All posts in Pain

Ami’s Story of Faith, Loss, and Love

As we continue our “Monday Story Series” I’d like to introduce you to Ami Neiberger-Miller, a public relations consultant and writer who lives near Washington, DC.  Several years ago, Ami posted a review of  Chasing Superwoman on her blog, and we’ve been friends ever since.   

Ami, please introduce yourself (and tell us the many hats you wear).

I am a mother, stepmom, and wife – as well as a hopeless idealist, advocate for nonprofits and associations, media maven, and writer. My life was chaotic long before my house had diapers in it and a sandbox in the backyard. I became a Christian at age 8 and have always felt that faith is demonstrated through actions, not just words. I joined my first nonprofit board at age19 (a Habitat for Humanity affiliate) and never stopped working as an advocate to make a difference.

What key events have marked your journey?

Like many women, the key events in my life have involved my relationships with others. Marrying my husband more than a decade ago, who had three kids from a prior marriage, was a key event that also forced me to grow and change. I found it much more challenging to be graceful when it was my own home and dealing with other people’s needs, than I did in a more public setting. Thank goodness for forgiveness. Adopting our daughter three years ago, after the older kids were all grown, was another key moment that was filled with joy.

What is your greatest struggle?

My brother, Christopher Neiberger, was killed in the Iraq war on August 6, 2007 by a roadside bomb, three days after his 22ndbirthday. The sixth anniversary of Chris’s death is tomorrow, and I’ll probably spend at least part of the day at section 60 at Arlington National Cemetery reflecting on my journey, honoring his life, and perhaps visiting with some of his Army buddies. I divide my life into “before” and “after” his death. On a spiritual side I have wrestled with how a loving God allows senseless and random evil. I have also struggled with how others in the church have at times responded to us as survivors of a traumatic loss. I would say that his death has helped me see many things differently.

My definition and understanding of what “sacrifice” means changed when Chris died. My ability to tolerate people stressing over small things like the metro being late, or yelling at their kids in a store, has also diminished and I am less patient at times with others, because I see them squandering the joy they could have. My definition of a bad day also changed – I know what a really bad day is, and most days are not that bad. I hope that I am now a more generous and understanding person but I am not sure I am there yet. I try to appreciate my family more, help others  coping with traumatic loss through my work in my practice and as a spokesperson for families of fallen troops, and to live my life like every day counts.

How do you integrate your faith, home, and work?

I am extremely fortunate that I am able to work from home 2-3 days per week so I am near our three-year-old and her activities quite a bit, even if  I am working,  Commuting is a major expense and time suck where we live, so re-capturing some of that time for other things keeps our lives more sane. And when I am commuting – I try to use the time to nap, catch up on email or do some writing. I could not do even half of what I do, without the help and support of my husband –who has spent the last year and a half as a stay-at-home dad. We have struggled to find a faith community in the last few years, but we are persistently searching. Finding a church where our daughter can spend part of the worship service with us, where all of us can be nurtured, and where all our family can feel accepted is important to us. I get a daily devotional via email, but I miss the structure of a more comprehensive and focused study with other women on a weekly basis.

We also find that eating meals at the table and saying grace together as a family are important. My schedule can have some unpredictability because I am subject to the whims of breaking news and the ever-cranking 24/7 media cycle. So it’s important to me that I plan ahead to meet my family’s needs, regardless of what happens to my schedule – that includes keeping certain things for meals and household needs stocked around the house. And sometimes I just have to pinch hit – it’s important for me to remember my faith when pressure hits. I once had to have a very important and time-sensitive conversation with a reporter while in a grocery store with my daughter, who was about 2 at the time. I took a cupcake off a shelf and let her eat it in the shopping cart while talking to him about adjusting a story before it mass-ran on the wire. She was covered head to toe in frosting and my client got a much-needed story adjustment that helped them assist more hurting people.

What is the best advice you have ever received? 

Remember what matters in life – people, not stuff. Do not allow the tyranny of the urgent to overshadow the moments you have with your family. Turn off your electronics at least some of the time, and especially do it when you have “family time.” Do not feel you have to be perfect or “get it right” all of the time. At some point we have all had messy homes, kids that don’t act perfectly, a Bible study we are too exhausted to read, and a desk that looks like a tidal wave of paper and email drowned it. Focus on what matters to you, and cut yourself slack on the smaller things. And don’t worry about what other people think – so long as your choices are right for you and your family – you will be ok.

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Thanks so much Amy for sharing your story!  We are blessed to have you as a friend and fellow working mom on this journey.  Amy also writes a blog on media relations for nonprofits and associations, as well as work-life balance, and you can follow her on Twitter @AmazingPRMaven.

Does Amy’s story strike a powerful or familiar cord?  If so, please let her know!

When Bad Things Happen To Good Moms (Part 2 – The Role of Pain)

Working Mom's Devotional

It hurts to watch your friends hurt.

Last week on the Working Mom’s Devotional we talked about working moms who are fighting the good fight.  If you’re like me, you or women in your circle are wrestling with unthinkable pain — like cancer, unexpected loss, and broken relationships.  We stand with each other in prayer, and while we don’t understand the suffering we continue to fight– often on our knees.

Yet prayer doesn’t take away the pain.

Should it?

When I look at the role of pain in my own life, it is the very thing that draws me to God.  Without pain, I forget that “the Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” (Psalm 34:18)

Just when I think I have things figured out, the pain reminds me that I don’t.

Just when I think I can stand on my own, the pain reminds me that I can’t.

And just when I think that pain brings weakness, I see incredible strength.

This week, I attended a funeral of a mother who was unexpectedly taken from this earth too soon.  A mother who leaves behind a loving husband and two young children.  A mother who never planned to say goodbye at age 35.  Yet in her final moments, she calmly and meticulously gave the instructions for her own funeral.  The order of the service.  Which scriptures would be read.  What lessons she would leave behind.

I always knew she was strong.  But this I never imagined.  This type of strength is only found in pain.

I still don’t know why.  Why does God let such bad things happen to good moms?

What I do know is that pain plays an undeniable role.  A terrible and beautiful role.

If I didn’t believe in a loving God, I might think He actually thrives on pain.  Or even enjoys pain.  Or causes pain.

Not so.

Yet God uses pain to produce something beautiful — something we could never achieve on our own.   In so many of the stories I love, pain is center stage.  It’s not like pain is in the background scene or even in a supporting role.  More often than not, pain is the lead character.  I look at the pain that Jesus suffered, and my heart is filled with unspeakable emotion.  I am drawn to the cross like never before.

What should I give God in return?

It’s simple.  He wants my pain.

You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it;
you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.
My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart
you, God, will not despise.

(Psalm 51:16-17)

What role has pain played in your life and in the lives of those you love most?  Have you given God your gift of pain?  

What Ruins Your Day?

My cell phone died an unexpected death.  Yesterday.  I won’t give you the gory details, but let’s just say it’s lying on a highway somewhere along Route 315.

And it really upset me.  I mean it really ruined my day. 

I was grumpy.  I was irritable.  I felt lost and disconnected.

All because of a stupid phone that can be replaced!

But that was yesterday.

Today, I’m headed out of town for a funeral.   Three young boys don’t have a mother anymore.  It’s unexpected.  It’s tragic.  It’s unexplainable.

A mother can’t be replaced.

So I’ve had a bit of a paradigm shift.  You see, I have much to be thankful for – including three beautiful children I can hold tonight – and I really don’t care anymore about my cell phone.  And I’m pretty embarrassed that I let it ruin my day.  (Yeah, I even had to apologize to my kids this morning.)

What silly things have you let ruin your day lately?

Faking The Pain – (Part 4 of 4)

Sometimes, we pretend like the more spiritually “mature” we are, the less pain we feel.  Granted, we use over-spiritualized language and make those around us feel foolish – even sinful – for walking in pain.  See if this sounds familiar.

“If you are really following God, you won’t base your happiness on circumstances.  If you start putting your hope in God alone, he will take away your pain.”

Really?

And where does God promise to “take away” our pain if we just have enough faith?

Don’t get me wrong, I believe that God is a healer and a comforter. I believe that He takes great delight in meeting us right where we are.  I just start getting nervous when Christians start claiming that you just need to have more “faith” and the pain will go away.

Sometimes, it doesn’t work that way. 

Did the Apostle Paul feel “happy” about the thorn in his side?  Did he lack “faith” when he begged God to take it away?

Did Jesus dismiss the excruciating pain as he hung on the cross?  Would the pain have gone away if he just had more “faith”?

I think not! 

For reasons I will never understand this side of heaven, God purposes to use pain.  In fact, sometimes it appears that pain alone can produce the kind of enduring strength that most of us long for.

So why do we think we are entitled to a “pain free” existence?  

Could it be that pain is for the strong?

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[For those of you who have followed the “Faking the Pain” series, many thanks.  Thanks especially for your private notes and emails.  No more faking the pain around here, ok?]

Faking The Pain (Part 3 of 4)

I was having coffee with a friend who is struggling in her marriage.  I mean really struggling.  Yet she’s figured out how to get by. 

What’s her secret?  She’s given up all expectations in the relationship. 

“Marriage is about managing expectations.  If I expect nothing from him, at least I’m not disappointed.  I am so tired of opening myself up, only to be hurt again.”

I wonder, is she faking the pain?

While I don’t want to discount her pain – and I know firsthand that unrealistic expectations (or even reasonable expectations) can cause more hurt and pain when people disappoint us – I’m just not ready to subscribe to the theory that one can “manage” pain by giving up hope.

Numb the pain?  Maybe.

Ok, I realize there are seasons when we’re in survival mode – when numbing the pain is the best we can do.  But hear me out.  Have we missed the boat on this whole “pain management” theory?

We say things like, “People are always going to disappoint me.  I only need God to make me happy.”  We marginalize our relationships with other people so the pain doesn’t hurt as much.  We put up walls.  We pretend it doesn’t hurt.  Then, we tell ourselves we are spiritually mature for “managing expectations.”

Is this the best we can do?  Doesn’t God have something better in mind?  And hasn’t he put us in relationship with other people – people who will give us joy, hope, and even pain?

While expectations can kill, life without hope is sterile.  Lifeless.  Sure, I’ve heard it said, “Hope is in God.  Expectations are in other people.”  But in practical terms, the lines are a bit gray.  Which is why I’m constantly struggling to balance these two seemingly competing sisters:  Hope and Expectation. 

How do you reconcile the two?