Remembering Ginny’s 1st Birthday – Ash Wednesday

Ginny’s first heavenly birthday fell on Ash Wednesday in 2020. Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the season of Lent, was not something I had grown up observing. I usually remembered it was Ash Wednesday when I noticed a few people at work with ashes on their forehead. 

Daniel and I took the day off for Ginny’s 1st birthday. We knew we wanted to honor and celebrate her, but the only thing we had planned was to sing “happy birthday” and eat cake. What were we going to do for the rest of the day? How were we going to get through the day? We heard that a church in the Lakewood neighborhood of Durham, NC was having open sanctuary that morning for anyone to drop-in to receive ashes and pray. Why not? 

We pulled up to the unfamiliar building. It was an old and slightly run down classic church with pillars and stained glass. It was clear the building had seen better days and this congregation was just the most recent of a long history of worshipers here. The tension between the beauty of the stained glass and the worn carpet felt just right for this moment. We walked in to some solemn music playing on speakers and powerful art and words projected on a screen. The only other person there was a woman sitting in a back pew by herself. 

Daniel and I made our way toward the front. We sat in a pew in silence. My heart prayed, but I’m not sure I had any words. That entire past year had been marked with death. The brokenness of the world we live in had never been clearer. And God never felt nearer. It felt like He handed us life and death and then sat us in a pew to look straight at it. We were entering the season of Lent – when we take our grief, our brokenness, our sin, our pain, and we hold it, reflect, repent, and hand it all over to Christ on Good Friday. We could then look toward Easter. This season would not be forever.

After a while, Daniel and I went to the front alter. The woman from the back walked up to meet us. She dipped her finger in ashes and marked each of our heads. “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” We will remember. 

Firstborn From the Dead

My heart breaks when I think that Ginny may have been struggling in my womb as she didn’t get enough nutrients or oxygen to survive. Was she in pain? Was she hungry – did she feel the lack? I was as physically near to her as I could possibly be, yet I was not there for her. I had no idea she was struggling. And when her spirit left, I could not go with her. I didn’t even know she had gone. A mother should see her child through all of life’s milestones and challenges. She should walk her into her first day of school or into the doctor’s office. She should be there to explain what to expect and to offer comfort and reassurance. I could not walk with Ginny through death. I could not explain or reassure her where I had never been. I didn’t even get a chance to try. 

Two things give me comfort when I have these thoughts. 1) I’m reminded of the peace I felt during Ginny’s birth. God was so near; it was palpable. I know if He offered that nearness to me during Ginny’s stillbirth, certainly He also offered it to her in her final days. 2) Scripture shows me that Ginny was not alone in passing into death. Jesus is the firstborn from the dead. He has passed into death, and He has been born back into life. He could walk with Ginny through that milestone in a way in which I never could. He walked her through death and into life in heaven by the power of His love and resurrection. She was never alone. None of us will ever be alone. 

Daniel’s grandmother graciously offered to place a memorial stone for Ginny in front of Great-Grandma Ginny’s gravestone. We have a place to go to remember Ginny alongside family members who have died before her. What a special honor! We got to see the stone for the first time in person during Christmas. It blessed us so much. 

“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you.” Jeremiah 1:5

“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities – all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood cross.” Colossians 1:15-18

“Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, and from Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth.” Revelation 1:4

“You have allowed me to suffer much hardship; but you will restore me to life again and lift me up from the depths of the earth.” Psalm 71:20

Season of Joy

Standing on the beach in San Diego right after finding out that the baby in my belly was a boy, God promised me joy. I felt so strongly in the moment that God was telling me that my season of sorrow would not last forever and that he does have joy in store for me. After the year of such intense grief and a heart full of worry for my unborn child, it was hard to believe that I would experience joy. But as soon as Chet’s first cries hit my ears, that promised joy rushed into my heart and onto my life. I can honestly say I have never been happier! Even with everything going on in 2020, I have never been happier. 

I miss Ginny more than ever. I still often cry longing for her, but those tears are so full of love that they don’t steal my joy. 

I am so incredibly proud of myself for making it through the last couple years. I’m proud of myself for surviving, for being brave enough to change my life in positive ways, for enduring pregnancy after loss, and for hoping. I’m proud of myself for listening and following the Holy Spirit even when the path wasn’t the clearest or most logical. The fruit of following the Spirit for me this year is JOY. 

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control; against such things there is no law.” – Galatians 5:22-23

Joy isn’t something you can always force (although I’ve tried RE:Joy). It is something God gives you. It runs deeper than your circumstances, but having a beautiful baby boy in your arms does help. I’m so incredibly grateful for this season. It wouldn’t be this sweet without the hardships of the last season. 

“Those who sow in tears shall reap with shouts of joy!” –  Psalm 126:5

I’ve been in the valley. I’ve done the hard work in processing loss. I’ve questioned “why” and wrestled in lament. I only saw darkness in my future. But God walked with me through the valley. God listened to my lament. God’s kind and patient presence lifted me out of my season of sorrow and into a season of joy that I couldn’t have imagined. It is beyond all my expectations. 

If you are in a valley now, do not give up hope. God is beside you, and there is a season of joy ahead for you too. 

“You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” – Psalm 16:11

Man of Sorrows

“He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” Isaiah 53:3-6

We live in a broken world. There is evil in the world. There is grief, pain, and injustice. Sometimes it hits us in the face. Sometimes it kills us. 

It hit Jesus in the face, and it killed Jesus. That’s why he is called the Man of Sorrows. His life was full of adversity. Plots to end his life started from his birth. He was a refugee. He wasn’t taken seriously. He was hated for questioning authority. He was hated for hanging out with shady people. He was hated for helping the wrong people at the wrong time. He was hated for speaking the truth. He didn’t feel safe in the city. He was a threat to the powers that be. He was beaten. He was murdered by authorities without a fair trial. He deserved none of that. It was injustice and evil that brought him to death. 

On the cross, he bore the blame of all our iniquity and transgressions. He carried all our sin, sorrow, afflictions. Because of this he is well acquainted with our grief. He has experienced our suffering. He knows the pain. His heart breaks with ours. 

“For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too.” 2 Corinthians 1:5

But the death he experienced did not get the final word. The power of God overcame death. The power of God brought healing. 

And when Jesus left Earth again after being resurrected, He didn’t leave us alone. He left a Helper, the Holy Spirit. 

“I tell you the truth; it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment.” John 16:7-8

The Holy Spirit is with us and empowers us with the power of God to also overcome evil.  We do have the power through the Holy Spirit to change the world. We have the power to overcome darkness, inequality, injustice, violence, and fear. We have the power to comfort and help each other in our suffering. Through the Holy Spirit, we can bring more of heaven here. We can bring justice, peace, and love. We can change the world by loving our neighbors. 

We need to stop, be quiet, and listen. Listen to the Holy Spirit, listen to the Word, listen to the brothers and sisters around you with an open heart. When you get a nudging from the Holy Spirit on what to say or do, follow it! 

“For the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say.” Luke 12:12

“The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there his no law.” Galatians 5:22

We are not alone in our suffering. 

The Man of Sorrows is acquainted with our grief. 

He is broken hearted. 

He empowers us by giving us the Helper. 

Listen.

Love.

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.” Romans 15:13

Title: Man of Sorrows, Artist: Unknown Artist 15th Century

Pandemic

After losing someone, things that used to be unthinkable are believable now. Something happens in your brain when you realize the unimaginable can happen to you. You aren’t immune to difficulty. Suddenly the crazy things seem realistic and possible, like this pandemic. 

There are some other things that I’ve realized through loss that are coming in handy now in this time of uncertainty: 

  • Sometimes when we cling too tight to things in our lives (jobs, school, money, security, health, even loved ones), we are reminded we aren’t really in control. We can easily lose anything we thought was ours. Who knows what the future holds? We have to hold things loosely in trust. Hand it over because it’s not yours. 
  • There is immense strength in the human spirit. We are stronger beyond what we can imagine. I’ve seen this in myself, but I also witness it all the time with people who I’m around at work who are battling cancer. We can handle much more than we think. We can survive and thrive.
  • God is with us in times of trouble. He is not hidden from us.
  • There is opportunity for good in this time. That doesn’t make the hard things easier, but it does bring some hope. 
  • This time of stillness is a gift. We often struggle with busyness and being consumed with all the tasks and activities of the day. Now is the chance to embrace the stillness. Let’s not waste this time. This is an opportunity to realize who we are outside of our careers and activities and social life. Let’s experience God’s love for us and our families’ love for us outside of those things. Just based on who we are, not what we do. 
  • If we are fortunate enough to be quarantined with loved ones, let’s make the most of this extra quality time together. Let’s never take this time together for granted.

My heart goes out to those who are fresh in grief during this time. Things are already hazy and bizarre. I can’t imagine adding a pandemic on top of that. It must truly feel like a nightmare. With everything going on, let’s not forget to reach out to those who are grieving.

“Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” Isaiah 41:10

“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” John 1:5

“Be still and know that I am God.” Psalms 46:10

Balancing Trust and Trust

“Just trust God.”

Pregnancy after loss…well actually anything after loss can be very scary. Knowing that bad things do happen and they do happen to you is a realization that can cause so much fear. 

Often the advice is to trust God. But I do trust God more than I ever have! But now my trust looks different. There are two types of trust I’ve experienced…

  1. Trusting God used to mean trusting that everything will work out and that our prayers for health and blessing would be answered. I would pray with faith that my requests would come to pass. I truly believed! 
  1. Trusting God now means trusting that God will be with us no matter what – good or bad. It also means that we believe we have hope beyond our Earthly desires. Those Earthly desires include health and blessings here. The hope extends past this life into eternity. 

I don’t think either type of trust is wrong. Although after losing Ginny, somehow the first type of trust feels selfish. 

At first, I couldn’t pray for health or protection or life. I could only pray that His will be done. Now when I do pray for health I fight the feeling that I’m being selfish or short-sighted. I remind myself that it is not wrong to want my child to live on Earth with me. It is still a struggle though. 

As this pregnancy gets farther along, I feel myself being drawn from the second type of trust back to the first. I’m starting to believe that this baby may live. I pray for his life. But along with that comes a desire for control. Prayers, practices, and even faith start to feel like superstition. I start holding my breath in hope for his life. The trust feels conditional. It changes from an “even-if” to an “only-if” faith.

How do I balance the hope that this baby will be born alive and healthy while maintaining the belief that God is good no matter what happens?

I’m still trying to figure this out, but I think the answer is in surrender. When I feel my need for control taking over, I need to remember I have no control. I need to surrender to God. God loves this baby more than I do. I need to let go and have peace in that. 

I focus on the fact that this baby boy is here with us today. I also remind myself that, like Ginny, this baby boy will be part of our family forever, whether here on Earth or in heaven. That’s not changing, and that is certainly something to be joyful about! 

Each day feels like an ebb and flow between the different types of trust. When fear and control creep in, I remind myself to surrender. Love fills that surrender with peace. 

“Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you, and through rivers, they shall now overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.” Isaiah 43:1-2

“And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up.” James 5:15

“For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well.” Psalms 139: 13-14

One Year Ago: The Day of No Heartbeat

Why Have You Forsaken Me?

To the choirmaster: according to The Doe of the Dawn. A Psalm of David.

22 My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
    Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning?
O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer,
    and by night, but I find no rest.

Yet you are holy,
    enthroned on the praises of Israel.
In you our fathers trusted;
    they trusted, and you delivered them.
To you they cried and were rescued;
    in you they trusted and were not put to shame.

But I am a worm and not a man,
    scorned by mankind and despised by the people.
All who see me mock me;
    they make mouths at me; they wag their heads;
“He trusts in the Lord; let him deliver him;
    let him rescue him, for he delights in him!”

Yet you are he who took me from the womb;
    you made me trust you at my mother’s breasts.
10 On you was I cast from my birth,
    and from my mother’s womb you have been my God.
11 Be not far from me,
    for trouble is near,
    and there is none to help.

12 Many bulls encompass me;
    strong bulls of Bashan surround me;
13 they open wide their mouths at me,
    like a ravening and roaring lion.

14 I am poured out like water,
    and all my bones are out of joint;
my heart is like wax;
    it is melted within my breast;
15 my strength is dried up like a potsherd,
    and my tongue sticks to my jaws;
    you lay me in the dust of death.

16 For dogs encompass me;
    a company of evildoers encircles me;
they have pierced my hands and feet—
17 I can count all my bones—
they stare and gloat over me;
18 they divide my garments among them,
    and for my clothing they cast lots.

19 But you, O Lord, do not be far off!
    O you my help, come quickly to my aid!
20 Deliver my soul from the sword,
    my precious life from the power of the dog!
21     Save me from the mouth of the lion!
You have rescued me from the horns of the wild oxen!

22 I will tell of your name to my brothers;
    in the midst of the congregation I will praise you:
23 You who fear the Lord, praise him!
    All you offspring of Jacob, glorify him,
    and stand in awe of him, all you offspring of Israel!
24 For he has not despised or abhorred
    the affliction of the afflicted,
and he has not hidden his face from him,
    but has heard, when he cried to him.

25 From you comes my praise in the great congregation;
    my vows I will perform before those who fear him.
26 The afflicted shall eat and be satisfied;
    those who seek him shall praise the Lord!
    May your hearts live forever!

27 All the ends of the earth shall remember
    and turn to the Lord,
and all the families of the nations
    shall worship before you.
28 For kingship belongs to the Lord,
    and he rules over the nations.

29 All the prosperous of the earth eat and worship;
    before him shall bow all who go down to the dust,
    even the one who could not keep himself alive.
30 Posterity shall serve him;
    it shall be told of the Lord to the coming generation;
31 they shall come and proclaim his righteousness to a people yet unborn,
    that he has done it.

The Lord Is My Shepherd

A Psalm of David.

23 The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
    He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
    He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
    for his name’s sake.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
    I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
    your rod and your staff,
    they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me
    in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
    my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
    all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
    forever.

Joy

One of my main hopes for 2020 is for more joy. The kingdom of God is about peace and joy in the Holy Spirit (Romans 14:17). The pain of 2019 has lead to an expanded understanding and appreciation. That all yields joy, but on a daily basis, I need reminded. Each day I wake up to our loss, all we don’t have, and the uncertainty of the future. After those thoughts creep in, I need to shift my thinking and remind myself of what we do have and what we do know. What we do have – love, lots and lots of love. 

“Those who sow in tears shall reap with shouts of joy!” Psalms 126:5

I think of the moments I feel the most joyful. I get a rush of joy in my heart when I feel the sun shine on my face. I’m not sure why, but for years the sun shining on my face has reminded me of God’s love. I get such joy at that thought! 

I also have the most joy when spending time with Daniel and others I love. Eating together, playing games, joking around, or snuggling on the couch are all things that bring me joy because I have so much love. 

For me, love brings joy. So I’ll focus on the love in my life. When I focus on my love for Ginny, my grief is joyful. When I focus on the love of God & family and eternity in heaven, my future is joyful. When I focus on the love of those around me, my day is joyful. 

“And do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” Nehemiah 8:10

It’s okay to need reminders. It is easy to slip into fear or to slip in to sadness. It’s okay to feel those feelings, but it is also okay to remind yourself of love and joy. And it’s okay to experience it all. I feel like I experience it all within an hour sometimes. 

I want the core of my life to be love though. I want joy to burst at the seams of every area, even my grief. That is possible. It is possible to be full of joy and grief because it all comes from love. And my grief is not a hopeless grief. My love for my daughter is still alive in me, and my daughter is still alive in heaven. I can have joy in that! I do have joy in that!

“But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep.” 1 Thessalonians 4:13-14

Gratitude

Knowing the outcome, I would do it all over again. If given the choice to be spared from all the pain and grief and sorrow and not have been pregnant with Ginny, I would choose to have Ginny every time. I wouldn’t take it back for anything. 

From that aspect, I am grateful. I’m thankful for the time we had with Ginny. I’m thankful to have delivered her body, and I’m thankful for all I’ve learned in grieving her. 

That being said, sometimes it is so hard to be grateful. This season should be a time of thanksgiving. Don’t ask me to share what I’m thankful for. She was supposed to be here this holiday. She was supposed to be part of all the family gatherings. She was supposed to be my biggest blessing. She’s not here for it; she’s missing. I’m not grateful for that. 

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” Philippians 4:6

This verse is hard for me right now. I totally get the next verse, “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” I have experienced that. But making my requests known to God is difficult when my last request was denied. And to do so with thanksgiving seems impossible. I can hand over control. I can ask that His will be done. I can ask for peace. But I am unable to thankfully ask for anything else. Does it even matter what I ask? I trust that his plan is better than mine. Isn’t that enough? I don’t know. 

I have been blessed in countless ways. So many of my prayers have been answered, and only one has been denied – a big one. I should be grateful. I should celebrate this holiday with thanksgiving. I will try, but I’ll also try to give myself grace if I can’t. God knows my heart, and he gives me sufficient grace through all my ungratefulness and even anger. When I don’t know how to pray and supplicate, the Holy Spirit intercedes on my behalf (Romans 8:26). He holds me in my hurt and in my joy. 

The Evolution of Hope in Hardship

I’m going to describe my experiences. Everyone’s experience is different. I’m still on my journey. Some days are more hopeful than others. Along with all of my blog posts, these are my thoughts at the moment.

Hardship hit when we lost Ginny earlier this year; we were completely heartbroken. How do we get back to a place of hope after that? It has been an evolution. Hope today doesn’t look like what it did in those first moments. In those first moments, hope looked like survival.

It was something we couldn’t conjure ourselves. We could barely live the next minute. How could we look for hope? 

We didn’t need to. God was right there immediately. We cried out, and he held us right away. How can I describe it? It was like a warm blanket of love covering us, surrounding us. Taking some of the weight off of us. It was undeniable. It was perceivable. It was a “peace that surpasses all understanding” (Philippians 4:7). I never truly knew the Holy Spirit as comforter until that moment. 

While sitting with Daniel after we received the terrible news, I remember quoting Psalm 23:4, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me.” I had never been in the shadow of death before then. I had never felt God with me in this way before. Just to know we were not alone was hope to get through that moment. It was the hope we needed. 

That comfort got us through Ginny’s birth and the first couple of days. When it was clear that we might just physically survive this, we had to look to the future – the big empty dark future. Grief was so so heavy. Waking up each day and continuing was exhausting. How could this possibly be okay? God answered that it is not okay, but love is bigger than this loss.  Our love for Ginny and God’s love for us is bigger than we knew. Love is bigger than this terrible thing. Love doesn’t make it okay, but love does make it worth it. Our love stays with us. That’s all the hope we needed for those next moments. 

As the weeks went by, I spent more time thinking about heaven. I thought about what it’ll be like when I’m reunited with Ginny in heaven. One of my biggest comforts was the thought that our time apart is a small blimp compared to the time we will spend together in heaven. I thought a lot about our understanding of time and eternity. I thought about how small this time of sorrow is in the scheme of eternity. I thought of Romans 8:18, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” This isn’t to minimize our suffering, but it is to put it into an eternal context. We are not separated forever; we are separated for now (that’s still so painful). 

An eternal mindset is not one that looks forward to heaven one day. An eternal mindset is one that brings heaven to the here and now. Our love for Ginny is not dead; it is here with us now and it will continue to grow. Our reconciliation with God is not for a future state; it is for here, now. Embrace the love, embrace the good news, embrace life that’s yours. 

Part of embracing life is to keep your eyes and ears open to what the Holy Spirit is showing you. Throughout my life, I’ve continually been attempting to grow closer to god and hear his voice. I feel like I’ve made small strides through the word, worship, prayer, and relationships. But it is when something big like this happens that you can make huge strides towards God and his will for your life. When my life is flipped upside down, I am finally truly listening. I’ve made real changes in my life and career. My path has crossed with others in unbelievable ways; it is clear God has brought us together. I’m not sure where all of this is going. But for the first time in a long time, I feel like I’m where I am supposed to be and doing what I’m supposed to be doing. It gives me excitement and hope for what’s next. It feels bigger than the plans I’ve made in the past. In my life, I feel heaven got a little closer. 

This connection to heaven, this eternal mindset, this realization of love bigger than loss, and this fear-quenching comfort have given me the hope I need to keep moving forward. I’ve never needed this much hope. Now I need it, and I have it. 

“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, ‘For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.’ No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” – Romans 8:35-39