It Sucks and It’s Sanctifying

This was a journal entry written on July 5th, 2020.

Today, three weeks after returning home from our annual Team Tilmes retreat, I’m writing out our 2020-21 goals and intentions on notecards and hanging them up. In the past, I eagerly wrote and hung them right after coming home. But this year was different. Our annual trip ended quite terribly and made me want to do nothing but cover up those goals and intentions until right now.

We drove to Louisville on a Friday with the best kind of secret: we were pregnant. 12 weeks, with our formal ultrasound scheduled the following Wednesday. At 8 weeks, we went to the OB, heard a strong heartbeat, and were given a due date of January 3rd. The unknown was so exciting– would we have a boy or a girl? Would our baby come early before the new year or hold out until 2021? What would life be like as a family of three? I’ve really never felt so excited or in love or curious about a person I didn’t know at all.

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Selah, Pt. 3

The week before I miscarried, I stopped feeling nauseous. For the first ten weeks of my pregnancy, I felt mildly sick all the time. The thought of certain foods could make me gag, and in general, nothing sounded appetizing at all. But right around week 11, which in hindsight was the week before I miscarried, I felt fine. So fine that when friends asked how I was feeling I would say “I actually don’t feel nauseous at all anymore. I hope that’s a kind gift from God and not the sign of something bad, but I feel totally fine!”

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Selah, Pt. 2

For weeks after our hospital visit, I cried.

I cried because we lost our first baby. I cried because it felt unfair that we waited twenty months to have to wade through (drown in?) this pain. I cried because the plans we were dreaming up in early January suddenly and without warning were cancelled. I cried because my husband experienced the same events in different ways, and I hurt for him, too.  I cried because I couldn’t see a light at the end of the tunnel. I cried when I imagined opening myself up to the vulnerability of being pregnant again. I cried when I considered opening myself up to the vulnerability of talking to God about my hurt. I cried because there was life growing in me and then there was not. I cried out of anger at my body, which wasn’t doing what I always thought it was supposed to. I cried when we got a package of props I ordered for our announcement photo because it felt like a cruel reminder of what we no longer needed. I cried when I cleaned off my dresser and found the pregnancy test I had been saving for a memory book — now a memory of loss. I cried when friends dropped off flowers because the grace of God felt close. I cried when friends responded with thoughtful words. I cried when friends responded with honest words admitting they didn’t know what to say, but that they cared, because I believed them. I cried when friends who have been through the same thing responded with heartbreak because it hurt to know they knew the feelings. I cried over friends who didn’t respond at all. I cried when a friend stopped by to drop off bread just because — she didn’t know my news — and it was the first time I said “I had a miscarriage” out loud. One day I got in my car and I cried a lot. I cried because it was the only thing I felt I could do. I cried on the first day my life started to feel “normal” again: at the moment I realized I hadn’t cried at all that day. I cried during group prayer at a friend’s baby shower. I cried in the shower when I thought Danny couldn’t hear. I cried at times without knowing why I was crying.

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Selah, Pt. 1

We were half way through quarantine when I lost an appetite for coffee and meat and really all foods that weren’t cold or white (cold AND white? Even better!). I didn’t know it at the time, but my body was changing, which I’d find out the day before Danny’s birthday. My period was several days late, so I decided to pee on a stick, and did that nervous back-and-forth-pace in the bathroom until two minutes passed and the vibrant plus sign was undeniable– we were pregnant.

I have peed on many sticks over the last two years, but none have been pregnancy tests until April. Every month I pulled out an ovulation test to confirm that, yes, my cycle was “regular” and, yes, I was ovulating. But I never needed to take the other test– the one we all want to take unless we don’t — because my period always came… right on time. And then it didn’t.

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And Also

As I was sitting in the lobby of my obgyn’s office, a couple walked out from the back with instructions to wait on the couch until the doctor was ready to see them. They sat down across the small waiting room from where I was sitting and began looking at a strip of black and white images. “I can’t believe it,” the wife loudly whispered with a smile that took up most of her face. “Okay, this is actually starting to feel real now,” the expectant father said with a quiver in his throat. During the time we were together in the lobby, they FaceTimed friends, reminded each other that they were going to have a baby, and had no idea that I — the other person in the waiting room who would smile politely when we made eye contact — was fighting back tears.

I felt like I was having an out-of-body experience because I was feeling so many things all at once: excitement for this couple’s growing family, deep sadness for my own story, a craving for coffee while questioning if I should drive through Starbucks on the way home, annoyance that my doctor’s office put all of the patients in the same lobby to wait together, and an unprecedented desire to get out of that freaking waiting room.

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The Long Game

I’m so thankful for all of you who reached out with kind and encouraging words after my post on Tuesday. In the last paragraph I wrote:

I’m writing this to let you know that I’m hurting, but I’m hopeful. I’m writing this because it’s cathartic for me and hitting publish feels brave. I’m writing this because maybe you’ve wondered when the Tilmeses will have a baby and you didn’t realize we’re wondering that, too. I’m writing this because I want to invite you into the messy middle and then you’ll share in our deep joy when we finally get to share that our family is growing.

There’s one more line I want to add: I’m writing this in case you know the feeling because I hate thinking you might feel alone.

Instagram is great, but we need to understand it as a platform that’s most-often used to share the highlights. Let’s say you’re bored at a red light, so you open Instagram to see what’s new. In twelve seconds of scrolling you see:

  • A photo of a proposal
  • The highly-anticipated college acceptance
  • An immaculate living room littered only with plants (posted by a mom with 4 kids!)
  • A kiss captured at the altar above an affectionate anniversary note (because the internet needs to know how we feel about our husbands!)
  • A birthday shoutout from a party you weren’t invited to (otherwise you would have posted the same photo for someone else to scroll by twice, duh!)
  • An elated couple holding up a sonogram
  • That stylish girl gang paired with a thoughtful caption about how life is too good alongside friends like this. 

And then the light turns green and you’re left to wonder when it will all start happening for you, the girl driving a 2012 4-door sedan.

But while you’re considering when your life will become worthy enough to slap a VSCO filter on a photo you took two weeks ago and wait for the likes to roll in, you don’t realize how long @LuvMyBoyfriend99 wondered when a man would finally show interest in her. You miss the fact that for years, @MyFriendsRForeverFriends felt like she put more into friendships than she got back (and probably still feels insecure about it).

Instagram posts can mask our pain or celebrate what we’ve long-been hoping would happen to us. When we hit “share,” we understand the emotions that we’re either suppressing (bored, insecure, unfulfilled, jealous) or showcasing (happy! thankful! content! accomplished!) in our post. But, we ignore the fact that everyone else’s posts are also masking pain or celebrating something long-awaited. Instead, we assume we’re the only one feeling lonely in our waiting.

If you’re in a season of waiting — I see you and I get you. And I want to tell you what I know for sure:

In the age of Instagram, God is all about the long game.

I’m talking about a God who wasn’t surprised by the Israelites wandering in the desert for 40 years before they entered the Promised Land. A God who named Abraham the father of nations and wasn’t nervous that his wife wouldn’t have a son until she was 90. A God who had a plan to redeem the world through the death and resurrection of Jesus in his thirties, but chose for him to be born a baby.

Instagram makes us believe it’s all instant. I believe in a God who understands long-suffering, calls faithfulness a fruit, and shows up in the waiting.

So the next time you’re bored at a red light, consider thinking about how God has used your season of waiting to draw you closer to him; to make you fruitful in faithfulness. Listen and let him say “I understand how you’re feeling.”

And then, when the light turns green, trust that God is all about the long game; that he sees you and gets you, the girl driving the 2012 4-door sedan.

You might not relate to my story exactly, but I’m committed to sharing this messy middle so that even one person might feel less alone in hers.

And Then

Today I left work earlier than I anticipated and cried on the drive home.

I love my job. I feel empowered in the work I do and I love the people I work with. My tears had nothing to do with my job.

I left work because I started my period and, like the last several months, I felt overwhelmed with sadness and fear. But today, surrounded by co-workers and clients, I could feel the lump in my throat; feel the water welling in my eyes. The sadness and fear felt like they had a tighter grip on my chest than I remember. I needed to cry and to be alone, so I left.

My entire life, my period has been a thing that happens once a month that I’ve felt very neutral about. I’ve never dealt with debilitating cramps or severe symptoms otherwise, and I’m thankful for that. But over the last year, my period has become the thing that my thoughts revolve around: wondering and then waiting and then praying and then prepping and then wondering and then googling and then pep-talking and then wondering and then dreading. I dread it not because of the physical pain caused by my body, but because of the emotional pain triggered by what it means my body can’t might not be able to do.

I’ve considered writing about this for a long time now. Much longer than I wish was true because the length of time I’ve considered writing coincides with the length of time this season has lasted. A season of hope and then disappointment and then confusion and then hopelessness and then joy and then pain and then sadness and then trust and then wonder and then embarrassment and then hope and then disappointment all over again.

Danny + I are so excited to be parents. We are expectant of the day we get to raise up disciples who share our last name. For five years now we’ve built our marriage on being a missional team and we can’t wait to grow that team and invite our children to run on mission with us. It’s all so exciting and, at the moment, so heartbreaking. I daydream about what I’ll do with our 4-year-old, but we’re not even pregnant yet. I’m not sure I’ll ever be pregnant. I still hold on to hope because whether we have kids biologically or through adoption, I’m trusting that we’re called to be parents. But, it’s the waiting– the unknown– that can be so lonely. Especially on a day like today. Especially when scrolling on Instagram means double-tapping another family’s birth announcement. Especially when girls years younger than I am happily tell me they got pregnant on “the first try.” Especially when get-togethers with friends now include toddlers wobbling around and infants sleeping in Solly Baby wraps. I’ve yet to feel bitter towards these things (I’m thankful!), but the loneliness is real. The loneliness is real in the wondering when it will be my time to carry a sleeping infant on my chest.

I’m writing this to let you know that I’m hurting, but I’m hopeful. I’m writing this because it’s cathartic for me and hitting publish feels brave. I’m writing this because maybe you’ve wondered when the Tilmeses will have a baby and you didn’t realize we’re wondering that, too. I’m writing this because I want to invite you into the messy middle and then you’ll share in our deep joy when we finally get to share that our family is growing.

With all my love and hope and heartbreak.