New Season

Monday, September 23 was the first day of autumn. It was also my first day at a new job. I started working exactly 1 year and 2 days after leaving my last job. Half the year I spent pregnant; half the year I spent mourning. Now it is time for a new season. 

It is bitter sweet to start working again. It feels so good to have a purpose and a to-do list and a schedule again. I feel proud of myself for actually changing careers to something less stressful and more meaningful. My new job is at a hospitality house called SECU Family House at UNC Hospitals. It is a place where patients and their families can stay while undergoing treatment. I help manage the volunteers who make the house run smoothly. I’ve been volunteering at the Family House for a few months now, and I am so inspired by the families who seem to always have hope and appreciation no matter their circumstances. This place has helped me heal, and I am honored to work there now. 

It is bitter, though, to be moving forward from this season of mourning. I know my grief isn’t over, but I also know it will not be the same. I won’t have the hours to contemplate, read, journal, and just remember Ginny like I have over these past months. I know I have to keep moving forward, but it is hard. 

I don’t want to forget her. I don’t want to forget anything about our time with her or mourning her. People tell me I will always remember her, and I know that is true in some respects. But I know I will forget some of what I’ve learned and how I feel and what it was like; I know I already have. That breaks my heart. I feel like I’m moving away from her. I don’t want to carry this heavy burden of grief everywhere, but I don’t want to let it go. It’s what I have of her. 

This time of mourning has been painful but beautiful for me. I feel so blessed that I have had this time. Most people don’t get this, including Daniel.  I’ve learned so much, and I’ve grown closer to God. This is what motherhood has been for me. 

I don’t want to think back on this season and only think of the pain. I don’t want it to be hard to remember. In the future, I don’t want to categorize it as “that dark time”. Because it hasn’t been dark. It has been life-changing and life-giving and intense. I want to think back on this season with love. I want to think of our sweet Ginny’s life, not just our loss. I don’t know how to preserve memories the way I want to. I’m hoping my writing will help. It seems strange to not want to forget a painful time, but I know those who lost will understand. 

In this new season I am trying to be deliberate about a few things. I want to avoid getting caught in the distraction of  busyness. I want to give myself the time and space to continue to mourn. I want to recognize and remember the lessons I’ve learned through suffering. But most of all, I want to remember Ginny. I don’t want her to fade into our history. Help us remember her – bring her up when you are around us. Let us know if you think of her. I will move forward, but she’ll stay in my heart. 

I Place My Hope

A couple weeks after Ginny died, I was sitting in a coffee shop listening to the song I Place My Hope” by Ellie Holcomb. When I heard the lyrics, they took on two meanings. Hope meant what we typically think of hope, but to me hope also meant Virginia Hope The song says, “I will lift my eyes from this fragile life, For you will rescue me, you are my prince of peace, And I will lift up my soul to you who makes things whole, Oh, mercy love of old, in you I place my hope” I imagined holding Ginny’s fragile body and placing her in God’s hands. I imagined him making her whole in heaven. I surrendered my hope for Ginny’s life to him. It was heart breaking and also freeing. 

I began to realize I need to place all my hope in God. I had no choice but to surrender my hope for Ginny. But what other hopes do I need to place in him? After the loss and grief, it is easy to surrender my own life to God. I was so raw and had so little vision for my life; I needed God to make me whatever he wants me to be. I almost didn’t have the strength to lead my own life so I give it to him. 

“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and hope.” – Jeremiah 29:11

In other areas though, it would be much harder to completely trust God. What do I love and cling to too much to trust God with? Definitely Daniel. The thought of placing my hope for Daniel’s life and our marriage in God’s hands scared me. He means the world to me. I can’t lose him! But the truth is, I have no control anyway. My worry and fear and clinging does not add a day to his life. Handing him over to God is an act of trust but it is also just coming to terms with the truth that I have no control. 

“For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.’” – Matthew 16:25

The same is true for the lives of our potential future children. I can plan and plan, but really I have no control. I found myself thinking, “If we do decide to try for another baby, we should time it so the baby isn’t born in flu season.” I caught myself and laughed at my own hubris – 1) like I can even decide when we get pregnant, 2) as if non-flu season gives me power to protect my baby’s life. I have to continuously make the conscious decision to surrender control of our future children’s lives. I hand them over to God because he is the one with control and he is who truly knows best. If he gives them or takes them away, they are his. I can choose to trust and praise because we have hope in both life and death. 

“And he said, ‘Naked I came from my mother’s womb and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.’” – Job 1:21

What is the benefit of surrendering and placing hope in God instead of myself? The physical will disappoint every time, but hope in God does not put us to shame. It is freedom to enjoy moments without worry. It is trusting that no matter what happens, our future is full of love and unity. It is no more fear. We don’t have to try to protect ourselves by holding anything back. We can go all in. It is setting our eyes on something bigger and more beautiful. It is embracing the fullness of life. 

“And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” – Romans 5:5

“And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” – Colossians 1:17

Triggers

In grief sometimes you feel alright, like you might have made it through the hard stuff. Maybe you will be better from now on. Then it hits… again. Grief comes in waves. Sometimes the waves come for no reason and sometimes they are triggered. 

Triggers can be what you’d expect, like holidays or a due date. Sometimes they can come out of nowhere.

I can see 50 babies stroll by and be fine, and then for some reason the 51st baby makes me break down in tears. I have no idea why.

I think the most random and unexpected trigger I experienced was when I was lying on the couch. My head was resting on my arm. I faintly heard my pulse through my arm and suddenly started weeping. It wasn’t until a few moments later that I realized it was the sound of my heartbeat that made me cry. It was the first time I heard a heart beat since Ginny’s. It was the first time I actually heard a heartbeat after my ears were expecting one on that Monday afternoon. 

Some triggers aren’t bad. They can still make you cry but out of love. Sunflowers are a beautiful trigger for both me and Daniel. Ginny’s nursery and pregnancy announcement had sunflowers. They remind us of her and our love for her. Daniel studies sunflowers, so daily he tends a greenhouse full of them. I know that must be hard for him to be surrounded by triggers, but it is also a sweet reminder of the love we have. 

Some of our friends know this. One couple left a vase of sunflowers on our porch on the 6th-month anniversary of Ginny’s birth. Another sweet friend planted sunflowers in her garden. I’m so grateful that they remember Ginny. 

While sunflowers trigger an outpour of love, other triggers lead to bitterness. The worst is when someone complains even though they are so blessed. It is especially bad when someone complains about being pregnant or about having a newborn. At best I’ll cringe; at worst I’ll have a breakdown. “I’m so over being pregnant.” Don’t you know how lucky you are?! I don’t know what’s worse – your ungratefulness or your ignorance!

I try to keep myself from getting bitter. I try to put myself in other’s shoes. It is really hard to be pregnant, and it is really hard to care for a newborn. It is legitimate to complain. I know these challenges are a part of life, but knowing what it is like to be without, I just want people to be grateful for what they have. It is hard for me to have sympathy. It feels like someone winning the lottery and then complaining about a small paper cut the check gave them. 

If your baby doesn’t breastfeed, you are blessed. If your baby doesn’t sleep at night, you are blessed. If your baby has colic, you are blessed. If your baby survived the NICU, you are blessed. If you got to hold your baby alive, you are blessed. Don’t take anything for granted.

I got to hold my baby’s body, and I will always treasure that memory. I’m so grateful for it because I know not everyone even gets that. 

I want people to rejoice and celebrate their babies! Admit and proclaim your blessings! You won’t jinx it, I promise. I love when my friends post pictures of their families with gratitude. “How did I get this lucky?” “I love my little family!” These posts make some of the bitterness melt away for me. 

This experience has made me more aware of triggers in general. Am I triggering someone going through a hard time? When I posted a happy 34th wedding anniversary message to my parents, I thought of my friend who was recently divorced. Did this post trigger her tears? That thought would’ve never cross my mind before my grief. We shouldn’t stop sharing life in fear of triggering someone, but we can be more aware and considerate. 

I felt so terrible the other day when I was walking along the street after dinner. I was telling Daniel how full I was, “I’m stuffed! I shouldn’t have eaten that dessert.” Then I realized I just walked past a homeless man who was probably hungry. I’m sure he thought, “Don’t you know how lucky you are?! I don’t know what’s worse – your ungratefulness or your ignorance!”

Perspective is everything. We should try to step back for a minute and pay attention to those around us. Are we taking anything for granted? What can we do to help someone replace bitterness with love? 

Be Still

Sometimes it feels like God plucked me out of my old life and placed (or more like threw) me into my new life. It’s like God looked at my life and said, “I have bigger things for her” and then moved me like a chess piece. 

I typically don’t think of God as the “big guy upstairs” who moves us like board game pieces. God isn’t like that. He’s a loving and intimate light that flows deep into my life and heart. But looking at my life over the past year, there have been some drastic changes that I was dragged through kicking and screaming. 

I’ve always prayed that the Holy Spirit guide my path, and I’ve truly felt he has. Throughout my life, my paths were laid straight toward “success”. I felt God opened doors before me at all the right times. Up until a little over a year ago, I always felt I was where I was supposed to be. Last year, I was following the path that made the most sense. I had opportunities toward career advancement open before me. But for the first time, I felt like the Holy Spirit was leading me toward something different, something off the beaten path. I hesitated for weeks. Those weeks were the most anxious and unrestful of my life. I finally followed where God was calling me. I quit my job and decided to be a stay-at-home mom. I’m sure some people thought I was crazy for leaving such a great job and so early into my pregnancy. It was a hard decision, but I felt peace about it.

That decision forced me to shake my old identity. That decision made it possible for me to be present for the moments I had with Ginny, and it gave me the time to grieve after losing Ginny without worrying about getting right back to work. I’m so grateful for that. 

That decision also left me with a big dark unknown future after we lost Ginny. I didn’t have the faintest idea what the future held without Ginny. I had no vision whatsoever. I couldn’t go back to my old life, and all my future plans were destroyed. I had to put all my trust in God and hope even when it didn’t make sense. We gave Ginny the middle name “Hope” long before we knew we would need the reminder. I knew God’s plan for my life was beyond what I ever planned for myself. I knew it was something that I couldn’t envision myself. I would need the Holy Spirit to guide me. I would need to be still and listen. 

In my old life, it took so much effort to be still. I knew Psalm 46:10 said “Be still and know that I am God.” Easier said than done in a busy life. When I did take the time out of my day to be still, I couldn’t shut my mind off. Thoughts of work and life constantly interrupted quiet time and meditation. Most of the time, I was too tired to even try. I always felt refreshed afterward, but making the effort took a lot of energy.  

When Ginny died, my world stopped. I didn’t have anything to prepare for. I was unnervingly still. I felt God’s presence so strongly. This closeness was what I was searching for in the past; now it fell effortlessly in my lap. This isn’t how I wanted to be still. God, I wanted to be close to you in thanksgiving. Do I really need to suffer to know you in this way? Why didn’t you keep this from happening and then draw near to me in celebration?

I’m starting to slowly realize that God was actually near all along, but I didn’t always see him. It is like my suffering was a potent paint stripper that cleared everything else away so God is all that’s left. It hurt to clear everything away, but I can finally see what was underneath the whole time. I can finally see what was covered up by my busyness. It is God’s comforting presence. It’s God’s purpose for me. 

I still don’t have a fully defined vision for my future, but I do feel that the Holy Spirit is gently walking with me down an uncharted path. There have been moments of immense clarity and joy and hope that I know I would’ve never experienced on my old path. I’m trying to be deliberate to not fall into busyness and distraction that is so easy to fall into; it is the default in our culture. I want to fully embrace and appreciate my ability to be still.