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The Unshakable

Today it has been 11 years since we snuggled our little girl close and held her tiny hands as she took her last breath on this earth. Sometimes I am still so angry that I could not make her better. That’s what mamas are supposed to do; make things better. I had one big important job, and I could not do it.

Then I remember that WASN’T my job. I /wanted/ it to be my job; the job of being a mama that could fix things. Instead I was given the job of opening my hands wide of my own control. I was given the job of looking into the teary faces of three sweet, grieving siblings and teaching them to trust that God is still good, even in our hurting. I was given the job of white-knuckling a marriage that the statistics were stacked against because of the big trauma we went through. I was given the job of learning to grieve with hope; the hope of knowing that someday all will be made right again.

As I look back over these years I can see where I have been given the grace to grieve, the bravery to lament, and the courage to heal. I have learned that grief is not the absence of faith, tears do not negate our trust in God, and pain does not mean we are not saved.

Wrestling such a deep pain is so intimate. For me it has required clinging, grasping, watching, communicating. It has meant digging my heels in and standing firm on the truth of God’s word. Grieving with hope still hurts, but as I have clung to the unshakeable hope I have in Christ Jesus, and fixed my teary eyes on eternity, I have been given the freedom to wrestle and lament, and with it a deep-seated peace that I could have never found on my own.

Our precious Ellie Grace will always hold a part of my heart. I will forever wonder over who she would have been, and will ache for the warmth of her in my arms again. As these years tick on however, I will rest in knowing she is whole and complete; that she lived every single day here that was planned for her beautiful life, and that I’m surely the luckiest for getting to be her mama. 💜

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Blue House

This hot summer has been brimming with opportunities, and through my delight in seeing my littlest having grown into shoes big enough for some life-changing new experiences I did not even realize that the very thing that brought so much joy and revival for him would be the thing to send my head swirling under the tepid waters of another grief wave unexpected.

Finally old enough for church camp we excitedly rolled tshirts and shorts into the duffel bag as big as he is, and lingered in the aisles of the dollar store choosing just the right snacks to share with the other campers who would become friends. We watched videos of what to expect, and excitedly counted down the days to when he would set out on his big adventure. My heart bubbled with anticipation for him as I prayed over the days ahead.

Finally it was time to drive him the 40 minutes out to where camp was being held, and he was ready as ever. As I heaved his bag into the back of the car I felt a surge of emotion I could not put my finger on. I pushed it out of my mind and slid into the car to see him grinning in the back seat. He looked solid and strong, a maturity I had seen blooming in the preceding weeks. His face was already tanned from days spent playing in the sun; a smattering of freckles beneath his fluffy shock of dark blonde hair. His eyes were bright with enthusiasm, and it was the smile he flashed at me that poked that emotion I had pushed away, and sent it raging to the surface. It filled my insides with gravel and sent my thoughts spinning. I knew exactly what had me feeling a little “off.”

Looking over my shoulder into the back seat I was staring at the carbon copy of his older brother, blonde and freckle-faced also at the age of 9 going off to his first faith-based summer camp. When we dropped our firstborn off for a week at camp we had the same joyful anticipation for him, but that week was the one that changed our lives in the most painful way, tearing from us something so sacred. The last time I picked my 9 year old up from camp I had to tell him his little sister had died unexpectedly, and I watched his whole world turn on its axis and shake every foundation he had believed in.

Somehow, without me even realizing it my subconscious had put all of these signs together, and the unease I had felt was a full blown terrifying fear that when 9 year olds go away to camp, terrible things happen. I was in fight or flight mode; my memories having strung together a warning of perceived danger.

I prayed silently across the stretches of tar specked pavement that cut through swaying wheat fields and sleepy towns. I prayed for protection, for freedom, for healing. I knew my thoughts were just tricking me, so I pushed them down and smiled as I helped my littlest man choose the top bunk and unpack his belongings for the week. As he stood tall for the obligatory first day of camp photo, I could not believe how grown up and how tender and small he looked all at once. We prayed again as I hugged him goodbye and all the way home I sung loud with the truth on the radio to drown out my anxieties.

Each night that I got to talk to my boy that week was such a balm to my soul, and this time I was the one counting days. Camp ended on a sweltering Friday morning, and I arrived right on time, fiercely ready to pull my little bird back under my wing. The parents all waited in scattered patches in the burning sun until we heard it; the low buzz of a large group of children walking toward us, smiling and skipping and hugging each other. It took me a minute to pick my boy’s face out of the crowd, but as soon as I did I let out a huge exhale I had unknowingly been holding; perhaps all week? I tried to control the tears that swelled at the rims of my eyes and pricked at my throat. Some part of me had still been waiting to know that everything was going to be ok.

I talked with my counselor about these events this week, and she shared something so enlightening with me. She put it this way: If you walk by a blue house and a dog comes out and bites you, it’s going to make you leery of blue houses. The next time you see a blue house you are going to feel afraid, palms sweating, anticipating the ferocious beast you met before. But not every blue house has a dog that bites. We can learn to pick out those blue houses, call them what they are or are not, and confidently walk by with our heads high because we know; this blue house is different.

Glancing in the mirror at my suntanned and thoroughly exhausted 9 year old, I thanked God to be bringing him home with joyful celebration, and I thanked him for the lessons of the last blue house, and the blessings of this one.

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Instead

I am so sad.

With summer break upon us I’ve been feeling terrible for all the things I cannot do with my kids. I want to go hiking with them. Instead they get stuck at home all the time watching too many screens. I want to take them to the pool almost every day, and explore the national parks around us. Instead I’m puffing walking up the stairs to tell one of them goodnight. I want to have all their friends over for late night fires and s’mores on the deck. Instead I’m exhausted by dinner time and asleep hours before the rest of my crew. I want to plan an exciting vacation getaway and surprise them. Instead I’m having major surgery that will take all summer to recover from.

I want to scream. And a little teeny part of me wants to quit; wants to give my family the freedom to live unchained. This mess is not living up to my well planned out expectations, and I’d like a redo please.

My friends, I know so many of you live joyful and exuberant lives in spite of much pain. You live the story that you did not sign up for, and yet you receive that cup so graciously, with kindness and contentment that I long for. Please share your wisdom… what is it you do when you want to throw in the towel on your own race and trade for a different one?

Jesus, please help me live for /your/ expectations. Help me to be thankful for what I have instead of mourning what I do not. Help me to make the most out of my time awake, and not have guilt for the times I need rest. Help me to have meaningful time with my children, regardless of what we are doing. And Jesus? Help them understand. Let their hearts become soft instead of resentful. Let their disappointment develop deep character. Help all of us to trust you with our story and to use it to bring you glory.

Amen.

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Losing Focus

Gifted an incredible gift to slip away just the two of us, my man and I took every opportunity to soak in the great joy held abundantly in the salty waters. Each afternoon he would tenderly inflate the vest to keep me afloat, and don his long fins to do the kicking for the both of us. As he gently pulled me along I marveled and squeaked with delight at the stunning colors and entrancing shapes of the sea creatures below.

One hot afternoon the winds had been stronger all day, and the choppier waves had churned up a hazy silt from the ocean floor. Just as we had done before, he held tight to my hand and pulled me along the surface of the water, snorkels upright amid the salty spray. This time I felt different. Even though my hand was in his, the murky water clouded everything from view, and when I looked straight ahead the sides of my mask obscured the rest of my view of my helpmate alongside me. As soon as this happened my heartbeat thumped frantically faster and I felt lost and panicked in the disorienting haze of the sandy water. Then I turned my face to the right, and clear as day I could see him right next to me guiding me along, and in an instant the throb in my chest slowed and a peace settled over me, knowing I was not lost or alone. Slowly though I would turn my gaze forward again only to be paralyzed repeatedly as his comforting presence disappeared from my view, and then look up again to see the comfort of his company right next to me.

This week I took calculated breaths as I tried to distract myself from the pain of a necessary procedure. With each new bolt of agony my mind would race through the what ifs, panicking myself into wondering if this would last forever. Then I would look up, and there squished in the corner where he could reach to hold my hand was my heartthrob, eyes locked, waiting to meet mine. Again that wash of peace and okayness would melt over me and quiet the pounding of my thoughts. As long as I held his gaze with mine I could do this.

There was where I realized… what a pertinent reminder; that when my focus is on other things I get lost, scared, and unsure of my direction. But when I lift my eyes back to the face that has never turned away from me, I find peace, safety, and belonging. I draw from that strength and it gives me the courage to keep moving forward, however foggy the future may be. Even though my Heavenly Father is right there holding my hand, it is I that has to raise my panicked stare and remember that with Him as my focus I have the courage to face whatever hard comes my way.

What about you; do you forget to look up when you’re in the panic of the moment? Do you find yourself looking for someone to steady in you? He’s always there waiting, just turn your eyes up.

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When Mother’s Day Wasn’t

Today millions of moms woke up to hand-drawn cards and beautiful flowers, breakfasts in bed and cute little “What I Like Best About my Mom” papers from school. Moms woke up to the pleasure of the kids doing the dishes, and the distinctive taps of their tiny baby’s feet as they wiggle and turn in the womb. Moms woke up excited for this day and the joys it would hold, but what if you didn’t?

What if your story does not look like the Mother’s Day version written in the Hallmark cards? What if you woke up with an aching hole in your life from your mother passing away? What if you woke to the sight of all the days crossed off on the calendar that you had not conceived, or a counter full of needles and liquids, a longing attempt at being a mama? What if you saw your child’s beating heart on a screen, but never got to hold them in your arms? What if you have to share your children with another adult, and they do not get to be with you today? What if your child is grown and this date sends you counting the days since the last time they have wanted to be around you? What if you wanted to hide under the covers because you were so weary of the arguing and fighting? What if you do not know where your child is? What if the children you sacrifice so much for forgot it was Mother’s Day? What if you cradled your child as they drew their last breath; what then of Mother’s Day?

To the ones that woke up today and had tears and sorrow and grief… I see you. I hear the loud crack of your heartbreak as you wake up hurting on a day that is supposed to elicit such joy. I hear the echo of the emptiness where you grasp for what was once in your arms, or what you hoped would be. I understand your sadness and shame when instead of an Instagram perfect breakfast in bed, you are met with harsh words and an ungrateful attitude. I see the tally of all the hours you have spent pouring your very lifeblood into the littles in your life, only to have your circumstances not look like you dreamed they would. I hear the deafening silence as you sit at a familiar grave sight.

I hear you and I see you and I want you to know that you are not invisible. I know that the hard, painful threads of your story can be woven into something more beautiful than you have thought to imagine. I know that the One who holds your shattered heart is big enough to put it back together again. I know that this day brings a burden heavy to carry, but I also know that your current situation does not have to be the end.

Choose to feel those hurts and be transformed into the gentle, compassionate human that you are capable of. Choose joy and life and hope and know that even on this hard day that challenges your motherhood, you are created for something beautiful. Believe that.

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Grasping Easy

Tonight is opening night for my talented Junior girl’s next musical. She’s starring in the opening number, as well as solos throughout the show. I should be calculating what time to get there for the best seats, and picking out what kind of flowers to surprise her with. Instead I’m struggling to get myself upright, and fighting for breath, and today it has the better of me. Today I’m angry that I can’t just focus on my daughter. I’m frustrated that my presence at her show is threatened by my ability to get myself ready and drive there. I am mad that the feeling of suffocating is going to distract me from the beauty of her blooming there on the stage. Today I want to just be like the other moms. I want it to be easy.

Maybe easy would make me less the person I am. Maybe if I did not have to fight so hard, the victory would be lost on me. Maybe if it was not such a gift to be there it would seem mundane. So I’ll fight. I’ll show up, flowers in hand and I will soak in the miracle of getting to be there to see her. I will fight back tears of gratitude and I’ll cheer the loudest because I will know the absolute gift it is to be there. Heaven help me.

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Forgetting

I tried to have a guest post because this is difficult for me to explain, but I will do my best.

When I had brain surgery in March I suffered an injury that has left my memory severely impaired. We met with neuro specialists last week after extensive testing, and the results were grim. My short-term memory barely lets me see a word and then write it down.

This situation has caused the confident, sure-footed version of myself to curl up and withdraw from situations where I may need to draw on my memory. Friends, hobbies, activities that kept me going have only served as a reminder of how out of touch I am. Important things like birthdays and promotion dates and even that a friend has a hard thing coming up are all things that I grasp aimlessly for now; unable to remember long enough to follow up and follow through. It’s embarrassing and it’s crushing; taking the very essence of my talents and gifts. The only way I have known how to cope with this new limp is to pull back and retreat. I have hidden away, afraid that my “forgetfulness” will be perceived as uncaring and dismissive. Being the people person that I am, I just can’t bear the thought.

Supplements and mind exercises stretch from days into weeks as I try to find anything that will help support my memory coming back to me.

I hope that my people remember the me that could remember, and know that my heart is still there, longing to be that girl again.

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Mother’s Day Remixed

For days my kids and I chatted about what we would do on Mother’s Day. Sleep in…snuggle up to breakfast in bed… go out to a favorite lunch after church…stay in playing board games… go out to explore the beauty of a new park.

All week I had been hearing the excitement of my littlest guy as he earned his own money to create a project at school that his whole class were each making for their moms. When he came home from school Friday holding a beautiful flowered gift bag he was vibrating with excitement over getting to give it to me on Sunday.

Friday afternoon we got a call that would demolish all of our weekend plans. Ever since my shunt revision surgery nine weeks ago I have been fighting infection in one of my incisions. My neurosurgeon has kept in close contact with me as I know have done multiple rounds of antibiotics to try to clear it up, and sent regular photos of my incision to document its progress. Unfortunately on Friday it was obvious the infection has gotten much worse and was not responding to the antibiotics. It is a dangerous place for it to be located as there is a very small distance from the end of the tube to my brain. We have given ample opportunity for it to heal itself to avoid further intervention, but Friday it became obvious that my neurosurgeon was going to have to step in.

My kind and gracious neurosurgeon requested that I drive to Indianapolis to be admitted through the emergency room. They would immediately start IV antibiotics and plan to take me to surgery Monday to remove more of the shunt tubing and hopefully eradicate the infection. My heart sank at the thought of another surgery, but most of all at the thought of being far from my family again.

It felt like I had a boulder in my stomach when I sat Colby down to tell him the news. As expected, his face dropped as I told him I would no longer be home for Mother’s Day. He sat with his chin in his hands and big tears silently rolled down his cheeks. “This’ll is the worst Mother’s Day ever, Mom.” I had to agree. It was heartbreaking to see his grief over being able to plan a special day for me. We decided we would have a welcome home/Mother’s Day celebration on the day I get released from the hospital, so he was given the option to give me his gift before I left for surgery or to save it for when I came home. He said he wanted to give it to me now so that I could take it with me to the hospital.

My heart will forever have captured the picture of him walking into the room so carefully and proudly holding the flowered gift bag that he had chosen for my gift. He sat by excitedly as I unwrapped it. Tucked inside was a small wooden frame carefully decorated in butterfly and flower stickers, and holding an adorable photo of my precious eight-year-old, holding a beautiful bouquet of flowers. The tears hung in my throat as I lavished thanks on him and gave him all the hugs and kisses. It was the most thoughtful gift ever. He made sure I had room to take it with me to the hospital.

My sweet girl Baylie also gifted me: a delicate necklace with the word “Hope” on it. Boy does she ever know!

Late that night Mark took me to the store and I picked a small gift for each of my kids so that they would have something from their mama for Mother’s Day. It was so special the next morning to be on the phone with them as Mark handed them each their gift from me. Loneliness and disappointment turned into excitement and smiles as they each opened something from their mama 110 miles away, but right there with them at heart. It was not the Mother’s Day we imagined, but we found the grace to make it something special and memorable, and we still have a Mother’s Day celebration day to look forward to upon my arrival home.

My sweet boy Jacob surprised me yesterday and drove the whole two hours here to spend some time with me. I can’t even express my gratitude at how much it uplifted my spirit. These sweet babes have touched their mama’s heart in ways they’ll never comprehend.

Last night after Jacob left I had the kindest hospital tech taking care of me. He asked me about my kids and listened as I raved about them. He then sneaked off and brought me a delicious chocolate chip cookie, that I believe were supposed to be just for the staff! “Happy Mother’s Day,” he said. “I’m sorry you’re spending it here.”

It truly is each small kindness and bit of grace that keeps me going.

Today Mark will come down to Indianapolis to be with me as I’m taken to surgery. I’d greatly appreciate your payers for all to go well, and for there to be no more complications, only healing from this point forward.

Thank you for being my people and standing in my corner to hold my hands up when I’m too weak. It means so much to know I have an army of people behind me on the hardest of days.

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A Decade

My sweet little love. How is it possible that today is already your 10th birthday? A whole decade! It seems just yesterday I was feeling the warm weight of you on my chest, your delicate fingers wrapped around mine.

We talk about you often around here. Reminiscing over sweet memories with you, and wondering over so many things. What your laugh would sound like. If your eyes would have stayed that piercing blue. If you would have my sense of humor or your daddy’s quiet strength.

It still hurts, missing you. There will always be an Ellianna-shaped hole in our lives. That hole has brought about so many amazing things though. I am thankful for that. We have formed deep and lasting relationships built around the scars of losing you. We have reached out and filed gaps and met needs and made magic happen all in the name of honoring you and the impact your mighty life had on us.

On this momentous birthday of yours I am eternally thankful that I was chosen to be your mama. I’m thankful for the scars that have pushed me closer to Christ and helped me stand in the shoes of the hurting. I’m thankful for the people we have gotten to love on because we’ve been there and we get to pay it forward. I’m thankful for all the ways that your life and death has opened our hands to trusting in God’s plan, and has opened so many doors for us to spread love and support in your honor.

We love you, Ellie Grace! Happy birthday!