Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Loss, Again.

Monday, June 19

We found out we were expecting our third sweet baby on Mother's Day, and we buried that baby next to his or her brother, Levi, yesterday...Father's Day (as if Father's Day wasn't already going to be difficult enough this year).  We're plain wrung out, my friends.  Wrung.out.

Oh, Judah Ellis, you were and are dearly loved...our little ray of sunshine that broke through the dark clouds.  I looked for a name that would work for either gender and be a testimony to the objective truth about God, regardless of how we feel in our grief over losing our baby.  Although the name "Judah" is most frequently used for boys, I feel it is a great girl name as well.  But most importantly, it means "praise, thanksgiving."  God is deserving of infinite praise, worthy of our giving Him thanks, even when terrible, unimaginable things happen to us in this fallen, broken world.  Actually, it's probably most important and most glorifying to our Savior when we hurt so badly we can't imagine going on living, breathing, and yet we choose to thank Him, praise Him.  This is when the rubber meets the road, and we lift up the "sacrifice of praise."  Yes, my friends...right now, it is a sacrifice, an offering out of an aching, confused, angry, bleeding heart.  It hurts to offer it.  It's the "hard eucharisteo" (giving thanks) that Ann Voskamp talks about in her book, One Thousand Gifts.  I don't want to offer it most of the time.  Most of the time, I want to (and do) scream out of my frustration, pouring out my angst and pain before my Father, my Father whom I know could have prevented Levi and Judah's early deaths....and yet, He did not.  We're struggling, wrestling with our Sovereign God, whom we begged daily for protection over little Judah.  But, in spite of how it looks, in spite of how we feel, we know for sure that God is good, worthy of praise.  He is our Father, who sent His only son, Jesus Christ, to save us, to redeem us, to give us hope, to set us free, to overcome this broken, fallen world so that we may live...and not just now, but forever.

Which brings me to the baby's middle name:  Ellis.  "Ellis" means "my God is the Lord."  The truth is that it is easy to say Jesus is Lord of my life in the easy, happy times.  He gives me what I desire, and I do my best to follow where He leads.  Win, win.  But when it gets hard...really, incredibly, indescribably hard to accept God's Lordship is when you are taken down a long, painful road of suffering.  When you lose two precious babies to death...  Can I still accept His Lordship then?  His authority over my life?  Do I really want Him to be in control after what He has allowed to happen to us?  After reaching out in faith, conceiving Judah, and fearing every moment of every day that I would lose him or her, and submitting those fears time after time, choosing to trust in His unfailing love...only to begin to bleed....and yet still holding onto hope that surely He would have mercy and rescue us, rescue my baby....only to have my tiny rays of hope crushed in the ER waiting room bathroom...  Where are you, God, and why would you allow this?  Again?  For a couple of weeks, I was unable to bend the knee, to accept His Lordship and sovereignty in my life and in the life of my babies.  I can't even say that I am fully there yet.  But, my sweet child is with Him now, and I know Judah Ellis would grab me by the shoulders and say, "Mama, bend the knee.  Accept that Jesus is Lord, even though you lost me.  He is worthy.  He knows all, never makes a mistake, never forgets you, never stops loving you, always cares for you, always hears your cries, always knows the end of the story where He brings you home to be with us forever.  Don't lose heart, Mama.  He's not gonna let you go."  So, for Judah Ellis, I choose to bend the knee.  Jesus, you are Lord.  I don't understand your ways and I am in so much pain and confusion as to why you would let this happen, but still...you are Lord, Lord of my life, Lord of my babies' lives, Lord of the entire universe.  My mind can't grasp the plan you have for me, but I know from Scripture, from the stripped down, blown to shreds, kernel of my soul, that you are my Lord.  I frankly am a hot mess who wants my babies back, who has identified with Job's cry to God wishing he had never even been born, who doesn't shower or cook or clean because the grief is just too heavy, too consuming, who is often a despondent, anxious, depressed nightmare of a person, who aches almost constantly, is envious of others' easier lives, is sinful, ugly, lonely, and scared to death of the future.  Yet, Father, You love me, You understand me.  And You.are.my.Lord.  Author of my story, Master of my fate.

Judah Ellis, Levi Bear, as we walked away from your graves yesterday, I felt that I was leaving pieces of me behind in the cold, wet ground.  My innocence, my optimism, my joy in pregnancy, my hope and overwhelming desire for more children, my naivete, my strength of will, my babies...my precious babies...my years and years of raising and enjoying you.  I'm not sure how it all works up there, but can you go pester Jesus and ask him to fill these gaping holes?  to be strong in my weakness?  to return to me the things that were left behind that he wants me to have?

After we lost Levi, I had a bunch of tests done to rule out lots of things as a possible cause for his death.  Other than the umbilical cord knot, the only test to come back abnormal was a genetic mutation of my MTHFR gene.  My doctor assured me that this didn't have anything to do with his death and, worst case scenario, would necessitate more B vitamins in pregnancy.  Other than that, she said it was very common and relatively harmless.  So, I didn't really look into it.  I always take a B-Complex supplement on top of my prenatals anyway.  But after losing Judah, I did more research on the mutation.  Basically, it is very serious.  It is a relatively new thing to be studied, and there isn't a whole lot of solid research out there.  The medical community disagrees as to the effect of this mutation on pregnancy and health in general, as well as the recommended treatment.  There is no established standard of treatment in the medical community for this...It's basically a "this seems to help" wait-and-see, hold-your-breath-until-that-baby-is-born kind of thing.  People with the MTHFR mutation have an inability to convert synthetic B vitamins into usable form, so there is a higher risk of babies having neural tube defects like anencephaly and spinal bifida, and a host of other issues associated with folate deficiency.  Also, there is evidence of MTHFR mutations causing blood clots in the placenta, baby, and in the mother's body, with higher risk of placental abruption, miscarriage, stillbirth, deep vein thrombosis, and pulmonary embolism.  Sounds lovely, right?  Ugh.  Some doctors don't acknowledge the MTHFR mutation as something needing treatment, others do and treat with seemingly ineffective methods, and others treat it as a very serious, high-risk condition warranting loads of extra monitoring throughout pregnancy as well as aggressive treatment, Lovenox injections daily (blood anticoagulant), baby aspirin, and special B vitamins that are already in their usable form.

Lord, have mercy.  Seriously.

I am absolutely scared to death anyway after losing a babies at 20 and then 7 weeks.  And now, I find that I am a mutant [literally] with higher risk of losing more.  Since I did that research, I've felt like I've suffered another loss...a loss of hope for everything to go just fine next time around....a loss of will to keep trying, to keep trusting.  I know many women feel strongly that they are supposed to have children and they are unable to for one reason or another....So is that strong, overwhelming, even godly desire in us worthy evidence that we are supposed to keep trying to have more children?  I've had people tell me that we should give up, surrender that desire, and be content with what we have.  We are so thankful for Griffin, and if we knew that we weren't supposed to have more children, we would absolutely learn to be content with just him.  But we don't know that.  In fact, we feel the opposite of that.  So, it's not a question of contentment.  It's a question of what God is leading us to do.  What is He asking of us?  I've also had a very few people encourage me to keep pressing on toward the desires God has placed in our hearts...to not give up hope that He has placed them there for a reason.  I've had people say that my strong will is something that God needs to break to get me to submit and accept His purposes for my life.  And I've had a very few that have encouraged me that my strength of will is a God-given blessing, for He knew the losses I would have to suffer, and perhaps...perhaps He gave me this strong will to enable me to keep pressing on, to keep trying, to keep pursuing the biblical desire of my heart to have more children.  After all, is it our job as parents of strong-willed children to break them of their will to force them to submit?...to stamp it out of them day and night until they are pulverized and able to be molded?  Or is it our job to teach our children how to slip the saddle and bridle on that strong will, to train their will to obey when they say "whoa" and run like the wind when they dig the spurs in?  To get them to the place where their will lies smashed and dead within them so they become like zombies or to guide them to a relationship with Jesus where they learn to love the good, to set their wills on pursuit of the good?  Does God want to pulverize my will to get me to obey Him or gently teach me how to bridle my will by loving and romancing me?

I will leave you with a couple things that I have recently learned.  Perhaps they will be helpful to you down the road when you encounter loss in others or in yourself.

-God being with you and comforting you does NOT negate or cancel out suffering and pain.  I had a misconception about Christians and suffering before I went through all of this.  I guess I thought that God's promise to comfort you in your suffering and never leave you meant that Christian suffering wasn't full-on suffering...Christian pain wasn't the full measure of pain that could be felt.  So, when I looked at Christians who were suffering, I thought they had a certain roof on their pain-o-meter, that God would cut it off at a certain point and spare them the full measure.  Did He do this even for his very own beloved Son?  Did the crown of thorns not hurt Jesus as badly as Joe-shmoe?  Or for Paul, were his sufferings less-than because of his faith?  Did he not feel the full measure of the pain in his life?  I think that would sort of rule Jesus, Paul, and all of God's people out of having any authority, understanding, or empathy when it comes to suffering.  We, as believers, participate in the suffering of Christ through our suffering.  Is that just a pseudo-suffering, a numbed suffering?  I doubt it.  Is the Christian battling cancer not going to feel the full amount of pain that the non-Christian would?  I think so.  Otherwise, Christians wouldn't understand suffering at all or have any platform from which to speak to others out of their suffering.  For some reason, God, in His wisdom, has chosen suffering to be a means to grow the church and to strengthen His people.  Anyway, the point is that Christians suffer the full measure of pain that anyone else does in their situation.  The difference is that, as they writhe in agony and cry out between sobs, they know that they are not alone.  God doles out the pain in measures, is there to soothe their wounds, bind up their broken hearts.  The heart breaks....allllllll the way.  But He binds it up.  It's not that Christians don't suffer the full and complete measure...it's that ever with-ness of Jesus, that shield from being broken beyond repair, the hands that hold the shattered pieces of your heart, that hope of redemption, of heaven, of Jesus setting everything right in the end.

-Suffering loss is not just missing your loved one.  Grief affects every single area of your life and is incapacitating.  You can't think right, remember anything, plan ahead, or just do the simplest of tasks like normal.  It's like you are operating on 20% of your normal capacity....like if you didn't sleep 2 nights in a row.  Physically, grief is completely exhausting.  I currently wake up exhausted, usually take a 2 hour nap during Griffin's nap time, sleep all night, and yet spend every single moment of the day in dizzying fatigue.  I'm thankful I'm not struggling with insomnia like I have in the past, though.  Spiritually, grief causes a giant battleground in your soul, wrestling with your beliefs, truths about God, truths about the world, the whys, the feelings that crop up when God allows terrible things to happen to you, to your babies.  The anguish spiritually is enough to distract me from normal activities almost all day long some days.  Because of how diminished your capacity becomes in the wake of loss, all the balls you used to be able to juggle come falling down around you, crashing to the ground.  Financial responsibility/control, keeping an eye on your health (food, exercise, etc.), household responsibilities like meal planning, grocery shopping, cleaning, cooking, etc., having the will to fight the battles that need to be fought with a 2 year old, keeping up with daily, mindless things like showering, remembering to brush your teeth, putting actual outfits on instead of wearing the sweatpants and tshirt you wore to bed....it all gets infinitely more difficult to do to the point where you lose your will to even try.  After Levi, this eventually improved, and by the time I learned of Judah's existence, I was finally getting some of my routine, my will, my ability to get things done back.  I confess that I'm back to the absolute bottom right now after losing Judah.  Losing Judah absolutely knocked the wind out of my sails.  I feel like I got a major punch in the gut and am still sitting here stunned, trying to pull in my first gasp of air.  Y'all it is ug.ly.  Ugly.  Embarrassing.  Sad.  Frustrating.  I was finally starting to gain some little momentum in getting back on track in life and looking ahead to digging in with potty training, taking a stand with Griffin's picky eating, making plans for lifestyle improvements, gym membership, tackling the epic disaster of the guest bedroom [aka. catch-all room], etc.  Instead, I lack all motivation for even the smallest tasks.  I feel completely incapacitated again.  So, as if the loss itself weren't bad enough, it also robs you of health and wellness in most other areas of your life.  Of course, I can imagine that I have some responsibility...I don't think I can place 100% of the blame on my losses.  I've always struggled with self-discipline and routine, but never, ever to this degree.  Quite frankly, I feel that I am failing as a mother, as a wife, as a friend, as a member of my church, as a family member.  I can't say that I don't have any responsibility in that, but I can say that I am broken and severely handicapped from our losses.

Please, please pray for us.  I know many of you have been in prayer for us since losing Levi, and again since learning of my pregnancy with Judah.  I know I asked many of you almost 3 weeks ago to pray for our sweet, little baby...to beg the Lord to sustain his/her life.  I can't understand why the Lord chose not to protect us from more loss, chose not to answer all of our cries by protecting and preserving our baby's earthly life.  But, it comes down to His Lordship.  We don't understand, but He does.  We don't see how prayer makes a difference so much of the time, but He does...and He tells us to pray.  So, please pray for us.  We need healing, direction and wisdom for the future, a gentle return to some normalcy, motivation for life, and protection from the enemy of our souls, whom I can feel prowling around and preying on me as I am most vulnerable, luring me into anxiety, depression, false thoughts, false views of God, jealousy, complacency, drowning and suffocating me with overwhelming fatigue mentally and physically.  Please pray that God would protect and deliver us from these things.  Please pray that He would usher us out of this long season of darkness and pain and into a new, brighter, lovelier season of light and happiness.  We need a break.  But I thought that before we lost Levi, then again after we lost Levi...  So I guess I don't know what we need anymore.  But it seems to my finite mind that we need a break.  A week after we lost Judah, when I was still weak from miscarrying, Griffin came down with hand, foot, and mouth disease, which I think I came down with some bizarre adult version or something.  For a week, we were just good for nothing, laying around, but then we weren't able to go out and about at all because of how contagious it is.  We had to wait until Griffin's sores were healed over.  So, between that and being down to one car again, I have gotten out maybe three times total since we miscarried Judah (counting running errands).  So y'all, I'm losing it.  On top of all that, we're struggling in so many other areas of our lives right now and it just seems like we have no respite, no relief....like we just cannot catch a break.  Please, please pray.

Psalm 13 is on my mind almost all day lately.  Oh, how well it articulates the groans of my soul:

How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?
    How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I wrestle with my thoughts 
    and every day have sorrow in my heart?
    How long will my enemy triumph over me?
Look on me and answer, O Lord my God.
    Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death, 
and my enemy will say, “I have overcome him, 
    and my foes will rejoice when I fall.
But I trust in your unfailing love; 
    my heart rejoices in your salvation. 
I will sing the Lord’s praise,
    for he has been good to me.