When I first started hiking mountains with Jordan I was continually fooled by the false summit. Surely this is the end, I would think. Just a few more switchbacks, then one last scramble to the summit.
I lacked strength and endurance, so after hours of switchbacks and rock scrambling my eyes would settle on the closest rocky peak. Time after time I would tap into what seemed like my final reserve of energy to scale the peak ahead, only to gain a new perspective. Once we attained higher ground it would become clear that the true summit was merely hidden from our view, and was still distant. A false summit always looks like the highest point, until you reach it.
Two weeks ago I thought we had reached a summit in our lives. After two years of doctor's appointments, surgical procedures, $20,000, countless blood draws, and even more shots I spent an anxious afternoon waiting for a phone call. I tried to distract myself by folding laundry, napping, and cleaning, but my anxiety was palpable and coursed through me. When the phone call finally came, the nurse gave me the news I had hoped for. I was pregnant. My hormone levels looked fantastic, higher than expected, and I felt so grateful.
Now two weeks later the blood draws continue, but the phone calls have changed. My hormone levels are dropping. The doctor has taken me off my medication. This week promises a painful miscarriage instead of a healthy growing baby; a false summit and more mountains to climb.
I knew this was a possibility. I knew that a positive could become a negative. I knew that it was still early. But I had so much hope, we both did.
I prayed for a different outcome. I did everything within my power to improve our chances. I endured shots every morning, and sometimes at night. I didn't eat blue cheese or deli meat. I took prenatal vitamins, and baby aspirin, and fish oil tablets. And yet I find myself on a foothill, and can't help but wonder if I have been climbing the wrong mountain all this time.
I have discovered when you arrive at a false summit your choices are limited, but you still have choices.
You can decide that the path ahead of you is too difficult, too dangerous, too steep, or too far. Or maybe you are just too tired of trying. You can abandon the time and energy you have invested, and the goal you have set, and return to your starting point. Sometimes starting over is necessary.
You can rest. Sometimes you just need to take a break, eat a snack, and replenish your reserves. Often we are replenished by stopping our frantic efforts, reflecting on the distance we've gained, and then taking a moment to see the beauty around us.
Finally, you can choose to acknowledge the reality of the situation, and continue on. You can accept the reality that although you have climbed difficult peaks there are more to come. You can cling to the knowledge that there is strength and endurance to be gained by continuing on a difficult path. You can hold to the promises of those who have reached the summit. The promise that the true journey's end will be worth the pain and struggle.
Last Tuesday I had a breakdown. It was the usual kind, full of questions, tears, and disappointment. But I found that I could not sustain my tears, and that my questions felt hollow. I recognized them as questions that I've asked before; questions that have been answered. I am finding it harder to dwell in this heartache, because I know that God will lift me out of it. I feel like I should be devastated, but instead I feel faithful and hopeful.
I don't know where Jordan and I are headed. I don't know how many false summits we will have to climb, but I do know that I am stronger than I used to be. I know that I want to keep climbing with Jordan. I am wiser than I was before. I am really tired, but I am not finished.
Today I have chosen to rest. I feel overwhelmed by the idea of moving forward. But today I can rest and recognize the distance I have traveled, the strength I have gained, and the new perspective that comes even at the peak of a false summit.
Sunday, September 29, 2013
The last two years have been filled with sorrow and disappointment; work and struggle; peace and hope. We have cried a lot, prayed a lot, and loved more deeply because of our loss. We have hoped for more children and endured difficult setbacks. We have served in new ways, met new people, and found a new kind of happiness to hold onto.
Today I have been reflecting on how my heart has been changed by the experience of losing my son. My thoughts keep returning to the way I pray to my Heavenly Father. My approach, my practice, and my purpose have shifted.
I used to be a negotiator. When life became challenging, or I wanted something deeply I would begin the process of bargaining with God. My prayers went something like this.
Dear Heavenly Father, I really want (to ace this test, to buy this house, to get this job, etc.)
If you give me this I will (read my scriptures, say my prayers, serve others, etc.)
Or, I would promise to give something up (swearing, skipping church, lying, drinking coke, etc.) It was a naive exchange of efforts and blessings. The amazing thing is, that although I often fell short on the promises I made, my prayers were answered, and I felt like God knew me and loved me. Looking back, I feel like even though my prayers were imperfect, and sometimes selfish, they came from a place of sincerity and represented my simple yet imperfect understanding of God and his ways. This is a testament to me that life is not about perfection, but about learning.
When Jonah died, my prayers changed.
I began asking God to give me understanding, to bless me with patience, to help me feel strong again. The thing is I felt like I had nothing to offer in return. I was weak, broken, and struggling. I had to abandon my previous technique, because I couldn't even get out of bed. How could I promise to do my visiting teaching? So I just asked God to bless me, not because of my works or my promises, but because He loved me. And He did. In the past two years He has blessed me with all of the things I have asked for; with love and patience and strength and incredible peace -- a peace that surpasses understanding.
Now after two years of learning how to pray, I find myself wanting something so badly. I want to be a mother again. I want to see Jordan be a father again; He is such a good father. I want another chance. I find myself praying earnestly and fervently for God to grant us the opportunity to be parents again. But something has changed in me.
I no longer negotiate with God; I trust Him. I no longer use the covenants and promises I have made as a bargaining chip. As I pray to my Heavenly Father, I ask for the things I desire most, and then I promise Him that no matter what the outcome I will do my best to keep my covenants. And I mean it. I will mourn with those that mourn. I will comfort those that stand in need of comfort. I will be faithful and loyal to my husband. I will care for my parents and siblings. I will clothe the naked, feed the hungry, visit the sick. I will give everything I have to Him, not because He is a genie that grants wishes. Although, I believe all good gifts come from Him. Not because I'm afraid of everlasting punishment or damnation for falling short. But because I love Him, and because I am His daughter.
On this two year anniversary I am astounded that my heart feels whole again. My life has not been restored to what it once was. It has been transformed. I don't have everything I hope for, but I find myself genuinely laughing, and smiling. The day Jonah died I feared that Jordan would stop loving me and that our relationship would crumble. And yet we are stronger and more in love than we have ever been.
As we left the hospital on September 29, 2011 I was sure I would never feel true happiness again. Life would only be an exercise in endurance and pain. And yet happiness is here. It is in my home and in my heart.
My dear sisters, the Lord allows us to be tried and tested, sometimes to our maximum capacity. We have seen the lives of loved ones, and maybe our own, figuratively burned to the ground and have wondered why a loving and caring Heavenly Father would allow such things to happen. But he doesn't leave us in the ashes; he stands with open arms, eagerly inviting us to come to him. He is building our lives into magnificent temples where his spirit can dwell eternally. Linda S. Reeves
P.S. This was all on my mind before watching the General Relief Society broadcast last night. I was so inspired by their messages about making a keeping covenants, and so grateful for the incredible spirit I felt as they shared their messages. If you missed it, watch it here.
Posted by Julie Hall at 6:00 AM
Thursday, September 12, 2013
You need to meet these people. They have incredible hearts, incredible testimonies, and incredible challenges. They are all featured in a new video called "Special Challenges" that was created by my dear friend Katie Steed. Katie was my roommate at Brigham Young University, and is now a professor of special education at BYU. She is an inspiration to me. From the time she was in high school she has felt a special calling to be an advocate for individuals with special needs and their families. She has been a voice for those who are often unheard or ignored in our neighborhoods, schools, and congregations. She has taught me over and over again that love and faith can move mountains and heal hearts.
This video features three families that have children with special needs. It highlights their unique joys, but also paints a very realistic and heartbreaking picture of their pains and struggles.
As Katie shared this video with me a few weeks ago I wept. I wept because I felt inspired by the deep love these parents have for their children. I wept because I recognize in them some of the pain I have felt as I struggle through my own life. But mostly I wept as one mother shared her connection to the song "Lord, I Would Follow Thee." The title of this blog comes from the second verse of that very song. This sweet mother talked about her new understanding of the lyrics in the quiet heart is hidden, sorrow that the eye can't see. As I listened to her share her connection to those words my heart connected to hers and I knew I needed to share her message, because it is my message too.
Love is the answer. We each carry our own personal heartache and yet we each have the capacity to choose love. We can each learn the healer's art and reach out to those around us who carry sometimes deep and often unseen sorrow.
Katie has taught me about love. She has mourned with me, listened to me, and comforted me in my darkest hours. She is an incredible example of Christlike love, and the love she feels for these families is evident in the powerful message this video shares.
Please take a few minutes to listen to these families and their experiences, share this message with others, and let it guide your actions.
A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another. John 13:34-35
Posted by Julie Hall at 7:51 PM
Friday, July 12, 2013
I am so grateful to Jonah for helping me understand what it means to be a child of God. His life helped me learn to love with my whole heart. His challenges helped me grasp the beauty of an imperfect life. His laugh made me laugh. His smile made me smile. Serving him helped me redefine exhaustion. Losing him taught me that pain is inevitably linked with love.
Tonight as I sit in a dimly lit motel room in Rangely, Colorado I feel disoriented by the divergent paths our lives have taken. I feel like I should be in the midst of potty-training and preschool preparation. My heart still aches, and my arms long to hold him. And yet, I have come to accept his absence as time has passed. I accept it, but I still want to honor his life and celebrate my sweet Jonah on his third birthday.
This year, like last year, I hope to honor Jonah's life through simple acts of service. I invite you to celebrate his life with me by mirroring his generous spirit. Do something good on Jonah's birthday, July 14. Be unusually kind. Pay attention to the people around you. Hug someone you love. Call an old friend. When you see someone in need help them.
Keep it simple. Jonah taught me that love is the simplest gift we give.
P.S. I would love to hear what gifts you give in Jonah's memory this year.
Love recognizes no barriers. It jumps hurdles, leaps fences, penetrates walls to arrive at its destination full of hope. Maya Angelou
Posted by Julie Hall at 5:56 AM
Sunday, June 30, 2013
I was recently interviewed by my friend Kathryn for the Mormon Women Project. I was so grateful for the invitation, and for the opportunity to share my experience and my testimony with a new audience. But most of all I was grateful to talk about Jonah. It felt so good to say his name. I'm so grateful for the simple conversations in life. There is so much healing in sharing our stories, and so much love in a listening ear.
Thanks to Kathryn Peterson for taking the time to listen, and to each of you for reading my words and sharing your own stories with me.
If a story is in you, it has got to come out.
Posted by Julie Hall at 3:35 PM