by Annie Hardison-Moody
For a lot of reasons, I’ve been thinking this week about hope. Key among those reasons is a piece that Monica Coleman posted on her beautiful mind blog, Ordinary Saints. There, she writes about pregnancy loss and the trenches of grief that often surround us when we try to find hope or joy or life in the midst of loss. It’s difficult (and feels, at times, impossible) to see life where you only know death. But, she writes, there are saints among us who show us that hope is possible, even when we can’t find it.
With my colleague, Dara Bloom, I’m working on a project with the women’s committee at the Islamic Association of Raleigh (IAR). Maryam Funmilayo, a gifted and passionate nutrition educator, has been holding classes with immigrant and refugee women there through our Faithful Families Eating Smart and Moving More program (which I direct), to connect spiritual and physical health in an effort to help faith communities have access to healthier foods and physical activity. Through that project, we learned that the women at the IAR wanted greater access to fruits and vegetables that they grew or ate in their home countries. We started out with Maryam offering tours at the local farmer’s market, but the project has evolved into working on a community and school garden, and doing some container garden workshops so that women can grow food from their home countries here in the U.S. Dara and I have loved working with this group of women – when we show up on a Friday night for a meeting, the room is always filled with smiles, good food, hugs, and such care and concern for us. The project has been a model, for me, of what academic and community partnerships should look like.
So you can imagine how we felt when we learned that the three students who were killed in Chapel Hill this week were members at the IAR, and they grew up going to the Al-Iman school, where we are working with Cooperative Extension to revitalize the garden. The funeral was yesterday. It was across the street from the school, the site where soon we hope to watch the garden come alive again.
Yesterday at the service, Monica’s post kept coming back to me. Her words echoed as I saw them carry the three coffins away: “I want my babies back.”
I feel like all I write about on this blog is loss. But it is so hard to talk about, and so I write, hoping that in doing so I can better understand grief. But it’s incomprehensible. I try to imagine what might be going through the minds of the parents of these young people – Deah Shaddy Barakat, Yusor Mohammad, and Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha. I hear Monica’s words again: “I want my babies back.”
The father of the two women who died, Dr. Mohammad Abu-Salha, spoke at the funeral, encouraging all of us who were there to learn about Deah, Yusor, and Razan. He urged us to learn about the example that they set for others in the world – the way they cared for their communities, the way they honored God with their works.
The hope they had for a better world, where does (did) it go?
Their former teacher, Mussarut Jabeen, spoke to NPR this week, to follow-up on the beautiful Story Corps piece she recorded with Yusor in 2014. In it, Jabeen recalls their bright smiles, their caring hearts, and the hope that Yusor had for a world where we could show love instead of hate:
Jabeen remembers when Deah was growing up, he was getting so tall that he started to outgrow her.
“And because I’m a short person, he would stand behind me and put his hand over my head,” she said. “And I just told him, ‘Deah, you can never outgrow my heart.’ “
“You can never outgrow my heart.” Is that hope? If so, it’s still here, even if we can’t feel it right now.
I’ve spent most of the last three and a half years waiting.
Waiting for a cycle to start, waiting for test results, waiting for blood work, waiting for an ultrasound, waiting for a miscarriage, waiting for our home study to be approved, waiting for an adoption, waiting for a baby.
During the waiting period, I’ve been excited, frustrated, hopeful, scared, angry, depressed, and exhausted. We’ve tried many coping mechanisms to deal with the wait, including enjoying our lives as they are now (along with friends and family, we bought a boat!), going on vacation, talking with supportive friends and family, praying, grieving, spending time with kids, spending time away from kids, holing up in our house, going out and having fun…and the list goes on.
I’m part of an adoption support group on Facebook, and lately we’ve been talking about how we cope with the wait during the holidays. Some of us have to bite our tongues at family dinners, when family members ask us when we will finally have a family of our own. Some of us take vacations so that we don’t have to see the little ones at family gatherings, who are a reminder of the one thing we want more than anything else in the world. Some of us smile and laugh, then go home and cry because it’s one more year without a baby. Some of us have a glass of wine, to take the edge off. Some of us who are Christian have trouble feeling hopeful during Christmas-time, because we are too sad, frustrated, or tired. And some of us can’t listen to the Christmas carols and songs and sermons and prayers announcing the birth of a baby…
Advent is a season of waiting and anticipation. During this time, Christians await the coming of a baby who will bring peace, love and hope to a world that desperately needs it. We spend the four weeks before Christmas preparing for this miraculous birth, but for those of us who are waiting and hoping for a child, this season of waiting and anticipation can be so hard. We struggle to hope, because it has not been an easy thing to find in our own lives.
I realize that this post is a sad one, during what is usually such a beautiful, joyous time. And it can be joyous – even for those of us who are struggling as we wait to become parents. I for one, feel a little more hopeful when my family and friends acknowledge that this time might be hard for my spouse and me. They give us permission to be sad as we need to during the happy times. They let us duck out on events that we probably “should” attend. What also helps is when our church family provides space for grief and sadness during Advent. Each year, we have a service of grief and remembrance, for those of us who need a place where we can let down our facade, for just a minute, in the presence of God and community. These gestures of care and community mean so much. They allow us to see and feel the love and care that surrounds us, even in the hard times.
Not everyone will be comforted by the same things, so if you know someone who might be struggling with hope during this Advent season, consider asking how you can provide some support or what they might need. And for those of you who, like me, are waiting to become parents or grieving the loss of a child or pregnancy – be gentle with yourself. Take time to grieve. And try to find joy and hope where you can. As you find ways to experience hope and joy during the season, or ways to cope during this waiting period, please share them with me here or on our Facebook page.
I hope that we are all able to find peace, hope, love and joy during this Advent season.