Monday, January 30, 2017

A Week of Rest; Weak Rest

Reflection after week one of recovery:

Rest. I thought I knew how to rest. I know many relaxation techniques and many tools for meditation. I have many activities that I consider "restful and rejuvenating", and yet, I have been forced to rest in a whole new extreme this week, when even crocheting on the couch made my blood pressure rise to an unhealthy level. Thanks to my doctor we finally have my blood pressure maintained with the right medication. Thanks to my sister and husband who had a knack for noticing when I was getting too active and needed to lay down on my side, I survived without any complications. 

By Friday I was extremely tired of resting, and I realized I had been skipping the first step in relaxation or meditation: awareness. So, I started to do an awareness scan of my body, and I realized why I had been skipping that move. First of all, my mind was still in disbelief that my womb was now empty, and secondly, at my core I was achingly sad. Most parts of my body were resisting something, and when I imagined a visual of my heart, it was extremely tired and full of sadness. I called Robbie into the room, since we have promised each other that we wouldn't get on the grief train alone, and he held me while I let go of a huge wave of grief. Frustration and anger are still pretty buried inside me, but the sadness and the terror that this is all actually happening flowed out or rather was allowed to come to the surface.

Each day since I've been choosing to do a body scan to help me take a nap, and both my napping and grief have progressed. One major factor we've seen this week is that knowing a lot about grief and prayer and God doesn't put you on some express train to feeling better or moving through the stages of healing and grief at an easier or quicker rate. Our theology, however, has kept us grounded and connected to each other. Even when I did feel the anger coming up to the surface, I didn't know where to aim it. I know I can't blame myself, I can't blame Robbie, I can't blame my doctor, but I didn't want to blame God. And in that moment when I felt the anger beginning to burst, I heard God saying,"Come on, let me have it. I can bear it. Jesus bore all of your anger and pain on the cross already, so let me have it." It wasn't an angry voice like in Job. When I see the sentence now, it reads like a challenge. But when I heard the voice it was very comforting, reassuring, strong, full of knowledge, and able to withstand all the anger and pain I have buried. 

If you're reading this, you've most likely been praying for us and/or experienced this kind of loss yourself. Thank you for your prayers, and for those of you who have been echoing our grief, our hearts break for you, too. May you hear God's reassuring voice as well, and may you feel the freedom to "let him have it." 

Sunday, January 22, 2017

A day of rest

On this Sabbath day, we found many ways to rest. At times, resting meant napping or reading with Maggie. For me, resting also meant baking. Ree Drummond has this awesome cinnamon roll recipe which takes a little work with hours of rest in between. The perfect recipe for a Sunday of healing. There is something prayerful and meditative about feeding yeast and kneading dough.  After I was done making three large trays of cinnamon rolls, I realized it was a lot of work...but it seemed a perfect way to connect with my word for the year, "savor."

My word for the year almost seems like a cruel joke to me at times now. How can you tell a young mother to savor each moment when she just lost the child who should be feeding and savoring the milk from her breasts? How can you tell a no-longer pregnant woman to savor the delicious food in front of her when suddenly she can eat whatever she wants and everything tastes a hundred times better, because her taste buds have finally re-turned to normal, because she is no longer supporting the baby she used to have inside her.

At other times the word seems like an essential and necessary gift for me in this process. Choosing to savor the moment, means choosing not to resent this pregnancy, this baby boy. Choosing to savor this moment with my spouse, means choosing not to shame him or myself by continuing to question if we could have done anything different to prevent this from happening. Choosing to savor the moments I will have with my friends, means choosing to share our pain and our hope, instead of hiding in a cave or rejecting their help.

It reminds us to savor each other, to savor our joyful memories from the last 24 weeks. It helps understand the words of our dear friend Rose, "The gift of joy that you have been given can never be taken away." Savoring those memories instead of resenting them helps us to grasp onto the joy which feels out of our reach.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

One breath at a time

It was with great grief and hope that yesterday we announced the birth and death of our child, Robert Earl Collins. The last 24 hours has been a rough patch as we ride the waves of grief, and our dear beloved friends and family have showered us with hope as well as lamentation for our tragic experience. I realized as I was the one who physically went through the labor to birth our already lost child, we(Robbie, our family, and close friends) were all suffering through the storm of child loss. As my body goes through the physical healing from this very physical process, we all will be going through healing as well.  Robbie and I have been intentionally leaning on one another to pray together, cry together, lament together and seek words of hope.

Since I process through my writings I will be posting some of the words which give voice to our grief process which can be helpful for you to know how we are doing, as well as, hopefully, provide language for others who have been or will go through times like this in their own unique circumstances.

For instance, I was telling him this morning that when I go out in public, I want to wear a button that says, "Warning, I just lost my first child. Treat me with compassion, but please do not ask me how I am doing. Neither of us can handle the pain right now."

Robbie: I want mine to say, "Don't tell me it will be okay, don't tell me a story of hope, just give me something normal."

We've been describing the grief process as a sort of runaway train, which you can try to get off or try to stop or pretend that your not on, but no matter what you do, you're already on it. Incomprehension fuels this runaway train of grief, and the more we avoid the pain, the faster and more reckless it goes.  When we talk and cry and let out our emotions, the train does indeed slowdown and become more controlled, not because things get better or easier, but because the unreal becomes more real and the incomprehensible becomes comprehensible. You are never on the train alone, but you can choose who you sit with on that train. We are choosing to sit with each other and we are very thankful for the friends who are sitting with us through this terrifying and hopeful experience.

Our faith is our foundation through this experience, as we testify to our belief that the same God who was knitting Bob together in my womb is now playing at his side in the new life which is promised for us all. 

Thank you for reading, thank you for your prayers, and Christ's peace to you who are also grieving.

Monday, January 16, 2017

A Year to "Savor"

Have you chosen a word for the year? My word for the year is SAVOR. As a pregnant woman with lots of aversions, this word may mean more to me than it does to you. And that’s the point of it. Below is the text from my sermon on Sunday which shares about the traditions of choosing a word or words to guide us through the year. If you’re in Manhattan, you can stop by First Presbyterian and pick up one of the verses on stars, doves and crosses.  If you'd like on in the mail, send me a note! If you would like a method to choose your word for the year, you can follow the instructions suggested in the sermon. Blessings on your year!

“Starwards Bound”

Genesis 1

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the Spirit of God was moving over the face of the waters.
And God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, one day.

Last week we reflected on the journey of the Magi who had been called on an expedition to find this new King of the Jews. I wonder what their motivation could have been to follow that star they saw in the heavens.  Did they travel through weather and physical challenge out of duty? Did they seek persistently out of curiosity? Whatever their motivation, they too were answering a calling to meet Jesus, to experience the living presence of God.  When they answered that call and they followed the star, they experienced an epiphany that changed their lives forever, and sent them in a new direction.

Like the Magi, we are at a precipice, approaching a new season of life. As we begin this new season, with a new President, a new school year, new experiences, we must continue to follow the star, looking for hope, looking for Jesus, beyond epiphany, beyond the journey to Bethlehem.  We continue to look for The Light of Christ, as a calling to seek Jesus in all that we do, in everywhere that we go.

When we make New Year’s resolutions, they tend to look backward. We vow to right the things we did wrong last year, or improve on our shortcomings, or somehow lessen our regrets from the past.  These resolutions fail when they are merely reactions to the symptoms in our lives, seeking a perfection of this world, rather than the life that Jesus wants to give us.  Our faith calls us to look towards the future and to do so with hope, trusting in God’s hand and God’s faithfulness.  This forward thinking enables us to set goals, so that instead of merely reacting to daily problems, we are setting goals for a longterm plan, following the star over hills and valleys, even when the days get hard.

When companies want to look towards the future and develop longterm goals, they frequently turn to consultants or look towards their leaders to develop a strategic plan.  A bit different than mere resolutions at the beginning of a season, these consultants look at the true identity of the company, what gifts they have to offer, what challenges they face, and what hope they have for the future. Many of you, I’m sure have experienced this, if not in your own business, but maybe in this church. The cards in your pews reflect some of the work of the Planning Committee and the Membership Committee as they sought to give us the phrase, First in Worship, First in Family, First in Service.   

One of my favorite methods I have used with groups or organizations follows a little book I found years ago called One Word that Will Change Your Life, by Jon Gordon, Dan Britton and Jimmy Page. They begin by sharing stories of how their method could be used in your personal life, your family, your school, your work, your church, your sports team or any of your other organizations.  They advised the Atlanta Falcons, years ago, leading them each to have a personal word to use as a guide for the year. Even their head coach, which at the time was Mike Smith, chose a word.  His word was “Finish,” because he wanted himself and his team to finish strong in everything they did.” He described the powerful impact that the word had not just on him but also his team.  

Their method is quite spiritual, as the first instruction is to Prepare Your Heart and Look In.  After unplugging from the noise and activity around you, they invite you to focus on three essential questions:
  1. What do I need?
  2. What’s in my way?
  3. What needs to go?
What challenging questions. (read them again) So often we get caught up in trying to accomplish the first one that the challenges in our way or other burdens or commitments keep us from reaching that first necessary essential.  By considering what stands in our way, and confessing the things we need to let go of in our lives, we can move forward and grasp what we need to accomplish our larger goal in life.

The final step is to "Look up, to plug in and listen up." They put it this way in the book, “Once you’ve prepared your heart, you are ready to receive your word. God has a word that is meant for you. Remember, God can use all means to communicate with us and you never know when, where and how your word will be revealed to you.”

There are several monastic traditions which tell of the spiritual giving of words from an even more spiritual aspect. At times, followers would request a Word and after prayer and reflection, a monk would deliver a word sent from God to them. Perhaps it would be a singular word or scripture.

There’s a fascinating story of a student who asked Cassian the Monk for a method of unceasing prayer, and he ended up learning about the practice of prayers from those teaching in the Egyptian Desert. They would be given one line of a psalm which would become for them a leitmotif or essential theme to everything the monk did, from daily work tasks to their daily scripture readings.  This verse would become the lens through which they saw the world. 

I can remember a similar experience I had when someone send me a verse of scripture when I was going through a particularly dark time.  I had an injury in my hand which was keeping me from playing flute, and I wasn’t quite at the point where I had to choose what to do next, but I was definitely at the start of a new season, and wondered why God had allowed this to happen to me and where I would go next.  A dear friend sent the epiphany to me in the mail, and the scripture stayed by my bed throughout that season of my life. It was the same words that were given to Joshua as he was stepping up to lead the people of Israel after Moses: The Lord said, "This is my command—be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.”

Whether it is a single word or a verse of scripture, these traditions hold to these words as a guiding light to see the world and face everyday challenges. In either method, this light comes from God and draws us to God. Jesus came to be the light and to draw us into the light which shines so that all the world might have the ability to see clearly, and see beyond the darkness which would seek to overtake us.

Today I invite you to receive a Word from God.  In a moment we will pass the offering plates again and this time you will take an object rather than placing one. You will find stars, doves and crosses that have scriptures on them, and I challenge you not to read them and make a choice, but to allow the spirit to choose for you and merely take one as it comes to you.

When you take this scripture home, read it again, and put it somewhere you will see it regularly.  Read it from time to time and let the words sink into your mind, into your breath, and into your bones.  As the words return to you in your challenges and moments of Joy, may you encounter the True Word of God, Jesus, the Living Word made flesh. May the star guide you to meet him and may it continue to guide you to experience grace, peace, joy and a life full of hope.