In this week’s Real Stories of Loss, Hope & Healing I am honored to share an interview with Rachel Johnson, an elementary school teacher turned calligrapher and business-owner. You can get to know Rachel a little more here @rachelannejohnson or learn more about her calligraphy and business endeavors here @rjcalligraphyco.
Rachel, thank you for sharing your story with us. We are so grateful.
Hi Rachel, tell us about yourself.
I’m Rachel Johnson, and I am from the Seattle area. My husband and I live in a little town called Sumner, Washington with our dog Sven. We’ve been married five years this coming June, but known each other almost 15 years. We stayed friends through college and then after we graduated, reconnected and the rest is history!
I have a BA in Elementary and Special education and have spent the last 6 years as an elementary school teacher, with experience ranging from first through fourth grades. Last year, we really felt the Lord calling me out of the classroom and so I submitted my resignation and taught through the end of the 2018 school year without much of a plan but a lot of peace. For the last several years, I have had a calligraphy business and Etsy shop as a little side hustle. So this year, I’ve focused on that full time. Currently I spend my days working from home, teaching calligraphy workshops to adults and kids! I also work part time for a curriculum company doing professional development for teachers around once a month.
This has been a major change of pace for me, and the time working from home has allowed me to slow down and reduce anxiety and take a much needed break. Being able to focus on my business and give it time and energy has been so life giving for me!
Rachel, will you tell us about your loss and experience with grief?
It has been 24 days since we found out our second baby stopped developing, a year since our first. I can honestly tell you, I will never be the same again.
The woman that God is shaping me into, in large part is because I am a mama now. I won’t get to meet my two sweet babies lost through miscarriage this side of eternity but they are intertwined in my story of finding peace, healing and a new perspective of my savior. This is my story. I am proud to write about it as something that continually shapes me but does not define me; something that the Lord is using for good in the midst of my brokenness.
My journey with pregnancy loss began February of 2018. My husband and I were absolutely shocked after trying for so long to find out we were pregnant in early January. We lived in two weeks of bliss, dreaming and planning for our little one to come and shared the news with our close friends and family. Around the six week mark after some cramping and spotting,I promptly called my doctor and made an appointment to see her the next day. But I knew. The empty ultrasound monitor the following day confirmed that I had naturally completed a miscarriage in the previous 12 hours.
Since February of 2018 we tried on and off, and found out we were expecting again in November 2018. I was sure that this was going to be our baby. My doctor saw me right away at 5 weeks 3 days and we got to see our little lentil-sized baby, still a few days too early to hear a heartbeat. I tried to ignore my growing anxiety about our baby’s development. Finally around eight weeks I was resting easier and was counting the days until I’d get to hear that precious heartbeat.
I could hardly sleep the night before my appointment on January 15th, 2019. My mind was flooded with fear and doubt that things were not okay. In the exam room, rather than hearing a strong heartbeat, we saw a tiny, motionless baby, measuring 6 weeks 1 day. The events that followed still feel like I watched them happen from a distance. We were sent to see a radiologist at the hospital to confirm that our baby’s life was lost. When I should have been ten weeks along, my body started the process of natural miscarriage again. This time, the bleeding and contractions warranted an ER visit. My physical pain seemed to finally match the emotional strain and heartache of pregnancy loss.
No one ever told me grief felt so like fear. -C.S. Lewis.
I have spent many, many nights over the last year asking why we have two children in heaven and none on earth, fearing I’ll never get to be a mom to babies that are alive. I continue to mourn our little loves that never got to be held close or kissed by their mommy and daddy. We planned for them. We dreamed about our life with them. We wanted them.
A misconception about grief is that that you “get over it” like a sickness. Grief is complicated and messy with many layers and stages. Yesterday is the first day that violent sobs and hot tears streaming into my pillow didn’t end my day. This week, I’m not afraid to go out in public and see someone I know in our small town. But these thing hardly feel like progress. It feels like there are triggers all around me, like landmines waiting to explode. These losses have elicited some of the deepest, inexplicable pain I have ever felt. Sometimes, the things people say to me seem to make it worse, not better. At times, I have been inconsolable, unkind, angry, numb. Angry that I have to handle this pain, but more heartbroken that at the end of the day, my babies aren’t with me.
You should know by now, that your darkest hour, is when your broken heart goes down. It’s a bitter end, when the sweet begins. Grace is sufficiency. -Switchfoot
The Lord has made himself known in so many intricate details of our lives. But one thing in particular stands out. After months of praying and talking with my husband, I quit my full time teaching job in June of 2018 to pursue growing my business. We knew the Lord lead us there but weren’t quite sure why. What an incredible gift for me it has been to grieve at home instead of write sub plans and worry about being “okay” at work. The provision in this job change is something I wake up each day thankful for. Friends and their willingness to share in our grief and cry with us, family who have fed us and cleaned our house… there are so many other things I could ist.
My view of God has changed in ways I never knew it needed to. I am convicted that my redeemer is not pulling the strings of loss so that I am miserable and he is glorified. I did nothing to “deserve” this. His heart is broken with mine, and BECAUSE he is sovereign and good, he meets me in my pain and takes my burden. This is not to say that everything is perfect from here on out, I doubt it will be. But there is grace and the assurance that he will take care of me.
I pray that my heart is open to being used, and that my story can be an encouragement to others that they are not alone. The beauty in our pain, is that the Lord will never waste it. I may never know they “why” of losing our babies in this lifetime, but I know that the woman I am now is someone whose heart is more compassionate, more kind, and more gracious than it was a year ago. I have hope that we will have a family. I don’t knowhow, or when, but I know the space in my heart and capacity to love my future children is forever changed
What has surprised you about this journey of loss and grief?
After our first miscarriage, I was surprised by how excited we were to be pregnant again- I truly wasn’t sure if I could be excited about another pregnancy. But overall I think I have been most surprised by the complexities of grief and how non-linear it is. Each day isn’t necessarily better, each day is different. I have also been surprised at things that have been triggers for me.
What resources have been helpful & encouraging to you in your grief?
Truly the community of The Morning has been such a blessing to me by reminding me I am not alone. (Join the community by clicking here!)
But also, reading the book “Empty Arms” by Pam Vredevelt, and “A Grief Observed” have been very helpful in my perspective of myself and grief as a whole.
I have found a lot of encouragement in music as well – “Joy invincible” by Switchfoot, “Take Courage” by Kristene Dimarco, and “You Say” by Lauren Daigle. The lyrics of these songs have been sweet reminders to me that the Lord can handle my questioning and that he grieves with me.
Listen to The Morning monthly playlists on Spotify by clicking here and then clicking ‘Public Playlists.’
How would you encourage someone who has a friend grieving?
|What was the most meaningful thing done for you during your grieving? How have you been best loved?||The most meaningful thing that my husband and I have done during our grief is getting time intentionally away with just the two of us. Both times, we have done a weekend getaway, and the Lord used that time to draw us closer and bring healing over our aching hearts. We have been best loved by a handful of people who have chosen to sit in our pain with us in both tangible and non tangible ways.|
|What’s the one thing you wish people would ask you?||The one thing I wish people would ask is “How can I walk next to you in your grief?”, In each stage of grief, that answer is different and sometimes I don’t know what I need- but the people who have constantly checked in and made it known they are praying for me and haven’t forgotten about our loss has been so powerful.|
|What advice would you give to someone who has a friend who is grieving the loss of a baby?||Each day is different, and grief is far from linear. It doesn’t always mean progress in the way you think it does. Find the people you are most safe with and don’t be afraid to lean on them. Take it ONE day at a time, and celebrate your little wins. You felt like drinking coffee today, you went to the gym, your favorite food tasted good again, you went out in public… etc. etc. |
I had someone very dear to me start asking me on a regular basis, “where are you seeing hope this week?”, which has really helped me intentionally think about the small glimmers of hope around me.
Rachel, what final encouragement would you give to a mama who is grieving?
My biggest encouragement is that you are not alone.
Your heavenly father is so acquainted with your grief. This is something that I wrestle with on a daily basis but I deeply believe is true. God can take your questions, your anger and embrace you as you feel lost. Look for the moments of hope, even if they are small.
The woman that God created you to be includes this as part of your story, and He wants good for you. He cares for your aching heart and there is so much freedom in that.
Thank you Rachel for sharing your story and abundant wisdom with us.