SPEAK THEIR NAMES

SPEAK THEIR NAMES

I’ve had seven miscarriages.

It’s a sentence I’ve grown too comfortably numb repeating, despite the very real pain my heart still carries from the loss. I think when death comes in measures beyond what we can bear our brain tries to cope by focusing on the number itself rather than people behind it. We can’t fully get our head around the 6,000,000 Jews murdered in the holocaust, but we can’t hold back the tears when we’re shown the story of just one. Why is that?

I think it’s because there is holiness in personhood.

If we believe that we are truly made in God’s image, if we believe that each individual soul reflects a facet of the image of God Himself on earth, then there’s simply no denying the enormous loss of that divine presence when we lose someone in death. It’s like a piece of God himself becomes a little less clear to us on this side of eternity, as if obscured from view.

This year, with October as the national month of remembrance and awareness for these losses, I felt a pull to somehow connect myself deeper with the individual personhood of each one of the seven little ones I won’t meet until heaven. As part of my grieving process for each loss, I had been encouraged by a counselor to give each one of those babies a name. A name is one of the most powerful ways we can recognize personhood. These children don’t have a birth or death certificate, they don’t even have a birthday, but each one of them still has a name. And so much like the ceremonies held for September 11th or held at the Vietnam War memorial, this year I wanted to focus on those precious names – those 7 individual souls who each constitute an enormous loss in and of themselves. I wanted to speak each one out loud. I wanted to share those names with a world that might otherwise never know they exist at all.

I contacted a friend who is an incredibly talented calligraphy artist, who also has experienced the pain of miscarriage as well, and asked her if she could write out the names of each of those 7 babies for me together in one place, as well as their meanings (since the meanings were instrumental in the naming process for me.) When she eventually sent me the completed project I was surprised at how intense and almost tangible the grief was I felt in response. Something about seeing those names broke my heart wide open all over again. I could no longer hide behind the familiar numbness of grouping them all together as a number in a story I retell – they became tiny individuals to me all over again. I couldn’t help but picture that beautiful lettering on the cover of 7 baby books that will never exist. I saw their name’s written in frosting on birthday cakes. I saw their names sharpied on the tags inside their jackets for school, proudly scrawled out in crayon on top of their artwork, lettered across diplomas and wedding invitations, signed on the bottom of mother’s day cards they would send me someday when they were grown and maybe had children and families of their own. The reality of 7 different lives full of innumerable moments and details and memories that will never be came flooding in at once, and my grief became new.

Tonight from 7 to 8pm I will once again be participating in the #WaveOfLight, in which people all over the world light candles in …

WHEN DOCTORS HURT INSTEAD OF HEAL

whendoctorshurt

Far too often grappling with a chronic illness is a fight not only for your health but also for your dignity. Many times the medical community can unintentionally compound the pain of those suffering by minimizing their experience or even invalidating them entirely. It can take years or even decades for some patients to get an answer to what is plaguing them, and for some the diagnosis never comes at all. Here are some actual responses I have encountered from doctors in my 15 year journey to getting my diagnosis of Lyme disease.

“Is it possible you’re feeling depressed from all the weight you’ve put on this year?”

Earlier this year when my symptoms seemed to be worsening with greater intensity than ever before, I went back to the drawing board so to speak and decided to pursue fresh eyes on my case. One of the doctors I visited listened for a couple minutes as I described my worsening pain and fatigue and how totally disabling they had become, and offered this remark in response. I had mentioned when describing my concerns that I had put on 30 lbs in the course of 6 months, and I had intended to offer that as a symptom pointing to the seriousness of my worsening condition. For the rest of the appointment this doctor consistently circled back to my weight not as a symptom, but in his opinion the root cause of all of my health issues. When I asked about further testing for Lyme disease, I was met with questions about my diet. When I described my increased dependence on my cane, I was questioned about my exercise routine. I left the appointment with handouts on why this doctor believed most everyone should maintain a vegan diet (despite the fact my history of seizures requires a high protein diet to manage, as noted by my neurologist right there in my chart,) a referral to a nutritionist, and a prescription for antidepressants he said could help me “jumpstart” my efforts to get up and moving more. Sadly, this is a common story in medicine today. Patients with higher BMIs are often written off as inherently unhealthy, and their symptoms attributed simply to poor diet and lifestyle choices rather than considering their weight may itself be a symptom of a larger underlying problem. Because of the additional shame of feeling blamed not only for their weight management issues but their worsening health as well, overweight patients are more likely to stop pursuing answers entirely, as its easier to avoid the uncomfortable and fruitless appointments rather than continue to be subjected to the relentless suggestions their weight is the real problem.

“Sometimes miscarriages simply happen. It’s the body’s natural way of stopping a pregnancy that would likely not have been viable for one reason or another. When they happen early, there usually isn’t a real ’cause’ other than that.”

To date I have had a total of 7 miscarriages, most all of them in early pregnancy. I was eventually able to have a couple doctors consider more serious possible root causes, but only after that number began to climb, and more often than not my concerns were met with a regular insistence that “these things happen.” I’ve had more statistics about the commonality of miscarriage offered to me than I can possibly recount. Pregnancy loss is an emotional experience in and of itself, and having multiple unexplained miscarriages adds an additional dimension of confusion, guilt, and anxiety to grapple with. In the end my pregnancies were marked as “high risk” because of my history of …

WE HAVE A GRATITUDE PROBLEM

Dear Church, we have a gratitude problem, and it’s not what you think.

We seem to have conflated the concepts of gratitude and worship, and so much so that many of us can no longer tell the difference. When we think about what it means to worship God, all too often our focus is reflecting on all the ways God has been good to us and all the ways we’ve seen His faithfulness in the form of blessings and earthly provision. Even listening to some modern worship songs can often reveal just how much the focus has shifted from who God is to what God has done for us.

As I begin to get deeper into writing my upcoming book about suffering, I’ve had to stop and reflect on this question: why it is that the modern church seems to have lost its way in regards to suffering? Why is my generation genuinely struggling to cope with pain and affliction and still keep the faith? I think part of it has to do with this “gratitude problem.” When our focus drifts away from who God is and we fixate instead on looking for God’s faithfulness in what he does for us? We shift our perspective, and we’ll ultimately weight our understanding of God by our own circumstances and experiences.

It often starts innocently enough: we see God move in an incredible way to provide for us, or we hear a testimony of His power and faithfulness to a fellow believer, and we say to ourselves “See? God is so good.” There is of course truth in that statement, God is so good, but the problem is when we assign that goodness to Him only in light of the ways we see Him provide for us. We use our limited perspective of what we believe is good and just and fair in this life, and start to see that as a measuring stick for our understanding of God’s faithfulness. Sure, we know God is good when He gives the miracle baby to the faithful couple who have spent 10 years waiting and praying, but is that WHY we know He is good? Do we believe He is good when the couple that tries for 20 years never gets a miracle of their own? Do we believe He is good when cancer and disease take our loved ones seemingly too soon? Do we believe He is good when the deepest desires of our heart are the very things He says no to? Do we believe He is good when we don’t have such obvious “proof” to hold up to show it? When we begin to focus too much on the testimonies of the things God has given to us as the proof of God’s character, then it shouldn’t be surprising when hard times lead us to question our faith or even God’s love for us. After all, if God’s gifts to us are the evidence we look for to prove His love and ultimately His goodness, how can we be sure of Him when our prayer seemingly goes unanswered?

GRATITUDE

One of the ways I’ve tried to become more intentional about combating this issue is in prayer. We have used a very simple model in our home to teach our boys about prayer. Each night when we have bedtime prayers, the boys have followed the same pattern: first they thank God for at least three things, then they pray for at least three other people, then they can pray for themselves (which always includes an apology for sin and a request for forgiveness, …

DEVOTIONALS AREN’T BIBLE STUDIES

With the start of fall and children heading back to school, my Instagram feed is once again filled with snaps of book covers laid next to morning mugs of coffee, captioned with inspirational quotes taken from within their pages. Women are getting back into their morning quiet time routine, moms’ ministries are announcing their new fall event schedule, and Bible Study groups are starting up again after their summer break. With the amazing year that Christian publishing has had, there’s certainly no shortage of quality books to choose from. My own Amazon purchase history certainly suggests it’s been a gangbuster year for female authors of faith. But here’s the thing friends: those inspiring devotional books we all love? Most of them actually aren’t Bible studies, and it’s important we carefully recognize the difference.

quiettime

Devotionals can do a fantastic job pulling us out of our own limited experiences and calling us to look at ourselves and our faith in a new light. They can be inspiring, even challenging, and it would be no exaggeration to call many of them life changing. Yet one key point separates a devotional from a Bible study – a devotional doesn’t require you to have your Bible there with you to read it. When you read a devotional, it may include references to specific scripture or even verses quoted within its pages, but the book is self contained. It can be slipped into your purse and read anywhere from your local coffee shops to the carpool pickup lane, and that very convenience is part of their appeal, especially in seasons of life where time is a difficult commodity to come by.

The problem with devotionals comes when we confuse them with Bible studies, and allow them to step into that vital role in our walk with God. It can be far too easy to feel the encouragement and insight we gather from the writings of wise women of faith, and begin to feel as though our hunger for God’s word is being met and filled. We become like little baby birds, happily accepting the regurgitated nourishment from our mothers beak, already pre-chewed for our comfort and ease, and we no longer feel the urgency to leave the nest and seek our own meals. We enjoy our morning coffee with an inspiring chapter of Christian nonfiction, and we call that our quiet time for the day. Meanwhile our Bibles sit nearby on the shelf and we don’t feel the ache of their neglect.

A true Bible study entails exactly that: a study of God’s word itself, with time spent deep within its pages. It may guide us to certain passages, even offering insights into understanding we might have otherwise missed out on, but ultimately it can’t be read on its own – its purpose is to point us back to our Bibles, and to push us to go deeper in our understanding of its words. it’s inside those very pages we meet with our God, allowing Him to speak His truth over our hearts and lives. There’s a sacred intimacy in reading His love letter to us, and it simply can’t be replaced by reading the second hand interpretations of others. We may gain new insights hearing about someone else’s experiences with God and with His word, but it’s simply no substitute for our own first hand encounters.

Another benefit to reading scripture is that you surrender control of the conversation and leave yourself open to hear whatever God chooses to speak to. When we buy a devotional they are usually topical, and so we can decide

MAMA HAS LYME

mamahaslyme

“Does your child have any special challenges I should be aware of?”

Two tiny blank lines staring at me, enough for maybe three sentences if I wrote very narrowly. Yes, Aidan is on the autism spectrum, and has a variety of specific learning challenges in the classroom, but there was already an IEP file explaining these things at length. There wasn’t space here to revisit those again.

“Does your child have any special challenges I should be aware of?”

Two tiny blank lines, waiting for me to explain. My face was beginning to flush and I could feel the fog in my brain growing thicker as I grew more and more flustered trying to turn thoughts into words on this cheery yellow paper. The neuropathy in my hands was making it harder to grip the pen and I could see the words on the page start to shift out of focus the longer I tried keep them in view.

“Does your child have any special challenges I should be aware of?”

I scribbled out lightly, “Yes, I have Lyme disease.”

The pen slipped once again from my now tingling fingers. I stared at those two words: Lyme Disease. How could I begin to explain just how much having a disabled parent would impact my child’s school year? My guilt was growing palpable as hot wet tears began to dot the page. How could I tell his new teacher just how much my son has to overcome because his mama simply isn’t like the other moms in his class?

When other children are gently woken by their parents each morning, my son usually uses an alarm to get up for school, just in case mama isn’t fully awake in time.

When other children come downstairs to a hot breakfast, my son often gets himself his own bowl from the cabinet and pours his own cereal, because he does his very best to save mama’s very limited energy for other essential tasks.

When other parents are walking their children to the bus stop and are there waiting when it returns each afternoon, my son walks himself to the corner each morning and walks back each afternoon alone, because we live on a steep hill and mama very quickly runs out of breath and has trouble maneuvering it with her cane on bad days.

When other parents are helping their kids diligently with homework, my son has a mama who can’t always remember things like spelling and math because her neurological symptoms make these tasks difficult at times.

When other parents are volunteering for field trips and class parties and positions on the PTA, my son has a mama who tries desperately to keep her parent teacher conference appointment, but may have to show up looking less than presentable if she’s able to make it at all.

“I have Lyme disease.” Those words were blurred beyond comprehension, and I could no longer tell if it was from the tears filling my eyes or the nerves misfiring in my brain. The guilt was overwhelming, and it was more than I could take. That would have to be enough on that for now. I strained to make out the last question on the sunshine colored page so I could just finish and retreat to my bed.

“What are some of your child’s greatest strengths?”

Empathy. The word came to me almost immediately. Empathy. It was quite incredible for a child on the autism spectrum to be so marked by empathy, but in Aidan’s case it was true. We hear it from teachers, from friends, from …