Communion Thoughts: This

Yesterday, JD and I shared meditations one last time at our beloved church. We move on Thursday, and we wanted to be able to say goodbye to the collective church. I mean, there’s a reason we drove 30 minutes downtown each Sunday to see people that live on the other side of Austin. Here’s what we said.

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On our first day at church, it took us 30 minutes to get out of the auditorium—not because this place was so crowded that we were elbowing our way through a mob, but rather because so many people made a beeline for us to introduce themselves because we were new.

Over the course of our time here, we studied what it meant to be an apprentice to Jesus, and we shared our stories and our doubts with one another in the ever-changing balcony class.

We experienced hospitality from many members, whether it was a shared bowl of edamame at Pei Wei, or it was the exquisite cuisine and company of famed cooks in the congregation.

They celebrated with us in our great joys of new jobs and pregnancies. And then they mourned with us when we lost our babies, and they held sacred space for us to grieve by showing up at the hospital to hold our hand, coming over to bring us dinner, texting us every day to check in.

In a similar way, as Jesus reclined at the Table with his friends, they celebrated Passover, they reminisced about their adventures together, and Jesus prepared for the most difficult part of his journey. It was that night that he held up the bread and the wine and said, “Do this in remembrance of me.”

He took these common sacraments from the Table to symbolize a broader moment. When he said, “Remember this,” he wasn’t just talking about the taste of the wine.

He was saying remember how we cared for one another…

remember how we shared meals together…

how we walked miles together…

how we live side by side, hand in hand together.

Remember this moment where we are all here together.

Today, we raise our glasses in celebration of what the Table of God has looked like to us here.

As we leave our sweet church, and share this meal with other members of God’s family, we will remember this.

A Conscionable Prayer for an Unconscionable Act

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God of All People, we scream and cry and rage in horror. We sit gape-mouthed in shock, no sound coming out, only breaths of disbelief.

We pray for our brothers and sisters in Orlando—for comfort to show up in shared meals, extended hands, and joint tears. For space to cry, for safety to express fears, for a surrounding of community, hands locked in solidarity.

We pray for the candles of vigils to light up the dark of the night, and we pray for the love of your people to light up the dark of the world.

Give us courage to say, “I’m scared, too.” Give us boldness to say, “I stand with you.”

Give us eyes to see that those men and women could have been ours—our people, our family, our friends. May this fresh sight shut our mouths of political rhetoric and defensive rights-protection. May the only words we can possibly utter be, “Dear God, this is horrible, evil violence against our own, and we condemn it fully.”

May we be silent in the things our fear tells us to shout, and may we be loud in our love and call for justice.

Bleeding God of Life and Death, help us speak up now, finally, in this very moment for the oppressed. May we not be able to sleep until we’ve told our people we love them and realize that there are many who cannot say that anymore.

Give us memory to remember the horror, and may we not forget the senseless evil by trivializing this event down to a battlecry for self-protection.

Dear God, give us empathy. Give us sensitivity. Give us love for another. Tape our mouths shut unless they are crying out in shared lament.

May we see that the hand we are clutching white-knuckled is our brother’s. May we realize that the tears swimming down our cheeks are our sister’s.

May we feel deep in our hearts that we belong to each other, that we are each other’s. May we feel the holy, righteous conviction that there is no other response but “I love you. This was awful, evil violence, and I see it. I cry with you. I stand with you. You are not alone.”

What I’ve Learned about Grief: Part Four

It’s been nearly 8 months since my first miscarriage, and during those 8 months of crying and watching the entire series of Grey’s Anatomy, I’ve journeyed through the grief like a hobbit. Lots of people have been the Sam to my Frodo: my husband, my Monday night dinner girls, a therapist, blog writers, dead writers (I teach British Literature, remember), and others.

I want to preface this post by saying that at the same time, all grief is different and all grief is the same. If you haven’t had a miscarriage, some of these things may still ring true in your life. If you have had a miscarriage, none of these things may ring true, too.

Click here for my first post on what grief looks like.  Click here for my second post on the experiencing others during a time of grief. Click here for my third post about when grief becomes too much. Here is what I’ve learned about finding meaning in grief:

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10. Grief makes you scared and brave at the same time. On one hand, now that I know how quickly I can lose something, I’m terrified of losing something else. My knees shake when I think of one day being pregnant again. My heart pounds at the thought of having any hope or making any plans. On the other hand, I feel brave enough to talk about my feelings sometimes even though what I say can make me scared. I feel brave enough to be honest with others. I feel brave enough to visit my dying grandmother after being told to “prepare myself” before I walk into her hospital room. I feel brave enough to move away from a job that I love with no real plan for my next step. At the very least, I have been confronted with the unknown that is my future, and I don’t always cower in fear anymore.

11. Grief stirs the creativity stew inside of you. Perhaps it’s because I try to find so many ways to describe how I’m feeling that my life begins to feel like a pot of metaphors. Or perhaps because grief is at once fog and crisp air that clears the fog (see what I mean?). Maybe it’s because grief gives perspective and I’ve stopped caring for awhile about some things (whether my hair is fixed or if I teach the perfect lesson or if Meredith Grey will ever find love again) that I can actually approach some of the big, scary, meta things in my life—will I ever have a family? Will JD and I be okay? What does my life mean if I can’t be a mom to living children? How do I summon the courage to try again? Do I really believe something awaits us at death? Thinking about these questions has me jotting down notes on napkins and church bulletins, and every time I sit in therapy, I have a new metaphor for my grief.

12. Grief can bring out some beautiful things in friendships. I have great friends. I read about the sisterhood of pregnancy losses in a Shauna Niequist book, and even though some of my friends have never had a miscarriage, they are still just as present. My friends have prayed for and with me. They have listened to my aimless conversation about the whole thing. They have invited me to a weekend away. They have brought dinner. They have asked me how I’m really doing every time they see me. They have sent me sweet emails and texts on days like Mother’s Day. They have sent me gifts and cards and chocolate. They have sat with me as I recover from a D&C at home. The most important quality about them is that they have been there. They didn’t shrink away at the first sight of heavy, dark feelings. They didn’t smile and slowly back away as I cried. They didn’t avoid me because they were pregnant and I wasn’t anymore. They were there. They held the space for me to grieve.

13. Grief is not about finding a reason or learning a lesson; it’s about feeling and mourning and grappling with loss. I hate the phrase, “Everything happens for a reason,” because it’s not supported anywhere except Hallmark cards, and it’s so clearly offensive. How can a person say, “Your baby died for a reason…God needed another angel…so our babies can play together in heaven…God is trying to bring you closer to Him…so you can appreciate the next baby more…” All of these make God out to be sadistic, and I don’t believe He is.

Loss happens because it can be a tragic, sad world and death is a ruler of sorts. Babies die. Friends get divorced. Spouses leave. Family moves away. Companies let you go. Just as loss doesn’t have a reason, neither should we go looking for lessons to be learned. Trying to learn or grow before feeling all the feelings is a numbing mechanism—it’s a counterproductive and unhealthy psychosis. I have to feel my feelings before I try to find meaning in them.

These things I’ve learned about grief are not the reason my babies died.

They are not lessons I’ve been dutifully learning at Grief Academy in Loss: 101. Part of me wishes I didn’t know any of this, but there is a sense that now that I know, I cannot un-know. Now that I’ve written all this down, I’m not magically brave now or pregnant or shielded against tears and dark feelings. I still have a very real and clear-cut fear that if I have another miscarriage, I will lose myself, even though I know I have to feel and lean on others and let myself grieve the way my mind and body need to because loss sucks and it’s scary and overwhelming.  I am at once a different person and the same person I was before the miscarriages.

But now I know that if I do lose another baby, the loss and pain won’t be so crippling that I die. I have walked this path before, and I have learned how to swim.

What I’ve Learned about Grief: Part Three

It’s been nearly 8 months since my first miscarriage, and during those 8 months of crying and watching the entire series of Grey’s Anatomy, I’ve journeyed through the grief like a hobbit. Lots of people have been the Sam to my Frodo: my husband, my Monday night dinner girls, a therapist, blog writers, dead writers (I teach British Literature, remember), and others.

I want to preface this post by saying that at the same time, all grief is different and all grief is the same. If you haven’t had a miscarriage, some of these things may still ring true in your life. If you have had a miscarriage, none of these things may ring true, too. Click here for my first post on what grief looks like. Click here for my second post on interacting with others during a time of grief. Here is what I’ve learned about when grief becomes too much:

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8. Grief does not care that you have to go to work. Grief is like a two-year-old in this way—it throws tantrums in the middle of the grocery store, clings to your leg as you’re trying to start your day, and makes your life messy in four-seconds flat. I’m fairly certain I ran out of sick days months ago, but I have to keep taking time off for doctors’ appointments and thus cannot take time off because I woke up incredibly sad.

I have to go and smile at my students and listen patiently as they tell me why they didn’t finish their homework and respond to emails with grace and politeness and go to meetings and talk about the Spanish Civil War and make copies of papers that I will inevitably have to grade at some point. I have to keep doing all of these things even though my heart feels sore from wading in the Sadness Sea. In some ways, work is nice because it can be very distracting, and I like my students and colleagues a lot. But when the kids shuffle out of the room, backpacks hitting the bookshelf and the door slamming behind them, out of nowhere, that two-year-old tackles me to the ground.

9. Sometimes grief makes things so dark that you need someone else to hold out the light for you. This light-holder can be many people: therapists, friends, spiritual directors, mentors, spouses, students, writers, etc. I have found I need someone to say, “That is completely valid” to my crazy feelings and “That’s unhealthy thinking” to my damaging feelings. I need someone to ask questions beyond, “When do you think you’ll try again?” I need someone to not wonder when I’ll get over this when I’m still talking about it months later. I’ve needed help from professionals and friends—people who are trained to walk through murky thinking and people who care enough about me to walk with me through it.

Even though I’ve been to therapy before, I felt really self-conscious going, like something was wrong with me and if certain people found out, I’d be labeled crazy. Now that I’m going regularly, I can’t imagine not going. It’s like I get a breath of fresh air every time I go because I have a space and time and person specifically set aside to say all my darkness–my fears and anxieties and anger and sadness.  I can say it all, and no one ducks away or shifts uncomfortably.  It is a similar experience when I share with my Monday night dinner girls or a close friend about my grief—there is a sense that I’m not alone in this. I think some of the darkness comes from feeling alone and feeling like you’ll never get out of this moment, and that’s why we need someone to hold out a light for us, calling us home.

My next and final post in this series will be about finding meaning in grief.