My Pregnancy and Infant Loss Story

I Am The Girl Slicing and Serving the Wedding Cake

I am twenty-six years old in a banquet room celebrating the marriage of two new friends. I am cutting the wedding cake for their guests, placing the small slices of cake on the plates before me. My husband and nine month old son among the crowd beyond the table.

I am eight weeks pregnant behind the banquet hall table. Feeling excited, scared, and overwhelmed about adding another baby to our tribe. The baby I’m carrying and my son in the crowd beyond the table will only be fifteen months apart.

I am new at motherhood and at the same time motherless myself. My mother has been gone for twelve years at this point. The point in my story where I find myself behind a table in a banquet hall, the girl slicing and serving the wedding cake.

My mother lost her battle to breast cancer when I was young. The combination of newness and motherlessness heavy on my heart during this vulnerable season of holding one baby in my arms while carrying another.

As I slice the pieces of cake and place them on plates suddenly, I can feel emotionally in my heart and physically in my body, something is not right slicing cake behind the table. Suddenly I realize, I am miscarrying this baby while I am slicing and serving wedding cakes in a banquet hall.

I panic. I am in a room filled with people, but immediately I feel alone.

I cannot rush to the privacy of a bathroom stall quickly enough. I cannot sprint although I want to, I am afraid to make a scene. Once I enter the hallway, I cannot even find where the bathroom is located, I am trying to politely ask strangers where to find the restroom behind a false smile on the outside, but inside I am chaotic. Inside, I know I am miscarrying my child.

The immediate heartbreak of loss settling in as I find the public bathroom stall. My thought life chanting ugliness, what is wrong with me lies and I did something wrong anthems. I didn’t eat well enough, I lifted something too heavy, my heart rate was too high at my last workout. The scroll of every single thing I could have done wrong, rolling out before me in the privacy of a public bathroom stall.

Blame and shame both working together to bring my down into the trenches of despair. I feel the shame, there is something wrong with me. And in this bathroom stall, after blame and shame have given me a good beating, I lead myself to believe I am incredibly alone. I lead myself to believe, I am the only one. I lead myself to believe no one else in this world can bear this burden with me.

When my husband comes to me with our nine month old son from the crowd beyond the table, I am already so ashamed of what I feel like I have done. In the few moments in the bathroom stall, I have built walls of self-protection around my heart. I can’t even let my husband come to me. I sit in the car next to him on the long drive back from the wedding. Physically we are inches a part, but emotionally I am light years away.

Loss is familiar to me. I have lost my mother. I have experienced loss, heartache, and pain. At twenty-six years old, in the trenches of despair, the unhealed places in my heart remind me that in my life, people die. In the despair, I cling to my learned behaviors of both apathy and cynicism. In the car, I don’t even know how to cry. I just stare coldly out the window on a gray September day.  My thought life untamed and free to continue the severe beating it started hours before in the bathroom stall.

Once I find myself in an ultrasound room, my doctor confirms, the baby I once carried no longer has a heartbeat. My husband is visibly upset. I now, emotionally comatose.

The pain and loss of my miscarriage very real. But the pain and hurt of years past and learned behaviors enable me to be numb to the pain.

I barely scratch the surface of my pain over this life, precious to me, lost. I pull up my bootstraps and carry on, looking for silver linings but always wondering about the child I lost while I was the girl slicing and serving wedding cake. Always, even in a room full of people, feeling alone in this part of my story. Always wondering what it would have been like to have held that baby in the spring of the following year.

To The Girl Slicing and Serving the Wedding Cake:

Eight years have passed since I lost that baby behind a banquet hall table while slicing and serving wedding cake. Eight years, a second miscarriage, and then three healthy babies born. Babies I have held, four total, if you add that baby with my husband in the crowd beyond the table on that day. Four babies I have nursed, disciplined, potty trained, and walked to the bus stop on gray September days.

My heart still breaks when I think about that September day eight years ago when I was behind a banquet hall table, the girl slicing and serving the wedding cake. How I not only lost a baby that day, but also in that loss how my rote behavior was to retreat to a dark stall, a place where all I felt was loneliness.

Loss does that to you, I know that too well now. Loss is a shame breeding ground for I am alone in this lies. Loss, a shame breeding ground for no one else will understand anthems.

As I think about this moment, and prayerfully consider this painful moment in the life of a woman, there are three things I know now in hindsight that I wish I would have known then as the girl slicing and serving wedding cake behind the table in the room of a banquet hall.

1.) You are not alone in your loss. 

Satan wants you to feel alone. Satan wants us to feel disconnected from the ones who breathe life back into our souls. In loneliness, Satan’s power over my own patterns of self-destruction were at work. In my loneliness, I heard the lies I believe loud and clear, and the hope of the gospel was a faint whisper.

Statistically, one in four women will experience pregnancy and infant loss in some form or another. The more I stepped out of my dark bathroom stall of shame and entered into conversations with my husband and other women who have lost babies as well, the more I was able to identify the threads of pain in my story. I was not able to heal from my pain after my two miscarriages until I could identify the threads which were causing pain in the first place.

I blamed myself for that baby being lost behind that table. I carried the weight of that burden for so long. For weeks, months, and even years I let my mind wonder, what if I would have not eaten that slice of deli meat, or what if I had not forgotten my vitamin that day. What if I was sitting instead of standing. All these things were too much for my heart to bear alone.

I needed others to speak truth to me when truth was a faint whisper behind the loud clamoring of my own patterns of self-destruction. I needed others to remind me, the loss of this baby was not because of anything I did or did not do. When I was the girl behind the table slicing and serving wedding cakes, I needed the courage to step out of the bathroom stall where I took a harsh blame and shame beating, and into the arms of others alongside me.

Although I felt alone, I was never alone at all.

2.) Just because you are not alone in your loss, does not mean you are merely a statistic. 

Just because other women have experienced pregnancy and infant loss does not mean you are merely a statistic. Your story is unique. Your baby was unique. Your pain and your grief journey will be unique. Other women may have shared a similar experience, but other women and their experiences alone, cannot remedy your unique pain. Other women can simply sit in the darkness of pregnancy and infant loss alongside you, while you wait to walk through the stages of grief in God’s healing time table made uniquely for you.

It is normal to experience shock, denial, anger, and sadness in the wake of pregnancy and infant loss. It is emotionally healthy to let yourself grieve. Vulnerability is strength. Tears are strength. Holding fast to the hope of the cross is strength, especially when the answers to the why and what if questions of life seem to go unanswered.

3.) I know a God Who knows suffering understands the pain of loss.

When the truth of the gospel is no longer a faint whisper, I can remember I know a God Who knows suffering and loss. I know a God Who sent His own Son to die on the cross. I know a God Who experienced separation from His own Son.

This is how I ultimately find true healing, by drawing near to the One Who knows suffering. This healing doesn’t come at the snap of a finger, nor at the pulling up of a bootstrap. This healing is a slow unraveling of my unbelief as I draw near to God in prayer, and read His promises to me in His Word. This unraveling is messy, jagged, and unorganized. This is the kind of healing that comes from brokenness, when I have no clean and clear answers, but simply open and needy hands.

God is near to the brokenhearted. Psalm 38:14

Blessed are those who mourn for they shall be comforted. Matthew 5:4

One day, God will wipe every tear from our eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, because God is going to make everything new. Revelation 21:4

I don’t need to know all the answers to why this happened. I simply need to trust God, even when I cannot see. Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. Proverbs 3:5

I can rest freely in Jesus. Come to me all who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Jesus is gentle and humble in heart. Jesus is where we can find rest for our souls. Matthew 11:28-30

This is a sliver of my pregnancy and infant loss story. There are pieces here I still have yet to uncover as I walk in this life. But I truly believe there are deep healing powers in the gift of opening up the chapters of our lives and letting others truly see us. There is healing power as we share our story and healing power as we listen to the unique stories of others. The more we open ourselves up and let ourselves be seen, the more we realize we are never alone.

To The Woman In The Target Parking Lot

Today, I saw you in the Target parking lot. I was pulling into Costco in my regular Tasmanian Devil like, chaotic fashion. Swirling around to complete the things which I had signed up to do in love.

I am coming off a hot argument with my husband before he left for a long day of regional travel, a healthy, but hot tension between lovers. Not to mention, a morning of battling a washer which blows the breaker every time is spins, and picking up the itty-bitty pieces of paper off the floor from my developing three and five year old scissor users.

I’m like the Tasmanian Devil flying into Costco today. Mostly because I’m still hot with anger from the previously mentioned tension between lovers… and also, picking up anything tiny off of the floor gives me hives.

Partially I’m all Tasmainian Devilish because I signed up to bring a new mama, to a tribe of now six, a meal. This meal, the thing I signed up to do in love. This meal, intensely important. As a mama to four, I know this meal,  is survival to this sweet mama. This meal must get to her. I am also her tribe. She needs food, Costco-sized and because I know how important this meal is, I will fight through the battles of my tension between lovers and itty-bitty pieces of paper to get it to her. Lord knows, a new mama needs Costco-sized food.

I know my Tasmanian Devil behavior is only external. Within my own heart, despite the outward things happening, inwardly I am feeling shame over bringing this new mama a pre-made meal from Costco instead of the homemade chicken enchilada casserole I had initially planned to bring her when I first signed up. A battle I felt tension over, every moment until I saw you in the Target parking lot.

As I pulled into Costco with crazy eyes, I, by the grace of God, spotted you. You were wrapping a present on the hood of your car. I loved you at first sight. Truly. I even took a second and third glance your way while smiling with my lips as well as with my inner being.

You quite possibly could have been wrapping a present for Christmas 2020. But by the grace of God, I saw you. I saw you wrapping a present on the hood of your car and this was a sweet reminder to me of humanity.

Your wrapping the present on the hood of your car, a simple reminder. We are all facing battles. Spoken and unspoken. Macro things and micro things. On a macro level, we are all feeling the weight of politics, race, Puerto Rico, and Las Vegas. We are all feeling the tension of gun laws, hurricane relief, and who should stand or kneel for what reason while the National Anthem is sung. We are all feeling these macro-tensions within our hearts.

On a micro level, most of us experience the hot arguments, the tension between lovers, and can hardly keep the itty-bitty pieces of paper from accumulating on our household floors.

You could have been advance planning. You were radiant, put together. Your car was immaculate. You could have been wrapping for an event far off in the future.

Your presence in the parking lot of Target today, soothed my Tasmanian Devil like behavior. Seeing you wrap a present on the hood of your car, glacing back twice and thrice,  quieted the battles of my heart. This act in the parking lot of Target, quieted the battles I had over my own expectations for this meal.

Homemade, pre-made. We are all human, and we are all trying to love one another amidst the macro and micro battles going on in our hearts. We are all wrapping presents on the hoods of our cars. We are all trying to love despite our Tasmanian Devil like chaos.

To love in the Tasmanian Devil like chaos is better than to stick to appearing perfect and to not love at all.

To the woman in the Target parking lot, thank you for wrapping a present on the hood of your car. It was medicine for my own heart. When I saw you, I saw myself wrapping presents on the hood of cars and this simple thing quieted my soul.

I Loved You When You Were Little

A few weeks ago, my five year old son sat down next to me on our living room sofa. I scooped him into my arms  like an infant while mentioning how much I missed scooping him up and snuggling him like I did when he was a baby.

“Mommy, I still like it when you snuggle me this way” were the words he whispered back. But after a few moments of silent, cradled snuggles, he looked into my eyes and mentioned how he felt sad for me. How he was sad because now, in our home, all the babies have grown into big kids.

This is a hard truth for me to hear. In this home, my children are babies no longer. It seems as if just yesterday, I was the mom pushing the double stroller and the double basket down the aisles of Costco, leaving a Hansel and Gretel like trail of infant socks, cheerios, and pacis behind us, our chaotic presence soliciting many comments about the fullness of my hands.

In the longest of days and the shortest of years, we have reached this new season where my children are no longer little.

Diapers, sippys, pacis, breastfeeding, and baby food, merely memories on my timehop app.

While I snuggled my grown up, big kid son, his legs and arms overflowing out of my lap, I contemplated this new season of having kids who are no longer little.

I told my son, “I loved you when you were little, but I love you right now too, I will love you in every season. I will love you more and more as you grow.”

As I held my grown child, I thought about the importance of telling my grown kids, how and why I love them where they are right now.

How I see them for who they are becoming, and love them where they are. How being seen and known right where God has them is important and necessary for the hearts of these babies of mine growing into big kids. I thought about how the words I pour over them will help cultivate the soil of the hearts, the soil which will help them grow into the big people they are becoming.

Yes, my children’s hearts are sealed with the permanent love my husband and I have for them, but as my five year old reminded me, the filling inside the seal needs to constantly be refreshed.

So I told that boy, arms and legs overflowing out of my lap, how I loved him when he was little, but I also love him for the five year old boy he is now.

I told him how I love how we can read a book together and I love how we can write stories together in this new season. I told him how I love watching him learn how to throw a Frisbee and ride a bike. How I love watching his imagination explode in a pile of costumes and storylines with his siblings. I told him how I love watching him grow into the uniquely knit together, wonderfully made, human God has made him to be.

Yes, I miss the long snuggles, sometimes the fresh diaper smell, and afternoon naps with a newborn cradled in my arms. But it is so much sweeter to watch the lives God has overflowing in my lap grow and change, and love them as they grow.

Each season is sweet, and in each season my love grows for these four grown up, big kids of mine.

I’m thankful for that five year old, the one who still likes to be held close from time to time, for reminding me how important it is to remind my children of my love for them in each season. To fill their hearts up with the truth that, yes, I loved them when they were little, but it is such a blessing to be alongside them on the journey. It is such a gift to have a front row seat to see the little people God is making them to be.

Transformed Forgiveness

“We understand that everyone makes mistakes” was written on the walls of my classroom and now written on the walls of my home. This simple truth of humanity, so powerful and needed in times of self-contempt as well as others-contempt.

It is so easy to utter the words, I forgive you. But real forgiveness, forgiveness which comes from a changed heart has been a much more difficult thing for me to learn. For so many years, I would forgive on the surface, and tell myself I was supposed to be just fine, without realizing the effects of surface-level forgiveness on my heart.

Robotically, I can forgive. But I am learning, forgiveness is so much deeper than words.

We say we have forgiven yet still old on to bitterness, cynicism, and mistrust. Posh sayings like “forgive but don’t forget” are tangled up in our stories. These things which are the breeding ground for skewing the way we see our world. Bitterness holds on to hate. Cynicism, the faltering of hope. Mistrust, the walls which lead to isolation and loneliness.

And I am on a journey of freeing my heart from the tangled up messes of bitterness, cynicism, and mistrust.

Uttering the words, I forgive you, is simply not enough. Forgiveness is more than words, forgiveness must come from the heart. A heart that is changed, a heart, whose wounds are fully healed… or at least in the process of becoming fully healed. Transformed forgiveness takes time, it takes courage, and sometimes transformed forgiveness leaves us at the risk of loss.

On the path to transformed forgiveness, we must identify the pain and understand the wounds we carry in our own hearts. We can ask questions like: Why am I upset? What does this pain trigger in my own story?

Recently I felt wounded by a woman within my social circles. This wound was inflicted on social media, with passive aggressive words. My heart was broken. I could not understand her need to be cheeky on my personal post, I hardly know this woman, but even still, a wound was inflicted.

In my pain, I wanted to seek reconciliation. After several failed attempts, this woman was unwilling to speak with me, and I had to leave this story undone.

In the undoneness, I let the words of her comment fester. And these words then attached to the lies I so often believe about myself.

I am not good enough to be a pastor’s wife, church members will never like me, I too often say the wrong things, in the world of church, I am an outsider.

These I statements are all triggers for shame. Each I statement an opportunity for bitterness, cynicism, and mistrust to take root. Most often, when this happens I find myself withdrawing from others. When shame is triggered, I seek isolation. Shame causes me to hide.

Shame is the most powerful, master emotion. It’s the fear that we’re not good enough.” – Brene Brown

Can I forgive when things are left undone?

Sometimes, I just want those words, “I’m sorry” and “I forgive you” but in transformed forgiveness, I am learning it  is my responsibility not to change the offender’s heart, but instead, investigate my own.

To forget about the speck in someone else’s eye and examine the plank in my own. To take responsibility for what is true and shut down what is false. To sit in the undoneness of the wound and do the hard work of determining why this moment was painful. To recognize patterns in what wounds me. To do the courageous work of recognizing the shame triggers. To be ready to shut down lies with truth. To be ready to see myself through the lens of humanity, to apply the words from the walls of my classroom, to my own heart. We understand that everyone makes mistakes.

When we realize we are responsible for our own hearts before God, when we rid them of the deep roots of bitterness, cynicism, and mistrust; this is when we are truly free to forgive and also let go. Shame has no reign in a heart transformed by forgiveness.

In transformed forgiveness we must also learn to forgive ourselves, for our own missteps. We must include ourselves in the statement, “we understand everyone makes mistakes”. When we expect that we are human, the path to forgiveness is a road much softer on the soles of our feet. We cannot be gracious to others until we are first gracious with ourselves. The unforgiven cannot forgive.

In transformed forgiveness, sometimes we need to make our wounds known. After several years of not confronting a relative who would continuously cross my personal boundary line, I finally spoke up to make my wounds known. In transformed forgiveness, we have to be brave enough to speak up and say, when you act a certain way, it hurts me. We are not made to always be “just fine”. We are human, our hearts break and our hearts hurt.

With this relative, I needed to speak up because in my “gracious” silence, bitterness was deeply rooted in my own heart. When I finally had the courage to communicate my wounds, I also communicated clear boundaries I needed for our relationship to move forward. This resulted in another conflict left undone, but a good opportunity for me to search my own heart. And after four years of distance, my heart has been purified from those wounds, all on its own. Sometimes a tree cannot heal unless the diseased branch is pruned away. This allows a healthier one to grow in its place.

When we make our wounds known, we are always at risk of those wounds being received with love or hate. But I am learning, it is not my responsibility to control what is going on in the hearts of others. I can only be responsible for my own heart.

We must set boundaries on the path to transformed forgiveness. Once we are able to recognize our own limitations we can respect the limitations of others and not be hurt by them. In our humanity, we are free to say, no, my human heart is not called to bear all things. Boundaries are not forever. I’ve heard it said by someone wiser than I, boundaries are fences with gates. It is always healthy to set a boundary, but know that your boundary has a gate that may be opened when you are personally ready for it to open.

When we understand that to err is human, we can see ourselves and others with empathy and compassion. In transformed forgiveness, we recognize we are all on the journey of making mistakes. We are all falling down and getting back up again. Everyone is fighting their own battles. We are all on different places on the journey.

In transformed forgiveness, we understand that I am not perfect and neither are you. Seeing ourselves and others through the lens of humanity, is the birthplace of forgiveness. We all really do make mistakes. We all have our stories, our shame triggers, our lies, our Achilles heels. It is our humanity that binds us together. The lens of pride blinds but the lens of humanity binds.

We understand that everyone makes mistakes. But we are not called to always be okay with them. We are called to understand our pain and free our hearts from the tangled up messes of bitterness, cynicism, and mistrust.

This is how I am transforming how I see forgiveness. I have to simply start with me and what’s happening beneath the surface.

“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” Romans 12:2

 

The Gospel and Casseroles

In 2006, I am a new wife in our two bedroom apartment in St. Louis, the apartment far away from everything which was once familiar to me. Though I am surrounded by nine hundred square feet of my own furniture, clothing, and my late mother’s Pflatzgraff dishes, I feel very alone. I am so overwhelmed by the unknowns of what it means to be married, what it means to live out the role of wife, the new to me role of regular church attender, and the stomach churning role of lady married to the man in the pulpit.

The furniture and picture frames which surround me look and feel familiar, but I don’t feel like I am living the life of the girl I once knew, the girl whose face is the the pictures which hang in the frames on the wall. In 2006, in a two bedroom apartment, I feel inside out and upside down. Logically I know I am in need of new friends. I know in lonliness my demons have too much power. Logic tells me I need others surrounding me to keep myself out of my own head.

My job as a first grade teacher won’t begin for a few more weeks. Michael Craddock is swamped with his studies for Summer Greek, so he is able to read the New Testament in its original language. Instead of spending another day at the apartment complex pool alone with a book or another night over a TV Tray in front of Wheel of Fortune, over a phone call, a far away sorority sister speaks truth into my life and reminds me, I am a social and (mostly) likable person. I hold onto this truth and decide I will prepare the house and a meal so Michael Craddock and I can have some new people over for dinner. I am social and mostly likable, I breathe deeply and assure myself I can make a new friend.

While my husband is studying Greek and I am trying to embrace this new role of future pastor’s wife, I also decide, I too, will try to learn something which is quite Greek to me, the art of how to make church people food; I decide I will learn how to host with casseroles.

Over the years of my life I can see how God has been gracious to slowly unravel me from perfectionism, but as new wife, in our two bedroom apartment during our seminary days, I worshipped the ideal of appearing perfect to a watching world.

That day in 2006, I spent most of the day scrubbing the house, vacuuming, dusting the picture frames which had been hanging on the walls for only a few weeks, and searching the Internet for a recipe for the perfect casserole.

In this moment, as I prepare for our company, I am operating with a skewed and warped lens for how I see myself and the world. When embracing perfection and the need to appear as if my home is perfect, I am completely joyful, happy, content, fulfilled, and strong, I can’t let people see who I really am. When embracing perfectionism, the real me is afraid to be seen so I layer on falsidies to hide my lonliness, fear of the unknown, fear of the stomach churning roles, and the insecurities. I layer the idea of looking cleaned up on the outside to protect anyone from seeing the tangled up messes which lie beneath the surface.

At this moment, similar to my husbands Greek studies, casseroles are quite Greek to me. My parents are both from the east coast and growing up I don’t recall eating many meals in the form of a casserole. For some reason, I believed, in order to appear good enough in this Greek to me role, I needed to make a casserole on this particular day. In my limited experience with people who I had met at church, the after-church-party tables were usually laden with casseroles. Pretty much anything could be made into a casserole. I was fascinated by the many different things one could add to cream of chicken soup, shredded cheddar cheese, sour cream and crushed up crackers. Broccoli, hamburger, corn, chicken, ham, taco, green beans, sweet potatoes, rice, and even a long list of breakfast items can be combined in a 9×13 casserole dish and baked at 350 degrees.

To me, knowing how to make a proper casserole was a requirment for being a good Christian wife. A requirement I assigned to myself. I believed I needed “perfect casserole maker” on the resume I was writing for myself to been seen, known, and accepted as an adequate pastor’s wife.

I had zero experience cooking a casserole and very little experience with the oven in our two bedroom apartment. I’m not the best cook, but I usually do well following a recipe. On casserole day, I followed the Internet recipe directly. Preheated the oven, greased the baking dish, cut up the chicken breasts into cubes, mix together sour cream, sherry cooking wine, cream of chicken soup, top with poppyseeds, crushed up ritz crackers, drizzle with butter. Bake uncovered for 50 minutes.

My house was cleaned, my casserole was in the oven, I had even made sweet tea and put together a salad. I was feeling so prepared and excited. I couldn’t wait to wow and impress our guests with my domestic diva-bility. Beneath the surface I desired to been seen and approved of with my perfect entertaining so much more that I actually desired vulnerable human connection. My clean house, pressed outfit, and prepared dinner protecting me from being seen as the chaotic, insecure girl I was beneath the oxy-clean surface.

When we sat down for dinner, we prayed with our new friends, and then I went to serve my casserole. The church people food I was hoping would please the crowd. As I scooped into that 9×13 baking dish, what I saw was raw chicken on my serving spoon. My casserole was not cooked perfectly. The chicken was not even edible. My thoughts begin to swirl in chaotic self-deprecating banter. How could this have happened? I followed the instructions perfectly. I had nothing else to serve and I was completely mortified. Our new friends were gracious and waited with us as I placed the casserole back in the oven. But in this moment I was so concerned with how well I could execute hosting new people in my home as a new wife, I could hardly recover from almost poisioning my guests with raw chicken.

While still holding fast to the unbelief that I need to appear to be a perfect housewife, ultimately this moment crushed me. My expectation of being a perfectly put together domestic diva and the reality that this moment was a domestic disaster collided. I didn’t know who I was in failure.

What I know now is, in this moment, I didn’t know who I was without appearing impressive to others. I am not even sure that in this moment I was able to love myself in a moment of imperfection. Even two years after hearing the gospel, that I am a sinner in need of God’s grace and mercy, which is fully given to me by the atoning blood of Jesus, even with this good news of grace and freedom, I still find myself deeply disappointed over a casserole of raw chicken. This disappointment skews the way I view myself and my world. When this happens, I recognize, I am still drinking from a broken cistern of muddy stagnant water. In this moment, the old self is still hanging on and tangled up in the new self.

Standing in my dining room laden with disappointment holding an undercooked and imperfect casserole exposed that I still needed God and perfection. In this moment, God alone was not enough for me. The undercooked casserole in my hands exposing what lies beneath, even in a time of my life when I had a daily quiet time every single morning, I am still prone to wander over to living a life of adding my efforts to the gospel.

Seven years later, my husband is the assistant pastor of youth and children’s ministries at our church in Mason, Ohio. It is February, gray, and cold in southwestern Ohio and I am eight weeks post c-section. I have three boys in my care that morning as I wave goodbye to Michael Craddock when he leaves a little earlier to get over to the church for the missions conference. I am holding my eight week old son, my seventeen month old son has just recently began to walk, and my three year and one month old son, is well three year old and quite busy. I need to be at the church in about an hour and there is a breakfast casserole in the oven. A breakfast casserole which has been assigned to all families attending the church missions conference with last names which begin with letters A-L.

In the next hour, I need to nurse my baby, change his diaper one-three times, change my seventeen month old at least once, pray no one spills anything on their church outfits, dress myself, get spit up on, redress myself, pull the casserole out of the oven, and load all four babies in the car. The casserole being the fourth baby, of course. Then show up at church looking rested, joyous, and casseroled just in time for the missions brunch.

Once again, my expectations and realities collide and I find myself running late and pulling the casserole out of the oven ten minutes before I needed to be through the doors of our church and in the sanctuary. I burn my hands moving the casserole from the oven and into the pyrex carry bag, then angrily load my babies into the minivan. Again, I find tension between the kind of woman I am and how well I can excute showing up to a church function appearing rested, joyous, and casseroled. I wrestle with the same demon of perfectionism, even after almost of decade of faithfully walking with Jesus.

Once I arrive at church, I am exhausted. The stress, the loading, and unloading of three small children in and out of the van have physically taken a toll on my eight week post c-section body. I load the kids in the double stroller, have my three year old hanging onto the edge of the stroller, and I carefully balance my breakfast casserole on the handle bar as I push the double stroller through the parking lot on that February morning. The parking lot is full of cars but emptied of people. I am late, as usual, and alone. I find myself one “how are you doing” away from tears, but I choose to hide behind an “I’m fine” smile on my face and warm cheesy casserole in my hands.

As I enter the church and place my casserole on the long table along the back wall,  I can see everyone has already gone through the food line, and my casserole will most likely will not be eaten. I can also see a packed room and in my husband’s busyness he has unintentionally forgotten to save a seat for me with him at a table near the front. I walk my older two boys to childcare and head back into the sanctuary with my newborn. I find a seat near the back next to the sound booth. It will soon be time for me to excuse myself from the sanctuary to nurse my newborn boy. There is little time for me to eat, little time for me to listen.

I am trying to hide alone in the back of the room, but God sends someone in the few moments I find myself in the sanctuary during the program, despite my efforts to hide, I am pursued. This friend asks my how I am, and I immediately begin to cry. She then asks, “Rachel, why don’t you forget about the casserole? What if you just came empty handed?”

Once again, this idea of what I have to be collides with reality and what lies beneath the surface of my heart is exposed. Even after all this time, I still don’t know who I am with empty hands. I still don’t know how to operate in imperfection. I still need to appear perfectly put together to a watching world, because deep down, I do not believe I am enough when my hands are empty. I do not believe I am enough when I can’t measure up to the expectations I have for myself as a mother, wife, friend, and pastor’s wife.

And now, in 2017, eleven years from the two bedroom apartment in St. Louis and an undercooked casserole, even though I am more experienced in baking casseroles, I don’t always sign up to bring one, and sometimes when hosting new people in my home, I serve hot dogs and potato chips from a bag.

Now I recognize this distorted desire of trying to impress a watching world. Now I find peace, freedom and rest from the yoke of slavery of impressing others, through hot dogs and showing up empty handed. Now, so many years later, this perfectionism demon still haunts me, but because I can recognize her, I also know how to battle her a little bit better.

And it is only in this new found freedom that I can see my true self, unearthed from all those false layers of wanting to impress a watching world. Now I find I am so much more free to embrace the woman God has made me to be, and truly, this draws me more closer to new friends than a perfectly cooked casserole ever could. It is only through bare-boned vulnerability, from the freedom from perfection, that we can move towards others and love well.

Walking with Jesus is a constant waltz. It is a constant putting off of the old ways, turning from them, snd walking in the new ways of Jesus. With each layer of old that unravels away, I find the woman, God is making me to be in Christ. This woman is a recovering perfectionist, social, and mostly likable by humans but deeply loved by God.

Assuming that you heard about Him and were taught in Him as the truth is in Jesus Put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.
Ephesians 4:21-24