Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Hurting for the Holidays: Full Circle by stargardener

photo by stargardener

For the 2013 holiday season, I am hosting a blog series called Hurting for the Holidays.  Twenty-six amazing guest writers are sharing their hearts, hurts, and helps to help those of us who carry an internal ache to navigate this celebratory season.  Find all posts in the series here, and participate via social media through the hashtag #HurtingfortheHolidays.

Life is a full circle, widening until it joins the circle motions of the infinite. ~Anaïs Nin

There is a full circle of {living} when it comes to my holiday memories. I don’t do bright and shiny; but dark and twisty is not my holiday style either. The invitation to share my thoughts about the flip side of “Christmas cheer” felt simple — doable … the words were there — until they weren’t. It prompted a discussion with each of my three children about the Christmases we have shared … the Christmases we spent apart as a family. As adults, each familiar with the way holidays affect me; the duty and work of Christmas-Past.

They know October cues a stirring of the ghosts of Christmas-Past, clanking tortuous truths, whispering painful reminders but also carrying clusters of hope wrapped in strands of tiny twinkle lights. I have befriended these ghosts; each one standing guard in the full circle of coming home to myself for the holidays. The journey I started as a child and continued to walk through during my 20’s, when I was unmarried and before I became an "instant" mom. During that time I celebrated Christmas the way my parents did. 
The circle continued to round the first Christmas I was married, with children. I was intentional about traditions and family time for my children. Soon celebrations evolved in a way I believed best for my children. My eldest two children had lost their birth mother to cancer; I wanted to protect their sense of belonging and place in their extended family. I wanted Christmas to “look the same” and include all the traditions they knew. It was exhausting and I often wondered if the extra effort was meaningful and affirming … or merely acts of denial that life is a series of difficult realities.

Love was not always enough to wrap the shards of suffering in; it was not enough padding to prevent the pain of grief and rejection. Just as making fireplace ash footprints was not enough evidence that Christmas could be magical and defy the details of {living}. As my children moved into adulthood and the details of {living} hit with increased intensity, traditions and rituals of celebration felt agonizing, hypocritical … impossible. It was a tedious reality of moving through the range of emotions — the numb, debilitating silence, the fiery, self-destructive rage — and the suffering caused by unrealistic expectations {of myself and others}.

Enduring the work of traditions that no longer held meaning for me, straining to clothe myself — to decorate — with “holiday trimmings” as I stood behind a cutout of a smiling me, and ignoring the desperate need for conversations — or at the very least, closure. To mourn what had no future, and perhaps never had a chance of life — to find the exit door or reach an informal agreement to end the charade and go our separate ways. To find the courage to admit my limits, and to execute the petitions of my soul, even if I had to do so alone ... even if it meant I couldn’t protect my children from additional loss.

The wound is the place where the Light enters you. -Rumi

The limits of cancer and multiple sclerosis, being bedfast with grief and physical pain — these physical and emotional realities amplified by promises made and promptly ignored without explanation or apology — were the ironic beginning of new traditions. Ground was tilled and seeds sown the day an artist date with snowy country roads was interrupted; when my vision blurred, half my body went limp, and the words my mind spoke couldn’t make their way to vocalization. Outwardly silent, motionless and hooked up to monitors in a hospital emergency room, I was inwardly declaring my independence and busily boxing up shattered hopes and dreams. 

The mini-stroke served as both a finish line and a start line; the conclusion of awaiting change, the beginning of {living} change. I continued to blurt my way through "The Holidays" for most of the next three years; but suddenly I knew there was Grace to embrace exoneration — granted by time and my own resignations. A release of what was once meaningful and life-giving — honoring its value and importance — but choosing to walk away.

I knew I had turned my back once and for all on Christmas-Past — yet I remained entangled with its facts, wrapped with angst and resentments. A threadbare mourning cloth, clutched tightly around my shoulders to stave off the piercing cold of the past and it tangled tales. But I began deleting the mental audio files of my vents, my cutting remarks about historical re-writes and the commercialization of what was once sacred; the lack of meaning, community service and heart-felt giving.

During those years that followed, I began to discover solace in the shadows. I celebrated the protective and soothing darkness of winter days. Rays of afternoon sunlight became an altar of peace; flickering candle flames, reminders of Spirit and the healing closure of the incineration of what once was. Icy cold winds stroking my garden chimes became hymns and carols; the wind itself a reminder of change and cycles and circles of currents.

And yet the raw truth of my full circle from brokenness to celebration — the words describing the reasons for my emotional disconnect with a holiday celebrating salvation and the miracles of Love — remains intertwined with the stories of others. Thus, writing each syllable felt like betrayal or at the very least an act of dishonoring the overlapping chapters in which my children and I share scenes and details.

Every limit is a beginning as well as an ending. -George Eliot

The process of collecting words for this post has been a lifeline for me. My three children were "home" (their childhood home) for Christmas for the first time in ten years. It was such a gift of joy to sit with all three of my children on Christmas morning ... to watch the glee of all three of my grandchildren opening presents in the same living room their parents did as children. It was merry … and bright. Even without a Christmas tree and twinkle lights, or Christmas music or Santa’s ash footprints.

This post has been spliced and edited to the point of its rewriting. As I discussed this with my daughter yesterday, she suggested I simply begin with a new document. She reminded me I knew what I wanted to say as well as how I wanted to convey its meaning. My Christmas litany for acceptance has been an intention of holding {pause} when the ghosts of Christmas-Past glide through my dailies. My week has been revealing and raw, but also tender and healing as my adult children and I shared heart-to-heart conversations. Each of us navigating our own memories and intentions for this season of Advent; each of us honoring one another’s truth and ties that gently bind us and keep us close.

I don’t do bright and shiny; but dark and twisty served me well. My holiday style continues to include various unconventional decorations. And when holiday days get slammed with realities and distraction, when MS roars so loud I can hardly think … I will not surrender or deny how I feel {sad/angry about unmet expectations, hope deferred} and I will not "put on a happy face" ... I will gently apply the salve of this Christmas on the wound that pulses and oozes during November and December.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. ~Matthew 5:4

I love how Teresa says that she doesn't "do bright and shiny," but is best served in the "dark and twisty."  What about you?  What best serves you for your holiday style . . . or your whole life?

* * * 

Teresa Robinson aka stargardener believes in the empowerment of allowing our {living} to become art. That each day is a canvas awaiting the collage elements we decide have meaning — splashed with the authentic paint of our mind, will and emotions. Her canvases include elements from: Secret Rebel Club, The Art Journaler and Right Brain Planner … and she would be thrilled to know more about your story, Braveheart!

Monday, December 30, 2013

Hurting for the Holidays: Self-Love for the New Year by Stephanie Durnford

photo by Jennifer Upton

For the 2013 holiday season, I am hosting a blog series called Hurting for the Holidays.  Twenty-six amazing guest writers are sharing their hearts, hurts, and helps to help those of us who carry an internal ache to navigate this celebratory season.  Find all posts in the series here, and participate via social media through the hashtag #HurtingfortheHolidays.

"Each one of you is perfect the way you are and you can use a little improvement." 
-- Suzuki Roshi

Ah, the end of December. A time for planning, for celebration, for looking ahead to the new year. And yet, it's so easy for me to get distracted (and slightly overwhelmed) by the shine of a new year. I have mental lists, written lists, printed out resources, piles of books, journal entries, big dreams, little dreams, syllabi, planning, scheduling... oh goodness.

In this moment, writing all of that, I have to take a deep breath. I notice my fingers on the keyboard, the sound of the click-clack keys. I notice the stuffiness in my nose, the pressure of the impending sinus infection I'm trying to flush out with cups of hot tea, sweetened with sugar. Breathing.

This is often a challenging time for me. I seem to focus on all I've done wrong. How will I do better this year. Instead of celebration, it's asking myself: How do I overhaul every single thing in my life to make myself thinner, more beautiful, more productive . . .

If I'm honest with myself, the question that underlies all of that is: how do I change so that I'm not me?

By the end of December, I have put so much pressure on the coming year, as though when the sparkling ball hits and the new year's numbers light up in bright colors, with fireworks in the neighborhood going off and the clock going from 11:59 to 12, I will become a new person. That somehow, the magic of the lights and celebration will strip away nearly 33 years of my resistances, my walls, my procrastinations, a lifetime of Things I Want to Change and suddenly, magically - HAPPY NEW YEAR! And I will be The Best Me Possible.

I like improving myself better as much as the next person, but the last year or so have given me more tools to see what I'm really saying underneath my new year's resolutions. Underneath the desire to be a better me is a quiet whisper saying, "You aren't enough. You don't do enough. You aren't good enough. You suck. No one else has these problems. You. Are. All. Alone."

And it's a whisper, yes . . . but it's constant. A low grade hum like an oncoming swarm of bees. And when this whisper gets to its fever pitch - break out the lists, the rules of how to be a better person, the comparisons to others who "have it all together." Not so celebratory, I'll tell you.

Maybe you feel like this, too?

Thinking that the fresh calendar is going to make you a brand new person because the one sitting there reading (writing) these words isn't good enough?

That somehow, the constant list making about what to change will drown out that soft (loud?) whisper?

I want something less self-hating for us. I want to acknowledge the ways in which I am perfect the way I am, and the ways in which I need a little improvement, just as Suzuki Roshi told a group of meditation practitioners.

  • What would it feel like to acknowledge what might be underneath the resolutions? The busyness?
  • In what ways can we look back at the past year and see the good things that we have accomplished? How do we build on the goodness we already possess?
  • What might we celebrate about the fullness of who we are and allow to come with us into the new year? What additional fullness may we uncover?
  • Is there a way to find the dance between "perfect as you are" and "a little improvement"?

And if/when the whisper becomes a shout, how can we take care of ourselves? How do we rest in this moment without anxiety, before the clock strikes midnight?

Because we are not coaches made from pumpkins. The clock continues ticking, and we are still are fully created selves, perfect and needing a little improvement.

I love all the permission and encouragement that Stephanie gives us to be here, to appreciate the now, the present you, while also moving forward close toward the person you hope to be.  How can you walk this line of tension as we move into 2014?

* * *

Stephanie is a (infrequent) blogger at Visible and Real. She believes in the power of stories, hot tea, writing, reading, and breathing into the hard parts. Somewhere in Baltimore, she is a writer, an explorer, a student, a wife, and mama to three squeaking guinea pigs.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Hurting for the Holidays: Remember the Love by RaeAnne Fredrickson

photo by Jennifer Upton

For the 2013 holiday season, I am hosting a blog series called Hurting for the Holidays.  Twenty-six amazing guest writers are sharing their hearts, hurts, and helps to help those of us who carry an internal ache to navigate this celebratory season.  Find all posts in the series here, and participate via social media through the hashtag #HurtingfortheHolidays.

Somehow, we survive.

Somehow, we keep going.

Even when we don’t think we can take another breath, somehow we do.

In the midst of twinkling lights and “All I Want for Christmas is You” and “It’s a Wonderful Life”, we sit in our fog of sadness, emptiness and varying levels of disbelief and somehow manage to continue living.

The joy has left the season. All seasons.

There is a little giggle missing from the world. A little face, all aglow with wonderment, finding it hard to fall asleep from excitement, missing from in front of a glowing Christmas tree. There is an immensely noticeable lack of little boy toy boxes and cartoon-animal-themed wrapping paper strewn about our living room. There is a void where there should be overwhelming joy.

Samuel has died.

Last year was our first without him. The huge gaping hole of his absence could be felt as an all-encompassing black shroud over our holiday (lives). There were no smiles, there were no lights and shiny things, and there was no reason to get out of bed. Instead, only a desire to never see the light of day again.

Somehow, we survived.

This year, our second without him, there are some lights, some shiny things, but still no real reason to get out of bed. Instead, only dreams of what life could have been (should have been, was).

We focus on each other. We put in effort where no energy resides. We make an attempt to be something for the other. But we are both lacking. We are not he. But we try; what else can we do?

We look back and see others joining us on this unwanted path. Other families irrevocably broken. Other holidays that bring pain instead of joy. We know what’s coming for them. We cringe and shudder. We join them to walk for a while. We know we cannot save them, only listen, support and love. That’s how we keep going. We realize how far we’ve come without even knowing it.

We focus on Samuel. We do things in his memory. We create for him. We give back for him. That’s our way of parenting him. (Not the way we intended). That’s what brings life back into our hearts. That is the “somehow”. We survive by carrying his life with us.

We remember the love.

That very special love, just for him, that sustained his life for as long as possible. That unique love that will always be lacking in fulfillment, until we meet again. The beautiful love that began his life and still finds a way to overwhelm our broken hearts.

That is how we cope.

That is how we survive.

That is how we continue living another day without him. Another holiday season. Another new year.

We remember the love. And we share it. With each other, with family and friends, with him, in our own special way.

That love that shows up in all areas of our life. In the things we meticulously set out in his memory. In the photos we’ve now memorized that hang in our home. In the words we speak of our loss. In the items we create for him, adorned with that precious name, that bring light into our souls. In the still silence of two people sitting in grief, together but alone, crying tears that seem to be unending. We remember that love.

You too, can remember your love. You too, can survive. You too, can take another breath and walk another mile.

You too, can do this.

Remember the love
(Oh, you got to, you got to remember the love)

Remember the love
(You know that love is a gift from up above)

Remember the love
(Share love, give love, spread love)

Measure in love
(Measure, measure your life in love)
-- Seasons of Love from Rent by Jonathan D. Larson

image by RaeAnne Fredrickson

How do you survive when life is hard or hurtful?  What do you remember, as RaeAnne remembers the love? 

* * * 

RaeAnne Fredrickson is married to Bryan and mama to Samuel Evan, who was carried with love after being diagnosed early in pregnancy with a fluke and fatal condition. She shares her grieving heart on her blog, The Love We Carry and supports other families who choose to continue pregnancy after a fatal diagnosis at All That Love Can Do. She also writes for Still Standing Magazine. Mostly, she is missing her little guy and learning to live without him, one day at a time.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Hurting for the Holidays: Light in the Darkness by Esther Emery

photo by Jennifer Upton

For the 2013 holiday season, I am hosting a blog series called Hurting for the Holidays.  Twenty-six amazing guest writers are sharing their hearts, hurts, and helps to help those of us who carry an internal ache to navigate this celebratory season.  Find all posts in the series here, and participate via social media through the hashtag #HurtingfortheHolidays.

I’m doing something different for Christmas this year. Usually I host. Usually I do the shopping ahead of time, and arrange the crafts for the kids. I even host a little Christmas Eve celebratory talent show.

But this year, none of that is happening. Nobody’s coming. Partly I didn’t invite them. And partly they wouldn’t want to come anyway.

What’s different? Well, this year I live in a yurt, off the grid. There’s hardly room for me and my children. I’d have to put my brother’s family in bed with me.

I miss them. I do. I miss them all a lot. But blessings come in strange packages. I am a runaway, and there are costs to that. But there are freedoms, too. At least this year I get to give the bird to having a “meaningful” Christmas.” I’m going for a wild one, instead.

Hey, why don’t you come with me? Oh, do! I’d love the company! Come with me, just for a minute, to join me in my wild Christmas, in my yurt, off the grid, in the woods.

I’m afraid it’s a bit of a hike. But we can teleport. Just grab my hand and off we go…

The first thing you’ll notice is that it’s dark.
It’s really dark.

We live on the North side of the hill, facing the opposite ridge and the creek below. The South-facing slope is our ever-changing field of color, pale blue in the morning and gold and pink in the afternoon, but our own house is in shadow. At this time of year, it is in shadow all day long.

We have a little Christmas tree, inside, that we cut ourselves. It is wide open and scraggly. It touches the ceiling. The children think it is amazing.

But really the whole hill is Christmas trees. The whole hill is tall green trees decorated with real snow, lit with the light of the stars.

And did I mention that it’s dark?

It is dark. It is dark, dark, dark. And silent. These woods that ring with birdsong in the summertime are almost lifeless now. Everything seems dead. Frozen.

Minus the piped in music of the mall and the ubiquitous lights of fossil-fuel burning holiday cheer, and you’ve got to wonder why Christmas has to be on this particular day anyway, at this most godforsaken hour!

Jesus wasn’t even born in December, right? The records show he was born in, what? April? Why we do we have to celebrate the birth of Christ on this night? The darkest night? A few days after solstice, by the funny machinations of physics often the day of the earliest sunset of the entire year?

There are our Christmas lights in the corner, bright and cheerful against the gloom. And there is the one candle in the middle of the room. Bright orange, warm light, casting shadows on the ceiling. You still have to hold the baby, so you don’t step on her.

Look into the candle, against the background of the black and cold of the woods, and you’ll find it lulls us, not into complacency, but quite the other way. The candle meets the flame within and those sparks merge, and the invitation is to a place deep within yourself. In there you’ll find it, if you want to find it. You’ll find the war of life.

This is a real, true fear. This is the fear that maybe this year is death. Maybe this year is the end. Maybe this year the sun isn’t coming back. Maybe this year God is dead.

This Christmas isn’t for the rich, or for the poor, but for the poor in spirit. (This Christmas is for us!) This Christmas is for the ones tucked up on couches with Kleenex, with heavy eyes and burning lungs. For the ones who feel the hour of God’s absence, and the pervasive hovering presence of death…

…for the bereaved, and those who know death that swallows children.

…and for the numb, and those who fear that the pit is bottomless.

…and for those who lose their sons and husbands to the war.

…and the candles in the windows calling all the sailors home against the odds.

…and for Tiny Tim who almost dies, but doesn't. And poor people’s children really do die, you know? That’s no fairy story.

Maybe our culture can’t remember this. Because maybe we have forgotten death. We have stuffed up our grieving mouths with dollar bills to keep the cries from leaking out.

But it doesn’t matter. Christmas still comes. And Christmas is for not for the rich, or for the poor, but for the birth of hope.

* * *

It’s Christmas morning, in my yurt now. And morning comes late. Much later than you want it to. Six o’clock and the rooster hasn’t stirred yet. Seven o’clock and there’s not a glimmer of light in the Eastern sky. I sit in my rocking chair, with my battery operated Christmas lights, and for company I have the shadow of death. Beside me is loss. And at my left is the fear of God’s absence. But I hope, and I beg, and I pray, for the light to rise.

It does.

And this is Christmas. 

What is the fear that is your companion in the darkness?  How do you hope in the loss, before the dawning of the light?  What is Christmas to you?
* * *

Esther Emery used to direct stage plays in Southern California. But that was a long time ago. Now she is pretty much a runaway, living off the grid in a yurt and tending to three acres in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. She writes about faith and rebellion and trying to live a totally free life at www.estheremery.com. Connect with her on Twitter @EstherEmery.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Hurting for the Holidays: Remember the Souls by Alison Luna

photo by Jennifer Upton
For the 2013 holiday season, I am hosting a blog series called Hurting for the Holidays.  Twenty-six amazing guest writers are sharing their hearts, hurts, and helps to help those of us who carry an internal ache to navigate this celebratory season.  Find all posts in the series here, and participate via social media through the hashtag #HurtingfortheHolidays.

The next person to be an asshole and then tell me, "Merry Christmas. Jesus loves you," is getting punched in the throat. For the most part, I am kidding – but also at the same time, I am so serious. Working retail during the last two months of the year is not for the faint of heart or the thin skinned. Aisles upon aisles of every retail establishment in the country will be stocked and restocked for your shopping convenience by the brave souls who may or may not get to see their family this holiday season.

Holidays have the potential to bring immense amounts of joy, but unfortunately for many, the opposite is a terrible reality. For me the latter is true. Coming from a broken home, the holidays have historically been not much more than brutal. Christmas day fights about whose house I would attend first and for how long to Thanksgiving being reduced to a long list of how thankful I am to leave. Managing in retail has done nothing to improve upon my current uneasiness with each holiday season.

Sometimes, for close to 10 hours a day, in the weeks leading up to Christmas, I stand face to face with all the crazy that humanity has to offer. People scream at us when we are sold out of a certain product or yell at the person in line ahead of them who is just “taking too damn long” and don’t we realize they are “late for a very important dinner party?!”

* * *

I got the phone call on a Wednesday night. It was my sister. Having just recently settled on a course of action for my Christmas day plans, I was surprised to find out that my mom and dad would be in the same room, at the same table, eating the same food for Christmas lunch. This may sound completely normal for you and your family, but let me assure you, for my family, it is not.

You see, my parents separated when I was eleven and the divorce was final sometime around age thirteen. Since then Christmas has been almost everything but enjoyable. I can’t remember a time when my parents were together. I think back on things that I KNOW we did together and places I KNOW my parents faces should be – but I can’t see them. I can’t remember if we had Christmas or family traditions. I can’t remember if we did the Christmas pageant together or if we opened presents on Christmas eve or day. I want to see them.

But it has been too long and the years of hurt and confusion seem to have washed them out.

In just a couple days I will walk confidently – or not so confidently - into my sisters house and my parents will be there. My dad has been remarried for 10 years and my mom will be bringing her new boyfriend. My parents. My sister. Her fiancé. Me. All in the same room. To say that my anxiety levels are through the roof would be a dramatic understatement.

I have played this scene over and over in my head since I was thirteen. My parents back together. And, I get it. That is not logical. My dad is remarried, and I absolutely ADORE my stepmom and my siblings. But its kind of one of those things you can’t shake when you are thirteen. Or twenty-six, I suppose.

* * *

Not one of the 500+ customers I come in contact with each day will ever look into my eyes and know that I have the same Christmas wish as a thirteen year old girl – for her parents to get back together. They will never know that my family is broken and holidays are difficult. Retail employees are much more complex than the products they are selling. They are so much more and their hearts rejoice and get broken the same ways your heart does. But we paint on our happy faces and we say “Merry Christmas” and “Happy Holidays”. We tuck our hurt and heartache away, for sometimes close to ten hours, in order to make sure that your Christmas is pulled off without a hitch and you come through looking like Supermom.

But the ache remains, even when hidden.

So, if you are out shopping this season, if you are out eating at your favorite restaurants, please be kind. Look into the eyes of your waitress and know that this could be the toughest season for her. Realize that she may just be keeping her head down and plowing forward just to survive this time of year.

Christmas is hard. It reminds us of all the broken things and then, for me, forces all the broken things into the same room just to highlight the fact that no matter how hard I try, the broken things will never fit together again. So for those of you coming in contact with the poor exhausted retail employee, remember that she is a person who has a soul and you could be the brightest thing in her day.

Don’t just not be an asshole, be over-the-top kind.

Oh man.  I love Alison's writing.  And I love her reminder, too.  How can you be over-the-top kind to others and yourself this year?

* * *

Alison Luna, born and raised deep in the heart of Texas, is learning what it means to press in to the places that hurt in order to fight for joy. She loves her last name and finds promises written in the stars. You can find Alison wrestling with the idea of hope at http://aluna13.wordpress.com and tweeting it out in real time at @luna1387.

Hurting for the Holidays: Whispers and Whistles by Rachel HagEstad

photo by Jennifer Upton

For the 2013 holiday season, I am hosting a blog series called Hurting for the Holidays.  Twenty-six amazing guest writers are sharing their hearts, hurts, and helps to help those of us who carry an internal ache to navigate this celebratory season.  Find all posts in the series here, and participate via social media through the hashtag #HurtingfortheHolidays.

She literally thought she could just skip past the holidays as if they were just another day this year - as in - not participate. Thanksgiving came and went. She’d made a turkey and had family over, but, in a way, it was just another meal. She didn’t decorate. She didn’t make homemade rolls. She didn’t make homemade pies.

Everything is different this year. She now lives in a different state, in a different house, with a different climate, goes to a different church and has different friends. She and her husband relocated their whole life in hopes of more healthcare options for “the baby” as well as the hope of extra help from relatives living close by. Shedding and falling apart, their tried and true Christmas tree didn’t make the cut during the move. All they had left of their Christmases past were old decorations, collections of photographs and fading memories. And now, she just didn’t feel like creating new traditions or decorating a new tree. This is not her home. This is not her real life. So when her husband insisted after Thanksgiving that she put up a Christmas tree, her heart balked at his request.

Just over three years ago during a routine ultrasound, they found out their anticipated third child had severe brain damage later described as a Dandy Walker Malformation as well as numerous physical anomalies. They were given the worst case scenario. First they were told he wouldn’t live to be born, but if he somehow survived birth, he would only live for minutes, hours or days. They were encouraged to abort. However, unable to murder their own child, they proceeded with the pregnancy encompassed by prayers of family, friends and even strangers.

At the time of his birth, they only stipulated that he would not be put on a breathing machine. If his brain and lungs didn’t want to work, then they would accept the outcome.

But he breathed. A shallow whisper, a wheezing whistle, the breath of life.

Thus began her journey as a “special needs mom to a medically complex child.”  A club she’s hated and resented being in. A club no one ever wants to join. And somehow, here she is, almost three years later, still in the club. While getting easier to accept, she wouldn’t wish it for anyone. But she also wouldn’t go back and kill her child to avoid membership. So everyday she feeds him through a g-tube inserted into a hole in his stomach, monitors his shunt placed for hydrocephaly, gives him medications for seizures and reflux, transfers his level 5 CP body from beds to baths to floors to wheelchairs, and drives him all over the city for therapies and doctor appointments.

Life has been an adjustment. She’d hit some lows this past year, really questioned everything. EVERYTHING. But finally, while everyday is challenging, it's not as upsetting. And while hard at times, she was trying not to question anything or wish for anything to be different and just live.

They go to Home Depot. She picks out the least expensive tree she can tolerate. It isn’t perfect, but at least they have a Christmas tree to satisfy her husband. Preloaded with lights, all she has to do is assemble and plug it in. She thinks she is done until her husband informs her he expects it to be decorated. She finds three boxes that are marked Christmas and forces herself to hang the old ornaments. It takes her all day not excluding a few tears as many ornaments remind her of a simpler life before “the baby”.

When she finishes, she realizes she doesn’t have an ornament with the baby’s name on it. Somehow he hadn’t made it into the life they once had; traditions had been put on hold; time had stopped. She starts to feel sad about this until, for some reason, the discovery gives her an idea. Beginning as a shallow whisper, a wheezing whistle, a tiny breath, she begins to feel more excited about the season.

Shopping for an ornament means she has something to look forward to, something to add this Christmas that will symbolize their new life here in this new place, something that could tie them to this house and help it become a home, something that would become part of new traditions, and something that would include their precious little boy miraculously approaching his third birthday.

I am without words at these powerful writings from Rachel's heart.  What is your hard miracle?
* * *

Rachel is an emotional stay at home mom with southern roots living in the northwest rockies southwest desert trying to embrace the Biblical concept of freedom; a classic procrastinator who thrives on short term projects; a people pleaser with a fear of failure. She has three awesome kids and husband who seem to like her in spite of herself. She has begun blogging sporatically as the mood strikes at http://where-are-my-mary-janes.blogspot.com.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Hurting for the Holidays: It's a Quiet Thing by Christine Hiester

photo by Christine Hiester

For the 2013 holiday season, I am hosting a blog series called Hurting for the Holidays.  Twenty-six amazing guest writers are sharing their hearts, hurts, and helps to help those of us who carry an internal ache to navigate this celebratory season.  Find all posts in the series here, and participate via social media through the hashtag #HurtingfortheHolidays.

It’s a quiet thing.  When you’re not sure what you believe but you have little people who need your whole self. They light up and sing Away in a Manger, and hang homemade decorations on a twig stuck in a pot on the kitchen table while you read scriptures from Isaiah that used to light you up too but now just serve to shine into the empty in your soul.

It’s a quiet thing. When you wake up with heaviness instead of joy and even the twinkling lights on the tree and a midday reading of the Grinch don’t shove it away. The magic is still magic, but the meaning feels shaky and you’re not quite sure who to share your questions with when you’re the mom, the one who’s supposed to have all of the spiritual answers ready to be served up alongside the cookies and carrots and milk.

It’s a quiet thing. When the Fisher Price nativity on the coffee table mocks you with its chubby little Mary and its smiling manger-baby, and you can’t quite decide who to blame. The pit of shadow deep inside isn’t brightened nearly enough by the tinsel and the sparkling snow, and though you have memories of happy Christmas moments stacked up by the thousands, you don’t have the energy to dust them off.

It’s a quiet thing. When everywhere you look in the life-that-is-normally-yours the normal stabs like little knives, and you want to write a list to Santa too to tell him all you want is your faith back, dammit, so that the birth of Jesus doesn’t seem to be just another long ago story that we tell. That this year you want Wonder and Joy and Belief and even the Holy Spirit Himself to be wrapped up under the tree next to the Legos and video games.

It’s a quiet thing. When the deep faith in everything Holy and Good and Righteous used to be there, but now is simply not. When the One-that-is-Three has now become None and you don’t know what to do with these beautiful, trusting little people in your home who want to make a popsicle stick stable and use glitter pipe cleaners for the angel’s halo.

It’s a quiet thing. When all you want to know is if it’s OK to admit that breathing is the only thing you can manage this year.

But this, my friend. This is not the end of faith, of belief, of wonder. It may even be a beginning.

This can be a birth for you. Of hard-won Truth that emerges from deep places within you, where God has always had his home even when you didn’t feel it. This life of belief, is more like shifting sand than we may have imagined, but it’s also more ebb-and-flow constancy -- an ocean that is wide and open and stretched out and eternal and can contain {and redeem} the death of Christmas as easily as it can contain the mysterious birth of a Savior.

An end, a beginning -- what are the holidays for you this year? 

* * *

No definitions fit anymore. I could say I'm a wife, mom, artist, believer, homeschooler and in a very real way I am all of those things. But I am so much more. And so are you. You can find me on IG and Twitter {@fruitnseason}, and at my blog Bare Branch Blooming.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Hurting for the Holidays: When Your Story is Rewritten by Larisa Barth

photo by Jennifer Upton
For the 2013 holiday season, I am hosting a blog series called Hurting for the Holidays.  Twenty-six amazing guest writers are sharing their hearts, hurts, and helps to help those of us who carry an internal ache to navigate this celebratory season.  Find all posts in the series here, and participate via social media through the hashtag #HurtingfortheHolidays.
There is a song by Mandisa & Matthew West called "Christmas Makes Me Cry". I am a crazy music person and truly believe that lyrics speak to my heart more than anything else. This song begins, 

"I think of loved ones who've passed away
And I pray they're resting in a better place
I think of memories of years gone by
And sometimes Christmas makes me cry". 

Asher was born in October, right before all of the holidays. I had his Halloween costume laid out, his turkey bib, his adorable little red plaid and velour suit for the Christmas Eve service. This was going to be our last year to decorate the house without "baby proofing" everything, because the next year he would be a toddler. The holidays were special when it was just my husband and I, but a little one in our lives was going to make it complete. 

Now, the holidays bring constant triggers and disappointments. We get handed a storybook of how marriage and kids and the holidays are supposed to unfold. We grew up having this story read to us, we all know that the happy ending never includes burying our babies. I was trying to create my fairy tale, and I made beautiful traditions and memories along the way. The 40 weeks that I carried Asher were spent dreaming of adding him into those traditions. But, traditions don't seem to matter anymore. We don't decorate the same. We don't jump at the chance to attend a holiday party or spend a lot of money on gifts that seem so pointless. 

I listen to this song and the memories of my life before loss flood my thoughts. I find myself wishing to have that naiveness back. That person who kissed her husband goodbye in the morning and never had a thought about all of the many tragic things that could happen to destroy her world in a matter of seconds. That person who wasn't a statistic. Now, my life is broken into two separate realms. Before I had Asher, and after. 

I have been afraid of myself. I don't know when or why or what will make me cry, and I kept thinking that if I just stayed home, then I don't have to worry about making others uncomfortable or getting hurt by the spoken and unspoken words. I was afraid of family and friends thinking that I couldn’t move on because I was still grieving, but reality is that most often they are in denial because it hurts too much to face their own grief. You cannot start to heal until you grieve. In 1 Thessalonians 4:13, Paul does not tell us not to grieve; but to grieve with hope. I finally dared to take a breath a few months ago, and stop sobbing long enough to listen to the chorus of this song, (yes, I listen to Christmas music long before the season).

"Tears of faithfulness, tears of hope
I cry tears of joy at Christmas because I know
There is peace on earth for every heart to find
And sometimes Christmas makes me cry”.

Yes! My tears are not of sadness anymore, even though I am forever wounded. I was so confused this year as I struggled with “celebrating” when I felt guilty that somehow Asher would be upset that I had joy. But I realized that he is celebrating with the King of Kings in the most glorious venue and would never want that to diminish my joy! Death causes separation from what should have been joined for many years. But separation is not final with Christ. As I watch the advent wreath being lit each week, it has significant meaning for me this year. The candles of Hope, Peace, Joy and Love, surround a center candle that represents Christ. They would all be empty and meaningless without the center. I know that many reading this may not believe in a higher power. But for me, pouring out my heart to God is how I honestly live in the real world. I refuse to ignore or deny the suffering and pain. God wants me to remember my pain and use my suffering, but in order to do that I have to admit my need for Him in my suffering. 

My storybook is being written every second of every day. There are “bad guys” and villains and treacherous cliff-hanging scenes. But there are also beautiful songs and dances and quiet scenes, where I hold my daughter and thank God for the magical moments as He redeems my losses. The ending is not yet written, and although the scene where I gave birth to death seem to be the climax right now, I know that my storybook ending will be epic and filled with rejoicing. 
Our story begins anew each moment -- I love Larisa's reminder of this, the continual refreshing redemption and healing that is available to us now, and now, and now.  What parts of your story would you like to see rewritten, to begin anew?  How can you make space for that newness, here in this moment? 
* * *

Larisa Barth lives and dreams in Northwest Montana. She has been married to her best friend Jim for 7 years and they welcomed Asher’s beautiful little sister, Kamari Morning on January 2nd. Most of her days begin with fresh organic coffee and cream and are filled with hand stamping metal, and responding to the bereaved community through social media. 
Larisa is the founder and president of Held Your Whole Life whose mission is to acknowledge life by creating and gifting personalized jewelry to families grieving the loss of their baby in the womb. She is also finishing her degree in Biblical Counseling so that she can better serve this community that she is a part of. 
In her “free” time, she creates unique infinity scarves and fabric gifts to raise funds for HYWL, as well as cloth diapers and gluten/sugar free meals to save her family money.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Hurting for the Holidays: That Mourns in Lonely Exile by Hillary Rain

photo by Hillary Rain

For the 2013 holiday season, I am hosting a blog series called Hurting for the Holidays.  Twenty-six amazing guest writers are sharing their hearts, hurts, and helps to help those of us who carry an internal ache to navigate this celebratory season.  Find all posts in the series here, and participate via social media through the hashtag #HurtingfortheHolidays.


Today is Winter Solstice in the North. I am grateful for this darkest night. I sink into soul-skin and offer a quiet exhale, the kind born of story and sorrow, of shadow and joy. There are no words for this. There is no language for anything anymore. I find myself in that space of both/and, of dark and light, of word made flesh. And the only kind of language that means anything to me is the comm(union) of breath and sigh, of flowing limbs and thrilling glances, of soft fingers on my skin and hot, tear-christened lips. Even prayer becomes a wordless, whole-body offering. This is the way it must be for right now. Incarnation. I Am.



My gypsy tribe and I make our way through the shadowlands as we embody the dark night of the soul. We find secret messages along the way because we create them; we create what we most need to find. Something glimmers for me. A love-note.* "I'm sorry it makes you uncomfortable to see me this way," I read to the trembling cadence of my heart. She, my strong heart who bears everything, well, we've felt the savage mercy of a long winter. We are lean and alone, barely alive. "But you're not going to rob me of this richness. I am with God in the darkness. This is something I must see to."

I am sorry it makes you uncomfortable to see me this way.
I am in the darkness with God. I am in the darkness with God.

My heart leaps within my bones like a wild gypsy with dreadlocks, dark eyes, and tribal drums. She was born to be free. She only ever wants to be free. I close my eyes. Tears fall, twin rivers carving new paths through the night. The thrumming in my chest grows loud enough to wake my voice. And on this, the darkest night of the year, I use it.

Do you want to hear my truth? Can you bear to hear me?
I will hear me. For once, I will hear me.


Words are my salvation. Words are my damnation. My voice, my truth, my divine callings, my stories render me outcast, shamed, haunted, condemned. I find myself on tip-toe, moving through life at the sound of a whisper to not disturb a soul. My life is a process of burying myself. I keep my words soft and dissolved in grief. I am a shadow moving through my days. I wander in sackcloth and ashes through a soul-Siberia to say I'm sorry, forgive me, I do not exist. My hands smother my own mouth in deep penance. I choke on syllables and tears. I live my unspoken and unacknowledged exile as apology. My silence is apology. My non-existence is apology. I bear accusations. I absorb judgments. Word-becomes-flesh and I embody the weight of them. I sacrifice my voice on the altar of pleasing those I love and I cut out my tongue as an offering of appeasement. They stalk me, haunt me, demand explanations, recantments, repentances, conformity; they suffocate and smother me yet I am tormented daily with my own emotional self-flagellation. This grief? The thick, deadly, endless, excruciating and unbearable weight of it? One cannot hold on to it and live. I also cannot speak of it without reaping accusations of "victim," "selfish," "attention-seeking" or "just wants validation / approval / drama" or a host of dismissive, unbearable jabs; therefore, silence remains. I am unwanted—rather, I am wanted only for the purpose of confrontation and change. I am not good enough as-is. I am unwelcome as-is. I am unacceptable. I do not belong. I am the un-Beloved. And for the holidays? I am the uninvited home.

This is my truth, my secret sorrow. Yet this uncontainable ache can no longer hold back her lament and on this night, the holy-day of December solstice, I embrace her.


A darkened wanderer does not commemorate the rising of a blackened sun. She dwells in the shadowlands where time exists only in the ever-present Now. Now is eternal. And this wanderer makes her way seeking richness in the dark velvet night, for she, her joy and her lament, her spirit and her flesh is in the darkness with God. She dwells in the overshadowing. Her eyes adjust and she sees what others cannot see.

“We are wandering, yet we are loved,” writes Clarissa Pinkola Estes. My gypsy soul knows the sound of love. Love is home. And when the wanderer has no home, home comes to the wanderer. This is the coming of the Wild One who sees me afar off, runs to meet me, folds me in her arms and cries aloud, voice breathless and filled with joy, “Oh, here you are! I was looking for you! You are beloved. You are mine. You are home.”

Words are my redemption. I will live. 

What is your truth, your secret sorrow?  The lament you can no longer hold back?

* * *  

Hillary Rain is a writer and artist who embraces tenderness, mystery, and grace. “I want my own language,” she says. Her story is the shadowy bohemian tale of a gypsy mystic who finds poetry in movement, art, breath, spirit, and light. The seen and the unseen. The glimmering womb of dark. “You have a soulstory,” she writes. “It is the holistic embodiment of spirit, voice, soulskin, and your life journey.” She is a certified holistic life coach but prefers to call herself a soul-doula … one who bears witness to awakening and re-birth. She offers a gentle mirror for those who embark on a wild and sacred journey home to the soul-self. She is co-creator of Soulsigh, a sacred experience for women designed to honor the creative feminine through ritual and rebirth, and writes dark prose for www.secretrebelclub.com. Her latest project is a dark descent into the shadowlands of the soul with her sacred friend Mandy and a gypsy tribe of wild souls at www.thewildmystics.com. Hillary embodies her soul and writes about life, spirituality, and the healing arts at www.spiritsoulearth.com. Contact her here.

*An #iamthrashing prompt created by Mandy Steward.


Thursday, December 19, 2013

Hurting for the Holidays: For When You are Ready to Revel by Angela Renee

photo by Jennifer Upton

For the 2013 holiday season, I am hosting a blog series called Hurting for the Holidays.  Twenty-six amazing guest writers are sharing their hearts, hurts, and helps to help those of us who carry an internal ache to navigate this celebratory season.  Find all posts in the series here, and participate via social media through the hashtag #HurtingfortheHolidays.

So many powerful voices have filled this sacred space with answers to the piercing question, “What do you do when you are hurting during the holidays?” It’s a big question and that is precisely why so many have needed to weigh in.

Having lost my baby boy, Josiah, almost twelve years ago, I have waded through my share of holidays and special occasions. I would like to add - if I may - another piece to this puzzle we are assembling together.

I want to speak to those for whom the experience of peace and joy is equally (if not more) troubling as the experience of pain and grief during the holiday season. I intend to address the question, “What do you do when you are NOT hurting (or hurting so much less than you used to that it barely registers on your emotional Richter scale) during the holidays?”

As much as we need permission to feel our pain when others are celebrating, we who have lost often find it even harder to let the good in when it comes a knockin’. What is it about guilt and grief? They seem to be kissing cousins. We are either much too happy for our own comfort or much too sad for someone else’s. Phooey.

* * *

In my own healing journey, there have been significant touch points that I can identify as game changers. One such event took place four years ago.

I visited my son’s grave late one afternoon – a place I had resolutely avoided up until that point – with clear intention. I was there to let him go, almost eight years after he died. (We all move at the pace right for us. Mine was quite slow.)

I sat on the grass at the cemetery, feet folded under me, and knelt over the tombstone containing my little boy’s name in big bronze letters. With a shaky voice and teary eyes, I read aloud a letter I’d written for the occasion. I told my son that since his death I’d been terrified of forgetting who he was, what he looked like, what it felt like to nurse him at my breast, rock him in my arms, kiss his tiny forehead. I was afraid that in forgetting any of those precious things I would lose him all over again.

To ensure this would never happen, I had unconsciously “carried him” physically in my body, in a way that made my gut ache. He was the-one-not-with-me and I was desperately trying to hold on to him in whatever way I could. I told him that I needed to find another way to both release him from my body and still hold tight to his memory. There was freedom in admitting it.

Then I paused a moment and discretely lifted my shirt to expose the ribbon I’d tied around my waste at home in preparation for this portion of the letting go. As I snipped the ribbon, I actively cut away the constriction the holding on too tight had caused. I breathed a sigh of relief as it fell to the ground.

A shift occurred that day, though the evidence of it took time to manifest. Instead of feeling further away from Josiah, I felt much more deeply connected, as if I could rightly relate to him and his memory because he was now residing in his proper place. That ritual was part of the process of carrying me to that illusive territory called Acceptance and my heart is blooming and thriving there.

At first glance, this experience seems to have very little to do with my question, “What do you do when are NOT hurting during the holidays?” But I’m telling it because snipping the cords of guilt and fear is a key to letting ourselves relax and revel in the holiday season.

There does come a time, dear ones, when the pain eases, when the memory of your loved one settles into a deep place of the subconscious. You may be able to decorate a tree, bake a batch of cookies, or listen to an entire Christmas CD without a single conscious thought of the-one-not-with- you. You may go days or weeks without their name or face floating across the screen of your conscious mind.  This may sound alarming, as if somehow your heart has betrayed you and you have (gulp) forgotten

But you have not. It is evidence that you are carrying your loved one in a different way. It is as it should be.

So if you happen to find yourself reveling in the season – if even for a moment – I want to assure you that it is okay, it is right, it is good. You mustn’t feel guilty. I will be reveling right along with you. 

I love Angela's words.  They are always water from a deep well for me.  And her advice to revel (when ready) speaks straight to my heart.  We are two years out from losing our Eve, and I'm starting to want to move closer to acceptance and living out from under the shadow of death.  I'm not sure what's possible and what's not, and there's that whole "new normal" thing that everyone talks about which is so apt but also so frustrating, because I don't want a new normal, just normal normal.  But, as Angela writes, perhaps it's time to accept that my old definition of normal is gone forever, and that there is so much light and life here in the newness after death.  

What about you?  Are you ready to revel, or do you need more intimate time with the grief?  How can  you press into whichever your heart craves?

* * *

Angela Renee is a single mother who lives with her eight-year-old son in coastal California. She’s most likely to be found marking up the pages of a favorite book or sipping hot tea with a friend in a local coffee shop, the one where everyone knows her name. She writes at imagineangie.blogspot.com.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Hurting for the Holidays: A Christmas Due Date by Jo Puggioni

photo by Jo Puggioni

For the 2013 holiday season, I am hosting a blog series called Hurting for the Holidays.  Twenty-six amazing guest writers are sharing their hearts, hurts, and helps to help those of us who carry an internal ache to navigate this celebratory season.  Find all posts in the series here, and participate via social media through the hashtag #HurtingfortheHolidays.

I remember laughing when the doctor gave us the due date of December 25, when I became pregnant with my first baby. All the stories I hear of people born on Christmas Day, having to share their birthday with Christmas, came to mind. Now I would give anything to be able to give my baby a birthday present on Christmas day, or whatever day she was born. Except she wasn’t born. I miscarried at 12 weeks. By her due date I was pregnant again with my second child. But around Christmas I still felt the loss. I was surprised by this. It happened every time Christmas came around.

It wasn’t until years later after giving birth to three sons that I attended a reflection service for babies lost during pregnancy and infancy. Later that year, I went to a retreat that dealt with grief and loss from pregnancy or infancy. It was here that I learned that my grief from my miscarriage was valid, and instead of pushing the feelings of grief aside, I could now embrace it when it came, and ride the storm of my feelings.

That December, my boys who had attended the reflection service with me, started asking questions about their sibling who they had never met. Often times they would tell me that they miss her. It is amazing how the boys feel the loss, even though I lost the baby before any of them were born. I guess what bonds them together, is they shared the same womb. We believe that the baby I lost was a girl, who my husband and I named Lanay. My eldest asked me how old Lanay would be this Christmas if she had been born, and I quickly calculated her age. My second born son asked if we could buy Lanay her own Christmas ornament to hang on the tree. I told him, while holding back tears, that I thought that was a great idea.

My second born suggested that we put Lanay’s ornament on the tree, near the angel at the top. The reason being, that the angels are looking after her, until we can be together again in Heaven. I smiled and told him that was a great idea. I suggested that it might be a better idea if we put it lower, so we can see it better. He agreed that was a good idea. So we put Lanay’s ornament on the tree. What happened next I will never forget. My sons all grabbed their own personal ornaments, and hung them surrounding Lanay’s. All my children’s ornaments in one place on the tree. Perfect.

photo by Jo Puggioni

The following year, I came across an ornament of two crowns that said, “Like Mom, Like Daughter” on it. I hung it on the tree. When I look at it, it somehow makes me happy and sad at the same time. Happy because the ornament symbolises our bond as mother and daughter. And sad, because I have no idea if my daughter is like me or not.

When I feel overcome with grief and feel twinges of sadness, which often happens when I am shopping for Christmas presents, and I glance over and see the toys and clothes for girls. I allow myself a moment to feel the grief, not fight it. Often the boys will see the look of sadness on my face and ask “what’s wrong?”, and I will tell them that I miss Lanay. I do this so they see grief as a normal part of life. They hug me, and although they may not fully understand yet, acknowledge my grief.

For me, buying ornaments for Lanay is a way of including her as a family member. It is a way of remembering the pain of losing her, but it also gives me hope, and reminds me that I will see her one day again when we are reunited in Heaven. My nativity set was broken and incomplete and I went in search of a new one. As soon as I laid eyes on this nativity set, I knew it had to come home with me. It is a scene of children dressing up for a nativity play – 3 boys and 1 girl. I took it home and set it up on display. That was a year ago. Christmas came and went and I didn’t pack it away. It remains on my shelf permanently. It is a picture of what my family should look like but doesn’t, but one day will in Eternity.

photo by Jo Puggioni

It's so hard to be missing someone at the holidays . . . especially if that someone is a tiny baby miscarried too early, who you didn't know but very much wanted.  I love Jo's idea of honoring Lanay's short life with ornaments on their family's Christmas tree.  I do the same for Eve each year, just as I do it for our living son.  How do you remember your gone-too-soon loved ones at the holidays?  Or, how would you like to?

* * * 

Jo-Anne Puggioni (aka Jo Princess Warrior), has been married to her best friend for almost thirteen years. She home educates their three sons. A miscarriage survivor and depression navigator, she has come to embrace her imperfections, and is learning daily to live in the unforced rhythms of God's grace.