charlie's song


Family Pictures

In a few days, shiny Christmas cards will pour into mailboxes across the land.

Ones like this…


I mean, this picture has it all…cute kids, coordinating clothes, and universal smiles. And yet, the picture just feels so devastatingly wrong.

I used to actually enjoy squeezing my unruly little family into matching ensembles, and tickling them into their best smiles.  I liked how pictures captured the essence of our family and the transformation of our little people as they grew from year to year.  I used to love Christmas pictures.

Right up until this year.

Ever since January when baby Charlie died and the world went dark forever…I have been dreading our November photo shoot.  Then in June, when the next baby died, the dread got even heavier.  My heart ached with the reality that no picture, no matter how great the outfits and perfect the smiles, would ever come close to capturing this little family I love so much.

Because they just aren’t here.

Charlie isn’t here.

Baby Zeller isn’t here.

And now, devastatingly, the newest little Zeller we had hoped to make a million memories and take a billion pictures with…isn’t coming here either.

On Monday, we went in for my first ultrasound.  I could tell from the moment the doctor looked at the screen, that all of our hopes for this precious new life…were about to be shattered.  “I’m so sorry,” he said, “But I don’t think this baby is going to live.”

It’s been a long, painful week of waiting in agony for this little person to join his siblings in heaven…and now he has.  Or should I say she?  I just don’t know. We don’t even know if this newest little Zeller would have needed a dress to match the girls, or a bow tie like big brother Freddo. We just know that this new baby isn’t coming to live with us. Either.  Ever.

There’s now three babies I carry in my heart. Three babies who we loved and prayed for and longed to know.  Three babies who I think about every moment of every day.  Three babies who will always be missing from our Christmas card.

And I ache in places too deep to reach as we deal with loss, upon loss, upon loss.

I could fill this post with lots of words…in hopes of describing all that we’re feeling right now. But it hurts too much for words, so I’ll just say it in pictures…DSC_1052SORROW.  More than anything, I feel sorrow.  I had thought baby Charlie would be here. Holding his handprints is a miserable substitute to holding his beautiful, chubby, ten-month-old hands.  I desperately miss those precious hands.  I miss the millions of ways they would have left fingerprints all over my doors, and imprints all over my heart.  I ache with longing for the baby boy I will never know as a baby.  And for the next baby.  And the next.DSC_1117GRATITUDE.  Gratitude doesn’t come easy…in the shadow of now having as many babies in heaven as we have on earth.  I mostly feel forgotten, betrayed, and abandoned. And broken beyond words.  At the same time, I also feel gratitude every time I look at this picture.  Grateful for what we have been given, in the midst of an endless season of suffering over the children we have not.  Grateful for life with these precious ones, as we wait for Life with the others.DSC_1198Grateful…for Emma, who has more tenderness, empathy, faith, and depth than most “big people” I know.  Grateful to be there to hold her today, as her body racked with sobs over the loss of yet another baby sibling she had so badly wanted. I am grateful that you, sweet girl, will grow up knowing the true, but very un-American, sentiment that prayer is not ordering God around…but rather humbly bringing the longings of your heart…and knowing your heart may hurt for doing so.  I am so challenged by your unwavering faith as you risk the hurt of hope…again & again.DSC_1229Grateful for Freddo, who so tenderly fought for this little one’s life.  The other day, I was reading books with the kids.   Sophie was about to climb over my belly when Freddo cried out, “No Sophie, NO!  You could hurt the baby in Mommy’s tummy!  We have to be careful!”  I love you my sweet boy, you are the world’s best big brother.  I so desperately wish little Charlie was here to play planes and trains with you.  And I deeply admire your joyful, cheerful spirit as you suffer through the ache of playing alone.


Grateful for Sophie Noel- my little joy box.  Grateful for the sunshine you force into every day of this incredibly painful life, when all I really want to do is lay on the floor and weep.  Grateful you invite me to more.

Grateful for my incredible husband.  You continue to love me so very well, even though I’m a total raging mess right now. And you continue to cling, bravely and unwavering, to the God I am struggling so much to trust.

And most of all…Grateful for Jesus.  It is deeply difficult to hold unto faith right now.  So hard to believe that God hears our prayers, sees our tears, and cares about the incredibly debilitating suffering that has become our permanent “new normal.”

It’s a very short list of things I am certain about right now…and one of those is the promise that someday, this horrific pain we have to live in, will finally be over forever.  The promise that Jesus is preparing a place for us, and will someday finally rescue us from this life that aches with every breath.

The promise of HOPE.

Which leads me to my favorite family picture.  I discovered this the other day as I was cleaning out Emma’s backpack. Immediately, I knew it was a “framer.”  She had drawn this before she knew I was pregnant, so of course, it is still not a perfect representation of our family…but it’s close.  As close as we’re going to get this side of love so many things about this.  The “boys” spiky hair.  The “girls” awesome antlers.  And most of all, the smiles on the babies faces.  At first, I was so sad to see that the babies are the only ones smiling.  But of course they are…

Because they are Home.

And someday, by the grace of God, we will be too.

Until then, we’d so appreciate your prayers as we navigate yet another turn in this seemingly endless Valley of the Shadow of Death we now live in. As we cling to our Shepherd, who promises He is always with us, even as my heart screams out over and over, “Where are you?!” And as we live by faith, and not by sight, that someday…

We will finally get that perfect family picture.

With love,

The Zeller’s.DSC_1208



Dust and Ashes

“Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.”  -Romans 12:1

It’s so easy to read those words and picture well-fed, well-dressed Americans, with hands raised, singing “Take, take, take it all…!” in an air-conditioned building.  But I’m sure that when the church in Rome first read those words…that was so not the picture that came to mind.

They saw blood.  Blood pouring from the temple as priests offered sacrifices to Yahweh.

They heard pain.  The gentle cooing of doves and bleating of sheep…suddenly turned to screams of pain.

And they felt loss.  Because there was loss every time a sacrifice was made.  Loss of a lamb.  Loss of a dove.  Loss of a bull or goat.  It didn’t matter the gift…there was always, always loss…if a real sacrifice was to take place.

And then they heard silence.  Because at the end of a the bleating, hacking, bloody mess of it all…there was deafening silence at the end of sacrifice.  I cannot fully articulate how much silence comes with grief.  You cry until you weep, and scream out questions to the sky until you can no longer speak,  and yet in the end…like one of our kids wore out after a long temper tantrum…there is always silence after grief.

So, why am I saying all of these things?

Well, first, because this is our heritage.  And if it wasn’t for the infinitely precious Lamb of God whose sacrifice rendered this whole process unnecessary…you and I would still be making temple pilgrimages today.

And second…because there is a critical word in Romans 12:1 that is the New Testament paradigm of sacrifice…


Paul is saying, in affect…“Beloved believers in Rome, remember that noisy, bloody, messy, aching scene of the Temple sacrifices?  OK, well, that’s how it’s going to be.  Not as a means of earning your salvation, but as a means of living it out with fear and trembling.  You’re going to die…and then you’re going to have to keep right on living.”  

And that’s how it feels when all around you, and all within you, is endless suffering.

As I read about the five stages of grief…Denial.  Anger.  Bargaining. Depression.  Acceptance… I’ve wondered a thousand times what Acceptance would look like, and if I’d ever even get to that place.  And while they are not linear, and we will continue to double back into various degrees of each of these stages for the rest of our lives, I finally understand what acceptance looks like.

And though it was, and still is, incredibly difficult to accept the death of a perfectly healthy, deeply longed for baby…and then to have to do that ALL over again a second time…the hardest thing to accept is that my view of God, my view of what I had thought God would do or not do, would protect or not protect, and would allow or not allow to happen in my life…has been permanently, irrevocably changed.

I am realizing that “acceptance” is not so much a conversation about the past, but one about the future.  Acceptance is not so much saying to God, “Ok…I understand that that happened in the past.  And it hurt so much…but I will accept it.”

Acceptance, real, biblical acceptance, is actually saying, “Ok…I don’t understand what happened in the past, and I have absoutely no idea what is going to happen in the future…but I’ll accept it.  I’ll die to you.  And…I’ll keep on living.”

I thought about this paradox…as Reid and I sat in yet another doctor’s office this week.

About a month ago, I went to an endocrinologist who specializes in incredibly complex conditions like mine.  He ordered a battery of tests, and we met this week to go over his findings.

Apparently, I do have hypothyroidism, which does makes it difficult to stay pregnant, and even conceive.  But I also happen to have fibromyalgia, leaky-gut syndrome, adrenal fatigue, irritable bowel syndrome, a rampant, head-to toe Candida albicans infection, and two serious genetic blood disorders: a 4g/5g genotype of the plasminogen activator inhibitor and a genetic mutation called MTHFR (for all of you medical types).  This is a genetic blood disorder that can cause your blood to malfunction, especially during, and at the risk of, pregnancy.  They are things I was born with, and quite honestly, not tested for, because most doctors don’t even know how to and wouldn’t think to since I’ve already had three easy pregnancies.

It’s hard to fully describe what it felt like to sit in that office and hear this complicated diagnosis…as yet another little person continues to grow inside of me.

But the immediate picture that flashed to my mind is that dark day in Job’s life when, after the Sabeans came for his oxen, the fire of God fell on his sheep, the Chaldeans finished off his camels, and he had wept himself dry by ten silent graves…

Then, the boils arrive.

Just when he thought it couldn’t possibly get any worse, he found himself with a potsherd in hand, alone on a dusty ash heap.

And as we sat there in dust and ashes, listening to all of the things that are broken in my body, both currently and permanently…a new picture of surrender came to mind.

There was no temple.  No streams of blood.  No bleating of sheep.  No laying of oneself upon an altar.

It was just us, laying on the ground.  Still breathing in and out…but completely and utterly resigned.

And I’m realizing that that’s ok.  It is ok that this is what surrender has come to mean. Because there is another kind of surrender that comes to mind.  The- “Freeze! Put your hands in the air and kneel down and surrender” -kind.

And that’s where we’re at today.

In a few days, we’ll go in to check on the baby’s heartbeat.  I had wanted to wait to write this post until after we saw the heartbeat.   But even if we see a heartbeat…what then?  What do we expect?  What do we hope for?  How do we pray and breathe and live and fight for faith in such a permanent state of uncertainty?

Because, we’ve been there already.  Twice.

We’ve already sat there, in the cold, sterile doctor’s office, spending our only moments of life with our babies, this side of eternity.

And in the end…in spite of the heartbeats…we did not get that glorious moment when you walk through the front door with the little person who has come to join your story.   We never got to see their eyes.  We never got to see the sweet and funny things they would do and say.  We had only an ultrasound wave.  Only a tiny, unformed body.  Only a heartbeat.

And seeing a heartbeat, is so not the same as knowing a life.

And that is why I’m asking you to pray.  Each one of us, in our broken and bleeding little family…long so desperately to know this new life.

The other day, I was spending another day on bed rest because my body was too weak to do absolutely anything…and Freddo came into the room and said to me, “Mommy, why are you still laying in bed?”  And I said, “Because Mommy isn’t feeling well today.”  And then he paused and said, “And…because you want to protect the baby?” From the mouths of babes.

Yes buddy, Mommy desperately wants to protect this baby.

And yet, ultimately, we kneel surrendered.  Hands above our heads.  Absolutely resigned.  Because we have to be.  The gun is to our heads.  There is nowhere to run.  There is no way to fight.

And yes, I will continue to undergo an endless battery of blood testing, and continue to take my (yes) 67 vitamins a day…but in the end, we are resigned.  Resigned to being sacrifices who feel absolutely beaten down by death, and yet, called to somehow, keep on living.

Because that is the Christian life.  And though I would never have chosen this endless suffering to be our lifelong story…we rightly owe the surrender of our lives…to the God who owes us absolutely nothing.

Many people, would probably say that, deep down, they feel a little like God owes us this baby.  And there are moments I’ve thought the same thing.  I’ve cried out a thousand times, “Haven’t we suffered enough!  Lord Jesus, please just have mercy.”  We love how God gave so much to Job in the final chapter, and we consider that to be a tidy and proper ending to a good story.

But deep down…I know that this is God we’re talking about here.  The God who carefully and lovingly made each one of us, and who has the absolute Sovereign right to demand the surrender of all of us, all of the time, in all possible ways.

This God…owes us nothing.

This God…owes no one a chapter 42 ending.

Every detail of the eternal story of yet another Baby Zeller we long for…is His choice to make.

And our only part is to walk with Him, and in view of His mercies…surrender.

Dead.  And yet, still living.

In resignation.

And in faith.

We would so appreciate your prayers for this little person who is fighting against so very much…for an earthly life.  And even more, for faith in the God who can do anything He choses, in His wisdom and sovereignty, in these lives He has made.

With love and gratitude,



In The Deep End

Today, the Trent Dabbs song, “This Time Tomorrow,” has been on repeat in my head.  I am struck by how much it speaks to our life in this moment…

So there my friend, you’re in the deep end.
Just hanging on, to hope by a loose thread.
Well it’s never good, to try and play pretend.
But maybe what’s broken, can start to shine.

Um…yep.  That’s pretty much us.  In the deep end, hanging on by a thread.

Last summer, when I first found out I was pregnant with my fourth, I remember looking down at my four-year-old, my two-year-old, and my nine-month-old…and thinking, “Well, now we’re REALLY in a hanging-on-by-a-thread, swim in the DEEP END.”

AND THEN…you bury a child.  That precious child you had wanted.  And every other suffering you’ve known before this…feels like you’ve spent your whole life splashing in a shallow kiddie pool by comparison.

And THEN…this summer I began to think that being a mommy to those same precious little ones, while being pregnant with a new life, and still grieving the loss of another one…was the real DEEP END.

And THEN…you bury another child.  And your tears feed the thirsty grave of more fresh turned soil.  And you realize that there’s absolutely no way to know if you’ll ever again even get to leave the DEEP END.

Those younger years, never saw yourself standing here.
They disappeared, all the moments you held so dear.
Start keeping them close, waves come and go.

Those moments and dreams we held so dear did disappear.  And the waves of grief and suffering have come and gone.  But mostly they come.  And come and come.

And people think you’re “OK” now… because you post cool family moments on Instagram. And those good moments are our real life moments.  But so too is the sorrow.  And most days, it’s just a whole lot of sorrow.

AND THEN…when you are absolutely sure that you cannot possibly endure any more pain…you are diagnosed with a serious thyroid disorder that has wrecked your body in more ways that you can even keep track of.  And you realize that this is no longer a season.  You might as well just embrace that you have moved IN to the DEEP END.

And in the midst of all of this…your children watch. With little eyes, and huge, thoughtful hearts.

The other day, I went in for my weekly blood test.  To say it didn’t go well is a bit of an understatement.  I had to fast for some of the tests, so I was pretty weak by the time they finally got me in.  I also had to bring along a three-year-old still decked out in his Thomas jammies, and a tiny princess dressed in her puff-sleeved Snow White dress.

I don’t know if the lab technician was just distracted by the adorable kids, or if I just have really small veins, but after sticking the needle ALL THE WAY THOUGH to the other side, and causing internal bleeding, he gave up and switched to the other arm.  He swung the needle around in there for a while, and after a few more frantic tries, finally gave up and called in another technician.  And since I was now on the verge of passing out, she did the first six vials and then shouted, “Get the juice ready!  Not yet…not yet…NOW!  Give her the juice!”  It was like a scene out of ER.  But finally, eight vials later, and we were done.

And yet not done.  Because you take these moments with you.  And that night, as I was washing dishes, I overheard Freddo’s bedtime prayer. He prayed for all of the usual things on a little boy’s mind and heart, and then suddenly, his sweet little voice said, “And dear God, please make Mommy’s body better.  And please don’t let the doctor do that to her ever again.”

And you know, deep in your heart, that your precious children…who are still so very small…are also stuck in the DEEP END.  Most adults you know have never even been there, and yet, these tiny people you love most…have to live there too.  And you would walk through fire to keep them from it if only you could.

But you can’t.

And that…is the worst part of life in the Deep End.

And all you can do is pray that the God who is very slowly teaching you to swim…also gives swim lessons to kids.

So that was our week.  And then, as if things needed a little spicing up, my arm was bruised and still hurting four days after the blood draw…so I went into Urgent Care late Monday night to rule out a blood clot.

As I sat there alone, in the dingy Urgent Care room, under the bright fluorescent lights, I thought about life in the Deep End.  How unstable it is.  How the only constants seem to be uncertainty, confusion, fear, and overwhelm.  And how, though you thrash, and gulp at air, and wonder if it really is possible to keep swimming in so much pain…somehow your ravaged soul breathes on.

AND THEN…the Urgent Care nurse walks in and tells you that, “No, you don’t have a blood clot, just internal bleeding.  And oh, by the way, we took a quick test, and you’re pregnant.”

And there you are again.  In the really Deep End.

I’ve had a long-running, internal debate about whether I really wanted the entire universe to know that we are once again pregnant.  But I do.  Because we really need your prayers.  I mean, REALLY. NEED.  YOUR. PRAYERS.

And honestly, it feels like nothing to tell you…after telling our kids.  I didn’t want to tell them.  Telling them makes it real.  And everything real in our life seems to hurt right now.  But it IS real.  We will always, for all eternity, have this sixth child in our lives, and on our minds and hearts.  And whether here or There…someday…we will actually know this little person.  So thankfully, my husband, who is so steady about not backing down from what we truly believe…fought for their opportunity to celebrate this new life with us.

And we told them.  And it was good.

Emma…immediately burst into tears of joy and started jumping up and down like she had just won the Baby Lottery.  She asked us all the pertinent questions an oldest “planner” would…like who will watch them when we go to the hospital, and what names we had picked out.  And seeing her joy both hurt and helped so much.  It hurts seeing her hope.  It also means so much that still, after all of the suffering she has endured, her heart is capable of hope in the God who has said “No” to so many of her prayers.

And then there was Freddo.  Sweet Fred.  The most positive, sweet-spirited, hopeful little person I’ve ever met, said in his always cheery voice, “I wonder if this baby will die too!”

And you could have heard a pin drop.  Right there in the Deep End.

And even as the tears filled our eyes with his innocent words, I knew that I had to be ok with them. Because it’s the same question we’re all asking.  It’s a question you don’t ask in the Shallow End.  It’s a question reserved for the Deep End.

And there is only One who knows the answer.  And eventually, He will tell us.

And meanwhile, we will hope, and pray, and celebrate this new life.  And He will hold us…each one of us.

And we continue our life in the Deep End.