Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Revisiting Zoe

A friend - Brett Anderson of Fish fame - asked people to write to him about their child loss experiences. Below is what I wrote about Zoe:
My second daughter, Zoe, was stillborn at 37 weeks on 24th March 2007 in London, UK - we had no warning, one day she was well, with a strong heartbeat, head down, ready to come into the world, and two days later, she was dead. It turns out that Nicole has a blood condition that pre-disposes her toward clotting, and the best guess is that there must have been sudden clotting in the placenta/umbilical chord which starved Zoe of oxygen. We didn't know this until after Zoe was born but because our first daughter, Janel, had been premature, Nicole had been under closer observation than a normal pregnancy, including specialised prenatal care, so there was nothing more that could have been done under the circumstances. Nevertheless, you plague yourself with "what if" questions - what if I'd taken Nicole the emergency room the night before when she first commented that Zoe wasn't moving regularly, what if Nicole had noticed earlier that something seemed to be wrong?

The church community we belonged to were amazing and really rallied round, providing us with meals, doing laundry, taking Janel out so we could be alone. We were put in touch with a charity called SANDS (Stillbirth and Neonatal Death Society) who invited us to a meeting of parents who had lost their children. It was just incredible to meet with other parents who had walked a similar path to us and who could tell us that there was some light at the end of the tunnel, no matter how long and dark it might prove to be. When we returned to South Africa, we looked to find a similar support group, but saw that none existed. As a result we started Born Sleeping and have had the privilege of supporting, and being supported by, many couples both in Cape Town, where we live, but also around the country via email and Facebook.

The issue of my faith in relation to this experience is a difficult, complicated, and ongoing one - in the weeks after Zoe's death, we felt God's love and comfort expressed to us by his people and we truly felt that, somehow, it was all going to be alright. As a bloke, I was in full strong-man support mode for Nicole, we had a 18-month old daughter to take care of, I had a job to go back to after a couple of weeks, we were preparing to move home to South Africa, etc and although I had the opportunity for some counselling, I don't think I was able to fully engage with the enormity of my grief and its impact on my faith. When we moved back to Cape Town, we struggled to find a worship community where we felt comfortable - going to church itself was not a happy experience, when you have deep questions about the goodness of a deity who would allow a child to be created only to take her back before we could know her, it is not easy to be surrounded by people singing His praises. The best advice we were given in this time was permission to miss church, to stop feeling duty bound to attend if it was damaging our relationship with God. In spite of this respite, for many months, I would go through phases of truly hating people who had an open, easy faith, because they had what I no longer could claim to be my own.

Truth be told, my relationship with God had been on a downward trend for some time before Zoe died, but the questions that her death raised for me became stumbling blocks which I couldn't overcome and although we settled in a church and joined cell groups and I even began to lead worship again, my personal spiritual life was essentially dead. Matters came to a head one Sunday morning when God, through one of his children, lovingly confronted me and said that I could not continue like this, struggling on my own and hoping that things would improve, that I needed to seek help. And so I re-entered counselling, and have made progress - Zoe's death has become the scalpel God used to cut through layers of tradition and habit to uncover fundamental flaws in the way I view God and how I relate to him. There is much work to be done still, but I have hope again that at some point in the future I will be restored as God promises, I will be able to say with Spurgeon "Oh Blessed Hurricane that drives me onto the Rock of Ages" and mean it.

Next month it will be 5 years since Zoe died, and although we have been blessed with a son in that time, I still think of her often and am surprised by how close to the surface the grief remains. In writing this, I have been reading through some of the messages we wrote and recieved at the time, and the tears have flowed freely again. You never "get over" a loss such as this, but you learn to live with the pain. You never ever quite work out how to properly answer the question "How many children do you have?" but you stop feeling guilty when you say 2 instead of 3. There is life after stillbirth, but it is never the same as before.

Friday, 26 August 2011

Two Questions

1. What will make it real?
2. What are you inviting me to?

These are the questions I've been challenged to ask myself when life goes awry - just recording this for posterity - more details to follow when I have the time...

Sunday, 21 August 2011

How to summarise what's been going on the last 10 days or so?

I don't know that I can - even to myself. Suffice it to say that the goalposts have radically shifted from what I now see as symptoms (Zoe dying, Nicole's non-selection, worship team rejection, etc) to a cause - well, I think it's a cause, it could just be another symptom...

The danger I now feel is to rush to being "better" - I've dealt with the immediate issues enough to no longer be in crisis, and the temptation is to stop and trust that the rest of the healing will just happen on its own. I've been here a couple of times and veered away from deeper issues (or just not insisted on following up on threads). I hope that I will be able to continue to explore this time...

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

PJ Smythe - CGC Tough Qs - Suffering

Some points from PJ's sermon that stuck with me
  • Four Options: No God, Bad God, Weak God, Good God
  • He does it to rouse us to Him - "unless you repent, you too will perish" is JC's response to the collapse of the tower.
  • He does it to rouse us to heaven - we are kept oblivious to eternity.
  • In the end, it boils down to whether I trust God or not - if I do, the Good God hypothesis is easy to accept, if not, it becomes impossible.
  • The whys don't (and cannot) comfort, only the who can comfort
The last was the one that really struck home - I cannot find comfort or meaning in the minutiae of why things have happened in the way that they have, it will not change them to know why. I can only find it in the one who made them happen - when I know him, the whys will cease to be of consequence.

At cell tonight Gary spoke of love languages - more of this later...

Saturday, 6 August 2011

Photoshoot - us

Susie took a few really lovely shots of us as a family, but also of us as a couple. I don't want to post them all, but here's one. It comes joint top place for me with one other, but I'm just going to post this one.

Thoughts after a Men's Breakfast

That was a BIG Bacon/Egg roll - shouldn't have had porridge this morning...

PJ Smythe spoke on the struggle to be masculine humbly, honestly, with healthy introspection, worshipfully and two other points which I forget...

He used Job as his text and spoke also of his own struggles with cancer over the last year. Some reflections/points follow below in no particular order:
  • Job does not pretend everything is fine when his family is killed and his possessions taken away - he rends his clothes, shaves his head and falls to the ground... but in worship, not in rage or despair.
  • Spurgeon says "Oh Blessed Hurricane that drives me onto the Rock of Ages"
  • Sow your tears (Ps 126) - not randomly, but constructively; take them to God in the company of others (brothers)
  • God plus something - if something is taken, everything changes
  • God plus nothing - if something is taken, nothing changes
  • Job reflects in the middle chapters on the following: sexuality, treatment of the poor and management of money
  • "Shall we accept good from God, but not trouble" & "Job never accused God of wrongdoing" - troubles may come from God, but they are not wrong. Paul says they work for good.
  • "Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked I will depart. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; may the name of the LORD be praised." Job 1:21
  • See our disappointment in the context of eternity
  • Don't idolise life, idolise Jesus
While I agree with the idea behind messages like this, that our relationship with God (and indeed with people) should not be based on what they can do for us, a scratch-my-back scenario, but is it realistic or even possible? In a human relationship where one party gives out but receives nothing in return, we would not condemn them for giving up on it, yet this is the ideal we are to strive for in a relationship with God?

This is not a new idea - it is the message of Daniel 3:17-18 that I heard as a challenge when I was teaching at Herzlia. Then it seemed noble, now it just seems foolish. It's not that I need/want material blessings in return for my worship, or expect happiness or contentment because I follow him, but a little feedback now and again would be nice - this talking to a blank wall became old long, long ago, and I've basically given up trying. So now of course the reason I hear nothing is because I contribute nothing to the relationship... so it's all my fault for not trying hard enough or persevering long enough...

Having said that, God made the move that started this most recent re-foray into counselling, I guess I need to make the next...

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Counselling continued

Second session was last week and it was a busy weekend, so let's see what I can remember...

We talked a lot about assertiveness and fear - about how I live with an expectation that things will go badly and react appropriately; how I have schooled myself not to get excited about things to avoid being disappointed. We talked about how this affects my relationships with those I live with and with those I work with.

We ended up with her telling me that the promises of God, which are foundational to the rest of our faith are not dependent on us, but on Him. It wasn't as groundbreaking a session as the first - I suppose that's inevitable, but it felt positive, solidifying (if you follow me), plus, I have homework. I'm to download the 40 days with Abraham PDF from the church website and start working through it.

So I am