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. 

Saturday, April 27, 2013


I was blessed to attend the Chris Tomlin - Louie Giglio - Kari Jobe worship concert in Seattle last Saturday. Still singing the songs, still feeling the Spirit, still smiling at all God spoke to me and healed in me. Some of it celebratory, some of it tough truths. This one had me weeping...

"In Your everlasting arms all the pieces of my life..."
My life feels like it's in pieces - more so the past couple of years. I'm not THAT old, but I can look back and see the "pieces" of my life so far... some amazing, some horrible. What a comforting thought that they're all held in God's loving, everlasting arms.

"Whatever comes my way, I will trust You..."
Whatever? Honestly, that's not easy to say for me. Only in God's strength can I say that because I know He's carried me this far... and He won't let me go. Ever.

The past few weeks have thrown me into a new twist in my grief process. I was thrown when I heard my grief counselor, our counselor, our counselor-turned-friend passed away on April 1st. What a blow! This was the sweet woman who listened to our story, Anna's story, and encouraged us and prayed with us. She gave us Godly insight into ourselves and our marriage as we worked through our grief. She cried with us and laughed with us. She was possibly our only objective outlet, and man, I really miss her. I wasn't done talking with her. Not only do I miss her, and grieve my loss of her counsel and friendship in my life, but it feels strange to wonder where all our conversations went. (???) Does that make sense to anybody else? All I shared with her - all those meetings Matt & I sat with her and cried over our frustrations and feelings - all those words...

I know somehow they're not gone. They remain in my heart and mind (and some in my journal). And the basis of what Mary Gayle taught us was Truth, so I know that is eternal. But knowing SHE IS GONE from this earth... that takes my Anna-girl loss a little more out of reach... I don't like that feeling. But I'm already finding more peace day by day as I process and God has begun to show me healing graces within these stories.

At the concert I mentioned above, God showed me that as I was worshiping Him, Anna Joy and Mary Gayle were, too. Right then! It wasn't a here and there type of thing, but a here and NOW - together thing!! I saw them so joyful and complete and fulfilled, and that brought a bit more healing to my broken spirit. 

Oh, that I could stay more eternal-minded! Even after all I've experienced, I struggle with staying there. 

God, help me. I want to say, "whatever comes my way, I will trust You". 
Your arms are everlasting. And I'm SO thankful you can handle with care all the pieces of my life... from beginning to the end.

Monday, April 22, 2013

The Insteads

Familiar thoughts:
  • I long to hold my sweet baby girl.
  • I want to see Isaac play with her.
  • I want to watch Matt rock her to sleep and make her laugh.
  • I wanted to get portraits of my kids together.
  • I long to buy her clothes and dress her - oh, she'd be so cute! I pretty much tear up every single time I walk by baby girl clothes in stores.
  • I want to see her interact with her cousins. 
  • I ache to witness my parents loving on her as she grows.
But, no. 
My time with her will be sometime in the distant future. Our forever future!

So, instead...
  • I touch her giraffe that has blood stains and rock her pink bear unfulfilled.
  • Isaac asks to see her photo in my locket, and carries her stuffed animals around.
  • Matt struggles to get through workdays, and we both look to God for help through feeling 'stuck'.
  • I study now year-old photos, and cherish the few we have of all four of us together.
  • I avoid looking at the few unworn outfits we have, and feel my heart break again.
  • I observe my son interact with cousins, and wonder how Anna's story might improve theirs.
  • My parents go on day by day... loving the grandkids who are still here with a love that has deepened because of Anna Joy.
Never enough here, but that is ever reminding me of there...

Waiting, aching with HOPE...

2 Corinthians 4:18
So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Anna's 1st Birthday Recap

(I wrote this first portion sometime end of November or early December 2012... not long before her birthday.)


I bought pink and purple decorations today. When I first entered the store, I was focused on getting the task completed. Then shock hit as I stood lost among aisles of party supplies... 

She's. not. here. 

There won't be photos taken of her in a party hat or eating her first cupcake. There won't be gift wrap torn by little hands. 

Would her hair still be dark and wavy? Would she be long and skinny like Isaac or more rounded like my side of the family? Would she be walking yet?

I cannot believe a year has passed. A year really isn't that long (seems shorter as I get older), but the phrase of "a year" puts time in a box and doesn't make sense to me right now. 

So for today, I look forward and upward in hope. This week and this month aren't going to be easy. No sir. I nearly suffocate some moments as I think about what we were experiencing a year ago. I need to remember that we're not living those days again. We're in a new year, a new season. Live for today. 

What a blessing to have the opportunity to celebrate Anna's birthday and life with my family and friends who have been so supportive through it all. 

This Saturday, December 8th, 2012, Anna Joy would turn one year old. I have been trying to think of all the ways she was blessed instead of being super overwhelmed by all of the time I didn't get to share with her.

(This portion was written the end of January 2013...)

Matt & I anticipated her 1st birthday with both fear and excitement. I dreaded everything about the day - the memories, the emotions, the unknowns of how it would go. I had no idea what would happen or how I would do. We planned her party for the afternoon, but I knew I would need time by myself before all that happened. 

That morning, I intentionally watched the clock. As her birth time approached, I escaped to my room. I hid in the corner on the floor between my nightstand and the hope chest with her giraffe and bear on my chest and stomach. I lit a candle, took out my pen and journal, and bawled as I wrote whatever came... and watched the time. When I saw 9:36 appear, I lost it. The combination of memories and emotions that flooded me is still indescribable. It was the same grief, but a new version I hadn't experienced previously. 

Here's my journal entry from those agonizing minutes huddled in a dreadful sight of tears and pain on the floor:

"It's your first birthday, sweet girl. I weep for all I'm missing about you. A year ago I was pushing you out. God was intervening for us in powerful ways - ways I will never fully understand or be aware of. But I think back and am amazed...
      ... you're almost here...
I was laboring so hard, pulling strength from Father God, being held by Friend Jesus Christ, and comforted by the Holy Spirit.
      I was so motivated to see you. Yes, I had fears, but God was so close - so many people were praying. You are such a blessed girl.
      I will never forget the first time I saw you. I was so thrilled to finally see you and meet you face to face.

{9:36am}      Happy Birthday
                           Anna Joy!

You are my daughter!
      You are such a blessing, a gift I don't deserve to call mine. I will always marvel at your beauty.
      Do you get a birthday party in heaven? Are you like a 1-year-old there?
So much of me wishes you were here. There's so much I didn't get to do with you.
      But I'm truly happy for you, that you don't have to deal with this world. I can only try to imagine what wonders you get to experience. I know you get to dance with Jesus and sit on Father God's lap, wrapped in His loving, everlasting arms.
      Rest there, sweetheart.
Show me what you see, what you hear, what you feel.
      You have changed my life, Anna. I praise God for you and will forever rejoice over you.
      I can't believe it's been a year. Nothing really makes sense anymore.
      We celebrate you today, thanking our Lord for YOU and all the blessings that have come to us because of you."

After that horrible but healing remembrance, I slowly unfolded from the heap, fixed my make-up and went back downstairs to continue setting up for my baby's first birthday party. The first one of many that we have to face without her present. 

We decorated, friends & family gathered, we shared. It was a very comforting, healing day overall. We were again overwhelmed at the support we have not only locally, but from distant friends. 

A friend from church offered to pick up flowers for the party even though she couldn't attend. I pictured just a couple bunches for one arrangement, maybe two if there was enough. This is what she brought me! I was so touched. Another friend came over to help arrange. We had these, plus a few more arrangements people brought. Surrounded by pink gentleness & beauty.

Anna's birthday card from my dad

One of my scrapbook pages. It says,
"I will never forget this sight, this kiss, this joy"

One of her keepsake boxes
On the front door
From another friend: 11 pink and 1 white. So thoughtful!

Even though a year has gone by since we welcomed our Anna Joy into this world and into our arms, it doesn't take much to move us back to that very moment. 

When I was younger, I thought a year was a long time. But I'm learning I can't put labels on what time should feel like or look like anymore.  It can't be true that a whole year has passed! On the other hand, the past year felt so incredibly long some days. 

I may have all that mixed up inside me, but I also have been covered in a sweet grace that I can't help but fall into. I have no doubt we've been protected from so much. I think God has covered our eyes at times so we haven't seen things we weren't ready for, or steered our feet so we'd walk in a brightly lit path - without our knowing. 

The way our Heavenly Father faithfully & gently carries us through has continued to amaze us. Not that we think He would ever drop us, but His care is so very constant, personal, and obvious. 

I may feel that not much makes sense sometimes, but when all I know is that Jesus is with me, and He won't leave me or fail me... nothing else matters. It's what makes this unspeakable heartache survivable. 

I'm holding on, and I'm celebrating through the tears. 

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Papa's Heart

My dad's faith is amazing. He is solid, he is steady, he is certain. 

He has praised God through his own physical challenges and various life stresses.

He has always been a believer in Christ, and has been a strong example his whole life. For about the past decade, God has been changing my dad, softening his heart to people and showing him how to minister in ways he never imagined. His faith hasn't wavered. It's only grown. But this... Anna Joy's journey... this has taken his faith to a whole new level. Maybe not even a "level", but more like a depth. 

I wouldn't necessarily say it's shaken his faith, but a few months ago he told me that he had some challenging conversations with God where he asked questions and poured his heart out. He said he didn't need to stay there long, but it was so good for me to hear that he had to work through stuff, too. He also told me how a couple friends told him they were praying for healing for his heart. 

His response was something like:
I don't want to be healed, not in the sense of getting over it or moving on. Meaning, I don't want to forget how God changed me through this. I want Anna to always remind me to pray fervently and love deeply, but most of all to depend on Him so desperately.

The following photo was taken a short time before Anna Joy went to heaven on December 19, 2011. Early that morning, Papa went to see her and they shared some one-on-one time. He was wearing an orange cap, and she would follow it with her eyes as he moved from one side of her bed to the other. She was obviously struggling more that day. My dad knew it. And as he talked to her and sang to her and prayed for her... through the desperation in her eyes, he sensed she was asking him if she could go. 

And he told her, Yes, it's OK sweet girl. Go to Jesus now...

I can't look at this photo without tearing up or my stomach twisting. I know that look on my dad's face. It's not just an expression, it's many feelings. I wonder what he was whispering to her at that moment. Probably another blessing of faith, a reminder of hope, or pledge of love.

How many of us can say, "I don't want to be healed" if it means carrying a healthy reminder of all the good God has done through unfathomable pain?

(I hope you get what I'm trying to say. Of course we should desire healing from wounds we experience in this life. The point is not forgetting. Scars remind us of something that was painful at one time, but has healed. The lesson is to welcome the reminders, even if they hurt. Because in Anna's story, the reminders eventually point us to positive things. The memories often start as pain, but can turn us to proper perspective of the eternal hope we have in Christ. And that should make a difference in this struggle. It doesn't remove the gut-wrenching pain of loss. It gives purpose in the blur, and draws us closer to a loving God who hates death more than we do.)

Dad, I'm privileged to call you mine, and to be walking this road with you. Thank you for opening your heart to God's sovereignty, to loving Anna Joy with everything in you, and to being healed in an unexpected way... even if that means coming to a place of acceptance of the very thing that caused the most pain. The most pain, but the most growth. 

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Short Update

We're still here, still living life... day by day. In the distance between our posts there have been a lot of good times, and of course a lot of hard times. There are hundreds of photos we've taken over the past couple months of holidays and precious memories. Such as...
Isaac chasing me with snowballs. (Yes, he's in his pajamas.)
Quality time. (Anna roses in the foreground...)
But we don't take pictures of the hard stuff. Can you imagine? Posted on Facebook or here on our blog... Here's me on the couch, bawling as I watch Anna's slideshow. Here's Matt & I having a tense conversation, frustrated at each other because we're both completely worn out emotionally. Here's Isaac looking up into my face with big, endearing blue eyes, wondering if I need a tissue because I miss Anna... again. Here I am, rocking and sobbing over the pink bear Matt made me that weighs what Anna weighed. Me again, frozen over the kitchen sink due to a flashback as a certain song plays, chills rolling up & down my body. No, you probably don't want to see those pictures. But we need to you know that those scenes happen. 

So when you see this (our Christmas card)...
...don't be fooled. Yes, we are joyful and thankful and savoring the moments. But the joy and thankfulness and savoring is hard work some days. Others, <thank GOD>, it is more natural. Or more accurately, it's supernatural. I know the Lord is helping us. We certainly can't do it in our own strength. "... The joy of the Lord is our strength..." Neh. 8:10

(By the way, the white die cut shape you see on the card is actually titled by the company "Anna Snowflake".)

*  *  *

I mainly started a post to "check in" and tell whoever still looks at this that we are here, we are doing well most days, but we still need your prayers and we still need YOU.

There are many amazing things God is showing me. I plan to share some of those soon. In the meantime, on we go... Praising in the heartache, making the moments matter!