When Kidneys Are Beautiful

For the past few days, I have felt like a 500-pound person has been sitting on my chest.

Joey and I had looked forward to and dreaded today, sometimes in the same moment.  We had to return to the same office where almost three years ago we heard news that would forever change our family.  We went, knowing there was a solid chance that the baby I carried could have kidneys that looked as hopeless as Anna’s had.   We went, wondering if we were crazy for having allowed ourselves to be in this position again.  We went, fearing devastation and depression and heartbreak but hoping for reassurance and an end to the anxiety.

I will admit that I feared what this day might mean to my faith, a faith that is definitely more fragile than it was just three years ago.  It has been forced to stretch and grow, earning a patina that I associate with a bit more wisdom but a bit more frailty, too.  That probably makes little sense to some.  But for those who have known heartbreak, maybe you know how it feels for your soul to limp at times, rather than soar.

I want to delicately write this, careful not to tear at tattered edges, sensitive to the hurt and pain of those trying to stay strong in the midst of their own living nightmares.  I know about the dreams either given up or tucked away.  Joey and I understand that we are the fortunate ones.  We lost a child, but we have two others.  And we have another one on the way.  I am resistant to saying we have been blessed, for I know others feel they have been cursed.  Nor do I want to ignore that any child is a blessing from our Father, for he or she certainly is.  It is a tight rope on which we walk, trying to express our gratitude while also being mindful that others have sat in such offices–more than once–and received news that hurt to the core.

All I know is to tell the truth, though. I hate those blinding, sickening days.  But today, today tasted like sunshine, open windows, easy breathing, joy. It was a beautiful day.

Nightmares and anxiety attacks had been my companion.  Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.  Thy rod and thy staff will comfort me (Psalm 23:4). While I tried to give it all to Him and remember that He was with me, sometimes that led to push, push, pushing stuff down.  Mamas can’t just sit around and cry.  Suppressing your thoughts and emotions leads to ugly nights, nights when all those thoughts creep up and torment you in the misshapen forms of nightmares.

This morning, I woke sweaty and achy. As I got ready, my heart rate would soar to 120 bpm, my breathing short and shallow.  Anxiety would overtake me.  Then calm would settle in.  I would feel excitement and then fear, soaring heights and then depressing depths.  Cast all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you (I Peter 5:7).

Joey and I entered the doctor’s office, talking about schedules, devotions, books.  I read in my Bible study book, Breathe by Priscilla Shirer, about the different ways we receive miracles in our lives.  There was a quote by A.W. Tozer:

The believing man does not claim to understand.  He falls to his knees and whispers, ‘God.’ The man of earth kneels also, but not to worship. He kneels to examine, to search, to find the cause and the how of things.

I recognized myself in that quote.  How often have I rationalized away God’s hand in my life?  I committed to praise Him if we indeed received a miracle.  I thought about how I should praise Him if we did not see one.  I wanted to be that strong person of faith–that Shadrach, Meshach, or Abednego in the face of a tyrant king and a fiery furnace–but you can’t exactly lie to God.  He knew I would struggle with praise if we had to go through another loss.  Maybe I would get there eventually, but He and I both knew it would not be today.

The ultrasound began.  I quickly recognized that we could see images much more clearly than we could with Anna.  I knew that meant there was more amniotic fluid. One of the first things the technician told us was the baby’s gender.  Joey and I laughed out loud.  Could I breathe?  Could I fully relax?  Not yet.  I watched as the technician began to measure our child’s limbs, head, abdomen, heart.  It was several minutes before she made it to the two little bean-shaped kidneys.  She measured those.  I knew they did not look swollen and angry like Anna’s had.  But I did not know if they looked completely healthy, and the tech would not say.

She continued to note the palate, the orbits (eyes), the spine. Then she typed something on the screen that took my breath.  I grabbed Joey’s hand and squeezed.  She had captured a picture of the bladder and typed “bladder” on the screen.  I couldn’t wait to tell Josiah that this baby, unlike Anna, had a bladder.  A bladder!  When Anna was born, she was doing so much better than doctors expected that the pediatric specialist wanted to do an ultrasound to see if she had a bladder.  He had said if she had a bladder, there were things they could do to help her.  If not, we would need to let nature take its course.  Sadly, she did not have one.  Josiah has asked us many, many times why God did not give Anna a bladder.  I couldn’t wait to tell him that this baby had one.

The doctor entered the room.  His air was so different from the doctor’s who entered after Anna’s ultrasound.  That doctor knew he was walking into a room of death.  The doctor today knew he was bringing news of life.

He assured us that our amniotic fluid looked great.  He picked up the ultrasound wand and began to jostle the baby, finally getting the picture he wanted.  He said the liquid in our baby’s kidneys was at 2 ml, and anything under 4 is normal.  Of course, I asked was it too low.  He assured me that it was completely normal.  He could tell I was still not sure.  He looked at me and said, “Your baby’s kidneys look beautiful.”

Beautiful kidneys.  Have there ever been two kinder, more eloquent words spoken? Gracious words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones(Proverbs 16:24).

I breathed.  I took a full, deep breath.  I began to dream.  I began to believe this pregnancy was going to proceed. I began to think about our names and our baby and our nursery and the new little one that would carry my heart.  There was a tenderness, an ache for Anna, a wish that it had gone this way for her, a longing to get to have both.  But there was an absolute need to express thanksgiving for this child who was literally leaping within me.  The 500-pound person stood up and walked away.  I could breathe again.

This journey is not over.  As someone said to me tonight, when you have lost a baby, you don’t fully relax until that healthy baby is in your arms.  We will return in four weeks to the high-risk doctor for him to look at kidney function and make sure that the baby is progressing as it should be, but it is our past history that commends that appointment, not anything that the doctor saw today.  We will return again at 30 weeks, basically because I am “advanced maternal age.”  Just can’t hear that phrase enough, right?

Whatever the road ahead might hold, tonight we are rejoicing. We are so thankful–thankful for your prayers, thankful for the encouragement of so many, and we are thankful that this baby looks okay.  None of us knows what the future holds.  We are not guaranteed one more day with our children or our parents, our spouses or our siblings.  We do not know what tomorrow will bring, even for the healthiest among us.

But today, today is beautiful.  And that’s enough for now.

So These Are the Things Keeping. Me. Up. At. Night. (Read on for grammatical analysis of the title.)

I am pregnant.  This means that I am hormonal, sometimes easily bothered, and rather cranky at times.  This also means that I wake up in the middle of the night and can’t go back to sleep because God is preparing me for staying up at night with a newborn.  Isn’t that amazing?  Isn’t that just incredible that He does that?  I am so thankful!  (That was dripping with sarcasm, even though it is actually amazing and incredible.)

I am combining these two traits of pregnancy–irritatedness (not a word, I know) and insomniaticalism (also not a word) to bring you this list of things that are under my skin at 1:29 A.M. and are somehow preventing me from going to sleep, even though my body desperately needs rest.

1.  All this talk about Jameis Winston.  (Disclaimer:  I am an Auburn fan but grew up a Seminole and they are still my #2 team.)  Yes, I realize I am adding to “all this talk” by bringing this up, but I am awake during the middle of the night.  Let’s not squabble over the details. Okay, first of all, I detest what the guy said.  I think it was a horrendous statement to shout from the top of a table to other college kids, especially considering the very serious dropped charges that are still under investigation by FSU.  When you are arguably the best quarterback in the country and you have won the Heisman, you need to step up and represent.  However, it’s time to shift the conversation to one of growth.  This guy is not the only football player who has said disgusting, disrespectful things about women.  Google it.  It’s pretty common.  And it is certainly not a problem only relegated to athletes.  The topic of conversation should not be a 20-year-old who yelled something he had heard on the internet but instead how these phrases become a part of people’s vocabularies to begin with.  I won’t apologize for being a feminist on this point: Women are not objects.  You expose your complete lack of class when you use the b-word or the p-word in a phrase that slips off your tongue as easily as phrases like “thank you” and “you’re welcome” do for those who possess a sense of dignity.  Let’s talk about the music, the movies, and the home lives that contribute to a culture of degradation for women.  Let’s mothers talk about living a life that causes your son to rise up and call you blessed.  I know I could be encouraged to do a better job at that.

2.  Moving away from football and ESPN-related topics (whew, so uncomfortable in that zone) and onto topics of much greater importance in my life, let’s discuss NPR correspondents who begin their sentences with the word “so.”  You are an NPR correspondent or a guest on a nationally-acclaimed news show.  Please, do not begin your sentence with a conjunction if you are not conjoining anything. I only took one journalism class and recognize that I am not an expert, but this seems so unprofessional.  Yes, I do sometimes succumb to this cultural phenomenon in my blog and in my conversation, but I am not being paid money to sound educated and informative.  So just stop it!  (Ha, did you catch that use of so?  I’ve done it twice in this post so far.)

3.  While we are on the topic of grammar, I will share that it also bothers me when people. overuse. the. concept. of. putting. a. period. after. every. word.  I think this began with the Best. Day. Ever. phrase.  It’s effective, kind of cool, a neat writing tool to use occasionally.  However, when overused it just makes me feel. like. I. am. tripping. over. words.  Please, do not use it in conversation or a term paper.  Just don’t.  (Yes, I used this irritating tactic in the title of this article. I am a hypocrite.)

4.  Let’s stay with grammar for one more item.  I had written “Reaganomics were” in my previous post.  This has bothered me immensely.  I had originally written “The Reagan years were” and then changed it to “Reaganomics” and didn’t catch that I needed to change the verb to was since I had changed my word choice from the plural years to the singular Reaganomics.  I noticed this as I was reading my post on my phone, but I can only edit the blog from the laptop, which I rarely use.  Several times over the past few weeks, while I have tried to will myself to sleep, this has popped in my mind and I have considered getting up, turning on the laptop, and editing my post.  Some people are kept awake thinking about how they need to go mop the floor, clean the toilet, or marinate the meat. (Hopefully not at the same time!  Yuck!)  I am kept awake thinking about how I need to clean up my writing or how I could have better word choice.  Finally, I succumbed. This edit is, essentially, what pulled me out of the bed tonight (or this morning?) and led to this rant about things that have been going through my mind.  It is now corrected.  Maybe this will cure the insomnia.  One can hope.

5. Wow, I am really stuck on grammar.  Every time I reread and edit what I write, I feel the presence of a college professor or two standing over my shoulder, shaking his and/or her heads (head?) at some of my sentences.  I dearly appreciate and value the structure of the English language.  I still have words that I misspell (the prior one is an example that sometimes trips me up), grammar issues that are sticky for me (meaning I know something is wrong but I can’t put my finger on it), infinitives that seem destined to be split, and I use downright Southern phrases which I’m not willing to altogether give up, especially in the presence of family (y’all, occasionally adding at behind a directional question, etc.). All in all, though, I respect the boundaries set before me when writing a scholarly paper or even a cover letter to a resume.  In my informal, conversational writing, however, I take liberties.  I end sentences with prepositions. (Really, sometimes “in which” inserted into the middle of the sentence just sounds wordy.)  I overuse parentheses (examples may be seen throughout this post).  I begin sentences with conjunctions (but I will not do so if ever asked to deliver the news on NPR).  I sometimes use run-on sentences or sentence fragments to make a point.  These are the things I do to honor the English language and to make my words my own.  I hope if you are nit-picky (as all English majors and editors are, myself included), you will relax just a bit and enjoy the unique ways writers bend our language, reshaping it at times, in an effort to express thoughts that just can’t always be best expressed inside of the grammar box.

6. I rented Mom’s Night Out two nights ago, and I haven’t even been able to find the time to watch a movie about a night out, much less have a night out.  Abby watched it and said it was funny.  Well, that’s something.  (Meanwhile, my redbox bill is now up to over four bucks and I’ve only seen snippets of the movie.)

7.  (If you are still reading, I’m impressed.  This post is nothing if not narcissistic.) Continuing on, it seems that if you have a list, there should be 10 items.  That probably comes from years of staying up too late and watching David Letterman as a teenager. (I was a teenager, not Letterman.)  Okay, number 7.  Hmm . . . I got nothing.  (See there?  I realize it should be I have nothing, but that just doesn’t have the same ring, does it?)

I am so sorry to those of you who are reading this to get an update on our sweet baby.  You had to, at least, skim all of that other stuff first.  Please forgive my verbose exercise in emptying the contents of my brain.  I do hope I can go to sleep now!

Here’s an update on our little one.  (It only seems fair, since you had to muddle through those above musings.)  I am 12 weeks, 6 days.  We saw our sweet, active baby kicking, punching, rubbing his or her face, and waving at us yesterday on an ultrasound.  The baby looks great, and I am doing my best to focus on the fact that our baby is healthy and whole at this juncture.  I’m pretty sure I felt him or her move tonight when I reached down to pick something up, thereby constricting its playground.  We will return to the high risk doctor again in a few weeks.  That’s our scary appointment.  We will either come away relieved or absolutely devastated.  I just can’t allow myself to go there in my brain tonight, though.  I’ve just emptied it.  It needs to stay empty so that I can get more sleep before the alarm goes off and I start a new day with the husband and two kids who bring me more joy than football, grammar, and top 10 lists combined!

We appreciate your prayers and we thank you for joining us on this journey!  Good night!  (Or Good Morning?)

Let’s Start at the Very Beginning. It’s a Very Good Place to Start.

This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it. Psalm 118:24

I have been blessed beyond measure.

Guess who was raised in a loving home with two parents committed to each other, even when friendship didn’t come easily and finances were tight? (Reaganomics was awesome if you already had money, not so grand if you didn’t.) Guess whose Mama taught her about being a lady, getting her hands (a little) dirty, the joy of reading books and writing stories, the importance of family, and that there was no one anywhere who could stop her from doing anything she wanted to do? (Let’s just say self-esteem was never an issue.) Guess whose Daddy could give you chill bumps when he sang, could pick any instrument he was handed, visited the sick, worked hard, hard, hard, and never let his grass get above two inches? (Pretty sure I’ve let him down on the whole lawncare front.)

Guess who had an older brother who had a temper but used it to protect his sister and built her up as if she were something special, making her feel that she really was a little too good to just give away what the good Lord told her to keep? (All this occurred after the fightin’ years, of course.) Guess who had a baby brother who was easy to get along with, good natured, and kept us laughing with jokes he made up and quotes from Karate Kid? (He even designed mini-amusement parks in his room and only charged a small fee.) Guess who had grandparents two miles north and four miles west, complete with open doors, great stories, and lots of yummy food? (Not to mention all the aunts, uncles, and cousins dotting the horizon in between and scattered a bit beyond.) Guess who always had a warm bed, plenty of food, and new back-to-school clothes and shoes each year? (And those clothes grew even more stylish when I added in summertime babysitting money to get the name brands. Remember Esprit? Guess? Bongo?)

Guess who was lucky enough to stay away from the troublemakers (Dear God, thank you, thank you, thank you) and wind up with a smart, godly young man who loved the woods, hard work, and a young lady in Berrydale who never thought she’d be so lucky? (Didn’t we have fun when there were no real obligations and life stretched out before us?) Guess who still has that man loving her almost 19 years later, still encouraging her to be the woman God has called her to be? (I’m hoping for at least 50 more.) Guess who has two beautiful children who love each other, love God, and make her proud every day? (Even if there are sometimes helter-skelter fights that make my eyes cross and steam come out of my ears.) Guess who has a baby girl in heaven, reminding her that this life goes on and must do so but that when it ends, there is another life that is greater and better and even more worthy of our attention than the world we find ourselves in today? (Even if I miss her and long for her like a crazy woman sometimes.)

This girl. This daughter. This sister. This wife. This Mama.

If everything in my entire life was negative from this moment on, I cannot see a way in which the balances of time would not solidly fall to the side of “Pretty Amazing and Blessed Life.”

So imagine my surprise when a month ago, I learned that we had yet another blessing already growing inside me. For those of you who don’t know, we are expecting again. We are ten weeks along, my belly is swelling, my nausea is ever-present, and we are praying without ceasing.

We have prayed for two years that God would bless us with another child, if it was His will. We have asked that He would not give us a child if it would mean we would have to live through losing one again. As thankful as I am that we had our Anna Grace, I do not want to repeat that experience.  I am asking if you are reading this post, please stop for just a moment and pray for our baby and for our pregnancy. It would mean so much to our family.

Joey and I had given up and were content with having two children. Adoption had been discussed at times. We were waiting and praying. We weren’t doing it all perfectly, but we had come to a point at which we were thankful and happy with life as it was. I was planning a trip to Disney World for my 9 and 6 year old, thinking how life had gotten downright easy. I was thinking that maybe, just maybe, with only two children, we might be able to afford to send the kids to Auburn one day. I was thinking that when the kids started school, I would have time do some freelance writing and maybe even work on that elusive book. Perhaps I would consider going back to teaching, a career I loved. We let the dreams of our family go; we handed it over to the One who had it all along. I was convinced that God did not plan for us to have a child. And while we weren’t exactly okay with it, we accepted it and tried to see the positives.

Mama and every other living person who has carried children and has opinions had told us that when we stopped trying, it would happen. But what did these people know? I mean, there are basal thermometers and apps out there that scream otherwise! These silly, old-fashioned people. Well, I am now eating humble pie. And since I’m pregnant, I’ll have a second slice.

The month we gave up, He gave us the desire of our heart. One more.

Abby told me, just the other day, that she is afraid that something will be wrong with this baby.  I told her that I worried about that, too, but that if we miscarried or if the baby was not healthy, we would get through it together, just like we did last time.  God would help us and we would be okay. That seemed good enough for her. That and a big, long hug. Josiah is very protective, encouraging me to lay down and rest, eat a snack, be careful. He also talks to my belly already, telling his brother or sister how he loves him or her.

We are celebrating this tiny, kumquat-sized life inside of me today. We are praying the pregnancy goes well, that it lasts, that the baby grows strong with healthy kidneys and lungs.  We are praying for each organ, each sense, each finger and toe. We are praying these things, knowing we have prayed these things before and still lost a child. But we are praying, believing that all things work together for the good of those who love Him.

And I am praying, knowing that whatever may come, I am still blessed.  My life is a beautiful one, and I am thankful for each day we all get to spend together.

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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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