The End Is in Sight. So Is the Beginning.

“For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. ” Romans 8:38-39

Well, we’re almost there.

Tomorrow (as in 30 minutes from now) is Jackson Glen’s due date.  I am looking forward to meeting this little baby boy.  For some time now, he has been committed to practicing his goal kicks from 9:30 to 11:30 at night.  He takes a break and then runs back out on the field around 3:30AM.  I break when he breaks.  The whole process has left me pretty exhausted in the mornings.  It’s also left me wondering just how well developed his quads must be.

I have an amazing husband who has graciously taken the kids to school after a few practically sleepless nights.  Yes, that’s why Josiah’s cowlicks have been especially prolific the last few days and why he creatively paired khaki socks with gray tennis shoes today for his Easter egg hunt.  It’s also why Abby’s miniscule hairbow she donned on her very, very low ponytail–we’re talking two inches below the base of her skull–was one she last wore as an 18-month-old.  But I’m not a perfectionist control freak or anything, so it’s fine.  Really, it’s fine.  Also, her socks were not evenly rolled down to meet the top of her Keds.  But no, really, it’s fine.  Yes, my eye is twitching.  Truly, though, I’m fine.

Jackson Glen’s preoccupation with being the MVP of playground kickball (team captain, here we come) has really affected my sleep, but Joey has been as sweet as he can possibly be.  The only thing I’m holding out for is that Joey, in a moment of feeling terribly sorry for his exhausted and rather rotund wife, will relinquish his rights to the child’s name.  Jackson was pretty much Joey’s choice.  He wanted another “J” name in the family to fit nicely with Joey and Josiah (as well as Joe, Sr.; Joe, Jr.; John; John, Jr.; Jeremy; Jonathan; Judah–I could go on).  I liked this idea, too.  It’s sweet to have family connections and to feel that you fit into a family pattern (hence, Amista, Abby, and Anna). I was able to suggest Glen, my Daddy’s middle name, so that this little McMath would have a Rowell connection, too.  So we are kind of at a crossroads and on even playing ground with our next dilemma: Joey really likes the name Jackson; I prefer Jack. (I guess you could call it even, if you don’t take into consideration that I am the one who has dealt with the morning sickness, heartburn, restless legs, leg cramps, exhaustion, stretch marks, forty extra pounds, etc.  I won’t bring that up, though. That would be tacky.)

I actually love both names.  My problem (and main argument) is that there are like seven Jacksons in every homeroom class and hospital nursery.  That might be an exaggeration, but it’s not much of one.  It tickles me how I will call our son Jackson in front of Joey because I love my husband and want to please him.  He, likewise, will call him Jack in front of me because he likes me a lot, too.  We have agreed to hold him and see which name fits him best, so we are truly open to whatever friends want to call him.  Hearing people say the two different names may help us decide which one works best for him.  And I’m totally open to Jackson because, as I mentioned before, I’m not a control freak at all.  I mean, really.  We can just make sure the teacher calls him Jackson Mac so as not to be confused with the other six Jacksons in his class.  Not a big deal.

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No subliminal message here.  Just keep reading, folks.  (Joey got me this placemat as a Christmas gift. We really can laugh about it.)

All kidding aside, we are both absolutely in love with our little Jack(son) Glen McMath, and we are going to love calling him by either name–or both!  We can’t wait to see what God has for him and for our family.  He must have a great plan for our son, one that involves healing and a deeper understanding of God’s heart for our whole family. It has been difficult for me to put into words the way this pregnancy has felt.  I have not intentionally hidden my emotions–I just haven’t always known why one moment I was giddy and the next moment I wanted to cry.  I knew it wasn’t just hormones.  It’s been complicated.

While we are so incredibly grateful for this baby boy, we still mourn Anna.  And in many ways, the pregnancy has heightened that loss because feeling our baby kick and watching me grow reminds us of that delicate pregnancy that introduced us to a darkness and a pain we had never known.  On this journey with Jackson, I have come to accept that it’s okay to celebrate and mourn the same moment.  I recently read an article written by a man who had lost his teenage son to a brief, terrible infection.  He compared the grief and joy of life as two rails on the same track.  You can, indeed, experience them simultaneously.  A dear friend shared in a sweet card that even as we welcome Jack into the world, we will mourn Anna again.  There will be tears of joy and sadness.  We know that neither life nor death can separate us from the love of God.  Actually, they both can bring us closer to Him.  I must choose to take each thought captive to Him.  It’s not that I can’t question Him or ask why.  It’s just that I need to take my questions to Him instead of walking alone, sometimes fruitlessly allowing my thoughts to take me down a path that does not end in a clearing but instead in a thicket.  I have chosen Him many times; sometimes, though, I have chosen the sticker bushes and thorns.

Last Friday, I was faced with that choice again as we celebrated and mourned Anna’s third birthday. Carrying Jack, at times, has intensified the grief, but carrying him has also forced me to look ahead and anticipate what God has for our family’s future.  On a day that I have, in the past, allowed myself to curl up in a ball and just survive, my body would not let me rest.  Nesting had already set in and prodded me to get busy–washing clothes, cleaning baseboards, preparing our home for the little baby who will soon join our family and forever change who we are.

After school on Friday, Josiah brought me a sucker he had saved, a reward he received at the end of the school day for good behavior.  He told me he wanted me to have it because I had “born” Anna, so if I ate it, it would be sort of like letting Anna have it. It was his best effort to give her a gift for her birthday. Then he got frustrated and just said, “I wish we could have brought her home with us.”  He asked me a couple of questions about her body and her grave. I held it together and tried to answer his questions.  A few minutes later I went into my bathroom and let the dam break.  It was that same, familiar, knife-twisting pain.  I wanted to celebrate her birthday with her and buy her a “Big Sister” tshirt.  I wanted to stay mad and just sit in my pain for a while longer.  But ultimately, in this moment, I did not. I decided to take Josiah out and celebrate life with him.  Abby was exhausted from a three-mile walk she had participated in at school, so she and Joey hung out at home. I freshened up my makeup, changed into non-stained, post-1998ish clothing, and Josiah and I went out on the town.

Josiah’s idea of a good time was a movie theatre arcade and a ten-dollar bill. After he played games and (amazingly) won two toys with that silly claw, we went to Waffle House.  I let Josiah pour his own syrup.  It was a big moment. He kept looking at me out of the corner of his eye, amazed that he was actually getting away with the puddling of syrup on his plate, practically a capital offense in our home.  By the time he was done, there was syrup in his hair, mine (okay, okay, I ate two bites as payment for cutting the waffle into oh-my-word delicious bite-sized pieces), and on several sticky, sticky napkins.

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Listening to Josiah talk excitedly and rock his body back and forth in the Waffle House booth, I rode the rails of joy and grief, thankful yet broken-hearted at the same time.  And I think when we welcome this little gift from God–who right now is kick, kick, kicking, apparently preparing for the state-qualifying heat of the 110 hurdles–we will ride those same rails.  We will be terrified, overjoyed, emptied, and filled, all at once.  And none of those emotions will separate us from the One who chose us to be Jackson’s family.

What a ride He has in store for us.  What a glorious journey lies ahead.  We are ready, Jackson.  Jack.  JG.  Maybe you can tell us which name you like best.  Until then, perhaps I’ll just call you my baby boy, my precious, precious gift from God.  Any day now, son!  We love you, little one!

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Ashes

 “And even though I don’t know what your plan is, I know you make beauty from these ashes.” – The Afters

Last week, Joey and I heard the words we had been longing to hear from our high risk doctor: “Your baby’s kidneys are so pretty that they are boring.  I don’t think you need to see us again.”

Of course, Joey and I walked out of that office with gratitude.  We were so overjoyed by this wonderful news.  We had prayed for two years that God would give us another child if it was His will.  We had prayed for a healthy pregnancy.  We had pleaded and then tried to accept what we thought was a “no.” Then we found out we were expecting!  We did several little happy dances, prayed and cried some more, prayed again, and then waited.  Now, we were walking out of a dark office where dreams are often devastated and into sunshine and laughter, onesies and baby coos.

So why, just a couple of nights later, did I feel myself having a panic attack, trying to catch my breath and sobbing so hard that my sides hurt?  Why am I crying this morning, wishing I had an almost three-year-old running around?  He has given me the desires of my heart, hasn’t He?  Hasn’t He answered my prayer?

I am so thankful that Jackson Glen is on his way.  People have been so kind and gracious to us.  You can see the genuine joy and excitement on our friends’ faces.  We have been blessed with another child, and this time everything looks great.  I think the assumption would be, understandably, that I am healed.  We are whole. Jack(son), as Abby writes it, will come along and replace what we lost.  We will have our three children.  We will be complete.

It’s just not so.

There are still broken pieces for us.  Abby will never get to have the sister she prayed to have.  Josiah will never get to be the protective big brother to his Anna.  I will never get to see those relationships and nurture them. I will never rock my daughter or dance with her in the kitchen. Joey will never teach her how to shoot a BB gun or walk her down the aisle.  And perhaps the most painful: Jackson will never meet Anna.  He won’t understand our loss.  And he won’t have the playmate and best friend that Josiah has in Abby. The age gap between Josiah and Jack will be a constant reminder for me that we are missing our third child.  Abby and Josiah.  Anna and Jack.  That’s the way it should be.

I sound so ungrateful.  God knows I am so thankful that we have a healthy baby boy on the way.  I know there are many women who long to have just one baby.  My pain and loss must seem so selfish.  But all I know are my life experiences.  And I just know that for some reason, I felt the necessity to share my heart in all honesty this morning.  I’m not healed.  I’m not over it.  To pretend otherwise would be disingenuous.

I find myself considering the image of “beauty from ashes,” which we read about in Isaiah 61:1-3.

61 “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon Me,
Because the Lord has anointed Me
To bring good news to the afflicted;
He has sent Me to bind up the brokenhearted,
To proclaim liberty to the captives,
And freedom to prisoners;
To proclaim the favorable year of the Lord,
And the day of vengeance of our God;
To comfort all who mourn,
To grant those who mourn in Zion,
To give them beauty for ashes,
The oil of joy for mourning,
The garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness;
That they may be called oaks of righteousness,
The planting of the Lord, that He may be glorified.”

I am not a Bible scholar, so I wish to tread lightly here.  My most basic understanding of this prophecy written by Isaiah is that it points to Christ.  This passage is from the Old Testament, but in the New Testament, we read that Christ recited a portion of this passage in the synagogue.  He had been accepted throughout Galilee, but when he returned to Nazareth, his hometown persay, He was rejected. Luke 4:16-20 reads:

“And He came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up; and as was His custom, He entered the synagogue on the Sabbath, and stood up to read. And the book of the prophet Isaiah was handed to Him. And He opened the book and found the place where it was written, ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me because He anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free those who are oppressed, to proclaim the favorable year of the Lord.’ And He closed the book, gave it back to the attendant and sat down; and the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on Him.

You think? Verse 21:

“And He began to say to them, ‘Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

I am thinking you could have heard a pin drop.  And then the reaction: you’re telling us that you–the son of Joseph, the carpenter–are the fulfillment of Jewish prophecy?  You’re telling us you are the Messiah?  You are telling us that You are the one who will make things right between us and God?  Is that what you are saying?

Yep.  That’s what He was saying.  And He said a few more things that are worth reading, if you have a minute.  Some of the people got pretty annoyed and tried to throw Him over a cliff.  But, His being God and all, He “passed through their midst and went His way” (v. 30).

One commentary suggests that Jesus did not finish reading all of this passage from Isaiah because the second part of the prophecy will not be complete until Christ’s return. I’m not sure about that, but it does seem to me if Jesus stopped reading in the middle of a passage, there was probably a good reason.  For me, it makes me wonder about the beauty for ashes, joy for mourning part.  I have heard this so many times and believe it with all my heart.  But what exactly are the ashes?  What should that word picture look like in my mind?

Certainly, salvation through Jesus Christ brings beauty from ashes and joy from mourning.  He brings those things as well as all the others Isaiah mentions–good news, freedom, comfort. But what I can’t envision is the ashes and the mourning disappearing completely, at least not on this earth. My transformation will not be complete until I am actually standing in the very presence of God.  Salvation is not a once and done concept, in my mind.  It is continual.  I am saved once.  He didn’t need to die multiple times and I don’t need to “get saved” more than once.  But after I admit my need for Him, ask for forgiveness, and accept Jesus as the only One who can save me from being eternally separated from God, my transformation should continue. Otherwise, I would be a child in the faith my entire life.  I’m not done yet.  Any beauty He plans to bring from the ashes of my life will not be complete here.  For that matter, the ashes keep smoldering.

The brokenness, the pain, the injuries of this life–many of these will remain as embers. Smoke continues to rise from these and from all that is being burned away.  And while beauty and joy and all the good and righteous and perfect gifts that come from God do indeed come, the ashes seem to remain, just as my imperfection and my need for a Savior remain.

So even as I pray this morning for comfort and for peace, and even as I thank Him for Jackson, I still mourn Anna.  As I try to open my hands and give Him my son, I find my fists tightening, trying to protect my little boy, even from the God who created him.  That might not make sense, but it’s my battle.  It’s the demon I war against.

Because I still have smutty hands.  I still feel the heat from the cinders.  I’m still learning how to find the beautiful while living in a world filled with smoke.  One day, I’m going to stand in his presence and wipe my smudged hands on His garment.  Then I’m going to thank Him and put on my garment of praise. I’ll take my Anna by the arm. Our whole family will walk through the streets of heaven and visit with those who have already been made beautiful, clean, without soot.

Praise Jesus, our nostrils will be filled with the sweet perfume of the glory of God.  And we will never smell those pungent ashes again.

Christmas Letter 2014

Merry Christmas!  I wanted to share our family Christmas letter as a way to update you all on our pregnancy and our lives.  I hope to write a true post to the blog soon.  Thank you–truly from the bottom of our hearts–for the prayers you have prayed for our family.  We are so thankful for this new life literally leaping within me! -Misty

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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,

Merry Christmas! As always, I have waited until the last possible moment to sit down and write this letter. I’m just as busy as all of you–well, most of you–so I find my days filled with tasks that seem so necessary and pressing at the time. I rarely take the time to go on a date with my husband, have lunch with a friend, call someone and have a really good heart-to-heart, or sit down to write a letter. Yet I think these will be the things I wish I had made time for one day. These are the things God uses to feed my soul.

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What I do find time for are two kiddos who keep me busy and frazzled, yet madly in love and generally contented. Our house is one of those houses. The kids run inside. They yell across the house. They slam doors. They are messy. They are creative. They are loud. There are days I think I have done it all wrong; there are others when I know everything is as it should be. There are days when I feel defeated because Josiah just jumped on the couch. There are other days when I feel like the queen of moms because my kids just linked arms and ran across the backyard together. I do some of it right; I do a lot of it wrong. It’s life. His grace is sufficient for me.

After two years of petitioning God for another child to add to this deliciously crazy household, we decided that God must have closed that door. Maybe we were confusing missing Anna with wanting another child. I looked for the positives of a life with two children–affordability, ease of going to an amusement park where no one had to ride alone, affordability, one-to-one ratio for reading stories at bedtime, affordability. We let it go, deciding that although we were disappointed, this would be our life and it really is a pretty good one. I even sold many of our baby things in a garage sale.

Of course, the day after we sold off our wares, we found out we were expecting! Crazy giggling and squeals of delight ensued, especially when Abby walked in right after I told Joey and figured it out. We have had a whirlwind of emotions–from jubilation to anxiety–but we are so excited to say our baby boy seems perfectly healthy. Jackson Glen McMath is due April 3rd. We are so delighted that God has entrusted another child to our care. We can’t promise he won’t jump on couches, but we can promise He will be treasured and taught all about the God who brings beauty from ashes.

IMG_4101Big sister Abby and big brother Josiah are over-the-moon thrilled. True to Abby’s nature, she already dotes on her little brother, talking baby talk to my belly, asking if he can sleep with her when he gets a little older, giggling with excitement when she sees a new baby outfit. And true to his nature, Josiah is very protective. He wants me to lie down and rest, doesn’t want me to carry heavy things, and asks if I am okay regularly. He also talks to the baby and likes to put his hand on my belly. Both kids have felt a few kicks. Jack is a very active baby, doing somersaults, karate kicks, and maybe even jumping over candlesticks in there. I think he is my most active in utero baby. This is a little scary.

New, wiggly little ones abound on the McMath side of our family. We gained a nephew in July, Judah Cary, firstborn child of Joey’s youngest brother Jonathan and his wife Lacey. In November, Lauren Olivia was born to Joey’s younger brother Jeremy and his wife Jennifer. Fun fact: Lacey, Jennifer, and I were all pregnant “together” for about a week, although we didn’t know it at the time. MeMe and Pop Pop are in absolute love with these two precious babies. I see many mule rides and romps in the woods ahead!

Also added to our family this year were five goats. We took our Santa-Rosa-County-Fair-award-winning chickens (had to get that in the letter) and our baby goats out to Berrydale, where they would have a much better life. Paw Paw graciously joined us (aka Joey) in this venture. I may be dreaming, but I think Daddy enjoys taking care of them. (If I am dreaming, do not wake me.) Paw Paw also added a dog to the mix, so basically, Berrydale is even a little more like heaven than it used to be for my kids.

IMG_4053This year has been a big year for our funny, social, active, sometimes explosive Josiah. He asked Jesus into his heart in April (I know that’s an out-of-fashion phrase in churches, but it actually made more sense to our kids than “accepting Jesus as your savior.”) His experience was simple but heartfelt, a starting point for a lifelong relationship. It is so humbling and amazing to see God at work in your child. Josiah also started kindergarten this year at SS Dixon Primary School here in Pace. He is doing well; he doesn’t adore school the way Abby does, but, alas, he is a wild-at-heart boy. I have no intention of trying to train that sense of adventure out of him. Josiah loves having play dates with neighbors, learning, reading books with us, building things out of Legos, cardboard, dirt, etc., and using his imagination. Rounding out his time, he took gymnastics earlier in the year, played Upward soccer this fall, and is getting ready for basketball season.

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Our sweet, bright, cheerful Abby transitioned from the primary to the intermediate school this year and is in the third grade. She has learned her multiplication facts and is working on cursive handwriting. She started taking piano lessons, which she really enjoys. (Yay!) She enjoyed ballet and gymnastics earlier in the year, loves singing, playing soccer, reading, playing with her dolls, and spending time with little ones. She has a heart for children and orphans. To give you a sense of her personality, her desire right now is to become a pediatric heart surgeon who runs an orphanage on the side. She would also like to have six or more children. Should make for an interesting life. I have not decided whether or not I want to live in the same town.

Life here keeps moving forward, propelling us into circumstances we never dreamed we would face. This has been a difficult year for many. Our sister-in-law Lana lost her father and a dear, dear uncle this year. We have watched many close friends mourn the loss of their loved ones. It’s sickeningly painful. This was never the way God meant for it to be, and one day, things will be made right. We will spend eternity with our Maker and with the loved ones we so desperately miss.

We can only have such hope because of Christmas. You may not have all your loved ones with you this year–I know I don’t–but I am praying that each one of you will feel the embrace of the ones God has given you for this time, the ones who are holding on with you, maybe even looking to you to carry the light your loved one always carried for you all. Rest in His promises and in His love. He will be that Light. I pray He will shine even brighter in your darkest of nights.

Merry Christmas,

Misty, Joey, Abby & Josiah McMath

Thanks to Lindsay Bassett for the beautiful family photos!

Thanks to Lindsay Bassett for the beautiful family photos!

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 lie 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!