Mourning into Joy 

I have the honour of being a part of a series called mourning into joy stories started by Sharon McKeeman (@sharonmckeeman on instagram #mourningintojoystories). As I began to write, I realized that there was more I wanted to share than a few sentences on instagram hence this blog post. I feel like sharing my own process might help someone out there.

*Disclaimer, this post is super raw and real and deals a lot with loss, mess and mental illness. If this makes you feel uncomfortable, please feel free to avoid this post!*

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2017. We’ve now entered the 7th year since we lost our daughter Eisley. In some ways it definitely feels like it’s been years, and in others it feel as though it was just yesterday. Here is a bit of our journey and my own honest process through loss.

At 13 weeks pregnant I bled, they found a blood clot which ultimately killed 2/3 of my placenta by week 19. And so began our journey with our Eisley-girl. Nearly every day for months we were told that we would lose her (due to the lack of nourishment to her body). That we should abort her and get on with our lives. But she fought, she held on longer than they’d ever expected. So much longer that the day before she passed away they shared with us that they’d deemed her “viable” and they would deliver her the next Friday. While her potential death had been lingering in it minds for months, it was still a complete shock to our systems when she passed away. It felt unbelievable – she’d held on for so long (7 months). We were so close. We had prayed and believed with everything in us. Many around the world prayed for her. And yet there we were, suddenly thrown into a world of loss: deciding how to birth her (we choose induction and she came 3 days later), preparing to meet her only to say goodbye, planning arrangements for her body, a memorial service to honour her life… and then the years of grief that have followed since.

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At first, I felt peace. Along with many, many things and I let myself feel through them all. I thought I was grieving “well”, to be honest. And then year after year I noticed my heart growing harder, I realized my prayer life had died along with our sweet girl. I didn’t even know how to pray and even how to believe for the best anymore. I denied these things, of course. Until the ache and bitterness inside me seeped out. Into my marriage, my family, my friends. My dreams and desires had changed, even my beliefs shifted. 2015 was my toughest year – I found myself depressed beyond what I’d ever imagined. My marriage was falling apart due to distance I’d created. I felt angry and bitter at everything, especially with God.

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I found myself living defensively, afraid to be broken again – believing I couldn’t possibly live through anymore brokenness and I’d do my best to control all things to avoid this. Having control seemed like the place to be. It seemed safer than giving anyone or God the reigns, that much was certain. So I clenched my fists and held on. But what I found instead was I felt out of control trying to maintain control. I was always angry (still struggle with this bad habit), always defensive and overly protective, always building new walls, all while trying to appear as though I had it all together. Trying to show loss hadn’t broken me beyond repair, that God was still on the throne of my life, that having two healthy pregnancies after Eisley had “redeemed” many things. Yet beneath the hardened shell was a broken Jami who didn’t even know if she believed in God anymore, and she certainly didn’t believe the sayings she’d heard others speak over her to cover her grieving and broken heart. Beneath it all was a girl who felt she’d scarred her marriage, her children and her own life beyond repair. A girl who felt all hope was lost and constantly wondered how she’d carry on.
I hit rock bottom March 2015. I entered the new year pregnant yet lost the baby at 8 weeks. Less than a month later, our daughter Everly (almost 1) was hospitalized with RSV and it triggered memories of loss and I imagined the worst case scenario possible during the scary times with her. Though she was only in for 4 days and recovered well it triggered grief I’d shoved away and it all felt too much to handle. And to be completely honest, the best option I saw was to leave this world of pain and heartache. I walked my husband and family through hell on that terrible night in March, when I felt I couldn’t continue living the way I was.

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But Jesus met me in my brokeness. When I felt all hope was lost. He met me and I didn’t feel hopeless even though I didn’t know what was next. My husband and I started counseling. I got on medication for depression and anxiety. And we fought: for life, for restoration, for hope, for dreams.
By the time 2016 came I still felt broken though healing was happening. Ted had to move away to Alaska to provide for us as a family and I suddenly was thrown into parenting alone and actually two of my worst fears were combined: I felt so alone. And I felt judged and misunderstood by those around me.
It was unfair to place expectations on others to look after me, especially when I wasn’t honest with where I was really at emotionally/mentally. But I did. And guess what? I was wounded and expectations weren’t met. And I felt utterly alone – so alone in fact it felt physically painful.
And He met me again. Jesus, without any amount of phony sayings to get me through suffering, He just met me in my broken mess. I picture it like this: I’m sitting on the ground with huge glass mirrors shattered all around me. No one wants to come close because of the mess and the fear of being hurt themselves, but here comes this guy I’d rejected so much in the past few years. He didn’t care about the mess, the chance of being wounded… He cared about ME. In fact so much that He joined me in the thick of the mess and brokenness.

“In brokenness I see your face, the colour of your eyes and the taste of your ways.”

(I wrote this years ago and it’s so very true. I realized how close He really was. He’s in my suffering with me.)

Finals-14(September 17, 2013. Eisley’s 3rd birthday, and pregnant with our second daughter, Everly)

Suffering is so complex. And I still have my doubts, I still have questions, and still have no full answers but one thing I do believe with everything within me is that He meets me here. In this mess, in the suffering. He doesn’t shun me for asking the hard questions or for having doubt. He can handle me at my worst and is unashamed of me. He is not disappointed with me. He’s WITH me in my suffering.
Whatever you are going through currently or still processing from years and maybe decades past, HE is with you in your suffering. And anyone who tells you that you must have blind faith, and accept that He “gives and takes away”. Let it go. It isn’t true. He is a good and loving Father and He didn’t do “this” to you. (Seriously, go and watch the sermon on Job by Greg Boyd called Twisted Scripture – it wrecked me in the best way!)
People may not be able to handle you at your worst, but Jesus sure can. Go to Him, He will walk beside you until you find your feet and even then He stays put, helping you as you walk through this journey of loss, heartache and pain.

Through every ebb and flow of grief’s waves. Through every memory that still stings, through every present ache that exists.

He is with you, carrying you, holding you, crying with you…

He will be with you always.

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He can turn your mourning into joy.

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Since the loss of our Eisley-girl, we have since welcomed two healthy pregnancies and babies into our family. While they do not take the place of our sweet girl or perfectly redeem what we’ve walked through, their precious lives have helped in our healing process. We are so grateful for who they are, and how much they’ve impacted our family!

Shailo Valour (5) – We were terrified during his pregnancy yet felt so strongly that he was everything we named him, Shailo (Shiloh) – God’s gift, a place of peace and rest and worship in a time of battle and Valour (Valor) meaning courage in the face of fear/battle, brave. He has truly, even from the womb, been our brave little gift from God in the midst of fear/anxiety/battle. Seriously, our lives are so much more full, exciting and adventurous with Shailo Valour in our lives.

And Everly Selah (almost 3) –  I remember crying out to Him one evening and journaling my heart out. There was a part of me that felt we would have another daughter someday, and I decided on that evening her name would be a reflection (of who He is to us, to her and who she is to Him) and a declaration that would mean “Forever Amen”. I knew that I wanted her name to declare that He is forever sovereign, good, loving, caring, worthy, etc, etc, etc… amen. We wanted to declare that even though we’ve walked through the darkest valley (for us) He is still all of the beautiful things we believed He was. Despite our suffering and loss, He was still good and caring. We were still His and He was still our Father who loved us. I decided I wanted our next girl’s name to mean forever… so I decided on Ever and added ‘ly’ to fit with our Eisley-girl’s name. Though she ins’t here with us on Earth, I still, very much so, wanted her to be apart of our family. Even when it comes to names. 

We are now 30 weeks pregnant with our 3rd son, and we are hopeful and believing he will be joining us come early March! 

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Lessons at the Royal Gorge.

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(The Royal Gorge – photo by Ted)

We’re facing some huge mountains and even deep valleys in our lives. (pun intended with this post, but I’m also quite serious) ‘The mountains’ being decisions we’re having to make and ‘the valleys’ representing the areas we have yet to face that we are afraid to, or “haven’t had time” to. We are weighed down by life’s punches and blows, the sudden ones and the old blows that still ache with each breath. Today, we just knew we had to get out – literally.  Where better to run to in Colorado than to the mountains? It’s always our favourite escape. We begin our trek usually not knowing where we are going – letting go of (almost) all control (which is why Ted drives in such circumstances), we drive until we decide where to go and what to do. More often than not, our kiddos fall asleep within the first 20-30 minutes, we roll our windows down to take in the fresh air and just listen to music.

After some time, one of the two of us speak the vulnerable, powerful words that carry so much…”I’m so sorry…”and reach for the other’s hand. Hot tears stream down our cheeks.

Here we are again, and again, and again.

So much pain and suffering shoved to the side, overlooked, or perhaps avoided, raising it’s ugly head in words spoken to one another. And life, oh life hasn’t been gracious to stop to say “Hey, it’s okay to grieve. Let’s talk. Let’s cry. Let’s scream. Let’s write. Let’s take time to heal.”

It’s been brutal. And boy, are we done.  But not done with LIFE and with LIVING. We are done with SUFFERING. Suffering, not just due to the losses we have had, but mainly the suffering due to the choices we’ve made along the way. Ones of avoidance, choices made to choose the busyness of life so not to feel and face the valleys, the deep and dark places that terrify us.

The first few months of this year have been incredibly painful, filled with sickness after sickness, hospitalization of Everly, and amidst all of that the loss of another baby (I would entering my 2nd trimester this week). From the outside looking in, we appear to be okay. And it makes sense why people around us have thought we’ve even moved on. Appearance… oh my. What a joke, am I right? How many times do we (you?) lie through your teeth “I’m doing good!”? We just keep pushing through and going and going and going. But is that strength? We know, we are anything but strong right now. We had given up just two weeks ago. We wanted to call it quits on everything. And those moments, our “rock bottom”, have led us to this moment here…

Now, we are making choices for our family that aren’t easy (the mountains) which don’t look anything like we’d imagined, or planned for. Or where we’d imagined. It actually might seem like a rather simple life, from the outside looking in. Or like we’ve given up on our dreams, our calling even. But we know this is not, and that this is the first time we are deliberate in choosing to face this “valley” that we haven’t fully faced, and that is no small or simple or weak thing. It is strong to decide this path, though it’s more painful and requires more faith (for us).

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(The Royal Gorge – photo by Ted)

I stood today and looked down into the depths of this gorge. And my stomach sank due to fear (especially with my kids near!) yet once I recognized how truly safe we were, the fear naturally dissolved and I began to see the beauty everywhere. There was beauty even in the depths where the river raged below. I almost gasped, it was so stunning. I suddenly realized it was no coincidence that we were there. I felt like this was a picture of where we are at: A picture of us, facing this gorge, this valley and feeling fear as we look down. Fear of falling and being unable to get back up, or worse. Fear of the unknown in facing the raging river. But from above I can see there is also beauty below. Though it will be difficult to crawl back into that valley and face these things, the beauty that will meet us amidst all of this pain and fear, is undeniably healing.

Now, if you had told me I would get this kind of an amazing picture, just even a week ago, I would have scoffed, honestly. I have put up some major barriers in my relationship with God in my search for answers. Searching for peace and understanding in every season of life and feeling as though I come up empty handed each time, or worse – suffering more loss. And that is painful and confusing. I want to be in a place where I can trust Him wholeheartedly, again. And with this picture, I feel like once I can do what He’s wanting us to do – to truly face this valley – our fear will begin dissolve, our trust will begin to build up again.

He’ll walk us through this valley. He will be with us.

And perhaps, for now, that is my answer. That He will be with us each step of the way.

(taken with my iphone)

 And for these little eyes that are watching, and looking into the gorge but not truly knowing what their momma and daddy are giong to be facing (and honestly, I don’t want them to fully know!)… I want to do this for all of us. I want to show them that though you will face these gorges, and have to walk through these valleys, you need to and you WILL come out alive.

We are more than conquerers with Him.

 We can do this.

However difficult and painful. However long it takes.IMG_4959

Time to face this valley.

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I’ve written posts with talk of this kind of having hope to face this. Talk of facing giants and valleys and mountains and fears, etc, etc, etc… but this time we actually have steps in place to help us. Such as long term grief and marital counseling for this year. Which is a first, the longest stretch we did was almost 2 months, and it was our healthiest 2 months since the loss of Eisley. Grief and lingering sorrow have truly seeped into every area of our lives: health – we are both the most unhealthy we’ve ever been physically, mentally, and emotionally. It’s seeped into our drive, our passions, into who we are and how we live.

I told Ted today, for the first time since Eisley passed away, I have felt it is time to move forward. I need to figure out how to say goodbye, which is something I haven’t been able to let go and to do yet. Almost 5 years later… I don’t know what this will look like, but I am ready to move forward and begin my trek through this valley.

Thankful that Jesus is walking before us.

Thank you for reading this novel. :)

-J