Out of the Ashes

One week shy of 9 months after my dad's life changing fall off a ladder, my family has faced another life threatening and forever life changing tragedy. I have spent the last week along side Chad's family in Denver on another of the scariest roller coasters of my life. You can read more about my sister in law's journey here, and please send all the prayers, light, love and strength you can, as we all have a long road ahead.

Preparation in fight and faith.

There is no doubt that my dad's accident prepared me for this journey. I knew what kind of support my family would need because it was the support that I lacked myself during dad's accident. So I bossed; making people sleep, eat and take breaks. I counseled; providing the space to vent, talk and cry. I helped; starting the Caring Bridge site and simply just being me. And, I walked through it with my continually growing faith; allowing my in laws to give themselves permission to beg and question God for their daughter's life while also trusting Him and their faith. As my friend Kelly told me, I think I may have a calling as a chaplain in my future.

I may never get to know why this year has been both the best and hardest year of Chad and I's lives; a job promotion for Chad and launching Ever Upward for me, and yet we have also experienced these two family medical emergencies, that were literally life or death.

 
 

What I do know is that I felt different through this emergency, I felt my faith more than I ever have. I also witnessed too many miracles to ignore the fact that He does have a plan for us. And, even if in this moment I am not sure I like, or even want to accept, His plan, I still know that it is and will be okay.

Because out of these ashes He will bring beauty.

I trust this more than I ever have in my life. I trust this because of my journey out of my ashes; two back surgeries and a year in a body cast, the lifelong losses of infertility, three lost babies and the rock bottom of my life. I believe, especially with having faith in something, that we can fight for and find our beauty out of the ashes.

This is ever upward.

There are many things I do not know. I do not know when my sister in law will get a new heart. I do not know how difficult this road will be for all of us. I do not know if Ever Upward will ever get the big break I so hope it does. And, I do not know when the next trauma, loss or tragedy will strike me or my family.

However, there are many things I do know. I know that we will be okay no matter what. I know that one day I will get the understanding of the why I so desire, even if it is just on the other side of eternity. I know that if we continue to give ourselves permission to talk about it, embrace it, practice recovery from it and own it all, we can all find the beauty we all so deserve no matter what we face.

This is the work of faith.

This is the work of life.

This is the work of finding and moving ever upward.

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If you want to read more of Justine's writing make sure to purchase your copy of Ever Upward today and find her on The Huffington Posthere.

This post lined with Amateur Nester's Link-Up.

The Nail in the Floor

Sometimes our scarred imperfections are super visible. Sometimes our scarred imperfections define all of us and our whole story. But, sometimes our scarred imperfections are only visible upon a closer look. And, it is only with this closer look that we truly see and embrace the whole. After surviving infertility and accepting our childfree lives Chad and I made the biggest, and best, decision we have made of our almost ten year relationship. We put our suburban, good school district house on the market and we found a house who only people who have lost their everything would take a chance on.

We bought a home owned by someone who struggled with hoarding. Upon the closing on this house, we also came to be the owners all of the previous owner's belongings; an entire house filled floor to ceiling and wall to wall of her "treasures" .

For the first time in our marriage, and our long and frequent history of buying and selling homes, I had never had vision before. But after losing our three babies, my eyes had no choice but to see life through a new lens. I was able to see the future, our childfree future, in this amazing house we now refer to as Mason House.

 
 

We emptied the house of terrible memories and more stuff than anyone could imagine, filling dumpster after dumpster of the previous owner's pain and things. Along with her pain and stuff, we also filled every dumpster full of our grief and losses. We worked together, better than we ever have, to combine the mid-century history of the house with our modern and clean style from the studs out. We rebuilt the painful history of the house to create the future of all the love and laughter of our new family home; complete with a pool and toy room for our childfree yet childfull lives.

Mason House, inside and out, looks nothing like it did last year.

Our marriage, inside and out, looks nothing like it did before or during IVF and my recovery.

I, inside and out, look nothing like I did either.

 
 

If you look closely in our beautiful great room you will see the old nail holes from the carpet we pulled up when we saved the original wood floors. If we point it out and you look even more closely you will see a perfectly sanded nail on it's side embedded into the floor. Reminding us of the history of the home, of where it has been and how far it has come. You will see and feel the scarred imperfections that make Mason House exactly what it is meant to be today.

This perfectly placed nail is just a piece of the whole story.

If you look closely at our marriage you will see our history between us; some years better than others. As we interact, and you look more closely, you will see the growth, the fight and the connection that we have only been able to truly find through surviving infertility and losing our three never to be's. You will see our scarred imperfections in our laughter, in our touches and in our ownership of the times of true joy and sorrow of our journey.

The perfectly placed parts of our story of IVF are just a piece of our whole story.

If you look closely at me you will see someone who on the outside looks very different not only in body but also in presence than who she was before the fight of recovery. As you hear me own my story and you look more closely, you will feel my power, you will feel my passion and you will feel my ever upward. You will see, you will feel and you will be changed by my scarred imperfections.

The perfectly placed struggles of my life are just a piece of my whole story.

There is always a story of struggle and hope embedded within us.

A perfectly placed scarred imperfection that is just a piece of our whole story.

And, without them we simply cannot be whole.

We will suffer losses, traumas and tragedies in this life. When we lose one dream we must pick up the pieces and redefine. To wallow in the lost only defines us. To stay stuck on the never to be's only keeps us stagnant in life. To make our scarred imperfections our entire story misplaces them completely.

Where we find our purpose, where we find ourselves again is in embracing these parts as perfectly placed scarred imperfections and in making them part of our breathtaking story. We must fight, work and practice to own all of our scarred imperfections as perfectly placed parts of our story.

Just like the nail in the floor.

*To read the entire epic adventure of the Mason House journey make sure to pick up a copy of the soon to be published Ever Upward: Owning My Childfree Life in Our Child Obsessed.*

If you found this post enjoyable, inspiring, helpful, hopeful, interesting or even infuriating ;), please take the time and the chance to share it through your social media! More shares means more eyes, means more people helped and the message heard on a wider scale. Thank you! Justine

Scarred But Never Closed

Singing my heart out, holding back tears, as this seems to be what I do lately in church as I am wrestling so much with myself, with trusting and my faith journey, I had one of my first true writer moments. Smack in the middle of the song, I grabbed my bulletin and pen and wrote the title of this post and a line from the song down. The song: Let Our Faith Be Not Alone by Robbie Seay.

The lyrics: "May our hearts be not of stone, give us souls that never close".

 
 

As a therapist I hear terrible things every day from my clients. And, it is not unusual for the thought to cross my mind that someone has every right to stay sick, to stay angry, to have hearts of stone and closed souls after what they have been through.

After infertility and the lifelong losses of three babies, I have also felt as if I have three very good enough reasons to allow my heart to become stone and my soul to close.

But I am learning, this is not meant to be the end of my story. Nor do I want it to be the end of my story; just as I help my clients every single day to make sure that their losses, traumas and tragedies are not their endings either. Because, I also get to hear amazing stories of hope and recovery every single day.

But this recovery requires the choice to choose hope and to do the work.

I will always have the soul scars of infertility and losing my babies. And if I am not careful these scars could very easily harden my heart and close my soul to the amazingness that is this life. As they are forever scars much like the four inch back surgery scar I have. Except, my soul scars are invisible to the outside world, and many times are completely misunderstood, invalidated, minimized and sometimes even ignored.

Either scar, back or soul, if ignored by me only worsens; the scar tissue building up, increasing the pain and decreasing my quality of life. For my back it is only through my physical therapy, exercise and self care that this old injury and scar tissue can be as healed as possible. Nothing I do will ever make that scar go away but I sure as hell can make sure I do what is in my power to make it as better as possible. And, almost 20 years later, I wouldn't want that scar to go away anyways as it is a constant reminder of how much strength I truly hold.

As for my soul scars, I must do much of the same work. If I do not do the work of recovery from the trauma of infertility, the lifelong losses and costs of IVF and the ongoing work of accepting a childfree life, I will only allow the scar tissue to grow. And if I am not careful my heart and soul will scar over leaving room for only bitterness, anger and sadness.

Our trauma, tragedies and losses (infertility related or not) make us who we are. I have learned that I am a better everything because I wanted and loved those babies so much. I am also a better everything because I lost them. Sure, the losses left my heart and soul shattered at first, but now with daily work in recovery I have a scarred but healing heart and soul.

Scarred but better and complete, and most definitely open.

This openness is not possible without the daily practice of recovery, authentic living and courage. My choices in recovery, in daily practice, and my faith are what is required for me to not allow the scar tissue to close everything. And I did not survive infertility and lose my three dreams to only be left scarred, closed and hardened like stone.

I am still wholeheartedly figuring this whole thing out, awkwardly stumbling through this life in recovery. And, sometimes I am not a very pretty picture while doing it. What I think I am finally coming to terms with and learning is that I can trust that the end of my story isn't supposed to be a heart of stone or a scarred, closed soul. That I can trust my faith, doubts and all, because within this journey I will always have Him*. And it is with His acceptance, love and help that I will continue to fight for, find and redefine my ever upward.

*For me, my faith is in God and Jesus as my savior. This is something I am newly figuring out, with a lot of doubt and struggle and questions. But it is something that is helping me, especially in my recovery. My only hope is that we can all find something to have faith in.

*This post submitted to the Tuesday Infertility Link Up on Amateur Nester.

Even More Than Family: The Power of Connection

Sitting back home in cold, but thank God sunny, Iowa helping my family through a life changing injury and scare I am overwhelmed by the sense of connection and love that has been demonstrated to us in the last four days. Monday my sister called in a panic, our dad had had an accident but she didn't know any information; I was out of town visiting friends in Vegas, my sister lives in Florida and my parents are back home in Iowa. We both were literally stuck on opposite sides of the country with only the phone calls from my mom back home in the chaos of the hospital in Iowa.

Living everyone's biggest nightmare, especially in how powerless I think we all felt.

We both started making phone calls for help to family, friends and neighbors. We took to social media both for sending out updates but most importantly for seeking out thoughts, prayers, love and strength.

 
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Ask and it shall be delivered.

We are so overwhelmed by and grateful for the love and strength that has been delivered to us over the last four days; every message, every email and text, every voicemail, every visit and every prayer. Not only has the support been amazing for us but we have no doubt it has been part of the miracle of dad's healing.

He has a long road of healing and follow up appointments ahead all but things look good for a full recovery. And sitting here, writing and updating the blog as he rests I am filled with love, hope and healing. Writing Ever Upward has brought me so much in connection with others. Experiencing this tragic scare this week has only solidified how much power connection has. Connection to family, connection to friends, and connection to strangers all across the world. This is what life is about, both during the amazingly beautiful times and the tragically powerless times.

Because, only through this love and connection can we all heal and find our ever upward.