I’ve been watching/listening/reading the media conversation about Ray Rice all day. I’ve also been watching my Facebook Feed. (It’s actually my favorite way to find out news, or watch the scores of various sports teams!) All day words have been tumbling through my head, that we’re really missing something big here.
Most of the conversations have been about what the NFL and Ravens organization should have done, or have done, or shouldn’t have done. I admit that when the NFL commissioner handed down the punishment a few months back of only 2 games, I jumped right on the bandwagon to criticize their decision, and that of the Ravens organization. I threw away my daughter’s Ray Rice jersey, and have no intentions of buying her a new one.
But I think we’re focusing on the wrong things.
This unfortunate situation gives us the perfect opportunity to have real conversations about domestic violence. And we are spending our time arguing about whether Ray should be able to stay in the NFL.
As a person whose family has been extremely impacted by domestic violence, I am tired of it being ignored by the world. I’m tired of a system that makes it so hard to keep oneself and one’s children safe. I’m tired of a system that seems to protect the perpetrator, and that ends up punishing the victim over and over again. I’m tired of a system that doesn’t take into account the economic and monetary abuse that goes on long after the physical, verbal, or sexual abuse may have ended. I’m tired of watching people I love have to tell their story over and over with no real change in result. I’m tired of hearing loved ones pray that the courts decide in the children’s best interest, only to have that not occur over and over again. I’m tired of the excuses, the explanations of how the court or guardian ad litum, or judge or lawyers’ hands are tied because of policies that are outdated and unhelpful.
Did you know for instance that a person who has left their abusive spouse, still has to continue to pay for health insurance until the divorce is finalized? And in many cases these divorces and custody battles go on for YEARS. Did you know that in many many cases the victim simply cannot afford to pay the lawyer, court, and other fees that go along with a divorce, or custody battle so they simply give up?
You can read up on the latest statistics at The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence.
Let’s stop arguing and making excuses. Read up and do something. Talk with your kids, and your friends, and your church, and your colleagues about violence, and help them learn ways to handle anger and other emotions without violence. Make sure you have appropriate outlets for your own emotions. Give financially and with your time to organizations that help abuse victims to heal and be safe. Be aware of those around you, chances are you know someone who needs help. Change your language to reflect that abuse is done by all kinds of people to all kinds of people—and none of it should be acceptable.
Let’s stop arguing about Ray and the NFL. Instead, let’s work for real change in our families, in our communities, and in our world.
Yesterday I went into my local Starbucks and ordered my usual. By “usual,” i mean the thing I order pretty much every time I’m in there. My children even know my order by heart. (Which is probably very sad)
There was a new person at the register, and I could tell that he was new not only because I visit so often, but because he asked me to repeat everything I’d said. Shortly after taking my order he left to go on his break and I noticed that one of the drinks I had ordered was done wrong. He made it iced instead of warm. He also forgot to put my cheese danish in the oven to warm it.
When I mentioned it to the barista who’d made the drink, she just smiled and remade it for me. She didn’t say a word to the other worker, who’d come back in to make his own drink. She said to me simply, “no problem, I’ll make another one.”
What struck me about this interaction was the grace she gave him. There was no shaming him for his mistake, she never asked if I’d said it wrong, or he heard it wrong or told him to pay more attention or ask for help. She didn’t even mention that he was the one who’d taken my order. She simply re-did the drink.
I wish we all could be more like that. It strikes me that often within the church world, we are quick to name other’s mistakes. We point fingers, name names, and play the blame game way too often. I hear too often complaints about the children leaving a mess, or so and so threw out something that’s been in the closet for 10 years, or the secretary messed up the bulletin, or the liturgist read that wrong….and on and on and on.
We’re all guilty of it.
Let’s all take a lesson from my local barista: make a fresh cup of coffee, put a smile on our faces and simply fix the mistake.
Soon after our girls moved in with us, we established a bedtime routine. Every night, we would read a book with them, and then pray before tucking them in. Since we became parents very suddenly, our cadre of books for children their age was pretty small. One book quickly became a favorite. It was called, “To Everything,” by Bob Barner,
and was a bright and beautifully illustrated version of the scripture from Ecclesiastes 3:3-8
“There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under the heavens:
a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,
a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,
a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace.”
Our youngest two were 5 and 6 when they moved in with us and our middle daughter was just starting to read; she would struggle through the book. But, either because of it’s bright pictures or maybe the rhythm of the text, it remained a favorite. They moved in with us in October, and by June when we moved to Baltimore, and they stayed f WV, Suzie Q could read about every other word. We talked about what this meant in our lives: that we had stayed together for a season, and now we were going to be a part or a season; I told the girls that every season teaches us things, and that every season ends to bring something new. These lessons we were about to learn the hard way.
In a few weeks, we will mark a year that they have been with us full-time again. In some ways many, many things have changed in a year. At this time last year, we were just beginning to experience violent, loud, and heart-wrenching temper tantrums from our middle daughter. Her poor heart and mind could not make sense of what was going on in her life; she wanted to be with her bio-mom, she wanted to be with us, she wanted to be with her oldest sister, and she wasn’t getting any of those things. The only way she knew to express this anger was to yell and scream and kick and throw things. A temper tantrum with a 3 year old is one thing—one with a 95 pound 8 year old is something completely different.
A year ago at this time, we were also getting ready to celebrate the high school graduation of our oldest daughter. We were taking prom pictures, and preparing for parties. Now she lives in another state, working so hard to be completely self-reliant.
What a difference a year makes.
In some ways though, nothing has changed. The younger girls are still technically in “foster care,” because there adoption has still not been finalized. We still live our lives with multiple social workers traipsing through our home and schedule multiple times a month. We still work to keep them connected with their bio-mom, and their former foster parents. We are still helping them both to figure out what it means to be in our kind of family, and what it means to be adopted.
We also still read that book, remembering once again, that for everything there is a season. Those who know me well, know that I hate the, “everything happens for a reason,” cliche. Personally, I think that’s crap. I know for a fact though, that everything happens for a season. We are thankful for the year we had to show our girls that we weren’t just saying we wanted to be a family–we worked at it. We drove two hours one way, every weekend to bring them home for just a 48 hour period. We did it because we could not imagine not doing it. But we are glad that season is over. We are thankful for the months of suzie Q’s temper tantrums–because they let us show her that nothing she can do will make us stop loving her. But we are glad that season is over too. We are thankful for the last year spent advocating for our little Diva’s resources at school, but are so glad that the battle part is mostly over!
Hopefully sometime this summer, the season of our daughters being in foster care will be over, and the adoption will be finalized! That day there will be much rejoicing! Until then, we remember that “for everything there is a season, and a purpose for everything under the heavens.”
This is the sermon I preached this past Sunday.
Well here we are, December 1st. We’ve eaten our turkeys, finished up the pumpkin pie. If your house is anything like mine, the leftovers are long gone. This year thanksgiving fell late; usually we have a Sunday between thanksgiving and the first Sunday in Advent, to kind of bring us gently into the season. Not so this year. This year we finish our thankfulness and go right into preparing for Christ’s birth. We go straight from gluttony around our tables to repentance. (and maybe that’s good!)
Advent is a time of preparation. For those of you who come from traditions or families where advent is not a part of your vocabulary, let me give you a brief introduction. Advent is the season before Christmas-the four weeks that lead up to Christmas Day. It is a time of preparation, of repentance. Advent (literally “arrival”) has been observed for centuries as a time to contemplate Christ’s birth. However, for the vast majority of us, December flies by in a flurry of activities, and what is called “the holiday season” turns out to be the most stressful time of the year, instead of a time of anticipation, heart-filled preparation, and repentance.
This time of year is also a time of contrasting emotions. We are eager, yet frazzled; sentimental, yet indifferent. One minute we glow at the thought of getting together with our family and friends; the next we feel utterly lonely. Our hope is mingled with dread, our anticipation with despair. We sense the deeper meanings of the season but grasp at them in vain; and in the end, all the hustle and bustle leaves us frustrated and drained.
For many of us this has already begun. It’s December 1st. But the lists were made long ago. The calendar is full already, the to-do lists are stacked up, the work has begun. We’re told, as one said in bible study last week, to slow down-to wait- to anticipate. But the world tells us differently.
Can you guess the most popular question this time of year? “What do you want for Christmas.” This week, I was sitting next to my 2 year old niece when a commercial came up for some children’s toy. Without blinking or moving, my niece (sitting on her mom’s lap) said I want that. My sister replied with the words that all mom’s and dad’s know this time of year, “Put it on your Christmas list. Or tell Santa!”
Somewhere along the line, our answer to that question changes. We go from asking for things we want, to asking for useful things that we need. I remember one year Dwight asked his dad for new tires for his truck! I’m not sure where or when that transition happens—but it does. This year, in an attempt to help you stay centered and focused, and our sermon series will help you to answer that question through the eyes of faith, All I want for Christmas is.” We will focus on the things that the world really needs: not another IPHONE, or tickle me elmo, but the things we need that can transform our lives and the world—hope, peace, joy and a savior.
I’ve got the very daunting task of talking to you today about hope. All week I’ve been pondering just what hope is. We talk about hope a lot—or at least we use the word a lot. We hope it will snow (or not snow) we hope someone’s surgery goes well, or that you have a nice visit with your folks. But none of those uses tell us really what hope is. Dictionary.com tells me that hope can be a verb or a noun. “the feeling that what is wanted can be had or that events will turn out for the best:” or as a noun, “a person or thing in which expectations are centered: The medicine was her last hope.”
At church we talk about hope in terms of our faith. Jesus is our hope. We hope in Christ. But again, what does that really mean?
So I went looking in books hoping they would help me.
Max Lucado, in his book, God Came Near (pages 88 & 89), illustrates the kinds of things people hope for today: “We were hoping the doctor would release him.” ”I had hoped to pass the exam.” ”We had hoped the surgery would get all the tumor.”
Lucado continues : “Our problem is not so much that God doesn’t give us what we hope for as it is that we don’t know the right thing for which to hope.”
Hope, in terms of our faith, is about Jesus-not just at Christmas, but throughout the year. As the Apostle Paul put it in his opening words of I Timothy: “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the command of God our Savior and of CHRIST JESUS OUR HOPE.” –I Timothy 1:1
What I’ve really been pondering this week is the difference between hope and optimism. I’ve been thinking about that because our advent study book, by James Harnish asks us the difference between the two and this week, our groups have had various differences in our discussion of it. But I couldn’t name for myself what the difference is until yesterday.
Finally last night I was able to name what I think the difference is. Optimism is a general lookout on life. Looking at the world, and for no reason, believe that things are okay, that it will work out (whatever it is) Hope is different though, because hope is based on experience. We hope the medicine will work for our loved one, because we have seen it work in others’ lives. We hope the visit will be good, because we have had other good visits. We hope the weather will hold out, because we know weather is unpredictable and could change (for the better or worse!) at any time. We hope.
In terms of our faith, we have hope in God. We hope that God will come to redeem us soon. We hope that when we close our eyes on this world, we will open them in heaven. We hope. We hope because we have seen God hold God’s promises. We hope because we have the stories of our spiritual ancestors being saved-of the Israelites being led out of Egypt, of them reaching the promised land. Stories of them wandering away, but always being called back to God. We have stories of Jesus healing people. We see Jesus life death and resurrection as the fulfillment of God’s promises. As one pastor put it, “We hope in God for the future because we have known God’s faithfulness in the past.” In Romans, Paul points to “the promises to the patriarchs.” God promised Noah that the earth would never again be destroyed, and God delivered on that promise. God promised Abraham offspring and land, and God delivered on that promise. God promised the Hebrew people deliverance from Egypt, and God delivered on that promise. God promised sustenance in the wilderness, and God delivered on that promise. God promised that Jesus would be raised from the dead, and God delivered on that promise.
And so we hope.
This weekend I went to see the second movie in the “Hunger Games trilogy. “Catching Fire.” If you’ve not read the books, or seen the movie let me give you a brief synopsis. The book is about the nation of Panem, formed from a post-apocalyptic North America. It is a country that consists of a wealthy Capitol region surrounded by 12 poorer districts. Early in its history, a rebellion led by a 13th district against the Capitol resulted in its destruction and the creation of an annual televised event known as the Hunger Games. In punishment, and as a reminder of the power and grace of the Capitol, each district must send one boy and one girl between the ages of 12 and 18, chosen through a lottery system to participate in the games. The ‘tributes’ are chosen during the annual Reaping and are forced to fight to the death, leaving only one survivor to claim victory. The movie and books center around the main character, Katniss, who is 16 and during the first book, volunteers as the “tribute” to save her sister. (spoiler alert) Katniss wins alongside her partner Peeta, the first competition in the first book. The second book opens with President Snow, the evil person in charge, visiting Katniss to intimidate and scare her. People in the districts have begun to talk about rebellion because something Katniss did in the games gave them hope that something could change. I won’t spoil the second for you, but at one point during a discussion of the possibility of rebellion, President Snow says these words, “Fear can’t work if they have hope.”
Those words have stuck with me the past few days. They’ve been sitting in my brain and marinating. “Fear can’t work if they have hope.” I’ve been thinking about all of the stories in the bible where an angel appears. What are the first words usually, “Fear not” Our Gospel lesson today has those words “But the angel said to him: “Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to call him John. He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even before he is born. He will bring back many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” I’ve always chocked up that first sentence to the humans being afraid because an angel has appeared before them. But what if it’s something more than that? What if it is a statement that God recognizes the fear people live in—during Zeceriah’s time the rule of the Roman government, the fear that the Israelites will never get their promised land back, that they will live in a world where they are second class citizens forever. Fear that nothing will change. Fear that the messiah will never come. What if the statement the angels make-to Zechariah, to Mary, to the shepherds later on is really a statement about that? God has seen your fear—and God has sent hope, in the form of a baby, to dispel that fear. Because fear doesn’t work if the people have hope. Hope that things will change, hope that the world will not always be the way it is now. Hope that things can get better. The amazing thing is that God does it on many levels. God recognizes the hope that the nation of Israel (and really the world!) needs, but he also recognizes the new hope that Elizabeth needs. A barren woman in a society like the one she lived in, was looked on with pity. There was something wrong with her. And her hope of being taken care of was limited.
This week, Eva came home from school (I don’t know what she’d been learning that this came up!) and asked, “When you get old, do we have to take care of you?!
I said, “yes, that’s what adoption means!”
“Okay,” she replied, “when you are old I will push you around and cook for you.”
As a barren woman in today’s world. I have options. I have retirement, I have agency’s that can help me if I’m older and have no relatives to rely on. That wasn’t the case with Elizabeth. If her husband died and she had no kids, Elizabeth would have to go to her family of origin, and beg them to take her in. Without a husband and kids she had no income, no home, no hope for the future. So with a simple sentence, God dispelled the fear of a nation, and the fear of one barren old woman. “Fear not…..”
Christian author Anne Lamott says that when things get really terrible, painful, and awful, it’s often because something amazing is getting ready to be born. Not because God causes the terrible painful and awful, but because God redeems it. God transforms despair into Hope, fear into love, weakness into strength.
Let me end by telling you what I know hope is not: it is not an excuse for inaction or laziness, it is not believing that things will get better without your help or involvement. It is not a wish that we toss half-heartedly into a fountain with little faith that it will come true. Again from Romans: “For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, so that by steadfastness and by the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope.” Hope is instructive; it shapes us and encourages us to undertake the challenging work of living in unity for the praise of God. (re-state!)
This advent, I hope (haha!) that you will let hope shape you. As we prepare for Christmas, and more importantly, for Christ’s arrival, let hope shape what that looks like. Let hope instruct you in the way that you celebrate this year, so that you may share your Hope with others. Put hope at the top of your Christmas list, because it is hope that dispels our fear that this will be just another boring Christmas, filled with too much work and not enough spirit. It is hope that will fill you with God’s love, that will remind you of God’s eternal promise to redeem creation. It is hope that will teach you and hope that will uphold you. It is hope that will strengthen you. Hope that this is not all there is, that there is something better, and we better work for it.
In the name of the one who is our hope, Amen.
2 years ago tomorrow (Nov. 23) at 6pm, my life changed forever. That was the day that three beautiful children walked into our home.
Dwight and I had done Foster Care before. During our third year of marriage, we got hooked into an agency called San Mar in western Maryland that trains, licenses and resources families to do “Treatment Foster Care.” This is normally a group of kids who have higher levels of need, either because of medical issues, developmental delays, or psychological issues. We spent almost a year working with San Mar, and had two Foster children during that time.
When we moved to West Virginia, we decided that we needed a break, especially since Dwight was working at a job with the same demographic of teens. But after a year of living in a huge house with extra bedrooms, our home and hearts felt empty without the laughter of children. So we geared back up, found a wonderful agency called the Children’s Home Society, and got re-licensed.
We spent three months taking classes on stuff we’d already learned and lived in real life. We re-did our CPR and First Aid, filled out tons and tons of paperwork, got fingerprinted, had our background checks re-done, and asked friends to write references for us. We finished our part of the process in April and every month I would call and ask the worker if she’d completed and processed our paperwork so that we could be matched with a child. They were extremely backlogged.
Finally in November of 2011 we got the call. “We have a sibling group of 3 girls that we need to move into a new home. We’re going to rush through your license because we think it would be a good fit. They are 15, 6, and 5. What do you think?” Dwight and I were hesitant to take teens again, but knew that placing a sibling group like this would be hard for the agency to do. So we prayed, took a deep breath and said yes. Then we began preparing. We put out a call to friends and family asking if anyone had an extra twin bed. “No rush” we said, because the agency thought we would take a couple of weeks to complete the transfer. We’ll do a couple of get-to know you meetings, and then maybe try an overnight, and then a weekend, and make the transition go smoothly they said. The next day they called back and said, how bout we bring them over next week? Sure, I replied, trying not to panic. After a second call for twin beds, we had friends who could give us two. We ended up only having to buy one (and the company threw in a free cover!)
We began leisurely moving things that had been stored in our extra bedrooms to new homes. Not worrying too much, because it was the week of thanksgiving, and we wouldn’t be getting them until the next weekend. It was our year to host thanksgiving again, and this year my whole family came. All 7 siblings plus a brother-in-law, my parents, 3 nieces and a nephew, 1 cousin. Normal for us.
And then my cell phone rang again. Can we bring them over tonight? I told the worker that my whole family was there (and explained what that meant in terms of numbers!) We were fine, my family is used to lots of people, but I didn’t want the girls to be overwhelmed and the placement to fail because of it. “We’ll be there at 6,” he replied.
The last twin bed got delivered at 5pm.
So in the girls walked. 2 little girls with round faces, one exuberantly chasing after the cats right away (that hasn’t changed) 1 a little shyer but with sparkling brown eyes, and 1 quietly reserved teenager (that has changed!) I shook the teenager’s hand, and introduced myself, and then knelt down to do the same to her sisters. “I’m Tricia, and this is Dwight, nice to meet you.” The teen quickly piped up, “can they just call you mom and dad, they aren’t good with names, and it’s easier.”
And that was it.
I asked them today if they remembered the day they moved in. Ivy said all she remembers is that it was a lot of people she didn’t know. “But now I do!” she said.
It’s two years later, our teenager will be 18 in just a few weeks, but she is legally ours forever. Her sisters are 7 and 8 and I just tucked them into bed. This week the 8 year old told me that she was jealous that “sissy’s” adoption was done and hers was not. She was afraid that it would not happen, that we would change our minds and she wouldn’t be our “forever daughter” like Amira is. I reminded her of the state’s rule, that they have to live with us in Maryland for 6 months (even though they’d been with us in WV for over 6) But we already filled out the paperwork, waiting for the deadline. I reminded her that we’d fought and fought and fought for them to come back and live with us again, and we would never let anyone change that now. I kissed her and hugged her and told her that she was already my “forever daughter,” the rest is just paperwork.
It’s been two years of waiting. Two years of court dates, and therapy appointments. Two years of social workers and endless paperwork. Two years of driving them to visitations with bio-mom. Two years of transitions. Two years of heartbreak when they weren’t with us, and hard goodbyes.
But it’s also been two years of miracles. Two years of hugs and kisses at night. Two years of watching them learn to talk to God when they’re scared or worried. Two years of “can we snuggles,” and “can I have a kiss.” Two years of reading storybooks and helping with homework. Two years of singing songs in the car, and two years of “I love you.”
Two years of being a family, even when we were not.
People always tell me how lucky the girls are to have us, but I know that the really lucky ones are Dwight and I.
So tomorrow at 6pm, I will offer up a simple prayer of thanks for my family. We won’t all be together, but I know that each of us will think of our first thanksgiving together, and can’t wait for more to come.
The first time I met Dick was on a mountain. We were waiting for the beginning of an Emmaus weekend (http://emmaus.upperroom.org) for him and about 18 other men to begin. I’d already met his wife Janet, at the intake meeting for my upcoming appointment change. In four short months I would become their Pastor. In every congregation I’ve served, there’s been at least one older man who has not liked me, no matter what I did. It is just a fact. I have to admit that the first time I met Dick, I worried that he might be that person. Later I was humbled to find that he was exactly the opposite.
That weekend changed Dick. One of the stories that was told to me soon after I moved to Berkeley Springs to be the pastor at Union Chapel, was that before his Emmaus walk Dick was adamantly against the ministry to DC homeless population that the church helped with once a month. They would drive a van 2 hours to hand out 120 some meals, clothes, and toiletry kits to anyone they could find. Apparently, when the ministry first got introduced at Union Chapel, Dick was vehemently against it, wanting them instead to put their work into the local community (which they also do!) After his Emmaus walk, Dick went on almost every monthly trip. Seeing Dick with his homeless friends was a blessing and a challenge to do better personally. He would smile and joke as he looked through the piles of clothes in the back of the van, blessing people as he did so. He was so excited to be helping, and it was contagious.
Dick loved to help. He was 81 or 82 when I first moved to Berkeley Springs, but he helped my husband deliver our couches. He carried them in like he was 18, without a care in the world. One of the things I loved about Dick was his generosity. I can’t count the number of times Dwight or I called to ask him to do something, and EVERY time we called, he said yes. He dropped everything one Sunday morning during worship to drive Dwight to the hospital during a back spasm, and sat in the waiting room making jokes until I could join them, and Dwight could go home.
Our first Easter, Dwight’s maternal grandmother passed away, and on our way out of town we stopped by the restaurant where they were having dinner to ask them to dog-sit, and they said yes without hesitation, and blew away our apologies for interruption. He never made you feel like you were asking too much.
Our first Christmas Eve service at UC, I started a new family service that hadn’t been done before. I had this vision of kids and families filling the church, when in actuality we had about 10 people. We had only 3 or 4 kids, so my plan to have them play musical instruments along with the Christmas hymns was almost ruined—until Dick jumped up to grab a tambourine and join in! It made my night.
Dick loved fiercely. He was loyal and protective of those who considered family, and he wanted you to know that, so he worked to show you. There was nothing better than Dick’s smile. It would light up what sometimes felt like a gruff face, and seeing it could change your day.
I grew up away from our extended family. Our grandparents lived on the other side of the country, and we didn’t get to see them much. Because of this, our parents always helped us to create family where we were, through our church. I have taken that habit into my ministry, and Dick was family to me. He was the grandfather I wanted to live right next door. His sense of humor was unstoppable, and his energy and work ethic unbeatable.
The only bad things I can say about Dickie (as his wife calls him) is that he couldn’t sing on key, and his tambourine playing wasn’t that great, and (he was horrible at the car game, “yellowcar!”) But I bet that first part has changed now that he’s on the other side, and I can’t wait to see him playing in the Angel band.
Thank you for sharing your life and love with us. Thank you for your support and encouragement while I was your pastor. Thank you for the important ministry that you did, and for your legacy that will live on. DeColores friend.
A few weeks ago, I did something I swore I would never do.
I got a tattoo.
The idea had been rattling in my head for over a year, as a way to memorialize or give physical presence to the grief I’ve been carrying for my failed pregnancies. We had 5, with 7 embryos used during the IVF cycles. That is a lot of grief.
But there is no tombstone, no grave. No one has memories to share with me to help in the healing. Instead there is silence and nothingness.
So I went with a friend who also needed a physical representation of her own miscarriages, and I let a man use a needle to draw 7 hearts: one for each possible life.
Grief is a weird thing. It sneaks up on you when you least expect it. It takes energy you didn’t know you had or needed, and it pulls things apart subtly and suddenly.
One time I was in the hospital with my husband’s family waiting and praying for a member of his family who was dying. I was struck at how the grief took up the room. It was sitting there with us, and as more people entered and we spilled into the hallway, the grief followed. It took up more and more space until it felt like there was not enough air in the room.
That’s how I’ve been feeling lately. Like sometimes there isn’t enough room to breathe, that the vast nothingness is expanding more and more.
I wonder if this feeling of nothingness is unique to grief about infertility, because part of what dies is the possibilities. We carry around with us not memories, but what if’s, not pictures but empty baby albums. We have empty arms, with no memory of a baby in them.
I’m lucky to have three beautiful children that came into my life a different way. I get to hold them and love them, watch them grow and celebrate in their healing and accomplishments. (In a very strange coincidence two of them look like they could be my biological children…) I love my girls and I can’t imagine life without them. But I also grieve for the babies that I will never have.
At our fertility clinic every time we went through a cycle we received a photograph of the embryos. It is a nice idea, to have a picture of your baby right there at the beginning of conception. Not many people have that. But now I have pictures of the embryos and nothing else. No month by month growth pictures, no first birthdays, no toddler smiles wearing weird outfits. Just black and white photos of a possibility that never materialized, that my body rejected.
So now I have a tattoo. Hearts to remind me of the love I have for the babies I never bore. Hearts to remind me of the love I have from my girls.
A way to remember that even in the nothingness, even in the grief, I am surrounded by love and grace.