charlie's song


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We’re Leaving Anyways

A week from now, everything we own, and everybody we have left, will be packed up in a U-haul that’s driving away from this place.  We are moving to Seattle, and with genuine excitement about the new things God has in store for our family.  It’s the getting there that’s the hard part.  These last few weeks have been filled with playdates and packing, tearful goodbyes and packing, last-time-we’ll-ever-do-this-moments and packing.  And did I mention we’re packing?

I hate packing.  Mostly because it reminds me of the last time our family was sent packing. I was so physically sick I could barely make it through the day, and in less time than that- 23 hours to be exact- we went from finding out there was toxic mold in our house- to living in a completely different one.  My last memory of “packing” was watching from a distance as some very kind college boys frantically boxed up our entire life, while I sat on the phone with my doctor determining the things we could and could not safely keep.  In the end, what we could keep was almost nothing.

What we could keep…were the memories.  Some of them sweet.  Sophie’s first steps happened in that place.  Emma’s first day of school happened in that place.  “Blue Ice Cream Day” celebrating Charlie on the way…happened in that place. Countless friends and family and college students made sweet memories with us…in that death trap we called home.  There was laughter and moments of redemption, and times where we genuinely encountered the Lord and His love for us in that place.  There were three beautiful children who lived in that home, and filled its rooms with sunshine and joy.  But most of our time there…it was the very valley of the shadow of death.  The place where three equally beautiful children died.  Like Sheol.  A place of suffocating stillness and darkness. Our life in that place was the very pit of human suffering.  The suffering of being broken people, living in a broken house that broke our bodies.  And took our hearts right along with it.

When I think of our life in the mold house- I think of tears every time.  I cried for 368 days straight in that home.  Every.  Single.  Day.  From the moment Charlie died…until the moment we fled that place.  There is actually a plot of land on this earth that symbolizes the darkest and hardest year of our life.  The year baby, after baby, after baby died.  The year God said “No” to almost every single prayer we prayed.  The year we watched our children suffer almost wordlessly…because how many words could you possibly have to describe your suffering when you’re only 1, and 3, and 5?  The year that endless sorrow reigned, and God seemed to be incredibly far away, and Satan seemed to roam on an incredibly long leash. THAT year- lived out in this town we will soon leave.  The year we will never get back.   The year that looms dark and ugly and so impossibly long, and I desperately want it back in a different and brighter version of our story.  And we’re leaving anyways.

We aren’t going to get it back.  And we aren’t going to get them back.  Our babies are dead. Buried in three separate graves around this place.  A place where our family became a family of four, and then five, and then six, and then seven, and then eight. But we will leave here as five.  And it is the one and only reason the tears fall as I keep on packing.  We are leaving behind not just “chapters of us” or “parts of us” or “memories of us” in this place.  We are actually leaving us behind.  Our very children.  Our very flesh and blood. The ones we would die for in a heartbeat. Except they died first. And it is the absolute heartbreak of our lives.  But we are leaving anyways.

We are leaving them.  And while I know with certainty that they are in heaven, that doesn’t take away the ache.  It doesn’t make it feel any better in the moments when I drive past the hospital where I gave birth to our precious Charlie.  Every day- I look up at the very room where I sat alone on the darkest night of my life, until the doctor walked in and said, “I’m sorry. Your baby died.”  Every day- we drive by the parking lot where we were forced to drive away from our baby.  And every day we have to drive past the doctors’s office where we found out two more babies had died in my body.  And any days we don’t want to drive by all that heartache, we have to get to town the only other way we can…on the road that takes us past the cemetery where our baby boy is buried.  And even though this place holds memories of more raw moments of agony and suffering than many people will face in a lifetime…we are leaving anyways.  

Because if we can’t have them…I honestly don’t need to live by their graves.  I could live by their graves, it’s not that I have to get away.  It’s just not a reason to stay. Graves are for the living.  Lest we forget.  But I know I will never, ever forget my babies.  I think about them every single day.  I guess motherhood gives you a built-in inability to ever forget those most precious to you.  It’s not a reason to stay, but it is certainly another reason to grieve. We are moving both literally and figuratively further away from the only place where our babies who are in heaven were a part of our daily story, and it makes my mama’s heart ache.  We are leaving them.  But we are leaving anyways.

I wanted them here with us, filling our house with joy and our day with crazy.  And I don’t mind living by the things that remind me of our babies, even though all those things make me sad.  I want to remember them.  What has become infinitely more difficult…is living by all the things that remind me of when we were happy.  And we were So. Very. Happy.  Right up until January 27th, 2013.  It has been incredibly difficult being reminded day after day…of our old life here during the time of happy.  The time when this sleepy little town on the Central Coast was officially named, “The Happiest Town On Earth.” And when it actually felt that way.  It hasn’t been our happiest place.  The shocking speed at which we went from being in the very “best years of our life” to the absolute worst…has left us reeling in it’s wake.  And even though our hearts are still somewhere on that journey of grief and no where near finished…we’re leaving anyways.

We are hoping that making new memories as a family in a place where we have no memories of being either devastatingly sad or deliriously happy…will be good for us in some ways.  But even as I type that, I know that something else will be lost as we drive away next week.  We can pack up our stuff…but the people we have to leave behind.  And even though this is the place where we experienced some of the most hurtful and disappointing relationships of our lives…this is also the place where God met us the very most through the literal hands and hugs and hearts of the people who make up His body. This is the very place where God loved our family through encounters with thousands of friends and strangers all over the world. This is where God decimated our bank account through suffering…and where He filled our U-haul through His body.  His kids literally packed our U-haul in this place.  And more of His kids will very literally pack our U-haul next week.  And we are leaving anyways.

We are leaving them all behind.  Not just any people.  The people who brought our family meals- our very mana on some days.  The people who babysat our kids during the deepest days of grief.  Who took the risk and said, “I know your children just buried their baby brother, but I will be a safe place for them to come and play and even grieve…I will not leave you alone in this day.”  The people who drove hundreds of miles to be by our side as we buried our baby boy.  These aren’t just friends.  These are trench-friends.  Battle friends.  Heaven friends.  Forever friends. And we are leaving anyways.

And while this isn’t the first place where Reid and I have encountered the love of God in human hearts…it is the first and only time our kids have seen that in their lives.  Because it’s the only place they’ve ever lived.  Almost all of the words ever written in the books of their lives…have been penned in this place.  And we are leaving anyways.  

The other day, Emma came up to me and said, “Mom, I’ve been working on the story of my life.  I’ve been writing some things down.  Can I read it to you?”  I left it exactly as she wrote it, spelling problems and all.

“Are Story-  And God’s Love for us. (and Animals!)

I was 6 on Valentines day and we found mold in are hous.

And mom got varee, 10,000,000 varee sick, and we moovt to Morro Bay.

And slept on air mattresses.  Until we fownd beds.

And then we had the worst day ever.  And we gave are things away.

And almost every day was Christmas! And God loved us by it.”

I’m still not sure what happened to the “God’s love for Animals” part…but as she read her life-story to me, I just wanted to weep.  I don’t want this to be her story.  I wanted this to be her happy place.  A place where she welcomed baby Charlie into our home…not sat weeping by his grave.  A place where she skipped off to school every day to learn great and mighty things…not where she lost even more by losing her school and all her friends- about six minutes into second grade.  A place where she made “core memories” filled with sunshine and rainbows and unicorns and happy.  Not the place where she also lived out the worst days of her life.  I wanted this to be everything magical and holy and protected about childhood that every parent wants for their kids, and few kids really have…and we had the extreme of not having it.  And I want to fix it even still.  Fix it quick before we leave.  And I can’t. And we’re leaving anyways.

What she will remember…is that life is incredibly hard.  And people are incredibly broken. And that many of them- are so very kind.  And the one’s who love Jesus…well, sometimes those ones see how much you are suffering and rise up and declare it’s Christmas…smack in the middle of February.  And she will remember the God who made them that way.  And that He is worth far more than this life filled with pain that He doesn’t always fix, and stories of suffering He even personally writes.  She will remember.  And she will take all of the mess and beauty of this place with her. And I have run out of time to try to fix the story He wrote that I don’t like.  It is time to move on to a new chapter.  Because like it or not, dreams fulfilled or not, unfinished prayers or not…we are leaving anyways.

I could go on forever.  When you leave a place…you leave all the good.  And all the bad. And none of the good.  And none of the bad.  You take it all with you.  In different ways, to the next place.  To a new chapter and new people.  Loving people. Trench people.  Battle people.  Heaven people.  I’m convinced they’re everywhere.  Forever friends, who you will also someday have to look at and with fresh tears say, “This has been so…EVERYTHING. But, we are leaving anyways.”  Because. That’s.  Just.  Life.

A few weeks ago, I ran into someone at Target that I didn’t really want to say goodbye to. She was across the parking lot and I just didn’t feel like making the effort of another goodbye. And I said to myself, “Oh wellwe are leaving anyways.”  And in that moment, I felt like God spoke to my heart.  Through His still-quiet voice, which always seems to reach me at Target, far more than any other place…

That…is how I want you to feel about this WHOLE Earth-place. Hold it loosely.  Even the goodbyes.  ESPECIALLY the goodbyes.  Make it count.  Make it good.  Fight to know me.  Fight to love others through Me.  Fight to love Me through others.  But in the end…you and everyone you know and love…are leaving anyways. This whole earth place is temporary. There is no such thing as a “Forever Home”…except the One that I am making.  But you had better believe it’s in the making.”

Oh, dear people.  You who have been the people who sat with us by Charlie’s grave. Who babysat our kids during the hardest days of our lives.  Who helped us buy new and exotic things like socks, and backpacks, and books, and tupper-ware during the second hardest days of our lives. Friends, this world is all so very alarmingly and comfortingly temporary.

We, each and every one of us…are leaving anyways.

Let’s fight to make it count.  In the midst of a world where we have been promised nothing but trouble.  By the One who said, “In this world, you will have trouble.”  And then added, “But take heart…I have overcome the world.”

It would be easy for me to dismiss those words, if they had been said by any one else. But they were said by HIM.  A man of sorrows, acquainted with grief.  Who has gone to prepare a Place for us in the only place where we will never again have to unpack our bags, and then sigh and say, “Well, let’s not get too comfortable kids…we’re leaving anyways.”

Finally, there will be no more moving.  No more U-hauls.  No more goodbyes.  And no more bad tears.  Only good ones.  And then the words, “Get comfortable kids, we are staying for a very long always.  Ten thousand years.  And no less days.”

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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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My Life on the Tea Cups

It began on January 27th 2013.  Baby Charlie had spent 37 weeks tucked beside me in my womb, and we were all so very excited to meet him in a few short weeks.  Every time two-year-old Freddo would put on his little soccer shoes he’d say to me, “Mommy, these are getting too small…soon I’m going to have to give them to Baby Charlie!”  

Anticipation was high.  And life was full of beauty.  At the time though, I thought life was actually pretty challenging.  I had three kids under six and one in my tummy…and I was exhausted beyond belief.  But I was full happy.  Life felt overwhelming and tiring and full. Full of diapers and runny noses.  Full of jelly hands and lots and lots of Why’s.  But also full of so very much hope and joy.  And we were truly happy. Eagerly awaiting, with full intention of receiving, our “new” life as SIX…with the baby boy whose tiny feet would fill big brother shoes any day.

But that day, that very day…I would meet those tiny feet.  I would hold them in my hands.  I would finally hold his perfectly formed little body, with ten small fingers and ten small toes, and the ten million big dreams I’d held for his life.  But his heart would not be beating.  And I would be forced to look down in total despair…at his perfectly formed little feet, and cheeks, and button nose…and eyes I would never, ever see.

And it would be…the worst day of my life.

The beginning of our new life.

A life I hate.

There are still, a few very precious things I love about my life.  But I absolutely hate that my baby boy lives in the ground, while everyone else’s children are running around above the ground…full of love and laughter and life.  I know in my heart that who Charlie really is…my eternal Charlie…is running around in heaven.  I know in my heart that Jesus really did turn to the thief on the cross and say to him ever so softly, “Today, you will be in Paradise with me.”  And I know that when Jesus says, “today”…He means today.  know these things.

But Jesus didn’t say all of that to the thieves’ broken Mommy, who stood there weeping next to Mary.  And He didn’t say it to me.  I am not in Paradise today.  I am stuck here in this broken world, trapped in a broken body, and my sweet baby’s life is being lived…ten million miles away from mine.

Charlie’s real life, his Forever life, gives me hope.  Real, lasting, living hope. But it isn’t my life.  It isn’t by me.  And right now, it isn’t with mine.  And the moment the doctor turned to me with tears and said, “I’m sorry, your baby is gone,” Charlie went to one place in my mind and heart, and I went to another…my new, horrible life.

This may all sound dramatic.  I’m actually struggling to find words strong enough to communicate what it is actually like.  And the only thing that’s coming to mind right now…are the Tea Cups.  Yes, those miniature Disneyland torture chambers that spin feverishly around for all good people willing to wait in an hour-long line.  The last time I went to Disneyland, I had to ride those devilish tea cups not once, but twice with my beloved little glories.  The second time, I took a picture of the blessed event.  Mostly, to show my husband (who absolutely refuses to ride the tea cups) exactly all that I was enduring for the family.  But I also took a picture of that blurry sky because I was struck cold…by how much it reminds me of my life.  

Glaring, blinding lights.  Swirling, sickening, spinning.  And absolutely no end in sight.

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Most people who suffer from a serious chronic illness, could probably share the exact moment they found out about their “new life” of sickness and pain.  For some, it was in a doctor’s office.  For others, it was the moment they fell, or the moment they blacked out, or the moment the doctor called back with the bad-news test results, for which they had been anxiously waiting.  For me…it was a dark, cold, lonely hospital room on January 27th, 2013.  It was four green walls, in bad fluorescent lighting…where I sat utterly alone and listened to the doctor explain that somehow my perfectly formed, 5 lb 10 oz baby boy had suddenly and unexpectedly died in my body.

And that first moment of knowing that Charlie had died…was the moment the tea cups started spinning.  And the moment they start spinning, is the moment you start to panic.  I have to get off of here.  I do not want to be on this miserable ride.  When is it going to end?  I am going to be sick.  I can’t breathe.  Somebody, please help me.

You feel trapped.  Stuck.  Panicked.  Like your entire universe is spinning.

And it’s still spinning.  The moment Charlie died…I knew something was wrong.  I spent a year knowing something was wrong.  A year of spinning around frantically, begging God to make the ride stop, begging doctors to make the ride stop, begging Reid to make the ride stop…spending every moment of every day…trapped and clausterphobic, and paralyzed with fear.  And no matter how hard I fought it…still spinning.

And I’d look out from my swirling, sickening torture chamber…and stare in confusion at all those people in their happiest-place-on-earth-lives, strolling past the Tea Cup ride with big smiles and funnel cakes.  They were there.  Under the same blue sky.  But on the other side of the fence.  With absolutely no idea how horrific it is inside the spinning tea cup ride.  I am alone.  I am in pain.  No one understands how much this hurts.  And it is never, ever going to be the same.  That…is the cry of grief.  

And then, when another baby died in my body six months after Charlie…my worst fears became my reality.  I am not getting off of this horrific ride.  I am still spinning.  I am still suffering.  I still can’t breathe.  Only this isn’t a season…it’s my new life.

And it’s around that time when you have been on the Tea Cups long enough to wreck your soul and lose your sanity…that you start to throw desperate pleas and promises up to the sky.  won’t ask for anything else, ever again God…just please, please let me get off this horrible ride of suffering.  I will do anything, I will be anybody, please just make it stop. Please just take this away.  That…is the cry of chronic pain.

And then, last November, a year ago this very week, our dreams that the ride might finally be over were completely shattered…when yet another baby died.  This one was so tiny, barely even formed.  But Here.  Held in my hands.  As the world spun on.

And then, I started to get sick.  Sick enough to notice.  Little things at first, and then big things.  Things that even the fourteen doctors I’d been to…who had mostly made me feel crazy…began to acknowledge was something.  And I began to realize that maybe wasn’t crazy…maybe I was actually on a crazy horrible ride.

And then, God led me to a doctor who had actually been on a Tea Cup ride before. Someone who actually knew how horrific it was.  Someone who actually understood the endless, hopeless spinning that was my life.  Someone who had suffered, and also happened to be a medical doctor.  And as I sat in that doctor’s office this last February, and my scary list of symptoms finally made sense and had a name…I began to think the tea cups were slowing down.  And maybe just maybe…even stopping.  I began to dare to hope that it was finally the end of this terror ride.

And hope…is a dangerous thing.

Because the Tea Cups didn’t really stop…they just slowed down long enough to let on new passengers.  And then, they started to pick up speed, and I continued to spin violently along in my deeply broken body.  Because everything that comes in…must come back out.  And all of the toxins that ravaged my body, and wrecked my mind, and killed my womb, and devastatingly took my babies…have to come back out.  Slowly…one cell regrowth at a time.

And it has been an absolutely miserable, hell-journey along the way.  These last few weeks have been particularly horrible.  I’ve written a hundred blog posts in my head lately…and not one of them has made it to this screen.  I’ve been way too busy trying to survive this ride…to sit around and chat about it.

There have been endless blood tests and doctors appointments, and some really difficult circumstances in my little ones lives…that have made writing about this seem like a total impossibility.  Like, who honestly whips out a pen and paper in the middle of the tea cup ride, and starts waxing poetic about the crazy ride?

I’m not writing this because I have time.  Or because I am excited to talk about these things, or because I am seeing such beauty in the journey.  I’m not.  I don’t.  I won’t ever probably.  I am writing because we desperately need your prayers.

Because if this horrible ride has taught me one thing, it’s that while most people really are on the other side of the fence and haven’t the faintest idea how horrific two endless years on the Tea Cups actually are…they can still look over the fence, and into your life.  And pray for you from the other side.

And they do.  And I am so completely grateful for each and every one of you who pray for our family. Be it once, or multiple times a day.  And all I can say to you who are enjoying the other side of the fence…is please, please pray.

Because right now, we need your prayers desperately.  This is not a quiet,  “Oh pray for us” moment.  Imagine someone motion-sick, crying out to you from a violently spinning Tea Cup.  Screaming, “HELP US PLEASE!”

I went in today for another blood test.  I’ve started getting them pretty much weekly, as my kidneys and other vital organs continue to test poorly.  But my biggest concern is for my cells.  Mycotoxins affect your body at a cellular level and create cellular damage.  I have been struggling with really bad mitochondrial fatigue lately.  Basically, my limbs feel like lead every moment of the day.  Tasks like putting duvet covers on beds have become totally impossible for me.  It is difficult to drive a car, because it’s hard to lift my arms up for such a long time.  And by the time I climb the stairs in our house, my legs feel like jelly. It basically feels like you’ve just run a marathon all day long…even first thing in the morning.

Please pray for my cellular fatigue.  It takes years to rebuild a new body-worth of cells. Which probably explains why my kids are doing so much better than me.  Because their bodies are so new to the world…they reproduce cells at a rapid pace.  I am so deeply grateful for this.  And for them.  And grateful for how much their younger, newer bodies have been protected from this horrible physical journey.  But my body is old and broken, and my very cells have been destroyed, and I am at an all-time low physically.

Please pray for our environment.  The hardest part of environmental illness…is how unmanageable it is.  I am affected by the very air I breathe.  I can tell you exactly which stores and places in town have toxic mold.  And once I am exposed to a high level of bad molds, it takes me weeks and sometimes months to recover from neuropathy and mitochondrial fatigue.  As my body continues to get more reactive to bad environments…I have had to limit my exposure to new ones.  It’s not like being “allergic” to something like pollen or grass.  When my body comes into contact with the life-threatening toxins molds produce…I don’t sneeze or get a stuffy nose…my nerves and cells shut down.  I get blurred vision.  My hands and feet go numb.  My whole body turns to lead.  Basically, I go into toxic shock indefinitely.

My flesh and my heart may fail.  They certainly seem to be.  But my spirit also feels pretty weak and unwilling these days.  I know that “life is hard”…even for people on the other side of that Tea Cup fence.  I know that every life is full of sunburns, and difficult people, and cold funnel cakes, and ridiculously long lines you have to stand in with screaming toddlers sometimes.  I remember all of those burdens as real and true, even in my old life on the other side of the fence.  And it didn’t always seem so “easy.”  But now that I can see it more clearly…my old life was actually pretty easy.

I couldn’t have imagined my new life, back when I was in my old one.  And you probably can’t imagine it either.  I know you can’t really fathom how soul-sucking, and heart-breaking, and sanity-taking it is to be on a two year Tea Cup ride…unless you’ve actually been on this side and taken the ride.  But I ask you to pray for us, even in the not-knowing.  It’s not called the Mad Hatters Tea Cup Ride for nothing.  Suffering is maddening.  And confusing.  And exhausting.  And we are completely spiraling.  Over the last few weeks, some really difficult circumstances have sent us on yet another desperate spin downward, and I battle despair daily.   It’s like someone took our fragile little Tea Cup, and gave it a nice hard shove.  I cry out “Mercy.”   And there is no mercy…only the endless despair of spinning.  Depair…about the One who ultimately controls this ride.  Who alone could make it stop at any moment.  And Who hasn’t…right up to this very day.

And it’s in those moments that the Tea Party’s soundtrack of lies…gets louder in the midst of this swirling pain.  God doesn’t see my spinning.  God cannot hear my endless screams.  God will not rescue me.  I am utterly forsaken, and completely alone.  And there is no, even ETERNAL end in sight.

But even as I sit here soul-sick and dizzy, and weary beyond belief, my heart needs to put words to a life of chronic suffering.   Because deep down, in spite of all of the lies I hear that we are the only people on the planet who are suffering this deeply…I know it’s not true.  It couldn’t possibly be.  I knew it wasn’t true as I sat at the blood lab this morning, surrounded by people in pain.   I knew it as I listened to the screams of the little boy with cerebral palsy who was crying out in pain in the room next to mine.  I could feel his very soul-pain.  I could feel his mama’s soul-pain as she watched on helplessly.  I could feel the collective, aching weight of the other people in the waiting room whose lives have also spun wildly out of control, in ways they will never, ever be able to get back.  Just.  Like.  Mine.

I know deep down that the world is actually full of people whose lives are spinning to places they would never want to be.  Full of people who are on a miserable ride they never would have chosen for their lives.  Full of people who are quite certain that they are not at the “happiest place on earth” where all their “dreams come true.”  People who are deeply weary from the ride of suffering.

And to you…who may find yourself in the midst of the hellish spin of grief, or the endless whirl and twists of chronic pain, all I can say is this…I am so very sorry.

You are not alone.

There is One…and One alone…who truly understands this horrific ride called “Life.”  And He went to enormous lengths to make His understanding, a living, breathing, unmistakable reality for you and me.  He left a castle, high up in the one and only Happiest Place…and came here to subject Himself to the worst spinning, sickening, terror-ride in human history.  I think about Him.  And I feel silenced, even amidst the spinning.

And I think of those who were with Him in the darkness of those days.  I’ve been thinking about the disciples a lot lately.  I’ve felt really, really down on myself lately for my lack of faith, and hope, and love in the midst of our endless suffering.  I’ve felt guilty that I have actually seen God’s faithfulness so many times before this, and yet am struggling deeply to believe in Him all the same.   I’ve felt saddened and ashamed by my lack of trust in the One who actually promised, “in this world you will have trouble,” and my anger and despair that He who promised that…hasn’t chosen happier things for us anyways.

But when I think about who the disciples were…and all that they too had seen firsthand of His goodness and grace…I am comforted by their faith.

And even more…by their lack of faith at times.

I imagine John at the foot of the cross.  I know there was no moment in all of human history…when the world “seemed” more completely spun out of control…than at the bleeding Savior’s feet.  I picture the disciple “whom Jesus loved,” whose universe felt shattered and spinning…as he looked up at his Hero dead and crucified.

I imagine Thomas, blurting out his weak faith in front of God and everybody, “Jesus, I will ONLY believe this horrible ride is over…IF You show me what I WANT to see.”  Thomas definitely reminds me of somebody.

And most of all, I picture Peter…running on fear, and standing alone in the middle of a cold, dark courtyard…during the worst moment of his entire life.  Saying the worst possible things you could ever say.

Because these last two years…have been the absolute worst of mine.  And I have said…the absolute worst things you could ever say.  And I feel as messy and broken and utterly hopeless…as those who have gone before me.

And yet sometimes, even as my body continues its downward spiral, and my soul staggers in the blinding misery of a life I hate…I look up.  Sometimes not for days or weeks at time. Sometimes only in anger and ache.

But when I DO look up…I see colorful lantern lights.

And beyond them…stars.

And beyond the galaxies…somewhere a million miles beyond my soul-sight…the One who waits for me.

Who will someday finally stop, this horrible ride that has become our lives.  Who will someday rescue all of us, once and for all, from a world that has been spinning frantically out of our control, since the very dawn of time.

The One for whom we wait.  In faith.  And sometimes, almost no-faith.

Because He came, and willingly subjected Himself to the the deepest suffering known to mankind.

That we might have a Way to see beyond all the fences and lights.

Straight into His very eyes.

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The Great Lie

I’m writing this late at night.  I should probably be in bed.  But it’s been a long, hard day, and I can never sleep when Reid is away.  He comes home tomorrow, and I am certain that no one will be more glad that he is home…than me.  Well, except for my kids, maybe.

Because when Daddy’s back, their little world will be a little less wrong, and a little more right.  Mommy will cook more, and yell less.  There will be more story times, and less TV times.  And we’ll all feel a little sweeter and kinder and richer…when Daddy’s here to help fill up our decimated Love Banks.

Or rather, I should say, when Daddy’s here to help defend us a little…against the enemy and his lies.  Because his lies…always seem to be about love.  And those lies, always seem to leave our love banks feeling extra empty.  

It’s amazing how many more lies I hear when I am alone, and Reid is away.  Lies about his love for me.  Lies about other people’s love for me.  But most dangerous of all…lies about God’s love for me.

This has been on my mind a lot lately, but especially after story time tonight.

The kids and I love to read together at bedtime. We snuggle under Daddy’s big Cardinals-watching-blankey, and everyone is a tiny bit sweeter, than our usual spicy. Tonight, Fred picked “The Jesus Storybook Bible” as his literature of choice.  Freddo, like Mommy, is a very high “P” on the Meyers Briggs…so he had no trouble skipping over the Creation scene and starting smack in the middle of the Great Deception.  (It probably drove our organized and linear little firstborn a tad crazy…but hey, we P’s need a little room for our free-spirited inconsistencies.)

I was expecting to blaze through the story, but what happened next took me completely by surprise.

I could barely read the words on the page.

It has been a really long week.  Lots of physical pain.  Basically, I’m in pain every moment of every day.  The only way I can explain the inflammation that comes from mycotoxin poisoning is to say…imagine a headache, a back ache, a stomach ache, an ear ache, and a sinus infection…all at the same time.  All of the time. That’s…what I feel like.

And to add insult to injury, I’m in the middle of a battery of blood tests because there is a good chance my kidneys are failing me.  I guess technically I should just say, “my kidneys are failing.”  But this feels personal.  Like they are actually failing me.  My kidneys are really one of my only major organs that haven’t been wrecked by mycotoxins, and I feel angry and weary that they too, now appear to be turning against me.

All of that to say…I’m struggling.  I’ve been to the blood lab more times than I can count, and I saw a cardiologist this morning because of weeks of chest pains.

But even as I sit here, wondering if my actual cardiovascular heart is about to fail me…it feels like my heart, my Forever heart- is failing me.

Nothing compares to the pain of last year.  I think about our precious babies who are missing, every moment of every day.  But this year, well this year is the prolonged suffering of watching the body that could not sustain my babies lives…begin to no longer sustain mine.  I actually go to bed at night praying desperately that I will not die in my sleep, and be found by my kids in the morning.  I’m sure that is mixed with all sorts of irrational and messy…but it is really hard to go to bed with chest pains, and with hands and feet numb from neuropathy, and with kidney’s that seemed to have joined this fight against me…and to not fear that death is our next suffering.

All of that to say, I fear my heart is beginning to slide into the abyss of what the “happy-smiley people” would call, “A Not Good Place.”

But I’m not one of those, so I’ll just call it like it is…

I am in the depths of despair.

If Anne of Green Gables is a kindred spirit of yours, you probably know what I mean.

But if you don’t…well then, I’ll just have to spell it out for you.

Last Saturday, Reid and I decided it was time to clean out the garage.  I have been so sick over the summer that I am now more convinced than ever that it is necessary to get rid of even the things we were hoping to give to the kids some day.  If we can’t keep it, and touch it, and enjoy it…I see no point in dragging it along through our lives.

This spring, when we got rid of everything we owned from the Mold House…there were still a few bins worth of stuff that I had kept behind.  A bin of photo albums.  A bin of Christmas stuff.  And a bin of things, too precious to part with, and basically too painful to deal with at that time.

The dress I wore the day we buried our precious Charlie.

The hundred’s of sympathy cards we got from people who reached out to us that spring.

The little black suit Fred wore for his one-year-photo shoot, that I just couldn’t part with because I was still naive enough to hope another baby boy of ours might wear it for five minutes someday.  

The ridiculous turtle sweater I happened to be wearing on the day Reid asked me to be his bride.  

All of the love letters…from before and after…Turtle Sweater Day.

Charlie’s teddy.

Basically, everything most precious to me.  The bin we’d have taken, “In The Event of a Fire.”

Except…it wasn’t a fire.  It wasn’t fast, and clear-cut like that.  It was painfully slow. And horribly messy.  We had to willingly hold up, one by one, the perfectly normal looking, and most important and cherished things in our lives…and throw them in the garbage.  One.  At.  A.  Time.

Well, Reid did actually.  I am still so sick from mycotoxin re-exposure this summer that if I went anywhere near these cherished things, I would probably be wrecked immediately.

So there I was, on one side of the driveway, weeping in my beach chair.  And there he was, on the other side of the driveway, painstakingly lifting up and setting back down in either the “Trash” or the “Keep”…all of the things that represent the most wonderful and horrifically painful moments of our lives.

It wasn’t so much about the things.  I’ve already parted with 99% of our things.  And honestly, months down the road, I am more certain than ever that all of the things we lost were just that…things.  Inanimate objects that hold almost no meaning or weight whatsoever…compared to how hard it was to give up our babies.

I don’t even like that hedious black sweater with the embroidered Turtle on it.  It’s how much it reminded me of the day.  It’s how much it made us both laugh hysterically that I ever wore that…even as tears of pain streamed down my face.

What I realized as I watched Reid go through our “life” one last time…is that all of those things reminded me of all of those days.  And what hurts so bad, and is becoming so incredibly difficult for my heart to reconcile with my faith…is that we have lived through so very many bad days.

We had managed to stuff down an awful lot in these last few bins from our “old life.” So many sorrows.  So many memories.  So much of the pain of losing literally everything and everybody…over these last two years of life.  A lifetime worth of pain had been squashed down tight in that mycotoxin-laden bin…like a real live version of those jokester Cans of Snakes.

And all of a sudden, the cover sprang open.

And all of the pain spilled out…right there in the middle of our highly visible driveway.

And I started to weep.

Honestly, it probably looked like we were getting a divorce.  Our kids were in the house, having a very loud, completely unsupervised Frozen dance party, and we were out in the driveway, visibly suffering.  We must have been quite the sight.

And as I sat there…it began to happen.  It creeped in slowly at first, and then it came on with a vengeance.  Wreathing, and squirming, and attacking…like worms.  Or better yet…snakes.

It.

The great Lie.

That wretched, loathsome, ugliest of all things.  That thing…where if you believe it hard enough, for long enough…it will take away the one and only thing that actually matters…your eternal life.

Out in the driveway, I couldn’t even see the lie for what it was.   Because, that, after all…is the nature of lies.

But now, days later…it hit me hard during story time tonight.

Fred handed me his Children’s Bible and said, “This one Mommy, let’s read about the Snake.”

“As soon as the snake saw his chance, he slithered silently up to Eve.  “Does God really love you?  the serpent whispered.  “If he does, why won’t he let you eat the nice, juicy, delicious fruit?  Poor you, perhaps God doesn’t want you to be happy.

Th snake’s words hissed  into her ears and sunk down deep into her heart, like poison.  DOES GOD LOVE ME?  Eve wondered.  Suddenly, she didn’t know anymore.”

And as I read those words, my mind flashed back to our time in the driveway last Saturday.

Reid, holding up our wedding album.

Reid, holding up our love letters.

Reid, holding up our life.

And Reid, lifting Charlie’s teddy up and asking me with tears in his eyes, “Do you want to keep this?”

And right then, from stage right, ENTER…the lie.

God couldn’t POSSIBLY love us.  He took away Charlie. And then the next baby. And then the next baby.  And then the mycotoxin hurricane stormed in, and took all of our worldly things.  And now I am suffering with boils of pain that cover my entire body.  HOW is it possible for one family to endure this much pain? God couldn’t possibly LOVE people who He allows to suffer like THIS.

Reid, lifting up Freddo’s little suit, the question not spoken, but still hidden there in his eyes, “Are we really going to put this on another boy, even if God did do, like ten miracles that He ISN’T doing…and we somehow miraculously had another baby boy someday?”

Does God love me?  No.  And I mean, HELL no.  He only REALLY loves the people who get to KEEP everything.  The people who still have all their stuff, and all their health, and most of all…all their babies.  He can’t possibly love US.   POOR US.  Clearly, God doesn’t want us to be happy.

I mean, usually that slimy snake is at least semi-crafty.  But out there in the garden of our driveway, there were absolutely no subtleties.

He was selling.  And I was buying.

But as I sat there tonight, with innocent little Fred cuddled in my arms, I began to see things a little more clearly.  I thought of Freddo, as he listened to a story about the very snake who has stolen, and killed, and destroyed so much joy from our family. The very snake…who he will have to spend the rest of his life fighting against with every breathe of his being.  The snake…who is after him now, even as he sleeps.  And I realized just how deeply each and every one of us are living that very scene.

Does.  God.  Love.  Me?

And IF He somehow does…than “Why won’t He let…”  (Fill in the blank.)

I hear those lies, every single day.  I hear them in the grocery store.  I hear them when I look at Instagram.  I probably even hear them in my sleep.

Nothing makes you realize just how many stupid people on the planet get to bear children…like burying three of them in a years time.  I see pregnant ladies everywhere.  Most seem really nice, but some of them drive me crazy.  I see pregnant ladies smoking.  I see pregnant ladies belittling their kids in Wal-mart.  I see people who don’t even want kids complaining about their pregnancies on Facebook. And honestly, it makes me want to scream.

And when I am not waging a war in my heart and mind against the unjustness of our story…I am battling a totally different set of lies.  “I guess I am just not a good enough mom.”  “I guess I just don’t love God enough.”  Or maybe, I guess God just doesn’t love me.

And nothing makes you realize just how many healthy people there are in the world…until you are sick every moment of every day.  And while I watch everyone around me heartily bouncing around like Tigger through their full and busy days…I feel like I am literally dragging my body along through mine.  “I guess God doesn’t have anything left for me to do in this life…except be miserable and sick.”  “I guess God doesn’t hear my, or Reid’s, or our kid’s endless prayers that He would heal Mommy’s body.”  Or maybe, I guess God just doesn’t want us to be happy.

And what I realized as I read those very words to my kids, straight out of the children’s Bible that’s sitting on half the Christian coffee tables in America…is that there is absolutely NOTHING unique about these lies that have become the soundtrack of my life.

That sorrowful, soul-sucking song…is on repeat.

In every heart.  Everywhere.

Every.  Single.  Day.  Of.  Our.  Lives.

And right now, people…while we’re stuck broken, surrounded by broken, here on this broken planet, I’m here to tell you….it’s fight or die.

For you, and for me.

If we don’t fight these lies, they will sink us…just like they sunk Eve.

Actually, let’s make that a Present-tense.  Just like they are sinking me.

I don’t really have a nice bow to put on this one.  I wish I could.  I like bows.  I like to feel like I’m writing about things I struggled with yesterday, or maybe this morning. But not things that I am still barely surviving…even as I write this tonight.

So let’s end this post…with the best self-defense mechanism I can think of.  Let’s turn it on you.

Will you take the step of faith to fight back…by telling someone about the lies you are hearing today?  You could post them here.  You could share them with someone else later today.  Just promise me this…that you will tell somebody.  That you will let it be known, to at least one other person, and especially to the enemy who is slinking around your heart even as you read…

THIS…(fill in the blank)…THIS is WHEN I hear, “Does God love me?”

THESE…these are THE MOMENTS I think, “Poor you, perhaps God doesn’t want you to be happy?”

THIS is WHEN…Suddenly, I don’t know anymore.

And Lord Jesus, please come fight for me.

Because I noticed something out on our driveway last Saturday.  I did hear, and I did believe…every single one of those lies, as we sat there and waded through that bin of suffering.

But I also felt such relief in being known by Reid, in the midst of the lies.  Relief in knowing that he knew exactly why every single thing he was pulling out of that bin…was going to make me cry.

And most of all…that he knows exactly how much I am struggling to believe in the goodness of God and His love for me.  And that he is praying for me.  And fighting for me.

One lie at a time.

Until one day, when the bins will be gone for good.  Right now, your garages and closets and attics are probably full of all of your most treasured memories.  And ours…are empty.  But someday, every single one of us, are actually going to lose everything.

And then, the only thing that will matter, in that split-second of time between this world and eternity…

Is if we believed the Lie…to the point of no longer believing the King.

Or if we believed the King…and let Him carry us…to that great and glorious Day.

The day when Finally…we no longer believed the Lie.

 

 


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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.

Eternity.

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.