It Takes a Village | Healing in Community

It Takes a Village

photo courtesy of Renee Van Druff, used with permission

You have probably heard the old saying, “It takes a village to raise a child.” There is profound truth in that statement, and I am extremely thankful both for the village that raised me and the one helping to raise my children. In addition, I’m a firm believer in the statement I often hear from my friends at The Restoration House: “It takes a village to raise a mom.”

To Raise a Mom

When I became a mother, I had very few friends in the same boat. I was 22, had been married just 2 years, and had just started grad school. The few mom-friends that I had meant everything to me. The mall-walking, park dates (even though our kids were too small to play), or just talking about diapers and formula made me feel like a real mom when most days I felt like a kid just babysitting for a reeeeaaalllyyy long time.

I volunteered in the church nursery with experienced moms who shared their wisdom and were candid about their struggles, giving me confidence to parent as best I could. Other moms in my life sought me out and befriended me when I didn’t feel like I belonged anywhere. They chose to be my friend based on who I am and not just the offspring I happened to produce.

My sister-in-law became a mother just 7 months before I did, only she knew a heck of a lot more than I did. She shared (and shares) the journey with me, and her partnership in this adventure means more to me being a fellow Unthank.

My parents and in-laws watch my kids to give my husband and me the chance to be husband and wife and not just mommy and daddy. The teens and young adults at my church often babysat for us in exchange for lunch or cookies instead of cash.

As my children have grown, their preschool teachers, nursery volunteers, children’s pastors, and various other adults have genuinely loved them and spoiled them beyond reason. And as every parent knows, the way to love me is to love my child well.

I have a diverse, wise, experienced, beautiful, wonderful village raising me as a mom. And I know I wouldn’t be here without them.

Healing in Community

Being a mom isn’t always pretty. There are days when I lose it, and I fail my kids. There are days when I feel like I can’t go on. I’ve learned those are normal, and they will soon pass.

Then there are some hurts that don’t soon pass.

Sometimes you will have seasons of hurt, and you might, like me, feel lost and drowning. You might wonder if this will ever end. You might feel like you will never escape this pit.

You will need your village to come to your rescue.

When I had my first miscarriage last March, I went to my moms group the next day and put a little note in the prayer request box. All it said was, “I had a miscarriage yesterday.” An hour after I left that meeting, I got a text from my small group leader: “What do you like from Chipotle? I’m bringing you dinner.” She didn’t press me to talk or tell me everything would be okay. While she shared my experience of a miscarriage, she didn’t make it about her. She allowed me to grieve and loved me in that moment.

I was at ALDI with all 3 of my kids last June when I got the call that my bloodwork indicated a 2nd miscarriage. I walked out of the store, drove to my husband’s workplace, and the office administrator took my kids to another room and played with them. She didn’t know the situation, but she saw the hurt in my eyes and knew what needed to be done. She dropped everything and gave me almost an hour of time to cry with my husband.

My parents allowed us to bury and create a small memorial for our children in their yard. On occasion I will randomly show up at my mom’s house to visit that site, and she will take the kids so I can be alone.

My mom friends have listened to me cry about everything and nothing; they have forgiven me when I am moody and depressed and not a good friend to them; they have prayed for me when I didn’t ask for it.

My childhood youth pastor – who has always been “my pastor” – takes my calls and lets me visit at the drop of a hat when I am emotional and need a pastor. (Side note: even pastors need pastoral care. Pray for your pastors, and encourage them to have relationships and mentors outside the church. They just need it.) He and his wife have loved me at my absolute most annoying middle school phase, and they lead and encourage me now as a mom, a minister, and human being who just needs love.

My husband… there are no words.

When you face those seasons that don’t seem to end, the hurt that swallows you whole, you will need your village to help you find your way out. There IS a way out, my friend. But we all have to find it for ourselves.

The Messy Job of Clean Up

A few weeks ago I shared how my current pregnancy after a year of losses feels more like wading through storm debris to rebuild that beautiful picture. I may have a “rainbow baby,” but it doesn’t instantly heal the hurt I still feel.

My friend Renee shared the photos of her own home that was destroyed by a tornado 5 years ago and allowed me to use them for my featured image. Her family has a beautiful story of being protected during that storm and of rebuilding a beautiful life afterwards. But as I looked through her pictures, it is clear that an important part of that recovery story is her village.

It took weeks to go through all the debris from Renee’s house, collecting what could be salvaged and clearing out the rest. There were trees blown down that needed to be cut up and removed; the storm scattered their belongings around the neighborhood; there was waist-high construction debris covering all their earthly possessions. Renee’s photots capture all of that – and in most of them, you will see her friends, neighbors, and community members working to get it all done. In order to sort through their mess, Renee’s family needed their village.

In order to sort through your mess, you need your village.

I’m still going through the debris of my 2014 tornado. I have not yet cleared the ground to start reconstruction. There are places where I am still waist-deep in the mess. But I am making progress thanks to my village. Thank you for allowing me to be transparent here, and thank you for loving me through the mess.

I love you. I need you.


How Long, Oh Lord? A Different Kind of Rainbow

How Long

photos courtesy of Renee Van Druff, used with permission

O Lord, how long will you forget me? Forever?
    How long will you look the other way?
How long must I struggle with anguish in my soul,
    with sorrow in my heart every day?…

But I trust in your unfailing love.
    I will rejoice because you have rescued me.
I will sing to the Lord
    because he is good to me.

Psalm 13:1-2, 5-6

The other day I read this post from Twin Cities Moms Blog about “Rainbow Babies.” If you’re not familiar with the term, a rainbow baby is one that is born to parents following a loss, particularly miscarriage or stillbirth. The idea is that the new life is the beauty – the rainbow – after the storm of a loss.

Certainly every child is precious, and there is something special about the way parents cherish any baby that is born after having lost one.The thing is, when you see a spectacular rainbow after a storm, all you can do is marvel at its beauty, and you hardly remember the darkness or fear that came with the storm. You know the hard part is over, and you have something beautiful in its place.

I’m sure that is the experience of some parents who have a rainbow baby – that having a child makes everything better and easier. However, I am so thankful to Beth, the author of the aforementioned piece, for pointing out that not everyone has that experience.

It’s been just over a year since my first miscarriage and not quite 10 months since my 2nd miscarriage. I’m also 6 months pregnant with my 6th child (the 4th that will make it to delivery). And if we’re being completely honest (and I pretty much always am), I’m not as happy or whole as I thought I would be.

What I Don’t Need To Hear

If you have ever experienced loss or tragedy of any kind, you are all too familiar with platitudes – you know, the generic, often spiritual comments people make when they want to help but really have no idea what to say. I guess these statements have helped some people somewhere at some time or else they wouldn’t have caught on as sayings. However, the truth is that these things are annoying at best, and often they tend to hurt more than they help.

One I have repeatedly heard regarding miscarriage and especially subsequent pregnancy goes something along the lines of this: “Well that loss is really a blessing in disguise, because if you hadn’t lost that baby, you wouldn’t have little so-and-so here.” I mean, I get the logic. I may have even said something like this before I had a miscarriage and knew better. (If I ever said this to you, I’m sorry.) So, looking at the calendar, it is true that if my 4th pregnancy had continued, I wouldn’t have had the 5th pregnancy 2 months later, and if the 5th pregnancy had continued, I wouldn’t have had the 6th… At least not in the same time frame. However, that line of thinking doesn’t help me; it actually makes me feel worse. It will give you a headache and probably raise your blood pressure if you do this for every dumb sympathy phrase you hear, but just for kicks and giggles (not really), can we dissect the theology of this particular platitude, please?

I am all about the sovereignty of God and perfection of his plan. I understand the eternal value of my children and the mission for which he has called them in this life. But saying that one child died to make way for another presumes that the latter child’s life has greater value than the former. I can’t help but feel this suggests God ended a child’s life because the parents somehow made a mistake and conceived at the “wrong” time. Is this problematic for anyone other than me??

Let me tell you something, friend, especially if you have ever lost a baby: God is the giver of life, and that was the right time for your child, though only a short time. Your child’s life mattered and matters.

Eternal Perspective

Years ago I read a post from Johnna regarding the late-term loss of her daughter, Branson. Although her experience was years before mine, I never forgot her words about purpose. When she was pregnant, she felt the Lord had a specific calling for Branson, and the loss of her life could have felt like that calling was lost, God’s plan thwarted. But God. It is so easy to get lost in the temporal things that we understand, or at least have some grasp on. But God is so much bigger than this life, and his plans are not limited to the confines of this earth and this life. Just as Branson’s purpose is being fulfilled in eternity, so the lives of my lost children will also realize their potential in a life I do not yet know… but I will.

Today I am struggling with the why. Why did things happen the way they did? Why would God encourage me so much in the process only for me to be let down in the end? Why is it a year later and I’m still angry and sad? I knew there would be days and moments when I struggled, but this season is quiet and lonely. I thought things would be better by now.

Maybe… Maybe we aren’t supposed to “get over it” and move on; we are supposed to experience the pain in this moment. What is light without darkness, high without low, joy without mourning? Rather than wishing to skip the hard part, God, allow me to sit here and grieve our losses, whatever that looks like. Teach me Your goodness through the struggle and the pain.

A Different Kind of Rainbow

Believe me, friend, I am not writing this from a place of healing. I do not have such wisdom to impart from “the other side” where things are happy and I’m not hurting anymore. I am writing in my brokenness, grieving the loss of my two children every single day. I ache and long to know them and be known by them. I intensely miss them, even though we never truly met. I really don’t know what I’m supposed to be learning in this. God, that would make this process a lot easier if I did! I am hurt and confused and frustrated… But I’m not getting out of this boat. There is a storm raging all around me, but I won’t abandon ship. I’m not praying for God to calm this storm or that he would calm me, his child. I’m just hunkered down in the hull, curled under a blanket in the fetal position, holding on for dear life, trusting that the one steering this vessel will keep me safe. I can’t see the way out, and nothing I do can make the ride easier; this is pure, blind, reckless faith based only on a hope I haven’t seen.

Maybe for me it’s more like a rainbow after a tornado… There is definitely beauty there, and hope for a bright future to come. But while I stand here admiring that gift of light, I’m standing in the middle of wreckage, a mess of lost memories and opportunities that will take time and work to sort through. And while I may never recover what was lost in that storm, there is hope to rebuild.

…In time.

O Lord, come back to us!
    How long will you delay?
    Take pity on your servants!
Satisfy us each morning with your unfailing love,
    so we may sing for joy to the end of our lives.
Give us gladness in proportion to our former misery!
    Replace the evil years with good.
Let us, your servants, see you work again;
    let our children see your glory.

Psalm 90:13-16

Gender Reveal!

gender teaser

I know you only clicked on this because you are ever so curious if baby #4 will be a girl – to even out our family (2 girls and 2 boys) – or a boy – to… give us 3 rambunctious boys. But you know I’m all about that bass those teasers!

From the moment I learned I was pregnant with my first child, I knew she was a girl. I don’t know why, I was just so sure. All my dreams were of little girls, and it seemed every baby commercial I saw included a little girl. I just knew it, and I was right. When time came for #2, my pregnancy was so characteristically different, I was 80% sure it was a boy. Sure enough, Sweet Prince turned out as expected. With my 3rd, I kinda thought it would be a girl, but I didn’t really have a clear idea. I really only thought that because I couldn’t come up with any good boy names, so I hoped for a girl to make it easier. Little Man turned out to be a little man, and thus we have our family.

I always imagined we would have another girl, and maybe we did. I miscarried two children in 2014, and either one of them could have been a girl. We will never know this side of heaven. Broken and bruised from those losses, I had all but given up on that dream. My husband and I discussed permanent measures to prevent pregnancy (and, in my mind, miscarriage), and we contacted DCS about becoming foster parents.

But GodHere we are expecting a healthy baby in August!

After my Little Man was born in 2011, I committed to losing the weight I gained and kept through all 3 pregnancies, and – hallelujah! – I did! Having been fairly sedentary even before having our first child, I was in the best shape of my life. I was strong, thin-ish (I have to be realistic on this one), and more in touch with my body than ever. Even with an incredibly easy 3rd pregnancy, I was convinced this would be my best one yet. I have been through a lot both physically and emotionally this year, so maybe I wasn’t as prepared as I wanted to be, but I was still doing great. When I found out I was pregnant again, I was prepared for an active, healthy 9 months, gaining 20-30 pounds I can easily lose post-partum.

Then reality hit.

As it turns out, every pregnancy is different. And sometimes they are hard. The first trimester of my 6th pregnancy was characterized by constant, wish-I-could-throw-up-but-can’t nausea and wicked insomnia for weeks at a time, which led me to a very zombie-like state of fatigue. Although the nausea mostly subsided by week 13-14 and the insomnia has become infrequent, that second-trimester burst of energy I was counting on never showed up. I am not quite halfway through this pregnancy, and I’ve already gained 25 lbs. While my attitude is great, I admit it is really hard to look and feel like I did at my unhealthiest.

I keep telling myself, You are pregnant. You are pregnant. You are pregnant. The way I feel (and the weight I have gained) is so much like my first pregnancy, I have been quite certain this baby is a girl. My husband felt the same way. Last week we went for our fetal anatomy ultrasound to be sure. As the ultrasound tech moved around, we joked about how after all these children we should know what we were looking at. I was able to pick out “some organ” that turned out to be a kidney and a couple of limbs in varying positions, but when we got to a shot between the legs, my husband and I both audibly gasped. The tech said, “Well, I guess you know what that is!”

I’ll spare you our possibly-NSFW ultrasound photo and give it to you straight:

It's a boy!

We are thrilled to be adding another baby boy to our family! As much as I dread trying to come up with another name that sounds decent with “Unthank,” Sweet Prince and Little Man can’t wait to teach him how to run and play and climb on everything. Princess took a little convincing, but once she realized she will forever be queen of the castle, she warmed up to the idea of another boy in the family. I am most excited for my Little Man. He has always had these “youngest child” tendencies, and it drove me crazy because I knew he was not intended to be the youngest. It just doesn’t suit him! He needed a younger sibling to really come into his own. We are almost as happy as he is to “take care da baby” in just a few months.

So there you have it! We’re having a baby boy early in August! Name suggestions are welcome, so long as you are not offended by blatant rejection. 😉 Have a great week!

But God

You know, it’s funny how intimidating your own success can be.

While my last post hardly “went viral,” it garnered more hits in one day than any of my other posts, and over the course of a week outperformed any of my previous months of blogging. So, in my tiny little fledgling blogger world, that was pretty successful. It came time to write again, and I was like, how do I follow that?

Which is kind of a weird thing to say of yourself.

I haven’t necessarily been waiting to post until I had something that would blow your minds, but, at least if you know me personally, this might just blow your mind…

Baby #4!

Baby on board!

That’s right, I’m having a baby!

Not particularly noteworthy in the context of world events, but it’s pretty major in my life for a couple of reasons. First, I mean, it’s a baby and all, which is more significant to the mother than pretty much anyone else in that child’s upcoming life. Secondly, my older three kids are super close in age, so this one coming four years later is a bit of “starting over” for our family.

Mostly, though, this is a big deal because this isn’t my 4th baby. It’s my 6th.

New Year’s Day 2014, my husband and I sat up late that night and talked about the great sense of anticipation we had about the coming year. We had been feeling a build-up of spiritual tension in our lives, and we felt we were on the edge of breakthrough. We didn’t have a clear picture of what God had in store for us, but we knew it was big. We were so excited  to learn what surprises the year had in store.

Surprises indeed. After 3 healthy, complication-free pregnancies between 2007 and 2011, I had 2 miscarriages in the first 6 months of 2014. I knew it to be true before I had lost a child, but I could not have understood the searing pain of loss one feels after a miscarriage, regardless of the gestational age. In the last year, I have been so broken, so angry, so ready to give up hope.

But God.

Those are my favorite scriptures, when you know how things ought to go, the way things appear to be going, BUT GOD steps in and changes the plan. He makes a way where there seems to be no way, and out of the ashes of our pain, he brings healing and joy and LIFE.

This is my story, and I invite you to follow me on the journey. Happy 2015, y’all.

“My health may fail, and my spirit may grow weak,
but God remains the strength of my heart:
he is mine forever.” Psalm 73:26