The Moon of Fair and Prayer

I’ve had this post in my head and heart now for almost two weeks. I’ve sat down to work on it no less than 20 times in those weeks. Let’s call it the endless to do list of building my wholehearted empire, denial, grief, or fleeting creativity, it has not been penned until just now.

In which, I completely trust, this is when the words will be gifted to me.

It all started on a drive home two Sunday nights ago after a great dinner with some of our chosen family. Dinner conversation with three of my favorite boys about the movie Wonder, who their best friends are (I made the cut for Evan, that boy knows his audience), and then too much yelling and laughter about which girls they all like.

“Look at the moon,” I said to Chad as we were driving home much too late for a Sunday evening.

“Whoa,” he said with a catch of awe in his voice.

“Have you ever seen it like that before? The half on the bottom and not the side?”

“No. Kind of weird.”

“And, beautiful,” I reply.

We spend the rest of the drive in silence with worship music playing – grief and God wrestling in my head and heart.

My day had started with church, where as usual, I cried during worship, mostly tears from undone-ness in gratitude. Then, after weeks off due to tour and TEDx, I served in the 3rd to 5th grade room, where I ran the 3rd grade boys small group. The verse for the week was, 1 Thessalonians 5:18:

Give thanks no matter what happens. God wants you to thank him because you believe in Christ Jesus.
— 1 Thessalonians 5:18

We began by discussing the worst things that could happen at home, school, and their sports or school activities . Most of their answers centered around peeing or pooping their pants or barfing, because… boys. Then we got to the tough part, how to still be grateful even when you’ve shit your pants at school.

Their answers of gratitude were so refreshing. Nothing from comparison or scarcity like so many of us adults do. Just true gratitude of what good could come from pooping your pants at school – like a new pair of pants and getting to talk to the really nice nurse.

Gratitude even in the shit.

It’s the holidays.

It’s no secret I struggle with the holidays.

Last year we only put up a tree. I managed to string lights on it, and still couldn’t bear ornaments because… grief.

They’d be five this Christmas.

How much fun would that be?

Chad asked if we could decorate just a little more this year and said we could go get a new tree of my choice if that could help. We settled on a small pencil tree, pre-lit and with ornaments already attached.

Because, that is where I’m at this year, and it’s progress.

And, I only cried in Menards once.

That weird half moon, with the half somewhere it didn’t really seem to fit and yet it shined brilliantly for all the world to see, felt like looking at me that night. Most days, especially during the holidays, I feel like that moon, never fitting in, a little off, and still brilliantly shining.

The moon is always a reminder of God’s grace for me, as are the sunsets, sunrises, basically anything nature.

But that night was different, maybe it was the song playing on the radio, saying something to the effect that it is all for God’s glory…even the hard, dark parts, even the shit I suppose.

When you don’t get to parent your children here on earth and grief is a part of your daily life, the holidays are hard for obvious reasons. It also really makes you wish that people would remember what Christmas is really about.

There is also another reason it is difficult though.

There are a ton of adorable pregnancy and birth announcements, and lots of them say what a miracle it is and how God answered prayers. Not much unlike the miraculous conceptions of Jesus and John, because sometimes even the Advent reading plans can be tough.

I love seeing the joy of my loved ones’ families growing. And, the enemy will never miss a chance to have that small voice torture me.

You didn’t pray hard enough.
You don’t deserve to be a mom.
You weren’t faithful enough.
You’re being punished.
It’s not fucking fair.

Here’s the thing, I know better now.

This is not about fair, or really prayer, for that matter.

Sure, God hears our every prayer. Hell, our prayers can even change His mind I think. At the end of the day, though, I don’t get to say which prayers of mine He answers. And, I for sure, don’t get to say how He answers them.

Now to the toughest part, because all you have to do is read the news to get a sense of how unfair it can feel that Chad and I don’t get to be parents in the traditional sense of the word and a bunch, like a freaking bunch, get to. Bottom line, fair or unfair, that shit is above my pay grade. I doubt I will ever get the answer as to why I don’t get any and why someone else I have deemed undeserving gets four. I know my clarity and full healing is waiting for me when I get to meet Jesus face to face one day.

In the meantime, I praise God for giving His only Son for us. I know in Him, because of Him, and through Him I am whole, loved, okay, and a message of grace for this world.

As I have wrestled with so much of the new teachings that have been brought into my life and reading more and more scripture, and wading through the glittered difficulty of the holidays, I was brought back to the moon just this past Sunday, a week after the ‘little off’ half moon.

I remembered just before bed that I had to go see the Super Moon. In my pajamas and socks, I ran out to the driveway to see the moon, something I actually do on a pretty regular basis. At first, the big, bright full super moon was behind a veil of thin clouds. Even veiled a bit, it still reflected it’s shining glory onto everything.

With a deep breath, I prayed,

Lord, Help me to lay it down for good this time, I don’t want this anymore. I know it was, and is, fair. Because you are good and I am your loved daughter. My sadness and grief can coexist with my trust in your fairness, because when I live in the permission of The And, I honor you, me, and them. It is all for Your glory, and you love me so much, it is also for mine.

And then, the clouds floated over the moon to reveal a perfect opening for all His glory to shine in and on.

My story is hard and it is beautiful. It is my message of grace and I will never stop loving it, trusting it, and speaking it.

It has nothing to do with fair.

It is the story He has written for me and for Him.

And, graciously, it has given birth to me.

~~~

Exciting adventures: My new newsletter is short, sweet, and full of great content, make sure to sign up here. I have a new prayer plan over at Reflective Prayer, use coupon code JustinePrayer for 15% off! And finally, my Rising Ever Upward for Network Marketers video course is now available!

They See Us

Said to me from my brown leather couch in my sun-drenched office,

I can't even go to church.

Written in a social media post,

I can't go to the baby shower.

Shared in a blog post,

I can't believe she's pregnant...again.

From my own mouth,

They are everywhere.

In the journey of infertility these are all statements we probably have said out loud or to ourselves. I hear them in my office all the time. I also have no doubt I said them to myself in the midst of our trudge through hell a few years ago.

Only now, a few years into Ever Upward and working with clients through and after this journey, are they the phrases that make me the saddest.

When we are fighting, what at times feels like a losing battle, to have babies we often find being around children too difficult. We find it so difficult that many of us cut them completely out of our lives.

We cut out the very thing we are fighting so hard for.

But, this isn't the saddest part.

When we cut out all the children from our lives, we also shame, blame and deny, the mother we are so desperately trying or wanted to be.

We do this out of self-protection. It is natural and I suppose works decently for most of us. But I am finding and discovering that perhaps it is really only help for the most part because it is avoidance and numbing.

Both of which are short lived and not part of this wholehearted life.

Because the fact is, there is no way around this pain.

Despite our best efforts to numb and avoid, we can't. We simply, albeit not easily, must feel it, feel it all, move through it and find our ways of moving forward into our sacred truths.

Admittedly I've been on my own struggle bus of darkness this December. The other night when I was seeking support from my friend Sam I realized something else about the danger of numbing and denying our motherhood. The kids in my life, my chosen children, see me. They truly see me. They see me always, with curiosity and unconditional love. Many days I walk this earth feeling invisible, especially during these holidays. I don't have kids who are excited about Santa. I don't have every weekend booked with the Polar Express, Breakfast with Santa and basketball or soccer games. Instead, this year I am struggling like hell to even finish decorating my Christmas tree. But my chosen children, they see me. Which also means I need to be around them.

 
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No matter where you may be in this journey of infertility and loss, hell even if it is a different, yet so much the same, journey, I want you to ask yourself: Am I avoiding and numbing from the very thing I miss and want so much? 

Chances are the answer is yes.

To which, I guess, I'd like to challenge you a bit. What if choosing the joy in it is the very thing that helps us not completely lose ourselves? What if we changed the meaning we attach to it?

We can either choose to think of being around kids as the constant reminder of what we don't have. How sad, mad and unfair that can feel. Or we can choose to love them hard, laugh with them and invest in them. Because in that love, laughter and investment we honor, not only, the mother we want to be, we also we honor the mother we are.

A Bare Tree and an Aching Heart

"You ready?" my parents asked me. "I have to get a picture of the glasswing butterfly first," I replied. "Chad saw it a few minutes ago."

The butterfly aviary is one we are familiar with as we visit it every single year we go to Branson. In fact it was a year ago that I met Julie who then sent me information on the glasswing butterfly after reading my blog.

The glasswing ,well and the monarch, are my mascots. Spirit animals? Whatever, their existence helps me to survive my own.

The air is cooler than normal in the aviary and not as humid as it usually is, which also means the butterflies are not as active that day. We had already had a huge surprise when we first got there when I spotted my coloring journal Taking Flight. I had completely forgotten they sold it there in the gift shop.

I love butterfly houses but I also knew I needed pictures to use for this very blog, so it was both work and pleasure, the always delicate balance of my life. I had all but forgotten about the glasswing until Chad finally spotted it a few minutes prior.

Every single time I would get close enough for a shot her transparent wings and tiny body would become a blurred flit in the air challenging our eyes to keep track of her. Her frantic movement reminded me of my life these last several weeks. I have been busy, busier than I have ever been. Yet, I have also tried to stop referring to it as busy because that can become such an excuse for so many of us. I am too busy, has become like nails on a chalkboard for me

It is a fact, we are all busy. Life will never get unbusy.

We must, I think, choose our busy.

Much like the crazed glasswing butterfly, most days I feel like a crazed flit in the air that no one can catch.

There was a difference though, this butterfly lived in a home decked in Christmas joy of music and decorations. I, on the other hand, have yet to put up a single snowman or glitter garland. Christmas is less than 20 days away and I don't have one bit of Christmas jolly in my house. My excuse has been my crazed business and being out of town so much.

Or so I thought.

Then yesterday on a gray and chilly St. Louis morning God stopped me in my tracks. As my gigantic-never-gets-all-the-way-done to-do list ran through my head I caught a glimpse of movement in the backyard. At first it was only the whites of their tails that caught my eye against our tree line that has gone mostly brown already.

Three deer standing in a row.

Three.

My three.

They all stop to look at me in their statue-like grace as I step onto a chair to get a better view of them through our back windows. I find myself taking a deep breath; a paused, deep breath in spite of my looming to-do list and every passing minute that nothing is getting crossed off of it.

My chosen busy lately has been a ton of amazing travel, continuing to see a full-time case load of clients (including doing more Rising Strong intensives, which I love), working on the second book proposal and building my Plexus team.

It is all stuff I absolutely love and wholeheartedly believe in.

It is on top of that chair seeing God's not so gentle reminder of my three, that I realize I have also been busy because I am passing through another damn holiday and looming due date without my three.

We are "supposed" to have four year olds this Christmas. Four year olds in their matching Christmas jammies giggling with magical excitement as they leave a note, cookies and milk for Santa and sprinkle glitter on our front yard for the reindeer.

 
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Instead, I tortured our three little dogs with their own Christmas jammies for this year's holiday card.

I got the shot of the glasswing butterfly, because I am one determined woman running three businesses with the frenzied grace like a glasswing butterfly.

I still haven't crossed everything off that damn to-do list, and probably never will. I will keep on in this wholehearted hustle knowing I am always enough (or at least telling myself that).

With God's gentle, for now reminder, I will stop and feel the forever longing joy. I know better than to think I can busy myself enough to forget about the grief of my life.

They would have been four. I miss them and wonder always. I am thankful and I am sad.

The holidays only make all of the above more palpable, no matter how long that to-do list is.

Be still my child, He must constantly remind me of.

As I finish up this piece, I sit with my three little jammie-less dogs flanked on both sides of me, our noses filled with the slightest scent of pine.

You see, God, also gave me Chad. Last night after my dinner out with friends I walked into the house to see an oddly shaped, delicious smelling and plain as day Christmas tree. "You said you wanted a real one," Chad said with love in his eyes.

My eyes filled with tears, "I did."

He looks back at me with confusion, as to him it is only a tree and a nice gesture for his wife.

 
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To me it is a tree that reminds me that my house is missing a few four year olds to help me decorate it, and so it is also one more thing on that never ending to do list.

I am finding you never quite know how grief will hit you year to year, especially with the holidays or special dates. What I do know is that we cannot busy ourselves enough to forget about it.

It is a huge part of us, and always will be. I am honored and grateful to be their mother, all within my forever longing for them.

So I guess the question really is: How long will the tree stay bare?

Not as long as my heart will ache.

Penned Musing: The Red Hat and White Beard

He looked out into the crowd of families into the sea of anticipatory joy and stressful frustration. It is the day before Christmas and they had been waiting much longer than any child should be expected to wait nicely in line just to sit on his lap and ask for their Christmas dreams. Sitting in his chair surrounded by the red and green of the holiday season with the sounds of bells and Christmas music filling his ears he notices the undercurrent of rustling shopping bags and the dings of cell phones. He takes a deep breath of the pine and Christmas cookie sweetened scented air when he notices the slightest tinge of baby dampness left by the chunky infant he held for photos while her parents gleamed with such delight he couldn't help but feel his own longing be ignited.

The longing of the grandchildren he has yet to hold and spoil. His longing that is only intensified by the painful longing of his daughter who has yet to be able to birth a child and call herself a mother. He looks down into his empty lap careful to stop the tears from falling down onto his rosy cheeks and into his white beard.

Instead, in this moment, much like most moments in his life, he chooses the love-filled joy because in this choice he honors these lost grandchildren who have yet to breathe the Christmas air. He has learned through this journey there is room for both; the longing grief and the loving joy. He is even more sure of this lesson as he gazes back out into the line of families waiting with equal amounts of Christmas joy and Christmas stress.

He takes a deep breath, musters a smile from deep inside from both pain and love and welcomes the next family up,

Ho, ho, ho Merry Christmas!

 
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Four Days Before Christmas

December 21st for most people marks just four days before Christmas. The mad rush to the grocery store to get all the ingredients for Christmas dinner and the sweet treats we all love. The last minute shopping, braving the stores filled with people, for those gifts that just came to mind. And, the finalizing of the schedule of when and where we must be and who we all need to see. December 21st  for me is all of the above plus the yearly reminder of our final due date. The last embryo of our IVF journey, should our baby had taken solid footing in Michelle's womb, would have been due today.

 
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It is a day I remember all three of them the most, probably because of the holiday season.

A day forever scarred on my soul with the wonderings of who they would have been and who I might have been.

A day filled with longing acceptance.

A day I honor them and myself.

More than ever before in this lifelong journey I feel myself embracing what can only be described as the complicated gray of planting my feet firmly and yet spreading my arms to soar and to receive.

I am finally letting go of the hustle to be seen and instead am truly embodying my work to know I am not invisible; standing my sacred ground in all of who I am and knowing He sees, knows and loves me most. It has only been with this work in letting go that my voice has begun to roar again, allowing continuing healing and advocating in a way that does not leave me abandoned.

Our babies would have been three this year, and I don't think it is at all a coincidence that my grief and my ever upward journey is much like a lovable and very opinionated threenager; oscillating between stubborn temper tantrums and funny, loving cuddles.

And so this day, my three babies, I speak about you, breathing your life into this world. And I love you always with the longing yet full heart of a mother with empty arms. Thank you for changing me, thank you for making me a mother.

A Convoluted Christmas

I know I am not alone this Christmas; I am not the only woman who's heart is filled with joy yet sorrow. I know I have millions of fellow warriors in my club; the club of infertility. And, yet a significant part of me feels very alone.

I didn't get to play Santa into the wee hours of the morning doing last minute wrapping and assembly. I wasn't woken up by excited children at the crack of dawn to see what Santa brought.

I feel sorrow.

Last night I did get to attend a beautiful Christmas service without being distracted by a child on my lap. Last night I got to eat out at my favorite nice restaurant, share a bottle of wine with my husband and have adult conversation and connection.

I feel joy.

I scroll through social media to see all the matching pajamas, the smiles in front of the tree surrounded by wrapping paper everywhere and pure Christmas joy. I Skype all of my chosen children to see what Santa brought them and to see them open the gifts we sent.

I feel sorrow.

 
 

The dogs play with their new toys and make a us laugh as they do every single day. I cook for the family Christmas we have this afternoon and for our own Christmas dinner tonight. And, I know tonight we will get to play games, have some more wine and have this Christmas to continue to figure out what our Christmases will look and feel like without children for the rest of our lives.

I feel joy, I feel sorrow, I feel it all.

I am struggling with how convoluted it all feels. I feel the freedom and less stress perhaps without having children at Christmas time. And yet, I feel so sad and maybe even a little empty without them. I can feel the miracles that are Christmas, including my three little ones looking down on me. And yet, I feel the ever upward clarity that I am okay.

I guess, I just feel it all. I am not sure what to do with it. I am not sure how to communicate it. And, I am not sure what it all means.

Our second Christmas without our should have been babies, and yet our second Christmas defining our family traditions and finding our ever upward; parts just us and parts childfull.

And, the permission to embrace it as it is, to practice my recovery more than ever today and to own it; sorrow, joy and all.

My Child-full Christmas: Making My Own Christmas Magic

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Many childless couples choose to travel around the holiday season. They get out of town and enjoy the sunshine and beach or go hit the slopes somewhere far away from the holiday crowds and all the traditions that center around children. Perhaps there will be a day when Chad and I are drawn to this way of spending the holiday season, but for now I’m still not quite ready to miss out on being a part of the childlike wonder of the magic of Christmas.

This afternoon we attended Christmas Eve service (my first ever) at a new church. I hope to make this a tradition for us as a family, just Chad and I.  For the first time, in forever, I finally felt at peace in the church setting, the music was beautiful and the message powerful, and I finally didn't feel so alone.

This season has been filled with reminders of this sense of feeling alone. A few weeks ago, after a particularly difficult weekend of feeling like I had nowhere to fit in and feeling left behind as a woman who isn’t a mother, Chad came up with a brilliant idea for a new Christmas tradition with our friends’ children. This will be our first year of having our own Christmas celebration with our friend’s kids. We bought gifts for the boys (our closest friends all seem to have boys, 3 of them to be exact) to open with us at our house. Every year we will give them something to take home and something to leave with us at our house. This way they will always have something of their very own to play with in our toy room when they come to our place. We will eat a yummy (kid approved meal), make fireplace s’mores and watch the boys open their gifts. I can feel my own childlike wonder of the magic and joy of Christmas just writing about it.

We will also begin the tradition of making the rounds on Christmas afternoon and evening to see what Santa brought for the kids in our lives.  I can't wait to see their eyes light up as they show us their gifts.

Making my own Christmas magic within my childfree life also means we get to have some adult fun during the holidays. This is our first Christmas in Mason House and starting our family traditions in our forever family home. I am looking forward to yummy meals (with great conversation and laughs, and limited food thrown on the floor), delicious bottles of wine and the hilarity of playing charades with our family this year.  I won’t have to watch my sailor potty mouth or be nervous about the dogs and children.  There can be ever upward magic within this adult Christmas too.

Ending IVF and living a childfree life means lifelong losses. The Christmas season seems to highlight these losses so much at times that it can feel like I am a gaping, oozing wound.

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I will never get to be Santa for my own children.

I will never get to see their eyes and face light up with pure, joyful magic as they talk about Santa Claus or leave cookies out for him on Christmas Eve.

I will never watch them in the Christmas play or sing in the holiday concert.

But I can still make my own magic to find my ever upward. And I ask that tonight, you stop and take a moment to really feel the magical love that Christmas gives us all.  Stop, take a breath and be so grateful for your version of holiday magic.

Because my magic, of our childfree lives, will include the childfull Christmas traditions, and otherwise, we are choosing to begin this year. Because, after all, choosing joy, and magic, is a choice.