7.14.2014

To Every Mom Everywhere: You ARE Going to Fail

A few words of hope in light of your failures in motherhood.

Our greatest sign of success (of doing well) in motherhood is not “success” itself or even having “great” children.  Our greatest sign of success is how we recover from our failures in motherhood.

We typically make one of three choices when we fail at some part of being a mom.  But before I even go there, we have to start at the beginning. 

First, before you’ll even be able to hear the rest of my heart…or even receive any hope on this topic, you must accept that you are going to fail sometimes as a mom.  You are going to make mistakes.  You are going to let your kids down.  You are going to get it wrong.  You are going to downright fail at times. 

If you think I’m wrong about that, then you’re definitely missing something or just haven’t been a mom yet.  In all of history, there has never been a perfect mother.  Not one.  Not you.  Not your mother-in-law.  Not even your own mom. 

The sooner you are able to accept that you will mess this mom-thing up in one way or another, the sooner you will be able to start receiving hope and healing in your experience of motherhood.  You will not get it right every time.  Until you accept that foundational truth, you will constantly be holding on, trying to hold everything together, wrought with stress over the very reality of motherhood.

Next, as you accept the reality of your own error in motherhood, you will feel awful after you start to see those failures.  Pit-in-your-stomach awful.  You will cry.  You will ache over the places you’ve already messed up. You will feel heartbreak over the ways you have let your children down or hurt them.  These feelings are almost paralyzing at times.  But they are not meant to be the end.  These feelings are actually helpful and pave the way for hope and healing.*

Once you’ve seen some of your failures, you typically make one of three choices in response to your failures in motherhood (or really in any other area of your life!).  Only one of these responses is actually helpful and healing, the others are simply painful and even counter-productive if not downright destructive.  What follows is a summary of the three most common responses to failure, with one of them offering hope:

Justify – The most common way we respond to our own failures is to justify why we did what we did.  To make it look right even if it was wrong.  We try to convince ourselves, others, and even God why what we did wasn’t wrong…or at least not that wrong.  While totally anti-hope and anti-healing, we usually think this approach will make us feel better.  At least we won’t feel like we did anything wrong.  But there can never be hope or healing in this response because our denial of failure means that there is “nothing” to heal.  In the parent/child relationship, this can be the most destructive approach to our failures toward our children.  It does not allow for any healing or hope of change in us or for our children.

Wallow – The next most common response to our failures is to simply feel the weight of what we’ve done wrong and allow ourselves to wallow in that sadness and guilt.  Never actually seeking healing, we think somehow that by staying in a miserable, depressed reality over our wrongness will at least offer some penance for the failure.  But there is no healing here either, only guilt.  Shame and guilt.  Regret.  Not hope.  Not healing.  In the parent/child relationship, this just keeps you (and your child) circling the same pain over and over and over again, never healing, never being free, just held in the grip of regret.

Repent – The final response, the only one that is truly helpful and healing, is repentance.  In repentance, you actually can do something about your failure.  You can admit you messed up and you can ask Jesus to heal.*  You actually step into a reality greater than the failure…a reality of Divine grace.  The Bible says that Godly sorrow leads to repentance.**  So, yes, you will feel sad over your failure, but you get to go further than simply wallowing you’re your sadness.  You actually get to repent to God (and your child), asking Jesus for healing and transformation, and trusting the Spirit to give you the power to change so that you do not stay stuck in that failure.  This is the only response to failure that brings about hope and healing.  It is the only response that not only allows you to admit the wrong but also that allows you to “do” something with you did wrong, transferring your mistakes from a physical and emotional reality to a spiritual reality where Jesus can actually triumph over and heal your failures, changing you and setting you free from those failures.

In my next post, I will share more on repentance, adding in some practical “how to’s” for how that might look in motherhood.  In the meantime, may I encourage you to embrace the third option of repentance as you encounter your own failures in motherhood. 


* 1 John 1:8-10
** 2 Corinthians 7:10

7.07.2014

After a Miscarriage: Responding to Your Own or Another's Miscarriage

What follows is a simple post both for the woman processing her own miscarriage and also for those close to someone going through a miscarriage.  These are my heartfelt thoughts (and hopefully helpful words) on responding to miscarriage, whether it is your own or someone else’s.

For many, miscarriage is a moment of deep feeling and loss often to be tucked away just weeks later, almost as though it never happened. 

I will never forget the moment.  My doctor friend scrolling over my belly, my husband holding one of our sons to see the screen…the other son standing nearby.  Waiting.  Searching.  No flickering heartbeat.  Me holding my breath.  My husband took the boys out of the room.  My doctor friend looked more and talked and processed with me. 

Miscarriage: the formal term for losing a little life, the medical word for the loss of a baby that will never exist outside its mama. 

Miscarriage: the aching loss so many women experience, often secretly and quietly, concealing their grief as though nothing happened.

Traditionally, miscarriage has been something only whispered about between close girlfriends.  Cried about alone.  At times, husbands holding their wives through the pain.  Other times, husbands feeling the loss yet not having any cultural context for processing the loss of a person they never actually touched. 

Yet, now, a wave is starting.  Brave women opening up about the grief of miscarriage and the importance of recognizing the life that was momentary on this earth but very real.

It’s been almost exactly a year since we lost our little baby.  Recently an older woman asked how I would keep this little baby’s story alive in my family.  I shared of things we had done to recognize the brief little blip this tiny baby was in our lives.  But there is more.  So many of you validated her little life in ways that forever touched my heart.  So for the world out there, I want to offer a few words of encouragement in regards to responding to miscarriage.  Words that encompass my own process of grief, words that share what others did to love me through that season.

When It’s Your Miscarriage

Say what you need.  During the days from the ultrasound to the actual moments of miscarrying, we had some extenuating family circumstances going on.  I didn’t know what to do in those circumstances nor how to communicate my needs well.  Going through a miscarriage is a moment in your life where you must speak up and say what you need.  Do not feel guilt about saying what you need. 

Choose comfort.  It’s a physically and emotionally draining process to go through a miscarriage.  When I did finally speak up and say what I needed, my husband helped create some quiet, alone space for us for a few days complete with wine (and pain pills on hand just in case the process became too intense).  The night I actually miscarried our baby, I had a little wine and watched a chick flick with my husband…the combination of which is my most “comfortable” reality.  We actually kept our boys home with us during those days, but my husband shouldered their care so that I could rest.  As best as I could, I rested my body, mind, and soul through the process.

Grieve.  You lost a little life you were anticipating.  A soul.  A person you now don’t get to meet.  Allow yourself to grieve.  Cry.  Journal.  Yell.  Curl up in a ball on the bathroom floor if you want to and sob until you’re done.  And the sob some more.   

Recognize that Little Life.  In whatever way fits you, find a way to validate and recognize that life you lost.  It could look so many different ways.  I blogged about my loss.  My husband and I lay in bed one night naming our little baby.  I shared the name and the story of the name with those closest to me.  I even painted as a way to remember.  These were my ways of recognizing and validating our baby’s life.  Find your own way, a way that suits you, to recognize and validate your baby’s life. 

Read This.  The following link is one of the most powerful pieces I read while processing my miscarriage and the subsequent questions of where my little baby’s soul was.  Click here to read John Piper’s “Funeral Meditations,” which he spoke in response to the loss of a baby who lived for only ten minutes on earth.  Piper’s words were some of the most helpful words in my processing.   

When It’s Someone Else’s Miscarriage

Use Sensitivity.  A woman going through a miscarriage is often emotionally fragile.  Even if she seems strong, stable, and at ease, there is so much more going on inside that she doesn’t want to tell you.  Be gentle with her heart.  It is surprising how even the smallest insensitive word can crush a woman grieving the loss of her unborn baby.

Ask first.  She will probably welcome help and care; however, just ask first.  What you want to do may or may not actually help her and/or touch her heart. 

Offer Practical Help.  Offer to take her kids for a few hours for a playdate.  Offer to bring dinner over.  You know her life and what she might need help with.  If you can help her out in some way, offer that help. 

Get Her Favorite.  One night in the midst of that emotional week, one of my closest friends texted me to see if I would like a pint of ice cream.  When I responded, “yes,” she drove over minutes later with my favorite ice cream.  I cannot even tell you how much this meant to me.  Whatever your friend’s favorite treat is, take it over and drop it off.  Grief is a time to be comforted.  So whatever comforts her, take it to her. 

Listen.  I needed to process.  With my husband.  With my mom.  With my girlfriends.  It happened sporadically and unexpectedly.  I couldn’t always anticipate when I’d need to talk.  I wrote emails with a plethora of questions to a couple of my friends who I knew had experienced their own miscarriages.  I texted one of my closest friends over and over again through those days and she just “listened” to my text messages, and in response, she expressed gentle compassion and understanding.  I cried so many times, just needing my husband to hold me.  I needed to talk about our baby.  I called my mom one morning an irrational crying mess, stressed about other complicating factors in our life at that time, and she just listened.  And then she spoke truth to me.  She settled my chaotic heart and gently (but strongly) spoke truth about those complicating circumstances, offering freedom, confidence, and perspective.  I will never forget that conversation.   When your grieving friend (or wife or daughter or sister) is ready to talk, listen. 

Validate the Life.  Because I walked through my miscarriage fairly publicly through my blog, I had the comforting reality of many, many people responding with love, tenderness and validation of the life I was losing.  When I wrote my mom and sisters, sharing with them the baby’s name, they wrote back with such tender and feeling responses.  Their words validated my little baby’s brief life.  One friend had already purchased a gift for this baby as soon as she found out I was pregnant, she texted one day and asked if it would be good for my heart or more painful to have the gift.  I asked her to please send it.  Another good friend showed up at my house weeks later with a small gift…a simple necklace with the baby’s first initial imprinted on a significantly meaningful charm.  I wore that necklace every day for months.  To whatever extent your friend opens her heart and experience to you, reciprocally validate the life she lost. 

Support Her Husband.  In those first few days of losing our baby, I was such an emotional wreck that I knew I was unable to truly help my husband process.  We were trying to connect over the loss, but it was so hard because there were so many other factors complicating our life at that time.  He called up one of his buddies who went out with him in the midst of it all.  That friend listened to Val, asked Val questions, checked on Val’s heart, and offered support.  This gave Val the strength he needed to come back and continue to hold me as I cried and grieved during those really hard days. 

Pray for Her.  She is grieving.  Pray for Jesus to be so near to her.  I could feel that people were praying for me, for Val, for our family.  Just weeks after the miscarriage, we were off leading a retreat.  And at the retreat, Val and I shared with the couple leading worship (strangers to us before the event) that we were in the middle of processing and grieving, and they stopped in one powerfully spiritual moment and prayed over us.  For those few minutes, it was as though heaven and earth touched as this couple prayed over our grieving hearts. 

Talking with Kids about Miscarriage

Elijah, our then 3 ½ year old, knew that there was a new baby inside Mama’s belly.  I knew I needed to explain the loss to him.  Yet, at 3 ½, he was only just beginning to understand death.   So, in plain but gentle words, I explained that our little baby had died.  This was followed by questions about what happened, where the baby was, and if other babies in other women’s bellies were also going to die (his best buddy’s mom was also pregnant at the time).  So, we talked through every single question.  And then whenever he would bring it up again, I would answer whatever he wanted to know, making it a safe conversation.  Months later when I got pregnant again, Elijah’s questions about babies and death and “our other baby” surfaced again.  So, we talked through it all once again. 

A much as you are able, allow your child or children talk with you openly about the baby that was lost.  Answer their questions with age-appropriate truth.  One web resource I read encouraged miscarrying mamas to use real words even with very young children…words like “die” instead of “lost,” as even those subtle differences can create fear in preschoolers trying to process miscarriage (will Mama “lose” me too?).  Recognize that for your kids this is the loss of a hoped for sibling.  Allow this loss to be part of their story, too.  Your family lost someone.  Find ways that fit your family to mark and remember the life that never actually got to join in.  For us, it’s a simple page in one of our many scrapbooks.  We pass over that page once in a while when we look at that scrapbook and it keeps that one life a part of our story. 


Miscarriage is a part of so many of our stories.  A part of our stories to process, grieve, and remember…interwoven in the fabric of our very lives. 



6.30.2014

Silas Justice

As you can see by the photo, you are coming into an already full family.  Mama, Daddy, and two big brothers…all excited for you to join us.  To be our third son.  To be a part of our family.

When we were settling on your name, it took us a while.  Your dad and I have been liking the middle name “Justice” for a while.  We both long to see God’s justice be made known in the earth.  So, giving you a (really cool) name that represents that heart just fit. 

“Justice” combined with “Silas” represents the full picture of what I have felt over your entrance into this world.  It is in the combination of the following two passages of Scripture that I have felt the power of your name originate: Isaiah 61:1-4, 8* and Acts 16:25-44**.  As you enter into our family, you arrive during a season of growing freedom, praise, rest and renewal.  You have been the catalyst in mine and dad’s life to stop and reflect, to rest and refocus our lives.  As we purpose to enter this season of renewal, God has been setting us free in ways we never expected. 

So even before you’ve taken your first breath, your life has begun a cascade of freedom, praise, rest, and renewal.

I knew your name had to mean “praise” and it seemed appropriately combined with the idea of things being set right.  It is this combination of praise and setting things right that seem to mark the beginning of your life.  There is a hope, renewal, and refocusing that have already resulted from your tiny life.  So it would follow that your name was meant to encompass those realities. 

So, you will be “Silas Justice.”  Your upcoming entrance into the world marking a combination of praise and things being set right.  Our third son, long hoped-for, much anticipated.  We can hardly wait to meet you!


Photo credit goes to my mom, Valerie Monson, who is an gifted photographer (click here to visit her website).  Thanks, mom, for always being willing to photograph my little family!



*  Isaiah 61:1-4, 8 (ESV)

The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor,
and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; to grant to those who mourn in Zion— to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness instead of mourning,
the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit;
that they may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he may be glorified. They shall build up the ancient ruins;
they shall raise up the former devastations;
they shall repair the ruined cities, the devastations of many generations. For I the Lord love justice;
I hate robbery and wrong; I will faithfully give them their recompense,
and I will make an everlasting covenant with them.


** Acts 16:25-44 (ESV)


About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them, and suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken. And immediately all the doors were opened, and everyone's bonds were unfastened. When the jailer woke and saw that the prison doors were open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, supposing that the prisoners had escaped. But Paul cried with a loud voice, “Do not harm yourself, for we are all here.” And the jailer called for lights and rushed in, and trembling with fear he fell down before Paul and Silas. Then he brought them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” And they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their wounds; and he was baptized at once, he and all his family. Then he brought them up into his house and set food before them. And he rejoiced along with his entire household that he had believed in God.

6.23.2014

Laying Down My Isaac: When Surrender Means the Death of a Dream

It was August and I had just returned from Uganda.  While there, I had become certain that he was the guy I should marry.  It made sense.  I knew how passionately I wanted to follow after Jesus…with all of my life.  I knew how passionately he followed after Jesus.  I felt it deep in my soul: we should be together in this life.  Plus, it helped that I had had a secret crush on him for forever. 

I shared these thoughts with a good friend, asking my friend if I should just tell the guy that God showed me that we should get married.  Thankfully, my friend told me not to do that (thanks, Stacy).  But, being certain that this was the direction to go in, I called the guy up, made plans to take a trip out to visit him and prayed like crazy that we’d finally get together. 

[It’s important to note at this point that he, the guy, was fully unaware of my interest in him and assumed that we were just friends planning to hang out for a weekend.]

In October, I went out for a visit.  And a conversation began early in the visit that I thought was going to end with us getting together as a couple…only it didn’t.  He shared that he was interested in someone else and planning to pursue her.  I shared that I wanted to marry him.  Knowing that that might be my only chance to ever speak my heart, I laid all my cards on the table.  It was painful.  I was confused.  The conversation ended with us deciding to enjoy the weekend together as friends…but also with him still planning to pursue this other girl.

Each night during that trip, when I as alone in my room, I would cry, asking God what was happening.  I thought this was the plan.  I thought I had understood that we were supposed to get married and live our life on this earth together.  Why was it turning out this way? 

We had an amazing weekend connecting deeply as friends.  And yet still, on the last day of the trip, this guy told me that he still felt led to pursue this other girl.  That he wanted to be completely honest with me and not keep my hanging on.

I returned home devastated.

I held onto the hope that he’d eventually figure out that we’d be together.  Only he didn’t.  Months passed.  Nothing changed.  I knew through mutual friends that he was actively pursuing this other girl. 

I couldn’t make sense of it. 

My prayers were intense and direct and full of questions.  I finally understood that while I felt like I had seen that he and I should be married, I had never once been promised by God that this guy and I would get married. 

So one night that December, as I journaled, I asked God pointblank to give me an answer about this guy, whether or not to wait…and in the middle of journaling that sentence, the guy called.  He had been in bed (halfway across the country), ready for sleep, when he felt God prompt him to call me and tell me in a final way that he was definitely pursuing this other girl.  God answered with strength and depth.  It was time to let go.

I thought that would be enough to let go.  But it wasn’t.  God spoke.  But I struggled to let go. 

More months passed, my heart still hurt.  I so wanted this man.  This one man.  This life.  With him.  He was amazing…the most amazing man I had ever met.  One of my life’s greatest dreams was to be his wife, to live life with him, to do ministry together for our time on this earth.  And it wasn’t going to happen. 

I still couldn’t surrender this dream.  I hoped being interested in other guys would help.  It didn’t.  Even those interests ended and I was still faced with the truth that my heart was still holding onto this one…desperate with the empty hope that it would somehow work out.  Holding so tightly to this dream I had of life with this one man.  

During that season, I listened to a sermon where the preacher talked about God withholding things from us that we would worship more than Him.*

I knew that this guy, this dream had become that for me.  I knew that God couldn’t give them to me…especially since my deepest heart’s desire was to worship God with all of my life.  If I truly wanted to worship God with all of my life, how could He give me the thing that I would put in His place. 

So, I took a day that summer to sit and pray through fully releasing this guy, this dream, this hope.  At this moment of surrender, it was no longer about the guy…the last I had heard he was planning to propose to that girl he had been pursuing.  I knew this wasn’t about him any more.  This was about God and me.  Would I open my hands and release my dream to Him?  Would I trust Him once again with my life?  All of me in His hands? 

So I did.  I surrendered.  I forgave the places of hurt that this guy had left, for the first time truly handing the whole experience over to God.  I trusted God once again with my heart, my life, my future.  I threw away every single thing in my house that had to do with this guy.  Every picture from our friendship.  Every email.  Every single thing.  I had finally surrendered everything to God, no longer holding my grip around my plan.

What I didn’t know was what was about to happen next.

Five days after that moment of surrender, an email popped up in my inbox.  An email from that guy.  He wondered what I was up to.  He had broken up with the girl.

The rest of the story is that we were married almost exactly a year after that email.  There is a lot more to the middle of the story, of course.  A beautiful and powerful middle of the story that evidenced God’s active work in us; however, it was the moment of surrender that took me past my tightly held dreams and completely into the arms of God, trusting Him with everything. 

When I think about this part of my life, I often feel connected to Abraham as he took his son Isaac up the mountain, wondering how it would all end.  God had given him this long awaited for son, yet now God was asking for this son back.  It didn’t make sense.  Yet Abraham trusted.  Abraham was willing to release his grip on his dream.  God was asking whom Abraham worshiped foremost.  And by Abraham’s surrender of his son, the deepest part of Abraham’s heart was evidenced. 

God always knew He was going to give Val and I to each other to live out this life together.  He never was confused.  But He wanted me to know who my heart worshipped most.  He did not want to give me something that I would only put in His place.  So He asked me to surrender.  It was painful.  It was hard.  But it was freeing.  And once I surrendered, my trust of Him was more solid than it had ever been before, because I surrendered my deepest dream to Him, trusting Him with His plan for my life. 



* Click here to access the sermon I mentioned: “Worship: God Transforms”