Tuesday, February 28, 2012

This awful, amazing road

A couple weeks ago we met and held and cried over our new niece, Claire. She is a tiny beauty, and she'll always have a special place in our hearts because of her closeness with Anna. Here are a couple photos of me holding Claire in the hospital. Images I longed to have taken with my own daughter...

There are many other things I could share from the past few weeks. Words from the Lord through His Word, other people, special moments, well-written books, etc. I wish I had the energy to keep you updated on a more regular basis. We're still struggling with sickness, and we are exhausted. But the Lord continues to carry us and get us through one day at a time. One day can bring a wide variety of emotions and experiences: 
  • sadness felt at the core of my being (sometimes it causes me to fall to the floor and weep, but mostly I just carry it with me wherever I go and try to breathe as it attempts to constantly suffocate), 
  • questions of "why" and God's will, 
  • thankfulness for the blessings I can sometimes see through the fog, 
  • amazement at how Anna Joy has touched so many people, 
  • frustration at the long journey of grief ahead, 
  • longing to know what she would've looked like now, 
  • fighting the temptation to stay in bed, 
  • loving the time I have with my precious little son, 
  • savoring a long hug from my husband, 
  • fears that someone else I love will be taken,
  • wishing I could cry constantly,
  • wishing I would never cry again,
  • smiling at life even though I'm still hurting,
  • wanting to tell every single person I meet that I have a beautiful baby girl...
If you need a reminder:

Isn't she lovely?

I certainly don't have answers, and I don't want you to try to provide any. Just walk with me, hug me, cry with me, encourage me, remind me of hope. 

As kind of a side note, you may appreciate the following from Family Life's website if you're wondering how to encourage, help, or better understand Matt & I. 

10 Ways to Help Parents With Grieving HeartsHow to help friends or family when they lose a child.Ruth Stoecker
1. Be there. One mom put it so well. She said, “It’s not the words you spoke; it’s the tear you left on my cheek.” Commit to walk with me through the valley no matter how long it takes. It may take awhile. Statistics show that a parent is considered newly bereaved for five years. I may tell you I want to be alone. Yes, you should honor that. But know that I don’t mean forever, just maybe right now. What I really want is for you to be there.
2. Pray for me. Don’t stop, although I may even tell you to. My faith has been shaken and I feel as though I have been betrayed. I question how God could have allowed this to happen. I may even be angry with Him for a time. I need your prayers. I am too wounded and weak to pray for myself.
3. Don’t expect very much from me, especially those first few months. It is a challenge for me to get out of bed and on a good day I might remember to brush my teeth. Even though my world has stopped, life continues. I have to cook, clean, take care of my remaining family, and often go back to work. Help me. Bring over a meal. Take my children to the park or to a movie. Do my laundry. Run to the grocery store for me. Don’t wait until I ask you; I probably won’t.
4. Remember special events - not just that first year, but every year. I will always be a mother who misses her child. Transfer those dates from one calendar to the next and send a card, drop a note, make a phone call. Be there!
5. Don’t offer advice or give me clichés. I don’t need a sermon on how best to grieve. Don’t offer me clichés such as, “Time heals all wounds,” “He’s in a better place,” or, “It was God’s will.”  Don’t assume that you know how I feel. Even other bereaved parents don’t truly know my grief. We are each unique, so don’t lecture me. Just walk with me and be there.
6. Say the name of my child. I love to hear it! Remember a story about him and share it with me. Let me talk about him; don’t change the subject. I may tell you the same things over and over and over, but please just be there.
7. Accept that I am different now. I will never be the person I was before. A mom told me the other day that she was watching old videos and as she saw herself laughing and having fun with her daughter, she missed her. She also said, “I missed me.” We have lost our innocence. We have lost a portion of ourselves, and we are different now.
8. Don’t judge me. I may wear a T-shirt with his picture and visit his grave every day, sometimes twice a day. It may make you uncomfortable if my office cubicle looks like a shrine to the one I lost. Please give me some time.
9. Visit the cemetery. And when you do, leave a note, a flower, or maybe just tell me that you stopped by his grave. It means so much.
10. Watch for the signs. Be alert to behavior that may be dangerous. There are those who cannot move beyond their pain; encourage them to talk to someone in the professional field. Search out a support group for them, and offer to go to it with them.

Matt & I have started bereavement counseling and plan to try a support group this week. Please pray for clarity as we talk about our pain, attempt to take steps forward, learn to communicate with each other, and somehow find the energy to continue the process. 

* * *

Today I drove through a cemetery. We still have choices to make about what to do with the ashes of Anna's body (goodness - that could be a whole separate post in and of itself). Everything about it slashes at my heart more, but at the same time I know each little step will bring another bit of healing. That doesn't even seem like it should make sense - that something so painful can bring healing - but I've started to experience it. It takes courage to talk about my pain, and hearing the words come out of my own mouth brings initial heartache. But afterwards, I feel recognizably lighter. Not a lot, but some. Just as forcing myself to listen to a song or read a scripture or put Anna's things in a keepsake box or scrap a page of her photos... it all hurts. But afterwards, I acknowledge another step taken towards a mended heart. Right now I can't picture my heart ever looking the same as before Anna passed on. It may undergo mending, little by little, to reach wholeness eventually... but it won't ever look or feel the same. I'm changed. Thank God he makes purpose out of pain. This loss hurts like nothing I can explain. But I still believe in my Redeemer. His act of love for me on the cross and rising again not only provided a way of salvation for me, but shows me that nothing I experience is in vain if it's surrendered to Him. He won't let the precious life of Anna Joy Peppley disappear for nothing. It won't go "unredeemed". 

"Unredeemed" by Selah

The cruelest words, the coldest heart
The deepest wounds, the endless dark
The lonely ache, the burning tears
The bitter nights, the wasted years

Life breaks and falls apart
But we know these are...

Places where grace is soon to be so amazing
They may be unfulfilled, they may be unrestored
But when anything that's shattered is laid before the Lord
Just watch and see it will not be

For every choice that led to shame
And all the love that never came
For every vow that someone broke
And every life that gave up hope

We live in the shadow of the fall
But the cross says these are all...


Places where grace is soon to be so amazing
They may be unfulfilled, they may be unrestored
But you never know the miracles the Father has in store
Just watch and see it will not be
Just watch and see it will not be 


I pray that gives someone else hope, too.

A couple weeks ago I sang in church. I was asked to do a specific song if I felt up to it, but didn't know until I woke that morning whether I would do it or not. I awoke Sunday, February 19th (2 months from Anna's passing), and realized I believed the words to the song I was asked to sing:

No sweeter name than the name of Jesus
No sweeter name have I ever known
No sweeter name than the name of Jesus

You are the life to my heart and my soul
You are the light to the darkness around me
You are the hope to the hopeless and broken
You are the only truth and the way 

I have sung in church a lot in the past. I've been on worship teams and sung in choir over the years. But this was a new song. Not the song literally, but a new expression of worship. A true sacrifice of praise. I was weak and frail, and I broke down in tears during the first service. I didn't care what people thought. I'm guessing most of my church family knew why I was crying, but it didn't matter. I was standing and singing only because God pulled me up that morning out of darkness and gave me strength to sing His Name through the depths of sorrow. Another miracle.

And it was another step toward healing. I didn't realize when I put my dress on that morning how stepping out in humility and faith was truly profound. There's something about the combination of the true Word of God and music that sets me free! Praise Him!

As I walked alone to my car after I had sung and cried in church, I was still tempted to doubt God's goodness. In that lonely moment, I thought I heard Anna say to me, "It's worth it Mama. Stay strong. It's worth it."

So back to the cemetery from earlier today...
I was slowly steering the car through the gray road that winds through areas of green grass dotted with more gray. As my weary eyes scanned the markers of souls that once breathed here, warm tears slipped down over a sight so dark and empty. Unplanned by me, the song on the CD playing was Blessings by Laura Story. I let the words shower me as I stared at the inscriptions of precious names I didn't recognize, knowing that I would fairly soon be staring at my daughter's name in a similar spot. 

"...when darkness seems to win, 
we know that pain reminds this heart that
this is not, THIS IS NOT OUR HOME!
It's not our home. 

What if my greatest disappointments
or the aching of this life
Is the revealing of a greater thirst this world can't satisfy?" 
(You can find the recording and full lyrics of this song on the Special Songs page of this blog.)

Suddenly the cemetery wasn't dark and empty anymore. Instead of total grief, I was filled with hope! Those markers reminded me that life on earth in our mortal bodies isn't all there is. We were all made for more. We have eternal purpose. The earth in its current state isn't our destiny. God has intended so much more for life. And thinking of my darling Anna girl enjoying the presence of Jesus so completely brings my aching heart peace. Not only for her, but peace that inspires me to continue on with another day - whatever God wants me to do - singing, dancing, creating, loving... all for His glory. 

The very same God that spins things in orbit
Runs to the weary, the worn, and the weak
The same gentle hands that hold me when I'm broken
They conquered death to bring me victory

Now I know my Redeemer lives
I know my Redeemer lives
Let all creation testify
Let this life within me cry
I know my Redeemer lives!

He lives to take away my shame
And He lives forever I'll proclaim
That the payment for my sin
Was the precious life He gave
But now He's alive
and there's an empty grave!

     (from "Redeemer" by Nichole C. Mullen)

Sadness, grief, loss, brokenness... it can all lead to grace and hope.

Friday, February 10, 2012

heading where no man has gone before...

No, this post isn't about Star Trek, although I do enjoy a good episode or two. And the movies are generally pretty good too. No, this is about today, which is going to be a big day in the lives of the Grofreeppley family. That's the Gross, Freeby, Peppleys - in case you were wondering. That would be the Matt & Alissa Peppley (us), Randy & Cathy Freeby (Alissa's parents), Matthew & Kim Freeby (Alissa's brother and sister-in-law), and Jason and Katie Gross (Alissa's sister and brother-in-law) families. Also, this day will likely be noted by lots of other people in our extended families.

You may ask yourself why, and that is okay. It's not because today marks the 65th day since our sweet little Anna Joy was born. Nor is it because it's the weekend before Katie's 30th birthday (sorry Katie...or should I say Happy Birthday?), nor is it because we are heading into uncharted territory. You see, today marks the day that Matthew and Kim are having their 3rd little baby girl (heretofore and henceforth known as "Junior") delievered via caesar salad section.
Alissa & Kim a few days before Anna was born.

Well, we are kinda heading into uncharted territory, at least for us. The big question for all of us, parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, etc. is how are we supposed to react to this beautiful baby? I'm assuming she's beautiful anyway...most babies (in my opinion) are not pretty, but their first two were pretty cute, so I'm betting number three will be as well. Anyway -- none of us know what to do. Do we sing for joy at the birth of Junior, or do we weep with sorrow at the passing of Anna? Or do we do both? If so, how do you mix joy with sorrow? You see, those two things don't typically mix well. They're kinda like water and oil. Well, not exactly. Water and oil don't mix at all. But joy and sorrow do mix, albeit not that well.

We in the Grofreeppley household have had many discussions over the last few days about this very topic. And there have been lots of tears sitting in the corners of eyes during the conversations. You see, we all miss Anna, but we also can't wait to meet Junior. But how are we going to react? Who knows?

Last night Matthew and I were discussing today's event while we stood in the parking lot at Wal-Mart. Not your typical place for a meaningful conversation, but sometimes you can't choose the ideal locale, so there we were. Both of us wanted to say something to the other, but neither of us knew what to say! From my standpoint, I wanted to tell him to not worry about being happy and joyful for Junior's arrival. From his standpoint, he wanted to tell me to not worry if Alissa and I feel like we can't be around because of too much pain. But then, neither of us felt like that was adequate for what both of us as c0-fathers and c0-brother-in-laws are having to deal with. But the point is that we, as well as the rest of the family, feel like we don't really know what to say to each other.

But we are all trying to be cognizant of each other's feelings. Matthew and I decided that while there must be people out there that have gone through similar situations, we don't know anyone who has had a granddaughter/daughter/niece/cousin/sister born and die eleven days later, and then have a granddaughter/daughter/niece/cousin/sister born about two months later. Crazy! That's what this is. Just plain crazy!

The point of this is this: we will miss Anna Joy a lot today. But we will be extremely pleased to meet Junior (whatever her name will be...) and will be filled with joy. And when I say "we," I mean all of the Grofreeppley household.

By the way, when Anna's Aunt Kim held her on the day she died (Anna died, not Kim...), baby Junior jumped as soon as Anna was placed on Kim's belly. And Junior continued to jump and jump and jump. So we all think that Anna and Junior have a very special connection. Grami Cathy has pictured the two of them giving high fives on their way past each other - Anna going to heaven and Junior coming!

Auntie Kim holding Anna while "Junior" jumps.
Very powerful moment!

Oh, Junior's here now. I think we're going to go see her and cry. A lot.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Song released!

God gave beautiful words and melody to our friend, Kathy Kerber, before Anna Joy was born. This song, originally titled "Little One (For Anna Joy)" immediately touched the hearts of myself and my family, and we'd often sing it over Anna and hummed it to ourselves throughout the journey. It will forever be very, very special to us. 

Kathy graciously let me record a version for Anna's memorial service that was played during the slideshow. Special thanks to John Burch for his time and resources put into that recording at his studio just a few days before the service. 

I had the opportunity to be part of another recording process at Matt Kees' studio on January 8th, one month exactly from Anna's birthday. In this recording, Kathy Kerber performs the lead vocals, and my voice is heard in the harmony, background vocals, and one short solo part toward the end. It was very difficult for me to get anything out. I broke down in tears during my second time through when the 2nd verse says, 
Little one, my heart could not love you more...

The lyrics are truly amazing - only God could've given Kathy such insight into my heart's desires and feelings for my Anna girl.

"Safe In His Hands"

Verse 1
Little one, I can hardly wait to meet you
To hold your tiny hand in my own
To see you open your eyes and know the color that God chose

Little one, our time on this earth may be short
We're only guaranteed His love
So I pray you would always know the Father's gentle touch

You are safe in His hands
And though my tears fall like rain
Though I don't understand
God is real, He is love
You're already a part of His marvelous plan
And all I need to know
Is you are safe in His hands

Verse 2
Little one, how I've imagined what we'll share
I can almost see your smile
What a miracle you are, my precious little child

Little one, my heart could not love you more
I would give my life for you
And though these arms long to hold you close
It's God you belong to


Who am I to claim you for my own?
It was God who knit you together
And if the arms to enfold you are not my own
I will rest in what I know


All I need to know
Is you are safe in His hands

All I can ever know
Is you are safe in His hands

You are safe
Kathy and I at the recording studio
It is now available for purchase from iTunes (and will soon be from some other venues such as Amazon On Demand, Amazon MP3, Spotify, Zune, and Rhapsody). Click the following link to view it in iTunes: 


Special thanks to our friend, Daniel Slocum, for organizing the logistics and getting the song "out there". He also designed the song's artwork.

Thank you all for your continued support, love and prayers. We are hitting some rough waves on our journey of grief. We miss Anna so much!

We hope this song ministers to your heart, especially other families who will walk similar paths we have. May it bring more glory to Jesus Christ who is worthy of all praise, and point more people to Him through declaring that, truly, we are all "Safe In His Hands".

Friday, February 3, 2012

"Every Falling Tear"

I've been weeping through this album lately. It's by Matt Hammitt, lead singer from Sanctus Real, whose son was born with HLHS (one of the same defects Anna had). View their website at bowensheart.com

Check out this one called "Trust":

Even in the darkness
Even in the questions
Even when the hardest times of life are at hand

Even in the darkness
Even in the questions
Even in the times when I'm not meant to understand

Not meant to understand. Hmmm...
These aren't easy words to say. Trusting in these times is a sacrifice of praise. 
Please, friends, remind me of His goodness. Tell me of His love. Show me the light. 

* * *

This one on the same album called "Little Light" is by Audrey Assad, and fits Anna so well. Many of the lines express thoughts and conversations we had around Anna (how I saw Jesus bend and love her through my tummy before she was born, how it seemed Anna was looking at "someone" when she first opened her eyes after surgery, how angels were attending her, how she's been such a LIGHT for Christ... etc...) Simply beautiful!