Beyond the BEAR

Beyond the BEAR

Quarantine Day 11

by Dola Spering on 03/23/20

Quarantine Day 11 - Mini-Blog


Today is March 23rd, 2020. Day 11 of a county-wide quarantine due to the Coronavirus, or COVID-19. We are all expecting the lockdown to continue for at least a few more weeks, if not months. My family and I have been staying at home and right now we are so very thankful we each have our own unique spot in the house when we need it. But we also have been spending nights playing board and video games, making YouTube videos, and watching tv and movies together. Truth be told, we would do those things before the lockdown, but it was always a struggle to find the right time when no one had other plans or just needed to veg on their own for a while. 


It has been especially interesting for me and my boys, Anthony and Chase, because we have been spending some time making YouTube videos for Project BEAR’s YouTube channel. They help me do mundane tasks that need to be done to be able to ship bears, and we make a video together as we do it. And we have a great time. 


One of the things that I am realizing is how little my kids actually know about Project BEAR. I always just kind of assumed they understood what I did and why and how, but it is becoming clear that they really don’t beyond “we give bears to people who lose babies.” So it has really been a blessing to me to share Project BEAR with them in this new way. To have them be a part of it and physically help package bears, and to have them want to help means a lot to me. 


I don’t know how long this lockdown/quarantine will last, but I think I will be a little sad when they have to go back to school because then they won’t have as much time to make videos (and other things) with me. But I do know that the memories we make during this time, and the lessons they learn about serving others will last a lifetime!


Who AM I?

by Dola Spering on 03/20/20

Who am I?

In case you missed it, I recently announced that I am leaving my career as a teacher and will be working with Project BEAR full time. This change wasn't entirely surprising for me individually, but it is a huge change.

For almost 2 decades, when someone asked me what I do for a living or who I was I could say "I am a teacher." I've known I wanted to be a teacher since 10th grade. I got my job right after college graduation and I stayed at that school until now. I love teaching. I love the students and I love the subject. (I taught high school science - biology, chemistry and anatomy.) But I know this is the right move for me and my family, and for Project BEAR. Teaching has been such a large part of my identity and it feels weird not being a teacher. I actually took this school year off so I could be more present at home for my husband and kids, and to take care of my mental and emotional health, so I've had some practice not being a teacher. But now it is permanent. And even though I've known in my heart that it was coming, I'm still having a hard time describing myself in my own head without the word "teacher."

So now I guess I have to define myself as Project BEAR, right? I'm a loss-mama who started a charity to help other loss-mamas. Who am I? I am a wife, a mother to 3 beautiful living and amazing children, 2 beautiful baby boys who are waiting for me in heaven, and I run a charity that serves others who are grieving the loss of a baby. Oh, and I used to be a high school science teacher. But is all that really who I am? All of that could change in an instant.

Who are we? Are we our job? Are we mom, wife, grandmother? Are we simply baby-loss mamas? How do we define ourselves to others and ultimately, to ourselves? Does it even matter?

I think it does matter. It matters a lot because how we define ourselves is often how we define our worth. So if we define ourselves by our career, if we aren't where we want to be (or where others expect us to be) we can see our worth as lower. Do we define ourselves by our relationships? If so, a divorce or lack of relationship can make us feel like we aren't valuable. Do we define ourselves by our children? As loss-mamas, I sure hope not. Do we see ourselves as less than because we've lost a child? Do you tell yourself you're not good enough because you miscarried, or had a stillbirth? Are you a failure because, for whatever reason (and most way beyond your control), your baby didn't make it? NO mama (papa). You are not worthless, less than, a failure. No matter the circumstances surrounding your baby's death, you are valuable. You have more worth than you could ever imagine and you are so much more than a baby-loss survivor.

Don't get me wrong, I am not saying that those events and circumstances don't change you. (See my previous post on healing.) But they do not have to define you. You are creative, funny, kind, brilliant, [insert any fitting positive adjective here]. I am silly and fun-loving and I see the best in people and situations.

But what's more than that, there is someone who defines my identity, even when I don't feel silly, or fun-loving and when I can't find the good in anything at all. I believe that my identity comes from the one who created me. And since He created all of time and space and reality, what He says about me IS reality. It is more real than what I may be feeling about myself in any given moment. My value does not come from my career, how much money I make (which is good because now I don't make any), how many kids I have or how many of them are still with me here on Earth. He determines my value, and what's more - He determined my value before He made the foundations for the Earth. Before I was even able to do anything for Him or choose to love Him, He loved me and called me His own.

So, how does the Creator of the universe define me? First of all, He calls me His dearly loved child. Romans 8:15 says, 'So you have not received a spirit that makes you fearful slaves. Instead, you have received God's Spirit when He adopted you as His own children. Now we call Him, "Abba, Father."'   Ephesians 5:1 says, "follow God's example, therefore, as dearly loved children."

As a parent, I know what it's like to have a dearly loved child. And to know that that is how God sees me, well it just blows me away. And He loves me with a perfect love and He is a good father. Matthew 7 compares earthly parents with our Father in Heaven. It says that if even we, imperfect people, can give good gifts to our kids, "how much more will your Father in Heaven give good gifts to those who ask Him."

Beyond just being a dearly loved child by a good Father, God tells me in His word that I am chosen. The creator of the entire universe, who could have anything and everything He wants, has chosen me. Me. The one who was always chosen last in gym class. Ephesians 1:4 says "He chose us in Him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in His sight." That means that before I did anything, He chose me. I didn't have to earn it. I couldn't have earned it. But I can't un-earn it either. He calls me blameless and holy. Even though I've given Him every reason to regret His choice, over and over again. Lamentations 3:22-23 says, "The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning." It's as if every morning He chooses me again.

Finally, God calls me His masterpiece. Ephesians 2:10a says, "For we are God's masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus." What do you think of when you hear the term 'masterpiece?' I know personally, I think of a work of art. Not something done over night, but I imagine the artist with a vision in his/her head, working tirelessly to make that vision come to life.

The mystery of God is that He is both making me His masterpiece and has already called me His masterpiece. And I know that even when I don't feel, or in all honesty, look like a masterpiece, I know He is faithful to finish the work He has started. (Philippians 1:6)

Chosen child; dearly loved; work of art. That is my identity. That is who I am.


Does Time Heal All Wounds?

by Dola Spering on 01/29/20

What does it mean to heal? Dictionary.com defines healing as the act or process of regaining health. But what does health look like when what you are healing from is the loss of your baby? Can you actually even heal from that? 


To answer that question, I think we need to look at some of the lies we are told (and might actually believe) about healing and then see what healing actually is in terms of loss and grief and love. 


The first lie is that time heals all wounds. Wow! What a ludicrous statement. This isn’t even true in the simplest medical sense. For instance, let’s say you get a paper cut. It will heal on its own correct? Nope! Even a small paper cut sets off a process of healing in the body. Your body is actively fighting disease and working to heal the wound, usually without you even noticing too much. Now let’s liken that paper cut to an average middle school break-up. Yea, it hurts at the time. Sometimes really bad. But eventually, with the help of parents and friends, you realize there are plenty of fish in the sea. Life goes on.  


Now let’s look at a stab wound. No one in their right mind would say a stab wound would “heal with time.” No way. This would require major intervention from medical professionals and work on your part. It would hurt for quite some time. You would have a scar. You may have organ damage or need physical therapy. Etc. So why is the stab wound so much worse than the paper cut? Because it goes deeper. It affects more of the body. And what happens if you don’t take care of it? It can be deadly. Or at the very least, it can make any real level of healing impossible. 


The stab wound? That’s baby loss. That’s going into your 20 week anatomy scan and instead hearing “I’m sorry, there is no heartbeat.” That’s realizing at 37 weeks you haven’t felt your baby move all day and seeing the nurse’s face turn away because she can’t bear to tell you. It’s walking into your 4 months old room and realizing they aren’t breathing. It’s standing by a casket that is way too small in the rain, when there is already your baby’s name on the headstone from 14 months earlier. 


That wound goes deep. It can cause organ failure. It is going to leave a scar. And it will change you forever. You will need the help of so many people if you are to even begin to heal from that wound. Maybe even a medical professional. And you are going to have to do some work yourself. This wound affects every part of your life. It is not going to be easy and it is not going to happen over night. Healing takes time. But time itself does not heal. 


The second lie we believe is that to heal means to “get over it.” What does it even mean to “get over” something anyway? Some people would like us to just stop talking about our child, like they never existed. It’s almost like we aren’t supposed to think about them after a certain amount of time. “It’s been over a decade since your sons have died and you still talk about them? Oh my, that is so morbid!” “It’s been over a decade since your last c-section and you still have the scar? Oh my, that is unhealthy!” “Wow! Your arm is still amputated after all these years? Why don’t you just pretend you have an arm there so you don’t make everyone else uncomfortable?” Do you see how absolutely ridiculous these sound? Why is it ok to say the first to a parent who has lost a child? Why do we sometimes tell ourselves these lies and ask ourselves these questions? Maybe because grief distorts our sense of time, but I remember thinking early on after my sons died that it had been a while and I should have been in a different spot. I’m talking months later, not years. 


But you know what I never questioned? I never once wondered why I still loved my two oldest children or my youngest son after they were a few months old, or years, or now that they are teenagers and 9 years old. Why would I stop loving my kids though? Exactly. Jeremiah and Vincent are my sons too. Why would I stop loving them just because they are no longer here with me? 


And that leads me to the third lie, which is that healing means the grieving is over. I grieve my sons because I love them. Grief is love. And because I will never stop loving them I will never stop grieving them. Loving them looks different than loving my living children but it is still love. I keep their memory alive. I fight for the rights of other grieving women to honor their own babies in a way that is meaningful to them. I do what I can to help others find comfort in their own grief, mostly by sending them teddy bears, but also by letting them know they are not alone. Does the fact that I am still grieving mean I am not healing? 


Well, to answer that question, let’s look at what healing actually is. The biological process of healing is exactly that - a process. Old or damaged cells need to be recycled and replaced and new cells need to be made. Sometimes scar tissue is formed. Sometimes (usually) the healing process is painful. If you are healing from an infection, your body is actively fighting to destroy those invaders. Emotional healing isn’t that different. It is a process. It can be painful. Scars are formed that remind us. Sometimes it is a fight to survive against the guilt, shame or depression that invade our minds and hearts. 


Would you tell an amputee that they were not healed because their limb didn’t grow back? Of course not! But things are different now. Healthy looks different for them. The same goes for a grieving parent. Things are not the same and they never will be again, but that does not mean that healing has not taken place. 

 

Another thing about healing is that what works for me may not work for you. Are there general principles common to everyone? Yes. But healing is not a one-size-fits-all type of process.  Each person is unique and each loss is unique, so what helps one person heal may not help another at all or may even hurt someone else. We have had so many people tell us that their Project BEAR teddy has helped them so much, but ironically, I myself have never used a teddy bear at all, except on October 15th when we light our candles for the boys. I had no idea when I started Project BEAR that a teddy bear would bring so much comfort to so many. 


I see so many expecting others to heal in the same way they do, and when that doesn’t happen, they assume the other person isn’t healing at all. (You can insert the word grieving instead of healing…) This can happen within a relationship between a mother and father, both dealing with the loss of their precious baby and can obviously cause a real strain on the relationship. I don’t really have an answer for how best to deal with this issue, except to give each other grace and compassion and to know that both of you are grieving/healing and doing the best you can in the way that you know how. 


Lastly, healing from a wound of this magnitude, I don’t believe will ever be complete here on Earth. There will always be that scar; the limb doesn’t ever grow back. Sometimes the pain never goes away. So what then? Well, I believe there will come a day when complete healing will come. When my literal c-section scar is no longer there and the scar of losing my boys has gone away as well. Revelation 21:4 says that in heaven, God “will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever!” I may not experience full healing here, but I can look forward to it. Not only will I have my boys back, for all eternity, but I will have Jesus, who was pierced for our transgressions and crushed for our iniquities and by whose wounds we are healed (Isaiah 53:5).

    


Good God; Good Grief! Where is God in Grief?

by Dola Spering on 01/23/20

What would God say to the mother who has lost her baby, as she grieves by the tiny casket before they lower it into the ground? What would he whisper in her ear on those nights when the pain just won’t let up and feels like a dagger in her heart? Or in the car on the way home from work when she is screaming at Him, pounding on the steering wheel with tears streaming down her face? What would He say to the father who is no longer even sure God exists because how could a good God allow their baby to die? What does He say to the family who has gone numb, when only a few months before there was so much excitement and hope and joy? 


What does God say to anyone who is broken, devastated and grieving? He says “I am here. You are not alone. This is not the end.” 


Psalm 34:18 says “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and rescues the crushed in spirit.” When we are broken and hurting and our hearts are shattered into a million pieces, God is close. He is not watching from a distance, waiting for us to get our act together and dry our tears. In fact, He is close enough to collect all our tears Himself. Psalm 56:8 says “You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book.” 


When God is close, He reminds us that He knows what we are going through and we do not have to walk through it alone. Jesus, who was fully God and fully man, grieved the loss of His friend, Lazarus. He wept openly, just minutes before raising Lazarus from the dead! (John 11:17-44) Surely, if the God of the universe can grieve the loss of His friend who He knows will be with Him again shortly, then He understands when we grieve the loss of our children; some of whom we never even got to see. 


“But,” you may say, “Jesus never lost a child. How can He actually know the pain I am suffering?” No, Jesus never had any children, but God the Father did. We hear Jesus cry out on the cross “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46) We don’t hear the Father’s answer, but we do see some evidence of His broken heart. We see darkness across the land and an earthquake that split rocks apart and terrified the Roman guards. (Matthew 27:51-54) I don’t claim to know all the symbolism of the earthquake or the darkness that day, but I do know that is how I would describe what was going on inside of my heart on the days my sons died, and the weeks and months after. My sons, one of which I didn’t know his name or the color of his eyes when he died. But God the Father? He had been in unity with Jesus for Eternity before the cross. How it must have broken His heart to abandon Him on the cross, and no, not just to abandon, but to pour out all His wrath and judgement on His one and only Son. 


Why? Why would God the Father do that? Why would He willingly break His own heart in two, and quite frankly, almost break the whole Earth in two in the process? 


You see, dear reader, there was something else that was broken, no! torn in two that day: the curtain that separated man from the presence of the living God. It was torn in two, from top to bottom (Mark 15:38) - and that, dear reader, I know the symbolism of! That represents the fact that we are no longer separated from the Father. Through Christ Jesus the Son we can have a relationship with God the Father here and now. 


However, if that was the end of the story, I wouldn’t even be writing this. You see, God also whispers to our broken hearts that this is not the end. Jesus’ death was not the end. Jesus did not stay dead. And because of that fact, death is not the end. “Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” (1 Corinthians 15:54-55) Because Jesus conquered the grave, when we put our faith in Him, we know the grave can no longer defeat us. If we put our trust in Him, we are promised an eternity with God the Father in Heaven. 


In Heaven, God is not only close enough to collect our tears in a bottle, He literally wipes them away! “Look, God’s home is now among His people! He will live with them, and they will be His people. God Himself will be with them. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.” (Revelation 21:3-4)


So death will not be the end for me, and I know death was not the end for my sons. I know this because I trust the character of my God. Jesus says, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God.” (Luke 18:15-16) I can also look to the story of King David, who lost his newborn son. After the boy’s death, David says, “Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he will not return to me.” (2 Samuel 12:23b) David trusted that he would see his son again and I believe we can know that we will see our children again one day as well. And we will not just see our children “one day.” Oh no, dear reader, if we have our faith in Christ, we will have Eternity with our children. And these few decades here on Earth will seem like nothing compared to that. “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” (Romans 8:18)


“Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him.” (1 Thessalonians? ?4:13-14) ?


So what does God say to those who have lost a child? He says that He is near, He understands and that He is greater than even death. That is why, while I grieve, I do not grieve like those who have no hope; that same hope is available to everyone.