This Bittersweet Season of Pregnancy

It’s been awhile since I’ve written anything down.

Because for the last few months I’ve been napping almost daily, barely making it to bedtime on an empty tank of energy, and vomiting a lot.

We’re having another baby, arriving around December 22nd.

Due to my nauseating state of existence, writing has fallen to the bottom of the priority list, but now that I’ve recently turned a desperately-anticipated corner in the nausea department, my mind and heart once again have the capacity to think and feel about other things, besides getting to the toilet quickly enough.

The news of this pregnancy was not unexpected. We were “trying” (whatever that means…) – we were doing our part and trusting God to do his part in his time according to his perfect will.

We rejoice that the Lord has chosen to give us another baby. It’s a blessing beyond measure. We’re eager to welcome a precious child into our family and snuggle this cuddly little babe without end.

But it’s also very, very bittersweet.

It’s another “first” in this journey of grief. My first pregnancy since Evelyn. So it comes with a Rolodex of agonizing memories from the past and new fears about the future that I’m trying to surrender to Jesus. And being true to his character, he is faithfully, gently, lovingly walking by my side through this uncharted and sometimes scary path of faith.

In some ways, it’s similar to the fears that came with our adoption journey, but in a lot of ways it’s different.

As the pregnancy progresses, I find myself encountering fears that have a whole new weight to them now. When one of your worst fears comes true, as ours did with Evelyn, you can’t help but wonder, when will the other shoe drop? Does lightning strike twice in the same place? What if we miscarry? What if the baby is injured? What if our child is stillborn? What if we have another NICU experience? What if I die on the operating table?

And the list goes on…

At times I’ve been tempted to buy a baby doppler so that I can hear the heartbeat at home any time I feel a little anxious. And then I realized that this would be a terrible decision for my heart. Because it would become my crutch. It would become my source of comfort and peace. It would become my god.

I don’t want to trust in a machine. I want to trust in the Lord Almighty.

There are a couple of verses in Psalm 112 that have helped me surrender my fear and in its place, choose to trust God’s love – something I need to do a lot, especially lately.

1 Praise the Lord.
Blessed is the man who fears the Lord,
who finds great delight in his commands…
7 He will have no fear of bad news;
his heart is steadfast, trusting in the Lord.
His heart is secure, he will have no fear…

Praise God that I don’t have to live in a constant state of fear. I can trust in the Lord and find my security in him. Sometimes bad news does come. But I don’t have to be afraid. Because God will always, always take care of me. 

Years ago an old friend told me, “If you worry about it and it happens, you’ve lived through it twice. If you worry about it and it doesn’t happen, you’ve lived through it once unnecessarily.”

I don’t know what the future holds for this pregnancy. It’s possible that something heartbreaking could happen again. But I won’t let that possibility rule over me. I once heard a wise person say, “You can’t help it if a bird lands on your head. But you can keep him from building a nest there.” It’s true there are times when fearful thoughts enter my mind. Sometimes they make me cry. But I refuse to let them dictate my life – easier said than done, but still very possible. I choose to surrender them to Jesus instead. And he is faithful to bring peace and hope.

Since I learned of my pregnancy I’ve been reading Psalm 62 pretty regularly. It’s a lifeline to me in this season. Here are some snippets:

1 My soul finds rest in God alone;
my salvation comes from him.

2 He alone is my rock and my salvation;
he is my fortress, I will never be shaken…

7 My salvation and my honor depend on God;
he is my mighty rock, my refuge.
8 Trust in him at all times, O people;
pour out your hearts to him,
for God is our refuge…

11 One thing God has spoken,
two things I have heard;
that you, O God, are strong,
12 and that you, O Lord, are loving…

There are so many things I love about this Psalm, but I especially love the fact that God is my refuge – my shelter and protection from danger or distress. I can find safety in him. And I will. Every time I’m inclined to fear or worry, I will hide in him. I will also share my fears with him because he invites me to pour out my heart to him. And he is faithful to comfort me again and again. At the end of the day, I will remember two unshakable truths about God: that he is strong and loving. I will rest in that. And by God’s grace, I’ll even be able to enjoy this pregnancy and eagerly anticipate the arrival of our fourth child.

Family Ever After: Our Adoption Story

“I’ve been thinking about adoption,” I said as we drove to Children’s Hospital for the last time.

“Me too,” said my husband.

With tears in our eyes and the deepest of sorrow in our souls, we spent three more bittersweet days with our dying daughter. We surrendered her to Jesus, ushered her into heaven, and drove home with an empty back seat, weary and overcome with grief.

Our almost 2-year-old son was once again an only child.

This was not how we had imagined growing our family.

We always knew that adoption would be a part of our lives, but in our perfect plan we would have our biological children first and then continue to add children through adoption.

But after two unplanned albeit necessary c-sections, my body was now limited in how many children I could grow in my own womb. Additionally, I needed to wait at least a year until trying to conceive again.

Even assuming my next pregnancy and delivery would happen without any complications, the thought of waiting that long to have another child felt like an eternity.

Maybe God was leading us down the road of adoption now. Or maybe we were crazy.

Were we being impulsive? Were we just desperate for a baby to hold? Were we rushing through our grief?

We prayed and prayed. We sought counsel from people who love us enough to tell us the truth. And the resounding affirmation was: Yes. Adoption.

It had always been on our hearts, so we knew we weren’t being impulsive.

We did long for a baby, but we knew we weren’t desperate. We weren’t grasping for a rebound baby. No child could ever replace our daughter. We were seeking a beautiful, unique addition to our family. We love being parents and we desire to have several children. We wanted to keep growing our family.

We weren’t rushing through our grief. Adoption takes time. And we knew that our grief would change and certain healing would come even as we continued to move forward.

So we took our first step and contacted Christian Adoption Consultants and Burlington United Methodist Family Services.

Then we filled out mounds of paperwork. We prayed. We went through hours of training. We cried. We read piles of articles. We grieved. We completed a laborious home study. We hoped. Then we were ready to start presenting to expectant birth families. We waited.

And a whole new wave of doubt and fear crept into our hearts. What if the adoption fails and we lose another baby? What if the birth family lies to us about health issues? What if we unknowingly get matched with a very sick baby? Our hearts can’t possibly endure the NICU again. Or worse yet, death. What if…?

But it seemed like every fear we uttered in prayer was replaced with a stronger promise from the heart of God.

I will never leave you or forsake you. (Deut. 31:6)
I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength. (Phil. 4:13)
There is no fear in love. Perfect love drives out fear. (1 John 4:18)
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me. (Psalm 23:4)
My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. (2 Cor. 12:9)

There are no guarantees in adoption. There are no guarantees with biological children. But these things are guaranteed: God is loving. God restores. God sees. God redeems. God heals. God saves. God is powerful. God is for me. God provides. God is good.

Day by day, we trusted God to direct our path in his perfect will.

And then we got the call – just 5 1/2 months after beginning our adoption journey. We were chosen by a courageous birth mother in West Virginia. Her baby boy was due on August 5th – less than a month away.

On August 8th he made his grand entrance into the world:
Sawyer Levi / 8 lb. 7 oz. / 20 in.

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In God’s sovereign plan, he chose to intersect the lives of our family with Sawyer’s birth family, each with our own journey of heartache, and forever join our hearts through the life of this beautiful baby.

We spent three precious days in the hospital with our baby and his birth mom, then we drove home with a sleeping infant in the back seat, our hearts brimming with restored joy and a renewed sense of hope.

On April 10th he officially and forever became a part of our family.

It’s almost impossible to describe all of the ways Sawyer has enriched our lives. Or the ways God has used him as an instrument of healing in our hearts. Or the elation we feel when Caleb kisses and hugs his little brother, reads to him, comforts him, and pokes him a little too hard like big brothers do. Or the ways our faith has been strengthened because God called us out into the unknown.

We know all too well that not every story has a happy ending on this side of heaven. But we know with an even deeper confidence that “in all things, God works for the good of those who love him, who are called according to his purposes” (Rom. 8:28).

We praise the Lord that he can miraculously bring beauty from ashes (Isaiah 61),  that he can take seeds of sorrow and create joy (Psalm 126:5), that he withholds no good thing from those whose walk is blameless (Psalm 84:11).

This is certainly not the way we imagined growing our family. But we are thankful that we’ve never walked alone. And we are thankful that even though sorrow may last for a night, joy comes in the morning (Psalm 30:5).

We now have a little blue-eyed cutie pie to snuggle with every day, squishy cheeks to cover with kisses, and tiny toes to tickle. His laughter and gummy smile fill our home with endless delight. We have this incredible baby to love and cherish and nurture.

The Lord has done great things. And we can finally say:

Welcome to our family Sawyer Levi Smith. We love you forever, our dear son.

To the Lady at the Grocery Store Who Didn’t Judge Me

Dear Lady,

You saw me struggling in the parking lot. In the rain. With frizzy hair and donning a very unattractive outfit, two small kids in tow.

Minutes before I encountered you, I was trying to keep my composure as my 3-year-old’s world fell apart because I told him he couldn’t get a balloon. We don’t always get what we want, right? And although it’s tempting to placate a tantrum by giving in, I stood my ground at the risk of public embarrassment, knowing it was better for his character in the long run, albeit hurtful to my pride in the here and now.

So I was carrying said child (who weighs 40 pounds might I add) on my hip, while he was crying loudly and squirming, as the baby sat in the cart. (This was only shortly after a few strangers complimented my darling, well-behaved kids. My, how the tide turns quickly…) I awkwardly and embarrassingly tried to push the cart to the self-checkout line one-handed. Buying my four items seemed to take an hour. And then I still needed to go to the regular checkout line afterwards because no one knew how to help me buy stamps at the self-checkout. As we were leaving the store, my mobile child was lured to the evil machine that dispenses bouncy balls, and it took quite an effort to convince him to walk away from it.

As we traversed through the parking lot (did I mention it was raining?), we finally arrived at our vehicle, only to discover that my oldest had inconspicuously placed a stuffed animal toy ball thing at the bottom of the cart, and I quote, “Because my other toy balls at home are lonely.” Stifling my frustration, I attempted to hoist him into the cart so that we could go back into the store to return the stolen item.

And then an angel appeared. Strangely enough, the angel looked a lot like you. You were with your son, beginning to load groceries into your car that was parked next to mine.

You noticed me and asked if you could help me push the cart while I put the kids into the car.

“Have you ever had a day like this?” I said to you with a look of defeat. And you responded with an emphatically compassionate, “Yes.”

I explained that I was actually on my way back into the store to return the furry contraband. So you offered to take the toy into the store for me.

I gave a sincere “Thank you,” but I really wanted to wrap you in a hug. You were a stranger. You could have judged my parenting on account of my wiggly, emotional child. You could have quietly put your groceries into your car, pretending not to notice me. But instead, you offered compassion. To me, a total stranger.

You touched my heart today. And you taught me a valuable lesson: When there’s an opportunity to offer compassion instead of judgment, do it.

I hope to be like you when I grow up.

A Profound Way to Describe Grief

I came across this link on Facebook the other day. It’s too good not to share.

Someone on reddit wrote the following heartfelt plea online:

“My friend just died. I don’t know what to do.”

A lot of people responded. Then there’s one old guy’s incredible comment that stood out from the rest that might just change the way we approach life and death.

“Alright, here goes. I’m old. What that means is that I’ve survived (so far) and a lot of people I’ve known and loved did not. I’ve lost friends, best friends, acquaintances, co-workers, grandparents, mom, relatives, teachers, mentors, students, neighbors, and a host of other folks. I have no children, and I can’t imagine the pain it must be to lose a child. But here’s my two cents.

I wish I could say you get used to people dying. I never did. I don’t want to. It tears a hole through me whenever somebody I love dies, no matter the circumstances. But I don’t want it to ‘not matter’. I don’t want it to be something that just passes. My scars are a testament to the love and the relationship that I had for and with that person. And if the scar is deep, so was the love. So be it. Scars are a testament that I can love deeply and live deeply and be cut, or even gouged, and that I can heal and continue to live and continue to love. And the scar tissue is stronger than the original flesh ever was. Scars are a testament to life. Scars are only ugly to people who can’t see.

As for grief, you’ll find it comes in waves. When the ship is first wrecked, you’re drowning, with wreckage all around you. Everything floating around you reminds you of the beauty and the magnificence of the ship that was, and is no more. And all you can do is float. You find some piece of the wreckage and you hang on for awhile. Maybe it’s some physical thing. Maybe it’s a happy memory or a photograph. Maybe it’s a person who is also floating. For awhile, all you can do is float. Stay alive.

In the beginning, the waves are 100 feet tall and crash over you without mercy. They come 10 seconds apart and don’t even give you time to catch your breath. All you can do is hang on and float. After awhile, maybe weeks, maybe months, you’ll find the waves are still 100 feet tall, but they come further apart. When they come, they still crash all over you and wipe you out. But in between, you can breathe, you can function. You never know what’s going to trigger the grief. It might be a song, a picture, a street intersection, the smell of a cup of coffee. It can be just about anything…and the wave comes crashing. But in between waves, there is life.

Somewhere down the line, and it’s different for everybody, you find that the waves are only 80 feet tall. Or 50 feet tall. And while they still come, they come further apart. You can see them coming. An anniversary, a birthday, or Christmas, or landing at O’Hare. You can see it coming, for the most part, and prepare yourself. And when it washes over you, you know that somehow you will, again, come out the other side. Soaking wet, sputtering, still hanging on to some tiny piece of the wreckage, but you’ll come out.

Take it from an old guy. The waves never stop coming, and somehow you don’t really want them to. But you learn that you’ll survive them. And other waves will come. And you’ll survive them too. If you’re lucky, you’ll have lots of scars from lots of loves. And lots of shipwrecks.”

If you know grief, then you know these words are true.

In the middle of the storms and crashing waves, I can testify that I “have this hope as an anchor for my soul, firm and secure” (Hebrews 6:19).

When I see a baby that is the same age Evelyn would be, I cling to Jesus, my anchor.
When I hear of other people giving birth to healthy babies, I cling to Jesus.
When I watch others experience the unbearable loss of a child, I cling to Jesus.
When my 3-year-old tells me he misses our baby Evelyn, I cling to Jesus.
When my Facebook news feed reminds me of a bittersweet memory, I cling to Jesus.
When I go to the park…
Drive by the hospital…
Hear that song…
See a billboard…
Close my eyes at night…

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In a strange way, I miss the intensity of the shipwreck because it was so raw and I felt so much closer to Evelyn in the genesis of my grief. But I do praise God that he is faithful to bring healing, to calm the storm and allow me a merciful reprieve in between the impending waves. A chance to breathe a little and live again.

As the waves inevitably come crashing for the rest of my days, I will continue to cling to Jesus, my anchor. Because he truly has provided a “living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ…into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade…” (1 Peter 1:3-4).

When Blessing Is Born From Evil: A Story of Rape and Redemption

{This is a guest blog post in a series called Trusting God Through Trials. My heartfelt thanks to Linda for bravely sharing her story, thereby inviting all of us into this most intimate part of her life. I especially am among the grateful. Because her daughter became one of my best friends.}

“God’s Promises”, by Linda

On July 24, 1984 the world as I knew it shattered. I was raped.

Even now I’m not sure how to describe the impact of that night or how it felt to spiral through the aftermath of the weeks and months that followed. Reliving the terror of that moment when you realize what is going to happen to you. The fear, the anger, the shame and the guilt – guilt that eventually morphs into self-loathing – no, self-hatred. My thoughts wouldn’t focus. What’s wrong with me? I feel paralyzed! This has to be a bad dream. I just need to wake up. Wake up Linda, WAKE UP!!! 

As one day melted into the next and then the next, unrelenting tears trailed off into an isolated silence. The busyness of day-to-day life was a welcome relief but I still felt empty and alone.

Weeks later, physically exhausted and unable to keep food down, I went to see a doctor. Three days later my phone rang. It was the doctor’s office with the news that I was pregnant. Once again I was hurled through a tornado of razor sharp emotions – shredded physically, mentally and emotionally. I just wanted to go to sleep and not wake up.

Unable to eat, I returned to the doctor. On this visit he gave me a prescription for the nausea and then suggested that I consider having an abortion. He put his hand on my shoulder as he explained that it would be best for my physical and mental well-being. He was caring and compassionate and suddenly I felt this overwhelming sense of relief. After all, he was a doctor and knew what was best for me. He told me to schedule “the procedure” within the next two weeks, as I was already six weeks along in my pregnancy.

I felt so alone, almost hollow inside. By now I was used to fitful, restless nights of tossing and turning but on this night it was different. This night I was consumed by my thoughts, my fears, my bitterness, my anguish. This night as I lay there my heart was pounding, racing. I could feel every nerve in my body firing so much so that I thought I would explode. Why did I have to make this decision? I can’t make this decision! What if I make the wrong decision? No matter what decision I make my life is ruined!!!

Then through the dizzying din of thoughts and emotions whirling inside me, there came a voice. A voice that was kind and gentle. Almost a whisper, “My daughter, do you not know of the plans that I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future?” 

The barrage of chatter in my head suddenly fell silent. My heartbeat slowed and a peace and warmth enveloped me that I had never felt before. I can’t tell you exactly what happened that night, but for the first time in weeks my head cleared; the fog was gone.

As I listened that night, He told me how much He loved me and how my pain was His pain. That no matter what I did, no matter what choice I made, He loved me. His love for me was unconditional. Those words were life-changing, no, life-giving to me. He went on to tell me about the child who was growing inside me and that if I would just trust Him, He would bless my life with her life. He reminded me that what this world intends for evil purposes, He is able to use for His glory. This child would be a part of His plan here on earth.

That night He made a promise to me that the baby I carried within would impact not only my life, but the lives of so many others. For the first time in a long time I felt joy and excitement wash over me. Though the scars of what I’d been through were visible, suddenly that’s all they were now – just scars. My wounds were gone, somehow healed.

Over the next few months as I journeyed through life’s ups and downs, even as I experienced its trials and hardships, I had a new sense of purpose. God had given me – trusted me – with this precious child. Whenever the feelings of fear and doubt resurfaced, I remembered His words, His promise about the plans he had for my life, for our lives.

God kept His promise – He blessed my life on April 24, 1985 with a baby girl. At 12:56 a.m. weighing in at 8 pounds 10 ounces, Sarah Juanita was born. From the moment of conception my life has been eternally interwoven with hers. What joy and jubilation she infuses into my existence! Not that every day or night has been carefree or easy, as any parent can attest, but I found a sense of happiness that I had never before experienced. I was a mother – Sarah’s mother. The hurt and anguish of that one night was forever replaced by the deepest of loves.

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To say that Sarah has blessed my life is an understatement. The joy and laughter that we’ve shared is beyond measure. Oh the memories that I have collected over the years! Hundreds of hours of reading bedtime stories, watching “Lady and the Tramp” over and over and over again, biking along Walnut Creek, riding the merry-go-round at Adventureland Park, playing endless games of Hungry, Hungry Hippo and Go Fish, cheerleading competitions, shopping for prom dresses, family trips to Arizona to visit Grandma and Grandpa – so many adventures to cherish.

God kept His promise – Over the years He has continued to use her life for His glory. I still remember New Year’s Day 2009, the day I hugged my daughter goodbye surrounded by family and friends as she headed to Ankara, Turkey. For 2 ½ years she would serve as a missionary to children – she would share her love, God’s love, with another nation.

Turkey

God kept His promise – Sarah not only impacted my life, but the lives of so many others. I cannot count all of the wonderful people who have touched my life because of the friendships she nurtured, the lives she poured into over the years. Sarah Joy, Kate, Katie, Mark, Jodi, Morgan, LeAnne, Emma, Jordan and so many, many more.

On March 31, 2012 Sarah married a wonderful man, my son-in-law Ben, and in June 2013 they gave birth to the first of my two amazing grandsons. I now get to ride the merry-go-rounds, play Go Fish and read stories all over again! Oh the joy that fills my soul!!!

Bradley

God kept His promise – He had plans to prosper me, not to harm me, plans to give me hope and a future. Every great once in a while I think back to that 24-year-old who lay curled up on the floor feeling abandoned and afraid. A young woman paralyzed by fear and self-doubt.

I am forever grateful to God who reached out to me to share not only the truth about the child I carried within but also about His unconditional love for me. God kept all of the promises He made to me that night. He’s like that you know, ever faithful and full of grace.

Oh how grateful I am that 32 years ago I made the choice, the life-changing choice, to cling to his promises, to trust Him, both with my life and with hers.

(If you or someone you know is the victim of rape, call the 24 hour National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800-656-HOPE or visit www.rainn.org. If you’re seeking healing from an abortion, this is one article and resource to consider.)

Be A Breast Milk Donor

I love to be a giver. But lately, it seems like I’ve been on the receiving end of things more often than not. I suppose that’s okay though. Life has its seasons, right?

Over the last six months I’ve received thousands of ounces of breast milk. For the baby, just to be clear.

And if there was ever a time that it takes a village to raise a baby, this would be it. To date, there have been 15 ladies who have donated to our little babe. A few of them are friends, a few are acquaintances, and some are total strangers.

At first, I didn’t think I’d feel comfortable asking people for their milk. Feels a little weird. But when my attempt at re-lactating didn’t cut it for our growing baby’s needs, I realized that I valued the benefits of breast milk more than my feelings.

After swallowing my pride, I asked some friends directly. I also posted a request on a local “mom” Facebook page. This carried us through for a couple of months. Some donated over a thousand ounces. Others donated less than 20 oz. Every drop was precious. But when the milk started to run low, I became more willing to cast the net wider. (At times we’ve supplemented with formula to stretch the breast milk a little bit longer. And oh, how thankful I am that formula is out there.)

I posted requests on two nationally recognized groups called Human Milk 4 Human Babies and Eats on Feets. Then I waited and prayed.

I went back to the basics of the Lord’s prayer, where Jesus teaches us to say:

“Father,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come.
Give us each day our daily bread.
Forgive us our sins,
    for we also forgive everyone who sins against us.
And lead us not into temptation.”
(Luke 11:2-4)

So my prayer literally became, “Lord, please give us enough milk for today.” And as sure as the sky is blue, on more than one occasion when we were down to our last ounces, another donor came through for us in the 11th hour.

Daily bread milk.

One mom had a freezer full of milk – probably over 1500 oz. altogether. She thought she would have to throw it away. We drove an hour and a half to pick it up.

And days before that milk ran out…

Another mom, who lives on the other side of the country, was traveling for business and not-so-coincidentally happened to be staying in my not-so-big town. (God is masterful at connections like this.) She found me through one of the breast milk sharing websites, and pumped milk for us the entire week she was here. Look what she wrote on the storage bags. As if giving us her milk wasn’t kind enough, she had to go and be one of the sweetest people I’ve ever met. Melted my heart into a puddle on the floor.

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I’ve wondered over and over again, why does God even care about providing breast milk for our child? It seems so silly, so trivial in light of the multitude of other needs in the world. After all, I can give our child formula and it would still be very nourishing and beneficial. But here’s what’s true of God’s heart:

Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Luke 11:11-13).

God loves to give good gifts to his children. He loves providing breast milk for our baby. Because His heart is generous and good.

And when the milk starts to run low again, the Lord leads me to some truths that help me rest in His faithfulness:

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life… But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. (Matthew 6:25-34, excerpt)

Our chunky baby has been primarily on breast milk for over 6 months now.

Because God is faithful.

And because the women He has connected us with are generous, kind, sacrificial, loving mamas.

If you’re able to be a donor, please consider it. I’m certain there are babies in your area who could benefit from your milk. Sick babies. Adopted babies. Babies whose mommies can’t produce enough milk or any milk at all. You will be a blessing. I guarantee it.

With tears in my eyes, I am overwhelmed with gratitude and love for the women that have given us such a valuable gift, expecting nothing in return.

So thank you Christa, Erin, Sarah, Margot, Nikki, Danni, Brigid, Sarah, Anna Jo, Meredith, Jessica, Heather, Natalie, Gabbi, and Kara.

We love you.

And these thigh rolls thank you as well.untitled-design-1

Come and See

One year ago today, Preston and I were lying next to one another on a pullout chair in the NICU at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh. He was cradling Evelyn’s tiny 6 pound body on his broad chest when she took her last breath, ushering her into eternity. We held her for a long time afterwards, just staring, holding her, desperately soaking in every touch, trying to sear her precious image into our minds. Because our time with her was done on this side of heaven. And it was hard to say goodbye.

For many reasons, today is a day of great sadness in our family. We miss our daughter. Oh, how we miss her. Tears are still shed. Longings are left unfulfilled. Questions remain.

But with the most tender of mercies, the Lord has been drawing my attention to another little baby today. A tiny child who lay in a manger two thousand years ago, making his grand, humble entrance into our world, bringing with him the very presence of God, full of light and love. He came to serve, love, redeem, forgive, rescue, and restore. It was a day of good news for all the people.

Throughout our journey over the past 12 months, people have often commented on our strength and inspiration in the face of tragedy. But truly, we must defer all credit where credit is due.

Scripture says in 2 Corinthians 4:7-11, But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body. So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.

We are nothing more than jars of clay. Merely common vessels.

But through faith, we have been filled with a priceless treasure. His name is Jesus. And his power is our very real source of strength and hope. Without him, we would be a mess.

It’s my most earnest prayer today, on the anniversary of Evelyn’s death, that people would ultimately be drawn to Jesus.

One of my recent favorite passages in scripture was the time Jesus called Philip and Nathanael to be his disciples. It goes like this (John 1:43-51):

The next day Jesus decided to leave for Galilee. Finding Philip, he said to him, “Follow me.”

Philip, like Andrew and Peter, was from the town of Bethsaida. Philip found Nathanael and told him, “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote—Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.”

“Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” Nathanael asked.

“Come and see,” said Philip.

When Jesus saw Nathanael approaching, he said of him, “Here truly is an Israelite in whom there is no deceit.”

“How do you know me?” Nathanael asked.

Jesus answered, “I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you.”

Then Nathanael declared, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the king of Israel.”

Jesus said, “You believe because I told you I saw you under the fig tree. You will see greater things than that.” He then added, “Very truly I tell you, you will see ‘heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on’ the Son of Man.”

Right now I feel like Philip. Trying to tell everyone that I’ve found Jesus. He’s the promised savior who came into the world, died, rose again, and lives in those who believe. But you must come and see for yourself. And the amazing thing is, Jesus already sees you and knows you. He found you first.

Would you come to him?

Merry Christmas.

(P.S. I’ve been listening to this song, weeping, praising Jesus, all while writing this post. Be blessed…)

Trusting God Through Trials: A Series

Have you ever bought a new car only to suddenly realize that a lot of other people drive that car too? It’s weird. It’s not like tons of people coincidentally purchased the exact same vehicle at the exact same time as you did. It’s actually just your perspective that has changed. Now that you have your shiny new car (or your less-than-shiny used car…sorry, pre-owned car), you become more aware of that particular vehicle all around you.

I feel like the same is true for facing trials. Once you go through a suffering season, your perspective changes in tremendous ways, and you become acutely aware of other hurting people around you.

And let me assure you, there are a lot of hurting (and healing) people around you right now, whether or not you’re aware.

I’m astounded at the number people in my life who have stories to share. Powerful stories filled with deep heartache that dawns with the light of magnificent redemption. I’ve personally been impacted by their testimonies. By God’s grace, I’m changed in some way because of them. My faith in Jesus is stronger now than it was before encountering their journey.

In 2nd Corinthians 1:3-5, the Apostle Paul writes, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ,” (emphasis added).

Amazingly, God doesn’t waste our trials. He meets us right in the thick of them. He comforts us with a fatherly compassion. And then, he makes a way for that comfort to overflow from our lives into someone else’s hurting heart. In a miraculous way, it draws us to each other and to Jesus. We receive comfort and Jesus receives glory.

I need to soak in that for a minute…

Suffering binds people to each other. And ultimately it binds us to Jesus, the true suffering servant, who died on the cross to endure our sin, so that we can be free to live at peace with God, even now, with a joyous hope that will carry us into eternity.

Have you gone through something hard? Let God meet you in the dark pit and comfort you with his perfect love. And then, allow that comfort to touch other peoples’ hearts, so that they can experience Jesus too.

I’m honored to begin sharing some beautifully dissonant stories with you in a new series titled “Trusting God Through Trials”. I pray that the words from these precious people will draw you closer to one another and to Jesus.

Stay tuned…

3 things that have surprised me about adoption (so far)

{The above picture is of our family’s hands, minus Caleb because he was having a toddler moment and didn’t want to participate in the mushy gushy. Oh well.}

November is National Adoption Month. It’s also Banana Pudding Lovers Month, No Shave November, Aviation History Month, and a whole host of other notable observations.

And while I do enjoy bananas, beards, and the miracle of flight, none of those things come anywhere close to the deep well of love that I have in my heart for adoption.

So in the spirit of November and adoption, I thought I’d share a few things that have surprised me (so far) about this beautiful, emotional, holy way to build a family.

1 . I Love You All The Same
Many adoptive parents wonder if they’ll be able to love their adopted child with the same love as a biological child. We wondered what it would be like for us once we met our little babe. Would there be an immediate connection? Or would it be a process? But since the beginning, it’s always felt…normal. We can testify that the love of a parent doesn’t distinguish based on DNA. A parent’s love is non-discriminatory, all-inclusive, forever and ever, amen. (Only good ol’ country music fans will catch that last reference.) We’ve even had a couple of family members share, with great vulnerability, that they were nervous about loving our adopted child with the same love as our biological children. But through smiles and tears, they confessed that there has never been a difference. Not even for a moment.

2 . My Love For Birth Mom
Let me grab a tissue real quick. Because it’s hard for me to talk about our child’s birth mom without getting emotional. I knew I would be grateful to her. But I never expected such a deep, deep love for her. In many ways, she is a part of our family. To put it too simply, if it weren’t for her, we wouldn’t have our third child.

From the moment we heard about her, met her, and said goodbye to her, there was within my heart a new space that opened up. Her life has not been easy. But even in the midst of the hard stuff, she chose to put her baby’s needs above her own, giving the child of her womb the opportunity for a life that she felt she couldn’t provide right now. The courage, the sacrificial love, the selflessness, the strength that it takes to make a decision like that is beyond commendable. We pray for her. We speak of her with dignity and honor at all times. We love her so much.

3 . The Most Popular Question and Comment
I was as prepared as I could be for a whole host of questions. Generally, they come from a place of loving curiosity from friends and family and even strangers. The various questions can be a wonderful opportunity to share about the beauty of adoption and to educate people on the process, to some degree. Many of the questions we’ve received have been fairly predictable and easy to answer. Others have left me dumbfounded, shocked, floundering to give an answer wrapped in grace and truth, being honest while also not feeling obligated to share personal information. But mostly, I’ve been surprised at the most popular question and comment that people have had for our family…

Most popular question: How old is your baby’s mom?
My answer: I’m 31.

Most popular comment: You look great for just having a baby!
My answer: Thank you!

Has your family adopted? What are some of the things that have surprised you?

Practical Ways to Help a Grieving Family

{I’m not an expert on funeral/grief etiquette, but I have gone through personal loss. While grief is different for everyone, and there’s not a comprehensive, copy and paste list of suggestions that will apply perfectly to every situation, my aim is to offer a few general suggestions that will probably work in most cases. Thank you to my friends that have contributed their experiences to this post. If you have other suggestions from your experience, please comment below. Your insight matters.}

When someone you know and love experiences loss, it’s not always clear how to support them in their grief. In fact, they may not know how they need to be supported either. Grief and loss are deep waters that feel overwhelming. The waters are tricky to navigate. But it’s critical to put your hands to the helm because your love and support is needed now more than ever.

Commonly, people are afraid of doing the wrong thing or saying something stupid, so they end up doing nothing at all. Don’t be that person. Do something!

But first, let me hit pause briefly before I get into the practical advice. Perhaps the most important thing to remember is this: Your goal is not to take away their sadness. Your goal is to enter into it.

Proverbs 25:20 says, “Like one who takes away a garment on a cold day, or like vinegar poured on a wound, is one who sings songs to a heavy heart.” Don’t try to cheer them up. It only adds to the pain. Instead, be compassionate. Literally, suffer with them.

And now…

Here are 3 practical ways to help a grieving family:

1. Be present.
This almost seems too obvious, but your presence is the most important piece of the entire equation. Grief is lonely and dark at times. Knowing that people are there with you in the pit makes it more bearable. Let me spell it out even more:

Go to the funeral.
I cannot emphasize this enough. Whether you are an acquaintance or a best friend, do whatever you can to show up at the viewing/funeral services. Find a sitter. Buy a plane ticket. Rearrange your schedule. You will never regret going. But you may regret not going. Funerals often make people uncomfortable because it’s hard to face death (especially depending on the cause of death). But step into their shoes for a moment and imagine how they feel. Don’t put your personal discomfort over the great pain of their loss. When you go, you don’t even have to say anything (although you certainly can say something). A hug or handshake or a simple “I’m so sorry for your loss” can be enough. Your. Presence. Matters.

I remember standing on the stage at Evelyn’s funeral, looking out into a room full of people that we know and love. Roughly 99% of those in attendance had never met our daughter. I don’t remember seeing specific faces. But I remember that people were there. A lot of people. Some drove 13 hours one way. Some spent ridiculous amounts of money on a plane ticket. Others came from just down the street. But they all showed up. And it mattered.

Send a gift/memorial.
Understandably, there are various reasons that people can’t attend a funeral, no matter how hard they try to make it work. If you can’t be there in person, there are other ways you can express a tangible gesture of sympathy in place of your physical presence. (You can also do these things in addition to attending the funeral services.)
– Send a card
– Send flowers
– Send money to the family directly or to a memorial (this is generally specified in the obituary). The amount does not matter. I promise.
– Think creatively about a memorial gift:

  • Buy a beautiful piece of personalized jewelry. (I love this site because you can request one-of-a-kind designs or search from existing pieces. Though I know this particular designer won’t be everyone’s taste, it may inspire another idea. You could also Google “Memorial Jewelry” and see what pops up.)
  • Buy a star (yes, a real star in the sky) in honor of their loved one.
  • Picture frames, decorations like a Willow Tree angel, etc.
  • A stuffed animal made from clothing of the loved one. (Google “Memory Bear” and you’ll get a lot of options.) You could also have pillows or a quilt made from their clothing.
  • Christmas ornaments. (We received several of these since Evelyn died two days before Christmas.)
  • A tree or bush that the family can plant on their property or another special location.

In all honesty, the gifts that we received in memory of Evelyn weren’t all my particular “taste”. But that’s not the point. It’s less about the gift and more about the heart behind it. People remembered her. And they expressed their remembrance. We kept every single one.

2. Say something.
Knowing what to say is quite possibly the hardest thing to discern. But take heart because you don’t need to speak nearly as much as you need to listen.

Keep Talking
Visit. Text. Call. Email. Let them talk about deep heart issues. About everyday life. About the person who died. Just keep talking. It hurts far more to think that the loved one is forgotten than to be reminded of them. One of my dear friends regularly asks me, “How’s your heart?” It’s a simple question that gives me the freedom to share whatever I need to share at the time.

Personally, I think about Evelyn all the time. And her memory constantly surfaces throughout the day. If I talked about her every time I thought about her, well… I fear that I’d be annoying. So when someone asks, when someone invites me to share, it allows me the opportunity to talk about what’s always on my mind anyway.

Remember With Them
There are a handful of people in my life who send me a text on the 3rd and 23rd of each month. Evelyn was born on Dec 3rd and died on Dec 23rd. Those dates have new meaning and deep emotion attached to them. When others let me know that they remember her too, it comforts my heart. My mom sent roses on the 3rd of each month – one rose for every month older that Evelyn would have been. I cried every time. But I put the roses in a vase and set them in a prominent place in the house. Because it touched my heart that someone else remembered her.

If there are certain dates that might have significance to the grieving family, let them know that you are thinking of them when those times approach. Write it on your calendar. Put a reminder in your phone. Remembering matters.

3. Just do something.
Perhaps the least helpful thing you can say to a grieving family is “Let me know if there’s anything I can do for you.” It’s merely a passive way of offering help, even though it certainly comes from a place of good intentions. When a person is in crisis, they will most likely not come to you asking for help. Instead, try asking these proactive questions. (Keep in mind, these depend on your level of relationship with the person.)

  • Offer to watch their kids.
    “May I watch your kids one night this week? I’m free on Tuesday and Friday. Are those days good for you? If not, what other night would work?”
  • Bring them meals. (If you can’t prepare a home cooked meal, consider sending a gift card to a restaurant. A place that does delivery or carry out may be a great option.)
    “I’d love to bring you a meal. Is Monday a good time?”
    “May I set up a Meal Schedule for your family? When is a good time to start?”
  • Offer to clean their house.
    “Suzy and I would like to help with household duties. We can come over any evening this week. Would that be helpful to you right now?”

It Takes a Village
In the same way that “it takes a village” to raise a family, it also takes a village to grieve the death of a loved one. If you happen to be a part of someone’s proverbial village, take your role to heart and be there to support them in their loss – days, weeks, months and years beyond. After all, one day each of us will be standing in their shoes as we face the death of someone we love. Let’s be there for each other.