Sunday, December 6, 2015

When Light Peeks Through the Darkness

During the summer, God lead me to this scripture. Isaiah 43:19 "See, I am doing a new thing! Do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland."

It didn't just feel like words. It felt like a whisper directly into my heart. It felt like a promise. It felt like permission. Permission to trust God to carry me. Permission to trust God to care for me. Permission to release my fears to him. To set my feet upon the rock and know that no matter what the future would bring he would firmly hold my hand. It felt like a promise that I would not walk this path again. That my pain, my heartache, my unexplainable loss was not a recurring event but a moment in time that God was using for His undeniable good. A promise that new things were coming. It was the whisper that He can do anything and everything beyond my expectations and that life would overflow from Him but for me. It felt like a vision of my sweet Noah sitting beside the majestic river of life which flows directly from God's throne... splashing in the water and skipping rocks while speaking his own prayers for his mommy and daddy to his Heavenly Father. It felt like the first real light of hope I had experienced in a very long time.

For many months that scripture has worked it's way through my spirit, soul, and body. I have clung to it. It is as if it was written specifically for me... to heal pieces of me. It planted the seed of hope and trust in my life and I heard God say it's okay to try again. So we did. And somehow was I was surprised when God fulfilled his promise to me. Somehow I am shocked by his faithfulness. Somehow I am blown away that the name I wrote down in the back of my bible the day I read that scripture now has a child attached to it. The name God breathed into my lungs as if it were always there, Isaiah Maxwell. (God is Salvation, Great Stream) Another little boy to fill our hearts and our home... to bring back joy... to remind us that yes, this life can be downright terrible but there will always be light in the darkness. A little boy with his big brother's DNA coursing through his body. His own unique person with touches of the baby we will miss and long for forever. A sweet baby boy handpicked by his very own angel... undoubtedly his very best friend as they sit together along that river of life, that great and mighty stream. 

Yes, life. A brand new life is growing inside of me. I have no idea what the future holds. I would be foolish to pretend that I could predict even for a moment how this will all go. I know that very scary and unexpected things can happen at any point in a pregnancy or the child's life thereafter. I know I am only guaranteed this moment. I have nothing to go on except for the assurance that the Lord gives and the Lord takes away but that He will never leave me alone. I know that the Lord has been undeniably faithful to me and I trust that he will continue to be. I pray with all of my heart that this baby will be healthy in all regards. I pray more so that I will never have to know a day of my life without him. I am thankful that this life is not all there is and that eternity holds places for my husband and I as well as our daughter and our two sons, where we will all be a family together one day. I am abundantly thankful for the opportunity to love and mother a baby boy again, to watch my daughter grow up with a brother, to watch my husband do all of the things that daddies do with little boys.

This new life, this little boy, could never and will never replace his big brother. Our hearts will never be okay with the fact that we will not get to watch all of our children grow up together. Having another boy is equally as difficult as it is magnificent and the fear that accompanies a pregnancy after the loss of a child is very real. The fear that comes after having a baby diagnosed with congenital heart disease can be crippling. But we will continue to put our trust in Him and know that He will direct our paths and we will sing His praises for this perfect blessing. We will choose joy over fear and we will love deeply for as long as we are able. 

Isaiah Maxwell, sweet little gift from Heaven, our darling little Max, you are already adored. 

(Baby is due at the end of May 2016. Our anatomy scan is in a few weeks. We are praying and believing for a perfectly formed, perfectly healthy, full term baby boy. Please pray with us.)

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Don't you stay little.

There was a day when life at home with our two children felt so incredibly normal. My husband and I sat on the sofa while I held Noah on my chest and he folded a load of laundry. I remember putting my hand on Noah's back and squeezing him tightly to me. I told Daniel how I wished I could just freeze him in time. Noah although a big boy, and especially large for a heart baby with defects of his severity, was much smaller than his sister was at 3 months old. He was hovering between 11 and 12 pounds and I wanted him to stay that way "forever"... I thought. I hear myself say those words repeatedly in my head. I see the kisses placed on his head while I wished he would stay tiny and never leave me. Those are words I sometimes wish I could take back. As if my little words spoken purely out of love for that miraculous baby boy had any bearing on his future. As if those words actually froze him in time. But in the mind of a grieving mother every word that was ever said regarding the child that is no longer here carries an enormous weight.

I think of those words as I watch my daughter grow. My sweet girl has been off of the growth charts since her 2 month well baby appointment. She's the tallest in her class and has always been 1-2 sizes ahead of her age group in clothing. She's 3 1/2 and people constantly ask me if she's 5. That's just how it's always been for her. I know before Noah entered our lives I'd ask her to just stay little forever too. It's what we mommies say, right? We don't want to think of the day when our little babies are grown up (except for maybe in the middle of a tantrum).  Life goes by way too fast and keeping them little bitty sure would be nice, but the death of a child changes that.

She'll say "mommy, do you want me to stay small like this?" and my new answer is "No, I want you to grow up to be the beautiful woman God created you to be.... but could you just grow slowly for mommy." She thinks it's funny. She doesn't know how my heart breaks when she says "I'm a big girl mommy, I can do it myself." I want to be happy about that. I want to be happy when she tells me she doesn't need her booster seat anymore because "I'm not a baby, mama!". Oh but little one, you are... you're my baby and right now you're the only one I've got. I imagine if Noah were the 10 month old little monster he should be that my feelings about her being a big girl would be much different. I'd probably have pushed her much farther into that big girl role than I should have because I'd be exhausted from having two children and she'd have seen my struggle over the last 10 months to be the primary caregiver to a heart baby.  I'd probably be so thankful that she's gained independence and that she's relishing in her big girl and big sister title. And while of course I am honored and unbelievably grateful to watch her grow, the "I don't need your help" phase is stinging harder than I thought it would.

At the same time the thought of freezing her in time is not one that enters my mind anymore. I want to be present for every phase of her life.... the threenager phase, the 8 year old I know everything phase, the 12 year old first boyfriend phase, the 16 year old my friends are the only thing in life that matter phase, the 19 year old hey my mom's really pretty great phase, the 23 year old I think I really love him phase, the 30 year old becoming a mommy phase, the 50 year old how the hell am I 50 already phase.... after that I think I'll be okay to head on home to Noah. But I want it all for her. Just like I wanted it all for him.

So little girl, grow up. Grow taller than mommy. Learn more than mommy. Become the most incredible human being you can become. Hold my hand for as long as you can. Snuggle up next to me in bed until you think you're too big to do that anymore. Tell me you love me and that I'm your best friend every day. Tell me I'm mean. Tell me you're mad. Tell me your hopes and your dreams and trust me to stick by you through it all. But don't you stop growing. Don't you stay little. Don't you let my need for you to be my baby ever hinder your development in any way. I've already got one baby forever frozen in time... I don't need two. I'd rather watch you flourish.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Lessons in Loss - 6 months out

6 months ago this week my life changed suddenly and drastically. My 3.5 month old baby boy, Noah, was called home to the Lord. When he entered Heaven, the physical aspect of me entered a version of hell on earth; my soul, however, was awakened to God's beauty and grace. My journey through grief has only just begun but I have learned quite a bit during the first half of this year without him.

1) Love continues to grow beyond the grave. 

Noah did not make me a mother. His big sister did. I know what it feels like to birth a child and watch her hit all of her milestones. I know what it's like to let her sprout little wings and fly. I know what it feels like when your heart beats outside of your chest in the form of a little human that your body grew. The love a mother has for her child is insatiable. It is unquenchable. It could never be matched by another form of love (apart from God's) this side of Heaven. It grows daily and deeply. You love your child this way simply because they are yours but watching them grow and change each day, observing their interactions, listening to their voice, and knowing all of the things that make that child unique nurtures your love for them.

But what about when you love a child that disappears right before your eyes? I carried Noah for 40 weeks inside of my womb. Then God granted me 14 weeks and 5 days with him in the traditional form of mother and child. I knew everything there was to know about him. I spent every moment of that time making sure he was perfectly cared for. I watched him grow and change. I loved him with a love deeper than I could ever put into words. Then one day, literally in the blink of an eye, he was gone.

The love I had for him did not slowly start to slip away from me as the time has ticked on without him. In fact my love for him has only grown stronger. The love I have for him has transcended time. It has crossed through worlds. It has permeated everything I do and everything I touch. It is a love that meets Noah each and every day as he walks along streets of gold. It is the same love that will meet him at the gates of Heaven whenever I am called home too. It is the kind of love that I wish everyone in the world could experience but I pray no one else ever has to.

2) True empathy is a gift and not everyone has it.

The people who have helped me most are the people who willingly try to put themselves in my shoes. They are the ones who desperately want to take the pain from me for just a moment. The selfless ones. The ones who would bear this burden just to provide me with a second of relief. Those people are special and they are rare and yet God has strategically placed quite a few of these angels in my life.

For the most part, people are only able to understand and appropriately respond to what they are personally able to feel. If they have not felt your pain they can not fully understand it. This often leads to very well meaning people with great intentions often saying things to you that are in actuality deeply hurtful.

"At least he's no longer in pain." "God had a better plan for him." "The most beautiful flowers are the ones picked first." "God must have needed another angel."  "I hope you have better luck next time." These are only examples and they are offered with the purest of intentions but each of those phrases are like the twist of a knife. Before I lost Noah, my mouth spoke similar words. They are basically kind sentiments but they provide little comfort when they are in reference to the child you would give anything to have back. These words actually remind the person experiencing such deep pain how few people truly understand what losing a child feels like. You really just don't know until you know.

To say this is not to negate the appreciation I have for the kindness and love so many people have shown me. I have encountered a multitude of genuine and thoughtful hearts over the last 6 months, people that truly want nothing more than to help. They just don't know how and that's okay.

There are also people who have their "this could never happen to me" wall up. These are the people who are not even trying to understand because letting your pain in makes them feel too vulnerable. This can be extremely difficult for the bereaved mother and it is where grace is necessary. No one is perfect. We are human and we are built to protect ourselves from harm. I don't blame anyone for never wanting to feel an ounce of the pain of child loss... I certainly didn't want to either but that choice was taken from me when Noah died.

In these moments, when a person has just said something to us that pushes a button deep within and we think "What is wrong with you?! Why would you think it's okay to say that to me?" We have a choice to make. We can forgive them because a) God tells us to b) they really meant well c) they have absolutely no idea what this feels like and couldn't possibly understand OR we can slip deeper into the pit of isolation that losing a child creates.

3) God can pick you up out of the pit.

There have been countless times where I have felt like I could not possibly go on, times when I have cried so hard that I thought I would stop breathing. There have been moments when I have felt desperately alone, like I had been abandoned by the One who promised He would love and protect me and my child.

I have felt hot tears fall with a heaviness that did not exist before Noah died, enough tears to fill a swimming pool by now I'm sure. I have crumpled on the bathroom floor, by his door, and at his grave. I have cried out to God to give him back. More than anything I have prayed for God to just "please help me." It's the simplest of all prayers but it carries great power because it comes from the most intimate places of my soul. God hears my cries of desperation. He and I both know that He is the only one who could possibly help and He does. Every single time.

I know I have many more unbearable days in my future. I know that they come on suddenly, often without warning. I know they run the risk of ruining me... but they won't. God promises he will never leave me or forsake me. Not now. Not ever. I have learned that I can never fall so deep into despair that the Lord's hand can not reach to lift me up. His hand will always find mine.

He has picked me up off the floor. He has pulled me out of bed. He has wrapped his arms around me and held my hand time and time again. He dries my tears and steadies my breath. He calms my heart and fills my soul with His love and with His hope. He whispers in my ear that our child is deeply loved and perfectly safe in His arms.

Time will not heal my wounds, but God will. 

Thursday, August 20, 2015

How I'm REALLY doing

I've been asked (often) lately how I'm doing... "like how are you REALLY doing?" It makes me giggle because I wonder if I'm really doing that well or if I'm getting really good at convincing people that I'm holding it together. I think the answer is both. There are days that I'm truly shocked at how "normal" life is. I'm surprised by how often I've laughed and enjoyed the day I've had. I forget how many times I feel my insides wince... at the sight of his closed bedroom door (which I pass 100 times a day), at the picture of a friend's sweet little baby that is right around the age Noah should be, when my daughter asks why baby Noah's in heaven, when I look at the kitchen counter where his daily medications used to sit. I could go on and on.

The sad fact is that I'm just getting really used to missing him. It's not that I miss him any less; in fact, sometimes I think I miss him more. I know I love him more. I feel like I live in two different realities. Noah was only physically present (outside of my belly) in my home for about 2.5 months. My days before Noah arrived were spent much the same as they are now - revolving around his big sister. We bounce back and forth between her bedroom, playroom, the living room, the bathroom, the backyard, the car, etc. over and over each day. Nothing has changed about that. So sometimes it feels like he wasn't even here. That sentence is physically painful for me to type but I would be lying if I didn't admit that. Thank God feelings are not truth.

The fight or flight portion of my brain wants to make it seem like I am fine because really nothing's changed. Life is just as it was before when it was just me, my husband, and our daughter, right? WRONG. I don't blame my brain for trying to protect me... for trying to make this whole nightmare in some way okay. The problem is it is anything but helpful and that the rest of me remembers a vastly different story.

I look at the pictures in my house and I see a little girl holding her baby brother. There is a door down the hall where all of his things are just as they were the day he died. I close my eyes and I see his beautiful little face looking up at me, telling me the sweetest stories I've ever heard. I have stretch marks on my hips and a dark line down my belly that still serve as proof that I carried him. I have memories of a cold, rainy Christmas day in Boston praising God that he made it through open heart surgery.

I can feel his absence as tangibly as I can feel his sister's presence. I swear when I close my eyes he is right in front of me. I can feel my hands under his head, my kisses on his chest, the weight of his body against mine. I remember it all. It all screams "he is real!!!" And while I fully believe he is still very real, that his spirit is very much alive, and that he is enjoying all of heaven's splendor, I still wish he were here with me. I wish "normal" didn't feel so wrong. I wish there wasn't a constant awareness of the little boy who should be here with us. But at the same time, it is that awareness of his physical absence that causes me to search for him in everything I see and to turn to God for my next breath because breathing is really hard when half of your heart is gone.

If you ask me how I'm doing I will tell you that I'm okay. I'm sad and I miss my baby literally every moment of the day, but I am okay.  I'm okay because hope flutters through my heart (and sometimes through my yard) and reminds me that this is not the end. I repeat the words "I will see him again" over and over again when the days without him are long and hard. Those words fill the empty places where he should be. Those words will carry me through until they don't need to anymore.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Letting the Words Out

My mind swirls with words. All of the time. This isn't new to me but it is becoming more and more difficult to control. I lie in bed willing myself to sleep but instead I listen to the silent words fluttering around my head. Words that really need to escape... for my own sake and maybe for the sake of someone else too. It is at least my hope that the continuous ramblings of my mind will find someone else in their darkness. So I decided to start this blog to release the words. 

I share my heart because my heart is broken and organizing the fragments into words is healing. I share because this hand I've been dealt is really hard, unimaginable to so many who have not been dealt this stack of cards. But I am not the only one who's life has taken a jeering, really, REALLY unwelcome turn. I often say that losing my baby boy has been the hardest thing, the worst pain imaginable, and it is. But I can only speak for me. This is a part of my story, my journey... It is the hardest and most painful piece of my life to date. I hope it is the most difficult road I will ever have to walk but I know I am not the author of my story. Nor am I able to compare my story to that of another broken person. 

Each of our stories are completely unique. Each of our hurts run so deeply. I can not say that the death of my son is the hardest thing anyone could ever live through, that would be ignorant. It is MY hard, not yours. Your fight may be far worse. The hand you've been dealt may be infinitely harder than mine. I don't know because we each own our individual experiences. All I can say is that I hope you never have to know this particular brand of hurt and if you share it with me, I'm so very sorry. 

Sometimes I feel very lost in this big world of various kinds of pain. I wish I could re-write my story. If yours is hard I'd like to re-write yours too to spare us both the pain. But I'll tell you something, it's cliché but it's the truth... There is beauty in the breaking. The kind of beauty that can only come from being on your knees looking up to the only One who can mend your broken. And oh how He mends. The shaping of our souls is so painful but you find gentleness in His hands.

Most days I truly have no answers except the only one that matters. God loves me, and he loves you, even when that love really freaking hurts. So if your story hasn't gone the way you would have written it, hey, I get it. Mine either. You're not alone. Our hurts are not the same but if we let Him shape us they will bring about the same kind of beauty... The ugly kind. It's a thing and it is so powerful. God is always reaching out his hand for us to take a hold of. But sometimes God's hand looks like a very ordinary person sharing the hard parts of their life so that another person can latch onto it and realize we aren't ever alone. And although we've got nothing figured out we can trust in the One who does. Draw close to Him and He will draw close to you... and your story might draw someone else to Him too.