Category Archives: Suffering

Remembering broken hearts on Mother’s Day

I have a mama in my life who is beautifully vulnerable. Who loves her children passionately and pursues them well. Who sends me texts about her fears and failures, who trusts me with her tears when she is sobbing after a rough mama day. I am honored to be trusted by her and to be a safe place for her. I love speaking truth into her life about her worth in Jesus, how well she is raising her children, and how hard we have to fight for grace and kindness in those dark moments.

She is my safe place, too. She understands the heart battles I face every day, and she is always available to remind me of God’s furious love for me. I love the mama-to-mama aspect of our relationship. I am praying that she will be well celebrated this weekend. And I am so grateful she has a family that appreciates and loves her and will shower her with adoration on Mother’s Day.

md4I just read the story of my friend’s friend’s baby who died in her arms after a short illness. I studied pictures of the beautiful child, clearly adored and desperately missed. Her mother’s heart poured out on her blog, wanting the whole world to know about this baby whom so few got to meet.

I have a friend who gave birth to stillborn twins last summer. Whose identity changed to Mother as soon as those girls were conceived, but whose loss is silent. No one on the street knows that she is a mother to those sweet girls who are waiting for her in Heaven. New friends have no idea that she aches with a mama’s heart to hold her children this Mother’s Day.

My sister-in-law has a silent loss, too. Seeing her adorable daughters in their coordinated outfits, no one would know that she is mother to a boy, too. Because Timothy is with Jesus.

And mamas who have suffered stillborns. The tragedy of never having seen their baby, much less held it. And yet they have an undying love for that child, and their perspective is forever changed because of that love and that child. md3Since my own mother died, I have been extra sensitive to people who don’t have mothers or who have mothers who have been hurtful and abusive. I think about what it is like for children to sit in school, their classmates working on macaroni picture frames and coupon books for free hugs, while they fight back tears and mentally prepare to just make it through the painful day. I once unkindly snapped at a saleswoman who suggested I buy a certain trinket for my mother for Mother’s Day; didn’t she realize not everyone has a mother?

md1I think about Kara’s sweet children and Jason, who has celebrated almost 14 years of Kara’s motherhood, and what Sunday will be like for them.

I pray for my friend whose family will gather at the cemetery, gracing their mother’s grave with flowers as they do every year.

So much brokenness. What do we do with it?

I actually don’t know. I don’t know how to love hurting people well. I try to show up—to be available, safe, kind, gentle. To listen to hearts and be a shoulder to cry on. I ask for stories about mothers who have gone to Jesus and babies whose cries and laughs can only be heard in their mothers’ hearts. I try to be present. But I fumble. I know that my efforts at comfort are clumsy.

It’s hard to trust hurting people to Jesus, to believe that He is Good and has Good intended for His children even in the midst of terrible loss. It’s hard to believe sometimes that God is near to the brokenhearted. It’s hard to trust instead of question God’s intentions and Sovereignty. And yet that is what we are asked to do. When I drop flowers off on Sunday for a friend—a mama—whose little one is in Heaven, I realize that the bigger act of love is trusting God with my friend’s broken heart and praying for His comfort. md2Let’s not overlook the hurting this Mother’s Day. Let’s remember sons and daughters who don’t have a mama, and let’s remember mamas whose sons and daughters are no longer here. Let’s pursue the hurting in love and grace, even when we’re clumsy and awkward. Let’s pray for the brokenhearted and ask God to help us trust his furious love. Let’s grieve together but choose hope over despair.

Surprised by hope

A sunny day in June, my family and I were pulling into the campsite in our favorite place in the whole world—where Aaron and I spent our honeymoon and where we go back every summer for our anniversary to share this haven with our babies—when my phone rang. I almost just totally ignored it, but instead I looked at the number. Emily. My friend and midwife and sister to my very close friend.

I answered.

Meredith lost the babies, she said. I don’t remember what questions I asked. I don’t remember her answers or anything other information she offered. I do remember being a puddle of tears by the time Aaron came back to the car from checking us in.

Meredith was pregnant with twins—Livia Rose and Lucy Eleanor. They had found out earlier in the week that the girls had a serious condition and would need medical intervention, but sometime in between that discovery and Meredith’s arrival at the proper medical facility, Livia and Lucy had peacefully gone to Jesus.

A few days later, we arrived home and Meredith gave birth to her daughters.

I realize the flatness of that last statement. But how can I express what it was for Meredith to experience labor pains for children she would never mother? To bring babies into a world they would never see? To cuddle babies who would never breathe?

Meredith asked me to visit her and the babies at the hospital. I am not sure I had ever felt so honored in my life as to share the gift of seeing these sweet girls the rest of the world would miss out on.

I was shaking with anticipation and grief when I arrived. People, I was terrified. I was scared of seeing my Mer as a bereaved mother. I was scared of seeing her girls forever still. I was scared of seeing her valiant husband crestfallen. I grasped the flowers and teddybear loveys I had brought with both hands to steady my quivers. I took a deep breath and put on a brave face. I willed my tears to stay put.

Why am I ever surprised by this: What I saw, what I experienced, what met me was Grace.

That time in the hospital is private to me, a priceless and precious gift that I ponder and sometimes mention to Meredith, wondering in its beauty.

I was surprised by beauty.

Since then I have been surprised by

I’ve experienced my share of grief. Heaven is a daily topic in The Bungalove. Dreaming about the New Earth together is a favorite pastime of Aaron’s and mine. But that was challenged when one of my closest friends lost her baby girls. My grief settled in my belly, a resolved sigh of trusting God’s Sovereignty.

I was blessed to hear some of Meredith’s thoughts as she started processing her loss. The effect of the grace and beauty of the hospital room experience and the love that overwhelmed me there started to fade as I grappled with the suffocating helplessness of watching Mer grieve. I couldn’t fix her heart. I didn’t have good words for her and I was clumsy—at best—loving her. I lost my ability to will my tears back, and they would flow at strange places and strange times. Meredith was articulate in her grief, asking poignant questions and realizing the far reach of her loss. We talked about what she would never share with the girls and cried at the quiet understandings of what it would mean to travel life as a mother of twins the world never knew existed.

Then something happened. I one day told Meredith that the most impactful thing for me as a bystander in the hospital room that day was seeing the love her husband had for her. I felt like an intruder as I watched how he loved her, how he climbed into her hospital bed to hold her steady through the shattering sobs, how tenderly he spoke to her, how he anticipated her needs. Here he was, a father who had just lost his children. He was hurting just as much as his wife, and yet he put her needs before his. He had never experienced this kind of loss, yet his love for Mer took over and dictated his actions—he loved with confidence and grace. Thinking about it even now overwhelms me.

I don’t know what Meredith would say, but this conversation was a turning point for me in how my heart approached this grief. I felt like we started talking more about Heaven and the New Earth—our dreams as well as our questions and doubts. And as we talked, I couldn’t help but notice the impact Livia and Lucy had had on me. Which seems improbable as they never even took a breath.

For one thing, my terminology has changed. When I say, The Girls or The Twins, I am specifically referring to Livia and Lucy. My relationship with Mer has changed—not only has she graciously and generously allowed me to walk with her, I relate to her differently because of the depths her soul has dived. She understands a piece of me she didn’t before, both because of loss but also because she is a mother now. I think of Livia and Lucy every single day. I daydream about what they are like and what it will mean to see them reunited with Meredith some day. I remember their perfect little bodies in the hospital, and I wonder what they look like perfected in Heaven. I grow excited about seeing Meredith not just as a mother, but as a mother to them. I don’t know what that will look like or mean in Heaven, but instead of just confusion, I have excitement, too. I have hope.

The grief that settled in my belly is still there. But hope has settled in as its companion. A hope that was born out of the despair of having nothing to trust but Jesus in the midst of an impossible situation. My piddly faith in turning to God in my tears and calling out, This hurts and my Mer hurts and I don’t know what to pray except help me trust! has planted more seeds of faith, which bloom hope.

Thanks to Livia and Lucy’s too-brief existence, I trust God differently now. My hope in God spreads farther and reaches deeper than before. My concept of love has been bolstered and expanded. My relationship with their mother has deepened. I hold my children a moment longer with each hug, understanding better the fragility of life. And my eyes have been widened to more of the brokenness around me; I don’t shy away as much as I used to, I think about the joy Livia and Lucy brought us in their short lives, and I yearn to know that joy in others, even if it means walking through some ugly with them.

Tomorrow is Meredith’s due date. A day for tears for what was taken from her and her husband but also a day for celebrating the gift of Livia and Lucy. You see, I believe that we will be reunited with them someday in Heaven but I also believe that their tiny lives have significance on this earth, in my life. God created them and numbered their days with joy and purpose. So I celebrate. With sadness and confusion, I celebrate. If you see me tomorrow and I am wearing these flowers, know they are for The Girls, my Mer’s girls, Livia Rose and Lucy Eleanor, who have changed me forever through blooms of hope.FullSizeRender(5)

Suffering with others

Our assistant pastor recently preached on suffering. You might think that his sermon would be a philosophical approach to the theology of suffering, or if not, that it would be depressing. It was neither. It was an honest conversation about what Psalm 6 says about suffering, and it was just what our church needed to hear. We have so many suffering people in our church family, and I personally soak up anything I encounter that deals with suffering and teaches us how to have a proper perspective and response. Jeremy talked about how suffering needs to be done in community. Oh, how that is true! He defines suffering with each other: to seek someone else’s relief is to willingly take a bit of their suffering on our own shoulders, to shoulder a piece of their suffering for them.

Those words grip my heart. How many times have I suffered without a friend to shoulder my burden? How many times have I felt incredibly alone in my pain, desperate for a kind word of empathy? And yet, when faced with others’ suffering, I recoil. I want to plug my ears and sing, “La la la la!” I am uncomfortable with suffering. I spend my life trying to avoid it, trying to spare my children from it. But I’ve learned it’s all around; I can’t escape it.

We were at a party a couple of weeks ago. I had been looking forward to the social time and meeting a friend’s new baby. I was excited to get out of the house and laugh with friends. Instead, I found myself immersed in conversation with a man I had met once before. As we chatted, his grief came out—he and his wife lost their 3-year-old daughter almost a year ago. I saw the torment of his heart on his face, how he spoke carefully as not to crumble under the weight of his words. I pray I did not visibly flinch. I wanted to say, “I’m sorry to hear that,” and then go pour a glass of wine, find a fun conversation to join.

But I couldn’t.

I couldn’t ignore the crack of his voice as he shared. I could not dismiss the very realness of his brokenness, right there in front of my face. I asked his daughter’s name. I asked who she was, what she liked, her favorite color, what kind of sister she was. He graciously and passionately shared with me until he was overcome. “I think I’m done talking now,” he choked out.

What a privilege to hear this man’s story and to know about his precious daughter. My awkwardness and discomfort paled as I soaked in every word about this amazing little girl and what a joy she was. I realized in the heat of my own emotion—wasn’t he reading my mind, telling me my worst nightmare?—that it was an honor to shoulder even a tiny bit of this suffering. That a 30-minute conversation could be life-giving to both of us and could provide a tiny bit of comfort and safety. That the fear and pain I was experiencing was simply a reflection of this father’s, and for the length of the conversation, we could share that burden.

That was a tiny expression of empathy. Everywhere I turn around, though, it seems like I have opportunity to love others and walk with them in their suffering. Will you please pray for me to have the courage and compassion to reach out in love instead of withdraw in discomfort?

Grace in normal life

When my parents died, I remember asking when it would stop hurting. I would wake myself up in the middle of the night crying. My tears mingled with the water in the shower. My cheeks would be wet without my realizing tears were flowing. Several people told me that it took a year or two to heal from grief. Desperate to escape the pain, I believed them and then was shocked when my grief was still very present a year later, 2 years later, 10 years later. I had expected the grief to go away so I could get on with living my normal life.

What I’ve discovered is that my life since then IS normal. Parents die, friends get cancer, babies are stillborn, relationships break, husbands and fathers lose their jobs. In this broken world, I can’t expect to live free of heartbreak. I’ve often dreamed of running off somewhere—let’s sell our house and our belongings, I’ll say to Aaron, let’s move to the mountains and live in a yurt and we’ll work menial jobs just to make enough, and we’ll enjoy our babies and we’ll stay warm in the winter by cuddling next to a fire. So often I long to escape the hurts of this world and try to fool myself into thinking I can.

When we tell people we live downtown, many respond by saying they would LOVE to live downtown but… or they ask if we feel safe or if the schools are okay. I feel like a lot of people don’t understand—we live downtown so we can take a cup of coffee to the woman passed out drunk in our front yard and engage the pot-smokers across the alley (not that there’s anything wrong with that…). Friends truly loved coming over to the last house we lived in—it was in an isolated area, and we had the best porch for the best parties, or soirees, as my Polly would say. But living apart from the world became exhausting. A textbook introvert, I started to forget how to interact with others, and I became really good at avoiding eye contact with anyone and everyone I met at the store or church or even work. I started to become consumed with our little life in our little home, and my world got smaller and smaller.

We live downtown to engage this broken world with its broken people. Like our neighbor to our right whom we suspect is a hoarder. She is an older, disabled, slightly crazy lady who is lonely. When I see her outside, I have to work up to saying hello, because it will turn into a 30-minute conversation. And while I might roll my eyes as I walk back toward the house, I’m always glad I talked to her. I can tell it lifts her spirits, and guess what? It lifts mine, too. We have a family behind us whose husband/father has terminal lung cancer. I send Aaron and Von over with food sometimes and we try to talk to their four teenagers when we see them. We’re trying to learn to love them in ways that make sense to a hurting family, and we find that they are the blessing to us—watching the boys sword fight with sticks in the backyard, seeing the parents take painstaking walks together with her half carrying him as they limp along, shaking our arms in triumph when we see him drive away to work on good days. There is always Grace in the pain, always some kind of joy in the hurt.

In June we went on our annual anniversary camping trip. As we pulled into the campsite, my phone rang. It was the sister of a dear friend. She knew I was out of town, so I knew she was calling with purpose. And I suspected what that purpose might be. I didn’t want to answer, I didn’t want to hear her news, but I didn’t want her to have to leave her news on voicemail or delay telling me. I answered. Her pregnant sister—MY sister—had lost her twin baby girls. They had gone Home to Jesus and Meredith was left with the unbearable task of giving birth to them.

All weekend while we were celebrating 7 years and two babies, we thought about and prayed for Meredith and Nate. I came close to asking Aaron several times if we could pack the car up and drive home just so I could be near to Meredith, but I couldn’t take away his vacation. The Lord was gracious in his timing and the babies were born the night we got home so I could see them before Meredith and her husband laid them to rest. All those hours of crying and praying about her labor, and what I discovered blew me away—what I assumed would be a terrible, heartbreaking experience was the opposite; Meredith cherishes giving birth, experiencing that entrance as a family. Seeing the perfection in the stillness of her daughters. Having a day to spend with them. She was sustained by Grace, finding joy in the pain.

As I type, as I cry over news we received earlier this afternoon about someone I love dearly, Aaron is in the next room singing In Christ Alone. That was the song Meredith chose for her daughters’ funeral. The truths of the lyrics carried her through that misery. The Grace the cross offers us will carry me through this night as I cry for the hurting people in my life.

What is that Grace? The Grace that we are not in this alone, that God our Father carries us and holds us closely. The Grace that what we experience on Earth in our lifetimes is not the end—that Jesus has prepared places for us in Heaven and we will see Meredith’s babies and my parents again. That all of our pain will be redeemed, even if we never see a glimpse of that redemption this side of Heaven. That there is purpose in our sufferings. That there is meaning beyond what our minds can imagine. That when we come out of this experience, we will be closer to God and understand his love for us that much better. Friends, there is so much Grace. The Grace of the hug of a friend whose arms will hold you up for the five seconds the hug lasts but whose faith will stand in the gap when your own faith fails. The grace of my 2-year old wiping my tears and saying, “Mama, sad?” His kisses heal my heart because I know that they represent an eternity of kisses I will receive after my tears have been wiped away, never to return.

Quail and mud pies

One of my All-Time-Favorite People in the world is going through a really tough season in her life right now. Really tough. I am clumsily trying to walk this struggle with her. I say all the wrong things and misunderstand and trip over my words. And yet she still invites me in to her heart, and I love her for it. We have a recurring conversation lately: how do you pursue healing without making health an idol? In other words, when you are navigating a broken world and are in a dark, hurtful place of pain, how do you respond in such a way that you do not get distracted by wanting deliverance more than you want the Deliverer?

In my head, I want to offer a solution, to fix her situation: If you just do this, then this will happen and all will be well and you can get on with your life! But I keep my mouth shut because I don’t actually have the answers, and saying those things would just serve to demean her problems and cause further hurt. Instead, I pray with her and seek Christ with her and hope in our good God that this season will be short.

A friend recently posted an answered prayer to a health crisis on her Facebook wall. The first comment read, “God is good!”

Yes, God IS good. But when I see that kind of response to good news, I always think, what if the health crisis had ended in tragedy? Would that person have commented, “Horrible news. God is bad.” No, of course not. Yet I can’t help but think what we really mean when we respond with “God is good” is “Hooray! We got what we wanted—isn’t that awesome?! God is good because he answered our prayer the way we asked him to.”

I often hear the argument, If God is so good, why does he let bad things happen?

I’ve experienced enough struggle and sadness to know the answer: I don’t want a God who is limited to my understanding of Good. I actually want a God who works in mysterious ways, who uses suffering to produce beauty, who understands that Good always trumps Evil, who won’t let me be satisfied with a surfacey goodness that I measure by how happy I am in the moment. I want to trust a God who fights for Goodness in my life by providing journeys that walk through muck and mire. I don’t want to be satisfied with quail and mud pies. I want to hurt, yearn, and suffer so that I can experience the depth of peace and  hope and eventual redemption. That is Goodness!

Or so I say.

And now one of my All-Time-Favorite People is hurting. I have cried out to God on her behalf—deliver her! Please, Lord, save her! Please, Lord, help her to escape. I picture her alone in a deep well. I am at the top, trying to reach her, but my arm is pathetically short. I wonder if I should try to tell her how to get out of the well—maybe there are footholds she could find if she looked hard enough and she could climb out. Maybe there was a rope down there somewhere and she could throw it up to me.

Here I am—wanting deliverance for her more than the Deliverer.

I’ve forgotten the context, but our pastor recently asked in a sermon if we are okay with being mediocre. That question took my breath away. My parents were very high achievers, very hard workers. And they pushed us to achieve and perform well. It’s in my genes to want to be awesome. But it may not be in my genes to actually be awesome. This question made me examine my heart. And I see that when I am sick, my heart desires health over the Healer. When money is tight, I scream for provision over the Provider. When I am sad, I beg for relief rather than the Reliever. When I am scared, I call out for safety rather than the Savior. I am a fair-weather, flighty follower of Jesus.mud pies for you tooGod never promises that we will be awesome. He never promises health. Or that we’ll accomplish our dreams. Or that if we work hard enough, everything will turn out the way we want. Or that if we apply ourselves or pray hard enough, we’ll have what we want on this earth—a beautiful house, an ideal job, moral children. That is karma. Instead, God promises Grace. In his Goodness.

So here is my sister, in her dark well, and I am praying that God will deliver her. Yes, that prayer is okay—the Bible teaches us to ask our Father for what we need. But I am realizing that if I could throw her a rope and hoist her out of her well, her heart would still be broken. She doesn’t just need deliverance—she needs her Deliverer. Only God can heal her heart, draw her close, shower her with unconditional love, provide hope for her weary heart. Isn’t that what I really want for her? Isn’t that what I really want for myself?

This All-Time-Favorite Person’s struggle doesn’t mean God isn’t good. It means the opposite—that is God pursuing her, drawing her to him, proving his love to her, wiping the tears from her eyes, filling her heart with hope, calming her spirit with peace. This is Grace. And what is gooder than Grace?

Love is on our minds today…

My friend Beth wrote this beautiful exploration of love and gave me permission to share it with you all. Valentine’s Day is a bittersweet day for her and her family, but getting more sweet than bitter. I was blessed by her heart and hope you will be, too.
Love is on our minds today. For weeks, red wrapped packages of sweet things and cards proclaiming passionate sentiments have filled the stores. Tonight a fine dinner will be held at church, tables set for two. Romantic love is a gift from our Lord and is rightly celebrated. We need only to read Song of Solomon to know that our Lord delights in this aspect of love.
Through the years, Dave and I have celebrated February 14 in two ways: Dave and I declaring our love for each other and our family declaring our love for one another.
One year when our children were small we surprised them. We told them special guests were coming for Valentines. We cleaned the house; my mom sent us a beautiful flower arrangement that adorned our table set with our finest china. We prepared delicious food. I instructed the kids to get dressed up, and they festooned the evening with their finery. We sat down to dinner and the kids began to ask, “who is coming?” Dave then told them they were the guests of honor. We clinked our crystal glasses in a sparkling cider toast—to our family. They were very surprised and probably a tiny bit disappointed because they thought they would be serving someone. However, the excitement of everything beautiful and treats gaily wrapped made them soon forget.
Our kiddos are a formulation of Dave and my love. The expressions of eros created little ones on whom we set another sort of love. Only Dave and I will ever be the parents of Sarah and Jason. As a first time mom, I was surprised at the depth and immediacy of my love for our new baby girl. She grabbed my heart; she is a wonderful blessing from our Lord. Two and half years later the Lord again blessed us with a precious baby boy. Our love begat further love. Our celebrations through the years though taking various forms were always a time to celebrate love in its various nuances. Valentines day however, has taken a different turn for my husband and me. We think on yet another shade of love.
Nine years ago our today our son finished life on earth. While it is a day we grieve, it is a day that we are reminded that our love for him has not stopped. Grief is that expression of love that God wrought in hearts for him still beating within us. Dave and I remember and speak of it to each other. We look for our Lord’s good in our remembrances of love. This day reminds us now that we do not have to be tangibly in the presence of someone to love them. This is a comfort in many ways. It means we do love our son though he is not here anymore. It means love can exist when we live on two sides of a country and not be diminished. It is a reminder of our Savior’s love for us and our love in response.
“Though you have not seen him, you love him” Peter wrote to the church. Peter knew the love of Christ and had experienced said love as he walked with Jesus over three years. Peter had the opportunity to declare his love to Jesus. In the scope of history however, very few had the privilege to experience Christ’s love in His corporal presence or to speak their love to Him. Peter’s line was written to the church as an encouragement that the love we have for Him is real. There is love to be known, experienced, and proclaimed that does not require bodily presence. I know it to be true. Christ’s love has pierced my heart and I am deeply moved to love Him back but as John Piper has written this love is, “not based on a physical seeing of Christ. But it is based on believing Christ.” Today is my day and your day to courageously choose to love Him more though we have not seen Him.