Can I tell you a little secret? I think I may have failed at Lent this year. Well, at least what I initially set out to achieve this season.
After a very meaningful Advent season and finding ways to connect my faith to my parenting, I was looking forward to more of the same. I started off strong with my daily readings, taking a few minutes to be silent, and then, I just stopped.
For some reason I wasn’t connecting with the readings. They felt long, tedious, wordy, and not very relevant to my daily life. If I’m honest I couldn’t relate to them. The days went by, our schedule felt busy. A few trips to Idaho thrown into the mix and my plan of making Lent come alive was left in the dust.
That’s where Lent began. Ash Wednesday. From dust to dust.
Gritty, dirty, dusty.
Now these were words that resonated deep within my soul.
On one of the trips back from Idaho I listened to a new podcast I found called The Desire Line. As the hosts spoke to their guest he shared about how there came a season where his old ways of connecting with God just didn’t seem to work.
My ears perked up.
I have experienced many different seasons and had felt this very thing on numerous occasions. As he went on talking he shared how he began walking and hiking in an attempt to begin communicating again with God in a way that meant something to him. I loved the idea and agreed with the concept. When I got back home to Kirkland and our rhythm of life, I decided to get up before everyone else and go for a walk. No music, no headphones, just Jesus, me, and my thoughts.
Those first few days it was like trying to tune into a fuzzy station to find the right channel. Things in my head felt noisy and distracted. After the third walk I could sense my mind starting to quiet and adjust to this new practice. I could start to hear God’s voice again. Speaking in single words. I could smell the fresh rainfall, hear the birds singing overhead, and appreciate the quiet of the morning. This little gritty path laying before me, letting me walk upon it while I listened, was teaching me.
Then one day I decided to take the boys for a hike on a random Tuesday. We had nothing planned except to burn off some energy. I packed up our lunch, snacks, and away we went. As we walked the easy hiking path I could feel the solid ground beneath my feet. My eyes drawn upward towards the budding branches, brown mingled with shots of brilliant green. Spring fully underway.
The boys chatted non-stop, shouting with delight at each discovery nature had hidden and I didn’t shush them. The woods were strong enough to absorb their loud way of living a four year old existence. We played Star Wars games, skipped rocks, and ran through the forest together. The rest of the day felt easier and the dirt stuck to the tread of my shoes as a reminder of why.
As the evenings have slowly gotten brighter and the weather occasionally cooperating into a mild night, I decided to start weeding the other night. The boys played in the garden as I, on hands and knees, dug up little shoots and roots, pulling them out. As each one came out I could see the remnants of last years gardening project peeking through. The bark from last year was still there and made the area look clean, tidy, and cared for. While I slowly pulled weeds I could feel my breath settle. I could feel my mind focusing on the one task at hand. My shoulders relaxed and so did I. The boys even got excited to help me weed and would take each weed as I pulled it from my hand and place it into the bin. The next morning I washed out the remainder of the dirt from under my finger nails, hinting at the calm it had ushered in.
Most recently, we took a day trip to Alki beach outside of Seattle. We walked along the waters edge. The boys and I walked on ahead as Bryan and his brother Nate chatted. The boys and I collected beach glass, attempted to build a sandcastle with sand that was too dry, and used rocks as army guys who were fighting off Star Wars characters. Eventually the boys paused to play and I laid down in the warm sand. I closed my eyes and took deep breaths, allowing my chest to rise and fall slowly, methodically. I relaxed my eyes, placed my arms behind my head and lay still. The feeling of the sand in my hair, the sound of the water rolling onto the sand close by, the boys voices bubbling out of them in excitement, it awakened my senses.
That’s when I started thinking about how different this Lenten season had been for me. Had I failed? I didn’t think so, or at least I didn’t want to. Then the thought came to me. This Lenten season had been more like a puzzle I was putting together. One piece buried in the mud on our hike, one piece buried in the soil under a weed, another piece lodged between the rocks that get stuck in my trainers after my walk, and then another piece covered by sand and seaweed.
Gritty, dirty, dusty.
That’s where I found Lent this year: in the grit, dirt, and dust. I found myself buried in these simple practices that invite quiet in. In these places I did not have to try to tame the wild of my boys. I did not have to try to keep the house tidy to find a semblance of peace. The grit, dirt, and dust of my life were welcome in these places and so were my boys. I could feel myself rising to the surface in these moments. Not the me that is rushed, stressed out, but the me that pauses, the me that takes in the beauty of the ordinary. These practices had a way of settling me and I was thankful for the discovery.
Maybe this Lenten season what God was resurrecting in me was me. Maybe I had to walk to hear His voice. Maybe I had to take my boys outdoors to be a more engaged mother. Maybe I had to pull weeds up one at a time to appreciate the length of time it will take to grow that which can never be uprooted in me. Maybe like the beach glass, that becomes smooth and polished after being pummeled, I am being made smooth and less abrasive. Just maybe.
So maybe I didn’t fail Lent this year, maybe I found it for the first time.
How have you practiced or observed Lent this year? Was it meaningful, rich, and full? Or did it feel stale and dry? Pay attention to the answer. It could be time to take a walk and quiet yourself too.
It’s been eighteen months since your last breath escaped the body that held your spirit.
I have felt your absence lately. Like when a knife carves out space, leaving the edges raw. I do not understand the full extent of why. Is it because I have things to tell you? I will always have things to tell you Papa.
A few days ago the boys and I made a quick trip back to Idaho. We went to trade our car in. I always asked you about cars. You were my car guru; now you aren’t.
As I drove into town, the thought of your empty chair got stuck in my throat like a cotton ball, something you are never meant to swallow. Your feet no longer entering the house from the garage. The sound of your cowboy boots clicking against the linoleum. I still hear it if I listen hard enough.
Your sweetheart and I mulled over what images and words will be placed on the bench that will mark your grave, and eventually hers. The place where your shell and hers will forever remain.
Did you sense me as I drove by the cemetery where you lay? Is a part of you still roaming this earth, connected to me? I desperately hope so.
I pondered stopping. I wanted to, but the boys were waiting for me with your love. I wanted to but I wasn’t sure I could find you without your new, shiny nameplate. I wanted to but I was afraid of the hysteria that would ensue if I couldn’t find you. I kept driving back to your house.
Before I left I dug through a drawer that housed some of your things. I found a picture of you as a young man, wearing converse, jeans rolled, looking effortlessly hip. I want to know the younger you. I have so many things I want to know now that I know I will never know.
As I type these words on your old laptop I touch the keys and feel our connection. Your DNA remains on these keys, now mixed with mine. Thank God you also left me your eyes. I am pretty sure I have handed them down to Kidran. You also left behind your nose for Cohen. Even in your absence you are present.
It’s been eighteen months.
The last seven days have been interesting to say the least.
This past Friday at 10:22 a.m. my beautiful and strong grandma, Ardith Maier passed away. She was surrounded by family and went peacefully. She was the ripe old age of 98! Her mind was sharp but her body had failed her.
One of my favorite last memories of my grandma was a few years ago when my grandpa was still alive too (he passed away 5 days shy of 100!). We had completed our third transfer after 9 long years of trying, and were finally pregnant. My mom, aunts, cousins, sister-in-laws, and nieces then threw us a baby shower before we headed back to our home in Northern Ireland. The shower was at my grandparents house so my grandma could be there. My grandpa was of course there too, loving every second of us being there to celebrate this joyous occasion.
Right before we left my grandpa and grandma told us they wanted to pray for us. So I knelt in front of them while Bryan stood by my side. They laid their aged, wrinkled, and wise hands on us and prayed.
It wasn’t an eloquent prayer. It wasn’t long. It was however, powerful. It felt like a baton being passed. They had prayed constantly for us to have a family. They persistently knocked on heaven’s door for us and I am thankful they did. In that moment, we entered a holy place. A place where the veil is thin. What had been such a dark season of time for us was finally turning into a bright, blinding light. They were there to witness it and that felt huge.
So Saturday, I grieved the loss of my grandma. I grieved the loss of my sweet papa again too. It all hit me harder than expected. My body felt numb, I didn’t really want to move but just sleep. As usual my incredibly aware and loving husband took our boys and gave me space to just “be” that day. Thank you my love. Thank you for knowing when I need space and doing what is necessary to create it.
As I had the space and time, I cried at times. Then I signed copies of my book to send to some special women. Some of you who already bought the book know this, but I included the infertility struggle of other women at the end of my book. Every infertility story looks different and I wanted the women who read my book to find themselves in at least one of these stories. So I wrote my thank you’s to these women and posted their copies to them. Thank you ladies for entrusting me with your personal journey and for allowing me to share it this way with others on the same road. We are all in this together.
After feeling like I was in a bit of a funk, and going through Easter morning not feeling very present, we had the pleasure of spending the rest of the day with our adopted PNW family, the Wheelers. They love on us and our boys like family. They were also the ones who did an Easter egg hunt for Kidran and Cohen, not us. As I stood in their house, where we lived for our first four and a half months back in the states in 2016, I was overwhelmed by how thankful I am for each of them and their presence in our life. Thank you Wheeler Clan for loving and including us in such a generous, big way!
Tuesday rolled around, a day I had been anticipating. I was anxious for the day because I had my very first podcast interview about the book (which hopefully will be available mid April!). I was a mixture of excitement and nerves, wondering if I was going to totally blank on every question but hoping I would instead be able to speak straight from my heart. I think I was able to do the latter. My sweet friend Ailsa, who is ever gracious and accommodating, offered to watch my boys while I did the interview. What a gift!
I dropped the boys off at her house and we chatted over coffee for a bit. Then I drove home, lit a candle, prepared my material for the interview. I quieted my heart, had a few moments with God, and centered myself. Then I became truly present.
The interview went beautifully. We had a heartfelt discussion about infertility, the book, the ups, downs, and everything in between of this difficult journey. I LOVED IT!
I had recruited extra prayers that day and I am so thankful I have people who do pray for me. Many of those same people carried me for years as we walked in a childless exodus, trying to find our familial promise land. We indeed have landed in a sweet place now.
As I reflected on the interview, this is what I came away with.
Infertility felt so dark to me at many points. It enveloped me, to the point where at times I could not ever see a way of getting out. Now to have written The Heart Wants What the Heart Wants and be able to share my story with so many others, it feels like light breaking through. Being able to share about the book in an interview where I came away buzzing about how much I enjoyed it, again, light breaking through. Maybe the light seems brighter too because of the darkness from those years of isolation, heartbreak, sorrow, and tears cried in secret. To openly display my pain and see light cracking through every crevice as I expose my own dark journey feels like redemption.
Where are you walking in the dark right now? What part of your life is the most painful? Maybe, just maybe, in the near or far future, that pain will be what grabs the hand of someone else stumbling down a dark corridor, to help guide them towards a brighter, light-filled future. Will you share your own story of darkness and pain with the chance that it may help someone else? I really think you should.
*If you are interested in purchasing the book you can do so by heading to Amazon or if you are local to the PNW, you can DM me on Instagram, @breannachud or FB @breannajochud. Please share this book with those who may be struggling and if you read it, would you do me a favor and review it on Amazon and my FB page? Again, the podcast interview should be up mid April so have a listen and review that too! Thank you!
Over the last five years, I have started using a Lent devotional from Biola University. This practice has been so helpful for me. I haven’t always been faithful to do it everyday, but even still, I find it helpful to create a type of rhythm. I enter into the waiting of Lent with purpose and direction, which in turn has led to deeper meaning for me personally.
This beautiful poem from today’s excerpt felt very close to my heart. Much of what was discussed was the way Mary pondered the events of Jesus’ life in her heart, as his mother:
Poetry: A Child in Starlight
By Elmer Diktonius
[Translated by Martin S. Allwood]
There is a child,
A new-born child—
A rosy, new-born child.
The child whimpers—
All children do.
And the mother takes the child to her breast.
Then it is quiet.
So is every child.
The roof is not over tight—
Not all roofs are.
And the star puts
It’s silver muzzle through the chink,
And steals up to the little one’s head.
Stars like children.
And the mother looks up at the star
All mothers understand.
And presses her frightened baby
To her breast—
But the child sucks quietly in starlight:
All children suck in starlight.
It knows nothing yet about the cross:
No child does.
As I read this poem, it struck me that every mother will watch her child/ren endure a cross, possibly more than one. My mother watched me endure infertility for nine long years. She watched me heave that cross around. She watched me break under it’s weight at times. She pondered this and I’m sure had flashbacks to me as a little girl, wild and carefree. It’s so hard to watch your baby carry a cross.
My boys are still pretty tiny. They have only spent three and a half years on this planet, such a short space of time, yet they are learning so much. A few days ago our eldest, by one whole minute, finally was forced to give up his pacifier/dodie. In his small, three year old world, this was his cross. The dodie actually split in two and my husband and I made the decision that it was time to not replace the dodie.
Bedtime that first night was a little rough. His eyes welled with tears after he asked for his dodie and we told him there was “no more dodie.” He asked me to go to the store to get a new one and I said “it’s time to be a big boy.” Talk about heart wrenching!
That was a few days ago now. Life had moved on. Then I read the devotional for today and I felt tears welling up in my own eyes. As I sat across from my boys, looking at each of them, I pondered why this was coming up for me. It hit me that it was the end of my babies being babies. Cohen had willingly given up his dodie long ago, and that felt fine because Cohen always wants to be bigger than he is and further along in life than he is. Kidran, on the other hand, has felt a little more needing of nurturing so I felt okay about letting him still have his dodie. However, now I was gently forcing him to take a step towards growing up. I was encouraging him to turn his back on being a baby and walk boldly towards becoming an independent little boy. Hard swallow. Lump in my throat. I did not like the moment.
This brings me back to my devotional reading. Mary was my kind of mom. God was so gracious to have her show us moms that it’s okay to ponder our children, to store up memories for later to relive and visit. I replay that line “let them be little” over and over sometimes. They won’t be little forever momma, ponder these little times. Ponder them wanting to be by your side every second, not giving you any space to breathe. Ponder there outbursts, they are waging through a forest of emotions that are new and overwhelming to them. Ponder the toys everywhere, the handprints on the windows, the 100th reading of the same story, and those cuddles that come out of nowhere. Store up those things in your heart. You are gonna need them for later.
As I sifted through these thoughts, I pondered Easter and the waiting it involves/d. I naturally turned to my longest period of waiting to date. It was the nine years of waiting to be a mom. Waiting for sleepless nights. Waiting for dirty diapers to be changed. Waiting for my baby to spit up all over my clean shirt for the third time in one day. Let me tell you something truthful though. God did something to me in the waiting. He began making me a mountain(which is what my little piece of pottery says). If you let Him, he will do that for you too. There can be purpose in our pain if we let there be. Will it be fun and easy? Probably not. Will it help others? I can almost guarantee it. Will it be hard? Yep.
The other picture I have added to this blog is a picture of the pendant my dear friend Ailsa gave me at one of my lowest points in our infertility journey. It helped me in the waiting and came at a time when my world seemed bleak, dark, and hopeless. Yet in time, the image of the dove carrying the olive branch, began to create a strong hope in me. Hope for the future. Hope that my waiting would come to an end. Hope that someday I would lay down my cross of infertility, and that I would resurrect as a mother.
As you enter into these final days of this Lenten season, take time to ponder. Remember Mary. Remember that God is with you. What are you waiting for? What cross are you carrying? Where do you want to see resurrection in your life? Take some time to ask these questions, talk them over with a close friend, your husband, or God. Lent is almost over and my prayer for you is that your waiting is almost over.
If you would like some extra encouragement in learning to practice some spiritual disciplines check out Lacy Clark Ellman. She has a beautiful website and podcast with tons of valuable resources to help you begin to create space to practice things like Lent.
*I still have copies of my book as well The Heart Wants What the Heart Wants. If you are local to the Kirkland/Seattle area contact me directly through my Facebook page @breannajochud to buy a copy directly. Otherwise you can order a copy on Amazon. I would encourage you as well to think of buying this book as a gift for a friend or for yourself to learn more about the struggle of infertility. You can also find my info on Instagram @breannachud.
When I was in high school, I liked English. My teacher however made it very clear to me, on more than one occasion, that English did not like me. She held my paper up, covered in red marks, in front of both classes, and announced that I made the most mistakes in both her classes. It was a defining moment. From that point on, I became pretty insecure about my ability to write throughout high school.
Imagine my surprise then, when I tested out of the basic English composition class to move onto the next level when I arrived at college! It gave me a glimmer of hope that maybe, just maybe, I could actually write. Combine that spark with years of journaling, and I decided to ignore my high school teachers decision of my ability.
I did this when I started blogging for the community coffee shop I opened in Northern Ireland called The Press. I would share about the experiences in the coffee shop and announce our upcoming events. I LOVED IT! Writing had always been an outlet and at that point I started to find my own voice.
Fast forward a few years. Bryan and I decided to give IVF one last shot, no pun intended! I figured the easiest way to keep people informed of our progress was through my personal blog. I had only one or two entries at that point. I guess I also need to rewind and insert this little fact. Through the years that we struggled with infertility I also journaled. I used my writing as a way of processing my pain, as a way of praying, as a way of dealing with the grief I carried, but didn’t always want the world to know. I also didn’t want to consistently be “Debbie Downer” by always talking about the sadness I felt. This could be partly my personality or partly the lies we believe that people can’t handle our pain and suffering, I’m not really sure.
Anyway, back to what I was saying. Years before the blog started, Bryan and I had made a special trip to London to see Phantom of the Opera with the London cast. It was one of my bucket list items. It happened around my 30th birthday along with our first failed round of IVF. As we sat having dinner in a little Italian restaurant across from the theater, we decided that someday, when our family had finally arrived, by whatever means it came, that we would share our story in a book.
That moment has arrived. The Heart Wants What the Heart Wants is our story from my personal perspective. I allow you to crack open pages of my own journals, private pictures, sketches and my honest response to the struggle of infertility. I really hold nothing back. I am not trying to shock people, but I am trying to wake people up. This issue is painful. Painful for those struggling and painful for those who are watching someone struggle. 1 out of every 8 couples will deal with infertility now, 1 out of 8!!! Next time you are around that many couples, just look around because I would bet my own money that someone you know really well is struggling. It’s that real friends.
This book took me almost two years to complete. Life happened in a not so kind way almost immediately after I had the full manuscript completed. My father was diagnosed with cancer. At times the book felt like a burden I couldn’t shake while dealing with the grief of watching my father deteriorate. Other times it felt like an escape and a lifeline. What definitely helped was writing. Writing has become a way of life for me. Thanks to authors like Shauna Niequist, Jen Hatmaker, Elizabeth Gilbert, and Brene′ Brown, I began to believe in the power of my own voice. I also had my husband and amazing family and friends cheering me on too!
So the other night, March 12th at 7 p.m. I had my very first book launch! I was overwhelmed to see so many lovely faces come. Some I hadn’t seen in years, and some I have only recently become friends with. It was a beautiful collection of people and I am so grateful for each person taking the time to come and support me in such a tangible way.
Now I have the privilege of promoting this much needed book. I get to share my story again and again with people. Validating each time that what I went through, what we went through, and maybe what you are going through will not be wasted if we let it help and guide others. Our pain truly can bring comfort to someone else’s suffering, if we will let it. It means standing with our hands open instead of with clenched fists.
“I would describe infertility as a process of purification. You go through the fire, but at the end you come out your truest self.” p. 51 The Heart Wants What the Heart Wants
What have you experienced by way of pain in your life? Are you willing to open that area up to even just one person? If so, I think you will find there is healing there. There is purpose in your pain there. There is also forward momentum that helps you leave the past in the past and move towards your future with hope and joy. Please share your story, the world needs it!
Last night Bryan and I had a date night of sorts thanks to two of his players! We said goodbye to the girls, hopped into the car and drove to downtown Kirkland and picked a coffee shop out of the plethora of choices that we have. (This feels just a little bit different than making this choice in Dungannon!)
This date happened because before I left for work I told Bryan my head was spinning with loads of ‘life’ conversations that we haven’t been able to have lately. So what did he promptly do? Got the girls to watch the boys so we could go and connect and chat through many of the topics we had been avoiding because we haven’t had the proper space and time to chat through them from start to finish.
My husband is amazing for so many reasons! The way he responds to my needs when voiced is just one of those reasons. The pictures above are snaps that he has sent me when I am at work. He loves the times he gets with the boys and it shows! I love how involved he is in every aspect of their lives and it still blows me away that he is my husband!!! I am thankful beyond words!! His capacity is far greater than mine and he is always watching out for the boys and me, making sure we are doing okay. His heart is so big!!! Thank you Bryan for being everything to the boys and me! You are a wonderful father and an amazing husband and I am thankful for you!!!
As I reflected on our date night and how little time it takes to reconnect (thankfully) in this mildly manic season of life, my mind went to other areas of my life. Over Lent I read a brief devotional each day that helped me feel more connected to God than I have in quite awhile. Again I was thankful for the little time it took to reconnect my soul to God. As I thought about Lent, I also began thinking of the many years where being a Christian and the promise of resurrection felt like a slap across the face.
For so many years I wanted, prayed, asked and begged for resurrection in one specific area of our life…that of infertility. I asked for my womb to be resurrected. I asked for our situation to change. I am still so closely connected to those feelings of waiting, of longing and this year they surfaced again as a distant but burning memory.
Lately I have been looking at my resurrection, my boys. The life they bring and represent, the promises fulfilled, the hope seen in a tangible way and I am overwhelmed. Four years ago I could not have imagined my life looking like it does right now. On Easter Sunday my heart ached, wounds re-opened and I felt some of those old feelings all over again. Not for myself this time but for many friends who are still waiting for their own resurrection. Some are waiting for it in their own journey through infertility and that especially tugs on my heart strings. Others are waiting for a relationship, a job change, a family member to come home or be healed and the list goes on.
Staying connected to the old feelings and memories of waiting and hoping has been hard at times. There have been moments where I have wanted to forget all of the painful parts yet it’s been in those parts that others have been encouraged by our story. We walked through the pain and came out the other side. I know that we eventually had our two incredible miracles and so it seems easy and shallow maybe that we would feel okay remembering the past. But I never want to forget it. I want other people to know that no matter where they are right now, it’s not the end. The thing they desire most they may receive, or they may not but where they are will not be forever.
Awhile back Bryan and I fell in love with one of Zach Braff’s films and in it the father figure says a profound statement: ‘We have to keep moving forward, it’s the only direction God gave us to go.’ So today I would encourage you to keep moving forward. Stay connected to yourself, to your spouse, friends and family. This too shall pass. I cannot say the other side will be more beautiful, that you will have everything you have been waiting for but what I can say is that in four years from now, you may not recognize the life you are living and you will be thankful you kept moving forward.