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.

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.

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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!!!

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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…

Mulligan, Please?

Sometimes I wish I could take a mulligan as a parent.

There are days that just plain stink. And this particular aroma doesn’t come from the pungent diapers waiting to be taken outside to the trash can. It comes from within the depths of my heart. Manufactured by my very own sin.

A few weeks back I was failing at every turn. Over-reacting about trivial things. Frustrated. Lacking grace. Impatient. Grouchy. All in all, a real peach to be around. Not a great candidate for “Mom Of The Year”. I was counting down the hours until bedtime so that I could take off my parenting hat for a much-needed reprieve.

As we neared the end of Caleb’s bedtime routine, we were cuddling on his floor in the dark (It’s weird, I know…especially since there’s a plush rocking chair within arms reach). We prayed through our normal list of people. We sang our usual song. Then Caleb rolled over to face me, his squishy toddler face just inches away, and he said, “Mommy,  you’re a good mommy.” He rotated 180 degrees to face Preston’s silhouette and said tenderly, “Daddy, you’re a good daddy.”

I wiped up my heart, which had immediately melted into a puddle on the floor, and began to soak in the grace of God, which he had extended to me, in that moment, through my oldest child. The gospel was shining brightly in Caleb’s dark room.

On a day that I felt quite unlovable, God loved me still. In the midst of my failures and short-comings, he pulled me close and reminded me of what is true:

“But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)

It’s when I was at my worst that Jesus hung on the cross for me. And even now, on my yucky days, he continues to lavish me with this great and unfathomable love.

How amazing. God’s grace is always greater than my sin. It covers me completely.

But where sin abounded, grace abounded much more…” (Romans 5:21)

Instead of condemnation for my failures that day, he lovingly convicted me by his Spirit and gave me grace to keep going, to take my mulligan.

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
    his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
    great is your faithfulness.
(Lamentations 3:22-23)

And that’s how it goes. Just when I think things can’t get any worse on some days, Jesus overwhelms me with his grace. Sometimes he speaks through donkeys. But in my life, it’s generally through a two-year-old boy named Caleb.

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My stick-loving, dinosaur-holding, intertube-wearing, leftover-smoothie-on-his-forehead, grace-giving boy.

 

The Days Are Long, But the Years Are Short (And Eternity is Forever)

The days are long, but the years are short.

If you’re a parent of little ones (or medium ones or big ones), this proverbial nugget has likely resonated in your soul a time or two (or perhaps a hundred times or a thousand bajillion times).

Time can drag on. When the days are full of poop and meltdowns and play dates and a myriad of activities, sleepless nights and discipline, they can feel long.

Yet simultaneously, time is so fleeting. You blink and your toddler is starting preschool. Or your son is getting married. Or your kids are having kids of their own.

For me, it’s strange how the presence of grief has altered my perspective of time.

Lately the long days feel especially long as we adjust to our growing family and figure out how it all fits in with my ever-present, ever-evolving grief. I miss Evelyn all the time, without end. Adding another precious child into our lives has certainly increased our joy, but it hasn’t diminished the ache of our loss. Heaven can feel so far away as the pang of Evelyn’s memory hangs heavy in my soul while I wait.

I was reading in 1 Peter this morning (while everyone in the house was miraculously sleeping at the same time), and if scripture could speak audibly, then that’s what it did…

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

It seems almost unnecessary to expound on such a rich passage. It stands on its own with so much power. But here are my reflections anyway.

“Though for a little while…”

I’ll tell you what – the particular trial of losing Evelyn doesn’t feel like it’s only lasting for a little while. It has touched every aspect of my life and there are constant reminders throughout my days. Some of them hide in the corners of my daily routine, waiting to jump out when I least expect it. Others just hover in front of me all the time. It often feels like there will be no end.

My perspective of time must be altered.

Because God promises that there is an end. And everything that I’m feeling right now – the pain, the sadness, the long suffering, the waiting – it will seem like it only lasted a little while when compared to the eternal reality of heaven.

So on the really long days, I can trust by faith that it’s only a drop in the bucket when measured against eternity. This isn’t meant to diminish the trial. Not at all. Rather, I think it’s meant to give courage and hope to push through the trial while holding onto God’s loving hand as he leads me to a perfect forever.

“In all this you greatly rejoice…”

There are so many reasons to be sad. But there are an infinite number of reasons to rejoice. Can I get an amen? The rejoicing doesn’t eliminate the sadness. Not by any means. But it provides fuel to keep living, to fight against despair.

I rejoice because Jesus hasn’t wasted Evelyn’s life. He continues to use her brief appearance on this earth to inspire others toward hope and courage in the midst of their own difficulties.

I rejoice because when I surrender it all to Jesus, he miraculously takes the worst parts of my story and touches them with his grace so that they become the impetus for the best parts of my story.

I rejoice because Jesus has loved me with an everlasting love, and he has sought me out to rescue me from my sin and my trials, so that I can be filled with an inexpressible joy as I wait for my own climactic entrance into heaven.

“Though you have not seen him, you love him…”

Speaking of heaven, I can’t wait to see my daughter again. I can’t wait to see what she looks like as a healthy girl. I can’t wait to hug her and kiss her. I can’t wait to hear her voice. I think we’ll play and laugh a lot. My little Evelyn is a big reason that I long for heaven. I love her with a mother’s love that knows no end even though she’s physically not with me now.

But as much as I love my daughter (and all of my children, for that matter), the one love that dominates my soul is Jesus. I love him so much. He’s the one that gave me this living hope, this inheritance, this faith, this salvation. I can’t wait to see him face to face. I think I’ll hug him because I’m certain he loves hugs. And I wonder if I’ll weep into his shoulder? Not sad tears. Because there’s no sadness in heaven. But visceral tears of deep relief – the ones that come when you’re so overwhelmed that they involuntarily pour from your eyes with no ability to stop them. The tears that feel like your eyes are sighing. It will be amazing when my faith becomes sight.

I don’t know who will read this. Other than my mom, of course. (Hi Mom!) But I’m assured that every set of eyes that scans these words is facing some kind of trial. Or trials. They are as vast and various as the people experiencing them. It’s my prayer that God will shield you. I pray that he will fill you with the inexpressible joy that is ours in Christ (which, by the way, is a complete mystery to me that a heart can inhabit joy and grief at the same time). I pray that he will strengthen your faith as you embrace the living hope that exists because Jesus rolled the stone away.

In conclusion, here’s an extremely low-quality video of pastor Francis Chan emphasizing the magnitude of eternity compared to our few short years on earth.

May it give us a proper perspective of time, so that we can keep our eyes fixed on Jesus as we navigate the joy and pain of this life. The trials won’t last forever, my friends. But heaven will. So take heart.

 

 

Facing My Giants

The story of David and Goliath is a highly requested saga at bedtime in Caleb’s room. My fearless toddler lives vicariously through young David every time – rescuing his daddy’s sheep from bears and lions, courageously approaching the Philistine army with nothing more than a sling and stone, until the climactic “BOOM!” down goes Goliath. It gets him every time.

We try to emphasize that God gave the victory to David. When we trust in Him, “no weapon forged against you will stand” (Isaiah 54:17).

Turns out each time I explain these things to my toddler, it’s really my own heart that needs to remember where my victory lies, and that God is big enough to knock down any giant in my life.

Because let’s be honest. Giants are big. And scary. And hairy. And powerful. They can instill fear, doubt, despair and hopelessness through their fiercely deceptive intimidation, leaving us crippled and ineffective and unproductive.

But with Jesus, there is victory in every battle. Period.

The latest giant in my life has been breast milk. Scary, right?

It all started when we began our adoption journey earlier this year. And we recently brought our newest baby home. (Surprise! We’re waiting to share more details until later on down the road.) I wanted to try adoptive breastfeeding (it’s a thing – crazy, I know) so that our little babe could have the nourishment of breast milk and we could experience the bond of nursing.

We had a strong beginning, but soon after we started, I knew I needed to supplement the nursing sessions with the breast milk that I had stored in the freezer from December and January – milk that my body had produced for Evelyn.

After she died, I had the option to donate the frozen milk to a milk bank, but I chose to keep it by faith, knowing we would soon add another child to our family through adoption, and our little one could benefit from the liquid gold.

But when the time came to descend into the basement of my in-law’s house and uncover the milk from the abysmal corner of the deep freezer, I wasn’t so sure anymore if I wanted to use it. For nine months it was out of sight, out of mind. I had unintentionally avoided this particular aspect of my healing and grief. Now walking into the basement felt like I was re-opening an old wound that had been conveniently concealed up to that point.

To my relief, there was no time to pause and reflect on the surfacing grief feelings because I had to rush home to tend to my family. So I grabbed the milk as quickly as I could and stuffed it in the freezer once I got home. I shut the door so that once again it was out of sight, out of mind. Avoidance prevailed.

Then at 3:00 in the morning, our hungry infant awoke, in true infant fashion, so I went to the freezer to retrieve a few ounces of frozen milk. I thawed it, poured it into a bottle, and as I began to feed our sweet child, the suppressed emotions from earlier in the day erupted from my heart, and tears began to fall. As I wept there in the quiet of the night, staring at a sleepy, hungry baby, I  knew I was experiencing a sacred moment. I said out loud to my little one, “This is Evelyn’s milk. It’s her gift to you.” And the tears continued to cascade from my tired eyes until we both went back to sleep.

The next day I returned to the freezer to get more milk, but being the middle of the day, I was more alert to my surroundings, compared to the midnight feedings where I struggled to stay awake. I took the milk, and without giving it much thought, I read the label. It said 12/23 @ 7:00am. This was the first bottle that I had pumped after Evelyn’s death. It vividly took me back to the sterile hospital room where my husband and I sat side by side, exhausted in our bodies and spirits, as we held our lifeless baby in our arms. It’s a chapter of my life that I don’t like to revisit often. And in that moment, it was too much for my heart to bear, so I shoved the bottle back into the freezer and chose a different one.

But every time I went to get milk, that particular bottle was emphatically staring back at me. I was afraid to use it. I don’t know why exactly. I guess it felt sacred and using it seemed dishonoring. Or maybe it brought back too many painful memories. Probably all of the above.

Day after day I avoided that bottle, until I felt like the Lord was tenderly asking me to reach in and use it. He gently led me to my place of fear so that he could help me overcome.

Scripture tells us that “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12).

It wasn’t really the breast milk that I was afraid of, but rather everything that it stood for.

Death. Sickness. Disappointment. Sadness. Fear.

It was a tangible leftover from Evelyn’s life. It was something wholesome that my body miraculously produced specifically for her. It symbolized my connection to her. But it also symbolized her departure from me. And when there are so few tangible mementos to hold on to, each one feels precious. If I used the milk, it would be one less physical connection to Evelyn.

On the other hand, if I didn’t use it, then it would sit in the corner of a freezer for months and months (or perhaps years and years) until it became worthless. What good would it be then? Instead, I could use it presently as a source of nourishment for our growing infant.

I had approached a fork in the road. Would I let this breast milk keep me chained to the painful memories of the past, rendering it useless and leaving me in a state of fear and pain and avoidance? Or would I allow it to propel me forward, so as to create an opportunity for redemption? This thing that had reminded me of Evelyn’s death could now be used to promote life in our third child. What once brought sorrow could now fuel the joy that I feel when I hold my sweet baby.

In that moment, I decided that I would not let the breast milk (and everything it stood for) have power over me. I would not give in to fear and despair. Instead, as weird as it sounds, I would lift up the breast milk as an offering to the Lord. I would not hoard it, but rather I would surrender it to him. I would receive strength from the Lord so that he could help me keep moving forward. I would give him my pain so that he could bring healing.

So I thawed the milk. I fed it to my baby. And then it was gone.

But what stands in the place of that empty bottle of breast milk is a growing sense of freedom from the past and a budding courage as I look ahead to the future. It doesn’t mean my sadness is gone. It doesn’t mean my grief has reached its completion, as if that were even possible… It simply means that the painful memories will not rule my life and keep me from healing and, dare I say, enjoying life once again.

There will be more giants in this journey of grief. Of that I am sure. But I am confident that God will see me through victoriously.

After all, if Jesus can defeat the greatest giant of all – death and sin- certainly he’s capable of giving us victory over every other circumstance, no matter how dark or sad or painful. He is faithful and so powerful and oh, so merciful.

And now, the denouement…

C.S. Lewis “Gets” Me

I recently finished reading A Grief Observed by C.S. Lewis. It’s a series of journal entries that he wrote after his beloved wife died from cancer, chronicling his unedited journey of healing as he poured out his heart to God. Reading about someone else process through all of these complex emotions is helpful because it reminds you that you’re not alone on this long and unpredictable road.

It was cathartic for my soul to read Lewis’s raw emotions. My heart is constantly filled with a mess of feelings as I grieve, and I don’t always know how to express them using spoken language. Sometimes words come. But often it’s tears. Or inward groans. Lewis pinpointed my ambiguous emotions and translated them into something written.

I never thought I could relate on such a deep level with a British guy who smoked cigars for leisure and dialogued about philosophy and theology just for the fun of it. (Bleh.) But it turns out that grief connects you to the most unlikely people.

How Much Do I Trust God?
“You never know how much you really believe in anything until its truth or falsehood becomes a matter of life and death to you. It is easy to say you believe a rope to be strong and sound so long as you are merely using it to cord a box. But suppose you had to hang by that rope over a precipice. Wouldn’t you then first discover how much you really trusted it?” 

Before Evelyn’s death, I knew my faith in Christ was real, but when I had to give her back to Jesus so soon, it caused me to come face to face the veracity and genuineness of my faith.

Does God really love me? Because right now life hurts badly.
Is God still good? Because this is really, really painful.
Do I believe that death is not the end, but that heaven is a real place where God’s fullness dwells and Christ is seated at his right hand? Because heaven can feel so far away at times.
Do I trust Jesus enough to take care of my daughter? Because I would much rather have her here.
Do I believe that the Lord brings beauty from ashes? Because that seems too difficult.
Do I trust that God can give me the comfort and grace to keep living joyfully until he calls me home too? Because some days are just hard.

I declare a resounding “yes” to all of this. But it’s not an easy “yes”.  Because trusting implies that we won’t have all of the answers, and yet we choose to stake our life on it anyway. In this case, stake my life on Jesus.

It reminds me of a passage in the gospel of John.

After Jesus was teaching, many of his disciples turned away because his teaching was hard. Jesus turned to the twelve and asked, “You do not want to leave too, do you?” And Peter answered, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.”

That’s how it feels sometimes. Like, what’s the other alternative? Abandoning God with a heart full of confusion and resentment and anger? Just throwing in the towel because it got hard? Or continuing to trust that he loves me and that he has good, eternal purposes that I can’t perceive from my vantage point right now.

I’ll choose to trust him.

“God has not been trying an experiment on my faith or love in order to find out their quality. He knew it already. It was I who didn’t.”

When Suffering Becomes Real, Not Theoretical
“I had been warned – I had warned myself – not to reckon on worldly happiness. We were even promised sufferings. They were part of the programme. We were even told, ‘Blessed are they that mourn,’ and I accepted it. I’ve got nothing that I hadn’t bargained for. Of course it is different when the thing happens to oneself, not to others, and in reality, not in imagination.”

I’ve read books and seen countless stories on the news and internet about people who persevere through trials with unwavering faith and courage, having the resilience to let that trial produce good things instead of leaving them curled up in a corner forever (which can feel very tempting).

Those kind of people have always inspired me. I got warm fuzzy feelings when I read about them. I admired their fortitude and tenacity.

I wondered how I would respond in the face of adversity or suffering, whatever it may be someday.

Then it happened.

And it wasn’t so inspiring anymore. And it didn’t feel warm or fuzzy. And the process of saying “no” to despair and “yes” to redemption turns out to be messy and full of tears – not at all like the three minute news story with uplifting background music.

I’ve said it before, but it’s worth repeating, that the death of a child is even worse than I could have imagined. The bottom line is – suffering is hard.

Thankfully, Jesus said, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness”…For when I am weak, then I am strong (2 Cor. 12:9-11).

Grief is Frustrating
“I think I am beginning to understand why grief feels like suspense. It comes from the frustration of so many impulses that had become habitual. Thought after thought, feeling after feeling, action after action, had [my wife] for their object. Now their target is gone. I keep on through the habit fitting an arrow to the string, then I remember and have to lay the bow down.”

For nine months I prepared my heart and our home for this sweet child, precious Evelyn Joy. I put the car seat in the car. I set up her bassinet in our room. I bought a book for Caleb about how to be a “big bruver”. We watched my belly grow and felt her wiggle and kick inside of me. We prayed and prayed for her, anticipating a lifetime full of memories and milestones.

But in God’s sovereign plan, he gave us only 20 days.

So all of this love and preparation that was stored up in my heart has nowhere to go now. It can’t be transferred to another child because every child is a special, irreplaceable gift. Each one occupies a space in their parents’ hearts with a unique vessel of love that flows specifically for them.

My love can’t simply disappear either. Love doesn’t work that way.

So what do I do with all of these feelings and desires and hopes and dreams that were meant for Evelyn? The object of that specific love is gone now.

Yes, there is the hope of heaven. Yes, I will see her again one day. But right now, it’s frustrating.

Perfection
“‘It was too perfect to last’, so I am tempted to say of our marriage. But it can be meant in two ways. It may be grimly pessimistic – as if God no sooner saw two of His creatures happy than He stopped it (‘None of that here!’). As if He were like the Hostess at the sherry-party who separates two guests the moment they show signs of having got into a real conversation. But it could also mean ‘This had reached its proper perfection. This had become what it had in it to be. Therefore of course it would not be prolonged.’ As if God said, ‘Good; you have mastered that exercise. I am very pleased with it. And now you are ready to go on to the next.’ When you have learned to do quadratics and enjoy doing them you will not be set them much longer. The teacher moves you on.”

Psalm 139:16 says, “Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.”

Although I would have chosen a lifetime with Evelyn, God had ordained 20 days. It makes me sad because she’s not here. But it reminds me that her life was known and planned by God long ago. Her life reached its fulfillment, and now she lives in the perfect glory of heaven with Jesus himself.

It’s this time of separation and waiting that’s so, very hard.

Grief Changes You Permanently
“Getting over it so soon? But the words are ambiguous. To say the patient is getting over it after an operation for appendicitis is one thing; after he’s had his leg off it is quite another. After that operation either the wounded stump heals or the man dies. If it heals, the fierce, continuous pain will stop. Presently he’ll get back his strength and be able to stump about on his wooden leg. He has ‘got over it.’ But he will probably have recurrent pains in the stump all his life, and perhaps pretty bad ones; and he will always be a one-legged man. There will be hardly any moment when he forgets it. Bathing, dressing, sitting down and getting up again, even lying in bed, will all be different. His whole way of life will be changed. All sorts of pleasures and activities that he once took for granted will have to be simply written off. Duties too. At present I am learning to get about on crutches. Perhaps I shall presently be given a wooden leg. But I shall never be a biped again.”

It’s impossible to experience deep loss and come out unscathed. It changes you. Period.

By God’s grace, he can bring healing and redemption. But it makes you a different person. Holidays and dates are different. Relationships are different. Words and phrases carry a different meaning. Locations are different. Perspective is different.

Every. thing. is different. I will never be the same again.

The different doesn’t have to be despairing. I pray that God will use it to make something beautiful. But the different is absolutely unavoidable.

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Did That Really Happen?
“And then it would come to seem unreal – something so foreign to the usual texture of my history that I could almost believe it had happened to someone else.”

It’s a terrible feeling when I look at pictures of my family of four, when I feel the scar along my abdomen, when I taste the salty tears running down my cheeks, and think “Did that really happen?” I don’t think it’s denial. Or maybe I’m in denial that it’s denial. But it is strange how an event that’s so life-changing and ever-present can, at times, feel like an illusion.

Unanswerable Questions
“When I lay these questions before God I get no answer. But a rather special sort of ‘No answer.’ It is not the locked door. It is more like a silent, certainly not uncompassionate, gaze. As though He shook His head not in refusal but waiving the question. Like, ‘Peace, child; you don’t understand.’ Can a mortal ask questions which God finds unanswerable? Quite easily, I should think. All non-sense questions are unanswerable. How many hours are there in a mile? Is yellow square or round? Probably half the questions we ask – half our great theological and metaphysical problems – are like that.”

I have some big questions. But they can’t be answered this side of heaven. And they may never be answered. So I must choose to trust the heart of God. Maybe someday when I get to heaven, the questions won’t even matter anymore. I’ll have to wait and see…

“Heaven will solve our problems, but not, I think, by showing us subtle reconciliations between all our apparently contradictory notions. The notions will all be knocked from under our feet. We shall see that there never was any problem.”

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I guess I haven’t experienced any monumental healing steps after reading this book. But it is nice to ingest someone else’s words and think to yourself, “Me too. I can relate to you on some level. I’m thankful that I’m not alone. Thank you for putting my feelings into words, Mr. Lewis.”

“I thought I could describe a state; make a map of sorrow. Sorrow, however, turns out to be not a state but a process. It needs not a map but a history.”