Grace Extended

So, friend, I had a different post ready to share with you, but I’m going to need to put it away for now because God has something else in mind for me to share His love and mercy through.  How do I know?  Well, I was in bed …and now I’m not, and it’s 2am.  Although this season of cold can be difficult to get through because of limited sunshine to give us the natural vitamin D, I try to think of it also as a time of year where we seem to take longer portions of time to be together and where lingering over conversation with family and friends is coveted.  Recently, I sat across the table from a precious friend with whom I have several significant things in common. We didn’t have to explain what we felt or meant by what we were sharing, we just knew. You know the kind of friend that you can almost finish one another’s…..sentences? This gal is my friend for life. It was easy conversation, but our topic was far from that, and I just can’t seem to get it off my mind.  So my prayer is that God will reveal fresh hope to us for something that is far too familiar to so many… to my precious friend, and to Doug and me. We had only been married for a little more than a year; Doug was fully into his master’s work, we were in the ministry, and I was full throttle ahead as a new middle school teacher. We were having so much fun with friends who also were just starting out together. Doug and I knew we wanted children, but we were not wanting to rush things.  We were just getting used to sharing our lives with one another, not to mention sharing a sink.  We took the precautions necessary to prevent a pregnancy but…I still got pregnant. Although it was sooner than we had planned, we were so excited, especially with my history with anorexia. Some people cannot get pregnant because of the consequences of the beast, so I was elated to not have that issue as there had and have been other health consequences to battle as part of my chronic eating disorder.

As weeks turned into months, my check-ups were starting to show that our little guy was not very strong as he was being watched very closely by sonogram.  He was, however, still very much alive, and we believed he would get stronger, but I was strongly advised to eat more.  I wanted this baby much more than I wanted to deprive my body of food, so my eating began to increase regardless of how I felt about my deserving of food.

One morning, when I was well into my second trimester, I woke up feeling even more exhausted than usual as our little boy was taking a lot out of me at this point, so I grabbed some breakfast to eat on the way to teach school.  As I got buckled in, I noticed that my tummy was a touch harder to get the seatbelt around, and like any anorexic, I panicked for a moment, but then felt truly relieved that any growth may be taking place with our little one.  I so badly wanted to be a good mommy even before he was here.  To get to my school, I had to drive over one of the highest overpasses in the DFW metroplex, and, that morning, everyone seemed to be headed in the same direction.  I had a serious car accident.  I’d rather not get you lost in the details of the accident, but I was hit by 2 eighteen wheeler trucks at the top of the overpass. As my car bounced off the retaining walls, I could see over the railing enough to see the traffic down below. The whole scene was a living nightmare.

As I was rushed to the hospital, I remember lying there in the ambulance with tears rolling into my hair as they tried to get a heartbeat and, to all of our surprise, the paramedic said we still had a baby.  I covered my face with both hands and just cried in relief.  That’s all I wanted to hear. My injuries included a severely bruised sternum with some internal bleeding, a fracture to my left ankle and my right knee was badly bruised, but we still had a baby!  Isn’t it amazing that you don’t realize how badly you want someone until you don’t know if you still have that someone?  As a result of my sternum injury, my husband bathed me for the next few weeks because I couldn’t sit up on my own. This just made me love him more.  His actions reinforced that God chose my husband for me for so many amazing and loving reasons which have slowly unfolded over the last 20 years.  Please never underestimate the importance of God choosing your spouse or close friends.  His wisdom surpasses all we can see and imagine. We don’t know the road ahead.

The internal bleeding did not heal like my legs did.  So I only got to carry our baby boy for only a few more weeks after the accident.  The accident was too much on my body and, coupled with my low weight, this became too much for him.  In addition, this loss, for the next months, was almost too much for our young marriage. I was skinnier than ever with casts on both legs as they wheeled me past my sweet husband to do the first on two surgeries to take our son so that we could supposedly get some closure and so my body could begin to heal. But I didn’t care about healing. I wanted to be a mommy to our baby, and I didn’t want in the days ahead to hear that we would need to wait at least a year to even try to have a viable pregnancy. I wanted this baby and for the hurt to go away so that the full magnitude of pain from the loss wouldn’t have to come. I had come from hurt, and I wanted to be done with it. I wanted a new and fresh start.

Doug and I…we grieved alone. We didn’t know how to handle things any other way, and it’s taken years for us to even talk about this difficult time  - even after our little girls came along and defied what specialists said was possible.  But I got stronger with the passing of time, and because of God’s mercy and sovereignty there was a next pregnancy.  We were pretty much scared to death with this “at risk” pregnancy, and  I had 11 ultrasounds. She arrived on her due date and was perfect.  Then 2 ½ years later God brought us through another at risk pregnancy with only 9 sonograms to give our oldest little girl a “bestie,” and they have been inseparable since day one.  God sustained them, and me, and our marriage. He is in the business of healing and restoring.  With the loss of our precious son, we still dealt with loneliness when we were together, and we felt alone when we were with our friends.  I felt like I didn’t deserve to be here if our son wasn’t, and although time can be a healer, it has been God’s mercy letting us be parents which has trumped the sadness many days.  The enemy has tried to kill me emotionally over this loss, but it has been used by God as a patient tutor to remind us that He has had a plan all along. Even on our darkest days, there is hope when we let God in, okay?

God’s mercy and love have given us two healthy and amazing girls who take our breath away.  But I want to say that grieving our son’s loss does not compromise the thankfulness we celebrate with getting to parent our girls.  God knows that one child’s life does not delete the pain of another child’s death. We have 3 kiddos in my mind. I have to say this for my own sake even if not out loud. I have to, and sometimes keeping this reality in my heart makes his life even more precious.  When we see a little boy walking around the church or a restaurant  or a store, we seem to stop and watch him as if that’s how Beau Bennett would look, forgetting he would be almost 19 now.  We forget this until we see a cute strawberry blonde young man walk by and Doug and I make eye contact with one another realizing it has hit us simultaneously. But we are okay!

As I share more of my life, please know it is so not my goal to be able to identify with everyone on everything on every level.  Believe me…I am forever thankful to be able to proclaim God has not only brought us to this place, but that He will absolutely not leave us here.  Life, however, can absolutely be tough!  And when we live in community, and share our experiences when the timing is right, God allows us to comfort one another and suddenly there is meaning to our hurt and experiences.

I am trying to believe this truth:  in my weakness, He is not disappointed in me or who I’ve become or what has happened.  In my weakness, He ushers in His strength and the amount of faith I place in Him helps to determine where He will take me.  I don’t want to miss out, but my faith can be so weak; so when I am suffering, He often shows me Himself through Scripture. It helps to focus on Him, so I read in  Psalm 23:6, “Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever,”  to remind me that HE knows we suffer, so we will need His promises to get us through!

Living in hurt and guilt over loss is paralyzing.  It will kill us if we focus on it.  I can only live in His grace (I am so new at this - and sorta bad at it!), and can only stand on His promises.  He is God and whether you have had a miscarriage or lost a child full term or  have lost a child at any age, he or she matters and is in the company of the ultimate Father.  He wants to heal you in your loss. He wants to heal our hearts and help us to breathe deep in His presence. Loss of a child is devastating and this, God gets.

I have had the blessing of sitting next to so many precious women who have shared about their loss or losses. And maybe if we were to sit and talk, you would say that your story hasn’t played out in the way you had so hoped, and you are angry with God about the absence of children in your arms. He can handle your anger, and He can grasp your depth of sadness. But we can’t stay in that anger.  He sees our hearts, so maybe it would be good to sit with Him and give Him your anger, guilt, as in my situation, and your sadness. He is the master of meeting us right where we are.

Thank you for letting me share about our son, Beau. Many of you reading this have gone through so much in an effort to be a parent and you have experienced loss. I am so sorry. Please believe that when we come to the point of sharing what we have gone through with even one other person, we can heal a little bit more and you will find … it’s not so lonely anymore.

“Jesus… Thank you that what we go through here on earth is not in vain. You can use anything to draw us close to you if we let you which is the ultimate purpose of our being here.  You know I have been overwhelmed with guilt and sadness for many seasons in the past about how we lost our son years ago and all of the issues around him not making it. You hurt with us over  the loss of a child and you understand the devastation so well, so please, meet each of us where we are in our healing.  Thank you that loss isn’t for nothing, and that You are the ultimate comforter when a life is lost, no matter how brief the life.  Bring joy to the darkness of those hurting, please Father. Thank you for raising the children who can’t be here with us. No one is more able.   We love You!”

Love to you…

Stacee

I’ve memorized this brief verse to help me through today…so I hope you will consider memorizing it too.

“Show me your ways, O Lord, teach me your paths; guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior, AND MY HOPE IS IN YOU ALL DAY LONG.”  Psalm 25:4-5

Where is the Hope?

Stacee and girls at Lake Hefner Today, as I am writing to you, I am sitting in my dining room beside a big window where I can look out and see our pretty little purple, pink, and white flowers. They are small but so strong to withstand our Oklahoma wind. It’s a beautiful fall day and the leaves are an indescribable color somewhere in the orange family. I am choosing to ignore the weeds I see because they are just frustrating and ridiculous. However, every time I look out the weeds do seem to have moved closer to the window. Creepy! In spite of them, I look out and what I see absolutely reminds me of hope. Hope, in my life, shows most when my fight can be the most difficult. Like white chalk on black paper. Offering you substance does not come from my mind and heart alone…by far! My mind can fail me, not so much in my memory, but in remembering that I have hope. I can lose sight of the many things the Father has carried me (us)through, so recalling a few of them daily as an accountability that cannot be avoided or discounted is essential. God’s faithfulness in my life deserves to be shared because it is real. This is awesome because the enemy wants us to be hopeLESS, so let’s do this!

I have evidence of God’s hope walking around my house, eating all of our food, singing, dancing, watching vines and TV. I have hope asking me if they look okay before meeting up with friends, and I have hope sitting on their beds at night spending time with Jesus. I see hope sleeping late on Saturday mornings after a long week of school and activities. I have hope looking at me across the sanctuary at church on Sunday to smile at me because I made it to church that morning because sometimes I haven’t. I have hope encouraging me to eat so I can feel good and be fully present at an event like some of the other moms. I have hope in the imperfections of their lives because they don’t evoke the same response from them that mine have in me. My two “hopes” are full of joy and passion about life and for God. I can see hope, and it makes me speechless.

Since God alone can see the big picture of our lives, He knew part of my healing would involve two precious redheads. Our hope is not in their performance or achievements in this life, but in the truth that there is evidence of Jesus living in and through them. It’s a miracle, really. When I see them actively seeking God, I see that some of the family cycles passed on to me aren’t there anymore and that… is hope! To my knowledge, I come from three generations of women struggling with depression on my mom’s side of the family alone. My dad’s mom struggled greatly with mental illness also. Amazing women who sought relief to the best of their ability, but suffered and struggled greatly. So when I see my sweet girls thriving in this life, all I can do is thank God for the hope I see in this cycle of mental anguish releasing itself from our family. Two blog posts ago, I referred to my parents’ divorce during my senior year in high school. This year, our oldest daughter is a senior, and so many memories have been flooding my mind of my experiences during my last year at home. Can you imagine my thankfulness, that because of God, her experience does not compare with mine? That’s hope! She is okay and full of joy and hope for today and for her future, and her younger sister is following her lead.

I have written about “restricting “in my life several times, and this way of life naturally seeped in and stole my hope. For years I did not allow myself to hope because all I had to do was look at the path of destruction I was leaving, and I was instantly hopeless. If I stop and focus on the people I have lost, and the strain on my family and friends which sickness and addiction can leave, I don’t feel good at all. It’s too much to take in. My hope is not soi temporary most days, but I still have work to do here with God’s direction. So many who have eating disorder and self harm problems aren’t the unmotivated and self-absorbed, contrary to what many believe. Not at first anyway. They are often over achievers who have grown exhausted and perfectionists who’ve experienced one too many failures. Those are the more common to get sick.

Here is where I have to go straight to what God’s words to me say, or I get overwhelmed with sadness and hope starts to wash away. 1 Peter 5:8-11 serves as both a warning and a reassurance. It says, “Be self controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings.” (That part is viciously true... but it gets better) “And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ Jesus, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. To Him be the power forever and ever. Amen.” The struggle is real! Do you want to get better? Whatever your problems may be, do you want to get better? God would never downplay that being here is hard, but His grace and mercy are strong and therein lies the hope. The enemy wants us to grovel and fail, so anything resembling this is not from God. How different would today be if you and I went to Jesus with our hurt and guilt and fear, rather than to our addictions which seek to “devour” us. Please know, friend, to deny the hope which is truly from God is to literally hand our freedom to the enemy. Hope placed in anyone or anything else is lost.

Consider this action…I often have to write down what is hurting me and what is keeping me from accepting hope. After I write these things, I hold the paper in my hands and lift this list up to God asking Him to take it, and then I tear the papers up and throw them away. When I hold these things inside, I get worse; so this, although simple, is a physical act to give them to the only One who can heal my heart and make room for a little more hope.

I have a final plea for you today. If you have never asked Jesus to come and live in your broken heart, would you please consider Him? If you have not, this hope (my lifeline I refer to) likely seems foreign. This does not have to be so! Jesus says, “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and him with Me.” (Revelations 3:20). There is no catch, no judgment no matter what your life looks like or who you are. I have been honest with you since beginning the Speak Out Loud blog, and my honesty won’t stop. But for true life and freedom to fight for our lives, Jesus is the key. Wherever you may be as you read this, in the U.S. or another country, Jesus translates the same. He died on the cross a criminal death for you and me, to pay the penalty our sin (wrong doing) deserved. That’s the truth, and His gift to us is His leadership and love in our lives and forgiveness when we do wrong. I have found that I lose everything without having a relationship with Him. I give Him my life and there is meaning beyond the next restriction or next cut. Jesus is hope.

“Jesus, I do not have to know where the people who are reading these words are spiritually, but I do care where they are. I care deeply. Things and choices and patterns of addiction, and the things we buy into, can be paralyzingly wrong and not of You. So Father, thank you for being so willing to meet each of us right where we are, without judgment, and with eager anticipation to give us the hope which is only found in You. If anyone who has looked at these words of hope at this time does not have a personal relationship with You, I pray in Jesus’ name that he/she will desire You more than anything else in life, and invite You to inhabit their heart. In Jesus name, Amen.”

Take Courage

Doug-Stacee Sept 29 Hey everyone! I’m on the road today, and I’ve hijacked Stacee’s blog for a little bit…..! Actually she knows about it - I asked her if I could write the next blog post. Hopefully she (and you) are ok with it after reading this ....! :)

I’m so proud of Stacee and so appreciative of you for reading Speak Out Loud. 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 says, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.” It’s easy to get lost in all the “comforts” in those two verses, but essentially it’s saying God gives us purpose in our pain. As we experience His hope and healing, He equips us to comfort and encourage others as they hurt and struggle. As fellow journeyers (we definitely haven’t arrived yet), we know it’s tough when you are stuck in the middle of it (oh, how we know), but there is a purpose for our pain! This purpose, that God would somehow take this story and use it, is what kept Stacee going many days I think - that and her determination to not quit for our family’s sake. And I am so thankful she didn’t.

As I stop and think about this journey Stacee and our family are on, I realize I’ve had a front-row seat to an incredible demonstration of courage as Stacee has walked the long road of recovery. I am fully convinced that battling mental illness, eating disorders, and all kinds of harmful ways we try to deal with pain, takes a tremendous amount of courage. Courage to enter the crucible of change. Courage to do the recovery process – the counseling, the medicine, the doctor visits (in many respects, the courage to relearn how to “emotionally and mentally walk”). Courage to trust the opposite of everything you feel. Courage to face the misunderstanding and judgment. Courage to not quit.

At each step of this journey, I’ve watched Stacee be courageous. Some weeks, months, and even years, that courage was demonstrated in the determination to not give up, to pick herself up even though she felt defeated, and to take that next step, eat that next bite, or make that next appointment. I’ve seen her courageously go to church, our daughters’ events, and other social events, when her feelings and illness screamed for isolation. As she wrote about last week, I have seen her courageously confront the negative thoughts that often “chant inside her head” by reading the Bible, meditating on Scriptures, and embracing Jesus through communion rather than pushing Him away.

All of these efforts, and many, many more, have been vitally important to her recovery process, and every one took courage on a daily basis. Mental illness possesses many cruelties, but I think one of the most sinister is that it not only robs a person of the ability to perceive reality correctly, but it also robs them of the spirit needed to fight something so sinister. It’s kind of a double whammy – the brain is sick, and the spirit, passion, and hope that are so critical to help overcome a major disease are gone. It takes courage to do the things necessary to get better, even when all hope feels lost and all you can see is darkness around you. But to those who struggle and to those who love them, God does provide the light of hope. God can and will bring you through this, but it requires the courage to trust Him.

The best definition I’ve ever heard of the word “encourage” simply breaks the word into its two parts: “en” and “courage” – literally, “to put courage into.” We all need encouragement, “infusions of courage,” to face head on the struggles and challenges life throws in front of us and onto our backs – and especially if those struggles include mental illness.

Allow me to share one vision of the future with you today to “infuse” you with the courage to not quit in your journey through your hurt and pain. Recently Stacee and I were talking about some of the negative cycles and patterns in our lives, how some we had “inherited” and some we had developed on our own, and the impact they’ve had on our lives and our marriage. In the midst of that conversation, it struck me, though, that Stacee's determination to not quit has broken those cycles from being passed down to our daughters. Yes, they may have issues they have to face and deal with on their own one day (both from their own choices and the fact that we are far from perfect parents…) but cycles and patterns handed down to Stacee are not being handed down to our daughters. The courage to change is going to have a generational impact on our two daughters, our future grandchildren, and generations to come!! Stacee’s courage, your courage to press on in this recovery journey, is not just impacting you or even your immediate family – you are impacting generations!

There is hope and there is light if you don’t give up on this healing change process God is taking you through! Take courage, take heart, and press on! Trust me, I’ve seen what courage can do – and it’s worth it!

--Doug (Stacee's Husband)