Friday, September 27, 2013

A "Chance" Meeting

I had one of those experiences yesterday that you could only hope to have. An opportunity to provide emotional closure. A chance meeting you didn't know was coming and could only smile inside at the beautiful moment as it played out.

See most people think of the Labor & Delivery unit as the happiest place of the hospital. And oftentimes it is.

But sometimes it isn't.

Sometimes we are hit with tragedy so mind-numbing that no one can explain. A baby no longer alive inside. A baby that survives only a few minutes. And it happens more than people know. But those parents who experience it...they know. 

I got to know one particular set of parents experiencing this loss firsthand. I had the blessing of caring for them two days, a Wednesday and a Friday, a year ago May. I blogged about the first day, in fact. Read about it here as I explain how words are never enough. I remember several moments with them, but one stands out in particular. It was an embrace with the mother. I was helping her back from the bathroom, and she paused at the sink, swaying under the weight of the experience. I held her for what seemed like minutes, willing every ounce of my strength into her, her swollen belly making its painful presence known between us.

When you have experiences like that, you think about those couples often. Their faces etched in your memory forever. They will seem to appear in a crowd, and for a few moments you're lost in thought of where they are, how they are doing. Or you could actually see them, out and about, returning to a normal but changed life. 

That was the case with this couple. A few months after they experienced the loss of their beautiful baby girl, I saw the father at Walmart. He didn't see me, and I paused for a few moments debating about whether or not to say hello. 

Sometimes you don't want to spring memories on someone when they least expect it. I chose to walk away this time, not wanting to put him back in a moment if he wasn't ready. Instead I sent up prayers for him and his wife.

Months went by, over a year in fact.

And then yesterday, a coworker of mine was teaching a class to new nurse residents about our role in bereavement. She had invited some parents to come speak to the class about their experience. Unbeknownst to me, one of the mothers was this one I cared for. 

My coworker informed her I was at work that day and asked if she would like to see me. Her answer was a shaky yes as she recognized the emotion and memories it would usher in. But she resolved that, yes, she would like to see me.

My sweet coworker came to get me, and as we walked down the hall to her, I knew exactly who it was. 

After a quick hello, we embraced for a moment. Then, with arms still locked, she looked me in the eyes and, through tears, said the most beautiful things about the care she received from me. Words too precious for this screen, but they are forever etched on my heart.

I just kept thinking "She looks good. Really good." And she was strong, on the inside. You could see it in the softness and clarity of her eyes. 

She shared with me the baby book she had made of their daughter. It was filled with momentos, written thoughts and memories, poems, and pictures of their sweet girl. I went through page after page embracing the tender moment of getting to talk with her about her journey through grief and healing. And how she is taking this experience to other mothers in similar situations. Even in her native country of Costa Rica! Teaching and educating about the grief process and rejoicing in the life that once lived inside her.

We chatted about life now, updates on her family and husband. We embraced a few more times. An embrace that has come full circle. It seemed she was almost giving back some of the strength received so long ago, a reminder to me of the power of God's healing. And the dear meeting came to an end.

I walked away fighting back tears, a heart so grateful it throbbed inside of me.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Letter To Self.

Four years ago today I departed on one of the greatest adventures of my life. It inspired the start of this blog, actually.

Read about the start here and here.

The Milford Track, New Zealand

Bondi-Bronte beach walk, Sydney

Children's Shelter of Cebu, Philippines

It was a 5-month journey around the world. My self-proclaimed "honeymoon with God." A time to disconnect with the busyness of life and reconnect with soul.




On that journey, I wrote a letter to myself. I re-read it every once in awhile. It's a great heart check. And a great reminder for what that trip taught me. To commemorate the four years, I'm sharing that letter...

Dear Self,

Keep it simple.  Really simple.  God has brought you to NZ - a beautiful land - into His creation, far from home, far from loved ones, to show you some things.  
First off, nothing is to take precedence over time spent in prayer and in His Word.  On this trip, you have seen Scripture come to life.  Your love for Scripture has been kindled, or rekindled.  You pour over the words with an open heart, memorizing, underlining, making references, meditating.  Ultimately, longing to have these words written on your heart and incorporated in your life.  God’s word is chocked full of encouragement, instruction, warnings, truths, reminders.  It is the way you should live.  Continue to pour over it, daily, recognizing your need, your weakness, your willingness to submit and give your life to the One who gives life, the One who’s power is perfected in weakness.  You are nothing without Him.  He will not fail.  He will not forget you.  Your name is written in heaven, He knows the movements of your body, the thoughts in your mind, and He loves you more than you will ever be able to understand.  Let Him do His work in you.  

Secondly, remember what it feels like to be with the Lord.  To sit in His presence, completely known, surrendered, with a heart full of praise and hope.  Live each day like this - sitting with Him.  Praying without ceasing.  Keeping open the line of communication, always seeking and being joyful.  Never before in your life have you known Scripture as you do now.  Never before have you had the opportunity to spend each day with Him as you do now - away from a job, away from commitments.  Never before have you been filled and blessed in such a way.  Remember this blessing.  Take it with you as you enter back into the States, back into a life with a job, with a family, with friends.  Not many get an opportunity like this.  Don’t go spouting to everyone about how much of a changed person you are - they wouldn’t applaud anyway.  Just keep your eyes on Him and stay humble.  Live the change.  Be the change.  Give God the glory.
Early on in this trip you became aware of your increasing love for your family (or became aware of the love that was always there, it just needed uncovering).  You have always been part of a strong family, you’ve had years of creating memories to be cherished.  You’ve also had years of brokenness that are in need of restoration.  Be aware of this.  Be open to the restoration - don’t fight it, fight for it.  Rebuild these relationships, but also know they won’t ever be what they were...much has changed, we have grown and been stretched...the relationships can’t go back to what they were, they can only move forward and be greater than they were.  Speak honesty with your family.  Be kind and courageous.  Let them know what they mean to you.  God brought you around the world and revealed to you how much they mean to you.  He showed you you were so close to being home, yet so far.  You were unwilling to make a move for the pride within yourself.  You once said, “I’d love to live in Atlanta, but I don’t want to be the spinster little sister that follows her sister’s family around.”  Oh, how prideful you were!  Unwilling to see how God could use that move.  He brought you away from it all so you would see.  Remember the clarity you see now, the tangibleness of the love you feel, the vibrancy of the memories you see, the hope of good times yet to be had.  Be grateful He allowed you this opportunity to make things right.  To make the move after you’ve been humbled.  What a gift!
You also have the opportunity to make things right financially.  You have lived in fear of finances for as long as you can remember.  You have never had confidence to make a budget and stick with it, you have never had confidence to tithe regularly, you have never liked making big purchases, even if you had the money, for fear of needing that spent money elsewhere.  You have tried to make wise decisions based in this fear, but you cannot be successful continuing to do so.  You have freedom from fear in Christ - the seed is deep, but uproot it (and watch for it in other areas of your life)!  Replace the fear with faith.  It will take work, but delve in, study and learn how to manage this according to the Lord’s Word, and persevere.  He is allowing you to start afresh.  Do it right this time.
Lastly, don’t make decisions in this world because it’s what the world expects.  God is unexpected.  He does not operate of this world and doesn’t want us to either.  Doing something just because it’s what is “normal,” expected, or the way things have always been is stupid.  It’s wasting a life that could be aligned with God’s will.  Your home is in heaven, you are only here temporarily.  He will do things and ask you to do things in your life that don’t make sense to the world or sometimes even to you, but hold unswervingly to the hope we profess.  Keep the faith.  Fight the good fight.  Know that He has a purpose for you, a plan to prosper you and not to harm you, to give you hope, and a future.  He who promised is faithful.  

And remember, keep it simple.

Love yourself so that you can love others,

Erin Suzanne Cooper <><

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Just a Vessel

Yes, Garth Brooks' "The River" is running through my head right now. And now it will be in yours.

You're welcome.

But this idea of being a vessel has been on my mind recently.

Maybe it's a recognition of surrender? Maybe a recognition of too much striving? Trying to be something. Trying to do something. Sensing that as a deeper desire for more of God and less of me.

A vessel. A broken one, at that.

Wanting to be spoken to. Spoken through.

So I wanted to share some quotes from a book I've been reading lately - Dallas Willard's Hearing God: Developing a Conversational Relationship with God.

It's one of those books that is truly over my head. And I knew that going into it.

But if one never grasps for what is out of reach, you'll only have what is within reach. You don't learn Calculus by stopping at 1+1=2.

A child is taught to "reach for the stars" and they'll land somewhere in between reality and the stars. Thus is the case with me. In reading this book, I am aiming far beyond and hopefully (and prayerfully) I'll land somewhere further than where I can see.

May these words speak to you as they have spoken to me...

In this life with God, his presence banishes our aloneness and makes real the meaning and full purpose of human existence. This union with God consists chiefly in a conversational relationship with God while we are consistently and deeply engaged as his friend and colaborer in the affairs of the kingdom of the heavens. (pg. 75)

Hang on. Read that one again. It's that good.

Ok, moving on...

Frank Laubach tells of the immense change that came over his life at the point when he resolved to do the will of God:
As for me, I never lived, I was half dead, I was a rotting tree, until I reached the place where I wholly, with utter honesty, resolved and then re-resolved that I would find God’s will, and I would do that will through ever fiber in me said no, and I would win the battle in my thoughts. It was as though some deep artesian well had been struck in my soul....You and I shall soon blow away from our bodies. Money, praise, poverty, opposition, these make no difference for they will all alike be forgotten in a thousand years, but this spirit which comes to a mind set upon continuous surrender, this spirit is timeless. 
(pg. 93, quote from Frank Laubach comes from his Letters by a Modern Mystic)

Mmm. Here's to striking artesian wells deep in our souls!

And one more...

[I]t is important to understand that God in his mercy often speaks to us in obscure ways in order to allow us the room and time we need to respond. He lets us know that we are indeed being addressed but also that we need to stretch our in growth in order to receive the message. Perhaps we often think, Well, God, why don’t you just come out and say it? Tell me in detail how to live. But we are usually full of mistaken ideas about what that would actually mean.
Our minds and values have to be restructured before God’s glory, but at the same time our interests are truly appreciated and understood. We may be tempted to cry out, like Isaiah, for God to rend the heavens, come out of hiding and stand before us telling us what to do (Is 64:1), but we do not really understand what we are asking for when we ask that. Probably it would literally kill us or at least unbalance us if it actually happened, so God in his mercy continues to approach us obliquely, in one way or another. But this is increasingly less so as we mature - even until that time when we can safely know him as he knows us (1 Cor 13:12).
It is therefore natural and right that God’s word comes to us in forms that we must struggle to understand. This is even true of the Bible, which is very explicit in many respects but still requires persistent and energetic work to understand. In the process of struggling we grow to the point where we can appropriate and assimilate the content of truth as it becomes clear. It is one of the oldest and most common stories of human life that in its most important moments we have little more than the foggiest idea of what it is we are doing and saying. And our ignorance is partly for our own good.
Did you really know what was happening when you entered the university or military training, got married or brought a child into the world? In some vague sense you did, perhaps, but you also had very little idea of what it meant in the long run. If you had appreciated all that it meant at the time, you probably would not have had the courage to proceed. Then you would have missed out on much good that has come to you through those events. (pg. 148-9)

So. true.

If I get going, my thoughts will ramble and show their ignorance. 

So...this is the end.