Simeon’s Birth

Note: The following is the story of Simeon’s birth as I remember it. If you don’t particularly want to read the gory details of birth, you might just want to scroll down to view photos and read the final paragraph to read Simeon’s stats. . . which I’m afraid will be a long way down, as this is incredibly wordy =0)

On Thursday (Feb. 12) afternoon, I received a phone call from our midwife Jessica notifying me that they had received the results of my labwork—and it didn’t look good. She and our doc had talked and decided that I should probably go in right away to be induced—that I either had pre-eclampsia or HELLP Syndrome. She said untreated (and “treatment” was birth), my organs—particularly the liver—could begin to shut down. She assured me she would be available for whatever we would need, and suggested I call Dr. G (my OB) right away.

When I got off the phone, I called Allyn at work—all the while trying not to cry—to alert him that it was go time. He made plans to come home, and I called the doctor’s office to get more information. Dr. G’s nurse had not been told anything yet, so while she was talking to the doctor, I began running around figuring out what on the “to do” list needed to happen before we took off.

When Allyn arrived home, he offered to pack bags, so I began listening to the Hypnobabies Fear Clearing track to attempt to calm myself and regroup. It was tough knowing an induction­­—and the extra risk factors—would change all of my plans. And not knowing any details about what the labs revealed, I was afraid of what the medical team saw.

Dr. G called back and, as expected, suggested that coming in was the best thing. I asked if it had to be St Anthony’s, or if we could go to MoBap, which we had decided was our back-up plan if I became too risky for the Birth and Wellness Center since both the doc and midwives have privileges there. As it turned out, he was on call at St. Anthony’s for the weekend and would not be able to go to another hospital.

And, of course, this made me even more panicked. We never toured St. Anthony’s, and I was not a fan of the information I’d received there for gestational diabetes. I knew they didn’t have the same sort of natural birthing culture that it seemed MoBap championed, and I was worried about giving up EVERYthing from my birth plan. While I knew Dr. G was supportive of the sort of birth I wanted, I also realized that doctors are only a small part of the process. So while I continued attempting to listen to tracks, Allyn called Jessica back to ask questions about what it would mean if we were somewhere else. She implied that with the diagnosis, facility really didn’t matter . . . but after talking to Allyn, consulting again with Dr. G, and finally agreeing to listen to myself, we decided to go to MoBap, even if that meant a doctor we didn’t know. 10997298_10100654072116062_6719660482011881525_n

I continued to listen to Hypnobabies tracks while in the car, trying to wrap my head around the idea that this was the time, despite the fact that I was having no signs of birthing time (Hypnobabies term for labor).

We were admitted to MoBap under one of the Birth and Wellness Center’s partner doctors. Downstairs we ran into the nurse who had given us the tour only four days before. It was nice to see someone we knew!

When we got to Admitting, they received word that we were a direct check in (not a triage patient), and so we went straight from the check-in desk to a labor/delivery room. A nurse drew more labs and began trying to insert an IV. As it turned out, my veins were terrified (their words) and ran to hide. Three or four different nurses attempted to insert the IV, followed by two different people from anesthesia. At one point, one was placed, only to have our nurse (who was a great nurse and felt absolutely awful) trip over it and pull it out. I finally ended up with an IV on the inside of my wrist—the only place they could find a vein that wouldn’t roll or collapse.

My new doctor, Dr. M, arrived to introduce himself. He affirmed the pre-eclampsia/HELLP diagnosis and suggested that my new labwork showed my platelets had already dropped again—and more than they would like. So I was put on Oxytocin to jumpstart labor and Magnesium Sulfate to minimize any neurological impact of the P-E/HELLP.

Magnesium is a rather nasty drug. Our midwife Nicole, who was assisting at a C-section around the time I was induced, stopped by to check in on us. She apologized for the Magnesium and suggested I might begin feeling like I was made out of sand bags. She added “I will say this only once . . . “ and instructed that despite my hopes for limited interventions, if I needed an epidural it might actually be helpful as one of the side effects that can be problematic in other women could help me: lowering blood pressure. This scared me a bit as midwives are not known for recommending epidurals. I wondered what she thought I would be experiencing—and also what criteria I should make the decision on. Was the recommendation one for comfort or one for safety? 10942513_10100654075025232_4721343776019534847_n

The Magnesium meant that I was confined to bed, which was something I never considered happening. I knew that emergency C-section could be a risk, or that my diabetes could dictate needing a hospital setting in order to monitor my and Simeon’s glucose levels, but I always pictured either surgery or having a birthing time that allowed for walking around, multiple positions, a birthing tub (we had pre-ordered one at MoBap just in case we ended up there. The plan for the Birthing Center had been a water birth). Being on my back was tough mentally—particularly knowing that I really had no other options. Both Simeon and I were under constant monitoring.

Overnight as pressure waves (Hypnobabies term for contractions) began and strengthened, I continued listening to Hypnobabies tracks and trying to concentrate on my cues—going into deep hypnosis for pressure waves, breathing “peace” to both strengthen my relaxation and target hypnoanesthesia where needed. Since our room had a cd player, we were using it to play tracks (rather than using my cellphone). At some point a disc ran out while Allyn was sleeping. After I could no longer stand being alone in the quiet, I began attempting to wake him up, which eventually involved breaking the rules a bit and maneuvering so I could reach him with my foot. “I need you!” I said. I think we put cds on repeat after that.

Allyn and I talked about the things I would be doing if I weren’t stuck in bed—how the tub truly sounded amazing. In class, we had practiced a number of various positions and techniques, and all of my favorites involved being able to move freely (walking, slow dancing, sitting on a ball, being on my hands and knees). It was good to be able to identify how this differed and figure out how to adapt to the reality of the moment.

Unfortunately, being confined to bed while on fluids also meant that I got to experience the joy of bedpans. I did, however, become an expert at timing the getting up and down to be before or after pressure waves.

I began to cough and feel sick leading up to pressure waves. The nurse asked if I wanted to try being on my hands and knees—which I desperately wanted to do, but assumed was off limits. I wasn’t able to hold myself in that position long (granted, my perception of “long” is likely askew. It may have been an hour or more)—which I imagine is partially the fault of the Mag—but it was glorious. 10991270_10100654588640942_7630275149293767908_n

In the morning, Nicole texted Allyn stating that she would still be on-call that day and was available whenever we were ready for more consistent support. She came in shortly after, which was a great relief. She convinced the nurses to let me use a birthing ball since she and Allyn would be with me to give physical support, if needed. Using the ball really got things moving. I was able to rock during pressure waves, which both lowered my blood pressure and allowed Simeon to sink down lower.

I began feeling a little pushy, and Nicole encouraged me to relax into what my body wanted to do. My pressure wave grunts shifted, and I began to chant “open, open, open” during many of them. Apparently my grunts were significantly different enough to warrant shifting into the next phase, so I moved back to the bed and tried a variety of positions to attempt to continue progress and allow Simeon to move into the world.

We switched to the “Pushing Baby Out” track, which continued to play in the background for the next several hours. It seems pushing Simeon out was a group process. I apparently had a tight circle of tissue that didn’t fully want to yield to let Simeon by. At the end, whenever a pressure wave would reach its height, Allyn and a nurse each took one of my legs, Nicole worked on keeping the progress Simeon made by maneuvering the tissue circle, and I was pulling on the stirrup/handlebars in rowing fashion. Luckily his monitor revealed that he continued to do well, so I was able to continue the process. Dr. M reappeared to offer some suggestions (the above may have been one of them) and provide support for the last bit of Simeon’s arrival.

Once it was obvious that Simeon would be with us shortly, the room filled with a team to evaluate Simeon. The part of me that was not working hard really wanted to laugh, as Hypnobabies tends to make fun of “purple pushing”—the holding of breath and pushing to particular counts . . . but it is exactly what I had to do—and the thing that ultimately worked to birth my son. Allyn said later that he was convinced that I was at the end of my energy and would need some other sort of intervention (it was suggested that a vacuum could be used). He suggested my pure stubbornness is what allowed me to continue. I responded that my body didn’t give me any choice, that it was the one calling the shots.

When Simeon was born, it was obvious something was wrong. The plan had been to wait until the cord stopped pulsing to cut it, but Allyn was immediately instructed in what to do and had to cut the cord immediately. My child was whisked away to a warming table with a team of various doctors and nurses. While I was desperately trying to pay attention to what was happening, Nicole and Dr. M began instructing me to push again to birth the placenta. As soon as it was out, I wasen something to help my uterus contract to stop my bleeding. Dr. M was checking me for any tears (there were none), and I still had not heard my son cry. Turns out he didn’t take his first breath for over a minute. After a birthing time that felt considerably shorter than it actually was, that minute felt like the longest, scariest thing I had experienced. He finally cried out and was shortly handed back to me for skin-to-skin. I learned later his initial APGAR score was a 4. It jumped to a 9 on second evaluation. 10850223_10100654651889192_6198589766057626_n

Once my family came in the room, I noticed how completely exhausted I was. Twenty-four hours later, I learned the Magnesium, more than the difficult process, was responsible for my extreme exhaustion. As soon as I was taken off the IV, the world around me cleared and I had more energy (despite the lack of sleep I got in the hospital during the two nights before). Once I recognized the impact of the Magnesium, I couldn’t believe I was able to do all I did to birth my son. I suppose the body acts on its own to do what it needs (even with all the other ways my body did NOT want to cooperate—diabetes, pre-eclampsia, HELLP).

Allyn was, of course, my partner in it all—constantly offering me water, helping me into whatever position I needed, placing his hand on my head or arm for our “relax” cue, running interference when someone would ask questions during a pressure wave, calling for nurses when I needed them (or when one of my monitors needed them), and simply being with me. If the above doesn’t mention him much, it is only because he was so much a part of things that I forget to separate his work from mine (you know, aside from the fact that Simeon was clearly birthed from me!).

I am incredibly thankful for MoBap and my amazing birthing team for allowing me to continue with a “natural” birth (it was still being called natural, although it seems silly to label it as such given the Magnesium, Oxytocin, and fluids—and all the monitors I was hooked up to). Even with my limitations and complications, I felt like I was able to make choices and have as much control as the situation allowed. The nursing staff was amazing, and having Nicole with me was so great. She was with me the whole day—and I just realized skipped lunch in the process. While Dr. M might get the official credit for assisting, she was truly the one coaching me and doing the hands on work (very literally). I can’t recommend midwife care—and the Birth and Wellness Center in particular—enough. 1510647_10100655000051472_6092908500291081931_n

The birth was not at all what I anticipated. I felt like I had to adapt and reframe everything I learned in Hypnobabies class. But it was ultimately still the empowering experience I’d hoped for. Nurses—and the doctor—kept commenting that I was the calmest person they had ever seen in labor. The nurses who had been with us during the day (when Simeon was born) stated afterward that I should teach classes. Even though I felt like I wasn’t able to fully use my Hypnobabies tools, I know they are what kept me in a state of relative peace. During the long pushing phase, I kept being told “I know this hurts . . . “ but pain was never my issue. I don’t know that I can say I had a pain-free experience, but I know in those moments my energy level—not any sense of pain—was what kept me from being able to maintain pushes as long as they wanted . . . until my body took over, and I couldn’t stop any longer. I felt a lot of intensity and certainly a lot of pressure, but whatever pain I had never escalated to a point where it was ever something I focused on. In fact, while I was on the birthing ball, I recall thinking “I could definitely do this again.” I felt so in tune with my body in that moment, it was pretty amazing.

Simeon is also pretty amazing. Our boy was born 21” long and weighed in at 7lbs, 4oz after his first meal. His Dad and I believe him to be the most stunningly beautiful creature we’ve ever seen. I think we’ll keep him.

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December Ministry Update

The last few months have felt like a whirlwind. Between pregnancy, planning a move (which will be complete by Jan. 1!), and trying to remain active in the community, life has passed quickly. It has been a time of absolute joy, utter mental chaos, and devastating heartbreak. The following is only a very small snapshot of what has been going on. Feel free to ask for more info!

At the beginning of November we attempted the first “Who Are the Mennonites” discussion. We had exactly one person show up right at the point that we were beginning to turn off lights and go home. He noted his surprise that we had not drawn crowds of thousands (neither Pastor Sam nor I found this quite as surprising). It turned into a good conversation, making connections across traditions.

And, of course, the congregation has continued to work on how we respond to the racism in our community that has been highlighted again with the killings of Michael Brown and Vonderrit Myers. During our regular joint worship service with Bethesda Mennonite—an entirely African-American congregation—we (thanks to the City on a Hill Committee who planned it) had conversations about race. We had a joint choir (something that has become a beloved tradition) and instead of a sermon, four of us—two from each church—shared our own experiences with race and racism. I was honored to get to be one of the four, listening to the stories of others and sharing how my experience has been one of privilege and blindness. We followed the service with a group activity in Sunday School and a potluck where we continued the conversations from the service in small groups. It was a great time of deeper connection with our brothers and sisters.

On the night of the Grand Jury announcement, I was at the building of a sister congregation that was serving as safe space. I stood on the sidewalk inviting marching protesters in for warm beverages, snacks, bathrooms, and heat. Several weeks before I was able to act as a mediator for a community meeting in Ferguson proper that was organized by an SLMF member (she and her team have been holding regular discussion groups for several months now).

“The New Jim Crow” book study had a great first week, but we quickly discovered this was not a good time of year for gathering for yet another thing. Hoping to try again this Spring.

In the midst, we celebrated a successful end to the first term of Sunday School. My class ended with talk of Passover and experiencing a very small form of some of the symbolic elements of the Passover meal.

In personal news, I’ve been diagnosed with gestational diabetes and have had a complete overhaul in diet the last two-and-a-half weeks. I sometimes feel like my life is lived between tracking every meal and snack I eat (three of each!) and the beeping of the timer telling me it is time to check my blood sugar. In fact, while I was writing that last sentence, the timer alerted me that I finished lunch an hour ago. But I’m now about two months away from little man’s guess date, and things are looking good. Allyn and I are excited to be moving into a two-bedroom apartment that will give Mops a room of his own. Plus, we will live only a few minutes away from the church, so will be present in the area where I am serving.

I am continuing to fundraise. At this point, dollars are in the bank to pay me for the next couple of months. I would love to tell you more about what I am doing and why you should help! If you would like to make a year-end contribution, you can do so with a check payable to St. Louis Mennonite Fellowship with my name in the memo line. The church address is 3752 Giles Ave.; St. Louis, MO 63116. All gifts are tax deductible. If you would prefer to give online, talk to me about options!

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A month in ministry: September

What have you been doing?  

A common question during my first month as Associate Pastor at St. Louis Mennonite Fellowship. Here is a look at what I’ve been up to:

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Enjoying the amazing weather by meeting outdoors for our third session on church visioning

Sept. 5-7 was our annual church retreat. The congregation packs up and moves to Cuivre River State Park for the weekend. We spent the three days with guest speaker Roland Kuhl, examining our church vision and direction. On Sunday, I was officially installed as Associate Pastor during our outdoor worship and communion service.

The following week, Sunday School started back up for the term. I’m teaching an incredibly energetic (and other chaotic) group of 3rd and 4th graders—mostly boys. Two weeks in, we are attempting to find and settle into our routine. We’ve managed to talk about Noah and the scariness of the ark and the 900-mile journey that Abram, Sarai, Lot, family, servants, and animals made. We had a bit of a disagreement over whether or not Pennsylvania is in the south, and repeated memory verses in high, squeaky voices; deep, low voices; and i n c r e d i b l y  s l o w voices.

I led “Who are the Mennonites” with a student group from Greenville College. Greenville, a Free Methodist school, sends students on religious tours of St. Louis, where they get to meet and ask questions of various faith groups. They come to St. Louis Mennonite Fellowship and visit the fair trade store the church started, Plowsharing Crafts. It is always a fun time of sharing a little about Mennonite history and belief—and answering all sorts of questions about how we connect with the Amish, what “book” we use in worship, and what the whole peace thing means. It is fun to hear students ask questions that seem particularly near and dear to them—and me (what is the role of women in the church?), and see them make connections with a denomination that is not their own. We are planning to take the “Who are the Mennonites” idea to our community. We’ll be offering a similar event of our own, inviting our friends and neighbors to come and find out where we hide our horses and buggies in the middle of South City (disappointing spoiler alert: we all arrive to church in cars, on bike, or on foot. I don’t imagine many of us have any experience with horses or buggies).

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Finishing the setup for our Meet the Neighbors Yard Sale

This past Saturday was our annual Meet The Neighbors Yard Sale. We organized table after table of clothing and household goods and interacted with our neighbors as we sold merchandise at ridiculously low prices to benefit Isaiah 58, an amazing ministry and food pantry we participate with. Children were invited to play games, and all were able to enjoy free snacks and chat with the various church members scattered throughout. The unofficial count is that we heard 5 different languages during the day.

This coming Sunday, we will begin monthly prayer walks in our neighborhood. Following Sunday School, I will lead a brief devotion and we will go out in 3s and 4s to walk our neighborhood and begin to connect in new ways with our environment as we seek to encounter our neighbors as those made in the image of God. I imagine we will learn all sorts of unexpected things that will help shape the direction of our community ministry.

I’m also in the process of beginning a book study. In October a group of church and community members will begin discussing The New Jim Crow. In post-Ferguson St. Louis, I think many groups are trying to take a closer look at the ways we can recognize and eliminate racism in ourselves and in our communities. Addressing racism is one of the priorities that the congregation has been discussing through the church visioning process. Whether it ends up as one of the points in the final vision or not, it is certainly an important thing to discuss and examine from our Christian faith.

javawithpastorjenniferToday I have set up office in a local coffee shop (well, technically I suppose it is a gelato shop where most people sit around drinking coffee). I plan to be somewhere in the neighborhood at least once a week. While today will be mostly spent in sermon prep, future weeks will be spent getting to know local shop owners and inviting people into conversation.

Other activities have included meeting church members for breakfast, coffee, or afternoon snacks (my life these days tends to revolve around food); attending celebratory potlucks (we recently celebrated a 10 year anniversary of a release from prison); and trying to connect with speakers representing the 8 languages on our peace pole to come and talk about what peace means to them during our World Communion Service on Oct. 5. I am learning that we have an awful lot of cultural organizations right in our church’s neighborhood. Many are doing incredible things, but have been hidden from my radar. The things you learn.

Thank you all for your prayer and financial support! I deeply appreciate your prayers for my ministry, my church, and our community. At this point, I’m a little over halfway to my year’s salary goal. If you’d like to contribute, talk to me about how to mail your check OR give online now through my indiegogo fund!

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Why I’m fundraising my salary

I’ve received a lot of questions and concerns about why my church would create a staff position they cannot pay for. I’m assuming that means far more people share the question. Here is a bit more of the story:

I first met St. Louis Mennonite Fellowship when my friend Leslie gave my name to Pastor Samuel to come speak to a Sunday School class about the Baptist denomination. As I prepared, I looked at SLMF’s website and poked around into their beliefs and practices. What I discovered was a theology that matched my own. I said to Allyn, “Oh no, I might be a Mennonite.”

After an incredibly hurtful experience at another church, I began to attend St. Louis Mennonite Fellowship when I was not supply preaching or doing interim work elsewhere. Soon after, I approached Samuel about doing my final seminary internship with the church.

During that summer internship, I asked a lot of questions about what it would mean for me to be a Mennonite, about how all the processes worked, about the image of the wider denomination. By the end of the summer, I had fallen in love with SLMF and used it as the model when answering questions about my “dream congregation.”

I made the denominational leap to become a Mennonite and have continued to be a part of SLMF for the last two years post-internship, often dreaming about what the next steps would be.

My husband, Allyn, and I have felt called to be in St. Louis, which certainly limits ministry options . . . particularly when you have joined a denomination with all of two churches in the entire metro area (the other is entirely African-American). But still we felt (and continue to feel) that this was the place where God wanted (wants) us.

For awhile, Allyn and I wondered if I was supposed to start a church. About a year ago I had a conversation with Samuel, which led to occasional meetings of our families and a conversation with our conference minister about what all that might mean. As we talked about dreams, it seemed that what was emerging was not a separate congregation, but a new ministry within St. Louis Mennonite Fellowship.

All the while, my role at SLMF was changing. When Sam and Rachel’s son was born, I filled in for several weeks of paternity leave. I was asked to take two of our teenagers to camp. Various church members would come to me for pastoral care. A few teasingly referred to as “Pastor Jennifer.”

We began conversations about what this next phase of ministry might look like. I knew from the very beginning that there was not yet any available funding. We talked about a volunteer role as associate pastor . . . and it felt incredibly awkward. The leadership team didn’t feel right assigning me tasks because they didn’t want to presume too much. And I didn’t want to simply dictate what I would be doing, because that didn’t feel right for the structure of the church.

I began thinking about the new church model. The common model for the beginnings of a new church is to ask people for support. What we were proposing at SLMF was similar—a new ministry start. So I talked to the leadership team about this “missionary model” of funding (so named because almost all missionaries in almost all denominations are currently required to raise their own support). It opened up a new level of freedom. We were able to work together to design a job description that fit the needs of the church and my gifts and desires for ministry.

The congregation was afraid at first. No one wanted to do something that was unfair to me. Let me be clear: it has never felt unfair to me. In this position I will get to work beside some of the most loving and generous people I have ever met. And that isn’t unfair—it is an incredible gift.

In addition to pastoral care and some Christian education, I will be doing new work in our surrounding neighborhood, a place where something like 60 percent of the residents are first generation immigrants—most refugees fleeing from violence in their home countries. Our neighborhood has a lot of hurt and a lot of poverty. It will be my job to get to know the neighborhood and find ways that our congregation can partner with residents of our corner of St. Louis.

This is ministry that I am passionate about in a place that I am passionate about. My entire seminary program was based on being forward-focused, on realizing that the church landscape is changing. One of the things drilled into us was that the funding of church positions is changing. And so St. Louis Mennonite Fellowship agreed to take this step of faith with me. It is, I believe, a Holy experiment. We have agreed to listen to this whisper of the Spirit and see where it takes us over the next two years. I hope you will be willing to partner with us and see where the Holy Experiment leads you.

I do have an online fundraising site here. I’m also looking for those who wish to give monthly gifts (see this post for more information on how to do that).

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Good news!

I have two bits of exciting news. First:

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We’re having a baby! I can’t make out a thing in this ultrasound image, but the doc managed to see a dancing 10-week-old baby. Right above the little x was the heartbeat. We have never made it this far in a pregnancy. While we thought we got to 11 weeks with our first, she only measured at 9 weeks during our first ultrasound. Doc was thrilled and pronounced baby and me beyond the first trimester riskiness. Seems all the vitamins and shots may be working! If all continues to go well, Baby HD should make an appearance sometime around February 25.

In other news, I have two weeks to raise the first half of my salary. Last I heard, I’m several thousand dollars away. Today I started an indiegogo campaign that links directly to the church (you’ll notice it is listed as a verified nonprofit). All gifts to the campaign are tax-deductible. If you have a dollar or two that you are able to share, my family and my church would be incredibly appreciative. Please visit (and share!) here.

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New beginning

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Serving communion at the SLMF church retreat in 2012.

On the day of my Starbucks seminary graduation, Dr. Molly Marshall advised me not to settle for a bad ministry fit, but to create an opportunity that utilized my gifts. For the past several years I’ve been talking with Samuel Voth Schrag, pastor of St. Louis Mennonite Fellowship, about what that might look like and what options were available in Mennonite Church USA. Various ideas came about—starting a church, launching new ministries, etc.—but it became clear that my ministry dreams fit well with the desires of SLMF.

At the last members meeting, the congregation invited me to be their Associate Pastor. The position will involve pastoral care, providing support for the Christian Education team, and expanding ministry to our surrounding community in the South Grand/Chippewa neighborhood—an area that is home to a large number of refugees.

Since this is a new position and new ministry, funds are not readily available. For the first two-year term, I will be raising my own support. I invite you to partner with me in a number of ways.

I invite you to pray for me and the congregation of St. Louis Mennonite Fellowship as we begin this new ministry journey together.

I invite you to partner with me financially—either through a one-time gift or a monthly pledge. I will be working to raise $23,326/yr (The MCUSA recommendation for a halftime associate position in St. Louis). Gifts can be made using the response slip below.

I am incredibly excited about this new ministry and would love to talk with you about it!


Enclosed is my gift of: ____ $20 ____ $50 ____ $100 ____ (other: $___).MCUSA_Symbol_Blk

This gift is a: ___ One-time donation ___Monthly pledge.

Please make checks out to St. Louis Mennonite Fellowship and write “Jennifer Harris Dault” on the memo line. All donations are tax deductible.

Mail to: St. Louis Mennonite Fellowship; 3752 Giles Ave., St. Louis, MO 63116

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Litany of loss

I’ve heard of a few friends recently experiencing loss. Two weeks ago I led a workshop on miscarriage/pregnancy loss at the All You Need is Love Women’s Theology Conference. Here is the service I designed for the second half of our time together:

Gathering/Welcome
photo (5)We gather here this afternoon to name the pain and grief of pregnancy loss and infertility and to honor the children who are missing from our family photos.  This sort of loss is not often talked about on Sunday mornings. Very few churches and denominations have created liturgies to mark this sort of loss. Instead our pain is often relegated to the silence. It can be hard to know where to find God in the hurt. So today we gather, acknowledging that the Sacred is not separate from our experiences, not removed from our loss, but that God meets us even here. Will you join me in the call to worship?

Call to Worship
One: A voice is heard in Ramah, lamentation and bitter weeping. Rachel is weeping for her children; she refuses to be comforted for her children, because they are no more.
All: God, like Rachel we ache for our missing children. Condolences feel empty in the enormity of our loss.
One: Hannah was deeply distressed and prayed to the Lord, and wept bitterly.
All: God, you heard the cries of Hannah as she grieved her infertility. Remember us, too, as we long for the children we have hoped for and imagined.
One: For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes beheld my unformed substance.
All: God, you lovingly created us. And while we were dreaming of our babies, you were dreaming with us as your love formed them. Hold us as we grieve. 

Song: Healer of Our Every Ill (Marty Haugen)

Scripture: Lamentations 3:12-24

Reflection
I have never been a person in exile. I’ve never had to flee my homeland or be subject to foreign occupation. But I do know what it is to lament. I know what it is to both literally and emotionally have death inside me. I know what it feels like to have the weight of the world strike me like an arrow. And I know many of you know those feelings, too. We have shared stories this morning—shared places of heartache and moments of hope.

The most persistent thing I felt after my miscarriages was broken. In pregnancy I had started to look at my body differently—it was amazing. This body was shifting and moving and reconfiguring to grow a person. While I hated the nausea, the reality of the amazing things my body was doing was incredible. And then I went to my midwife for my second prenatal appointment, where she offered me an ultrasound and I learned that the incredible workings of my body were not enough. My daughter had no heartbeat. I felt like I had failed in one of the key areas of motherhood—I failed to keep my daughter alive. In a very real way, my own body had been working against my desires. How does one person even begin to process that sort of loss? The only word I could hold and wrap myself around was “broken.”

And that is exactly where I think our lamenter is. When you know you are the people of God and tell stories about how God set you free and led you to the promised land, what does it mean when others run you out of that land? Everything they had trusted failed. Throughout the Hebrew Bible, we see a people trying to scratch out their identities. Who are we now that this has happened? Who are we if God has turned God’s back? Who are we in occupation? Who are we now that everything is broken?

The lamenter clearly blames God. He suggests this is all the result of God’s wrath. And yet, his own words contradict this notion. “But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” In the midst of complete despair, it is the steadfast love of God that gives hope.

And this phrase “steadfast love” is significant. It is our closest English rendition of the Hebrew word “hesed.” But our translation almost makes it sound too passive. You can love someone steadfastly from afar. Hesed, on the other hand is active. One definition states “hesed is the consistent, ever-faithful, relentless, constantly-pursuing, lavish, extravagant, unrestrained, furious love” of God. It is a love that chases us when we are most unworthy. It is the reason that the Psalmist writes of not being able to flee from God in Psalm 139—because this love always pursues us, always anticipates us . . . it goes with us even to the pit.

In her theological reflections on miscarriage, Serene Jones suggests that when Jesus was killed, his death was taken into the Trinity in the same way a miscarrying woman carries death inside her. I love this image. The idea that even when no one else knows our pain, God has been there. God, the Creator and Giver of life, has felt death within God’s womb. God’s love goes to the pit with us.

God knows what it is to be broken. In our communion liturgy we speak the words—“This is Christ’s body, broken for you.” God understands the groaning. And when you have felt the groan come out of the depths of yourself, you can’t bear the thought that anyone else must experience it. A God who has groaned is a God who will stop at nothing to restore the world, to fix the brokenness. I believe that is the message of the Scriptures.

Those words also give us the freedom to grieve now—to groan and ache and cry. After all, if we are to join God in the plan to restore the world, we must recognize the brokenness. We must feel the pain. We must join in the groans of a world that is not just, that has enormous suffering. And let’s be honest, the loss of a child is enormous.

We may be broken. But God is lovingly redeeming us, AND is lovingly redeeming our missing children. We are broken now, but we can have hope that one day we will be made whole.

We will be sharing communion today as a sacrament. As Mennonites we often shy away from talking about sacraments. Instead we talk of ordinances. But there are times when I think we need tangible reminders of the way that God is with us—and today I hope this celebration of Table is one of them. (Words of Instruction/Institution)

Communion

Song: O Love That Will Not Let Me Go (George Matheson/Albert Peace)

Prayer station
Throughout Scripture, people mark encounters with God by building altars. As a tangible reminder that God is surrounding us and our children, I invite you to write each of your children’s names on two stones. Place one in the vase to build our altar together. Take the other with you.

Song/Benediction: My Shepherd Will Supply My Need (Isaac Watts)

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