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...

[Chorus]
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
Unredeemed

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...

[Chorus]

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 

Unredeemed




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.

21 comments:

  1. Thank you for the post, Alissa. There's a reason they refer to grief as "work" in therapy circles. It is work, and it is long, and it is personal. You are a generous soul to share your heart so openly. I love you. And yes, Anna is lovely. Those lyrics to Selah song are amazing! I haven't heard that one before - thank you for that as well. I cried through "Blessings" on the radio today too (probably at the same time via Satellite radio!). That question near the end "what if my greatest disappointments, or the aching of this life are the revealing of a greater thirst this world can't satisfy?" gets me EVERY TIME I hear it. I know I'm rambling, but one more thing: I am so glad you sang in church! Just thinking of it brings me hope and joy. Did I mention... I love you? Hug Matt and Isaac for me. Love them too.

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  2. I've been following along with your journey since a facebook friend linked to your blog asking for prayer for your precious Anna. I prayed for your precious little one and pray for you now. Over and over again your story reminded me of another, but I wasn't sure if it was something you needed to know about at this time or not. But then I read this post right after reading a post from the wife of Todd from Selah. Seeing you post lyrics to one of his songs made me know I had to share. It was her story that yours reminded me of. I'm not sure if you're aware of it or not, but they also found out about some severe birth defects in their daughter during an ultrasound (if I remember right, it may have been her kidneys?), and they only had a few hours with her after her birth. Angie (Todd's wife) shared the journey of her pregnancy on her blog, and then the grieving process after, and eventually turned it into a book. I'm not suggesting you go read it now, because I'm sure all it would do is open up wounds that you may not be ready to experience again.
    I do, however, want to share a beautiful post that she wrote today with you. She shared about how she is sharing the burden of someone else right now and it reminded her of back when so many other people shared her burden during her pregnancy with Audrey. I read it right before reading your post and just had to tell you that even though I don't know you, I share want to share your burden. To grieve with you and pray for you.
    Today's post is here: http://angiesmithonline.com/2012/02/baros/

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  3. I am with you is spirit and prayer. Take care,

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  4. We love hearing from you, knowing how you are doing and knowing what to pray for. Praying continually for your family. Anna Joy left an indention on my heart and I'm sure you were right. It's worth it Mama...so touching.

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  5. Purpose out of pain...takes much courage. What powerful words you share. Janine, a fellow mama & sister in Christ

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  6. Everytime I hear Blessings, which is often since it's in my iPod, I think of you and then lift you both up in prayer. I just can't even fathom the pain you are going through from losing beautiful Anna! Thank you for letting us know how you feel and also how we can pray. There are many days when all we can do is just pray. I am so thankful we serve a God who loves us and listens to our every prayer, tear, scream, and hurt. Much love to you and your family!

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  7. Dear Alissa I am so glad you shared. I continue to pray for you. Your willingness to continue sharing your heart here is not in vain. Thank you for letting us know how you are doing. I know that your courage and transparency will continue to bless others and impact the Kingdom through Anna's life and your own! My heart breaks for you again tonight. My prayer is Lord God in Your mercy please shower Anna Joy's family with comfort and hope tonight. Let them feel Your love in a special way. Keep them close now Father. Please send angels to protect them from anything that is not of You. Give them peace miraculous peace Oh Lord. Keep bringing them to our minds and hearts so that we might be Your hands and feet here on earth. I ask this in Jesus HOLY Name Amen

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  8. Alissa, I know that you and I have never known each other personally well, but my heart aches for you and your family. Your sweet spirit and vulnerability is so refreshing. I wish in so many ways that you had never had to go through this hurt to be where you are today but I do know that in the midst of all of this, God has made himself known to you and wants to continue to show you his love daily. Each time I read your blogs or think about your family, I can not help but think how your faith so vulnerable and real has influenced so many people toward Christ. I sincerely think that if I read your story and did not yet know the Lord, I would be drawn to Him because of the evidence of his love in your life. I think about you guys a lot and will continue to pray for you-and not just for a few months-you have made a life-long impact on my life so you can just go ahead and consider yourselves part of my regular prayers. I know that with sweet Claire being born, you have probably experienced such a mix of emotions and I will pray especially for you all and your family that you will both be able to rejoice and cherish this sweet baby girl and still feel ok both mourning for Anna Joy and also rejoicing in the sweet time you spent with her. Love you guys.

    -Carrie Hays

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  9. I love you my friend. Thank you for sharing your heart with us. I see God working through you in so many ways. I see His fruit of the Spirit in you. I will continue to pray that God blesses you and your family abundantly with his Joy, physical and emotional energy, protection, and His Hope. I pray that God blesses you by showing you and Matt a side of Him that He rarely reveals to His people and only reveals when they strive to follow Him during the hardest of times. When I went through difficult times, God showed me sides of His character that I don't think I would have had the capacity to understand had I not been through such torment. I pray that He does this for you.

    Love,
    Amanda Montgomery

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  10. I check your blog so often because I long to hear how you are doing and the things that God is doing through your family. THank you for being so vulnerable and for pointing each of us to Christ in a new way. There is not a day that goes by that I don't think about your family and pray that God will be near to you.
    Your extended family holds a special place in my heart and I am thankful that you have such amazing people to journey through this with!
    You are all so loved!
    Joye Hampton

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  11. The idea is to write it so that people hear it and it slides through the brain and goes straight to the heart.
    Maya Angelou

    There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.
    Maya Angelou

    I like these quotes, Alissa, and thought of you and your writings. I pray that the agony lifts as you continue to tell your story and I wonder if "they overcame by the word of their testimony" and the blood of the lamb.." has something to do with telling our stories...after all, that is our testimony...how He brings us through. It is healing and you write in such a way that it does go "straight to the heart." I continue to think and pray for you and your entire extended family...I do love you all.

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  12. Alissa and Matt, I have been reading your blog since before Anna Joy was born. I found out about your family from my cousins FB. I just wanted to let you know how much Anna Joy's life and your ability to share your faith through your journey has touched me. I think of your family daily and lift you up in prayer. A song that is always in the back of my mind is "There Will Be a Day" by Jeremy Camp

    There will be a day with no more tears
    No more pain, and no more fears
    There will be a day when the burdens of this place
    Will be no more, we'll see Jesus face to face
    But until that day, we'll hold on to you always

    I love this song. Knowing that we have this promise for our future is such a blessing of comfort.

    Thank you for sharing your family's story of faith.

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  13. I love you Liss and I pray, smile and cry right along with you every time you post. I love you. I'm praying!

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  14. I am so excited to read this post, Alissa! It is so wonderful to hear your most intimate thoughts and feeling of grief, on a blog, on the web, for all the world to see! I believe that you have written a testament of freedom for yourself, Matt, and Anna Joy. I see a declaration of freedom from the terrible power of grief to isolate you from those who love you. I am relieved that you have emerged from that terrible isolation to speak to everyone who loves you and prays for you, Matt, and Isaac. You clearly explained to everyone what is happening to you, how to support you, and the terrible burden of grief you carry.

    I have been hopping up and down, so to speak, wanting to hear those very words. I prayed for them. I wanted to jump in and do my chaplain thing, and explain to you and Matt just how to go about getting to where you just got! Meanwhile, I had enough sense to keep quiet, to keep praying, and to wait. I have never had the sense before that I was waiting in a very long line of people for my turn to be a comforter! I am used to being the only one doing the comforting, and here was this great scrum of family, friends, and church so clearly and wonderfully supporting you, Matt, and Isaac.

    You have taken a giant step toward your new life.

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  15. The song you sang at church stuck with me through the week and I found myself singing it (in a much less beautiful voice than yours) at random times as I went through my day...I continue to pray for you and your family.
    Kate Hemminger

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  16. You last blog was amazing and really spoke to me. Thank you for sharing the songs and including the lyrics. I have been a big fan of of Selah for many years. I have been exploring there sight and fallen in love with some of their new songs from Hope of the Broken World. If you have not already heard them check out their home page and you can view them right there. While cleaning up the kitchen this evening I was listening to "Moments Like These". When Todd sang about his daughter up in heaven my heart literally skipped a beat. I hope this song brings encouragement to you. He sings about being down on his knees before the Lord. It is amazing. Another song on the album titled, "I Turn to You" is one that I hope you can find comfort in as well. It speaks about turning to God for all life's trials. I pray for you continually. I find myself crying at times while I hold my daughter wounding why God allows some children to live and others to not. My heart aches for you and all that you have and are still going through. I pray that the birth of Claire allows you some healing as you hold that precious baby girl who shared a bond with Anna. Thank you also for sharing the ways that people can support a person going through the loss of a child. Praying for you!

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  17. I've been thinking of you often and praying for you every day. Andy made a video telling Jacob's story and "Blessings" is one of the songs, but every time I hear it, I think of you guys and Anna Joy. I pray God grants you serenity and comforts you in your grieving. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and emotions with the rest of us. I don't think you will ever know how much God is working through you, your words, and Anna's story. My sister just lost her first baby and I directed her to your blog for words of encouragement and to see how one can praise in sorrow. You are amazing and faithful.

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  18. Thank you for sharing your journey so honestly. The Lord brings you to my heart so often and I pray for you always. I hope that doesn't sound generic. I think so often of things I'd like to say or words of encouragement I could give but I always come back to the simple ones: I care so much, I'm praying.

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  19. Hi! You don't know me but I followed your blog since Anna was born because my husband and I found ourselves in the same situation. Anna and my daughter Hope is just one month away. Hope was born on Jan 13,2012 with a congenital heart disease called Ebstein Anomaly (we found out on my 20 weeks ultrasound). Our darling Hope passed away and went to heaven 17 days later. I am going through the same pain and reading your blog made me cry for I am in the same situation. I feel your pain. Anna and Hope are both in heaven now...we feel connected to your family somehow for we move from Everett, WA just 8 months ago...this was before we even found out about my baby's condition to be close to family here in CA but now thinking back of moving back in WA. Thanks for sharing your blog. Anna and my Hope are both beautiful angels now...

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  20. Praying your last sentence back to you and Matt....May the God of hope FILL YOU.

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