Monday, June 2, 2014

What does trust look like?

I've known that God isn't like some Santa in the sky that we can just ask for what we want and then get it.  But I also thought that trusting God somehow meant that it would all be okay.  I might not get what I want when I want it, but that I wouldn't endure major tragedy, loss, or heartbreak.  Obviously since the death of my baby I know that is not true.  But that leaves me with the aching question of what does it mean to trust? What is God's side of this deal?

If I tell one of my kids to trust me and then let their worst fears come true, I wouldn't blame them for not trusting me next time. I really was trusting God in getting pregnant in the first place, and in my pregnancy, and in having to move and get our house ready for the market which was physically and mentally exhausting during a time in my pregnancy when I was already exhausted.  And He let my worst fears come true.  I had a stillbirth.  So what now? What does trust look like?  I have very little faith that He is going to help us with the sale of our house now or that He will help us find a great place to live once we move.  I can't bring myself to pray for little stupid things that I don't really care about  (like the weather or for a house showing) when He didn't intervene in the thing I wanted the most.  So I'm doubting and shaken because before all of this I did have a strong, almost childlike, faith.  I believed that He would take care of everything and I just needed to trust and seek Him first.

And yet in my doubt and pain, I am still turning to Him for the answers.  Yesterday at Mass, I was struggling to form a prayer, other than offering up the longing and ache stirred up by sitting behind one of the cutest little babies ever.  I felt far and distant from God.  But the Gospel spoke of the eleven apostles with Jesus after He had risen.  He took them up to a mountain and it said, "When they saw him, they worshiped, but they doubted".

These are the apostles for goodness sake! They had seen Jesus raise people from the dead and make blind men see and lame men walk with their own eyes.  They saw him crucified and beaten and dead and now alive.  And yet it says, "they doubted".  And Jesus still loved them and entrusted them with the Great Commission in the very next verse.  If Jesus can be patient with the apostles who witnessed His many miracles and still doubted, surely He can be patient with me.

So I don't know what trust looks like.  Right now it means getting up each morning and putting one foot in front of the other.  It means loving my husband and children the best I can, and it means asking Him my questions and listening to what He tells me.  All I know is trust doesn't look like I thought it did.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

My Boys

My four boys have been good medicine for me over the past month.  Besides forcing me to keep putting one foot in front of the other and functioning at some (very low) level, they bring joy to my days that are filled with an ache that won't go away.  Their snuggles, hugs, and laughter are so healing to my soul.

Dinner time has been so important over these hard weeks too.  Over the past month we have had meals delivered to us every night which has been such a wonderful gift.  Not only did I not have to shop and plan and cook the dinners, but while we were around the table there were many moments of grace.    One night when we were planning the funeral, I asked the boys if they had a favorite church song they'd like played.  Our second son, who wants everyone to be happy all the time said, "Isn't there a song about "Just be happy".  Our  eldest busted out with Bob Marley's "Every little thing's gonna be alright".  We had a good laugh about the thought of Bob Marley being played at the funeral! Laughter while grieving is especially healing.

While the boys have been so healing and helpful, it is hard too because each time I see one of them and my heart is filled with love- I am reminded that we had another one on the way.  They are little reminders of my longing.  But it helps to know that I'm not the only one missing baby John. They too were so excited about their new brother and eager to welcome him to our family.  Even our youngest, who is only three, said one night at dinner, completely out of the blue, "Someone is missing".  Yes, someone is missing.  That is what I've been feeling so painfully. 

And the questions they ask resonate with my own questions. Our five year old had a twin that we lost in utero early on so he is especially aware of the fragility of life in the womb.  He started praying as soon as we told him we were pregnant for "the baby in mommy's tummy not to die".  He prayed this faithfully every chance he could the whole pregnancy.  At family prayer time, at grace, and often he would ask to light a candle at church and his prayer was always the same.  A few weeks after John's death I asked him,  "I know you prayed often for the baby not to die, and he did anyway, what do you think about this?" His answer broke my heart.  He said,  "Maybe on accident God thought that I said for the baby to die".  I assured him that God doesn't misunderstand us.  God knew that we wanted this baby alive.  But I couldn't give him a good answer of why this happened anyway.  I am wrestling with that one myself.

Recently I was feeling especially sad and my eight year old asked me what was wrong. I told him I was sad because I was missing baby John.  He said, "It's like in that song from Church.  Right now you're in the darkness, but you'll be clothed in the light." Wise words from a child.

I don't know when I'll see or feel "the light" again, but his words gave me hope. And sometimes hope is enough.  

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Going Home

I woke up this morning with the thought, "I want to go home" which was a little strange, since I was at home. I'm not sure what this meant.  That I want to go to heaven? That this place doesn't feel like home without my baby?  That I want to go back to a few weeks ago when the world was a safe place and God was obviously kind and good? I'm sure He is still kind and good, but it's not so obvious and I have had plenty of doubts. It was about 5:45 when I awoke and I thought about getting up to pray, but I wondered if prayer was just a big waste of time. How can I pray when He didn't answer my biggest prayer: for my baby to live?

I got up to pray anyway (probably because of all of your prayers for me).  And as I went over to my comfy chair, I was telling God, if you are real and good, please speak to me today in prayer.  I looked at the daily readings for Mass today and the Psalm said, "My home is within you".  Given the fact that I had just had the thought that I want to go home, this stood out to me and spoke to me deeply. My true home is with Him. Just as my baby made his home in me for eight and a half months, my home is within the heart of God.

It was good that God spoke to me and that I heard his voice, because in the gospel reading the Jews asked Jesus, "How long are you going to keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly." Isn't that what I was saying to God this morning too? And Jesus answered them,

"I told you and you do not believe, because you are not among my sheep. My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish."  - John 10:25-27

Thank you God for helping me hear your voice.

Being reminded that my true home is with God, also gives me courage as I think about our move. Our house is on the market and in a few weeks or months we will be moving away. This is painful for many reasons.   The support I have felt from the community and from my family and friends the past few weeks has been amazing.  I was already sad to leave, but now leaving my baby behind in a cemetery makes it that much harder.  But God keeps trying to help me trust Him with this move.  Many times He has used this verse to encourage me and He is using it now,

"Peter began to say, 'We have given up everything to follow you' and Jesus said, "Amen I say to you, there is no one who has given up house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands for my sake and for the sake of the gospel who will not receive a hundred times more now in this present age: houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and eternal life in the age to come" - Mark 10:28-30

I am trying to trust.  This is not an emotional trust.  These comforts and graces in prayer are not really of the heart. My heart still feels cold and distant, but this faith is more in my intellect and will. I hope that God will soften my heart again in time,  but maybe, in this time of sadness and grief, I will understand other's inability to trust God and it will change me.  I've known people who have suffered greatly and they have a trust in God that isn't youthful and idealistic, but comes from somewhere deeper and more mature.  I hope that with your continued prayers and God's grace, I too may grow through this trial and come out stronger in my faith.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

When I'm Mad...

One of the stages of grief is anger.  I think it's a normal human reaction and I certainly am not exempt.  I have been angry.  Since God is God and He's all-powerful, I've directed a lot of this anger toward Him.  I have spent sleepless nights telling God how I could run this planet much better than Him. If He insists on taking babies from their mothers at birth, why didn't He start with Adolf Hitler, or Fred Phelps, or that jerk in Ohio who kidnapped three girls and raped and beat them for ten years? Why my baby? I have even gotten mad in Church. Some songs I just can't sing right now.  It's hard to sing of God's kindness and mercy when you're mad at Him.

I don't feel this way all the time, but I've definitely had my moments. But eventually I come around to feeling like Peter.  When Jesus is giving the disciples some hard teachings and many leave him, he turns to his apostles and asks if they are going to leave him too.

Peter answers, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and are convinced you are the Holy One of God" - John 6:67  

That's the conclusion I keep coming to after my anger fades, "Where else can I go?"  Nothing this life has to offer can really comfort me.  A good bottle of wine won't cut it.  A steak dinner with my husband can't bring lasting peace to my grief.  A new outfit won't touch this hurt inside. The only place I know to go is to turn to Him- in my anger, in my grief, in my sadness, and even in gratitude as I experience little graces along the way.

Many times my prayer has been, "I believe Lord, help my unbelief" - Mark 9:24

And God has helped me over and over.  The day that I went to the hospital and found out John had died, I had some time in prayer that afternoon.  I try to finish my prayer time each day with a practical resolution that will help me. Sometimes it's a Bible verse to keep close to heart but often it's something far more practical- like don't cuss in front of the kids.  That day my resolution was, "Remember God is with you".  All through this ordeal that was the message God had given to me to carry in my heart.  He was reassuring me and strengthening me even beforehand.

In fact, I looked back through my prayer journal, and there were several things that had struck me in the weeks and months prior to losing John that God had given me to help me.

  • "One of the most liberating and salutary things we can know is that we are not meant to be perfectly happy in this life" - Fr. Robert Baron
  • "Through tears she looked up to heaven, for she trusted God wholeheartedly" Daniel 13
  • "The resurrection tells us that our faith is not in vain" - From Divine Intimacy
  • "Though war be waged against me, even then I will trust"- Psalm 27:3
  • "But the Lord is with me like a mighty champion" Jeremiah 20:11
  • "''If anyone wishes to be first she shall be the last of all and the servant of all'. Taking a child he placed it in their midst, and putting his arms around it, he said to them, 'Whoever receives one child such as this in my name, receives me; and whoever receives me, receives not me, but the One who sent me'" - Mark 9:30-37
  • "Resurrection means that the Worst Thing is never the Last Thing"- Beuchner
  • "Hang on, Beloveds. If it's awful, it's not over.  Good Friday means that Life Hurts. Saturday means that if we wait and hope and keep vigil- Easter Sunday will come to prove that Love Wins" - Glennon Melton
These were all things that had struck me before John's death.  God had been preparing me in His gentle way and giving me grace for months beforehand.  

I may not understand God's ways, and I may not like them sometimes, but I've learned there is no one else I'd rather walk through this painful valley with.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Heavenly Aid

This part of the story is hard for me to share.  It is very personal, and perhaps hard to believe.  But I feel compelled to share it for two reasons. The first reason is that maybe it will help someone else. The second reason is because so many people have made comments about my strong faith and courage and I know full well that I am weak and any faith I have right now is a gift, and  I think this story illustrates that.

During the labor when it came time to push, I got to a point where I couldn't do it. Physically, emotionally, spiritually I. was. done. I was shaking and I couldn't breathe and I mean I just couldn't do it.  I was trying to think of a saint that was strong that I could pray to. I kept thinking of manly saints and picturing the apostles' strong muscles lifting up nets of fish or St. Michael the Archangel.  But these weren't cutting it for me. I didn't need manly strength.  I needed womanly strength.

Suddenly I thought of Chiara Corbella.  Maybe some of you are familiar with her story. Chiara was an Italian woman who carried three babies- two of which, Maria and David, only lived 30 minutes. During her third pregnancy the baby was healthy, but Chiara was diagnosed with cancer.  She postponed treatments until after the baby was born.  Chiara died on June 13, 2012, just a year after her third baby was born healthy.  Not only did she know suffering, but she showed great faith and strength during her suffering.  More of her story is here

Before she died, she wrote a letter to her son. I love this excerpt: 
Don’t ever get discouraged, my son, God never takes anything away from you. If He takes away it is only because he wants to give you so much more. Thanks to Maria and David, we fell more in love with eternal life and we stopped fearing death. You see, God took away but He did it to give us a bigger and more open heart ready to welcome eternal life, even here in this life.

As I was panicked and terrified, I thought of this strong woman who many consider a saint, and suddenly I felt her presence with me in the delivery room. I felt her hand on my forehead and a great peace and calm came over me.  I stopped shaking and could breathe again and I was able to push out my baby.   In between pushes, I looked at my husband and said, "Pray to Chiara Corbella, she's here."

I have returned to this moment over and over again in the past few weeks.  When I question if God even cares about me since He let my baby die, I remember that I didn't have to do it alone.  I remember the heavenly aid He sent.  As I question the mystery of suffering, I don't have answers, but I do have that experience.  I have continued to seek her intercession as I mourn the loss of baby John and I pray that she will help me to be strong.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

What happened?

The first question people want to ask when they hear that we had a stillbirth two weeks ago is, "Do you know what happened?"  The short answer is no, we don't know.  Baby John was perfectly formed with all ten fingers and toes, the cord wasn't around his neck, there were no known genetic abnormalities, and when we had his sonogram every organ from his baby bladder to his brain looked perfect.

On Thursday, April 24,  at 36 and a half weeks pregnant I woke up feeling sad and depressed for no apparent reason. I cried easily all day and figured this was part of the hormonal craziness of the end of pregnancy. In hind sight, I think my heart knew before I did.  The day was busy with the hustle and bustle of caring for four boys and it wasn't until I had them all in bed and sat down that I realized it had been a while since I'd felt the baby move.  I started tracking kick counts.  I even thought I felt a couple, but I think you can feel anything if you want to badly enough. By 1:30 that night I called my doctor and he said to come in.

Even on the way to the hospital I wasn't panicked, I had been scared at different times during all of my previous pregnancies and everything had turned out fine. I even said to my husband as we entered the maternity ward how excited I was to finally meet this baby.

When the first nurse was having trouble finding the heartbeat, my optimism still hadn't faded. As the second nurse came in and also couldn't find the heartbeat it just didn't seem real.  And when they finally brought in a doctor with a sonogram machine and he said, "I'm sorry, there is no cardiac activity" I felt myself willing this not to happen.  My first words were, "I'm not strong enough. I can't do this."  My husband and I cried and mourned and he tried to comfort me as I knew I still had to give birth to this baby who was really already gone.

The labor was slow and took all night and all day.  This time was painful but also a gift in that we had time to process what was happening and let reality sink in.  At one point the nurses asked if we planned on having our other children see the baby. My first instinct as a mom was to shield them from this heartbreak and protect them from having the image of their dead baby brother forever burned into their memories.  But over the course of the day, I realized that this might be one of our most teachable moments ever as parents.  How can we speak of the resurrection if we are afraid to face death? This was following on the tails of Easter and I wanted the boys to really know in the depths of their hearts that death is not the end and that we have eternal life waiting for us.  This decision proved to be very graced for all of us.

John Paul Miki was born at 7:18 pm on 4/25/14 at 7 lbs 2oz.  After Keith and I had some time alone with baby John, my parents brought the boys in and they got to hold and kiss him.  My second son later said that although this made him sad, it helped make it more real that he has a brother in heaven.  My five year old still didn't fully understand since later he asked, "When do we get to bring him home?".  Through tears I told him that he doesn't get to come home with us.  And although this time was so deeply sorrowful, it was filled with hope too as we told the boys how happy John is in heaven and how death is not the end.  We told him that our goal as parents is to get them to heaven and that John won... he beat us there.  I told them that Jesus came to abolish death and that one day He will wipe away every tear from our eyes and death and sadness will be no more.

Several nights later at dinner our oldest son raised his glass and said, "Cheers to John's victory".  We kind of looked at him for a second in stunned silence, and he continued, "John won the race, he's in heaven".

These moments when I was trying to comfort and teach my children these truths so central to our faith have proven to be a comfort to me.  I have to tell myself over and over again as I ache for my baby that he is in heaven and someday we will be reunited.

Countless times I have asked myself, "What happened? Why? Why?"  The truth is we just don't know.  As a mom I have gone over everything in my head a thousand times looking for a reason, or something I did to cause this, and there really isn't one.  I don't know how to make sense of this tragedy, all I can do is hope that God is using it as a teachable moment too.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Forgettable Moments to Remember

Do you remember the scene in "Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood" where Susan Sarandon is about to lose her mind taking care of several children with the stomach flu?  I won't bother posting a clip here since it's such a horrid scene that it terrifies women who haven't had children yet and reminds mothers of their own ugly moments that they've tried to forget.  But when my husband and I watched this movie for the first time, long before we had children, I remember him asking, "Where is the Dad?" 

Now, years later, his question pops in my mind from time to time with a twinge of resentment.  Like this week. All four of the children have been sick all week. I haven't been anywhere all week.  ANYWHERE. ALL WEEK.   For being a stay-at-home mom, I don't actually like to stay at home.  At least not for days and days on end. With sick children.  I have lost track of all the times I have dealt with sick children when my husband was busy at work (working hard to provide for us, I might add) or out of town. 

And although it is easy to feel like somehow I'm the martyr, I was reminded several times this week that although this is hard... and I mean HARD...there is no where else I'd rather be.  Okay, on a beach with a mai tai sounds pretty good, but what I mean is there is no one else I would want to console my suffering child besides me. There is no one else I would want to rub my child's back and sing to them and tell them that it was going to be okay and that mommy was going to take good care of them.  And although my husband is wonderful at caring for our children, when they are sick, I still feel like no one else can do the better job than me. It is a privilege and honor to care for them with tenderness and concern. 

There is nothing worse than watching your child suffer except maybe the thought of them suffering without you. And so, although it has been a long week, (and the weekend doesn't seem to hold much promise) I'm going to keep close to my kiddos and offer them what comfort I can and appreciate that normally we are in good health. There is so much to be thankful for. I'm grateful that we have access to the best healthcare in the world, and thankful for the invention of motrin. And really thankful that I had plenty of wine and frozen dinners on hand. 

And soon this week will be full of moments that I will have forgotten, but the message I have given to my children will be remembered always.