Building A House & Lessons Learned

Over three years ago my husband and I embarked on an ambitious and heartfelt DIY adventure with the goal of building a beautiful hickory 3-in-1 crib for our first child, who was due in late February 2014.

He arrived in early March 2014, and when he was six months old, he finally got to sleep in his newly completed crib.

The process of building the crib was way less fun that we had anticipated. In fact, our picturesque time in the wood shop was often tense and frustrating instead of gushy and sweet. But alas, we finished it. And by “we”, I mean he did 99% of the work, and I masterfully measured a few things while mostly trying to avoid bumping into sharp objects with my protruding belly.

Now if I may humbly say so, it really is a beautiful piece of work that we’re proud of, and it gives us great joy to know that someday our grandchildren or great-grandchildren could be sleeping in it as well. (Adorable, fussy children currently fit well inside its confines.)

DSC_0861

So after said crib-making was accomplished, we tossed around the idea of releasing our inner Chip and Joanna Gaines by beginning the process of building a new home for our growing family. Surely building a house isn’t much more complex than a 3-in-1 crib, right?

After all, what could be so hard about it? My husband is a general contractor. He knows how to build houses. Pick out a floor plan. Buy the material. Skillfully put it together. And bada bing bada boom. A house!

DSC_0940DSC_103820170401_131801

Now nearly two years later, we have finally moved in. The last two years of life have been filled with unimaginable difficulty and immense celebration as well. Building the house has certainly been a part of the equation. It’s been way harder than we thought it would be in every. way. possible. It’s stretched us to a paper-thin, translucent state in our bodies, spirits, hearts, minds, marriage, parenting, relationships, schedules, jobs, finances…

It’s been really super hard.

We dug our foundation in November of 2015, anticipating needing a bigger house once our daughter joined our family in December 2015. She died twenty days after she was born, and the new house construction abruptly hit pause. We were heartbroken.

Evelyn’s life and death were a painful reminder that our true home isn’t made out of wood and nails. Because stuff like that can be lost in an instant, and when compared with the value of people, it pales tremendously.

Our true home, the one that will never perish, spoil, or fade is our someday, forever heavenly home. It’s the only place that can bring lasting peace and joy because Jesus is there. And where he is, therein resides eternal happiness that can never be taken away. It’s also the place where we’ll see our daughter again, whole and healthy.

The following year was filled with deep grief, slow healing, and bouts of physical sickness. It was also a year of incredible joy as we began our adoption journey and welcomed our son into our family in August 2016. To put it briefly, that process was bittersweet, and at times a really, really big faith-stretcher. But God is faithful. And we praise him for his grace.

All while this other very big stuff was happening, my amazing husband was running his business, loving his growing family, and trying to build a house with his own two hands. In his spare time.

DSC_0037DSC_0286

Then we found out in April 2017 that we were expecting another baby to join our family at the end of the year. So our sense of urgency to finish the house increased exponentially while stamina and motivation decreased just as rapidly.

Much to my embarrassment, I was not always a gracious, patient wife during the building process. But it’s been in those low moments that God’s light has shone the brightest, mercifully teaching me how to trust in his ways and walk in step with his Spirit, instead of acting like a stinker.

It’s soooooo tempting to nag. And I did so on more occasions than I would care to admit. But the Lord would often remind me that the best thing I can do is pray, help where I’m able, and wait patiently. After all, my husband is amazing, but he’s still only a man who has limits and who functions within the same 24 hour day as the rest of us.

It was getting challenging to live in our small, 950 square foot, 2 bedroom, 1 bathroom home. And many days I would think about how much easier life would be once we had more space. But truly, a bigger home would never make me happy or solve all of my problems. The secret to my happiness in this very moment is knowing Jesus, regardless of how big our house is.

In Philippians 4:11-13 the Apostle Paul is thanking the church in Philippi for expressing concern for him while he’s imprisoned. Here’s what he says to them: “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.”

Here’s the thing. We’ve lived in our new house for a whole month now. And it’s been super wonderful in many, many ways. But I still find myself having to remember on a daily basis: 1. don’t nag and 2. be content.

The house is gorgeous. (Did I mention how amazing my husband is?) But there are several incomplete projects that we’re chipping away at little by little. Front steps. Balusters. Floating shelves. Vents. Under cabinet lights. A custom mantle. Just to name a few.

But, the secret to my happiness remains the same, even though I’m in a bigger house. It’s Jesus. He can align my perspective with his, and remind me that loving the people around me is more important than having a perfectly completed home. Some day the house will be done. But for now, I can still live fully with deep contentment because I have Jesus.

We’ve enjoyed playing in our huge yard, building forts in the woods, and getting covered in mud. Nevermind that we don’t have front steps or that there’s an enormous pile of topsoil waiting to be spread. We’ve loved having friends and family over to visit. They don’t seem to care that the bathroom mirror isn’t installed or that the vent above the range hood isn’t hooked up. We are daily choosing to be content right now in the midst of this incomplete home. It’s not always easy, but it definitely produces the most joy.

We praise Jesus that he has given us this home as a gift to be shared. We even praise him for the long road that led us to this point because it has produced lasting change in our hearts. But more than anything, we praise God that he has given us Jesus. It’s because of him that we can be content no matter what our circumstances hold.

DSC_0854DSC_0852DSC_0859Untitled design (1)DSC_0857

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.

20160809_161416

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.

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.

untitled-design

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

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?

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.

20161006_103708
My stick-loving, dinosaur-holding, intertube-wearing, leftover-smoothie-on-his-forehead, grace-giving boy.

 

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.

Evelyn Joy Edits-0336

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.”

Evelyn Joy Edits-0660-2

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.”

Parenting Win: Kid Quote Book

Every parent in the history of forever (hyperbolic-ally speaking) has said to write down the things that your kids say because you will forget. Science has proven that parents’ memories function worse after having children than they did before children. Actually, I just made that up. But the proof is in the pudding. Whatever that means.

So I figured, what the heck? I’ll buy a spiral bound journal on clearance and make it my officially unofficial Caleb quote book.

This might be one of the best parenting decisions that I have ever made.

Some of the entries are funny:
Mommy: I like your imagination. You have creative ideas.
Caleb: I’m going poop in my imagination.

Some of them make my heart melt into a puddle on the floor:
I tucked Caleb in and shut the door on my way out of his room. He cried for a few minutes (which is unusual) so I went back to check on him and he said, “I wanted to tell you that I love you.”

Some of them make me realize he’s “getting it”:
Mommy: Good morning buddy! What did you dream about last night?
Caleb: Jesus!
Mommy: What did he do?
Caleb: Save us!

I try not to give parenting advice unless I’m asked. But to all the parents out there, this is so worth it. Whether your child is a toddler or a teen. It’s such a treasure. So simple to do. It requires paper and a pencil. (Or an iPhone or tablet if that’s the way you roll.) Unless it’s not your thing, then that’s okay. There are lots of wonderful, meaningful ways to document special moments from your child’s growing years.

But this has definitely been a winner in our house.

What creative ways does your family document stuff to remember it years down the road?

The Most Painful Question

{ This is hard stuff to share. Vulnerable stuff. Complicated grief at its best. But it’s part of the process. And the process is messy. I don’t always know how my faith and grief fit together. But I do know that God’s grace is sufficient in my weakness and confusion. He is faithful to love me in the midst of the hard stuff. } 

My husband says that I could make friends with a brick wall. I love meeting people. Love hearing their stories. Love relating. Love creating heart connections. Crowds? No problem. Strangers? I embrace them (quite literally). Having meaningful conversations? Yes, please.

But lately I feel guarded. I feel a lot less like a social butterfly and much more like a wallflower in certain situations – hiding, avoiding, averting… Fearful and paranoid that an acquaintance or a stranger will ask me the most painful question of all.

How many children do you have?

I freeze. It stops me in my tracks, leaving me with a seemingly eternal split second to decide how to answer. I battle internally, never knowing what to say.

Do I answer honestly? Do I tell them that Caleb is my oldest but my second child, my precious daughter, fought bravely for 20 days until her struggling body ceased to work? Do I tell them how beautiful she was? Her deep blue eyes. Her squishy cheeks. Her wispy hair. Or that she fit perfectly in the crook of my arm and she loved to snuggle on my chest? Do I share about her injuries and the countless times we suctioned her secretions because she didn’t know how to swallow? Or talk about the tubes that permanently tethered her to a plastic bed because she couldn’t breathe on her own? Do I try to explain the gut-wrenching decisions we faced when considering her prognosis and quality of life? Do I need to justify our decision to a stranger?

Honesty is always the right choice.

Isn’t it?

I should see it as a beautiful opportunity to share about the hope and peace that we find through Christ.

But instead, I lie.

Because it’s easier to lie. It spares my heart the agony of saying the worst words that have ever left the mouth of a parent: My daughter died. And there’s no euphemism that softens the blow. Believe me. I’ve tried to think of a “polite” way to say it. I have a child in heaven, while a true statement, feels too fluffy to me. I have one child at home and one in my heart doesn’t do it justice either. The bottom line is, there’s no gentle segue for such crushing news, and there’s definitely no way to repair the conversation after such news is shared. Moreover, I don’t want to become a sobbing mess at the playground while I’m pushing Caleb on the swing. Or have an emotional breakdown in the grocery store checkout line.

So I lie.

And every time I lie, I feel like I’ve dishonored Evelyn, treating her as if her life didn’t matter. I hate that. But my heart cannot withstand the pain of answering the question honestly and reliving my darkest reality with someone that I don’t even know.

A few weeks ago, I met a wonderful lady at a community event. We enjoyed pleasant conversation, and as she was telling me about her two children, she also shared about her stillborn child and her ten miscarriages. The world stopped. I wanted to wrap her in a hug and cry and say, I can relate. My daughter died. You’re not alone.

But instead, I told her how sorry I was for her heartache.

Maybe some day I’ll find the courage, the vulnerability, the strength to share honestly with anyone who asks.

But for now, I feel like all I can do is pray for God’s grace to sustain me as I fumble through an answer.

And maybe some day when Caleb asks me to draw a picture of our family on the driveway with sidewalk chalk, I’ll draw Evelyn too.

But in this present moment, it’s not always clear how her life and memory fit into some of my everyday moments. I don’t know how to translate my love and grief into chalk pictures and answering strangers’ questions.

It’s not easy. And I guess that’s okay. Grief never is.

God Invited Me to a Pool Party

Yesterday was one of those days.

The sermon at church resurfaced some hard questions that constantly, quietly linger in my soul. Why did Evelyn die? Why does God choose to physically heal some people this side of heaven but not others? Why God? Why? I wasn’t mad. I know he is good. I know he is loving. I still cling to the hope of heaven. But the tears and the sadness were palpable. I fled from church as quickly as I could, desperately avoiding conversations with people because it’s hard to mingle when my heart is aching and the forceful dam of tears is about to burst forth.

I was thankful to have some quiet, alone time while Caleb was napping and Preston was out helping a friend for the afternoon. I tried writing to process my emotions. But I wound up feeling annoyed at my inability to turn my feelings into words. Writers block. Emotional constipation. Call it what you will. It felt like a step backward. Not only was I sad. Now I was frustrated.

Then the power went out twice. And I smelled burning rubber in the laundry room. I tried calling Preston five times and never got a hold of him. The A/C wasn’t working. The fan wouldn’t turn on. The house smelled like a car repair shop gone bad. My emotions were compounding. Sadness, frustration and now irritation.

When Preston came home, he was level-headed and patient. I was moody and lacking grace. He mentioned how nice it would be to go swimming as a family since everything was so hot (including my mood). Maybe a cool dip would refresh us. We thought about asking a few of our friends with pools if we could come over, but our pride won, and we agreed that it was too awkward to invite ourselves over (even though our friends are AWESOME and they often give us open invitations to come over any time, even if they aren’t home).

So we went to the grocery store instead. Because it’s air conditioned.

When we got home, Preston was getting ready to fill up our plastic toddler pool with frigid hose water. Hooray. (sarcasm) But before he even had the chance, I received a group text from a dear friend, inviting us over to her house to swim with her family that evening.

Seriously.

You guys, this is grace. I was wholly unpleasant to be around the entire day, battling with my sadness and wallowing in my quickly downward-spiraling mood. But God loved me anyway. I didn’t even ask him to help me, but he willingly came to me and met me in my mess – freely, generously covering me with his grace.

We spent a long evening with our friends. My fearless two-year-old son jumped off the small diving board a few times. We enjoyed laughter and good conversation. We ate food that I didn’t have to cook. We stayed out too late and never once felt bad about it.

I came home feeling so lighthearted. So full of joy. So loved. I’m humbled at the intimate love of my Heavenly Father. He knows my needs. He looks past my sour moods and sees a hurting mama heart that’s badly in need of grace.

Do you know why I’m convinced today that God loves me? He invited me to a pool party. And he used my friends as the conduit for his invitation.

My soul echos these healing, filling, comforting, hopeful words from Psalm 103…

Praise the Lord, my soul;
    all my inmost being, praise his holy name.
Praise the Lord, my soul,
    and forget not all his benefits…
who redeems your life from the pit
    and crowns you with love and compassion,
who satisfies your desires with good things
    so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s…
The Lord is compassionate and gracious,
    slow to anger, abounding in love…
13 As a father has compassion on his children,
    so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him;
14 for he knows how we are formed,
    he remembers that we are dust…
17 But from everlasting to everlasting
    the Lord’s love is with those who fear him…
22 Praise the Lord, my soul.

In other news, our power is back on.