Finding Joy in the Midst of Grief

Grief. It isn’t exactly the emotion I thought I would be feeling as I welcomed my twin baby girls into the world. I anticipated feeling many things: joy, awe, wonder, love, exhaustion, even fear but not grief. Never grief.

Prior to delivering my girls 13 weeks early, I had always thought of grief as something that was experienced only when someone died, not when you lost your dreams.

Yet there it was, as I stood in the NICU meeting my girls for the first time, unable to hold them and barely able to touch them. They looked so small and vulnerable and fragile, I was afraid they would break at any moment. I watched them fight for each breath, hooked up to many IVs and wires that constantly checked their vitals and dinged whenever they dropped below or shot above certain limits and I grieved. I grieved the normal birthing experience, I grieved for their health and I grieved for the dreams I had been dreaming of them for the previous 6 months.

As time has passed Grief and I have become good friends. As the girls continue to improve, I begin to dream new dreams for them and have new hopes for their development. I hope that they will tolerate eating, that they will begin to breathe without assistance, that they will grow and thrive. Overall they are doing all these things and more, but as with many things in life, we take a couple steps forward in our journey and then illness strikes or their little premature bodies realize that they aren’t quite ready to do what they have been asked and we take a couple steps back. Each time we have one of those setbacks Grief is there to meet me, but you know who also shows up? Hope, and Joy and Faith. I have come to realize that without Grief, these other emotions lose their value. Without Grief, we cannot fully know the power Hope; for it is in our distress and loss that we find the courage and the need to dream. If we never experienced deep loss, we would never have a reason to hope in or for something better. Things would always just be the way they are. It is also in grieving that we learn to have Faith that things will all work out in the end. A few months ago I came across a quote about grief that says “Grief never ends, but it changes. It is a passage, not a place to stay. Grief is not a sign of weakness, nor a lack of faith… it is the price of love.”

Psalm 30:5b (NASB) says “Weeping may last for a night, but a shout of joy comes in the morning.” This part of a l0nger verse is often used to comfort people who are grieving and it has often come to my mind in these past few months. However, whenever I picture the verse in my head I always remember it as, “Weeping may last for a night, but joy comes in the mourning,” and it is true. As I have grieved the loss of my ideas and dreams and desires for how I wanted motherhood to look, God has shown up in the midst of my mourning and given me new hopes and new dreams and shown me glimpses of His plans for my life as a wife and a mother of two amazing and beautiful girls. I experience a deep joy in knowing that all of us have been and are being changed in our grief and that this will give way to a powerful testimony of who God is and what He is able to do when we give up our own dreams and expectations.

 

Finding Joy on the Rollercoaster

I don’t like rollercoasters.

Yes, really.  I have just never seen the attraction of making a slow climb up a long incline just to feel the bottom drop out as you plunge straight down at a breakneck speed. If you manage to survive that, you are rewarded with either another slow climb followed by a quick drop or thrown completely upside down. This happens over and over for several minutes before things finally even out and you slow to a stop bewildered and sick to your stomach.

My friends and family have been trying to get me to ride rollercoasters for years, but I’ve always declined, “You’ll never catch me on one of those things!” But what’s that saying, “If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans?” For 34 years I have been successful at avoiding rollercoasters, and then suddenly I found myself the mother of not one, but two babies in the NICU.

While I was recovering in the hospital after giving birth 13 weeks early, one of my doctors warned my husband and I that there would be good days and bad days and that it would feel like we were on a rollercoaster. I didn’t believe her. I was sure that with all the people all over the world praying for my babies, we were going to be the exception. I just knew that Hannah and Naomi would sail through the NICU without a single setback or issue.

Boy was I wrong….

At first it seemed that my confidence in my daughters’ abilities was spot on. They were not requiring a lot of oxygen and each day the report was that they were doing well. Our confidence in the idea that we were the exception grew. Even when faced with a doctor who seemed keen to focus on the negative aspects of what we could face during our time in the NICU, we continued to see the girls doing amazing things. After two successful surgeries to fix arteries in their hearts, we were able to start weaning Hannah off the ventilator and start a continuous drip of food. Naomi’s lungs are too sick to come off the ventilator but they were able to start feeds. Again, we got excited because they were handling everything so well.

Then everything changed.

Both girls started showing signs of being unable to tolerate their feeds and then showed signs of infection. Doctors made the decision to stop feeds and put Hannah back on the ventilator. After several weeks of improvements we were back to where we started. It was difficult to accept but once she was well enough they took her off the ventilator and she has sailed through to the final step before she’s able to breathe on her own.  Naomi is still on the ventilator and still struggling with breathing and with eating. She has had a couple of infections which luckily are localized to her breathing tube and not widespread.

It’s difficult going to visit them and  not knowing what situation we are walking into. Are the girls having a good day or are they struggling? Lately it seems like we have had more days of struggles and difficulties than we have had good days. Most of the time I feel like I am able to stay positive even in the midst of the low points. Other days I feel helpless or angry about the situation and I don’t handle the stress very well. But always, I have hope. I know that even though we are stuck on this slow, scary rollercoaster with all its peaks and valleys and crazy loops, God is in control of the ride.  And because He is in control, I know that ultimately everything is going to be ok.

Welcome!

Hello and welcome to Joyful in the Midst.
I knew that when I became a mom my life would change and I had this idea in my head of how things would go; I’d give birth to two beautiful and healthy girls at 40 weeks and we’d all live happily ever after, but you know what they say: “If you want to make God laugh. tell Him your plans.” God definitely had other plans. 7 weeks ago my husband and I welcomed our twin daughters into the world, they were 13 weeks early. They are currently undergoing care in the NICU and each day is a rollercoaster. In general we have more good days than bad ones and the girls have proven they are both fighters, but there is still a long road ahead of us.  This experience is one of the toughest and s things I have ever lived through in my entire life, but somehow, through it all, I am experiencing joy.

Seems insane right? How is it possible to experience joy at the exact same time as crippling fear?  I don’t know how it works, but whenever I stop to assess how I am feeling in a given situation, I can often sense joy in the background. It sits underneath my other emotions waiting to be brought to the surface. It’s a conscious choice that I have to make in each of those moments though: Choose fear or choose joy. It’s important to make the distinction that joy is different than happiness, you don’t have to be happy to experience joy.  Kay Warren once described joy as “the settled assurance that God is in control of all the details of my life, the quiet confidence that ultimately everything is going to be alright, and the determined choice to praise God in every situation.”  This means that whatever is going on in my life, whatever else I am feeling or experiencing, I can experience joy.  Don’t get me wrong, this is way easier said than done. More often than not, when I am in the middle of an emotionally charged situation I don’t stop to assess my feelings, I simply choose to focus on the fear or the pain or the grief but, after a while, I remember that God is in control of every little detail and when I put my attention on that, I am learning that it’s possible to find joy in the midst.