To All The Mothers Who Will Never Hold Their Babies on Mother’s Day

mothers-day-for-childless-anne-marie-miller

mothers-day-for-childless-anne-marie-miller

It’s really quite odd and blessed, the duality of joy and grief.

A few weeks ago, Tim and I experienced a new type of happiness for us…a new kind of joy. I woke up early on a Wednesday morning with the strong urge to take a pregnancy test, even though I wasn’t late for my cycle.

Five pregnancy tests later (I may be a little compulsive), we learned we were going to be parents.

Everything seemed complete and right. We fell in love with the poppy-seed-sized clump of baby whose DNA was being written with each passing day. We celebrated with our friends, our family, our students.

We met with our fertility doctor and some test results came back uncertain, but not concerning. I needed to start incorporating hormone therapy and that would increase my progesterone, giving the poppy seed a nice home in which to start growing. Within a few days, those levels went up to exactly what they needed to be. My HCG, however, wasn’t climbing as quickly as it should. We were told to watch for pain or symptoms that would indicate we needed to pay closer attention during these very sensitive first months.

The following Friday night around midnight, I awoke to pain. The pain that says, “Something isn’t right.” Being a classic hypochondriac (and at this moment, by the grace of God, a fairly reasonable one), I forced myself back to sleep telling myself, “It’s probably indigestion. Don’t worry. If you still feel this way in the morning, you can always get it checked out then.” I fell back asleep.

Saturday morning, the pain was worse. Tim said we needed to go to the hospital, and at this point, I knew something was wrong. However, I procrastinated. I told him, “The longer I just lie here in bed, everything is normal. The moment we get to the hospital, it could all be over.”

I wasn’t willing to accept this.

We arrived to the emergency room and said exactly what our fertility doctor said to say. A few blood tests later and the ER doctor walks in, sits down next to me, holds my hand and says, “At this point, it’s clear you have an ectopic pregnancy and you’re starting to miscarry. I’m sorry.”

He left, and Tim came over and reached around the bed rail, holding me. We both wept at the life inside me that was on its way to being born inside of heaven. We would not get to hold this baby in our arms or put this child to sleep in his or her crib. There would be no diaper blow outs, no baby showers, no ringing in the new year as a family of three.

The faith that came so easily was hard to grasp hold of as it floated away with our dream.

We went home, exhausted, making tearful calls to family and a few friends as we were unsure of the next steps. Hours later, our fertility doctor calls and says we need to meet her at the hospital at 7 pm. She needed to remove my left fallopian tube and the 200ccs of blood that drained into my abdomen from my tube’s slow rupture.

Returning to the emergency room, we saw familiar faces dressed in blue scrubs from that morning, each knowing what happened. With hugs and condolences from strangers, I was given some pain medication and wheeled back to the surgical holding area. Nobody else was having surgery Saturday night (they were probably eating and drinking and being merry), so it was only a matter of minutes before the anesthesiologists and nurses prepared me for my second reproductive surgery in the last year.

I drifted off into an hour-long sleep, waking up to kind words from a smiling nurse. Tim came in shortly after speaking to our doctor, confirming everything she suspected: the baby implanted in my left fallopian tube, caused it to start rupturing, and our doctor was able to safely remove my tube, and the blood, and I would be fine.

But define the word, “fine”… would you?

I stayed in the hospital overnight with Tim next to me. A first-rate medical team insured I was physically comfortable, and messages from friends and family helped ease the emotional pain.

In some drug-induced blur, I recalled how strange it was that I even took a pregnancy test that Wednesday morning. I had no reason to. I wasn’t late and I didn’t feel “pregnant” (whatever that means). However, if I wouldn’t have taken those tests and seen our fertility doctor, I likely would have written off the cramps I felt as normal cramps and the bleeding I had as a normal cycle.

I didn’t realize the severity of my symptoms and likely wouldn’t have until I lost so much blood I passed out. But because of that urge to take that first pregnancy test and the relationship we established with our fertility doctor, I was safe and healthy.

Even though our baby passed away and woke up on the other side of eternity, that doesn’t change the fact that Tim and I are still parents. Before the world was made, God knew this baby would exist. Somehow everything worked together perfectly and this baby formed.

We were able to be a mom and a dad to this little human for only a few weeks, and life is life, even when it finds itself removed from this earth.

The peace that wrapped us up before we knew anything was wrong still holds us, in spite of the grief we feel from the loss. Knowing that God knew this child since the beginning of time and knows each of us and has gone before us and sees the plan He has created for us gives us great cause to rejoice as we mourn.

It’s natural to feel as if two seemingly opposing forces can’t co-exist, like joyfulness and grief. But because they can, and they do, we know it is only because of His grace that miracles like this happen and we experience both joy and grief in their entirety, in chorus.

I never realized the tension of Mother’s Day when you’ve lost a child; I always heard it, but I didn’t understand. Now, in a poppy-seed-sized way, I do. So, if you are missing your own child, regardless of how or when he or she departed, know you are not alone, and I wish you the most honest of Mother’s Days. Nothing will ever change the fact that you are a mother.

Trusting God’s Design

I didn’t know much about personality profiles growing up. What I did know is after about 2 hours at church, 2 hours at a party, 2 hours on a school trip, 2 hours at a sleepover…I was done.

I wasn’t angry. I didn’t dislike people. I wasn’t bored. I didn’t want to check out.

But something inside me hit a threshold of sorts and I knew I needed to spend at least a few minutes by myself and recharge. Otherwise, my mind would get spacey, I’d become easily distracted, my speech would begin to falter, I’d even become more clumsy.

Over time, I learned although this could cause me anxiety, it wasn’t the anxiety I wrestled with.

It was simply my design as an introvert (and a far-reaching one at that).

introverts-unite-individually-american-apparel-unisex-fitted-tee-lemon-w760h760

I’m not too shy (usually). I love people. I love loving people. I adore hearing what journey they’re walking and what God’s doing in their lives. I’m good with people.

As someone who has been, for the most part, self-employed for the last seven or eight years, I find a lot of quiet time in my own routine with writing and speaking. Now, as Tim and I entered a new season of life, with him as a youth pastor at a growing church, I find my time alone growing shorter and shorter. I know God knows how I’m wired and I know He gives me strength for every situation, but I often battle the process.

It goes a little like this:

  1. YES! I am SUPER PUMPED about this youth retreat we’re having this weekend. Over thirty people are going! I love the girls we get to minister to and with. I LOVE seeing them learn and grow! Yay!
  2. Wait, how far do we have to drive?
  3. Hold up…lights out is how late?
  4. How much time will I have a chance to be by myself and recharge?
  5. My routine! My routine! Ack!
  6. Geez, Miller. That’s entirely selfish! You’re here to serve these students and your husband and these volunteers. SUCK IT UP. You’re not going to die from talking and listening to people for four days.
  7. Well, you’ll die a little bit. But it’s for Jesus.
  8. Really, Miller. SUCK IT UP. Good grief. You introverts are always overanalyzing and planning 78 of the conversations you think you’ll have and you actually won’t have…no wonder you’re exhausted already. This is NOT ABOUT YOU.
  9. (Hey, but God. You know you gave me a really empathetic and sensitive heart. You know this stuff is hard for me.)
  10. (Anne, I know. Just trust me.)

It seems like such a small thing to trust–God’s design. Knowing He fully created me, my fears, my flaws, and my strengths. In ministry, it’s been difficult to see being an introvert as a gift…I can see it as a curse. I want to wear shirts that say, “No, really. I LOVE YOU! Even if I don’t seem like I talk much.” Church events are usually social events. Loud. Talking. Games. Counseling. It’s a challenge for an introvert.

I’ve been looking forward to (and yet I’m still slightly anxious about) this weekend for a long time. It’s the first big event Tim and I get to lead (with the help of our wonderful volunteers!). I’m going to try and be EXTRA intentional about letting God fill in those places where I need Him to. I don’t want Him to change the way He created me, but I need to learn to trust the way He designed me in whatever season in which He calls me to minister.

(And, yeah. Feel free to pray for this retreat! We’d be VERY grateful!)

Look What God Did

Dear 25 year old Anne,

It’s me. Anne. Today you…me…we…? turn 35.

Holy Moses, has it been a decade?

I wanted to tell you four words: “Look what God did.”

25 year old Anne, 2005 was the year you landed in the hospital so stressed out and so hurt from working at a church. You were 40 pounds overweight, working 90 hours a week, and glued to people-pleasing. You thought doing things for God was the same thing as being with Him.

But it wasn’t.

And over the next two years, as you resigned from that church and healed, you wrote about your journey. You helped others.

God took that terrible mess and made it beautiful.

A few years later, you had to do something terrifying. You had to open up to a group of strangers who were investigating the man who sexually abused you 12 years beforehand. Memories you buried so deep emerged and you even went into shock as you recalled them. You put words to the actions of what a grown man, a trusted youth pastor, did to a vulnerable high school girl who just barely had her driver’s license.

It was like watching a horror film in your mind on repeat. But God gave you the words and the strength and the right medication and friends to help. The man was finally caught. His sins finally came to light. And God healed you and the shame and gave you ways to share your pain and His healing with others.

God took that terrible mess and made it beautiful.

When you turned thirty, everything was in full bloom. Life. Was. Good. You just finished writing your second book and still had a contract for more. You rode your bicycle across the flipping United States. California to South Carolina. You made friends in those two months that forever changed you and shaped you. And then the tragedy of divorce fell into your path. Grief swept you away but friends held on to you for dear life. It was a long, quiet, tough road of healing. And God was good even when everything was going bad. You learned this about Him then.

A few years later, a strong and Godly man with a passion for truth and holiness and loving others and serving everybody who comes into his path humbly and out of the abundance God gave him met you in the most lovely Michigan town. He won your heart, even though you were still timid to give it, afraid of being hurt again. Then, when you were afraid, God met you in a living room on a cold night and music played singing “night must end.” God gave you this moment and said, “You can trust your heart to him.”

So you did and you married this man on a beach at sunrise because you and he wanted to raise an ebenezer to the fact that God’s mercies are new every time the sun rises.

God took that terrible mess and made it beautiful.

And now, here you…me…we? turn 35. You live in west Texas and you pretend you’re Tami Taylor from Friday Night Lights and you’re minutes away from the church where you got baptized thirty years ago. Life has come in such a full and glorious circle. You’re surrounded by new friends, loving neighbors, and people who pray with you with babies on their hips and in the midst of toys in the kitchen floor. You sing praises to the God who took those messes and made them beautiful surrounded by the voices of others you call your church–your friends, your small group. Twice a week you get to see a few dozen teenagers who are uncovering the depth and breadth and faithfulness of God and it’s so exciting to watch your husband lead them and their eyes light up with every moment of new truth revealed to them through your Word.

God took that terrible mess and made it beautiful.

So, as another ten years passes and the wrinkles on your face grow deeper and gravity continues to pull you down, as people come in and out of your life and as you come in and out of theirs, even when those you love are dying or are sick, are broken and are hurt, know that God is good because God is good. He is not good only because He redeems; He is good because He allows things into our lives that need to be redeemed.

All this to say, and always say, and never stop saying to a world who always needs to hear it:

In everything, in every moment, God took it all and made it beautiful.

Look. What. God. Did.

Managing Anxiety and Making Friends

The fine folks at Christianity Today had me write a little bit about the challenges of community when you’re struggling with mental illness (or when you love someone who has a mental illness). Enjoy!

With mental illness, community becomes more challenging… and more essential.

I was a high school freshman when I had my first panic attack. Heart palpitating and lightheaded from heavy breathing, I laid down and tried to take deep breaths, but my lungs didn’t want to cooperate.

What was happening? Was I having a heart attack? My heart kept pounding and my head kept spinning, and I wondered what they’d say the next day at school if I died. I could see the memorial page in the yearbook. Why couldn’t I take a decent school picture? I’d forever be remembered as the girl with a spiral perm and uncooperative ‘90s bangs. This fact only worsened my condition.

My dad comforted me by telling me my “irrational fear” would go away, and it did—for a little while. But then it came back and stayed, 20 years of constant panic.

Some days here and there, I’ll find mild relief, but I’m almost certain it’s here to stay. Most of the time, I’m functional and happy, and my anxiety lays dormant in the chemicals and synapses in my mind, hushed by medication that knows when it starts getting too loud.

Even on the quiet days, my anxiety can put a wall up around me, whispering (or shouting) how it’s not safe to go outside, how I’m better off alone. But I know God desires more for me. He wants me to have community, real friends. People I can lean on and people who can lean on me.

No matter who you are, cultivating friendships is a difficult process. As our developed societies have become more independent, we’ve felt the effects of disconnectedness on such a deep level, we’re afraid to admit it at times. Even though we have screens and pixels to connect us to anyone, anywhere, any time, we’ve never felt more lonely or unhappy in any decade in modern history. We’re surrounded by people everywhere we go—both physically and virtually—yet the need to feel that we belong somewhere is undeniably palpable.

As if the symptoms of an anxiety disorder aren’t damaging enough, coping with any mental illness (to name just a handful: depression, bipolar, ADD, and obsessive-compulsive disorders) can add to the challenge of finding community.Real community. Friends you can be vulnerable with. People you let into those places in your life that seem unbearable…

[[Read the rest of the article here.]]

Having a Plan for Coping with Anxiety

Anne Marie Miller, Lake Michigan 2012

It was 3:12 am and it felt like what I imagine a heart attack feels like.

If I hadn’t felt this tightness hundreds of times before in the last 20 years, I probably would have been concerned, but it was a familiar foe. Rarely does it visit while I’m sleeping, but last night it did. I took some deep breaths, told my brain what was happening (because brains are only wired to know evidence – my racing heart and shallow breathing – not reason.)

“You are starting to have a panic attack. There is no reason you should be this afraid. You are healthy, you are safe. This feeling will pass in no more than 20 minutes, and then you will be asleep again.”

My brain somewhat bought the explanation.

The next step? Meditation.

In my mind, I pulled up a snapshot of Lake Michigan, which feels like the ocean, where there is so much space and air, and calming, rhythmic waves.

I repeated what I’ve been repeating for 10 years when I feel a panic attack coming on: “He keeps in perfect peace whose mind stays on Him.”

And at some point, I fell back asleep.

Anxiety sucks. There is no poetic way around it.

Having a plan for when your brain wants to take control is key.

Depression, Prozac, And Where I Come Out As a Nerdy Girl

If you’ve been around these parts for any amount of time, you know I’ve wrestled with seasons of anxiety, depression, and even a time where a shrink thought I was bi-polar II (I wasn’t). One of the crazy (ha!) things about mental health is it’s really difficult to diagnose and if you’re serious about getting healthy (Note: Not fixed, not medicated, but healthy), you agree to subject yourself to a myriad of paths to find that health. Paths like:

  • A commitment to be healthy physically – heal thyself. All the stuff you hear about eating well and exercising truly plays a large role in your mental health. Will it cure you? Maybe. Maybe not.
  • A commitment to be healthy spiritually – this is so when those uneducated folk say you just need to pray more, you can, with confidence and tact, tell them to shut up. But seriously, spend time with God. He wants to be with you in these seasons.
  • Medication – sometimes with horrible side effects. It is a roulette. I’ve been on medication that made me hallucinate and have paranoid thoughts before. Meds that made me have MORE panic attacks. Meds that made me gain weight. Meds that made me have brain zaps. Meds that numbed me out where I couldn’t laugh or feel anything. I’ve also had meds that work wonderfully. When you find those medications, you praise Jesus like there’s manna raining down from heaven above..

I had my first panic attack at the age of 14 and a roller coaster of neuro-transmitting madness in my 20s. Things mostly balanced out in my 30s until the last few years when I thought a brief spell of sadness and apathy would resolve like it normally did.

But it didn’t.

We moved to Lubbock a little over a month ago and within the first couple of weeks, the depression only intensified. Thoughts of harming myself crept in and wouldn’t go away. I made an appointment with a doctor and after a really good conversation (tip: doctors who listen are seriously the best), I started on 10 tiny milligrams of prozac – an SSRI that helps treat depression, anxiety, and obsessive thoughts.

My previous experience with SSRIs have been terrible. Literally. Terrible. So I was nervous to start, but I knew I couldn’t not. I had to jump back into that game of medication roulette.

This time, I decided I would get nerdy about it. If I went back to the doctor in a month and he asked how I was doing, I would probably think of how I felt overall in the last few days.

I wanted to see if prozac was really working for me, and if so, how well. I needed quantitative data.

So I charted. I pulled out my spreadsheet and I got to work.

I took six positive mental health characteristics (like energy and optimism) and four unhealthy characteristics (like apathy and anxiety) and rated them on a scale from 0 to 10 (0 being “not experiencing”; 10 being “fully experiencing”) and I went to town. Each night I would simply note what number I felt best represented how that day went with 10 of those characteristics.

Three weeks in, I have some cool looking charts that are providing me (and my doctor) with some good information.

Screen Shot 2014-10-20 at 10.14.28 AM

 

You can click on it to see it full-size.

The top chart represents those healthy characteristics and the bottom chart represents the unhealthy ones. The hope is to see the top chart slowly climbing up while the bottom chart is steadily kerplunking down.

A few interesting observations which I wouldn’t have noticed if it weren’t for a visual aid:

  • About every 7th day I have a rough day. You can see the top chart spike down and the bottom chart punch up.
  • While most of the healthy qualities are increasing and the unhealthy are decreasing, my anxiety is still pretty consistent, with it really going through the roof during certain times of the months when my hormones are crazy.

I’ve had people contact me before about their mental health, asking if it was a sin (no), if medication helps (usually), and how do we know if it’s working (here you go). Being aware (but not overly aware) of where we are weak and where we are strong and how we are changing by making healthful choices can truly provide huge relief where you’re struggling and where it seems hopeless.

You’re not alone, you never are, and you’re not “less than” if you feel your life is caught up in a whirlwind of seemingly uncontrollable anxiety, sadness, fear, loss, pain, or confusion. Speak about it. Speak openly about it. Ask for help. People want to help. Ask for prayer. People want to pray. Just know – even though you feel alone and those voices in your head are confirming it – you are not.

You are loved because you are His and because you are His, we all belong to each other.

Much love,

Anne Marie

 

Wanting God in the Midst of Imperfect and Crazy

Today I’ve asked my sweet friend Lisa to share on my blog. Because she has good things to say. Good things that resonate with my heart and soul and challenge me and beat me up in the best way. My life is usually crazy and always imperfect and I can choose to either embrace it with a bitter heart and want it all to be easy or I can want God. Lisa talks about this in her new book I Want God  and gives us a little glimpse of how deep this message goes in today’s blog post. I hope you love it!

***

I will never forget the day in college when my friend asks me to describe God, the way I see Him.

It catches me off-guard, this question I have never been asked before.

Sitting on the cold, community laundry room floor, I answer, in a clumsy, pedestrian way that is small, but honest.

“I think He has nice eyes,” I say, my own filling with tears.

I’m much older now and my college days seem far away, but I still picture this same Jesus.  I’ve learned and grown and studied since then and yet, it is what about Him, I see.

I know He is big.  I know He is all powerful and holy and can take me out in one breath.  And yet, He is everyday to me.  He is lover.  He is best friend.  He is humble and perfect and laughs at my quirks and wipes my tears with fingers I can’t see.

And as His Church gets bigger and glossier and the craziness of making celebrities out of people who preach is the constant pull, I often retreat into my thoughts of who God is and what He is all about before I, myself, go mad.

And it always makes me want Him.  Just Him.  It is where I find rest.

[Tweet ““The only way I know to get better is to focus on God harder.” ~Lisa Whittle, I Want God”]

It’s not just the world and the Church that drives me crazy.  It’s me, too.  It’s my own stubbornness and need to be valued and the mental war of wanting God to make sense but knowing He likely won’t.  It’s the constant rub of wanting to be comfortable and yet, the desire to throw my contented life out the window so I can do the brave, big thing.

And right before I get too disillusioned, ready to throw in the towel I remember these things:

  • It is the wanting of God more than anything else, His power within us that makes us brave.
  • It is wanting God most that helps us love, keeps us together and keeps us humble.
  • It is the wanting of God that will drive us to stay the course, keep it real, accept ourselves, dive in, even when it’s hard and unclear.

The world will always be crazy.  The Church will sometimes get it wrong.  We will war with our flesh that tells us to be noticed and famous and our spirit that reminds us to become less – passionate to live our dreams one day, scared to death to move at all, the next.

But we can choose God.  We can pursue God.  We can long for God and lock eyes with Him.

And it will keep us sane.  And steady.  And ready for the day we can ditch all this imperfect mess and not want anything else anymore.

**

Lisa Whittle is an author and speaker, a lover of God, family, and the Church. Her high anticipated 4th book, I Want God: Forever Changed by the Revival of Your Soul, will release October 1. Lisa’s honest, bottom line approach is her trademark, as she points people to a passionate pursuit of God. In addition to speaking, media appearances and writing for Women of Faith, Catalyst, Relevant and various other publications, Lisa has done master’s work in Marriage and Family and is a part of the MOB [Mothers of Boys] Society writing team. Lisa is a wife and mother of three, plus one fluffy dog, residing in North Carolina. You can find her on Facebook, follow her on Instagram, Twitter [@LisaRWhittle] or Pinterest, and visit her ministry community at www.lisawhittle.com.

Shake the Dust :: Letting Go

Sometimes things don’t go as planned.

Things fail.

Health.

Friends.

Love.

School.

Work.

Expectations rise and fall.

Rise.

And fall. And fall.

(and rise?)

Someone says or does something (or perhaps nothing?) and it opens up scars from the past

Scars that say you’re not good enough

Or that you’re dumb

Or not worth it

Or too much…

I’ll never forget the first time I heard Anis Mojgani perform Shake the Dust

years and years and years ago.

Recently, my fingers found a scar not quite healed

and those voices

those LIES

came pouring down like gasoline on my open wound.

Stop it.

Stop it.

Stop it.

I said.

Let it be.

Let it go.

Shake the Dust

I heard it rattle in my mind.

And I hope that no matter what voices you may hear,

No matter who you are,

What you do,

What you look like,

Or how broken you are,

Shake the Dust. [watch the video below or if you don’t see one, click here…]

****