Everyone Needs Compassion (And A Crunchie)

Everywhere you look these days people are hurting. They have broken dreams, are discouraged and feel their lives are a mess. I often write about the need for compassion in the world, instead of criticism, because I know what it is like to be on the receiving end of both. After a particularly emotional week, I have been feeling a little sorry for myself and wondering why do I have to tackle yet another challenge? Why do I have to always fight so hard?

In the middle of my pity party, my prayers were answered, but not in a way I was expecting. My problem wasn’t solved but I was faced with the opportunity to show compassion to two brothers I met unexpectedly and felt something inside me that said they needed someone to listen, someone to talk to. At first, I hesitated, as I was so overwhelmed with my own problems but I followed my instinct and decided to focus on them instead.

Over the last three days, with the help of homemade crunchies, I have earned their trust and listened to their story. It is one filled with pain and hurt but they have triumphed over it and are making the most of a difficult situation. They didn’t need me to give them advice, they simply needed my ears to listen.

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If you feel that pull to show love and compassion to someone, don’t ignore it. Keep your heart open and be on the lookout for people you can bless. Even if it means being inconvenienced once in a while. Don’t be too busy with your own plans that you miss an opening to show someone you care.  You never know what impact one word of encouragement might have. You may think you are doing it for their benefit but from what I have experienced this week, often that compassion in your heart for another person, is as much for our own benefit as for others.

Miscarriage – Shattering But Not Shameful

“Healing doesn’t mean the damage never existed. It means the damage no longer controls our lives.” -Unknown

My previous post – “It Takes Guts To Grieve” struck a cord with readers and it has been humbling to receive such a positive response. It even helped prepare me for an unexpected wave of emotions that followed a few days later, when I comforted a friend who had recently experienced a miscarriage and all my own memories came flooding back. Like I mentioned before, there are no standard ‘stages’ of grief and you can feel the denial, anger, depression and mourning in any order, at any time.

Miscarriage affects nearly one in every three pregnancies, yet it is still considered a taboo subject filled with stigma and misinformation. As a result, women are left feeling emotionally and physically traumatised and totally alone. I have felt this way, more than once, and the same can be said for the estimated one million would-be mothers every year, who lose a baby they have never met.

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Hollywood has a big influence on our world today and society will often follow its example. There have been a few celebrities recently who have come forward and shared their loss, but usually only after they have had a successful pregnancy. It is a topic that makes people uncomfortable but I often write about things like this, on purpose, because it helps to break the silence and start a conversation. Women usually keep their pregnancy to themselves until they have passed the twelve week mark, when the risk of miscarriage decreases and I respect that (and planned to do the same when I fell pregnant.) However, we should not feel ashamed if we do experience a miscarriage and certainly not carry around guilt.

This week proved to me that these emotions will likely carry on for years but I have learned to identify the triggers and prepare myself. It reminded me that if we don’t make enough time to look after ourselves spiritually and emotionally, it leaves us vulnerable when hard times come. For me personally, I am making a deliberate effort to improve in this area and in the same way that I spend hours training my body physically, I need to ensure I am working just as hard on my emotional strength too.

The vast majority of miscarriages are not caused by a mother’s actions and a failed pregnancy does not mean you have failed as a woman. There is no need to suffer in silence and carry this secret. All women will respond differently but every emotion is valid and normal. Couples also need to be aware that each of you may process grief differently and it is important to keep the lines of communication open. It can unite some people but unfortunately tear others apart and you need to support one another, realising that we all have our own coping methods and may go through the stages of grief in waves.

This week three friends announced they are expecting a baby early next year and while watching the final day of the Nedbank Golf Challenge on television, Brandon Grace proudly shared he and his wife had recently found out that they were having a baby boy. Sometimes there is no escaping and you have to ride the waves of emotion, which can rise at the most unexpected time.

Celebrating with friends and family who have announced a pregnancy is easy but when you know someone who has recently experienced a miscarriage, it is hard to know what to say. Ignoring it can minimise their experience but often words like “You can always try again! That’s the fun part!” simply compound the pain and hurt us deeply. I think a simple, honest “I’m sorry for your loss” shows you acknowledge what has happened and then let them know you love them and are there for them, anytime they need you.

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Crunchy Courage

I had a delicious spoonful of crunchy, homemade peanut butter at a farmer’s market on Sunday, which inspired this title. There is no deep meaning (although if you give me a few minutes I’m sure I can come up with one!)

Too often I have not done something out of fear but I am not letting fear decide my future anymore. Even something as simple as driving an hour by myself to a race used to scare me, especially when I had never been to the area before. However, this is exactly what I did on Sunday and the risk was worth it. I spontaneously decided to participate in a 12km trail race, which was being hosted in conjunction with the Eston Agricultural Show. It turned out to be a fun-filled morning, with highlights including winning the ladies race and having an ostrich run alongside me for a few metres in the game reserve!

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Winning races is new to me. I have run for years and never stepped on a podium, yet I have been humbled by that honour lately. However, I have never pursued this kind of success and prefer to value each day and think that if we are working towards our goals, and becoming better version of ourselves, we are already successful now, not only when a podium or promotion shows up.

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I have to fight fear, anxiety and self-doubt daily and often I do it publicly in my blog or in the conversations I have with the people I meet on my journey. It isn’t easy, however, this vulnerability is necessary in order for me to grow and in turn this enables me to have more to give others, because you can’t give away what you don’t have. I do my best to relate and listen to friends who trust me with their pain and this month have been humbled by stories of addiction and recovery that have been shared with me.

The consequences of being open and no longer living behind a mask, are that you will be attacked by critics and those peanuts from the gallery will hurt. (I think I just found a deeper meaning to my title!) In the future, instead of dodging the peanuts thrown at me, I will simply wave my arms around and catch them, stuffing fistfuls into my mouth and enjoying every bite (this may not seem as effective if you aren’t a peanut butter fan like me, but I hope you get the idea.)

The truth is we are usually our biggest critic. Be kinder to yourself this week and in turn you’ll be able to be kinder to those around you too.  Stop hiding who you truly are and know deep down that YOU ARE ENOUGH.

Healing Hearts

In my previous post I mentioned my current health struggles but am grateful to share I am feeling better, have embraced my extra heartbeat and we are working well together!

Most of the people we come into contact with are fighting some kind of battle, which is why I strongly believe we need to show compassion to everyone we meet. My heart no longer aches physically but it still gets stabbing emotional pains as I empathize with those who are battling a variety of hurts and often wrongly conclude they are not worthy of love and feel like failures.

Although I have become a bit of a poster child for infertility, I relate to many other journeys beyond this realm as pain is universal, which means although our stories are all different, we can still have empathy for one another. However, it is always a blessing to find someone who has walked the path you are on and this week I had a lady express how grateful she was when she learnt I didn’t have children (I knew what she meant, despite it sounding strange) because now she doesn’t have to feel alone. Although there is an instant bond, I never presume to know how someone feels, even if we have shared a similar situation, as no two circumstances are exactly the same.

Most of the time I don’t know what to say when faced with friends weeping bitterly in my presence but I do my best to simply be there for them and ask them what they need. Usually it is company (often turning up with food does wonders too!) not advice, that is the most helpful.

“Advice is a dangerous gift, even from the wise to the wise, and all courses may run ill.” (Gildor to Frodo, The Lord of the Rings)

One of the worst kinds of advice is the “cheer up” remarks people offer, especially when the pain is still new and raw. People don’t want to be told to ‘look on the bright side’, when they first receive devastating news. Proverbs 25:20 says: “Like one who takes away a garment on a cold day, or like vinegar poured on soda, is one who sings songs to a heavy heart.”

I also remember being terribly hurt every time someone told me I shouldn’t feel bad about being infertile because having kids is hard. I actually should be happy I have it so easy. (I am sure my heart used to throw out an extra beat or ten at times like that!) Would they be happier if someone came and took their kids away!? Of course we have to give each other grace and often they don’t mean to be hurtful but we all need to learn to pause before we speak and think first, before blurting out throwaway comments like these.

“The tongue has no bones, but is strong enough to break a heart. So be careful with your words.” (unknown)

More Peanut Butter, Less Peanuts

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I love peanut butter and can easily eat an entire jar in one sitting (but generally stick to a few teaspoons a day!) A large helping of ‘peanut gallery’ gossip on the other hand, leaves a bitter taste in my mouth and I do my best to avoid such indulgence. I am responsible for controlling my appetite and these temptations but I can’t control the actions of others. This is hard to swallow at times, especially when the peanuts are being thrown my way.

I have felt embarrassed because of what people have been thinking and saying recently and my confidence level has been tested. I have learnt from experience that not everybody is going to approve of me and God will give me the grace to keep going, even when it is emotionally hard. It is far easier to add fuel to the fire, instead of taking the high road and being kind and courteous. Forgiveness is something we have to do on purpose, sometimes daily, even if we don’t feel like it.

I may not want to share my last teaspoon of peanut butter with the gallery just yet, but I am working on it and keeping an open heart, as communication often clears up confusion. I don’t always get it right, and I desperately want to defend myself against my critics but I trust God to take care of things. Everywhere we go people are hurting and discouraged, even those sitting in the peanut gallery. They often have their own unresolved issues that have nothing to do with us. It is hard not to let bitterness take root when we are wronged but we need to persevere, spread God’s love and compassion (thick and generously, like we would peanut butter on toast!) and help heal those wounded hearts.

The Suffering Olympics

This is one of those honest posts, which won’t necessarily make me popular with people, but thankfully that is not why I write and I am simply sharing the burden on my heart today. Often when we are struggling with something, we are told to look at others who are worse off than ourselves, to help put our problems into perspective. By doing so we may realise that we are overreacting and our suffering doesn’t rank with other forms of pain. This concept can have merit of course, but I think it also needs to be handled with care. I am not only referring to the ‘big’ things like loss, surgery and tragedy that change your life forever, but also the ‘little’ everyday stuff that we endure regularly.

I caught the flu bug going around this week and was quickly reminded how lucky I was (since I didn’t have children to take care of) which meant I could at least rest and get well, unlike the moms in my circle battling the same thing, who have to “carry on regardless” owing to parental responsibilities. A stab at my perceived ‘carefree’ childless life, would normally not bother me much, but it hurt more than usual because I was feeling sick and vulnerable and as a result it was tempting to fire back with the thoughts swirling in my congested mind about how infertility is long-term for me and flu is a short-term obstacle and … But I kept quiet, bounced those thoughts away and offered my help and support instead. Here is the lesson learnt:

The point is not to compare pain. 

We don’t have to play games, compare trials and attempt to earn gold medals in the Suffering Olympics. This simply leads us to believe that everyone else’s story is meaningless unless we perceive it to be as bad as our own. The end result is that no one acknowledges anyone’s pain. I love encouraging others and do my best to not let comparison of pain get in the way of this, especially when it has to do with my trigger – children. Even when it comes to friends who are tired parents and problems with children is their biggest burden, I will not let that stop me from acknowledging their struggles. We all need to help each other.

If we can find it in our hearts to do this, then everybody wins.