Friday, December 27, 2013

The Spirit of Christmas

Christmas was surprising this year. I entered into it a bit confused but left with all those warm memories you hope for and cherish. Of course, I missed James the entire time but that is to be expected and I have grown quite used to that longing in my heart. It is familiar and achy but also allows me to take note of what is going on around me in great detail. When the feeling comes I think to myself not in a sad way but inquisitively, why do I wish he was here now? What about this moment do I wish to share with him?

At one moment I looked around and saw my family gathered, smiling, enjoying treats and gifts by the glow of the Christmas tree. It was Christmas Eve and this year we had a fancy Christmas Eve meal followed by opening of one present (more for those who wouldn't be there the next day) and then talking, playing games, and reading Luke chapter two (I read). I felt so much love and peace in that moment and I imagined for a moment he was nestled in my lap, sleeping heavy in my arms as I balanced the scriptures on my knees. Perhaps he was there, as I have said before I like to imagine he is.

Beyond missing James, Christmas was just joyful and spirited because of a very funny two-year old. We hadn't visited Santa at the mall or anything but because of a generous gift of twelve Christmas books for the twelve days of Christmas, we were able to really introduce Santa this year (we also watched the Polar Express about 5 times for our train aficionado). He was pretty delighted with his stocking and when I told him that Santa would bring him a candy cane for Christmas, he seemed pretty excited. Then a friend from Kyle's parent's ward (like a congregation) stopped by dressed as Santa, gave Max a candy cane and joyfully repeated, "Merry Christmas!" The deal was sealed. Max would repeat, "Santa Merry Christmas BIG candy cane!"

So Christmas Eve we set out carrots and oatmeal for the reindeer and treats and eggnog for Santa and we dressed Max in some cute pajamas and for once I just let myself enjoy what a treat Christmas can be.

Also, I received this beautiful bracelet which I had thought of back in August and was so grateful to receive as my Christmas Eve gift. It made my Christmas (Thank you Mom!)

Outside says "James" and the inside says, "i carry your heart with me, (i carry it in my heart)"

How grateful I am for the love and generosity that surrounds me. So many people contributed to make this a wonderful Christmas and it will never cease to amaze me that I am encircled by true, lifelong friends and family that loves and cares for me. 

Friday, December 20, 2013

Silent Night

Each time I hear the song Silent Night (which is often around the holidays) my heart gets heavy in my chest and it gets harder to breath.
Silent night, Holy night
All is calm, all is bright

I always used to think it was kind of funny that Mary experienced a silent night after the birth of Jesus, I mean we must assume that Jesus was probably a very easy baby and he probably didn't cry much that night, but it feels excruciating to think about because after the birth of James, I too had a silent night. The night he was born and I had to return home and around me everyone moved in hushed tones, everything was frozen, calm. At first things did appear bright, I felt enveloped in the prayers and supplications of my friends and family and I could feel the light that comes with hope for a happy future, for something good coming from something bad.
'Round yon virgin , mother and child
Holy infant so, tender and mild
Sleep in heavenly peace,
Sleep in heavenly peace.
Having a stillborn child has taught me so much about myself. I think I always thought that the line, "mother and child" referred to her and the Savior, but with new perspective I see that Mary was both a mother and still just a child. She still had so much to learn about her role as the mother of the Savior, a special and difficult calling. Her child's life had great purpose from the beginning and through scripture we see that often she lost sight of His calling (when she finds Him in the temple and rebukes Him).

When you become a mother, you realize there is SO much learning to do, you return to a childlike state. You needed people to take care of you, to minister, to guide you through the difficult journey of raising your child. Each of our children has an earthly mission and we, as mothers and parents, are to help our children discover and understand what their role in this world is, and we are discovering what it is along with them (often at a slower pace). As a mother of a stillborn child, I do not fully understand what James' mission was, but I do know that his presence in my life was necessary for me to become who Heavenly Father wants me to be.
Silent night, Holy night
Shepherds quake, at the sight
Glory streams from heaven afar
Heavenly, hosts sings Hallelujah.
Christ the Savior is born,
Christ the Savior is born.
Stillbirth is not a subject people like to talk about. It is scary and many "quake, at the sight," but the reality that 1 in 160 births is a stillbirth in the US is something to ponder. It pains my heart when I am connected with another mother who has recently experienced this loss. It truly is unique and heartbreaking and utterly indescribable. But through it, I have found strength within myself to focus upon the good, to be able to still sing "Hallelujah." For though my precious child was unable to live, the Savior was born and through His redeeming sacrifice I know that I will be able to be reunited with my child. That is something to sing and shout hallelujah to.
Silent night, Holy night
Son of God, love's pure light
Radiant beams from thy holy face
With the dawn of redeeming grace,
Jesus, Lord at thy birth,
Jesus, Lord at thy birth.
I have always loved the line, "love's pure light." It so beautifully and precisely describes the Savior. It was discovered long ago that December 25th is not the actual day the Savior was born but was more likely in April. So why do we celebrate in December still? Christmas comes during the darkest time of the year, literally. The Winter Solstice is tomorrow which marks the darkest day of the year, the day with shortest amount of time the sun shines before we start moving towards greater light. The Savior is the "light of the world" and in times of darkness, His life shines as a beacon of hope and "redeeming grace." The reminder of His birth is needed during this time of year.

This trial has taken me on paths where there has been deep darkness and where hope seemed futile. However, as dark as it seemed, at the end of each day I would remember the grace I received in days, weeks, years prior and know that light existed. I might not always be able to see it, but it exists.

So with renewed perspective, I see this time of the year differently. I have always had the choice to only see the darkness or to see the sparkling lights contrasted against that darkness, glittering, standing out along each street as a small, simple reminder of hope. I pray that I can continue to focus upon the light and to grow in that process.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Gratitude for Trials

Last Sunday I was asked to share some thoughts in a class about gratitude for trials. I immediately accepted this request because over the past few months I have learned that as I am prompted to think about particular issues surrounding the loss of James, I learn and grow. It seem obvious that I would want to grow from all of this, but it is ever so easy to slow to a stop and ignore and keep at bay how physically and emotionally painful it is to grow from hard things.

So as we drove early Sunday morning from spending Thanksgiving with our family I had a discussion with my husband about having gratitude for trials. This is what we came up with and what I shared with others later that day.

When I was 15 years-old, my grandmother died and I was so extremely heartbroken over it. I adored my grandmother. She is what every good and kind grandmother is made of, but she was also strict and taught me manners and social graces. I remember laying in my bed feeling like my life was awful and then I remember coming to the realization that my life wasn't really all that bad. I had a roof over my head, food to eat, I could go buy new clothes from the store and I was able to develop hobbies that cost my parents money. I wondered why I had been given such an easy life compared to those I knew who suffered in broken homes, those who had little to eat or were faced with abuse on a daily basis. Then I realized that everyone at some point had something bad happen in their lives; my grandmother passed away after her second round of having a brain tumor and I knew in that moment that someday I would face a trial that would be so indescribably hard.

When I had a miscarriage before Max was born I fell into a depression and I thought, this must be it. This is awful. Then my parents got divorced and it was messy and ugly and everything everyone dreads. Those happened at the same time and surely, I thought in my naivete, that this must be my trail.

Then James' heart stopped beating while inside of me. Where I thought he was safe. I knew then that this would become a defining trial in my life. Perhaps I may have more, but for now this is one that breaks my heart on a daily basis.

In the initial moments of realizing the life inside me had become permanently still, I realized I had two choices. One was to blame God, to wonder where He was, why didn't He protect my baby, my family, myself from this pain. The other choice was to turn to Him immediately, to seek out His hand a midst the pain and know that through Him is the only way that I could feel as if I could be happy again. Turning from God looked a dark, bleak, and hopeless path. Turning towards Him, I felt peace, I felt His love, I felt blessed. Truly.

I haven't always wanted to happy after James died. At times I thought, What is the point? I will forever be miserable so why even TRY being happy? But then I would see Him trying to reach out to me, through the actions of others, through small seemingly trivial coincidences, through reading the scriptures and reading words that were so needed in the exact moment I needed them, through prayer and feeling such a sense of peace and love, and through the example of my husband and child who chose joy, especially when it was hard.

So I can stand each day and truly say that I have gratitude for this trial. Through it I have come to know my Heavenly Father and my Savior more personally. Through this trial I have felt the power of the Atonement. I have felt grace through the desire to not wallow in my misery but use it as fuel to become a better person, to become who Heavenly Father sees in me. The Atonement is not just to cleanse and heal, but ultimately the Atonement of our Savior, His great and magnificent and infinite sacrifice was so that we could be transformed through the pain of this world. That we would be given grace, divine help, to be lifted up when we needed it, when we felt like it wasn't possible to ever be happy again.

Today a favorite hymn of mine was sung, "Come Thou Fount," and in it is a line that I grasped recognizing Heavenly Father's hand leading and teaching me each day:

       Come, thou Fount of every blessing, 
 tune my heart to sing thy grace; 
 streams of mercy, never ceasing, 
 call for songs of loudest praise. 
 Teach me some melodious sonnet, 
 sung by flaming tongues above. 
 Praise the mount! I'm fixed upon it, 
 mount of thy redeeming love.

I am fixed, focused, upon the doctrine of a loving, kind Heavenly Father. That is where my focus is. Bad and terrible things happen in this world. That does not mean He isn't there and that He is distant or unloving. It means that He honors the ability for us to learn and grow through the trials and tribulations that this world has to offer. I know that He loves me, I do not understand this trial in my life completely, but I know that we are all given hard things to experience to lift us up to Him, to transform us and to prepare us for Heaven and all its glory.