Grieve With Hope

A lovely little surprise at my Birth Afterthoughts meeting when the midwife said I could look through my hospital notes if I wanted. And there it was, my baby’s name, my beautiful, strong and shiny one always reminding me of how much love, hope, joy and peace we are lavished with in the midst of the darkest of horrors. The best is yet to come. Only Jesus. King of Kings and Lord of Lords, HE turned my mourning into dancing. No one cradles us in our anguish like he does. The ongoing care and attention to the smallest ripple of anxiety to the excruciating heaviness of heart, in my weakness his strength never fails to gently thunder in.

There is no better place than “Lord I don’t understand what is going on but I trust you. Thank you” “Lord I’m afraid but I trust you. Thank you” “Lord I feel so sad right now but I trust you. Thank you” “Lord it hurts so much but I trust you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you” and scripture that breathes into our souls at the exact time we need it; When my womb and arms ache for my baby – “So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. 2 Corinthians 4:18

When I’m afraid it was it something I did?- “I delight greatly in the LORD; my soul rejoices in my God. For he has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of his righteousness, as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels. Isaiah 61:10”

When I fear it will happen again – “The LORD himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.” Deuteronomy 31:8

When I think of the horror of the death that took place in my stomach – “he is risen” Matthew 28:6

He is risen!

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The Greatest Gift

It’s a year since we found out our baby died early on in pregnancy. The grief has been searing, relentless and so crushing that at times my legs have felt like they may collapse beneath me. Over these months I’ve had so many conversations with people –

I’ve been told that I had a lot going on at the time and I was doing too much and not resting. And that maybe it just wasn’t the right time for this baby. And the suggestion that it may have been a good thing as I wouldn’t have been able to do some of the things I’d done since. There have been lots of taking deep breathes along side well meaning words. Truth is how ever much we desperately try to scramble for the right thing to say, there are no positives to death. Whatever age or time.

Going out with my daughters always seems to bring up two conversation starters;

“They all yours? Are you going to have any more?”

“All girls! Are you going to try for a boy?”

A lady on the bus had come up with the first opener and I told her about our baby, she asked when in the pregnancy and showed her relief when I said it was early on.

The lady doing my hair came up with the second opener. I told her about our baby. “Still, not as bad as my sister” she said and told me that she had three babies die late in pregnancy.

A sweet family friend in her eighties who was so distraught after her little one died she could never bring herself to go through being pregnant again.

“Any more?” one of the home ed mums asked me and this led on to the loveliest conversation as we both shared our experiences of our babies that didn’t make it.

The first time I saw death up close was through a window from the car where I’d been told to stay as it had been decided I was too young to go to a funeral. I watched as the miniature white and brass coffin was carried past.

So many more experiences and conversations that are not for me to share.

So many babies.

There is one conversation that had a huge impact on me. I was sat on the sofa sharing tea and biscuits and letting somebody know about our baby. I was talking about how hard the grief had been for both me and my husband and she met me at this point because she understood, it had been the same for her and her husband. I looked down and my heart sank and I started to feel little bubbles of anger growing bigger from the pit of my stomach and I just wanted to scream “but this isn’t the same, this wasn’t MY choice!”

I started to panic because I couldn’t pop these rising bubbles. I didn’t want to upset her but I didn’t know if I could hold my back my emotions. Then just like that my Prince of Peace rescued me, peace swept over me and draped a warm blanket of stillness around me. I looked up at her and I saw brighter than day how Jesus sees her. Loved. Treasured. Died for. So desperately longed for.

Truth scattered the lies like cockroaches in torch light as I was reminded we are all in this mess together; broken people living in a broken world. I hadn’t made the same choices as her but I was so so so far from perfect in how I’d lived my life.

I saw we were both dealing with the heavy consequences of death and I listened as she opened up about the grief she was going through. We had the same pain, our babies have left huge holes in our families.

So many babies.

I birthed my tiniest baby on Christmas Day, two days after I was told there was no heartbeat. The dark valleys of grief and the trauma of the physical process have not left me and neither has the incredible hope, peace, comfort, joy and love that was poured out to me and that is all because of one little baby given to us all.

“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”

Isaiah 9:6

The greatest everlasting conversation we will ever have is the one God has with us. It has never been a question of “Is God speaking?” but rather “Are we listening?”

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.”

John 3:16-17

A love like no other that at our most destitute facing the punishment of death we rightly deserve, one we can never escape or work to pay ourselves. He took our place and paid the price on the cross. He took our sin, dealt with death by rising again to give us the free gift of eternal life.

“This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.”

1 John 4:9-10

The greatest gift we could ever receive from a Father who never gives up on us no matter how far we run and how long we hide. He made the way, the ONLY way that we can return to Him.

We have only two choices when it comes to being presented with gifts; reject or receive.

Light 

A couple of weekends back I met a woman sitting against a brick wall. We got chatting and she told me of her plans for the afternoon; she was really looking forward to a bath at her friend’s flat, which led her to make a specific request. I left and returned with the item she needed then asked her if she’d been to any of the churches and started to explain that they do so much during the week than just the Sunday service. She looked at me and her eyes shone so bright and before I could finish my sentence she excitedly whipped out a flyer of the church she goes to and said “I wouldn’t be where I am now if it wasn’t for Him”. She told me a little about her past, a very painful past. I was so blown away by her, she was so full of life, hope and peace. We had such a joy filled conversation and I was still marvelling about her as I sat back in the car that I had to take a moment before driving, I found myself smiling because she’d given me so much hope. It was such a great reminder that what ever our circumstances, God is moving. He is at work everywhere. In ways that continuously blow our minds. Life is messy, full of difficult twists and turns, there is so much hardship, pain, suffering and brokenness but when our trust is in Him he sustains us. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness doesn’t stand a chance!
“For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ.” 2 Corinthians 4:6

Alive and Singing

As I walked through the hospital car park I saw a clown unloading boxes of toys and craft things from her car. It was three days till Christmas and I thought to myself how awful it would be to be in hospital on Christmas Day. I was 11 weeks pregnant and on my way to my first antenatal appointment.

That night I was woken by my 2 year old daughter who was having a midnight tantrum so I got into bed with her. My other daughter then woke from a bad dream a little while later. I hadn’t wanted to get out of my youngest’s bed because I didn’t want to wake her, so I spoke gently to my eldest and as soon as she heard my voice she immediately calmed, lay down and went to sleep. The reassuring power of just my voice to her ears amazed me, it was 3am and I was reminded of the relationship we have with God; at his word we lay down and rest.

When I woke in the morning I felt a small gush and thought “surely not, I can’t be losing my baby while I’m snuggled up to my baby”. I drove to the maternity unit at the hospital and they told me to go to A&E where I was assessed and waited for over an hour for the Early Pregnancy Unit to open. As soon as they opened I lay on the bed, had the blob of gel on my stomach and fixed my eyes on the screen. 

The first thing that hit me was the silence from the monitor. Little one was so still, just floating in the darkness. The sonographer was clicking away taking measurements and up flashed the words “8.3 weeks”. I wondered if maybe I’d got my dates wrong and also if babies so tiny have sleep cycles. The lady stopped clicking and turned to me and gently said “I’m so sorry. There’s no heartbeat”. Those softly spoken words were like a ten tonne boulder knocking the wind out of my chest. I buried my face in my hands and sobbed. She offered me baby’s scan pictures, which I was so grateful for. 

I was handed several leaflets and given three options; 1. wait for everything to pass naturally. 2. Take a pill to help everything pass. 3. Have an operation. I was offered a cup of tea but I just wanted to get home. Unexpectedly I felt a wave of thankfulness wash over me. 

I drove away from the hospital and stopped at a quiet place to call my husband to tell him our little one hadn’t made it. 

I then went for a walk at my favourite beach and talked with God. I knew that the hospital diagnosis was not the final diagnosis. I knew that the situation could turn around. I knew that God could breathe life into my little baby, that starting that little heart again was no big thing for our Lord. I was hopeful for a miracle. But on my way back my heart spoke the words “your will be done” and because of that I knew that it was possible that things may not go the way I so desperately wanted but I was safe in the certainty that what ever happened the situation was covered. I stopped to offer to take a picture of a holidaying family, their beaming smiles filled me with warmth and then I spotted a tiny green shoot growing from the sand and I was deeply moved; against all odds this tiny shoot was thriving.

When I got home we gathered in the children’s bedroom and sat on the bed and my husband and I told our daughters that the little baby we told them was coming was no longer going to come. 

I spent the rest of the day feeling well, intermittently quarrelling; “really Lord, surely you can’t sandwich me in between the death of my father and my child!” and pleading “please just let me keep my baby, please” and crying “I said I wanted five children, did you not get the memo that I wanted them all alive!” but through all the anguish my heart always peacefully concluded with “your will be done” and with great confidence “I stand on your word” and “You are the God of LIFE not death!” I spoke life over myself and the child inside me. I slept very well that night and felt good for most of the next day and then the pains came.

Contractions came fast and also the non stop urge to keep going to the loo. I was so naive about the physical process, I didn’t realise I would be in so much pain. I’d given birth three times, spoken to countless midwives, had antenatal classes, did biology at school, read articles and knew people who had been through this and from the little pieces of information I stitched together I assumed I would just bleed a little and a tiny baby, either that I could see or inside a tiny jellylike ball would come out. The pain and the vast amount of blood I experienced was staggering. 

The contractions were so painful I was having to breathe through them and position my body leaning forward over cushions much like I did in my previous labours. I kept going to the loo and then I started passing small clots. I inspected every one in search of my tiny baby. In between reassuring me, my husband was successfully keeping things calm and normal for our children and just as he was putting them to bed I grabbed a sieve from the kitchen and asked him to find me a plastic container. I was determined our baby was not going to end up in the toilet. 

I crawled back up the stairs and across the landing in agony. Then I passed two fist sized clots, I assumed the largest had the baby inside and kept both in the container. I don’t know if it was the sight of all the blood but I started to feel extremely unwell, like I was going to black out so I asked my husband to call an ambulance. 

I was so relieved to be in the ambulance with gas and air to manage the pain. They elevated my legs to get my blood pressure back to normal. When I told one of the paramedics how much pain I was in he gently said he understood and I was so grateful for this. They then slid me onto a bed at the A&E ward and I continued to breathe heavily through the gas and air mouth piece. I was very aware that the ward was full, the desk in the middle of the room was busy with people coming and going and the privacy curtain remained open. There was a moment where because of the effects of the gas and air and contractions, it triggered memories from my previous births so I forgot for a moment and I had to remind myself that I wasn’t going to hold a warm 7 pound baby in my arms at the end of this and I just broke, sobbed and groaned “no, no, no”. 

At the same time they were having trouble getting a line into my vein and after multiple attempts had to use ultrasound to find a good vein and I was eventually given morphine and I felt its warmth spread through my body dulling the pain and contractions, I was relieved to be “back in the room” and not so dependant on the gas and air.

A doctor then asked to examine me. I agreed. She asked if she should remove anything she saw. I agreed. I had already assumed baby had come out, retrieved in the container but I didn’t know where the box had been put. I put my head back, closed my eyes and forced my body to relax. Then the incredible happened, I raised my hand pulling all the attached tubes with it, twice I felt the doctor pull my hand back and tell me I could hold onto her arm but I pulled away both times, I didn’t need or want anyone’s arm, I was reaching up to my Lord. And then I began to sing, over and over, my heart filling up and overflowing with gladness – 

“There is none 

None like you

Who can know my heart like you do

For all creation sings your song

I will join with them declaring your glory”

(United Pursuit – “Met By Love”)

I was totally lost in worship by the time the doctor confirmed that there was still something there but it was too firmly attached to remove. Knowing now that this was baby, I’m relieved she couldn’t. She then took her gloves off and leaned in to speak to me, 

“I know what you were doing. I’m a Christian. You are too?” 

“Yes” I replied. 

She looked at me, visibly moved she said “you’ve really shown me something.” then she paused for a moment and asked 

“What are you thankful for?” 

And these words tumbled out of my mouth 

“Life. I’m thankful for LIFE”

In that moment I saw that God was showing not only the doctor but both of his precious children something that day. Even though I was broken, bruised, battered, at the lowest point in my life so far, laying soaked in a puddle of my blood, devastated at the loss of my precious child my spirit was ALIVE and SINGING! I was welling up with such joy and soaked in nothing but the sweetness of his love. Not even being in this tragic mess was able to stop me enjoying a glimpse into the never ending joy in eternity. 

I was taken to a ward where I had a comfortable night and no more blood loss. I asked for some disposable bed pans as the doctor had later confirmed the two big clots I brought in the container, which was found tucked under my coat, were just clots. She showed me how they were soft and broke up easily. 

I went through about six bed pans and nothing. 

I woke on Christmas morning blinking at the blue curtain around my bed. My baby had died and it was Christmas Day, the celebration of the birth of the baby who changed the world forever. In Jesus’ birth, death and resurrection we have been given new life. The old has gone and the new has come, we are a new creation, born again. The greatest gift from a Father who loves each and every single one of us so deeply. A gift that is for EVERYONE and ANYONE to simply receive. It is because of Jesus that we are no longer left floating in darkness, no longer to live life spiritually deaf and blind, no longer under the punishment of the death we all deserve, no longer steeped in sorrow and pain and fear but have the free gift of eternal life. 

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.”
John 3:16-17

Because of Jesus I have full rest. And once again in my darkest distress he has carried me through, never leaving my side. No words can ever come close to describe this kind of love. I am continually filled with such awe and wonder.

Another doctor came to review me and go through my options. He impatiently said if I had an operation I could be out the same day but if I waited it could be days. I’d been told earlier I’d have a scan to see what was going on in my womb but he immediately dismissed this and said “maybe so with a viable pregnancy but not for one that isn’t”, his manner was as cold as the clip board he held like a shield between us. I told him I wanted to wait for nature to take its course. 

Not long after I went to the loo and a large oval shaped sac slightly bigger than my fist dropped into the pan. It looked very different from the clots and was firmer to the touch. I called the nurse to check and she took the pan away and returned to confirm that the sac was baby. I was desperate to see my baby and asked if I could so she asked me to wait. She returned gently cradling and placing a new smaller disposable pan on my lap. Her manner was filled with such kindness and understanding. She explained the sac was still in tact because hospital policy did not allow them to open it. A doctor joined us and we went through the details of what happened next and I refused any testing on the little one’s tiny body. 

My husband arrived with the children minutes later just as I was walking back to my bed. I was discharged not long after so we were able to spend the rest of Christmas Day at home together and my husband cooked the most delicious meal. At times it felt a bit like I was sat in a glass box with the sound muted when I saw the happiness and laughter on tv or online but remembering what a Christmas like that felt like made me smile.

It’s the 2nd of January today and I have physically recovered very well after we all had a few days restful break with family. Our bodies are incredible and amaze me time and time again. 

We named our baby Albie. My heart aches for our little one. My womb screams for my baby. The pain is immense and the grief so deep. I love our baby so much and no one else will do. But when I search deeply for my child all I see is smiles, BIG smiles and then I can’t help but smile. The joy overrides everything else and I am so thankful. The first word I squealed when I saw those two blue lines was “hello!” and I know with far greater and unimaginable joy I will say hello again. 

I am so grateful for a Father who cares, really cares. Who never leaves us, will never abandon us. Who takes the time to explain things to us, guides us, comforts us and tend to our every need. Whose love for us -those who know him and those yet to know him, is beyond description. One thing that really hit home for the first time and gave me such deep peace is that God knew all this would take place before I was even born. All the tragedies I have faced and am yet to face. We have a Father who has gone before us. When we read –

“The LORD himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.” Deuteronomy 31:8

This isn’t a little bit of friendly advice to keep your chin up and try your very best not to fear or be discouraged. This is the reality of being in his presence; where fear and discouragement simply do not exist.

I was given a Chaplain’s phone number as we were offered a communal cremation. During our conversation I told him I had given my life to Jesus years ago and his response was silence. I asked to see the words on the service sheet, which he emailed. 

“No singing?” I asked 

“No singing, but some appropriate music played at the end” he replied. 

How can I stand drearily repeating words passed down through religious tradition, how can I stand in an environment only allowing us to be sombre and full of grief when my heart is bursting with songs of worship, praise and thanksgiving. There’s no way, I just can’t.

 
How much more wonderful does it get! Every time I’ve witnessed God pour out the incredible and it makes me think that it surely can’t get better than this, he takes me to a place a million times better. My heart is joyfilled and guaranteed it will always be, grief runs deep but His love runs deeper. 

 

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

There was a man sent from God whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.

The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

(John testified concerning him. He cried out, saying, “This is the one I spoke about when I said, ‘He who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’”) Out of his fullness we have all received grace in place of grace already given. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God,but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known.”
John 1:1-19

Mountains

Mountains. We all face them at various points in life. How we choose to climb these mountains will make the difference in how much we enjoy the difficult journeys.

Most of my life has been a series of treacherous mountain ranges, I’ve wearily travelled through the black valleys of depression, faced the frightening jagged edges and avalanches of PTSD, the sweeping storms of self destruction, the fog and mist of abandonment and numerous blizzards of grief. My problems governed me, ruled me with fear, held me hostage, dictated how I lived and convinced me the best I could ever have was to work on myself to be able to manage my pain for the rest of my life. What a self-centred life sentence! But the wisest of man or darkest of demons can not contend with the supreme power of our Lord.

When we stand at the foot of a mountain, we beg for it to be got rid of or we plead for a way around it. We tend to limit God by our limited understanding. Impatient for answers. We ask why a righteous, powerful, loving God allows us to go through these terrible times. But our Almighty God doesn’t move our problems out of the way because he IS mighty. He shows us he is by safely, joyfully and peacefully leading us through them. When we put our trust in him, these difficult journeys allow us to experience his awesome power. A power that is far greater than can be described by human words.

It’s often these difficult times that break down our barriers and leave us so helpless that they push us to go from depending on ourselves or others to depending solely on him. When we open our hearts to know Jesus, not only in part with our problems but trusting him with our whole lives, we are set free. He freely gives us the fullness of life. He takes our burdens, extinguishes our worries, he shows us the footholds, pitches our tent, shields us from the storms, provides an abundance of healing and comfort, we can rest always safe and warm in his unfailing love.

God absolutely delights in every single one of us. He wants nor needs absolutely nothing from us. Love is not earned, it is freely given. He will never let you go, he will never leave you and he will always carry you through the storms.

 

Good Grief

On Sunday morning we were reminiscing with such joy about loved ones who are no longer with us. That evening I received a phonecall with some very sad news. I’ve been walking around doing the usual everyday things but my heart has been floored. Inside I have felt so weak, as if my soul was just a puddle on the floor. While I was washing up I was telling God how sad I was, how my heart hurt for the immediate family, I felt so broken that they were experiencing this devastation and I said “All I can do is rely on you to carry me Lord, I’m so weak with pain” then the Lord spoke to my heart “Why are you crying as if there is no hope?” I felt as if he was gently lifting my chin and in that moment I was reminded how mighty our God is; we have a God who is bigger than all the pain, sickness and death, we have a God of hope. We have a God who understands our worries, fears and questions and is available at all times. We have a God who provides healing, peace and deep joy. We have a God who is in total control. We have a God who we can trust, even more so when we can’t see further than the blur of our eyes that are clouded with tears. He is the inexplicable presence of warmth in times of devastation.

Two verses immediately came to mind and soothed my heart – 

 “He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.” Psalm 147:3 and 

“Weeping may stay for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.” Psalm 30:5. 

When sadness has pushed me down and left me a broken mess on the floor, my hands are up ready for our Lord to pull me up and carry me through. His love leaves no room for worry – 

“The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” Psalm 34:18 

He is always with us, pouring out his love and providing us with the strength to go on.

 “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you” 1 Peter 5:7

FEAR

  

Fear has been regularly knocking at my door through the misdiagnoses, scans, appointments, prescriptions, referrals, medications, Internet self diagnoses and handling the increasing severity of pain. I had to get through a lot of opposition to get the right medication but got there in the end. I was praying for just one day of feeling okay, just one day! And now I’m so grateful to have had 2 weeks pain free. There are still tests to do and specialists to see but I’ve learnt so much on this journey. I’ve experienced fear that subtly creeps in, it starts off as a small pin prick but it’s venom spreads through the body so quickly and, with me, at the worst it ends with anger or tears. Sometimes I’ve felt too cross to ask God for help but I’ve known that he is my only help. When I haven’t known which doctors opinion to trust I know I’m already in safe hands. When I’ve let my mind run away with the dread of what could be, he has reminded me that it’s ALL good anyway. When I’ve struggled with daily activities he’s flooded my heart with sweet words of comfort, hope and peace. When a doctor has expressed their irritation towards me, Jesus has instantly healed the hurt; showing me that doctors are only human too, they may feel pressure in their profession and to love them deeply anyway. When I have felt out of control, he has drenched me with the security that he is in control. He has enabled me to be thankful for the miraculous way in which my body works and to see the multitude of things to be grateful for that always far outweigh the difficult stuff. I’ve learnt to lean on him for everything because he really does care about the smallest details in our lives. His comfort and peace in every circumstance is like no other. It’s all been so wonderfully faith building. So fear, what ever guise it taps on the window in; terror, anxiety, post traumatic stress…He gives us the power to flick it away like the annoying little gnat it is. We don’t need to be afraid or even need to exhaust ourselves fighting or trying to control fear, we need only be still, trusting in Jesus. When I feel those first ripples of fear, that is my cue to fix my eyes on our maker.  

“There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” 1 John 4:18

“For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.” 2 Timothy 1:7

“Cast all you anxiety on him because he cares for you” 1 Peter 5:7

“When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought me joy.” Psalm 94:19