#HonorAllMoms—and May prayer prompt calendar

Today’s post is written by Sarah Philpott, an online friend of mine who posted here once before. When I held a prayer prompt calendar contest, Sarah approached me about designing a calendar for the month of May to recognize all the women for whom Mother’s Day brings sadness rather than the expected joy. I was completely ...

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Today’s post is written by Sarah Philpott, an online friend of mine who posted here once before. When I held a prayer prompt calendar contest, Sarah approached me about designing a calendar for the month of May to recognize all the women for whom Mother’s Day brings sadness rather than the expected joy. I was completely on board, because after I lost my own mom, I’d had a similar experience. I’d rather cry and go off on my own than “celebrate” on that day—even though I have three kids who I love with all my heart. Sometimes the pain overshadows the joy. And sometimes, people aren’t in a position to feel joy because the reminder of their loss is too great.

I’ll stop talking now so you can hear from Sarah, but don’t forget to download the prayer prompt calendar here or on her website.


Mother’s Day was celebrated in a big way where I grew up. As a child, I’d sit alongside my family in the slick wooden pew and gaze at the fetching flower arrangements crowding the floor of our sanctuary.  Roses, peonies, and spring blooms sat ready to be awarded to the ladies of my small Southern Baptist church.

Ms. Nita, smartly dressed in a pastel dress and a Sunday-go-to-church hat, always seemed to be in charge of the program. After we sang from the hymnal, the kids were beckoned to retrieve a bundle of roses from a basket and encouraged to hand the blooms to beaming mothers, grandmothers, and aunts. After the hugs ended, Ms. Nita took to the center stage and said, “Would all Mothers please stand?”

My mother and grandmother would rise and stand amongst the females of my community. It was like a battalion of matriarchs. Then, the ceremony of awards began. We’d quickly find out who was the oldest mom, who was the youngest mom, and who was the mom with the most children. This tradition of honoring mothers is still one of my fondest memories of my childhood.

But it wasn’t until I was an adult, sitting in church on Mother’s Day fresh from the heartache of my first miscarriage, that I realized how many women actually had hurting hearts on Mother’s Day.

I sat recollecting my childhood and recalled how at my old church the mother with the most living children was awarded one of the biggest and most beautiful bouquets.  The congregation always erupted in applause for this dear soul who had her hands full.

But now, with a babe in Heaven and one in the church nursery, it struck me as an odd banner of honor. I realized that beneath smiles many women silently mourn on Mother’s Day. I instantly thought of my mother-in-law. She has five children. But only three are living. Jesse died at the age of two and Lauren at the age of twenty. Then I thought of my mother. She has three children. But only two of us are living. A gravestone in the church cemetery only marks one tiny soul, who was stillborn. Then the face of a friend, who wanted nothing more to be a mother, came to mind.  Infertility had robbed her of the chance of becoming a mother and finances had prevented her from adopting. She too hurt on this special day. It made me realize that these sweet women—and those just like them who had endured the death of their own children or a dream that never came true, were women who also deserved an extra special bouquet.

My grief opened my eyes to the invisible grief that many women bear on Mother’s Day. We often forget these brave women, don’t we?

But we shouldn’t.

Mother’s Day is still one of my favorite days of the year, and it should be celebrated with unbridled jubilation, breakfast in bed, and homemade cards.

And I love how, at Ms. Nita’s gentle encouragement, my childhood church always collectively gave a big applause to mothers.  Mothers should receive a standing ovation.

But we should expand our celebration of Mother’s Day by showering love and support to all mothers—including those who view Mother’s Day as a stark reminder of what doesn’t exist. Each year, in the United States alone, 1 in 160 deliveries end in stillbirth, 1 in 4 pregnancies end in miscarriage, 3,500 babies under the age of 1 die, and 1 in 8 couples experience infertility. Let’s stand in solidarity as individuals and as the church to #HonorAllMoms this Mother’s Day.

Let’s also set aside the month of May to pray and encourage all sorts of women—those who have a baby to hold in their arms, those who do not; those who wanted to be a mom but never got to be, and those who were placed into that role by circumstance; children who have lost their moms and moms who have lost their children.

I think Ms. Nita would want all these special women to have a beautiful bloom.

“After women, flowers are the most lovely thing God has given the world.” Christian Dior


SARAH PHILPOTT, PhD lives in Tennessee on a sprawling cattle farm where she raises her two mischievous children (and one little baby!) and is farmwife to her high-school sweetheart. An award-winning writer, Sarah has contributed to academic books, scholarly journals, and outlets such as the Huffington Post. Her book, Loved Baby: 31 Devotions for Helping you Grieve and Cherish Your Child After Pregnancy Loss, will be published in October 2017 by Broadstreet Publishing. Sarah is a lover of coffee (black), rocking chairs, the outdoors, and Hemingway. Visit allamericanmom.net where she writes about life on the farm and cherishing life in joy and sorrow.

 

Slowing down and paying attention

Poor me. All I’ve talked about for weeks is my elbow. I’ve spent the last week with my right arm immobilized in a brace. Most of the time has been spent half-snoozing, system full of pain-killers. Mindless Netflix episodes. A couple frivolous books. Trying not to criticize my husband for not doing all of my ...

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Poor me. All I’ve talked about for weeks is my elbow. I’ve spent the last week with my right arm immobilized in a brace. Most of the time has been spent half-snoozing, system full of pain-killers. Mindless Netflix episodes. A couple frivolous books. Trying not to criticize my husband for not doing all of my usual tasks exactly the way I would do them. Eating isn’t even much fun when it’s all about getting enough in your stomach to keep the meds from making you nauseous, and having someone else cut your food, and then shakily balancing food on an awkwardly grasped fork, hoping to end up with more in my mouth than tumbling down the front of my shirt.

Several friends, upon hearing about my injury, asked if it’s my writing hand. Yes. But I spend so much time typing that I didn’t think it would bother me much in that respect. Oh, what we take for granted. Signing a check or charge slip. Jotting new activities and kids’ sports practices on the calendar. Writing quick reminders on post-it notes. Grocery lists. Addressing an envelope. Filling in the answers in my Bible study book. Scribbling insights in the margins of books I’m reading. I typically spend lots of time with a pen in hand. A Tul medium point blue gel pen, to be precise. I love filling pages of any kind with my handwriting, smooth and glob-free thanks to my trusty pens.

But I jot things down because I can’t remember everything and there’s always so much to remember. Maybe I need to slow down and simply remember.

Interestingly enough, I just now got an email notifying me that a blog post of mine just went live on Devotional Diva, a site I’m excited to be writing for. Prayer for the Overwhelmed. The words I wrote weeks ago minister to me now. Huh. Funny how that happens.

I have no doubt that God is trying to teach me something. Slow me down and teach me to lean on Him in new ways. The first of these lessons I’ve already seen.

Friends — people I think a lot of but don’t know well — have sent me cards. Actually stopped what they’re doing after seeing my posts on Facebook, and sent me cards. I’ve gotten texts and gifts and food.

Apparently, there are still a lot of loving and thoughtful people in this world. People so much kinder than I am.

Friends with chronic conditions have shared their tips and encouragement. A woman with so many more health issues than I have has sent up prayers and offered advice for how to lean into the pain and not fight the body’s natural response. More people than I can believe have empathized, mentioning the time they had arm/shoulder/hand/knee surgery. (Where was I? How did I not notice or remember? Am I really so self-focused?) One friend has been without a voice for two weeks, unable to work — and yet SHE sends ME a get well bag of goodies. My sister tells me about the people from her work and church who ask about me. (On a side note, the people at C’ville’s First United Methodist Church and all the staff at Spencer Dermatology are among the nicest people I know.)

But the most humbling moment came when my friend Sherry walked into church Sunday. She has several serious medical issues and recently fell, hard, further injuring her already painful, messed-up back. She came into church, leaning on a cane, grimacing from the effort. Yet she threw her arm around me, hugged me, and said she’s been praying for me and worrying about how I’m doing.

She. Has been worried. About me.

I think that when we’re hurting, when we are facing a big change (whether tragic or emotional or physical), our natural response is to close in. Our world gets smaller. The pain defines us and gives us blinders to everything else.

But the people who make a difference are those who uncurl themselves, who come out of their circle of pain to reach out to others. Those who are not defined by their circumstances. Those who use their experiences to embody their compassion for others. Those who understand that even in pain, even in sorrow and hardship, God reigns. He never leaves. He’s not angry and punishing them. He loves and soothes and comforts and forgives and teaches and reveals and enlightens.

He reminds us that no matter how lonely we might feel, we are not alone.

We are not forsaken. We should not despair. We should, quite simply, love.

LORD, don’t let me waste this time. Don’t let me fill it with mindless noise and fail to hear Your voice. If I have to slow down, let this time have a new kind of value. Let my mind slow and my soul learn to wait. Remind me to listen. And teach me this kind of generosity of spirit. Help me love like You would. Amen.


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Luckily, I prepared the April prayer calendar before my surgery so it’s here and ready to go!

 

Prayer for the broken

It hurts. God, do you have any idea how much this hurts? I know that Christianity teaches that Jesus took on all our sin, pains, and sorrows when He died on the cross. I’ve been told that You’ve experienced it all—felt love and joy, grief and sorrow. There is nothing I can feel that You ...

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It hurts. God, do you have any idea how much this hurts?

I know that Christianity teaches that Jesus took on all our sin, pains, and sorrows when He died on the cross. I’ve been told that You’ve experienced it all—felt love and joy, grief and sorrow. There is nothing I can feel that You do not understand. Nothing I can say that You do not already know.

But is this really true, Lord? This feels too big. And at the same time, too specific. Surely You didn’t feel this kind of pain. Our cultures and societies have changed. You were without sin. I have way too much of it. Can you really understand?

The right answer, I know, is yes: You know, You feel, You care, You understand, You will never leave me, and You are the source of all hope. I can only find my strength in You. I can only discover answers in You.

But what happens when I know this in my head but don’t feel it in my heart?

What happens when I feel doubt? I want You to be everything You are supposed to be. But I’m afraid that You are not enough. Or that I’m the exception—maybe I’m too far gone. Maybe I’ve made too many wrong decisions. Maybe I haven’t prayed enough, believed enough, tried enough. Maybe You don’t love me enough.

But then I hear You whisper, shushing my objections.

Or is that just wishful thinking?

Lord, I want You to prove me wrong. I want You to push away my doubts and replace my fear with faith. I want it to be an instantaneous, miraculous transformation. But I’m so afraid You won’t come through for me.

And I wonder where that will leave me. What it will say about my faith.

But I guess those things don’t really matter. What matters is that You don’t let go. That You hear my desperate pleas. And that You let me see You.

Oh, Lord, please fix this. Give me hope. Give me something—even the slightest little glimpse, the tiniest little proof that You hear me.

Because, somehow, as afraid as I am to lay myself open wide, to fully trust in You, I do believe. And I pray that this tiny mustard seed of faith will truly be enough to grow into something magnificent.

If You are all that I hope You are, it will happen. And I’m willing to take a chance, because I want to believe. Because I need You, so much more than I want to admit.

So I give You my pain, my fears—and my desperate, fervent, tremulous hope. And I wish, and pray, and wonder, and wait to see what You will do.

Amen.

Perspective, or rough, raw thoughts on grief

Perspective: an artistic technique used to portray depth, to project the illusion of a three-dimensional world onto a two-dimensional surface. In perspective, the straight edges of any object follow lines that eventually converge at infinity. Normally, this point of convergence is along the horizon. When grief is trying to claw its way out of your ...

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Perspective: an artistic technique used to portray depth, to project the illusion of a three-dimensional world onto a two-dimensional surface. In perspective, the straight edges of any object follow lines that eventually converge at infinity. Normally, this point of convergence is along the horizon.

perspective drawing

When grief is trying to claw its way out of your heart, shredding your soul as it fights for dominance, when something unspeakably tragic happens, when it’s big and shocking and awful and overwhelming, words fail. Thank God we don’t need words to pray, that He hears us anyway. Because right now my words are broken, stilted, choked, strangled with pain.

This morning my daughter’s friend Mike died in a car accident on his way to the high school. A bright, shining boy. Scholar, athlete, friend. On top of that, he participated in show choir and school musicals and national anti-drug campaigns. His twin brother was driving the truck; neither wore seat belts, and now one is dead and one is alive. Our little community is in shock. Youth pastors and counselors showed up at schools, at homes. Parents opened their doors to roomfuls of grieving kids. Friends delivered food to these gatherings of kids, who are banding together in an effort to make sense of it. But they won’t. They can’t. All they can do is be together in an effort to share this load that is too heavy, that isn’t right, that isn’t fair.

As a parent, I want to shelter my 16-year-old daughter, shield her from having to feel this pain, having to embark down this road of questioning and aching and sorrowing. Her heart is too tender. This shouldn’t happen. But, dammit, it did. Lives changed forever. And for what?

Another friend of this same daughter has been in and out of court hearings and meetings with Child Protective Services all week. The kids got tired of the abuse, and when the dad hurt the younger sister this time, the brother called the cops. This is a sweet, sparkling girl who has spent a lot of time with our family. A lovely, vibrant young woman of strong character, bearing the weight of responsibility for her siblings. I had no clue all this was going on, yet now I’m hearing tales of parents with addictions, physical abuse, hateful threats and hurtful words and hiding in fear that someone would find out. I burst into tears of relief at the news that they got to go to foster care. Got to. I’m fairly close to the situation but not close enough to be right in the center of it. But, even from where I’m standing, it’s tearing me apart, from the inside out.

My dad had a procedure today to burn off pre-cancer cells in his esophagus. My mom died of cancer less than two years ago, so the tests and waiting and words tossed around by doctors have been scary. The wife of my dad’s good friend, who’s battled cancer for years but outlived mom, passed away this week. With Dad, they caught it in time, right before the label changed from dysplasia to cancer, but today’s procedure is pretty tough and apparently very painful, and the recovery is longer and more limiting than expected. It’s something he’ll likely have to repeat, on and off, for the rest of his life.

On days like this, when the meanings are lost and the emotions are jumbled and hope is battered and it is all just too much, all we can do is stand. The words may not come. How do you find hope? How do you go on? How do you pray? What could you even ask for that could matter? You don’t know whether to lash out at God or curl up under His sheltering wing. You don’t know whether to scream at Him or cry with Him. You just don’t know. Because nobody can know. Nobody can do this, nobody can bear it.

Nobody on their own power, at least.

There’s only One with the strength to carry it. Only One with the depth to understand it. Only One who can see that this is not the end. And that One is not you. Or me. So what do we do?

It may not always seem to be true, but there is always hope. There is always more. There is always something good. Sometimes we can’t see it, and in times like this we certainly can’t begin to wrap our heads around it. All we can do is point ourselves in that general direction, aiming our broken selves towards the Source of hope. Beaming up our pain, trusting that He can absorb it, and that when it returns to us, it will be forever changed by the enormity of the love He has for us, soothing our shredded souls as it floods back in. Filling us, healing us. Restoring us.

The only thing you can do, when your heart is broken and the tears won’t dry up, is turn your face to the horizon. Our perspective is temporal, limited, but God’s perspective is eternal. And one thing that artistic perspective and the eternal perspective have in common is this: all lines converge at the horizon. And that is where we have to look, because that is where we will find God.

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