charlie's song


A Broken Down Carriage

I do not remember 2013.  It began with death.  And ended with death.  And there was the deep sorrow of death in between.  Baby Charlie died on January 27th…hours before his big brother’s 3rd birthday.  And then, when I was almost certain we couldn’t endure any more suffering…our June baby died…the week of Emma’s 6th birthday.  And then, when I was absolutely certain we couldn’t handle more pain…our last little one died the week before Thanksgiving 2013.  Thanksgiving no longer came easy.

All I remember of 2013 is tears.  And aching sorrow.  And so very many baby graves. Sometimes I look back at Instagram pictures of last year and think, “Oh, yeah…I DO vaguely remember going to Disneyland at Christmastime.”  But mostly, I just remember raw, searing pain.

That…was 2013.  And if I had to put it in a nutshell, 2013 was the year of breaking. The year of being broken, beyond anything I had ever dreamed, in even my worst fears for my life.

And I am still broken.  There is nothing fun about losing almost every single thing you owned.  Nothing fun about dealing with endless doctor’s visits, with the very real threat of cancer looming over your life every single day.

But this year…is not broken.  Not by comparison at least.  There is nothing in all the world that was more breaking, than burying a perfectly healthy, beautiful baby boy, who would have lived…if only he hadn’t been stuck in my body.  Nothing.  Nothing more breaking than spending the last pennies we had left…going to fourteen doctors who couldn’t even tell us why.  Nothing more breaking than facing the deepest fear of our lives, and then risking what was left of our shattered hearts and broken faith on trusting God for another baby and then another…only to stare into more babies graves.

By comparison to 2013…2014 has been rainbows and unicorns and smiley faces and sunshine.  But it is still the second hardest year of our lives.

If 2013 was being broken, 2014…was being sick.

I have been sick every single day of 2014.  I was so incredibly sick in January.  And I actually got a whole lot sicker after we moved out of the Mold House…which is almost always the case.  When you are living, day in and day out in a dangerously toxic environment, your body eventually starts to shut down.  You are no longer even capable of even reacting to the toxins, because they are bombarding you so quickly. But once you leave a toxic environment, and actually begin detoxing…you start to be highly reactive to everything.

And since moving out of the toxic environment of our old house, I have become, for lack of a better word…the proverbial canary in the coal mine.  Long ago, they used to send tiny birds into coal mines to measure air quality.

And now…you can do the same with me.  Before we moved into the Mold House, I wasn’t even allergic to mold and mycotoxins.  Now, within an hour, I can tell you with absolute certainty if an environment has toxic mold in it.

This is a very unfortunate reality…particularly for the canary.  Because once I am exposed to mold and mycotoxins, it takes my very weakened immune system months to recover from the coal mine.

After we moved out of the Mold House, I began to feel this glimmer of hope flickering to life in me.  Hope that we were actually going to be ok.  Hope that once we got rid of everything we owned that had been exposed to the Mold House…the horrible reality of being poisoned by our house…was something we could finally put behind us for the rest of our lives.

But it simply wasn’t to be.  For one, because the mold was still in us.  It needed to be drawn back out, and detox takes months and years to complete.  And two, because mold is just a very real part of life in this broken place.  Every single house in America has mold.  And some of those houses, due to water damage from leaking roofs, and water heaters, and jacuzzi tubs, and dish washers…have mold that has turned toxic.

And you can almost never, ever see it coming.  A good mold test, by someone who actually understands mold and mycotoxins, costs upwards of $1,500.  For the most part, all you can really do is send the canary in…and wait and see.

For now, I know that our new house is safe.  I know this because if it wasn’t…I would be struggling with temporary blindness, and neuropathy so bad that I wouldn’t be able to move or speak.  That’s what happened the last time I was reexposed to mold in June.  And I’ve been sick every day since.  But I am thankful that I at least finally know what a reaction feels like.  Which is really helpful when you happen to be the weary canary.

But that doesn’t mean that this new house will always be safe.  Three weeks ago, our dishwasher leaked all over our kitchen floor.  Two weeks after that, our brand new washing machine leaked all over our laundry room late one night.  And then, as if that Satanic onslaught wasn’t enough…the very next day I walked into our bathroom and found water pouring down our bathroom sink.  The sink was on full-blast and stuffed with toilette paper.  And there, in the midst of that grizzly, mold-ripe scene, was Barbie and Minnie Mouse and the Little Mermaid, taking a luxurious bubble bath together in the middle of the day.  It looked exactly like a scene from Home Alone, and as soon as I saw it, I began to weep.

It’s not easy to be a canary…when your two-year-old happens to be the the third member of the Wet Bandits.  It’s not easy being the canary…and living in a world full of water heaters, and dish washers, and washing machines, and imaginative and rascally two-year-olds…who can turn on you at any point.  And I will unfortunately always be in danger of toxic mold exposure once again destroying my body and our lives.

And so will you.

Honestly, it is enough to drive me to insanity.  The fear of it…will always be there.  And right now, I’m dealing with the both the fear…and the reality.

I have been sick every single day of 2104.  Some days I am so sick that I cannot even see or move or speak.  I have learned to do life…sick.   I go grocery shopping…sick.  I take my kids to the beach…sick.  And perhaps hardest of all…I have quiet times… sick.  I sit there with my Bible, and the shattered remnants of my soul, trying to figure out how to walk with God after the aching pain of 2013, while battling against the sickness of 2014.  It’s hard to talk to Him right now.  It’s hard to believe that He has anything left for our lives besides suffering.

And though my kids are feeling well and doing well for the most part…when Mommy is sick…it becomes a suffering that hits our entire family.

The other day, I was sitting in the Time Out chair.  I’m not even sure how I got there, but I just really needed a break, and that miniature aqua chair just looked oddly restful and inviting.  Suddenly, little Sophie came up to me and put my face in her hands and said in her sweet little voice,  “Mommy needs to rest.  Because Mommy is so sick all of the time.”  

I sat there, in the Time Out chair, and started to cry.  At the tender age of not-even-three…her mommy has been sick or grieving for almost every moment of her entire life.  Our sweet little Sophie hasn’t even really met me healthy.  And I can’t even tell you how many times I have had to tell our kids that I can’t do something or go somewhere because, “Mommy is sick.”  I had never, ever, ever…thought this would be our lives.

Which is perhaps the hardest part of our sickness.  I did not see it coming.  Much like going in for a normal check-up and suddenly finding out that you have cancer…there was absolutely no warning that suffering and sickness were about to take over our entire lives.

But it has.  And in light of that, there are two things I wanted to say.   The first is about the new To Do List I face each day.  The second is about my heart.  My new, broken one…that I also have to face each day.  The first matters a little.  It matters, for sure.  But it only matters for our time left on this earth.   The second one…well, it’s everything.  My heart matters for eternity.  Because this is the heart I have to live with the rest of my life.   The one I will love (or not love) God with.  The one I will live out of every single day in this broken Land…and then drag all the way into my Forever life.

Many people have asked us what we DO.  What things we actually do day to day, to fight against mold exposure, compromised immune systems, and our suddenly broken bodies.  I will write a separate post about THAT… because it feels boring and newsy, but honestly, probably very important to get down “on paper” at some point.  If it could, in any way, help people who are suffering from this same thing…it is worth it to me.  So, that’s coming.

But what matters far more, what fills my mind each day, and keeps me up at night…is my broken heart state.  The real question, the one that haunts me every single day, as I battle with a broken body on the outside, and a broken heart inside is… “AM I going to be Ok?”  “Am I going to believe in God, by the end of all this suffering?”  And I don’t mean, “Am I going to believe in God…in two years when He heals my body and gives me my rainbow baby?”  I am long past expecting that pretty little bow and happy ending to this story.

What I mean is…“Am I going to believe in God and walk with Him…EVEN. IF. HE. DOESN’T?

Am I going to believe in God…if I have to live with this much physical pain for the rest of my life?

Am I going to walk with God…even if all He gives me to do or bear…is bear this pain?  If I never get to bear…another baby?  If I never get to bear…a happy ending?  If only…I bear pain?

Am I going to honor God…if I do not get to die of old age at ninety-three, while holding hands with Reid?  Will I honor God, if I die of cancer or heart disease, in months or years…instead of decades?

These are the questions that are really on my mind.  And they never really leave my mind…because I hear them when I’m in pain.  And I am always in pain.  It’s on my mind…in the grocery store.  It’s on my mind…when I’m with the kids at the beach.  And it’s on my mind…as the tears drip down on my Bible each day.

And sometimes, just sometimes…God speaks to that deep place of pain.

A few weeks ago, I was so sick we couldn’t even make it to church.  We decided to listen to a sermon by John Piper on suffering.  Right now, sermons on suffering…are my love language.  Especially by people who have suffered.  Especially by people with the spiritual courage and Biblical integrity to believe in God’s sovereignty over suffering.  It was a good sermon.  And at the end of it, God gave me an incredible and unexpected gift.  The gift of a story.  Piper shared a story that John Newton had once told.  It was short.  But extremely timely.  And I’ve thought about it every single day since I heard it that Sunday.

Newton said,

“Suppose a man was going to New York to take possession of a large estate, and his carriage should break down a mile before he got to the city, which obliged him to walk the rest of the way.  What a fool we should think him, if we saw him ringing his hands, and blubbering out all the remaining mile, “My carriage is broken! My carriage is broken!”

It is a simple story.  But the depth is not lost on me.

I.  Am.  Going.  To.  A.  Large.  Estate.

A mansion is waiting.  A place of no pain.  A place of endless joy.  A place where God will pick me up out of my little aqua Time Out chair…and wipe every salty tear from my eyes.  A place where I will finally go to the beach with ALL of my kids…and my body will not ache with pain.

But I am not there yet.

And I live and wait…in a very broken carriage.  I carry around a body that aches with chest pains, and neuropathy, and a raging sinus infection, and inflammation from the crown of my head to the tip of my toes…every single day.

And I feel forced to walk, or rather drag, this dilapidated carriage down what has become a very long road to eternity.  Right now, from where I’m standing, I can’t even see the estate.  I am completely taking it’s glorious existence, and all the promises hidden within…with a mustard seed of faith.

But luckily, the existence of such a place…is not dependent upon my faith.

I am asked, only to believe.  To trust the One…the only One…who has been There.  To believe it is coming.  And to wait in my broken carriage.

Mostly, I want to wring my hands and blubber.  I want to bang my hands against the glass ceiling of Heaven and scream with all my being, “I cannot endure even one more day!”  

But, it doesn’t change what’s coming.

An inheritance awaits.  One so glorious that it is taking 2,000 plus years to put the finishing touches on such a place.  And One so glorious, that He has earned the right to ask each and every one of us…to trust Him in the wait.  He died to earn that right. He deserved our trust…even if He hadn’t.  But He broke His very own carriage…that we might trust Him with this wait.

And so…I wait.  Some days, wringing and blubbering.  (Ok, most days, wringing and blubbering.)  But somehow, by His grace, believing on even the worst of days…that a glorious inheritance is coming.

Some days, that is all I believe.

And yet, it’s everything.

Because some day, each and every one of our carriages…are going to break.  Beyond repair.  And suddenly, we will look up…and there it will be.  Finally, not a distant mirage, no longer around the next bend and beyond our line of sight.

It will be right there for the taking.

The Inheritance of faith.

In the One who gave it all.

That we might have more than this pathetic world full of mold and graves and sorrow and pain.

And so we wait, some of us zipping along happily in our healthy, whole, little carriages…temporary though they may be.  Some of us, bruised and bleeding…pretty sure we will limp all the way to the finish.

But each of us, who are in Him…waiting on the same glorious Thing.


At our Estate.

With our King.


I want to dedicate this post to my uncle Duane Runke…who left this world this August for the glorious inheritance that awaits.  He fought the good fight of faith, with the sorrows of broken carriage.  And finally, he is free.