Ashamed No More

I was ashamed of being small and skinny.

I was ashamed of being smart and creative, but not in conventional ways.

I was ashamed of being introverted.

I was ashamed when I couldn’t live up to other people’s expectations, especially those I loved.

I was ashamed because everyone else told me my life had a clear purpose, and even though I believed that, I couldn’t immediately define that purpose.

I was ashamed because I believed any tension in a relationship was a result of my failures, and thus required me to fix things.

I was ashamed.


I still struggle with shame, but I will no longer be its hostage. I have good qualities. I have bad qualities. I am defined by neither. I am who I choose to be, and I choose to be forgiven by God and made new. I have that option available to me because of my relationship with Jesus.

I needed to tell myself this today. I probably need to say even more, dive into some deeper waters and make peace with some things that still try to bring me low, but I’ll hold off on that for another time. For now, it is enough to acknowledge that shame has no power over me because I am a child of God. It’s not that I’m incapable of being corrected or that I’m “too big for my britches”; it’s that I’m discovering something greater, freer and more powerful in Christ than I’ve ever known before.

I wish the process were easier, but the process itself is what brings healing. It’s what brings growth.

And it’s available to anyone who would want it.

When Christmas Sucks

This is a repost of a blog I wrote last year. After cruising through my social media feeds this morning, I felt like today was a good day to repost it. Feel free to share.

Sometimes, Christmas sucks.

It’s not a popular sentiment, I know, but I’ve seen a large number of Facebook posts this year decrying the Christmas season. Lots of people, going through difficult times, don’t want cheer spread into their lives, kind of like how I don’t want my neighbor’s leaves spread into my yard. It’s a war on Christmas of a different sort, and I can understand how some of those folks feel.

See, Christmas is the one time out of the year when we’re supposed to think about good things. It’s supposed to be a time when we tell others how much we love them and discover how much we are loved as well. It’s harmony and charity and family and joy – but some people simply don’t have that in their lives.

The wife grieving the loss of her husband. The child struggling to understand the illness of a parent. The suddenly single person sleeping alone in their bed. The family Santa Claus won’t be able to visit.

They are around us, everyday, and we do well to remember them. I’ve been there. There was a time when I didn’t want to see lights on a tree, or hear songs about joy and laughter. There was a time when all I knew was the freshness of my pain; everything else seemed silly.

Some people get angry over stuff like that. They insist that people in pain suck it up and not “ruin things for everyone else.” But here’s a secret, and it’s something that only those who’ve experienced a sad Christmas season know: hurting people don’t want Christmas to go away for everyone else, they just want it to go away for them.

In realizing that, I’m drawn back to something I read in Frederick Buechner’s book, Telling the Truth. Buechner talks about the tragedy of human life, how each of us will go through dark days that make us feel as though all hope is lost. This death of hope is never more profound then during the season of hope, when the disparity between what the grieving feel and what the populace celebrates seems almost unfathomable. And when your world is filled with pain, the last thing you want is a reminder that for other people, life is joy.

I’m not asking anyone to abate their Christmas celebrations. I’m not suggesting you curtail your festivities, or hide your happiness at the fullness of the season. I guess I just wanted to speak for those who, through the pain of life, might not have the energy to speak for themselves. I know how they feel. I know how it stings. I also know that healing comes with time.

If there’s no other comfort to be found during this time of year, the thing that gave me most comfort during the sorrowful Christmases of my past was the knowledge that the celebration going on around me was due to the birth of a small, helpless child. Unlovely, unknown, he came into this world to alleviate our sorrows, not by pushing past them, but by taking them as his own. He lived and died knowing the depth of human pain, feeling the sting of heartbreak within himself.

Christmas heralds the coming of God as the man of sorrow, well acquainted with grief, who would take our sin and sorrow within his own soul so we might be freed from such things.

There is comfort, however small, in that knowledge. Christmas honors the sadness of the broken by revealing the promise of their healing. May God bring those distraught during this season the peace of knowing that truth.

The Wings of History

No offense to Sir Winston Churchill, but history isn’t just written by the victors. The fact of the matter is we all have our histories. You, me – everyone around us carries with them at all times the accumulation of their lived days. Some of those days are memorable for some reason – the excitement of undefiled joy, the depths of immense pain – but even the unremarkable days build up what we call our life.

Often, we are uncomfortable when people want to walk us back, take us through their history. My family is experiencing something of that tension right now; my wife is currently leading the research into some of her family history, and we’re finding that no person is fully good or bad. The same is true of history. There’s always something of both to be found if we’re willing to look fairly.

I read this the other day, and it gave me the courage to continue thinking about my own past and the things I often remember but don’t explore for fear of upsetting someone. These are the words of Frederick Buechner, from his book Telling Secrets:

I am inclined to believe that God’s chief purpose in giving us memory is to enable us to go back in time so that if we didn’t play those roles right the first time round, we can still have another go at it now. We cannot undo our old mistakes or their consequences any more than we can erase old wounds that we have both suffered and inflicted, but through the power that memory gives us of thinking, feeling, imagining our way back through time we can at long last finally finish with the past in the sense of removing its power to hurt us and other people and to stunt our growth as human beings.

The sad things that happened long ago will always remain part of who we are just as the glad and gracious things will too, but instead of being a burden of guilt, recrimination, and regret that make us constantly stumble as we go, even the saddest things can become, once we have made peace with them, a source of wisdom and strength for the journey that still lies ahead. It is through memory that we are able to reclaim much of our lives that we have long since written off by finding that in everything that has happened to us over the years God was offering us possibilities of new life and healing which, though we may have missed them at the time, we can still choose and be brought to life by and healed by all these years later.

I know now, as an adult, that the people who surround me are themselves highly complex and equally as possessed of memories and experiences similar to mine. I know now, as an adult, that things which happened to me as a child were also happening to the people with whom I interacted. Indeed, none of us have histories that are solo performances. The other people entwined in our memories have their own versions of the same events.

What gives me a sense of peace is Buechner’s assertion that “instead of being a burden of guilt, recrimination, and regret that make us constantly stumble as we go, even the saddest things can become, once we have made peace with them, a source of wisdom and strength for the journey that still lies ahead.” My past – your past – does not have to be a weight.

It can be wings, if you’re willing.

I write so much about what happens in my life – what has happened in my life – as a way of making sense, of interpreting the movements of history so I can be a better man, better husband, better father; but also so I can leave the world a better place. Even as I go back, I find the familiar villains from my childhood weren’t necessarily villains at all, at least, not in the classic sense; rarely are people wholly evil, even if that’s what I remember. In fact, I find myself more and more frequently wondering just how many people have slotted me as their villain; because there have been times in my life where that title would fit like a tailored suit.

I’m learning that with history, as with so many other things in life, there has to be a sense of grace for the people around you. All I can hope is that as I learn to extend grace, others will extend it to me.

Imagine what a difference that might make.

Stillborn, Still Here

photo (23)I couldn’t sleep last night. My neighbor’s to the back apparently were conducting search and rescue missions in their backyard, because a massive floodlight lit up the back of my house, a light so bright it was sufficient for identifying insects in their yard with the naked eye. From my patio. Over 300 feet away.

Anyway, since I couldn’t sleep, I powered up the laptop and checked email. There was the usual assortment of junk (mostly writing website stuff), but among the various vanities was a tiny little message from my father-in-law, Jim. The subject line took my breath: Ruthanne Awaiting In Heaven.

I wasn’t prepared for it, so it stunned me. Even though I mentioned Ruthie in yesterday’s blog, and even though my mind knew her birthday was today, I simply hadn’t been consciously thinking about her. Sure, when we visited my parents yesterday, my dad pointed out the flowers they’d placed in her memory at church. He asked Ella to tell him how old Ruthanne would be; Ella walked over to the plant, saw the preciously painted pink polka-dot nine, and informed my dad that her sister would, in fact, be nine years old. My dad grinned, turned to me and said, “Can you believe that? In just a couple more years she’d be a teenager!”

“Yeah, and only another couple of years and she’d have been driving!” my mom added.

I shook my head. No, I really couldn’t believe it. After all, I’m doing well just keeping up with a seven year old girl who thinks she’s seventeen and a four year old boy who enjoys screaming random bits of conversation when not actively giving his mother a hard time. In other words, I have no idea what the heck we would do with a third, older child.

I would imagine we’d lean on her to help keep the other two in line, or ask her to watch them when we need to get work done. I can imagine her being Ella’s best friend and chief rival, Jon’s mini-Mom, and Rachel’s sweet helper. It’s easy to think about those things. But it’s hard to imagine how she would relate to me. Ella is so much like me in her creativity and imagination (though she is very much like her mother too) that I can’t imagine having a daughter more attuned to this nerdy dad. I look at Ella and try to think about what Ruthanne might have been like – responsible, intelligent, socially aware, helpful, lots of the qualities that Ella exhibits by virtue of being the first surviving child – and I just can’t picture it.

Yet, that doesn’t make me sad.

Once upon a time, I would’ve felt tremendous regret for what I missed out on with Ruthanne. In some ways I suppose I still do, but it’s not as consuming as it once was. In fact, other than the occasional question about Ruthie from Jon or Ella, I really don’t think of her much at all. It sounds heartless, but here’s the thing: like David, I know she’ll never come back to me, but one day I’ll go to her. In the meantime, I have to love on Ella and Jon, pour into them my very best and cherish every moment we have together (even the stressful and annoying ones).

Like the past couple of mornings, when we’ve been watching the entire Star Wars franchise (even the horrid prequels). They run around the house, fighting with plastic lightsabers, knocking into things and raising a ruckus, but it’s life and it’s beautiful and I cherish it.

That’s not to say that today doesn’t hold meaning – it does. But what it says even louder is that the passage of time, the healing of wounds, is not only possible, it is inevitable. It comes whether we work at it or not; it simply comes faster when we participate and chase after healing. Everyday people come to this blog because of a search on the word “stillbirth” or the phrase “stillborn child.” I can honestly say that there hasn’t been a day in the last two years when that word hasn’t shown up in my stats information. That means that everyday for two years someone has either been curious about stillbirths, or wondered how to survive a stillbirth, and they’ve landed here. They’ve read our story. And they’ve seen that healing does come.

It’s painful at times. It’s sudden (or seemingly so) at others. But it’s persistent and it’s real, and that’s something I desperately wanted to know nine years, eight years, heck five years ago.

We’re still here. We’re still a family. Perhaps even more so because we have such a poignant reminder of the fragility and value of life.

And we also know what my father-in-law knows. His email was brief, but so powerful. Jim is a man who has lost much in his life – Ruthanne, his little brother Preston, other family members who didn’t have much time on this earth, but who live now eternally in heaven. And so his quiet, thoughtful, touching email grabbed me last night and reminded me that while we’re healing here, we’ll be fully healed when the day comes that we join our loved ones on the other side.

Here’s what he said:

Dear Rachel and Jason,
The most beautiful thing about Heaven is knowing that infants like Ruthanne, Preston, Gravis, and Helen who went early before us will be waiting to meet us there.
The closer I get, the more I am looking forward to seeing them!
Remembering Ruthanne in our thoughts,
Jim Paw and MeMe

Short. Sweet. Heartfelt. And for our family, utterly true.

Today, the sun is shining, and both my kids are foaming at the mouth to get out of the house and do something fun (which means, as it does with most children, going somewhere and spending money). Today, they’ll want to run all over a playground or go to Stone Mountain or see a movie or any number of things that incite their tiny little imaginations. And, as best we can, Rachel and I will chase after them, laughing and enjoying the day, forgetting our loss by embracing our blessings and simply living without the burden of regret.

This is what life is. It’s perpetual rebirth. It’s discovering each day that the greatest way to honor the memory of Ruthanne is to not let that memory steal our life. She was stillborn, but we’re still here. One day, we’ll see our loved ones and never have to let go, so let’s start that process today, with the ones closest to us. We’ve got a lot of living left to do.

So do you.

Now get out there and do it.

The Most Tragic of All Wounds

Newtown1You never get used to standing over your child’s grave. Not when it’s open, waiting on the coffin to be lowered. Not when the first shovel full of dirt hits the top of the vault. Not when the last shovel full of dirt gets patted into place and the flowers get draped over the mound.

Not even when, eight years later, you stand there to just remember that she existed.

This week, twenty families will learn those horrible truths; they will say goodbye to children who were supposed to outlive them. Parents will stand, weeping, over their children’s bodies, suffering with the knowledge that incomplete lives are among the most tragic of all human wounds. People will do their best to make sense of the world in order to bring these families hope, but nothing that they say will make a difference.

Words don’t do justice to the enormity of the pain. And words can never hope to heal.

Healing comes only through time, an excruciating march through seconds and minutes and hours that eventually gives way to days and weeks and months. Part of the anguish comes from not being able to think of anything else at first–you are consumed with thoughts about what you could have done differently, the sudden realization that the world is cruel and unjust, the pain of missing someone who should be snuggled up in your arms, safe. These thoughts fill your head non-stop until sleep comes to you as a blessed relief (when you’re finally able to sleep; most of the time, you can’t).

Then, you develop a new kind of anguish: starting to forget. It’s not intentional. It’s not done meanly. But one day, you catch yourself thinking about that load of laundry you need to do, or the errand you need to run, and you feel shame and guilt and searing pain at the fact that you were not thinking about your child, your loss, your pain. And the spiral begins, and you stay there until the next time you catch yourself thinking about something else.

Maybe you find yourself thinking about heaven and hell, God, life, death, all of the things that we pay lip service to but often only think about very slightly. Suddenly, the idea of a God that would send someone to hell for not choosing Jesus becomes very important to you. Maybe you spend time reading and re-reading anything you can get your hands on. Maybe you spend time in prayer, screaming obscenities at a God whose existence you now question. Maybe this helps you feel better. Maybe it brings you peace.


Maybe you find yourself not thinking of anything at all. Maybe your life becomes a blur of daily monotony that has no discernible edges to it, and so you feel as if you just float from bedtime to bedtime without ever really caring to see anything in detail.

Maybe you bury yourself in as many conquerable tasks as you possibly can, hoping to fill the emptiness with the sweet release of control and accomplishment.

Maybe you drink yourself into a stupor, hoping to kill off the brain cells that cause you to be aware of the hell in which you now live.

Maybe you do all of it.

Regardless, the first few months are an emotional solitary confinement, even when you have others with which to commiserate. You can share in the tragedy of loss, but grief–what we feel in our hearts–is ours to bear, alone, until the time is right. After those first few months, you discover that you can let others in. Some take longer than others, but eventually all mourners find that peace is easier achieved through opening your heart to another. This is the road to healing.

It is the road back to loving.

Twenty families in Connecticut will begin grieving in earnest this week. My thoughts and prayers–and my understanding–goes out to each.