May 22, 2015

Luke's Dr. Suess-themed 1st Birthday

This week we celebrated our Lukey's first birthday.

He doesn't actually turn one until the 26th but my dear friend Marissa and I decided to join parties since our boys are only two days apart. It's been fun to walk this journey with her, from finding out we were both pregnant to having due dates two days apart to actually having them two days apart to comparing newborn notes and who's eating what and who's biting while breastfeeding and who's having serious sleep regressions and how Luke weighs TEN pounds more than wee Anthony.

Luke capitalizing on the 10-pound difference.

Lots of fun to do life so closely with dear friends.

Marissa came up with the idea to do a Dr. Seuss party and it was perfect! Definitely my favorite themed party ever. And for a non-crafty, non-Pinteresty, non-cake making, non-details being like me, having Marissa was kind of like having LeBron play for my JV team.

 Some (almost) one-year old stats (for my sake)...

Eating: I officially weaned him about 8 weeks ago. I was actually the most sad about it than any of the others. We're about 99% sure he has a dairy sensitivity so we avoid most dairy. I can't quite get a handle on what he loves/doesn't love. I think sometimes he has an issue with textures but then he'll eat something easily that disproves that. I think he just chooses to be a fussy eater sometimes.

Sleep: he's a fantastic sleeper and has been for a long time. He sleeps a solid, uninterrupted 12 hours at night. Sometimes he naps once a day but still mostly twice a day.

Personality: he has really developed a personality the last couple of months. He's been such a laid-back, take-it-all-in kid that it was hard to know what he was really like. But he's really come into his own. He's super happy and loves to smile and play and do things that will make us laugh. He's very opinionated about his brothers, either in that he thinks they're being hilarious or that they better not touch his head or personage one more time. He loves a good snuggle and will burrow deep into your shoulder as long as you have his blankie ready.

We just honestly love this little guy so much, it's hard to really put it into words. He brings us so much joy and to say we delight in him is putting it mildly. I am so thankful the Lord gave him to us and I just look so forward to getting to know him better and better.

Can you tell he's trying not to touch the grass?

Happy (almost) first birthday, Lukey, we love you to the moon and beyond and back!

April 23, 2015

What am I doing as we anticipate Grace's 2nd birthday in Heaven?

I started and finished this book in two days this week.

Was it good? Yes, very. 

And also no.

I have a very vivid imagination. I have my entire life. Which means words and images really stick in my thoughts and mind. I've also developed certain convictions as I've walked with the Lord about what's "permissible" for me. 

Which means I'm usually very stringent about what I read and watch. It doesn't mean by any means that I only read Christian books and authors; quite the contrary. I read a broad array of genres and authors. I'm just cautious. 

And on a normal day and week I would've picked up this book and read the first few chapters and discerned that there were waaay too many F-bombs and sex scenes for my imagination and it would be in my best interest to find another book.

But this isn't a normal day and week. Because my Grace's second birthday is in 3 days. And the same as last year, I feel anxious and angry and deeply sad and like I'm on a slippery slope into a dark hole.

And what's been my escape my entire life? A well-written book that makes me forget about my life for awhile.

So that's what I've done the last two nights. I've felt the wave of grief and sadness coming and done what Old Sara used to do. Gotten lost in a story. 

Even if it had been a great book, I was still escaping. Or trying to. 

I just hate April. I don't even try to be spiritual about it. I dread April 1st because then the countdown begins and then I dread the passing days and weeks because the countdown becomes less. 

People who haven't experienced loss probably don't get this (or at least I definitely didn't) but anniversaries and marker dates are just awful. I probably used to think in my pre-loss days that they were a celebratory day, a day for remembering and honoring. But instead it's a day for the should-haves and almost-was(es) but never-will-bes. 

Our Thursday Bible study group is part of a larger study group and every week we all meet together for food and a devotional and prayer and then we split into our smaller groups. I had thought maybe I'd share with my group about how (terrible) I was doing and that I was trying to escape (and into a not-good book for that matter) and I just really needed prayer. But there's this side of me that just hates being weak, is just tired of it quite frankly. I'm tired of being needy and crying in front of people and asking for prayer again. Even though I know that's exactly how and where Jesus wants me and, really, is the sweetest place of communing with Him and others when I get there (or admit that I've been there all along). 

Today, as the Lord would providentially have it, a woman from another group shared for this week's devotional and it was from 1st Kings 19. 

Of course it was. 

Probably my favorite story in the Bible and one that breaks and awes me every single time I read it. 

Go ahead and read it. Probably read 1st Kings 18 and 19 for context. Go ahead. I'll wait... 



Elijah does a great thing with great faith and then Jezebel threatens to kill him so he runs for his life into the wilderness and tells God he wants to die and God shows up and meets his immediate needs (food and rest) and then says he's going to pass by Elijah. BUT. He's not in the mighty wind, the great earthquake, or the raging fire. But then a low whisper comes and Elijah finally hears God's voice. 

God asks him what he's doing there. 

What he's doing.

Because sometimes we just need to tell someone what we're doing. 

Sometimes we just need to crawl out of the cave we crawled into (a book that's not good for our soul, a relationship we shouldn't be in, an addiction that controls us, an anger that destroys us) and tell God what we're doing. Tell a friend what we're doing. 

Today was my what-am-I-doing moment. 

I heard the soft, compelling voice of the Holy Spirit calling me out of the cave of grief and anger I'd crawled into and directing my next step (the same as he did for Elijah). Directing me to share. To humble myself. To ask for prayer. To confess my anger and anxiety.

So I did. It wasn't pretty but I did. There were tears and anger in my voice and words like "hellish" and phrases like "I don't want to talk about it but I do need you to pray but I don't want to talk about it" and frustration and and and...but I did it. 

And then the beauty of the why. Because then there was the being prayed for and the arms wrapped around and the head leaned against and the foot cradled and their tears shed. 

I didn't feel it at that very moment but it wasn't very long and I did feel it. The burden lifted. The tiny sliver of joy. The hope of a better day. The renewed strength to face April 26th. 

Isn't God so kind? He could've come in his awesome power (the raging wind and earthquake and fire) and scared me into obeying, but he didn't. He came in a gentle whisper. Compelling that leads to conviction that leads to restoration. 

So what are you doing? And who can you tell? 

And since I've already laid myself bare, would you please pray for us as we mark another year of our Grace and her loss?

Thank you, friends. I so appreciate each of you readers. You make this worth it. 

March 18, 2015

I have Jesus, Part 2 (the days after we lost Grace)

This is Part 2 of my last post. I didn't mean to leave you hanging but I have such limited time during nap time to write and I also didn't want it to get too long. :)

Click here if you haven't read Part 1 yet.

In the days after we lost Grace I completely withdrew from almost everyone and everything. Social media. Friends. Face-to-face interactions. Grocery stores. Everything. I was terrified of people. Terrified of having to converse with people, of having to supply something they needed, whether it be comfort, encouraging words, anything. I had nothing to give.

I was both in awe of my sons, that they were living and mine, and terrified of them needing anything from me. I did zero parenting in those first days and weeks.

Family was really the only people coming over for the most part and I could only handle so much and then I would literally abruptly stand up and walk out in the middle of conversation and escape to our room where I would curl up on our bed and start the process of crying and surviving all over again.

(You may be wondering why I'm sharing such a behind-the-scenes look into grief. One, because I have a point, and two, I can only share this now. I could have never shared this before, it was still too raw and painful. It still is painful but less so; I feel more removed from that blistering first season of grief.)

This was just a few weeks after we lost her and my smile never reached my eyes in those days. It was hard to find joy.

But if there's one thing I had in those days, it was Jesus. And this is so difficult to explain because I can't handle it sounding so churchy but there's no other way to say it. I heard a Focus on the Family broadcast recently and the guest was explaining how difficult it is to explain God's kindness and nearness when you're walking through such painful times, that it's like describing a color nobody else has ever seen, and that completely resonated with me.

Because here's the thing. While I did cry and lament to Matt every single day, he alone wouldn't have ever been enough to bear my grief. Nobody saw the full extent of my grief. I knew almost immediately that nobody would be strong enough to bear it except Jesus. Even the best comforter, best husband, best mom, best friend, is not good enough or strong enough to alone hold you up.

Day after day I locked myself in our office and opened my Bible, desperate to meet with Jesus. I journaled constantly, unable to really speak my pain but able to write it. I was desperate to be anchored in truth. I needed to remind myself daily that I had his hope as an anchor for my soul. That my story and pain had eternal weight and that he was the same God he'd always been, he had never changed.

There is something powerful about meeting with God in the secret, something so precious, so intrinsically valuable. It grieves my heart when I hear people describe having to spend time with God, having to get it done, get it checked off. He's so rich and so wise and so full of depth and mystery, there's no end to discovering him!

When you have Jesus, when you really have him, when you walk with him in the secret, anchored in his Word day after day, it solves about a million other things at once. Not to mean that it solves you of your sinful nature and the battle between the flesh and the spirit, just this morning I yelled at my son in our rush and my frustration and had to repent to him, but it solves so many of our counterfeit life-finding attempts.

There's this woman I know and I really, really (really) look up to her. She's godly, she's wise, she is who she is without pretense (my favorite type), she speaks truth and doesn't put on a churchy face. I just really, really like her. And recently I found myself wanting to impress her. I wanted to "drop" a comment about what I'd been learning in my devotional times and I wanted her to think it sounded wise. (Right?? What the?)

And while I regularly have to repent of doing something out of pride or with impure motives, this time I was able to remind myself: I don't have to do that. I have Jesus. Our meeting time is a treasure and so rich and something to be prized in my heart, not diminished by trying to prove myself. 

On another occasion recently I was introduced to a new friend. She's beautiful and confident and in my younger, immature days I would have been tempted to find something disagreeable about her so I felt better about being less pretty than her. (Seriously, the thoughts.) But I was able to remind myself that I have Jesus. I have my place in him, the Creator of so much beauty and wisdom and light and goodness, and I need never have to compete or prove or fault-find. And it frees me up to rejoice in others' beauty and gifts and abilities, especially if I don't possess them. I can speak face to face and rejoice in my heart for them, be intentional to speak encouraging words to them.

Because I have Jesus.

At the end of the day, when all is said and done, when life is great and when it feels like a crapshoot, when others receive and I didn't, when I receive and others didn't, when I'm understood or not, when people assume and they're wrong, or maybe they're right, at the end of the day, I have Jesus.

And he's just so much better than every other counterfeit treasure. He can withstand the storms of grief. He can withstand the insecure heart. He can withstand the fears that form into anger. And only he can withstand them. Not even the best person in the whole world (and believe me, I know some quality ones) can bear up under the weight of our hearts and minds and souls and all that they bring to life.

"Taste and see that the Lord is good;
blessed is the one who takes refuge in him." 
Psalm 34:8

Taste. See for yourself. He is good. And he is a refuge.

And if you need proof that Matt is one of those quality ones, these pictures from last night are it. Let me preface them by giving you some context.

The boys: Mom, can we help you paint?

Me: No.

The boys: Dad, can we help you paint?

Matt: Sure thing, I need some help right here. Great job, guys!

Hashtag he's definitely the better parent.

And one more for good measure.

March 16, 2015

I Have Jesus (the days leading up to the day we lost Grace)

Wow, it's been awhile. I haven't had a huge desire to write, though I do have about half a dozen posts half-written in my head. This is one though that compels me to put pen to paper. Sometimes I have the strongest compulsion to write a post and not to would be disobedient. So here we are.

I've traveled quite extensively out of the country and though I don't fear flying and I don't fear traveling alone, I hate flying alone. (Is that possible?)

I hate it for how lonely it is. The layovers, the flights themselves (especially the long international ones), the arrivals, the people-watching. It all exacerbates this feeling of being truly alone amidst so many people.

One time in particular in college I was on my way to visit my friend in France for Thanksgiving break. Being Thanksgiving it was the height of travel time for approximately 5 billion people.

Same trip but we went on an overnight to Geneva, Switzerland. 

Annecy, France. If you want to live in a magical place, this is it.
You know I visited one of these chocolate stores everyday. 

Oh yes I did.

The French Alps. Unbelievably beautiful.

Taking the train to Switzerland. This was actually a very sad time in my life as my college boyfriend and I had just broken up. I think this picture showed a glimpse behind the scenes of my normally extroverted self.

Sonia, my friend I was visiting, lived just down the road from where I'm standing here. NBD.

I had a layover in Minneapolis (the former airline employee in me ((<- I worked for two major airlines for 5 years)) desperately wanted to write MSP) and while waiting for my flight I suddenly had this intensely strong feeling of stark, raving loneliness come over me. It was so sudden and so strong it felt like it physically cloaked me.

And almost immediately following that feeling I had this equally strong thought: I'm not alone. I have Jesus. I'm never alone.

I had to share that first because that phrase, I have Jesus, came to me so strongly again yesterday as I reflected on those first days and weeks of losing Grace that I knew I needed to write about it.

I haven't talked about her much recently and part of it is because it's hidden down deep in my heart, only between the Lord and I. I think about her constantly but different than before. Before I thought about her in her loss. Now I think about her in what we're losing. (It's hard work conveying such deeply-held feelings into words so I'm not sure if this is making complete sense.) Before, it was her physical loss. We held and loved her for hours. My body physically lost her. She went from the safety of my belly to complete and utter emptiness with no evidence that I had carried her. I ached for her constantly.

Now, I think about what we're losing today. She would be almost two years old and I don't know if you've had the privilege of being around an almost-two year old recently but they're about the cutest thing you've ever seen. They're unsteady on their feet and speak incoherently but just coherently enough that your heart can't stretch wide enough to capture its sweetness. And if she was anything like our boys, she would be roly-poly with thighs that looked like they were strangling her diaper, and she would have a very deep attachment to Matt and I.

So I think less about the sudden loss of then and more about what we're missing now and it's just too painful to casually speak about, so most of the time I avoid the conversation.

But I want to talk about her today because I think Jesus wants someone to hear this.

One of the extremely difficult things about receiving a poor diagnosis and prognosis while pregnant is that you have lots and lots of time to imagine your worst fear becoming true. Many pregnant women fear losing their baby but I not only had that fear but a high probability of it happening. In fact, in that final week before we went in for that last ultrasound at 30 weeks I had, up to that point, never been so undone in my entire life. I felt like I was losing my mind to fear and subsequently, anger.

The day before that last ultrasound I was so completely undone with pain and the fear of impending loss that I literally packed my sons up and drove to another town 45 minutes away because I felt like I had to escape my life. I really did. It makes me well up even now thinking about how desperate I was. I sat on a swing at a park with my sons and I couldn't stop the tears that flowed constantly that entire day because while I was in another town and was able to respond to the questioning passers-by with a soft, It's a girl, I hadn't escaped my reality at all. The fear and pain and anger followed me and cloaked me in the same way that feeling of loneliness had so many years previous in that airport.

I was angry with God, why He didn't heal. Why he had prepared my heart to lose her. It would be such a small thing for him. Please, God, hear us, heal her!

That evening, back in our home after a severe time of wrestling and tears and anger I finally, truly, yielded her life and my desires to God. It was a profound moment for me (and a story in itself) and a turning point in my faith. I chose to love him and trust him more than I wanted the deepest desire of my heart, the physical healing of my only daughter. I felt her kick one final time that night and the next morning when I woke up, I knew in my heart. She was gone.

Baby Grace in my belly.

Big brother love.

The pain I had felt the day before was nothing compared to what was coming.

But I had Jesus.

Part 2 to come.

December 28, 2014

When friendships are tough and you feel like an outsider

I was in 5th grade. Their names were Danielle and Jessica and it was recess. The three of us were standing there doing what 5th grade girls do (which is mostly giggle and talk about....I'm not sure exactly what we talked about) when suddenly the two of them looked at each other, exchanged a secret eye signal, and then ran away from me as fast as they could. I stood there for a moment confused, not sure exactly what had just happened. Thinking they were just being silly I ran after them and caught up to them and we immediately commenced our gaggle and giggles.

But just a few moments later they did it again. And this time it hit me. They were doing it on purpose.  They were purposefully running away from me, leaving me behind. They didn't want me to be their friend or a part of their circle (literally and figuratively) so they worked out a secret signal to exclude me.

Not long after that I went back to the playground and monkey bars and found the pin (the small, circular button kind that pin to your shirt) I had given them that day as a token of friendship smashed on the ground.

(It was a mullet Billy Ray Cyrus one no less. The nerve.)

Every word of this story is true. And every feeling of bereft-ness and leftout-ness and awkwardness and embarrassment that I felt then can still be conjured up today at just the memory of that experience.

And while that's sad and makes me want to lock my sons away in our house forever to spare them the cruelty of others, the sadder thing is that I'm 31 years old and I still see these same kinds of things happening, and between women especially. And I see it just as much within the Church as without.

(I know I've written some strong words towards the Church recently but it's because I know we can do better. I know that Jesus' words are truth and if we act on them, we'll actually be marked by knowing and loving him and loving others and it'll be evident at all times to all people, not just when we get our Church face on.)

By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one anotherJohn 13:35

I see pictures season after season of the same groups of people doing the same things with the same groups of people and do you know what my thought was recently when I saw yet another one (not that many people care that much about my opinion but I'll share it anyways)? Where are the new people? Where are the poor? Where are the minorities? 

Why aren't we regularly immersed with the "least" and the "outcasts"? Why are our small groups and church groups and social clubs made up of the same people year after year?

The King will reply, "Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters (the hungry, thirsty, stranger, homeless, sick, prisoner) of mine, you did for me." Matthew 25:40

Lately, I've battled feelings of loneliness and those feelings of being on the outside looking in, those same feelings of being left out that I had on the playground in 5th grade.

And as the Lord has continued to break our hearts for the "least" and convicted and compelled us to act in love by opening our home and family, giving not just money (which I really think is easier) but our time and attention to those who don't know him or those that society considers to be the bottom, to intentionally share the Gospel and disciple others, these feelings of relational loneliness have gotten stronger.

While our spirits have been the most refreshed they've been in a long while and while our walk with the Lord has gotten deeper and stronger, we've battled loneliness more than ever.

I have a friend. (Yes, I do, thank you very much.)

I have a friend named Courtney. I've written about her before. And that's mostly because she's had such a profound impact on my life. This girl loves Jesus and people so much. And not in a warm and fuzzy way (though there's that too) but in a gives-her-life-away-on-behalf-of-others sort of way.

That's Courtney.

One of the things I love the most about Courtney is that she resists the cliques and clubs and innies, at the expense of her own feelings of belonging. She's more interested in making space in her life for the hurting and the lonely and the newbie than she is for making sure she gets her coffee date every week with her familiar friends.

Yesterday we got to hang out for the first time in a long while and we got to talking about all these things and discovered we'd been feeling the same way, battling those same feelings of loneliness and leftout-ness.

But here's the thing. And this is what I believe Jesus has been teaching us both. There's a cost to following him. And it's not going to cost everyone the same thing in every season. Just like he didn't ask everyone he encountered to sell everything they had and give it to the poor. He's a personal God and he calls us personally and while that call looks differently for everyone, there's going to be some common ground like sacrifice, perseverance, hardship, etc.

And the sacrifice in one season for you might be different than the sacrifice in another. In one season the cost might be giving still even though you have more month than money, as the wise ones like to say. In another, it might be those expensive coffee drinks to meet a real need, or downsizing your lifestyle, or giving up the familiarity of the same small group you've always known to invite new people in, or your sense of control and personal bubble to disciple someone else, or your clean floors and house to invite new families in, and on and on it goes. There is no one size fits all.

Except that if we're truly loving God in word AND in deed, it will cost us something.

Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth. 1st John 3:18

And for us right now in this season, with little spare time, that cost has been the safe comfort of a familiar friendship. Time together is scarce. But would we really trade the encounters with the poor and unbelievers and lonely just so we could have our coffee time? It's a harder road, yes, but the eternal rewards are so much more worth it.

These are the verses that Jesus brought to mind as I lamented this new season and some of the difficult things that have come with it.

Then Peter spoke up, "We have left everything to follow you!" "Truly I tell you," Jesus replied, "no one who has left home or wife or brothers or sisters or parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God will fail to receive many times as much in this age, and in the age to come eternal life." Luke 18:29-30

We can't control how much other people include us or how they make us feel. But we can control how much we include others and how we make them feel. Let's think about the way we make people feel, either intentionally or unintentionally, and like I tell our boys all the time, I want you to show love to your brother/friends/mom/dad.

Let's not be the Jessica or Danielle of 5th grade. Let's show love. Tangibly, sacrificially, inclusively.