What to do When Your Friend Loses a Baby

Two weeks ago I was experiencing the most intense and sudden pain I've ever had. After an hour where I was just trying to bear it, Nate overruled and we went to the ER. After all night in the ER, we were admitted the next day and there for five days, during which we had every manner of good, bad, terrible, hopeful, and excruciating news about our pregnancy. Our faith was high after one meeting with a doctor and was crushed in the next. It was an invasive and demoralizing stay (what hospital stay isn't?) and in the end, we ended up losing the baby and one of my fallopian tubes in surgery. 

A few months ago our Home Group spent an evening talking about mourning. It was a strangely lively discussion in part, I think, because as western Christians we're not very good at it and we don't want to be. We want to be Happy Clappy Christians who bounce back quickly with the Will of God on our lips and a song of praise in our hearts. We don't want to engage the long difficult process of mourning. We don't want to have a formula for mourning or a plan for it. We had talked about weddings the chapter before in our book and I mentioned it was strange how much attention, dreaming, planning, and money we gladly put into weddings, but how unprepared and shocked we are when we must mourn. Yet, it's death that's certain for all of us, not marriage. 

This could be titled What to Do When Your Friend Miscarries or Five Things to Do When Your Friend Has an Ectopic Pregnancy or Ten Things to Do when Your Friend Has a Stillborn but the truth of the matter is no miscarriage, ectopic pregnancy, or stillbirth is the same. There are varying complications, varying circumstances, varying emotions, and varying humans involved. There is no right way to approach or bless or check off deeds well done. 

What should you do when the hope of a baby is crushed by loss? 

First, ask your friend

I know the old "What can I do?" question is tamped down by many well-meaning grief experts who assume answering a question is too difficult for any grieving person. But that assumes a lot of a person's mental or emotional health. For some of us, that question is the most helpful because it doesn't assume what works for someone else works for us.

I am never going to be a strong verbal processor. I am never going to want to cry or talk it out with more than one person. I am usually going to want some space and quiet and someone to just sit beside me on their phone or with a book who isn't doting on me. For most of last week, one of our housemates (the female one, who was one of my roommates before I got married, and is still a good friend) came home from work every day at noon with a drink or lunch, crawled into bed with me, and we watched British bakers for hours. This was medicine for me. For someone else, though, that might feel invasive and they'd rather you just dropped food off at the door and left without a word. Or someone else might want the phone away, the tv off, and to talk for hours. Ask your friend what they need. If they don't know what they need, ask them again tomorrow or in a week. 

Second, be careful with your stories

Sometimes it's helpful to hear your friend talk about their friend who had six miscarriages after being infertile for six years and then had an ectopic pregnancy where they removed one of her tubes and then, miracle of miracles, birthed six babies right in a row without any complications. I can't think of an instance in which that might be helpful to hear when you're grieving, but maybe there's someone out there who would love to hear that story. For most of us, though, it's probably not helpful. What might be helpful is saying, "I'm sorry this is your story and I pray beautiful things come of it." That sounds a bit trite, but not as trite as comparing someone else's pain with yours. 

My mom (who has had eight c-secions) texted me the other day and simply said, "Every woman's body is different." She didn't try to compare her experience of having eight small living humans cut out of her body to my experience of having one small dead baby and a fallopian tube cut out of my body. She just let the stories be different because they are. Sure there are similarities of surgery and hormones and recovery and things like that, but our bodies are different. They heal in different ways and in different paces. Even the comparison of miscarriage to miscarriage isn't helpful. Some women might hardly know they're miscarrying, others, like myself, have seen the baby as they pass. There's a difference of trauma there. Some might experience the emotional loss of the baby more deeply than others, some might generally bounce back quickly. Some ectopic pregnancies end in a quick miscarriage, some end with the mother's death (the leading cause of mother's death in the first trimester is ectopic pregnancy). How could we compare those stories in a way that is sensitive and caring? So much better to simply say to your friend something like, "I know this story isn't what you hoped for and I'm sorry. I hate this for you. I'm praying God heals what is broken in your heart and he heals your body." 

Next, some practical things. 

Line up a few meals. If your friend eats meat, include some red meat or fish. She has probably lost a lot of blood and she needs iron. 

Offer to go grocery shopping for her household. Ask her if she has a normal list, but if she doesn't, buy lots of good healthy vegetables, fruits, and meats. And ice cream. 

Bring her a little basket of care. A friend brought me organic hand lotion, essential oil room spray, a face mask, flowers, and a gourmet cookie on day three of our hospital stay last week and it was the biggest blessing to me. The room spray especially since by day five our room was worse for the wear. Don't underestimate the need for a woman in mourning to care for her body. She may be struggling with hating her body at that moment and it isn't wrong to equip her in seeing it as a unique and beautiful thing. It will help her heal.

Schedule a cleaner for a week or two out. Here's the one we're using this week

Bring her coffee or lunch. 

Run errands: Make some returns for her or go to the library or take the dog to the vet or weed her garden. 

Babysit her other kids for a few hours. 

Essentially, your goal is to not hover around her while she's grieving, but to simply serve her and, if she needs it, you can be near enough that she can cry or talk with you if she wants. Most of these things come naturally to folks when there's a new baby to celebrate, but few of us care for a grieving mom in the same way. Just because there's not a new baby to celebrate doesn't mean there aren't still complicated and difficult things happening in her body. 

When my younger brother was killed suddenly when I was 20, I was struck by a few things: how well cared for we were in the immediate aftermath, and how long and confusing the process of mourning was. I had no rubric or understanding of grief and wasn't sure what I was supposed to feel or when. I don't think most of us do. This post isn't meant to provide that either, but instead to say: Be prepared for mourning. Plan for it. Count on it. It's a certainty as long as we live on earth. Enter into it. Don't mourn as those who have no hope, but mourn with hope in practical ways. 

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*For all the lively discussion our Home Group had about mourning, they were there every single step of our hospital stay, from the ER, to the eventual surgery, to getting home and recovering. They truly know how to mourn with those who mourn. 

How Do I Make New Friends?

When I was a tiny tot we learned a song in our preface to Girl Scouts (I think I was a Daisy or a Brownie or something like that). You probably know it too: Make new friends, but keep the old ones. One is silver and the other is gold. They didn't tell us which one was silver and which was gold, but the rhyme stuck as it was meant to. 

A question I get often is, "How do I make new friends?" I'd like to send it right back if I could because I don't know how you make new friends and I'd gander it's different for you than it is for me. I am a northerner transplanted in the south, I married in my mid-thirties, I am one of eight children—all male but me, I have divorced parents and am married to a divorced man, I struggle with doubt, depression, and anxiety, I hate living in suburbs or cities, I love my church, I have three lifelong friends all of whom live in different states, I do not have children, I'm a social introvert (meaning I get my energy and am most productive when I'm alone, but can often do that in public places—like the coffee shop in which I'm writing this now).

My point is, my circumstances, history, proclivities, etc. are going to be different than yours and my way of making friends is going to be different too. A comparison between the way you make friends and I make friends probably just isn't going to be helpful—comparison usually isn't helpful in most circumstances. 

It is true that making real, true, deep, lasting friendships is difficult and it takes some serious natural talent or some serious dedication or some strange Spirit-empowerment, but it is also true that making real, true, deep, lasting friendships does not come easily to almost anyone. We live in a seriously transient world right now and the fight has never been harder to hold on to lasting friendships. But the biggest fight we'll have in regard to friendship is the belief that everyone else has it better. 

The older I get, the more aware I am that my days are limited. Not just my future days, but my today days. I cannot manage the sort of deep life-on-life friendships we're sold as the ideal with the amount of people in my life. I have a choice: revamp how I view "friendship" and simply be faithful with the people God has put in my life even if they're not all the "golden" friends I thought I was promised in Kindergarten. Or I can resolutely demand more of my relationships than they were meant to give. I can demand a version of "friendship" the Bible doesn't offer and feel disappointed constantly when real life relationships fall short. 

The "silver and gold" friendships I was told exist: we do everything together. We laugh. We fight. We cry. We're at each others houses every other night. We babysit the other's kids at the drop of a hat. We mourn everything together. We celebrate everything together. We go on vacation together. We go to concerts together. We were bridesmaids for one another. We get pedicures together. We swaps stories and no subject is off limits from our "processing tongues." We sit together in church. We never forget the other's anniversary or birthday. We always know exactly what to get them. We have so much "relational capital" that we know what we're doing wrong before we even do it. We never disappoint one another. We are the other's best cheerleader. We manufacture drama on occasion, just so we have something to get impassioned about. We have our own hashtag on Instagram and if you click on it, you'll see the history of this golden friendship. 

Real friendship as the Bible talks about it: Wisdom is our friend (Get that? Not that our friend is wise, but that wisdom itself is our friend.). Rich people have lots of friends, but the poor few. Gossip separates friends. A friend loves at all times and in all things: they don't manufacture drama, assume the worst, or hold on to resentment. Someone who gives presents gets tons of friends, but someone who is pure in heart and whose speech is gracious is the friend of a king. The wounds a true friend gives are faithful, the kisses an enemy gives are profuse (Yikes!). The sweetness of a friend is in his earnest counsel (his truthful words). A friend is someone who wounds so they can point to the healer, regardless of whatever "relational capital" has been built up. A friend is one who is closer than family.

See the difference? 

In the former paragraph, which is the idea of friendship many of us are given, especially females, it's mostly someone to hang out with and "do life with." In the latter, it's rich with good counsel, loving wounds, purity, graciousness, wisdom, freedom, and love. There's nothing in there about time spent together in quantity or quality, a long history, "relational capital," or common interests.

It is not wrong to want to keep friends or make new ones, but sometimes our idea of what friendship is needs some adjustment. I love a hundred people, but we never get to hang out because we're all trying to be faithful with the things God has called each of us to. My very few closest friends are women I can talk to without having to caveat, explain, or say very much at all, we can offer one another counsel, tears, prayer, or a listening ear. I have never gotten a pedicure with any of them and none of us go to the same church. Our friendships are founded on the principles of Scripture and not some illusion given to us by sitcoms and Instagram stories. 

I don't know very many people (I can't think any) who don't feel lonely. The most alive, faithful, caring, generous people I know, all feel the pangs of loneliness in aching ways. Even the most extroverted person I know, the one with the best marriage, or the one who always seems to be in the center of popularity, is still reckoning with the reality that their soul is still apart from the One who created them for eternal friendship. We live with that reality. We live, aching for the kind of perfect knowing, perfect intimacy, and perfect companionship we know God promises us in himself and none of us will find it entirely here on earth. 

I cannot answer the question "How do I make new friends?" But I can ask you this:

Is your concept of friendship based in Scripture or based in comparison to the friends you think others have? 

Are you being a good friend, as outlined in Scripture, or only desiring it from others? 

Are you able to accept that most people feel lonely, even if they project something different?

Are you a good question asker? 

Do you assume people are generally doing their best, being faithful to what God has asked of them? 

Are you being faithful to what God has asked of you? 

If you can answer all those questions honestly, I think you're on the right track toward making friends. You may not keep all these friends for life—God brings all of us into different seasons and lives for his glory and our good, and those friends may change through life. But I can promise you, if you obey Scripture and ask the Spirit for help, you will find no better friend than God himself and you may begin to see the seeds of friendship everywhere. 

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Grief Course Giveaway

My friend Fabienne Harford is a coach, teacher, and writer who has put together a course on grief  I think many of us might need. She reached out to me a few weeks ago to see if she could give the course away to a Sayable reader and of course I said yes. Learning to walk into the deeps of grief, instead of staying in the shallow end of quick assurances to myself and others that, "God is good and is doing good," has been one of the hardest disciplines of my life. Responding with trite answers, avoiding awkward silences, rushing in where I should hold back—these are difficult lessons for the Christian. Fabienne wants to help you grieve well, but also truly grieve. Not only death, but disappointment, hurt, fear, unmet longings—whatever it is, she wants to help you walk through it honestly and with hope. Here's Fabs: 

After I lost my dad, I went to a counselor for the first time in my life. I sat across from her in our session and she asked me my goals for therapy. I told her, with absolute sincerity: “I want the feelings to stop.” With a gentle smile, my counselor broke the news to me that she wasn’t in the business of removing feelings and instead she spent the next few months introducing me to my ol’ buddy, grief.  

I counsel clients myself now, and I have no shortage of people who walk through my doors wanting to know how to make those pesky negative emotions go back underground. I tell them the same thing I tell myself regularly - if you get rid of the negative emotions, you will also get rid of a lot of things you treasure: intimacy, joy, connection, and your ability to bear the image of God (who, as it turns out, feels all the feelings).

Grief doesn’t ‘make the feelings stop.’ But it does make sense of them and put them to work to help you harness hard things to become healthier.

The reason many of us don’t know how to grieve is because we haven’t had a lot of practice. And that’s not because we haven’t had our fair share of emotional injuries; it’s because we tend to think grief only comes into play in the most extreme of circumstances.

Grieving is about healthily processing the bumps and bruises and injuries on your soul. It can help you harness all of life’s painful curves: friends moving away, singleness, infertility, disappointment with your career, sin patterns, the weird twinge of a friend saying something unintentionally hurtful, loss and disappointment in all its forms.

Grief is about navigating a fallen world where brokenness lurks around every corner. It’s about learning how to hurt well - in a way that leaves us walking even more fully in freedom and healthy wholeness.

Just like physical injuries, emotional injuries that aren’t dealt with don’t just work themselves out. Unaddressed wounds tend to result in us (1) losing access to certain emotional faculties or (2) becoming the walking wounded:

  • Some of us just shut off our feelings when something hard happens. We tend to look ‘healthy’ in a world that values positivity and is uncomfortable with tears. But while this approach may make you ‘low maintenance’ and easy to be around, it generally results in essentially amputating a part of your emotional capacity, making it harder to access parts of you that lead to vulnerability and intimacy over time.
  • Some of us just learn to live with gaping emotional wounds. When someone brushes up against the wound at all, we look down at our bleeding souls and blame them for carving us up, when in reality those wounds were there long before. Some of us notice the seemingly disproportionate reactions, and call ourselves crazy never realizing we’re reacting to something very real, even if it’s not the exact situation on hand.

I know all this and I still want to avoid grief most days. I don’t like to feel hard feelings. Because (spoiler alert), hurting hurts. But God has been gracious enough to allow specific losses into my story that made avoiding grief impossible. So I have experienced, not by choice, but by grace - the true reward of grief.

If you want to learn more about what it looks like to treat an emotional wound, check out the grief class! I created this content because I truly believe that learning to grieve well has been one of the most fruitful (if painful) endeavors of my life so far.

What does the grief class include?

(1) Six online videos you can watch whenever you want. The videos cover:

  • What is grief & why do I need to do it?
  • Skills for facing intense feelings
  • The thoughts we have about our wounds that make it hard to process them
  • How can we help our brains make sense of life’s curve balls?
  • Tasks of processing wounds in a healthy way
  • Grieving with God

(2) A workbook to help you work through specific wounds in your life

(3) A group study option is available that includes cool conversation cards to help you process with your pals!

Course Giveaway

If you want free access to the class as well as a downloadable workbook, all you have to do is:

Follow In Process Collective on Instagram and leave a comment on any photo just letting me know you saw this post on Sayable! It could be a question you want answered, a thought you wanted to share, or anything really. I'll choose a winner on Saturday, July 30th. 

If you'd like to order the course, click here

Thanks, Fabs! I hope and pray this course will be a great help to the church. 

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Yoga, Mr Rogers, Fauxnerability, and Listening

Is it too soon to share another smattering of links I read this week? I hope not, there were some good ones in here. 

If you keep up with me on Twitter or Facebook, please note that I've logged out for a few months. When I was looking ahead at this year, I knew I wanted to repeat the break from them both that I took in January. That month was so holistically good for me. We are subscribed to the New York Times, the New Yorker, and a few other literary magazines, so we aren't without news and views aplenty. I just appreciate a good step back from the flurry of opinions and the demand to Have One On Everything All The Time. That's exhausting and no one can do it well, though most of us try. I want to always read, listen, and observe more than I talk, commentate, or teach. That was a long way to say first, I'm away from Twitter and Facebook and second, I'm reading less online right now, so Link Love may be sparse this summer. 

Nate and I went to go see Won't You Be My Neighbor this past week and while Nate insists his "allergies were bothering him," I freely admit to openly crying through much of it. This piece from Jason Gray at The Rabbit Room on a biography about Mister Rogers is beautiful. 

I finished up the spring semester of the Writing Mentorship a few weeks back and mostly just feel like I received such a gift in knowing these writers. Sarah Willard is one and I hope you'll spend some time with her contemplative, creative, deeply profound writing here with Table for Three at Blind Mule Blog

While you're at it, Annie Parsons submitted her final project to Fathom Magazine and they published it. It was a perfect piece in my estimation and I'm so glad it's getting the attention her writing deserves. On the Yoga Mat as it is in Heaven

Almost all of my friends are verbal processors (really, except Nate, I think all of them are). I am not. This means most of my time with friends is spent listening to them, sometimes asking them questions, but mostly listening. There are times when I can resent this lopsided way of friendship, but mostly I do want to be a good listener. This piece on Mistakes I Made with my Grieving Friend made me remember what a gift a good listener can be if they are active in their listening and not just passive (which I often am).

This piece from Chuck Degroat got me all sorts of choked up while reading it. I think the Church is learning more about this (and hopefully maturing in our hiring processes and willingness to promote based mainly on giftedness), but I still lament how common narcissism is and how we seem willingly blind to it in many ways. If you're in ministry or want to be in ministry or are ministered to, please read this: Fauxnerability in the Church. I don't get angry about much, but I am angry at how many of my brothers and sisters walk in narcissistic behavior and even more angry at how many more of my brothers and sisters are duped by it. Let's be aware of these patterns, church, and faithful to address them as sin and not simply "personality quirks." 

How Do I Live an Intentional Life

I do not so much happen to my life as my life happens to me. By nature I'm a bit passive, wont to fear of trying anything in which there is a possibility of failure, prone to finding the easiest way out or through a situation, and likely to ignore problems instead of facing them. The good thing is I know this about myself and feel constantly armed with fresh candoitiveness. Mondays are my favorite, tomorrow mornings are too—"fresh, with no mistakes in it, yet." I love Januarys and also Septembers. Any chance for a do-over, I say. 

It is strange to me then that I get asked the question (often): "You seem to live your life so intentionally, how do I do that?" Oh dear, she said, I have no idea. 

The truth is I am less intentional about my life than I am introspective about it. I think it is easy to confuse the one for the other. The former means coming at life well and the latter (for me) means to look behind at what happened well. These are two very different things. One is active, determined, and disciplined. The other is insightful, thoughtful, and optimistic. The former knows failure is imminent and plans for it, the latter muddles through the aftermath of failure for the lemons and makes lemonade. I make great lemonade, but, dear reader, do not confuse this with growing a great lemon tree. I am introspective, but intentional I am not. 

 "I think, therefore I am," the old philosopher said. He didn't mean, of course, exactly that when we think we become what we think about. But, as the old physician said (kinda), "You are what you eat." So what we think about, or eat, becomes what we are. So if you're introspective enough you will become a form of intentional. So when you ask me, dear reader, or observe some element of intentionality in the way I live, be assured: I am near constantly making up for lost time, wishing I'd done better yesterday and just fumbling through today with faith. 

There are a lot of type-A, planner central, smart women out there. They're writing blogs and making print-outs available. They're the queens of check-lists and goal-making and Big Idea Spreading. I am not that person. I will never be that person. I do not exist well in foreseeing the details, I exist best in the exploration of them afterwards. I'm the person you want at the table after the poorly planned party, not the one you want in the room for the planning meeting. 

So when you ask: "How do I live an intentional life (with the subtext: like yours)?" I just want to say get that illusion out of your head. I'm muddling through life just as messily, regretfully, haphazardly, and winging-it-ly as most of you. My only counsel is that we become good and honest inspectors of our lives. 

Life passes us by so quickly, more quickly than every before. There is hardly a moment for breathing or praying or thinking or stopping or stilling or being. And we make ten-thousand excuses for why that is in each of our lives (the kids...my spouse...my church...my job...my body...). But if we're wondering why any semblance of intentionality eludes us, that's why. We're so busy planning and planning more, that we don't stop to reflect, relearn, rewire, and repent.

If you sniff intentionality in what you read on Sayable or know of the Wilberts, please know it's because we fight hard to have intentionality in one area: space. We know the importance of stillness. We know the importance of remembering we are not God. We know the importance of awkward silence, making room for the quiet ones to share after the loud ones have gotten all their talking out. We know the importance of walking in faith instead of just wisdom. We know the importance of true reflection and repentance to one another and to God. And we won't let anything infringe on it. 

There is an inordinate amount of pressure on God's people from God's people these days to Look Busy for the Kingdom of God is at Hand (and it is), but busyness is not the way of the kingdom, faithfulness is. And if we're looking to our rights and lefts to see what faithfulness is, we've got it wrong. We've got to look at our Master, the one who entrusted us with a home or a family or a church or a job and a future. He's the only One who measures our faithfulness. 

The life of intentionality is a life of faithfulness to God. A willingness to confess we messed up.  A willingness to say no to what is good for what is better. A willingness to cheer others on in what God has called them to, and to stay faithful to what He has called us to. That's an intentional life. It has very little to do with planning or house mottos or how we spend our holidays or our Sabbath rhythm, and very much to do with looking to Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith. 

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