Thursday, September 03, 2015

Grace For My Boy

Today is a significant day for my boy and me. A day that he is altogether unaware of, but one that I pray will stay with us for the rest of this school year, and the rest of our life together.

This morning as I started the day with my vital two cups of coffee, I stumbled across these words:

"Gracious words are like a honeycomb,
sweetness to the soul and health
to the body."

My first thought? "Ah, yes, this is a gem to pass on to the kids!" After all, they have been at each other all week, cranky, rude, ungracious, mean, ugly, etc., etc. So I passed it on to them, I'm sure in one ear and out the other, and we moved on with the day, hopeful that any of the richness of that Proverb stuck even a little.

Fast forward to yet another aggravated exchange between my 11 year old boy and myself this afternoon. We went to a bookstore to find him a grammar/spelling book for school because in the chaos of packing and moving, his books are stashed away somewhere in a box, in storage. I'm simply trying to find a few things to get by over the next month or so that we are in home transition.

I found a book I really liked. I was thinking about how great it looked, how much I thought it would work well for Elijah's level, learning style, etc. I made the mistake of actually speaking out loud in front of him, sharing my opinion. I simply stated that I thought it looked like a great book. What did I get in return? He's 11 and is pretty sure he knows everything, so of course what I received out of his brain, heart and mouth was an overwhelming mix of defiance, sarcasm, and disgust. With a sneer that I didn't even have to see to know it was there, my sweet boy uttered the words, "Geez, if it's so great, why don't you get one for yourself?" I realize the words themselves are not that bad. It's not like he cursed at me or called me a name, but can you just hear the attitude? The lack of kindness? It broke my heart and made me mad as hell at the same time.

So how did I respond? With the same kindness and grace I was expecting from him? Of course not. I immediately fired back at him (because that's how our personalities seem to work with each other) and I'm ashamed to admit it, but I actually threatened to take him out of my house and put him in school, so that some teacher could deal with him. Deal with him?? I truly hate that I said that. And what words came stumbling over my hot head and hard heart in that same moment?

"Gracious words are like a honeycomb,
sweetness to the soul and health
to the body."

That Proverb was for me. Go figure. And in that same moment I realized I cannot and will not give up on my sweet child. I will not send him off to let someone else "deal" with him. He is mine, warts and all. And a lot of those warts he inherited from me. How can I possibly threaten to reject him? God, forgive me. Sweet boy, forgive me.

The fact is, if I am really honest, this life with all grade school age children and no more babies is hard for me. I miss the babies. My best gifting is teaching and loving babies and young kids, and now my son is an adolescent, and it is HARD. He challenges me every day. Every morning, when he walks in to the kitchen and greets me with, "Hey, Mom", the day begins and we are on our way. On our way to a day either seasoned with arguments, eye rolls, resentment, and frustration; or a day full of kindness, patience, soft hearts and gracious words.

Gracious words. They are hard to come by in some moments and in some entire days. It takes work. It takes a constant awareness and openness to our own weaknesses. Being able to admit when we are weak. Being able to admit when we are wrong - even to the smirking face of the know-it-all adolescent standing in front of you, who is also still learning how to show humility. And there's the key: Humility.

I need Humility to teach my children. I need Humility to know that I don't know everything. I don't have all of the answers, I don't know what it takes to turn out successful young adults, I don't know the secret of how to just be nice to these little people each day. I'm tired, I'm stressed, I'm overwhelmed, and I don't have a clue. In the moment that I can admit those things, that's when I am able to accept help from others, advice from others, and the all-knowing Grace from God in order to fill all of my gaping holes. God fills in those holes and wide expanses of a lack of knowledge with community, friendship, love, and a whole lot of grace, and then some.

In humility is where we find our gracious words, and it's in humility that I won't give up on my adolescent, challenging, sarcastic, sweet, funny, loving, caring, creative, boy.

Today is a significant day for my boy and me.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

To See Your Face

It seems like the only thing I ever write about on here anymore is Eveyn. I would like to write about my other children more often. I do love them dearly and want to be better at chronicling their lives and the things they teach me every day. But unfortunately, today is not that day. Today I am writing about Eveyn again. I think it's just those really tough things about life that are easier for me to write about, rather than the every day things. I may regret that someday. But I also feel drawn to write about her and say her name often because infant death and miscarriages still seem to be a taboo subject to talk about in every day life. But this is the every day life of so, so many families so there is no reason it should be shied away from or kept private. So, here I write. About Eveyn, about grief, about life...

I have prayed and prayed for the last (almost) nine years to have a dream with Eveyn. I have always figured that this is my best possible place to be close to her on this side of eternity. This dream of dreams has never come. God has never given this to me. I did not realize how bad I wanted it until several months ago when Gavin woke up and told me he had just awoken from vivid dream of Eveyn. I immediately started to cry and felt jealous, indignant, and angry. I should be happy for him. After all, Eveyn is his daughter as well. He still grieves for her. He still loves her just as much as I do. I was glad for him, but I wasn't. I wanted that dream, that time with her. And I still do.

But I have found through these last nine years that God acts in his own time. He allows things to take place along this journey in the time that he knows is best for me. I may want things to happen yesterday, but he knows I can't handle it until a lot longer timeframe than I think is normal, appropriate, helpful, kind, or sane. But, he proves his wisdom, kindness and grace to me over and over, and over again.

At times, when I think about Eveyn, I do get a particular "vision" of her. Whether it's from God, my own head, pieces of things I've seen before, I don't know and I don't really care. It is a symbol of her spirit and soul and the fully healed body that I will one day see. She is not a baby anymore. She is lovely, tall, full of light, life and love. Walking in the most perfect of perfect days, with the greenest of grasses, the brightest of bright colors and light around her. I can hear her laugh. It is a vision. But I only see her from behind, barely catch glimpses of the side of her face before the wind moves her long hair to cover her. I can never see her face.

I may never have this dream of my girl that I so long for, and that's ok. Whether it's in a dream, or in the reality of eternity, I know my day will come.

Oh to see your face
To catch just a glimpse
To see your eyes, their color and sparkle
To know every spot and freckle like they are my own

Your hair is long and brown
Your laughter is warm and light
Your movements are joyful and pure
But oh to see your face

To press my forehead against yours
To smell your breath as we laugh face to face
To see the shape of your teeth and the form of your smile
Oh to see your face

Your legs float with ease and strength
Your arms full of freedom and grace
You bounce and twirl on the tips of your toes
Your feet carry you joyfully on your way again...

Some day I will see your face
And I will kiss your nose
And touch your cheeks
And feel your forehead against mine.

But until then, I will wait and I will dream
But oh to see your face

Monday, January 26, 2015

The Beauty of Pain

Recently, Elijah asked me if there was one thing that has ever happened to anyone in our family that I could take back or change. And if so, what would it be? It struck me that this is actually a difficult question to answer. The obvious answer for me would be the fact that Eveyn did not survive her birth. If all it took was a gentle calling of her name, I would have her back here with us faster than my lips could finish forming the sounds. Or would I? As utterly horrible as this may sound, Eveyn missing from our home has given me more life and grace than would have ever been possible otherwise. I still cry for her and grieve her absence, and I still have a longing for her that reaches depths I didn't even know were possible. But the fact is, I can't change it. So what do you do with pain that you can't change? You look deeper. You look even deeper than the depths of despair. Because from under those depths, love springs. Joy grows. Hope rises.

We all have a myriad of things in our lives that we regret, in the sense that we don't want to repeat those things. Whether it is something that has happened to us, or something we have caused, we have a lot of regret. (Regret is defined as feeling sad, repentant, or disappointed over something that has happened or been done, especially a loss or missed opportunity). There were many choices made leading up to Eveyn's birth and death, and there are an abundance of choices made every day that lead us to where we are when we lay our head on our pillow each night. Every stupid or mean word that has ever stumbled out of my mouth in the direction of my children or husband is most certainly followed by regret. Every bad financial decision that has caused disruption to my family. Every job lost, every friend ignored, every stranger judged. Regret. But I don't believe we should live in a way that says, "I wish that never happened." We can and should have a desire to change unwanted behavior and circumstances that don't work well, but if we wish for those things to have never been a part of our life, we will never grow and we will never really appreciate all that life has to offer. We will remain stunted, immature, ungrateful and bitter about life.

Even in the most difficult, painful of circumstances, can't we see more? If we take a step back, and maybe it takes months, if not years to see anything more than the sheer pain, but when we are able to take a step back, can't we see the depth? Can we see beyond and under the surface layer of ugliness and pain to see something else? Can we actually come to a place where we can see beauty, love and even goodness? It doesn't mean the pain goes away, or the regret ceases to be a part of our thought process, but when we allow ourselves to see the beauty and love around us, and then allow them to work alongside the pain and regret, then we will be able to come to a place of thankfulness and peace.

So, where's the goodness in an untimely death? Where is the beauty in a violent act? I don't believe there is goodness and beauty in those things. However, can there be goodness and beauty around those things? In the events before, after and about them? In the friendships deepened, lessons learned, character grown, grace discovered, and strength owned? These things are beautiful, life-giving breaths given us by God to allow us a way to navigate the pain.

You see, life is painful. But you already know that. You know all too well the pain of loss, disappointment, exhaustion, hopelessness and fear. Is there anyone on this spinning globe of ours who does not know pain? Some may know more than others, but for each of us, regardless of what anyone else thinks, our pain is real, valid and consuming. It consumes our hearts, our minds, our bodies, our very souls. But will we allow ourselves the life of more? Will we let our hearts open to more, or will we refuse the beauty?

Sometimes the idea of living in pain and bitterness is actually a more welcome thought to us because it is comfortable, and we know what to expect from it. It feels like the right place to stay. Forever. We convince ourselves that being joyful in the midst of our pain is an inauthentic way to live. It seems fake, because this pain is so very real and raw. But I would argue the opposite. I would argue that when we acknowledge the pain, but also leave room for joy, for the two to live simultaneously in our hearts, commingling, intertwining, weaving in and out of each other as we go through life, then we are living authentically. Only then will our souls feel peace. It is a thing of eternal beauty.

Words from one of my favorite artists:

If I could I’d frame your stretch marks...
You only get them two ways
Giving birth or dropping weight
Either way, serious pain...

The picture of endurance, gave birth to a miracle
Them lines are memorials, freedom from the torture
And pounds you put on were the defense mechanism
Like "Maybe if I was ugly, then he would stop touching me"
And you endured the teasing of a fat girl on a track team and kept running

You tuned out the ridicule and every calorie burned
A cause for celebration
Them lines are victory laps, eternal gold medals
When I see ‘em, I’m reminded of the freedom...

Your struggles inspire, it’s physical literature...

It isn’t love if it doesn’t hurt
If you don’t feel it, then it doesn’t work
The pain removes the scales, pulls back the veil
The bruises in the blood will always tell the tale
Of the grace of grief, the beauty of brokenness
The peace of pain, the hope of hopelessness
The ease of emotion, the frame for the feelings
The scars and stretch marks, the proof of God’s healing


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.