charlie's song


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Kids Say The Deepest Things

I used to think that the best years of parenting would be the very first ones…when they were cute and tiny (and thought the world of me).  And then the later ones…when they went off to college (and once again began to think the world of me.)

But let’s be honest…most parents are so desperately sleep-deprived during those “cute and tiny” years…that they kind of miss the whole thing.  I vividly remember the very moment, several months into Freddo’s life, when I stumbled upon a Sealy mattress ad in a magazine…and started to weep.  The advertisment said something sappy like, “The people in your life depend on you to get a good night’s sleep,” and after nine straight months of waking up at least nine times a night with our acid-reflux-plagued-little-puker…oh how that ad was speaking to me.

All of THAT to say…it turns out that my theory was a little off.  Because I have found that it’s actually these floundering “elementary-school” years, when they can finally think and feel and speak and reason and relate…that have become infinitely precious to me.

But they are especially precious to me…because I will never have them with my sweet Charlie.  I feel like we have been totally robbed.  Robbed, not just of the sleepless nights I would have GIVEN ANYTHING TO HAVE HAD with our baby boy, but also robbed of these precious middle years that were coming.  If Charlie were here he would be two and half now…getting into all sorts of adorable mischief, and talking up a storm.  And. We. Missed. The. Whole. Thing.

Even two years later, it hurts so badly I physically ache.  I wanted to hear his voice.  I wanted to know each and every wild thought that came into his little mind.  And as much as I longed to hold him through those long, sleep-deprived nights and care for him as a baby…as my other little ones began to share the very depths of their souls one conversation at a time…I feel so much more deeply all that we will miss of Charlie’s life.

We will miss his every thought.  We will miss his dreams.  We will miss his fears.  His off-key songs.  His endless lists of favorite things.  His crazy-but-they-might-just-work-ideas he would have wanted to try.  We will miss every single thing that makes him laugh, and even the painful things that make him cry.  And I am finding that as I move into these “messy middle years” with Charlie’s big siblings…these years of akward, missing-teeth smiles, and the millions of wacky life-questions that fill my days…I most grief Charlie’s unlived life.

Because I know that I am not just missing out on Charlie…I have missed my opportunity to know Christ-in-Charlie.  I had wanted to know Jesus more through the joy of sharing this life…not through the suffering of being denied the whole thing.

I’d like to put a bow on that, and say something deep and holy about how great Heaven is going to be, and believe me…it is.  Sometimes I wonder if there is anyone on the planet who longs for it more than me.  But down here, stuck on this broken earth, I have found that you need to see Jesus in THIS day…and not just in the hope of the Heaven-ones coming.

And that…is why I’ve started the #kidssaythedeepestthings project.  For all of us, stuck here on this earth, whose souls groan and ache through Earth’s dark days, and yet whose lives have been made a bit brighter…by the little ones in our lives.  And honestly, that’s…everybody.  

You may have heard of the #100Dayproject.  Simply put: DO SOMETHING, anything for 100 days.11138613_10203820200125472_2719113668350978182_n

The moment I saw this on a friend’s Insta-feed I thought to myself, “What a great idea…ANYTHING is doable for 100 days!”  It’s short-enough to make it happen, and yet long enough to maybe just maybe change your life. I read somewhere once that it only takes 21 days to make a “habit” out of something.  I think of this fun fact…every time I renew my commitment to become avid about the habit of flossing.  And yet, here I am, all these years later…still standing before the principal (I mean, dentist) fudging about my flossing habits biannually.  (I’m starting to think 21 days is too short to change your life.)  But 100…?  Well, maybe just maybe.

And it got me thinking, “What could I really do for 100 days, that would create a habit that would permanently and eternally impact my life?”  My friend decided to talk to 100 people about their spiritual journey’s, and the journey has been totally amazing.  But I just don’t see all that many people in my mom-days.

And then it hit me…Who do I see every day?  Who has God called me to listen to as I go through the glamorous task of wiping the crumbs off the same 5 x 5 foot floor space three meals a day and snack times in between?

My little glories.

And as I began to think of not just the mundane, and insanity-inducing moments of our daily life…but also the holy and wholly amazing ones when the little people I live with say something that truly stops me cold by the brilliance and depth of their tiny minds…I realized how good it might be to commit to stopping and listening to them a little (read: a lot) more closely.

And so, I began to listen.  To listen to their phrases.  To listen to the conversations coming from the backseat.  To listen to their whispered words in the hushed (and sometimes NOT so hushed) moments of bedtime.  And most of all…to listen to their words when I am busy, and most prone to only pretend to be listening.  I began to listen all day long for glimpses of the incarnate Christ in my little glories…one conversation at a time. And it has been life-changing.  I haven’t even made it to the coveted 21st day, but I’m feeling pretty confident that this habit is here to stay.

Because what I’ve realized ten days into this journey…is that I just wasn’t listening very closely.  Oh, I heard them.  But I’m not sure I always saw them.  And worst of all…I’m not sure I always saw Him in them.  Weekly?  For sure.  But hourly?  Hardly. But now that I’m searching for hidden treasure in the simple words my kids speak…I am amazed at the radiant display of God they are showing me daily…through their simple and child-like lives.  In the last ten days alone, of really truly listening, my children have deeply challenged me in the ways they both encounter and reveal the living Christ.

I know so many moms who fear that life and ministry are kind of “over” when they have a child.  Friends, I will die on this hill…being a mama is the best ministry you will ever be invited to, because it is the one, and perhaps the only one…where you cannot hide.  You actually literally cannot hide.  (Believe me, I know.  I found myself in the hall closet one day, and thought to myself, “This is ridiculous.  Eventually, they are going to FIND me…and think this is a rad game of hide-and-go-seek.”)

And you figuratively cannot hide.  They are around you so much, and in so many behind-closed-doors moments, that it is unavoidable friends: by the time they get to college, if you were even half honest about your sins and struggles in this life…your kids will be utterly convinced that you’re one hot mess and not the chief of saints.  They just will.  Believe me, I know…I’m in college ministry.  You simply cannot escape.

But in that not escaping, you might be their very best glimpse…of someone who desperately needs a Savior…and has found one by His grace.  Every single time I yell at my kids too loudly, or drop a colorful word I wish they hadn’t heard me say…I think to myself, “There it is again:  My front-row, moving picture, Film-festival worthy display…of my need for Someone more holy than me.”  But the same is true for the flip-side.  If Jesus is in you, you will also be one of your children’s clearest pictures of Christ-in-you, the true hope of glory. Because being someone’s mama is a Colossians 1:27-kind of ministry.

“To them, God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory…” (Colossians 1:27.)

No one will think it’s a bigger and more glorious mystery that Christ is in YOU…than your kids.  They who get to see the “real” you on display day after day.  And no one has the opportunity to see Jesus more clearly than they will…through your broken and redeemed life. I’ve always thought this…and been both terrified and excited about this reality.  But in these last few years, as we have suffered beyond our wildest imagination, and been forced to do real life together in even deeper ways- a new reality has hit me.  That same hope of glory is also for ME to see…through the great mystery of Christ-in-their-lives.

Believe me, I know that I’m raising a bunch of little sinners.  That’s usually my first proclamation when my husband calmly strolls in the door at closing time each day.  But lately especially, as I’ve begun to really listen to the little things they say, I have become awe-strikingly aware that we are also raising a bunch of saints.  I have 90 days to go…but even 10 days into #my100dayproject…my kid’s have downright shocked me with their own radiant displays of “Christ-in-me” the hope of glory.

And so…I wanted to invite you to be a part of this journey.  You could take part, by simply listening alongside me as my kids show me Jesus one conversation at a time.  The hashtag is #kidsaythedeepestthings.  (I forgot the “s” so plan accordingly.) Or, even better…you could JOIN me.  And post your own Colossians 1:27 moments with the communal hashtag #kidsSaythedeepestthings.  I would SO love to hear how the little people in your life…be they grandkids, or nieces and nephews, or the kids you nanny, or your very own little glories…are showing you the very heart of Jesus, one conversation at a time.

Now I know that when they are young…the verdict is still out on how the little ones in our lives will walk with Jesus through the upcoming “Wonder Years” of middle school, high school, and college.  But I also know that the Jesus our kid’s reflect to us each day, had some really strong words about the preciousness of kids, and how MUCH they reveal to us of the King.  He was crystal clear: “The Kingdom of Heaven BELONGS to such as these.”  Belongs.  I love that word.  We humans spend our whole lives longing for belonging, and here we are…surrounded by short people who belong to Him in a really special way.

So…Will you join me?  Will you commit to truly listen to your littles, and the big and glorious things they say?  I have a dream that someday, when we big people are gone, our little people will be able to look back and see that we knew that each one of them had something deeply precious and holy to speak into this life.

The other day, I made an “Earth Day” lunch for the kids.  The sandwiches were a little too “earthy” for their liking so I added the last of our watermelon to each plate.  Two minutes later, I came back into the kitchen, and found 3 plates, with 3 Earth sandwiches on them, and 3 slices of water melon…nibbled right down to the rinds. I looked up at Freddo, his soft, sweet cheeks dripping with watermelon juice and said, “Umm, Fred…what happened to the watermelon?”  He dropped his head and said to me, “I ate them.  All of them.  I was so hungry and that watermelon tasted sooooo juicy.”

Well, one Time-out and two apologies later, and I was back from the store with more watermelon for the sisters who hadn’t gotten any.  I thought nothing of it, as I cut three more juicy slices and plunked them on the plates.  And in that moment, Freddo looked up at me and said softly, “Mommy, thanks for giving me grace and letting me have more watermelon.  It makes me so happy.”

Um…did he just say, “grace.”  In it’s proper context?  Like someone who actually gets that big and glorious word?  And feels unworthy of it and grateful for it just the same?

Yes.  He.  Did.

And I realized in that moment, that this little man who is only five years into this life filled with endless opportunities for God-sized grace, is indeed learning about it…one watermelon slice at a time.  And as I sliced him another big piece, I had to stop and ask myself, “How often do I stop and THANK GOD…for endless moments of grace in my own life?” Not enough. Not nearly.

And so, I am stopping and saying it for the next 100 days.  In honor of all six of my little glories- who are the greatest reminder of God’s undeserved grace I will ever encounter in this life.  In honor of the three who are in Heaven waiting for me. And in honor of the three who are on Earth…waiting for me.

Waiting for me to hear them, and see them, and know them more and more each day. And even more…to know better the God of all grace, through the simple experience of listening to their hearts as they chatter through our days. The King who ordained long ago, when He set up a world where we start as little-people, that they would teach us so much. He, who knew full well, far better than we, that #kidsSaythedeepestthings.

And why?  Well, because Grace…is so very sweet.1743463_10152730430125863_4720193356260092646_n

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If I Were Writing This Story

This morning I woke up, body tired and heart heavy.  I spent most of last night laying awake in bed, battling neuropathy…my current and least favorite symptom of mold poisoning.  I spent most of last night staring at the ceiling, and thinking of that other night two years ago…when we did not even sleep.  The longest night of our lives.

Waiting for him to come.

Knowing he was already gone.

Today, is Charlie’s birthday.  Tomorrow, is Fred’s.  He would have been two.  He will be five. And they would have been “birthday twins,” celebrating the endless fun and excitement of the most awesome birthday week to ever grace a family’s January...if I were writing this story.

And it would actually be the most awesome week of January…if I were writing this story.   

His precious, perfect cheeks would be covered in chocolate frosting right now.  His nut brown hair would be sticking up in all directions under his little party hat.  And his beautiful eyes would be dancing with excitement as his big siblings took it upon themselves to blow out the candles on his birthday cake…if I were writing this story.

But that is not our day.  Because we did not get our story.

And tomorrow, as we celebrate our sweet Freddo’s life and hug him extra tight, it will not be the day I had wanted it to be…because I never, ever would have written that we would have to spend one day at a cemetery and the next day at Chuck-e-Cheese for as long as we all shall live…if I were writing this story.

And this, the hardest week of our lives…is only the worst reminder of the reality of every single breathing moment of our lives…that we live in the valley of the shadow of death, and I wouldn’t have chosen to write us within ten billion miles of this dark and desolate valley…if I were writing this story.

I feel it every Christmas…as we try to decide what to do about the “Christmas Card.”  That proverbial, annual send-out that supposed to capture “Another Great Year” for a “Growing Family.”  But Charlie isn’t growing.  His soft cheeks, and knobby little knees, and tender little heart are not growing where I wanted them to be.  They are not growing in my home, near my heart, and with his siblings.   And they never, ever will be.  And I ache in places I can’t even articulate trying to figure out how to capture our “family”…when half of my children are stuck on earth and the other half are somewhere a billion light years away.

I don’t want a happy, smiley picture of the five of us at the beach…because it isn’t our family.  And it certainly isn’t the picture I would have drawn beside our lives…if I were writing this story.

If I were illustrating our story…I’d have Charlie and Fred side by side, in matching Christmas plaid, and Charlie’s little eyes would be looking up at Fred, making sure he was doing the picture “just right,” just like Sophie does with Emma every moment of every day.

If I were illustrating our story…I’d have young souls staring back at the camera instead of the broken ones I see.  My heart would be thirty-three, with all that thirty-three-year-olds are supposed to have suffered and experienced by this point.  And even more…my little ones souls would be three, and five, and seven.  Not eighty.  Because in the midst of all of the child-like moments our kids still bring to the dinner table each night, there are so very many times when I look and listen and live in the soul-moments of each day, and realize once again that there is nothing child-like about their lives.

And in that…I see something that I absolutely know I would not have seen…if I were writing this story.  

I see Christ.

And His Sovereign plan over the horrendous pages that have become the ink of our lives.

And His grace in each and every dark and tear-stained line.

And as I think of today, the anniversary of the absolute darkest moment of my life, and sadly, the one and only day I got to hold and kiss and love and treasure my sweet baby Charlie…I can think of absolutely no better way to honor the memory of his short but immeasurably valuable life…than to share what has happened in our hearts only because I did not get my wayand am clearly not writing this story.  

Things…only God could write.

And so, as the neuropathy rages on and my fingers struggle to even work well enough to type…I am going to love him and remember him in the only way I can…by sharing how very different we all are now…because of his life.

My deepest heartache over Charlie’s death, is that our sweet Freddo lost his very best buddy.  I see Fred’s tears when he feels excluded from his sisters, I see his exasperation when he throws up his hands and says, “This is such a GIRL house,” and I see his deep soul-ache when sometimes, I hear him whisper ever so quietly from the back of the car, “Mommy, I miss Charlie.”  These are the moments when I want to rage.  To scream at the sky.  To shatter a few more of our dinner plates.  To pack up my heart and permanently walk away from this life of blind and unyielding faith in a God who seems absolutely disinterested in every suggestion I ever have for how I would write this story.

But then, there are times when I am stopped cold in my angry tracks…by the One who actually did write this story.

About a million years ago, back when Fred was two…we would have many a conversation about what it looked like to be a “Prince among Ladies.”  Every.  Day.  Same conversation on repeat.  “Freddo, I saw you hit your sister.  Let’s review this again…What are those strong muscles for?”  And then he would mumble, “For protecting the ladies.” And I’d inevitably walk away feeling awfully proud of my parenting finesse. Convinced that I was deftly raising a real man of God who’d be ever-quick to protect and defend a kingdoms’ worth of ladies. And then, a day or two would pass, and we would be back where we began with Fred and his fists.

Enter, two years ago this very day.  January 28th, 2013.  And the most painful moment of my life.  The moment when suddenly, every grandiose parenting notion I’d ever held, took a very back seat to the hellish throes of grief.  I was fighting for my life.  And for my faith. And for every breath I took because, suddenly, even breathing was an enormous fight. And in that moment, I couldn’t have cared less if Freddo was beating up the ladies.

But somewhere in these last two years…as I grieved my baby’s death, and buried two more babies, and got sick enough to spend hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars at countless unhelpful doctors, and then found out about the mold and lost literally every single thing we had…somewhere in the heinous suffering that became our life on every line of every page…something else was happening that would not have happened…if I were writing this story.

Freddo, my sweet Freddo, who is solid as an ox and can pack quite a punch…learned how to protect the ladies.  And he learned it from the One who is writing this story.

I see it.  Every single day.  Things I simply did not teach him…that suffering did.

I see it…when he takes Sophie’s hand as she walks down the stairs, just because he worries about her slipping on those socks of hers that always seem extra slippery.   I see it…when he takes on kids twice his size at the playground…in defense of our very tender-hearted Emma Leigh.  And I saw it the other day, when we were walking along the bay and he said to me, “If you fall…just grab my hand and I’ll catch you Mom.  Actually, maybe you should just grab it now for safe keeping.”

And I know why he does it…because each and every one of his ladies are more fragile and broken and in need of care and love and protection than I will ever be comfortable with, and ever would have allowed myself to be…if I were writing this story.  

I don’t want to be so sick and frail that my little boy actually feels the need to look out for me…but he does.  And that IS our story.

Deep down, I don’t really need Fred’s pint-sized muscles to save me from falling.  I’m frail. But most days I’m not quite that frail.

What I need…is grace.  And a tender-heart that understands compassion and suffering and the deep reality that every human being walks around with broken and bleeding hearts that are more fragile and frightened than any of us would like.

But how do you build that into a little boy?  How do you keep him from being shallow and thoughtless and insensitive and mean?

You don’t.  Or at least I myself most certainly didn’t.  God did.  While I was busy simply trying to survive this horrible story.

The last few weeks have been incredibly difficult.  I have been in excruciating and debilitating pain.  My neuropathy symptoms are at all-time low, and I have felt so deeply weary on the nights when I can no longer even use my hands or feel my feet.  Sometimes I wonder if I am going to eventually need Fred’s little arms to catch me.

And on top of it all, my soul is bone weary.  The process of starting a new school we don’t like, and saying goodbye to an old school we loved…has been so deeply painful for me.  I had thought that we had lost all that one family could possibly lose…but watching our kids lose their friends and their teachers and a school that they adored was deeply breaking for me.

I wanted to fix it.  And since I couldn’t fix it…I desperately wanted to control the only part I could…I wanted The Perfect Goodbye.  And I thought I’d found that in the school’s “Caroling Field Trip” to the local nursing home.  I had it all planned out.  We would meet up with the school, sing a few rounds of “Jingle Bells” with the octogenarians, and say goodbye to all of the most precious people in their lives over some punch and cookies.

But, of course, it didn’t work that way.  We had to be at Emma’s new school at the exact same time as the field trip, and so we got there late.  Actually, “late” is an understatement.  We got there as the whole school was filing out the door, and I was devastated.  Our kids had been so excited to finally see their best friends, and there they were…literally in the doorway of this random nursing home, giving awkward side-hugs, and issuing two-second goodbyes.

About three-seconds after we got there…it was over.  The school had to get back for lunchtime, so there our little family stood…alone outside the nursing home, completely dazed and dizzy from such an abrupt and messy end to such a precious chapter in their lives.  And something deep broke in me.

I made it all the way to the car…and then I sat right down on the curb and began to weep. And weep.  And weep.  I couldn’t stop weeping.  I wept because I am sick and tired of being the people in excruciating pain.  I wept because I am absolutely fed up that our kids have to be the ones to say goodbye to literally everything…friends and teachers and every one of their worldly possessions, and most of all…their baby siblings.  And I wept because I would never ever even make our kids leave a place they love, and I certainly would have at least planned a better goodbye…if I were writing this story.

I wept because I hate our story.  And I’m tired of being the people bleeding and limping through every tear-stained page.

And even though I felt miserable crying hysterically in front of our kids, the dam had finally broke…and I sat down right there on that crazy busy street corner, in a town where we know literally everybody, and wept over our nursing home-goodbye.

Finally, after I got it all out, I got back in our car.  Our very quiet car.  And it was there, where God cut through the silence with words that I’ll never forget, no matter how many pages are left in this truly miserable story.  Because in the quiet of the car, I heard Freddo’s four-year-old voice echo the wisdom of a very long life when he said softly,“It’s ok Mommy.  I care way more about you…than I do about caroling.”

And in that very moment…I saw the legacy of our baby Charlie’s life.

He has made us tender.

Each and every one of us.  Most days, I don’t see it in myself.  Most days (ok, most every day) I see absolutely NOTHING good that has been born in my soul out of what has become page after page of suffering.  I do not feel closer to and more in love with the Author of our story.  I do not feel like I am better able to love others, and especially my kids…in a deep and meaningful way.  I feel broken.  Not beauty-broken. Ugly-broken.  Limited-broken.  Barely-hanging on to my sanity and my faith-broken. Damaged-broken.  And there are many, many days when I wonder if God is ever going to make anything beautiful out of the dust of any of these pages of this story I now hate.

But in that moment, in the quietness of our car, quiet simply because I don’t think anyone knew quite what to do with Mommy’s-Nursing-Home-Meltdown…I saw beauty.

The beauty born out of suffering.  The unsurpassing gift of seeing that my Freddo is being made into the image of Christ…one jot and tittle at a time...by the One who is writing this story.  

I want to put a bow on this.  To say that that moment in the car was a real “break through.” To say that I am “ok” with Charlie’s death, because something so eternally good is being born out of all of this bad…something big enough, good ENOUGH…that it is worth all of the pain of this story.  But there is nothing, absolutely nothing that would EVER make this worth it to me.  Nothing that would ever make me think, “Charlie’s death is worth it for God to be THIS MAGNIFIED.”  

I will never think that.  At least not for the next seventy years.  I wanted him.  Yes, I wanted our family to know Jesus and make Him known, but I didn’t want it to be because of our endless suffering.  I wanted it to be the way that everyone else (it seems) gets to “know Jesus and make him known”…by gradually receiving all of the wonderful things He has to give.  I wanted it to be by getting my version of the story. And His version is absolutely NOTHING like my version of the story would be.

When you set out to write a story, you write it with an end-goal in mind.  The author labors over each and every word because he wants to get it “just right.”  He wants something to be remembered.  Something to last beyond the story.  And when the quill is in your hand…the story is for the Author’s “good, pleasing, and perfect will.”

His.  Completely and exclusively.

And if I have learned anything over these exactly two years of suffering it is this:  I am in the story.  I care deeply about the story.  I love deeply, so very many people in this story. But this…is not my story.

And it never will be.

It’s His story.  He sat down with the blank pages.  He owns oceans-worth of ink.  He writes every line on every page, and will fill them according to His intended will…each and every day.  And He will end it exactly when and how He sees fit, because it always has been and always will be…His story.  

For His purposes.  

Far beyond this life.

I can pray to Him, and pour out my dreams and hopes and longings for the story, but ultimately, that has far more influence on the relationship between the author and the character…than the lines on the page.

As I sit here today, I have no bow.  There is no place to buy literary bows, when your baby is dead and your body is broken, and your kids by default, have eighty-year-old souls because of the world-weary weight of their suffering.

But I do have one illustration for our story.  One I actually like.  One that actually captures us in a way that makes my heart happy.  One that actually does justice to our family.  Our real family…the one that no picture on earth will ever represent rightly.  One that actually captures both the beauty and the brokenness that fills to overflowing the pages of our lives.

One that gives a glimpse of both of the precious boys who have captured so very much of this Mama’s heart.  My boys.  My birthday twins who I would never, ever have chosen to celebrate like this….if I were writing this story.

So here it is.  Our Christmas picture.  Me, in my Heaven shirt. Precious Fred in his lone plaid.  And maybe just maybe, my sweet baby Charlie…looking down upon a story that he is still so very much a part of, and always will be.

Here we stand…small and frail, and hidden, of course, in the shadow of the big Rock He planted our little family by.  As we wait for Him with tears and trust and trembling.

For the day when we will finally meet and fall before…the Author of this story.

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The Weary World Rejoices

I love Christmas.  I love the lights.  I love the carols.  I love the fact that billions of people the world over…have to say the name of Jesus in the kindest of terms.  I love the feeling of chill and still and calm…that covers the whole earth.  Even if for just a moment.  Yep, I’m one of those.  I.  Love.  Christmas.

Well, at least I used to.

Christmas snuck up on me last year.  Not the holiday itself per se.  I had no problem buying presents, baking cookies, and making advent calendar magic for my kids.  But the meaning of Christmas…the real meaning of Christmas…crept up on my heart last year and hit me like a ton of bricks.

Actually, it knocked me completely unconscious.

The most defining and painful moment of my existence happened on January 28th, 2013…which meant I had eleven whole months to live in the shock and sorrow of baby Charlie’s death…before I finally got to my first Christmas without him.  And after eleven straight months of doing everything possible to try to survive life with a gaping, bleeding wound for a heart…eleven longs months of avoiding being around babies, and especially baby boys, because it hurt so very much…

I was totally unprepared for the birth of the holy Son.

Jesus Christ…the real Jesus, who is alive and well right now at this very moment, that Jesus…is in heaven. Seated at the right hand of the Father.  Waiting for His glorious Kingdom to come in full.  And in the deepest throes of grief…I needed that Jesus.  I needed to know that He was still seated on the throne.  Still sovereign and powerful and kind.  All.  At.  Once.

Still sovereign…over every single jot and tittle of the story He was writing through our lives. A story I did not like.  And because I did not like it…I needed to know that these things were still true about the One who wrote it.  Still strong enough…to fight against the roaring lion ever seeking to devour us.  Still gentle enough…to weep beside me as my tears hit grave, after grave, after grave.

Three baby graves.  That’s pretty much all I remember of 2013.

And He was there.  With me.  In me.  Beside me.  And reigning powerfully over my life, as I wept beside each one.  That Jesus…well, I could handle that Jesus. Because I desperately needed that Jesus.

But the Christ of Christmas…the one we remember and celebrate every single December until Kingdom come…well that Jesus…left me laying on the ground, completely undone.  Because that Jesus, was and always will be…remembered as a cooing baby boy, tucked cozy beside his mama.

And I was a mama… missing a son.

I would find myself Christmas shopping at Target…trying desperately to make it past the suffocating smell of the baby diaper aisle (which I once loved).  Trying to avoid the endless stream of bored pregnant ladies and frazzled mothers of newborns for whom Target basically exists (and of whom I myself once was.) Trying to not think about all of the beautiful things I had bought for little Charlie and his first Christmas…that would never, ever be touched by his perfect little hands. Trying basically to entirely avoid Target, while actually still shopping there.

When really what I should have been avoiding, if I had wanted to truly protect my heart…was Christmas.  Because for all I was doing to try to avoid every incapacitating reminder that my baby boy was dead…I was totally forgetting that Christmas is entirely about one thing and one thing alone…

Christmas…is about a baby boy who isn’t.

I’d be in Target, doing my Christmas thing, and all of a sudden…BAM!…some jazzy version of “Away in the Manger” would come on.  And I would be undone.

I’d be looking at Christmas ornaments and suddenly there he was…a pudgy baby boy, laying in a manger with his bright eyes alive and open.  And my baby boy’s…were not.  And I would be undone.

I’d glance at Christmas cards and see a very pregnant Mary toiling along that winding road to Bethlehem…and I’d remember last Christmas when I too was great with child…waiting for him to come home to live with us.  But our baby boy would never, ever come.  And I would be undone.

And as wildly irrational as this may sound…I actually found myself getting really jealous of Mary.  Jealous that she was spared the agonizing pain of giving birth to a child who had already died.  Jealous she actually got to see His eyes.  Jealous of their first Christmas together.  Jealous of all thirty-three of them. When you are given only eight short months…thirty-three years together feels like an incredibly long and wonderful gift.

Basically, I was more envious of sweet Mary Mother of God…than any of my friends whose babies had lived the year that our baby didn’t.  And why?  Well, because Mary’s baby…could not be avoided.  Or ignored.  I could not close my eyes, and hope that he would grow up real quick.

Jesus was ALWAYS going to be a baby boy.  Every.  Single.  December.

That…was last Christmas.  I would see the little stocking we had bought for Charlie…and weep.  I would cry as I watched my kids standing in front of our Christmas tree, reenacting the Christmas story…reminded of how if he had lived Charlie would have been their “baby Jesus.”  And most of all…I would hear Christmas carols filled with all of the hope and promise that Christmas brings…and I would wonder if those songs were truly for all of us…or if they were only really for people whose lives were merry and bright.

Because ours…most certainly was not.

How in the world are you supposed to “do” Christmas…when all is not calm, and nothing is bright?  Is Christmas only for people whose lives still look like a warm and cozy Pottery Barn catalogue?  Are you truly invited to Christmas…when your heart is broken, your faith is shattered, and you don’t feel like you qualify for the “All-Ye-Faithful-Joyful-and-Triumphant” club?  That…was last Christmas.

As for this Christmas…well, we don’t even own Charlie’s little Christmas stocking anymore. In fact, none of us have a Christmas stocking now.  This year…we put our dirty Ugg boots under the tree and called it good.

This Christmas…our kids reenacted the Christmas story in front of our bare Christmas tree, which is outside on our porch, because Mommy is too sick to have it indoors.  The other day I caught Emma sitting in front of our “tree” staring at it sadly.  I said, “Ems, what’s wrong?”  She sighed deeply and then said to me, “I wish we had a big tree. With real ornaments.  Indoors.”  

Yeah.  Me too kid.

Last Christmas, as we celebrated our first Christmas without baby Charlie…I couldn’t breathe.  The pain was excruciating.  I also couldn’t imagine it could possibly get any worse than what we were in.  How could it get worse than the pain of being here…without him. Of him being There…without us.  I couldn’t imagine it getting worse than not only being without him…but having two more whole losses after him.  How can life get worse than loss?

More.  Loss.

And it is worse.  Our life hurts even more than 365 days ago.

Because he still isn’t here. The little person who looks exactly like the other three I love so very much…isn’t with them.  365 days have gone by since we spent our first Christmas after so much loss.  And our life is no easier.  We still have all of the pain of three precious lost lives.  And new sorrows on top of that.

Our stuff is gone.  All of it.  This sparse Christmas season has certainly been a brutal reminder of that.

My health is gone.  I’ve been to more doctors appointments and blood draws than I can even comprehend, and I am still so sick.  If you got points for trying…I would be the healthiest person I know.  But I’m not.

And now…our community is gone.  Just when I thought we could not possibly have anything more to lose…we did.  A few weeks ago we found out that our kid’s school- a place which had been a loving community and the one constant for them in our life of suffering and endless loss…is no longer safe for them.  After finding toxic mold there in October, we had no choice but to pull them out of the only place they had left from our “old life.”

This loss has struck my heart with a pain I did not think possible.  I have hurt more about our kids losing their school than I had ever thought I would or could after even greater losses.  But I’m hurting because it all feels like too much.  I see them in pain, missing their school and their teachers and their friends, and I feel hopeless and clueless as to how to help them navigate this journey of sorrow upon sorrow.  Honestly, when I see their tears, the absolute last thing in all the world that I want to do…is bust out into “Joy to the World.”

I don’t want to prepare Him room.

Where in the world would I put Him…in such a deeply shattered heart?

But tonight, as I sat on a couch that we did not own a Christmas ago, in a body that certainly worked better a year ago, and watched my kids reenact the Christmas story in front of our bare “outdoor tree”…I was struck cold by what Christmas is really, truly about.

I looked at my precious kids, more broken and beaten down than I ever would have fathomed…and I saw in them the weariness of the real Mary and Joseph of long ago.

I’ll bet they were tired too.

Tired of the long journey of getting to where they had to go.  Tired of crowds of people who filled the road…who really had absolutely no idea what they were going through. The frazzled innkeeper.  The rude centurion at the gate.  The greedy tax-collector.  

Tired of loss.  Tired of being full of fear.  Tired of being on the run. 

Tired…of all the things I too am tired of.

I truly believe that the God who could have provided the Taj Mahal of delivery rooms, but who instead chose a dumpy, moldy stable for them…has chosen each step of this journey for us.  But I am weary of our life on this long road.  I am tired of being alone in things that people absolutely cannot understand.  Tired of trying to live with a complex environmental illness.  Tired of the aching pain of losing my children.  Tired of trying to shop for new school supplies in December…because our kids can suddenly no longer go to the school they loved.  I am tired of our life, and of how lonely and misunderstood it inevitably is.

And I am tired of being on the run.  Of running from things that could hurt us, or have hurt us.  Tired of running from the very air we breathe…when you really NEED to breathe air.  I am tired of the fear of our lives.  Fear of more loss.  Fear of more exposure to mold.  Fear of having to leave more people and more places that we knew and loved.  Fear of what all of this loss is going to do to the broken, wore down, already eighty-year-old soul’s of our kids. Fear of the cancer scans I will have to get every six months for the rest of my life on this long road to Bethlehem.

Fear that we are never, ever going to get there.  

And I am sure….beyond a shadow of a doubt…that those young and scared teenagers carrying the hope of the world…felt all of this too.

Mary and Joe.

That little family…wildly misunderstood by their friends and family, who probably included a few skeptics regarding the whole “angels visiting in the night, immaculate conception, soon to be the-Savior-of-the-world’s-parental unit” bit.  I know that some people try really hard to understand our complicated situation. And I am so grateful for them.  To you, the choir I’m now preaching to…thank you.  But there will always be people in our life who can’t.  Or won’t.  And I am quite certain after our journey, that it was probably a very lonely and painful one for those weary travelers to Bethlehem.

That little family….who had to leave behind most of their worldly possessions. Who were actually given gifts of gold and precious spices from total strangers…which most likely paid for their life on the run and their long and expensive journey to Egypt. I remember what it felt like this February to get precious gifts from total strangers.  To be in great need because of our life on the run…and to see God provide when we too desperately needed gifts for our flight from one dangerous place to a new, safer one.

That little family…who had to flee a scary and complicated enemy…an evil King of this world whose power lurked everywhere, and who hunted them down with every intention to steal and kill and destroy them.  We know all about that.  We have one of those in our lives too.  And I don’t mean the mold.

That little family…who too, had so much to fear.  Who were warned that the most powerful man in their world was about to search for and destroy their child.  Who were promised by people they trusted…that a sword would pierce their very souls. Try putting that on a Christmas card.

All of this and more flashed through my mind as I watched our kids pretend to be that special little family tonight.  And though I still can’t breathe when I see little Sophie sitting in the “manger” where Charlie would have been…I now see more when I look at them. 

More than just the loss of our baby boy whom God chose to grow up in Heaven.

I see the HOPE that was given to this whole broken, bleeding world…in the gain of a baby boy whom God chose to grow up on earth.

I see the weariness in Mary and Joseph’s eyes…every time I look in the mirror at my own.  And I am comforted by their exhaustion.  And their fear.  And their loss. By their whole messy, weary, extremely un-Pottery Barn lives.

Comforted that Christmas…was for them.

They understood that the road to Bethlehem…the road to having and knowing and bearing Jesus…was filled with a whole lot of loneliness.  And weariness.  And fear.  And loss.

And when I see Mary and Joseph for who they really were…I can see myself and my story for what it really is.  At it’s core.

Christmas story

A very long and painful, lonely and most-days impossible...journey to meet Jesus.  To know Him.  To bear Him.  Until I finally see Him.  In all His glory.  And we can finally put behind us all this excruciatingly painful baby in the manger business.

Until then, I am thankful that He came into this big fat mess, and survived that cold, moldy manger, and the loss of all of his parent’s stuff and friends and hope and direction…so that he could rescue us back from all of this.

I don’t know where you are at today.  Maybe your life does look an awful lot like a Pottery Barn catalogue.  If it does, well, just enjoy it.  It will not last.  You, and every single person you know and love, stand to lose absolutely everything…including one another.  I’m not trying to be a Debbie-downer.  But I’ve read the whole Book.  And it is unavoidable…we are all putting up Christmas lights on a sinking ship.

But what I have learned as thousands of total strangers have written us letters postmarked, “The Road to Bethlehem”…is that many of those same people are writing us from their own winding road to that far away place where Love came down.

Most of life, for most of us…is full of what we seem to be permanently stuck in…Loss.  Fear.  Loneliness.  Death.

And lots and lots of being on the run.  Running from our sin.  Running from our selves.  Running from others.  Running from the damaging pain that our sin and other’s sin does to our self and others.

Running...to Bethlehem.

Where we find Him.

Just like they once did.

Weary shepherds.  Exhausted wise men.  And his simple, clueless parents.

And when I think of that Jesus…the One they found on that holy night, the One we need desperately for each long and weary day…it brings new meaning to the one Christmas song that just gets richer and sweeter the worse this journey gets…

Oh holy night!  The stars are brightly shining.  It is the night of the dear Savior’s birth!
Long lay the world in sin and error pining.  Till he appear’d and the soul felt its worth.
A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices.  For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn!

Dear Weary World…

Rejoice!  Christmas is for you too.  

I write to you from the depths of our weariness, as we continue to deal with loss upon loss…and pray that you too will find comfort in this one unfailing promise of Christmas…

He has appeared.

As a squalling baby.

To die as a broken man.

So He can reign as a sovereign King.

Who could have skipped all of it.

And.  Didn’t.

Precious Souls,  May you feel your worth.

And skip the whole merry, little Christmas.  And have yourselves a big, holy one.

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Three Umbrellas

If a picture is really worth a thousand words…we have a new one on our wall that speaks volumes about our life.  There are so many things that I love about this picture.  And so many things that make me ache…BW6H5027w 2A few weeks ago, some friends of ours came to town to shoot a “Thank You” video for our family.  We’ve been trying to figure out the best way to thank the (literally) thousands of people around the world who have supported and loved on us during this season dubbed “The Rain.”

When our friends offered to make a video, it seemed like the perfect way.  And then, on the day they came to do the shoot, in the middle of the biggest drought of the century, the weather forecast predicted rain.  Of course it did.

So…I grabbed these umbrellas.  And it wasn’t until a friend asked, “I wonder if you had special significance using those three umbrellas,” that it hit me.

Honestly, right up until the moment she said that…it had never crossed my mind.  I didn’t pick three umbrellas because of our three babies who did not make our family picture that day.  I picked three umbrella’s, because I thought it was going to rain.

I stood in the middle of Target and thought to myself, “Can Sophie honestly hold this umbrella without poking someone in the eye?”  Landed on “No.”  And then decided, due to my very high value on sibling fairness, that Sophie would feel left out if she was the only one who didn’t have a beautiful big red umbrella.  So I bought three.

I figured three would safely cover our little family.

Our little family.

I cannot tell you the lifetime of pain…hidden in those three words.  Nothing, nothing, nothing is as I had wanted it to be.  But they are mine.

This picture is ours.

This picture…is our happy.

And it’s also…our very sad.  Our suffering.  And our heartbreak.

And what is heavy on my heart as I prepare for my second Mother’s day apart from baby Charlie…is how unspeakably hard these holidays can be.  Holidays can be so very painful, because they force every one of us to take a long look at our happy.

Or in some cases, our not so happy.

Because Mother’s day, simply put…is yet another holiday for the “Haves.”

There was a time when I didn’t think much about it.  I went to church, stood up when the Pastor told the moms to stand, got my homemade crayon card from my kids, and usually enjoyed the day.

But for many people this coming Mother’s day, like so many holidays, will be a very painful day.

Painful because they’ll be surrounded by someone else’s “Happy.”

It may be a painful day for some…because the woman who gave them life is no longer here to call or write.  And it will be hard to not envy the joy they see on the faces of other mom’s and daughter’s who get to be together on that day. Hard to not compare their sorrow…to other people’s joy.

It may be a painful day for others…because her lifelong dream of being called “Mommy” by a tiny somebody…is just never going to be.   And she will have to fight so hard to not envy the frazzled woman at church with her five little matching ducklings waddling in behind…when her arms are still so, achingly empty.

It may even be painful for others…because her mother was not someone she ever felt loved by.  And it will be hard to not compare the other moms they see…with the one in her life who was called by the same name.

And for some, like me…this Mother’s Day will be filled with ache.

Because we will spend it in a cemetery.

I had never, ever thought that I would spend Mother’s Day weeping beside my baby’s grave.  But that’s exactly where last Mother’s day found me.  And it was every bit has painful as it sounds to be.

I had so desperately wanted to just close my eyes to the pain, and get through the day.  To put on my Sunday finery, stand when the Pastor ordered “Stand,” and somehow survive the day.

I.  Just.  Couldn’t.  Do.  It.

I couldn’t pretend that someone so special with Freddo’s very cheeks, and Sophie’s wispy, nut-brown hair…had never come into my life.  I couldn’t pretend that a little boy named Charlie whose sweet baby chin with the exact same dimple as mine…didn’t make me a mommy.  That he didn’t make me just as much a mommy…as the other three.  I couldn’t pretend that his life somehow mattered less to my heart than the three who are still here to hug me with sticky arms, and stamp their chocolatey kisses all over mine.

I missed every single one of Charlie’s chocolate kisses.  And yet…I am still his mommy.  He was knit together in my womb, by the very hands of God…just like all the others.  He was held by me, every single moment of his life…just like all the others.  And perhaps even more than the other three…he has made me realize what being a mommy really means.

Because I have never, ever had to love someone so selflessly.  I love him so very much that I am literally, even now, weeping as I write.  And I missed his entire life.

All of this was a lot to process…as I sat alone in that cold graveyard last May.

And as I drove away from the cemetery a year ago this Sunday, I remember only one thing vividly, crying out to God over and over and over again...”I am not going to make it through this life.”  The despair I felt over the loss of Charlie’s life weighed so heavy after my first Mother’s Day by a grave.  I felt so deeply broken, confused, devastated, and  angry.  And there were lots and lots of words thrown out to the sky.

And then…when I got home, God replied.

I had decided that I simply could’t cook on such a low day…so we headed to our usual spot…that towering culinary wonder of CPK.

We like to go there early, so as not to disturb the other diners with our noise, and so we get the waiter’s undivided attention for our very eatery-needy family.

We were literally the only people in the restaurant, besides one other family.  And as I sat there miserably counting down the moments until I could finally say that, “Baby’s First Mother’s Day” was safely behind me…I found myself face to face with what so many people face on these many “Haves Holidays”…the dangerous demons of comparison and envy.

Because there, directly across the room from us, was another family with not one, but two baby boys just a few months older than Charlie would be.

I had gotten it in my head a few weeks before Mother’s day, that I was going to pray for twin baby boys.  I felt so cheated by God that I had gone through all of the agony of labor and an entire pregnancy…and didn’t get a baby.  I thought it would be so great if He would just have mercy on me and give me twins, so that I could end up with two babies after two pregnancies.  And I prayed for it every day.  Some days, it felt like the only prayer I had left…that I could truly pray in faith.

So…imagine my surprise when I looked up from my Thai Crunch salad…and there was the family who had my new “Happy.”  There was the family who had my three big siblings, and then twin baby boys.  And though the Dad looked kind of frazzled, between trying to eat and having to juggle the craziness of five, I kept thinking to myself, “They are just so lucky.”  

But it was more than just that.  It was, “Why Lord?  WHY?  Why did they get TWO babies boys…and you took my only Charlie from me?”  “Why Lord, did you give them so much happy, and completely forget about our family who are hurting so very badly?”  

These questions continued as I kept watching this cute family…all dressed up for Mother’s Day in their Sunday best…who had everything.  Or at least everything I now wanted.  I found myself deeply envying these total strangers in CPK, and my heart felt so heavy with longing for someone else’s life.  

I wanted their happy.  

And isn’t that what we all do?  We compare ourselves to everyone…who has our current, deeply desired version of “happy.”  And as we compare…we do one of two things.  We either 1.  envy what they have that we don’t, or 2. take subtle pride in what we have that they don’t.  

We do this in California Pizza Kitchen with total strangers, but let’s be honest…we do this at church.  We do this at small group, and MOPS, and extended family holidays.

We want what others have…and we want it now.  

And I have one piece of advice.  One pithy little Pinterest pin that I pinned months ago, and God actually still brings to mind every single day…

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That Teddy…he was so wise.

Because as I sat there at CPK, surrounded by my amazing husband and my three beautiful little glories, all I could think about…was what God had taken away from me.

And given to that family across the restaurant from me.

And then, as the minutes turned into an hour of my broken-hearted people-watching…it suddenly hit me.  I have watched this family eat their entire meal together…and I still haven’t seen the Mommy?  This is their MOTHER’S Day dinner…where is Mommy?

I thought it was strange, but as often happens when we envy from a distance…I figured I just didn’t have the whole story.  I didn’t think too much of it as we left CPK and headed for the parking garage.  I was mostly thinking about me.

And that’s…when I heard from the Holy of Holies.

I was about to get into our car when I suddenly looked across the parking garage, and there they were again.  That same family.  The happy family.  Getting into their mini van, with all those healthy, living kids.

And that’s when I saw it.

The stick figure that moved me to weeping.

Because there, on the back window of their mini van, was the stick figure version of the very family I had just seen.  A dad.  Three little kids.  And then two baby boys.

And the mom, who I hadn’t seen all day…was a stick figure angel.  An angel.  Flying above the rest of the family.

Mommy had died.

There I was, struggling through a deeply painful Mother’s Day dinner, surrounded by the precious family left to me.  And here was this dad, across the restaurant from me…struggling through an equally miserable Mother’s Day.

And I started to weep.

Poor. Reid.  He was already dealing with a completely heartbroken Mommy whose arms were devastatingly empty, and now he had to deal with all of my new tears about a total stranger’s life.

But I learned something deeply important that day about envy.

Don’t bother.

Dont.  Even.  Bother.

Here I was, fighting through every moment of my dinner at CPK, just desperately wishing I had his happy.  And he was probably looking across the same room…wishing he had mine.  Wishing…he could have, even just five more minutes, with the woman who had made all those beautiful children he’d painstakingly dressed up and dragged out to dinner for “Mother’s Day.”  Wishing…that she was still there to cry beside that night.

Wishing…for happy.

There were many, many tears that night.  Tears of sorrow that no matter how much “perspective” God gave me in parking garages outside of CPK…I buried a perfectly healthy, deeply loved and wanted baby boy.  And I am convinced that that’s something my heart will rightly ache about, every single day, right up until eternity.

There is just so much to grieve.

But there were also tears of gratitude that night.  I felt grateful that, as I cried myself to sleep for yet another night, I wasn’t alone in my incapacitating grief.   That the husband I loved so much, was still there to hold me as I cried.   That for all God had taken away, in His mercy, He had left Reid by my side.

I had so very much to hurt about last Mother’s Day…and yet, all I clearly remember from that day was my joy.

Gratitude-born joy.

The same gratitude that I feel when I look at the broken picture of three red umbrellas being carried by our family.  Three bursts of color…deeply symbolic of a life filled with more suffering and sorrow than I ever would have wanted to call mine.  But gratitude that, for all the pain contained in one small picture, there are still moments of joy.

JOY…that wells up in me every time I look at this picture, and see Reid still walking by my side.  We have made it through the hell of grief, and we love each other infinitely more now than we did before our suffering.

I am so grateful for Reid.

JOY…that for all of the beautiful faces who are missing from our family…there are still soft, sweet cheeks to kiss each night.  Freddo doesn’t know it, but every single night since Charlie died…he has gotten a double portion of my kisses.  One for him.  And one for Charlie.  It am grateful every time I look at this picture and see Fred’s fuzzy little head as he walks beside me.

I am so unspeakably grateful that God left me Freddo’s cheeks.  And Emma’s.  And Sophie’s.

And JOY…in Sophie’s defiant little kick.  We are still us.  In spite of the deep sorrow our family has faced.   Sophie is still spunky.  Freddo is still sweet.   Reid is still a tender warrior, with more strength than most men will ever be forced to trust God for daily.

And our little Emma…is still deep and full of faith.  In spite of more unanswered prayers than most people face in a lifetime.

I am grateful for Emma’s faith.

And I, am still me.  I’m still the girl who envies total strangers in CPK, and then cries over their hurting hearts for hours that same night.

And I still struggle deeply with comparing our life that has been filled with so much unhappy…with other people’s happy.  Sometimes…I envy people who have never had to endure the sorrow of burying a baby.  Sometimes…I even envy people who actually have…but who didn’t have to do that twice.  Or three times.

Sometimes…I envy people who didn’t have to loose everything single thing they own because of exposure to toxic black mold poisoning.  I envy people who don’t have to live with a debilitating sickness from a neurological poison that wrecked their body, and took their babies lives.

And that…well, that is almost everybody.

But the people who I most envy…are the people whose faith God has protected from all of these things.  You don’t even realize the unfathomable weight of all that you are being protected from…until you’re not.  What hurts the most, what I struggle the most to not envy, are the people who have also been called to walk with God…and for them, it seems He has made that just so, so easy. 

Faith is no longer easy for me.  It is a fight for faith in the goodness of God.  Every.  Single.  Day.

And I have one prayer for this coming Mother’s Day.  For my heart.  And for yours also, really.   That in this era of social media, where we now have to fight even harder against comparison and envy, that we would chose joy.

Joy in what He gave.

Trust in what He didn’t.

And faith as we wait to find out why.

Faith that God’s version of our Happy…the lives He actually gave…though filled with sorrow, can also be filled with Joy.  Because what I have learned, through the endless unhappy we have faced, is that if you do not stop comparing…you will be paralyzed by everyone else’s happy.

I am not talking about shallow, mind-over-matter “positivity”…I am talking about deep, unshakable, gratitude-born joy.  The kind that God gives when He gives you HIS perspective of your happy.

When He gives you tears and joy…all wrapped up in the same moment of time.

And when He gives you hope as you endure an endless wait for the real Happy…the one we’ve all been waiting for our entire lives.

Someday, Mother’s Day is going to be downright amazing.  In a place where there is endless happy.  A place where happy…will be permanently redefined.

A place where everyone who ever loved anyone with the selfless love of Christ…will feel the weight of their worth in light of the Body of Christ.

A place where we will finally see with our own eyes, that broken, nail-scarred body, as He goes around personally introducing millions of mommies…to the babies they never had the joy of knowing.

And a place where three little umbrellas…will finally meet their mommy.

 

 

 

 

 


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One More Week

It’s been a very long week.

We began the week with hard news.  Eight weeks ago, our mold doctor did a nasal swab test on each one of us.  She put a very long Q-tip, a very long way up each one of our noses, and we have been waiting to see what cultured over the last two months.  The lab found several different kinds of rare fungal growth in my nose, as well as Reid’s and Emma’s noses, and we are still waiting to hear back on Fred’s and Sophie’s cultures.  We didn’t really need a reminder of how very sick we are, but this was a reminder nonetheless.  And now we know that the mold is actually trapped inside our noses, we know that the road to recovery is probably going to be even longer.

To make matters worse…I have to retest my mycotoxin load this next week.  The way that the mold medicine works, is that we drink it on an empty stomach first thing in the morning, and then take “sequestering agents” like charcoal and bentonite clay, to bind to the mold that the medicine is pulling out.  But, in order to accurately test for how high the mycotoxin load still is, I need to take the medicine for the next week, without taking the sequestering agents.  It’s a great way to make yourself sick.

And each day I am getting sicker and sicker as the mold is released from cells and fat reserves where it’s been stored over the last two years…particularly in my brain.  So basically, my body is on a downhill slide.  My thyroid and lymph nodes are so swollen, that I can no longer lay on my neck.  My stomach is so full of inflammation, that I look like one of those emaciated third-world children, with skinny arms and a bloated mid-section.  A very thick brain fog has rolled in.  And my left eye has started twitching so violently, that I’ve had to wear an eye patch.  I look like a very disgruntled pirate.

So, yes.  It’s been a long one.

As I crawl through the day, aching with inflammation, snappy with my kids, and constantly readjusting my pirate patch, I just keep telling myself, “One more week.”   I have to remind myself constantly that there is purpose in this suffering, and in one week I will be back on the sequestering agents, and we will finally be able to do an updated test on my mycotoxin load.

One.  More.  Week.

It will be a nice Easter present.

And as I limp along towards that goal, Easter has been on my mind and heart.

There was a time, in what feels like forever ago, that the passing of time used to make me really sad.  I would get to moments like this coming holiday and think to myself, “Oh man…only ELEVEN more Easters together, and our sweet Emma will be heading off to college.”  I would get so sad just thinking about how quickly time goes by, and how desperately I wanted to cherish these precious moments.  How desperately I wanted them to never run out.  And though I would have never said it, or maybe never even thought it, I clung pretty tightly to the very best things in this world.  I really didn’t want them to end.

And if Charlie were here, I would be getting his little Easter outfit out this week…and thinking the same thing about him.  I would be thinking, “Soon, you won’t be able to wear this little bow tie and suit!  Sweet Charlie, please stay little forever!”

But I’m not thinking that.  We don’t even own that little suit anymore.  It went out, along with everything else we once owned.  And I don’t have the luxury any more of looking at this Easter, as one of the many Easters with my sweet kids in the fleeting passage of time.  Because half of them, are gone.  They.  Just. Aren’t.  Here.

And now, my only thought as Easter approaches is this…I’m one Easter closer.  

One Easter closer to the end.  One Easter closer to knowing my son.  I survived last Easter, one horrific, grief-filled, moment at a time, and now I’m on to my second Easter without him.  And even while all around me, as even my own little ones are growing up so unspeakably fast…I am so thankful that we are one day closer to the end.

The other day, the kids and I were making cookies for Emma’s Easter party at school. “Cookies” is a lose term, because they’re actually gluten-free cookie balls made out of flax seed, chia seeds, honey, and almond butter.  But the kids love making them because they get to roll them up into fun little balls.  As we rolled ball after ball, they would tell me who they were making each one for.

And then, as it always does, grief swept in unannounced.

Fred was rolling up a cookie ball in his pudgy little hands, and he suddenly said to me in his cheerful Fred voice, “Mommy!  This one’s for Charlie.  I made it for him when he comes back with Jesus during the Resurrection!”

He’s four.  Four.  Years.  Old.  Still so very little and new to this world.

And yet…he already knows all that really matters.

That someday…Jesus is going to come back.  And that when he does…Charlie is coming back with him.  And that even though it might not be soon enough to eat one of the cookies balls we made for him this week…it is going to happen.

I am so very thankful that in the midst of a year where there was, quite frankly, very little Bible teaching on our part, and where, at one point, even his children’s Bible got tossed out…Fred somehow knows what matters most. Jesus is coming back.

And as I prepare for yet another Easter without my sweet Charlie, and the two little ones who came after him…I’ve started to have thoughts about Easter that I’ve never had before.

I’ve been thinking a lot about that last week before the crucifixion, and what it must have felt like from the Father’s perspective.  As I’ve read through the book of Luke in preparation for Easter, I’ve been amazed at how many times Jesus predicted his death.

In Luke 18:31-33 He says to his disciples, “Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and all things which are written through the prophets about the Son of Man will be accomplished.  For He will be handed over to the Gentiles, and will be mocked and mistreated and spit upon, and after they have scourged Him, they will kill Him; and the third day He will rise again.”  

From the disciples perspective, they heard him say “One more week,” and then probably gave each other the look.  The look that said, “We’ve only got one more week to talk him out of this craziness.  One more week to change his mind.  One more week…to stop Him.”

But I think it was different for His Father.  I know that watching His Son suffer, was something God never looked forward to.  But I really believe that the Father looked at that first Easter, much like I look at this one.  One more week…and I’ll finally get to see my Son again. One more week…and He’ll be on a countdown to coming home.  One more week...and I won’t have to live in one place, while He lives in another.  One more week…and he will no longer have to suffer.  

Sometimes we act like the crucifixion was the only hard part about Jesus’ mission to earth.  But I’m sure it was no picnic hanging out down here with us wretched sinners. I think the Father ached as He watched His son belittled by the Pharisees, scoffed at by the critics, and disrespected by the disciples.  And then, in one more week…the worst was yet to come.  Peter.  Judas.  And the Cross.

I ache thinking of what my little ones have endured, both the ones still with me, and the ones who have gone before me to heaven.  And I am quite certain that Jesus’ Dad ached even more…as He watched His Son endure this world for us. For thirty years.  And then three years.  And then the worst week ever.  I am sure that the Father’s heart was wracked with sorrow, in ways we will simply never comprehend…as that last week approached.

And though I know that Jesus didn’t immediately descend to heaven after Easter Sunday, I am sure that His Father’s heart was so full as the sun shown on that first brilliant morning as the tomb was opened.  Knowing the worst week was finally over.  Knowing His Son would soon be Home.

And as we approach this last week until Easter, I am praying that my heart will be more like the Father’s…than the disciples.  That I will anticipate the resurrection with the same gusto that little Fred does.  Eagerly anticipating the return of Christ, and hoping it is very, very soon.  Eagerly letting go of the things of this world…because of the promises of the next one.

And I am praying that I will be able to say with joy, and not just a heavy heart over all that has been lost…ONE MORE WEEK.   One more week…and we will know Jesus that much more.  One more week…closer to the resurrection.  One more week…closer to being with Jesus forever, face-to-face and heart-to-heart. One more week…closer to meeting the little boy, I had wanted to know so very, very much.

One more week…closer to the end.  The end of all of this, that we all cling to so very tightly.  An end, which is really much more of a beginning, than an end.

Tonight, Emma asked if she could pray before dinner.  She said, “Dear Jesus, thank you for dying for us and for the resurrection.”  And then, with a very deep sigh she said,  “And thank you for going through some really tough stuff for us.” 

Some really tough stuff.  On one hand, it’s the ultimate understatement.  And on the other hand, it’s simply put, exactly what it was.  Some really tough stuff…to get us out of some really tough stuff.  And in one more week we will celebrate the tough stuff.  We will celebrate all that He did, so that we could know Him forever.  So that all of life could be a countdown, not towards the end of something wonderful…but the beginning of the very best.

One more week.

 


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What We Cannot See

Dear Friends,

I can’t believe its only been a day since I last wrote.  It’s been quite the day.

I keep looking down at the the calendar and seeing “February 19th.”  To most people it’s just another day…but to me it will always be the day I had thought we would be meeting and holding and kissing and loving baby Charlie.  The day I had thought we would be celebrating a lifetime of birthdays.  Charlie’s “due date” was exactly one year ago today, and February 19th will never be the same. He isn’t here.  He just isn’t here.  No matter how badly I had wished for a different story.  And there have been many times during this last year of deep and catastrophic suffering, when I have wondered “Is God even really here either?” 

And then…two significant things happened this week.

First, I wrote a blog post about our life, and it was like waking a sleeping giant…so great has been the outpouring of love from the body of Christ.  I had no idea that thousands upon thousands of people would read our blog today.  Honestly, if I had known…I would have tried to make it an especially good one. Really impressed you with my eloquence, and the absolute enormity of our suffering.  But that was the farthest thing from my mind at the time.  I wrote yesterday’s blog post on my smart phone.  While brushing my teeth.  I wrote it while waiting for the cancer doctor to call me back.  And while Clorox-wiping down our new couch for like the ten billionth time.  I wrote it while in fear.  Fear of mycotoxins.  Fear of cancer.  Fear of liver failure.  Fear of bankruptcy.  Fear of losing my faith.  Fear of losing everything.

And then…it went viral.  And all of a sudden, this thing I had quickly typed out to my family and friends…turned into something else entirely.  The only picture I have to adequately describe what we are feeling…is that scene from the movie Pearl Harbor, when the Japanese general Isoroku Yamaoto says, “I fear all we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant.”

It’s like God has immobilized a thousand warriors who love Him and fear His name, and everyone is reaching out to us like a living, moving, breathing, loving Body of Christ.  There are so many times that we have felt deeply loved by the body of Christ both before, and especially after baby Charlie died.  But this is an entirely different thing.  This, makes me stop and say to myself…“Do I know God at all actually?”  I am astonished by the outpouring of His Body.  His hands.  His feet.  His elbows.  His voice.  And it makes me wonder how well I really do know the One to whom I have given my life.

I have known Him deeply through suffering.  I have known His comfort.  I have known His sovereignty.   I have known that He gets right down on the floor next to you and weeps with you every time you lay on the floor and weep.  But I’m not sure I knew this about Him.  This whole, “I’ve got all the money in the world and a million warriors who fight when I say “Fight!” …I’m not sure I’ve ever really known that about the one who is my King.

Which reminds me of the second thing that happened this week.  I had taken the kids to our neighborhood park by the beach.  Three kids packed on a very old Bob stroller is always an amusing sight.  But as we passed by the local shipyard, the owner called out to me, “Hey there!  Just let me know if you decide to have a fourth and I can custom make you room for another on that thing!”  

He of course, had no idea how much those words would wound my heart.  But what most made me ache, was when my sweet Freddo turned and quietly whispered to me, “He doesn’t know that there’s six of us Mommy.  He just doesn’t really see.”

It was a significant moment for me.  Here’s Fred. Four.  Years.  Old.  So new to this planet, let alone to what it’s like to journey through this planet trying to love and worship a God whom you can’t even see.

And yet, he can see.

Fred sees and knows and loves baby Charlie.   He doesn’t need Charlie to be in the stroller…in order to see that he’s a part of our family.  He still comes up to me every time we’re in Trader Joe’s with a lollypop he’s picked out of the barrel to give to Charlie.  The other day he came to me with yet another sucker and said, “Mommy, I got one for Charlie…we can give it to him when he comes back with Jesus someday.”  My precious boy.  Waiting for the return of Christ.  Waiting to finally meet the baby brother whom he knows only from one ultrasound visit and way too many visits to a grave.  Waiting for the whole world to see what we who know Christ are so undeservedly privileged to see.  Waiting for things that he can clearly see…a Father in heaven, and a real baby brother he will someday know and love for eternity.

Waiting for someone that the shipyard owner simply couldn’t see.

As we walked away from the docks, I remember having the strangest thought (especially considering our week), “I wonder what can’t see?”  Our sight is so very limited.  About…well, everything.  About our own lives.  About other people’s lives as they suffer around us in ways we cannot see.  About eternity, and the heart of God, and the incredible world we will someday see on the new earth with our new eyes.

And today, over these last 24 hours and your incredible outpouring of love and support…you have reminded me that for each one of us who make up the many parts of Christ’s earthly Body…there is still so much of Him we have yet to truly see.

Thank you for showing us such a beautiful picture of the Lord’s heart for us today.  For being willing to take a moment from your day and to see a small part of our messy, broken, God-ordained lives.  They have been filled with far more sorrow and suffering than I ever could have comprehended…and also far more goodness and beauty.

He really is the same God today in every way, as He has been to us on every one of our darkest days.  He is not more God, or more good than yesterday, just because we have seen Him in new ways.  But at the same time, I am grateful for this moment when we get to see yet another part of the Lord’s immeasurable beauty.

I have this picture in my mind of the hundreds of times I have laid on the floor and wept over this last year of suffering.  And I’m beginning to wonder if maybe just maybe the angels weren’t standing around me and quietly whispering just like Freddo the other day, “She just doesn’t know…she just can’t see.”

Thank you doesn’t begin to describe our gratitude to God as you- His body- have made our faith in His goodness…tangible sight in so many ways.

With love,

Misty


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Charlie’s First Birthday

Today, is Charlie’s birthday.

The very last, in a very long year of all of the “Firsts.”

It also happens to be the day Baby Zeller would have been due.  And…the week we would have found out if the the Newest Baby Zeller was a baby boy or a little girl.  Yeah, I know. What are the chances that the storm of this much pain could hit all at once?

And tomorrow, to add insult to deep injury…is the 4th birthday of our sweet Freddo.

I wouldn’t have chosen that in ten billion years.

But then again, I wouldn’t have chosen any of this.

If my life were truly my own, if I could write the story and have my wonderful plan for my life…I wouldn’t be sitting here today broken and weeping as I write these words to you.

I would be baking a smash cake right now.  I would be planning a double “Car’s” birthday party for my sweet boys- the first in a lifetime of double birthdays for them.  I would be ironing the little black suit with the dapper red tie that Freddo once wore, and charging the camera battery for Charlie’s first Birthday Photo Shoot.

But most of all…I would be loving him.  I would be holding him.  I would be kissing his sweet baby cheeks.  I would be ruffling his nut brown hair.  I would be whispering, “Please stay little forever.”  I would be celebrating.  Celebrating the millions of things I loved learning about him in our first precious year together.

That is what I would have chosen and wanted. That is what I will spend the rest of my life missing and grieving the loss of.  That is the story that will never, ever happen. And there is a profound permanence to death that I am convinced a heart can never, ever recover from.

And if I couldn’t have that story…I would have chosen to be in the hospital today, celebrating Charlie’s life there as we held his sweet baby sibling in arms that have ached for so long with the weight of empty.

But that’s not our life either.

With empty arms and broken hearts that really have no reason to hope for another living child, we grieve the loss of that excruciatingly adorable baby boy with Emma’s toes, Freddo’s cheeks, and Sophie’s nose.

I can’t tell you if his favorite song is “Twinkle, Twinkle” or “You Are My Sunshine.”  I can’t tell you if his first word was “Ball” or “Mama.”  I can’t tell you how unspeakably wonderful these last 365 days were…because they weren’t.  They were the 365 most excruciating 24-hour increments we have ever had to live through.

Birthday’s are funny things.  Sometimes it feels a little arbitrary that we celebrate someone on that exact day, just because the earth has officially orbited all the way around the sun.  But I know that what we are really celebrating through birthdays…is the life.  All of the ways that another person’s existence has deeply, profoundly, and eternally impacted our own.

And when I focus on that…I know immediately what my sweet baby boy’s life has done.

Since this blog is about the song Charlie’s life has sung…today, I want to share a song.  It’s a love song, and not what I would have expected to remind me of him, but even now, one full rotation around the sun later…it’s the song that most reminds me of the 5 lb, 10 oz gift of perfection that we never got to open and love. And so, it has become to me…Charlie’s song.

The song is “My, My Love” by Joshua Radin.  I can’t wait to someday, finally look into Charlie’s beautiful eyes for the first time, and sing this song to him.

The song gets you right from the start…

“So many moons, have come and gone.  All alone.”

365 to be exact.  Moons.  Half moons.  Crescent moons.  All sorts of moons.  All sorts of sunrises and sunsets.  All sorts of moments at the beach…and your chubby hands were not in the sand beside ours.   All sorts of funny family moments filling laughter into the very corners of our house…and your sweet voice was not in the laughter.   All sorts of moments that remind me of you…an entire year of missing you at every moment of every day…has come and gone.  And now, even all those long moons later, I ache with longing for you.

And at the end of it all, all I feel that I can truly celebrate with integrity is that I have actually survived 365 days I did not want to live.

A year ago today, on the morning I gave birth to Charlie and first laid eyes on the tiny face of the little person I had so desperately longed for a lifetime with, I literally thought, “I cannot do this.  I am not going to make it through a life filled with this much sorrow.  I am Just. Not. Going. To. Make. It.”  

But we did.  Somehow, entirely by the grace of God, we made it.  And if there’s one thing my sweet boy has taught me, it’s this:

The only thing that matters…is the end.

And in the end…I get a life with him.  The baby I held in my arms and washed with my tears.  The baby I was forced to lay down on a cold white table in a funeral home and literally walk away from.  The baby whose precious frame is buried in the dark January ground we’ll have to visit today if we want to feel closer to even a little part of him.

That baby boy who has changed me forever.  Someday, I get him.

I know this.  And this precious black and white truth is all I have in the midst a world that has been overrun with the dark gray of uncertain.   I am uncertain about almost everything right now, but this morning I was reminded of the one Bible verse God brought to my mind as I lay on that hospital bed exactly 365 mornings ago.

“We have this hope as an anchor for our soul.”

In that moment of the deepest  devastation of our lives, the words “Hope” and “Anchor” meant the absolute world to us, because I felt desperate, and I mean life and death desperate, in need of both.  The hope of the promise that the God who has made these promises, “cannot lie.”  And that that God has given us hope because of who Jesus is and what He has made possible that is yet to come.  Redemption. Heaven. Wholeness.  Things promised that mean the world to you, when in one single heartbeat of time, your entire universe is shattered.  When all of your dreams are suddenly over, and you know that for the rest of your life there is nothing else left to hope in that actually matters…Heaven deeply matters.  Because there was no other hope.

There was no hope for taking Charlie home with us.  His heart had stopped beating, and there was absolutely nothing I could do to make it start beating again.  And here was no hope for our “old life” of happiness.  A shadow had fallen, that would never be lifted because of the permanent nature of death. But those words from Hebrews 6, felt like a solid, weighty anchor were pushing down my broken, storm-beaten soul.  And I felt a little less shaken, less broken, less hopeless…knowing what is yet to come.

Because in the end, it is not the details of my story that really matter…it’s the details of God’s.

And I’ve read the end of God’s story, and in the end…I get him.

In the end, I get 10,000 years with my baby boy, and then some.  In the end I get an eternity of “Firsts” together that are still to come.  First hello’s.  First kisses.  First knowing one another and basking in the beauty of how God made that precious soul I never got to live life with.  All the firsts…are still to come.  And it really does give hope knowing that in the end…I get him.

And, in the end…I also get Him.  In the end, I get the promise of hours at the feet of Jesus, hours spent together in close conversation just like Edmund and Aslan.  Hours spent searching His heart and finally someday, maybe just maybe, understanding why He wrote the story just like this.   And I desperately long for those.  Because now, still, even 365 days later…I feel deeply broken, confused, and abandoned.  And I have no choice but to wait for those hours.  Hours of getting to know Him in ways that I simply cannot know Him while on this desperately broken earth.

As I sit here today and plan a first birthday party for a birthday boy who will never get to come, there is just so very much we’re forced to take by faith alone.  Faith in the coming “Firsts.”   Faith in the God who chose that “To wait, I was told.”  Faith in the God who has author’s rights to every story He has ever written.

Because if I could write the story…I would never have chosen this.

I would have written Charlie’s smile and words and twinkling baby eyes into every line of every page of my entire life book.  I simply, would not have written this one.  Ever.

But God chose this.  And someday, some precious, not so far off day, this life will finally be over.  And I will finally be with him.  And that promise has carried us this far.  The promise of an end.  The promise of that end.  The promise of such a good endhas taken us through every one of those lonely, aching moons.

My sweet Charlie James…I have been without you too long.  365 days too long.  But my life will never, ever be the same because your life, and loving you…has changed me for forever. Nothing has more deeply impacted my life, than not getting to keep you.  And if missing were loving…oh how much I love you.  I can’t wait to someday sit down beside you, and love you and love you and love you.  Over and over again.

And even though I would never have written this story for our lives…I am so very glad you came along.  Happy Birthday my Charlie love.  I have no idea what your birthday party will be like today in heaven.  But you are deeply missed and loved here on earth.

You have my heart forever, and to me you will always belong…

My, my love
I’ve been without you too long
My, my love
I’ve been running too fast to belong to anyone
But then you came along

DSC_0959

 

So many moons have come and gone all alone
I heard this song inside me
To wait, I was told
But now I found, a different sound
I hear when you’re around me
It’s something new, because of you

I hope I hear it forever

My, my love
I’ve been without you too long
My, my love
I’ve been running too fast to belong to anyone
But then you came along

When first I laid eyes upon your face
This song replaced all the others I have written
It’s all brand new because of you
Feels like I’ve known you forever

My, my love
I’ve been without you too long
My, my love
I’ve been running too fast to belong to anyone
But then you came along

You warm me like sunshine
You cool me like summer rain
Just let me sit down beside you
Over and over again

My, my love
I’ve been without you too long
My, my love
I’ve been running too fast to belong to anyone
But then you came along