Sunday, February 24, 2013

My Last Best Year: Hannah Hannah Keith, Ya'll

This is my dearest friend, Hannah!  I have loved her since the day I met her freshman year of college.  But we really bonded as two night owls in a house full of sleepy roommates.  (Camelot was deemed Sleepalot for our tenure.  Little did others know, Hannah and I were running preschool-style telephone lines between our house and the Six-Two-Five guys next door all night long...).  She has walked with me through the darkest hours of life and I have laughed my hardest laughs with her. Hilarious, smart, beautiful, and wise are just a few descriptors.  (And she should have her own style and design column in a major magazine).  She has a blog you should follow!  Start here:

My Last Best Year: Anna's Story

Anna is my mom's, sister's, daughter.  We have been friends since she was born; I was 9 years old.  I remember carrying her when she was a toddler, because no sensible grown up would; only a preteen who was attached at the hip to her adorable cousin.  Never were there two more different people out of the same family tree; it's awesome!  We have hung out all over the world, and now we regularly eat bad Chinese food in Denver.  I love her!, and she has a story to share:

If you look at my life, it can be fairly enviable. I grew up in a strong, loving Christian family that has always valued me and helped me be the best I can be. I have a wonderful husband, adorable dog, and a brand new home. We have two running cars, stable jobs, and get to go on vacation periodically. Not too shabby.
This is all true. It’s also true that I struggle with debilitating panic attacks and anxiety. I lay in bed at night, awake for hours on end imagining all the awful things that could happen to me and my loved ones. I sit in my boss’ office bawling my eyes out for no reason at all. I have to pull my car over because I’m afraid that I’m shaking and breathing so hard that I might wreck. You give me a scenario, and I can give you the top ten worst things that could happen in under a minute. I wake up crying from sleep from dreams I can’t, and don’t want to, remember. For almost a year, fear has ruled my life. And I’ve let it. 
I told myself it was fine. How could I admit that I’m afraid all the time and claim to believe in a sovereign God? Won’t everyone think I’m a hypocrite and have no faith? Look at what other people have to live with, who am I to be a pessimist?! Just pull it together, damn it. 
Thankfully, I am now seeking help. I have started seeing a counselor who is helping with the “roots” and “shoots” of the problem. I have a prescription for the exceptionally bad days. I am having many honest conversations with God, friends, and family. There’s finally a light at the end of the tunnel. Everyone has experienced trauma, many people suffer from it, and only a few get the help they need.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

My Last Best Year: Shame and Miscarriage

Have you ever had that feeling that you should NOT have said what you just said?  Not because it was inappropriate or hurtful to someone else.  (Not the mechanism that teaches us about social norms and who is safe and who is not).  But because you have a sense that you should have kept that truth about YOU hidden because now people know that there is something wrong with YOU.  The reflex that says – “Run and hide!  Now they know how messed up I am!”

I have felt the shame reflex quite a bit as I have shared my story of infertility/pregnancy/miscarriage.  Not just after I have hit “post” on my blog, but as I have shared with family, friends, groups.  I get that this could be because of my own story and wounds, (and some of it is), but as I talk to women about this more and more – worldwide even – I get a sense that it is something bigger. 

Could it be our culture’s uncomfortableness with grief, pain, and emotions in general?  Or could it be an even older, broader story?  A story about women’s truest glory?  And women’s shamiest shame?

I won’t pretend to have enough knowledge or wisdom as an ambivalent, freshman feminist to say anymore.  But I do pose the question: what is women’s truest glory?  That maybe childbearing is an analogy of, but not a full expression of?  Because I have a sense that once we get some taste of that, shame and miscarriage will no longer go hand in hand.

(And by the way, blogging about it is one way of me giving shame the finger.  For more than just me).

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

My Last Best Year: Recurrent Miscarriage

Two days after I posted My Last Best Year’s initial blog, I had a positive pregnancy test.  Glory!  The raw truth is that conception has not been our primary burden, but it had been a while since I had seen that plus sign and the joy was overwhelming.  I Sarah-laughed at the irony of it all, receiving what joy I could; bracing myself all at the same time. 

I have been pregnant before.  Twice.  Now three times.  I am familiar with the first trimester and all the joy and barfiness it brings.  I am also painfully familiar with a burden it brings…oh, I weep as I write…the fear and fragility that it brings…I weep and I realize even more…the loss that it has brought.  This is not as it was meant to be.  Lets do away with that platitude.  (In case you missed it, “I guess it wasn’t meant to be.”)

This is not as it was meant to be.  We knew our babies were at a high miscarriage risk since the loss of our second one a few years ago. Yes – we know that we have a balance translocation (chromosomal) issue.  We know it is an “uncommon” translocation and therefore the probability of a “live birth” has to be drawn from family history.  We know each of our babies has a 50/50ish shot of making it past the first trimester.  And we know that none of ours has.  This is not as it was meant to be. 

For the last few months I have been doing life and trying to keep from tossing my cookies because I, in fact, was pregnant.  And today, I am, in fact, not.  What terrible news.  But there is a glimmer of hope: I watched one less episode of Friday Night Lights yesterday than I did the day before.  (Thank GOD for Netflix).  I went to the gym today.  I am increasing my hours at work day by day.  My laughter is as spontaneous as my tears.  And I feel Faithfulness rising up like fruit from a tree. 

We lost a baby.  Our third.  And for now, even with all the problem-solving that is available to me, I am grieving – sheltered and as God allows.  Strangely thankful amidst the anger and certainty swimming in a sea of doubt.

Monday, February 11, 2013

My Last Best Year: Why I Blog

Every blogger has their own motivation(s) for writing and every person has their own opinions on blogs in general.  Plat-forming? Narcissism?  Cry for help?  Boredom?  Loneliness?  Business-building? Charity? 

I am not even going to try to get into the entanglement of all my motivations for blogging, but I am clear on a few things.

#1 – I don’t write to garner support…although sometimes that does happen and I welcome it.  I think I can write more openly and freely as I go along because I do have amazing support in my life.  Amazing people, primarily.  People that love me in the brokenness, in me and around me,  and see through all the BS to who I really am.  People that free me up to be real and so really heal.

#2 – I don’t write for advice.   Although I am open to feedback and sometimes ask for it, I have got plenty of information at my fingertips.  Good healthcare, spiritual friends, counselors, family.  I really don’t need any more advice, spiritual or otherwise.  I find that when I want to give advice, it is to fix someone and I am not writing to be fixed.  Real help, I am open to; advice, I am not.  Except in some areas – like my broken water heater, or what color I should paint my dining room, or if I really should follow the coral-color lipstick trend…so maybe I will share a Daily Dilemma or two…

#2 – I want more stories about the broken places, in the actual broken places.  And the Life that springs up there.  I live in a culture (White, Middle Class, Christian) that tells a lot of stories of triumph and healing – but mostly after the fact.  And only victorious ones.  There is a natural propensity to isolate, and therefore self-protect, when life is up-side-down, but I believe that Grace allows us to be more free in our most broken places - in the midst - messy emotions and bodies and humanity and all.  I could use a little more story-telling like that in my life. 

And so I set the stage to blog a bit more about the last couple of months in my Last Best Year, and all the joy and sorrow in it.

My Last Best Year: Brian's Story

Brian is my friend and business partner.  I initially met him through my husband about 5 years ago and our families have been getting to know each other since.  I love the Newmans!  Here is his life unscripted story to share:

I arrived at a very successful church in 2006 to be the #2 guy in the shadow of a dynamite preacher/senior pastor. Within a year he was removed and the church was spiraling into a church split. And I was spiraling into depression.

For the first 3 months after the pastor left, another pastor and I preached most Sundays. It was like speaking at a funeral, except people in the congregation came back periodically to see if the person was really dead. Every Sunday felt like a sucker punch to the kidneys for me. Each successive Sunday became more and more painful as people left.

I vacillated between a few perspectives on this church mess. Perhaps reality is somewhere in the midst of these thoughts:
Thought #1 : Everyone wants a "rock star" for a pastor and the star will eventually crash, either due to self-inflicted wound or other circumstances;
Thought #2: God orchestrated the whole thing to show the folly of human empire-building;
Thought #3: The emotional pain caused by this church split was and is staggering to me!

In the midst of all of this I struggled deeply: WHERE IS GOD'S GRACE IN THIS MESS?
Trite answers from well-meaning people did not help.
Spiritualizing the mess did not help.
Blame shifting certainly did not help.

The question haunted me. I got depressed, probably clinically so. For quite some time. I lost faith in the institution of the Church. At points I thought I might lose my faith, and almost did.

But as the old hymn says, "I have decided to follow Jesus, no turning back, no turning back." It is in that following (dare I say obedience) that I began to rediscover grace - in the form of spiritual brothers and sisters who sat with me in the mess, who did not have simple answers to hard questions, and who challenged me to forgive (myself, others, God).

I hope that my wounds are turning to scars. Scars remind us of past hurts but they are now healed wounds. That is my hope.