“Growing As I Wait”

Honestly, while I have always known/been told that grief comes in waves I didn’t realize just how difficult the healing process would continue to be. A process only intensified by our infertility journey with aching arms still empty, desperately longing to hold a little one of our own.  Living in the tension of the unknowns about whether or not we will have another little life who looks like us, having Ben’s eyes, or my nose, or his wavy blonde hair. And while we look forward to the day God expands our little family again, hopefully through both adoption and biological, our life will always hold some really hard grief triggers. 

When we got pregnant with Verity my heart instantly became attached and transformed into being a “mama’s heart”. I know this isn’t necessarily the journey for everyone, for some it doesn’t seem real until the baby is actually placed in his or her arms and for others it takes time even after that to become connected to their child. For me though, I became a mama the day the pregnancy test said “pregnant”. Since the day we found out her heart was no longer beating, there has been a large piece of me missing. It isn’t just a Verity-sized hole in my heart, it is the calling of being a mother still unfulfilled. While I know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that God is still good and that He gave me the absolute perfect husband to walk through this journey with, something opened up in my heart the day we found out we were pregnant that has had to go back to trying to lie dormant. Trying, and most days failing. There is so much in Hannah’s story from 1 Samuel 1 that resonates with my heart. The longing, the bitter tears, the feeling of not getting to fulfill her purpose/calling. As much as her husband, Elkanah, wanted to be worth “more than ten sons” to Hannah, still she went to the temple in distress and prayed and begged God for a child. She begged to not be “forgotten”. She bartered, promising to give her son to the Lord all the days of his life. That feeling of being “forgotten” or “passed over” has played on repeat in my heart more times than I can count and is often an indicator of a “hard day”. There are good days, hard days, and days that feel impossible. 

On the “good days” I can get out of bed without immediately feeling as though the weight of each of the 7×10(to the 27th power…aka: seven billion billion billion) atoms in my body are impossible (not just improbable, IMPOSSIBLE) to lift. On the “good days” I can get on social media and see past the grief triggers of baby announcements, pregnant bellies, exhausted newborn parents sharing #real talk about the difficulties that come with raising tiny humans. On the “good days” I can simply celebrate with others, drop off a much earned 5th cup of coffee for my mama friends, and snuggle all the littles who call me “Auntie” without sorrow. 

Those are the “good days”. 

On the “hard days” I am a fraction of who I once was. I can’t seem to remember who I once was, who I am now, or who I want to be. I am full of doubts and “why me!?!”. I am reading the words of those who have gone before me and desperately trying not to close myself off to the rest of the world for fear the grief triggers will be too much to even accomplish one small thing, like getting out of bed. On the “hard days” doing the dishes OR walking the dog OR grading a few papers is a victory. On those days I manage to deny most of the lies telling me I am a failure as a wife, a failure as a mom, a failure as a daughter, sister, friend, human being…most, but not all. 

Those are the “hard days”.  

On the “impossible days” I am curled up in the fetal position, the irony not lost on me. On the “impossible days” I am lost, drowning in the weight of the infinite worlds created in my head of how life was supposed to be. Reading books and telling bedtime stories with our daughter.  Learning how to navigate bedtime schedules and finding the best babysitters for when family wasn’t available (as a teacher, I’ve never been too worried about this one because I have had the privilege of teaching some amazing humans!). A house full of noise and the patter of little feet as siblings chase each other around. Oh the worlds my mind creates. They are beautiful and captivating and haunting. Most of my “impossible days” don’t come from comparing myself to others, they come from comparing myself to the many different versions of my life dreamed up since I was a child. Versions I haven’t truly grieved the loss of, even though they will never happen. Versions that seem silly and insignificant when I type them out but oh so real and weighty in my head. 

But not all days are “impossible”. Not all days are “hard”. 

In this season, while there are still more “hard” and “impossible” days than I would like to have, I am learning to be thankful. Thankful for the “good” days. Thankful for a husband who is patient and kind and meets me exactly where I am. Thankful for the time and space to process through my feelings. Thankful for distance learning and jobs coming along right as we need them. Thankful for a home church who still sees one another via Zoom or socially distanced. Thankful for friends and family who love me and try so hard to understand. I am thankful for friendship hats, “Auntie Allie” dates, and pushing play on tv shows at the same time even though we are watching from our own homes. I am thankful for words of encouragement from those close to me and those who have never even heard my story. 

I started this post on July 23rd and only made it so far as the “impossible days”. There was no hope in my writing, only a blank page for me to get out my feelings of sadness and anger and sheer exhaustion from the number of grief triggers I still navigate each day. And so I held onto it, I left it sitting in my Google Drive waiting for a “good day” so that “impossible days” would not be the end. Yesterday I read two different things from people who do not know me nor do they have my same story or experiences, but still they managed to reach into my heart in a profound way. The first was in Fields of Joy by Ruth Chou Simons. Her book combines beautiful artwork with Scripture and a small sentence or two of inspiration, specifically geared towards joy. While multiple pages resounded, I was particularly struck by what she had to say on Proverbs 17:22. That specific verse says, “A joyful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.” Oh how my spirit has felt crushed as of late. To the point that normally a verse like that would simply become white noise, something that I know is playing but isn’t truly being heard. Yet because I am currently teaching a college course on child development and developmentally appropriate learning, and just wrapped a unit on neurodevelopment and the power of the brain, instead of tuning out, my heart tuned in. Simons’ says, “What we dwell on in our hearts and minds carries consequences in our bodies. The best healing your body can have will always begin with a heart glad in Him.” God has not failed me simply because my dreams do not look the way I thought they would. He has not abandoned me, nor is He punishing me. This world is broken. If you didn’t think it was before, is there any doubt left in your mind with a global pandemic and wildfires raging? Because of reading Ruth Chou Simons words I felt strong enough to get on Istagram and seek out some of the trusted voices I follow on there to continue to do the hard work of turning my “hard day” into a “good one”. The first post to pop up was Morgan Harper Nichols as she voiced her struggle in finding something “positive” to share with the world. Her words sank deep into my heart as I felt the gravity of her vulnerability and transparency. I am not alone in struggling to find the “positives”. I am not alone in feeling overwhelmed and that I don’t have the right words to say and as I scrolled through her artwork I was captivated by one piece in particular. It is a beautiful piece, simple, elegant, and only has four small words, “Growing as I wait”.  

I know now that grief will continue to come in waves, washing over me and pulling me down with the intense weight of the seven billion billion billion atoms in my body. 

I also know that I am “growing as I wait”. 

A Month of Both/And

This post originally began out of a desire to recognize the kindness of sweet friends who, in the past two days, gave me gifts I didn’t even know I needed. Their gifts reminded me of things I hadn’t known I needed reminding of. That it is okay to need grace each day and that I am not forgotten. I seem to forget these two things in the days leading up to July (okay, I forget them a lot but ESPECIALLY in the days leading up to July). The following processing is what then ensued. It is raw, it is honest, it is a bit rambly but if you know me by now you know I have a tendency to do that from time to time as I process through things. 

July is a month of both/and. 

I realize now, July will always be a complicated month for me. In my journey of working to become more in-tune with my body and my emotions, I have come to recognize I dread July’s approach, feeling the stress aptly in my body and mind. I am more quick to anger and judgment. Less likely to give myself grace on the hard days. More prone to isolation. Less likely to celebrate the beauty that has grown from our loss. 

Honestly, I thought I would be past it by now. 

But the end of June arrives and I am transported right back to July of 2017. 

July 1-3, 2017 – while camping with friends, we revealed our baby was a girl! We were overjoyed but also cautious because we had been told in our gender-reveal ultrasound that our girl was measuring small and they wanted to measure her again after a few weeks of growth.

July 7, 2017 – appointment with a perinatologist/genetics specialist to see if she had done it, if our girl had grown or if we were looking at a potentially life-long genetic disorder that would alter how we did life together. We were hopeful she had grown and we would be told all was well. We never once stopped to consider the alternative, that she was gone. Her heartbeat had stopped. 

I’m pretty sure mine stopped too, if only for a moment. My mind, on the other hand, was racing in search of answers. Was it my fault? Am I being punished? Why us, we had waited for her for what felt like an eternity! Could the doctors be wrong? Did they miss something? 

We had our last night at home with her, praying her heartbeat would miraculously re-appear the next day when we went in for delivery. 

July 8, 2017 – still no heartbeat. Instead, I labored and we grieved and felt the weight of all the things we weren’t going to get to do with her anymore. 

July 9, 2017 – Verity Grace Drake was born. We held her and cried and said our goodbyes. 

Each year, leading up to July, I am brought back to that place. The hospital rooms, the goodbye, the deafening silence that echoes in our house where an almost-three-year-old should be. 

I also know it is felt by those around me. Especially those who have walked this journey with us. But somehow I still feel alone, isolated in my grief and frustrated by my inability to just “move on”. My head still needs reminders that I am not alone, even though, deep down it’s a truth I already know. 

In the last two days, the final two days of June, as I brace myself for the start of another July, I received two perfect gifts reminding me there is grace for each day and that I am not forgotten. 

After a full weekend of laughter, bubbles, walks, Monopoly Jr. (which is the ONLY kind of Monopoly that should even exist in my personal opinion), and Mickey Mouse’s Clubhouse with two of our favorite tiny humans while their parent’s celebrated their anniversary, we were given a “thank you” gift. This gift was a combination of thanks for taking care of the girls AND in honor of Verity’s upcoming birthday. It is a beautiful sign that says, “Just enough grace for today”. Not only did this gift remind us we are not alone and have our daughter’s middle name represented, but it also serves as a beautiful reminder to me that it is okay to need grace each and every day. 

Days when I feel like I shouldn’t have such a hard time with the month of July…grace. 

Days I am frustrated at life not looking how I thought and dreamt it would…grace. 

When I am discouraged by still having unbearably hard days…grace. 

The second gift arrived today from a friend I have known since college who, although we go through seasons of silence, has always had a way of reminding me I am seen, heard, and loved. This gift arrived in the form of a Willow Tree figurine titled, “Forget-me-not” and a note reminding me that she remembers Verity with me and that she always will. For the second time, in as many days, I was brought to tears over the kindness and thoughtfulness of my friends. 

These gifts not only reminded me to have grace with myself and to remember that Verity is not forgotten but also encouraged me to reflect on the other Julys. 

July 2018 – we traveled to Austin, TX to visit my sister and brother-in-law. My sister has dealt with me her ENTIRE life. If anyone can survive my anger, tears, and dark sense of humor and still come out loving me on the other side, it’s her! So we celebrated the 4th of July and Verity’s birthday exploring Austin and eating our weight in smoked bbq, Tex-Mex, and Hop Doddy’s burgers! We flew home on Verity’s birthday and were greeted with thoughtful gifts from family members, reminding us she is loved and celebrated and she will never be forgotten. 

July 2019 – for the 4th of July we headed out to the Gatewood beach cabin for a few days with our friends (the same friends who gave us the sign). We introduced their then 3-year-old to the Tillamook Creamery cheese sample line and yummy ice cream, played with sparklers, watched fireworks and turned pop-its into ammunition (I’m pretty sure I was the favorite target, at least it felt that way…maybe it’s because their aim was way better than mine). Then, for Verity’s birthday, we went to the Oregon Humane Society just to look and came home with, what I am pretty sure, is the world’s best pup, Kili Kaleo! 

With July 2020 starting tomorrow, I am holding space for the sadness, loss, and grief AND I am also remembering to look forward to the good things I already know the month will hold. We are headed back to Texas (Buda this time) to visit my parents and my sister and brother-in-law. There will be time to relax in the pool, eat really good food, play games and just breathe in and out together, relishing the moments of getting to actually be in the same space. We will celebrate Verity Grace’s birthday AND Kili’s gotcha day, welcome our new niece, and celebrate our wedding anniversary. 

July is exceptionally hard. July has a lot to offer. July is a month of both/and. 

Till Only Grace Remains

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July 9th will be the three year mark since we said goodbye to Verity Grace and has me already reflecting on all that has changed…and what hasn’t. There have been epic travels, changing of homes, “hellos” to new friends and “goodbyes” as people have moved away. There have been new job/church roles, a new puppy, a new non-profit startup. 

Yet still my womb is silent. 

Still we wait, and I feel unloved, unseen and unheard by the only One with the power over the waiting. 

Just recently a friend who is also walkingwading…trudging through the emotional rollercoaster of infertility loaned me a book titled, When God Says Wait: Navigating life’s detours and delays without losing your faith, your friends, or your mind by Elizabeth Laing Thomson. At first, it sat there, collecting dust. In my “year of rest”, after saying goodbye to a job I loved, students I love, the sense of security in knowing a paycheck would come in each month, I did very little to truly rest. I filled up my schedule and I avoided. I avoided almost anything that had to do with working through the fact that God is still asking us to “wait” for another child. 

Not wanting to keep the book for too long and become known by absolutely everyone as THAT friend (yes, Al, I do still have your Brené Brown book I need to return and no, I still have not read it), I figured I would at least skim through it. Somehow, in my skimming, God always drew my eyes to what my heart needs (and I say “needs” very intentionally because it is an ongoing process; moment-by-moment reminders) to hear. 

“The longer God’s silence stretches, the more things start to break inside” (Thomson, pg. 15). YES! Yes, THIS! I know that feeling! I feel like I am breaking. Like maybe God loves everyone BUT me, or that He doesn’t actually see me or hear my cries. 

I must be breaking because I keep falling back into “auto-pilot” and operating as though this waiting period is God’s way of telling me to “pull myself together” and figure out how to love Him and others better before He will finally entrust us with another child. I keep forgetting the lessons He has been teaching me through this journey. Lessons like: 

  • Redefining my hope in Him. 
  • Learning to be brave. 
  • Remembering I am enough. 

(Sound familiar maybe? Like, say, previous posts where I thought I got the lesson and could move on…apparently that’s not how things actually work but wouldn’t it be nice if it was?) 

I have been breaking as I feel each setback, each moment of despair, anger and grief as if I was deserving of punishment or as if God is withholding until I figure “it” out. I have spent the last three years pinballing between feeling like I am finally getting it and like I am failing.

“The longer we wait on an answer, the more distant God feels. His silence fuels our suspicions: Does He even care? Is He unmoved by my tears, my pleas? Just as in the garden, the evil snake whispers doubt through gaps in our shield of faith. After a while, God may start to feel like the enemy. The Great Giver? Yeah right. More like the Great Disappoinoter. The Great Withholder. He is holding out on me on purpose. Ignoring me. Torturing me. He doesn’t want what’s best for me. He probably doesn’t even like me. We don’t like to admit this, lest we get struck by lightning, but the truth is, some of us get mad at God. Bitterness begins to wrap icy tentacles around our hearts – suffocating hope, strangling trust – till only anger remains. And what a terrifying place that is, when you feel resentment toward God clouding your vision, darkening your heart: not only are you wandering in the unmarked wilderness, but now you have lost your compass” (Thomson, pg. 82). 

In this last year I have felt my hope dwindling, till only anger remained. I felt unloved, unseen, and unheard by God. 

Oh, how wrong I was.

Honestly, I thought I had even learned THIS lesson before. 

Rewind to late winter/early Spring of 2019. I was teaching and college/career counseling with no idea I would be handing in my resignation before the year was out. I had finished running photocopies and headed back to my office, done with appointments for the day, headphones in, Spotify playlist doing its thing and adding new music it thinks I’ll like, and this song comes on. Not the radio version, a live, acoustic version of “Persevere” by Gang of Youths with an intro explaining the “why” behind the song. 

In his intro, lead singer David Le’aupepe says this, “We have this friend named David Andrew. He and his wife have been through hell and back. David and his wife were expecting a baby (My steps falter. I’m arrested by “were”…I know where this is going and my heart is already breaking) and then 8.5 months in the pregnancy I got a call from a friend saying the baby was gone. Her name was Emme Grace. Emme Grace Andrew. This song is about her and her amazing dad.” 

Grace. Her middle name is Grace. 

Tears already starting to well up in my eyes as I flash back to holding our little one, whose middle name is Grace. All I have to do is make it to my office and turn off the lights for a minute of peace and quiet, thankful it’s not a passing period. Thankful it’s an abnormally quiet afternoon in my office. 

I listen closely to the song’s lyrics, heart aching for my daughter. 

Heart aching for Emme Grace’s family and friends. 

“I never got to kiss your head 

Ah, Emme

And the call came the week I got divorced

I thought I had a real understanding then of loss

But I didn’t know a thing ‘til you were gone

And I’m tired of trying to find some sort of

Meaningful thing

In making sense of such unspeakable loss

But as I’m staring at your folks 

The sweetest people I know 

I get a glimpse of what it is to be strong

Just holding hands and sobbing with sunglasses on…”

There is something that feels different in the loss of a child. Something that causes people to want to search for meaning, purpose, a reason to explain why a life is gone before it has even been lived outside of the womb. And when those answers aren’t found, something that plunges you into darkness where strength looks like clinging to one another through the tears. 

The song continues. The words washing over me as I listen to the perspective of a friend. An outsider looking in. Grieving in his own way as he watches the grief of his friends. 

It is at this point I should probably tell you that I don’t only listen to Christian music/Worship songs, in case you didn’t already know that. My music is completely mood and atmosphere driven. If it’s summertime and nice outside you are very likely to catch me blasting some Hawaiin music (thank you Brother Iz!). If it’s evening and I’m winding down for the day my choice may be more inclined to jazz (ugh, Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, those voices get me EVERY time!). Belting out song lyrics on a road trip it may be Lake Street Drive or Lauren Daigle or Adele. Sometimes it’s Rock, sometimes Indie, on a VERY rare occasion (aka: if I’m out at the barn working with horses/mucking out stalls) Country. You get the picture. 

All that to say, Gang of Youths is not a Christian band. They sometimes use more “colorful” words or lyrics I don’t necessarily agree with philosophically, however, God used this song, on that day, to remind me of His grace.

I’m not going to type out all of the lyrics for you, nor am I necessarily saying “go listen to this song”. I am simply conveying gratitude at the ways God reaches into the darkness to remind me of His Light. 

“I couldn’t count the times 

I’ve ragged on heaven

As an opiate invented by the weak

It’s an argument I hate

‘Coz I’m content to love the fates

But it comes up a lot with Emme’s dad and me

So I’m shotgun in the car

And we’re just shooting the _____

And predictably the talking turns to God

So I throw him forty lines

How I don’t think He exists

And he just smiles and

Takes a dignified pause

Says, ‘it’s okay to feel unbelievably lost’

But God is full of grace

And His faithfulness is vast

There is safety in the moments 

When the ____  has hit the fan

Not some vindictive _______

Nor is He _______ at His job

What words to hear” 

What words to hear…….

God isn’t vindictive. He’s not bad at His job. He isn’t withholding or standing idly by in my moments of despair, anger, bitterness and grief. 

All my longings lie open before you, Lord; my sighing is not hidden from you. My heart pounds, my strength fails me; even the light has gone from my eyes…Lord, I wait for you; you will answer, Lord my God.” – Psalm 38:9-10, 15

When, in the waiting, He feels silent, I am reminded He is full of grace. 

In her book, Elizabeth Laing Thomson, points out beautifully that grace is not simply a small, insignificant compilation of five letters, it is not “a temporary, transient position based on our day-to-day performance” but instead it “may be the most powerful word in the world” (pg. 66).

“God’s grace lasts long enough. God’s grace never runs dry. Waiting is not a punishment from God; it is a part of life. Everyone waits for things, even the most righteous of people” (pg. 66).

I am not unloved, unseen, unheard. On days when hope is suffocated, trust is strangled, and waiting feels like punishment, God finds ways to reach me, through a book, a song, a friend and reminds me…

I am loved. 

I am seen. 

I am heard. 

Till only grace remains.

The Beauty of a Promise

This morning, as I was reminded yet again we are not pregnant, I got ready slowly and opened up the windows at the Gatewood beach cabin while waiting for the coffee to brew. This beach cabin always holds my favorite views and yet this morning, at the moment I opened those windows, I saw something I have never before seen there. Out near my favorite rocks, the Kissing Turtles, the sky held the end of a beautiful rainbow. In the stillness and beauty of that moment I was reminded again of God’s promises and faithfulness and that even though I can’t understand why we only got 22 weeks of pregnancy with our daughter and now, over a year later, remain barren and childless…God is still good. 

The rainbow faded fairly quickly, which I took as a sign it was put there just for me to see, and I drifted over to the coffee maker for some much needed caffeine. Coffee in hand I turned back to the window and was blown away by what I saw. The end of the rainbow had disappeared but the sky was lit up as the rainbow stretched across its vastness. And I stood there, tears rolling down my cheeks, in awe of this beautiful sign that even though part of the rainbow disappeared the rest was revealed and was even more stunning. It wrapped around those rocks in a giant hug and in that moment I felt seen by God, held by Him and known. 

He was lovingly telling me that even though one part of our story was fading, there is still so much He has promised for us. 

And so it’s okay. It’s okay that I can’t see exactly what He’s doing right now in my barrenness. It’s okay to both grieve the loss of hopes and dreams and, at the same time, have unexplainable peace in knowing His plans are better than my plans. It’s okay to simply be.

Redefining Hope in the Midst of “The Void”

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Hope. It’s tricky. If you place your hope in the wrong thing you run the risk of entering what I call “the void”. A dark place. Where no shadows of hope are left to hold on to.

For the past three years I have placed my hope in the promise and possibility of biological children. And, oh, we were so close. For 22 weeks I got to carry that hope in our daughter, Verity Grace, and dream of what her life would look like. I loved (and still love) her with every ounce of love my heart could possibly hold. For 22 weeks she was my hope come true, my dream realized, my promise secured.

And then she was gone. Born still at 22 weeks.

But I continued to hope.

I hoped because now we knew we COULD have biological children. God had done it. He worked a miracle and created a little girl just for us. Even though she was gone, we now had the promise we could get pregnant, so of course we held on to the hope we would get pregnant again soon. Obviously it wouldn’t be easy because it sure wasn’t the first time, but we had the hope of what life could look like. Our story wasn’t yet finished.

Month after month I continued to hope that God would show Himself to be good once again. Good in the way I wanted Him to be good and kind, wrapped in the promise of another little life for Ben and I. Treatment after treatment I kept grasping for hope in things unseen, the promise that God would give us a biological child we could keep here on Earth. Redeeming our broken story. I clung to that hope, because if I couldn’t hold on to hope anymore, what would happen? What would that even look like? A dark void from which there was no return?

Each and every month, in the midst of the waiting, God brought people, symbols, and written words to help me cling to hope. To remind me that our story was not yet finished.

These reminders were friends willing to sit with us in the waiting, undaunted by the darkness that crept in. Continued sightings of beautiful deer when least expected, and the promise of hope they held. Books and devotionals shared at just the right time, as I was on the cusp of entering the deep void. Prophecies and visions shared of us holding a child of our own.

And so I thought my hope was in the right place. The promise of a biological child.

Then, with complications from my PCOS, medical options to have biological children ran out. Still not pregnant, the end of part of our story came faster than our hearts and minds were ready for. Our hope of a biological child did not come true.  

Into “the void” I dove. Sinking deeply in a place where all light seemed gone. Overwhelming darkness. I knew staying there for too long would slowly suffocate my soul, but there I was sitting in the deep void of darkness.

Our story, like many, is hard. I’m torn between wishing this wasn’t our story to bear AND being thankful for all the ways God has shown and revealed new things about Himself in the midst of it. Some days I feel shame and guilt at thinking our story is hard. When I read about or talk to people who have gone through miscarriage after miscarriage after miscarriage or as I watch friends who are still waiting for a spouse and the promise of children someday or those who have suffered addiction, abuse, loss, etc. I know I am fortunate and richly blessed with a loving family, a wonderful, caring husband, a great support system. But, I am also realizing, it’s okay to grieve my story AND grieve for those around me. My hurts are not the same as your hurts and my wilderness is different than your wilderness but minimizing my loss will not help anyone. Life is hard. Life is “unfair”. Life can throw us into shadows and darkness. The void.

There are many days I ache for our daughter. I want her back. I want to hold her and watch her grow. To celebrate birthdays and rejoice with each milestone passed. On good days, days when I can see through the shadows of darkness to what God is doing, I would not change a thing. I would not ask for our daughter back because I see the ways God has been growing and molding and shaping me. I see the ways He has taught me to be vulnerable and nurture deep relationships with the people He has put in my story. But those are shadow days, and shadow days need light to make them possible.

With the failure of our most recent attempt for biological children, I dove deeper into “the void” than ever before. For the first time in our journey, I wished our daughter had never existed. That was a painful, frightening, dark place to be.

I had all the “logic” figured out in my head as to why life would be better without those 22 weeks with her. Had she not existed we would have already closed the door on trying to have biological children, grieved the loss, and moved toward adoption. Or maybe we would already have a child because we would’ve chosen the further treatment earlier and maybe, just maybe, it would have worked. We would have finished the seasons of Chlomid and Femara and IUIs and would have an answer one way or another….instead of desperately hoping each month only to find our hopes unrealized.

Had we not become pregnant with our daughter, I wouldn’t have such a difficult time watching our nephew grow. Our nephew who was born the day our daughter was supposed to be due. I wouldn’t feel like such a horrible, neglectful aunt on days I can only be near this precious boy in small doses because he is a perfect, healthy reminder of what feels increasingly like a figment of my imagination. Had we not had our Verity, holidays and gatherings would not be such a hard reminder of our empty arms as everyone else reaches out for the things they hold dear in the “special moments”.

Instead we remain in the “waiting place”. He gave us our daughter and then allowed barrenness to visit again. And so I sat in that darkness. That void. That nothingness, unable to move forward but unable to go back either. All the while He kept speaking to others, giving them words and visions to pour over us and ignite hope again. And each time those went unrealized I plunged back into the darkness. Yet, even in that void, I knew God was there with me, shining His light, pulling me back into the shadows. But oh how endless that void can feel when I choose not to open my eyes.  

Recently I had a student share a devotional with me called, “When Hope Grows Up: Finding Hope in His Plan” by Justine Brooks Froelker. Man, I love when God uses my students to speak profound truths into my life! In the devotional Froelker talks about misplaced hope and what it looks like when hope grows up.

What if I was placing my hope in the wrong thing?

What if, with each reminder…prophecy…deer sighting, God was actually nudging me to redefine my hope?

Here is the hard part…I can only redefine hope if I let my old definition of hope die.

I thought I was hoping in the promise of God showing up through blessing us with biological children. This wasn’t a bad thing to hope in, knowing God could work miracles and might just work one in our barrenness. I thought I was hoping in Him and promises He had given me but maybe I was hoping too much in the promise of the children part, and less on the Him part.

What if, instead, I put my hope solely in His heart’s desire for my story rather than my heart’s desire?

What if my hope was in eternal things and the legacy I’ll leave behind? A legacy of loving people, everybody, always, even in the midst of hurt and pain and trusting that God is still good, even when He doesn’t feel good or seem kind to me.

In her book, Remember God, Annie F. Downs talks about remembering God even when our circumstances don’t always match what we know to be true of Him. Knowing that God is always kind and provides, even when life isn’t always kind. Even when it doesn’t feel like He loves me enough to be kind to me in the ways I want Him to be kind (pgs. 31, 46, 166).  She talks about wilderness, and the manna that God provided for the Israelites as they walked through their wilderness in the book of Exodus. Manna means “what is it” in Hebrew. It was something the Israelites didn’t recognize. It was something different, something else. Something unknown. He provided manna each and every day, just enough for that day. The Israelites made it to the Promised Land, the land He had promised and prepared for them, sustaining them with something unrecognizable to them. God doesn’t shift our lives so that we fall apart, He gives us manna to sustain us, to provide for us throughout the wilderness, or barrenness, even when we don’t feel provided for (pgs. 153-154).

And so I am learning to redefine my hope. To find God’s provision in the manna He gives to sustain me through our wilderness.

I am not giving up on hope. I am not giving up on hope as I no longer cling to the dream of biological children. I am not giving up on hope as our story doesn’t have my happy ending, with God showing up in the ways I wanted Him to show up. I am simply, painstakingly, redefined hope and our story. I am learning to change my definition of hope because clinging to my dream of biological children here on earth was, to quote Froelker, “killing my soul and stealing my light”.  It was keeping me trapped in the dark, endless void.

I am not giving up on our story.

I am not giving up on hope.

I am redefining it.

I am owning all my parts of our story, including the barrenness, and recognizing that God is not finished with it yet.

I am embracing sadness with joy, trust with longing, parts forever missing but choosing to work toward being whole. I am embracing His will, not mine (reworded from Froelker).

I am holding on to His hope for my life, even though it hasn’t necessarily turned out how I planned (Froelker).

Hope. Yes, I still believe it is tricky, but redefining hope is helping me crawl out of “the void” and into the fundamental truths of grace and love and light. And that is the legacy I want our story, Verity’s and mine, to leave behind.


Here are a few of the resources people have shared with me that went into my processing for this post specifically.

Hands on Hope

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In October I had the honor of sharing our story at the Hayden’s Helping Hands auction called Hands on Hope. I was nervous beyond all belief and didn’t want to speak in front of a crowd but, at the same time, I knew our story needed to be told because I understand, on a personal level, the deep impact Hayden’s Helping Hands has on those who have suffered the loss of a stillborn child. I also knew that there would be people there who could relate and wanted to help those people maybe feel a little less alone.

My speech did not go as planned. In an attempt to make eye contact with each person, connecting with them and not simply reading from my paper I got lost and stumbled a bit. I kicked myself for what felt like my failed attempt, and yet, I had great conversations with people afterward I might not have had if I had never taken the time to look up. The essence of this speech was still there and the audience got to see that it was real, authentic, raw.

For those who have ever wondered if there is a way to help support loved ones who have had to say goodbye to a stillborn child, or wondered if Hayden’s Helping Hands actually makes a difference, here is what that speech said.


 

Good evening. My name is Allie Drake. I am a high school teacher, friend, daughter, sister, the wife of my wonderful husband Ben and…mother to Verity Grace Drake born on July 9th, 2017 at 22 weeks old.

As a teacher, I like to know the meaning of words. I use a lot of words in a day and so I like knowing what those words mean so that I can know I am using them well. I want to make sure that my words are being used to encourage, uplift, and speak life into others.

The definition of Verity means “a firm belief in something; especially something of fundamental importance”. I first read that word in a World War II fiction book called “Code Name Verity” and was hooked. Thankfully it was a name my husband also liked, though we wondered if our future child would be mocked on the playground or called the wrong name or grow up hating it and so we waited to make the final name decision until she was born. And then we got “the news”. That news nobody wants to hear and is an expectant family’s greatest fear. The news we dread. The news many of you in this room may have also heard, although maybe not in these exact words. “That is where the baby’s heartbeat should be.”

And it became so clear. We knew her name. Verity Grace. A firm, fundamental belief in grace. You see, we had begged, pleaded, prayed for a child, struggling with infertility, and finally, finally we were pregnant and we couldn’t believe how blessed we were. We believe in God’s grace and that He is good. And then our world came crashing down. And yet, He is still good. This loss is not good and does not feel good but He is good and is walking beside us on this journey we walk still. And that even in these hard moments He brings facets of beauty and grace.

During this journey of loss we have found facets of beauty, the kind that shoot up from the deep core of pain when you are somehow able to open your eyes, and your heart, wide enough. Facets of beauty found in our delivery nurses, the support of our family, the photos taken, the momentos collected.

Hayden’s Helping Hands has been one of those facets of beauty. In the delivery room, as we held our stillborn daughter, whispered “I love you” and said our goodbyes, our hearts felt heavy with pain. Pain that reached deep in our very cores. And so we returned home, with a few precious photos and keepsakes but ultimately with arms empty and hearts heavy, lost in that deep core pain.

In the waiting for the delivery bills to come and the wounds to be reopened we were told about Hayden’s Helping Hands, a foundation “dedicated to financially assist parents with medical expenses after the birth of a stillborn baby”. A foundation that, with the contributions made from people like yourselves, comes to the rescue of those who don’t physically get to bring home their child from the hospital. Unless you have experienced it yourself, I cannot truly put into words the deep, core encroaching pain that comes with a little piece of paper declaring what you owe the hospital in place of your child. In place of that little face, you had loved and hoped for and expected to bring home, you are left with a brutal reminder of what you have lost. And so, in the same way, I cannot accurately put into words the amazing feeling of relief (for lack of a better descriptive word) that comes in knowing others have banded together to help bear that brutal burden. Other people, like those of you here tonight, have chosen to make sacrifices both large and small so that when that little piece of paper comes, the family grieving can grasp on to a wonderful, core reaching facet of beauty.

The word “facet” comes from the French word “facette” or “little face”. How perfectly fitting for a company whose essence is in the little faces we hold so dear. Those precious little faces that have impacted our lives so deeply, even though our time with them was cut far too short.

Many of you have a story similar to ours or have close friends or family members who have experienced something similar. Many of you have contributed so that families like ours can reach out and cling to facets of beauty in the depths of pain. Many of you have been a beautiful, wonderful glimpse of grace.

Thank you to Randy and Rebekka for your passion and love for a community steeped in loss. Thank you to all who have loved and supported this foundation. And thank you to Hayden, who’s life was a catalyst for facets of beauty.

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

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.