You Are Brave

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I love history because I love attempting to see things from all perspectives. I want to know the “why” behind things and what steps were made ahead of time leading up to a particular event/moment in history. I want to see things from as many perspectives as I possibly can, knowing all the while that my perspective is skewed because of who I am, where I was born, how I was raised, what color my skin is, etc. Still, my heart yearns to be able to see things from someone else’s perspective so that I can have more compassion and understanding. I want to see the ways in which people have been brave throughout history and the ways people are still being brave today.

Now picture being a teacher to teenagers in today’s world with all that entails. Man my heart aches when my kids are impatient with one another, when they fight and gossip and speak poorly, when others (even adults, myself included) say things that crush their spirits. Oh how I wish I could fix each broken heart, each painful word spoken, each lie the Enemy tells, convincing them they hold little worth to anyone. I wish I could help them see things not only from their own perspective, but also from the perspective of those around them. I want them to see the ways in which they are brave each and every day, even when they don’t feel like it.

It was out of this heart that “You Are Brave” was born. Most of the time when I am coming up with mini-lesson plans (like this one and “Your Words Matter”) it is because they are things my heart needs to hear, things I need to grapple with and figure, maybe if I needed to hear it, my students might too. Sorry kids! You guys are great about putting up with constant need to learn things over and over!

This last spring I was having a difficult time knowing how to be brave enough to get through to my students, a specific class in particular, the power of their words. This specific class never ceases to amaze me. They are bold and brave and unique. They are each different with strengths and skill sets unique to each one of them. Because of those differences there can be conflict. If you have ever attended a small school you know, the family feel and closeness can be both a beautiful thing and a source of great conflict, and the atmosphere is ever changing depending on the day.

As I read Days 3 & 4 of “100 Days to Brave” by Annie F. Downs I realized I saw their strengths and the beauty in how they have each been created so uniquely wonderful, but maybe they did not. Maybe they did not realize just how brave and bold and beautiful they each are. And maybe that was my fault. I spent more time encouraging them to love one another and use their words wisely and less time telling them the areas I already see them doing this well. And so I decided it was high time for me to tell them each, where their classmates could hear, ways in which I see them being brave every day.

With this class I have felt that I am in the presence of world changers. The idea continuously flashed in my mind as I stood before them teaching throughout the year and yet I had never felt brave enough to tell them. And so I decided to change that. I came into class one day, at the very end of the school year, stood before them and told them not only that I believe they will be world changers but also the ways I already see them choosing to be brave. I looked at each one of them through a teary eyes and told them the ways I see them being brave. How they are brave in their quiet leadership, their fierce loyalty and love, their willingness to speak up for what they believe and face conflict. In their kindness and compassion. In the ways they offer their talents and gifts to serve others. The way they face challenges and never use those challenges as an excuse to accept anything less than their best.

They are brave.

You too are brave.

In case nobody else has told you, I want you, dear reader, to know that you are brave. I would be willing to bet that if we sat down for coffee/tea and you shared your story with me I would be able to spot the areas you are brave without even knowing it.

Being brave doesn’t mean not being scared. Being brave doesn’t mean you won’t still have doubts in your heart and mind. Being brave, as Annie F. Downs points out, “is hearing that voice of fear in your head, but saying ‘Okay, but the truth is, God made me on purpose and for a purpose.’” It is no easy thing to remind yourself you were made on purpose, for a purpose, and to truly trust in that. It is no easy thing to be who God made each of us to be.

“We can only keep on going, after all, by the power of God, who first saved us and then called us to this holy work. We had nothing to do with it. It was all his idea, a gift prepared for us in Jesus long before we knew anything about it. But we know it now” 2 Timothy 1:8-9 (MSG).

You may not feel brave. Most brave people never truly do. You may have a moment of extreme courage but those moments are often few and fleeting. Being brave is being willing to do the next thing. Day after day, do the next thing. Take the next step, and the next, and the next; doing exactly what it is God has asked of you. Being willing to take brave steps in obedience to God. 

You are brave for waking up each morning and choosing to live each day. You are brave for finding hope even in the small things. You are brave for the sacrifices you make each day at work and at home for your family. You are brave for growing and blooming even on the edge of cliffs. You are brave for choosing to not settle for less than what or who God has for you. You are brave for choosing love each day.

You. Are. Brave.

Cheer on the bravery of others, see the courage and bravery in those around you and you, in return, will be all the braver for it. I have two challenges for you:

  1. Think back on your story and pinpoint moments (at least one or two) that you realize now were brave
  2. Seek out bravery in those around you and be bold enough to share it with them
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Hope, Grace & Deer

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Monday, July 9th, was our daughter’s birthday and I struggled. Not only did I struggle with the many emotions of the day but I struggled with knowing how best to be a mom and honor her on that day. I struggled because it was the last major deadline in my head for when we would surely be pregnant again after her due date had passed, my birthday passed, Mother’s Day passed, Father’s Day passed. And then one full year passed. One year of aching and dreaming and hoping and waiting. And waiting. And waiting.

Timelines are a hard thing because they have to balance back and forth between continuing to have hope and dreams and expectations and not placing so much emphasis that the thing you are hoping for and dreaming of becomes all consuming.

I chose not to post on Verity’s birthday. I regret that now. You see, I am someone who sees things from multiple perspectives and never wants to be the cause of other’s sadness or guilt. I didn’t post because my fear of making others feel sad on that day or unintentionally making them feel guilty for not remembering or not reaching out outweighed my heart’s desire to be a mom and honor my daughter by telling her happy birthday on social media. I was worried that maybe deep down my feeling to honor her in that way was actually selfish and a need to feel not so alone in my sadness. I was afraid and fear is a powerful thing when I let it control me.

I am afraid of being a bad mom, wife, daughter, sister, friend.

I am afraid I make others sad through my sadness and so I fight the sadness.

I am afraid others feel they can’t be honest with me for fear of hurting me.

I am afraid of processing my emotions and feeling all the feels and working through them knowing there are things working under the surface that I can’t even begin to comprehend yet.

I am afraid of becoming angry and bitter.

I am afraid.

I need grace. It was no accident that we gave our daughter the name Verity Grace. I know how deeply I am in need of the fundamental importance of grace and that God’s grace is sufficient for me.

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This last year has taught me so much. It has taught me to wait, that God’s timeline is different than my own and that is okay. He is STILL GOOD! It has taught me to take time to process and choose my words wisely. And it has taught me to embrace grace in all forms. Accept God’s immense grace shown to me when I fail and fall, allow myself grace when I all I can muster is to fall flat on my face, to show grace to others because who am I to withhold something I myself am so in need of. Grace.

So today I am giving myself grace to feel the sadness, to grieve the loss of my daughter and getting to see who she might have become. I am giving myself grace to grieve as we continue to hope and pray month, after month, after month for another little life to love here on this earth with no answer as of yet. And I am giving myself grace to honor and celebrate my daughter’s birthday without fear of hurting those around me.

The day before Verity’s birthday we had the privilege of attending Austin Stone Community Church with Ben and Aubrie. As we worshiped together they began to play “Great is Thy Faithfulness”, written by Thomas Chisholm, based on Lamentations 3:22-24,

“Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. I say to myself, ‘The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.’”

As I listened, I wept. I wept because in that moment, in that place, I could feel so evidently that God was there. He does not change, His compassion never fails, morning by morning new mercies I see. All I have needed His hand has provided. Great is His faithfulness, Lord unto me. In that moment I felt both overwhelming sorrow and overwhelming peace that God will provide all I need.

There have been many moments where I have begun to lose hope and God sends a gentle little reminder to me that hope does not come easy but to keep holding on. Most often this has come in the form of a deer. Now, bear with me as I explain because I am fully aware of how odd this will sound.

During the 2016-2017 school year I used to see two deer in a fenced in yard almost every day on my commute to or from school. In the spring when I was pregnant with Verity Grace I used to spend my commutes talking to her and talking to those two deer. They were beautiful little friends. Fast forward to the 2017-2018 school year and returning to that same commute with no Verity Grace to talk to, and sadness, and grief, and fighting to hold on to hope. Not once did I see those deer. It was as if they too had suddenly, without explanation, disappeared. A month or two went by and one day I noticed a dead deer on the side of the road just a block or so down from the Deer House and I wept. I wept for my friend, not knowing if it was actually one of them or not but still I wept. I wept for what had once been such a beautiful friendship of hope and joy and now was bathed in sadness and sorrow. Fast forward again to the spring with continual negative pregnancy tests month after month, the medication that helped us conceive Verity not working, and clinging with only a few frail fingers to that cliff of hope. As I passed the Deer House I almost didn’t even look because seeking them out day after day to no avail was becoming too hard. Low and behold, there she was. Alone but she was there. My beautiful friend. My deer. And I wept tears of joy. I knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt that God used that beautiful doe to remind me to continue to have hope. And so, deer became my symbol of hope. On days I am having an exceptionally hard time clinging to hope God always manages to bring in a deer. Sometimes it is me seeing one, other times it is a close friend with (whom I have shared my odd connection with deer) sending me a quick text because they happened to see one. It never fails to lift my heart and give me the strength to make it through the day holding on to hope.

Aubrie and I took their dog Faith out for a short walk that Sunday evening, after God had already reminded me through the old hymn that He is here and will provide all I need, and there by a small pond stood a beautiful doe and her fawn and His love washed over me all over again. And so, on Verity’s birthday when all our plans to do something fun to honor her on her birthday washed away with an Austin, Texas downpour, we set out for Hobby Lobby to see if maybe there was a little something we could take home with us. It was there that we found the two signs you see as the main image for this post. Thankfully I held it together and didn’t cry in Hobby Lobby but I knew that those two signs were placed there just for me. To remind me to cling to both grace and hope.

Verity Grace Drake, thank you for making me a mommy, your mommy. Thank you for teaching me more in your 22 weeks of life than I have learned in the 31 years I have walked this earth. Thank you for showing me God’s grace and love and peace that surpasses all understanding in ways I had never before experienced it. Thank you for showing me how to cling to both grace and hope. I will love you forever and always.

Love, Your Mom

I Am Not Enough

 

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For most of my life I have hated crying. For me it was synonymous with weakness and I hate feeling weak. I know there are things I do not excel at because I am not naturally talented or gifted in areas like athletics or math, but I pride myself in having a “high pain tolerance” (at least according to a doctor and a tattoo artist (spoiler alert, I have tattoos) so I’m runnin’ with it). I had to. As a kid I was made fun of on the playground, a lot. When I was the one being mocked I tried to operate under the “say nothing at all” mentality and just ignored them, but if it was one of my friends they hurt, I could hurl insults right back like a champ. Still, I didn’t cry. There were a lot of things I was told I was “not” during those elementary school playground days. I was not pretty enough, I was not fast enough, I was not smart enough, I was not strong enough. Because I chose not to cry about those comments I convinced myself I wasn’t affected by them and I truly was strong. But, for a long time, the inner narrative of my life had been that I am not enough and that crying makes me even weaker.

I was wrong.

Crying is not a sign of weakness. Crying is not a bad thing. Crying is something that can be, and often is, healing for the soul. AND I am enough. I am enough because God made me on purpose and for a purpose and so I am enough.

Don’t get me wrong. I still have days, most days, okay almost every moment of every day, where I feel as though I am not enough and I have to fight hard to remember that I was made on purpose and for a purpose and that makes me enough.

One of my favorite parts about teaching at a private Christian school is getting to worship together on chapel days. On those days, I feel content and can dwell in that balance of being just enough. I love knowing God is in that place and that there is a body of people gathered together to worship Him. And most of the time my heart is just glad. No tears, just contentment and a feeling that this is enough.

At one of the very first chapels of the 2017-2018 school year our worship team starting playing “Praise You In This Storm” by Casting Crowns. As I sang, I wept. I couldn’t tell you how many times I have heard and sung that song, and not once cried , until now. I know the lyrics without even needing to see them and yet, this last year, in this season of life and of feeling as though I am not enough, those words took on new meaning.

 

I was sure by now

God You would have reached down

And wiped our tears away

Stepped in and saved the day

But once again, I say “Amen”, and it’s still raining

As the thunder rolls

I barely hear Your whisper through the rain

“I’m with you”

And as your mercy falls

I raise my hands and praise the God who gives

And takes away

It’s still raining. The thunder is still rolling. And yet God is still merciful and gracious. God is still good. Oh how I love the sound of an “and yet” statement. You see, up until recently I hadn’t realized just how much I was feeling I am not enough again. If I was enough, God surely would have allowed our daughter to live. If I was enough, surely God would have given us another baby by now. I am not enough…I am not enough…I am not enough.

This post originally began at the end of February, but I wasn’t done grappling with it yet, and so, for some reason, today I felt drawn back to this post. In February I concluded it was okay to cry. Crying is not a bad thing. God is still good. And that still resonates in my heart today, but as we come up on the one year anniversary of our daughter’s birth, I realize I have fallen again into the pit of feeling not enough.

I was sure by now God would have reached down and wiped our tears away, stepped in and saved the day, giving us another little life to love and cherish here on Earth. But once again, I say “Amen”, and it’s still raining. And as the thunder rolls, I barely hear His whisper through the rain, “I am with you”.

I listened to another podcast episode of “That Sounds Fun” with Annie Downs recently (seriously, I am continuously encouraged by her podcasts and the guests she invites). Her guest, Christine Caine, brought up Psalm 119:68 and reminded me, once again, I can hold tight to the fact that I believe in a God who is good. Good, even when I don’t understand His timing or the things He allows to funnel through His mighty hands. Even on days I feel I am not enough, God…is…still…good.

The verse says this, “You are good, and what You do is good; teach me Your decrees.”

And so instead of stepping back, instead of holding in the tears and trying to be strong, I am choosing to lean in and let myself feel all the emotions. I am leaning in on the promises that God is still good and that I am enough. I am leaning into His Word and remembering that God made me on purpose and for a purpose and even though this season is painful and the waiting is difficult and the tears may come…He is still here leaning in with me. God does not waste hurt. He allows facets of beauty from it to pierce the darkness and provide a warmth to soothe your soul while you walk through the valley. 

If you have taken the time to read this post and your inner narrative is one of feeling “not enough” please know there is someone else who understands. Not fully, because I am not you. I was not created to be you, just as you were not created to be me, but you ARE enough. You were created on purpose and for a purpose. Trust that God has a plan and a purpose for you and He will not abandon you.

“The Lord will fulfill his purpose for me; your love, O Lord, endures forever – do not abandon the works of your hands.” ~ Psalm 138:8

The Other Person’s Shoes

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Merriam-Webster Dictionary definition of stupid – “Given to unintelligent decisions or acts: acting in an unintelligent or careless manner”

One of the first things they cover when you are in school to get your teaching license is to encourage students to ask questions and delve deeper into the material. There is no such thing as a stupid question. And that, my friends, is why I teach the big kids. Because there definitely are stupid questions!

Classroom Examples (collected over my many years being both a student and teacher in the classroom):

Exhibit A: “So, will there be homework tonight?” After literally just finishing up explaining what the homework assignment was.

Exhibit B: “Did I miss anything while I was gone?” No, of course not. I stopped teaching in anticipation of your return (Insert exaggerated eye roll here).

Exhibit C: “Is this important?” No, I’ve just been talking about it for the last 20 minutes for kicks and giggles.

Now, please don’t start contacting my school about what a terrible teacher I am! I don’t always respond with blatant sarcasm. I work hard first to build a healthy, trusting relationship with my students before dropping the reality “there are stupid questions” bomb on them! I know my students and gauge accordingly based on who can handle what response. Honestly, I love my school and my students, I wouldn’t be there if I didn’t. Sweet elementary students are not yet ready for my degree of honesty and so I teach the big kids. I teach the big kids so I can carry around mugs that say things like: “And yet despite the look on my face you’re still talking” or “I Can’t People Today” and they know that even though I’m carrying those mugs around, they are still my kids and I will drop anything to help them.

For six years my job has been ever changing, ever evolving. I have created curriculum and taught 20 different classes, been class sponsor, ASB advisor, drama director, and more. The last two years I have taken on a new roll that includes being a TOSA (teacher on special assignment) giving me a small office. That little office has ever-increasingly become a place where students come in to talk and hash out life; a guidance counselor office.

Now, please don’t take the above list as me complaining about my job because I am not. I love my job! As exhausting as it can be, I love it! But I have learned, not just from classroom teaching or counseling sessions in my little office, but also from sweet, well-intentioned people wanting to give us advice after the loss of our daughter, that people can say some hurtful, and sometimes stupid, things.

So, the question then is how can we respond in a way that is both honest AND kind?

I am a people-pleaser by nature. A people-pleaser who does not like conflict! Most of my life I have preferred to let people lecture me (talk to my mom, she will attest to this fact) while I nod and take it or berate me uncontestedly. I frequently operate under the age-old saying, “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all” and so I avoid the tough issues with people. I avoid letting people know when they say something hurtful. I avoid telling people what I am really feeling. I avoid telling people things they might not agree with because I don’t want to hurt their feelings. Or, I take the other approach and bottle everything up for so long that when someone says something small and insignificant, I fly off the handle. Not because what they have said or done has actually made me that upset, but because it was the proverbial “straw that broke the camel’s back”.

What I am finally starting to learn is that I need to find balance. I need to find that balance between protecting my heart and also protecting the hearts of those around me. I need to find that balance between knowing when to be silent and when to speak (Ecclesiastes 3:7); in using restraint with my words (Prov. 17:27-28); in being quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry (James 1:19).

In this current season of life, I am learning that people mean well, even when what they say or do is hurtful. Most people are not intrinsically unkind. Often they simply do not realize the way their words come across. Even words with the best of intentions can be taken the wrong way. At the same time, there are some who lash out because they, themselves have been hurt. They have felt pain and don’t know how to process it and so they lash out. People are not intrinsically unkind but sometimes what they say can be unkind. It is one of the reasons I love teaching History. More than memorizing dates or events, I want students to learn how to put themselves in someone else’s shoes. I want them to imagine what it might be like for the person on the other end of the story and try to make sense of their actions. I want them to read primary sources and secondary sources and then try to figure out what actually happened, because history is rarely told without a bias of some kind. So what happened from the perspective of the “other side”? My heart is for students to be so accustomed to thinking about things from someone else’s perspective that they exhibit more patience, kindness, and compassion with each other. That without even realizing they are doing it, they have become less concerned with what was said, and more focused on why it was said.

This doesn’t mean we need to ignore the hurtful things said, at the expense of our own hearts, unintentionally collecting bitterness like court-cases awaiting justice. Instead I am learning (I would say I have learned but to be honest, this is a day-by-day, moment-by-moment thing for me) to stop, take a moment, try to think of things from the other person’s perspective and then be honest. The best phrase I am learning to say in times when stupid, hurtful things are said: “Is there another way you could maybe word that? Because the way I am taking it is hurting me.”

This doesn’t always happen in the moment, sometimes I take a while to process things. Sometimes a comment is made, I am hurt, and I say nothing in the moment because I know I won’t respond with kindness. The raw emotions and hurt the comment brought up means I will not be able to respond without lashing out and so I am learning to stop, take a moment, and then try to put myself in the other person’s shoes.

I am human.

I am not perfect. Please don’t expect me to be.

Know that I will occasionally fly off the handle over something that seems insignificant because I have been bottling up my emotions for weeks, or months, on end. Know that I may not always respond with kindness. I may not say anything at all, and simply move on.

Be patient with me as I grow and learn.

But also know that I am working on being a better person. A more Christ-like person.

This morning at church we were covering Nehemiah 9, specifically verses 16-17.

“But they, our ancestors, became arrogant and stiff-necked, and they did not obey your commands. They refused to listen and failed to remember the miracles you performed among them. They became stiff-necked and in their rebellion appointed a leader in order to return to their slavery. But you are a forgiving God, gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love. Therefore you did not desert them,…”

God is gracious, compassionate, slow to anger, abounding in love and He will not desert me. My heart needed that message this morning. My heart needed that reminder that no matter how many times I fall and fail, God is forgiving and full of grace. And if God is so willing to show me, a broken human being who says stupid things, compassion and grace then who am I to withhold those things from the people around me?

And so I try, moment-by-moment, day-by-day, to put myself in the other person’s shoes. I strive to keep things in perspective. And I attempt to find a different way to communicate with people when hurtful things are said.

My Little Gardens

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Everyone’s journey is different. No two people are the same. No combination of events the same. And while that is true, there are also many ways we can relate, sympathize, even empathize with one another. We are not alone. My life experiences may not be the same as yours but with some of you reading this, maybe you can relate. Relate to loss. To waiting. To longing. To the frustrations that come with the answer “no” or “not yet”.

When I first decided to start a blog I was hesitant. To be completely honest, I still am. I wanted to give a place where people felt a little less alone, although I’m sure a large part of that was me needing to remember that I am not alone. I am not alone in loss or grief. I am not alone waiting or longing. This specific post has taken many shapes and forms over the last few weeks as I have stewed over the significance of today, March 4th, and of what I am feeling and how I might want to convey that. It has gone from being a post about learning how to communicate through sadness and grief to how to respond in kindness when people say stupid things (because, let’s be honest, we all say stupid things sometimes) to seasons of waiting to not wanting anyone to feel alone and somehow morphed into this: the lessons I learn from my little gardens. At some point you will probably see another post about the things mentioned above but for today, for some reason, I have decided to process by writing down my thoughts on the plants I have that hold meaning and significance to me and by the end of the post who knows, maybe it will have morphed again. I am not sure why this is what is in my heart today but my prayer is that, by revealing another glimpse into my life and the way I am processing today, you might feel a little less alone and be encouraged to find little garden lessons of your own.

I am going with my dump truck method (mostly because I am learning I over-think things too much if I don’t. Perfect example: the many different visions for this post that have almost made it an impossibility to publish). I will probably jump around here a bit and likely give you more information than you really want or need. If you choose not to read any farther, I won’t hold it against you, this post got crazy long. If you do choose to read more I want to thank you for walking with me as I process.

Today I want to share with you my little gardens that have come out of loss. I want to share with you the way plants have helped me grow and remind me of beautiful life lessons that can be learned as long as I choose not to allow my circumstances to consume me.

I am reminded by a little bamboo that a “no” can sometimes actually be a “not yet” and to never let the “no” make me bitter.

I am reminded by Grandma Anita’s strawberries (seen in the image above) to continue to fight and grow, even in difficult circumstances.

And I am reminded by a backyard oasis of immense love and rest and peace and grace.


~ My Little Bamboo ~

A few years ago when we took our first negative pregnancy test I experienced the struggle with the answer “no”. It was in the first few months of trying and we had known it wouldn’t be easy for us to get pregnant so I thought I had guarded my heart well, rationally anticipating a negative. I took the test in the morning, saw the negative and went off to school, telling myself it was like any other day. I made it through the day, putting it as far from my mind as possible so I could be present for my students. What I didn’t realize was just how deeply my heart hurt at the answer “no”. (Anybody else have a hard time with the word “no”?) My sweet husband, on the other hand, knew that while it may take a while for me to process emotions, eventually the sadness would seep in. Before even receiving a text from me about needing to bail on our plans with friends for that night because I just couldn’t “people” anymore that day, he went out to Trader Joe’s and purchased my favorite cheese, crackers, a bottle of wine, chocolate coconut covered almonds, and a small, beautiful bamboo shoot. That bamboo shoot was the start of my little garden of growth. He brought home the grocery bag, full of reminders things he had chosen with care, and I was overwhelmed by the love he has for me. In a day that started with the answer “no”, my husband turned it into a “not yet”. He took something that to me, felt so harsh and final, and reminded me that it was simply “not yet”. He filled it with hope, hope of growth and life in the future, and I was reminded not to let my heart become bitter just because it was not the answer I had wanted.

I still have the bamboo shoot (it’s one of the few things I have managed to keep alive. Yes, I have even killed succulents) and each time I see it I am reminded of the love my husband has for me. I am reminded to have hope, hope of life and of joy, and to never allow bitterness to consume me. I am reminded of how far we have come and how far we still have to go. I am reminded that I have grown and am continuing to grow, molded and shaped by life experiences, and that “no” can sometimes be seen instead as a “not yet”.


Grandma Anita’s Strawberries ~ 

Two years ago today, March 4th, the world lost a beautiful woman, Grandma Anita. The family did not see it coming. The loss was shocking and felt by the family and throughout the small church community she had been so greatly a part of. After losing my grandmother my senior year of high school, my friend’s grandmother adopted me. Anytime Grandma Anita saw me she greeted me with a smile and a, “Hey, grandfriend,” always asking me how I was doing. She was a woman full of life and vigor, who loved her family and invested in those around her. As her family got ready to sell her house, I was asked if there was anything I might want from the garden she cultivated with such love and care. She was well known for her beautiful garden! I brought home with me strawberry plants, now lovingly referred to as “Grandma Anita’s Strawberries”, and planted them along the barrier wall in our new backyard.

That first fall in our new home included quite the wind storm, knocking down three panels of our fence and crushing a section of strawberry plants. After being transplanted I wasn’t sure the plants would survive and my heart ached. Not only did I want to have a little reminder of Grandma Anita for myself but I also wanted my friends to be able to come over in the summers and eat strawberries from the same plants their grandmother had loved and tended to. The fence was fixed, Spring came, and low and behold, not only did Grandma Anita’s strawberries survive, they have actually grown and spread farther along the barrier wall! Those beautiful plants have grown and shaped our new house, providing us with delicious strawberries for the past two years. From those strawberries I have learned what it is to fight and grow, even in circumstances that seem impossible. Those plants were uprooted, replanted, and then crushed and still they survived. Not only did they survive, they became stronger, growing and spreading and producing delicious fruit. Each time I look out at those strawberries I am reminded not to let my circumstances overwhelm me, but instead I choose to fight and to grow.


~ My Backyard Oasis ~ 

And now, I finally get to the reason today has been on my heart for the last few weeks. I finally get around to telling you why I need to process today through writing. Now I get to the part I have wanted to avoid, but still cleared my schedule this weekend knowing I may need space to process and grieve.

One year ago today, March 4th, 2017, after negative pregnancy test after negative pregnancy test and seeing the answer “no” what felt like a million times, I finally saw those two, beautiful pink lines.

We were pregnant! We were finally pregnant! It somehow seemed so fitting that on the anniversary of losing Grandma Anita, the day would feel a little bit redeemed with so much hope and joy. And so I rejoiced! I had chosen to fight and grow. I had chosen not to allow myself to become bitter but to instead hope and finally my “not yet” had turned into a “yes”!

One year ago today I finally started to allow myself to dream and imagine our future with the little life that was finally growing inside me. The little life that had been so hoped for and prayed for. I started to plan out the nursery and what color schemes I might like. I would finally get to celebrate Mother’s Day and experience all of the joys of pregnancy! By now, if you have read any of my earlier posts, you know how this story ends. I experienced 22 beautiful weeks with our little girl. Weeks full of joy and hope and immeasurable love before we had to say goodbye. And now, as I look back on March 4th, 2017, I long for that moment of utter elation, not yet tainted by sorrow and loss.

If we are able to get pregnant again it will not be the same as before. We will look at those two beautiful lines and be excited, yes, but it will also be different than before. We cannot go back to the moment of pure and utter joy but that does not mean we can’t choose day-by-day, moment-by-moment, second-by-second if we must, to have faith and hope over fear. My prayer is that when that day comes, if that day comes, we will choose to continue to cherish each moment and not be consumed by the endless possibilities of what could go wrong.

Back to my little backyard oasis. The week we said goodbye to Verity Grace my parents came over on a mission, what mission they wouldn’t say. We were told to stay inside and let them work, they would fetch us when they were ready. Ben was working from home that week, I was on summer break, so he went back to working upstairs and I popped in the copy of Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (extended edition) that my parents had brought with them. That’s right, when I am sad or sick I like to watch Lord of the Rings and the second one happens to be my favorite. I’m weird. I know.

Hours went by before we were finally allowed to go into our backyard to see what they had done. Our little backyard had been transformed into our own, personal oasis. My parents had graciously dedicated their day to transforming our backyard into a space where we could rest and find peace and comfort. In the empty space along the back of the house they had planted three blueberry bushes and two Russian Sage plants and even had a small potted mint plant to be added to iced tea or coffee. They used the tall shepherd’s hooks from Ben and my wedding to create a little square around our back patio and hung a strand of large outdoor lights from it. And, last but not least, they set up two comfortable reclining lawn chairs so that we could sit back there, in the peacefulness they had created just for us, and enjoy out little oasis.

My parents knew we would need a place where we could remember just how much we are loved and cherished. A place full of life and the promise of a better tomorrow. A place full of peace and rest and grace. A place of beauty amidst the struggles and hardships of life. They blessed us with a place where every time I enjoy the fruit grown by those blueberry plants I can think of my daughter and the immense love surrounding her little life.


My little gardens have taught me much. They have taught me that it is okay to feel sorrow and pain and sadness but to not become bitter at the answer “no” or “not yet”. They have taught me to continue to fight and grow, even when I feel overwhelmed by the fences that come crashing down on me. They have taught me to make time for rest, for peace and for grace. And they have reminded me of the immensity of love.

Today, March 4th, 2018, is also the day one of my friends is marrying her best friend in beautiful, sunny San Diego. As I sit here processing, I am receiving pictures from her stunning wedding and I am reminded of the many emotions of numbers and of dates. Todays date in history has held many, many emotions from the sadness of death, to the joy of new life, to the beauty and excitement of a marriage just begun. And I remember words spoken by Graham Cooke, “There are no good days or bad days, only days of grace. The grace to enjoy or the grace to endure.”

Today my prayer is that your day would be full of grace and that you would be able to find life lessons in your own little gardens.

 

 

The Many Feelings of Numbers & Waiting

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As I drove away from yet another doctor’s appointment with no answers, no solutions, no progress made on our journey toward having another baby, with tears in my eyes (and by tears I mean I was ugly crying, almost to the point of needing to pull over) I was overwhelmed by the feeling of numbers. Numbers have feelings attached to them.

In Math class, or even History class, the feeling attached to numbers was often frustration for me because they never seemed to line up right. They didn’t make sense to the way my brain works. My mind jumbles numbers. It’s why I often don’t have my students memorize exact dates, but more the general time frame. I might see 1784 but out of my mouth comes 1847. I have to check and double-check that I have the correct order of numbers before I type them, say them, post them because my mind does not like to leave them in the order they were supposed to be in and so, numbers can often be frustrating to me.

Significant dates can hold such a wide range of emotions and feelings. Anniversaries, birthdays, March 13th – the start of March Madness (now THAT brings quite a bit of joy for me! I love creating brackets with my classes during March Madness and watching as the underdog teams defeat all odds to beat teams ranked higher than them!). Significant life events are often marked in dates and so we have feelings attached to them. Sorrow on the anniversary of the loss of a loved one. Joy celebrating another year well lived. Despair as months pass by with still no answers, being no closer to having and holding a little baby of our own. Anxiety, anticipation, warmth, love, happy, energetic, the list could go on and on. Dates are attached to events which are connected to emotions and so we think and feel when it comes to dates.

Appointments are filled to the brim with feeling numbers. Let’s take doctors appointments, since this has become the most prominent type of appointment in my life lately, although it could apply to other appointments as well. Specifically the appointment that had me driving away, feeling strongly in numbers. I sat there waiting, watching the minutes on the clock tick by excruciatingly slowly (numbers holding the feelings of dread and anticipation and a bit of hope that maybe this time there will be some answer, a move forward in the process of getting pregnant again. After all, this specialist was the one who helped us get pregnant with Verity). I felt like a number in a long list of numbers as I waited, not a name or a face or a person, just a number.

Finally it is my turn, my name is called. I step into that room and am asked my medical history, and I re-live, yet again, the life and death of my daughter and the infertility journey we have traveled. I am asked for dates, times, numbers and each one feels like a wound opening up again. As I sit there, I think to myself, “Why? Why do they need to know all this again? It’s all in my files and in the portal messages we have been sending back and forth. I have no new information for them so why dredge it all up?” Then, the specialist finally comes in and simply points me back in the direction of my primary care provider, because it will be more cost efficient in the long-run. Wait, what? And suddenly, in just a few short minutes, I am made to feel like a monetary number. I am made to feel like the number of dollars I can bring in and be charged for an appointment that held no new information and gave no new answers. I feel the cost of the half-day I took off of work to go to the in-person appointment the specialist had recommended, and the stress of creating lesson plans for a substitute. I felt the cost of parking in downtown Portland and the anxiety I get anytime I have to drive there. And I felt the cost of being charged to simply be told, “I can’t do anything for you” in person, instead of through messages. As I drove away I felt that hope start to slip slowly through my fingers as despair took over and I felt like a number, not a person and it hit me like a brick, numbers have feelings.

Time, ultimately, is a collection of numbers and so the passing of time holds a multitude of emotions and “feelings”. For anyone who has walked the path of infertility, you know that each month that goes by brings with it a roller coaster of emotions. Recently I have been reading a book titled Seasons of Waiting: Walking by Faith When Dreams are Delayed by Betsy Childs Howard. This book was given to me almost a year ago for my birthday by a dear friend but, at the time, I thought my season of waiting was over. I was finally moving forward in my dream of having a family and so relieved to be done with the waiting and so I didn’t read it. And then, suddenly, life changed and I found myself back in the throws of waiting again. At least once a week my friend would gently encourage me to pick up the book, take a look, maybe see if there was encouragement to be found in among the pages. After months of waiting again for another miracle baby, rapidly approaching another year of waiting, I finally picked up the book. Now, let me just say that I am still working on reading it but I did make it through the first few chapters. I have read through the chapter on waiting for a bridegroom, waiting for a child, and waiting for healing and though there are more chapters yet to come, I have found renewed hope and encouragement in among those numbered pages. In the beginning of the book the author points out that God isn’t wanting us to learn our lesson about waiting so that we don’t have to wait anymore, but instead He wants us to learn how to wait well, even if that waiting continues on for the rest of this life (pg. 14). God is working in our waiting (pg. 15). The Bible is FULL of waiting! The Jews were constantly waiting; Elizabeth waited, Hannah waited, Job waited, the Disciples waited. I am slowly, excruciatingly slowly, learning that beautiful growth can happen in the waiting.

Originally, I had thought that my problem was in not being patient enough, that I haven’t learned my lesson about waiting patiently yet and so God is keeping me in this wasteland of waiting. But that is not how God operates. When it came to dealing with the overwhelming emotions attached to numbers and waiting my first reaction was to detach. Stop feeling numbers. Don’t allow numbers to dictate how I feel. But then, I’m not sure that is truly realistic for me. Round 2 then, how can I keep my many “feeling numbers” in perspective so that I can still feel them without letting them consume me? How can I learn to wait well?

I can start by believing in the truths found in Scripture.

I can continue to hold onto the hope found in Matthew 7:7-11, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened. Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!”

I can strive for the truths found in Philippians 4, to rejoice in the Lord always; to not be anxious about anything, instead bringing it all before the God who created everything and knows my thoughts and feelings better than even I do; to be content in every circumstance and to rely on Him for my strength.

I can keep things in perspective through remembering what Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 has to say about there being a season for everything and never forgetting that for God time is different (2 Peter 3:8).

I can gain wisdom in living knowing that my days are numbered (Psalm 90:12) and that God has established each and every one of my steps, no matter how I try to plan (Proverbs 16:9; Jeremiah 29:11).

I can remember to make the best use of my time because I do not know what tomorrow may bring (Ephesians 5:16; James 4:13-15) and I can be encouraged by those who lived before me.

And so today, my prayer for you is that you would be encouraged in your waiting. Whatever that waiting may be. Know that you are not alone in the waiting and that there can be great beauty in the waiting. That doesn’t mean that the waiting won’t hurt at times; that numbers won’t continue to pass you by, full of all kinds of feelings, but growth can happen in the waiting. Wisdom can be gained. And life can still be full of hope.

 

 

 

 

And Yet I Choose Hope

 

As I put on my makeup one morning in September, bracing myself for another day, I distinctly remember feeling that I wished I could just be “me” again and not this drained and exhausted being that seems to inhabit my body. I didn’t used to have to try so hard to be happy or even wake up in the morning. I used to be able to simply choose clothes to wear for the day, instead of feeling like I’m putting on a costume for a play called “The Happy Teacher/Friend/Family Member”. And then I realized that this is me. A new me. A new normal. And I needed to figure out who I was all over again.

Grief and tragedy don’t just happen for a moment. Sometimes in an instant life changes, but that’s just it, life changes. An event has occurred that has created a new normal. Sometimes the catalyst for change is something wonderful like graduating school, getting married, having a child, getting a new job…and other times it is something hard like finally realizing you need to get out of an abusive marriage, losing a loved one, losing your job.

When changes are hard we tend to lose things. We lose the hopes and dreams we had built, we lose the ease with which happiness once came, we can even lose a bit of ourselves. But I would also argue that we have so very much to gain out of loss, if we allow ourselves the opportunity.

Recently my husband and I escaped to the beach for a weekend. A short little vacation to our favorite cabin up on a hill overlooking this stunning view. It was set to be perfect, actually sunny weather (a rarity for the Oregon Coast) and a long walk on the beach was just what our hearts needed. Unfortunately that morning Ben got a horrible headache and lay down to try and sleep it off but I still felt the call of the ocean. I put on my giant, sleeping-bag of a coat (because even if it looks sunny it’s normally windy and cold down on the beach) and set off. Normally I would plug in my headphones and listen to music as I walked but I had just started listening to a new podcast on my commutes to work and thought I would give that a try instead (besides, if I got too bored I could always switch to music).

In her podcast, The Glorious in the Mundane, Christy Nockels was interviewing Annie Downs (from back in 2016, I’m a little behind in the podcast times and just found this one). As I walked along the beach, by myself, God used that podcast and the words of those wonderful women to speak truths into my life that I needed to hear.

They talked, laughed, reminisced and made me so wish I lived in the South! As they discussed the book that Annie Downs wrote, Looking for Lovely, my heart was overwhelmed by how perfect God’s timing is. I wasn’t behind the times in finding the podcast, I was right in God’s timing. God knew that my heart would need to hear Annie talk about hope, and how it isn’t a Fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23), or something that comes easily, when I was in a place of holding onto merely a shred of hope and feeling even that slip through my fingers.

That day, that walk, God knew that it was what my heart needed. That reminder that hope isn’t the easy choice but it is worth it! I loved that walk, and the way God used it to speak truths into my heart.

Fast-forward to a week later only this time, I’m at home sitting on my couch with a sinus infection missing a swim championship I had really wanted to be at and forgetting, already, that hope does not come easy. This was week 4 of being sick and I had started feeling that my body would never be (relatively) healthy again. I picked up my copy of Looking for Lovely (because of course I ordered it as soon as I got back to the cabin), while keeping tabs on the swim meet results online, and started the chapter titled “Tragedy”. First, let me say that I am pretty sure this book was written just for me! God knew how to find someone who’s life experiences and feelings I could so relate to and had her write it down knowing I would need to read it (awkward sentence but just roll with me here because I’m doing my dump truck thing). The first two chapters alone describe how I have felt much of my life, including having similar health issues! Anyway, back to the chapter “Tragedy”, that starts out with my life verse, the verse I feel God chose just for me (so much so that I have it permanently inked on my body, but more on that in some other blog post), and I was already hooked. It starts with Matthew 11:28-30, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Such a wonderful reminder that we are not expected to walk this path alone.

And then, her words. Her words summed up what I have been trying to embrace in these last months since losing Verity Grace, but she puts it much better than I so I want to share her words with you now. I tried to pair it down but, well, I just couldn’t because it’s all good so brace yourselves for a long quote (possibly formatted incorrectly because I am still new to this whole blogging thing).

It’s not about pretending everything is beautiful and nothing is ugly and you have no questions or doubts and picking out the beautiful in your everyday is going to protect you from anything hurting ever. It’s about feeling the pain, letting the suffering be part of your life, embracing the Romans 5:3 moments so you can process through the Romans 5:4 days so you can live a Romans 5:5 hope-filled life. If you aren’t experiencing pain, you aren’t experiencing beauty. Darkness makes us appreciate the beauty of the light. If you aren’t allowing yourself to feel the hurt, sadness, loneliness, and disappointment this fallen world has to offer, you aren’t feeling the fulness of the joy and beauty the redeemed moments have to offer. There is nothing beautiful about tragedy…But there is beauty in choosing to feel that pain, in calling it what it is, and not pretending everything is okay. Whatever tragedy you have experienced or are currently living through, the most beautiful thing you can do is LIVE. Keep walking, keep weeping, keep eating. Don’t ignore the hurt. Don’t attempt to avoid it and just move on with your life. Feel it all, and invite people in to feel it with you.

The idea of being okay with the sadness and the pain, but still looking for the lovely and the hope has been my goal. I am not always good at it. Some days the sadness overwhelms and the despair weighs me down so much I would rather not move from my bed. But then there are days, moments, that I see the lovely and the beauty in the pain and through the pain.

Recently my girl’s bible study group listened to a sermon by Graham Cooke where he talked about being in the wilderness and how the wilderness reduces our descriptions down to nothing, revealing who we truly are and teaching us how to depend on God and who He is. In that sermon he emphasizes the idea of an “…and yet” statement. Take Job for example, a man who suffered tragedy upon tragedy and yet he still trusted in God. Or the book of Lamentations, where the “and yet” statement can be seen in the middle of pain, panic and fear and yet that belief that God is still good. Sorrowful and yet rejoicing. In pain and yet God is good. When our circumstances feel relentless, we can also experience how relentless God is, something I often forget. As my wonderful bible study leader Anne pointed out, “God asks us to step into our pain to receive our ‘yet’ moment. This happens only in brokenness and humility.” Or as my friend Taylor so beautifully said, “God doesn’t ask us to deny or ignore the pain or hardship, but to believe in the ‘yet’.” And so I am working on looking for the “and yet” moments each and every day and would encourage you to do the same. What are some of your “and yet” moments? If you would be bold enough to share, I would love to hear ways in which you have been able to experience the power of an “and yet” statement in your life. You can either comment, or if it is something you would rather share with just me, please feel free to reach out through the “Contact” section.