A Litany of Gratitude

We’re pretty fond of litanies in the Episcopal Church. A litany, according to the Episcopal Church website, is “an intercessory prayer including various petitions that are said or sung by the leader and fixed responses by the congregation.” There are six that I can think of immediately in the Book of Common prayer, and probably many more that I’m unaware of.

There is a Litany of General Thanksgiving, and I love praying that. However, I have so many things to be grateful for in my life, so I decided to write a litany specifically for all the things I’m grateful for this year, all the things I am thanking God for as we approach Thanksgiving and soon begin Advent.

A Litany of Gratitude

For a family that sticks together through the hardest times, when it would be easy to give up on life or each other or ourselves

God, I give you thanks.

For a family that goes beyond blood, for all my family of affiliation, my friends who are family, and every brother and sister in Christ

God, I give you thanks.

For a mom that loves me as unconditionally as is humanly possible, who supports my dreams and goals with everything that she has and is proud of me no matter what

God, I give you thanks.

For my Godson, my nieces and nephew, my friends’ kids, and the children of St. Mary’s; for the privilege of getting to love you and be a part of your lives

God, I give you thanks.

For friends who inspire me, make me a better person, challenge and change me

God, I give you thanks.

For friends who have been there through it all, and whose love is strong enough to literally cross oceans

God, I give you thanks.

For friends who understand that sometimes you just need to get out of town, get tipsy, or hang out at their house, or not talk at all; for friends who will distract you and laugh or sit with you in the mess of life and cry

God, I give you thanks.

For my education and all the opportunities it will afford me

God, I give you thanks.

For angels of generosity who appear through your Grace and are manifestations of Your abundance here on earth

God, I give you thanks.

For my cats, especially Sophie, who love the way God loves, with no conditions and with lavish abundance

God, I give you thanks.

For my Church, who encourages asking questions and discovering your own journey of faith, and whose structure comforts and guides me

God, I give you thanks.

For my church, whose people are my family, whose clergy are my teachers, whose grounds are my sanctuary and spiritual home

God, I give you thanks.

For my health and sanity, because I never thought I would have either

God, I give you thanks.

For my relationship with you, and my salvation in your Son, my Savior Jesus Christ

God, I give you thanks.

 

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

 

Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
Colossians 3: 16-17

 

 

 

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

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.

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

My Father’s Eye’s: A New Poem

Hello, all. I wrote this poem recently. It may be difficult to read, but that’s kind of the point. It’s meant to reflect the dissonance between the what I was taught about myself by my biological father and what I know to be true about myself through God. As always, thank you for reading!

CW: sexual assault

 

7/29/17

 

My Father’s Eyes

 

In my father’s eyes

I was a burden

Something taking money from his pocket

Food from his mouth

 

In my father’s eyes

I was a toy

If he couldn’t lose me, he’d use me

To fondle and fuck

And torture to his heart’s delight

 

In my father’s eyes

I was a whore

A little red light district to visit

I did owe him, after all

For allowing me to exist

 

In my father’s eyes

I was less than human

And I knew that

When I asked him to kill me

He refused even that kindness

 

Turn the page

Next chapter

 

Now I know he was full of lies

The truth is with my real Father

My Father in Heaven

 

In my Father’s eyes

I am beloved

I am a flawless, raw diamond

Formed out of years of darkness and oppression

 

In my Father’s eyes

I am more than a conqueror

I am His workmanship

I am holy and blameless

 

In my Father’s eyes

I am a new creation

I have a heavenly calling

I am the salt of the earth

And the light of the world

 

In my Father’s eyes

I am a daughter

I am healed

I am free

 

© Sarah Ann Henderson 2017

 

 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works,which God prepared in advance for us to do.

Ephesians 2:10

 

Feeling Father’s Day: Nothing There

After the deluge of posts that poured out of me around Mother’s Day, I expected a similar flood for Father’s Day. I expected to feel, well, something. 

And I haven’t.

In my house, we generally celebrate Father’s Day as Second Mother’s Day, for several reasons: 1) my sister and I don’t have a father, 2) my mom does the work of two parents and therefore deserves to be honored on both days, 3) this way we don’t have to think about the guy that was our so-called “father” for all those horrible years before we declared him dead to our lives.

It works for us.

In previous years I have felt various reactions to Father’s Day: bitterness, anger, sadness, grief, loss, trauma-reactions, etc.  It used to be really triggering to see a day that celebrated, for me, the person who literally tortured me and made my life a living hell. This year, though, I don’t feel anything, and I’m not sure why.

Maybe it’s because I’ve forgiven him for everything. Maybe it’s because I truly feel no anger at him anymore. Maybe it’s because I’ve really let go of it all. Maybe it’s because I’m just indifferent to him and everything to do with him. I can even pray for his soul. I can’t think of any other reasons that I’m so non-reactive.

Whatever is going on, I’m grateful and glad. I can celebrate Second Mother’s Day with the parent I have, the one who loves me and supports me no matter what, the way a parent should. She deserves all the days. All of them. And I can celebrate them with her without any invasion of memory of the “parent” who doesn’t deserve anything.

 

Strength and dignity are her clothing,
    and she laughs at the time to come.
She opens her mouth with wisdom,
    and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue.
She looks well to the ways of her household
    and does not eat the bread of idleness.
Her children rise up and call her blessed…
 “Many women have done excellently,
    but you surpass them all.”

Proverbs 31: 25-29

Choosing the Middle Ground: Learning Balance in Life and Recovery

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Like a Phoenix, my body has risen from the ashes. My spirit is home.

Content Warning: Descriptions of eating disordered behavior

For those of you who may not know, I recently became an ambassador with Plexus Worldwide. (Check out my website: Shop My Plexus- Sarah Henderson)! Before this, I had been using their products, and I really believe that they can be life-changingly beneficial to people’s health and wellness. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have signed up to help other people access them!

Even though my personal Plexus journey is about reducing the inflammation in my body, healing my gut, and treating my chronic pain and fatigue, a lot of people use Plexus to lose weight, and a number of their products are made with that intention. When I joined, there was a recommendation that I take measurements of my body, my weight, and pictures of my body so I can have “before” numbers and photos for when I ostensibly reach “after.”

This presented a dilemma for me. As a lot of you know, I’m in recovery from an over twenty-year struggle with anorexia and bulimia. Numbers used to be one of my triggers, so I haven’t owned a scale in ten years. In fact, the last one I owned, the one that had seen the worst of my anorexia, I threw off the balcony of my apartment down onto the parking lot pavement, and watched it smash into pieces, which was pretty satisfying. However, ten years is a long time, and a lot of healing and recovery has taken place since then. I wondered if I should do this, for my business. Everyone wants those “before” and “after” photos, right? And I want to see my progress in that area too, if it happens. Weight isn’t the focus of my journey, but my body may change, and I’d like to see that.

At the same time, part of me didn’t want to participate in that diet culture that had contributed to my eating disorder and has contributed to so many others. Part of me didn’t want to post numbers and photos that could trigger others trying to recover, and wanted to not do it at all, not on my own behalf, but as a direct protest against that kind of focus purely on weight instead of health.

So in order to get some guidance, I posted my dilemma in several places on Facebook; my personal page, and two Plexus pages. And I got at least fifty comments, most of which were in agreement that I should do what’s best for me and my health, including my mental health. As it turns out, Plexus doesn’t really care about diet culture as I’d feared. As a company, they really do care what’s best for each individual and their personal health journey, NOT on selling weight loss products at any cost. This is one of the reasons I’m so proud to be working for them. The support I received from my team was incredible, and both they and my friends from my personal page really felt that if it would put my recovery in jeopardy, it just wasn’t worth it.

Here’s the thing, though: I didn’t know that it would put my recovery in jeopardy. It’s been a very long time since I’ve even really been exposed to my body’s measurements, so I didn’t know what my reaction would be. I did figure out something interesting from one comment, though. A friend that I was in eating disorder treatment with said: “Absolutely not something you should do. I would stay away from the scale and measuring. It’s not worth the risk of relapse.” And when she said this I thought: I absolutely do not feel at risk of relapse. Ever. Certainly, not at the sight of some stupid numbers.

Over the years I may have used behaviors every now and then when I am especially stressed. I may have eaten only “safe” foods for awhile, or restricted some, or binged and purged a few times. But those are bumps in the road, little rocky times that happen and I get back on the path within a few days. I do not descend into the destructive thinking process that is the eating disorder itself, and I do not continue in that behavior pattern. Which makes those bumps in the road part of recovery instead of precursors to relapse. I don’t ever feel in danger of going to the extremes I’ve gone to before, of treating my body like a disposable object that I can starve, abuse, and kill. I don’t ever feel that I will descend into the obsession that makes a person live on a packet of oatmeal a day, taking two hours to finish it, eating it one oat at a time. (I actually did this.) I will never again spend six hours at a time in the gym, needing the machines to tell me that I have burned every calorie that I ate that day. I will never again eat so much my stomach stretched to make me look nine months pregnant, and then force myself to vomit until I saw blood; and then do this three more times in one night, every day. I will never again be so emaciated that I am in liver failure, and have a heart attack at 17 years old.

I will never again allow myself to treat my body as anything less the the sacred being it is.

In order to be able to do the above things to yourself, your spirit cannot be attached to your body. You cannot see life as sacred or worth living. At the very least, you can not believe that you deserve to live, to exist, to take up space in this world. You cannot believe that you are worthy of the basic necessities of life: love, security, food, sex/touch, a comfortable home, a healthy body. These basic rights are not meant to be yours, for whatever reason. (Usually because you were somehow told or shown that they weren’t.) Your brain and spirit are dissociated from the vehicle meant to carry them and, crazy as it sounds, when you’re doing the above things, it truly doesn’t hurt. In fact, it feels really good. Powerful. You’re in control. It comes at a cost, but you really don’t care. Bodies are disposable.

I know that I’ve entered into true recovery, the kind that’s invulnerable to full relapse, because I’ve crossed that threshold into knowing that life is sacred. My spirit lives in my body now, and I fully understand that to harm my body in those ways is to harm my heart and mind and soul as well. When I fall into those behaviors, it’s short-lived because now it actually hurts when I do them. I feel what used to be numb and I have that life impulse, that inherent instinct that whispers this feels wrong. I know that I am fundamentally worthy to be alive, to exist, to take up space. I am worthy of health, love, food, sex/touch a comfortable home, and safety and security. I have a right to those basic things as a human and a child of God. And nothing that happened to me could ever take that away. Knowing that means that I cannot ever become as self-destructive as I once was, because you can’t destroy what you love and believe is sacred.

Powerful stuff, reality.

So as to my dilemma, I decided on taking a middle way. Today I did take measurements of my hips, waist, and bust, I stood on a scale and took my weight, and I took photos of my whole body from the front and the side. Except, I wasn’t the one who did it. During my therapy appointment today, I had my therapist do it! She asked me all throughout if I was having any feelings come up, any anxiety. I had none. Because I trust her, because I wasn’t alone, and because I had this done in an environment where I feel safe, I think my non-reaction was predictable– but still awesome. I love that seeing those numbers had no effect on me.

I won’t be publishing those numbers or photos; they’re purely for me to keep to see my own progress. I’ll weigh and measure myself again in six months, or maybe three depending on how I feel. I’ll always do it at my therapist’s office. (She’s an eating disorder specialist and works with a dietitican which is why she has those things.) I feel this is the healthiest way for me to track those numbers.

I will be daily tracking other factors, such as sleep, energy level, and pain levels, because those are the things I’m really focused on changing with Plexus. If I lose weight or my body changes, ok. But know this: I’ll never again make that the one, undivided focus of my life. Because sure, being petite again would be nice– but I’m not willing to die for it.

 

Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.

Samuel 16:7

I appeal to you therefore, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

Romans 12:1-2

 

 

Sophie’s Story

Sophie and I  found each other when I was 18 years old, and she was 8 months old.

My sister Cristina’s mom Beth found Sophie wandering in her apartment complex parking lot. She was thinking about keeping her, but the second I met her, I knew we were a perfect match. She was all ears and fluffy tail, and she made this little trilling noise when I petted her. I was smitten. Beth said I could have her, and I was ecstatic.

I had just moved into my first apartment; a crummy, 400 square foot box with zero security. But it was mine. All I had was a fish to keep me company, and that wasn’t going well. I needed Sophie, and she needed me. (Sophie’s full name is Persephone, but Sophie has been her nickname since she was a kitten.)

Sophie quite literally saved my life. There were times when the only reason I woke up, the only reason I didn’t kill myself, was because I needed to take care of her. I cared about her and loved her way more than I loved myself. That kept me here. She knew how to comfort me when I was anxious or having a flashback. Sometimes the presence of her little body in my lap was the only thing that kept me grounded, kept me from completely losing touch with reality.

We moved apartments and then eventually moved back with my mom. I had to go to treatment, and I hated being away from her. I have to say, I wouldn’t have gotten through my twenties without her.

The last eight years that I’ve been in this house with my mom and sister, and Sophie has been living exclusively with me in my room (her choice; she refuses to interact with the other cats) have been wonderful. It’s really Sophie’s world. I just sleep here.

Sophie is not just a cat to me. She has literally saved my life at times. She has comforted me through painful autoimmune flares, PTSD flashbacks, depressive episodes, and manic freakouts. She has never cared whether I’m severely anorexic or if I’m overweight. She’s never cared if I look great or I look like shit. She doesn’t care if I’m crying or I’m laughing or I’m panicking. She’s there. She loves me. In the most simple, unconditional, beautiful way. She just loves me.

So no, she is not just a cat. She’s a best friend. The closest thing I’ve ever had to a child. She’s a reminder to me of God’s unconditional love. She’s a furry therapist.

That’s my Sophie.

So here’s the thing. Lately, she has not been doing well. She was diagnosed with early kidney failure a few months ago. She’s been having some kind of allergic reaction, probably to fleas, which we cannot seem to keep up with. She’s had several serious UTIs as well as cystitis. The vet said today he wants to rule out bladder or kidney cancer. When they start asking “quality of life” questions, that a bad sign. And this isn’t even her regular doctor. No, her regular doctor had to go and have a baby, and is on maternity leave until July. My friend Deede pretty much summed about my feelings about this when I told her that even my veterinarian was pregnant and she replied, “Fuck that bitch.” Only semi-sarcastically. (It just seems that I can’t turn my head without seeing another pregnancy.) And honestly, I don’t know what to do anymore. I feel overwhelmed, frustrated, less-than-hopeful, and like I’m just chasing symptoms, not really getting to the root of the problem. Sophie has been my cat for nearly half my life; I know her. I know her energy. And I feel it waning. I feel like she probably won’t make it through the year. I could be wrong, but that is my strong feeling, knowing her as I do. She does not seem herself; she seems tired. And I want to make sure that I do the right things for her.

So here’s what happens when you’re me, or you’re someone else who has C-PTSD: These possibilities turn into what the experts call “anticipatory grief.”

This means that I automatically think the worst. That means the other day, when I found her sleeping in her litter box, which is a sign of distress in cats, I began bawling uncontrollably, and not for the first time.

I spoke to her about her funeral. I promised her I would hold one, a little memorial service. I told her that I would inter her ashes in the garden at St. Mary’s, because that’s home, and no matter where I move in the future I can always come back and visit. I told her that I loved her like I’d never loved any other cat, and that she was my little soul mate.

Here’s the thing guys: she’s not dying. Not imminently anyway, not that I’m aware of. But this is anticipatory grief. It’s a defense mechanism. If I imagine the worst, and I grieve before the worst happens, then my brain thinks it won’t be so painful when it actually does happen.

I have no idea if that’s true. My feeling is that nothing will cushion the blow of losing Sophie when the time comes. It will be extremely painful, as all losses are. I have always called her my “baby” and I’ve always “mothered” her, but I’ve felt particularly maternal towards her since I found out I can’t have my own children. I know there are people who think that people who treat their cats or dogs like children are morons. Look, I understand the difference between a cat and a baby. I’d never compare myself to a parent of a human, or compare my loss of my cat to the loss of a human child. But for all intents and purposes, Sophie has been a child to me, and I have been her mother. And that may be all the mothering I get to do, so losing Sophie will have a particular sting to it.

I hate to admit this, but there are some times I think, am I just dragging out the inevitable? Should I go ahead and let her cross the rainbow bridge now while she’s in decent shape and not in pain? Does that mean I’m giving up on her? Am I being selfish, trying to end my pain now so it isn’t prolonged?

I hate these thoughts. I don’t want to be having them. I think they come from a fearful, grief-filled mind. I want to be doing everything I can to keep Sophie healthy and alive for as long and she seems happy. To make the right decisions for her, to do right by her as her guardian and mother. But I am scared, tired, and overwhelmed, and I have no idea what I’m doing.

Please keep up both in your prayers as we navigate these next few months together.

 

The righteous care for the needs of their animals,
    but the kindest acts of the wicked are cruel.

Proverbs 12:10

Understanding Grief: Love With Nowhere to Go

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I can’t seem to find a reliable source for the author of this quote. But it’s the best explanation I’ve found for the type of grief that I’ve been experiencing around the loss of my ability to have a child.

I was sitting in therapy the other day and I was frustrated. I was saying how I didn’t understand why this “grief process” was taking so long. How I didn’t understand, didn’t anticipate, that my grief over not being able to become pregnant and have a child would be so intense. And why it had only seemed to be since that last ultrasound the previous March that I have felt this way.

It’s not like I didn’t have some understanding that infertility was a possibility for me. I’m not an idiot. I’ve been on psychiatric medication since I was 14. I was diagnosed with my first autoimmune disorder seven years ago, and PCOS six years ago. I was told about the scarring from repeated sexual trauma when I was 25. I knew all of those things could affect my chances to get pregnant and have a healthy baby at some point in my life, but I wasn’t putting it all together. I thought I still had options. I thought there was still some chance.

The truth is, I know why it’s only been since March 11, 2016 that I’ve felt this way. It’s because that’s when I put it all together. That’s when all my options were taken away. That’s when I was told that there was, essentially, no chance, unless I wanted to risk both my life and the life of any fetus I tried to carry. That’s when whatever little hope I had was crushed.

And so the grief really began. The loss that had been, up to that point, only theoretical, became an actual, tangible loss. A death. One I was not prepared to mourn.

The strength of this grief and the length of time is has gone on has confused me, frustrated me, angered me, and generally been a stumbling block in my healing. I understood that there would be grief but why was there so much? For a long time I felt like I didn’t have the right, didn’t deserve to mourn so much about a loss that, for the first few months, I still had to convince myself was a real thing. I told myself that I was mourning “imaginary children” and that was “stupid.” Disparaging and minimizing the truth was a defense against the pain I was feeling, just a another stop on the way to acceptance. I had to have multiple people tell me that this was real. That I had the right to feel what I felt. That it made sense.

Six months after that ob-gyn appointment, two dear friends of mine lost their three-year-old child to a drowning accident. And suddenly, my grief seemed like the stupidest thing on earth, because this mother had lost a real child. Her living, breathing child whom she had carried and birthed and held and known and played with and taught and fed and rocked and loved beyond measure, had died. I mourned for her child, mourned for her. I stopped mourning for myself because I felt unimaginably dumb doing so.

I’ve never said this to her before, but I know she’ll understand if she reads this.

I had to get past the idea that there was some comparison to be made. I had to understand that we are two separate people with two separate stories, and we each have the right to grieve our own losses. I had to get past the idea that there’s like, some scarcity of grief out there, and that if I grieved while she did I’d be taking up too much of the supply.

There’s plenty to go around.

I finally really understood this two months ago when I went to a Lenten discussion on grief with a few people from church. Why they chose to do this in a loud,  hamburgers-and-beer place was beyond me but I found myself leaving the discussion to sit outside at a picnic table and cry. A woman I know, who had also lost a child, came and sat down next to me. This woman had lost her fourteen-year-old daughter to a rare disease just three years ago. Without a word, she sat down next to me and opened her arms. I fell onto her shoulder and sobbed. She told me something I hadn’t known: that since she had been very young, she thought that she couldn’t have children, so she understood my pain. When she got pregnant with her daughter, it was a total shock.

Something about the fact that this woma who had lost her real, living child, was willing to sit down and be in my pain with me over not being able to have any was extraordinary. It was one of the most generous acts of grace I’ve ever seen. She validated my grief with hers. She validated it by being a mother who had arguably been though much worse and still was willing to comfort me. I can’t thank her enough for that.

I remember continuing to cry after they left, in my car, for an hour. I drove around, eventually ending up at the St. Mary’s church grounds. I walked the prayer path, stumbling in the dark, not seeing the irony of the metaphor at the time. I went home, because I had to. And I felt something shift.

The very next day, because this is how God works, I saw the image at the top of this piece on Facebook. It hit me like a ton of bricks: The reason my grief is so intense is because I am feeling all the mother’s love I ever wanted to give to all the children I ever wanted to have, all at once– except there are no children to receive it. So this love has nowhere to go but straight back into me, where it sits like stagnant water, a swamp full of care-taking and nurturing and hand-holding and playing and teaching and mothering. 

I’m a mother, but I will never be a mother.

That’s why it hurts so much, and is taking so long.

 

And he said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.”

Job 1:21

How I See You: A Poem About a Shift In Perspective

Joan of Arc for you. Elizabeth I for me. 😉

 

I wrote this poem today, after talking to someone who knows me probably better than anyone else on the planet. I was telling her how I felt so down right now, how after all that’s happened in the past year my spirit felt crushed with grief. And well, she had some words for me about that. 

Thank you for loving, supporting, and guiding me, and sometimes giving me a total shift in perspective! You are a light in my life and I’m so grateful for you. So grateful. Love you.

5/17/17

 

How I See You

 

I sit here, nursing my spirit

As I feel it, bruised by so many blows

I sense that it’s crushed, but a wise woman tells me:

You’re not crushed,

You’re a fucking hero

I see you burning so brightly

I see you strong and fighting

Yes, you’ve been beaten, but no, dear, not crushed

Your spirit is nothing if not shining

You’ve run a gauntlet of pain

You’ve been honest and vulnerable

You’ve faced grief and trauma

And forgiven the unforgiveable

Only heroes do that

Only heroes come back

Only heroes keep fighting

Only heroes know how

To use the gifts of darkness to move forward

To find those gifts in the first place

I see you stronger than ever

On the cusp of something great

Remember that you’ve done more than you ever thought possible

And you’ve got a whole new life to create

 

For Krista

 

© Sarah Ann Henderson 2017

 

The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. The righteous person may have many troubles, but the Lord delivers him from them all.

Psalm 34: 18-19

Let not your heart faint. Do not fear or panic or be in dread…for the Lord your God is he who goes with you to fight for you against your enemies, to give you the victory.

Deuteronomy 20: 3-4