Selah, child of light

For years I have said that miscarrying our tiny Selah was the beginning of the end of faith for me. In the days after that very worst day, family and friends reached out with words of comfort, with meals, with stories of their own loss. Tangible, vulnerable acts of kindness that made me feel less alone. But there were also family and friends and trusted mentors who felt it was important that I understand that no child is promised to heaven except those that God predestines. In fact, they said, it was prideful to claim an assurance of grace for my child – who was I to know the will of God? They said I should find comfort in God who is “in control”, who leads us into suffering for our sake, or for his glory, or to teach us to trust him. It felt like a threat. If he wants to create a child to die in your womb and then condemn that tiny soul to hell, who are you to question him? Maybe he did it precisely because you are the sort who would be brazen enough to call foul. 

The sentiment itself wasn’t shocking. I had always believed this theology, I had even offered those words to friends in their own suffering. But something changed in the sharpness of my grief. Ideas that had once given me comfort now failed because they made God look like a monster who delighted in inflicting suffering or creating and then murdering unborn children and destining their souls for hell, all in some bid to bring himself more glory.  Okay crazy nightmare hitler god. At least hitler was finite. This is the all knowing, all loving, all powerful God, and this is how he uses his power? This is goodness? This is love?

These were the first questions of my deconstruction out of reformed fundamentalism, made possible by the life and death of our dear first daughter. Deconstruction is, itself, a kind of death. An end. But as the years have passed I have begun to see her brief existence as more than just the tipping point out of a toxic faith. She was like a portal to the non-dualities of this universe. Through her I gained eyes to see the fear and oppression that was keeping me in line with this frightening theology. Through her I found the courage to imagine that, if there was a God, a Divine Being, a movement of Love in the universe, it would not, could not, delight in inflicting suffering on human beings or burning tiny fetuses eternally in hell.

Selah taught me how to wonder, how to fight against fear, how to sit with grief and heartache without pithy answers or submission to a dictator’s will. I don’t know if I ever would have found my way out of that toxic theology without her. She led me, with her short life, through all the rules and gates meant to protect God from our humanity. She showed me that God is not a king in a walled off fortress. Love cannot be contained.

I have gained momentum in running after her, following her small frame towards glimpses of the Divine in the wilderness beyond the gates, but it hasn’t been easy. The blinding flood lights and the hum of fluorescent bulbs that keep every doubt or shadowed thought at bay distorted my view of what laid beyond. The light of certainty illuminates all the carefully laid doctrinal walls between the desperate within and the desperate without. For so many years I was so sure that they were right, that God could only exist in this pure architectural wonder. I left timidly, with backwards steps, tripping my way down the front steps and across the grounds. I told myself that I just needed perspective, perhaps a new group or guide could show me how to find my way back in, back to God, back to the community I loved.  The further we ventured, the dimmer the light, the light I thought was God, became. I grew angry, then weary, then hopeless.

But then, at the edges of human answers, I stopped. It felt like the small soul that was tugging me out there was trying to turn my face, to finally look ahead rather than back at what was. By now the fortress was nothing but a dim glow on the horizon and my eyes were finally adjusting to the dark. It was so quiet. But then I turned and found the whole universe stretched out before me, before us, a resplendent tapestry of light and void. It pulsed with hope, with song, and I could finally see the shimmering movement of Love in and among all beings, across time. 

I fell into it, and it caught me, like a child safe in her mother’s arms.


Thank you, Selah-girl, for showing me the way.  For giving me the anger and the courage to escape the oppressive ‘certainties’ so I could experience the delight of true wonder and mystery and awe. Your name means “pause, reflect deeply” and is found at the end of many lines of psalmic poetry. It came to me in those vulnerable days curled up on the couch as you faded from my form, and at the time all I could reflect on was my helplessness and sorrow. I am so grateful for the journey we have been on from that place. Together we have lived into your name fully, always circling back, always with more questions. I never would have had the courage without you, my beloved girl. Thank you leading me home.

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selah, star child

This week I will be sharing pieces I’ve written about our miscarriage over the past 6 years. They have been scattered across different blogs in different seasons, spanning the full arc of my faith deconstruction and grief journey and I wanted to bring them together in one place to make them more accessible, and also as an act of remembrance for our Selah. March is Pregnancy After Loss month, something I couldn’t fathom in the wake of our miscarriage and have been wrestling with ever since the arrival of our twins just over a year later. If you have experienced the loss of a child, please know you have a home here, that I hold space for your pain, and that you are not alone.


March 30, 2017

The memory of exhausting  emotion and then throbbing, empty pain is all I have of you, little one. Elation, then suffocation. You were but a wisp of a thing, sliding on through from this world to some other. Stardust to stardust. (I read that this is true for all of us. 93% of our mass is stardust- matter changing form but unchanging in substance across space-time. It is infinitely more hopeful to think of you this way than as a clot of cells contracted out and washed down the toilet in a little basement apartment.)

Tonight I planted seeds for our little vegetable garden and marveled at the life and nourishment that will come from these tiny pods of possibility. When your life ended you were already much larger than they – the cheerful pregnancy websites say you were the size of a blueberry, with eye color and eye lids and internal organs. We were beginning to be tethered together by our placenta, if I could have held onto you. Oh, all that you could have been if I could have held onto you, sweet girl. 

My inestimable star child. One day my body will be reduced to ashes, scattered or flushed or swept away into this world or some other. Some day, we will be as one. It is not so lonely when I think of this, you and I becoming soil for growing things, life-sustaining molecules ingested by wild creatures who, as Wendell Berry says, “Do not tax their lives with forethought of grief.” Wise ones.

Parenthood has given me fear that I did not expect. I do not fear for you, Selah. I trust you are more where you are than you could be here. This world could not hold you. But the longer it holds your brother and sister and father and I and all those we love, the more I grieve the end. There is a wild and terrifying man and many like him sowing seeds of fear and greed that are already taking root in irreversible ways. What is there to do but sow our own seeds of hope? Of life? Will you nurture them, Selah girl?

I feel the elephant weight of mother’s guilt confessing this, but sometimes I feel the relief of only two children. Even as I carry my grief, you are one less child to worry into the certainty treacherous future. In my lifetime or certainty Rowan and Evelyn’s, there will be water wars and major weather events disrupting growing seasons and floods and the death of marine life and more animals will become endangered before disappearing altogether. I feel powerless. But you are already doing wild life-sustaining work – the bits of star energy of your cells nourishing the ground or water or comprising the very cells of the creatures that struggle along on this beautiful, dying planet.

Thank you for your gift, Selah.

I carry you always in my heart.

You are life.

You are death.

You are neither life nor death, for you straddled the space between.

night sky

You are stardust.

 

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Carrying Lost Hearts

This week I will be sharing pieces I’ve written about our miscarriage over the past 6 years. They have been scattered across different blogs in different seasons, spanning the full arc of my faith deconstruction and grief journey and I wanted to bring them together in one place to make them more accessible, and also as an act of remembrance for our Selah. March is Pregnancy After Loss month, something I couldn’t fathom in the wake of our miscarriage and have been wrestling with ever since the arrival of our twins just over a year later. If you have experienced the loss of a child, please know you have a home here, that I hold space for your pain, and that you are not alone.


March 25, 2015

Tuesday will be two years since we lost our little girl. Selah was an unexpected Lenten mystery in our lives, one I will never understand. She launched us into giddy parenthood and bottomless grief in one swift week. When I began miscarrying on Easter Sunday, the last bits of my feeble faith crumbled.

I will never forget the hours I spent in the shower that week, crumpled on the floor sobbing as I contracted and bled out what should have been my daughter, passing the clots that should have sustained and nourished her. When the water ran cold Drew would bundle me back into bed and we would shiver into each other, exhausted. I felt so dry when the tears stopped, parched for words and life and hope.

It is hard to talk about a lost child. I can’t remember the last time I cried for our Selah. Life with Evelyn and Rowan is so consuming, weeks will pass and I haven’t even thought about her. We’ll be out grocery shopping and as I’m bagging up some spinach a woman will walk up and coax a wave and a giggle from R&E and gush “oh twins! Are they your first? What a blessing! And look, one of each, now you’re done!” Ladies in the grocery story don’t mean to make young moms cry about their never-to-be-born child, so we put on brave faces and lie.

I don’t know if we’re done having children. I don’t even know if we’re going to survive today, growing another human is the farthest thing from my mind. But so is swearing off them all together. And one of each? Why do people say that, as if the genders of children are limited edition collectibles that depreciate in value if you have duplicates?

But she doesn’t mean any of that. She’s just forgotten what it feels like to be young and overwhelmed with needy children. She just wants to be friendly. I look at her kind eyes and stutter a reply and then she says they are beautiful and “God bless” and wheels her cart towards the deli. And there I am, plastic bag in hand, swept up momentarily in the impossibility of life and death and our ability to mourn and move on and mourn over and over again.

And then Evelyn is chewing on the index card that was my grocery list and ink is smudged around her lips and Rowan is howling because he wants paper too and so I’m digging in my purse for the Tupperware of snacks that will get us through to the checkout line. All thoughts of new life and motherhood and death are crowded out by the realities of my needy children and the clock ticking down to naptime.

And it really isn’t fair. There’s no good time to ask about the child I lost at 8 weeks. Even if you and I were sitting in my living room and we were drinking tea while the children played quietly and peacefully at our feet, if you asked about what I’ve been thinking about my Selah I would be overcome by the guilt of being a woman who hasn’t thought about her dead daughter since the last time someone reminded me in a grocery store. I would stumble for words and feel the need to try and sound like I think a devoted grieving mother should, but I would come up empty.

Selah flung open the door to my motherhood and then she left me standing awkwardly on the stoop, waiting to be let in. When Rowan and Evelyn came along I was suddenly shoved through the door with such force that I spent the next many months stumbling for footing. Now, as we round the corner on their first year and the dust is settling I’m finally finding some brain-space to feel all that we have become together. Because of Selah but also without her.

Dear friends, there are more people in your life who have lost children than you would expect. There are brave women who have labored and birthed beautiful babies and had to say goodbye to them the same day. There are mothers and fathers and grandparents who carry the broken hearts of parents who have outlived their children, taken too soon. Always too soon. There are family members and friends, people who were in our life one day and gone the next, leaving us in the void. We all know grief in some way, the weight of the world cannot be shouldered alone.

When grief is fresh, carry it together. When it rushes in and out again unexpectedly, accept and acknowledge it without guilt or fear, as much as is possible. If grief abides, do not be alone for too long. Remind others that you are hurting and let them stumble along beside you. It’s the best we can do, to offer our open hands and beating hearts in love for another. We do it for the ones we’ve lost and the ones we still have. We do it because love was meant to be given, to flow freely in the way of grace. We do it because we are alive and this is hope. This is the way we push back against death and press into life.

My faith is still in shambles, scattered and splintered like a shipwreck on a rocky shore. But I am picking my way through the debris when the tide is low and the sun is warm and, somehow, I am finding hope in these smashed bits. I’m grateful that whatever can be resurrected from this mess will always bear the marks of my heartache, that Selah’s story is forever my story too.

I carry her in my heart.

 

selah's memorial

The view from our little memorial site for Selah on Lake Ontario.

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Four and Seventeen Months

This week I will be sharing pieces I’ve written about our miscarriage over the past 6 years. They have been scattered across different blogs in different seasons, spanning the full arc of my faith deconstruction and grief journey and I wanted to bring them together in one place to make them more accessible, and also as an act of remembrance for our Selah. March is Pregnancy After Loss month, something I couldn’t fathom in the wake of our miscarriage and have been wrestling with ever since the arrival of our twins just over a year later. If you have experienced the loss of a child, please know you have a home here, that I hold space for your pain, and that you are not alone.


August 9, 2014

After a miserable week and half of a sleep strike/return to newborn hell, we’ve knocked out the 3am feeding! We’ve now got a bedtime routine that gets the kiddos down by 8:30 or 9, they wake up between 1-2 to eat, again near 5-6 and then sometime after 8. Maybe they just gave us those miserable 10 days so we’d remember what a treat it is to enjoy multiple REM cycles. I’ll take it.

With all this newfound energy and evening downtime, the reflective and introspective part of my brain is starting to re-emerge.  It rolls in like a fog, disorienting and distracting, sweeping me away in big unanswerable questions and dreams and fears. Lately the fog has drifted in with the goose pimple shivers and aching sadness of loss – a dear friend lost her two perfect twin girls, Livia and Lucy, last month and mourning with her has brought a fresh wave of grief for our Selah.

And then I’m remembering all the moments I have not mourned, the moments that I have lived and celebrated and giggled and cuddled with Rowan and Evelyn and how sometimes it is hard to imagine our sweet girl being in our present reality. And I feel so guilty for that. Guiltier still when I wonder if this is “progress”. Grief is all I have of her in my memory – the fleeting few days of marvelous hope and joy before she passed feels like a dream and her dying is the anchoring reality. I hate that.

Then I think of the plausibly long lives ahead of all of us – Rowan and Evelyn, Drew and I – and I’m lost for how to live them. How to be fully present in each moment without the fear that any one of them might be our last. And of course it’s not the END as much as the being left behind to grieve that really terrifies.

So while I’m marveling at tall the ways Rowan and Evelyn are growing and changing,  I’m also trying to imagine our next 30, 40, 50 years together. What the world look like, what our relationships will be? The fear I feel about the unknown in each sphere is suffocating, and then ridiculous. Is it possible to live between the two? To both revere and make peace with [the possibility of] grief enough so that I might really live in the present?

These little people who were but a few hundred dividing cells a year ago – maybe just the size of our dear Selah –  are learning to roll over and scoot their giant diapered bums across the floor. They giggle when I kiss their double chins and coo along as I sing to them. And I guess I just want to confess that they feel more real. How can I remember the little girl who barely was?

So I’m back at the beginning. Trying to celebrate month 4, wondering about month 17 and an older sister who isn’t here. Couldn’t be, if they are.

The two babies who are here are filling my life with such joy and purpose for all the small moments when I would otherwise be lost in my head. I marvel at this gift of time and presence with them, soaking up the goofy expressions and the post-nursing cuddles, participating in the rhythmic work of laundry, cleaning, reading, resting, laughing. It all flows together so naturally and I am grateful. I know this is a gift, one that I want to live well.

Maybe I will spend month 5 returning to my monastic family, men and women who have taken on the outcasts and weary children of the world as their own. Perhaps they can teach me about how the rhythm of grief and the rhythm of grace can make a life together.

I think I am thankful for the fog. It reminds me there is much about life that I cannot see or record or instagram. But I can open myself to feeling it, even the difficult grief/not grief of a lost child. And that’s grace, isn’t it?

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claiming resurrection

This week I will be sharing pieces I’ve written about our miscarriage over the past 6 years. They have been scattered across different blogs in different seasons, spanning the full arc of my faith deconstruction and grief journey and I wanted to bring them together in one place to make them more accessible, and also as an act of remembrance for our Selah. March is Pregnancy After Loss month, something I couldn’t fathom in the wake of our miscarriage and have been wrestling with ever since the arrival of our twins just over a year later. If you have experienced the loss of a child, please know you have a home here, that I hold space for your pain, and that you are not alone.


April 1, 2013

About a week ago Drew and I found out were pregnant. We were filled with joy and anticipation at this surprising answer to prayers for direction and purpose in this season of confusion and closed doors.

In just a few short days we began re-imagining our year ahead, what sorts of job opportunities could provide for a little family of three, where we might find housing, how we might move closer to friends or family. We talked of how fun it would be to surprise our moms with the news on mother’s day (if we could wait that long!) and I marveled at how this little one would carry me through the church year: growing quietly all through lent, announcing its arrival just before our resurrection celebration, finally joining us during the season that remembers our Christ’s own birth. Such peace.

But then, while shouting our alleluias and “He is risen indeed!” and smiling at rows of little kids on stage singing “Up from the Grave He Arose!”, I began miscarrying.

At first I didn’t even realize what was happening. I wanted to just think of it as a late late period, as if nothing had ever happened. I felt so sheepish for my joy, for all the planning that we managed in a short week. As I googled my “symptoms” and learned that this is commonly called a “chemical pregnancy” – the failure of the embryo to properly implant in the uterus – I felt even more silly for my grief. I was barely even pregnant. This brief burst of new life, just a few hundred cells woven together and gone rogue.

Just a few hundred cells.

But when I stood in the shower last night, trying to soothe wretched cramps and relax for bed I found myself praying somehow for God to receive our little one. This one he created in my womb, this one who was snatched by death far too quickly. And the grief came in great waves, shaking my whole body, making me feel small and frail and so exposed. How could it be that death could lurk even in my inmost being? I felt so violated. And on THIS day! Resurrection day. A day to celebrate conquering the dark shadow of death. Why?

Drew found me and held me and the hot water beat down with our tears and somehow in that embrace there was comfort in the midst of suffering. What a mystery of marriage to have the presence of another person to say “No, this is not right. This is not what we were meant for” and to cry out to God for his kingdom coming. To speak His promises of life over me and petition God for the peace we so desperately need in this broken place.

Addie Zierman says it beautifully:

“God is here, and I feel him close and real these days. But also, still, there is this hole. There is the empty space where a baby should have been. And I feel that too, tender and sharp.

I know it will get better with time – these things always do. But also, I know that this world is cracked through. The people who are supposed to love us best fail us in the worst possible ways. The pregnancy doesn’t take, or the baby is gone before you can hold him. The lump is malignant. The crash is fatal. Over and over again, people keep leaving before we’re ready for them to go.

We are, all of us, punched through with holes, living with a little bit more emptiness every year. And it’s possible to be filled with the Spirit and still feel the void.

It’s true that God is the best kind of Father. And also, the absence of your flesh-and-blood Dad matters. There is the way things should be and the way they are, and between them, there are a hundred thousand hollows, echoing with emptiness.”

The absence of my flesh-and-blood dad matters. And so, this Easter monday, though I am reminded all too intimately why this Jesus needed to rise from the dead, I mourn his distance. The Spirits’s presence is a mystery that abides within and around me, but it is not enough for this woman, meant for a new earth, fully realized, bathed in light and life.

But my resurrection hope is in this: I refuse to accept this as a mere blip of life. I refuse to feel silly about my sorrow, to downplay the death of our first child. (My confidence is already waning as I type that sentence. Child? Can I call it a child? Statistically, so many women experience this kind of miscarriage and never know. Does that mock the miscarriages of women whose sweet babes are birthed still so much farther along? Or the mama who loses a little one to a casualty of the “real world”?)

Because I have nothing else to lean on, because Easter is the ushering in of the sort of hope that sustains in seasons like this one where so many doors are slammed in my face and this one is just impossible, I claim the resurrection as a promise that I was not meant for death and neither was this little life that grew oh-so-briefly inside of me. This indignation in the face of death, this is grace. To be brought up from the despair that has so trapped me for many long months and into sorrowful hope, this is resurrection. I claim the grace to wonder if perhaps this little one is already continuing to develop elsewhere in whatever home heaven may be. I miss you, little one. May you be in peace.

“Easter was when Hope in person surprised the whole world by coming forward from the future into the present.”

     – N.T. Wright, Surprised by Hope

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