Wallpaper Christianity…

I’ve been so focused on the new job that I’ve felt like my brain has left me zero room to process emotions–does that make sense? I’ve been struggling with feeling like God is near (is He? I mean, of course He is, but He’s hard to hear when the world is so loud & obnoxious), in the middle of trying to get thru the day-to-day…
But He finds ways & places to capture our hearts, sometimes when we least expect it, & emotions, like water, WILL make their way thru.
Sitting at Hannah’s grave hurt today… it hurt in a way that it hasn’t in a long time. 💔 

Maybe it’s the season–after all, her birthday was October 30th, & November 28th is the date of her death. Maybe it’s the fact that this time of the year, I feel pulled in more directions than are humanly possible to reach. Maybe it’s that time is flying by, & I get this “hitch” in the center of my chest every time my son outgrows another piece of clothing…

I sat at her grave, putting up her Christmas tree, & as I was making things “just so,” I felt God say, “Wait. Take a breath–you need to process this.” David & Jericho were in the car–they could wait. I sat there & looked at the beautiful hills…15 years. 15 years of memories, of decorations come and gone…15 years of tears, of occasional stoicism or anger, many years of finding, losing, and re-finding peace in the unknowing….even peace in the non-understanding…and still, 15 years of unanswered questions…

I still find myself asking if it will ever make sense…and I still find myself leaning back on Him, knowing that He is still there to catch me. He is in the unknowing, even when He is all we know.

You know, people have gotten really crazy with what I call “wallpaper Christianity.” I can’t do the whole, “live, laugh, love” thing on my wall…I have a Cricut, & I’m pretty sure David’s biggest concern when he bought it was that I’d plaster the house with all of that, “this is us” crap, LOL, but he needn’t worry…usually….But the other day, I saw a sign on Facebook that I’m going to have to duplicate. It said, “I still remember the days I prayed for what I have, now.”

Oooooh, that got me.

I still remember the letter 14-year old me wrote to her future husband, & all of the prayers poured into this man that steals my heart & my bath towel, or forgets to change the toilet paper roll. I still remember the prayers poured into finding joy again, or into recovery. I remember the prayers poured into learning to trust God all over again, into finding who I was again….and I remember on a daily basis, the prayers poured into the crazy-pants, static, loud, lovable, kind, adorable, occasionally obnoxious, and always-amazing now 8-year old miracle that I get to call, “Son.”

Even on the days where I have utterly failed at wife-ing or parenting, I remember those prayers, & I am endlessly grateful.

I’m thankful for this journey. Above all, I am thankful for a God Who loves & sustains us thru the the business & chaos, & Who lovingly calls us to selah, or “pause” & to listen to His voice….Who created us as emotional beings & Who never tells us to “stifle it” or to “suck it up.” He understands our processes because He created us in His image, & He IS an emotional Being–He loves, He grieves, & He celebrates. He doesn’t expect or want us to pretend; He wants our reality & our actuality.

We may want to focus on “live, laugh, love, ” but He is also in those commas & spaces between,,,in the parts no one wants to paper their walls with. He is calling us to pause in the chaos, and to allow ourselves to feel…to feel all of it, and to share it with Him.

So, I got a little….well, I almost said, “wrecked,” but it was more like an emotional flat tire: easily fixed, but not to be ignored. And that’s okay. There is peace after the processing.

I hope that you get to take the time through the next few weeks to breathe, to feel, and to fall into His arms. He will always be there.

Happy Thanksgiving, and if you don’t hear from me, Merry Christmas, beloveds. May you find your selah in this season.

Thank you, Chrissy Teigen & John Legend.

In this season, personally, it’s difficult to read an article like the one Chrissy Teigen just posted: https://www.ksdk.com/article/news/nation-world/chrissy-teigen-pens-statement-on-pregnancy-loss-public-grief/507-03d31b26-dbe8-4e61-9290-916dcef834b1

Let’s be honest: It’s difficult in any season, to read something as open and honest, about such a devastating topic. But to read it as we are once again approaching our annual time of remembering our Hannah-girl, truly hit a nerve. I feel like I’ve been writing about the need to “normalize” the topic of miscarriage, stillbirth, and infant loss for years, and I have–over a decade, which sounds crazy. My little corner of the internet has nary an impact, but many times, I’ve felt like if I don’t write, I may explode, and if I’m not honest in what I put out here, then what’s the point?

Honesty is uncomfortable to read AND to write. Being raw and open, and exposing your highs and lows to complete strangers is dangerous and cathartic and messy and occasionally beautiful, but it is NEVER easy, and those that do it, either already have that understanding, or learn it quickly. Chrissy Teigen and John Legend have been candid about all sorts of topics, and have taken on the Keyboard Commandos with humor and grace. Even when I disagree with them on certain political points, it has never changed the fact that I genuinely LIKE them as they seem online, and that I appreciate their approach to the public….but this goes beyond good recipes and perfectly-lit Instagram photos.

Sharing the rawness of the experience of the loss of a child is monumental. The photos shown from Chrissy’s hospital stay are so striking; she stated yesterday that she specifically asked that they be taken, as she understands firsthand the importance of documenting every moment a mother has with her child…even at the end. Every time I see the photo of her getting her epidural, it breaks me and I remember The Last Photo I have of Hannah–the one that is locked in the safe, and that will never be shared. It is brutal, and I cannot stress that enough. There is more heartache in that 3×5 Polaroid than the world should ever see….

And yet here are two celebrities, taking an opportunity to put a face and a name to not only the disease (placental abruption), but to the fact that, “according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 1 pregnancy in 100 at 20 weeks of pregnancy and later is affected by stillbirth. Each year about 24,000 babies are stillborn in the United States.” THIS IS THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, and if those numbers do not make you angry at the state of healthcare in this country, then maybe you should check your heart. THESE STATISTICS ARE NOT ACCEPTABLE. 1 in 4 women suffer the loss of a child from miscarriage, stillbirth, or neonatal loss–that’s 25% of women.

That’s me.

That’s Chrissy Teigen.

That’s countless other women who have spoken to me, sometimes in hushed tones, about the miscarriages or losses they’ve never told anyone about, or that they were afraid to acknowledge, or the shame they’ve felt about their “complicated” or “failed” bodies. That’s countless other women who have had the courage to speak out, or that have taken women like me under their wing to usher them through the grieving process, or that had no one to help them on this journey…25% of women.

I guarantee you know someone who’s had a miscarriage, even if you don’t realize it.

I could go off on a tangent about hormone-altering chemicals or carcinogens or the millions of things we do that impact our bodies and impair healthy pregnancies and childbirth, but it’s not the place (and frankly, if you care, you’ll do the research). I think it’s more important to realize the strength it takes to publicly document and share the most vulnerable parts of your life–the good & the bad–when you have the kind of platform John & Chrissy have, because in their status, they raise awareness (I hope).

When we lost Hannah, I met a woman who later explained to me that when she lost her son years earlier, she entered the hospital to deliver a baby, and she left carrying a bouquet of flowers. There was no counseling; there was nothing to document before a nurse or doctor entered the room that there was no baby (and I know firsthand what it’s like to have a doctor ask, “How’s the baby?” and have to answer that “there is not a baby”). There was no special photographer for goodbye photos (a group started up not long after we lost Hannah, called, “Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep” that specializes in loss photography, which is incredible). There wasn’t a care group or support system in place for her, like I had to support me (please check out Share Pregnancy & Infant Loss; they’re a tremendous asset for those who have gone through loss). There really weren’t any devotional books that she knew of; I happened to land on one that was very helpful (I wish I could remember how I got a copy of this book, but it was AMAZING for me). There wasn’t anything in place, really, to help a woman or her partner cope with the tremendous hole left by the death of a child. Thanks to advocates, celebrity or not, resources are now in place to help millions of families heal and come to terms with something that is unnatural and foreign to any expectation we have going into pregnancy. Americans are NOT educated about the risks we face in childbirth. We’re duped into thinking everything will be Instagram-perfect, and we’ll all live happily ever after.

For 25% of us, that is simply not the case. We will always be missing our one special piece of our family photo…

My heart hurts for Chrissy & John, and for anyone who has been on this journey…for wherever they are in this process. I’m grateful for their candor, and I understand to a very small extent, how difficult it is. I hope she & John are surrounded by grace and faith as they set out on the course of healing; I hope that they encounter a restoration only Jesus can give.

Chrissy said something toward the end of the posted article, that she feels “bad” for making everyone else feel bad, as she had chronicled the announcement and the first parts of her pregnancy with Jack, with such joy. I’ve learned that we can’t feel bad for sharing joy, even if it doesn’t turn out the way we hoped. Joy is beautiful, even if it’s for a short season, and even if it ends in sadness. Maybe it sounds terrible now, but the sadness will eventually be redeemed to joy, and the contrast therein will be even more stunning…someday. Not now, but someday.

Chrissy, we honor Jack, and we are grateful that you shared your journey with us…We honor Jack, and Hannah, and Bentley, and Annalise, and Saige, and Savannah, and Brydon, and AnnaBella, and Emmaline, and Emma, and so many–so many–little boys & girls who have gone on to Heaven before us. Our hearts embrace you & John, and our prayers and support are with you. Thank you for being a face and a name for the grief and the struggle we have known; may God bless your family, and keep you close to His heart as you go on this journey…

Fourteen.

Every year around this time, I sit down to write with a focus on my Hannah Elizabeth Gayle Cooley. Can you believe she’d be 14 this year? This October 30th, my daughter would be turning 14 years old, & I’m sure had she stayed with us, that our social media feeds would be full of the things that mothers and teenagers are both besties and frenemies over. I’d like to think we’d have a great relationship, and that we would be on each other’s last nerve…that she’d be musical and lyrical, and free-spirited and independent, and that above all, she’d love Jesus. That’s my hope for both of my kiddos–that they love Jesus. I think a lot of parents would say that about their children.

Last night, I was perusing Instagram when the Humans of New York page came up:

“(edited for space)There were prayer chains and Facebook groups. My friends got together without me knowing, and they prayed over us. We received letters from so many people: family overseas, people we’d lost touch with, people we’d never met. We hung them all in the bathroom until the entire wall was filled. But a few weeks before our due date, we received the worst possible news: Elliana’s chest cavity hadn’t grown enough, and there wasn’t room for her lungs. I asked the doctor to give me the odds, but he just shook his head. We began to plan for her funeral… On the day of her birth, the waiting room was filled with people who loved us. They prayed from 10 AM to 5 AM the next day. I still keep a picture of that waiting room hanging in our hallway. And it’s my favorite picture, because it reminds me of all the people who petitioned for Elliana’s life. And we got our miracle. I struggle with it sometimes, because I know so many people lose their babies. But Elliana came out breathing on her own, and the doctors were in awe…Our story has a happy ending. But even when it seemed like a tragedy, I never felt alone. I never felt like the story was my own. Because in my darkest moments, a community of people chose to share my burden.”

I don’t need to go into the “whys,” for my breakdown (albeit a brief one) into the Ugly Crys. You know me well enough to understand that when I read the phrase, “we got our miracle,” that it broke me. I’m so grateful that HONY shared this story, because I remember what it was like to see that room full of people who poured their hearts out for days, petitioning to the Lord to save my daughter’s life. We didn’t get our miracle, and I can’t paint that in any kind of redeeming light. I will never understand the whys (on this earth), and even if I did, would that make it any better? No. So we pursue on in faith, trusting that He knows what He’s doing when He makes His choices.

Last week, our daily reading plan (click the link, you won’t be sorry–see my last blog for details) had us reading in both Micah and in 2 Timothy. In 2 Timothy, we see Paul coming to the end of his life, as he writes his final words from prison.

In Micah, we see a prophet trying to prepare his community…trying to get them to wake up and seek the Lord for their redemption…He states the oft-quoted,

Meanwhile, as Paul looks at the approaching end of his life, he states,

We have a mandate to “do justice, love mercy, and to walk humbly with our God.” Only when we do these things, can we look at the end of our life and say, with confidence (not arrogance) that we have “fought the good fight,” and that we have “kept the faith.”

This is not an easy thing to do…it’s not a small task, and Jesus knows what He is asking us to do.

Trials–deaths, sickness, COVID, poverty, unemployment, crime, whatever–come and go, but Jesus and His love for us are eternal.

That’s the only reason I have any hope for anything.

After I read the HONY story last night, I tripped up over “we got our miracle,” and my mind immediately went to “why?” I’ve blogged about this before; the “whys” range from plaintive cries to flat-out screams, and they’re always there in some respect. The question is do I stay there? Do I keep questioning, knowing the outcome will always be the same, until I’m face-to-face with Him? Or do I take a deep breath (or 50), let the tears fall, and listen to Him remind me that He loves me? That He’s still in control? That I’m heard, and that He understands? I make a choice every time the “why” comes to the forefront of my thoughts. I choose to “walk humbly with my God,” and that means that above all, I trust Him.

No one ever said that was a fun choice.

Sometimes the world smacks us in the face with that reminder….that reminder that we are strangers in a strange land, and that we can’t let ourselves get sucked into the mindgames and emotional traps that are laid for us: “Dear friends, you are foreigners and strangers on this earth. So I beg you not to surrender to those desires that fight against you“–I Pet. 2:11-12, CEV

Those “desires that fight against” us aren’t just people throwing lusts of the flesh in our face. They’re also the “quicksand” that we get trapped into, that make us question His motives and character, and our own faith. It’s cyclical thinking that kicks off our anxiety and leaves us an emotional basket case. I’m not immune to it, but I’d like to think I can spot the traps a bit easier now than I used to. Those first few years after Hannah passed away? Oooh, I got caught UP in some messes.

Quicksand – Stuff Rater
Actual photo of getting stuck in the quicksand of an emotional mind trap. 🙂

Grief and loss are pitfalls for so many of us…playing the “why?” game with God is a dangerous dead weight that only serves an enemy that wants to see us destroyed.

It’s a tender time of the year for us–for David as well as for myself, even when we seem like everything is fine. Our daughter is never far from our minds, but as her birthday approaches, memories come back, and I know I find myself looking at her pictures a bit more…remembering tiny hands, and beautiful, red-pink cheeks (like her Daddy), and how she’d snuggle in to the soft robe my mother had made me…how she smelled like Cheerios, and how to this day, I cherish every photo taken of family and friends because I know how much those pictures of her mean to me.

I’m finding myself ready to withdraw from social events, and from social media in general–whether it’s healthy or not, I never know, but I will tell you that I make no apologies. Maybe that sounds rude, but I’ve learned that if I don’t listen to these emotions, they’ll pop out at the most inopportune times, and I have no desire to have another flippin’ sobfest in the middle of a Hobby Lobby, so if I tell you I can’t make it, let me be. 🙂

I started writing a piece last night that I think I will leave unfinished; I feel like it makes a good conclusion, even though it’s not fully written, because “unfinished” feels like a pretty good way to describe how I’m feeling through all of this….

Hannah Elizabeth Gayle Cooley, 10/30/2006-11/28/2006

13…

Every year around Hannah’s birthday, I Google things that girls her age like. I’m not sure why; I think because it helps clarify what she might have been like, had she lived. This year (today, actually), she’d be 13, so I looked up what a 13 year-old girl would like. I’m now convinced that I’m secretly still a teenager, because EVERYTHING on the list is something I like!!! 🙂  Seriously–a mini Polaroid camera? A tie-dye kit? Bluetooth headphones? YES, PLEASE!

I can look back on myself at 13 and remember what I liked (Lisa Frank EVERYTHING! Flamingos! Pink notebook paper!).

lisa frankI have to laugh–it was such an awkward time for me. I was all neck and legs, big puffy hair, and glitter. I was finally old enough to wear makeup; I was too tall for the dress code; and I was still wearing the Coke-bottle plastic frames that everyone wore in the late-80’s/early 90’s. I was in the 7th-&-8th grades; I was a dramatic, hormonal mess; and I had deep, deep hatred of hairbrushes (my hair had just decided to be curly, and it was a shock). I blogged recently about what I’d say to myself at 15; I think it’s totally different than what I’d say to myself at 13, because the drama level at 13 is A LOT. I think I barely survived that year. 🙂

Back to 2019…Thirteen year-olds today are VERY different than 13 year-olds in the 90’s. The threats they face; the exposure they get; it’s more than I can comprehend at almost 42. I don’t have a CLUE about how they make it, or what kind of parents they have to have. What would David & I be like, if she were here? Would we ever let her out of our house?!?!  How does anyone let a teenager out of their house?!?!?!?! I’m considering installing invisible fences. 🙂

I’m kidding, of course…..of course…..well, mostly…..

My little girl would be 13 years old…almost grown. And as much as I want to sit and reflect on what she’d be like, I’m finding that I can’t. There’s been a tremendous amount of healing that has happened over time, but when I try to fill that hole with what might have been, I realize that although I have a fantastic imagination, it doesn’t stretch that far.

I have no idea what she would be like.

I don’t want to sit here and say that it’s “okay” that she’s with Jesus. That will never be okay, if I’m honest, because I will always miss her, and I will always wonder why she died. The longing and the wonder will never go away, and I don’t think that I need to justify that. It’s not a sign that healing hasn’t or won’t continue to progress. It’s a sign that I am a mother that is missing her child, and that it’s unnatural for us to not be together. Moms want their babies, period, whether they’re 5 days old or 50 years old. We’re created to be with our children, and when that is taken away, there’s a hole. The only thing that can close that gap is Jesus, and even with that, the scars are sensitive. After 13 years, it’s a “tolerable” grief, but it’s still grief. I miss her.

I don’t have answers when I get asked questions like, “why?” All I can say is that I believe she’s with the Lord, and that one day, I will be, too. I can tell you with all sincerity that I believe in Heaven and in Hell;  I can tell you that I believe one day in His presence is like a thousand years on earth, and that what I feel like is a lifetime, is a split-second where I know my daughter is at. I believe in Jesus, and in His will, even when I don’t understand it. Faith means believing when we don’t see. We don’t see things clearly on earth; we see them once we’re in eternity. I can rest when I put my eyes on Jesus, and let Him sort out all of the details. He knows what He’s doing.

Tonight, before we get home, Jericho & I are going to stop and get a little cake (or I might bake one, depending on how I make it through the day), and he’s going to goof off and make me laugh, and I’m going to tell him a little bit more about her. I might show him some more pictures, and he’s most likely going to ask some uncomfortable questions–that’s totally okay. More than anything, I want him to understand that we’re grateful for the time we had with her, and for the impact she made. I want him to understand that Jesus brings restoration and healing, even in the midst of confusion and questioning. I don’t know what kind of situations our son will face in his future, but I know that if we can impart to him the undeniable love, compassion, and plan that God has for his life, then we’ve done our job as parents for both of our children.fb_img_154071595978315789262.jpg

I was reminded the other day that my story is His story. I can’t tell the story of Hannah’s life, or of our life before, during, and after her loss, without starting and finishing by pointing everything back to God. We’ll always miss our daughter, in this life. We rest securely in the knowledge that Heaven is real; we also have peace in knowing that salvation through Jesus Christ is possible, and that He can redeem any person and any situation. Grief is temporary (temporary is a relative term); His love is permanent, and Heaven is eternal.

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

Grief doesn’t win. Death doesn’t win.

Love wins.

And it’s because of His Love, that I can still say, “Happy birthday, Hannah Elizabeth Gayle!” I can know that she is loved and cared for, and that I have such hope:

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and He will dwell with them. They will be His people, and God Himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” –Revelation 21:3-4

 

Suddenlys and Falling Leaves…

One of the Millennials that I work with said something very interesting to me a few weeks ago…

[Please note that when I say, “one of the Millennials,” it’s with a surprising amount of love and respect. I say, “surprising,” because a lot of people in the “millennial” demographic have honestly bugged the holy heck out of me. This girl though (this young woman, excuse me)–she continually surprises me with words of self-empowerment and wisdom that I WISH I had at her age (or at MY age), and I learn a lot from her. When I turned 40, I told myself I was going to stop making apologies over everything. Emma has been a very influential voice that has echoed that sentiment, and even though we don’t always agree, I can’t help but to admire her strength and almost-frightening level of self-acceptance. Her story is encouraging and beautiful, and tough and scary, and it’s not mine to tell…but what I can say, is that she’s still standing, and that she has so much more becoming to do…There is so much beauty in her, and she doesn’t know it, but one day I will tell her just how much she’s taught me. I just want to sit on the sidelines and watch her bloom; there’s such a richness in her soul…she’s amazing.]

I digress.

Anyway, Emma looked at my Instagram feed, and said something to the effect of, “You guys LIVE for weekends.” It’s so true. My house is a wreck, I’d hire a housecleaner to bulldoze the kitchen in a second, and I barely stay on top of the laundry, but you know what? No one talks about a clean house when they tell the stories of their childhood. David & I are two very busy adults trying to keep a roof over our heads and raise a kiddo while working full-time and not abandoning either our families or our marriage, and it gets challenging. Monday through Friday, we barely seem to have time to carry on a full conversation, but on Saturday and Sunday? We refuel and burn it up in laughter.

Every weekend isn’t awesome, for sure. We’re far from rich, so we’re always doing things on the cheap; by the end of this hot summer, we’re sick of parks and tired of sweating to death…but October? Oh, you sweet, beautiful, melancholy month, how I love you!!!

I used to face the end of October like Grover in the “Monster at the End of This Book.” Hannah’s birthday is on the 30th, so every fall, I’d watch the days change on the calendar, and with every leaf that fell, my heart would break. For five long years, the month of October was crushing…but then, we were given the gift of making new memories, and of filling those painful places with peace and joy and anticipation…I have the greatest gift of having been given beauty for ashes, and for that, I can only sit back and praise God.

October still comes with “suddenlys….” I still have moments where my breath will catch, as a memory comes back, or with different realizations (I think I mentioned in my last blog that I realized out of nowhere that Hannah would be turning 13 this year. I’m still coming to grips with that one). Today, I was scrolling through Instagram when I came across a picture taken at Thee Abbey in Arcadia Valley. The owner had posted a picture of her two children with puppies, and I suddenly remembered that we had been pregnant with our daughters at the same time. She was baking cinnamon rolls in the restaurant, and I was working long hours doing makeup on a film project. We were pregnant at the same time, and there was her beautiful girl, showing up on my social media feed. I doubt they remember me, or that we were pregnant at the same time…Thee Abbey holds a very special place in my heart, for multiple reasons, and we go back there several times a year, but it’s not like we’re friends with the owners or anything. We were just two women with dreams of families, who had very different outcomes from the same seasons in our lives.

It’s in those moments that I still make conscious decisions. Those are the “sink or swim” moments, those “suddenlys.” Do they become a noose or a beacon? Do I drown in the waves? Do I pause, take a breath, and let the tears fall? Oh, my Jesus….how many bottles in Heaven are marked with my name? He knows, because He cares about every tear that’s fallen on this journey and beyond…

Do I rush through the thoughts that hit, ignoring them even as I know they’ll come back to me later, when I finally have some quiet time to process them?

Should I even be affected by these moments anymore?

Those moments…some of those moments are huge, while others are minute, but they do still happen. When they do, it’s a conscious decision to move forward, to pause, or even to fall apart (which doesn’t happen very often, thankfully). There are conscious decisions to remain hopeful and wholehearted, to not become bitter or faithless. Sometimes, I hear other women tell their birth stories, and it gets hard to not be angry or hateful. Sometimes even now, old pieces of things I thought I forgave, as far as my medical care went, come up and I get mad. Two women in line next to me in a resale shop were bragging about how they had their babies out in public at 1-and-2 days old. I said, “Wow, you’re brave.” They laughed and said, “well, that’s how you GOT to do it!” One of them went on her way, but I quietly said to the other, “We lost our first from something very common…I didn’t leave the house with my second, except to go to the doctor, for 6 weeks.” The look on her face said it all–perspective. When other moms look at you like you’re some kind of germ-phobic freak or a helicopter mom, it’s hard not to lash out. There’s a conscious decision that’s made, to either tell the story in kindness, say silent and put up with the awkwardness and feel completely inauthentic, or to tell the story in a way to slap them upside their heads for judging your parenting. I’ve done all of the above, and I’m not proud of that fact.

There are conscious decisions made that people who haven’t walked this road will never understand, and that’s perfectly fine. I refuse to apologize for the fact that I am a woman who has given birth and said “goodbye,” and that this is the season where those memories and dreams are the closest to the surface….

So, like Emma said, we “LIVE for the weekends,” ESPECIALLY in the fall. October is full of everything beautiful…the trees are putting on their finest colors just before they blaze out into their rest, and I want to celebrate every one of them. I want the “basic” life of pumpkins and spice and bonfires. I want my (second-hand) UGGs and my leggings, and I want to jump into every pile of leaves I can find. I’m not a huge fan of corn mazes (I did my first one last week; it was a kids’ version, and it freaked me OUT), but I dig pumpkin patches! We didn’t do that kind of stuff when I was a kid, but we’re sure enjoying them now.

When the second lady in line at the store was talking to me about Hannah, Jericho jumped into the conversation: “I’m a rainbow baby!” I don’t know if she knew what he meant, but I laughed because it was the first time I’ve ever heard him tell a stranger that fact. It kind of blew me away–what does it mean, to grow up, knowing that about yourself? I had a friend chime in on an Instagram post that she was a rainbow baby, and that she loved knowing about what that meant; she said she loved that her parents never hid the truth from her, and that blessed me. I never wanted to keep it from him, but I also never wanted it to be a burden, so we always want to paint his birth as the miracle to us that it truly was. He knows he’s special (maybe a little TOO well, LOL).

We have this chance–we have this GIFT–to LIVE, and to live well. We have this opportunity to seriously carpe diem–to seize the day (can you tell I grew up in the 90’s?)–and to make amazing memories of each season. Jericho is no doubt spoiled. He hates the weekends where we’ve stayed home, and I get it. We don’t stay home on the weekends very often (although to be fair, we don’t go anywhere during the week. Total hermits.), and he expects an adventure. When he doesn’t get it? He’s kind of a punk, and I can say that as his mother. 🙂 And even today, after we drove for 2 hours, did a cool hayride, got lost in a maze, shoveled pizza in our faces in the car, and ate something amazing called a “cinnamon chimney,” he STILL had some bratty moments–he’s 6, and there was a LOT of walking–and I found myself wondering why I try to do cool stuff. Um, kiddo, I’m going to admit that sometimes, I am the one that wants to do the cool stuff, and you’re along for the ride. I want to make these memories with you, so stop whining and smile for the camera (“You will smile for this picture, or SO HELP ME GOD!” #TheStruggleIsReal). I want to make the cool memories, and I want to look back at that awesome photo book that I make at the end of every year, and look at this amazing life that God has given us.

I know that life in pictures is only part of the story…but what a beautiful part of the story it is. I have to laugh–when I was 8, my mom took my sister and I to Disneyworld. There’s a really cute photo album somewhere that shows us in all of our glory in Florida…but do you know what we still laugh about to this day? The fact that my sister and I were absolute MONSTERS on that trip. OHMYGOSH, I can’t–we whined so much, and my mom had to have busted her rear to pay for that trip; we were SUCH punks, I can’t even…AND I AM REMINDED OF THAT TRIP, EVERY TIME I TAKE MY SON TO DO SOMETHING COOL, AND HE WHINES. Like, #KARMA. I have to laugh. We have the pictures, and we have the memories, and oh, what a life we get to experience!!!!

Life is hard. It is–it’s a struggle for so many of us. But we have each day to start over, to make new memories and to make the conscious decisions to breathe, to move forward, to celebrate and to grieve. We have the opportunity to celebrate the sweet and to not become bitter…we have the chance to stop apologizing when we’re doing our best, and to accept the love Jesus offers us. We have the choice to pick grace, and to put one foot in front of the other on this journey, and to help others to do the same. Fall is the season of such incomparable beauty. I hope and pray that you get to embrace it and the changes that come along in it. “LIVE for your weekends,” and if you can, let the dishes wait a bit while you make some memories–and don’t make any apologies for it, dang it. You carpe that diem, dangit, and light up your Instagram feed!!!!

Seriously, though–take every chance you can to enjoy this season. May your “suddenlys” and your fall leaves remind you that you are loved by our Creator who made all of the beauty that you see, just to bring you closer to Him. ❤

“Jesus Wept.”

This phrase has been on my mind a lot lately.

Sure, it’s “that” time of the year…October is on its way, temperatures are “finally” supposed to drop at the end of this week, and fall is officially about to happen in St. Louis. With the change of weather and the crunch of leaves, my heart spontaneously turns toward that October in the hospital, and the love and loss thereafter…

Autumn is bittersweet in so many ways, and as time has gone on, there’s more sweet than melancholy, but that is the blessing of both time and grace.

My daughter would be turning 13 next month—can you believe it? I’d have a teenager!! It’s crazy.

This journey has been long, strange, completely unexpected, and so incredibly beautiful, even in the worst parts. I look back at when I realized I was pregnant with her—David and I were just about to have our first anniversary—and all of the moments we had throughout my pregnancy, hospitalization, and the Life-&-Death aftermath. Even in those painful things, I think about the way our families and our church families supported us and loved us. There is beauty in those memories, even as they came during such darkness.

When you’re going through absolute hell, and you’re willing to speak out about your situation (or in my case, unable to shut up about it), people that love you will come. I don’t think that’s altruistic; in today’s world, we’re connected in SO many ways.  If you’re going through trauma, there isn’t a reason to go through it without support and love. Share your pain with your trusted friends that love you and that most importantly, love Jesus. You’re not meant to be alone—I can’t imagine how much more difficult the days and months after Hannah’s death would have been, had we tried to stay silent and undercover. I know I’ve mentioned this before, but I feel like it’s so important: my pastors were AMAZING in allowing us to grieve in our Body of believers…they never shut us down, and they never told us we should “suck it up” or “just pray harder.”

They let us mourn….

They let us mourn, because they believe, and because we believe, that Jesus Wept.

Those two little words have comforted me so much in my life…They gave me permission to grieve. They gave me permission to be honest with myself and with my leaders about how broken I was. Jesus knew Lazarus was going to rise from the dead—He knew it was going to be okay, and that the separation wasn’t for long, but He still wept. It doesn’t say that “Jesus sniffled.”

It doesn’t say that “Jesus cried.”

It says that JESUS. WEPT.

When I think of weeping, I think of those deep, guttural cries that come up from the depths of your spirit when you’re so heavily grieved that you don’t even have words. You can’t speak; you can’t breathe. You’re broken on a spiritual level, and you feel entirely cut off from anything or anyone that could be a solace.

Jesus wept. He wept from the depths of His soul for His friend, for the sisters, and for the fact that this was a separation from His friend, but it was also just a foreshadowing of the separation He was about to feel from His Father when He was on the Cross. He wept because He loved, and He wept because He knew it was important, both physically and spiritually, to excise that grief.

As Christians, we spend way too much time focusing on getting “better,” and not enough time focusing on where we are right now. The process of weeping is imporant in that you’re wrapped up in the moment you’re in, and you really can’t see anything before or after that pinnacle emotion that is sweeping you in. The critical issue is that you have that moment; you hold it in your hand and in your heart; you “get it out;” and then you have to let it go.

You absolutely, 100% have to make a decision to let it go.

We see this when Jesus wept, in that He has His moment—we don’t know how long He cried for—and then He went to work.  He refocused, He did what He knew He was going to do all along, and He kept moving.  Grief is such a difficult thing, because it’s so, so heavy. If we don’t make ourselves process and move, it will weigh us down and we’ll never get through it. It will latch on to us, and it will affect our every movement until we finally take the time to deal with it. Please know that no matter what you think, grief WILL be dealt with. You can’t let it go until you’ve acknowledged it, and started processing it, and then gotten up off of the floor to take those first steps (which can require some assistance, for real).

Jesus wept…and then shortly after that, He said, “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?”

Are. You. KIDDING?!?!?

Please, oh please, tell me how in the world God can be glorified in the death of an infant. Please tell me how God can be glorified in the middle of a cancer diagnosis, or in the loss of a parent. Please tell me how God can be glorified in the middle of an unfaithful marriage, or in the middle of a church that’s been shaken to its core, or in the middle of the loss of a ministry?

I can’t answer that.

I can tell you it took a few years, but there are bright memories in the Valley of the Shadow of Death that I am grateful for. I can tell you that I remember every bowl of soup that was brought to us… I can remember the strangers that came to the hospital to pray with us, because they’d been where we were.  I can remember hearing that prayers were being rallied for Hannah at multiple churches across the world (!). I can remember the grain of the carpet, and the pleated pants on the knees of those who knelt with us on hospital floors.

I can tell you that after the first rush of hand-holding that comes in the days following death, when things quieted down, that we still had no shortage of people who prayed for us or who checked in on us. They didn’t always say the “right” things (seriously, some of it was flat-out hilarious), but their hearts were there, and they loved us even when it got awkward.

I can tell you that in the darkness, there were moments of glory that I didn’t understand, but I can see them when I look back.

And I can tell you that on my 13-years-and-going journey of grief, that there is so much beauty in remembering how Jesus loved David & I with such kindness…with so much grace, even when we were screaming at Him…I can tell you that my faith was built up in the midst of being shattered, and that even when it’s tested, I can go back to the floor of a hospital room and remember where He met me…

And I can tell you that when He met me, He wept, too.

He loves us so very much…He loves us in our joy, and He loves us through our grief. He welcomes our tears; He welcomes our absolute honesty, and He is faithful to love us on this journey, regardless of where we are.

If you’re in that process of grieving…if you’re in that position of weeping, and of not knowing if the tears will ever stop, please know that Jesus understands. He truly does—this isn’t some, “pie-in-the-sky” kind of Christianese foolishness. God is real; Jesus has deep, deep love for your heart; and this season of darkness has an expiration date. You won’t be here forever, even if it feels like it.

I can’t tell you that you’re going to wake up one day and “feel better.”  I can tell you that if you allow yourself the first specks of trust, that those specks will turn into pieces, and that eventually, those pieces will come together to form a new chapter in your life. And you know what? Grief may color the ink on a few of the pages in those chapters, and that’s okay.

Jesus doesn’t tell us to deny our grief or our emotions. He tells us not to be ruled by them, but He doesn’t say to act like they’re not real. He wept because even the Son of God knows grief. He wept because even though the Son of God knows the end of the story, hurt is valid of respect, and hurt is worthy of acknowledgement.

Grief is real, & He welcomes the chance to help us carry it. He welcomes the day when we’re able to shift the burden completely to Him, and He understands when we want to hang onto it for a short time. Letting go of grief doesn’t mean we don’t love and cherish what we’re grieving…letting go of grief just means that we love and cherish what we lost, enough to fully trust Him with it. We love and cherish what we lost enough to understand that we can’t carry it alone.

Jesus wept to show us that He understands…He wept to show us that He is worthy of our grief, and that He is worthy of our broken hearts. When you’re broken and grieving, your tendency is to want to protect that pain. You want to avoid anyone that you don’t think can understand you; you isolate, to deal with your brokenness on your own. Jesus wept to show you and I that He IS able to empathize and to handle that grief for you…you don’t need to isolate or to protect yourself from Him.

And when we come to that place of understanding, of letting Him take our burden and our heaviness, then we finally begin our journey of healing…

Jesus wept.

He wept for Lazarus; He wept for me. And you know what? He wept for you, too.

Pour out your heart to Him today; understand that there’s nothing you can say to Him that He doesn’t want to hear, or that He doesn’t understand. Let Him carry your burden; let Him open up the roadblock that’s weighing you down. You were not meant to bear your pain alone.

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Cinnamon Rolls, Reality TV, and a Pink Slip for the Holidays…

I’ve been baking this holiday season….a LOT. I love the “Great British Bake-Off,” “Nailed It,” and basically any baking show that Netflix will offer. I like the challenge of it, I like learning new techniques, and I like discovering things I’ve never heard of (thank you, Paul Hollywood). I’ve realized that Americans are kinda crappy at baking, embracing loud colors and crazy fillings over subtle flavors and maybe even over techniques. I’m learning to value the time-tested traditions of doing things by hand.

There is so much value in what you make with your own two hands.

So, I scour my old cookbooks (like, 1950’s), my favorite websites (Buzzfeed/Tasty), and my favorite–the old church cookbooks that I inherited from a retired pastor’s wife. You find some real gems in there that are an education! It’s always a lesson, whether it’s in the mistakes, the measuring, or in the successes.

For Christmas, I made my usual–Russian Tea Cakes, Peanut Butter Cookies, Chocolate Chip Cookies, and Sugar Cookies (which are from the pits of Hell). I also, for the very first time, made a gingerbread house THAT IS STILL STANDING!!! (Note: I am a CRAP decorator, when it comes to icing cookies. Just absolute CRAP. I accept it. Don’t judge me, Prue.)!!

The gingerbread was actually quite tasty, but the best part of all, was the fact that I got to recreate a favorite memory of mine, with my son. My mama was a single mom for a brief while, and a lady she worked with invited us over to make gingerbread houses, and I loved it. Jericho had a blast decorating the house, and a memory was made.

I also made an angel food cake from scratch; I tackled fondant for the first time; and I made a total of 4 different kinds of icing throughout the holiday season.

Man, I’m TIRED.

Baking has been therapeutic for me, for sure, although the mess has definitely increased David’s stress level!

I have some vacation time over this holiday, so I’ve been staying up a bit later than usual. Last night, I tried to watch a documentary on Netflix about memes and social media in society. It documented the hazards and the blessings of people who have made careers out of social media–Paris Hilton, some guy named Krill, The Fat Jewish–I didn’t get very far, because what they were saying was hurting my heart. They talked about “likes” being an addiction…about getting out of bed every morning, and pouring their time and attention into what was getting “likes” on social media. Paris was saying something about loving her fans just as much as she loves her family!!!! The fans are what fuels these media titans, and I just don’t understand it.

Granted, I’m HARDLY their demographic. I’m not cool, and I’m okay with that. I’ll stick to stalking my bakers on Instagram, and be on my merry way. That’s totally fine. These social media people look happy, and I guess they are? I can’t judge that. But I wonder who hugs them when the internet goes down? Who rubs their shoulders when they cry, and who plays frisbee with them on summer days? I mean, I’m sure they could post a call-out on Instagram and find 5 “friends” in 5 minutes, but who holds their hearts? “Likes” don’t fill the hole in our heart, and things sure get messy when the camera pans out.

Baking is a FANTASTIC reflection of my life right now…don’t things look pretty? Look at this gorgeous cinnamon roll! Not too bad, for my first time at this recipe! Once these babies proof tomorrow for a second time, they’re gonna rock our world!!!

I’ve posted the link to this recipe at the end of the blog. LOOK AT MY GORGEOUS PAN OF CINNAMON ROLLS!!!!!!

This recipe is COMPLICATED, to me (not to Paul Hollywood…sigh…). It takes patience, time, and some skills that I’m still working on. (BTW, if you make this, don’t use a spatula to spread out the filling. Use your hands. It makes the butter spread more evenly.)

My beautiful little pans of rolls are sitting in my fridge, and will proof for 40 minutes tomorrow before baking and icing. I’m EXCITED. And if you look at this pan, you see delectable cinnamon rolls…and that’s all you see….but here’s what’s really going on (pans the camera out):

It’s an effing disaster.

I’m a really, really messy cook…my kitchen is TINY…there were already dishes in the sink when I started…and why is my Dremel on the counter?!?!? This messy kitchen has already ruined one cake this season, when I spilled water on a 2-tiered cake and trashed the whole thing (including ganache). There’s always a mess, but we do get it cleaned up when all is said and done.

But you’d never know that, from the close-up of my beautiful cinnamon roll dough.

When we only focus on what we want to see, we are lying to ourselves. We are ignoring the mess, the process that got us to where we are, and the consequences of our actions. Social media stars only show you what they want you to see–the cinnamon rolls, which is why you love them–and never show you the mess behind the scenes. They’re succeeding based on a fictionalized, glamorized, perfect life–which we all want–and telling us we can have it all without the mess.

It’s not real.

There’s never a cinnamon roll without some flour….or without some dirty pans…or without the aching hands that come from kneading. There are messes built into our perceived perfection, and as a society, we’ve forgotten how to value that part of the process.

I’m just as guilty as the next person of only posting the “good life.” I post the cinnamon rolls–not the mess. I post the laughing–not the tears from the fight from the day before.

I just posted happy Christmas photos of my son and of my family….

I didn’t post that one month ago today, my husband lost his job, and with it, over half of our income.

I didn’t post that we’re individually and corporately gutted…that we’re in a mess, and that we don’t know what to do. I posted that God provides–He does–but not the tears and the prayers and the kindness that people have shown us privately.

I didn’t post the fears or the failures…the struggles David & I are having as we come to grips with new responsibilities and accountabilities, or the anxiety and overwhelming panic that has set in on multiple occasions.

No doubt, the hardest thing we’ve ever been through has been the loss of our daughter. This comes in second, even over cancer. We’ve looked at each other with every conceivable emotion over the past 30 days, and have struggled with keeping words in check. This is hard, and we’re struggling to regroup, even as we know God is in control and that He provides. It’s still frickin’ hard, and that’s all there is to it.

I want the cinnamon roll posts. I want to laugh, and show pictures of smiling faces. No one wants to see anyone look as awful as we feel right now, and I certainly don’t want to put that out on social media. I totally get why the social media stars paint their cinnamon-roll lives. I want to, as well..but reality is what we all deal with, so painting perfection is deceptive at best.

We serve a God of truth, not a god of entertainment. We serve a God of messy kitchens and of cinnamon rolls, a God of time-proven redemption, verses a god of microwave solutions. We serve a God that sees our messes and loves us through them. He sees our mistakes, our tears, and eventually, only He can weave them into portraits that don’t need Instagram filters or clicks.

We serve a God that is constantly reminding me that He cares about the sparrows…about the lilies of the field and the lost, the broken, the found and the repaired.

Social media, and social media stars, are visual candy in a world that is starving for steak. It’s better to take the time and effort to be the steak–to be the thing that sustains and nourishes–than to be the instant gratification of the “pretty” that we see on camera. It’s just not as easy to process or to implement.

So, that’s the truth. We paint pictures of pretty families and beautiful Christmases, and everyone “likes” it and calls themselves your “friend,” but it’s not real, and we have to understand that this faux “reality” is anything but. What’s real, is the person you call when you’re down…the person who shows up at your door, the person you stop everything to visit when they’re ill, and the face-to-face time (not the “facetime”) spent together. Real people, real prayers, real heart, and real love….even when it’s really messy.

In my last blog, I alluded to the fact that we were struggling, and now you know why. We are, though, still together, still trying to figure it out, and still dedicated to maintaining a happy household for our son. We’re so blessed that we have family, friends, and a church that is there for us–in person–to sustain us with prayer and love. We’re so, so grateful.

So grateful, in fact, that I think I’m going to have to bake another batch or two of these cinnamon rolls.

https://www.buzzfeed.com/hannahloewentheil/cinnamon-rolls-from-scratch-recipe-tips?utm_term=.rcVo9GAR9G#.rcVo9GAR9G

For the Love of a Dog…

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Once upon a time, in late November of 2005, a fluffy, shy, drooly cuddlebug came to be a part of our family. David had told me from as early in our dating life as I can remember, that he’d always wanted a boxer…so, he found one that was much smaller than most boxers, and she became ours.
I’d only had a cat (which I adored) and a dog (which my dad adored), and birds (which were never mine). I didn’t know what to do with an indoor dog, or such a “fancy” dog (She’s AKC registered, I mean, c’mon!!!). I didn’t know anything about walking them or training them, & I wasn’t even sure I wanted a dog, but I figured she’d be good practice for whenever we decided to try to have children (we had no idea how THAT was going to work out).
I fell in love.
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David studied The Dog Whisperer (Cesar Millan) religiously. Our house was filled with too much dog hair, too much slobber, and the sound of “tschhhht!” reverberating off of the walls.
She ate my cookbooks, my shoes, and had separation anxiety issues that we weren’t counting on…but we made it work.
She ate the bottom out of more kennels than I can count…which gets expensive.
She chewed every dog toy I bought her into tiny crumbs (except for the black Kong. Get it.).
She stayed on my lap or laid on my stomach every day…until one day, my stomach started to kick her…and eventually, she didn’t have any room to lay down…
And then Mommy disappeared for a few weeks.
When we brought our daughter home, she didn’t know what to think of the tiny, hairless being that Mommy & Daddy loved so much…but she knew how Mommy cried when that little person didn’t come home anymore…and she stayed with me through countless tears and breakdowns.
DSC00500 (My family hates this picture. I was pretty mad about it…but I’m so glad I have it. Thanks, David.)
Holly was definitely impacted by Hannah’s death…her separation anxiety worsened, and her need to be directly under my feet became problematic. I got annoyed…but I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Boxers tend to live around 7-10 years.  When Holly hit the 7-year mark, she gained a bunch of weight, and then her hips went out. We found out that first of all, she had a thyroid problem…which in retrospect, I find hilarious.
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We knew things were off, so we visited a few vets, and found out that our girl needed a ridiculously-expensive surgery: Bilateral TPLO. I don’t remember all of the ins-&-outs, but she basically needed her legs cut open and the bones reworked, along with a bunch of screws, pins, and other such things, to the tune of around $7,000-10,000 that we. Did. Not. Have.
Because of her temperament, we were able to find a surgeon that did both surgeries for both legs, at the same time. That’s unheard of, in a bully breed or in a dog of her size. She made it through the procedure without complications; I was scared to death, and brought her chicken from Qdoba almost every night that she was in the hospital. 🙂
And then we found out that Holly was about to have a brother!!!
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It took Holly a solid 6 months to warm up to Jericho, and to be honest, she wasn’t terribly fond of him. Granted, we were terrible dog-parents; we were working full-time, and still hadn’t gotten into a routine of making sure she had her thyroid medicine. Speaking from a different place of understanding, now I KNOW how important that medication is!! Once we had her in a regular routine, she began to tolerate Jericho quite nicely. 🙂 He makes her nervous…but he sure does love her!
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Holly followed me around incessantly…I had absolutely no personal space, and I was really starting to get aggravated with her….but then came my diagnosis of thyroid cancer. Once my surgery and my medication started doing their jobs, her need to be in my face and under my feet seemed to decrease. I’m pretty convinced she knew I was sick, before I or anyone else knew. She’s pretty darn smart.
When David isn’t home, Holly will go ballistic on anyone who comes to the door. She’s been a fierce defender for Jericho & I, and even though I’ve only had to “sic” her on someone once or twice, I know that no matter how old she gets, SHE WILL TEAR SOMEONE APART on cue. 🙂 I like that about her. I didn’t train her to be a security dog…but I didn’t have to.
Our girl is quite old…we’re reminded of that every time someone asks how old she is, and we tell them, and they look at us like we’re crazy: “She’s REALLY OLD for a BOXER, isn’t she?!?!?!?”
Well, yes.
Yes, she’s old.
She’s losing her hearing and control of her bladder (that sucks, BTW. I’m going to buy stock in Resolve.). She’s crabbier, but she still defends me to the teeth (not that she has many left), and she still likes to “hug” me when I try to go upstairs (she runs one step ahead, and gets on her hind legs to put her paws on my shoulders). She still lets me do her nails, and she misses being allowed to get on the couch (it’s a new couch).
She loves her Daddy.
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And she definitely, definitely, loves ME.

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She’s an amazing dog, and an amazing soul…I believe all dogs go to Heaven. I mean, how could something love you like that…and I do believe it’s love…and not be allowed to return to their Maker? God blessed us when He gave us animals to love…

She’s been my very, very best friend…she’s been a dog I needed, even though I never knew just how much I’d need someone like her.

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She’s in my heart, and I am forever grateful for the day David called me and said, “I got a dog.”

Officially, she’s “Christmas’ Holly Golightly.”

Unofficially, she’s “Miss Stink,” “OooohGetOffaMeYou’reGross,” “$%&*%$&!!!!,” and a few other unmentionable names. 🙂

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She’s a Good Dog, and I wish she could read…I wish she could know just how grateful we are for her….and how we are changed for the better, because of the Love of a Dog.

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Happy 13th birthday, Holly. You’re a Very Good Dog, and we love you!

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Happy Birthday…

Eleven.

You’d be eleven.

I Googled “things 11-year old girls like,” and the results made me smile.

Science.

Design.

Crafts.

Glitter.

I wonder what you’d like, as I do every year…

Time moves on, and we take our steps….

Leaves turn, and winter comes again.

Your brother changes every day; it’s going

So

Fast.

Every day with him is a gift that we

End with a hug and a

Prayer to the

Great God Who

Blessed Us…

The Great God Who

Holds you

Now…

He’s coming to the age where your story

Is told…

I’m not sure how we’re going to tell him,

But we will tell him how much we love you even

Now.

When the darkness comes….

When my soul is overwhelmed,

And when my heart feels every ounce of the memories that

Autumn Brings,

I remember the promises of my Savior…

I remember the promises of His Word…

I remember He loves me.

He loves you.

And I cling to the hope of seeing you again.

I remember the dreams He gave;

One boy, and one little

Red-haired

Princess…

Mine to hold

In eternity.

 

Happy Birthday in Heaven,

Beautiful Girl…

Your name means “Grace,”

And it is by the Grace of God

We live.

We hope.

And we love. KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

Grief, Gratitude, and the Grace of Pumpkin Spice

4 years ago, I wrote the following (thank you, Timehop):

“I’m in a season of celebrating one new life, while remembering the short life of one gone far too soon. It’s conflicting, celebratory, sad, & a beautiful dichotomy that is not lost on me, even in my current chaos. Hello, Autumn-you remind me again of what is lost, even in the midst of great, wonderful, amazing gain…”

If you’re new to my blog and haven’t read the “About Me” section, then you may not have picked up on the fact that my husband David & I lost our first daughter, Hannah, at 29 days of age, to late-onset Group B Strep with Bacterial Meningitis. I could wax loquacious about the details, but I will spare you (and me), and stick with the general, “Google It” response that I tend to give in order to stop reliving the worst 5 days of my life.  Our daughter was a preemie (34 weeks), and could not fight off the flukiest-of fluke diseases (even though she was born completely healthy). My pregnancy with her basically wrecked my heart (physically and emotionally), and it was nothing short of a miracle that we conceived and successfully delivered our rainbow baby, Jericho, 7 years later. My pregnancy with Jericho was spent partially in the peripartum “spa” (if you’ve been “incarcerated” into peripartum care long-term, you know I’m joking) of the amazing Missouri Baptist Hospital, under the care of phenomenal doctors (shout-out to Michael Paul, MD, life-saving and baby-loving perinatologist) and nurses that I couldn’t have survived (physically and emotionally) without.

Bringing home a newborn after losing one, is a strange, difficult, conflicting process…For Jericho’s first month of life, I’m pretty sure I didn’t sleep (which led to some serious post-partum issues, that I am neither ashamed of nor silent about. Post-partum depression is real, and if you’re suffering from it, save yourself and your family, and get help), and I’m not so sure my husband did, either. I had a full 8 weeks at home with my little guy, and I think I spent most of my time crying happy tears, crying sad tears, swearing about a lousy milk supply, praying that I didn’t screw this up, and thanking God for how He keeps His promises….while also praying with everything within me that we could just get through the first 30 days. I think when Day 30 hit, I finally took my first post-partum breath. It felt like the oceans receded (proceeded? Words are hard) after being held back for a month…like all of the tension flew out of my body with that breath, and I finally, finally, could rest.

I didn’t, of course—hello, sleep training!—but I knew that I COULD, and that made a huge difference. After 30 days, I think I finally went from handling motherhood like a Swarovski crystal spider-web, and began to actually embrace that this really was my life now…he was ours, and he was everything I prayed for. The reality of the answer to years of prayers was staring me in the face, and he wasn’t going away. He was real…my precious boy…and I could truly, sincerely be happy.

After that first 30 days, through the spring and summer, I began to struggle with the “we nevers.” Jericho would have a milestone moment, and I’d think, “We never got to see Hannah do that.” I tried to turn it off, tried to celebrate what was happening, but the thoughts would creep back…”He giggled…I never got to hear her laugh.” “David, he flipped over…we never got to see Hannah do that.”

At one point, I dreamt that Jericho was lying on my bed, and a little red-haired girl was sitting there with him. Even now, as I type this, I can feel the tears at the back of my eyelids…that image was so, so powerful, as was the sentiment with it: “I will never, in this life, have a picture of my children together. What has happened to us? We will never be a normal family.” I woke up from that dream absolutely hysterical…I was deeply, deeply grieved. I can remember that intensity as if I’d dreamt it last night. Family pictures with one boy, one girl? They are still hard for me to see, even amongst friends…You just never have that sense of completion. You learn to accept it, to view it as your “normal,” but as a parent? You will always recognize that missing person in your family picture.

Anyway, the first year with Jericho was tough, as it is for all parents: You’re learning how to be a mom, learning how to juggle a full work-week, and finding trustworthy childcare. I had further complications that first year; my heart still wasn’t functioning correctly, my gall bladder required 2 different surgeries to remove, and my recovery post-C-section caused scar tissue to develop that would later result in a full hysterectomy just one year after having my son.

However, one of the greatest joys of that year was how often David & I would look at each other, or look at Jericho, and just know how great was the love of Jesus? How amazing was it that this tiny little person came about because of healing, grace, and love? We could look at this child and see tangible evidence that when you have a dream in your heart, and you know beyond the shadow of a doubt that God is NOT finished with you, despite what modern healthcare says– He can make miracles happen!  We could look at this child and know that you cannot accept the things men say, when you hear in your spirit the things God says!!  My son is nothing short of a breathing miracle, and frankly, I am, too. He has that legacy—that legacy of prayer, of hope, of determination. There is nothing in this world I am more grateful for, except my husband and my salvation.

Yep—I’m officially crying now. Jesus, I am so thankful! You can’t know how my heart blows up at just writing these words…I am grateful, with every cell of my body.

Even as I write this, though, I come back to how this blog started, with that quote from 2013: “Hello, Autumn—you remind me again of what is lost, even in the midst of great, wonderful, amazing gain…”

The spring and summer of 2013 were full of new-mom fog, surgery, work, etc. We were just trying to get our feet back under us to charge ahead on our new life together as a Party of 3. But then….

Then came Autumn.

And then came The Hardest Part.

When I went into Missouri Baptist Hospital in October, 2006, the fall leaves were still on the trees. My room overlooked the highway, so I really didn’t get a good handle on watching the season change to winter; when I left my hospital room in November, 2006, winter had come, and the world was bare.  I missed the entire season in a 4-week span, and we brought our little girl home the week before Thanksgiving. By the day after Thanksgiving, she was in a coma, and then she was gone…we buried her on December 1st, the day after one of the worst ice storms Missouri has ever seen. The sun shone, and the world was crystallized for my winter princess.  I’ve never forgotten the beauty of the day my child was buried…it was like the Lord decided to cover the trees in diamonds in her honor. It was stunning, even in the darkness of our grief.

But that year, 2006, I missed the fall. So when the leaves turned in 2007, something hit my heart, and I could only think of that Fall I Had Missed…and every year, I am reminded as such.

In 2013, the reminders came as I was looking into the eyes of my son…my miracle boy…and I was so totally conflicted in ways I hadn’t realized were possible. I had so much, but had lost so much, and the season reminded me of all of it, combined with gutting guilt. HOW dare I mourn, when I had so much to be thankful for?

How could I not, when that world was staring me in the face every day I walked out of my door?

I found myself not necessarily regressing in my grieving process, but really struggling with the dichotomy of grief and gratitude. And I’m writing this not to say that I have ever found an answer to that conflict, but to say that every year, I’m reminded of Hannah’s precious life in so many stronger ways than in my usual daily thoughts.

There is no season like Autumn, in all of its symbolism and glory…it’s a season of death, but a season where colors come alive….where we breath in the dust of the trees as they make their fiery curtain call for the year. It’s a season of living at bonfires and parks, a season where photographers revel in making memories, and where families gather to celebrate all things together…

We know death is coming…that winter is coming…but there is no day like today, and today, we celebrate the abundance of the harvest.  Are we near-sighted, to not hunker down and prepare for the winter? Or do we understand the breath/breadth of life, and own the day with its undeniable charm?

We cram our calendars with activities to take in every moment. That first year? We did it all. And we did the second year, and the third, and I’m getting ready to do it all again in the fourth year with our Rico-Bean. We celebrate the Fall, and we run ourselves ragged with the memories we make…and we make no apologies. I celebrate the Fall season with my little guy, and I never let on that I am internally fighting the conflict of that grief and that gratitude.

And I realize through it all, that there is no “conflict.”

There is only cohabitation.

I miss my little girl. Fall reminds me of her birth, of her death, and of the 29 days we had between…of the crunching of the leaves as I walked into the hospital, and the Christmas decorations as we came out…of that first day home from the hospital with her in our arms…and of the last day, where home was a place I never wanted to go back to…I wish I could separate her birth and her death, but her death came so quickly that I simply cannot. It all happened in the same season…this season…and every day is a reminder…

But every day is also a gift.

Every day, I look at Jericho and marvel at who he is, who he was born as, and what possibilities are to come…Every day, I am so grateful, and so genuinely happy. Every day, I praise God that I get to be that boy’s mother…Every. Single. Day.

This fall, we have adventures planned…it’s his first year in Pre-K, so there are school events (field trips!), fall festivals, our annual events with Parents-As-Teachers, and my favorite, Halloween!!!!!!!! This year, he’s going as Harry Potter for at least one event (he wears glasses, so it’s perfect!).  We celebrate this season; don’t be surprised to see me in my Uggs with my leggings and some S’mores, cradling a Pumpkin Spice Latte in my monogrammed fleece jacket,  as a shining example of Suburban White Chick Bliss (that’s an entire other blog).

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I love this season. I love that it has multiple meanings, deep significance, and a beautiful, melancholy soul. I love the constant reminders of grace, which hovers over the grief and the gratitude. Grace envelopes both feelings, and makes them walk side-by-side instead of in mental conflict.

Grace is how we had our Hannah…how we said goodbye…and ultimately, how we will say “hello,” again…

Grace is how we had our Jericho…how we said “hello” for the very first time…and how we embrace each new day and sleep peacefully each night.

Grace is what brought David & I together in this crazy world—two kids with no idea of what was to come, and no idea how to engage on this life or on this journey—

Grace is what keeps us together, and is what pulls us through the tough times. It pushes us constantly toward the Father Who bestows it in abundance, and works in us independently to keep us engaged…to keep us from throwing up our hands and breaking our hearts in this process.

Grace is what binds our hearts, and binds our hearts to each other.

And Grace is what leads us home…

There is a beautiful loss in the season of Autumn, but it is part of the journey to a beautiful rebirth…and we are constantly on that journey, surrounded by grace, with eternity in our hearts….<3

Ecclesiastes 3:11 “He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.

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