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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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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It’s Who You Are

Last year, our kids attended Awana Cubbies on Tuesday nights.  Every week, the teacher would chose someone new for the high honor of bringing Cubbie bear home and, though I don’t remember much of 2013, I distinctly remember Fred’s excitement and anticipation of being the one to “win” Cubbie Bear.  When you’re an almost-three-year-old, the honor of taking home Cubbie, and spending a week doing everything together is HUGE.  And Freddo was SO ready for his day in the sun with Cubbie love.

He had waited for weeks.  Months actually.  I could see his big brown eyes fill with hope every time his Cubbie teacher would stick her hand in the big jar and swish it around to pick a winner.  (Imagine Effie Trinket pawing around in the glass bowl at the Reaping, and you’ve got the image pretty much right).  It started to feel like torture for my Mommy-heart to watch my sweet Fred have to wait week, after week, after week…for the teacher to call his name.  And the worst part…was that every time a new kid joined Cubbies their name would get thrown in the pot anew, and suddenly poor Freddo had to contend with a whole new group of little people beating him to the Cubbie punch.

I’m normally not bothered by things like this, but there was something about watching Fred’s name never ever get chosen, something about seeing the crushed and forlorn look on his face, of seeing how deflated his little soul would be on the drive home from Cubbies every week…that started to gnaw at my soul.

And then, to make matters worse…the kid’s started praying about it.  Every week on the drive to Cubbies, they would pray that Freidrich Uriah’s name would get chosen that week.  “Dear God, Please let me get Cubbie bear tonight.”  Which meant that I also had to start praying.  “Dear God, please comfort his heart if he doesn’t get chosen.  Please show Him you are kind and loving and good…even when you don’t give him exactly what he is trusting you for.  Oh, and please, please…give him Cubbie bear!”

And then it happened one night.  I watched as his teacher dug around in that big bowl, pulled out a name, and announced with all the bravado of a child-care worker, “And tonight….Cubbie bear is going home with…Uriah!”  You should have seen Freddo’s face. He lit up like a Christmas tree when he heard his obscure middle name called out! Unfortunately…so did the little boy next to him.  The new kid.  Uriah Some-thing-or-other.  Who took home Cubbie Bear.

I mean…WHAT ARE THE CHANCES!  Who name’s their kid Uriah anyways!  New kid Uriah went home with Cubbie Bear.   And our little Freidrich Uriah went home crushed once again.

And that’s when I felt the snap in my soul.  I couldn’t believe it was over something as dumb as a little brown bear that honestly, is kind of a public health hazard.  With all of the lice and germs and viruses floating around kinder-world, it’s a wonder we’re sharing bears in the first place.  But…that dumb little bear came to symbolize and prod at something much deeper in my heart…

I couldn’t draw Fred’s name.

I couldn’t GIVE Fred his much anticipated and longed for Cubbie bear.

I couldn’t give him exactly what he wanted, when he wanted it.

I couldn’t protect him from the pain.

And most crushing of all…I had to stand there and watch as the God who could… didn’t.

And then, a few weeks after that…on January 28th, 2013…life was changed forever.  And our souls were utterly decimated, when our sweet baby Charlie’s heart stopped.

We didn’t go to Cubbies that week.  Suddenly, all of the longings we had ever had about anything, seemed like nothing.

I couldn’t GIVE our kids their much anticipated and longed for baby brother.

I couldn’t give them exactly what they wanted, when they wanted it.

I couldn’t protect him from the pain.

And worst of all…I had to stand there and watch as the God who could… didn’t.

And the simple lesson of “The Cubbie Bear”…became the lesson of our lives.

In all those months I had sat at Cubbies, feeling the dull ache of not being able to make my little boy “happy,” of not being able to protect him from pain, of not being able to “make God do” what I had hoped He would do and show Himself faithful in the way I had hoped and thought He should…I HAD NO IDEA, that that was about to become the story of our lives.  That we were about to be decimated utterly incomprehensible level of suffering.

And even now, almost two years later…the pain is excruciating.

A few weeks ago, I was visiting Emma’s school for a special Pie Feast her class had planned for their Mamas.  We finished the pies, and I noticed that Emma’s whole class had gathered together around her friend’s brand new baby brother.  The baby was sleeping in his little car seat, and it was so precious to watch Emma’s friends circled around the baby, marveling at how cute and sweet he was.  Her back was to me, and I could see her smiling and chatting with the other kids.  But I knew.

As I looked over at her, her shiny Mary Jane’s pointed in just a little at the toes, her tiny shoulders stooped down just ever so slightly, and I saw the weight of this entire broken, ugly, devestating world…weighing down on those precious little shoulders.  She was talking, and smiling, and doing one heck of a job being kind and affectionate and social and deeply full of graciousness.  But I knew.

And then, all of my knowing came to be…as those shiny Mary Janes spun around, and those tiny shoulders walked slowly towards Mom.  And then…I saw the tears pour down.  And she ran to me, and began to weep.  And in between sobs, she got the question out.  The one I knew that would follow.  The one that seems to follow all of my tears too.  “Why Mommy?  Why!  Why can’t WE have a baby?  Why couldn’t we keep baby Charlie?!”  

I just wanted to dig a hole, right there in the middle of the school courtyard, crawl into that big hole…and die from the pain of it.  Because I am so incredibly sick of suffering.  I am sick of being in pain.  And I am really, really sick, of seeing my children suffer.  Of seeing them have to be strong and brave and full of faith and hope and love and grace, as they have to watch literally everyone and their mom…get what God took away from them.  Get what they prayed for.  Get what they longed for, and long for still.  A healthy mommy.  A living, breathing baby sibling.  A happy, carefree life.  

They waited for eight long months for a baby brother to come home to live with them. And.  They.  Are.  Still.  Waiting.

And as I held those tiny, sobbing shoulders in my arms while her entire class looked over at her in confusion, I realized something.  The American dream isn’t so much about houses and cars and vacations and things…it’s about being happy.

Can I get what I want, when I want it?  And even more…can I give what I want to those I love most?  Can I make my kids happy?  Can I make them feel safe, and comfortable, and always loved?  Can I give them a childhood that will yield unwavering trust in the God they are learning to pray to?  Can I give them the Story I want for them?

And as I looked at my precious little girl, crying in the middle of the school courtyard, over our deeply broken life…it was like I was right back at Tuesday Night Cubbies.  Only something, much, much bigger was at stake.

And the truth hit me all over again…I can’t give them anything.

Sure, I can brush their teeth, and pack their lunch boxes, and teach them the unsurpassable value of learning how to say “I’m sorry” and actually mean it…but at the end of the day…I am in ultimate control…of absolutely nothing.

I look back on the old me standing in the back of the Cubbies room, and I realize that I used to care so very much about keeping them safe and happy and comfortable and loved.  And what I realized as I watched ALL of that slip wildly beyond my control with each new wave of loss…is that NONE of that was given to me to do.

All I can do…is sit helpless.

Like a paralyzed and mute spectator in a Potter’s shop.

Watching Him work.

He, who cares far more about who they are…than how cool their clothes, how big their smiles, how good their grades, how many their friends, how awesome their social skills, how secure their psyches, or how certain and safe their futures.  He cares about WHO THEY ARE.

He cares that Emma is being formed by Him…into a little girl who has the capacity to smile upon a friend’s baby brother…even as she grieves her own.

He cares that Emma is being formed into a little girl that doesn’t grow up with a perma-smile pasted on her face…but who actually feels things deeply, expresses them well, and loves others out of the overflow of a lifetime of sorrows.

And most of all…He cares that Emma grows to know her Potter…as more than just a vending machine to order around…but the very Lover and Shaper of her Soul.  Who happens to be smack in the middle of a very big Redemptive story, which most definitely includes her.

Because in the end, it doesn’t matter if she has the happy childhood I had wanted for her, filled with endless smiles and every heart desire met the way she wanted…

If she misses out on WHO HE IS.

And as I watched my little girl, bearing this ugly, dark, scary, aching, and deeply unfair world…on her tiny, slumped shoulders, I knew that for all that He has taken away…there is much that He has given.  He gave me a little girl who walked right over to me in a moment of deep, deep pain, and said, “Mommy, can we go visit Charlie’s grave today?  I want to remember him, and talk to God there together.”

We wept all the way there.  I thought my heart would break from the pain of it.

And then the song came on.  The one that stops me in my tracks every time, even on my maddest of days.  The days when I feel so deeply crushed that this is the story God chose for us.  The days when I am honestly not sure I am going to make it.  When I am not sure I am going to walk with Him all the way through this broken story He is busy scribbling away on.   Not sure I even want to anymore.

God our Father, Lord of all
Great Creator, You hear my call
God our Healer, God our Strength
Loving kindness is Your embrace
It’s who You are

Jesus, Friend above all friends
Laid down Your life that I might live
Faithful Shepherd of my soul
Savior, You have made me whole
It’s who You are

Holy Spirit, Comforter
Your eyes are filled with laughter
You are wisdom, You are life
My every need You supply
It’s who You are

Every time this song from Bethel Worship comes on in our carpre, I feel undone.  It is so simple.  It’s just a list of who He is.  Who He is…as our Father.  Who He is…as the Son. Who He is..as the Spirit who lives in us.  But it is unapologetic in it’s simplicity.

This…is who You are.

It.  Just.  Is.

And I’m going to worship You for it.

It’s so easy to believe these things about Him, when life is good and you’ve gotten everything you’ve ever wanted, and all of your babies are alive, and you are healthy, and all is well.

But it is so very, very hard to believe it…when you are watching your broken-hearted child, watch everyone else get what she most wanted.

It’s hard to believe it in a graveyard.

And it’s really hard to believe it…when you look down in the graveyard, and see that broken-hearted little girl’s Mary Jane’s standing there too.  If I had my way…I would have written this whole thing different.  Our life would have been a beautiful song, filled with joy and laughter.

And only the good notes.

But I am quite certain of one thing and one thing alone.  It’s when it’s hardest to believe it…that you need to believe it the most.  

To cling to the promise that the Father who created all I see…and all I’ve lost…hears my call.

That Jesus IS a friend above all friends, and the faithful Shepherd of my soul…even though most days I have absolutely no idea where in the world He is shepherding us to.

And that somehow…though it is so incredibly hard for me to believe this in our life filled with so much sorrow….the Holy Spirit who lives inside of me has eyes filled with laughter.  Laughter?  Honestly?

But I think here in America, where people absolutely stink at dealing with grief, and where we are utterly obsessed with our own security and happiness and health…we perhaps need to hear this the most.

God, the real one…cares more about WHO YOU ARE…than what you have or do.

And that same God…is calling forth worshippers.  Ones, dare I say, like little Emma…who look up at Him even as the tears pour down on the grave of a baby brother so desperately wanted.  And who say,

“I will love you and I will worship you.  EVEN now.  Because It’s who You Are.”

It is my prayer that her faith will challenge you.  She who has lost so very much.  She whose many prayers have been left unanswered.  She who has lived a lifetime of pain, in her seven short years.

Because she challenges mine.  So.  Very.  Much.

It has been hard to write this post.  To share a very unfinished and deeply broken part of our life, with so many total strangers.  I don’t even know most of the people who read this blog anymore.  But I have been reminded a lot lately through Emma’s deep and child-like faith, that one of the first things the American Dream strips us of…is our willingness to be bold.  To risk much.  For the love of God and others.

But my precious kids…help shatter that dream.  And invite me to one far better.

As were were driving away from the cemetery that day Emma said to me, “Mommy, I would like to tell my class why I was crying at the Pie Feast.  I want them to know.  And I think that my friend in my class whose Mommy died…well, I think she is pretty sad too.  And maybe it will help her share that she is sad…if I share that too.”

I was speechless.  And all I could say, as I sat mute…watching who the Potter is making her through this endless song filled with so very many bad notes is,

“Yes Emma, I think you should do that.  Because it’s who you are.”

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When Rocks Speak

Every morning, I wake up inches from someone’s tiny face.  Most days, it’s to Fred’s impossibly long lashes and delectable cheeks.  And it’s usually accompanied by some super important announcement.  Like this morning, when Freddo announced in his cheery stage whisper, “Mommy!  I found a new freckle behind Sophie’s ear!  I found it while she was sleeping!”

And that’s how I begin my days.

On one hand, I’m so incredibly thankful for the three alarm clocks that God has kept in our lives, who bring so very much sunshine to our dark days.  On the other hand, mornings are still really hard for me.

Especially in the deepest throes of grief…waking was the most painful moment of every day.  Waking up and having to remember all over again, day after day, that all of it…every horrific moment of the last two years of life…actually happened to our family.

There have been so many months where I have absolutely hated waking.  Sleep is just so deeply disorientating.  And waking up to our broken, bleeding, aching life morning after morning…has not been easy.

Lately though, most mornings my first thought isn’t on what we have endured…but on what we have coming.  I usually wake up now and think, “One day closer.  How many more until eternity?”  

Even as I write that…it sounds hyper-spiritual.  But it’s so not.  I’m just in the Land of Forever Sad…on a very big countdown to Happy.

I’ve learned that this is really the only way to take on an endless stream of really horrific days.  And this summer, though filled with so many good things that we really needed, like lots of rest and reading and long runs on the beach…has also been filled with pain.  Lots of physical pain for me, because of my recent re-exposure to mycotoxins.  But also, lots of soul pain.

And last Sunday…was one of those days.  Fred must have slept in that morning, because Emma was the one to wake me.  And she tiptoed into my room with far more than Sophie’s freckles on her mind.

Well, she sighed, “You’ve probably heard from Uncle Pete that I’ve got questions.”  

At bedtime the night before, while we were out on a date, Emma had had some very serious questions for her Uncle Peter.  He had thought he was just agreeing to tuck her into bed.  But bedtime around our house is usually a crash course in theology.

“Uncle Pete, I just don’t understand.  Why has my family had to suffer so much?”

“Uncle Pete, Is the mold a penalty God has given my family?  Because it FEELS like a penalty?”

You know, typical seven-year-old stuff.

And last Sunday, as she climbed up on my bed, I knew it was going to be a tear-filled morning.  She looked at me with those huge brown eyes and said, “I have just experienced so many hard things.  And I am afraid that so many more hard are coming.”  

Yeah.  Me too.

“I am so scared.  Are more babies going to die?”  Are you going to die Mommy?”  

I wish I knew, Ems.  I so desperately wish I knew.

I cannot stand pat and breezy Christanese thrown at my own unanswered questions and aching pain…so I am certainly not going to dish those out on a tender little person whose been forced to ask the same things.

So, what DO you say?

We talked about Job…I skipped the G-rated Children’s Bible version and told her everything.  We talked about faith…I told her that faith isn’t believing that if you pray and give God your “desires of your heart list” (read: list of demands) He is in any way obligated to comply.  And I told her that as much as I wish it were not true…eventually we are all going to die.  Some soon, some less soon, but all of us within our lifetimes.

But mostly, what raced through my mind as I sat there with my precious girl who actually will have to grow up in a world full of so much pain she can’t escape…were rocks.

Yes.  Rocks.

For most of the summer I’ve been on a “Social media/Technology Fast.”  I don’t have too much to say about that, except that it was lovely.  I didn’t miss it.  Any of it.  Ever.  For the most part it was totally wonderful and completely liberating to step back from all of the noise.   I know I wouldn’t have liked it for a lifetime, but for 40 days…it was an incredible gift God gave our family.

But there were days, especially the days when I was the sickest and struggling the most with the horrific symptoms of neuropathy…when it was also very lonely.  I didn’t miss the means of connecting with people, but sometimes I did miss the connecting.

And since Facebook and Email and Instagram and Texts have become one of the main ways the Body of Christ actually connects and speaks into one another’s lives…it felt like the Body of Christ had gone silent in some ways.

It wasn’t that God had no ways to speak to me.  He spoke to my heart through His Word.  He spoke to my heart through family and friends I saw in person.  And He especially spoke to my heart through Reid…who was with me so much that we went a whole glorious week without even texting, because we were always in the same place.

But perhaps the most surprising way He spoke to me in all of the silence of those forty days…was through rocks.  Well, stones, technically.

After being re-exposed to mycotoxins in June, my body totally began to tank.  It felt like I was watching all of the health I had fought so hard to regain, completely slipping away from me.  Enter an onslaught of new symptoms and drugs and blood tests, all of which were frustrating and exhausting.

On the worst days the neuropathy was so significant that I could barely talk, move, or see.  And there I was, in such incredibly scary pain, and I was talking to almost no one.  No one except my doctor.  Everyone else was on radio silence…and she was on speed dial.

I am so incredibly grateful to have a doctor who actually knows enough about mold toxicity to know that neuropathy is a common, though horrific symptom of poisoning.  She didn’t minimize my symptoms, or throw around sunshine about how this was all “going to be ok.”  Neuropathy…can be for life.  The vision problems I was having...can lead to blindness, permanent or temporary.  And not being able to move…is just plain terrifying.  And after two weeks of my slide into the abyss of neuropathy…I was a wreck by the time I went in for my next appointment.

One thing I like about this doctor is that she’s not one to break out the Kleenex box.  She didn’t cry with me or beat around the bush.  But she did say something to me that was deeply, deeply sobering.

“You have been hit very hard by this.  And I know how scary neuropathy can be.  I also think that you have been so lucky.”

Ok…where is she going with this?  Because the LAST thing I feel is “lucky.”

“You have so many things going for you.  You are the ONLY one in your family who is still struggling with toxicity…and that COULD still be true of your entire family.  You and your husband have stayed together through something incredibly trying.  One of the worst things I have seen in so many patients is that it is incredibly difficult to survive this together, and you are still together and surviving.  And it seems like you have an incredible network of people who have helped you in unprecedented ways to get the help you need.”

There I was, in the middle of my doctors office, who….though she is an incredible doctor…has never once given me the impression that she shares my belief in the God of the Bible and His supreme goodness and sovereignty.

And it was like the rocks were speaking.

And I started to cry.  I just kept thinking of that verse in Luke 19…

And some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples.”  He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out.”  

She may as well have sat there and said, “God has taken care of you.  Even I can see ways that you have been so loved and protected in this, in spite of everything that has come your way.”

I have no idea what my doctor believes, about, well, much of anything…besides mold toxicity.  It honestly isn’t the point.  I sat there in that doctor’s office, on one of the lowest days of my very low life, and God reminded me of His goodness through her.

“I AM…And I CAN STILL SPEAK. 

I AM…taking care of you.  

I AM…protecting you from a billion things you can’t even see.  (Probably because you are so busy looking at all of the things I have chosen not to protect you from at this time.) 

I AM…even so obvious about it, that even your doctor can see.  

And I AM…the God who uses whomever I WANT to speak.

And then, she said something else.  Something only the God of Rocks would know I needed spoken to me.

She said, “I know this is bad and I know this is scary.  And there have been some very bad days.  But whenever you have one of THOSE, you HAVE to stop and tell yourself…

“THIS…is a bad day.  And more are probably coming.  And there will be good days someday.”

By “Someday” she probably meant lower-case “someday”…that shaky someday that mocks my days…the day when toxic mold is not constantly destroying our entire lives.

That’s what she meant by Someday.

But I knew what He meant by Someday.

And I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately…especially on all these bad days.

I hate that my seven-year-old has the weight of the entire world on her fragile little shoulders.  I hate that she has to worry about more babies dying…when all around her, all her little friends are getting fat, healthy baby siblings.  I hate that her childhood has been filled with watching mommy take her daily B12 injections, and Mommy go to doctors, and Mommy cry in pain.  And I hate that I can’t even tell her, “Mommy isn’t going to die sweetie.”

But…can you?

Can any of us, honestly, make such a ridiculous promise to the people most precious in our lives?

No.  Not really.  Much as we wish we could.

And so…I made her the one promise I could keep.  I held her in my arms, as the salt poured down the freckled cheeks that have seen far too many tears for such a short life  And I said,

“Emma, I am not sure of much.  But I am sure of this…

“THIS…is a bad day.  And more are probably coming.  And there will be good days someday.”

And that…is pretty much the only thing I don’t hate about suffering.  That even on the worst days, especially on the worst days, when He’s short on material and only stones can speak of His glory…He speaks to me.  And says the one thing that really matters, the one thing we all need to hear and believe to truly make it through this life…

There will be good days.  Someday.  

And He is worth this long wait.

But the wait is not easy.  And lately especially…the wait has felt really long, and my faith has felt really weak.  And I wanted to ask you to pray.  To pray for my heart in regards to the Rock.

We live in a town with a very big rock.  The other day I met a new friend at church and she asked me where we lived.  I said, “We’re the house closest to the rock.”  I didn’t think anything of it, until she called me later that week and said, “I’ve been thinking…did you mean more than JUST that?  Like you might really be the house closest to the Rock?”

Umm…No.  That would be cool.  Cool to say that.  Really cool to think.  And even cooler for that to really be true.  But most days I feel like we are actually about ten billion light years from the Rock.  Like anyone and everyone are closer to the Rock than we are at this point.

No,” I said, “I just meant that we are literally the house closest to the rock.  Not…The Rock.

But it got me thinking.  Never once, in all of these months of living in this house, have I thought about how close we are to that ridiculously huge Rock.  Of all the moments in life to live so close to a weirdly big rock…this one takes the cake.

Most days, I can’t even see the Rock.  It’s literally right out my window, but there is so much fog in our town that usually I look out the window and see, well…absolutely nothing.

Such a picture of my faith.

I know that there are people who read this blog and wrongly think our faith is astonishing.  But it’s not.  It’s really, really, really not.  Most days, I feel like I am literally being choked off by a fog so dense that I can barely breathe.

The fog of chronic pain. The fog of unmet dreams and hopes and plans that I had once had for our little family.  The fog of so many tearful Sunday mornings, when my children have to ask questions that most adults may not even get to in their lifetime.   The deep fog of grief over our precious babies.  And the really deep fog of my shattered faith.

But if there is one thing I’ve come to realize after six months of living in this little sea village that always smells like fish, with barking seals, and a fog horn that wakes me up every morning…

Whether I can see it or not…the rock is always, always, always there. 

Steadfast.  Immovable.  Strong.  Looming.  Even terrifying at times.  But always unmoving.

Half of the time I cannot even see it.  Not even a shadow.  Not even a glimpse.  If I didn’t know any better, I would swear that there was not a big Rock towering right beside me.  All I see…is fog.

And then, all of a sudden, the sun comes out, the fog lifts, and it is there.

He is there.

Where He’s always been.

Speaking to me.

As only Rocks can speak.

 


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One More Week

It’s been a very long week.

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

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

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

So, yes.  It’s been a long one.

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

One.  More.  Week.

It will be a nice Easter present.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And yet…he already knows all that really matters.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One more week.

 


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In The Deep End

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But you can’t.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And we told them.  And it was good.

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

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

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

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

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

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

And we continue our life in the Deep End.


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One Thousand Gifts Later

A few months ago, I shared about the “One Thousand Gifts” challenge I was working on. The goal was to write out 1,000 gifts by the end of the summer. (Here’s the link to that post: http://www.charliessong.wordpress.com/2013/05/16/1000-gifts/.) It felt good to post it. The list making was good. The accountability was good. And the fact that Ann Voskamp even read it and left a comment…meant a lot to my broken heart.

Now that summer is over, and the list is finished, I wanted to share a few thoughts on what I learned in the “midst of the list.”

I’d like to say, “List making is SO great! It makes you feel soooooo much more thankful!” But I can’t. It was a stretch every single day, and most days it was a downright challenge. Some days I even felt kind of mad at the list. The last eight months have been the darkest, most excruciatingly painful months of our lives. To say that these were not easy months to count fresh mercies and things I was grateful for…is a major understatement. Some days, I would sit there for a profoundly long time, just trying to come up with my little list of ten.

And some days, I would get done with the list, and then read back over the ten and think to myself, “But I don’t CARE that I saw a beautiful sunset! I had wanted Charlie. I had wanted to be too busy holding Charlie, and feeding Charlie, and doing extra laundry for Charlie, to have time to watch a sunset. I had wanted to be too busy enjoying what I HAD WANTED… to have time for this dumb sunset!”

I’d like to say, “Counting kept me faithful and grateful on even the darkest of days!” But the truth is…some days, I couldn’t even make a list. The day I felt so disheartened and beaten down that I actually broke our bathroom sink in anger…I didn’t make a list. The day last week when new neighbors moved into the house next door with their eight-month-old baby, and we had to listen to someone else’s baby crying all night long while ours is buried in the ground…I didn’t make a list. And the day this June when another sweet baby passed from this life to the next…I didn’t make a list. Just. Couldn’t. Do. It.

So those are all the things I can’t say about counting gifts. But here is the one thing I can say…

There are always gifts.

Always. Even on the days it took forever to come up with ten. Even on the days they didn’t feel like gifts. Even on the days I couldn’t bring myself to count them…there are always, always gifts.

To the little girl who will sleep on the streets of Calcutta tonight…that unexpected crust of bread- is a gift.

To the mommy at Emma’s school who has been given three weeks to live…the hug she will give her sweet daughter tonightis a gift.

And to my broken heart that has been literally dragged along by my body through the last eight months of life…each and every one of the One Thousand- is a gift.

 

There is so much to grieve as I think of the list I had WANTED…

Watching Emma cuddle with her sweet baby brother.

Charlie’s squeals of delight over bright balloons.

A stroll to the park on a cool summer night.

 

But this is what God GAVE US…

A few weeks ago, we were walking to the park and Emma spotted a huge bunch of pink balloons in our neighbors yard. The gigantic “It’s a Girl!” balloon was impossible to ignore, so I had to explain to the kids that our neighbors had just had a baby girl. Emma was silent for a moment and then said to me, “Mommy, did the same thing happen to their baby that happened to Charlie?”

“No, sweetie, they got to bring home their baby home.”

Silence.

I wonder sometimes…what is she thinking? What goes through her precious heart and mind as she reels and stumbles through the unfairness of life? What war is being waged in her soul as she lives with the pain of being broken people in a broken world? The other day, Emma found me laying on the floor in her room weeping as I looked at Charlie’s pictures. She told me later that night, “Mommy, I don’t want to have kids when I grow up. I don’t want my kids to die.”

I hope this blog never gives you the impression we are doing good. Because we are not. Our big feet, and our children’s little feet, are literally stumbling through this broken life. We live with a suffering inconcievable to most adults…and it breaks my heart that my children have been to two baby funerals in that last eight months while everyone around us gets to bring their babies home.

But here is the part I cannot escape. The part that brings me to my knees in worship again and again, even when my whole soul screams out against it. Even when my soul screams out against Him

“Who gave me ANY of this?”

 

The same God who has allowed for my sweet six-year-old to experience such suffering and heartache…is the One who made her heart in the first place. He gave us Emma. He gives her every breath she breathes. He gives her every tender thought. He makes her deep, and gives her heart the capacity to even wrestle with the suffering of this world. And…He gives her Himself.

I had wanted to put, “Emma’s joy over her baby brother” on my list. But God has given us something different. Something I did NOT want. But something that is still, most certainly, a gift.

“Emma’s faith in the UNSEEN goodness of God.”

“Emma’s joy in the promise of eternal life to come.”

“Emma’s tenderness towards the sorrow and suffering in others.”

I’d rather have baby Charlie in my arms. I’d rather be pregnant with his little sibling right now. But I would be a fool to not find gratitude in who God is making us through the gifts He HAS given.

And so we make our list. With tears, we make our list. With anger and confusion, we make our list. With unanswered questions, and broken and bleeding hearts, we make our list. Because they are hearts that cannot escape His goodness.

Because there are always, always gifts.

 

Undeserved, unexpected fresh mercies EVERY DAY that remind us of His love. Love that outlives the life of any gift. Love that we will still be counting on when we’ve been there 10,000 years. Love that outlasts the lists.

I am more grateful for having made the list. Not just grateful for the things on it, but grateful that in the darkest night of my soul…there were still 1,000 gifts. And grateful that when the paper is gone, and the people are gone, and these gifts are just faint memories of a life long lived…

His love outlasts the list.