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Yesterday’s post ended up speaking to its author. Journaling is so helpful to me in my faith walk.  Because I had written about a moment in time, I was able to look back to that Sunday I watched Abby worship. I could trace small, almost imperceptible steps from there to the place we stand today.  It’s not a great place, but it’s a growing place.

We still grieve our Anna.  I think of her every day with a longing.  I want our family to be complete, and we will never feel complete until we pull her into our arms in heaven.  I wish I could tell grieving mothers that the ache will pass–the deep ache that breaks my heart to even attempt to put into words.   I’m afraid mine’s not going anywhere.  But if the ache is what I must endure in order to remember our Anna, I will hold onto it with both hands.

A couple of weeks ago, Joey and I had the great privilege of seeing one of our favorite artists, Steven Curtis Chapman, in concert.  Even though I looked forward to it, I knew it was going to be a difficult experience. Chapman lost his daughter and has written several songs about his family’s deep, painful loss.  I was right.  It was very hard.  What I did not expect, however, was to hear a song by the opening act, The Afters, that would cause me to sit down, frustrated and confused with my battery of emotions.  The lead singer shared how he and his wife had almost lost their child shortly after his birth and how this song came from that experience.  This is humbling to admit, but I felt so angry that he could stand up there and talk about his testimony when his child had lived and is now a healthy toddler. It seemed so unfair.

I heard the song on the radio the next week–several times, actually–and finally allowed its message to break through my shell. I opened my heart, just a bit, and I thought to myself, “That’s not exactly where I am right now, but that’s where I want to be.”

So with that in mind, I want to share a video of our journey with Anna set to that special song, “Broken Hallelujah.”  It’s my way of honoring Anna. It’s also my way of admitting that there is room for me to grow in my relationship with my God.  I still get angry. I still feel cheated.  I still want to scream sometimes.  But I also feel blessed to have held and loved my Anna, who has an eternal soul and whom we will see again only because God made a way for us. That journey home begins with one step, a step toward Jesus Christ, who is the author and finisher of our faith.

Happy Birthday, Anna.  We love you, Baby Girl.  We can’t wait for part two!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sing a New Song

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Editor’s Note:  I had forgotten I had written this back in June 2013.  I never posted it, and I found myself encouraged as I read it.  So, this day prior to Anna’s birthday, I am going to post it.  Hopefully it will be an encouragement to someone today. I will post tomorrow regarding Anna’s birthday and an update on our family.  Thank you for your love and prayers!

June 14, 2013

Let me tell you about my Abby.

Abby dances around our house, singing songs she makes up on the whim. She always has. The songs may be about baby chicks (we have ten living in a cage on our back porch), delicious treats she’d like to enjoy, or how to properly wash your hands–basically whatever she is actively doing or thinking about in the moment. But usually her songs are about Jesus.  They are spontaneous songs of praise.  Sometimes they are light-hearted; sometimes they are deep.  Sometimes they make me laugh; sometimes I am in awe.

One Sunday about three weeks ago, I was standing in the choir loft, watching Abby sing one of her favorite church songs, “Ten Thousand Reasons.”  She didn’t know I was watching; for that matter, she didn’t care.  I watched her close her eyes and lift her chin, remembering her audience.

I fought to keep it together.  Abby hasn’t seen me sing the way she was singing–at least, not at church and not in a long time.  I can get pretty emotional when I sing; I often have to fight back tears when singing a song that touches me.  But I typically fight them back, not giving in to them.  I’m also not one to close my eyes or lift my hands.  It feels uncomfortable and unnatural for me to do that.

So that’s why I was so surprised this past Sunday, when Abby went a step further. I couldn’t see Abby from the choir loft as I had the Sunday she had her eyes closed, but after the worship service, she told me that she just felt like her arms wanted to go up while we were singing.  She kept holding them down until she looked up in the choir and saw Ms. Cory, raising her hands in worship.  Then she knew it was okay to do that.  So up her hands went.

Innocent.  Pure.  Precious.  Fragrant.  What kind of offering must that have been as it rose to our Lord Jesus?  And why can’t I worship so freely, disregarding the thoughts and opinions of others?

A couple of months ago, our minister of music asked me about singing a particular song with our choir.  My voice was not in its best shape.  I have terrible acid reflux–especially when I’m drinking coffee every day.  And because coffee is just about the most wonderful thing to come from a bean (or any plant for that matter), and because I’m addicted, I had been drinking coffee daily.  I love coffee.  And I loved it before it was cool.  I get off it and then I go back on.  I have this love-hate relationship with it.  I love it; it hates me. The acid in coffee seems to be the worst thing for my vocal chords.  It weakens my voice and reduces my range.  To sing that song, I knew I’d have to quit drinking coffee.  So, in an effort to get my voice back, I gave up coffee (again).

My vocal chords are slowly healing.  I had thought they might not because I had gone quite a while without babying my voice.  It’s not one-hundred percent, but it’s better.  I didn’t have a recording-contract quality voice to begin with, but I do love to sing.  And if I’m going to sing a song to my Lord, I feel that I should do the best I can. The problem over the past year is that I’ve really had no song.  Why give up coffee, which is the most enjoyable thing I ingest all day long, if I don’t even enjoy singing anymore?

Before Anna, I sing-songed my way through most activities with Abby and Josiah.  Time to wake up?  There’s a song for that.  Time to eat breakfast?  Let’s sing a prayer.  On the way to school?  There’s a song for that, too.  But losing Anna just took my song away. For my children’s sake, I continued to sing many of the songs that had become tradition for them, a familiar part of their days.  But my heart was rarely in it.  My grief was always there, wrapping itself around that joyful core and hushing the songs that came from it.

But I believe something about seeing Abby with her eyes closed, worshiping, awakened my soul to sing.  I didn’t know it at the time, but looking back over the past few weeks, I realize that’s what God has been using.  I have recently felt a desire to sing, teaching the kids new songs I sang as a child; they particularly like “Peace Like a River.” I sang “You Are My Sunshine” to Josiah just the other night, which I regularly sing to him.  But I found myself enjoying changing the way I sang it, speeding it up, slowing it down, adding soul. Giving up the coffee definitely helped, too.  Without the constant barrage of acid, my voice can once again lilt, the pitch and tone rising and falling as I direct it.  Not perfectly.  But it’s fun to try again–to want to try.  To want to sing.  To feel a song begin in my heart and flow out into my home.

I decided to post this today to speak to those of you who are in the midst of grief–grief so horrible that it steals your song.  Grief so heavy that you feel that you will never sing again.  Sure, you’re still experiencing moments of joy, moments of laughter and warmth.  But you wonder if joy will ever again trounce through those dusty corners of your heart, throwing open windows and letting “heavenly sunlight” flood your soul. Thank God, I say yes.  I say it will.  I didn’t think it was possible.  I didn’t think I would ever feel joy the way I had before.  It’s not that the sadness is gone, or even the grief.  But it seems to be losing its grip. I think God will do everything He can to help you experience that joy again.  I pray you will be open to whatever He chooses to use.

For me, He used my 7-year-old daughter. Her lack of inhibition, her use of her made-for-worship body, and her awareness that Her audience is so much greater than those visible–somehow God used her worship to release the grasp grief held on my spirit.  My little girl, unafraid to lift her hands in worship, reminded me that I still have something to sing about.  So for today, I’m lifting my hands, too.  I’m throwing open the windows and saying, “Welcome, Lord.” And who knows?  Maybe Abby and I will write a song about that one day.  And then maybe I’ll give up coffee (again) so that I can hit the high notes with her.  Love that girl of mine!

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Happy Birthday, Anna

Today is Anna’s birthday.

I woke up this morning, thinking, “What if I were going to get her out of her crib?  What if I were able to tell her happy birthday?”

The past year has been a journey.  I wish I could package it neatly and say that I’m all better.  But I’m not.  It’s been months since I looked at our bank statement.  I make essential to-do lists and then get distracted by dusty floorboards or a bookshelf that needs straightening. I will find a thousand things to do to avoid making a phone call that requires me to make a decision. The nursery is piled high with a year’s worth of disorganization, which only reflects my clouded, fuzzy brain.  My thoughts are often jumbled.  I still find myself staring into space sometimes; my eyes cross, unable to focus.  Sometimes it happens when people are talking to me, sometimes when I’m alone.  A scent, a baby outfit, a song, a look in the mirror–any of these–can send me spiraling emotionally into sobs and into a sense that something is heavy on my chest and I can’t get a full breath.

Sometimes I think this is what depression feels like.  But I don’t feel this way all the time or every day.  Some days I feel quite normal, functioning with high energy, checking things off my list, playing hard with my kids.  Other days, pushing Josiah on the swing sounds exhausting and I can’t even imagine having the strength to cook dinner.

I keep hearing people tell me I’m amazing, that I’m so strong.  Here’s what they don’t know.  I have learned through this loss and through my effort to grieve that I process the pain, for the most part, alone. I cry alone.  I get my most angry alone.  I feel most deeply alone.  I don’t get my best friends together and pour my heart out.  That’s just not me.  Maybe that’s unhealthy, but it’s the only way I’ve found that I can honestly release the pent up feelings.  If you ask me how I’m doing, I say I’m okay.  I don’t know how I’m supposed to be doing.  I don’t know what’s normal.  I just know that some days I feel weighted and some days I feel lighter.  It’s hills and valleys.  It’s sweet and bitter.  It’s my new life.

Today is Anna’s birthday.  A year ago, we were holding her.  We were rejoicing.  I will never doubt that God was there in that moment, taking away our fear so we could enjoy our time with her.  I will never doubt that He breathed life into her, giving us longer than we expected.  I will never doubt He gave me the energy and the presence of mind to soak that child up as if I were a sponge soaking up water. But have I doubted His presence in our pain since that day?  Yes.  And if you can point me to a mother who has lost her child and not experienced any doubt, please do.  I need her wisdom desperately.

Today is Anna’s birthday.  How I wish I could have that day back, go back and do it all again.  How I wish she were in my arms right now, my family complete, my family whole.  How I wish I could be looking down at her, feeling her skin, her hair, her fingers. And while I’m wishing, here’s another one: I wish there were no tears to end that day, no separation from her, no giving her up.

I want to give it all to God, I really do.  And some days I’m successful with that.  But other days I just want Him to explain Himself.  I just want to understand why our family had to say goodbye so soon.  I know He is good and loving and that He cares for our Anna.  I know her life was meaningful and important.  I know she touched so many.  But I don’t like it.  I don’t want all that.  I just want her.

A grieving man named Asaph recorded his wailings in Psalm 77:2-9:

“In my day of trouble I sought the Lord. My hands were lifted up all night long; I refused to be comforted. I think of God; I groan; I meditate; my spirit becomes weak. You have kept me from closing my eyes; I am troubled and cannot speak. I consider days of old, years long past. At night I remember my music; I meditate in my heart, and my spirit ponders. ‘Will the Lord reject forever and never again show favor? Has His faithful love ceased forever? Has He in anger withheld His compassion?’.”

That’s pretty raw.  Basically, I hear Asaph saying, “Hey, I’m hurting here.  Where are You?  Are you going to show up or what?  I need to know you are here.”  For those of you who aren’t familiar with the Bible, it might be surprising to see that God allowed men to record such unfavorable views of Him in the Bible.  For me, that is reassuring.  When I am weak and my faith is slipping, I know I’m not alone.  Asaph was a psalmist!  His writings were recorded in the Word of God!  Even such a man as He struggled with God’s will in His life, God’s seeming lack of compassion and favor and love.  Guess what?  I am no better than Asaph.

When I read words like these, I feel a little less lonely.  I know that there are plenty of believers who would suggest that I should just have faith and never question God.  But I read what Asaph says or how Jacob wrestled with God (Genesis 32) or how Jesus asked why God had forsaken Him (Matthew 27), and I think, “Well, at least I’m in good company.”

I’m going to question Anna’s death for the rest of my life.  To boldly compare myself to Jacob, there will be a limp in my walk for the remainder of my days.  Some people will see that limp and be comforted that they are not alone in their faith struggles.  Some will see it as a weakness, a mark against me.  I am not responsible for explaining my handicap.  I put one foot in front of the other, feeling the limp and the pain but also feeling the assurance that somehow He will lead me in this journey.

Asaph, the grieving man who questioned his Lord, chose to lean into Him. His grief did not end, but he bore it remembering God’s faithfulness and His power. He knew that his pain was deep and real but that his Lord was still there and in control, even when He did not sense His presence. He continued his psalm in verses 10-19:

“Then I said, ‘It is my grief that the right hand of the Most High has changed.’ I shall remember the deeds of the Lord; surely I will remember Your wonders of old. I will meditate on all Your work and muse on Your deeds. Your way, O God, is holy. What god is great like our God? You are the God who works wonders; You have made known Your strength among the peoples. You have by Your power redeeemed Your people, the sons of Jacob and Joseph. The waters saw you, O God; the waters saw you, they were in anguish; the deeps also trembled. The clouds poured out water; the skies gave forth a sound; Your arrows flashed here and there; the sound of Your thunder was in the whirlwind; the lightnings lit up the world; the earth trembled and shook. Your way was in the sea and your paths in the mighty waters, and your footprints may not be known.”

Visualize that.  The world was filled with storms–tumultous, crashing waves; loud, cracking thunder; flashes of lightning throughout the sky; the earth trembling and quaking. Where was God? Your way was in the sea and your paths in the mighty waters, and your footprints may not be known. He was there, but His footprints were not known.  His footprints will never be known.  If I am waiting for Him to show Himself, I may as well walk away from the faith.  He does not show us His footprints.  We have to take Him at His word. Easy? No. Impossible? No. If I am willing to listen, to see, to feel, to trust what I know to be true, based not on my own musings but on His Word, I will find myself walking toward Him. And my feet will fall into those invisible footprints He left before me.

That is all I have.  What I have learned this past year is that there is no magic bullet.  No faith pill I can swallow and be confident that I will never doubt again.  That’s not the kind of God I would want to serve, anyway.  He requires more than that, as should be expected from the Most High God.  He expects me to come to Him with my pain, to tell Him when I doubt Him, to ask for strength, to depend upon Him for my next blessing.  I get it right sometimes, and sometimes I don’t.  Thankfully, He is patient.  He is kind. He does not take into account a wrong suffered.  He bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. He never fails (1 Corinthians 13).

Anna, we miss you today.  We hope that there’s a birthday going on in heaven.  You are one of the few whose birthday on earth is the same as your “birthday” there in heaven.  That, and so many other things, make you very special.  I selfishly wish you were still here.  It’s hard to imagine going for years and years and years without seeing my children all together again. But somehow I know God will give me the strength to keep making it.  Your brother and sister were excited this morning, excited about your birthday.  They want cake.  Any reason for cake, right?  I will eat a piece for you, but I’m sure that the banqueting table in heaven is filled with goodies I cannot even imagine.  I love you, sweet Anna.  I miss you and love you with everything that is in me.  I will never regret having you, only losing you.  You are a treasure, a gift.   I am thankful that God made me your mommy.  I just wish I could have held you longer.  Happy birthday, sweet girl. 

A Christmas Card

Below is our family’s Christmas letter, a long-winded version of a Christmas card. I’ve also included some photos from a trip we made to Anna’s grave back in September. There’s a fun picture at the end of the letter, too.  I write a letter each year, and since this one focused so much on the birth of our Anna, I wanted to share it with all of you who followed our story and prayed for our family.  I did not send as many letters out this year because I was trying to buy Christmas stationery, write, print the letters out, and get them sent while recovering from a strain of the flu (not to mention preparing for Christmas, as we all enjoy doing.) So . . . a belated Merry Christmas from our family to yours and may your New Year be a special one indeed. -Misty 

“For God sent not His Son into the world to condemn the world but that the world through Him might be saved.” John 3:17

Dear Friends and Family,

When Anna Grace McMath was born March 27, 2012, our hearts burst with joy and pride for a third time. Abby and Josiah were so proud to introduce friends and family to their little sister.  They were so adoring, so worthy of the roles of big sister and big brother.  They cooed at her, gently stroked her, told her they loved her. Anna’s full head of black hair reminded me of both Abby’s and Josiah’s hair at birth, and her sweet little fingers made me want to hold on forever. Joey held his daughter and showed her off to his parents and others in the room. Lullabies played as we prayed, sang, and talked. Anna opened up an eye to see Abby.  Then she let us hear that beautiful voice of hers.  She sucked my finger. She rested in my arms. I told her there wasn’t a pink baby in that Sacred Heart nursery I would trade for her. She was ours.  And we loved her totally and completely, as she was.

This is how I will always remember 2012. This is how I will always remember Anna. It was not just a year of loss.  It was the year we were gifted with our Anna.

When Anna passed, our hearts were shattered. And yet, those five hours of life have more fully defined our year than the days, weeks, and months we have mourned her loss. We’re still not at peace with the fact that she’s not here this Christmas.  We wish with all our hearts that we were buying Christmas gifts for our baby girl, dressing her up in smocked dresses, and enjoying the season with our youngest.  Joey reassured me just last night, saying, “Eternity is a whole lot longer than life.”  I cling to that in the darkest, hardest moments. This is not the end. In the interim, though, I must admit that life has often felt thick and awkward since March 27th. We know we have to proceed, but we aren’t sure how at times.

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In September, we each wrote a message on a balloon and released it at Anna’s gravesite. The kids have talked about that several times since. We all went to eat at Pizza Hut afterwards, which is where Joey and I met almost 17 years ago.

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We thank each of you who helped lighten our load this year. When we wondered where God was in all this, someone would show up with a casserole. Or we’d get a card. Or someone would make a memorial gift. Or the phone would ring. Or flowers would arrive. Or a song would play. Finally, we began to realize that God’s family was bigger than we ever imagined and that He used each member to remind us of His presence. Thank you all for your prayers and kind expressions of love, encouragement, and concern over the past year. You may never fully know how you brought God’s light into our darkest hour.

Abby and Josiah have certainly brought us joy and sunshine this year.  For every tear shed, there have been at least a dozen laughs.  They have each had their struggles, trying to make sense out of losing their sister.  But I am so thankful that they are coming through and making healthy strides.  Abby has written about Anna in her journals. She’s drawn lots of pictures and asked many questions about heaven this year. Josiah’s anger is dissipating.  He still asks the why questions, but what four-year-old wouldn’t?  His whys are now more curious and thoughtful—not as angry.  He’s not as aggressive, either.  His behavior has improved drastically, which I attribute to prayer, his maturing a bit, and a parenting Bible study course Joey and I took called Growing Kids God’s Way.  I highly recommend the study to any parent who needs a little help.  We did, and we are so grateful that we got it.

Josiah, now 4 ½, is attending preschool three days a week. He likes going to school—most days. He is our little firecracker, strong willed and full of laughter. God has great big plans for him. Josiah is still a rough little fellow, but I can see signs that he is recognizing proper and improper times to attack people with a running start. When things go awry, we just politely say, “We’re still working on that.” Josiah still loves tractors and “destruction” equipment. (That’s construction for the rest of us, but Josiah’s version of the word does better fit his intent.) He also enjoys playing Batman and Spiderman and putting on “shows” with Abby.

About those shows.  They are Abby’s favorite pastime.  Sometimes they include singing and dancing.  Sometimes it’s more of a variety show with trapeze artistry, swing tricks, and, of course, the classic run-around-the-backyard-at-full-speed-and-“leap”-over-an-object trick. Abby, our sensitive, easy-to-get-along-with little 7-year-old, also enjoys ballet, playing school, making up songs, drawing, and writing stories. Now in the first grade, she is reading anything she can get her hands on.  And I mean that literally. Coupons, cereal boxes, grocery lists.  So you have to be careful about what articles might lurk in seemingly harmless magazines.  She came out of my bathroom one day asking me what a word meant that I knew was a bit over a first-grader’s head.  (Oprah!  Blast you! )

We are still worshiping at the same church.  Joey serves as a deacon and he’s on fourteen committees.  Okay, that’s an exaggeration, but it sometimes feels that way.  We both sing in the choir.  I have had the privilege of teaching Josiah in AWANA Cubbies, which he heartily enjoys.  Well, he heartily tolerates it. He enjoys the puppet time and any time he gets called on to hold a flag during the pledges.  He also enjoys snack time. By 6:00 PM, he enjoys lying in my lap while I try to tell the Bible story. Meanwhile, Abby looks forward and counts down the hours on Sunday afternoon until her AWANA Sparks class begins, and she would like to stay until 9:00 PM every Sunday night if there was proper supervision. (She is not a fan of chaos.)  She would also love to sing a special every Sunday, and she has cornered our very approachable minister of music more than once about the matter.  He is always very obliging, but her Mama wants to make sure she is well prepared before leading in worship.  Though I joke about my babies, I love the way God wired both of them.  They are uniquely made, but they love each other and they are one another’s best friends and constant playmates.  For that, I am most thankful.

So as difficult as the last year has been . . . it’s also been good. We have more clothes than we can wear. We have two beautiful children and two more waiting for us in heaven. We have family who genuinely enjoys being together. We have a pound cake a friend brought over. We have milk in the fridge and shoes with no holes. We have a peaceful home with no drone planes overhead. Our children came home from school today. I know you will join me in lifting our voices to God to thank Him for these things—and to pray on behalf of those whose pain blinds and silences them now.  During this season of joy and Light, may God show us the path to minister to those who are living through their darkest hours. And may we all be reassured that in heaven, praise God, there will be no more night.

Warmest wishes,

Misty, Joey, Abby, & Josiah McMath

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Pregnancy Resource Center of Milton

I want to thank all of you who have prayed for our family.  I also want to thank those of you who have given a gift in memory of our Anna Grace to the Pregnancy Resource Center of Milton.  Altogether, almost $3,000.00 has been given to pregnancy resource centers in memory of our daughter.  Because of these donations, every woman who enters the PRC of Milton and has a positive pregnancy test leaves with a gift.  Her gift bag contains a Bible with a special introduction to help new mothers, a packet of information about adoption, a baby blanket, and a letter from me.  

As I wrote the letter, I felt overwhelmed by the importance of my task.  I felt that these young ladies–many of whom have just experienced the most devastating moment of their young lives–deserved honesty.  I decided to be as real as possible.  Though there may be some disappointed by what I admit in this letter, I felt that admitting how frail I felt was essential in connecting with these women.  When I tried to avoid it, the Holy Spirit reminded me that hiding truth is the same as lying.  After I accepted that, the letter came quickly for me.  I hope my words were as inspired as they felt at the time.  After some consideration, I decided to try to reach other women by posting the letter on the blog. Here is the letter those new mommies will receive:

A Letter to You, a New Mother

Congratulations.  Within your womb, a tiny little baby is taking shape.  A heart is beating.  A child—your child—is depending on you for every morsel of food and for protection from the elements outside your body. He’s also depending on you to make an important decision: Will you carry your child, safe in your womb, so that your child can live the life God has planned for him or her?

Let’s be honest.  All pregnancies are not equal and moms are not equally prepared.  Sometimes moms are praying for a child.  Sometimes moms are praying for a negative result.  If you are in the latter group,  you may be overwhelmed, afraid, unsure about your next step.

There was a day in my life when I had to make a difficult decision, a decision that may be a bit different from yours but similar, too.  I was pregnant with my fourth child.  I had a daughter, a son, a baby who had been miscarried, and I was expecting again.  Our family was so excited.  Then, in one day, our lives were forever changed.  We went to the doctor, looking forward to an ultrasound that would reveal the sex of our baby.  Instead, we found out our baby had a rare kidney disease and could not survive outside the womb.

I hate to admit this—it’s not something I usually share—but abortion went through my mind.  My two children had suffered the loss of a miscarried sibling already.  How would they survive watching my belly grow, all the while knowing that their brother or sister would not survive?  It was more than I could take.  I asked my doctor, “What are my options?” And while I have tried to tell myself that I was only asking this from a medical standpoint, that’s a lie—a  lie I have told myself and a few others.  I was thinking about those options.

But even as I asked the question, I knew I could not go through with it.  I had seen our baby’s heartbeat.  I knew there was a life inside me.  In Psalm 139, now one of my favorite chapters of the Bible, God’s heart for the unborn is shared. David, an imperfect man but a hero of the Bible, says, “Your eyes have seen my unformed substance; and in Your book were all written the days that were ordained for me, when as yet there was not one of them,” (Psalm 139:16).  He knew me before my body even began to take shape in my mother’s womb!  He had planned out my life before I was conceived!  If this was true for David and for me, it had to be true for my unborn child, too.  I knew that my child’s life was not mine to take.

We found out days later that our baby was a girl.  We named her Anna.  I began writing a blog, Carrying Anna, found at  www.carryinganna.wordpress.com. I shared honestly about our struggles and about our journey.  Many people started writing me, telling me how my sharing our raw emotions had helped them in some way.   Anna’s story was affecting people before she was even born.  God was using her mightily from inside my womb!

On Anna’s day, March 27, 2012, our family embraced our little girl. Anna Grace McMath, 4 lbs, 11 ounces, surprised doctors with her ability to cry (doctors had said she would probably not be able to take more than a breath) and with her fighting spirit.  But she was still a very sick little baby. We did not get to take her home.  We said goodbye after only five hours.  I wish with all of my heart that we could have had her longer, but five hours was a miracle, in itself.  The truth is that Anna’s life began long before March 27th.  Anna made and continues to make an impact in people’s lives that far exceeds what many 83-year-old adults ever make.  In fact, my prayer is that my other two children will live a life that impacts as many as our sweet little baby Anna.  Hers was a short life.  But it was an important one.

And your child’s life is important, too.  God created your child and gave him or her to youto carry.  Children are a gift from God.  Maybe you aren’t prepared to be a mother and you don’t think that will change over the next few months.  Maybe a very difficult situation—one you are not even responsible for—brought you to this day.  You may be in a terrifying situation—one that I cannot even begin to imagine. But your child is no less worthy of life because your circumstances are difficult.  Your child can be a gift to a mother who cannot have her own biological child.  Your child, full of potential and God-given attributes, can be a gift to the world.  Your child can impact people, and that impact can reach far beyond what you could ever imagine.  Through our blog, www.carryinganna.wordpress.com, people from every continent except Antarctica have read our Anna’s story.  Over 100,000 visits have been made to the blog.

The Pregnancy Resource Center of Milton is ready to stand with you.  They are ready to help you through your pregnancy and beyond.  You are not alone.  I am not saying it will be easy.  But choosing what seems to be the easy way out will only lead to heartache.  I cannot imagine the remorse and grief I would have felt had I chosen to abort our Anna.  Do what you hear in your heart you should do.  Take care of that baby growing inside. Choose life for your child.

There is someone else who is willing to walk through this with you.  God will not leave you alone.  After all, you are carrying a child He created.  And He knew, before He ever formed youin your mother’s womb, that this day was coming. He has a plan for you and for your child.  The Bible tells us in Jeremiah 29:11, “I know the plans I have for you . . . plans to prosper you and not harm you, plans to give you a future and a hope.” That promise is for you and for your child, too.

I hope this small gift given in my daughter’s memory encourages you in some way.  You were chosen to be your child’s mother.  And whether you feel deserving or not, our Father in Heaven saw you as fit to carry this child.  I am praying for you.  I am praying that you will sense God’s purpose in this and that you will take care of yourself and that child who is depending on you.

Sincerely,

Misty McMath

P.S. If you are not a Christ follower but want to know more about who Christ is and how He can offer you an indescribable peace, please ask the kind staff of the Pregnancy Resource Center  to share the good news of Jesus Christ with you.  And please, always feel free to contact me through Anna’s blog.

The PRC of Milton is an incredible resource in our community.  They don’t just encourage women to carry their babies; they help prepare them to do so. Then they walk with them through the steps.  If a mother chooses adoption, the PRC helps them decide the best route and offers prenatal education.  If a mother chooses to keep her child, the PRC offers prenatal education courses and parenting courses to better equip these young mothers.  They help meet physical needs as well as spiritual ones.  It is an incredible ministry.  Those who work and volunteer their time at the PRC of Milton aren’t just encouraging women to choose life and then walking away.  They are there after a woman makes that decision and after that precious baby is born.  They are truly God’s servants, ministering to women in their greatest time of need, and I am so proud that our family has been able to be associated with this great organization.

You can find out more about all the good they do at their website: www.prcofmilton.org.

By the way, there is a song our family loves to rock out to, especially Josiah. I loved it before Anna, and I love it moreso now.  Here’s a link to “There’s a Life Inside You” by Matthew West: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NMSs5WsYdsI.

Almost Six Months

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It has been almost six months since we met, held and snuggled our precious little Anna. Since then, my heart has broken a hundred times.  Moments of incredible beauty, poignant reminders of God’s grace have been scattered throughout those days of crippling grief. Intense pain, anger, and confusion have blinded me at times. Numbness has tiptoed in; I find myself gazing at something and going cross-eyed, forgetting what I was supposed to be doing or what I was thinking before I found myself in the fog.

But I still know that every good and perfect gift is from Him. To live without gratitude for those gifts, including my Anna, is to live without hope and without purpose and without meaning.  I refuse to be a mother who passes on such a legacy to her children.

I still have days when getting out of the bed seems like too much to ask.  But my duty as mother and wife cause me to rise and meet the day. I still have moments when I find myself muffling my sobs and I don’t even know what triggered the cry.  But laundry and supper and homework still have to be done.  And my children still ask profound questions and share thoughts that break my heart. But it’s my job to help them process the emotions that are still bottled up inside of them, too.  And I am so thankful for those “interruptions,” those pieces of my life that call me to live.

I find myself longing for heaven in a way I never thought I would. I remember overhearing a grown-up conversation one time when I was a child.  I was walking back and forth across the edge of my Grandma Rowell’s front porch, arms stretched out to keep my balance. Grandma and Aunt Evelyn were talking about heaven. I didn’t really pay attention to the conversation until I sensed discomfort.  Aunt Evelyn was moved to tears as she shared that she didn’t want to go to heaven yet.  She wasn’t ready.  She wanted to see her brand new grandson, Jamie, grow up.  It was obvious that she felt guilt over this admission.  Grandma, who was not exactly a gentle woman but who was as good as gold, reassured her daughter very simply, saying,  “That’s only natural.”  She understood that her daughter’s desire aligned with the way God made mothers.  We want to raise our children and our grandchildren before we leave this earth.

But when one of your children leaves this world before you do, the natural balance is disturbed.  It’s not that I want to leave my family here behind; I don’t.  I want to be Joey’s wife, I want to see Abby and Josiah grow up, and I want to be a grandmother to their children one day. It’s just that half my heart is already there–with Anna and that tiny baby we lost before her.  My Grandma had also lost a newborn child, and I know that loss must have helped shape how she saw heaven, too.  I went to visit her baby’s grave when we were trying to decide where to bury our Anna.  I felt such a strong connection to my grandmother as I sat kneeling in front of the tiny grave, wondering how she had dealt with the loss and imagining her crying over this tomb.  She would have been younger than me, dealing with loss in a time when you just got up and got over it.  I thought about the pain she must have carried around her whole life–and how much sweeter the promise of heaven tasted to her as a result of this loss.

Recently, Abby and I were talking about heaven.  We actually got giddy about the thought that Anna has a sibling in heaven and that Abby has a sibling on earth.  In both places, there are two siblings.  And Abby realized that, unlike many of her friends, when she went to heaven, she would already have family there–even if she were the first to go.

Oh, the promise of heaven!  What does one do without that promise?  How does one cope with reality if this corrupt and broken world is the only reality in which they believe?  Though there is happiness in this life, there is no joy without the Father.  There is no peace without Him.  The difficult times will leave you hardened, empty, and cold.  I have visited that place within myself.  It is not a great place to camp out.  I have had to run away from it and toward Him every time I can muster up the strength to do it.  And if I can’t find the strength, I ask Him for it.

This past Friday, our family visited Anna’s grave.  The headstone had finally been placed. (My indecisiveness regarding the design caused the delay.) We all brought balloons and wrote messages on them.  We prayed, asking God to share these messages with Anna somehow.  Then we sent them up.

It was a beautiful moment.  We watched as the balloons went over the trees and toward the park.  Joey and I held our breath, hoping the helium would keep carrying them higher–or at least out of sight. After the balloons were gone, we walked to the van and drove to get some dinner at the local Pizza Hut, the place Joey and I first met as teenagers back in 1996.

We sat in the booth where Joey and I shared our first meal together–breadsticks. We were both too nervous to eat much that first night. Fast forward 16 years, and I happily devoured two big slices of veggie lover’s and part of a slice of sausage.  Both of the kids had snuggled up to Joey on his side of the booth, munching on their pizza. 

As we were reminiscing with the kids, telling them about the first time we met, Joey said, “Wow.  If we had only known.” He laughed out loud, nodding to Abby, Josiah, and then behind him, toward the cemetery.

“We had no idea, did we?” I asked.

“Nope,” he said.

And while there are things I would change, the knowing is not one of them.  I loved the carefree years of my life, years when I thought I was beyond the reach of tragedy.  Years when Joey and I came and went as we wanted, happily planning dates and getaways. Years when we thought all we had to do to get pregnant and have four children was make a family planning spreadsheet and, of course, act on those decisions.  Years when I would doodle my favorite names on the backs of church bulletins and plan play dates with friends. Years when anything seemed possible and my youth stretched out before me, seemingly endless.

I wouldn’t take back a day of my optimistic youth.  Sure, there were hard days back then.  I’m painting much too pretty of a picture.  There was loss.  There was deep pain.  There was ministry.  There was work.  But underlying all of those pains and difficulties was a sense that we were invincible.

In a sense, we were.  The God who lived within us always was.  In that sense, we remain so.  But now I know I can go to very dark places.  Dreams can shatter.  A car wreck can change the way you feel every morning when you get out of bed–if you can get out of bed.  A devastating loss can make you fragile at the most inopportune times.  I don’t look around and see “shiny, happy people” now.  I see broken, bewildered people.  And they don’t avoid me now.  They come to me; honestly, they seek me out.  And I understand.  I seek them out, too.

In our weakness, His power is made evident.  Those broken people somehow shine for Him in a unique, powerful way.  I don’t know that I’m there yet; I think I’m still too deep in the grief.  But I hope I can be one of them one day.

Father, you know the plans you have for me. Plans to give me a future and a hope.  I believe this promise.  Help me to live with that hope every single day.  Help me to embrace the pain fully; heal me in spite of it.  Help me to let the pain sink in and make me stronger, better.  Help me use the pain.  I don’t want to waste it.  I don’t want to be who I was before, Lord.  I want to be better.  I want joy and happiness, but I never want to overlook others in their pain again.  I never want to sidestep that pain because I am unsure about what to do with it; I have been so guilty of that in the past. Never again. Pain is pain, regardless of its source. Help me to be honest, authentic, open, and true. Help me to live the life you planned for me without apology and without regrets.  In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen. 

Rainbows

This post was written in June.  For some reason, I didn’t post it.  I feel comfortable doing so now.  I didn’t realize that I hadn’t posted it until I visited the site today to write a new post.  So I’ll post that new one tomorrow.

It has been a long while since I’ve posted.  It has amazed me to see how many are still “checking in.”  I know that life goes on and our attention is drawn to things more pressing, more personal to us.  That’s only natural.  That’s why I have been humbled by how many people still ask how we are doing or regularly check the blog.

For those of you who are still praying for our family and are still concerned about us, thank you.  Thank you so much for your encouragement and your prayers.  I know that “prayer talk” can be so confusing to some.  Our prayers, in many ways, were not answered the way we had hoped that they would be.  But there is not a single one that I would take back.  Every time I turned to God and offered a prayer, my spirit was lifted.  I was brought into His fellowship.  When I have witheld my prayers, it has only hurt me.

For those struggling with similar circumstances–those of you who are facing a poor prognosis for your child or are dealing with the loss of your precious baby–wrap yourself in this promise: One day, night will never fall again.  There will be no more tears or sickness or pain.  And while it may do little to assuage that horrible, deafening grief you feel in your soul right now, let that promise just massage its way into your broken heart.  Cling to it when you have nothing left to cling to.  Grab it and hold on.

It’s a strange, carpeted minefield I’m walking around in these days.  The children talk about Anna often.  They have not gotten over losing her and they have not forgotten a thing.  Not a thing.  They remember every detail that I remember.  I always stand close by, tentative, waiting to intervene, when they are together discussing their sister.

Yesterday morning, one such instance arose.  I was ironing clothes when I heard Josiah say, “Abby, why are you sad?  You look sad.  Are you sad about Anna?”  I sat with iron raised, listening, ready to swoop in to comfort if necessary. Abby sighed and responded, “Well, Josiah, I am sad about Anna.  But I’m also sad because Walmart didn’t have Life Cinnamon cereal, and now I’m having to eat this kind.”  I finished ironing the pants, laughing to myself.

It has been like this from the beginning.  Children grieve and then burst into laughter.  It is a balm of sorts.  Our kids played their first practice tball game the same night their sister was buried.  Joey and I did not go, but my parents filmed portions of it.  We connected the camera to our television that evening, and we laughed and laughed as we watched our Abby and Josiah excitedly hit the ball, run the bases, and field.  Even on one of the hardest days of my life, there was laughter.  Even on one of the darkest days, there was sunshine.  Pure sunshine.

As my milk came in over the next couple of days, my pain level increased.  As I popped pain medicine in my mouth and “embraced” cabbage leaves, I wondered why anyone would do this on purpose!  With every thought of Anna, I would feel a surge that just broke my heart.  Oh, how I wanted to nurse her!  To cuddle with her and hold her to me, smelling her sweet smell and watching her eyes lock onto mine.  The physical pain of drying up perfectly good milk was difficult.  The emotional pain was tormenting.

When Abby returned to school, she wanted everyone to know that she had a baby sister.  She wanted to bring pictures of Anna to show all her classmates–she wanted to show her off!  But she did not, however, want to tell them that Anna had died.

It continues to be a process.  Josiah’s anger that he felt while we were still in the hospital continues to occasionally play itself out in aggressive and intense behaviors.  Abby’s dashed hope and desire to make sense of her baby sister’s death is just as difficult to traverse. Through our journey with Anna, our children have learned much about death.  But we have also had the privilege of teaching them more about heaven, the final home for all who have accepted Christ.  Death has been conquered there. 

A couple of days after we lost Anna, Josiah said,  “Why couldn’t God just take all of us to heaven at one time?  If I was God, that’s what I would do.”  Doesn’t that make perfect sense?  Why couldn’t God just take us all at the same time?  But that’s not my decision to make.  We tried to tell Josiah that God had a different plan and that we were trusting Him.  Admittedly, it’s not easy.

We are still taking it one day at a time, and we are learning as we go.  The journey continues to be a difficult one, but we still have splashes of joy and moments where we feel very much protected. We cry together and we talk about tough things, and then we watch the sun come back out again.  We laugh, knowing that rain will come again, too, but that God’s grace is sufficient.

It takes both sunshine and rain to make a rainbow. We are the composite of our experiences–experiences that bring both laughter and tears. Now, let’s be clear.  I’m not ready to shout, “Bring on the rain!”  But I am definitely awed at the rainbows I am seeing in my life and in the life of my children.   Losing Anna has made me more compassionate, more concerned about others, more empathetic to others’ pain, and, to put it simply, it has increased my depth. I am not as shallow as I once was. The beauty God brings from the ashes of our lives is truly beyond what we can comprehend.  But I get glimpses.  And I’m truly awed by these little snippets of rainbows–rainbows that I will see in all their glory one day in heaven, on display with the beginnings and ends clearly marked. And I will offer them up to the only One deserving of our worship, the Author and Finisher of my faith.

” . . .and behold, a throne was standing in heaven, and One sitting on the throne. And He who was sitting was like a jasper stone and a sardius in appearance; and there was a rainbow around the throne . . .” Revelation 4:3-4