I’m going to tell you a story about this painting. It changed my life.
I started having the same dream, over and over, of a star filled night sky, including the star of Bethlehem, and a long, winding path that led to the cross. I rarely have recurring dreams and this one was accompanied by an urgent feeling that I didn’t understand, so I began praying about it.
I can’t explain how or why I felt it, but I just felt like God was telling me that I was supposed to encourage other women to get closer to Him. I thought this was absolutely nuts, because even though I’d grown up going to church, I hadn’t gone regularly since I was 18 and up until then, it was only because my parents made me go. I didn’t know my bible and was only just beginning to learn what being a Christian really means. And I gotta admit, despite considering myself a Christian, I’d always been very doubtful when I heard someone say, “God told me...” and yet, that’s what it felt like. I just knew I could no longer ignore a persistent nudge that I couldn’t explain, other than to accept that it actually was from God.
So I was sitting at my desk, praying that if God really wanted me to encourage other women in their faith that He would show me how. I was skeptical, and probably even a bit rude and demanding as I prayed, “Yeah, suuuuure, OK, God. I’ve probably got this all wrong, but just in case I don’t, why don’t you show me the way since you’ve got the master plan?” Then a Youtube video about bible journaling just popped up and started playing. Whoa!
I’d been writing bible verses on my art for a few years at that point (that’s another story too), but I had never heard of bible journaling until I saw that video. I soon learned that it’s the worship of God through creative expression in your bible. It might be drawing, painting, decoupaging napkins, using stickers, doodling...it doesn’t matter. It’s not about what it looks like. It’s an opportunity to spend time with God.
I sat there, stunned, thinking, “Sooooo, that was a bit weird, but bible journaling...that’s so cool!” I had no idea what to do next, so I reached out to Su, our pastor’s wife and asked if we could talk. It felt awkward, because I didn’t know her that well yet and I felt like a phony when talking about “churchy” stuff. Until recently, I’d only shared my experience with my closest confidants, but even that was scary. I thought, “What if I’m interpreting this all wrong, hoping to have a personal encounter with God? What if they judge my faith or think I’m preaching to them?”
Su invited me over and listened intently to what I was experiencing. She asked thoughtful questions designed to get me thinking about where all this was coming from. We talked about how powerful prayer is and that God hears our prayers and guides us. We also talked about patience and waiting for God to reveal His plans for us. She told me, “His timing is perfect.” Su then opened her bible and read a piece of scripture to me: Your Word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path. Psalm 119:105. How appropriate that scripture turned out to be, given the image that was stuck in my head.
I nearly ran home because I suddenly had to paint the image I’d been dreaming about for the past month or so. I cranked up some tunes and let myself get lost in painting for a few hours. When it was finished I had this immense peace come over me. I sat feeling relief and satisfaction until I realised the constant nudging that I’d been feeling for the past month was gone. It had been persistent and constantly on my mind and suddenly the urge to do the something that I didn’t even really understand yet had disappeared. I thought, “C’mon, God! Are you serious!?”
I went about my life as normal, figuring if there was more to it, that God would eventually make it clear to me. I was as excited as ever to be part of a church that welcomed us as family, part of a missional community (home group) that supported and challenged me, and I continued to spend a lot of time studying my bible and further exploring the sermons I heard each week. I just could not get enough of God. The 2 hours or so in church each week and 2 hours or so of MC were the fastest feeling hours of my week...they still are.
The months continued to pass. As I got more and more comfortable and no longer felt like just a visitor at church, I became more expressive in my worship. I LOVE the worship music and could no longer stand still, with my hands clasped in front of me when the band plays. So if I felt the urge to dance, I just let go.
One week I really, really let go. I was swaying and weeping joyfully. I probably looked like a lunatic, but I didn’t care. The music stopped and whoever was leading that day was praying between songs. I looked down and noticed that I was still holding my tea, cradling it with both hands. I became aware that it was moving in a pattern, like a figure 8. Then I realised it was because I was moving that way. My hips and shoulders were swaying, even though my feet were firmly planted and I had been so certain I was standing still. So I tried to stop...I tried really hard to stop and couldn’t. I instantly became aware of the feeling of hands on my hips, gently pushing them in a figure 8. I knew I didn’t feel hands physically, yet somehow, there was a strong sensation of touch. I thought, “Whoa, is THIS what it feels like to be aware of the Holy Spirit? I wondered, “God, is that you or is this all in my head?”
The next song started and I had to put my cup down, so I could really, really let loose. I jumped up and down, threw my hands in the air and danced for Jesus. It felt amazing, but I didn’t give much thought to it. I just assumed it was God saying, “Good job, Jolie! You’re studying your bible and getting involved at church. You are being faithful.” I thought it was an affirmation that I was moving in the right direction in my life.
The following Saturday my shop assistant and I were chatting about a mutual friend who’d just had a baby. That naturally led to us talking about babies in our own lives. When I was younger, whenever the topic of babies came up I would usually say something along the lines of, “I definitely want kids, but it hasn’t happened for us yet. I’m sure it will when the time is right.” As I approached my 40s the dialogue changed a little, “It hasn’t happened yet. If it’s meant to be, it will be.” By 45 it was, “I would have liked to be a mom, but that ship has sailed. It just never happened for us.”
So that’s pretty much what I said when it came up this time, except it felt SO wrong. I corrected myself and said, “Actually, that’s not true. It DID happen once. I was pregnant when I was 31. I miscarried when I was about 5 or 6 weeks along.” I couldn’t believe I’d said that out loud. I’d had 15 years of practice of burying it deep and keeping my mouth shut. The more comfortable answer for everyone certainly doesn’t involve talking about loss. I said, “Wow, I have no idea why I just told you that. I NEVER talk about it.”
A few minutes later my assistant went to lunch and a lady came in with her grandchildren. We chatted as they sifted through buttons. I asked her how she intended to use them and she told me that she knits pillows and sews buttons on them. I commented on what a lovely idea that is and said I would love to knit, but never learned how. She responded, “I learned about 30 years ago when I had my first child. I was in the hospital for a long time, so it helped pass the time.” She said it very casually, so I didn’t assume it meant anything since hospital stays after giving birth were longer back then.
When she came to the till we pleasantly chatted about random things for a few minutes. She stopped mid sentence, reached out and put her hand on my arm and asked, “Jolie, are you a Christian?” The question caught me off guard because it was so out of the blue. I answered, “Yes, I am.” and found myself telling her the story of what had happened in church the previous Sunday. That surprised me because I hadn’t told a single person up to that point. It just seemed over the top to tell anyone that the Holy Spirit danced in me!
But here I was, telling it to a complete stranger and thinking, “Are you nuts, Jolie? This is your BUSINESS! You sound like a whackadoo! Do you really want to scare off customers?” And yet, I kept going. When I was done she asked, “Have you prayed about it and asked God what He was telling you?” I answered, “No, it never occurred to me. I just assumed He was giving me kind of a thumbs up that I have been faithful.”
At that point, her grandchildren, who had still been looking at buttons came up to her, so she sent them back to explore the craft supplies. She turned back to me and said, “I think God wants to tell you something and that you should ask him what He was saying. I’m going to tell you a story that I haven’t talked about in years.Thirty years ago I was in the hospital a long time after having my first child, but she didn’t come home with me. She died and it left a hole in my heart for 15 years."
She took a breath and continued on, "I grieved for her every single day. That changed when God gave me a vision of my baby. In it I was standing next to Him, looking into a nursery. He told me to go and lift up my baby, to spend time with her and then to give her back to Him. I went and picked her up, then suddenly was standing in the most beautiful garden I’ve ever seen. I held my baby and rocked her and sang to her and told her how much I love her.” As she did this, she held her arms as if she were holding and rocking her baby and she gazed down smiling with joy and peace, as if she actually was looking at her child.
By this point, we were both crying...standing right there in my shop, tears streaming down our faces. She looked up and said, “Then God came back and I handed my baby to Him and I felt peace and healing from the grief I’d carried for 15 years. I knew it really happened and could only be from God because the healing was so sudden. The constant pain was gone.”
She reached out and touched my arm again, looked me in the eyes and said, “Jolie, go home and pray. Ask God what He is telling you because it feels really important.” She kind of shook it off, we wiped our tears and joked about how deep the conversation had suddenly gotten...all the things you do to lighten the mood and awkwardness when you’ve just found yourself over sharing with a stranger.
I felt absolutely shell shocked at how for the first time in years I’d talked about losing my baby and then only a few minutes later a stranger came in and shared her own loss with me, so I just went on about my day as normal. I was exhausted when I got home and didn’t pray about my experience. I guess I wasn’t ready yet. I just went to bed instead.
The following day we went to church and when the band began to play it happened all over again, only this time I was really aware of it from the beginning. I felt the sensation of hands on my hips, moving them in a figure 8 shape. I tried to stand still and couldn’t, so I gave in and started to cry and pray, “Lord, what are you telling me? What is it you want from me?” The answer was AUDIBLE. I heard, “I want you to name your child.” As I heard that, the sensation that I wasn’t the one controlling my body became stronger and I thought I might be losing my mind.
I argued with God in my head...yup! Argued with HIM! “Uh, what, God!? How? I don’t even know if my baby was a boy...” Something happened to my body as I finished my sentence, “or a girl.” My body whipped around from doing a figure 8 to rocking back and forth. It was as if by swiftly changing my movement God just said, “Ding, ding, ding! That’s right.” At that exact moment I saw the image in my head that I had dreamt over and over months before. It was the same one that I’d painted...a starry night sky with a long, winding path that lead to the cross, but there was one tiny difference.
There was supposed to be a little star, just to the upper left of the star of Bethlehem. I’d dotted that painting with lots of stars, yet somehow, at that moment, I knew one very important one was missing and I remembered being about to place it there, but deciding against it. It seemed like such a tiny, insignificant detail, but I had made a conscious decision to leave it out. And then He spoke again, “I want you to name your little girl.” I then realised the missing star represented my baby and I needed to acknowledge her. I needed to lay it all at the Lord’s feet and He would heal the brokenness in my heart.
It. Was. POWERFUL! I have no idea what the sermon was about that day. The only thing I remember is a piece of scripture that was read just before it was time to go: May the Lord bless you and keep you; The Lord make His face shine upon you, And be gracious to you; The Lord lift up His countenance upon you, And give you peace. Numbers 6:24-26. I’d just heard...literally HEARD God tell me to name my child and minutes later the parting scripture was one that I’ve written on my artwork countless times for other people upon the birth or naming of a child.
I was so overcome with emotion at having such a profound experience with the Lord. It must have been obvious to others as well, because several people reached out and touched my shoulders and asked if I was ok. I struggled to speak. I didn’t know how to answer, so I just said something really powerful just happened me, but I wasn’t ready to talk about it. My husband held my hand and walked out with me, patiently waiting until I was ready to share.
When we were in the car my hubby leaned over and kissed me, squeezed my hand and said, “I love you.” I lost it...like super ugly crying lost it. I knew I had to tell him what happened, but didn’t know where to start because the story just seemed so incredulous, so unbelievable, so crazy! So I just started back at the beginning with the recurring dreams.
I was nearly finished with the story, having just gotten to the part where I heard God say, “I want you to name your child.” My hubby said, “We’ll name her Pamela, after your mom.” I was shocked! I hadn’t told him yet that God told me we had a girl. I asked, “Why do you say that? It was too early to know if we were having a boy or a girl.” He answered, “I don’t know. I just have a really strong feeling that she is a girl and that her name should be Pamela.” My hubby is a man of few words with a quiet faith. He does NOT make bold statements like that...and yet, he did. It was getting harder and harder to maintain my skepticism and write this all off as coincidence.
My husband held me while I cried and began to let go of 15 years of grief. We had never really talked about our loss and it had eaten me up inside for far too long. Up until that point, every time I saw a woman pushing a pram or a child run to his mother, it was like a knife to my heart. I was SO envious.
When my sisters had children, it was bittersweet for me. It was both a joyful and lonely time whenever I went home for visits, especially at the end of a long day of family activity. My sisters and best friends and I would sit down to chat while the kids would start to settle down and climb into their mother’s laps. I’d watch them cuddle and say, “I love you, Mommy.” and my heart would break a little more each time. Even in a room full of people, I felt so desperately alone, knowing I will never have that experience. No little person would ever love and need me like that. As much as I love and treasure them all, I felt like an outsider, because my life looks so different to theirs.
When my husband and I got home I climbed into bed with my phone and looked at baby girl names. There are so many things that we’ll never get to do, but I wanted to experience the ones we could and that included giving our baby a middle name. I daydreamed about what she might have grown to look like, what her hobbies might have been, if she would have been quiet and introspective like my husband or talkative and goofy like me. I scrolled through the names, dismissing them one by one until I saw “Grace” and I KNEW that’s her middle name.
When I asked my husband if he liked the name he hugged me and he said, “It’s perfect. Her name is Pamela Grace.” And WHOOSH! Just like that, I felt a lightness that I hadn’t felt in 15 years. I had no idea how heavy the burden I’d been carrying was until it was gone.
Most people don’t know this part of me. They don’t know I ever carried a child. I never talked about it and that’s something I’m still easing into. It feels awkward, perhaps because we, as a society don’t treat miscarriage in the same way that we treat other loss. It’s just something “normal” that happens to a lot of women. Since it’s so common we expect to just get over it, as if our loss is less significant than any other. But it’s NOT less significant. It's just different.
I was a mommy from the MOMENT I knew I was carrying a life inside of me. I never held her in my arms, or even as much as felt her kick...it was far too early... and yet I FELT her in my womb. I’d taken a test to confirm her presence before I was aware of any physical clues because I just KNEW something was different. My heart sensed her before my body ever did and when she was gone, my heart broke.
With this experience, I finally understood that I’d been burying pain for a long time and that I would never be whole until I fully allowed God into my heart and my life. That meant handing the burden over to Him, so I did, and WOW, how it changed things!
A few days later I had lunch with a friend. She shared her own loss with me and encouraged me to continue praying. On the walk home I did exactly that and a poem started writing itself in my head. When I got home, I sat down at my computer and began to write. I should explain that I am a terrible poet. I was cleaning out a drawer a few years back and came across a poem I wrote for my husband before we got married. It was cringe worthy...like, I can’t believe he still married me cringe worthy. It was an epically bad poem that took several days of rewrites, in effort to bare my heart and soul to my future husband and it still stunk!
This poem was different. I sat down at my computer and it poured out of me in minutes. Afterward, I called my best friend, told her the story and sent her the poem. She was speechless. She just kept saying, “Wow, Jo.” She then asked, “Did you make it acrostic on purpose?”
I had no idea what acrostic even meant, so she pointed out, “The first word of every stanza forms a message. Fifteen years broken, finally healed.” Whoa, my mind was blown! I hadn’t seen it. I fully believe it’s because I didn’t write that poem on my own. God did through my hands. He helped me to say something that needed saying for 15 years and finished healing my broken heart in the process.
Fifteen years I’ve mourned you,
Fifteen years I’ve imagined your scent, your laugh, your smile,
Fifteen years I’ve longed to hold you in my arms,
Fifteen years I’ve yearned to be your mommy, if only for a little while.
Broken, but didn’t really know it,
Broken by emptiness I was unable to acknowledge or explain,
Broken under the weight of knowing you were my first and last chance,
Broken because you’ll never call me Mommy and I’ve been crushed by silent pain.
Finally sought the comfort of my Heavenly Father,
Finally asked Him to heal the wound that I’d buried so deep,
Finally accepted His will, His love, His grace,
Finally surrendered my heart and soul to God, for no longer could I weep.
Healed when God told me you’re real and you’re with Jesus,
Healed even though I won’t meet you in this time and place,
Healed because my Father gave me a vision of you...my daughter, my little star,
Healed when He said, “name your child,” so I did and I love you, Pamela Grace.
Mother’s Day 2017 was very different than the 14 previous years. Instead of wallowing in self pity thinking, “I should be the mother of a nearly 15 year old.” I celebrated! My hubby pampered me and it’s the first time anyone has ever said, “Happy Mother’s Day” to me. I finally thanked God for making me a mother, instead of focusing on loss. There are still times I miss her, even though we’ve never met, but mostly there’s just joy and peace because I know we will.
I had been struggling to tell my story for over a year. I’d written it 100 times in my head, but whenever I’d sit down to write it out, my mind would go blank. Now that I have finally been able to, I can’t help but think back to when Su told me, “His timing is perfect.”
On the 29th anniversary of my mother's death I started to write and this time the story poured out of me. I don’t think it’s an accident that the day I was finally able to talk about healing from the loss of the little girl I named after my mother, that it’s also the anniversary of the day of her passing. My mom is the other most significant loss in my life, so it’s kind of a full circle for me. And here I am, finally able to talk about my journey.
For 27 years, I'd start feeling melancholy about halfway through September. Often I didn't even know why & then eventually it would dawn on me what time of year it was. I was always an emotional mess on the day of my mom’s death. Things started to change for me last year as my faith began to grow, because I didn't just have loss, I had hope.
This past year, I didn't even remember until I looked at Facebook and saw a post from one of my sisters. It's the first time in 29 years that October 2nd snuck up on me. It's still a sad day, but it just doesn't hold the same power it used to. How can it when I have hope in Jesus?
I came to realise that the painting I kept seeing over and over in my head all those months ago represents my life. It has been a journey on a long, winding road that was always heading closer and closer to Jesus. I’ve stumbled here and there, but He has been with me the whole way. I wish I could explain how full my heart is now, but there are no words profound enough to explain the hope and joy you experience when you let God in.
So what does this all have to do with the pressing urge that started this journey? After this healing, and another that is a whole other long story, God began to put the urge to nurture women’s faith back on my heart. By that point, it had been a full year and in hindsight, I could see that it was all part of a process.
I believe that God does want me to use the gifts He’s given me, but I wasn’t ready up until that point. I’d had a lot of healing to do first. I also finally accepted that it’s not up to me. It doesn’t matter that I’m still young in my faith. God is going to do the work. I just need to follow His call and He’s calling me to help other women get closer to Him through creative expression.
We’ve all heard, “God does not call the qualified, He qualifies the called.” and boy, do I believe it now! During the year this was all going on, as God was healing my heart, He also brought women into my life who are gifted in different ways than He has gifted me. They have gifts of hospitality and encouragement and are confident with prayer...all things I struggle with.
Together, we all felt really excited about being called to use our gifts to encourage other women. About a year and a half after this journey first started, we selected 9 October as the date we’d run a women’s bible journaling event at church. As it happens, that was the first day of Baby Loss Awareness week. I didn’t know that when we selected the date, but it seems fitting, given how this all came about.
It has been several months since I wrote down most of my story. I’ve shared it with women from my church and a few other people when I felt kind of prompted to do so, but I just haven’t felt ready to put it out there for anyone and everyone to see yet. I keep praying on it, trusting that I’ll feel clarity when it’s time.
I was thinking about how quickly the time has passed and that Mother’s Day is nearly here again. I hadn’t read Psalm 119 in a while and wondered if my perspective on it would be different than when I started this healing journey. I decided to do a bible study and my mind was blown when I learned that Psalm 119 is an acrostic poem, as is the poem that I wrote for Pamela Grace. Some might call that a coincidence, but I think it’s another lovely thread that God has woven into my story for me.
I gotta tell ya, as profound of a journey as this has been for me, I am nervous about putting it out there for all to see and judge. But if it weren’t for a stranger who so generously made herself vulnerable to me that day in my shop, I’d still be brokenhearted. Maybe it will resonate with someone who needs to hear it, just like it did for me when the lady shared her own story with me.
It’s entirely possible that I got some of the details wrong as her story morphed into mine over time. But we mothers who have lost our babies all share the same painful story, don’t we? And we shouldn’t be alone in that.
You. Are. Not. Alone.
If you're walking this same path, my hope for you is that this Mother's Day you finally feel that you can celebrate. Sister, YOU were CHOSEN to carry a precious gift who is now safely in the arms of Jesus!
So I send this story out there with a prayer for you, wherever you are in your own healing journey. “May the Lord bless you and keep you...”