Thursday, February 18, 2016

Because I Know...

I’ve always felt sad when the news would pass my ears of a child dying through illness, accident, miscarriage, stillbirth, etc.  It’s the feeling you have when you see a story on the five o’clock news of someone dying prematurely.  But it was just a fleeting sadness.  If it was a friend or acquaintance I might send a card or a meal, give a hug, check in with them for a week or two.

Recently a person I’ve never met that I don’t really know posted that his daughter died at 97 days old from Trisotomy 18.  I instantly teared up.  Thinking about it, tears are welling up in my eyes.  Because I know.  I know what it feels like to have part of your heart ripped from your chest.  I know what it’s like to have a piece of you taken away until Heaven.  I’ve cried those tears and mourned that loss.  I know.

When my baby girl died last December, the most comforting person was my grandma.  She lost a child two and a half years before I was born.  So when my baby died, she knew.  She cherished the photos from the hospital and the hand and footprints.  She gave me a special ornament for my tree that year.  

More than any family member, she checked in with me.  Most family wouldn’t even speak to me about my baby after we buried her or the two that followed.  She knows better.  She’s cried those tears, mourned that loss, walked that road for 33 years before I started walking it.

On Memorial Day weekend I was at my mom and dad’s where we had buried our baby girl.  I took a small flower I’d purchased to place on her grave for both Memorial Day and because it was almost her due date.  There was already a flower decorating Faith’s grave.  I knew instantly from the arrangement and type of flowers it was from my grandma.  Six months later, she remembered.

She heard about donating wedding dresses to organizations that make dresses for stillborn babies.  Not only did she want to donate her 50+ year old dress, she wanted to share it with me and honor Faith in that way.

Grandma was the most supportive family member I encountered.  Because she knows.

I share my losses, my grief, and my journey to healing to help others who find themselves in my situation.  When I hear about the loss of a child, I do all I can for them.  Most importantly, I honor their loss and recognize that their child existed.  Because I know.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

When The Answer To Prayer Is No

I have been enjoying Priscilla Shirer's Armor of God study; my group is on week 5.  I'm showing War Room at our church on Saturday afternoon because it's a great movie on the power of prayer.  I've taken a trifold posterboard and turned it into my own personal War Board (my house is too small for a prayer closet or something like that.)

But I think when we talk about the power of prayer we forget that sometimes we send up a petition and the answer is no.  God isn't trying to punish us, although it feels like it.  Today I want to talk about what I learned when God said no to my most heartfelt prayer.

On December 13, 2014 at 2 o’clock in the morning, 15 weeks 1 day into my pregnancy my water broke.  Ultrasounds revealed a heartbeat and less than 5% chance of survival. I went into prayer mode.  Family was praying.  Our church was praying.  Other friends were praying.  About 500 members of my Facebook group were praying.  Close to 1,000 people were praying for a miracle for my baby. 

I prayed and was prayed over for 9 days.  Then, December 22, 2014 at 3:50 pm, 16 weeks 3 days pregnant I lost my baby girl.  We went home from the hospital and spent the next few days going through the motions of Christmas for the sake of our oldest.  The next Sunday we buried our child on the hill at my parents’ property.

God didn’t answer my prayer.  He didn’t answer the prayer of almost 1,000 people.  Nine days of praying and believing for a miracle.  He didn’t answer, at least not in the way I’d been asking.  Instead of healing my baby, God allowed my baby to die.  His answer to my prayer request was no.

I’d made it through the death.  I’d made it through Christmas.  I’d made it through the burial.  I was looking at a new year completely lost and unsure of where to go, what to do, how to move forward with my life.  I didn’t know anything.  All I knew how to do was to pray.

I told God I couldn’t do this.  I had no idea what to do.  I said, “God, You have to tell me what to do.  I can’t do this.  You have to tell me what to do because I have no clue how to keep going.”

And God answered my prayer by giving me four instructions, asking me to have an active faith, as Priscilla puts it.  He told me to go outside and walk every day.  He told me to ask our associate pastor, Nicole, if she needed help with the women’s Bible study.  He told me to keep going to the Sunday night class I was taking.  He told me I could take one month off from the Toddler room where I was a regular volunteer, one month and no more.  

He told me to do all these things and I knew it loud and clear.  I wanted to curl up in a ball and cry all day long.  I wanted to be mad at Him and stop believing in Him.  But I knew better.  I knew that I would either curl up and die inside my grief or I would follow His directions and find healing.

I went outside and walked and in a few months I’d walked over 100 miles.  I walked and then I started writing about walking and people started telling me they were being inspired by my walking.  So I kept walking and I kept writing about it.

I asked Nicole if she needed help with the women’s Bible study.  She was overbooked and overextended and I stepped in and learned how to lead a Bible study.  I was terrified to get up in front of the group and lead but I did it anyway.  This is the third study I’ve led and the first study where I wasn't scared to get up in front of the group and lead.

I kept going to my Sunday night class and through reading, class discussions, prayer from others, and a more positive devotional time I discovered a deeper faith than I’d even known existed.  In my study I started writing a devotional for women who’ve experienced baby loss.

I went back to the Toddler room and worked with the children in there.  I was eventually moved to the Preschool room and then I was given a job with the church as the preschool room coordinator.  After searching for a decent curriculum for the class, I’m now working on writing a preschool level curriculum for Sunday school that’s affordable for most churches.
God told me no to the most heartfelt, pleading, intense prayer I’ve ever had.

I’m not the only one whose prayer request was given a no.  In the book of Genesis, Joseph suffers at the hand of his brothers.  But in the end he was able to say “Don’t be afraid.  Am I in the place of God?  You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.”

In Mark 14:36, Jesus prayed, “Abba, Father, everything is possible for you.  Take this cup from me.  Yet not what I will, but what you will.”

Even Jesus, knowing that He was sent to save mankind, asked God to take the cup from Him.  God told Him no and through Jesus’ death and resurrection we are given a place in Heaven.

I'm not saying we're going to achieve what Jesus did.  But if we will do what God has asked us to do despite what He's allowed to happen to us, we can see amazing things happen.

Recently God spoke to my heart.  He said, "Baby girl, I love you.  I wanted to answer your prayer and I know your heart will grieve for your baby girl until you get to Heaven.  If I didn't need you to go through this more than I needed her on earth, I would've answered your prayer.  What I'm doing through this is so important I need you to walk through this.  But I will never leave your side as you walk this road.  When it's too hard for you to walk I will carry you.  I only intend this for good.  Just stick with it and there will be fruit."

When God says no to one prayer, don’t quit asking Him for help and guidance.  His no is intended for good…for the saving of many lives.  I will hold my baby girl in my arms again.  But if she hadn’t died I wouldn’t have asked God to tell me what to do.  I wouldn’t have been listening when He walked me down the path He created for me.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

I Saw The Shadow on Groundhog Day

I’ve been walking again.  It’s not daily and I’m only walking half a mile.  Takes me less than fifteen minutes in the morning.  Later in the day when my daycare kids are all happy and fed, I might pop them in the wagon and do the walk again.

This morning after reading my devotions I started to get ready to walk and I felt a bit nauseated.  Yesterday when I started to get ready to clean my house I felt so lightheaded that not even sitting made it subside; I had to curl up and close my eyes to make it go away.  I lost more than two hours of my day fighting the lightheadedness.  Thursday night, I had a nasty stomach bug that kept me on the couch all day Friday with fever and achiness.

So this morning as I got ready to walk I started to feel frustrated.  Then I used what I’d been reading about (The Belt of Truth) and I looked at the truth. 

The truth was that there wasn’t anything in my stomach to make me nauseous except a little bit of water.  The feeling likely came from me starting to get hungry and it wasn’t anything I needed to skip a walk for.

It was then that I saw the shadow.  I know the groundhog didn’t this morning but I sure did.  Fortunately, the shadow I saw can’t hold a candle to the God I serve.  The shadow I saw was satan, trying to take me from the path that God has set before me, one where I invest in relationship, invest in my health, and invest in God.  Satan doesn’t like this new kick I’m on where relationship, my health, and my God are my priorities.  Because I’m doing what God wants.

I saw the shadow.  When I measured it against the truth, against the light, I realized that this shadow is tiny, scrawny, and kind of rodent-like, similar to that annoying groundhog.  And I decided to walk.  I pulled on my coat and headed out the door to see what God had for me in the big, bright world.  Once I stepped outside the cold air relieved that nauseous feeling almost keeping me home and I found messages from God as my senses came alive.

I saw my new neighbors, just moved in over the last week, said good morning, and made a mental note to bring them some baking.

I smelled someone’s wood fire and remembered to work on planning that camping trip in early September.

I heard vehicles being started, doors opening and closing, children walking to school, people saying farewell for the day.

As I walked, I was able to observe the daily ritual of the world waking up.  I turned the third corner on my walk and saw light…the sun wasn’t up just yet but between the top of the mountains in the east and the clouds above I could see the light from the sun, waking up and starting a new day.

I walked past the house of the lady who sits on her front porch, smokes, and greets my daughter and I joyfully anytime we walk past and missed seeing her this morning.

I walked past the house of the man who has caused so many problems for our family in the six years we’ve lived here and wondered just how I can reach out to him.

Finally, I turned into my long driveway and I noticed that the path that was much darker on the way out was much brighter on the way back in.

I saw the shadow.  I exposed him to the Light and he fled.  Instead I opened myself up to what God had for me and I found a world waiting just outside my front door.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Happy Birthday Faith: One Year Later

Happy birthday, Faith!  It's been one year since I labored, delivered, and held you in my arms.  It was different from when your sister was born.  She came into the world with cries, her bright blue eyes looking at each of us.

When you were born, your eyes never opened.  They never looked at Mommy who loves you so much.  They never had a chance to look adoringly at a big sister who waited for years on your arrival.  Your teeny, tiny fingers never grasped mine with surprising force.  When you were born you were already with Jesus in Heaven.

I think about you daily, baby girl, and I'll never forget you.  Your sister scolded your daddy yesterday for saying something that reminded me of you.  I told her that it was okay because a mother never forgets.  She is always with me.  You are always with me.  Reese and Wynn are always with me.

Do you play with Reese and Wynn?  Did you welcome them to Heaven with open arms?  Do you sit at the feet of Jesus and listen to him read you stories?  Jesus loves children so I imagine He might.  Are you a child in Heaven?  Did you enter the pearly gates as a tiny baby and slowly grow?  Or did you enter Heaven more adult-like?  I have so many questions.  But in my imagination, I see you as a small child.

I think about what this Christmas season would be like if you'd lived, sweet Faith.  There would be more presents under the tree because you would be with us.  It would be much busier as I tried to get my baking, shopping, wrapping, and cleaning done with an infant but it would be filled with so much love.

You'd be almost seven months old.  When you'd catch sight of Sarah, you'd giggle and smile just like your cousin does when he sees her.  You'd be rolling over and sitting up, starting baby food and spitting it everywhere when you didn't like it.  You'd be interested in moving but still small enough to snuggle easily.

If you were here, though, Reese wouldn't have had a chance to exist.  Wynn would've never shown up on an ultrasound.  And I probably would've turned down quite a few things as a new mommy that God is currently calling me to do.  When God is done with what He wants me to accomplish here, He'll bring me home to you, Reese, and Wynn.  Daddy and Sarah will join us at some point, too.  It seems so long to me here on earth but to you it probably doesn't seem that long.  Faith, you know so much more than me just by being with Him!

Mommy still cries sometimes.  But most of the time my tears have been replaced with joyful anticipation of holding you in my arms again and the realization that I have a mission here on earth given to me by God.  

So Happy Birthday, my second daughter, my Faith Leanne, my sweet baby girl.  Mommy loves you and I'll be home when God is ready.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Be Aware

October is a month of awareness.  According to Wikipedia, there are twenty-eight things to be aware of this month, more than any other month of the year.  May is in second place, with 19, and September has 16 things to think about.  December has none. 

The list for October is long and some of them I’ve never heard of.  You’d have to live under a rock to miss Breast Cancer awareness.  As a former teacher, I always planned a fire safety unit during fire prevention month.   I’m aware of pit bulls and just how cute and poorly treated they are.  While I am neither Hispanic nor Italian, I love their food and appreciate them.  I support bullying prevention and I’m aware of domestic violence.  I love my Pastors and plan on appreciating them this month as well.  I even knew it was Dwarfism awareness month (thanks, Katie!).

Some of these are fun and some of them strike a certain passion in people.  Awareness is an important thing.  I will wear pink if I’m going to a sporting event in October.  I am committed to ending bullying and domestic violence.  I’m not one to discriminate against someone because of their Italian or Hispanic heritage (I’m more likely to invite myself over for dinner!).  I know just how capable people living with Dwarfism can be (and not from reality TV shows). 

Footprints on Our Hearts:

I know about these things because others have shared so that I might be aware.  I’m thankful for that because while we can’t contribute to every worthy cause out there, we can be aware that it exists.  Awareness months exist to promote one major thing:  awareness.  Yes, raising money for that awareness is good and helping people is important, too.  But if people aren’t even aware, how can those other things happen?

Everyone has their one thing they are passionate about, the one thing they want to raise awareness about.  (If you don’t, maybe this month is a good month, when there are so many options for awareness and involvement!)  All the above being said, I want to share the thing I am passionate about this month.  October, among many other things, is National Infant Loss and Miscarriage Awareness Month.

This is my passion.  Too many women are forced to suffer the pain and heartbreak of miscarriage or infant loss alone because there is a general rule that you don’t talk about it.  My conversations with family members about my losses are often redirected to other topics because others just don’t want to hear it.  Unfortunately to the grieving mother, ignoring the loss or minimizing it makes the hurt worse.  Others are allowed and often expected to share their children.  I have four children but by the standards of our society today, I have but one.

Attitudes like this seem to minimize the lives of Faith, Reese, and Wynn, my sweet babies in Heaven.  But they did live.  I saw them on the ultrasound screen.  I saw two of their heartbeats.  I felt Wynn and Faith leave my body.  I held Faith after she died and kissed her tiny but perfectly formed fingers with the miniscule nails.  Just today I pinned a book on Pinterest called “I Didn’t Miscarry Her…She Died”.  I’m anxious to read it because that’s how I feel.  When we use the words miscarriage or stillbirth, we minimize what truly happened.  My babies died, three babies, all in Heaven with Jesus.

our children change us, whether they live or not.:

Be aware.  Don’t minimize the loss.  Don’t pretend it didn’t happen.  Don’t expect the mother who lost a baby to forget about it or be quiet about it.  Honor the baby who did live and then died, no matter how few weeks along.  My baby that died at six weeks is just as much my child as my seven year old daughter dancing through my living room.

It might make you a little uncomfortable.  Can you give up a bit of your comfort to comfort a grieving mother?  Because while we might heal, grieving mothers never quit mourning the loss of their child.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Worshipping Him When I'm Angry With Him

It’s 10:45 on Sunday morning.  Most weeks at this time you can find me in one of two places:  the children’s wing or the sanctuary of my church.  Today is no exception as I stand next to my husband while the familiar music starts.  Usually worship is my favorite thing ever.  I could sing along to praise and worship music for hours.  But today I’m not feeling it.  

Because today I’m mad at God.

I’m mad at God and I’ve spent two weeks avoiding speaking to Him.  Because two weeks ago He let my third baby die.

But I’m still standing here.  I’m still singing the words on the screen to my Savior.  As I sing along, the dialogue of a thirteen year old mouths off at God in my head.  (Yes, I know He can hear my thoughts.  I just didn’t want to horrify the nice older couple to my left by speaking them out loud.)

We’re singing Hillsong’s “Here I Am To Worship” as I mouth off to God reminiscent of a hormonal teenager…

Here I am to worship…Here I am to bow down…

I don’t really want to bow down to you right now, not after what you let happen to me.

Altogether lovely, altogether worthy, altogether wonderful to me…

You don’t feel so wonderful, God.  This does not feel wonderful at all.  I don’t feel thankful.  I don’t feel freedom in You.

This continues for all of the worship portion of the service.  I stand and sing praises to God while mouthing off to Him in my head.

Despite my anger, I’m still singing praises.  Despite my anger, I still showed up on Sunday morning.  I still encouraged women to come to the new Bible study I’m leading this fall.  I still planned with my friend and co-leader to make the Bible study successful and meaningful for the women who attend.  Some days I get my Bible out and read it.

But I can’t bring myself to directly talk to Him, unless I’m mouthing off.  I’m not ready yet.  So I just stand and sing praises.

Because I know…I know He’s still there.  The Jesus I asked into my heart thirteen years ago has NEVER left me or forsaken me.  God is still good and has good plans for me.  The Bible is still the truth.  I live in a fallen world where bad things happen.  Babies die before they take a breath, not just mine but the babies of many mothers.  Horrific crashes kill innocent people.  Cancers eat away at the bodies of the best kind of people.  Yes, God can do miracles.  But none of us were meant to live forever, at least not here on Earth. 

Someday my husband, my daughter, myself, we will all die and be reunited with three innocent babies in Heaven.  In the meantime, God has plans for me and He will use this loss, this pain, this struggle for good.  I don’t know how.  But I know He will.

How?  How can I know?  I know because He’s done it before.  I know because I spent twenty years under a dark cloud of anxiety and depression only to be completely healed and at peace in my heart.  I know because out of a sinful union came the most beautiful, precocious daughter and an amazing marriage.  I know because each time the enemy tries to knock me down, God sends an army of love my way, believers and non-believers both, to remind me that the people I’ve surrounded myself with want to support and help my family through each difficulty.

So someday I’ll live in a place where death has NO hold.  Someday my husband and daughter will, too.  We’ve prayed to Jesus.  We’ve told Him thank you for His gift of life and asked for forgiveness.  We’ve been reborn.  We’re just not living in the world we were reborn for.  My babies are waiting for me and when God’s plans for me are finished, I’ll join them in Heaven.

God does have great plans for me.  He’s carrying me through the tough times.  I know this.  And sometime soon I know He and I will talk it out and His arms of comfort, mercy, and grace will wrap around me.  But right now I’m still feeling angry.  So I’m going to stand there and sing praises.  But inside, I’m thirteen and I’ve slammed my bedroom door.

It’s okay, though.  My Father in Heaven is big enough to handle me.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Holding Her Tightly and Loosely

Messy ponytail...glasses slipping down her nose...giggling smile on her heart skips a beat at the sight of this girl child...

I read an article today about a woman who was a 'weekend mom', whose ex-husband had custody of their daughter.  The woman wrote about how this was the best decision for her daughter and then began to list all the ways it was better for her own life.  It was phrased very eloquently, but what it essentially boiled down to was this:  there was no "inconvenience" keeping her from going out drinking all hours of the night, traveling wherever she wants, and staying up late talking with various friends.  I found it sad that the life of her daughter was boiled down to an inconvenience.  And I thought that perhaps her daughter's life is better, despite this woman's primary concern being only herself.  I also wondered if this little girl would feel the suffering effects of a mother who wants only the fun parts of motherhood and is unwilling to suffer through the hard.

She snuggles up against me, emotions spent after having an argument with the cat.  She's just returned from ten minutes pouting in her room and I hold her close, feeling my precious firstborn still yearning for the comfort of her mother's arms.  This girl and I, we've been through the good:  birthday parties, Christmas, trips to the beach, reading the Ramona books together as we laugh over her escapades.  This girl and I have been through the hard stuff, too, stuff I can't shield her from.

My firstborn girl child, oldest of four, still living as an only child after seven and a half years.  She'll be almost eight before my fourth child makes an appearance in this world.  Two babies lost, not just to me or my husband.  Two babies lost to the little girl who has been excited about having a sibling since she was three and her little friend Sophie was getting a baby.  

This eldest daughter of mine has seen three siblings on the ultrasound screen.  Her sister Faith did flips and waved at her twelve weeks into pregnancy.  Five weeks later, the older sister holds her baby sister's lifeless body in her arms.  It is Christmas Eve.  Three months later, on her seventh birthday, she will see the body of her second sibling on the ultrasound screen, lifeless once again.

This child rapidly growing up too quickly for me clings to me as I comfort her.  Despite the traumas she's experienced, she finds herself hopeful for this new baby.  She clings to her faith in God, childlike and leaps and bounds ahead of my own faith simultaneously.  I hold her tight in the arms she knows to be a safe place.  I hold her tightly against the struggles of this life, even something as simple as an argument with a cat over a box.

At the same time as I hold her tightly, I must also hold her loosely.  She is not really mine.  She is a gift, loaned to me for a time.  If there's anything I've learned from losing two of her siblings, it's that my children are not always going to be with me.  Whether she moves away for college, gets married, moves off to a foreign country to minister to the world, or when that time comes that one of us goes to Heaven while the other is left to wait here on earth...there will be separation.  Because she's not mine.  She's His.  

She belongs to the Lord she gave her heart to almost exactly two years ago.  She belongs to the Lord she gave testimony to as she stepped into the baptismal waters, dying to sin and rising up to new life.  She belongs to the Lord she knows so much about...much more than me when we have theological discussions.  She belongs to the Lord whom she accepts with the most childlike innocence, despite the trauma life has brought.

She's not an inconvenience.  She's a complex, beautiful, intelligent child and as I type this I watch her head poking out of the box of a microwave we bought two months ago.  I can't help but pray the years don't pass too quickly.  But I know better.  The first seven and a half have already gone too quickly.  So I hold her tightly when she's snuggled up in my arms.  But I have to hold her loosely, too.  Because she's not mine.

She is the adopted princess of the King.