Saturday, December 26, 2015

Year Four

I let myself re-read some of the posts Matt & I wrote four years ago as we anticipated Anna's arrival and the days that followed her birth. Wow, what a crazy time that was. I was crying through the updates of her last few days and marveling at the story in general. It's weird to be looking back now and seeing it from a different perspective. It's surreal to think it was truly us that went through it. Yes, we are still going through it (a lifetime experience, I know), but it's different four years later. 

When I have visited this blog occasionally, I get a sinking feeling when I realize it has been so long since we've posted anything. Every time I feel like I "should" write something, but for some reason it hasn't been the right time. There have been texts to family and friends, or random Facebook thoughts I shared more privately, but I couldn't come back to this blog for a while. Not sure if it was something about a blog being so public and I needed a break, or that I wanted to be sure my posts were genuine and not just written because people wanted to read...or that I was super uncomfortable physically being pregnant with Evann, and then the year that followed his arrival was horrible for me (chronic migraines and neck pain - literal survival mode, in a whole new way)... But for whatever reason, it's been a while. 

Part of my suspicion is that so much has been happening in my grief journey, life journey, and spiritual journey, that I've been overwhelmed at not knowing where to start. There is so much I could share. Maybe one of these days I will start writing more so I can compile the lessons God has shown me. And I need to remember they don't have to be long posts to be worth writing.

We just made it through celebrating Anna Joy's short life for the fourth time. Of course, we remember her and love her every day, but oh, those eleven days! Every year they are experienced differently (parties, nothing, private, public, out and about, staying home), yet we have familiar mixed feelings. All the feelings! There is intense love for my sweet daughter that is felt in a place of my heart that swirls with my soul and body - so deep it's not really a measurable physical level, but its affects can be felt in my spirit. It's amazing how an emotion can affect my body and mind and spirit. Have you experienced that? There is also sadness over all we're missing without her around. I still get the tub of baby girl clothes out of the closet every now and then and look through the cuteness. And miss her. And imagine what it would've been like to dress her and see her grow and change. 

Saw this darling baby dress at Target and
 immediately thought of my Anna girl.
Gold reminds me of heaven.

But as these mixed feelings hit me again, this year I'm realizing a stronger sense of gratitude for her life than I was able to see in years past. Obviously I've always been thankful for her, but I mean the privilege of mothering her and being chosen to carry her and love her. 

I think it's beautiful how all those things - body, soul, mind, heart, and spirit - were and are alive and true of Anna as well. She was created in God's image, as I was, and now has a new perfect body in heaven. Neat to think we can still be connected in all of these ways. I like what a friend told me a few years ago about evidence that every baby a woman has carried can leave some DNA with her after birth. (See this interesting article.) So I can literally keep part of Anna Joy with me while I wait to be reunited with her someday. Cool thought. 

On the 8th, we hosted family dinner and celebrated Anna's birthday with the annual strawberry cupcakes. As Matt was cooking, he let out a sigh and commented on how we shouldn't have to do this without her every year. I had a similar thought as I was preparing for the gathering. I teared up wishing I could see her sitting at the table in her 4-year-old glory and cuteness. Not the pink bear, or an empty chair. It would be nice to have her present as we sing "Happy Birthday" to her, instead of us trying not to cry through our smiles, not knowing who to look at. 

Matt and I agree the intense grief fog has lifted, and we've been able to function as more "normal" people for a while. I look back at the first year or two and honestly don't remember many details. I'm glad the fog has lifted, but with that comes more intense emotions. That fog isn't protecting us anymore, and we must deal with the reality of our loss. If not, we feel it in our bones, muscles, interactions, and stomachs. Perhaps subconsciously I've thought that if I stuff my feelings, it would be easier. I'm learning that the opposite is true in the long run. Let them come. Let tears fall. It hurts, but then there is a release that helps the tense shoulders relax and the gut digest and the mind rest.

It is difficult to get all her stuff out of the special cedar chest Matt made. The little Christmas dress and hand prints stop my breath for a moment. Every time. Our tree has many pink ornaments now that join the toy soldiers and heirlooms. On her birthday morning, we opened the chest and started looking at her things. Our sons joined us, but interestingly, they noticed and played with things that have been left out over the years. They visit our room often, but haven't noticed these items before. Evann picked up a special necklace Matt has on his nightstand, and then played with the pink Anna bear. Isaac held the pretty candle holder I have on my nightstand for Anna. It was a surreal time. Amazing how kids sense things spiritual and emotional. Our broken hearts heal tiny bit by bit as we share more moments with our boys. And we've seen how being open with Isaac about Anna's story and life that he has been able to process through it, too. 

We visited Seattle Children's Hospital again this year. Always difficult. Ugh. It takes me right back to the hoping and aching and praying over my baby girl. But I'm always glad I go back. It reminds me that she lived and was worth fighting for. AND, that many other families are facing what we did. We have a keen sensitivity to other parents watching their sick children undergo treatment and surgeries. Our hearts go out to them and we pray for strength and peace for those families. Every child has connection to so many people. 

I love how big brother, Isaac (5.5 yrs), has a special connection to Anna Joy. Before we took this photo, he was certain he wanted to hold her picture. He has a loving, protective heart for her, and often tells people that he has a sister, but that she died. I'm amazed how God can use her story in so many ways, and believe He will continue to develop that in Isaac's life.

So we continue to remember and celebrate. Not only our sweet baby gone way too soon. There are opportunities around us every single day to remember and celebrate love, family, God's faithfulness, and many other gifts. Our journey continues, and there are new steps to be taken around the bend. I'm grateful I can step confidently into the unknown because when I look back into the various experiences of the past, I see the Lord with me. Every step. I may not have seen Him then, but He was there. In the dark, in the hurt, in the agony, in the questions. My God is a faithful God. THE faithful One. I know there will be more bittersweet portions on the road of life. That's the way it is. Sometimes we see the next step, sometimes we don't. But we must move forward anyway. Thankfully, I don't venture alone. My God will come through, always. That's part of the reason we are intentional about remembering and celebrating. Even thought it's painful, it reminds us of what we've been through and that we will continue on.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Where have your sandals been?

Clint and I were inducted into the same club, although he entered first. It's the Father Who Lost a Baby Girl Club. I know, I know - it's not a club anyone in their right mind would ever - EVER want to join, but neither of us had much choice. Clint was actually on a tour of duty in Iraq when his daughter Victoria died. I can't imagine what that flight home must have been like...and how long it was!

He and his wife Reini came to Anna's first birthday party. And while I know a lot of people asked how I was doing, when he asked me, I knew he got it. After all, he had been there before. So when he asked, he asked not only with compassion, but also with first hand knowledge of what it was like to wake up and think "a year ago my baby girl was born and left a short time later." As such, when he asked, I knew he knew, and it gave me a measure of comfort.

After all, what better balm is there than the knowledge that someone's gone before me? If he can live through the death of a daughter and live to tell about it, then so could I.

...Okay, there probably are a lot more better balms, but I submit it's a good one.

Some of you may be asking two things right now. 1) why am I talking about Clint? and 2) why is this post titled what it is? I'll tell you that the answer to both questions are intricately connected. You see, Clint wore shorts and sandals all year round. Hot, cold, rain, snow, didn't matter. Leave the house and put the sandals on. And boy howdy, did those sandals travel.

One thing about Clint was he wore his Christianity on his sleeve. In other words, he lived his faith, and he lived it out loud. You might've noted that I used the past tense to describe Clint. Yes, he passed away a few weeks ago at the too early age of 30 from an aggressive brain tumor. Yuck.

At his celebration service, his family put a few things on a table at the front of the sanctuary. One was his beret, the one that he wore almost as much as his sandals. I say "almost" because he liked to take it off and show people his super long scar from his brain surgery. Yes, he had brain surgery, and yes, he had chemo and radiation when he was first diagnosed. And yes, he went into remission and lived a couple of years longer than he was originally given. And yes, he was a strong and courageous man.

Which brings me back to the sandals. That was one of the other things on the table. Those sandals were well lived in, and you could tell at a glance that the feet that wore them looked about as beat up as they did. During his service, it was mentioned that when he got to heaven, one of the first things he probably did was to compare his sandals to Jesus' own. Here's how I picture it:

"Hey, dude, check these out!" says Clint as he approaches the pearly gates, lifting a foot to show one of his sandals. "I bet I traveled about as far as you did!"

"I'm sure you did, son," Jesus replies with a bemused smile. 

"Don't get me wrong!" Clint says defiantly. "I'm talking pure miles, not in the metaphorical sense. There's no way I'd compare the puny things I did on earth to the colossal things you did!"

"I know, Clint," Jesus places his hand on the young man's shoulder and stares him in the eye. "But you did walk a difficult road, and you did well. I'm proud to call you son. Well done, my good and faithful servant. Well done."

"Thanks! You wanna see my scar too?" Clint says as he lifts his beret and pulls back his hair to reveal the long and twisting scar. "Hey, can I see yours too? I bet I had more stitches!" 

"As a matter of fact you did." Jesus smiles even broader. "You see, I didn't get any. I went straight from the cross to the grave, and from the grave to the sky. I didn't need any."

"Jerk!" Clint smiles too. "I knew that."

And don't think it's sacrilegious for Clint to call Jesus a jerk, because Clint only called people he liked "jerk." And since Jesus is the person Clint liked more than life itself, it would only be proper for him to call Jesus a jerk. And you know the funny thing? I bet Jesus called him "jerk" right back.

I think Clint's wife Reini summed up his entrance into heaven perfectly when she said "when Clint died, heaven got a little bit spicier." Everyone at his service that heard her say that chuckled, because everyone who knew Clint knew that it was a very accurate statement.

Ah, death. It's such a natural part of life, but a pretty yucky part for those of us who are still on this side of it. I just hope my metaphorical sandals can walk as far as Clint's did before I die.

I suppose that's part of why I'm writing this post. After Anna died, our pastor said it's a pity that Anna lived wholeheartedly with only half a heart, while most people live halfheartedly with a whole heart. After he said that, I resolved to live wholeheartedly.

I'm sure I haven't lived nearly as wholeheartedly as I could have since Anna died, but heaven knows I've tried. If I've failed, Clint's early death has served as a reminder to me that I do need to live, and I need to live with a whole heart.

Plus, I need to start working on wearing out my sandals a little bit more...

Reini, this is for you: please accept my sorrow that your husband and father of your daughter Felicity has left us and gone to be with Jesus and Victoria. But take courage that his life has inspired me (among countless others) to re-evaluate my life and resolve to live it fuller. Since his service, I've asked myself time and again "where have my sandals been?" More importantly though, I've followed that question with another question: "where are my sandals going?"

Hopefully towards that pearly gate...

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Sweet Gifts

Just a short post to announce that eleven days ago we welcomed our third child into the world. 

Evann Tate is here, and we are so blessed to have him in our family!

Evann means "God is good"...
Tate means "pleasant, bright, cheerful, brings joy"...

Thank you for your continued support and prayers. We are truly blessed by the wonderful people in our lives. 

God has been good to us. Through the ups and downs of life, He is the one constant we can count on.

He didn't have to answer my prayers for another biological child - another baby to cuddle and love, another child to teach and nurture. 

But I'm so very glad He did.

Welcome, sweet boy. You are so loved.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Long Awaited

Hello again. 
This post has been brewing for several months. 

Anna Joy has been gone for 2 years and 5 months. That's how old she would be now.  Surreal. 

Since her birth & passing, we have experienced 2 miscarriages and came quite close to adopting a local baby girl.

Today, we are thrilled to announce that we are expecting a baby boy early August! We found out just a few days before Anna's 2nd birthday. I waited this long to post about it because I wanted to get through the genetic screening, 20 week ultrasound, and the echocardiogram  (just last week). Although way down deep my heart knew he would be fine, I can officially share that he looks very healthy. The cardiologist said he has a perfect heart, and it looks beautiful. Thank God!

After sweet Anna left us for heaven, I felt that I wasn't ready to give up on having another biological child. I would surrender my desires to the Lord, but at the same time be completely honest with Him in that I wanted to carry another baby. I love Isaac and Anna so very much. I just didn't feel that we were "done" yet. 

So. We are 6 months along, and super excited to meet this little guy (no name decided on yet)... feeling overwhelmed by the Lord's continuing gifts. I'm cherishing each movement, each ultrasound image. Another miracle to love.

As I look back at the events we've experienced since Anna, I don't feel sad because of them now. I feel amazed. Amazed at God's faithfulness in carrying us. He still hasn't let go. Through it all, we still ache for our daughter. Through it all, we still HOPE in His goodness and grace - knowing He will work everything into something good and beautiful. And He is. Not because the tests are saying our next baby is healthy. Not because He's given us another child at all. Because no matter what life presents, He is constant. The pains and questions continue to point us to His eternal plan of an indescribable love relationship with Him. He is ever reaching for us, and that gives life purpose. 

This is the verse I started praying and believing for myself Thanksgiving 2012...
"The Lord will surely comfort Zion and will look with compassion on all her ruins; he will make her deserts like Eden, her wastelands like a garden of the Lord. Joy and gladness will be found in her, thanksgiving and the sound of singing." Isaiah 51:3

The title of our blog is still fitting. Hope brings joy. Not happiness in circumstances. It is peace in the midst of pain and trials - the unexplainable underlying sense of purpose as we ride the parallel tracks of smiles and tears. 

Tomorrow is unknown. Health, relationships, events, finances... We aren't in control. I'm thankful I didn't know what my timeline would look like three years ago. And I'm glad I don't know what the next three years will bring. I do know that God is already there, and I can rest today knowing that He sees the eternal picture of my life... all the while weaving His beauty into every single breath that makes up my story. May this story be more about Him than me. It's all grace. The good and the bad. Because it can point us to His heart if we are willing to look.

Please pray for us as we prepare for our next child to join us. There are so many emotions we experience from day to day. Always missing Anna Joy, always deeply thankful for Isaac, always overwhelmingly excited to meet baby boy... always hoping in God's faithfulness. We expect this baby will bring some healing, but also some refreshed grief over all we missed with Anna. But we know it's still worth it. Love always hopes.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Isaac? Who's that? Isaac who?

Every now and then I think "how come Liss and I don't talk much about Isaac on this blog? After all, he is our first born son." And I never seem to have a good and ready answer. Well, except for the simple fact that the blog is titled Baby Anna Joy...

So Isaac - I'm going to apologize. Someday, when and if you ever get to look back on what your mom and I wrote, please don't think less of us because we seem to focus more on your sister. Please know that through this whole ordeal we have loved you no less than we did before. In fact, we love you more now because of what happened to Anna.

That being said, I'm going to write about Isaac. And for anyone still reading this blog - please don't blast me about how wrong I am when I say this post is about Isaac, and then I get around to talking about Anna. Because that is what it will eventually get to. After all, she is a part of Isaac's story too.

Let me start with a little incident that happened recently. To set the story, my hair is getting pretty long (at least for me...). After I got out of the shower one Saturday I slathered my balding head with lots o styling gel and slicked my hair straight back. No part, no wave, just pure straight lines going from peak to tail. Then I went downstairs. Isaac was sitting at his little picnic table, and he looked up at me and just stared at me. After a moment or two of taking it in, he smiled and said "you look awesome."

Yes!!! That's my boy! He recognizes true coolness when he sees it! Okay, so maybe he is a true boy in the fact that he calls pure silliness "awesome."

Yes, he sure is a true boy. He loves playing with his play swords, and we often end up having sword fights together. We also play baseball together, and like to go down to the lake and throw rocks in the water. And let me tell you about another example, one provided by Alissa's mom.

Isaac was at Grammi's house along with his cousins Brenna and Claire. At the time, Claire was probably around a year old, so just starting to get around, which meant she just followed the other two around wherever they went, but mostly just got in their way. Also, since she is the youngest and doesn't really understand, she often grabs for a toy that one of the other kids already have but don't want to give up yet. I think you get it: toddler interrupting play of older kids who don't want to be interrupted.

Well, Grammi says that Isaac was sitting on a stool, and Claire waddled up. As she did so, Isaac surreptitiously (definition: done, made, or acquired by stealth) created a little pistol out of his index finger and thumb. He then raised it ever so slowly from his lap - but only a couple of inches - and pointed it at his approaching cousin. Then, in barely more than a whisper, and with nary a look of remorse, he let off a couple of "pew! pew's!" at Claire.

Grammi said she had a hard time not laughing out loud. it was so clear to her that Isaac so utterly irritated with Claire, he had to shoot her!

I wish I could tell you where he learned to shoot like that, and how he understands that shooting is a means of resolving conflict (an albeit ugly and mean way to resolve said conflict...), because I'd certainly like to know too. All I can think of is he is simply and completely just a little boy. If I did know where he learned to do that, it would certainly be easier to explain to him that guns are not an easy way to deal with annoying people.

Anyway - wow, how did I get there? Sometimes I wonder about myself, since I tend to wander her and yonder so easy. Isn't there some kind of disorder associated with not keeping a coherent train of thought?

Here's another thing about Isaac. He has shown tendencies to follow in his Uncle Joe's footsteps. To explain, let me tell you that Joe was pretty famous for using any injury he got as a means to garner attention. When he hurt his knee in football one year, everyone in our family was pretty sure he stayed on the crutches for about two weeks longer than necessary.

When Isaac gets a scrape on his knee (one that doesn't even draw any blood), he limps around for the rest of the day. The next morning, he'll get up and be running around for an hour or two without any problems at all. But when he sees the scrape on his knee and remembers that he is hurt, he starts limping again. Brilliant, huh?

Not only am I going to jump quickly to another topic, but going to shift gears too. Time to slow it down a bit.

One time Alissa was gone and Isaac and I were sitting in our front room. We somehow were talking about Anna (see...I told you she would come up!), and how she had some blood that we could see in the little tubes that came out of her chest after her surgery, but before she died. Isaac asked if he had blood too, and I told him he did. I then pointed out that the blood was under his skin. He quickly looked up at me with a stricken look on his face, and I saw his little brain make a connection.

He realized that the fact that we could see Anna's blood had something to do with the fact that she died. And he realized too, that if he lost his blood, he could die too. With fear and tear filled eyes he said "Daddy, I don't want to lose my blood!"

I wrapped him in my arms and hugged him close. "Oh, honey!" I said. And I wanted to tell him that he wouldn't lose so much blood that he would die. But I couldn't do that, I couldn't lie like that! God only knows if something terrible will happen to Isaac, or if he'll just die of natural causes when he is good and old!

My little boy was scared. So I held him close and I told him about heaven, and God, and how Anna's already in heaven, and how I can't wait to get there too. He said he missed Anna. And I started tearing up too.

He was crying still when Alissa came in the door. So she joined us in our little hug there in our little front room on our little red couch, and we cried together about our little Anna Joy.

Ahhh...sweet little girl, we miss you so much. Even your big brother, Isaac does. See? She is a part of Isaac's story. Now lay off me.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

I built that...

I finally started to build a toy chest that will hold all of Anna Joy's things that we kept. You know, the sympathy cards, the little stuffed animals that sat on her bed, the little heart objects people gave us, all of that stuff. This project has been a long time coming, and I must say I'm quite excited about it.

Up till now all of Anna's stuff has just been kept in a closet, hodge-podged together for the most part. Alissa did find three decorative boxes to put a lot of it in, but we still have a surplus that needs a home. Thus, our idea to build a toy box. Even so, we still probably won't be able to put all of her stuff in it, but it will hold quite a bit.

You may ask yourself, "why is Matt building one, why doesn't he just go buy one?" Well, Matt likes to not only refer to himself in the third person, but Matt likes to woodwork. Rather than calling oneself a woodworker, one likes to refer to oneself as a wood-butcher, because that is more or less what it is. Matt is still quite the amateur when it comes to proper woodworking techniques, and his signature style is slightly off square.

Okay - I'll stop referring to myself as someone else, back to little ol' me.

One of the cool things about this project (at least for me) is that I have the privilege and honor of working with Tom, who is a long-time fellow amateur woodworker. Perhaps more importantly (no offense Tom), is I get to work in Tom's shop. His shop is what some people would call a woodworkers dream. It's big, well lit, and full of just about every kind of tool that a woodworker would use.

But the really cool thing about this project is the visceral connection (visceral - adjective - relating to deep inward feelings rather than to the intellect) to my daughter. Let me tell you a little bit about the male psyche. We like to see the fruits of our labor. We like to have something physical we can point to and say "that's mine, I did that." We get an emotional high whenever we build, especially if that project has that visceral connection I mentioned a sentence or two earlier.

Now, don't get me wrong, while I can point to Isaac and say "that's mine, I did that" doesn't mean I like him solely because he sprung from my loins. There is so much more to having a child than simply procreating.

One of the joys of fatherhood (and one of the scariest too...) is being able to teach my son about life and about being a man.  My dad taught me (among other things) how to swing an ax, how to shoot a basketball, how to open the door for women, and how to be true to God. I have the opportunity to do those things with Isaac. And I can't wait until he is old enough to take into the shop and teach him how to use the table saw. Until then, I'll content myself with him and I playing with his jets and Star Wars Legos (okay, I bought the Legos more for me than him right now...but he'll grow into them, right?).

But what about Anna? I can't do the teaching stuff. At least not in sense that I get to teach her these things as she grows up. That hurts more than I can describe, even if I wrote thousands, maybe even millions, of words about it.

What, then, can I do to pour into my daughter's life here on earth? How can I manifest my feelings of joy, sorrow, pride, fear, and love? Well, let me build something. Let me have a project that will channel those feelings into a tangible, physical representation. Let me create. Let me mold and shape. And through it all, I'll connect.

I get the joy of hearing Isaac yell "DADDY!!!" as soon as I open the door when I get home from work. But there's something missing from that daily occurrence: Anna's voice joined in. My baby is gone from me, and is in the loving arms of our Lord.

We have pictures of our baby all over the house. I have them on my desk, and her image graces the wallpaper of my phone and computer. I wear a bracelet with her name on it. But let me build this toy chest for her, and I'll be able to open it up, pull something of her's out, sit down on it and say "I built this for my baby girl, this is mine." And then I'll probably cry (like I am right now as I write this), but I'll also find solace and peace.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Our Night Light

Life isn't about seeking comfort, although most of us do seek it. 

I do. I think it's natural.
I'm tired of challenges and pain. I want some refreshment, some new purpose to rejoice over. A break, please! Some good news? Truth is, none of us "deserves" an easy life. Our culture tries to tell us that we do. But I'm learning otherwise. I believe God is loving and wants to bless us. And He does! But He also has told us that this world will present trouble. And I'm learning that through the pain, God reveals more of His heart. He is the Comforter. If I never experience difficulty, there won't be a need for comfort. 

So I find myself here again, seeking comfort (no more hard stuff)... and finding the Comforter (love, peace, and strength in the midst). 

Briefly, let it sink into your heart (as I did) - another pregnancy. July 2nd I was hopeful after the positive test. It felt like it was time for good news, a new chapter, another child. I thought I had confirmation that the Lord was bringing new life to my womb and He gave me peace about entering the scary path of carrying another baby. My last miscarriage was one year ago. At the recent news, I celebrated with family and a few friends, purchased a little outfit and hung it in plain sight where we'd all see it often as a reminder of this blessing. We told our son and his reaction was sweet with excitement.

One week later I was told this pregnancy was not viable, and I felt the wound of loss open again as the deep burning pain ripped at my low abdomen... and my heart. With teary eyes, Matt & I could only throw our hands up and say, "really?"

My life has been a journey of letting go. For some reason, I'm asked to surrender the very thing that has been my greatest desire since childhood. (Hmm. I think I'm learning the reason...) Motherhood, child-bearing, a vibrant growing family, pouring my life into children & home.

During this call to surrender, the enemy serves a combo meal of Why Questions & Depressive Thoughts. Once eaten, these turn into battle-doubts that fight my faith and joy in Christ. My perspective is compromised and once again the focus is on ME instead of the ultimate reason I was even created and saved: relationship with God.

The point isn't to list all of my (our) trials, but to point me (us) to Jesus' great love. And that was ultimately proven on the cross. He gave everything to show His love and try to reach me. 

I acknowledge those sentences may seem trite. Please believe that I'm LIVING them. When you're stripped of everything and literally desperate for your next breath... You are forced to grasp for something. I've been grasping. Know the feeling? Well, Jesus Christ is the only sure foundation that will never move. His is the only hand that won't let go. I have to go back to the basics of my faith and find that foundation once again. 

Certainly, I'm not certain about very many things anymore. But of this I am: God's love is deeper, wider, higher & longer than I can understand. I'm gaining more and more glimpses of that. Honestly, I don't want any more trials or losses or lessons in letting go for a while. I'm really tired. But I'm trying to express how beautiful it can be when I let God carry my broken heart and reveal His. That's my prayer. 

It's not about me. It's not about a pain-free life. Nope. It's going to happen. I don't even want to get into why God allows certain things. Right now, all I'm hanging onto is His love and faithfulness. As I deal with another loss that refreshes my grief over Anna Joy's death, I must - I MUST - remember all He's brought me through. He hasn't just "brought me through" as some annoyed parent who wishes to be rid of a crying child. No, it's been a tender, loving, compassionate carrying. I'm so tempted to list my losses and shove it in God's face as I try to describe the level of pain I've felt. And it's ok if I do that. But here's the thing. He already knows. He knows because He cares. He not only watches it all, He's walking with me through it all... and He's FEELING it all with me. He sent Jesus to live here so I would know He understands my hurt. I can't even wrap my mind around how amazing that is.

I have to mention that God has not just allowed things to be taken, but has given. A lot. And loss can help highlight what I still do have around me. It is very uplifting to count my blessings. After recent news of yet another miscarriage, we went to the coast for a week and I was determined to celebrate these blessings. My 3-yr-old son, Isaac, is a huge blessing to me. I'm realizing more and more what a gift he is.

This evening, just a little while ago, Isaac came out of his bedroom to find me. He needed to be rocked & sung to. After our routine, I gently encouraged him to go back to his room and sleep. 

"I don't want to go back to my room. I don't like the darkness."

I almost told him there was nothing to be afraid of and he was safe - just talk him out of his fears. Something clicked in my heart and halted my words. My response was instead, "Do you need a night light?" Of course he did. He didn't need me to sugar-coat his fears and send him back to bed to fake comfort in the dark. He needed a light to focus on.

I do, too. I don't like the darkness. I feel surrounded in it so thick most days. Especially recently... again. It has been pulling at me, down, down, around in confusion and over in insecurity and back to doubt. I don't like the darkness. In fact, I hate it. Lies whispered into my spirit that penetrate my already broken heart. I'm being fought over. Thank God He loves me enough to fight for me. I can't do it anymore. 

So I found a little travel reading light and set it on a high shelf in Isaac's room so it would shine on the wall. You know what it ended up spotlighting? A cross. The white cross hanging on his wall. Perfect. 

"How's that buddy? Is that better? Can you see the cross?"


And he's safe.

Thank you, ever-present Father, for your goodness and mercy and grace. My every getting-up, taking steps, breathing in & out... is Your grace. 

Through the pain I've felt the past couple weeks, I'm getting this gift: Don't stop looking at the cross. It's the only thing that will pull us out of the swallowing darkness of self-focus and entitlement. It's not a manipulating scheme. It's a truth that reaches an alive, gentle hand to mine and grasps securely, eternally and says... "I love you. Do you need a night light? Remember the cross."

That's victory. Not pain-free, trial-free living. But finding God's hand through His broken heart over us. That is love. That, my friends, is hope.