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. 

Fear and Freedom

I am a living witness. I have witnessed death – inside my own body. Besides a near death experience, I can’t imagine getting closer to death and surviving. Death caused me to cry out in despair from the deepest parts of myself.

Because of this, I am not afraid. 

It wasn’t until I experienced the despair that I truly understood that I would never be alone and I would always be comforted. It wasn’t until the loss, that I actually comprehended the hope of heaven in the life to come and in the here and now. I am confident that no matter what I face, the love will outweigh the pain. 

Does this mean I will never struggle with fear again? That would be nice, but I seriously doubt it. I think I will need to remind myself of these truths again and again. 

The day after coming home from the hospital, I had a moment of anxiety and started picturing horrible things happening to others that I love. It became real to me that bad things do happen and no one I love is immune to tragedy. Fear gripped me. As I have always done when I’m scared, I ran to my mommy. I told her about my fear of awful things happening to everyone I love. I thought she’d assure me these were my hormones talking and nothing else bad will happen. Instead she looked me straight in the eye and said, “Aimee, we’re all going to die.” “Ugh! Mom, this is not what your are supposed to say to me right now!!” But then she continued, “We have hope in death, and it really is okay.” This is true. 

For survival purposes we mostly live our lives in a state of denial and avoidance of the thought of death. Because of this, there is always a big, dark elephant in the room. We ignore it. We hide from the fear instead of face it and process the idea of eternity.  When we do process it, there is freedom. 

Let me describe the freedom that I am experiencing: 

  • Being close to death changes your priorities. Have you ever heard someone ask, “When you are on your deathbed, will you be glad you spent your time the way you did?” Death puts life into perspective. Pointless things that once seemed to matter, suddenly no longer do. It becomes clear how you should spend your time. You focus on love instead of stressing the small stuff. The truly important things become more precious. You don’t waste your time.
  • You view your life in terms of eternity. This life is only a small phase in the timeline of your existence – the pain will be over. You’ll see your loved ones again. You won’t be lonely. Your body won’t drag you down forever. Your heart will be light soon. 
  • You realize you have no control. You have free will, but some things are just completely out of your control. This powerlessness forces you to trust and surrender and let go. You don’t have to carry the weight or guilt of living in perfection. You don’t have to hold your breath.
  • You no longer care so much what people think of you. You only have so much time to do what you’re called to do on Earth so just go for it. You put yourself out there in new ways (i.e. this blog). You have freedom from your pride and the things that once held you back. 
  • You have a more intimate relationship with God. He is near to the brokenhearted. In that nearness, you show him your brokenness. Through your weakness, he is strong. That weakness includes anger, frustration, jealousy, misunderstanding. You take your anger to God. He can handle it. He has more than enough grace for you. He loves you in your anger. He empathizes with you in your pain. He holds your faith in your unbelief. You are closer to him in a new way, forever. His grace and love surround you.

This freedom has changed my life in almost every area. The wail of a mourning mother is more than pain. She’s forced to look straight into the darkness of death. God’s light shines on it – it purges fear. Raw freedom and life are left. At least this is true in my case, right now, as one who lives in hope.

I’m sure I will fear again. When I do, I will lay it down at the feet of Jesus. He carried all our fears to the cross. Fear has already been overcome. We just need to live in that reality. The power of the name of Jesus is enough to chase away fear. It was enough to chase away death. Pick up the freedom that belongs to you.

Beauty of Suffering

How could a good God allow such suffering in the world? I think at some point we all ask that question. We don’t really have answers, but I feel closer to the answer now than ever before. My perspective on this has changed significantly now that I have endured some level of suffering. 

Similar to grief, suffering is more complex than I once thought. It is possible to simultaneously experience suffering, pain, sorrow, as well as deep joy, peace, hope, and love. Those feelings are not mutually exclusive. Joy and sorrow coexist. 

In our culture, it seems the main goal is to avoid any suffering. We want to be comfortable. We are meant to thrive. Sometimes it feels like being uncomfortable is failure. To suffer is a betrayal of the American dream. We preach that if we have faith enough – if we are obedient enough, God will give us prosperity. I do believe God wants to bless us, and he wants what is best for us. But that may not align with what’s on our vision boards.  

We are not promised a life free of hardship. In fact, we are promised suffering and persecution (2 Timothy 3:12, 1 Peter 4:12-13). Can you think of any God-follower in the Bible who did not endure hardship? Everyone will face difficulty. We are promised hardship, but we are also promised comfort and peace (1 Peter 5:10). That promise has been fulfilled in my experience. 

When we found out Ginny had passed away in my womb, our world came crashing down. How could this happen?! Everything was going so well! I had never had to face any true difficulty in my life. This happens to someone else; this doesn’t happen to me. I’ve prayed for protection and health. This can’t be happening! When I finally realized it really was happening, I also realized God was wrapping me in his arms of comfort, love, and peace. The pain was so strong, but at the same time I felt held. He was so near, nearer than I have ever felt in any worship service or quiet meditation. I thought I should be asking, “Where are you God?!”… but he was clearly right there. I thought I should be asking, “How could you let this happen?! Don’t you love me?!”… but I felt so so loved. 

I didn’t ask those questions. I didn’t even pray at all. I felt him in our presence. I didn’t need to pray; he was part of everything we were going through. Even since, I no longer pray for him to be with me. I feel him with me. I don’t pray for this wish or that wish to come to pass. I pray his will be done and for my understanding and peace. Often I don’t know what to pray, and I know the Holy Spirit intercedes on my behalf (Romans 8:26). He truly is near to the brokenhearted (Psalms 34:18).

In suffering you find yourself in a place where you actually NEED Jesus; you need Jesus to get through to the next hour.

You surrender to that reality. When you can no longer hang on, you have no other choice but to let go. There is freedom in surrender. Letting go of control allows you to stop tiptoeing in life and step firm footed. That’s when you experience his love to a new level. You experience mercy to a new degree. You let go and fall back.

Long ago I prayed, “Dear Lord, make my heart more like yours.” Famous last words. If you want a heart more like God’s, it will be broken. It will be broken because his heart is broken and so your heart can grow. It grows in capacity to love and empathize. It grows in its appreciation of life. It grows in hope for the future. The comfort you receive gives you courage to face any challenge. You realize you never have to walk alone (Psalm 23:4). There is a fullness of life in this. In John 10:10, Jesus promises life to the full. I thought that meant we would be given many blessings, but now I understand that it means our lives will be full of love, grief, comfort, brokenheartedness, and all the intense feelings that come along with suffering as well as blessings. It is a full life. 

I used to avoid anything sad; I wanted to focus on being positive and choosing joy. I would never have read this blog. Now I feel I can actually face pain, fear, and suffering and not look away. I have the courage to look at it straight on. I can face it now because I know from experience I don’t have to carry the burden. Jesus already carried the burden (Isaiah 53:3-5). I can help others face it. I can share with them the comfort I’ve received from God (2 Corinthians 1:3-6). 

We have been called to suffer along with Christ, to bear our cross (Matthew 16:24, 1 Peter 2:19-21, Romans 8:16-18). To live like Christ is to have sorrow…. is to have pain…is to have peace…is to have freedom. To live like Christ is most importantly to love

This may be obvious to those who have witnessed a suffering world full of prejudices, fear, and injustice. But for a white, educated, “#blessed” woman in America, this is a revelation. 

“Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 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. For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.” Romans 5:4-6