Misconception: Grieving The Life I Should’ve Had

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This week, I’ve spent a lot of time with my two-and-a-half year old Godson, and it’s been wonderful. He’s learned to call me by name: he calls me “Godmommy Sarah.” He’ll run into my arms, run up and hug my legs, give me kisses, and all sorts of other adorable, heart-melting things.

And I love him. I love him so much that it leaves me breathless. I would give him anything, do anything for him- I would literally die for him. I love him like he was my own.

But he’s not my own.

He is my best friend’s baby. And because I love my best friend, and I see how her life has changed and the incredible joy her son brings brings her and her husband, I can’t be anything but happy for them that Nolan belongs to them. He is the center of their lives, and that’s how it should be.

As much as I love spending time with my best friend and her son, or any of my friends who have children (that would be nearly every single one of them) it reminds me of what I don’t have. They are nearly all married too, reminding me that I do not have a spouse either.

None of this is their fault. I do not blame them, I am not angry at them, nor do I wish any of them ill.

It’s not that I’m not happy for them. It’s that I’m sad for myself.

The ironic thing is that, when I really think about it, I don’t even feel ready to married or adopt children. I’m not at that place in my life. I need to focus on my education, career, and continuing to get myself healthy. And yet, when I see my friends with what I don’t have, I feel this deep and abiding sense of grief, and a feeling of something missing.

Perhaps it’s not what’s missing in this life I’ve got right now, but the life I was supposed to have. The life I would’ve had if I hadn’t grown up in violence and chaos, the life I’d have had if things had been normal. If I’d gone up through high school and college, dated and found a husband, and maybe, if I hadn’t been abused the way I was and wound up so unhealthy, I might’ve been able to get pregnant. And I’d be in the same place as all my other friends in their early thirties, and I’d feel like a person who did things on a normal trajectory, instead of someone who’s always playing catch-up, always missing something that would make me enough.

I never said this was rational.

I grieve that life that was stolen from me. I grieve the fact that I’m not where my friends are. I grieve my inability to have children.

Because all the Sunday school teaching, Children’s Chapel leading, babysitting, teen mentoring, and Godmommy time in the world does not make me a mother.

To my friends: Please know that sometimes I may be inexplicably sad around you. Just let it happen. You can’t fix it; just be there with me and it’ll pass. It’s ok to talk about your kids, talk about your marriages. If you’re trying to get pregnant or you are pregnant, it’s ok to talk to me about it. If you need to complain about it, to be honest, I’m probably not the best person for that. But please continue to include me in things. Invite me to your kids’ parties and your girls’ nights. I love you, and I am happy that you are happy. I want nothing but the best for you. I will never let my grief get in the way of our friendship.

Thank you for understanding, and loving me through this. Thank you for letting me be part of your families and your lives. You make my world so wonderfully rich and beautiful. And this grief will eventually subside. In the meantime, I have plenty to do; nursing school to tackle, a business to run, Sunday school to teach.

And a Godson to love.

 

Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.

Luke 1:45

 

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More Than Numbers

Body Composition Activity 2.2

The above document is an assignment from the “physical fitness and wellness” course that I’m being required to take in order to graduate. In it, I’m being asked to calculate my BMI, body fat %, “fat weight” (could there be a more triggering phrase?), lean body mass %, waist circumference, and more ridiculous numbers that are not even a reliable indicator of health.

Basically, I am being asked to calculate all the numbers that I used to obsess about when I was anorexic.

So I used to have this scale. I took it from my parents’ bathroom when I was around 11. I had this scale for over twenty years. I saw every number on this scale from somewhere in the 150s to somewhere in the 50s. I watched my body magically grow and shrink like Alice after eating a truffle and drinking a potion. I watched my body as it marched towards death and grew into life and back and forth until my final ascent into recovery. I watched those numbers like some mad mathematician, calculating my worth, if I deserved love, or even life. Those ridiculous numbers determined everything about me. They were me.

Until I realized they weren’t.

The last time I saw that scale was ten years ago, when I threw it off the balcony of my apartment onto the concrete of the parking lot below, and I watched it smash into a hundred pieces.

Am I happy with my weight right now? Not particularly. But the danger that lies in attempting to manipulate it from where it has naturally settled it too high for me to risk doing anything about it. Maybe that will change in the future. I don’t know. What I do know is that those numbers no longer make up who I am. I don’t even think about them. My body is more than numbers. My life is so much greater than that. I have a big, beautiful, wonderful life, and it has nothing to do with how much I weigh, or my body fat percentage, or how many calories I eat in a day. It has nothing to do with that because no matter what those numbers are I am deeply loved by God, my family, my friends, and my church. Being thin felt nice, but it was lonely as hell and painful and small, and so destructive and unhealthy.

Love is so much better than being thin, y’all. So. Much. Better.

My body isn’t perfect, but what the hell is. I’d rather be happy than a size zero. And as for this assignment, I’m fighting for an alternate assignment, as I’ve fought for other alternate assignments. My health and recovery are more important than any class.

 

So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God.

1 Corinthians 10:31

“Arise”: A Poem For Everyone With a #metoo Story

This recent social media campaign of so many survivors coming forward to tell their stories and acknowledge that they have been affected by sexual violence has had me thinking a lot about empowerment.

I believe so strongly in the empowerment that comes from sharing the truth, from using one’s voice to overcome the silence that surrounds issues like sexual violence. I believe in the healing power of unburdening ourselves of these truths. I believe in the power that comes from so many people raising their hands at once to say, “Yes. This is real. It happened to me. And we need to do better.”

In my own journey, I have been wrestling a bit with an energy I have felt building recently: this sudden surge of confidence, boldness, strength, and conviction that has made me feel more personally and spiritually empowered than I ever have in my life. This energy is so new, and is still a bit unwieldy for me. How does a person who spent the majority of her life being victimized, violated, and disempowered suddenly manage feeling strong, capable, and full of a courageous energy that makes her want to shriek with joy? I really don’t know yet. It’s going to take practice. I will have to train myself to channel this energy into constructive, creative pathways because I am vulnerable to this energy becoming destructive. 

This latest poem was inspired by my own journey into standing in personal and spiritual empowerment after being destroyed by the actions of others. So this is for everyone who has ever felt destroyed, then found a way to go on. No matter how dark it seems, remember that there is always a spark left inside you.

And it only takes one spark to start a fire.

“Arise”

From the start

Every spark

Ground to ashes

Until I thought

I had nothing left

But that wisp of smoke

That was my ghost

And the body

That lay burned

And bereft

What I found

As I rose

From the ashes

Is that I am

A phoenix

Aflame

A fierce

Burning light

That blazes

So bright

I cannot be

Snuffed out

Again

I fought

For the right

To be

Full of light

After the depths

Of darkness

I dwelled in

God’s shining

Through me and

All around me

I’m unleashing

The power

I held in

May this flame always

Be used

To warm

Not to burn

To help others

Find their light too

What I now know

Is I’m ready

To show

I wasn’t

Extinguished

By you


© Sarah Ann Henderson 2017


Therefore, since we receive a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us show gratitude, by which we may offer to God an acceptable service with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire. 

Hebrews 12: 28-29 

Judah Levi Brown: One Year

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Last night was the one-year anniversary of the death of Judah Levi Brown.

Judah was the vivacious, beautiful, three-year-old son of my dear friends Mark+ and Christi. He drowned in a tragic accident, and this past year they have lived every parents’ nightmare.

And yet, I have seen more grace through their grief than I thought possible of any human beings.

Mark+ is somewhat of a public figure. He is an Episcopal priest who goes to my church (and often serves there) and he serves around our diocese whenever another priest is needed (called a supply priest). He also has the largest online prayer group in the world, with over 400,000 people on Facebook. His life has been an open book for many years, even through the time he met and married Christi, and they had Judah. When Judah died, there were really only one of two choices: to turn away, shut down and grieve on their own, or to grieve openly with everyone. They chose to grieve openly. It’s one of the most grace-filled, courageous decisions I’ve ever seen two people make.

By choosing to bare their grief process to the world, they allowed people to witness what is usually a private pain. They allowed people to witness them struggle with their faith, struggle with their anger, struggle daily with the devastation of losing a child. They allowed people to witness the deepening of their relationship to God through that struggle. The deepening of their relationship to each other and their other children. They allowed people to see how they guided their other children through their own grief, which they did with such care and love. They allowed people to see them reach out for help, through therapy, for them and the children, and through the church. They reached out to their family and friends. They both processed through writing, but Christi especially took to Facebook nearly every day and wrote journal-like updates, poems, and prayers. Christi’s writing didn’t just tell people what it is like to lose a child. It let us into her heart and soul, to viscerally grieve with her.

As is their nature, Mark+ and Christi used their experience to help others. They created an online support group for grieving parents. They allowed Judah’s story to be used by one of his former teachers to create the Judah Brown Project, which works to prevent drowning in kids like Judah. They’ve worked very hard with his teacher, Annette, to make this project into a full-fledged charity that is saving children’s lives, preventing people from having to feel the pain they are feeling.

Once a month, for the past year, on the day that Judah drowned, and on the day that he died- the two are a couple of days apart, as he lingered in a coma- they lit candles in front of his photo and held a small vigil. In June, we celebrated Judah’s birthday at his grave, and had his favorite foods, shared memories, shared laughter and prayers. The year anniversary drew closer.

I know, from my own trauma, that everyone shows up in the beginning. Everyone is there when the original tragedy happens. As time goes on, it gets less present in other people’s lives, and people begin to drift away.

But it never gets less important in your life.

I don’t know if I’ve really done anything to help, but I’ve made every effort to be a there-for-it-all friend. I’m in, and I’m in for good. I was only friends with Mark+ and Christi for about a year before Judah’s death, and I wish I had known Judah better, but I do remember him and I will never forget him. I wish I could do more, but perhaps the best thing I can do is be there, and make sure they know that their loss is important to me. They are important to me. And their son is never forgotten.

Last night, as we sat around Judah’s grave, we watched a video about him on Annette’s phone. It was a photo series of his whole life. We laughed and cried. Stories of the photos were told. As we watched, it began to rain. It rained gently, and another friend there remarked, “We’re just being baptized.” It was a holy, Spirit-filled moment.

When it got to the minute that Judah’s time of death was called, a candle on his head stone was lit. We held silence for a few minutes. I read a prayer:

 

Heavenly God,

With a mother’s strong love
you shelter us in your shadow,
and you mourn as we do the death of this child.

Love Judah forever
as we have loved him.
Guide our steps in the way of peace
till with our eyes we behold you
and shall praise you with all the saints
for ever and ever.

Mark+ shared a little more with us, and closed with a benediction. We left with hugs and prayers and smiles through tears.

Moments like these are why I feel called to be a priest. It was a privilege to be with Mark+ and Christi and their children as they marked this anniversary. It is a privilege to be their friend, to witness their grace and faith. It will be a privilege every time I am with someone as they grieve, celebrate, wed, baptize, die, are ill, or in spiritual distress. To just be present with someone, without trying to fix, is a holy thing.

Thank you, Brown family, for allowing me to be present. Thank you for letting me remember Judah with you. Thank you for letting me laugh and cry with you.

I love you.

 

He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.

Revelation 21:4

To donate to the Judah Brown Project, please click here.

 

Prayer above adapted from two prayers by Gabe Huck from the Catholic Catalogue.

Published with permission from the Brown family.

The Struggle is Real: Accepting, Not Overcoming, Infertility

“There is a unique pain that comes from preparing your heart for a child that never comes.” -David Platt text

When you hear that a woman is “struggling with infertility,” what do you think? Do you think of a woman desperately trying to get pregnant? Someone timing her ovulation, taking hormone injections, freezing her embryos?

This is one picture of a woman struggling with infertility. There is another picture: Me.

I am not desperately trying to become pregnant. I will never try to become pregnant, because pregnancy is too dangerous for me. Struggling with infertility is not always about pregnancy. Struggling with infertility is also about the grief that comes from knowing that you can’t even try. That pregnancy is simply not an option. My struggle with infertility is not an attempt to overcome it. My struggle with infertility is my attempt to accept it. 

How many other women are in this part of the struggle? How many other women silently try to grieve their way through without any support? Why is there no support system for women who can’t try, can’t fight it, who have to simply accept that having children naturally will not happen?

Believe me, when you go looking for “infertility support” every single resource is focused on getting pregnant or adopting. I have not found a single one that simply says, “Yes, you are grieving the loss of your ability to have children naturally. We’re here to help you accept that and move forward.” I don’t know why that doesn’t seem to be available. If you find a resource like that, please let me know.

While I do hold on to the idea of adoption someday, that does not, in any way, mitigate the grief that comes from knowing I can never have children of my own. I wish that I could have what other mothers have with their children: getting to learn about them from inside my body, to feel their energy and get a sense of who they are from the way they move, kick, and flutter. I wish I could know what other women talk about when they describe that overwhelming love, that primal heart-to-heart connection they have with their biological children.  I don’t know what kind of love I’ll experience as a mother to a child not born of my body, but I know it will be different. Not less, but different. I don’t believe that a genetic connection is a guarantee of love, nor that a lack of one means less love. I know that isn’t true. I know that from how much I love my Godson, and he isn’t even mine. But I do wonder what it would have felt like to hold my baby moments after they came into this world, to tell them that I’m their mom, and have them look into my eyes with recognition. To know that I will love them forever.

That will not happen.

It’s a loss, and it’s real, and I will let myself grieve it.

 

Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.

1 Thessalonians 5:23

 

 

“Too Blessed To Be Stressed”: Bullsh*t

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“Too Blessed To Be Stressed.”

You’ll see this phrase often on Christian art and gifts. Tote bags and painted pallets, travel mugs and tea towels that declare that one cannot be simultaneously “blessed” and “stressed.”

I have always found this phrase to be problematic. Right now, I found it downright offensive. Who decided that it’s not possible to be stressed out just because you’re also blessed by God? How are we defining “blessed” anyway?

Right now, around here, “blessed” tends to mean that your family is safe and your house didn’t flood. This was the case for me. However, I have been careful not to say that I was “blessed.” I’ve been saying “lucky” or “fortunate” or other words because saying I was blessed not only seems theologically unsound, it seems rude. If I was blessed by God with a safe family and a dry house all the way through Harvey, doesn’t that imply that other people were not blessed? Doesn’t that imply that God picked and chose who would be blessed or not? Doesn’t that imply that God had some list of people He was going to protect and some people just weren’t on it?

I simply don’t believe that.

I believe that humans are responsible for climate change and therefore are a good deal responsible for massive hurricanes and other events we like to call “acts of God.” I believe that humans have over built this area and did not pay attention to warnings about flooding and so we are a good deal responsible for the extent of this disaster. I believe that whether a person’s house ended up flooding or not was due to chance, because rain fell on everyone, everywhere. The rain fell and where it rose the highest had nothing to do with God’s favor, and everything to do with the way the earth is shaped. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. Matthew 5:45.

Whether your house is safe or you lost everything, what I have discovered through this disaster is that we are all blessed. We are all blessed because we are loved so deeply by God. We are all blessed because we are not alone. We are all blessed because we are reaching out to help one another, through acts of service, prayers, and love.

That does not, however, mean that we are not stressed. Natural disasters are fucking stressful. Especially if you lost everything, but even if you didn’t. Because it’s everywhere. The water, the damage, the hashtags, the helplessness. The need is overwhelming. There’s so much to do, and often we don’t know where to start. (Hint: prayer is always a good place to start.)

Being blessed and being stressed are not mutually exclusive. In fact, stress can often be a blessing in itself, and blessings help get us through stress. God gives us both.

So excuse me, but whoever came up with that cutesy phrase can shove it. They clearly have never experienced a hurricane.

 

Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.

Isaiah 41:10

 

 

 

Living Water

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“Are you ok?”

“Is your family safe?”

“Did you get any water?”

When I went to church this morning- our first full Eucharist since hurricane Harvey- I was bombarded by those same three questions everywhere I went. Most of us knew how the others were, thanks to social media. But some of us hadn’t seen each other since before the storm, and all the questions were about the water.

The water. This storm has changed the way I feel about water. I used to love rain, and maybe one day I will again, but right now the thought of rain just sounds threatening and terrible. I never understood the awesome, destructive force that water could be until I drove through a river that was usually a street, until I saw the highways of my city turned into seas, until my friends’ and neighbors’ homes were all but washed away. Until I saw water flood the house where my priest lives for the second time in less than 18 months. Water not only took homes, it took treasured belongings, people’s pets, and even some people’s lives. It took the life of my friends’ son a little less than a year ago, when he drowned in a swimming pool.

 

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It’s difficult to see water this way. It’s difficult to feel that the one substance that all of creation counts on to survive has somehow become a force that’s destroying life. Right now, water feels toxic. It feels almost animalistic, like a living thing with a mind of its own, attacking the people of my community, my city, my state.

What brings me back from that fearful place is the reminded of what water means to us as Christians, and especially as Episcopalians. To us, water is living; it is a symbol of the Holy Spirit. It is what baptizes us into our lifelong relationship with Jesus Christ. We are washed in water then sealed and marked with oil as Christ’s own forever. During Eucharist every Sunday, some water is poured into the wine before it is given to the people. I’ve heard several explanations for this: 1) the water and wine together represent the water and blood that poured from Jesus’ side during the Crucifixion, 2) the water represents Christ’s humanity and the wine His divinity so the mixing of the two is us witnessing his human transformation, 3) the water represents us, the people, and the wine represents Christ, and the mixing symbolizes how we can never be separated. My personal favorite is #3, but those all make sense. The point is that water has a very central place in our liturgy, a very central place in Scripture, a very central place in life. It is the most life-giving substance on earth, both biologically and spiritually, and yet here it is, in hurricane form, causing so much devastation. So much pain. So much loss.

Living-Water

For everyone I know who has been terrorized by water in the last week, my prayer for you is that as you find your new normal, and you work to repair what you can, and as we, your community, help you do so, that you would remember the waters of your baptism. The waters that washed you clean of sin and grafted your hearts onto Christ’s own for eternity. May you feel the healing powers of water: of a hot shower, a good cup of tea. May we remember that everything that has within it the power to destroy, also has within it the power to create.

Together, may we create a brighter future beyond the storm.

 

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And whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple—truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.

Matthew 10:42

 

 

 

 

We Must: A Hurricane Poem

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We Must

 

The sun

Is out

But the storm

Is not over

We must keep watch

With those

Who work

Or weep

This night

We must keep hold

Of those things

Most important

And learn to grieve

What is not

What is lost

To take joy

In what is left

We must have hope

And believe

Not just in God

But in each other

Compassion

Is salvation

And love

Will dry the tears

The earth has cried

 

© Sarah Ann Henderson 2017

 

For all those affected by Hurricane Harvey

 

The Lord sits enthroned over the flood;
    the Lord sits enthroned as king forever.
 May the Lord give strength to his people!
    May the Lord bless his people with peace!

Psalm 29:10-11

God is Where We Invite Him: Eucharist in the Storm

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Some Church hard-liners might shudder at the way I just celebrated Eucharist. I sat on my mom’s bed, where I’m sleeping until the hurricane ends (so I can be downstairs, near the laundry room, our tornado shelter) and put a piece of sandwich bread on a paper plate, along with a small antique glass that belonged to my great-grandmother. I filled the glass with red wine I bought at Walgreen’s a few days ago.

This was the Lord’s meal.

I put my phone and my prayer book out, so I could listen to my priest, Beth+, celebrate Eucharist over a Facebook live broadcast from a fellow parishioner’s home. I was not alone, as so many of my church family also followed along. We listened, prayed, and sang, the way we have in so many Eucharists before. We were together. We blessed whatever bread and wine we had as Beth+ blessed the bread and wine in front of her.

And God was present in every crumb, every drop of this piecemeal meal.

There are perhaps some Church officials who might say that these gifts weren’t truly blessed, because they weren’t touched by a priest’s hands. To them I would say that God is wherever we invite Him with faithful hearts, and especially as we celebrate the Lord’s meal together in a time of crisis. I would also argue that indeed, Beth’s+ hands touched every piece of bread and every cup of wine, in every place someone was watching, as we were together in spirit, and our hands were an extension of hers.

God is everywhere that there is a faithful heart. As so many of us are kept apart by the flood waters, as we are stuck in place until they recede, frustrated that we cannot get to each other, it is a great comfort to know that God binds us to one another still, through prayer, love, and hope.

It is a comfort to know that as always, we share one bread, one cup.

Peace be with you.

 

For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.

Matthew 18:20

As the Waters Rise

 

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I am struggling to understand.

I am a woman of deep, abiding faith. So far in this terrible storm I have seen God everywhere and nowhere.

If you are in Houston, as I am during this record-breaking hurricane, you probably know what I mean. All around us are beautiful stories of neighbors and friends helping each other, complete strangers jumping in to save homes and lives, dedicated first responders, medical staff, and other essential personnel staying hour after hour to make sure people are taken care of. God is working everywhere.

At the same time, there is devastation all around. Homes are destroyed, precious memories and belongings lost to the water. Whole neighborhoods flooded, businesses gone, so much infrastructure damaged. Tornadoes are touching down, leaving damage and chaos in their wake, as if the flooding wasn’t enough. People are lost. People are dead.

And it is still, still raining.

The thing that has absolutely crushed my heart and I know the hearts of my entire church family is the flooding of the rectory, where our dear priest lives. This house was completely flooded last year, and our priest had just moved back in two months ago after an entire year of exhausting renovation. She and the church had invested so much in that new house, and just like that, it is washed away again.

Beth+ is just…well, she just does not deserve this. No one does, but honestly, I just cannot understand this, and it makes me ill to think of it. The “whys” are too many.

There is so much pain, and so many prayers being sent up all around Texas tonight. My family has been so fortunate. Aside from a leaky roof, we are dry. We are safe. My mom is one of those dedicated nurses who remains at her hospital on emergency protocols, but she is also safe.  I cannot complain. I cannot imagine the disruption, chaos, loss, grief, pain, and distress that others are going through right now. Until the storm passes, and there are more concrete ways to help, I can only pray.

I’ve been praying so much, I don’t even know what to ask for anymore. I suppose all any of us can ask God for is knowledge of His will for us, the strength and grace to live that out, and the knowledge that He is always with us, no matter what. That is the only thing that I know for sure: that God is with us, forever.

May each of you feel God with you, feel His strength bear you up, and His peace which passes all understanding, keep you through this crisis.

Amen.

Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and He brought them out of their                distress. He caused the storm to be still, so that the waves of the sea were hushed.              Then they were glad because they were quiet, so He guided them to their desired               haven. Let them give thanks to the Lord for His lovingkindness, and for His                                                                               wonders to all mankind!

Psalm 107: 28-31

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