Hope Speaks: Chrystol’s Unplanned Journey

Courage is contagious. That’s all there is to it. Welcome to Hope Speaks, where once monthly I’m featuring those who also fight hard battles, find hope right there in those seemingly impossible places and then take the brave step to share their story.

Introducing Chrystol, one of the most authentic people I know. This part of her journey reminds me a little of that saying God laughs when we make plans. But instead, I believe God shows up  when we make plans, sometimes bringing us to an entirely different and more scary-beautiful life than we ever expected.

Here is her courageous story.

~Jen

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I’m going to start this post with a statement of truth about who I am. I am Chrystol; I despise making mistakes and have a fear of failure. Planning, goal setting and control tend to be my chosen methods to achieve success. As a teenager and young adult, I didn’t allow myself to relax, be at peace or get too comfortable. There was always a new goal to achieve, a new level to rise to, partially because I was a military brat and moved every few years. I learned that the only thing consistent in life is change, but I had no idea what I was in for as I entered a transition period of my life.

Almost two years after I got married, my husband and I found out I was pregnant…SURPRISE! Well, it wasn’t necessarily PLANNED like everything else in my life, and it took me a few weeks to wrap my mind around the fact this life-changing event occurred without planning. My plan was to be at my new job for a few years before this. I wanted to make the DECISION to have a child, not just have it happen, and I didn’t feel ready. I cried and cried and cried some more. After I cried, I went back to what I knew to do, research and plan. I read all I could about pregnancy and tried to plan out the next nine months. When we went to our first obstetrics appointment for an ultrasound, there was another surprise. TWINS! Interestingly, I handled the news that I was pregnant with twins much better than the news that I was pregnant. I decided I was going to be the best mother EVER! My pregnancy was really special and required much planning (my favorite). The moment I gave birth to my daughters, my life changed forever. And that was only the beginning.

Although the first few months of twin parenthood were a blur, things went pretty smoothly until one of my daughters suffered a severe injury. I know you’re probably thinking, “What happened? What changed?” but this is about my reaction and the effects on my family. I wish things happened differently, and I couldn’t help blaming myself for not trusting my own instincts.

It was completely unexpected and felt like my whole world crumbled around me. How could something happen to MY baby? I had spent so much of life devoting time, energy and love to other people’s children and MY child would be forever changed. I was taught whatever you sow, you will reap, so why did this happen? I have planted good seeds for years and this is what I get in return? It made NO SENSE AT ALL, and it felt like a sick joke. For the first month or so, I prayed I’d wake up, realizing it was all a nightmare. Nope. It was real. I woke up every single day, looked at my daughter and saw the reality. I tried to bargain with God. Eventually, all of the hope I had for her future and mine was gone. All of the faith I had in God was gone, too. It’s amazing how your outlook on life can shift with just one event.

I kept remembering when I gazed into my daughter’s big brown eyes, saying, “I won’t let anything bad happen to you.” And I failed her…miserably, reminding myself of that every day. No one knew how low I really was, and I suffered from depression for about a year after the incident. There were days I simply didn’t want to wake up and face my life as a failure to my family, but I believed I’d be even more of a failure if I let them know my sadness. I tried my best to give the appearance of good mental health. At the same time, I decided that I could not allow myself to be happy until I knew for certain that my daughter would be happy, despite her physical scar. How could I smile, knowing one day people might point and stare? How could I forgive myself without being sure she would forgive me? How could I simply move on when I felt so much anger and disappointment in myself? I wasn’t only mad at myself; I was so mad at God. How could He allow this? I was taught, “God won’t put more on you than you can handle” and “all things work together for good.” Well, I couldn’t handle what happened and I didn’t see any good coming from it! I was so angry! I was sad. I was disappointed. I was confused. I was lost. I was alone. My heart was broken, and I was hopeless. I didn’t think anyone knew, but that kind of despair cannot stay hidden for long.

All of those feelings came to surface at my daughters’ first birthday party. I tried my best to appear to be in a celebratory mood, but the truth was I felt like a boiling pot of water that was too full. It took one word from the wrong person, and I bubbled over. I had never lost my temper like that! I really don’t remember everything I said and did, but I am sure I’ve never reacted in that way before. When I ran to the bathroom to compose myself, I looked in the mirror and didn’t recognize the woman looking back. I came out and gazed into the shocked eyes of those around me, knowing they had witnessed how broken I was. I hated I had allowed them to see my pain. I also knew I could no longer live with the weight of the emotions I was trying to hide but I had no idea what to do with them.

The next weekend, my husband and I attended a new members’ class at our church. We were asked if there was anything keeping us from a closer relationship with God and were told to write it down on a card. I struggled with whether or not to tell the truth or just give a good church answer. I heard, “Just write it, Chrystol.” And I did. “I’m angry at myself and at God….” When the leader of the group asked if anyone wanted to share, before I knew it, my hand shot in the air. That was the first time I openly shared my true, raw feelings. I couldn’t believe I was telling a room full of strangers how I felt, but I’m so glad I did. Those strangers gathered around me, praying for me. I wept as they literally surrounded me with love and petitioned God to heal my heart and mind. I will not lie and say everything was perfect after that prayer because it wasn’t. But after that experience, I had hope that my life would be happy again and that my daughter would be just fine.

In the months and years following that moment at church, God has shown me that the life I’d hoped for is still possible. My daughter is thriving. She embraces her imperfection, and is so confident. I am doing things I never thought I would, taking risks I would not have taken. I am getting closer to fulfilling my purpose. I now know that dark moments, setbacks, and failures don’t need to be avoided. They don’t have to break us. There’s beauty in the struggle. I accept what was, embrace what is and have hope for what will be. Don’t get me wrong, I still love a good plan. But now I also embrace a God plan.

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Read more about Chrystol here on her blog, Chronicles of Womanhood.

Wilson-Payne Chrystol 7707120224 CD_Deal

 

 

 

Little Bits of Hope: March

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Are you out there, God?

 

“Yes, Father, I still believe in your goodness, despite what I see with my eyes;

Yes, Father, I still believe you have a plan for my life, despite what I feel in my heart;

Yes, Father, I still believe my best days are ahead of me, despite what my enemies and friends and family and loved ones say to me;

Even if you ask me to live in mystery the rest of my life, I will wake up every day and say yes, Father, I still believe in you (page 154). “

When I was a teenager I went to a Christian camp, where the theme was Where is God When Bad Things Happen? He’s On His Throne. Although, I wanted that to be enough for me, I couldn’t believe it was that easy. And if it was, what did it really mean? To me, it sounded like God was aloof in his safe place, while all of us down here really lived our crazy stories and hurt in unimaginable ways. What kind of God was he anyway? I felt alone.

As an adult, I eventually picked up Second Guessing God: Hanging On When You Can’t See His Plan by Brian Jones. If, like me, you’ve cried and begged, angrily wondering where God is when devastating things continue to happen every second, practically every place in the world, take a look at this relate-able book. His prayer (above) is so honest, choosing to trust when he can’t make sense of all that’s around him; it’s refreshing to to have an example like this, since he leans toward God, when times are mysterious and scary. Written with humor and transparency, Brian is a Jesus follower, who actually admits he does not know all the answers and lays out his struggles with what he sees around him. No worries, I’ll share my copy with you but will expect it back at some point (it’s just that good!).

Calling It Quits

Rain water dripping over a window

Even on this freezing morning, chirp, chirp, chirp was all I heard before pulling back the comforter and putting my feet on the floor. Those birds know spring is almost here, even though it doesn’t look (or certainly feel) like it. Masked by huge snowflakes, sleet and rain, new life is springing up behind the scenes. Still, those giddy birds have chirped every morning for the past week.

In an odd way, it reminds me of a time years ago, when Brian and I sat in a cozy room surrounded by friends, many of whom had children or openly shared their hopes for a baby. It was he who also spoke it aloud, but I just sat there with my mouth shut, wanting to store away that part of our journey. I’d been open about so many personal things, but for some reason this felt like too much. We want a baby, too.

Eventually, each of those couples surprised us with their creative version of happy pregnancy news, and we cheered. Many times, though, those joys came with a lurking heaviness. “Do you think God is playing some kind of joke on us?” I laughed bitterly at the irony. Each time we talked about going to a fertility specialist, something always seemed to get in the way, and so we just did our thing–sex on the right days, ovulation tests and temperature-taking. For two months, I tried Clomid, and it made me feel crazy-angry and annoyed at everything, with rashes and stomach issues, so sex was the last thing I wanted (and let’s just say Brian was a saint to stay instead of spending those nights at work or even in his truck in the driveway). Those days, I cried more than anything else. I blamed it on Clomid, but I’m sure the emotional release was exactly what I needed.

In the back of my mind, nothing seemed right.

Still, each month I got my hopes up, but either all the pregnancy tests and thermometers were broken or something was wrong with me (those days I felt like it was always me. He was fine, they said). Seriously though, when would it be our turn?

It was the when are you having kids questions that felt like too much from those who had no idea of our struggle (as if being a parent is the only way to live an adult life anyway). It was the well-meaning you can always adopt suggestion, as if we never knew that was an option. It was the baby showers that felt wildly different than in my 20’s (when most of my friends didn’t have babies). But in my 30’s, everyone it seems has kids along with multitudes of stories to tell about their water breaking, the birth, the best infant and toddler products–breast pumps, bottles, diapers, potty training and on and on. Having zero stories to tell can be tough, especially if you desperately want them. It was cruel irony that PMS and pregnancy signs can be practically the same. It was starting my period like a slap in the face before multiple baby showers, praying that I could be happy for the almost new mom and just be okay with me. I usually cried once I was back in the safety of my car.

I was furious at my body with all its rashes and stomach issues (continuing long after the devil Clomid days and proving there was more going on than I could see). “It’s so hard for a woman who can’t get pregnant,” I told Brian, who assured me I’d be surprised at how hard it was for men, too. All that trying for a baby began to feel like an expectation that unfulfilled, left us feeling like ashamed failures.

Yet…slowly, somehow our feelings and prayers for a child began to change. No longer was it

we want a baby,

we want a baby,

please give us a baby;

it was this– we want a baby if it’s right for us.

And over and over, I was reminded God created me a work of art, whether my body was able, ready or willing to have a baby. As that truth sunk deep into my soul, my face was red and splotchy with tears.

So after major downsizing and moving, Brian and I stood in the kitchen, lights low, as we dried the dinner dishes. We looked at one another, and I breathed a sigh of relief. This had nothing to do with dinner or dishes, it was more than that. It was peace, even though the water heater broke, the dead refrigerator was hauled away, and water leaked through the window while we were out of town. I’d realized an excitement, an odd stirring deep inside. I couldn’t explain it, but it was there just the same. Maybe the moving craziness had something to do with it? There was an awful lot going on then. After so much time, I just couldn’t believe it!

And I was scared, but I took a deep breath and said it, “What if we don’t try anymore? What if we just live and have adventures and be happy?”

And just like those birds, chirp, chirp, chirping on cold, rainy late February mornings, giddy about what’s to come…

I felt free. I felt worthy, unashamed and beautifully free.

Sometimes the happiest ending isn’t the one you keep longing for, but something you absolutely cannot see from where you are.–Shauna Niequist