did, and that pain cuts deep. 

But as much as it is more difficult, it is also easier. I am strong after all these years of pain, and I am not shocked by the bad things that happen. When we saw a lifeless baby on the ultrasound screen, I knew how to react. I knew immediately where to go to find the strength I needed. I knew there is comfort for every kind of pain, and I knew how to reach for it during dark moments. Infertility prepared me to deal with this loss.

It hurts, and we are grieving. And yet, as I wrote before, lament opens the door to gratitude. Recognizing the very broken pieces make me even more aware of those which are redeemed. And so in the midst of this immense loss, I am grateful. Here are a few of the things I’m most grateful for these days:

    • My husband. Infertility is rough on a marriage. It has been rough on ours. And yet, the past few weeks with my husband have been some of the most beautiful weeks we have ever had. We have cried together, but we have also laughed together. We have mourned and prayed and loved and snuggled. And on Friday evening, when I took the drug to induce the miscarriage and spent the subsequent hours in pain beyond anything I’d experienced before, he stepped up and cared for me during every second of it. The puke, the blood, the passing out on the kitchen floor–he was there and somehow found a way to make it better. He brings me so much joy 
    • We got pregnant. I still can’t believe the second line on the pregnancy test. We have now figured out a way to get pregnant (we learned last month that progesterone supplements are a key factor), and this knowledge takes a weight off of my shoulders, a weight I have been bearing for six years. I am no longer afraid of never getting pregnant. There are simply no words to express how freeing this knowledge is to me. 
    • Comfort. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted (Mt. 5:4).  I do not believe things like fertility and health and prosperity are guaranteed, but I do believe that comfort is. And the thing about sitting in grief like ours is that there is an abundance of comfort, unlike anything experienced on a normal or good day. It’s the blessing in the midst of the pain, and it is a beautiful thing. Jesus feels very close to me these days.

So, this is where we are. We have lost much, but we are drenched with comfort and peace. And we are thankful for all of you, those who have mourned with us and supported us through this very difficult time. May the Lord bless you and keep you and make his face shine upon you. 

Riley

I love reading about dogs that steal their owners heart. Tom and I look forward every day to the latest #theoandbeau installment on instagram (go look, but be forewarned that you may die from the cuteness), and I loved reading Kristen Howerton’s post about her family’s new dog, and how this little girl is making her a dog person. I realize that dogs are not children, but I love watching people who already have kids get a dog and discover that these faithful companions are way more awesome than they thought.

Gracie will get her own post in the future, and it is no secret to anyone that Gracie is my baby girl, my heart. I didn’t want a second dog, and Tom had to beg me to get Riley. But this boy steals my heart anew every single day, and I can’t imagine the last seven years without him.

This little guy follows me around everywhere I go. Going to the bathroom? Ok, mama, I’ll come with you. Doing some laundry? Ok, mama, I’ll bumble along behind you. Going upstairs for a shower? Ok, mama, I’ll come up and wait on the bed for you until you are done. It does not matter if he is in a deep sleep, the second I begin to move, he is awake and ready to follow.

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He doesn’t like to go outside, because that means being away from me. I usually have to let him out and then go hide around the corner, so he can’t see me. When he is finally convinced that I have left, he decides that he will go ahead and go potty real quick. But it doesn’t take long before he is back at the door, waiting for me.

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He can’t handle any discord in the house. If Tom and I argue, or if we even discuss things heatedly, he heads upstairs, goes through our bedroom, through the bathroom, into the closet, and hides in the corner, sitting on my shoes, hanging his head like Eeyore. It is the most pitiful thing I have ever seen, and we fight a lot less knowing that our little boy is listening.

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But he isn’t always like Eeyore. He is a happy and smiley and wiggly, especially when we are telling him that he is such a good boy. The other day I posted a video on Facebook of me calling Riley in from the snow. I had not realized how many times I say “good boy” a day, but how can you look at this face and NOT say “good boy” over and over and over again?

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When I come home after a long day at work and a long commute home, I know that as soon as he hears my car in the driveway, he is wiggling in celebration. I try to hurry as much as possible to collect my stuff and get out of my car, because this precious little boy is waiting for me, anxious to celebrate my existence for the 1,543,345th time.

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He makes me overwhelmed with gratitude, every day. I don’t know how we would have gotten through any of the difficult events of the past seven years without him. He was just what we needed, and the fact that Jesus chooses a dog like this to bless us tells me a lot about the character of the God we serve. Riley reminds me that the Kingdom of God is full of joy and delight in abundance. And puppies, lots and lots of wiggly puppies.

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NOTE: I shared this post with Tom before publishing it, and while he thought I did an okay job, he did not feel like I had told quite enough stories about how very special this dog is. If you think I love Riley, you should see Tom with his little buddy. I’m fairly certain Tom could write a book about how perfect and wonderful Riley is. I am sorry that I did not capture that as fully as I could, but I did do my best.