mercy has your name written on it

You sit there staring at the image reflected back at you in the mirror.  The mirror lies to you, and yet, you see that reflection as truth.  It exposes your blemishes, and your scars.  The image of your body is one that you would rather never reveal to anyone, except maybe…this vile mirror that has become the reflection of who you think you are.  The bruises, the fat, the lines…whatever errors that have affixed on your skin…shows up greater than anything else.  You wonder, “God, how can You forgive me?  How could anyone love me?  I deserve to be lonely, and to be treated like this.  I am worthless…deserve even worse.  How can there be mercy for someone like me?”

You lay there staring at the bottom of an empty bottle, and your anger is being stirred with a mixture of dependency and despair.  The bottle…the friend you have come to rely on…is empty, and you are left alone.   Alone.  Isolated with your regrets that seem to have burrowed themselves in your soul.  Deep down, you know that the empty bottle symbolizes how you feel about yourself.  Empty.  Broken.  Dry.  You tell yourself, “There is no way God will ever love me.  No one will.  The only friend I have is a bottle.”  You wonder, “God, how can You forgive me?  Is there a way out of this vicious cycle that has taken over?  How can there be mercy for someone like me?”

You stand there, sign in hand, while looking around at the concrete bed that you will be sleeping on tonight, and you think, “When will this ever change?  When will I feel human again?”  You are cold.  You are hungry.  You are confused.  Perhaps, just maybe, if your story of how you became like this was actually scripted onto those cardboard pleads of help, then maybe…just maybe, others might see you as a human being.  You might be valued.  As family filled cars pass you by, you wonder, “God, how can You forgive me?  When will my circumstances change?  I hope for something new each day, but the days seem to turn into months, which seem to turn into years.  How can there be mercy for someone like me?”

You sit there looking around at the empty house that was once filled with the sounds of the life of a family.  You stare at the living room, you glance at the spot where your wife once slept, and you dwell on the empty chairs at the dinner table.  You think about the life you once all danced to.  You remember the Christmas mornings, birthdays, nights spent around a ball game, or playing outdoors. You think, “I deserve this.  I deserted them.  I was selfish.  God, how can You forgive me?  How can there be mercy for someone like me?”

You are staring at the negative sign on the pregnancy test you just took.  As the sadness starts to fill up your heart, you begin to say the same mantra that you have said for years….“I deserve this.  God must think I would make a horrible mother.  This will never happen.  I will never be a mother.  I am worthless.”  As time goes on, you wait…wait…for your moment.  You endure the showers of others who are expecting the very thing you have desired for years now.   You wonder, “God, why would You spare me?  If it is Your will, then why won’t You give me a child?  How can there be mercy for someone like me?”

Well, dear friend, precious soul, battered one, addicted being, homeless shell, wayward son, and one filled with despair, there is no need to wonder.  When Jesus carried His weary body so that His feet could be nailed to the Cross, it was for you.  When He breathed His last breath, it was for you.  It was for all of us.

When He exclaimed, “It is finished”we were on His mind.  His salvation lasts forever.  It lasts through the hardship of life.  It conquers the poor choices, imperfections, addictions, broken relationships, concrete jungles, and empty nests.

His mercy is fluid.  It moves with you.  It wraps around you, and migrates with each step you take.  You wonder, “Am I worth it?  Why would He spare me?  Am I worthy of forgiveness?  Is there enough mercy left over for someone like me?” 

Yes, dear friend, precious soul, battered one, addicted being, homeless shell, wayward son, and one filled with despair, you are worth it.  You are a child of God.  Do you know that?  Your worth is so much more than you can ever fathom.  Mercy….

Mercy has your name written on it…

….and, praise Christ for that!

So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive His mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it. – Hebrews 4:16

God in the Midst

The LORD your God is in your midst; he is a warrior who can deliver. He takes great delight in you; he renews you by his love; he shouts for joy over you.     – Zephaniah 3:17

Recently, a foster-mother came into my office, shut the door, sat down, and started weeping over a decision, or lack thereof, regarding her foster child with-whom she has had since the child was a newborn.  This foster-mother has experience with the system and usually “rolls with the punches”, but this time, she was absolutely wiped out emotionally.

With puffy eyes and thick tears, she told me how the upcoming court case was going to be continued and very important decisions; perhaps the most important decisions made throughout the duration of the case, were not going to be made.  “How can they do this?”, she asked.  “What do I tell my family?”  I just listened to her, and tried to encourage her the best way I could at the time.

If the truth were told, sometimes, I really don’t know what the right thing is to say to foster parents who are grieving.  I’ve been there in that place of confusion and grief when fostering my children, but my babies did not leave my home.  They were not reunified and my life was tremendously altered by adoption.  I’ve learned in this field that sometimes the best thing to do is to say very little and just let people speak openly about their lives, situations  sadness, anger, and loss.  Most of the time, the answer or wisdom they are seeking can be found in their own thoughts if they are allowed to process them.

I agree with and understand the federal law that protects the birth parents rights to be reunified with their children. I too would want the opportunity to rectify my life situation so that I could have my children back.  I get that, but, I don’t understand sometimes why court decisions get delayed.  It frustrates me that children linger in the system for seemingly no reason; except that they are not able to reunified with birth family, or they are never adopted by families.  In this foster parent’s situation, the birth parents really have not been involved, and the little one that is so loved really only knows the foster family who has been caring for her every needs.

This side of me that wears skin, this piece of my heart that gets torn apart, the salt in my tears, and this gravity of the weight of the world we live in, wears on me.  It causes me to question where He is when children are being abused and neglected.  It forces me to wonder if He is near the grieving foster parents, afflicted birth parents, and parent-less children.  It challenges me to want to turn away from the field I’m in and wipe myself clean of it, and yet, how can I walk away from this?  How can any of us turn our backs when we live with the knowledge that children are being abused in our own backyards, and around the world?

I know the Lord is in control.  I know He loves these children more than any foster parent, adoptive parent, or birth parent could ever comprehend.  I know all of them really belong to Him, not us.  Our Heavenly Father holds our tears, whispers reassurance, and visually reminds us of His presence through His word, each other, and the wonders of the world.

The foster-mother who shed quiet tears in my office also knows that the Lord she prays to, lives for, and believes in, was sitting next to her when she got the phone call of the news she didn’t want to hear.  He was present with her when she sat in her car crying and wondering what she was going to tell her family.  He walked in with her to my office and listened while she proclaimed her grief.

The belief that causes my heart to feel less burdened by the sadness around is the idea that the God who breathed life into our lungs, is the same God who was present in my office that day a heart-broken woman entered my room.  He is also the same God who will be standing with us all when our lives come to an end.  He knows the end of our stories, for He has already written them.  He has claimed us as His own.

If there is anything we could all do for foster parents, birth parents, and children who are in the child welfare system, it is to reassure them that they are mightily loved by a Father who is present in each moment; each court date, each phone call, each sleepless night, each embrace, each joy, each hour of despair, and every moment they feel they cannot go on.  God is not absent.

God Is In The Midst

Road to Joplin

Day 2 with Joplin flag

This weekend I had the privilege of riding in a cycling event called the MS 150.  Every  year hundreds, if not a thousand or so cyclists make their way to a small town in southwest Missouri to complete a 150 mile bike ride.  This is done to bring attention and raise funds for Multiple Sclerosis.

This was my third year riding in this event.  I always seem to walk away from it with a great sense of accomplishment.  It is also quite humbling to be cheered on at the start line by people who live daily with MS.  This year, a woman with MS said to us, “When you get towards the last few miles and your legs are burning, just remember me saying Thank You.  Just remember that you are riding for many of us who cannot.”  Then, at the finish line, the same man every year, bound to his wheelchair, holds his hand out with a medal dangling from it.  As one reaches for his or her medal, the man gently says “thank you”.  It is quite humbling and I hope to ride in future 150’s.

This year though had even more of an impact on me, but for a different reason.  This is the first year that the ride took us back to Joplin, MO after the deadly tornado which claimed the lives of so many in May 2011.  Last year, the ride had to be rerouted and completely taken out of the Joplin area due to the devastation of the storm.  I had been there about a week or so after the tornado struck, and was silenced by what I had seen.  Cars with windshields blown out laying on top of each other, buildings that looked like they exploded by the force of a bomb, houses upon houses crumbled up like sticks, and trees stripped completely down to the bark.  It was shocking.  Just shocking.  The city I live in is close to Joplin and we are so lucky that the storm did not rumble its way towards us.

Although my work has taken me back to Joplin a few times, I usually do not drive through the area where the destruction took place.  This year, the MS committee planned the route specifically to take us through some of the path of the tornado.  Before I entered this area, my legs were screaming, my mind was off in some other place, there was pain tucked right in between my shoulders, and I was ready to be done.  I had been in the saddle for about seven hours, and my own “saddle” was telling me it was time to get off.

However, this changed when I entered the area where that beast of a storm stole normalcy from the lives of so many.  The few trees that survived were mangled.  Their bare branches looked like hands reaching towards the heavens in desperation.  Others bent over, all leaning to one side; yet, fresh green leaves bushed out from whatever spot they could find.

As I got closer to the eerily flattened area where houses once stood, I thought about the families and children who once lived there.  I imagined kickball being played in the streets, children swinging from swing sets, families walking their pet dogs or washing their cars.  All of this wiped clean.  Sure, there were new houses being built and definitely the vision of new growth could be seen, but I just kept thinking about how much destruction took place on those grounds.  The names of streets had been painted on the roads.  The ground was completely stripped of grass. There were partially crumbled buildings still being torn down.  It just went on and on.

As I drew nearer to the “end” of the destruction zone, I became overwhelmed with emotion.  I thought about the mothers who lost their babies, the babies who lost their daddies and mommies, and all the others who never woke again on this Earth to see the sun rise.  All I could think was “so much destruction, so much despair.”

But there in that moment on my bike with nothing but my own thoughts, I realized, or at least was reminded, that the Lord is not a god of destruction.  He is not a god of devastation.  He is not a god of despair.  He is the God of regrowth, rebirth, restoration, and life.  He lifts up our heads.  He carries us through the storms.  He gives us life.

The next morning as 800 or cyclists gathered around to start day two of the cycling event, small Joplin flags were handed out to each of us.  We placed them in our helmets, on our bikes, or held them in our hands as we rode through part of what was named “Memorial Miles”.  With just the sound of wind, the breathing of fellow riders, and the hissing-like noises from spinning our wheels, we rode in silence in honor of those killed by the Joplin tornado and in honor of the courage it has taken for the city to rebuild.

This year the road to Joplin became more than just a cycling event that I love to participate in.  Yes, it was done in an effort to support those struggling with Multiple Sclerosis.  However, I left the event with Joplin on my mind.  This weekend turned into a reminder of the blessing of health, of love, of family, of home, and of our incredible Heavenly Father who restores, renews, and leads us to Life.

Genuine Loss

Some may wonder what it is like to be barren. Or, what it feels like to be at the place where there is no hope of ever having children. Try, after try, after try…and still no baby. I never had to experience the ups and downs of infertility treatments, but I do know the roller coaster of emotions experienced when realizing that there is great potential of being childless for the rest of life.

The only way to best describe what it can feel like is to use the word death. That seems so melodramatic, melancholy, and extreme, but really it is the one word I can come up with that embodies the pain felt. It is not a physical death but it can feel like it. The grief accompanied with the diagnosis of infertility is no different than what one may experience when grieving a loved one; and yet, it is unique. People don’t expect someone to “get over” losing a loved one quickly, but they may expect it when infertility knocks a woman down.

One time while visiting with an acquaintance and her daughter, the woman leaned into me and whispered “my daughter can’t have babies…poor thing”. Her daughter heard every word of it and I’m sure she was desperately trying to escape inside her own skin. I sat there for a moment stunned at what was said. Well, not so much what was said because I’m obviously comfortable with infertility, but more so at the tone and total lack of sensitivity.

Why in the world would a mother disclose this news in a pitiful tone while whispering it to someone her daughter had just met? I had been given information that cut right into the heart of what her daughter had been despairing over. I just wanted to grab her daughter by the hand, run with her out the door, and let her breathe for a moment. I can’t imagine someone leaning over and whispering “her child just died”. Yet, this is how it can feel…empty, heartbroken, sorrowful, aching.

Growing up, I didn’t know how much infertility would eventually start to feel like a death. I found myself crying over things related to babies and pregnancies, but was not really even sure why I was crying. I was just overwhelmingly sad. I didn’t know what to do with the strong emotions of grief. I was confused, and at times, felt like the loneliest person in the world. Then I realized that I would never be able to look at a child and say “she looks just like me”. I would never be able to experience feeling a child kick in my belly. I would never know the look on my husband’s face when I told him “we’re having a baby!” So…in many ways, I became fully aware that infertility was a death sentence to all of those things I wanted to experience during my walkabout on this Earth.

I got to the place where I allowed myself to grieve my loss. There was shock and denial; although mine was just at the awareness of the traumatic event that took place my eleventh year of life. There was anger. I was angry at doctors (although they saved my life). I felt jilted by God, and anger towards people who don’t take care of their kids or at least act as though their kids are disposable and not important. There was bargaining…it was retroactive in some sense…kinda like “God, maybe if the infection would have been caught a day earlier, then perhaps this wouldn’t have happened”.

Then, I was just stuck in the acceptance phase of grief. But, this was far from pleasant. Acceptance is a strange concept anyway. I didn’t want to accept it. I just wanted to know if I would ever have a child to call my own; regardless of biology. Sometimes the not knowing was far more painful than the knowing. I mean I knew that I couldn’t have children but I had no idea how it would all work out for me or if I would ever be a mommy.

I’m not sure, but I suspect those women who are undergoing treatments or even those who have had multiple pregnancies that have ended prematurely probably start and stop the grieving process over and over again. How terribly exhausting…how horribly draining. I’m sure each time a woman gets a negative pregnancy test, or is told that the treatments are not going to work, or learns that there is “no medical reason” why she can’t have a baby, it tears her heart out. The wound gets ripped open time and time again, and yet, she is supposed to just “get over it” and go back into the world while the dream of mommy-hood starts to die slowly.

The best thing someone can do for a friend or family member who is struggling to start a family or has been given news she will never have a baby is to acknowledge her circumstance for what it is – a genuine loss. She may need someone to allow her to cry about it. Or, better yet, she needs someone to withhold judgement of her because she is crying about it. Don’t expect her to want to talk about it all of the time, but be there for her if she wants to. And please…please do not remind her that there is “always adoption”. She knows that, and it actually devalues adoption as if it is second best.

Allow her to grieve without setting a time limit. The notion that time heals is partly true, but with infertility all she has is time; yet, what she really wants is a child. And lastly, allow her to find herself again. Give her the time to figure out what her next step will be. Her dream of being a mommy has turned into a nightmare. She needs to figure out what is best for her and how she is going to handle this loss, not how others thinks she should.

I no longer feel the sting of death-like pain.  I am filled with the hope, joy, love, laughter, and busyness of my children.  If I were still at that place of silence and emptiness though, I would want someone to understand my sadness and allow me to grieve it.  I would need someone to pray for me, encourage me, and give me the sense that there is hope for the future of my mommy-hood dreams.

Hello, World!

Hello, World!  My name is Caroline. I’m 40, married with children, and barren.  There, I said it.  I’m barren.  I’ve known nearly my entire life that I would never have children.  A devastating illness almost succeeded in taking me out of this world at the age of eleven.  The only way to save me was to remove my uterus, right Fallopian tube, and right ovary.  These organs had been ravaged by a bacterial infection – or more like invasion.  I am the youngest female known to have had a hysterectomy.  Then, at age 20 my left ovary was removed due to a cyst.

One may wonder why in the world I would consider myself to be blessed.  Well, I did not always feel this way.  Heartache, isolation, gut-wrenching grief, and confusion lurked within, behind, and around me nearly every stage of my life.  I dealt with infertility as a child, teen, and adult, but then, this funny thing started to happen.  As I drew closer to my Lord, the shadow of my surgery seemed to be just that; a shadow.  Grace was changing me.

In 2006, my husband and I became foster parents.  We fostered for about four years and were able to adopt our two foster children.  They are now 3 ½ years old and 5 ½ years old.  Many things have been revealed to me during these past few years…well, maybe the past 29 years since the surgery.  One thing I do know is that love is a miracle – pure and simple. 

Love knows no boundaries, no genetic markers, no birthing, and no bloodlines.  Love takes hold of opportunities and transforms them into beauty.

I still get the sense that there is great shame and silence with infertility.  There should not be.  Too many suffer in silence while people offer their two-cents worth on what to do about not being able to have a child.

I have gone from barren to blessed, silent to singing, and loathing to laughing.  Happiness is possible in the world of infertility.  I’m not ashamed.  I’m not desolate.

Hello, World!  I’m barren and blessed!  

I found my purpose in it and hope to share it with you through this blog.