Tuesday, November 18, 2014

ministry work and house problems


Life has been busy, busy, busy lately. We've had some house complications, Thanksgiving is coming up and there's a lot of planning involved in that, and the first Empty Arms Connections meeting took place last night.

First, the house complications. If you live in Salem, have a drain problem, and need a plumber call me. I can tell you who to go to, and who to avoid, so that you don't receive - and nearly accept - a crazy high bid. Plumber the first told us they couldn't clear out our pipe and we would need to pay thousands of dollars to put in a new one. Plumber the second cleared out the pipe. We had a good time hyperventilating over the cost for twenty-four hours. I tried to be cheerful and optimistic because I just started the She Reads Truth thanksgiving study and was all full of give thanks in all circumstances verses and truth, but I quickly reverted back to, "we'll never move now! I know we have the money in savings, but it's still a lot! Wah, wah, wah."

Second, the first connections meeting. You guys, people came!! Not a lot of people, but we had six (ministry team included - so four really)! That feels like a good start. It was hard to get the conversation up and running, but there was discussion and tears and some laughter and I think people felt a little lifted and encouraged at the end. There was a moment in the beginning when I was like, hey wait, I asked a question, no one is answering, what do I do now? I'm an introvert, I'm awkward, this is awkward, am I really in charge of this, was this my idea?? but I said a quick prayer for confidence, and remembered that God doesn't call us to do hard things on our own.

Last night we read a devotion from the One Year Book of Hope and then talked a bit about how much God cares for us as we mourn. The conversation wandered all over the place, but that was the starting point.

For a long time I went to a support group that meets every month, but I haven't gone for a while now. It just wasn't a good fit for me anymore. I felt really guilty about that for a long time, and there's a lot of people from the support group I miss, but last night after the Empty Arms meeting I felt uplifted instead of broken and angry, which is how the other meetings left me feeling.

I've been conflicted about all of this for a long time: support groups and ministries, and where I fit, and where I want to fit, and worry about making people angry. I don't want to be a Christian who sections herself off with people who think and act like her, but in this particular time in my life I really need to be in my grief with people who believe in the hope of heaven and our great Comforter. I can't go into the grief for extended periods of time without that component in place. (I still really like that support group and highly recommend it, it's just not a good fit for me right now)

That doesn't mean if you don't believe you can't come to an Empty Arms meeting. And that doesn't mean we can't be friends if you don't believe in God. It simply means that I am giving myself permission to grieve in the way I need to without feeling guilty. I'm a people pleaser - to my very core - but in this instance I have to take care of myself and my heart.

It's been such a process to start the Empty Arms Ministry. I hope we continue to grow. I hope if people need us they ask for help. I know there isn't a cure for grief, or an end goal, or a way to be over the loss, but there is hope. I believe in Jesus and His promise that this is not our forever home. I need that truth to make it through life without Charlotte. And I want others to know that hope, and to know that God is not callous, that He cares about our broken hearts.


Psalm 34:18: The Lord is near to the brokenhearted; he rescues those who are crushed in spirit.


Psalm 56:8: You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book.

Isaiah 65: 17-20:

Behold, I will create
new heavens and a new earth.
The former things will not be remembered,
nor will they come to mind.
But be glad and rejoice forever
in what I will create,
for I will create Jerusalem to be a delight
and its people a joy.
I will rejoice over Jerusalem
and take delight in my people;
the sound of weeping and of crying
will be heard in it no more.

Never again will there be in it
an infant who lives but a few days,
or an old man who does not live out his
years;
he who dies at a hundred
will be thought a mere youth;
he who fails to reach a hundred
will be considered accursed.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

how to save a life


I've spent the last few days asking J, "what do I do?" I've asked his opinion, I've asked what he would do, and I've asked him if I am putting our children at risk by blogging about our lives.

He said, "I think the benefits outweigh the risks."

He said, "You're pretty careful."

He said, "It's up to you."

Before switching back to a public blog setting I knew I had to do at least one thing: delete Charlotte's pictures. Every time I thought about what to do and how to proceed one concern kept rising to the top of the pile: what if someone takes Charlotte's image - or identity - and uses it to promote their agenda, or suggest she is their child?

This evening I combed through four years of blog posts and I deleted nearly every picture of Charlotte.

I still don't feel completely comfortable with how many pictures of my kids are on here, and therefore in the Google Image search database, but I'm not ready to delete every single picture here. I'll probably post fewer pictures, and I made my Instagram private (accepting requests, but I need to know who you are / why you want to follow), and I'm going to have to figure some things out as they come up.

I was going to delete this blog, but J gave me a few solid reasons not to, and as I scrolled through four plus years of our lives I realized that I couldn't delete this record of us. Of my journey to become a mother to living children. It's hard for me to read the early posts, because they are so raw and broken, but to transition from those posts to the ones where I hold my living children with joy radiating from eyes that have cried a thousand tears I see a story - my story - and I just can't erase it.

(Yes, I can have it made into a book, and I will probably do that, but I received a few messages and e-mails that made me realize it's important for others to have access to the story as well.)

When Charlotte died I was left with a desperate need to record every second of my life. I wanted to make sense out of the senseless. I thought I could write my way to clarity. And then when Bennett was born I wanted to capture every moment of his life just in case he left me too, but now that desperate need to record every second of our lives has eased.

The number of posts I write has dramatically decreased now that we have two kids because life is busy. And I don't feel as much of a need to have tangible proof that Ainsleigh is here and growing because her brother is alive. I don't have to obsessively record every moment because I know there will be more. I understand now that most children don't just up and die on you without warning. I get that what happened to Charlotte was an anomaly.

As I glanced at blog posts and scrolled through pictures this evening I realized that whole swathes of mundane days that I don't even remember are written down. I saw how all of my kids look like each other. (I can see them within each other now, in the planes of each other's faces, and it takes my breath away.) I saw that if I delete what we were I risk forgetting how far we've come. I want my kids to know that I struggled before I knew them. I want them to know that while Jesus rescued me they healed my broken mama heart.

Ainsleigh and Bennett will always have each other, but I want them to have Charlotte too. This is the only way I can give her to them. My words, our memories, a few photographs, are the only flimsy items we have to shape their idea of a third, older sibling. I can't give them Charlotte, so I will give them this record of the crooked path we took to become a family.

And now that I've wandered through years of writing I see that I can't give up because I am a writer. From zero readers, to five hundred, to three, to two hundred. From zero comments, to fifty comments, to five, to zero. From happiness to sadness to joy. From mothering to grieving to parenting to marriage to renewed faith to friendship to life - it's all here. And I've kept writing through more difficult times than this. It's the love of words, and the love of memory, that keeps me coming back.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

on privacy, boundaries, and my kids


This evening I received a private message on the facebook page for this blog: Hey, there is a scam facebook page about child abuse in New Zealand and they're using a picture of your kid.

SAY WHAT?!

I opened the computer, went to the page, and stared at a picture of B after a fall with the words "NOT OK!" written across them.

After breathing deeply a few times I began searching how to remove the picture. I did a whole lot of things - including asking friends to report the page - and then I deleted the blog post itself from this site so that it would disappear from Google images.

Then the picture disappeared. I hope it's still gone. I've been blocked from the page. Maybe because I kept reporting it.

I've felt a little sick to my stomach all evening. I've thought a lot about my kids, social media, how strange our society is now, and how you can live your whole life in front of the world without anyone really knowing who you are.

I hope there aren't other pictures out there of my kids, but I'm sure there are. I hope no one steals our pictures, or pretends to be me, but there is always that risk. Even though I am careful with my privacy settings there is always risk. And my Instagram feed is open to anyone, although I changed that this evening after receiving that message.

We are the first generation who really has to figure this out. It's confusing. It's hard. I think I may have messed up, but the kids are young and there is time to change how I manage their lives online.

I probably should have been more judicious with Charlotte's pictures. The fact that thinking about putting her name in a Google image search makes me cringe is problematic. I just wanted her to be known. I wanted to have something to share with people because I went through the entire pregnancy and birth process and to have nothing afterwards left me with a sour, empty feeling. So I shared our lives. I offered words because that's all I had. I shared her pictures. I let people get to me through her. I let myself be affected by people who know nothing about us or our story beyond cherry picked facts based off memory; and memory, as we all know, is fickle, shaky, and unreliable.

Then I had two more kids. I shared their pictures and stories because I wanted people to know us. I wanted people to see the whole picture: from pregnancy to loss to grief to pregnancy to birth to parenting a living child to parenting two living children. And in all that want I shared photographs about our lives which may not have been the wisest decision.

And there was some selfish want too. At one point I really thought this blog could be something, but it's never gone that way. It's never grown enough despite the many avenues I've tried, and I'm finally to a point where I don't care. So much in my life has changed. I've reached a place where Jesus knows and loves me and that is enough. And he knows Charlotte - I believe she is with Him at this very moment - and it is enough that she is known by Him.

But four and a half years ago I wanted people to recognize Charlotte as a person. I wanted my grief to be seen, and I wanted to be seen as a mother because there wasn't a baby in my arms to show the world. I was lost, confused, and broken and I found this to be a place where I could fully exist and be acknowledged. 

In everything I just wanted people to know that I'm here, that I have kids, that I like to write, that I love Jesus, that I'm always growing and changing. I've met a lot of people. I've learned a lot. I've become someone so different from the person who published the first post here.

I don't know if this is the end. I need to write. I know that. The words are still within me. In fact, I have three blog posts in my head that I need to find time to sit down and write. I wonder if this is my sign; a notification that it's time to change things around a little.

I told J, "NOW I MUST DELETE EVERY. SINGLE. PICTURE. OFF THE BLOG! I MUST DELETE THE BLOG. I HAVE TO WATERMARK EVERY PICTURE. WHAT HAVE I DONE?!"

That's probably not true, but I am going to have to make some changes. I want people who need the grief information, who need the book I wrote, who need a little honesty about grief to find it. Maybe I'll leave all of those things up and delete everything else and start a second blog about our lives now. And maybe I'll make that one private. And maybe I'll stop sharing pictures in this format. But it's hard to imagine separating the two because what happens to me now is infused with the emotions of the last four years.

Sometimes I think I've been too honest here. That this blog might have served its purpose. That if there was anyone it was going to carry through the dark it's happened. They're through. They've found a resting place within their grief. When I think about deleting the whole thing and starting over I feel a tiny bit of relief. I think I need to pay attention to that feeling.

One thing that has changed for me is my ability to set things down and walk away. I'm not carrying this around with me tonight. I'm not going to let it stop me from sleeping. I'm going to hand it over to the Lord and ask Him to help me make a decision about where to go from here because I don't know what to do.

I am in His hands. My kids are in His hands. I am so grateful for that.

Psalm 91:4 - He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

one!! // a first birthday bash



This is going to be a picture heavy post, but first I want to say this: I prayed (and I was prayed for) and this birthday was easier than any other. I felt so much peace. I didn't yell at my family for three days prior to the party. I didn't cry the night before the party. I didn't stress about getting things done, or cleaning every inch of the house. I felt grateful for every decoration, and all the small moments of prep, and for J who took a day off to make a wonderful cake. And, most of all, I felt thankful for Ainsleigh's life and fierce spirit. Sometimes we don't get what we want, and sometimes the force of the one who is missing knocks us sideways, but there are rare moments when everything feels okay even though the picture we imagined isn't the one we hold before us.






Ainsleigh received a lot of presents, but she was enamored with the baby doll.







J made the dairy free, gluten free, vegan cake with a macadamia nut frosting. He made the colors with carrot, blueberry, and raspberry juice. Yes, he is amazing.


Sharing with brother






My sister took a candid shot of me reacting to Ainsleigh opening her first baby doll. Sometimes a picture captures emotions perfectly. Happy birthday, baby girl.


Wednesday, October 29, 2014

happy birthday, ainsleigh hope!



We celebrated Ainsleigh all day today. This year has zipped by! It is a blessing to be mama to a girl who is so full of life and energy. I've been feeling really down, but this morning we spent time with Ainsleigh's almost birthday friend, and another good friend, and it lifted my spirits so much. Maybe because we all brought treats ... We gave the little girls pedicures and I felt better emotionally than I have in DAYS. We need our friends, sisters! 



Darling, darling Ainsleigh girl,

You are one!! What a fun year it's been! You like to sit in mama or daddy's lap while you play. You love your brother because he makes you laugh. You can walk a little bit, but you prefer crawling. You love food - oranges and grapes are your favorite. You talk and sing all the time. You are VERY, VERY loud. You love music - you clap and bounce when your brother turns it on. You like to put things on your head. You're developing a sense of humor. You call your people mama, dada, and bra (brother). You know how to wave and stack, and climb. You celebrated your birthday by climbing on the kid table with the toy bus. You fell off and hit the side of your eye. You might have a tiny shiner for your first birthday party!


We love you so much, and we are so happy you are ours. There is a part of me that needed you so much, baby girl. You won't understand until you yourself are a mama, but when I say you are my hope I mean you literally made it possible for me to breathe deeply after years of shallow gasping. You are the answer to so many prayers.

Love you, Ainsey girl!

Monday, October 27, 2014

on building a wall


I read through the book of Nehemiah yesterday with the She Reads Truth devotion as my guide. It was so encouraging, and so applicable to where I am in my life right now, I can't stop thanking the Lord for pointing me to it.

Nehemiah is a short book about the rebuilding of the wall of Jerusalem, but it is far from simple. Nehemiah's faith and trust in God is evident over and over throughout the book. He doesn't make a move without talking to God first. (2:4, 4:9, 6:9).

I am in the middle of following God's call to build a ministry for parents who have lost babies at our church. It's a mess, friends. It's hard work. It's discouraging. It's frustrating. It's way harder than I thought it would be. But Nehemiah's work is a reminder to stay faithful, to be obedient to what God is asking me to do, and to take every step with faith and prayer. (4:9)


Chapter three of the book of Nehemiah lists who worked on each section of the wall. The devotion that accompanied the passage pointed to instances when specific areas appear later in the Bible. It had been hundreds of years, but the wall was still up, and was still being used! The devotion encouraged readers to look beyond the boring list of names and see how God was using these people to support a later mission. And then this passage of the devotion jumped out at me:

"Could it be that the section of the wall God has given you is important for His glory today, but that He might also have an eternal plan for the work you're doing?

What if ... your simple job is the setting for miraculous kingdom-size work for generations to come?"

Oh. I hadn't thought about that! Honestly, I've been so busy trying to make everything go my way I haven't stopped to think about the future of our ministry. I'm head down determined to make things happen, too busy to look up and pray about why God is asking us to create this ministry.

If you've read this blog for any length of time you know I sat in the "why valley" for a loooong time after Charlotte died. You can read three or so years of blog posts on the scenery in that valley. I didn't really like it down there, but I couldn't figure out how to get out. And every time I found a path and began the climb I fell and ended up on the valley floor again.

What I finally - finally!! - learned was the only way out of the valley is reliance on God and an understanding of faith. Faith in God's plan, and acceptance of the fact that His plan doesn't align with mine. His plan is so much greater! And along with faith there needs to be a willingness to put aside the need to know why and accept that there won't be answers this side of heaven.

Here too, in this ministry building time, faith is the answer to all of my questions. I don't know what we're doing. I don't know if we're reaching people. I don't know how our ministry is going to grow, or where it will be in a year. I'm just one person working on a wall because God asked me to do it. There's amazing people building next to me, and we're praying for guidance with every brick we set. It's not about me, or my comfort, or my need to know what is happening and why. It's about loving people and being where God has asked me to be. Arms open, heart open, ready to serve. (4:6)

The first Empty Arms Connections meeting is on November 17th. It's not a support group, it's a hope group. There is absolutely nothing wrong with support groups, but our vision is to give people more than support. We want to remind them to look forward to heaven and lean on the truth that this is a temporary home.

As we face opposition and frustrations, as we try to work cohesively and peacefully with everyone around us, I'm going to keep Nehemiah and his faith at the forefront of my thoughts. There were armies trying to take Nehemiah down, but he stayed focused and He continually relied on God to guide him and take care of him.

Nehemiah 6:9 - 

They were all trying to frighten us, thinking, "Their hands will get too weak for the work, and it will not be completed."
But I prayed, "Now strengthen my hands."

The past two weeks have been challenging. The last month has been challenging! God is moving, God is working, and that means the Enemy is working too. Pray for us. Pray for our ministry. Pray for the mothers and fathers we will work with. Pray for us to seek God every step of the way.

All the glory to Him.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

on birthday grief


Celebrating birthdays with my living children is one of my biggest triggers.  It's the one time I hide my sadness from them because I don't want them to feel the weight of my sorrow on their special day. I want them to feel the sheer joy and heartfelt relief we experienced when they were born and we heard them cry for the first time.





After a nearly silent birth - or a completely silent birth - hearing a cry as you labor to bring a baby into the world is like birthing with a symphony in the background. That one cry lights up every nerve ending in your body and makes you so glad you held on through the trauma and fear that accompany pregnancy after loss.




It feels a little unfair that I am so overwhelmed and emotional about birthdays. Unfair to the kids that is. I asked a friend to make a tutu for Ainsleigh to wear on her first birthday. I asked for a pink tutu even though I remember the one that hugged Charlotte's cold feet for a photograph. I have to find a way to hold the image of Charlotte's feet next to the image of Ainsleigh in a tutu without falling apart. It's a hard balance. Just looking at the tutu makes tears come to my eyes, but I want to see Ainsleigh walking around looking gorgeous on her birthday, so I'll put aside the sadness for a day. I'll sit on it if I have to, if that's the only way. I'll pretend it doesn't exist just for a day. It's not a betrayal. It's not. It's coping.

When you wait so long for something getting it feels a little unreal. Looking at Bennett and Ainsleigh playing on the living room floor makes me pause sometimes because they are a dream come to life.

The other thing about waiting a long time for something, or someone, is that when you get to the place you've been dreaming about - a first birthday, a live birth, a year of growth and discovery - the achieving is weighty. And in this case it's tinged with sadness too.

There's a lot of, yay, a girl, we had a girl, and we've had her for a year, praise the Lord! and there's a lot of, but I want both my girls, but why couldn't Charlotte live, who would she be, how would we be ...

I don't want my kids to spend their birthdays competing with someone who isn't here, so I smile and sing 'Happy Birthday' with tears in my eyes and the understanding that in a few years they'll see the tears so I'll have to sing the song without the tears. And every time I wrap birthday presents I cry because it makes me realize how gone Charlotte is. How she never had time to be. How I'll never know what she would have loved to receive as a gift.

Ainsleigh is nine days shy of her first birthday. And I am glad - so incredibly glad - that she is here. That she climbs on furniture and falls off chairs and stands up in the shopping cart after escaping her buckle and generally leaves me feeling exhausted and like I can't keep up.



But I wish there were two pink tutus sitting on the back of the striped chair in the living room waiting for party day. I wish there was a four year old here. I wish I had my C, the missing piece to my B and A. I wish I had them all because then life would be purely sweet, and there wouldn't be that bitter tinge of grief that rings every celebration with shadows and guilt and that mean spirited thought: you should be happier.

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