Tuesday, May 6, 2014

When You're Doing Your Best Just to Enter the Sanctuary




So Mother's Day is this Sunday. One can hardly miss it, what with the explosion of pinks and florals in every store. Its a great holiday that technically everyone should be able to celebrate... after all, none of us would be here with out our moms. I love my mom, mother-in-law and grandmas. They are all wonderful, amazing women of God, whom I am so thankful for and I appreciate the Hallmark holiday of an opportunity to let them know how much I do love them. Its one of the few times I year I actually send out snail mail! But there's another side to Mother's Day and all the hoopla that surrounds it that causes my heart to break when I see the frilly displays of cards and Whitman's Samplers. Its the reminder that I am a mother who has lost her child. While that is part of my daily reality, of course, special occasions and holidays such as this one are even stronger reminders of the emptiness in my arms. 

Many people may not understand this, since I now have two adorable little girls. Empty arms? Aren't my arms (and hands) full with a toddler and an infant? Just ask anyone who saw me at the grocery store this morning, both kids in tow, my little stroller basket overflowing with much needed groceries as one baby cried and the other ran along beside me "trying" to calm her down. The looks of pity were enough to slay a kitten. Yes, my hands are full but my arms still feel achingly empty at times. While I love Gia and Joanna more than I ever though possible, I still miss Whitney tremendously. Having children after a loss will not replace the baby who's gone any more than adding salt instead of sugar will sweeten your coffee. Something, some one is still missing.

I don't know about your church, but at our church (and every church I've been at in recent years) has a Baby Dedication Sunday usually in the same week or month as Mother's Day. While I understand that this completely makes sense, its kind of like a double whammy for a heart that is already grieving. The year Whitney was born, I didn't go to church the entire month of May-- I just couldn't handle it. And when I was at church, I wanted in and out with as little interaction as possible. I was doing my best to enter the sanctuary. My absence was not met with compassion or understanding, rather criticism and judgement. God-forbid I miss the Hallmark sermon, and the gift afterwards of a carnation and Bump-it. (yes, they gave away Bump-its to moms. No, I am not kidding.) What I would have given to have been met with open arms, understanding and good gracious, grace! We are no longer at that church and I'm thankful we are now serving at a wonderful church, full of grace and caring people who love us deeply.

But my point in sharing all this is not so you will feel sorry for me. Its to give you permission. Permission to grieve however you dang well need to grieve. And permission to do whatever the heck you need to do on Mother's Day. Nowadays, I don't mind Mother's Day so much. I enjoy going to church and even accept the pangs of longing I usually feel... longings for Heaven, where death is conquered and eternity with Christ is reality. Where I'll get to hold my baby girl again, and she will praise our mighty God alongside her sisters. I enjoy the day as a mom of three beautiful daughters, for whom I am so deeply thankful to God. Its definitely one of those bittersweet days. And the Baby Dedication ceremonies are even sweet to me now. In fact, this Sunday we will stand up in front of our congregation with Joanna and dedicate to raise her in the love and knowledge of Christ. But I can't help thinking of the many people who are struggling on Sunday. Who are just doing their best to enter the sanctuary. I feel like our church has done a great job of being sensitive to those who have lost babies, and I pray that your church does as well. But if you're a mom (or even a grandma, aunt, dad, etc) who is dreading this Mother's Day because your baby is missing from your arms, know that you are not alone. And know that we won't judge you if you want to stay home, or if you need a "bathroom break" when all the babies go down front. Know that I am praying for you, from the depths of my soul to the feet of Jesus, praying his grace and mercy on your heart. I am praying that the God of hope will fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit (Romans 15:13), even in your seasons of grief. 

And if you are doing your best but still can't make it into the sanctuary this Mother's Day, please know that's ok. Because our God is so big, he will come to you. He will meet you wherever you are seeking him from-- broken heart, shambled soul, empty arms, cried-out eyes. In fact, he wants that part of you, because he wants all of you. No need to pretty it up for Sunday. Don't cake make-up over your tear-stained cheeks. Run to him who is able to do infinitely more than we could ever ask or imagine (Ephesians 3:20). Give him your grief and accept his grace, which is so much more than sufficient for all of our needs (and even made perfect in our weaknesses- 2 Corinthians 12:9). And know that you are loved and I am lifting you up in prayer.



PS- Here's another Mother's Day post for the Moms who think they aren't

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Where there is Life


I saw this tonight while I was, you know, browsing Pinterest and it stopped me in my websurfing tracks. "Where there's life, there's hope."  YES! This immediately made me think of Whitney... even after her fatal diagnosis, her heart was still beating. There was still life. And because there was still life, there was HOPE. Hope for healing, hope for a miracle, hope for the sake of HOPE. And now, having come through that time in our life without the healing, without the miracle that we were hoping for, I can still say with all the certainty in my heart, that HOPE was not wasted. Hope is never wasted... In fact, its because of Whitney that I have learned hope is a gift. It teaches us to long for and believe in something bigger than ourselves. And even when that hope doesn't unfold like we, well, hoped it would, I am still grateful-- oh, so grateful-- for it. So yes, where there is life, there is hope. Is your heart beating? Is there a glimmer of green beneath the cold, dead ground in your life? Then There. Is. HOPE. Don't be afraid of it... run towards it, embrace it, believe it-- Believe HIM with all your heart. romans 15:13 tells me that God is a God of HOPE-- yes, that is my God! And that is my HOPE. We could have chosen to end Whitney's life, but her heart was still beating... and there was still hope. Even now, as her heart is not beating in this life (or even in the next), I still have hope. I carry a piece of her with me always ("I carry your heart, I carry it in my heart...).  My hope in her healing was fulfilled and because of Christ and the fact that my hope is ultimately in Him, this HOPE I have will never return void. 

Monday, February 10, 2014

Welcoming the Waves

via

I've gone about today in pretty much the same way I've shuffled through the past 6 weeks or so. Wake up earlier than I usually would to feed a squirmy ball of love and delight. She's been sleeping such long stretches at night that I usually have to pump a little bit of milk so I don't overwhelm her when she nurses.  Rock her back to sleep. Try to sleep again myself. Wake up again to a usually happy squirmy ball of love and delight. At some point in the day (usually just before bed) I will pour the precious ounces of liquid gold sustenance into a baggie to freeze for later use. I'll pull apart the pieces of the pump's plastic and plunge them into hot, soapy water. Scrub. Wash. Rinse. Repeat. Routine.

But this afternoon, my routine was interrupted. That strange, ugly monster who's been graciously silent for quite some time, reared his ugly head again. Grief. As I disassembled my pump, I thought back to life 4 years ago. There was no sink full of soapy water. No bleary-eyed late-night feedings. Instead, there were frozen peas and ice cold cabbage stuffed into a sports bra that was two sizes too small. Whitney had passed away, but apparently, my body didn't get the memo. My milk came in just as it would have if she had been there to receive its nourishment. And it hurt. It stung. It burned. My body was betraying me, a constant reminder of my baby who was not in my arms. As I wept from the physical pain and the raw emotion of her loss, it seemed that even my body was weeping too. 

The wave of grief washed over me, I felt something new and strange towards the familiar, ugly monster of Grief: I welcomed it. I steadied myself with wet hands on the side of my cold kitchen sink and let salty tears fall to my cheeks. I let myself feel the squeeze of loss as my heart physically ached. Moms who have empty arms know just how real this kind of physical heart ache is. For that moment, I welcomed every bittersweet memory and emotion Grief threw at me. The tide rolled in, and faster than real time, the tide rolled out. "They" (whoever "they" are) always tell you Grief is a journey. (Here's another post from a few years ago about this Grief journey.) Four years in, I'm beginning to learn what that means. And I'm learning with greater clarity what it means in 1 Thessalonians that we do not grieve as those who have no hope. I'm learning its okay to grieve, to miss what should have been-- the birthday candles that will never be blown out, the gifts that will never be opened... well, the list of "should have been's" is endless. But in my grief, I can't forget the future that I know will be. And I know that it will be far greater than anything we're missing out on in this life. As it says in The Message translation of 1 Thes: "Since Jesus died and broke loose from the grave, God will most certainly bring back to life those who died in Jesus."

Tomorrow, Whitney would have been 4. We've all been a little busy lately, what with a newborn and all. When we haven't been busy, we've been hopelessly snowed in. I haven't had time to plan much at all for Whitney's birthday... no special planned acts of kindness, no gifts for the hospital nurses- I haven't even bought a cake mix yet. (Yes, keeping it real- cake mix.) I'm trying to practice giving myself grace in this area this year. Its hard to picture what life would be like with Whitney... Gia is only 2, so I don't know what its like to have a 4 year old running around. I'm only just learning what its like to have two kids... some days I drift off to Neverland, wondering what we'd be doing as a family of 5. There's always Neverland... a place where time stands still, and Whitney is whatever beautiful age I imagine her to be. But in reality, I know nothing of that life what should have been. I only know what is true for now, the life we are given and living for real. So tomorrow, we will bake a cake, sing happy birthday, and blow out a candle for our first born girl who is in Heaven. I'll stumble over words as I try to explain Heaven to my 2 year-old. I'll shed a few tears as we look at her pictures, and tell Gia its ok to be sad sometimes. I'll hold Whitney's bunny and try desperately to remember the tiny details of her face, her hands, her hair, that time has slowly erased. I'll remember the supernatural goodness of our Lord and the unbelievable graciousness in his provision. And I'll remember the Reason for our Hope. As waves of grief sneak up behind me, I'll welcome the warmth as they wash over me. The waves remind that Whitney is real, she was here, I held her in my arms, and she is worth crying for. The after that, I'll go back to the sink full of soapy water and continue to love my babies more each day. Love. Hug. Kiss. Cuddle. Repeat. Routine. 

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Sovereignty


On Facebook, I came across a song by Shane & Shane that I had never heard before called "Though You Slay Me." Everybody needs a little more Shane &; Shane in their life, so I clicked the YouTube link to listen to it. What I found after the jump is one fo the most beautiful things I''ve ever heard, but some of the lyrics I didn't completely understand. So before you listen to the song, watch this short clip explaining the story behind the song.


Now you can listen to the song... It has an excerpt from John Piper that is the best part of this video... be sure the listen to that, too. What gets better than some Shane & Shane + John Piper?



I've copied the lyrics here below, in case you want to follow along as you listen. (I always like to do this when I hear a new song for the first time.)

Shane & Shane - Though You Slay Me Lyrics
I come, God, I come
I return to the Lord
The one who's broken
The one who's torn me apart
You struck down to bind me up
You say You do it all in love
That I might know You in Your suffering

Though You slay me
Yet I will praise You
Though You take from me
I will bless Your name
Though You ruin me
Still I will worship
Sing a song to the one who's all I need

My heart and flesh may fail
The earth below give way
But with my eyes, with my eyes I'll see the Lord
Lifted high on that day
Behold, the Lamb that was slain
And I'll know every tear was worth it all

Though You slay me
Yet I will praise You
Though You take from me
I will bless Your name
Though You ruin me
Still I will worship
Sing a song to the one who's all I need

Though tonight I'm crying out
Let this cup pass from me now
You're still all that I need
You're enough for me
You're enough for me

Though You slay me
Yet I will praise You
Though You take from me
I will bless Your name
Though You ruin me
Still I will worship
Sing a song to the one who's all I need
Sing a song to the one who's all I need

__________________

If you haven't been in a hospital room like Shane describes in the first video, or in one of the trial Piper references, you will be. If you haven't experienced misery in the path of obedience, you will. Not being a Debbie Downer, just being realistic about life on this Earth.

October is Infant Loss awareness month. Its easy to go through my life now, several years removed from the loss of Whitney and not think too much about her. (I think this is a self-preservation thing, not meaning I love her any less.) Gia keeps me hopping and the new one growing inside joyfully wears out whatever energy is left over in a day. And to be honest, sometimes remembering Whitney hurts. Ok, it always hurts. But some days more than others. So it gets easier to ignore it, and just get through the days as they come, without looking at the things that have passed. But when I do that, I am neglecting a season of life where the goodness and sovereignty of God has never been greater. And who doesn't need to be reminded of that? I sure do. And it seems I'm entering yet another season of life where I am having to seek out and remind myself of God's sovereignty. He hasn't shown up with an answer yet, but I know He will. Looking back at the time we had with Whitney, and the way His goodness radiated through every millisecond of that season brings me hope and renews my faith. So if reminding myself of the truths about God involves some pain from the loss of the past, I know it is worth it to remain faithful to the calling that we have received. Even better than that? I know ultimately there will be a day where there is no pain in remembering Whitney, because she will be right beside me or  better yet, in my arms, and we will be praising the sovereignty and goodness of our God at His very feet.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

With Hope On Our Breath


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Bought these candles for Whitney's birthday cake on Monday. Didn't hit me til I was driving home that she won't be the one to blow them out. But we will. We'll light them, and think of her, then blow them out with hope on our breath as we continue to anticipate the Togetherness of Heaven.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Is It Over?


Downton
I've joined the rest of America and fallen in love with Downton Abbey.  I watched the first two seasons in less than a week, and would be lying if I told you I didn't eagerly anticipate Sunday evenings for each new episode from seaon 3.  
**** Spolier ALERT**** If you aren't caught up on Season 3 yet (with where it is in American TV schedules), don't read any further.  I am going to talk about a major spoiler.  
Ok?
I'll give you a chance to click off the screen....
Really, I mean it....
I hate spoilers.  So just wanted to give you fair warning.
Oh, and if you've already watched all of Season 3, no spoilers in the comments either please!

 Mmkay.....
******
Ok, here goes.  Stop reading if you're not in season 3 yet, silly!
Here's a cute pic of Gia in case you are still reading... last chance.  Spoiler ahead.
2013-01-28 15.17.09
A couple of weeks ago, in perhaps the greatest shock of the series so far, Lady Sybil dies in childbirth.  Last week's episode opened with a scene where the entire family was together (sans Sybil now, of course) in the drawing room (whatever that is).  The funeral was now over, all other guests paying their respect of mourning had left.  Violet Crawley, the Dowager Countess was preparing to go home when she leaned down, kissed Lady Grantham (Sybil's mother) on the cheek and said, "Now that its over, try and get some rest."  After Violet had left, Cora looks at her husband and rhetorically questioned, "Is it over?  When a woman loses her child, is it ever really over?"
Her words stung my heart with truth.  Whitney's birthday is Monday.  It has completely snuck up on me this year.  I guess that's what happens when life continues to move forward, with or without all the people you love.  Cora's grief-filled words have been ringing in my head ever since that episode aired a few weeks ago.  Is it ever really over?  
Well, what is "it" exactly?  The grief?  Three years out now, I do have to say that the grief does get better.  Better is perhaps the wrong word for it... easier certainly isn't the correct term either.  It will never be easy, so how can it be easier?  I suppose it is accurate to say that the stifling grip of grief does loosen a bit as the years go on.  That feeling of gasping for air under the tremendous weight of loss gradually lifts to the point where I can breathe somewhat normally again.  Every now and then, even a deep breath is possible.  But the grief never goes away completely. 
What about the pain?  The physical ache that is impossible to alleviate because the cure for this ailment now resides in another world altogether.  Much like learning to live with a chronic condition, that pain never goes away.  Temporary elixirs- other children, a new hobby or job, a change of scenery- may, again, lessen the pain.  But the condition itself remains because like I just said, losing a child crosses the boundaries of this world and throws you into the next.   
The emptiness?  Much like grief, the extremity of the emptiness lessens with time, but its always still there.  One less child at Christmas, one less birthday on the calendar, one less outfit for the start of school.  One extra seat at the table, one ghostly, extra space for another car seat in the back.  As the years go on, the emptiness resides as other bits of life begin to fill it up unintentionally, but its never really gone.
And finally, the "it" of taboo.  This is perhaps the one I am most eager to be rid of.  That feeling of not wanting to alienate others, so when asked about children in casual conversation, I pretend that Whitney was never here.  Afterall, what is more taboo than talking about your dead child with a complete stranger?  The part that hurts the worst, though, is that I don't just do this with strangers.  Its with people I know, people who love us.  But I sometime still gloss over the loss.  In November, the International Conference on Missions was in Indy.  We had a great time attending the conference and got to see a lot of our friends from college.  We saw one of our professors, who was also the man that performed our wedding ceremony.  I don't think we'd seen him in the almost 9 years that we'd been married, so we spent some time catching up.  We had Gianna with us, and he asked if she was our first.  With a plastered Stepford-like smile, I quickly replied, "Yup. Yes. She's our first & only."  Then we rambled on about the blessing of children, etc. etc.  This is a man who loves both me & Sean... who performed our wedding, for crying out loud!  And I couldn't muster the courage to tell him about the singlemost defining moment of our marriage?  What was wrong with me?  It all goes back to the taboo... losing a child isn't normal.  We don't know how to respond.  And I didn't want to bring in the awkwardness that was sure to come.  Although in hindsight, I know he would have just looked at us with his caring eyes, perhaps even with tears in them, and wanted to know more about Whitney.  Which I would have loved to tell him.  I'm still navigating this part of Loss.  Its sticky and tricky and weird.  I'm ready for the taboo of loss to be over.  
So, dear Cora (whose name I adore, by the way), no.  It is never really over.  Not in this life at least.  Grief continues, but so does life.  The stifling grip of grief grows weaker, more tired over time.  In fact, I've learned that the more intent on living I become, the weaker the grip of grief is.  Thats not to say there won't be moments of overwhelmind sadness or pain. But I've learned to temper them with the truth that in the next life- the eternal life of knowing God and experiencing nearness with Him, it will be over.  
I am going through a study on Prayers of the Bible by Susan Hunt.  The one I just read this afternoon was about Glory.  It talked about how in heaven, we will be with God, have nearness with him.  Christ knows us and we know him beacuse we have belonged to Him since eternity past.  Christ came to live in nearness to us so that he could fulfill the saving act of redemption, by dying for my sins on the cross.  Understanding that gives hope that though pain is part of life right now, there is a day coming when it really will be over.  
"They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.  He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away." Revelation 21:3b-4

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Hopeful Anticipation


IMG_5086
I walked into the kitchen to refill my ice water.  My parents had been holed up in the kitchen for well over an hour, being busy little elves wrapping all our Christmas presents.  Its rare that we are all together on Christmas.  My parents live overseas, and my sister, brother and I all live in different states spread across the country.  
As I walked over to the sink, mom said "I'm a little weepy today.  Its not because I'm upset, but I just really miss Whitney right now and think I need a hug."  I gave my mom a huge bear hug, tears welling up in my own eyes.  Mom pulled back and said, "I think Dad needs a hug, too."  I turned around and my teary eyes met the misty eyes of my daddy.  I gave him a huge hug, as we both said how very much we wished Whitney was here with all of us now.  
This is family.  This is Christmas.  Speaking the hard words, but never feeling alone in them.  I hardly get to see my parents througout the year.  But I am so thankful that when I do, they remember her.  There are three stockings hung on the stair rail for all the littles... Oh, how I wish there were 4.  But I am filled with joy and overwhelming gratitude for the Saviour that came to conquer death and give us life ever after with Him.  Our arms that ache to hold Whitney are filled with hopeful anticipation of the day that He will wipe the tears from our eyes, and we will meet her again.  But even better than that, we will know complete & holy worship of the One who loved us enough to send His only son, to die for my sins, so that we would not know eternal death but eternal life instead.  Oh, what a glorious gift!
My heart and prayers are with all of you who are missing a loved one this Christmas. Though the pain and loss are very real and ever-present, please know that in Christ-- the one who came to give us life eternal-- there is hope.  There is peace.  There is joy.  There is restoration.  There is redemption.  May you experience all of those this season.