The Year That I Hated, but Loved.

This is a guest blog.  It was written by my wife Jen, about her thoughts on the things that she and I went through this year.  I often think she is a better writer than I am!


We’ve all seen the posts on Facebook: “It’s been a great year!  Thanks for being a part of it!”  Many of my friends have shared the compilation of photos and statuses that Facebook put together as its end of the year hurrah.  I’ve enjoyed looking through them, and seeing the high points of many of my friends’ years.

But honestly, I couldn’t bring myself to share my own.  Because it hasn’t been a great year.  Not entirely.

As I sat at work on my break today, I was scrolling through Facebook and came across this post from a friend:

2014

I thought about it for a second, and posted this reply: “I’d say, ‘In a few short weeks, you’ll go through pain and heartbreak like you haven’t known before. But, you’ll also see the Father in a way you haven’t before. He will carry you through gently. He will remind you that your heart rests within His hands. He will show you how to wait expectantly, and how to love others in a way you couldn’t before. Buckle up.’ “

Last year, at this time, Josh and I were heading over to our friends’ house to count down to midnight.  We went on a whim, and I was glad we did.  Our whole church family was there (it’s a very small church), we played games, talked, and at midnight, we popped party poppers and toasted with sparkling grape juice.  2014 started out with us gathered around their living room, and we sang Build Your Kingdom Here by Rend Collective Experiment.

New Years 2014

I Instagrammed this picture, with the caption, “Happy New Year from the Mendenhalls! #seeyoulater2013 #2014isgonnabegreat”.

I was convinced that 2014 was going to be the best year ever.  Four days before, we had found out that I was pregnant.  No one knew yet, and we would soon be traveling to visit both of our families to tell them.  I was overflowing with the secret joy.

But a month and a few days later, I miscarried.  I was 11 weeks, and I was devastated.  It really was the most heartbreaking and challenging thing that I have ever been through.  I spent several days in bed, trying to recover physically and emotionally.  The physical healing took weeks, but the emotional healing has taken much longer.

I really don’t know how I would have gotten through without Jesus.  Where my heart was broken and cracked, He filled it.  Where my tears threatened to overflow every time I saw a pregnant woman, He gave me comfort.  And He also reminded me of a promise that He had given me in May of 2013, while sitting on a couch at our ministry in Kampala, Uganda.  You will be a mother. 

As the winter melted away to spring, I held onto that promise.  Josh and I decided that once my body was physically healed and I felt ready, we would try again.  But month after month, it was clear that it was not meant to be yet.

This season of waiting was difficult, but I learned how to see the world through different eyes.

I remember on several of the first truly sunny and warm days of the spring, I spent as much time as I could with my sleeves rolled up, just soaking in the warmth of the sunlight.  Josh and I lived with my sister, brother-in-law, and nephew, and I loved the time I got to spend with them.  We traveled to Georgia to see two good friends get married, and got to reunite with dozens of other treasured friends.

Johnny and Christin's Wedding

I loved harder.  I grew stronger.  I suddenly had the lenses of experience to relate to and love my friends who had miscarried, had a stillbirth, or lost their child in infancy.  And they loved me back in a way that only shared experience can do.

We moved into our apartment in Northeast Kansas City, and joined our church community in living in and loving this often overlooked and disregarded part of the city.  After traveling overseas for a year, and living with family for 6 months prior to our trip, as well as after, I was so excited and thankful for a place to call our own again.

The summer came, and we celebrated five years of marriage by visiting my grandparents in Texas.  I melted in my car on the way to and from work, and tried to be thankful that at least we have a car, even if the air conditioning is shot.  We hung out with friends by the pool.  We explored our city.

WWI Memorial

And yet, all the while, I was still waiting on that promise.  I won’t even tell you how many pregnancy tests I went through, hopeful that maybe, just maybe, this would be the month.  Partially because I honestly have no idea how many, and partially because if I did, it would be pretty embarrassing.

On the morning of July 27th, I got up and took one, knowing that I should know any day if this month was a yes or a no.  I took the test, and lo and behold, there was an itty bitty faint line.  There’s something there!  There’s something there!  Thank You, Lord!  Thank You!  I knew I wanted to record a video for our YouTube channel, so I grabbed the camera, and recorded my first thoughts.  I went into the room to tell Josh, and recorded his reaction as well.

We called our families and told them that day.  I didn’t want to wait, because I wanted those who had grieved with us to rejoice with us.  A week later, I “celebrated” my 26th birthday.  I had a fun, Christmas-themed party planned, but ended up with a terrible stomach virus.  I spent the day on the couch, trying to keep my fever down without medication, terrified that the baby would not survive if the fever got to high.  My fever broke that night, and the next day, we posted our announcement on Facebook.

IMG_1223

I was ecstatic.  The Lord’s promise to me was finally happening, after so many months of heartbreak.  I was so incredibly joyful, but also anxious and worried.  What if it happens again?  I felt like I had recovered from one miscarriage, but I honestly didn’t know if I could take another.

So I prayed.  We asked others to pray.  And I had faith (although sometimes it faltered) that the baby would be alright.

My due date for Ellie, the baby I miscarried, came and went.  I was sad and heavy that day, but I also asked my friends and family to use that day to reach out to others who had lost a child in any way, and let them know that their pain was seen.  I was determined that some kind of good should, and could come from the pain of losing her.

My second nephew was born in September, and I had the honor of attending his birth and taking his first photos.  I wasn’t sure if my heart could handle loving another nephew as much as I love my first, but as soon as he was born, I knew that it wouldn’t be a problem.

Owen

We ushered in fall, which is my second favorite season (just barely behind Christmas).  I think my spirit really starts to come alive in the fall.  I’m happy all the time, and I can’t stop gushing to others about how amazing everything is.  Josh’s parents came to stay with us in KC over Halloween weekend.  We celebrated Thanksgiving with Josh’s family in Springfield.  I was so incredibly thankful for how the Lord had blessed us with another baby, and how so far, I had had no complications and a fairly easy pregnancy.

22 Weeks

At the beginning of December, we had our anatomy scan ultrasound.  As the tech was checking for gender, we looked away.  We would find out that weekend with our friends and family at our gender reveal party.

Haven Ultrasound Profile

The party was so much fun, and at the end, they sprayed us with colored silly string that my sister and brother-in-law had coordinated beforehand.  When I saw the pink string arching in the air to land on us, I wasn’t surprised, but at the same time, I was.  We were having a little girl!  We decided that her name would be Haven Harper.

We prepared for Christmas, all the while, my excitement building.  I. Love. Christmas.  It is my very favorite time of year.  We spent Christmas Eve and early Christmas morning in Springfield with Josh’s family, and spent the rest of Christmas day and the next several days with my family.  Haven got plenty of gifts from the grandparents, and I expect that will be true for many years to come.

26 Weeks

As the end of the year grew closer, my heart grew a little sadder.  There have been so many wonderful things about this year, but there have also been so many difficult things.  My heart ached for the baby I never got to meet.  This was supposed to be the year that I would meet her.  We would have had a four and a half month old by now.  I had let my dream of writing as a career and ministry slip away, leaving me feeling like a failure in that dream.  I spent so much of the year longing for the things of the future that I often forgot to enjoy the present.

This morning, as I was praying, I said, Lord, I just feel…sad.  I wouldn’t change the journey You’ve taken me on this year, but I’m sad.  I’ve been pondering this all day.  How do I close out this year with joy, in spite of the difficulties?

The difficulties made me who I am, and they are continuing to change and shape me.  I am closer to the Lord today than I was a year ago, and that could only have happened, in my heart, by facing the things that I did this year, with Him.  And for that, I am thankful to the core.

And so, I say to 2014: You were the single hardest, longest, and saddest year that I have experienced.  But, in spite of that, you were good.  Because God is good, and nothing will ever change that.  You were formative, joyful, and deep.  You were adventurous, and yet mundane.  In a way, I am happy to say goodbye to you, but in another, it is hard to let go.  It feels like letting go of Ellie just a little bit more, and that is probably the hardest part.  But I also have Haven, who is not a replacement, but she brings me so much joy.  I will always remember you, 2014, as the year that I loved two daughters.  What joy.

As I write this, when I look back at 2014, I can sum it up with one word: Jesus. He, the Father, and the Holy Spirit have tenderly held my heart the whole way.  He loved me, and He showed me how to love in a deeper way.  And for that, I am thankful.

I’ll leave you with a re-writing of Psalm 23 that I did a few years ago. (Side note, this re-writing was for me, and I understand that this is different from scripture translations that have been studied and handled carefully to preserve integrity.  I wrote it as a prayer of sorts, and as a reminder.  Since I have shared so much of my heart, I feel that it is appropriate to share the re-writing.)

God is my Guide and Protector, and He does such a great job, I have everything I need.

He gives me peaceful rest, and shows me new ways and places to rest in Him.

He fills me up, and He shows me the way to go, wanting the best for me, and all for His glory.

Even when I am going through a hard time, I know that I’m not in it alone and I have nothing to fear.

Your hand in mine comforts me.

You take good care of me, and never stop looking out for and protecting me.

You are always glad to see me and spend time with me, and You always pour into me so I overflow with joy and peace.

Instead of stress, worry, and other bad things, only goodness and love will come from being with You.

I will seek and desire to be with You, and I will always be welcomed, every single day of my life.

Amen.

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