Sunday, September 22, 2013

A Year Later

A year ago today we sat with one of our pastors praying that the ultrasound the day before had been incorrect.  With pregnancy hormones in the tens of thousands, but nothing in sight in the ultrasound, another ultrasound- on a Saturday, no less- was in order in a few short minutes.

That second ultrasound is what led to the events that left three 1/2 inch scars in various places around my abdomen today.  After years of hoping for a baby- rarely, if ever, ovulating makes pregnancy a tad bit tricky- we saw on that screen a very,very slow heartbeat, getting slower by the second; a sure sign of fetal demise.  But what was worse was that this little bean was implanted in the completely wrong location (my left fallopian tube), already causing extensive internal bleeding and, if not removed immediately in surgery, a very real danger to my life.

I had experienced absolutely no pain.  Unlike most women who google "ectopic pregnancy" I hadn't thought that's what could be happening.  But I remember telling M on our way to the doctor's office for that first ultrasound that I just felt like something wasn't right.  Not because I was in pain, not because I had any real reason, just...because.

24 hours later I was waking up in recovery.  The pregnancy was gone.

A few nights later, we had the pleasure of starting our 4th anniversary in the emergency room, as my body continued the process of healing and cleaning itself out- just all at once, rather than over a period of time.  Two weeks later I was mostly healed, minus my still sore scars, and we headed back to the doctor's office, to have the "wtf" conversation.

That's when the prayers began that God would redeem the month of September for us.

And now, a year later, six days away from my due date and five days away from our 5th wedding anniversary, waves of movement roll across my belly.

God has been very gracious to us.

I still read blogs and have a very special place in my heart for women who long desperately for children but whose prayers do not result in a biological or adopted child.  I praise God that we were "lucky" that our infertility was only one-sided (me); many others find that both husband and wife have issues that make pregnancy nearly or completely impossible.  I lament that adoption is not financially possible for many, many families that desperately want to enlarge their family.  I cringe at the often insensitive (but completely unknowing) statements made to women who have been married for more than a few years of "so when are you going to have children?"  My heart aches for other women, silently suffering because infertility isn't something many people talk about, especially in the church.  

But I praise God that He somehow, very graciously, protected me from hating Him or hating my fertile friends.  The one thing I was so sure of after our ectopic pregnancy was that God wasn't happy about this either; He mourned this loss WITH us.  He reminded me that I am fearfully and wonderfully made.  I am not my fertile friends, just as they are not me.  His plans were- and continue to be- very different for each of His children.  Of course there were moments of "why me?" and "you've got to be kidding me she's having baby number seventeen".  But then I would remember, "Liz, that is not you.  I have something different for you.  And remember, I am still good," said tenderly over a mourning heart.

God has been very gracious to us.

I have absolutely no idea what parenthood to this little life inside me now will bring in the next few days, months and years.  But in the last year I have learned so many important lessons; I have been united to my husband in ways that have made me love him even more; I have been given a compassion for those who are still waiting.  I have been able to know more the kindness of God, even in the face of very real pain.

God has been very gracious to us.     


Thursday, May 23, 2013

Ten Years

Yesterday was the ten year anniversary of the passing of M's mom.

I wish so much that I had known her.  I wish that she was here to help celebrate this new baby growing inside of me.  I wish my husband's heart wasn't broken by this loss, even still today.  (Oh gosh, now I'm sobbing.)

But I am so thankful for the stories I've heard of a woman who loved God more than anything or anyone else, who prayed for M constantly- and probably worried about him constantly- and who loved her husband so very, very well.  I hope that I can be even just a little bit like her as a wife and a mother.  I have never heard someone say anything but beautiful words about her.  And share funny stories of the light she brought into anyone or any room.  And even having not known her face to face, I feel like I do know at least a little part of her in loving her son.

The thing about pregnancy is it really gets you reflecting on the role of parents in the lives of children.  I am so thankful that both M and I have had the fortunate blessing of parents who have loved us, their children, well and loved each other well.  I'm learning that it's much more rare than I ever imagined.  And so I hope we can continue to honor M's mother's life in the way that we live our lives and parent our children.

She is sorely missed.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Finally, something to see

I don't even remember now what day we bought our house, but I believe it was June 5th or 6th.  Yep, nearly 7 months ago.

Every time we have a conversation with someone who we don't talk to regularly, we get the question, "So how's the house?'  I guess seven months in, people would expect us to have it, you know, inhabitable and decorated and hosting dinner parties every night.  Obviously these people don't know the life of two people who work more than full-time, are doing 98% of the work themselves, and have other competing priorities simultaneously filling up our lives.  Or what a house looks like when you buy it from an old couple that literally did NOTHING to it in the thirty years that they lived in it.

So when M completely re-roofed the dormer, put in a new window and put new siding on said dormer, no one "ooohed and aahhhhed" because it's a freaking dormer and really boring.  And when we painted the dining room and entry way, that was cool, but the floors still needed to be refinished and the kitchen was (is) still a ghastly sight, which sort of ruins it for the nearby rooms.

But FINALLY there's something that people can see, and ooh and ahh and begin to picture what the house will look like when it's done.  Now it's just one room (and he hasn't put the wax (?) on the floor over the stain yet) but M spent his day refinishing the floor in the first guest room.  And it is looking pretty awesome, if I do say so myself.

Granted, he still has to do more to it and then we have to prime the walls again and paint them and paint the closet door and reattach the radiator covers, but, friends, THIS is finally something I feel good showing to people. 

Seven months later, it feels like we're on the verge of things coming together.  Expect a dinner party invite sometime in 2013!

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Gun Violence

If I had to guess, I would say 80-90% of the men and women I work with every day have at some point in their life possessed a weapon.  In their world, a gun (or multiple guns) carry a three-pronged value.  They provide protection when carrying out illegal activities; they provide a way to scare/attack/revenge/teach other  “players in the game” who may need to be dealt with; they very rarely (though it does of course happen) are used to scare innocent people who may be the victim of a theft, car jacking or burglary.  Interestingly, I’ve found that those who commit these sorts of crimes rarely, if ever, WANT to use violent force, they just want to scare the victim but sometimes feel their hand is forced when things spiral out of control.  Violence, it seems, is reserved for those who are in the game.

In this world, guns are usually obtained illegally and gun control laws mean little.  It is this world that those who are against tighter restrictions like to talk about: the violence of Chicago, Detroit, DC, for example.  Here’s the problem with that argument: the majority of this violence they quote is young black man against young black man.  The gun violence of these cities is overwhelmingly confined to the urban ghetto, not the pristine suburbs.  Of course this is not the whole story, but it is a hefty, hefty piece of it.

In this world, violence stems from the game that is played, an unwillingness to be “disrespected”, a desire to protect one’s turf, product or reputation.  Most of the perpetrators would say that the victim had it coming by something they did, said or took.

Then there is the world of mass murder, like the disgustingly horrific tragedy in Connecticut.  According to the Washington Post, of the sixty-one mass murders that have taken place in the last twenty years, the guns that have been used have been legally obtained in nearly 50 of the incidents.  The demographics of the shooters are different, the shooters usually being described as socially-awkward, isolated, troubled individuals, many with a history of some sort of mental illness.

The perpetrators of the first world look at the perpetrators of the second world with the same disgust as you and I do.  They would never, ever think of walking into a movie theater, school room or other gathering of people and shoot randomly.  That’s not how they play the game.  I know, because I talk with them every day. 

So I’m left to believe that to compare the two worlds- and think that policy decisions to deal with them are the same- is so very, very wrong

The first perpetrators described need help learning how to manage anger, to feel and believe they have value outside of their reputation.  They need more economic opportunity, better school systems, stronger family support structures.  Would tighter gun control laws help?  Maybe, but probably not.   

The second perpetrators described most often need psychological help, pro-socialization support, a place to be heard and understood in a world that they feel is out to get them.  More resources spent on researching the human brain, on best practices of dealing with psychological disorders, better monitoring and better testing.  Would tighter gun control laws help?  Maybe, but probably yes.

I am sickened by what happened in Connecticut.  It is, to be frank, evil.  I am also sickened that this country is losing so many young, black men to gun violence every single day.  We, as a country, have to do something about both situations, to have the hard conversations about gun control, yes, but also about better schools, better economic opportunity, better psychological support, less violent media, and so on and so on.  May we be brave enough to do so.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Your Inner Self

It’s hard to imagine a world where you have to ask if someone cares for you and if that care is sincere.  I take for granted that my family and friends care of me is not dependent on what I have or what I can do for them.  Their love and affection have little to do with my bank account or prestige in what I do.  They love and care for me- though I myself sometimes wonder why!- for reasons completely separated from my financial standing.

This isn’t quite the case for Mark.  When he was sent to federal prison nearly 6 years ago and his homes, property and money were seized, friends and family somehow started falling by the wayside, too.  True, a few remained faithful to him, but the vast majority no longer saw what they could get from him and decided, no doubt, to look elsewhere.  Some still call, but it’s usually to ask “what’s good” or to convince him to get back into the game.  Hardly any form of true care or concern.

I imagine this loss of friends and family has made it desperately hard for Mark to trust much of anyone.  And why should he?  These friends and family don’t love him- they’re simply using him for what they can selfishly gain.  What does it do to a man to be abandoned- at your darkest hour, no less- by those you believed cared for you most?  What does it do to a man’s sense of self-worth?

Sometimes I really do wonder if I am one of the few people (besides his mother and sister, who I believe love him deeply, and hopefully a few friends) who care about Mark, about the future ahead of him, the possibilities that await.  Will all these so-called friends and family suddenly appear again come January when he walks out these doors?  Will he know who to trust?  Will there be anyone that he can?  How does a mid-30s man build new friendships, based on the mutual admiration of the inside of the person?  Is it even possible?

I wish I knew the answers to these questions.  I wish I could hold his hand- and the hands of so many others in this same predicament- as they make this transition home.  But then, that’s not the real world, and would hardly be helpful in the long run.  I can’t walk this path of reentering a family and a community for Mark or others.  But I can help Mark learn that there are people in this world who will and do have genuine concern and care for him and certainly don’t want him doing anything that risks his life again, whether that be by death or imprisonment.  There are people out there who won’t like you because you have money, or cars, or status. 

And maybe, the truth is, it has to start inside Mark.  Sometimes I wonder, on his darker days, if Mark truly knows that he is a person to be valued outside of his illegal activity.  If he really believes that people will love and care for him for reasons other than what they can get from him.  Maybe the best thing I can do is affirm Mark for being who he is- a child of God, a man with a past but who is no longer held captive by his previous way of living.  Maybe then Mark will see that he can trust others who genuinely care- and trust himself.

Monday, November 12, 2012


Last Thursday, I spent the day with 200 men who have been sentenced to a lifetime of incarceration.  Their lifetime.

I'll let that sink in for a second.

Driving up to the Maryland state prison in Hagerstown, I didn't really know what to expect.  I had been told that I would be attending a "Lifer's Conference" which in my mind meant either 1) an anti-abortion conference, or 2) an old people conference.  Both relatively harmless.

Instead, I was greeted by- and shook hands with- man after man who had spent the last 10, 20, 30, 40 years in the prison.  There was the man who had been incarcerated after being convicted of murder in 1967, when he was just 16 years old.  There was another man who, in a burst of passion, had killed someone he loved only a few years ago and spoke of the horrible regret of his actions.  I was struck that nearly all of the crimes had been committed when the prisoner was under the age of 25.  Some seemed broken down, wearing what I can only imagine is the weight of the consequences of their actions on their shoulders.  In others, I saw a deep stillness, a peace.  In still others, the glazed over eyes of addiction or mental illness, statistically so prevalent in this population.  It was both heart-warming and heart-wrenching.

Man after man spoke of the healing power of forgiveness of self and of victim's families, and recounted the education, training and certifications, the personal development they've received while in prison.  Others shared their faith conversion stories.  Still more asked for mercy from the governor, who must sign off on any "life with the possibility of parole" parole decisions made in the state of Maryland (one of only 3 states where this is still the case).  Others sat quietly, saying nothing.

Having read and heard stories similar to the horrific accounts of what many of these men did regularly brings out a feeling of "lock them up and throw away the key."  When I say horrific, I mean horrific.  No one should die at the hands of another person, no one should fear their fellow man in that way.  No one should experience such tremendous violence.


In meeting these men face to face, I was also reminded of their humanity.  Of their fallen-ness, of their need for grace and mercy, just like me.  I was reminded of the Apostle Paul, who- as Saul- murdered the Lord's people.  I thought of King David who, because of lust, had an honorable man killed.  Of Moses.  Of so many others.

I believe in law and consequences of breaking that law, and believe every single one of these men who are of their right mind and guilty of the charge brought against them should serve a significant amount of time behind bars, hopefully receiving the rehabilitation that they need.***  But I also believe in redemption.  In second chances.  Maybe this is ultimately why I do what I do; because I know that, though I've never been convicted of any crime, I too am in need of redemption.

***I will not go into the politics of conviction and sentencing, though I will point out that the recidivism rate amongst those convicted of homicide is the lowest of all crimes.  Not zero, but extremely, extremely low.  That said, I have not been a victim and cannot imagine what I would feel like should someone I love be a victim.         

Friday, November 2, 2012

Where We've Been

It's hard to believe that it's been over five months since I blogged last.  So much has happened that I don't really know how to sum up: we've experienced great excitement, grief, frustration and joy, celebrated another year of marriage (unfortunately in the emergency room) and flourished in our work and lives. I hope to write more about some of the particulars soon.

But one thing I continue to know and believe for certain: we have seen and know the goodness of the Lord.  He continues to remain faithful to us and good to us.  He has placed people in our lives, in our personal friendships and professional experiences, who challenge us, spur us on and challenge us to think deeply about who we are and what we are made for.  Even as there have been some supremely hard moments, it has been a time of great flourishing.  It seems fitting that today, in this month of November, I am thankful.