Friday, July 29, 2016
There are a lot of songs I listened to after Charlotte died that I can't hear without feeling like throwing up because they so vividly remind me of those days after she died. I can't remember how those early days felt without physical pain. It was so shocking, and it hurt so much that she was gone, and I never want to feel that way again so I do my best to avoid triggers that will take me back there.
When I think of her birth, however, the song I always hear in my mind is The Frames version of "Falling Slowly." Even though I don't want to remember the days immediately after sometimes I want to remember her birth. And when I hear "Falling Slowly" I am in the room where Charlotte was born, sunshine streaming in the window, watching it all from above. As far as I understand this seeing from above is a response to the trauma of being there. I can see myself, I can see everyone who was there, but I can't go back there unless I am a silent witness hovering above. And every time I am there, watching events unfold, this is the song I hear.
I've missed Charlotte so much lately. This time of year is always hard for me. My birthday is in a week, and turning a year older when Charlotte didn't live longer than a few hours still bothers me. It's incomprehensible, really, that we have gone on, that we have aged, while she never did, and never will.
Tuesday, July 26, 2016
I hosted our annual summer bash today. It was wet and wild, with kids and laughter everywhere. In the middle of the chaos I always wonder, is this fun? but then I see kids laughing and moms chatting and I realize it is fun. It's a different kind of fun than putting my feet up and talking late into the night with my friends. Conversations start and stop as water gun fights erupt around the yard and kids run in and out of the house, but talking to someone taller than 3 feet counts as fun even when it's in the midst of chaos.
I've felt a little lost this summer. I miss my best friend, the missing part of a friendship triangle I couldn't have dreamed up had I sketched out the perfect friendship triad in my mind. Two is good. Two is definitely better than one, or zero, but I really miss the one who moved.
I've also felt really sad this summer. I think my babies turning 3 and 5 this fall is throwing me off balance. I am absolutely definitely done with the baby stage, but oh my goodness I'll have a five-year-old in seven weeks and that just seems impossible. Wasn't I just in the NICU begging my tiny B to feed, and breathe, and live so we could go home and watch a baby grow up? That was yesterday, right?
But even in sadness and lostness there is good, and today was really good. Every year the summer play date changes and grows, and every year it gives me a chance to take stock and be thankful for the friends I have in my life. New ones, old ones, every day ones and once a year ones. At one point today I was sitting on the patio watching everyone enjoy themselves and when I looked around at the faces next to and across from me I realized we had all lost children. Not every mother present today had lost a child, but those who were missing one or more were in the majority.
I always want to remember that those people were on my patio today because Charlotte lived. I want to remember that her life has impact, even though she isn't here to live it. And I want to remember that when things fell apart there were so many who were there, and so many who came, and so many who offered to be my friend.
It's fun to plan a big summer bash and invite tons of people and put out pools and water toys and balls and bubbles, but it's also a time to take stock. A time to remember. A time to acknowledge that people are important. And even though seasons bring new faces and friendships to the backyard the core of what I have tried to do with every play date and connection and invitation is be in community because I have felt called to do so.
It's been really challenging, and scary to live in community, and sometimes it doesn't work out. I invited a neighbor to come today, but she didn't cross the street. And I really meant to walk over and remind her, but the day got away from me and I didn't. It would be easier to let it go, to wave if I see her and forget about the invitation, but I want to stick with what I feel the Lord calling me to, and I really feel the need to be available, to invite, to connect, and to build relationships. I can't be really close with everyone I meet, but I can make people feel noticed; like who they are and what they are experiencing matters. Even in our 30's we can feel like people don't like us because they fail to notice us, or exclude us, or seem as if their friendships are cemented and solid with no room for expansion. I don't want anyone to walk away from me feeling that way.
Being a mother is isolating. It can feel hard to get out, but suffocating to stay home. It's good to know we are not alone. That we are all challenged by our children and their demands, even as we love them so intensely it hurts. And as my year of living in community crosses into another year I'm prepared to continue inviting people over and asking them to sit on my patio, or in my living room, or around my kitchen table because in this year I've learned a few things:
People over things. Relationships over perfection. Crazy loud summer play dates over quiet afternoons in the shade with a good book.
Friday, July 22, 2016
In between the child raising and project managing, I read. In between days out and cooking dinner - sometimes while cooking dinner - I read. After I put Ainsleigh to bed, in the space before Bennett's bedtime when he is often occupied with his father, I read.
I always have a book in my hands. I carry the book I am currently reading with me throughout the day. When I wake up I pick it up from where I've dropped it by the bed the night before and deposit it on the end of the kitchen table. As I play with the kids, and tidy the house, and run errands I know there is always a book on the kitchen table waiting to be read. There are days when I don't get to it, but there are many days where I ask the kids to please give me a minute, I'm finishing a page, a chapter, a sentence, a paragraph, a book.
My first year at university I went through a rough patch. Or rather a series of rough patches. And in the middle of it all, I remember wondering what could possibly make me feel better, which led me to realize I hadn't read anything aside from school work since I began my college courses. I didn't have a car so I walked the three miles to and from the public library, immersed myself in books that were not school related, and felt a small part of my life right itself.
I've always enjoyed reading. I've been a reader for as long as I can remember. In fact, I can't recall learning to read. In my memories knowing how to read has always been there. As has my inability to sound anything out because I had taught myself to read before my mother could introduce phonics. I still don't know sounds; I am learning them along with B. He actually has a better grasp on phonics than I do now that he has a year of preschool behind him. I am constantly embarrassed by the fact that I carry a degree in literature but cannot pronounce many common words. It's one of the reasons I prefer writing over speaking; I can't mispronounce a word if I'm not saying it out loud.
For years I've thought long and hard about what I should read. I've put down books I long to read because I can't endorse what's being sold between the pages. Some time ago I gave up my subscription to the magazine Vanity Fair because it was often too far off the mark of what I think and believe, and the photos weren't always what I wanted my growing children to see. I recently went through a period of reading solely Christian based fiction and non-fiction, including the Bible, because I thought that was the path I should walk, but I burned out on the concept of a sole source of words and information quite fast.
This calendar year I've read 100 books - so far. Books that have been about all sorts of things, and that have covered all kinds of subjects. I now think the Bible as base, the Truth as background, is the place to start off, and the platform to jump from, when exploring new titles and genres. If I only read one category I'm not stretching myself, or learning anything, or asking questions about things, or people, or religions I don't understand and haven't encountered. When I attended a Quaker university I wasn't given reading lists that were only (my) faith based, so why limit myself now?
However, I should be careful. From books I can learn anything I want to and explore any topic that captures my imagination, but I can also be persuaded to follow the world, to step away from my faith, to read beyond what I'm comfortable with. Earlier this summer I picked up a bestseller, read a little ways into it, and stopped. I really wanted to read the book. I was tempted to pick it back up and dive back in. But it promoted lifestyles I don't support, and there was a lot of vulgar language, and I knew it wasn't going to get better. So I put it down and picked up a different book.
By deciding to be more careful I've had to let go of the fierce determination to finish every book I start. I hate unfinished books; pages left unexplored, ideas half formed in my brain that the right author can flesh out and help me understand. But finishing a book just to finish it, just to add another book to the long list of titles I've finished isn't worth it. Especially if it pulls my focus from the core Truth I've built my life on.
What should I read? is a question I've asked myself for years. (I even put the question into Google once, hoping for a broad answer that would assuage my worry and ensure me I'm not falling into a pit of sin because I read something other than the Bible, or Christian focused fiction and non-fiction.) But lately I've learned that what I read, as with so much else, is an individual choice. Just like choosing where I spend my money, or how we raise our kids, or what we do with our spare time is an individual choice. And when I choose what to read I strive to select books that challenge me and help me retain sight of my ultimate goals: to live every aspect of my life in a way that is Truth based and God honoring. Because everything I read, and everything I see, and all of the streams of information that bombard me daily are affecting me and shaping me, even when I don't think they are.
Tuesday, July 19, 2016
This is the summer of machines and things failing to work.
We are STILL without a dishwasher.
My phone suddenly stopped logging into Instagram. So I am suddenly and unexpectedly without Instagram. Which is great for time management, but I miss it and hope the problem will magically resolve (this does not seem likely). Although less Instagram means more time for house painting so I suppose it's a good thing (not really, I would really like it back).
We are painting the interior of the house and a valve inside the paint stick has failed TWICE. Yes, I have to use a paint stick. I am a terrible painter. Rollers and trays do not work for me. The first time was understandable. We've used the paint stick for a couple years, it's a small valve, and the company was willing to replace it. The second valve failed immediately and catastrophically.
I was preparing to paint the living room, fully expecting the paint stick to behave as it should, but when I pressed the button that moves paint from the stick to the roller it shot out instead and went ALL over the living room floor. For some reason I tried to catch it - I don't know, it made sense at the time - and ended up with paint all over my hands and clothes as well as the floor. I spent 30 minutes cleaning up and then I had to use a piece of plastic wrap in place of the valve. Jon ordered multiple replacement valves which we received yesterday. The living room is finished, but there is still quite a bit of painting to do so hopefully they will outlast the project.
We are beginning the bathroom remodel, which is a little frightening since I am terrible at design and so many things are failing around here. Just picking out tile, fixtures, flooring etc. is giving both Jon and I a headache. (On second thought that may be the paint fumes in the air ....)
Next week is the annual summer play date wherein 30 or so moms and kids tear up our house and yard for a few hours. It's one of my favorite summer traditions and it is giving us motivation to get projects done. Jon built the vegetable garden boxes this weekend - four of them! - and is working on the grape arbor and trellis for the kiwis. Next year for the play date we will hopefully have two newly remodeled bathrooms. Right now it seems an impossible task, but I'm sure we'll figure things out and get the project done. Then it's onto the kitchen!
Last week was really busy with B going to Sports Camp through our church. This week is a little slower, but we're already halfway through July and the end of summer is in sight. Summer has just flown by this year. The weather has been cool, it hasn't really felt like summer, and we've been busy with projects and family and friends. We have a lot to do today, but I wanted to write a quick post before getting the kids moving and beginning our day. I have been writing more like I wanted to, but there are still weeks that fly by when sitting down and getting words on the page seems like an impossible task. And now it's time to chase Ainsleigh down and give her the bath she's needed for a few days.
Monday, July 11, 2016
Last year I avoided sending B to a Vacation Bible school he had an opportunity to attend. I didn't want to deal with the food allergy issue with a group of people who don't know him, or us, and I was not comfortable leaving him so I didn't. I let the opportunity pass us by.
This year I thought B was too young to go to the sports camp our church puts on in lieu of a vacation bible school type program. I was relieved I didn't have to think about it, or try to decide if he should go.
A few days ago I found out from one of the preschool parents B wasn't too young to go, and if I hurried to sign him up he would probably get in a group with a friend from school and possibly have his preschool teacher as his group leader. I hastily signed him up and prayed for protection and peace.
Sending B to a three hour day camp like that can cause enough anxiety to send me into a panic if I have enough time to get to that state. Thankfully I did not have that time, and when I dropped him off this morning his preschool teacher was assigned as his leader, even though there were over 50 kids just in the 4-5-year-old program.
Thank you, Jesus.
And when I walked up to the registration table, speech ready to go, mother hen side ready to come out in force, the register said, "Bennett, oh yes. I'm supposed to ask you about his snack. Does he have his epi-pen? Here's an allergy bracelet for him."
My rehearsed speech was replaced with a, "Yes, thank you so much." and when I dropped him off I thought he might be upset - and he was shy - but when his preschool teacher said, "Come on, you're with me," he took her hand and happily followed her.
When I picked him up he told me he had a great time. "I didn't even cry once!" he exclaimed. "And I learned how to jump rope!!"
He's excited to go back tomorrow, and I'm happy to send him.
It's amazing how God can take the BIG worries I carry and cast them aside with a few knowledgeable sentences and the outstretched hand of someone who cares for my child.
Monday, July 4, 2016
Katherine Wolf suffered from a devastating brain stem stroke in 2008. She was a young mother with a six month old son when the stroke occurred, and by the odds she should not have survived. But the book she and her husband, Jay Wolf, wrote about the experience is all about defying odds and coming together with the strength of Christ behind them to help Katherine live a fulfilling life. Hope Heals is an incredible story of how quickly life can change, and how to proceed with faith in the midst of extreme uncertainty.
Hope Heals is written from both Katherine and Jay's perspective, but Jay and his experiences as a father and caregiver feature more prominently than Katherine's words. They are both excellent writers though, and the narrative doesn't feel jumpy or tied together awkwardly like it sometimes can with more than one writer.
Katherine writes so honestly about how difficult it is to be a disabled mother. My heart went out to her as she wrote about hearing her son call from his crib, but being unable to pick him up or go to him. Jay's story is one of incredible compassion and a true understanding of marriage vows and what it means to care for someone who is ill. And both Katherine and Jay write about how Katherine's stroke changed their lives and focus, and led them on new unexpected paths. Katherine should have died, but she lived, and recovered better than expected, which led both Katherine and Jay to understand the deep goodness and grace of God and how His plans are far greater than ours.
Hope Heals is an honest story about love, faith, an incredible medical catastrophe, and what a life can look like if God is allowed to lead.
I received this book free from the publisher through the BookLook Bloggers <http://booklookbloggers.com> book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 <http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html>
Saturday, July 2, 2016
When I talk about Charlotte's life and her sudden death people usually go back to one point: you don't know why?!
Every time I tell her story that is the follow up question, even though I always include within the telling that fact.
It shocks and upsets people to hear an infant on the verge of life can suddenly go backwards and re-enter the gates of heaven it has just exited.
There has to be a reason. There has to be a concrete fact behind the death so they can use that fact to prevent it happening to them or someone they know.
I too asked why. Over and over. Desperately. Quietly. In a state of remorse and guilt. In a manner that can only be described as begging.
And then I began to seek peace. Through the Bible. Through prayer. I asked the burden of why she died to be lifted from my shoulders, because I knew I wouldn't be able to answer the question, and continuing to seek an answer that does not exist would eventually drive me mad.
I can't point to the exact moment when peace entered my life. It might have been gradual. Often that's how God works the big changes in our hearts and souls. If he dropped all of the peace we need on us all at once we would crumple under the soul change, but he does it gradually so that we may adapt to our changed hearts.
I have to admit, having peace about why Charlotte died doesn't feel like I expected it to.
I don't know what exactly I did expect, but it wasn't this complete absence of struggle. I almost feel like it's not my battle anymore. I still approach the question in my mind, but when I pull it to the forefront I instantly shrug and think, "That's not my problem anymore." It's like I literally transferred the question to God. Or more like I asked him to take the burden of constantly asking why from me and He granted it.
I'm also in a place - temporary or not - where I don't think I'll care why she died once I get to heaven. I thought that would be my first question. Off the heaven elevator, into the arms of Jesus, my baby girl by my side, and then" Why did she die, Lord? Why? Tell me, now. Before we go. Before we join the feast. I have to know."
But after the Bible and book studying I've done in the last year I no longer think that's how the conversation will go. Instead I think I will be so happy to be in heaven, so in awe at finally being in the presence of the King, I won't care why Charlotte died. That huge earthly incidence will suddenly be put into heavenly perspective, and the why won't matter so much as how it changed me and made me behave.
I believe that if the bitterness of grief overwhelms then one has lost their way and needs to be gently guided back to life. I believe that if staggering loss becomes the focus of a life instead of a point of change then one has missed an opportunity for growth. I believe that out of great pain incredible growth can come if we allow it.
I don't think God purposed Charlotte to die, but I do think He allowed her death to shape me and make me more Kingdom minded. I know who I was in 2010, and I know who I am now, and I attribute much of the growth in my faith and belief in God to Charlotte's death.
I would not have turned my faith inside out and examined my relationship with God if she hadn't died. I would have continued as I was, knowing the church was there, knowing God was there, but never in a state of need. Need like water, or food, or sunshine. Need like, I'm not going to get through this day, or night, or minute, if you don't sit with me. And He did, and the church did, and I refined my ideas about who I am and what I want.
On heaven and earth.
In our home.
In my life.
When that becomes your sole focus it changes everything. How you speak, how you think, how you act.
And how you feel about the big whys.
How do you feel about the unanswered questions in your life? Are you holding onto any big whys? How would your life change if you let go of finding out the answer to your whys?
"Then you will experience God's peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus." Philippians 4: 7 (NLT)
If you are seeking peace know that I believe it can come for you too.