It Is True

While I love to write, poetry has never been my medium. It feels choppy and uncomfortable and it takes a lot of time to get the words to land the way that I want them to. But when we found out our second baby died in the womb this past January, my brain has thought in short, fragmented sentences for weeks as I have chosen to try and carry our child until he/she can safely pass at home with my doctor’s supportive approval. Poetry suddenly feels more natural as I wait and hang in the balance.

 

I have desperately wanted this to be over because it’s devastating carrying a baby I know is no longer alive, but I also never want this pregnancy to end. This is the weird tension of having a missed miscarriage. The ultrasounds and multiple rounds of blood work confirmed the terrible news that the doctor was telling us, but I didn’t want to believe him. I went home after each appointment still feeling every bit pregnant with food aversions, weight gain, and fatigue. Nothing signaled to my body that something was wrong. It wasn’t until the third ultrasound, when we again heard no heartbeat thumping back at us, that I finally believed it was true.

 

I have felt like the psalmist more than any other time in my life these past several weeks. One minute I am praising God and believing that all things work together for our good and His glory and the next I am crying and asking God, “Why? What about our plans? What about our baby?”

 

I think God delights in both praise and the intimacy of an honest prayer. I used to struggle with this very much. I thought that to toughen up and stay optimistic was the best way to plow through hardship. But there is a better way that involves acknowledging the loving, all-wise, omniscient God for who He is and letting a good Father see you cry. I have found Him eager to console and who better to console me in the death of our child than the one who conquered both death and sin? (2 Tim 1:10) Or the one who was overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death? (Matt 26:36-46) Or the one who wept with compassion for his friends? (John 11:35) He is deeply sympathetic to our grief (Heb 4:15).

 

In the weeks spent waiting to lose the baby, I have felt very tender. Those closest to us have no doubt felt the tenderness. I can still laugh and have normal conversation, but this baby is looming in the back of my mind, always. Every twinge of pain sends June and I home abandoning our errands, just in case. And the funny things that she does almost always summon a tear or two from my eyes as I think about how this precious baby would have made me laugh, too. It’s like elevator music playing in the background of my daily life. Sometimes I can zone out on my phone or distract myself with noise and its music will die down. I might not even realize its still softly playing when I chuckle at a funny meme or in the “like-clockwork” routine of June and I’s day. But then there are other times, in the silence, when it’s all I can hear and all I can think about.

 

To those who have caught me in the latter scenario, thank you for dealing gently with me and loving me and praying for me and crying with me. God has used His church and His word to embrace us in our grief and we are so thankful. Part of why I am sharing this so “publicly” (the internet is weird, isn’t it?) is because of this support we have received. I cannot imagine keeping this loss pent up between Michael and myself, though I know others choose to grieve privately and I can understand that choice, too.

 

I think it was hardest to admit that I am broken-hearted and struggling and not really holding it together. Those are scary words to say—not because I’m afraid to be honest, but because I really don’t want to be a “burden” to anyone. But with trusted friends, we have found safety in admitting these things and bringing them into the light. Instead of being a burden, we have instead felt some of our burden lifted. My hope is that even if someone reading this chooses not to share their story, maybe by sharing mine, they may feel some of their burden of loneliness and grief lifted, too.

 

I realize this is all deeply personal. It feels a little sticky sharing it with the internet, honestly. We are not yet on the other side of this. Will we really ever be until we’re finally Home? But often, after a bad doctor’s appointment, this is where a lot of people end up searching—whether that’s for statistics, data, or the hope that someone else has experienced a similar situation. I know I did. So I pray this might bring hope, while also pointing to the truest Hope I could offer you.

 

I praise God that He is holding our perfect baby who we never had the privilege of meeting and enjoying. I praise Him because I know the ending of this story. Even though my plans of delivering a healthy baby this summer have been thwarted, His purposes have not. I believe He will sustain us in this ugly middle and all the way to the end when, “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Rev 21:4). It is true.

 

It is True

 
We can look at trials with tear-stained face
But we are not consumed by their mounting flood
For the steadfast love of the Lord endures
And the death which scars and steals will be swallowed up

 
For our God will do as He says
He will, and He is, and He has
Yes, every single word of His
Each one shall come to pass

 
For who is more trustworthy than He—
This man of sorrows well acquainted with our grief
This great high King bent low towards us
Yes, our God who sees

 
For thine eye beheld us all
Before dust and rib and breath
We were never hidden from the Potter
Who gave us value
Gave us depth

 
Even the most fragile amongst us all
Are significant, loved, and seen
For length of days, they make no difference
To the immeasurable King

 

So we can trust Him when he calls us home
In both ripe old age and womb
For His sovereignty and love do coexist
We believe it
It is true

Strengths (and how they change and stay the same)

Seven years ago (how has it been seven?) I took the StrengthsFinder assessment— a questionnaire designed to determine an individual’s top 5 strengths. The StrengthsFinder is not a personality test (though our strengths do make up a large portion of our personalities). Its focus is much more specific in that it determines what an individual does best and most naturally.

The first time I took it, it was a requirement to do so. Every freshman at Lee University went through the questionnaire during their first semester, and when I think back to who I was at that time in my life, I picture someone so different than the woman looking back at me in the mirror today. I was very set in my ways, even at 17, and I never really questioned anything I believed. I was a little (a lot) insecure and cared entirely too much about what others thought of me. I didn’t like to push the limits or engage in anything that made me uncomfortable.

Of course, there are so many qualities that have endured. Comfort still beckons me. I still have to consciously remind myself that the decisions I make don’t have to be based on others’ opinions. Growth takes time and copious amounts of intentional effort. It never comes easily, and it hasn’t for me.

At the time, my top 5 strengths were as follows:

  • Empathy
  • Relator
  • Belief
  • Developer
  • Positivity

I was a people-observer, full of intuition and strong beliefs about how the world should be. I grew up learning the same theology and never picked up a book that questioned it. I was so sure about everything that I didn’t need to look any further. I was positive in my thinking because I thought I had it all figured out. I wanted to bring others onto the same enlightened path I was standing on.

This morning I drove to Starbucks to take it for the second time in seven years. This time around I am 4 years post-grad, married, working full-time at a job I never expected to love, and really uncovering what I am good at and how much opportunity there is to grow and be better. I’ve left home and gotten acquainted with an entirely different pace of life.

While the winter sun disguised itself with an early Spring glow, I sipped an iced coffee and let the Johnnyswim melodies slide through the channels of my headphones and began.

My results the second time around:

  • Empathy
  • Intellection
  • Relator
  • Input
  • Restorative

Only two of my previous strengths carried over! I find this interesting, but not surprising. My intuition and my desire to develop a few close, deep, and meaningful relationships has not changed. Those parts of me still live and breathe, but I think what died and resurrected into something better is my transformation from “belief” to “intellection”. What was once black and white for me is now further investigated. I don’t take things at face value as often. If someone presents a belief, I want to look at it from all angles. The questions I couldn’t answer that used to torment me 7 years ago now provide me relief and an opportunity to explore all the possibilities. I pick up books that uncover the uncomfortable realities of my role as a Christian. I study the verses in the Bible that I used to ignore or misinterpret, because they’re there for me (for us) for a reason. I converse with people that believe very differently than me, and I am able to leave the table with less desire to change them and more desire to truly hear them out and admit that I could be wrong.

Before I continue, please hear me out and understand that if one of your strengths is belief, it is not a bad thing. I am only voicing how I used to make that strength a weakness for me and the people around me. Every strength found within the results of this questionnaire have both a positive and a negative side to them, and I am merely comparing and contrasting how I lived mine out.

With that said, I still engage with most people quietly. I’m still much more introspective than I am talkative. Thankfully, being married to an extrovert, I have been dragged (I mean, delightfuly taken) to do/see so many things I might have passed up on if it had been left up to me. That has changed me for the better and I am so thankful to be paired with someone that draws that out of me, even when I am initially unwilling to do so 🙂

Has anyone else taken this assessment for a second time and been blown away by the change–the similarity? I see so much of me enduring throughout the changes of my life, but it is so interesting to see the bits and pieces that are evolving over time. I think the changes I see can be attributed to a lot of things: the influx of technology and accessible information, the people I’m spending the most time with, and how my relationship with God has deepened.

Also, if you took the time to read this whole thing, thanks! This post is mostly selfish. Delving into discussions on personality and individual strengths/weaknesses are highly enjoyable for this Psychology major! What are your top five strengths? Do you think the results are accurate for you??

 

 

 

Love Opened Our Eyes

Night rolls into morning

And I into you

Sunlight’s tugging on groggy eyes

And the orange and yellows gifted by it

Dance between the blinds,

Casting sepia-stained shadows across the room

And like clock-work, my head turns

And I find you

I see you

 

Past the business suits and all the meetings

Before the day begins and the tasks must be done

Until the alarm clock crows and the sheets are pulled back

I see you

 

Your eyes flicker, like a candle interrupted by a breath

They open

And through sleepy eyes you find me

You see me

 

Past the freckly skin and anxious thoughts

Before the to-do lists are written and the make-up is applied

Until the day beckons and lifts me from puffy pillows

You see me

 

And love,

It just keeps opening our eyes

Day after day

To see that mercies are new

Grace is being spilt

And we are here

Together

One

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Happy Mother’s Day

While washing my face the other night, I caught myself doing a double-take in the mirror. I’ve been doing this a lot the last couple of years. One moment I’m brushing my teeth or pushing the unkempt hair out of my tired eyes, and suddenly it happens. I’m looking at you.

Your jawline, the curve of your nose, the shape of your eyes.

IMG_3947

A brief second later and the picture starts to fade. My dark brown hair and hazel-green eyes come back into focus, and the image of my blonde-haired, blue-eyed mother staring back at me quickly disappears into the mirror.

It’s crazy how we carry little traces of the people we love. Whether it be their eyes, their temperament, their laugh, the way they speak, we become reflections of those who have spoken to us most honestly, loved us most fully, and impacted us most deeply. It could be a mother, a father, a grandparent, a mentor, or even a dear friend. But with Mother’s Day approaching tomorrow, I can’t help but thank God for so graciously allowing my cup to overflow in regards to who He chose as my Mother.

My mother is strong and kind. She works hard and will fight to find a solution to any problem. She is giving and contains all of the gentleness anyone has ever told me that I possess. Yes, I got it from her.

She is goofy and will dance in the kitchen like a lunatic just to make her family laugh and her youngest daughter scream, “You’re so embarrassing!” She’s the same woman who, when placed in a room full of unknown faces, will sit quietly and smile–never to be known for her love of Elvis or the dance moves she attempted the night before.

She’s my Mother and one of my closest friends (only she’s the friend who calls me by my first and middle name whenever I do something out of line).

Insert: “Olivia ERIN!!!!”

So whoever has impacted you, whoever has loved you, whoever has taken part in the village that it took to get you where you are today, tell them the truth. Tell them how much you appreciate them and are thankful for them. Tell them you have their eyes or admire their work ethic. Tell them they are fantastic mothers, friends, and confidantes. They deserve to know that.

Happy Mother’s Day!

November Means Rest

November, though cold, is one of my favorite months of the year. I don’t know what it is about its chilly introduction to winter, but I really do love it. Life seems to slow down in November. There’s an increased desire to stay inside with the people I love. The distractions and the numerous activities that I’m usually involved in in the warmer months of the year finally come to a close. And while I love going outdoors and being goose-bump free, I love the time that this month gives me to reflect and really get back to myself. Sometimes I go, and go, and go so much that I lose what I really need, and what I really need around this time of year is rest.

It’s kind of a shameful thing to admit these days, isn’t it? Our society is so persistent in keeping us busy, distracted, and “on-the-go” that saying one needs rest is somewhat embarrassing. We are expected to keep up, say “yes” to every opportunity, attend every single gathering, and somehow still keep the peace. And to be transparent, I’m really bad at that last part and really good at the over-exhausting myself part. So at the end of the day, I have to ask myself what being busy gets me. Sure, I get a lot done. I see all the different circles of our friends. I’m definitely not sitting at home twiddling my thumbs very often. But honestly, being busy 24/7 has its mind games. I feel like I’m accomplishing a lot, giving a lot, and being all things to all people, but I’m really just giving fragments of myself to people who could really use all of me.

For the past couple of months, I have been handing out the fragments, the pieces. I’ve been too busy thinking about what I have to do the following day to engage in the conversations. I’ve been too busy looking at my watch knowing I have to be somewhere in the next hour to really savor the moment I’m in. I’m missing all the beautiful details that I normally adore and thank God for. I’m focused on the big mishaps instead of treasuring the little things that used to bring me heart-bursting joy. Busyness clouds my vision.

I have to keep reminding myself that even God himself rested! He, in all His might and power and endless strength, rested, and He commands us to rest too.* So, I’m really trying to slow down and be more like Him. To really look up, really connect, really accept that I need to rest in order to be fully present, fully me.

But if you’re like me and most other humans, you will always have things on your calendar demanding your presence and your time. There will always be events that you have to/really want to go to. There will always be unexpected appointments and surprise interruptions. So how do we find rest when our culture glorifies being busy? How do we find the time to rest when we have demanding jobs, or children to raise, or things that simply must get done?

It will probably look different for everyone, but for me, slowing down and finding rest in this season will begin with prayer. I have to admit that I am not very good at setting aside time to pray. And while it’s true that my mind wanders very easily when in prayer, if I were to get to the heart of the problem, it’s that I prioritize other things above it. And while I know that God hears and attends to my short prayers in the car or my prayers as I’m frantically trying to get six 2-year-olds to sleep at the same time, I really need intentional prayer time. C.S. Lewis said it best when he said, “I pray because I can’t help myself. I pray because I’m helpless. I pray because the need flows out of me all the time, waking and sleeping. It doesn’t change God, it changes me.” When I pray, God removes the mud from my eyes so that I can see Him, myself, and my life more clearly again.  It teaches me how to say “no” to things that are getting in the way of more important things. It teaches me how to pay attention to what’s going on around me rather than be absent-minded. It teaches me how to be at rest in a world that is go, go, go.

In addition to prayer, I want to get back in the habit of writing down what I’m thankful for. I used to do it almost every day (emphasis on the used to) and I loved the tradition of looking over my day and pulling out the good. Even the really not-so-great days had strands of goodness hidden in them once I looked. And with Thanksgiving approaching (yay!), there’s no better time than now to start jotting down the things I’m most thankful for and to altogether stop doing the things that don’t amount to much in the long run.

Maybe that means making more time for friends and family and less time for mindless internet searching. Maybe that means turning my phone off for part of the day and not being so self-and-other-people-absorbed. Maybe that means more Bible time and less book time (ouch!)**. Maybe that means attending the work Christmas party because it’s important to Michael, but bailing before the employees awkwardly start dancing with each other.

We don’t have to commit to everything. We don’t have to attend every gathering. We don’t have to be the best, make the most, or look the greatest.

But we do have to do the things that really matter. We do have to practice expressing gratitude and being genuinely thankful. We do have to rest.

So my mantra for November will be: rest, remember, give thanks.

Right now I am thankful for grace that overlooks a thousand of my sins, a book that a friend of mine passed along earlier this week, Gilmore Girls being on Netflix (no shame),  the sun brightly shining through our windows when I wake up for work (thanks, time change!), and being able to go home this weekend to see my family and my best friend who I haven’t seen in a YEAR, and to hold her handsome baby for the first time. There will also be a beautiful wedding crammed right in the middle of all of that, which is nothing less than a beautiful representation of God’s unending, unrequited love for me, for us, His church.

Happy, November!

 

 

 

 

 

*Matthew 11:28 & Exodus 20:8-11

** That awkward moment when you write something that hurts! I’m guilty, guilty, guilty of reading books about the Bible and seldom picking up the actual Bible. Anyone relate?

Why Our First Year Was a Great Year

When Michael and I first got engaged, we heard numerous times from numerous people that the first year of our marriage would be the most challenging. People came to us confessing what was most difficult for them and asked us questions like, “Do you squeeze the toothpaste tube? Do you fold it? Does he put the toilet seat down? Are you messy? Do you leave your make-up out on the counter? You’d be surprised at how these little things will add up once you’re married!” Michael and I simply laughed our pre-wedded laugh and said, “They’re crazy! Why would stuff like that ever matter? Do people really get upset about toothpaste?”

Well, we just celebrated our one year anniversary last month (way to go, us!) and we’ve officially completed what many people said would be our most challenging year. And I cannot lie. There were tears, there were moments of miscommunication, there was over-scheduling, there was adjustment, there was talk of a hair straightener that loved living on the bathroom counter just waiting to burn a non-specified husband (sorry, love).

But I would like to end the bad reputation that the first year of marriage typically gets. This first year was a challenging adventure for sure, but mostly, it taught me volumes about myself, and not just my role as Michael’s wife, but also as a follower of Jesus Christ. I mean, if you really want to test your character or your devotion to the Gospel, get married!

Ok, not really, but you know what I mean.

What I’m trying to say is, there is nothing like living under the same roof as another sinner and having to love them like Jesus does. Before we got married, I truly believed that I was a kind and selfless person in need of very little retuning. And then, on September 21st of 2013, we said “I do.” Suddenly, instead of being the kind and loving wife that I wanted to be, whenever my precious schedule got altered or I wasn’t given exactly what I never audibly told Michael I needed (females are so good at expecting men to read their minds), I would become upset. I wanted things a certain way and I wanted Michael to use his impeccable mind reading skills to make me happy. But more than that, what I really subconsciously wanted was for our little world to revolve around me. And I know what you’re thinking. “Dang, Liv! What’s the deal? Way to be a princess!” And trust me, I’m all, “I knowwwww. It’s embarrassing, right? People get selfish! Who knew?”

I realized pretty early on why I thought I was so selfless and kind before we got married. As a previously single college girl, I never had much to sacrifice. It’s easy being selfless and kind when there’s no sacrifice involved. Life really was all about me before we got married and then I was faced with an earth-shattering reality check:

Marriage doesn’t revolve around me or my happiness!

I think when people say that the first year is so difficult, they’re probably referring to the learning of that lesson. It’s difficult to swallow, I know, but until you learn it, your marriage will be all sorts of dysfunctional. After all, marriage is representative of Christ and His church. If I’m living life like Michael should cater to my needs so I can be happy, I’ve misrepresented God’s design for marriage. His design is not for two people to get together, have zero conflict, be concerned about only themselves, and be nice when they feel like it. No. God commands Michael to love me as Christ loves the Church (deeply, sacrificially) and God requires that I serve Michael (not demand my way).

You can bet it’s extremely hard to fulfill these commands, but God’s strength enables us and I can tell you with all sincerity that His way is much better than ours. By us loving and serving each other, after having been loved by our gracious God who is love, divine things happen. Our marriage tells a much better story and we become much better disciples in the process.

So yeah, Michael might turn on every light in the apartment when he’s home and I might drive him crazy when I take my sweet time doing absolutely everything, but those aren’t the little things that we want to keep track of, just waiting to throw them in each others’ faces. And those definitely aren’t the things we should recall when talking to singles who wish to marry one day or engaged couples who are so thrilled to start that next phase of their lives.

No, I want to look these people straight in the eye and tell them how well Michael loves me–even when I am slow moving and I leave my earrings all over the bathroom counter. I want to tell them about the time that Michael, running late for work, saw me sick and lying on the couch and ran back into the kitchen to make me tea before he left. And I want them to know that even though Michael eats his food at the speed of light and has been the reason I’ve fallen into the toilet on numerous occasions, he is still the sweetest, most genuine human on the planet and I’m so, so happy he’s mine. They have to know that it’s not all bad, that they don’t have to close their eyes and hope they wake up in a year with less selfishness or fewer disagreements. No, the good stuff (the good, hard, beautiful, difficult, redemptive stuff) begins when you say “I do.” You don’t want to skip over a thing.

I also don’t want to tell people that marriage is easy, but I most definitely want them to know that even the hardest days will make them better. Better friends. Better spouses. Better Christians. It’s the hard days that teach us how to ask for forgiveness and receive the grace we need to try again tomorrow. It’s the differences in personality that stretch us and make us into more accepting, loving spouses. And the good days just make the laughter louder and the “I love you’s” sweeter.

Happy anniversary, sweetheart!

When Life Is Heavy

I’ve never been a girl with much to say. Words aren’t really my thing unless they’re scribbled onto paper and thought over for a good (long) while, so it’s no wonder that I am not the world’s greatest advice giver when put on the spot. I’m more of an empathetically-nod-and-hug kind of girl, or a “Hey, let me think that over and get back to you in a year with something really profound and awesome to say!” kind of girl. I’ll give you my ears and my two arms before I’ll ever be able to give you a well thought out response.

But I’m finding that the older I get, the more complex and painful the issues that we bring to the table are. My friends are no longer calling me upset because they have to do their chores or because they had a really bad date last week. They’re coming to me because a parent has died, or a baby was lost, or a job still hasn’t come. They’re coming to me with problems that make it difficult to find the words. Their problems seem too big, too painful, and I feel helpless. My empathetic nod and hug strategy cannot fix what I, and so many others, face. It’s times like these I can hear the earth, in its exhausted sighs, saying, “There has to be something more powerful that can fix this and make it right, make us whole.”

And there is. There is Someone who does.

God, in His all-powerful and all-loving way is very much present in our pain, in our suffering. He is there to wipe the tears from our wet faces and He gives us strength to get back up and try again when we seem to be getting knocked down every day. He hears the silent prayers and He hears the hearts like mine, who want so much to have something to say, but can’t find the words. He takes our ashes, binds us up and gives us peace and joy. He makes the sun rise, and with that rising sun, gives us new mercies to face the day and take His hand.

But sometimes I forget.

Because if I were to be completely honest, often times, I don’t see God in the midst of my pain because I expect to be painless in His presence. I expect Him to end my suffering, not endure it with me. I want Him to wave His all-powerful hand and make my life easier, not holier.

But I’m learning that my suffering only demonstrates His unrelenting love for me. If I had never been brought low, I would have never understood how badly I needed (and still need) a King. A King who is kind, and loving, and right there in the mess of it all with me, making me more like Him and less like the scared, exhausted girl I used to be.

So, yes. I suffer. I cry. My heart aches at times for my family and my friends whose problems seem insurmountable. But friends, I promise, though the problems pile up like mountains, there is someone there to climb them with us. God, in His sovereign ways, understands that we will face ugly things. He himself suffered. He knows we will become overwhelmed and weak of heart, but He is the one taking our ugly messes and working them for our good—not so we can say that our pain is now good, but so we can say that HE is good. Because He is.

He is taking us and making us into something beautiful. And our stories? They will be written in His love, showing the world His light. His light which drives out darkness, and fear, and resentment. His light that enables us to rest and trust, in spite of our momentary afflictions. To breathe in deep and pray, “In this world I will have trouble. But take heart! He has overcome all of this world.”*

 

 

 

 

*taken from John 16:33