What I mean when I say that I am a Christian Democrat…

 

I am a Christian.

I believe that the Gospel is more than a representation of Christ; I believe that it is God’s unhindered offer of hope and redemption, the personified graciousness that he extends, not only to the group he chose through Old Testament covenants, but to all people who recognize the death and resurrection of Christ as an open invitation into God’s family. I believe that Christianity is best characterized by tangible compassion for the poor and the disenfranchised — that it is most genuine in its quick extension of mercy; most operational in its prioritization of the needs of masses over those of the individual; most intentional in its serving of widows, orphans, and the likes; and most ardent in its denouncing of violent prejudice, racial and otherwise.

I am also a Democrat.

And I’m a Democrat because I’m a Christian, not in spite of it. From my perspective, the two are not mutually exclusive.

I’m a Democrat because I believe that, in general, the values championed by this particular party best represent the priorities of Christianity. And I know and love many who believe that Republicanism does the same! But rather than discussing or trying to counter the positions that these people hold, I want to take a moment to explain how my faith informs my political positions in the hopes that I might find common ground among those whose think differently than I do. Because if there is one thing that we need in this election cycle, it is the ability to hear and understand each other better. So here’s what I mean when I say that I am a Christian Democrat.

I’m a Democrat because I cannot ignore verses like Luke 3:11, Hebrews 13:2, and Matthew 25:35-40 which urge me to welcome refugees (to make their way through our already extensive vetting process) with openness and care. And if we are going to compare these human beings to potentially poisoned skittles, I’ll join Eli Bosnick in saying, “Give me all the skittles!”

I’m a Democrat because I believe that Christ’s priority was to care for the hurt, the broken,  and the outcast of society. I believe that he was a champion for women and minorities. He did not exploit those who served and worked for him, and he condemned the proposition that women are sexual objects to be subjected to anyone’s sexual perversions. Jesus urged his followers to offer care the homeless, the destitute, and the disadvantaged without stipulation or performance-based requirement. And until the Church can provide comprehensive services that extend real care and practical protection to these groups — the homeless, the addicted, etc. — I will gladly offer my tax dollars to do the job.

I’m a Democrat because I support the Black Lives Matter movement. And as controversial as this statement may be to some, I recognize that our country was built on a system that perpetuates the continued exploitation and incarceration of non-white people, and while all lives certainly matter to Jesus, the ones “on fire” (as so aptly explained in this analogy) deserve focused attention and preservation.

I’m a Democrat because I believe that advocating for justice in the Black Community is not the same thing as advocating for violence against the police. As John Stewart so perfectly explained, “You can truly grieve for every officer who’s been lost in the line of duty in this country, and still be troubled by cases of police overreach. Those two ideas are not mutually exclusive.”

I’m a Democrat because I believe that families matter, and because I have a vested interest in providing the means for children to be well-cared-for and well-bonded to their parents, especially in their early years. I believe that everyone — business owners, educators, the childless, etc. — shares this interest because we recognize a simple truth: kids who are well-raised and well-loved grow into contributing members of society, and we ought to use our funds to support endeavors to provide Paid Family Leave.

I’m a Democrat who is anti-abortion and pro-choice — at the same time. And I admit to wrestling with the commonly embraced pro-choice position because I believe that God creates life — and I believe that so strongly that there was once a day when nothing could have convinced me that abortion was ever an acceptable option.

Then, life happened.

Twice, I faced scenarios where I had to make the impossible choice to save my own life or to save my baby’s, and I learned that there is such a wide array of issues that can arise in pregnancy to make mom’s like me face the worst decisions of their lives, and attempting to legislate those decisions only puts women at further risk.

And I’m not alone. Women all over the country face what I did, and despite losing the babies we wanted, we gained more compassion and the understanding that women need the freedom to make the best decisions that they can in consultation with their doctors, and not with the United States Congress or Court systems. Yes, I recognize that legalized abortion means that women will use that freedom in ways that I don’t agree with. And that breaks my heart because I want fewer and fewer and fewer abortions. So, I will advocate for what we know will reduce those rates: better access to contraception and sex education. I will fight against those who perpetuate the myth of the “9th month abortion,” and I will respect the complex nuances that place women in increasingly unimaginable situations.

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, I’m a Democrat because I live in a country founded on the freedom of and the freedom from religion — because we ought not legislate anyone’s religious convictions, including my own.

Listen, I recognize — and experience! — the fear that our current election cycle perpetuates in the hearts of people all around the world. Issues have triggered anger, trauma, and violence all across our country because we are faced with two candidates who both hide and dance with their skeletons. Voter concerns are widespread, as varied as the age, ethnicities, and backgrounds of the voters themselves. And we are all tasked with voting our consciences, and not with fighting one another. Certainly, there is space in this country to find and fight for that which unites us more than we hammer each other on that which divides!

My convictions might sway me toward the left, and yours might sway you toward the right. Whichever position you might find, my only challenge to you is this: hold your political positions with an open hand. Be willing to listen. Be more willing to challenge yourself than you are to challenge that stranger on Twitter or Facebook. And vote! Whatever you do, choose the candidates who represents the values that govern your life, and make your voice heard on November 8th.

Because the only sin in American democracy is the sin of staying silent.

 

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From Persephone Magazine: Living with Nevers (2011)

I have a silver necklace that I never wear. It’s a double-layered cylinder on a thin silver chain. Embedded in the center are two simple, tiny footprints surrounded by the names “Isaac” and “John.” My necklace is a reminder of my sons: beautiful identical twin boys who I never saw, never kissed, and never even held. Boys I never knew in this life.

My sons were born at 4:50 a.m. on June 29, 2010. Both were stillborn. Both were so deformed that the doctors could not distinguish their gender without an autopsy. Both were my sons ““ my precious, beautiful babies.

I miss them both. I think about them every single day.

As a mother to stillborn children, I live with a lot of “nevers.” Never felt them kick. Never heard them cry. Never kissed a scraped knee. Never heard a first word. Never walked them to school. Never grounded them for staying out late. Never. Never. Never. My life with these children is full of nevers. But there is one never that I am finding more difficulty with as of late: I never talk about them.

This never is not as uncommon as I thought, even though, statistically speaking, 1 out of every 150-200 pregnancies ends as a stillbirth. This is a startlingly high statistic, especially considering how little I hear about stillbirths and the women who survive them.

How many, do you think, live with the same nevers that I do? How many never speak of their babies, afraid that they will seem ungrateful for those who lived? How can we remove the stigma from stillbirths, opening the door for women to grieve publicly, to acknowledge the precious lives that were replaced with never-ending nevers?

For me, this process began by replacing at least one never with an always.

3 months after my sons were born, I crawled in my bed, hoping to escape the real world for an hour or two. Hogwarts seemed to be an acceptable venture, so I slowly began to reread the last book in the Harry Potter series. This series is one that I have always wanted to read to my children. In fact, for years I dreamed of the nights that my kids would take baths, put on their jammies, brush their teeth, and jump on my bed for a bedtime story. Even now, I can almost see us taking a year or two to make our way through the whole series, and I plan on reading it slowly and carefully, accentuating every syllable and every wand-wave.

That night as I read, I got the strangest feeling. It was as if I was piled under covers, sitting between two blonde little boys who wanted me to read Harry Potter with the voices. And strangely enough, I did. Quietly and to myself, I began to read Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows out loud to my sons. It was like they were there, with me, hearing the story of bravery and family, of love and war, of hope, of death, of resurrection. And for a moment, I got a chance to do something that I never thought I would do: I got to read a story to my boys.

That moment brought me hope.  It reminded me, and reminds me still, that my sons lived, that their lives were precious, that they are worth remembering.

And so I write this remembrance to honor my boys. But I also do it to remind you. October is a month dedicated to more than breast cancer awareness. It is also focused on remembering those who have suffered a miscarriage and/or a stillbirth. So this month, I will wear my necklace. And in doing so, I will remember my sons.  And I will remember the thousands of women who never speak of their children.  I hear your nevers and I wish you a lifetime filled with more than one always.

On the first day of Kindergarten, my mama gave to me….

When my oldest daughter was born, most people marveled at how she so detailedly resembled her dad, but as time has gone on, she’s grown into this smart, witty, beautiful blonde-haired little wonder girl who tends to look more like me — and I don’t mind one little bit! Of course, the more she grows, the more I realize that she takes after her mama in more than just looks.

Just like mama, she likes information. And a plan. Surprises or changes to that plan are, well, not her favorite thing (unless the surprise involves ice cream, because let’s be honest, who doesn’t like ice cream?). She likes to know what’s coming so that she can get her head around it and know exactly what to expect.

Boy, is life going to challenge that ideal a time or two…..

…..but I digress.

My (uh-hmm), I mean her need for a plan brings with it a strong urge to prepare for her very next “first”: her first day of kindergarten. So, to help us both, I reached out to my village: a host of wonderful teachers who I count as friends, colleagues and family. I asked them a host of questions, most of which centered on one main concerns: “What’s the best thing that I can do when I bring my kiddo to her first day of school?”

Their answers were so immensely helpful, so I thought I’d compile them for anyone else who is also wondering how to make this new-school-adventure as wonderful as possible!

So here goes….

Is there anything specific I should do leading up to the big day?

Probably the most notable advice I got about preparing kids for what’s coming can be summed up in one word: practicality. This is a new place, with new people, and a new schedule, so be sure that your kiddo knows what’s going to happen and how to complete even the simplest of tasks.

Mrs. L. reminds parents to “…prepare them on the days beforehand, not the morning of. Make sure they know the schedule: when you’ll be back to pick them up or to meet the bus.” Mrs. P. got even more practical, recommending that you “…make sure that all school supplies fit into their backpacks. Practice opening and closing lunch boxes/ tupperware, getting straws into juice boxes, opening milk cartons, and anything else they might need for lunch time.”

As for health and wellness, Mr. J. agrees with studies like this one, arguing that “kids should start going to bed a bit earlier,” and Mrs. B. reminds all parents to “make sure that you kiddos eat a decent breakfast — especially if they’re used to ‘grazing’ on snacks whenever they feel hungry! (Have them eat) something with a lot of protein and minimal sugar so that it sticks with them and they don’t ‘crash’ and hour into the school day….It can be a long time from that first bell to noon!”

What about the morning of?

Once all of that preparation is complete, you will inevitably arrive at the moment we have been anticipating (dreading?) all summer: the moment we bring our children into the classroom, and leave them there.

Talk about heart-wrenching…and exciting….all at the same time!

Well, if you’re having conflicting emotions, it’s reasonable to think that your kiddo might be too. But there are ways of bring your child to class that are helpful, and ways that are not.

“The best thing a parent can do,” Mrs. B. says, “is to bring the student to school, take a picture, get him/her settled quickly, give a quick kiss goodbye, and leave!” “You want them to know that they’ve got this,” Mrs. S. adds, “and that there’s nothing to be afraid of. Don’t hover, and don’t cry in the classroom. The parents who do are showing their kids that school is scary or untrustworthy. There’s a fine line, so give a hug goodbye and a quick ‘I love you.’ Then? Out the door! The teacher will show them the rest!”

But my kid is nervous about being away from me every day! Is there anything I should do to help him/her to feel secure?

Mrs. B. has a few insights on this one: “Your kiddos are nervous because you are nervous. Start talking up how it is expected that a child goes to kindergarten, how well he/she is going to do, etc. Don’t hover! And don’t try to go ahead of your kid to prepare a nice, smooth path so as not to upset him/her. Realize that doing that communicates to your child that he/she is not capable — and that will only add to the nerves!”Instead, talk through the day beforehand, emphasizing how much fun school will be, what is in his/her lunch, and the new friends he/she will make.

Miss T. agrees!

She urges parents to “…be SO excited! Point out and discuss all of the amazing things that you see in the school and classroom. If you have the chance, go to an open house and ask your child to look for his/her favorite things — the things that breed excitement. Then, talk about those things! If you don’t have an open house, ask your child what he/she is looking forward to, and tell him/her what you’re excited about. This helps to clarify expectations, as well as to point out all of the wonderful learning that is about to take place. It’ll probably also provide ample time for your child to express any concerns that he/she may have so that you can begin to work through them.”

Should I purchase a cell phone or an Apple watch (or some similar device) for my child? Or perhaps let him/her bring a special trinket or stuffed animal to the first day?

Still feeling nervous about leaving your little one at school all day? I get it. Me too. And the temptation to create some sort of tether (technological or otherwise) is great. So this is a question I pondered. And honestly? It’s a tough one because I quickly learned that there is a pretty even split between the parents who purchase these devices because they are nervous, and those who purchase them because their child is nervous. Either way, the answer to this question was unanimous: don’t do it.

“In most schools/classrooms,” Mrs. B. recounts, “these devices are not allowed. If a child needs a phone, there is one available to him/her in the office.” The heart behind this admonition — which all 6 of my responders affirmed — is simple: teach your child that school is a safe space, and that there are adults there (namely, his/her teacher) who can help to solve problems. “We (teachers) are responsible for what is happening with our students,” Miss T. reminds us, “and if there is a real emergency, we will always let the parents know. Kindergarten teachers are especially sensitive to their kids’ needs as new students, and showing your kids that you have confidence in their teachers is important.”

But what about a special gift or trinket? Some way for my kiddo to remember me and that I am coming back at the end of the day?

The answer was once again unanimous: skip it.

“Toys in backpacks eventually come out,” Mrs. S. notes, “and sentimental jewelry or anything like that can easily become lost or a distraction. The more normalcy you can create for your child, the better. Instead, choose something fun to do with your kiddo to celebrate. Take your daughter to get her nails done,  or maybe a special design in your son’s haircut.”

Is there anything I should know about relating positively with my child’s teacher on that first day?

Of course, one key to feeling more at ease is to know and trust your child’s teacher. And, Mrs. J. provided probably the most insightful answer to this question, saying, “I think it is good to remember that teachers are feeling similar emotions to their students. ‘Will my students like me? Will I make a good impression on them?’

“That first encounter is one of the most important of the whole year; it is the BEST time to connect with my students before the learning even begins. It helps them to know that they are safe, that I as their teacher have been preparing for their arrival, that I (hopefully) will remember their name from the open house, etc. However, what normally keeps me from making that impression with my students is all of the questions I get from the parents. So, instead of bombarding your child’s teacher, take time to write your questions down, place them on the teacher’s desk, and ask for a response via email later in the day.”

Should I bring the teacher a gift on the first day?

Of course, gifts aren’t necessary or required; however, they can provide a special way for your child to connect with his/her teacher or give you a chance to show advanced appreciation for all of the work your teacher has done to prepare for that first day. And, because the first day of school can be like running a marathon, Mrs. S. suggests getting the teacher a coffee or pastry (even if it will likely be consumed cold, hours late). Want to be more practical? Consider classroom supplies like kleenex, “teacher” pens, sticky notes, or something useful for the classroom.

What should I expect at the end of the day? 

Of course, in wrapping up, it’s important to recognize that the day will end as quickly (and hopefully, as easily) as it begins. But is the ending of the day something we should worry too much about?

Mrs. S. thinks so, explaining that “…it is common for kids to meltdown, not want to talk about their day, or/and be extremely tired. They need a snack and some ‘quiet’ time. Kindergarten is not the kindergarten we remember. (Your kiddos) are working really hard all day long. Socializing and playing is still work for kindergartners. At dinner ask questions like ‘Who did you play with today?’ ‘What are you learning in math?’ ‘What story did your teacher read to you?’ If you ask ‘How was your day?’ or ‘What did you do today?’ you won’t get a solid answer. I know it might be tempting to immediately want to know about their day, but give them some time and don’t bombard them with your questions.”

In all, it’s most important to remember that starting school is a rite of passage that we all go through, and as a parent, you are well-equipped to help your kiddo through that transition with (ease?) thoughtful consideration and, dare is say it? Excitement!

So here’s to you, mom! Keep those first-day-of school pictures coming! Because whether your kiddo takes after you or dad, the wonderful reality is that the whole wide world is opening up in some pretty marvelous ways. And none of us want to miss one second!

 

Mourning our Monsters

This face has been plastered across news and social media platforms all week: Brock Turner, rapist.

brock turner

His face makes me cringe — less because it belongs to him, and more because it reminds me of a face I encountered 15-some-odd years ago.

I haven’t talked openly about this man until recently. In fact, for most of my adult life, I have hoped that my memories of him — and of that horrible day — would stay hidden in the dark closets of my mind, never to resurface, never to punish me with the deeply-embedded shame that accompanies an act this horrendous. But as I’ve watched news cycles and newsfeeds flood with images of Brock Turner, and seen everyone from pastors to parents to presidents posit solutions to ending the prevalence of rape in our culture, I’ve also seen my box of memories grow legs and saunter timidly into the light, beckoning me to re-examine a velvet green couch, brown blankets hung over windows, a Snoop Dog video playing in the background, yellow counters and dirty linoleum, his thumb pressed into my arm and his left knee digging into my thigh — all of his weight bearing down to keep me from moving — the shock — almost breathlessness — I felt when despite my cries of “No, wait!,” an uninvited intruder forced himself into my body.

The full force of shame and humiliation, wrapped up in dust-covered boxes, hidden carefully in my mind so that I would never have to revisit a moment I wish had never happened in the first place.

But my memories, as vomit-inducing as they are, have become increasingly important because in all of the solutions that people have proposed, there’s one I haven’t yet heard. And for me, it’s become one of the most important.

We have collectively cried for Brock Turner to earn the sentence that his entitled, monstrous acts warrant. We have sat down with daughters and students, wishing we could empower them with a message of hope and self-care, but instead warning them to avoid alcohol and short skirts just in case they might accidentally provoke the boy/monster-next-door. We have petitioned for the judge to be removed from the bench, and for his father to stop excusing these “20 minutes of action.” Some folks have even (wrongly) prayed that Brock would face in prison the same acts he inflicted on his brave victim. And while I might join my voice with those who demand that justice be swift and righteous, I would also raise my voice in hope for something more.

The reason — or at least one of the reasons — that rape culture persists, I think, is because collectively, we’ve never truly grasped how much we’ve lost by giving in to  social pressures that have created a culture where human beings are reduced to nothing more than body parts with jobs to do and norms to fit. And in my opinion, fights are futile if not fueled with true understanding of what exactly we are fighting against.

And so I wish that, before we grab our pitchforks, we could take a moment to look around — to really look at what we’ve lost — and to weep. To mourn the real monsters in our midst and the remembered monsters under our beds. To weep for the parents who feel so fearfully out of control that no choice exists but to teach their daughters to hide their bodies in order to avoid being touched or ravaged. To weep for what so many boys will lose because they have yet to realize that breasts are functional far more than they are sexual. To cry with the little girls who can’t tell anyone that their uncle/friend/neighbor/father touched them uncomfortably. To grieve the innocence they lost, the “first” experiences that they will never have because someone decided to take them. To comfort young men who believe their “manhood” has been compromised by that one moment when she touched or he intruded.

To acknowledge the secret lives that so many victims — like me — hide in memory closets, afraid of what their stories might mean to who they are and who they wish they could be. And to acknowledge what all of us lose when those stories aren’t — or can’t be — lived as they were intended to be.

Yes, I recognize that mourning and grief are not end points; in fact, I would echo the assertion that they are pointless if not followed by action. But I maintain that action without understanding can be as harmful as understanding without action.  Men and women like me — those of us who have to find the courage to feel our way through dark memories, facing the reality that exploring those memories might lead to intense pain and humanization — need you to look at our grief intently; to truly see what happened, what was taken, what was lost; to sit with us in our grief and weep for the life we can’t seem to find anymore; to acknowledge how dehumanizing sexual assault really is; and to ultimately reaffirm that innately, we’re worth more — that we’re enough.

So today, before you re-post a meme or join a twitter rant, quiet your heart and mind for a moment to really consider what it is you’re fighting against: the dehumanization of people created by God for wholeness, connection, and health. Consider what fighting against injustice, sexual and otherwise, might truly mean: the empowerment of all people to walk in safety, regardless of drink or clothing choice; the opportunity to parent our children as whole, human beings whose worth in their eyes and in the eyes of others has nothing to do with what they look like or what others believe they are entitled to.

The fight against rape culture starts with grief, and as scary and vulnerable as that place may be, it is also the starting point to freedom and recovery for countless victims, here and beyond.

Won’t you join me there?

Birth and Re-birth: My Rainbow Babies

Lately, I realized that I’ve talked a lot about the birth of my sons, but not nearly as much about the rainbows who followed. And, since telling your birth story is a “thing” now, I thought I’d take a minute to think back on the two most beautiful moments of my life: the births of my sweet girls.

Sophia was born late. Like her temperament, she was happy to wait inside, considering all of her options until someone decided to kick her butt into gear. I always joke that, if they hadn’t kicked her out, she’d still be in there — warm, cozy and content, happy to listen and wait before jumping into action. But alas! The kicking they did.

We checked into the hospital, 41 weeks pregnant, and so anxious to finally meet our living babe. By 6 am, I was hooked up to IVs with the dreaded pitocin quietly pumping into my veins, and at 7 am, they broke my water. “Don’t worry,” my doctor reassured us. “This will go quick. She’ll probably be out by around 2 or 3 this afternoon.”

Little did my most wonderful doctor know that she was full of crap.

By 3:00 that afternoon, I had progressed from a 3 to an 8 with no sign of moving further. Contractions were intense, to say the least, but not entirely productive. Coming every 1-2 minutes, I stayed committed to avoiding an epideral and worked to focus on breathing, concentrating all of my thoughts on the sound of her tiny heart beating from the monitor.

By 6 pm, I had finally progressed to a 9, but with contractions coming more painfully than ever, my focused demeanor quickly turned to a much louder one. Screaming and crying from one contraction to the next, it took 2 and a half more hours of the most intense pain that I can remember to finally reach a 10 — to finally reach the blessed moment when they told me I could push.

Of course, pushing was a marathon in and of itself: it took 2 hours to get my stuck little love to finally join us in the outside world. But join us she did! Crying instantly, Sophia registered and 8 and 9 respectively on the apgar scale, and she only quieted when she heard the sound of her daddy’s voice, reassuring her that he was there. Laying on my chest, she turned her head to find him until their eyes locked just for a moment.

Sophia birth 1

Even today, words can’t describe the joy — the triumph, really — that we felt when our first little rainbow was finally born. At 8lbs, 3oz, and 21″ long — and with a sweet smile and full head of hair, we were so thrilled to meet and love on our firstborn daughter: Sophia Isabelle (a name which means “Wisdom” “Devoted to God.”)

Sophia and Daddy

Daddy was in love from the first second.

Sophia and Mommy.jpg

And, while I was pretty exhausted from what turned out to be 17+ hours of pitocin-induced, no-pain-relief labor and delivery, no one alive could pry my sweet love from my arms.

Maliyah’s birth was as different as my two girls are. While Sophia waited patiently inside, reluctant to leave her cozy little nest, Maliyah simply waited for the green light — and once she got it, there was no stopping her.

Given my complicated prenatal history, my doctor grew a bit concerned when Maliyah began to move less and less inside. I’ll admit a mix of trepidation and relief when he told me that it was likely best to induce a bit early. So, at 39 weeks and 2 days, we made our way to the hospital.

Checking in around noon, I made a bet with Joseph (and the rest of my family) as to whether I’d deliver before or after midnight. I was solidly convinced that labor would be long (given that I’d never been less than 15 hours for any of my 3 previous births), but my family was less convinced, Joseph and my mom betting she’d be born quickly, while my sisters and I put money on a next-day delivery.

By 1:00 pm, I was plugged in to pitocin and talking with the nurse about my preference for another non-epideral delivery. She was less confident than I was, and looking back, that was for good reason. By 1:30, they had broken my water and there was no stopping that baby: our tiny little miss was determined to plow her way out as quickly as possible.

My first hour of labor seemed to be what I remembered: contractions built slowly and steadily as I moved from standing, to swaying, to hunched over. But with the coming of the second hour, I realized I was in for a much different birth than anything I’d ever experienced. Rather than building slowly, the intensity of each contraction multiplied exponentially, and within 3 hours, the nurse told me that I had progressed from a 3 to a 9 and was almost ready to push. I not-so-quietly thanked God, as I wasn’t sure I could handle the intensity of the contractions for much longer. I really needed a finish line.

However, my relief turned to irritation when my doctor shook his head, saying, “No. She’s only at a 7.” Still, labor was going quickly, so no one seemed to go far as the expectation was that I would deliver within the hour.

This time, they were right.

I screamed, Joseph pushed on my hips, and everyone else stood quietly to the side while I labored on all fours. Finally (and loudly), I screamed to my doctor that she was on her way out and he all but forced me to roll over. Within 2 pushes, our little ball of fire was out and on my chest, crying beautifully as we welcomed our second daughter to the world.

Maliyah birth

Born at 5:11 pm, Maliyah Louise (name meaning “Beloved” “Warrior”) joined us, weighing in at 7lbs, 14.5oz, and 20.5″ long. And from the second she was out, she was the talk of the maternity floor. Her full head of hair and sweet demeanor made every single nurse smile — not to mention mommy and daddy!

Maliyah and daddy

Daddy was enamored with baby number 2 from her first breath, patiently and attentively watching over her through bath times, heel pricks, ear tests, and everything else. I soaked in every moment, thankfully embracing this as my last childbirth experience. Maliyah nursed like a champ, and instantly loved to be wrapped up tightly and held close.

Kraus girls

Perhaps the most memorable moment for me, though, was the moment I got to introduce her to the world’s greatest big sister. Sophia was enamored with her from their first meeting, tenderly holding her, marveling over every detail, and giving gentle kisses on cheeks and nose. It didn’t take more than a few weeks for Maliyah to return all of that love to the sister who has proven to be her most favorite person in the whole world. I’ve said it before and will say it again: if there’s anything better than sibling love, I don’t know what it is.

Joseph and I always knew that we were a “two and done” family. Of course, we didn’t know that it would take 5 children to get us to that place, but the gratitude we feel for our kids can’t possibly be articulated accurately.

first family

Along the way, some have mentioned that we are likely more grateful for our girls because we lost our boys. I don’t think that’s true: no child can replace another because each is so uniquely created and so uniquely loved. What I am thankful for, however, is the term applied to the children born after child loss. Like that which comes after a storm, we call these babies our rainbows — and rainbows they certainly are! Our girls bring endless light and laughter into our lives, and watching them grow into the tiny people they are and the amazing women they will be is, no doubt, the greatest honor of my life.

Shame, Stories, and Starting Over

Ever since I was a little girl, I have loved to read and to tell stories. Every book that I read opened small doors and windows to worlds that I could only picture in my mind. Trains chugged and cars raced as narrator voices rang only in my mind, helping me to picture magic wardrobes, war-torn countries, hinds feet on high places, dark concentration camps, thatched-roofed huts, magic castles, and hundreds of thousands of times and places in between. True or imagined, I loved reading the stories that other people told.

Listening to my own story, as it were, has been harder to do. And it has only been recently that I’ve dug deep enough to understand that I have a story to tell.

The theme of said story, as I’ve recently discovered, is simple: it’s shame. Now, before you squint your eyes and cock your head, wondering what in the world I might have done in order to feel so shameful, I should probably explain a differentiation that has become quite significant to my personal narrative. I don’t struggle with the feelings of having done something wrong; that feeling, as I’ve learned, would better be labeled with the term “guilt” — guilt over doing something inappropriate or bad, something that may have violated my moral code.

I don’t deal with guilt; I wrestle with shame — the fear, not that I have done something wrong, but that I am something wrong.

“I didn’t get into a lot of trouble as a child; I was trouble. I didn’t struggle to do well in school; I’m just stupid. My thoughts, feelings and fears aren’t actually valid because I’m just a drama queen. Bad things haven’t just happened; I am bad and therefore deserved said things.”

On and on and on, this dialogue rings through my soul, spoken in dark narrative tones I’ve long wished to drown out. But drowning them out with superwoman “I-can-do-and-handle-anything” cheers hasn’t worked. And if I’m honest, it hasn’t worked for a very long time. And it hasn’t worked because said superwoman attempts do nothing more than cloak my shame in impenetrable armor that may have temporarily preserved me from the pain of the journey, but also worked to separate me from the people meant to trudge along with me. And I don’t want to be separated anymore.

I was made, in the image of God, for connection — for connection with people, with God, and strangely, with myself. I was made for whole-heartedness. And while my emotions and trained thought processes might still need time to catch up with this truth, I am worthy of that connection. I am worthy of the healing that my heart so desperately needs.

Part of this journey towards health has lead me right back to what I’ve loved for so long: to a book. Recommended by my counselor, I’ve decided to make my way through the work of one of the foremost scholars on shame: Brene’ Brown. Brene’ has focused her academic life on the qualitative study of shame, empathy, and vulnerability. Vulnerability — the primary reason I decided to start writing again — is what kills shame, I’ve learned. It is what tunnels the path for connection with ourselves and with others.

And so, over the next weeks, I am going to make my way through Brene’s book “Daring Greatly”, hopefully blogging along the way. I’m hoping that my own wrestling match might inspire one for you as well. After all, my hope to start fresh begins with starting from the beginning, not to re-write the story, but to hopefully reframe it and to soften the voice of the narrator. After all, themes can change. At the very least, they can shift — shift towards redemption, restoration, and hope.  And beyond the shame is hope.

And I want to live in hope.

I hope you do too.

 

**If you haven’t, but want to, use the link above to order the book and journey with me. I’d love to dialogue with others who might need to travel a similar path.

 

Dreams deferred…

If you can imagine it, the most painful part of losing our children wasn’t holding breathless bodies in our arms. As indescribably excruciating as that was, there is a facet of loss that is even tougher to swallow because it has nothing to do with tangibility and everything to do with what never happened.

I talk about it at length in the chapter that will be published sometime this year, but to summarize the idea, much of the scholarship surrounding loss as it relates to stillbirth deals with story-telling. From the moment a woman finds out that she is pregnant with a wanted child, she begins to tell herself stories about the life she will live with that child. Everything from breastfeeding to birthday parties, from slumber parties to play dates, from the first days of school to graduation from college — every imagined event floods the mother’s narrative as she begins to dream about the life that she will live with her child. But when that child dies, mothers (and fathers) don’t just deal with the pain of losing the child that was living; they also suffer the loss of every moment that will never be lived. The story ends before it even began; the narrative dies with the baby.

I always imagined that our boys would play football. I don’t know why, but being married to a man who is proficient at every sport he tackles, I imagined broad-shouldered, tall, blonde boys who would team up to mow people over on the football field.

Ok. So maybe that’s a bit morbid, but it’s what I imagined. I imagined sweaty feet. I imagined yelling at them not to drop football gear in the doorway. I imagined going broke trying to keep up with their hunger pains. I imagined making them kiss me goodbye, even if their friends were watching. I imagined the hilarity of them realizing that girls didn’t have cooties. I imagined tenacious, mischievous, sweaty boys who loved their mom. Picture the Weasley twins, but with blonde hair.

That was my narrative. That was the story that I told myself about the sons I carried.

But dreaming changed for me when we lost Isaac and John. It became tentative and “iffy.” The storyline turned grey. And though Sophia’s life renews a sense of hope and light, losing Malcolm made thinking toward the future nearly impossible. Dreaming became far too painful because every loss was like a dangled carrot, snatched away at the last moment. I found myself hearing good news, only to hold my breath and wait for the floor to crash out from under me. Planning further than a month or so down the road? That just doesn’t happen in my world because, as the writer of Proverbs so aptly explains, “hope deferred makes the heart sick,” and hope is everywhere.

And hope is dangerous. It makes you want what you might never get.

And so, being pregnant again has presented a new challenge as it comes to dreaming — as it relates to the stories that I tell myself. I admit (painfully) that we hoped for the chance to bring a living son home with us someday, so there was a split second at our 20-week ultrasound where both Joseph and I wondered what life would be with two girls. Of course, it only took one more second to look over at our little blonde wonder-girl to remind us of one simple fact: girls are awesome. And having two is going to be awesome. But as much as I can’t wait to meet this one, to hold her and to live with her beyond the walls of a hospital, I fear writing her story in my mind.

I live with three dead narratives already; I’d rather not live with any more.

But I’m starting to wonder if, as a mom, part of my job requires dreaming — requires seeing beyond what is in order to imagine what could be. I wonder if trading hope for crossed fingers wasn’t one of the bigger mistakes I’ve made, both in pregnancy and beyond. You see, hope lives: it breathes and changes and grows. Hope is as living an organism as a beating heart, I think, because it does so much to fuel those who live with it. It touches every fiber of their being, bringing renewal and energy, keeping everything alive.

And if hope brings life, don’t I owe that to my kids — to live with life? to live with hope? to keep on dreaming? Don’t I owe it to who they are now and to who they will grow to be? As much as the Proverbs writer was correct in his assessment of dead hope, he may also be right in his argument that “…a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.”

I don’t want to be a mom who can’t see beyond the immediacy of every moment. I don’t want to be a mom who constantly fears what might happen next. And I don’t want to raise girls who follow those dark footsteps, because that path is lonely and burdensome.

I want my girls to hope. I want them to dream lavishly about the lives that they want to make for themselves. I want them to pursue those lives passionately and single-mindedly, not faltering in fear about what could happen. I want them to take risks. I want them to believe in something beyond themselves, and to trust that at some point, all things will work together for good. I want them to hope.

And if I want all of that for them, I can do no less than to want it for myself.

And so as I move into my third trimester, that is my goal: to hope. To write stories in my mind about the life I want to live. To hold those stories with open hands, understanding that nothing is guaranteed, but that life is still sweet. And that life — and dreams — are to be lived.

Stand tall, and look up.

Sophia loves everything “big girl.” More than that, though, she loves that she can do (almost) everything “big girl” on her own. Newest to that list is showering all by herself. She loves the water, the glee of spraying the walls and floors, and the simple joy of being able to take care of her own body with minimal assistance from me. Of course, some elements of the “showering” escapade come more easily than others: if there is one thing that Sophia still hates, it’s water in her face. So, we’ve devised a plan for washing her hair, and every time she gets ready, I hear her chant the mantra upon which we agreed: “Stand tall, and look up.”

Simple words, aren’t they? “Stand tall, and look up.” They are a simple reminder that if she does as those words suggest, everything will work out just fine. For her, this little saying brings comfort, peace, and direction: she knows exactly what to do, and no matter where the water squirts or what amount of soap runs down her face, she has a plan that brings her confidence and hope. Tonight, as I was washing my little one’s hair, her little chant resonated with me more than usual — especially as I’ve considered all that waits for me in the new year.

2014 offered challenge after challenge; it has been, without a doubt, the hardest year of my life. We began the year finishing the most intense semester of Joseph’s Masters program. We prayed for and delivered our third son who, like his brothers, didn’t survive his birth. We moved out of the home we’d known for our entire marriage, away from both of our families, and to a state we’d never even laid eyes on. We switched roles: Joseph moved from being the full-time parent/full-time student into being the sole provider. I transitioned from working 2-3 jobs to working from home with our little Sophia.

Thankfully, our struggles were interrupted by moments of joy and peace, but I’d lie if I said that I wasn’t looking to the new year with a certain amount of anxiety: surviving one hard year doesn’t mean I won’t be forced to survive another. I’ve no idea what waits for me as we turn the clock from one year to the next, but I do have a plan.

I’m going to stand tall, and look up.

When everything falls apart and when everything works out perfectly, I am going to stand tall and look up.
When life looks exactly as I feel it should and when my entire world feels strange and foreign, I’m going to stand tall and look up.
When I succeed and when I fail, when I do everything right and when I do everything wrong, I’m going to stand tall and look up.

Because in the end, my fear and anxiety gets me nothing more than more fear and more anxiety. Because I hope these words ring in Sophia’s ears long after “water in the face” is the least of her concerns. Because there is no better monument to this year than the lesson of standing strong when all I wanted to do was curl into a ball.

Maybe you’ll join me.

Instead of swimming and sweating and swearing and swerving, perhaps this year’s resolution could take a more peaceful turn. Perhaps you’ll take more time to stop, to stand, and to look. When life hits you hard in the face — and there will be a moment in 2015 when it will — when everything seems to melt around you and it becomes impossible to see the way, just stop. Stop and stand. Don’t spend your energy trying to squirm your way out of it.

Just stand.
Stand tall.
And look up.

Keep your mind and heart on the promise that, eventually, everything will come together in peace and in hope — because someday, in some small way, it will. Look up towards the light, knowing that “this” too shall pass, and remembering that no matter how good or bad it gets, God is here, in the middle of your pain and acquainted with your grief. He revels in your joy, and weeps in your sorrow.

So working and worrying aside, my plan for this year is simple: to stand tall, and to look up. Please join me.

Death shall be no more….

Life.

We all have one. We talk, write, tweet, and post about them all the time. In fact, I remember as a child yelling the insult “get a life!” to someone who got on my nerves, who needed to butt out of my business, or who was just plain stupid. But this week has taught me that “getting a life” is not as easy or insult-worthy as I once imagined. Tonight, life feels short and small and fragile. Most of our lives feel like whispers in comparison to the roars all around us — roars of busy-ness, irritation, traffic, jobs, screaming kids, annoyances, heartbreaks, dishes, laundry, and days that come and days that go: the constant repeat of living in the world that we created for ourselves.

Yet, as fleeting as it feels, life is so incredibly precious. On one end, there are those who wish that they could breathe for a moment or two longer than they will. On the other hand, there are some who think that are invincible. Teenagers road race, while the elderly struggle to hold back the clock for just a minute more. In some ways, we all live, hoping that we can keep going for a day, a week, or a month more.

And then something happens.

Just this week, I distantly watched a young family suddenly lose their husband and father: one week, he was fine and the next, he was dead. Just last week, I learned that a mother-type to me was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer. She will fly from Boise to Seattle for treatment. Just tonight, I heard that a dear former teacher lost her fiancee’ to suicide.

In the middle of living, death knocks on the door and it suddenly feels like death is all around us. Some people console themselves with the “hope of heaven” and the idea that life doesn’t end in death. This isn’t a concept that has settled well with me as so little of it makes sense. But there is still a twinge inside that wonders what happens when we die. Metaphysical poet John Donne seemed to know, and he probably explains this best when he personifies and speaks to death in Holy Sonnet 72.

“Death, be not proud,” he quibbles. “…though some have called thee mighty and dreadful, for, thou art not so.”

I wish I had Donne’s conviction. To me, death is still mighty; it is still dreadful. Because sometimes, when you’re right in the middle of it, death feels like it is everywhere.

But Donne was right. In fact, he speaks to death directly, reminding it that it is “…slave to Fate, Chance, Kings, and desperate men.” Death doesn’t choose its victim; life does: people get hit by buses (fate), people get cancer (chance), people are condemned to die (kings), and sometimes, people kill themselves (desperate men….and women, as it were). Life happens to all of us in the best and the worst of ways, and sometimes, life kills us. Or it kills someone we love. And those moments terrify me.

But Donne didn’t think that they should. “Why swells’t thou, then?” he asks. Why, death, do you think that you are so strong when you dwell among the weakest entities on earth — in poison, disease, and war? When something as simple as a potion can mimic you? Why so cocky, oh death? When in reality, if we truly believe that there may be something more than all of this, you, death, will die along with the rest of us? Doesn’t eternal life actually imply that death is nothing more than a blinking eye?

Donne seemed to think so. He described the process of death as not actually dying at all. It was, as he explained, simply a moving from one life (this one) to the next (the eternal one). It was nothing more than merely closing one’s eyes only to open them in eternity. “One short sleep past,” he said, “we wake eternally, and death shall be no more, death thou shalt die.” Death isn’t to be feared, and truly, neither is life because life never ends.

Sometimes, that is good news. And sometimes, it’s not. Every fiber of my being wishes that there was some way that I could carry the burden that those I earlier described will carry over the next days, months, and years. I do not think that death is nearly as weighty as is the life you have to keep living after death has happened to you. I have no answer for any of the questions. I can’t pretend to know how anyone feels, and I don’t know the moment my life will tip over again.

But I do have hope.

I have hope that this is not the end of life — not for the dead, and not for those who live. Hope reminds me that babies are born, that children laugh, that lovers find each other, that people commit to lives well-spent, that students study and teachers teach, that music plays and dancers move: that ultimately, life is so much more than the moment it ends. Life exists in the moments we choose to actually live rather than to merely survive, in the moments we put down our devices and truly engage, in the moments that we treasure and create memories, and in the relationships that make all of this worth living.

So, answers or not, I will hold on to hope. I hope that you will too.

Names and Faces: We Must Remember

7 months ago, at exactly this time, I gave birth to our fourth child: a sweet, silent baby boy who we named Malcolm. 7 months ago, at exactly this time, I was holding his perfect little self to my chest, barely catching my breath as I thought of the thousand reasons I would never hand him to the nurse.

Malcolm Ajani Kraus: we chose his name so intentionally, and we hoped, prophetically. “Malcolm” means “Dedicated Servant,” and “Ajani” means “Overcomer, Victorious in the Struggle.”  His name embodied everything we hoped and prayed for him: that he would serve people and the fight for justice single-mindedly, that he would be victorious, that he would overcome. But that night, 7 months ago, as I held his perfect body in my hands, as I memorized the features of his beautiful face, I didn’t find victory. Instead, I relived the nightmare I endured on that long 2010 night when I delivered his twin brothers, Isaac and John.

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Isaac and John were names we chose intentionally as well. Told I might not be able to get pregnant at all, we took our first pregnancy as a complete and utter miracle. In losing them, we still counted their conception as the light at the end of a dark tunnel, and so we chose names that we thought symbolized the miraculousness of their existence. In Scripture, 2 women struggled to conceive and only did so miraculously. These women, Sarah and Elizabeth, gave birth to two strong boys: the first to Isaac and the second to John (the Baptist). Their boys were miracles, and I so hoped that mine could be as well.

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It turns out that my prophetic notion was oddly misplaced — or so I initially thought.

2 stillbirths almost killed me.

Isaac and John didn’t live to symbolize God’s redemptive plan or restorative processes. Malcolm didn’t win his battle. And we didn’t win ours. In fact, more often than not, we wonder what kind of meaning can be found in the loss of such perfect babies. In many ways, I have tried to take up the mantle that their names represented: the twins cannot prepare the way of the Lord, and so I desperately want to. Malcolm couldn’t overcome, so I must find a way.

A noble thought, I’m sure. And in my case, it is one that has been far more theoretical than it has been practical.

You see, there’s nothing hopeful in the process of losing a child: everything about the experience is excruciating and haunting. Birth is long. Birth is painful. Recovering from birth is like pouring salt into an open wound: milk takes days to deplete, bleeding lasts for weeks, tummies never return to their initial form or function. Birth and death shouldn’t work together, and yet for women like me, the two are strangely synonymous: birth didn’t start a new life. Birth ended one.

But losing my sons has not — and will not — result in losing myself.

I am one of millions who survived. Even today, there exists a great cloud of women who have birthed and lost all at the same time. We cry. We ache. We think, dream, and remember our children. And yet, few of us speak of our babies because, to put it bluntly, we don’t know how.

We don’t know how to answer the question of how many children we have. We don’t know how to explain the ache we feel during holidays and would-be-birthdays. We try not to speak of them for fear of making our listener squirm. Because honestly, we can’t stand the awkwardness that we pass to others when we attempt to remember out loud — when we try to explain where our babies are, what happened to them, and why we lost them in the first place.

But this month, October, is all about eliminating that awkwardness. It’s all about creating the space and the freedom to remember — not just in our hearts, but to remember out loud. To remember publicly.

October 15th commemorates children lost to miscarriage or stillbirth. The entire month is dedicated, not just to breast cancer awareness, but to families who survived the death of a child, inside the womb or outside of it. Whether you fit into that category or not, yours is a voice that survivors need. We need you to remember our babies. We need you to remember them out loud and in public. We need you to remember with us.

This month, will you do something — will you say something — in honor of the multitude lost seemingly to chance? Will you remember the lives not meant for this world? And will you reach your hand to silently aching mothers and fathers who so want to know that their babies mattered, not just in the life beyond, but in the life that we have now?

For all those who remember and grieve tonight, I want you to know: I remember you. I remember your babies. They are not phantoms or ghosts. They are not figments of your imaginations or images on a wall. They are your children. They lived. They are worth remembering.

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