Joy Comes in the Mourning

Joy Comes in the Mourning

This is a topic that I have visited in brief in previous posts. However, I was, again, burdened by the truths held in God’s word about God’s grace in times of suffering. The Bible talks about joy in suffering in James 1. These words held so much pain for me, when I was in the early stages of grief and postpartum psychosis. People did not know what to say to me or how to engage. Most stood at a distance, others attempted to comfort with words and scripture, but sometimes that hurt as well. I began to notice a pattern in the responses I was getting from individuals regarding suffering for the Christian. People wanted me to pray for healing, for deliverance from my current circumstances. I was told by so many individuals that they were praying for healing me. The longer I was sick, the longer my brother was in the grave, the longer I watched the impact my suffering had on friends and family, the more God revealed some of the misconceptions we have about suffering. That perhaps scripture could be directed more deeply, leading to greater revelation about my present sufferings and future glory. 

James 1: 2-4 “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters. whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing.”

I love the word consider in this verse. It is so quick to overlook as unimportant to the deeper meaning and substance to this passage. In a season of suffering, it became profound to me. 

Consider (v) – to think careful;; about something, typically before making a decision, to think about and be drawn toward a course of action.

The word consider give us a breath. It gives us time. When tragedy comes at us in what can feel like wave after wave of suffering, it is so wonderful to know the importance of considering. This word gives us the space we need to take in what is happening, to weigh it against our previous experiences with God, and to have time to align our hearts with that of God. In the considering, we are given the time and space to question, ask, cry out, lament because we are not expected to step immediately into the joy. We need to have the freedom as flesh and bone humans to feel all the pain and all of the hardship of our present suffering. The bible tells us not to rush, to consider, to lean into the prospect of joy. So we can pray for those that are in current circumstances of suffering to give space to the word consider. We can take a breath and take in the present circumstances. What grace!

Then, it continues to ask us to take joy. But I want to skip over these words for a moment and turn to what comes after. The following statement gives context to the former. Take joy BECAUSE it produces perseverance. Stop and reflect on that for a moment. It does not say take in joy in your present suffering because you accept the pain and celebrate it. The joy comes from perseverance. We can find the joy, not in the present circumstance but in the outcome. God knows that pain and sorrow of worldly grief. He knows that our hearts are attached to certain people and circumstances in this world. We do not have to pretend like the pain isn’t real. We don’t have to lean into a blind trust of just being happy. We can rejoice in a future where this tragic circumstance will lead to a deepening of our faith and renewing ability to push forward in the future. It is a joy in the redemptive power of our God to take the broken, ugly circumstances of a fallen world and use them for kingdom glory.

Joy (n) – a feeling of great pleasure, happiness

The dictionary definition of joy falls into a category that sets us up for confusion and frustration in times of trial. I prefer to look at the synonyms as well as the Greek and Hebrew for the word joy. 

synonyms – jubilation, exultation, exhilaration 

These are words that make more sense to me. I can still rejoice, even when I am hurting. I can still exalt God, even when my world wounds are terminal. I can still experience jubilation, outside of a fractured heart. The word study on the deeper translation of the word joy is chairo, to rejoice or be glad. The derivative is a cognate of cairo “leaning towards” and saris “to delight in or be conscious of God’s grace” Here is where I see the truth behind these words in James. The author wasn’t implying that we should see the present sufferings of this world, look past them, and pretend like we aren’t affected. He wasn’t suggesting that we watch our precious child be buried and stand there saying we feel happy. Joy is found in the looking not at our present circumstances, but to a future hope. I can lean into my love for my savior because I am aware of God’s grace to me, even during the pain. My future is secure, my hope is eternal, and my present suffering will not be wasted. From that place, a heart can feel the joy of the Holy Spirit in the midst of grief.

So, how long are we allowed to feel sad, how quickly should a Christian let go of this pain and move onto to the happiness and pleasure of their future? James tells us, “let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing.” Let it finish. Pray for your family and friends to allow the pain and suffering to go on as long as is necessary to complete the grow and maturity it was designed for. As those watching someone suffer, I have heard this from family and friends, it becomes wearying to watch someone suffering for extended periods of time. The church is often good at showing up with meals, and prayer, and visiting in the first few weeks and months of someone’s trials. When, however, the end isn’t in sight, we tend to move on. We are not sure what to do with longsuffering. We become impatient. However, God doesn’t promise quick and fast solutions to receive this growth and maturity. He says, “Let it finish.” We have to be patient with God and with those walking through the valley. We need not rush them the restored happiness, getting back to work or church, or life as it was before. Honestly, their life may never go back to how it was before. They may be so changed by their experience that their life has to start over a new and be transformed. It would make sense that this would take time, and we should draw near to these people for the whole journey. If we don’t, we may short circuit God’s complete plan. We may short circuit the outcome and hinder the whole of gift. 

There is temptation to resist the experience of suffering but enduring allows us to practice a surrender to the Lord’s will, patience in his longevity of the trial, and trust instead of worry about the future.

Finally, we can take hope that our present suffering will be overturned into a future glory.

Romans 8: 18-31

18 I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. 19 For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. 20 For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21 that[a] the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.

22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 23 Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? 25 But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.

26 In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. 27 And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.

28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who[b] have been called according to his purpose. 29 For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. 30 And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.

More Than Conquerors

31 What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?

Our present trials are not the creator of faith. They are the refining fire of what has been there all along. The beauty of our heavenly father is that he allows these trials to expose the weaknesses in our faith so that they can be dealt with. He responds in patience when we are wrestling and promises that these present sufferings are for future glory. Our hope is the in the future, our joy is in the future. Pray and ask God to take the time to expose weaknesses, to redeem these weakness by creating a deep perseverance and growth in faith, trust and allow him to take as long as needed to complete the refining, and surrender to his work for your good and his future glory. Be real with him and vulnerable knowing that God sees you, he knows you, he is not afraid of your doubts, and he can make all things new. Lean into him during times of suffering, and rejoice in the midst of suffering because of the gift of God’s grace.



Just Google the phrase and millions of hits will appear. Anything from people getting into college, playing another season in the NFL, getting to binge watch their favorite TV shows, etc. It was so hard for me to read the tagline #BLESSED, when  I was walking through my season of grief, mental health issues, suicidality, and job loss. I was scrambling to grab onto something. People kept praying for me to be healed, for a cure for what ailed me. All of the while, it never sat right in my heart. I knew that there was a discord between what I was experiencing and what those around me told me was God’s plan for my life. I was told over and over that God wasn’t making these things happen to me, that his will was that I be delivered from them. It caused me to start searching God’s word. I was trying to make sense of what I was experiencing and compare that to what the world told me my life should look like. I knew in my heart that God was with me in my illness, that he was in control. I didn’t need to ask where God was in my suffering because his word and my experience would lead me to it.

Blessed is an adjective or a noun described in the dictionary as….

blessed – adj. made holy, consecrated

n. those that live with God in heaven

If I simply to stop there. The #BLESSED tagline would be disproven. What modern culture was telling me was blessed was indeed falling very short. It was cheapening the idea of God’s blessing. Next, I looked to the Bible. I was drawn to the Beatitudes.

Beatitudes – Matthew 5:3-12

He (Jesus) said

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,

for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are those who mourn,

for they will be comforted.

Blessed are the meek,

for they will inherit the earth.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,

for they will be filled.

Blessed are the merciful,

for they will be shown mercy.

Blessed are the pure in heart,

for they will see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers,

for they will be called children of God.

10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,

for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

11 “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

This for sure didn’t align with what the world was telling me but it was closer to what I was experiencing. I was being told from the lips of Jesus that my season of suffering was a season of blessing. However, it still didn’t feel like that was what was happening to me. 

So, how could my ideal of blessing be so off base with what scripture was telling me? I found out that the Greek word that is translated into meaning blessed is makarioi. It means to be fully satisfied. At that moment, it was like the scales were lifted from my eyes. Blessing is anything that draws me into deeper satisfaction with my Savior. Gifting is, instead, what we are seeking. #BLESSED is a representation of a people that are in love with the gifts instead of the Giver. The Beatitudes, as well as hundreds of other scriptures that reference blessing, make sense in light of the Greek translation for blessing. It eliminates the question of “Where is God in my suffering?” I have never experienced the close drawing in of myself to God like I did in my darkest days. I never felt his presence more strongly than when I was at the end of what I knew I could handle on my own. The pain and torment brought me to a place of brokenness where I could see clearly that I could do nothing in my own strength. It was God all along. He was responsible for my waking and my lying down, for my coming and my going. He woke me up everyday and held me together. He gave me the strength to take one more breath, to survive one more day. He wasn’t punishing me. He was saving me. He was stripping away to strongholds in my heart and my mind and turning them into a surrendered life. He was leading me to place of being fully satisfied in him, because I had nothing else. That is why what the world considers the outcasts, God considers the true blessed. They are the ones that truly see. They are the ones that are drawn near to him and transformed. When we stop living our lives for the gifts, instead of the Giver, we can reach a new closeness in our relationship to him. That is where true hope is found. God has not abandoned any one of us. He is near, waiting for us to cling to him instead of what he can give us. If all of your #BLESSINGS were taken away, would you be able to hold your hands to the sky and say, “I am blessed.” Would the cry of your heart be for worldly blessing to return or for spiritual blessing to abound? He is with you in your pain. He sees your struggled. He has called you blessed.

Praise From the Pit

1 August 2016

“I am so grateful for the Jennifer Rothschild bible study. Her words, in “Missing Pieces,” have brought me so much hope and healing. The lesson today brought up not being thankful FOR something but being thankful IN something. Not just enduring something BUT thriving in it.

That is the meaningful transition that I have been on the cusp of. I am so grateful for her words that remind me I am on track. I am learning to praise him, not inspire of Hunter’s death, actually IN Hunter’s death and the aftermath. 

This has been such a challenging journey. The trip home allowed my mother to love on me, which she did flawlessly. My father told me over and over again how important I was to him. This was coupled with feeling like I was a burden and disrupting the order that had developed in my home between my parents, my sister-in-law, and her daughter. I didn’t see the misunderstanding on confusion surrounding my illness to change how family saw me. It did, though. I am grateful that I don’t just experience the good things anymore, but I experience the hard things. That I get to see both sides of people. They are getting to see both sides of me.”

Exposing people to my illness continued to be challenging. When you are mentally ill and grieving, your world seems to hit pause. Honestly, thinking back to those two years, if I hadn’t journaled, I wouldn’t remember any of this. My memories are garbled, faded, and misconstrued. I, honestly, barely remember my youngest first two years. I had snapshots, bits and pieces. It was all a blur of pain and emotion. However, at some point, I began to come up out of the darkness, the pit seemed less and less deep. I began to see the light of day. When I looked back at where I had been, the light began to pierce these places too. I began to see the good and the bad. The more I looked back, and as I got healthier, the more good I could see. I was not so alone. At the time, it seemed like the worst things that could be happening to me. There was no good, no light. When people tried shining light into my pain, I recoiled. I didn’t want to hear their Bible verses, or words on encouragement. They seemed so shallow, and like they were coming out of the mouths of people that couldn’t possibly understand. Those moments, those positive moments, did stick somewhere in the darkness. The truths were ignored at the time, but they made an impression. When I began to see light again, it was if a veil began to lift. I stopped seeing myself as a victim. I started to see the positive that could come from my illness. They ways that it could be used to glorify the Lord. I began to hope. And a little hope could change a life.

My Puzzle Piece

May 19, 2016

“Another time in the Ingles parking lot with a Starbucks Caramel Macchiato. Today is Maddox’s Creek Stomp field trip.  I am so grateful I feel well enough to go today. Praise be to God! I hope and pray that this continues and that Latuda continues to work well. I am so thankful for the time to spend with the Lord. Time for healing that my husband and family has been a part of. I am worried about Judah. He has been fussy compared to usual. Two days ago he vomited three times. He fusses with his formula but drinks lots of pedialyte. It leads me to think he may be intolerant. I want him to feel well again and I am praying for healing. 

I am grateful, today, for life and the love of my Savior.”

May 23, 2016

“Dear Hunter,

I miss you more than I have missed anything in my whole life. I feel like I fell asleep and woke up to half of my body missing. It is traumatizing, hard to understand, painful. I am loosing you. I can’t feel you. It is like the movie, Back to the Future. I feel like Marty McFly looking at the picture of his siblings in childhood and they are slowly fading away. You feel just beyond reach. My love for you is just as big as ever. 

I love you everyday, every moment. Everything reminds me of you. I am scared of the future without you. I wish you were here so we could grow old together. I love you so deeply, in a way I see others don’t understand. I am torn between being grateful for that love and aching from the pain of that love. I hate that getting to see you again means never being a part of this world again. The trade is not right. I am still needed here. But, so are you. What do you think about what is happening? Do you agree with the trial over medical malpractice? How can we gain from your loss? I wish I could understand God’s plan the way you do now. I wish I could embrace you one last time. I know I will recover but not seeing you one last time will haunt me until the end of my days. 

I wear you now. You travel with me. I have to be your now. I represent you to our family. We are like two puzzle pieces. I cant be you but my edges match you. You are seen because I am marked with your form.”

Getting better and improving on my medication was a breath of fresh air. It gave me hope that there was a future for me. Transitioning away from breastfeeding to formula was hard. It was emotionally hard on me and physically hard on Judah. My kids all have significant dairy intolerance. I felt robbed. I felt angry. It was another way the doctor’s and medical staffs mistakes took from me. In their mind it was a singular mistake. They couldn’t see the ripple. The way their mistakes spread like a toxin, hurting everything in its path. It would take forever to come to grips with my grief and anger. I knew I had to forgive the people that contributed to his death, but I was not yet there. I will say the anger gained me nothing. Forgiveness would be freedom, freedom to move forward and heal. That still, however, felt like a betrayal of Hunter. I owed him that anger, as irrational as it sounds because he wasn’t here to be angry for what was taken from him. I was trapped by my pain, I would have to let it go.

The abyss inside my soul was still there. I wasn’t carrying his memory. I was consumed with it. My life drastically changed. I felt like I took on a  new roll with his death. I was, now, an only child. All of my parents hopes, dreams, and fears fell on me. I longed for another sibling to confide in. People often forget about the sibling. Everyone was consumed with my parents grief and my sister-in-laws grief. People note it, address it. Rarely do people think about the siblings. They sit on the side, in the shadows. Broken, never the same. They take on the weight of their lost siblings identity. It is such a pressure. Their grief hurts their parents. So, they feel the burden of needing to act like everything is okay. They feel the need to put on a brave face, when they are breaking inside. The stress and pressure to be all things to all people to fill in the void left by their sibling is suffocating. 

I am glad I chose to feel my pain. So many push their pain aside. They try to move forward because others think that they should. They feel pressure to be okay or to grieve the right way. I grieved terribly. It was all consuming and life taking but it was my way. I didn’t act how I believed I should, but I felt every aching moment. I am not glad for all that I went through but I am glad I grieved my best way. I can look back at the journey and see the fingerprints of God, sitting with in my pain all along the way.

The Shack

I read the book while I was in inpatient treatment. The Shack was a wonderfully helpful book. It allowed me to breach the subject of God for the first time in a long time. I had really pushed God out of my mind. The only time I thought about my faith was to become angry and resentful. I no longer felt love and joy from my faith. Instead, I felt deceived and robbed of the faith I previously had. I no longer could relate to worship music. It felt fake to sing songs of praise and the songs about difficulty made me angry. I couldn’t believe people would sing these worship songs, as I myself had done so many times before. They sang of being willing to suffer, and still rejoice. They talked of hope despite pain. They talked of walking through the valley of the shadow of death and God meeting you there. I just couldn’t relate or I didn’t want to sing such words, as they may come true and things would get worse. I wanted to look God in the face and scream at him. I wanted to physically wrestle with him, hitting him with all my might and crying out. But I couldn’t feel it either way. I had become numb as a form of self preservation.

The Shack, however, opened the door back to my faith. It was non threatening, as it was fiction. It is a story written by a man who was a missionary kid and experienced horrible abuse and suffering as a child. He had written the story, The Shack, due to encouragement from his family. His story telling made God and suffering relatable. Mackenzie Phillips is a father whose daughter, Missy, is kidnapped and murdered by a serial killer, while they are on a camping trip. The death threatens the superficial faith his does posses and threatens to tear his family apart. The Great Sadness overtakes him and he can’t see anything else besides his pain. One day, he gets a letter in the mail to return to The Shack where his daughters body was found. He believes it may be from the killer and he sneaks off to The Shack for the weekend, while his family is away. While at The Shack, he encounters God, the Holy Spirit, and Jesus. Each of them play a different role in his healing.

God appears to Mac as a middle aged back woman. God decides to appear this way because he is neither male nor female. However, Macknezie grew up with an abusive father and God meets him as a woman to take on a nonthreatening form that will bring him comfort. As well, it is to show Mackenzie that he only thinks he knows who God really is. He view of God has been warped and skewed by his life experiences. Mac spends time with the Holy Spirit, gardening and realizing that though the garden appears a mess, from above, it is been turned into a beautiful pattern. He just cant see it because it is not his design. Jesus spends time carving in the woodshed and then takes Mac to see The Judge. She helps Mac to see that he is angry because he believes his own ways are right and good. However, he is biased and selfish. She shows him that Mac needs to forgive the killer for what he has done. Mac disagrees and wants to tell God to judge this man harshly. As an example, He asks Mac to choose which of his own children should go to hell, as they have sinned against Mac through lying, anger, withholding love, amongst other things. Mac resists the choice, finding the suggestion bogus. The Judge forces him to decide, since Mac seems to want to tell God what to do in his own life. Mac, finally, decides that he would rather go to hell himself than allow his children to pay the penalty of their own sin, because he loves them all. The Judge helps Mac to see God in the same light. Both Mac and the killer are God’s children. God wants redemption for all, he wishes that none should perish. That is why he gave his own life instead. Mac realizes that when we hold onto pain, hold it against God, and think our ways are better, we become trapped. We get bogged down in our grief. We have to learn to trust that the Lord loves us and everyone else. When we forgive others and ourselves, we walk into freedom.

At the end of the weekend, God takes Mac on a walk to find Missy’s body. They bring her back and bury her in the wooden box Jesus had carved and place her in the middle of the beautiful garden the Holy Spirit has created. Mac is able to forgive the killer and trust that God is for him.

Mac returns home and on the way back is in a car accident. When he wakes up in the hospital, he finds out that the car accident occurred on a Friday night and he never made it to The Shack. He, however, refutes this story and shares what happened with his family. In the end, he follows the markings God showed him in the woods. They lead to Missy. As a result, the police find the other girls whose bodies the killer had hidden. The killer is caught as well. In the end, Mac is able to forgive the killer and rest knowing that his child is safe with the Lord. He realizes that God never left him and his faith is changed forever. He becomes a free man and walks in a lighter spirit, as a result of his time at The Shack.

This story was so life bringing to me. I had spent so much time being angry at God. I was determined that his way was wrong, and was showing him to be unloving toward me. I had decided to be the judge in my situation, as well. I didn’t want to forgive the hospital staff for killing my brother and I didn’t want to trust the Lord that he was doing what was best for my life. That anger had separated my heart from embracing the love of Christ. It had drawn me deeper into a place of darkness, where I could no loner hear from the Lord. The destruction my anger had caused threatened my very life. After surrendering to God’s will and trusting in his love for me. I began to have a renewed spirit. A peace returned to my heart and mind, and I was able to begin seeking the Lord again.

A New Arrival

April 14, 2016

“Positive ways to cope with stress! I am so thrilled by the coping skills I have learned. I want to continue to read, journal, color mandalas, paint, do yoga, take hot baths, be mindful, do meditation. I have got to find a balance between doing things independently and asking for help. I need to continue to use yoga to help me cope. The transition home won’t be easy while I use these skills, but it should get better.”

April 15, 2016

“Today was a much better day. My symptoms of blurry vision, muscle weakness, and tremors are nearly gone. We got to go outside, go to Starbucks, cook, and do art. It was a fun Friday! At dinner time, Brian surprised me by bringing Judah. I went bananas! I was so excited. What a truly blessed day.”

Yoga was such a vital part of my healing in the hospital. This was a new way of working out for me. It was not a fitness yoga but a meditative one. It was slow and focused. Meditation was a key component. It was nice to take time to focus on my core self without distraction. It was a pleasant feeling combined with releasing of hormones related to exercise. Those endorphins feel so good. As well, Shavasna was incredibly healing. It was such a peaceful and reflective time. Our instructor would position us and we would go into a deep meditative state. I would go into a state of prayer usually ending with crying. She would also walk around and massage us during this time. It was so healing. After I was finished, it was always like a burden had lifted. I highly recommend it as a coping skill and process toward healing.

The medication side effects were debilitating. It was unexpected. I found myself falling over into the wall. During yoga, I could not balance well at all. Even kneeling was a chore. The tremors added to the difficulty. I found it hard to eat my breakfast or write in my journal. My hands were unsteady and weak. The weakness prevented me from doing many of my daily exercises and participating in scheduled activities. It was not only challenging. It was scary. I was afraid, as they could be, they would be permanent. I remember leaving the hospital and being scared we would have to move because my thigh weakness wouldn’t let me go down stairs without falling. These symptoms, however, were only temporary. The cogentin kicked in and the symptoms faded. Eventually, I was able to wean off cogentin. They symptoms were only temporary.

Judah arriving was the lift I needed to make it through the end of treatment. My husband was with me everyday. It was hard, however, to watch so many of the patients with their babies. I wanted mine so badly. I loved him, and the separation was hard. I had even taken down pictures of my family. The pain of missing them exacerbated my symptoms. It was such a blessing to see my happy baby come through those doors. His snuggles were the best. It was a joy to even be able to nurse him. As the staff had an expert in psychiatric medications and breastfeeding. They tailored my treatment to support this. It wasn’t until later that I would have to stop breastfeeding all together.

My Mommy Used to Sing

This is another break from my story. I couldn’t bring myself to write today. Since I started this journey, I wanted to share my story and hopefully write a book. Today is a sneak peak at my other endeavor. I want to write a children’s book for families struggling with a depressed parent. This is my writing from today.

My Mommy used to sing,

She would sit holding me as we rocked back and forth, hand in hand

We would go on walks together on the beach, in the sand,

We would jump in puddles in the rain and laugh until we cried,

My mommy used to make me cookies with chocolate kisses inside,

The warm dessert melted in my mouth so warm inside of me,

My mommy would tickle my tummy as I laughed and squealed with glee,

We would climb up high together, making forts up in the tree,

I loved our time together, my mommy and me,

Now my mommy doesn’t sing,

She lays in bed and cries,

Her smile is gone, her laugh is to,

She sits in the dark, alone,

I try and make her happy, try to do what is right, I try to please her, to shine my light,

But she can’t smile anymore, she barely says a word, I wish I could make the hurting stop,

I think and pray for her,

I want her to smile again,

To give her my love, bring her back to me,

Then I know just what to do, I sit with her and she with me,

We snuggle close in the dark, I barely say I word,

I tell my mom I love her, and how sad I am she’s hurt,

She looks down at me, she takes my hand and then,

My mommy sings to me, our happy special song, then I see she needed me all along

Suicide and Miracles

Psalm 18:6 – “In my distress I called to the Lord, I cried to my God for help. From his temple he heard my voice, my cry came before him, into his ears.”

The days and weeks that followed were filled with constant anxiety and a deepening depression. I only ate Ben and Jerry’s ice cream. I was not taking care of my children. My countenance became downcast. The clouds rolled in and every thought was taken captive by the enemy. I rarely talked to God, except to ask him why this was happening. I wasn’t rejoicing in my suffering. I wasn’t looking to the Lord to be my rock. I had lost all hope. I hoped in nothing. When stress came, there was only one out. I began fanitsizing about cutting. This physical pain would replace my emotional but it was only ever temporary. My family locked up all of the knives and threw away the razors. I spent most of my time at counseling or psychiatrist appointments. It wasn’t until one overwhelming counseling session that it all came to a head.

Brian and I had argued on the way home. To this day, I do not even remember it. I was supposed to go inside and stay with my mom, when my husband dropped me off. Instead, I waited until he drove away and I ran. I had a suicide plan in mind. I would run two miles to my in-laws and finish the plan there. I ran as fast as I could. Okay, lets ben honest, there was some walking. I thought about the people passing me on the road, they had no idea what I was going to do. If they did, would they even care, would they even try to stop me. I arrived at my in laws and used their spare key to open the door. I went inside, intent to find the knives. I knew they had to be in their closet. All the time I had stayed with them, I never looked for the knives. Today, however, I was moving as if driven by a motor. I was not in control of my own thoughts or actions. I finally found a tiny hiding place behind the clothes. There it was, my box of treasure. I would choose my weapon carefully. I settled on a sharp pairing knife. I took it, my food, a water bottle, my devotional, and my cell phone and packed a bag. I knew where I was headed, I was not sure how long I would stay or when I would come back.

I went outside and began walking across the field to a row of tall trees. I had loved these trees for so long. They were in the middle of a field, and it was so peaceful. I wanted to be alone in the end. I wanted beauty and calm. It took about five minutes to get there. I laid everything out on the ground and debated what to do first. I decided to eat my food, as a last meal. Then, I started talking to God. It is funny how we can be angry and reject God when we are in pain. In the end, however, I cried out to him to help me, to save me. I needed a miracle. That is exactly what I would get. I pulled the knife out of my backpack and prayed. I said, “God, if you do not want me to kill myself today, I can’t see blood. Not a single drop can come out or I wont be able to stop.” I prayed to my brother as well, for him to be with me. I was filled with terrible anxiety. I didn’t want to die, but I felt there was no other choice. This pain had to stop. I had to stop hurting those around me. I thought everyone would be better off without me.

I began cutting, back and forth, back and forth. It was pain but not like I expected. It was a hot searing sort of pain. As I cut, I wept. I could even feel a presence around me. It was the Holy Spirit or an angel, I don’t know. The other presence, I am sure was my brother. He was kneeling, praying, petitioning on my behalf. I cut harder and faster. A mark started forming. It was brown, not red. There was no blood. I examined the knife, put it down and cut harder. Nothing, no blood, not one drop. After five minutes of trying my hardest, I stopped. God was saving me. It was time for me to surrender. I stopped what I was doing. I wept as I turned to the tree behind me. I started carving a cross in the tree, a cross with a heart in the middle. The cross was the only thing that had enough saving power to heal me. I needed to see it, to remember this Ebenezar of what God had done for me. In case you doubted the strength and sharpness of the knife, it was a carving a tree. When I was satisfied, I prayed and thanked God for sparing my life. I buried that knife there. The carving and the knife are there to this day.

Moments later, Brian pulled in the driveway. My mother must have called him because I was not home. I didn’t answer. He, then, began yelling that if I didn’t come he was calling the police. I didn’t want to get the police involved. So, I called him and told him I was only my way back. I gathered my things and trekked back across the field. I told him what happened and showed him my wrist. We knew it was time for greater help. Brian called the postpartum unit at University of North Carolina Chapel Hill’s Neurosciences Hospital. The unit was full, but I could come in and wait on a room. We decided that Brian and I would go to a cabin together and rest, while we waited. Two days into our stay, I knew I wouldn’t last much longer. My mother helped me buy clothes without and strings, and shoes without laces. I packed my things. Brian, my father, Judah, and I headed to North Carolina. I would spend the next two days going through the psychiatric ER and the general population floor. The experience would be traumatizing.

Journal Entry 2 – March 29 2016

“Yesterday was the lowest and one of the best days of my life. I love paradoxes. Yesterday started well by going to counseling. Brian and I had a two hours session. The first was just me and the second was both of us. I could see the light draining from my hubsand’s eyes. I felt that flame of passionate love fading. That, it turns out, is the thing I can’t live without. I always joke with him that his love is too great for me. That if it would calm down a little it would be okay. I learned, yesterday, that is not true.

We got in an argument in the car. Brian was so tired. I wanted to go get the kids with my mom but he wouldn’t budge. I got out of the van and sat on the side of the driveway, when he drove off. I walked to his parents house. I decided, on the way there, I may take pills or cut my wrists. I am not afraid of death. I want to see God, my brother, and be free of this earthly pain. I found the knives but not my pills. They have hid them well, props to them. I packed a small Cutco pairing knife, m+ms, a granola bar, a flashlight, some water, a sweatshirt, pants, my journal, devotional, and phone. I wasn’t sure what I was going to do. I knew, however, where I wanted to go.

I went out behind my in-laws to where I want to build our house. I love it there. There is a completely straight row of trees that I nestled into. I sat and I thought and I prayed. I was overcome by sadness. I was worried I was going to loose everything. I wanted to know what it felt like to cut through my flesh. Suicide is a choice. It makes you feel in control. It feels like you have a choice, when all other choices seem to have been taken away.

So, I took the knife and I slowly began cutting. It was a harp and high pitched squeal of pain. I pressed harder and harder, wanting to release the blood and pain. I wanted a scar. A mark to help me never forget this pain. A physical testimony to my internal struggle.I asked God to not let it work, if I wasn’t supposed to die. I could feel a presence with me. Weeping with me. Asking me to stop. I think Hunter was there with a heavenly spirit. Despite my attempts, it wouldn’t cut past the surface. At that moment, I buried that knife beside that tree, promising to never again try to kill myself. First, however, I carved a cross in the tree with a heart in the middle. Something profound happened there. God saved me. I can’t ignore that. It was profound and life changing. Mom mentioned I should tattoo over it. I tend to agree.”

Journal Entry 3 – March 30, 2016

“I listened to a hymn ‘Take My Hand Precious Lord.’ Yesterday was a hard day. It was difficult to process the days before. It was a hard and painful journey. You think that after you walk the path of potential suicide you would feel different. While I know a barrier has been broken, that my life was supernaturally saved, I still think of it in the dead of night. I think of the blade. The marks it has made. I can see it. It is a memory of the pain. As I have said, before, I believe this happened for a reason. I believe I will survive it, but I have my doubts too. I doubt because those dark moments become so dark. My pain becomes so deep so quickly. I feel that I may need to change my medications. One that is more mood stabilizing. I decided that I wanted to do inpatient at UNC Chapel Hill. Everytime, everyone told me to try traveling first. So, Brian and I are going to a cabin for a few days. It is wonderful. If I am not doing better after, I will do inpatient. Otherwise, we are going to Period Key in Alabama.

I just listened to the song ‘Blackbird’ and the song ‘I Need Thee Every Hour.’ My heart is so there. The anthem of right now is ‘It Is Well With My Soul.” Praying for healing and reconnection with my husband here.”

Then Came the Fog

Psalm 127: 3 – “Children are a heritage from the Lord, offspring a reward from him.

I returned home with my husband. We drove my brother’s old car. It was cathartic to do so. It was a long ride, it rained the whole eight hours. There were even seven accidents along the way. The tone fit the mood. Sullen. The next two weeks were filled with extreme grief. I couldn’t process what was happening. At the same time, I was trying to celebrate my other two children’s birthdays and prepare for the birth of my son.

At 39 weeks, I developed a significant headache on the way to get my children from school. I felt lightheaded and my vision felt blurry. I called my husband, as I suspected I was having an episode of high blood pressure. I went to Walgreens and waited for the pharmacist to come and take my blood pressure. He did and it was 140/95. He told me my blood pressure was fine and to go home. I was so angry. I was not a forty five year old man, I was a pregnant mother with typically low blood pressure. My brother had just died from medical incompetence, and here was another medical provider giving dangerously erroneous advice. I told him that a pregnant woman hypotension, a headache, and mildly elevated blood pressure should be asked to call her doctor. He still disagreed but told me I could do whatever I wanted. So, I headed to my Ob/Gyn.

They took my blood pressure and it was still elevated. They realized that this was a significant increase for me, because I usually ran 100/60. They had me rest and take it again. It was coming down but very slowly. Finally, they decided to go ahead and let me have the baby. I was relieved but terrified. The last time my brother went into a hospital, he died. Here I was being admitted, and trusting my life and my baby’s life to the medical professionals. I let everyone on the ward know what I had been through and warned them to double check all medication dosages. They were very careful and reassuring. The Lord was so kind to me that day. The nurse that I had delivered with, when I was pregnant with Samuel, was there to check me in and get me prepped. She had recently lost her father, and was able to give me such sympathy for my grief. Another family friend was coming off shift, she sat with us until I was taken to a room. It was such a comfort, and I knew that this was no coincidence.

They brought me to my room and got me prepped for an epidural. This is where I started to loose it. I believed I didn’t have the emotional fortitude to deliver a baby that didn’t slide right out of me. So, they had decided to give me the epidural before everything started to prevent the pain. Epidurals give me so much anxiety. I am even known to pass out during injections. I begged for something to sedate me somewhat while they did it. The anesthesiologist was adamant that I didn’t need anything. It all finally came to a head. I began crying hysterically and said, “My brother was just killed by medical malpractice in a hospital. I am terrified for you to touch me or inject me. Please give me something.” I must have scared him to death, because he began rushing around and getting medicine to help me. Once I was calm, they did the epidural and I was able to lay down for the night. Pitocin started at midnight. By 6 am, I was 4 centimeters. By 7 am, my waters broke. I knew this baby was ready to make an entrance. They checked me again and I was almost complete. Within ten minutes, we were pushing. I gave one test push and out he came. He was wrapped shoulder to legs in umbilical cord, and they had to try and get him back in partially to get the cord off. He was purple but screaming and healthy. He latched on like a champ. I could not have asked for a better delivery. It was God’s grace.

The next few weeks were great. I came home, we had family and babysitters to help. I continued to grieve but my precious Judah Hunter, we changed his name after my brother died, kept me going. It wasn’t until February that I knew something was wrong. Darkness came in like a fog over a lake. I told my husband I needed medication, and he doubted me at first. When I finally went to my primary care doctor, they put me on zoloft and a sedative for the anxiety attacks. I began having PTSD flashbacks of my brother bleeding, or in the casket, or deteriorating, in the morgue, or that first phone image of him dead. Then, the paranoia began.

I would walk down the street and I was hypervigilant. I could hear every sound. The most memorable one was the numbers on the telephone polls. You may have never noticed, but metal numbers hang on telephone polls. One poll in our neighborhood had loose numbers that would swing back and forth. The sound would literally put me on edge. When I would go for a walk, I would plan how I was going to dodge when the car behind me tried to run me over. In a movie theater with one other person, I began to plan how I would fight back when attacked. None of my thoughts were normal, or rational but I believed they were.

The Ob/Gyn and primary care doctors had all done as much as they knew how. They didn’t have anything in their arsenal to attack real deep post partum depression. They sent me to a counselor and a psychiatrist. I ended up being on klonipin, zoloft, propranolol, and ambien just to name a few. That time was so blurring and overwhelming my memories are jumbled. I moved out of my house, my kids drove me crazy. I loved them but couldn’t handle the stimulation. I moved in with my in laws to make sure I got adequate sleep. I would spend my time watching tv, reading, exercising, going for walks, or painting. I spent so much time sprinting during anxiety attacks, that I eventually couldn’t stand on my toes anymore. The time away wasn’t helping. I could feel myself continue to spiral as the grief overtook me.

Journal Entry 1:
“I am not doing so well these days. I feel so insufficient in all areas. I am not being a good wife, mother, grieving, or worshipping well. I feel lost and alone. I lost my person. It is hard to even write it, accept that it is true. I can’t, I don’t want to. I wrestle with not wanting to accept it, but not wanting to live like this forever. My mind is a constant blur of thought. I don’t even know what I am feeling most of the time. Everyone wants me to get better, to feel better. To be better, I have to accept Hunter’s dead. I can’t. I just want to curl up in my PJs and his sweater and wake up when it feels better, when it hurts less. When I don’t feel like he is gone, slipping away more and more from my reality each day. I just want to see him, to talk to him so bad it can take the air from my lungs. I feel like everyone will move on. Mom and dad will move on because they still have me. Amber and Harper will move on to survive. Then, there I will be 50 years from now, still missing him. Still without a brother. I am afraid of the rest of my life. I don’t want to live without him. This wasn’t how is was supposed to be. I took it for granted, assumed it would always be us. Never once in my life did I think of him dying. I’ve imagined my parents, husband, kids dying, how painful it would be. Never once Hunter. I want to do something to keep him here, to make the pain stop. I am out of ideas and left with debilitating, emotional pain. I have never been able to process emotion and I have to get better but I can’t. I don’t have the energy or capacity. It feels hopeless. I just want him back. just for a few minutes. Just to talk to him about his death. I need him to help me and he is gone.”

Rainbow Colors

1 Thessalonians 4:13-14 – “Brothers and Sisters we do not want you to be uniformed about those who sleep in death, so you will not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him.”

Since Hunter was a fallen airman, he was transported just as anyone killed in combat. When loading and unloading the plane, we would go down to the tarmac for a ceremony. It involved his family and friends watching as he was transported out of the hurst. The first time they loaded him on the plane, there was no grand flag over the casket or presentation, simply a box that said, “This End Up and Handle With Care.” It felt so inhuman. He was officially cargo, he no longer needed to be up with us, he was already gone. He no longer needed air, warmth, or safety. They loaded him on the plane as an honor guard from base presented the flags. We boarded the plane and flew to the next airport. We had a ceremony to unload him, this time they unboxed the casket. It seemed to honor him better, and I was grateful. This time, the honor guard was a group of tarmac workers. They had served in the military and wanted to present in honor of Hunter. These big burly men were highly respectful and emotional. It was a honor to have them join the ceremony. The USO took Hunter’s body while we had a lay over. Then, it was time to board the plane. This same group of men presented the flags again and the USO had provided a flag to cover the casket. Finally, he looked respected. I was heartbroken to see my brother this way, but honored he was being treated so well.

When we arrived in Washington, we had another large ceremony with honor guard. This time, our whole family was in attendance. I broke down as I rounded the corner and saw them all standing there. It was amazing to have such support, after being in such a small group during our grief in Alabama. I rode to my parents house with my aunt and uncle. Uncle Bruce told me a few things that have stuck with me until this day. He affirmed my grief. He reminded me that even Jesus wept at the death of Lazarus, he was going to raise him from the dead but he still grieved. As well, death comes for all of us eventually. All of the people in the bible that God healed or their life was spared ultimately would die. It made the loss not feel so difficult, knowing that we all eventually experience loss and pain. As well, my Savior knew the pain of grief. He hurt and it was okay for me to hurt too.

The next day was the viewing. The funeral home had done a lot to fix Hunter’s presentation, and he looked more like himself. Most signs of the autopsy were covered. He looked more like himself. It was a honor to experience the viewing. I did not really get emotional that night, except when my best friend from high school came. She had known Hunter so well, I collapsed in her arms. Besides that, I shook everyone’s hand and smiled when I could. This part was not for me. It was for them. They needed to see, they needed to know what happened. So, they came to support us and we them, as they viewed the remains of their friend, neighbor, and family member.

The following morning, we got to the church early. I wanted one last chance to say goodbye. I was the last one to have time with him alone. I told him how much I loved him, how much I would miss him, how terrible he looked after embalming, and how mad I was to spend the rest of my life without him. I placed one of my rings in his hands. Sending him away without a token to keep with him felt lacking. I felt like part of my soul was being ripped out. It was an out of body experience. During the funeral, I changed my mind about speaking. The rest of my family spoke, but I did not think that I had the strength. In the moment, however, I knew I would regret it if I didn’t stand up there for him one last time.

I had not planned a speech and had no idea what to say. Then, it came to me. My brother had a difficult childhood. He had grown up with ADHD, he was sensitive, and he was caring. That made it hard for him to identify with my father and with myself. We are strong, independent, minimally emotional, and driven. I was always brought up to think it was the best way to be. That type of personality made for highly successful people. My brother had taken a different path. He was not afraid to make mistakes, and he did. He partied, drank, smoked, smoked weed, lost jobs, became addicted to video games, and failed out of college three times. In the end, however, he was highly successful and made us so proud. He was a great husband and father, he was highly skilled and successful in his job, he was willing to sacrifice his life for his country, and he was a great friend. He had reached the peak of his existence. If my dad and I were black and white, my brother was a rainbow. My father spent a lot of time trying to blot out the color from his life, to give him the straight-laced successful life. He believed that is what was best for his child. In the end, Hunter taught us. He taught us that color is beautiful. Color can lead to success and that path can still be good. Life doesn’t only have one destination. It is full of twists and turns and curves, and all of them can lead to the good life. We should have been there for him more, been less judgmental, trusted the Lord to turn him into the man he needed to be. So, from now I, I resolve to add more color to my life. I will add more color to my children’s lives. We ended up learning something from him and we couldn’t have been more proud (for goodness sakes, a general even flew in to speak at his funeral).

We went to the graveside and another honor guard was present. These individuals come for free and dedicate their time. They carried flags, did a twenty one gun salute, played taps, and gave flags to the family members. I stayed with him that day. I sat by his graveside and watched them place him in the ground, clutching his flag to my chest and crying. I refused to move until the very end. I had met Hunter the day he was born and I wanted to be there the day he went into the ground. It took awhile, but I finally felt ready to leave when they sealed the casket. We continued on to the church to have a meal and visit. By the end of the day, we were worn out and empty. We thought we were grieving, processing it all. However, looking back, we were all in shock. We were going through the motions. The grief and trauma would come weeks and months later, as the dust settled and the hole in our hearts threatened to swallow like an abyss.