Dry Bones Blooming

They look like a bowl of dried bones,

cold and lifeless–

a tragic ode to time lost

and utterly incapable of change–

but look more closely!

Within their crinkled-shut hearts,

clenched in the knuckles of their bony hands,

are tiny gems

bursting with possibility!

When the sun’s warm gaze melts

the unfeeling snow

into lovely spring water,

blooms will unfurl

from these dusty bones.

After winter’s grimness,

we’ll see the world in colour again,

and the flowers will laugh

that we thought them dead.

Bittersweet Because

Little darling

how my heart is bursting

with the beauteous warmth of you,

your cuddly down-softness

snuggling in my arms,

fluffy dark hair caressing my cheek as I cradle you.

And yet in all this glory

a bittersweet strain of music

tugs at my heart,

because you are so much like her,

your big sister who was born asleep,

eyes closed forever,

motionless,

and here you are

—thank God!—

alive.

I want to cry grateful tears of sorrow

when you squeak and grumble like a little bear

because your sister was so silent.

And when I smell the milky scent on your neck

because your sister never tasted milk.

I was left bursting but alone…

my arms like edges of an empty cradle

with only myself to rock.

I get choked up by your little hands

which look exactly like hers–

long slim fingers and grandma’s double jointed thumbs.

They’re curled up in tiny fists above your head

in the abandon of sleep,

yet warm and ever ready to grasp my finger

instead is still, pale, and cold.

In this bittersweet place

I love you both

and want to give you everything:

all the affection and tenderness

I wished to give her

but also want to give you for yourself.

I drink deeply both of sorrow and of joy.

How life and death are woven together

–intertwined–

in this strange tapestry where all the shadows

make the colours brighter.

What is painful

and what is precious

have become inseparable

and love runs through it all.

Solitary Light

Suffering friend,

your brightness bursts

through the dark like lightning.

People are awed by your strength and beauty.

They do not hear the cry of your pain–

your anguish always swallowed up by thunder.

They see only your power,

blinded to the pain that rips

your heart in half with such terrible violence.

They do not realize that you yearn

to be a candle–a warm light

shining in cosy concert with others–

the same simple joys lighting up your face.

Gorgeous, devastating lightning bolt,

strike no more alone,

surrounded by the cold empty air

that crashes through your lungs in suffocating silence

while your tears invisibly drown in the storm.

Reach for me,

let me feel the sting of your pain,

absorb some of the shock,

connect with the current coursing through you.

Illumine my ignorance.

Unblind me so I can see with you

the world from the eye of the storm.

Image from https://ignatiansolidarity.net/blog/2015/10/06/student-voices-thunderstruck-by-pride/

“Open Wide Your Hearts”

A few weeks ago I wrote about the importance of emotional connection in marriage. Now I’d like to discuss how deep friendships and a wider support network are also an essential element to personal growth and spiritual wellness.

I feel extremely blessed to have many friends who help me grow in various ways. People who are willing to share their passions and talents and help me expand my horizons in so many areas….from fashion to faith, homeschool, writing, healing from grief, forming better habits and growing in virtue, self-care, intellectual openness and more. All of these people help provide the “atmosphere of growth” author Gretchen Rubin claims is an essential part of happiness. They encourage and support me to become a better me, in ways I certainly couldn’t become alone. And I think it’s meant to be this way…that the company of kindred spirits helps one’s unique talents and beauty shine.

In their insightful book, “How People Grow: What the Bible Reveals about Personal Growth,” authors of the popular “Boundaries” series, Drs Cloud and Townsend, strongly emphasize the need for vulnerable, authentic connection with others. Rather than promoting an individualistic faith that is between God and the person alone, they present the love of other people as the lifeline between our hearts and God’s. Thus healing from deep wounds requires not only intellectual knowledge of God’s grace and forgiveness, but real experiences of the heart. We need to feel His love, and the way we can is through the support and love of other people.

To connect with God’s love, however, we need not only people, but also need our hearts to be available to those people. We have to be open and vulnerable for the grace and acceptance to do any good. Many people “fellowship” with others, but they share so little as they fellowship that nothing happens at the heart level. As Paul told the Corinthians, “We have spoken freely to you, Corinthians, and opened wide our hearts to you. We are not withholding our affection from you, but you are withholding your affection from us. As a fair exchange–I speak to you as my children–open wide your hearts to us also” (2 Cor. 6:11-13). So for growth to occur, it must include experiences where hearts are open with each other. Otherwise, it is just known in someone’s head and never experienced at the levels God has designed. (How People Grow, p.128)

I think we can all relate to the power of a really good “heart to heart” chat with a close friend. Such closeness and sharing can make the unbearable seem possible and restore hope. The loving mercy of a friend who encourages us gives us the strength to not give up and the inspiration to try better, while knowing we are already loved exactly as we are. Receiving this kind of grace requires vulnerability and courage, and can’t be had by hiding and pretending we have it all together.

The point here is that grace can be available to us, but we might not be available to grace. We can be around a lot of acceptance and grace, but until the hurt and guilty places of our heart are exposed, we do not experience grace, and the gap between our head and heart continues.

To confess one’s greatest failures and sins, and then still be embraced with love and encouragement, is to experience the unconditional nature of God’s love. This kind of mercy has the power to be transformative. Deep suffering can break one’s heart open, but if we allow it be be exposed it to the healing love of trustworthy people who will comfort us, it can enable us to grow.

When we lost our baby Josephine, we were immensely supported. We could feel ourselves being held up by the prayers of friends, loved ones, and even strangers who heard our story. We experienced the emotional equivalent of a train wreck, but we got up and kept walking. This is not because of our strength, but because of our acceptance of our weakness…we weren’t afraid to lean hard on others so they could help us up again. To me this was a kind of miracle–a sign of God’s love–lavished on us by so many of His children, all participating in one way or another in the communion of the saints. By this I mean not a club for the ‘saintly’ but a vast family of imperfect people struggling to live with hope and love even in the midst of tragedy.

We experienced this all grace because we were open to it…when in pain my natural tendency is to reach out. Some people shut down and hide. It is hard for the warmth of affection to reach them. Recovery can be much slower, and on top of that, hidden wounds are very lonely.

A dear friend told me once she thought I was brave to be so vulnerable at Josephine’s funeral, letting tears fall as we carried her tiny coffin out of the packed church. Honestly, though, I simply couldn’t help it, but exposing my raw grief enabled others to reach out and comfort me. I could receive their love, and my heart could start to be healed, even as it lay broken and shattered.

I hadn’t really meant to go into all this, but I guess my point is, whatever your suffering, don’t try to do it alone. Let God love you by letting others wrap their arms around you so you can feel His nearness. Stop hiding your face under a protective veneer of pretense, as if huddling under a dark umbrella. Throw it aside and let the rain of grace pour over you and wash away your tears. And with your hands now free, reach out and hold the hands reaching towards you.

What it’s like to be pregnant after losing a baby.

  
I’ve been keeping this sitting in my heart for a while, so you could say this post has been a long time in coming. As you can guess from the title, for those of you who don’t already know, I am expecting a baby this November, after having lost my little Josephine in labour last September 30th. It is hard. Beautiful but hard. 

I’m normally one to be on the phone with mom buddies the second the little plus sign shows up on the pregnancy test, but this time I’ve been much more hesitant to talk about things. My usual excitement has been tempered by the confusing feelings of having lost my last child, and not knowing how to experience a simple, trusting hope that everything will be fine. 

I do hope and trust, but in a more complex and nuanced way. Not in the way of thinking things will always turn out how I want them to. But hoping in a plan that’s bigger than mine, a vision far wiser and more encompassing than mine. In a love stronger than death, knowing that no matter what, I can never truly be separated from my babies. 

Sometimes children are so wise. My five year old told me, “Don’t worry, Mummy. Either the new baby will come be with us, or will go be with Josephine in Heaven. So it’s ok.” What strength and clarity of vision!

It is hard to take this risk again—the risk that I might not see my baby smile or breathe until I meet him in Heaven—but it is a way of affirming that I am still alive, still have hope, still believe in goodness in a world where hard things also happen. Besides, the only way to ensure my heart could never be broken again would be to stop it pumping, but risking brokenness is essential to being open to life and to love. It’s part of the fragile thing called being human. 

Several of my close friends have lost babies and have been able to have one after. Those babies are a beacon of hope for me. I rejoice in each one of them. I realize they are miracle and a free a gift, rather than a right. We think we have so many rights, but we forget that people can only come to us as gift, in the freedom of love. 

I also rejoice in the children I do have, just seeing them running around full of life, dancing and laughing, and I think to myself, “They made it. That incredible journey…like little travellers from a far off planet, they made it through the epic journey of the few inches from womb to world, and arrived home.”

So as November approaches, please keep me in your prayers. Especially my little one, that he may arrive safely into his mama’s arms, and that this time, my tears will be of joy. And for all of you who are in the same boat, know my heartfelt prayers are with you as well. 

  

Why Ignoring Anniversaries of Loss Doesn’t Work

Nearly three weeks ago, on March 30th, it was the six month anniversary of my  baby daughter Josephine’s stillbirth. I approached the day with a bit of dread, worried it would send me back and undo my recent period of emotional improvement. I tried to decide what to do…plan a trip with the kids to Science World to distract myself, or invite fellow babyloss moms over to honour the day. In the end, because of a tummy bug, we did neither.

I tried to truck through the day, homeschooling the kids, keeping them fed and occupied, and not allowing my emotional guard down too far. Around 4 pm my sweet friend Kate stopped by with a little pot of bright yellow flowers and homemade chocolate chip cookies. “It’s a day for chocolate,” she told me.

This little visit and chat outside her car (which was full of her own 5 kids who were sick), meant so much. Her kindness in acknowledging my grief gave me the freedom to release it a little. It often takes the hug of a good friend to bring out those hidden tears that are lurking inside like saturated storm clouds, waiting to fall and wash your heart clean again.

The kids, always happy for any birthday, ate Josephine’s half-birthday cookies with gusto as we walked over to the graveyard accross the street where she is buried. We brought her the yellow chrysanthemums, and the kids gathered sticks to make a little enclosure around them.

After this, we took some anniversary pictures, and the kids talked about how big and beautiful baby Josephine is now in Heaven.

  

Their assurance that she is safe and happy shines through their smiling faces. For them, Heaven is very real, and very close. Once my oldest said,

“Mummy, it’s kind of good Josephine died and went to Heaven.”

“Really, why?” I asked.

“Because then she’s right with us all the time, just like Aslan, and never even as far away as if she was sleeping on the couch when we are in the kitchen.”

Kids really get it that love breaks down all barriers, even that of death, and keeps us together.

It is true, but I am little Jo’s mummy, and want to have her in my arms, so while the other kids played happily in the graveyard, I sat by her grave and cried. It was around 5 pm, the time I had been in early labour, when she had quietly passed away from the tight cord around her neck.

The kids hunted for dandelions and blossoms and went about placing them on graves with no flowers, “so they’d have some.” After this we went to the dollar store and everyone was allowed to chose a new colouring book in honour of Josephine’s special day.

Perhaps it seems that we did a fair bit…we at least did something, but it wasn’t enough really. Except for a call from Laura, one of my best friends, who remembered, the day was spent very much alone. I had asked a few friends for extra prayers that day, but that was all. It is a lonely feeling to be living the anniversary of a tragedy when for almost everyone else it is just another day. The very cars driving by so blissfully unaware seem rude. You unreasonably want them to stop, or a least drive slowly, as in a funeral procession.

For me, the next day was not March 31st, it was November 1st, the day after her birth, and the day I came home from the hospital without her. The awful quiet of no newborn cries or coos.

I wanted to write all about it then, to reach out for sympathy and support, but it can be hard to keep talking about loss. Sometimes you feel bad to burden others with your pain, but when you keep it inside it grows claws and shreds it’s way out…so it’s much better to come out in tears.

But like I said, sometimes only the loving acknowledgment of your suffering by others releases them….enables you to drop your stern guard and be vulnerable. This involves telling others what you are going through, so they can walk you through it, or sit with you in it, or whatever it may be.

So I encourage everyone who is suffering some kind of loss, to reach out to others who love them and ask for support, to acknowledge what is happening inside and not try to bury it inside to fester. Put your anniversary of loss on the calendar, own it, do something special on it. And if possible, don’t do it alone.

I’ve been told we can only get through grief by going through it, and anniversaries, as hard as they are, are an opportunity to move through it…rather than remaining stuck in grief by denying it…so don’t skip them. No one gets better by saying “La, la la!” and pretending nothing happened. Sadness grows in darkness and isolation, so let the light of love, that of family and friends, shine upon your soul.

Light a candle, release balloons, have a prayer circle with close friends, make a fancy dinner and toast your loved one lost, or whatever it is that honours the day, and lets you know it’s ok that your grief is still raw, whether it has been 6 months or 10 years.

 

The Consolation of Beauty

Since sorrow hit my heart I’ve become more of a photographer. I hoard the consolation of beauty the way a dragon does pearls.   

There is something about the ruggedness of naked branches, tangled and bare, but alluring, that speaks to me. They seem to say, “We have been stripped of everything but hope, and though we seem lifeless, sap pulses within us, and new buds will sprout again from our fingertips.”

  

     

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humble offering

Sometimes when life is hardest

and we feel the need to draw our swords

and brandish a flaming torch

it is precisely the moment

we need to put them away

and instead wrap our hearts

in silken handkerchiefs

to cushion their fall

They may be broken

but with gentleness

perhaps they won’t shatter

With no words

to really console 

your broken heart

I can only offer

mine 

 

 

Choosing Happiness

Recently my dear friend Natalie from Chicago came for a quick visit, as she was back home for her grandmother’s funeral. Her presence was like a sweet breeze from the Windy City. She brought a little pot of cheerful daffodils to brighten my table. I got florally spoiled! It was a gift to be able to see her, and have a heart-to-heart talk while the kids played at the park. A moment of happiness I will cherish for a long time.

I’ve been thinking a lot about happiness lately, and how necessary it is to choose it. Not just as a lifetime hope, but moment to moment. Choosing to embrace each good moment that comes, choosing to smile, to dance with the kids, to laugh when they tell me funny little things, to savour each time they hug or play together well. Tonight we had homemade pizza. “We’re having a nice lifetime,” said my four year old,”This is the best pizza ever!”

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I have to see each of these moments as gifts, despite the underlying ache for my little lost daughter, who is busy painting Heaven’s clouds pink with her rosy cheeks. She would want me to be a happy mother who is present to her children, who is affectionate and fun, who is able to enjoy her children and to apologize when she loses her cool.

We can choose to see life as meaningful gift, painful but precious, or as a terrible burden, fraught with danger. But how would the latter help us? To be paralyzed by fear is to refuse to live. And we must live and love, even as the sun must rise, because that’s what we’re meant to do.

Who among us is without pain? We have all suffered in one way or another…
Yet we still have the ability to choose happiness. The longing in our hearts for truth, goodness and beauty is there because those things exist, and we are meant to possess them.

“The essence of greatness is having the heart of a child,” quoted James Stenson in a parenting talk. I think this is also a choice: to let sadness wither you up and go grey inside, letting yourself become even internally old, or to choose youth—hope, joy, simplicity, trust, laughter—for to embrace life is to be young.

This is not a choice we make only once, for we are so changeable, like the shadows of leaves dancing on a windy day…it is a choice we have to make again and again, every time an opportunity comes to enjoy life, to be silly, to dance, to relish a conversation with a dear friend, to bask in the sunlight that pours down on us.

If we refuse the joy of those moments, because the pain of deep old scars that still throb, we are being like the child who refuses to get over her tantrum because one toy broke, even when she is offered many others. It’s really easy to be that kind of child, but we have to remember the resilience of children who seek joy in each new day, who get excited about little things, who are easily pleased by small shows of affection.

All the daily blessings we receive, all of those good moments, are caresses from God’s hands, and a sign that He is with us, despite life’s struggles. Say yes to them. Say yes to Him. Say thank you. We are in bigger, better hands than our own, and only in them can we truly live as children who know how to trust and rejoice, despite the tears that also come.

As I’m trying to take my own advice, here’s some photo’s of me being a kid on my retreat at Loon Lake, climbing about in the woods and getting wet pulling a raft across the lake. Felt like I was 12 again. Was great!

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Shadow Cat

I can feel grief stalking me like a cat
slipping around corners
just out of sight

She’s lurking
staring at me with her luscious eyes
glowing in the shadows
beckoning

But I’m afraid
and look away
Not again!
Not yet!

I walk away
but the soft paws
pad after me quickly
quietly
surely

Sometimes I tire of running away
and shout out,
“Ok, you’ve won. Come get me,”
but the cat slinks off
ever disobedient

And then
when I least expect it
she jumps onto my lap
settles in with her kneading claws
and that familiar purr

A warm weight of blackness

Once again
I am hers