Friday, June 06, 2014

Eight Years In The Making

How do you create a headstone for your daughter? And not just that, but how do you allow it to be primarily for your daughter, but also appropriate for yourself and your husband in the (hopefully) distant future. It is a strange thing to have a cemetery plot and headstone already set up for yourself at 35 years old! I've been trying to figure all of this out for about 8 years.

It's hard to believe we accomplished all that we did in that one week between her death and her funeral, but choosing a cemetery for Eveyn to be buried in was one of the first things we had to do. We traveled all over three counties in the area in search of a peaceful, beautiful spot that could match her own peace and beauty. We found that place in one of the last cemeteries we came to. A peaceful little hill in the back of a beautiful, old cemetery, under a young oak tree. Immediately, I knew that was her spot. What a strange thing, to be excited over a spot in the ground to place your child. But God gave me that place, and he gave me joy and peace in it.

I remember walking through the cemetery with the representative/salesman as he showed us around, told us about their rules and regulations regarding headstones. In the specific section Eveyn is buried, we are required to have an upright headstone, not one that lies flat in the ground. He told us we could take as long as needed to have one installed, and that some people never actually get one done because of crazy family feuds, or indecision, or just lack of money to have one made. I remember thinking, "How sad. How could I let Eveyn be here without any marker or indication that she is here, that she existed?" I wanted to have this headstone designed and installed by her first birthday at the latest. Little did I know the amount of grief, depression, and life that lay ahead of me that would prevent me from doing so for 8 years.

In my first attempts of planning Eveyn's headstone, every time I thought about it, I would quickly push it away because having it completed was the final step. It was a type of closure that I didn't want. As long as there were open-ends, it allowed me to hang on to her and be closer to her. This was the last undone item. After her headstone was installed, I would have nothing left to do, nothing left to work on. Having her things to take care of meant taking care of her. An innate desire and need to take care of my little girl. I know logically she doesn't need me to take care of her. It's the same reason it feels impossible to leave the cemetery every time I go out there. It's just not natural to leave your child all alone as you drive away. I ache, heartbroken every time. A mother's need to care for her child never leaves, whether they are 4 years, 40 years, alive or dead. It's always there.

Now the last task has been finished, and now I have to just sit in the knowledge that she really has never needed me to do anything for her beyond those only 9 months of her life; but I have needed her. I still need her, but I will have to find a new way to allow her to remain with me while not hanging on too tight. A new phase in this lifelong journey.

So here it is.

Unfortunately, I had a serious shadow on the front that makes it harder to see, but it's the best I could get.

Each aspect of this headstone has a purposeful design and reason to it. First, the color of the marble is a peach/sunset color because I wanted to reflect the delicacy and beauty of Eveyn when she was born. We asked everyone to wear pink to her funeral, because I never wanted any dark, somber colors to have anything to do with her life. And I wanted the same thing represented in her headstone - no gray, black or other heavy colors.

I wanted the foundation of the artwork to be the peacock in the tree. The peacock has long been used in art, and specifically in Christian art as a symbol of Christ. It was originally thought that the peacock was an immortal being, whose flesh did not decay, hence the reference to Christ and eternal life. When Eveyn died, we had a priceless gift given to us. We had some friends commission a painting for us which was created by an artist who is a mutual friend. In this multi-dimension painting, he depicted Eveyn as a white dove (her spirit) flying with a white peacock (Christ). This painting continues to hold a prominent place in our home and in my heart. Our neighborhood is also full of real peacocks, strangely enough. I love going on walks just to find them and marvel at their beauty and reflect on this eternal, mortal and immortal life we have in Christ. God gives some people rainbows, others butterflies, and others sunsets as reminders of his promises and love. He gave me peacocks, and I love them.

The flowers at the base of the tree are daisies, forget-me-nots, daffodils and chrysanthemums. Daisies are the birth flower of April and they also symbolize innocence and child-like joy. Forget-me-nots symbolize just that. They are a simple flower of remembrance. Daffodils represent rebirth, and the chrysanthemums are a symbol of optimism and joy. All of these things are the things that my heart simultaneously experiences and knows when I think of Eveyn, see her picture or hear her name. She was a beautiful little flower of peace, innocence and joy.

There is a plain little butterfly above her name that is simply a picture of her new life, as a new creation. Below her name it states "Born into the arms of Christ." I wanted to have something written, other than just her birthdate, since normally on a headstone there is a date of birth, and a date of death. In her life, it was the same date, so I wanted to say something that reflected this. I had seen something similar stated somewhere else and thought it was just right and spoke the truth of her birth. When I delivered her, she was alive for mere moments before her spirit was welcomed by God. She truly was born into his arms before she ever graced mine.

On the back above the verse we chose to use a trefoil instead of a cross because I wanted to emphasize the work of the trinity as a whole in our lives and the life of Eveyn.

And finally, there are two verses on the headstone. They are both verses that speak of the most important aspect to all of this: We WAIT in HOPE. Waiting and hoping. God is our only hope in all of this. We know he will make all things new and right. One day, it will all make sense to this feeble heart and mind. But until that day comes, we wait. Joyfully, and expectantly, we wait knowing that God's compassion and mercy lead us and follow us every step of the way.

Friday, February 21, 2014

A Different Life

I thought by now I'd have about 6 kids running around, a couple of them adopted. I thought I'd have a creative, home-based business that would bring in some extra income. I thought my husband would have stable employment. I thought I'd be 20 lbs lighter and still be playing basketball in some amazing mom league.

Instead, I have three kids running around, 1 kid in heaven, and no adoptions. Instead, I have found myself being a homeschooler with no time or brain space for a business. Instead, my husband has been under-employed or unemployed for a year and a half. Instead, I'm in a constant battle with my body and time to lose those 20 lbs., and there seems to be no such thing as any women my age who give a flip about basketball.

Or, I have three incredible gifts from God with me, 1 gift waiting for me in heaven, and the plan for future adoptions. I have been blessed with the opportunity to teach my kids each day while using my creativity and brain power to learn and grow alongside them. I get an incredible amount of time with my dear husband every day while he is working hard to find income. And I am thankful for the healthy body God has given me after carrying my 4 babies, and I embrace the beauty marks they have given me. ... I still haven't found that basketball league...

Life can be disappointment, or life can be different. There are things I don't like. Some of those things will change with time, or work, or just grace. Some of them won't ever change.

My life continues to be different than I thought it would be. But when I let life be different, that is when I find joy, peace and grace.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

It's Not Just a Number

I recently realized that I had been struggling with an aspect of where Eveyn fits into my daily life. One of the most difficult areas to navigate in losing a child is the question of how many children I have. It seems simple. Why would that be a complicated issue? It's complicated for several reasons. It's complicated because I am a people-pleaser that doesn't want to make others uncomfortable, because the rest of the world gets weirded out when you talk about your dead child, because my heart is constantly telling me one kid is missing but the rest of the world sees me with "my hands full", because I don't want to have a dead child, but I don't want to deny her either.

How many kids do you have? What were your pregnancies like? Do I talk about all four pregnancies and babies, or just the three that are the most comfortable? I feel like I am in a constant battle with myself of living life on the outside like my heart feels on the inside and keeping my second child, my first daughter a secret in an attempt to make sure others feel comfortable. I started to feel that Eveyn was being left out of my life. I felt like I was putting her on a shelf in a closet because it was just too complicated. The worst part is that I wasn't even doing it for my own needs through some stage of grief, but I was hiding her life for the sake of other people and my assumptions about their ability to handle it. I realized that my new feelings of sadness and anger when I thought of Eveyn were based on the fact that I felt like she was being pushed out of my life, and I was to blame.

After realizing I had allowed myself to become very isolated in this struggle, I posted a question on one of the groups I am a part of on Facebook. I asked other mothers if this has been a struggle for them. I asked them how they respond and how they include or exclude their missing child in conversation with others. Through my question and the many, many responses I received, I rediscovered the power of community. I have had 80 responses to my question. As I write this, I am still receiving more comments, encouragement, inspiration, and wisdom from fellow moms who are living each day without their children. I am so thankful for this community. As easy as it is to isolate myself and believe the lie that I am on my own, I know the truth - we are many. We do not know each other, but we are connected and know each other's pain.

God is gracious in his provision, and it comes in all forms. One of the gifts he gives is community. I've told other moms who have lost children, that it is never a community we would choose to be a part of, but it is one that we are thankful to have by our side in the dark times. Through that gift of community, we receive further gifts of encouragement, wisdom, comfort, friendship, love, and guidance. He is gracious even in our times of pain.

So today I have received these gifts of encouragement, wisdom and care from other moms who share this journey. If someone else is uneasy or weirded out by the fact that I talk about my sweet baby, it is of no concern of mine. I cannot deny this child that I knew for 10 months. I cannot deny the baby I held in my arms for 6 short hours. I will not pretend that I didn't bury her little body or that I regularly visit her gravesite. She existed and I live each day with her.

I have four children. Eveyn is my second child. I have had two natural labors and two c-sections. She would be 7 years old if she were here with me. Eveyn is a part of our every day life in our home, and I will not exclude her from that when I step out of my front door. She is my daughter, she always will be, and I am just as proud of her as I am of the three I have here with me. If I believe her short life was one of meaning and purpose, I cannot hide her from others. I will share her and expect God to do great things through her.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

To My Sweet Eveyn,

Today is your 7th Birthday. As I write this, I am sitting in the place where I feel closest to you - with your brother and sisters. Elijah, who at the tender age of 20 months old, cared for and comforted his mom more than he may ever know when you didn't get to come home with us. Ella, the gracious gift of hope that God gave us a mere three months after he took you home. And Emerson, who is still eagerly learning and asking about her big sister Eveyn that "gets to be with God." They are all so uniquely their own, and they each have a special connection to you in their hearts and minds.

Elijah, just like in all of life, is very matter-of-fact with you. He can't remember a time when you were not a very real part of his life. He had to spend so many hours of his little life caring for me, and checking on me, I was concerned that it would ruin him. I feared that my grief would stain him. I now know this isn't true. I am convinced that Elijah is the caring, kind soul that he is because of his relationship with you, and his love for you.

Ella is the most carefree, dreamy spirit. When she talks about you, it is with joy, affection and care. She thinks it is the most wonderful thing in the world that you are with God, Jesus and the pure peace of heaven. She always says that you are the third person she is going to go find and hug when she gets to heaven. First God, then Jesus, and then her big sister. Ella has always been connected to you and genuinely happy when she thinks of you.

Little Emerson wants to know more about you. She is the most distant from you, but she is so intrigued by your life. She talks about you often and asks questions about when you were in my tummy. She has told me a few different times that she wished you could come back for your birthday or to be in my tummy again so she can see you. She so desires to know her big sister more.

I echo her sentiments. Oh how I wish I could see you now. Not as I saw you last, but where you are now. I make no claims to know what heaven is like. I wonder all the time what your heavenly body is like. How beautiful you must be.
I don't know if we will be reunited, as Ella talks about. And Elijah, Ella and I agree - how can we possibly have no tears in heaven if we don't get to see you again? There are many great theological minds that will tell me what it is like, but I don't know that I need to have all of those mysteries figured out. I have searched and questioned God long, deep and hard over the last seven years, and I know one thing for sure. You are in the full presence of God with joy and praise. For a mother there is no stronger desire than to comfort my children. You are in the ultimate hands of comfort, and that gives this mother's heart peace.

But my dear Eveyn, even with peace in my heart, I miss you terribly. The words, "I miss you," don't quite do it justice, but they are the best ones I can find. You are loved, you are missed, and I am thankful to call you my daughter. Happy Birthday. I love you sweet girl.

Wednesday, April 03, 2013

Five Senses of Hope

On a perfectly beautiful spring day last week, my wind chimes started singing. They make music every single day, but on this day it signaled something different. The time of year I love the most, the days of spring that I cherish. It's fascinating how God does that. How he turns our ashes into something beautiful.

I have always loved Spring in Texas, and especially April, the month that really signals change. April, the month that pushes the short Texas winters away for another eight months, that ushers in thunderstorms, and calls the bluebonnets up out of their rest, is what I always look forward to each year. Seven years ago I was enjoying the fruits of another lovely April while also anticipating the birth of another kind - the birth of our first daughter. But my coveted springtime became a very dark winter when our daughter Eveyn passed away later that month.

After that, I thought springtime would be the time of year that I always dreaded, but the opposite has come true. It is the time of year that I feel closest to her. The warmth of the air, the shine of the sun, and the sound of my wind chimes gently swaying all take me directly back to that April seven years ago.

When we first came home from the hospital without Eveyn, the weather was beautifully springtime all week. I spent many hours laying on my couch in a quiet living room, in between discussions about funeral plans, staring at the beautiful simplicity of the sunshine out my window and listening to the soothing music of my wind chime. It was such an amazing contrast I was experiencing in my heart. While there was so much darkness within me, there was the constant bright, hopefulness of spring all around me. This was a saving grace to me. It gave me hope, it gave me a promise of tomorrow. (At least in those first shocking days, anyway. Grief is a very long, complicated process that many times feels very hopeless). But he gives us reminders that even during all of the bad, difficult things, there is still so much good. Beautiful glimpses of eternity, right here in this often times mucky world. Hope.

God gave me so many gifts of the senses in that first week that I carry with me to this day. From the moment I held Eveyn for the first time and smelled her freshly-birthed skin, God was building those memories into my heart. As strange as it sounds to others, God understands and smiles with me when I smell freshly laid mulch in the spring. He knew what was happening when the little girl across the street was born exactly one month after Eveyn, and I would get to watch her play and grow each year. He knew what memory was being laid when I first felt the warm breeze and bright sun as I stepped out of the hospital. And he knew how that first time I heard my wind chime in my quiet home would be a blessing to me the rest of my life. He knows my senses and how I'm blessed by them. He created them in joy.

We all connect so much of life, memories, and love to the senses that God has given us. What a gracious, kind and generous gift to give us. We not only get to remember with our minds, but we have the joy of tasting, smelling, feeling, seeing and hearing our memories as well.

It's what allows me to feel close to her still. Without these sensing memories I have of Eveyn, she would feel so much more distant with each year. But God has allowed me not only to simply remember her, but to keep her very close to me. What a blessing. And a hope.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Dirty Feet

Washing the feet of my children was surprisingly moving and profound. I did not expect the emotional reaction that I had.

Maundy Thursday is a long celebrated holy day in the church. It commemorates the last sharing of a meal together between Jesus and his disciples. It is the night before he is put to death, the night that he is betrayed by two of those same disciples that shared the meal with him. It is the night that Jesus takes the posture of a servant and with unfathomable love, stoops down to each of these men and washes their feet - even the ones who would betray him. He washes them in order to show them how much he truly loves them, and also to show them how to truly love others.

This story of washing feet doesn't really resonate quite the same until you have washed and been washed yourself. I never really understood the true depth of the message of love and service until I allowed myself to live out the story this Thursday.

I've been to church services before where there have been foot washings. But it has always been something that I have watched others do in front of the church. Never have I been an active participant in the story. It is profound.

My little family of five went to one chair in the back of the church set up with a couple of bowls, a pitcher of water and some towels. Many other people were there, doing the same thing with family members, friends, or perfect strangers at different chairs throughout the room. But when I was there at our chair with my family, it became an intimate moment between us. My little Emerson was the first to enthusiastically hop up on the chair, excited to see what it was like to have cold water poured onto her little feet. As I knelt down in front of her, and saw her wiggling toes through the running water, I was struck with my deep, unashamed love for this little soul. How much I truly love her - each of my children. In a way that could never be expressed in my words, but was so profoundly expressed as I carefully wiped and dried her cold little feet.

I looked up and saw her sweet, smiling face. But I could also see a twinge of embarrassment and even confusion. She was happy, she was satisfied with what I just did, but she also didn't fully understand it. There is a depth to my heart that she can't fully see or understand. And she won't really know how deep my love is until she is a mother herself. And I realized, maybe for the first time, that this is how Jesus loves me. He loves me, all of us, with such a profound depth, that I really don't understand. As Jesus knelt next to his disciples to wash their dirty feet, they were uncomfortable, embarrassed, confused. They didn't understand the depth of his love for them. They didn't fully get it. And neither do we. We know Jesus loves us, cares for us, petitions the Father for us, even died for us. But we still don't really know the absolute depth and fierceness of his love for us. And maybe we never will, until we see the completion of the story in eternity, and see him face to face.

We continued with washing feet as a family. I washed Ella's and Gavin's. Gavin washed mine and Elijah's. I spend each and every day serving the blessings that God has given me. It's what I do. I am a mom and a wife. It is my responsibility to take care of these people that I have been given. Some days it feels more like a chore than a joy. But when I washed their feet, just the simple act of getting on the floor, below them and in a physical posture of servanthood, the chore became a joy. It is this way when we serve in the way that Jesus exampled. Whether we are serving our own children, close friends, complete strangers, and even those that are put in our life that we would never pick on our own, we are called to humbly serve with abandon by taking the posture of Jesus. Jesus takes JOY in loving and serving us, and he allows us that same deep joy when being a servant to others.

“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you."

Friday, November 09, 2012

New Life

I have had a dead tree in my back yard for several months, with no intention of pulling it up and trashing it. This tree happens to be the Japanese Maple that was given to us as just a little sapling when Eveyn died six years ago. When I realized it was not blooming this past spring, I was heartbroken. Gavin got on the phone with several tree experts to get opinions, and they all agreed there was no saving my poor little tree. As a last ditch effort, we had a guy actually come out and look at it to make sure. The guy understandably had no idea the significance of my tree, or the level of emotion that he was unfairly walking in to. Once he said the words, "that thing is firewood. I'll rip it up and get rid of it for you," and I started to cry and felt like I could punch him, I knew that it would absolutely not be pulled up until I had a plan for it. So, I've had a dead, abandoned and sad-looking tree just sitting and waiting for me to do something with it. Waiting for it's new life. Along comes Ann Voskamp and my little Eveyn tree has a new life. I knew that something would come to me to let me keep this sweet tree and reminder of our thankfulness for Eveyn's life.

The kids and I set out this morning with a saw to finally cut down the branches. It is still rather big to have in the house, and I need a much better vase or container to put them in, but it works for now. We cut out the paper leaves, read the verses on each one, and talked about our thankfulness for so many things. We are abundantly blessed.

Even though it's still just a grouping of bare branches, I can't tell you how much life it now has with these lovely leaves of thankfulness on them. I am truly thankful for this new life for my little tree.

I will also use my tree for a Jesse Tree for Christmas, and an Easter tree in the spring.