“I just have so much I’m carrying,” I sobbed as I looked up into the counselor’s kind face.
“What are you carrying?” he asked.
I ejected the contents of my heart all over him. “Well, I’m avoiding going back to places for the first time without Tage because it feels like a hot iron poking an already bleeding wound, and I hate those moments. And, I have a constant, pressing fear that my pregnancy days are over, and I’m just not sure I can handle that because I want babies more than anything, and we don’t know where we stand with other options, but I have my first OB appointment since Tage died on Tuesday, and I just don’t want to go in there with all the pregnant people. And then soon, I’ll start a part-time summer nanny job hanging out with a couple kids while their parents work, but I thought those days ended last March when Tage was born, and I don’t like that I’m in the my thirties still babysitting other people’s kids, but I know I need something to fill my time. And recently, a large part of my church community changed churches, when I need my community now more than ever, and I don’t feel like there is a place where Josh and I fit right now on Sundays or in social circles. Then, in ten days, I am taking a five day trip to meet my sister’s new baby boy who was born three days after Tage’s first birthday, and I’m not sure I can handle seeing him, because when she announced she was pregant, Josh and I thought it would be the first dad/son home alone weekend, and I could go help my sister and tell my nephew all about Tage, and then return to Tage. I just know there will be so many hard parts of that trip, not to mention the continual heartache I feel over the boy I miss so terribly much which clings so tightly to me all the time. Oh, and I am more than likely going back to teaching next fall, which makes me angry that I have to make this decision at all because all I wanted to do (and what I was sure I would be doing) was to stay home with Tage — I LOVED being home with Tage — but I have to tell them by next Friday.”
Perhaps a bit shocked by the overwhelming list, he raised his eyebrows and said, “Wow, that’s a lot.” Then, a second later he added, “So what are you going to do about going back to teaching?”
Of all the things on the list, I was floored he’d picked that one.
“Umm, well, I know I probably should go back because being at home alone all day leads me to a dark place really fast. But I’m just so mad that I have to go! I thought when I turned the lights off in my classroom on that final Friday, I was saying goodbye to a job-job and hello to the job of motherhood, which is what I had wanted more than anything all along! I just can’t believe he’s gone now, and I have to make this decision. I don’t know if I can handle being around other peoples’ kids all day and returning phone calls from “concerned” parents over their child’s A-. I think I’d wanna say, ‘Well your son is alive, so be grateful and who cares about a freaking A-!?’ ”
He pointed to the tissues on the table beside me, and I realized that my face was soaked, covered with thick tears of grief. Okay, so maybe I needed to talk with a counselor more than I thought.
After blowing my nose, I looked back up at him to see what he’d say to me as I sat emotionally filleted before him.
He leaned his face forward a bit and looked me straight in the eyes. Then, gently but firmly he said without hesitation, “Molly, You need to go back to work.”
If it was anyone else, I would’ve been fuming because how dare they say that to me! But my counselor knows a thing or two about grief: he lost his wife and daughter in a car accident some years ago. I know he gets it. I trust him.
He went on to explain how he slowly crept back into work after his losses, how it forced him to get back into society and to give his time and attention to something other than grief all day. It made sense, but dang it, I just didn’t want to. This was not part of my plan. Like, at all.
This week, I read a powerful part of scripture. Many have heard the verse Jeremiah 29:11:
“‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘Plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.'”
What a powerful promise in the midst of suffering. But what makes it even more amazing is what comes in the verses just before it. Jeremiah, God’s appointed spokesman, wrote this letter to the people held captive in Babylon:
The Lord Almighty, the God is Israel, sends this message to all the captives he has exiled to Babylon from Jerusalem: “Build homes, and plan to stay. Plant gardens, and eat the food you produce. Marry, and have children. Then find spouses for them, and have many grandchildren. Multiply! Do not dwindle away! And work for the peace and prosperity of Babylon. Pray to the Lord for that city where you are held captive, for if Babylon has peace, so will you…the truth is that you will be in Babylon for seventy years. But then I will come and do for you all the good things I have promised, and I will bring you home again. For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.”
How much more powerful Jeremiah 29:11 is to me when I read the verses before it! God SEES the people in their plight as slaves to their enemy, and He knows how they suffer. Yet, He tells them that in the midst of the suffering, they must not stay curled up in the fetal position and let their lives come to a grinding halt until the disaster has passed. Instead, He urges them to keep living life: to find a home, to do work that will provide for their needs (food), to have children and grandchildren, to work to make their current city or circumstances better in whatever ways they can, and to pray for that which holds them captive!
Which means He urges us to do the same thing, to keep living our daily lives in the midst of the suffering, to cultivate a life in the midst of disappointments, to pray about the areas where we are held captive, to do these hardest things.
I can imagine how angry the people may have felt when they heard this from the Lord. I’m sure they didn’t want to think about staying in their current situation for long, let alone for 70 years! I’m sure they wanted to wrap up this suffering as soon as possible, not to plant food and plan to stay and settle in there for a while! I’m sure they, like me, often shouted, “But this is not what I had planned for my life, Lord!”
And God’s response to all of us is, “I understand your confusion, dear one, but I know what I am working in your life, even with this pain. My plans are good plans that will prosper you, bring you hope and a good, good future. I know what I’m doing with this hardship, and it has an explicit purpose and a known end point. I know exactly when that is, and I will not allow even one excessive hurt to press you. I am creating something in you that you wouldn’t imagine. Can you believe Me?”
[Deep breath. Exhale.]
So, I’m working on doing the hardest things in the midst of this season of disappointment and broken dreams and sorrow. I’m planting seeds for the future while I wait for God’s good plans to unfold.
To start, I chose to sub for the last three months of the school year. On my first day back, I walked in the front office, and our precious secretaries said, “Hi Molly! It’s so nice to see your face! You get to come sign in over here now with the subs!” I about bawled right there, but I held it together. I walked into my old classroom, knowing the last time I’d been in there, Tage was with me, and he napped on the floor while I cleaned out my stuff. It was HARD. But the second day was much better.
I went to the OB full of anxiety and dread, but was delighted to see they’d remodeled, and the place looked completely different! (I guess change CAN be a good thing…sometimes.) The new nurse asked me how many pregnancies I’d had. Two. And how many births? One. Oh, and how old is that child now? Well, he passed away in November. And all the emptiness came rushing over me, and I failed to hold in my tears. Then, she cried with me, which assured me that this is all very sad. I cried some more when my doctor came in and talked with me for over 30 minutes. She cried with me, too. It was HARD. But the second visit was better, even when I heard the sound of the baby’s heart beat in the room next door. Ugh, HARD.
I have also been hanging out with two boys this summer. I dreaded the first day of that, too, afraid that all summer with them I’d be thinking about last summer with Tage and wishing so desperately that I could have had this summer with him, too. It was HARD. But, luckily for me, they had renovated a large part of their house this year, so it looked like a new space, too! And I have noticed a huge difference in my daily moods while staying busy with them during the days. It’s been really, really helpful.
I did go meet my new nephew, Ollie. I could write a whole post on just that. I started crying when we were 10 minutes outside of Duluth. I cried every night when I went to bed because little baby boys are my favorite, and I miss mine, and Ollie has the greatest big smile that Tage never did, and my sister, Marylou is an incredible mom and I’m just so sad that I can’t be for her what I had always dreamt I’d be able to be for her at this time in her life, and I grieve that our boys won’t be growing up together and a million other things like that. The pain is just too much for me sometimes. It was and is HARD. But she has been so gracious and loving toward me, and Ollie is the cutest little guy with the silliest grins that make all of us smile. They are coming to visit in July, and it will be hard and also so, so good. I can’t wait to hold Ollie and show him pictures of his cousin, Tage, and I’ll probably cry because it’s SO HARD, but Ollie won’t remember my tears, so it’s okay.
And I am going back to teaching 5th grade in the fall. It is certainly not part of my plan. But as I’ve seen my compassionate co-workers and the kind families that I teach, and as I’ve gotten to have an intentional season of grief, and as I’ve seen the benefits of having a summer job (just like my counselor told me), I think he’s absolutely right. It is good to go back to work. It is HARD. But it is good.
Because I’m learning that the HARDEST things are the necessary things. They are part of obeying God by actively and intentionally cultivating a life — my life — even when it is not going the way I had planned.
So, I’m slowing doing the hardest things, because He says they are beneficial things to do. Because this is not the end of the story. Because I’m choosing to trust He really does know the plans He has for me, and that they are plans for good and not for disaster, plans to give me Hope and a blindingly bright future.
Welcome to the world, little Ollie. Your aunties love you!