Monday, February 27, 2017

The Importance of Ashes

My reflections on the importance of wearing ashes this year.  I wrote this last week, but finally felt strong enough to share it today. Warning: Contains reflections on our pregnancy loss.

I am typically a cheerful person.  When I go through a dark time, I can always find that happiness and joy at my core. You might say I am seriously cheerful, not goofy cheerful, but I usually can find a way to see any glass as “capable” of being full. So, each year, Ash Wednesday is typically a sobering reminder of our humanity and capability of being empty, so that Christ might fill our hearts once again.

This year is different. Lately, I have been sad at my core.  Sure, there is the state of our country.  There is the state of our world.  This article is not about politics, but feel free to read it that way.  

We lost our baby in January, I developed severe preeclampsia, and I had to go through labor for a child who had already died.  It was the worst experience of my life.  I held tightly to my husband’s hand. I held tightly to Jesus, constantly seeing him on the cross suffering alongside me, and several times, I thought of Simeon’s words to Mary, the mother of Jesus, which were just too recent in my memory, “And a sword will pierce your soul.”  

More than ever, I became aware of my mortality in a very real and sobering way. If it were not for my talented Doctor and nurses and their use of modern medicine, and the grace of God, Robbie might have lost both of us that day.  And I know that possibility was ever present in our hearts throughout the night.  

In the coming days I clearly felt the emptiness of my womb which heightened the silence in the room.  The ironic and painful fullness of my breasts only more vividly illuminated the emptiness of my arms.  My overflowing tears clearly echoed the emptiness of my heart.

Now, I am standing a week away from Ash Wednesday and feeling like a simple cross on my forehead is not enough to show the real pain I feel inside. Where are the days of covering ourselves from head to toe in ashes and literally ripping our clothes.  I’d like to rip all of my maternity clothes in half, but my logical self stops me, because then I would have nothing to wear today and nothing to wear when I do become pregnant again.  My emotional self wants to do it anyway.  My emotional self says, “Good. Then everyone will see my nakedness and know how deeply sad I am.”

All of this pain, for a child I never met, a child whose laugh I never heard, a child whose cry I could never answer.

More than ever, I recognize that when I receive those ashes on Wednesday, they will be an outer reflection of a real pain that exists in this world, not just in my heart, but many others.

How many other mothers feel sorrow for the loss of their children, whether unborn, 8, 24, 45, 64 or more? What about the fathers, the grandparents, the aunts and uncles, the brothers and sisters, the children, the grandchildren and more.  Death separates us and has the capacity to keep us isolated in our grief, our blame, our shame, and our regret.  Sure, we could continue in our old tradition and cover ourselves with a vivid reflection of our singular pain.

Instead, we Christians choose to receive a mark of solidarity.  The ashes in the shape of a cross on our hand or our forehead do not symbolize our singular sin, or our singular grief. They do not mark us as better than others or separate from our fellow human beings. They symbolize the mortality of humanity, and Christ’s suffering for all of our pain.  Christ suffered for the pain we cause on one another and for the pain of living and dying in this world.  He suffered so that he would know our brokenness, and take on any punishment that we deserve, so that one day we could experience true wholeness and freedom from pain.

As sad as I am, those ashes will declare my recognition that I am not alone, you are not alone, and great pain exists in this world.

As defeated as I feel, the cross will declare my belief, that death does not have the final word. One day pain will end, and we will discover the wholeness of life and love.  If we are lucky enough, we will get to experience that in this life, not because we are lucky enough to have a glass that is always full or even half full, but because we have experienced how truly empty the glass can be, and we are brave enough to let someone else fill that cup, even if only for a moment.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Wickedly Hard and Amazingly Beautiful

Puzzles have helped me set a pace for my healing.  They’ve given me something calm and low stress to do with others as they visit and sit with me during my recovery.   Although we didn’t have anything to taste, I made pies with my mom without having to roll them out and do any physical labor.  With various friends we enjoyed the fantastical world of Beauty and the Beast and I gained a whole new respect for Thomas Kincade. We also studied the noses and mouths of the Seven Dwarfs, tigers and several dogs.  I’ve quite enjoyed seeing the pieces coming together—how mystery pieces look different than I imagined, all the details we discovered, a beautiful sky coming together.  

The metaphors are endless when it comes to puzzles, so I’ll stick with my favorite verse which sums up my joy of puzzling over the time during my transition.

"Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely. Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love.”  New Living Translation (1 Co 13:12–13).

Wednesday, February 08, 2017

Hexagons of Healing

During my pregnancy I started an afghan for our little baby. At that point I didn’t know the gender, but I knew our child was destined to be an adventurer and a gamer;) So, I set out to create a Catan Afghan. If you are unfamiliar with the game Settlers of Catan, here is a sample board.  Our friends on Facebook have most likely seen a posting of our Star Wars Catan board, which we frequently take to a coffee shop for date morning/night.

Even my friends in the Czech Republic will remember how we played this game in English Class and on Youth trips.  You collect resources of Clay, Wheat, Sheep, Wood, and Ore to build roads, settlements, or cities and pay your soldiers. This game was part of our courtship and has made our marriage grow stronger as we learned to laugh together, argue with open ears, and forgive each other with Grace. We are each other’s “worthy adversary”.

Since November I’ve been making crocheted hexagons to match the tiles on the board and the water surrounding the island. It seemed a shame not to complete this awesome creation, even if he would never get to play on it like I imagined. Instead, it has served as a sort of blanket of healing for me.

When we came home from the hospital, I took out the tiles and counted up how many more I had to do. Only a few more hexagons, and I would be ready to lay out the board. I was so pumped, and the final hexagon was the most perfect I had made, so I decided to make it the center piece. When the greatly anticipated time to lay out the crocheted board came, I felt satisfied and filled with hope.

As you can perhaps tell, “pumped” was the key word from the description of my laying out the afghan before me. Working on the afghan didn’t actually help lower my blood pressure. If fact, I had to pace myself, because sitting up and working on something engaging would raise my blood pressure.  Working on the afghan has been a lot like the physical and emotional healing process—even if you know the steps you have to take, you still have to go through the painstakingly slow process of one step at a time…skipping steps only knocks you further back.  

Crocheting the final hexagons and beginning to connect them, I imagined God continuing to knit or crochet in my womb.  Women who have been through labor or pregnancy will attest to the cramping and activity you feel as your womb begins to shrink. For weeks now I have felt like they were almost ghost pains from the labor and an unfortunate reminder of what is not longer in my womb. I prefer to think of it as God working to heal my womb as I am continuing to work the yarn on my afghan.  

Just as the afghan will continue to need some work in the coming weeks, I know that God will continue to work on my physical and emotional healing. And God has enough strength to get us through it all.