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.