When All Else Fails: a Year of Surrender

It’s been over a year since I published my last blog post.  I’m well aware of how such a long lapse violates every best practice in the world of blogging.  But I don’t really care…. In our world of constant (digital) connection, sometimes you need to retreat and make space to reflect, feel what you need to feel, and heal.  Disengage from the triggers of Facebook.  Engage in authentic human connection with those who matter most to you, those who accept and love you no matter what.   Write for no other audience than yourself.  Prioritize self-care.  Give yourself permission to FEEL and, eventually, to HEAL.

And that’s exactly what I needed to do in my own time and space, while trusting that I’d know when I was ready to share my heart and soul online.  Over the last year, I’ve been mentally crafting this post about my lessons in surrendering, appropriately titled “When All Else Fails.”  I’ve held off from publishing for a couple reasons.  Firstly, I don’t feel comfortable sharing all of the details, especially those related to my loved ones, so I’ve been experimenting with ways to share without oversharing.   Secondly, I haven’t felt up to the vulnerability hangover I experience with every post, yet I know how much freer I feel when I share and how connected I feel when I discover that I’m not alone.

So bear with me as I delicately dance around certain details from this year of surrender…..

Over a year ago, towards the end of 2015, life dealt us a few unexpected blows in a row.  There’s a saying that “bad things happen in three’s,” which is exactly how it all went down.  First, my husband’s company decided to end their Alaska ventures, effectively ending my husband’s and all of his co-workers’ assignments in Alaska.  We immediately knew this meant we’d be relocating much sooner than we originally anticipated, but we wouldn’t know for a couple months where or when we’d move.  Not long after this announcement, a few of our loved ones shared saddening news with us, which weighed heavily on our hearts.  And then, as the final sucker punch, we miscarried a perfectly healthy baby.  This was our 3rd loss, and last attempt at giving our son a sibling.

To say that I was an emotional mess would be an understatement.  Even now- a year later- I’m still grieving and trying to process what happened at the end of 2015.  At the time, I distracted myself with the day-to-day activities of caring for my then 3 year old, and preparing for our rather abrupt move to Houston.  I couldn’t bear to look at his baby clothes and gear, so, as part of our move prep, I gave most of it away, which was the emotional equivalent of throwing kerosene onto my open wounds and then lighting a match (=white-hot-searing-pain).  Our relocation, combined with the overlapping holiday season, forced me to fake my way through daily life and pretend like I was taking it all in stride.  Looking back at myself, I honestly don’t know how I managed to keep it together as much as I did.  But truth is that I was overwhelmed by intense emotional pain, covering me in a heavy blanket of grief laced with disappointment, anger, and deep–seeded shame.

With 2015 ending so painfully, I realized that my only option was to surrender….to completely let go and trust God’s plan for our lives.  As go-getter who has white-knuckled my way through life, I couldn’t imagine a greater challenge than handing the keys to my life over to God, climbing into the back seat and staring out the window at life’s passing scenery.  At first, surrendering felt like I was giving up… like I was stepping out of the driver’s seat of my car, waving my pathetic little flag, and then lying down in the middle of the road to allow car after car to drive over me.  I felt like a quitter:  beaten down, discouraged, and flattened.  A total f’ing failure.  Being someone who doesn’t give up easily, this isn’t how I imagined my story ending.

Until my coach, Cassi, sent me a short piece written by Liz Gilbert, I struggled to differentiate between quitting and surrendering.  I just didn’t get it until I read this piece and then the proverbial light bulb switched on.  Here’s an excerpt of what Liz wrote about surrender:

“Surrender is what happens when you come to the end of your power. Surrender is what happens when you have searched to the bottom of your soul and found out this truth — which is that you really can’t do this thing anymore. Surrender is what happens when you don’t have any more ideas for how to fix everything. Surrender is what happens when none of your survival strategies work anymore — and your playbook is out of pages. Surrender is what happens when you turn it all over to God. You release your grip on the thing. You stop white-knuckling it. You stop pretending things are great when things are actually horrible. You stop putting on a fake face, or glossing over the problem, or lying. You face the truth that you are not the most powerful force in the universe. You turn it over to fate. You exhale, and let go.

There is always grace in surrender. There is always truth in surrender. There is always a great deal of human dignity in surrender. And what happens next is often very beautiful. You crack open because you have stopped fighting and pretending, and once you do that…anything whatsoever can now occur. Sometimes your true fate can only find you after you have surrendered. As Richard from Texas taught me about cracking yourself open in surrender…well, that where God can rush in. The universe can sometimes only work through you once you have surrendered.”

 

Suddenly, after years of believing that surrendering was just a fancy word for quitting, I experienced my AHA! moment.  This mental shift enabled me to practice true surrender at a time when I had come to the end of my power, when I had run out of options, when ALL ELSE HAD FAILED.  I surrendered to this devastatingly dark place… to my broken, grieving heart… to the uncertainties of our future….to my powerlessness.  I chose SURRENDER as my theme for 2016, and decided to practice the art of surrender whenever possible, trusting everything would work out according to God’s plan.

As the saying goes, “life is a roller coaster,” and 2016 has been no exception.  At the end of 2015, I felt like my ‘coaster went off the rails and bottomed out in the pitch black.  My only option was to surrender to this darkness and trust that I’d eventually find my way back to the light.  As I’ve roller-coastered through 2016, I practiced surrendering to all of unknowns in my life, regularly repeating my mantra of “trust and let go, trust and let go, trust and let go.”  Of course, life continuously tested my ability to trust and let go…from moving to a new city without having a place to live or knowing how long we’d stay… to finding a new home/school/gym/church/social circle/etc… to setting boundaries with family members… to an ongoing dental drama (read: no front teeth!)….. to countless doctor’s appointments and multiple surgeries… to anxiously awaiting results from cancer screenings… to the unexpected ending of a friendship I hold dear… to touring over 70 homes before making an offer only to lose out to another buyer….to having this same house fall back into our laps 10 days later when the first buyer walked away without reason… to the disappointing election results… to planning yet another move over the year-end holidays.. my “surrender” list could go on and on!

Despite the abundant opportunities to practice, I’m still haven’t mastered the art of surrender.  I am–and will always be–a humble student in the “School of Surrender.”  But what I will say is this: There are moments– like the one captured in this photo taken on Disneyland Paris’ Space Mountain roller coaster earlier this year– where I am riding in complete darkness and I am fully present, where I am energized and open, where I am free and one with God, where I have complete faith that my ride will bring me safely back to the light. These moments are fleeting–few and far between–but I have experienced them, so I know they are within my reach when I simply let go and enjoy the ride.

Space Mountain, Disneyland Paris, May 2016

PS: I also surrendered to my inner poet, a voice I’ve silenced for many years but desperately wants to express herself.  So here goes…

The Arms of Surrender

She admitted,

without pause,

to be one of THOSE types

who clung to life like a tick to skin

She was known as

a control freak

a white-knuckler

a perfectionista

(and a micro-manager, according to some)

She was both adored and abhorred

for her attention to detail

for her ability to deliver

for her “dedication”

She clung so tightly because

she knew no different

As a girl, this is how she learned to survive

Her persistence even earned her praise

Until one day, she found herself hanging onto the very end of life’s rope

She had tried everything

And nothing had worked

She didn’t know what else to do

But to let go

While she wiped the sweat from her brow, she loosened her grip, just a bit

Lingering here for a moment

Relishing in the tension

Between doing and being

Then she let go

Completely

And as she fell

She released all of the beliefs

which had held her back

which had kept her clinging

to that tangled, knotted rope

She stopped trying so hard to please, to be perfect, to maintain control

She stopped forcing herself to be anything she wasn’t meant to be

She stopped blaming and shaming herself

She stopped feeling like she was damaged goods, broken and irreparable

She stopped believing she was unworthy, undesirable, unlovable

She fell freely,

evenly,

gracefully

through baby blue skies and bruise-colored clouds

through the sun’s strong rays and the moon’s chalky glow

through the Milky Way and the galaxies far far away

And when she landed,

she found herself

lovingly embraced by

the Arms of Surrender

— Christina Zini, June 2016

 


Want to know more about Surrendering?

Surrendering, as I’m learning, is a constant practice…. Like a daily (or even minute-by-minute) practice of letting go of my thoughts, emotions,  desires, anything and everything I’ve got a firm grip on.  It begins with truly experiencing my emotions, not avoiding them or disassociating myself from them, not telling myself that I shouldn’t feel anger/fear/grief/jealousy/etc..  I’ve learned a lot from reading Michael Singer’s books “The Surrender Experiment” and “Untethered Soul.”  I also enjoyed reading John Ortberg’s “If You Want to Walk on Water, You’ve Got to Get Out of the Boat.”  I’ve found practices like prayer, meditation, visualizations helpful. My nightly ritual of writing a “Love/Leave” list in my journal has helped me to capture whatever I appreciated or loved about the day and whatever I want to leave behind or let go of.  Thankfully, my “love” list is always longer than my “leave” list.  I’ve also found yoga, spinning and walking/running to help me release whatever is festering.  I’m also a HUGE believer in and consumer of therapy, acupuncture, and energy work.. but I wouldn’t have come this far in my surrender journey without the support and guidance of my fabulous coach, Cassi Christiansen!

 

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Mother’s Day Unspoken

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Source: LiveluvCreate.com

Four years ago, on Mother’s Day of 2011, I spent the day shuffling between my bed and the bathroom as I miscarried my first child.  What I remember about that day is my unending flow of tears… the uncomfortable cramping and heavy bleeding… holding what was left of my baby in the palm of my hand and not knowing what to do…the absence of tenderness in my breasts… the emptiness of my barren womb…. and an overwhelming feeling of utter devastation.  The stark white bathroom tiles offered little comfort as I laid on the floor next to the toilet, begging God to reverse this sick joke and give me my baby back.  Surely women don’t miscarry on Mother’s Day??? Oh yes, dear, oh yes they do.

My heart was already thick with grief having lost my mother to ovarian cancer just before Mother’s Day in 2010.  The news of my first pregnancy had buoyed me through the first anniversary of her passing, giving me comfort and renewed hope for the future.  While my husband was cautiously excited, I was beyond certain that this baby was a divine blessing and an answer to our prayers at a time when we needed it most.   What I hadn’t expected was that this pregnancy would end in miscarriage– that the little soul who had built a small nest in my womb would take flight much earlier than I expected.   Curled up in fetal position, I comforted myself by envisaging my child, whom I named Gabriel, joining my mom in Heaven.  She had always wanted to be a grandma, and she finally had a grandchild to call her own.

After my miscarriage, I felt shattered in a way I had never imagined.  I struggled to socialize or work as I attempted to hide my fragile emotional state.  Only a few friends had known that we were expecting, so telling people about my miscarriage also meant telling them that we had been pregnant.  Inevitably, this would lead to questions about us trying to get pregnant, which I just couldn’t handle.  I stayed close to home and grieved in silence, until I finally felt like I could open up about my loss to more of my friends and a few colleagues.  Many of them reacted with empathy and compassion, validating my grief.  One friend brought us a meal, which was a touching gesture that I will never forget.  Not knowing what to say when I shared the news of my miscarriage, some friends made comments like, “At least you know you can get pregnant,” in a feeble attempt to offer me hope.  One friend reacted thoughtlessly by saying my baby wasn’t really a baby- her underlying tone was “get over it.”

But I couldn’t get over the loss of my first child, and frankly I don’t think I ever will.   About 6 months after my miscarriage, we conceived our “rainbow” baby (a rainbow baby is a baby conceived after a loss).  After experiencing some light spotting not long after my pregnancy had been confirmed, I drove myself in hysterics to the OB-GYN’s office for a repeat HCG blood test.  While I anxiously awaited the results, I sobbed on an exam bed, begging for God’s mercy.  I felt absolutely certain that I was miscarrying again.  When the nurse explained that my HCG levels had tripled overnight, I looked at her in disbelief, and my tears of anguish transformed into tears of gratitude.  Although the spotting only lasted a day, my OB-GYN took every precaution with me during the first trimester, which included supplemental hormones, regular blood tests and ultrasounds, and a long list of things NOT to do.  The usual “laissez-faire” approach to pregnancy wasn’t an option for me.

Needless to say, I was a complete mess through most of my pregnancy.  I felt horribly guilty that I wasn’t more excited about my pregnancy—I absolutely wanted to be pregnant, but I was still traumatized by my miscarriage and the anxiety associated with a “high-risk” pregnancy.  I realized that I would never experience the same carefree excitement that most of my friends experienced during pregnancy.   In losing my first child, I also lost my innocence as a mother.  There would be other losses, but none would be as devastating as my first miscarriage on Mother’s Day.   The way I viewed the creation of human life was forever altered.

But maybe this was just the lesson that I needed to learn, although I would have preferred a gentler alternative to this emotional triple shot to the chest. Because what I gained through my miscarriage was a greater appreciation for life: how miraculous it is, how fragile it is, and what an extraordinary gift it is.  The miracle of Gabriel prepared me for the miracle of my take-home baby (aka Toots).  Because of Gabriel, I became acutely aware of just how badly I wanted to become a mother and what I needed to change to make space for another miracle to unfold in my womb.  So, despite all of my anxiety while pregnant with Toots, I also felt (and still feel) tremendous humility and gratitude– I knew that the life growing inside of me was such a divine blessing.

What I also learned through both my mother’s death and losing Gabriel is that a mother’s love transcends all boundaries.  While we often crave physical presence, the love between a mother and her child flows freely, unbound by the human form.   Nothing ever stops us from being in the presence of our mother or our child.   Experiencing this spiritual connection has comforted me during times of grief and heartache, reminding me that their love is not confined to this physical world.  All I need to do is find a quiet place, close my eyes, and connect with their love… God’s love… a universal love which floods me with its golden-white light and soothes my soul.

So, when Mother’s Day rolls around, I prefer to spend the day in quiet reflection, soaking myself in maternal love.  I hold my precious son tightly in my arms and whisper my deepest thanks for the miracle of his life.  I thank God for choosing me to be his mama and trusting me with his life.  As I hold him, I silently honor my angel babies, as well as my mother and grandmothers who are no longer of this world.   I step into their presence and feel their love and encouragement surrounding me.  Then, I take some time to remember my friends who too are missing their moms and angel babies. Sadly, several of my friends have lost their babies in utero, just after birth, or as children:

  • A resilient friend who experienced multiple miscarriages before the arrival of her baby boy. She was the first person to openly talk about miscarriage with me.
  • A high school classmate who has publicly shared her stories of miscarriage and infertility through her blog and newspaper column. She is now the proud mama of twin girls.
  • Two courageous girlfriends whom lost their first daughters in utero and were induced to deliver their stillborn angels. Both friends went on to give birth to rainbow baby girls who are the lights of their lives.
  • A dear friend, who is a mom to two teen boys, an angel in Heaven, and a preschooler. She lost her sweet daughter to a heart defect when she was just a baby.  A few years after her daughter’s death and a few miscarriages, she gave birth to her fourth child (another daughter).
  • My childhood friend, Sarah, who lost her son, Jack, to pediatric cancer.  His legacy lives on through Gold in September and the I Back Jack Foundation.  She is also the mother to Annie (Jack’s twin) and little Tommy.
  • All of my friends who are still waiting for their rainbow babies. If I know your story of loss, then I remember you and your angels and I pray for your take-home baby to arrive soon.

To these friends I say:  Although our society may not recognize you as a mother or may not recognize ALL of your children, I hope it comforts you to know that I do.   I hold you and your babies in my heart today.  May you find time to quietly honor them and experience that unbreakable bond between mother and child.

XOXO

Christina


Have you experienced pregnancy loss or the loss of your child?  How have you coped with your loss? How do you feel on Mother’s Day and other trigger holidays?  How do you honor your angels and connect with their spirits?

If you or a friend would like support in dealing with pregnancy loss, here are a few resources in addition to joining a local or online community:

http://miscarriagesupport.com/

http://www.aplacetoremember.com/

www.fertileheart.com

For family and friends who want to support you:

http://americanpregnancy.org/pregnancy-loss/supporting-others/

Are you struggling to conceive after a loss? I’m here to listen and support you.  You may also find my FREE download with tips for improving your fertility naturally helpful when you are ready to start trying again.

 

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Source: Pinterest

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