How to walk with hurting friends :: join me for an online book club?

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For months, I’ve been thinking about this idea of “just showing up.”

Actually, it must have been for years, because I asked a friend to bring this book with her when she was coming to visit us in Australia a few months after our first miscarriage.

That title encompassed what we’d experienced as many friends on two sides of the world chose to walk alongside us, our hearts grasping at breath after the loss of our baby.

My life was marked. Our family’s lives were marked. I can only imagine hard much harder our road would have been without them just showing up.

The book quietly testified to that truth from shelf by title alone until just a few weeks ago. The spine of the book unbroken until a sweet young friend of mine found herself a new member of the sorority none of us wants to be in — the women who’ve miscarried.

That’s when I went hunting for the book in a box yet unpacked. I opened it, asking God to help me know how to love my friend well.

Even after weathering the loss of two babies (another one, Gabriel, last December), I felt a wave of amnesia as to what had ministered to my heart so much. Help me know how to love her, Lord? How can I help?

Do you ever wonder the same when you hear of a hurting friend?

There can be barriers, can’t there? I don’t want to say the wrong thing. Or, I am a horrible cook. Or, I’m actually scared of medical things. Or, It’s too close to home. Or, My own wound is still so raw.

Those are valid concerns. If they weren’t, we wouldn’t be held back. But I’d like to offer that we were made in God’s image. And He’s always been in community with Himself, the godhead, as the Father, Son and Spirit. We were crafted from our very start for community. No wonder we long for that at our deepest level.

What would it look like to move toward others, empowered by the One who made us, knowing that we need to receive and we need to give? We need each other.

Here’s the synopsis of the book:

Kara Tippetts’s story was not a story of disease, although she lost her battle with terminal cancer. It was not a story of saying goodbye, although she was intentional in her time with her husband and four children. Kara’s story was one of seeing God in the hard and in the good. It was one of finding grace in the everyday. And it was one of knowing “God with us” through fierce and beautiful friendship.

In Just Show Up, Kara and her close friend, Jill Lynn Buteyn, write about what friendship looks like in the midst of changing life seasons, loads of laundry, and even cancer. Whether you are eager to be present to someone going through a difficult time or simply want inspiration for pursuing friends in a new way, this eloquent and practical book explores the gift of silence, the art of receiving, and what it means to just show up.

The author, Kara Tippetts, writes this in the introduction of the book. I absolutely love this.

Showing up for another says, “I see you. Your pain is known, and though I cannot make it better, I’m here and that’s what matters…

Friends. Community. It is the only way to know and be known. It’s where we see our own humanity and frailty, our gifts and our weaknesses. When we show up for one another, we invade each other in love and become witnesses to the truth that trials and sickness and pain are not the whole story. There’s more, so much more. We can remind one another that our lives are not a mistake. And, most importantly, that we are loved with an everlasting love.”

Maybe you’ve had a taste of a community of friends that seem to match Kara’s words. Or, perhaps, you haven’t but that picture stirs you to think that something like that could exist.

Join me in a very loosely organized online book club starting today.

  1. Buy the book (ebook, or audio) from Amazon or another bookstore, or borrow from the library. (Hoopla is my new favorite way to borrow audio books and listen from my phone or ipad.)
  2. Read the introduction and chapter 1 this week. (A quick and easy read yet so much to chew on, both on a practical-level and heart level.)
  3. Next Tuesday I’ll write a post asking for your thoughts. This is what I’m really looking forward to!

Until then, I’d love you to leave a comment on the blog with one practical way that someone has “shown up” for you, big or small, that really helped when you were going through a hard time.

 

 

 

 

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Hope for Other Broken-Hearted Families

June 20, 2017

On a rainy day in early December, Scott and I walked down the labor and delivery floor hall, passing oversized photos of smiling babies on the walls. Our hearts and our overnight hospital bag weighed heavy. Our baby’s 13-week heartbeat was gone and we had come to be induced and deliver him.

Dani stood waiting for us at the end of the hallway. When we approached, I began crying. She hugged me with such tenderness, more like a treasured friend than a patient.

Today, almost seven months later, Dani (below, holding bear) again stood waiting for me at the end of the hallway. This time, I hefted a cardboard box filled with gifts. Scott carried two boxes behind me, with kids in tow. And just like before, tears filled my eyes when I neared Dani, and spilled over when we hugged.

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Joy and sorrow mixed, as our family presented the first of 36 weighted Comfort Cubs and “Quietly” instrumental CDs to Dani’s nursing team (some pictured below) to give to other bereaved mamas and their families who lose a baby, whether a few ounces or 10 pounds.

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I was given one of these bears the day Scott and I met our tiny Gabriel, then held and said goodbye to him. The weight of it caught me off guard as it felt more like a baby than mere a stuffed animal. I sobbed.

The letter, written by a mom who’d lost a full-term baby, ministered incredibly to my heart. She wrote about the weight of that moment and of the significance of my child. As I read about her hope in Jesus I almost immediately pictured a different scene—a mom who wasn’t yet a believer in Jesus, holding a bear and the letter. I knew God was stirring something.

My due date was to have been May 22nd, so Scott and I decided a way we’d honor the life God gave us in Gabriel would be to raise money to buy 24 bears and CDs (the CD is one that brought me great comfort these last months).

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We were stunned when God doubled that, moving 52 individuals and families to give enough to purchase 48 bears and CDs—enough that we’re giving 36 to my beloved Florida Hospital and 12 to St. Elizabeth’s in Lincoln, my hometown hospital.

Last night I stayed up late fluffing each bear and tying around its neck my letter of comfort and the hope of Jesus. As I did, I asked God for insight in how to pray for the mom who would hold that specific bear. Oh, the things that came to mind and the subsequent tears.

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We’d love for you to pray with us for the 48 moms and their families who will have had to say excruciating goodbyes to their baby(ies) the day they receive these bears.

And pray with us amidst the incredible loss and ache that many, many would place their trust in Jesus as a result of His work of comfort in their life? (P.S. If you’d like to know more about the cubs, the CDs or talk more, please comment below and we’ll connect.)

Opportunity to give hope to others as we approach Gabriel’s due date Monday

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I’m not one for stuffed animals, but when Joy offered this bear to me, I gratefully reached out and received it.

A moment later, my brain registered the fact that the bear wasn’t a fluffy, win-at-the-fair animal. It was unusually heavy, almost like lifting a gallon of milk assumed empty, but actually full.

I sobbed.

A weighted bear.

It was in the first hours after Joy’s incredible team of nurses settled me into the hospital room, given me hugs and space and time I needed before I was induced to deliver Gabriel, carried 15 precious weeks.

With Scott next to me, we talked with Joy and soon found that her compassionate care stemmed from a love for God. She told us about a gift she had for us, given by a woman who’d lost a full-term baby.

Joy returned to the room a bit later with the weighted bear. I became the 4th in a line of women touched by loss and the gift that placed weight into empty arms and acknowledged the weight of a precious life lost.

My bear and precious letter was from Erin Ashley, a mama who’d lost a baby girl at birth. She’d received her bear from Lindsey, a mama who held then said goodbye to two baby girls. Lindsey received her bear from her nurse who’d experienced loss.

“Dear friend,” the letter began, “My heart is burdened for you as I write this letter, knowing that in this moment you are experiencing a depth of pain and trauma that so few parents will ever experience.”

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“To have weight means to have significance, and everything about this moment–and your little child, and the story God is writing in your life–is weighty. It’s significant.”

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Last November, Erin Ashley (center) and her family presented 12 Comfort Cubs to Joy (right) labor and delivery’s head nurse at Florida Hospital-Altamonte.

One month later, on December 6, 2017, I received one of those bears.

This week I learned that there is only 1 bear left, meaning 11 of us mamas (and families) have lost a baby in just 6 months at this hospital in this little part of the globe. My heart drops with that news, knowing that my story of delivery of a tiny baby in miscarriage at a hospital is rare. Wow, what would that number have been if we also knew how many miscarriages happened outside those hospital walls in those months?

An Opportunity for You

Gabriel’s due date would have been this Monday, May 22nd. Our family longed to celebrate his tiny life by celebrating other tiny lives and comforting moms and their families and pointing to Jesus, our very great hope.

So, here’s an idea. How about we, together, put more Comfort Cubs and an instrumental CD, below, (listen here) that’s ministered to me incredibly–into the arms of those who face loss this next year?

Here’s how you can give, if you want to come alongside us. 

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A letter to “You”

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I was going about a normal Monday. You sprung from my inbox and landed on me.

My heart felt accosted. Such an internal battle about unsubscribing from the weekly Baby Center updates. I can’t bring myself to do it. (Some weeks you don’t pounce from that update. Some weeks, like this one, you do. Seemingly no rhyme or reason to how you work.)

Keeping things, like these emails, is what my heart pulls me to do, even when I feel the American/Western culture pull to toss and move on. But it’s not like I can toss you and move on. You’d still show up.

My beloved boy-blue Ergo lays dusty on a closet shelf. And my pregnancy journal hides in a side table drawer where I’m fully aware that it’s there.

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Seeing these things is hard but there’s something about them that’s powerful proof that Gabriel was real.

I was going about a normal Sunday. As the breeze blew warmly outside of church, a friend shared the brittle news that he’d become a grandfather. That news took long moments to translate. His grandson had been born early. Two pounds. Alive and fighting well. He is a gestational-twin of sorts to our little Gabriel, due the same week.

Unexpectedly, you blew in as a cold front. Freshly aware that life is beautiful and so thankful for baby J, and–at the same time–choked with my own desire to continue to hold life in my body.

I was going about a normal Monday night. Scott and I winding down for the evening, talking about our upcoming 10-year anniversary of meeting, this April, and all life has encompassed in that time.

“Two continents…” one of us said, then words stopped like the air in a hose suddenly stepped on. Not sure who said it but it sent us into silence.

You made entrance into our room like a tiny, deflated balloon, pushed under the door. With each moment—minutes?—that we sat in silence you grew larger and larger and you filled the space, pushing against my heart.

“Where are you?” Scott gently asked.

You popped into a million pieces and tears free-fell.

4 babies,” I responded.

I was going about a normal Wednesday. Bedtime routine with the kids. A bit of light was still visible through the blinds. Joshua’s face turned sad. I pulled his big preschooler/little man frame onto my lap.

“What’s wrong, buddy?”

“I thought we had a baby.”

“Oh, buddy. I know. I know.” He buried his face in my shoulder.

You show up, dark and heavy. Uninvited.

It’d still be too much and too mean and too unfair if you just showed up to stalk me. And fling yourself on me at expected times.

Landmark days I brace myself, sure that’s when you will attack.

But most of the time, those aren’t the times.

Instead, you come so unexpectedly.

And the worst? You attack Scott and the kids, too. I hate watching you attack them.

Oh, Grief.

You’re like a wild creature, indeed.

“If I have learned anything about grief in the past two years, it is that grief is a wild creature. Grief will resist every attempt to tame it, to control it, or to keep it tidy and well-behaved. Rather than managing it, grief asks instead that we tend it, listen to it, question it. One of the surest ways to calm it is to give it some space in which to speak—or to holler, or weep.” –Jan Richardson (Thank you, Judy, for sending this.)

And so I give you space, Grief. Fearfully, apprehensively I give you space today.

Everything in me wants to run from you. You are wild.

But you, Grief, are leashed and held by the hand of the One in whom I trust.

Sorrow and Joy

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“Joy and sorrow are never separated. When our hearts rejoice at a spectacular view, we may miss our friends who cannot see it, and when we are overwhelmed with grief, we may discover what true friendship is all about. Joy is hidden in sorrow and sorrow in joy. If we try to avoid sorrow at all costs, we may never taste joy, and if we are suspicious of ecstasy, agony can never reach us either. Joy and sorrow are the parents of our spiritual growth.” -Henri Nouwen

My friend and mentor, Judy, texted me these words of Henri last night. My heart resonated as if it identified someone speaking its rare and precious dialect on the far side of a crowded room.

This season of grief has surprised me with unexpected joy. I wouldn’t have had his words to explain it, but it’s been true. Wonderfully true.

It is joy, come in the form of discovering even deeper riches of the relationships God’s provided me.

Here are just a few examples:

Two dear friends who brought chocolate and wine and their unrushed selves to my living room. They gifted their ears to me to tell them whatever I wanted/needed about the days I was navigating between hearing of no heartbeat and finally actually miscarrying the baby.

Sorrow and joy.

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Lizzy’s creation of breakfast for Scott and I (a first). When I asked why, she replied that she knew I was sad because of losing the baby so she wanted to make breakfast.

Joy and sorrow.

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A beloved friend who texted me this picture on the week anniversary of delivering our tiny baby and wrote, “At Andrew’s Christmas program, but wrote Gabriel’s birth time on my hand so I could remember to pray for you right now. You are in my heart, dear friend. I love you.” I sobbed to be so remembered by the Lord through her.

Sorrow and joy.

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At first I thought it was an accident that our sweet family friend included this box of tissue in the bags she dropped off with the delicious meal she’d made us. But then I noticed her handwriting.

“‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” Revelation 21:4

Joy and sorrow.

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This may-his-stubbornness-be-used-for-good-not-evil-oh-please-Jesus boy turned 4 today.

I dropped him off at preschool and hot tears warmed my face. Deep sadness that I won’t be dropping Gabriel off at preschool one day.

A fresh awareness of Joshua as my last baby fell on my heart like a rock over a cliff.

But, then, joy surprised me and crawled up over the side of the dropoff.

So even though I wouldn’t have designed it this way, I’ll trust the One who decided that sorrow and joy are to be embraced and somehow, somehow enhance the other.

Oh, Jesus. One day. Someday.

I believe in the rest of the story
And I believe there’s still ink in the pen
I have wasted my very last day
Trying to change what happened way back when

I believe it’s the human condition
We all need to have answers to why
More than ever I’m ready to say that I
Will still sleep peacefully
With answers out of reach from me until

Someday all that’s crazy
All that’s unexplained will fall into place
And someday all that’s hazy
Through a clouded glass will be clear at last
And sometimes we’re just waiting for someday

We were born with a lingering hunger
We were born to be unsatisfied
We are strangers who can’t help but wander
And dream about the other side

Every puzzle’s missing piece
Every unsolved mystery
More than half of every whole
Rests in the hands that hold you for someday

Someday all that’s crazy
All that’s unexplained will be beautiful, beautiful
And someday all that’s hazy
Through a clouded glass will be clear at last
And sometimes we’re just waiting, we’re waiting for someday

Nichole Nordeman :: “Someday”

 

The wait to say goodbye

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Oh, Abraham.

Our stories are so very different. But this past week I saw a tiny bit of something in your story that was like mine. It caused me to shake my head in disbelief. How had I never ever seen or known this before?

The time gap. The waiting.

Three days of walking between where you and Isaac were in Beersheba, to Moriah, where you were called to go.

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Fifty-five miles.

The dusty-sandaled miles you walked between your Creator asking you to give up your son and the moment you raised your knife, willing to give Him back the promised son He gave you.

What were those hours like? Did Isaac catch you looking on him, fighting to memorize his every feature?

Did quiet, hot tears flow as you camped at night and watched your son’s chest rise and fall as he slept?

Did you look at the blanket of stars in the sky (Genesis 15:5) that were promised you and wonder what their faces would have looked like–a future family reunion you thought was never to be?

I wonder what conversations you had in your heart with God as you walked each morning, packing up from the night before and heading out for the day.

Oh, your waiting, Abraham. I hurt with you. With a sentence from God, back in Beersheba, your life changed.

Three days later, you laid Isaac down in Moriah. Laying down dreams.

And, oh!, that Moriah was very likely where the future city of Jerusalem would rest! That’s almost too much to handle the weight of the glory of what was to happen as God, Jehovah-Jireh, would show Himself as the Provider of the sacrifice that’d be needed.

In the land that would become Jerusalem.

But amidst the pain and breath that seemed locked in your chest, you didn’t know what was to come. Not yet anyway. You didn’t know your knife would stay clean. The ram wasn’t yet in the bush.

My little Gabriel wasn’t a promised one like Isaac, but I ache with you for the waiting we have in common.

With one sentence, on a Wednesday, my life changed.

“I’m so sorry, there’s no heartbeat.”

And then I journeyed for 6 days of, as a friend so perfectly said, “not being pregnant anymore, but not not being pregnant” as I still carried the tiny body of a tiny baby I ached to see and hold.

I had options. Who knew there were options?! A choice to be made at almost the very moment the arrow struck the bullseye of my heart.

I’m so thankful we chose to give my body some time to realize life was gone. It was so hard, but I’m so thankful.

And I can’t speak for you, Abraham, but those 6 days were important days. Holy days of a different kind of Advent.

Days when tears flowed and ache was real because life was precious and real. My body and heart needed those days of waiting.

Then, in a turn of events we didn’t see coming, Scott and I went into the hospital for me to be induced last Tuesday.

Just a week ago.

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God was weeping with us. Again. The wait was almost over.

(Disclaimer: a bit more of my actual journey starts here, including a few of our favorite pictures of our beloved Gabriel’s feet and fingers.)

The doctor started me on my induction medicine at 2:30pm. Contractions started coming hard at 5:30pm, causing me to wonder if eating that beef stew had been wise. Suddenly, sitting down sounded horrible and I found myself rocking in place.

For an hour I labored through contractions in a way that I still can’t believe was needed to birth a 13-week-gestational baby.

But every contraction was a gift; a tangible, painful reminder that I’d been growing a baby and this tiny life was so very real and valuable.

I’m incredibly thankful for Scott who jumped in with what he’d learned at our birth class before Lizzy, massaging me, reminding me to breathe and groan low and productive. I’m thankful for anti-nausea medicine that hit my bloodstream quickly when, sweaty and exhausted, I asked for help. I’m thankful for the birth ball and the nurses who cared for me in such tender ways.

Then, at 6:41pm, Gabriel was born.

Perfectly formed but not fully developed.

(Please don’t copy, save or use these photos without permission. Thank you. Thanks to Tim Evans, the Aussie brother I never had, for watermarking these for us.)

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My wait was over.

And like David, the writer of Psalm 139 I can’t help but profess:

13 For you created my inmost being;
    you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
    your works are wonderful,
    I know that full well.
15 My frame was not hidden from you
    when I was made in the secret place,
    when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
16 Your eyes saw my unformed body;
    all the days ordained for me were written in your book
    before one of them came to be.

I worship the One who made Gabriel, and then asked for him back.

His name is Gabriel

Yesterday was a holy-ground time. We beheld a tiny boy, our son, born at 6:41pm last night. More about that time, later.

I was released to go home a bit before midnight and we crawled into bed about 1:30 am, glad to be able to sleep in a larger-than-hospital bed with my groom and have him hold me.

We recently returned from our noon appointment at a funeral home. My heart’s ok this minute but it was hard to hear Scott have to repeat our story to each funeral home we called for pricing this morning. So thankful he was willing to be the one calling.

As we talked with Andy, the funeral director, he filled out information on an almost-wall-sized computer screen. He typed in Gabriel’s name and it came out in this beautiful, huge font, because of the screen size.

Gabriel Bentley

I couldn’t help but smile. What a perfect name God gave us and the huge size felt like a perfect validation of a life who isn’t tied to that tiny body any more.

We took lots of pictures yesterday so I know I’ll spend time looking at those today.

Apart from some mild cramping, my body feels ok and seems to be healing well.