The Gift in the Dark

I grabbed my purse and the black computer bag from our white Corolla  while the cold wind ripped my hair out of place, blowing strands into my eyes. Throwing the bags over my right shoulder, I leaned in to grab the Starbucks cup in the console. Grande flat white. Signature drink.

 

Snow blew up from the ground in swirls of air and I hunched my shoulders into my Columbia jacket, and walked quickly across the parking lot.

 

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Day 20? 21? I’d sort of lost track.

 

All I knew was that we were in deep with our girl. Like, in way over our heads deep.

 

I’d dreamed of five days in the hospital. That was the minimum for a baby withdrawing from drugs. The day she was admitted to neonatal intensive care? I thought maybe two weeks. Now we were somewhere, like, a week past that calendar date?

 

No end in sight.

 

I blew through the revolving door and the security guard smiled knowingly and let me through the locked doors.

The first set of locked doors, that is, to get into the elevators. There were two more sets to go through, once I got off for the NICU.

 

I sipped my flat white and smiled at the other people on the elevator as the doors shut.

 

“Which floor?” The older man asked. He seemed happy. His wife was holding a bouquet of flowers with a card stuck in the center that said, “It’s a Girl!”

 

New grandparents.  I thought this, while I said, “2nd.”

 

They talked excitedly while the elevator lurched upward. At Floor 2, the doors opened and I stepped off.

 

“Ohhh, the poor mother,” I heard the woman say, “the NICU.” The elevator shut and I walked around the corner to enter the Unit.

I was so excited to see my girl! Every moment that I wasn’t with her, I thought about her and worried about her and hoped she was doing okay. Using my special NICU pass, I breezed through the doors and headed back to Unit #21, our little corner on the big intensive care unit for babies.

 

I’m so tired of this. My little boy was at home and couldn’t figure out why I had to keep leaving, every single day. “Mama, you stay home today?” He would smile and look up at me with those chocolate-brown eyes and I never knew till then, how torn a mother could feel between her babies.

 

Wasn’t he more mine? Didn’t he deserve more of me? But be it one day or ten years, is one child ever more than another to a mother whose heart receives their life? 

 

Everyday I worried that I was doing NICU life wrong.

I was more scared and more vulnerable on those blustery winter days than I had ever before been in my life. I didn’t know how to fight for Nevaeh and how to nurture my Cub and how to love Ryan all at the same time. So, I just kept waking up, doing the next thing and praying that God would supernaturally intervene if He needed too.

Okay, so really? I just prayed please, God and thought everything else in my heart.

 

I had no mental capacity to pray beyond a simple cry for Jesus. I had no physical ability to do anything but drive my car 90 miles a day and hold my babies – at home and in the hospital. I had no emotional capacity to be challenged in my thought processes – as warped as some of those processes might have been.

 

I had a friend email me sometime after our NICU ordeal and she said that ten years later she thinks she still deals with some PTSD from her child being in the NICU.

 

Post-traumatic-stress-disorder.

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I’m the organized one, the collected one, the brave one. I’m the one who is supposed to just –  So not really, but that’s what they say. 

 

Post-traumatic-stress-disorder? 

This is the part of my story that gets really vulnerable for me.

I don’t do brokenness well. (I struggle with too much pride.)

I’m a perfectionist. A little obsessive compulsive.

And I was raised to be strong.

Post-traumatic stress disorder is, “a condition of persistent mental and emotional stress occurring as a result of injury or severe psychological shock, typically involving disturbance of sleep and constant vivid recall of the experience, with dulled responses to others and to the outside world.”

 

Last year was my year of breaking wide open and essentially falling apart inside. Shutting down. Coming apart at the seams.

 

I have never loved so hard and lost so much and felt so alone.

 

And I never imagined that I would be one to take my husband aside and say, “We need to talk. I’m really depressed,” followed by a waterfall of tears in which I choked out the words, “I’m scared of myself. I’m thinking about medicine?”

 

A year ago today, there was so much anticipation in my heart. I knew the risks of our YES.

There were days of struggle, knowing the losses we might face with this unfolding story – but we also knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that God had sanctioned our yes to her life.

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What do you do then,? You know, when your YES upends your life and wrecks your heart?
I broke.
And I felt so much shame for breaking.

Because all my life, I’ve been the one to be strong, to hold it together, to keep moving, be fearless. I’ve lived a whole lot of, “I’ve got this”, you know?

 

Up until my world imploded with grief I hadn’t the faintest idea of processing.

 

And now I’m telling you this, why?

 

The gift in the dark. 

 

The dark I still feel some days.

 

The LIGHT.

 

Yes, I know how elementary it sounds.

 

I know how profound this is.

Because when you truly experience the dark – inside your head or your heart or your life – you know the powerful hope of just one flicker of candlelight.

 

In three weeks, she turns one.

My lips smile and my heart hurts.

 

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Another year has come to us. The unfolding of a new chapter and the journey continues and we’re moving forward, but we’ll never be the same.

 

And I pray that this year, we will

BE LIGHT

 

for someone’s darkness.

 

And you too?

 

Because the truth is –

you don’t have to know their darkness, to BE their LIGHT.

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I don’t usually cry over texts, but I had a friend text me this week and tell me that I had been Matthew 5:16 to her this year.

 

A light for her, when I felt so much darkness myself?

 

Sometimes it hurts to share so publicly, and then I get texts that make me cry, and I ask God to make me braver – even in my dark.

“In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” – Matthew 5:16

#whatif2017

What if 2017?

Sometimes it feels like to live is to hurt.

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One cold December morning, there’s an ambulance at the neighbor’s house, and then the coroner’s van. All of this just a week before Christmas, and it wasn’t just someone in the world who overdosed on drugs, it was my neighbor.

They had just moved in a couple houses up the street. We hadn’t met yet.

Overdose happens all the time. They’re calling it a heroin epidemic.

His fourteen-year-old son woke up to the alarm beeping and he ran to find his Dad, because they would be late.

He ended up calling 911.

The ambulance came and then the coroner, and that cold December morning, that motherless boy’s world fell apart.

Sometimes it feels like living is hurting. 

You can shelter yourself from the hurt pretty good, if you want too. Live safe. Happily exist.

Let me ask you something. When do you start caring about something? When it personally affects you?

I get it. Me too.

But what if we chose to break that pattern?

What if we decided to reach out to our neighbors before tragedy strikes?

What if we decided to make the opportunity perfect, instead of waiting for the perfect opportunity?

What if we made up our minds to stop seeing the rise in drug abuse as somebody else problem?

What if the killing of innocent children broke our hearts every time we looked at our child?

What if we let it make us uncomfortable that 20-30 million slaves existed in the world today?

What if we decided to forfeit getting supper out for one night, to sponsor a poor, underprivileged child for a month? (It’s roughly about the same price.)

What if we let it bother us that 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys will experience some form of sexual abuse before age eighteen?

What if we started seeing faces for every statistic that is spouted off?

What if we chose to care?

Because you know it’s a choice.

Your choice.

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I started running this year. I woke up on Mother’s Day 2016 and I told my husband that I had ten weeks to go from not-running-at-all to running a 5K, and nothing was going to stop me.

Because doggone it, I knew what it was like to do life in the NICU and I had been blessed significantly through the ministry of Gradys Decision.

I was personally affected, so I started to care.

And that makes sense, right? Awareness grows significantly through personal experience. That’s a part of life and it’s okay to an extent.

But I’m just going to tell it to you straight.

It’s also a really selfish way to live.

It took my entire world getting ripped out from under my feet, to see how sheltered of a life I had chosen to live.

Get this part.

I chose the things I cared about, from how things personally affected me

Let this overwhelm you. It needs too.

You can keep on living your safe little life taking care of your world and be lost, or?

You can lose your life for the sake of the Gospel and be found. 

Stop putting your time in – at the soup kitchen, at the pregnancy center, at the youth outreach, at your local church, you fill in the blank. Put your life in – all in – for Jesus – right where you are.

To love your neighbor as yourself is not figurative.

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And remember – Jesus saves.

I’ve heard people talk about how there’s just no way we can effectively care about all the needs of the world and how coming to understand this has been so empowering.

What if we laid aside our rational effectiveness and put our life all- in, wherever we are, whatever it takes – and were empowered to care for all the people and all the issues of the world, in all the ways that we are called in our today, knowing the reality that it’s JESUS who saves.

So today, from my little house on the hill, I can sign a petition for refugees and pray for the humans being trafficked and give baby clothes to the pregnancy center and bake a pie for my neighbor and I can most importantly ask God to prepare my heart to say an unequivocal YES to love. 

What if 2017 was the year?

The year to care – about all the issues in the world.

The year to let our schedules be interrupted by others.

The year for our hearts to be broken by the ugliness of our own sin.

The year to be present with the poor, compassionate for the addict, concerned for justice, and consumed with love.

The year to BE the gift to everyone we meet.

Let’s do this. #whatif2017


 

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Because Everyone Understands the Language of Love

We have all gone mad.

For months, I have struggled to find words to express the deep feelings of a heart all tangled up. It’s been a hard year.

And then last night I watched as people set an American flag on fire and rioted angrily in the streets. Another riot in a year of riots.

We’re all so starved for selfless kindness, we’re going mad.

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A couple of months ago, I sat in a coffee shop with a friend. She is the kind of friend you who looks past a misspoken word and catches your heart.

“I just felt so alone, SO much,” A tear escaped.

There was fire in her eyes, strength. She gets it. “You know what I think?” She said, “People didn’t know how to care. They couldn’t relate. They felt helpless.”

I went home and I have thought about that for weeks.

I thought about all the times I didn’t know what to do, so I did nothing.

And I have decided it’s time to change how I live. 

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Don’t wait until you understand what it’s like to be stuck in a hospital room for endless winter days, to care.

Don’t wait until you know what it’s like for your mother to die, to care.

Don’t wait until your baby gets hooked up to machines and is given opiate drugs  for pain relief, to care.

Don’t wait to reach out, until you can relate to a stage four cancer diagnosis, or a miscarriage, to care.

Don’t wait until you have a kid to help a mother.

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Don’t wait till you are old and slow, to shovel someone’s walkway or carry someone’s groceries, or it will be too late. 

Because the truth is? Your fear – that you don’t know what to say or do – is irrelevant, if you love.

Love is a language we all understand. 

And to the person in a dark place? Love is all they need.

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And if you are too busy to take the time to care?

Quit busy. It’s not worth it.

Take the time it will take to post another Instagram selfie, to send a text saying “I’m thinking of you.” Use the money you’d spend on a new shirt and send someone flowers. Make an extra pizza and invite your new neighbor over.

Because love is a language we all understand.

Why You Can Begin Again

“We’ll be there in twenty minutes,” They said, and it was all I could do to respond and keep my voice from cracking. She had slept in my arms that whole morning, with her little fist clutching my finger.

I had kept smelling her and touching her.

“They’re coming,” I said, from my corner of the couch, “They’re coming!” My voice cracked wide open. “We just have twenty minutes, Ryan. Twenty minutes.” I felt like I was gasping for breath, like a fist was squeezing the air right out of my lungs. “How can we have just twenty minutes?” I said it desperately, crazily.

Leo played on the floor. Ryan’s eyes filled with tears and he just shook his head. I held her so tight she woke up.

She smiled and a tear dropped from my chin to her cheeks and made her blink. “How can this happen?”  I stood to go change her diaper and put lotion on her skin, one last time. “I can’t do this.”

Sometimes we’re left with the broken pieces.

The moment their car had disappeared and I walked through our navy blue front door, my heart split open and bled out like never before. I felt crazy with the sadness and my body shook with cries that cut the air with jagged-raw grief. I clutched the edge of the counter top and held on, while gravity fought to pull me to the floor. All I could say was no.

No, no, no, no, no.

“I want her back,” I said through wild eyes brimming with tears, “I just want her back, okay?”

But sometimes we’re left with the broken pieces.

I went to bed that day and I barely got up for four days. There was no concept of time or calendar days. My phone rang and beeped and I barely noticed. There was no sense of purpose, just all this overwhelming pain. I held her pink and gray elephant blanket and I breathed in her scent and closed my eyes and tried to feel her in my arms again.

It didn’t make a difference that we knew, when we got her, that our story would probably hold a good-bye. Not one bit.

Because no matter how you receive a child, if you choose to love them no -strings-attached, you will give them your heart, you will make them your life, and saying good-bye will leave you staggering.

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I lost myself in my grief.

I got stuck there in my tears.

It hurt so bad. I never could have imagined how much I would miss her.

People didn’t understand and I could tell, and the fact that they didn’t understand made me angry.

I got lost in that too, and it became easier to see the judgement and lack of understanding, over the gestures of love.

Sometimes, in a spiral of despair, broken pieces shatter into more broken pieces.

And when you can’t make sense of where to go from where you stand in a whole lot of brokenness, you hide.

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It was in the darkness of a church, in the middle of a concert, I realized that’s what I had done.

I could hide myself away, somewhere safe, far from pain, but if I refuse to feel, I’ll never bleed, BUT I’LL NEVER HEAL. I hear JESUS calling me, out of the grave I’ve been sleeping in, with new lungs, I’ll begin again, lift my voice and sing my part, this is the sound of a living heart.

Tears wet my eyes. I felt like my heart was cracking right down the middle and letting go of it all. The heavy sadness of saying good-bye. The hurt I felt from other human, well-meaning people. The feelings of failure as a mom.

So many times, I had cried out to Jesus, but then in that dark church, in the middle of the concert, I realized He not only heard my heart and caught my tears, He was calling me out.

And maybe, this is what you need to know, right where you are today?

That whatever broken pieces you’ve been left with, Jesus is calling you out. 

Your song won’t be the same. Or your story. But you can be sure that

Every tear will be redeemed, in the hands of God.

A new door will open, a new path will unfold.

You will make it, friend. One single step at a time.

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Because by Him, through Him, and unto Him, you can begin again AND –

live more fully than you ever did before. 


Just in case you haven’t been here in awhile… A BEAUTIFUL CAPTIVATION has a whole new look with a custom logo, thanks to A Zillion Designs.

Comments on individual blog posts have been disabled, but feel free to connect with Renee anytime; she values feedback of any kind and looks forward to hearing from you!

Also, make sure to hop on over to TOP PICKS for our highest-rated personal recommendations on music, movies and literature. We’ll be updating on a regular, unscheduled basis so make sure to check in.

 

 

On Silence

The silence has not just fallen on the ears of the blog readers,

it has encompassed my heart –

frozen creativity and the ability to communicate through words –

compelled me to rest.

 

The silence has left me speechless, quiet and withdrawn.

 

The silence has given me space to breathe and to function, space to simply BE while my heart tries to relearn how to live.

 

The silence of grief is misunderstood, misrepresented, and mistaken.

 

It is lonely. Uncertain. And terribly vulnerable.

 

And as I slowly climb from the valley of silence, I know that I will never be – never speak – and never live the same.

 

Yet the silence does heal.

Color the Walls with Love

She is just three weeks younger than our Vaeh, the squirming, wriggling bundle in my arms. Waves lap the shore and I walk, bounce, and her movements settle into stillness as her eyelids droop shut.

“Moooommmmy!” I hear him shout from the distance, where he plays with his friends and their mommies. I watch him drop his yellow shovel and start running. “Mommy?” I hear the question in his voice.

He has been possessive of me and his Daddy since Vaeh left. Everyday he asks me where I am, a multitude of times and often frantically, the minute I am out of his sight.

Keeping tabs on Mom, again. I think as his little legs sprint towards me. “Mommy, you got Vae back!” He shouts with such a big smile.

I choke on my own breath. Shake my head no and watch his smile disappear. “Mommy, you got Vae?” He tips his head to the side, a hopeful glint in his brown eyes.

“No, Cub, no.” It’s all I can say.

He makes no more comment…just turns and runs back to play.

Every couple of days, at random times and random places, he talks about her. He announces to his new friend that he has a baby sister. He asks me when she’s coming back. One day he sits on the couch and says that he wants to “huggle” Vae. “Re-mem-ber, Mom?” He says, “I huggle Vae. I hold her.”

And every time, I feel this jolt in my heart.

The family that was will always be and will be no more.

If that makes any sense.

I am pouring myself into work, painting nine hour days and staying up till midnight to clean my dirty house and working seven hours in the sun to mulch my flowerbeds and hedges, because I have to do something or I’ll go insane.

The people that say time heals don’t know what they are talking about. The depth of loss that rends my heart grows more, every new day the sun sets. Somewhere, out there, she is growing, learning, experiencing, living – without me. Without us.

And I cannot tell you in words how deep a chasm that cuts through my heart.

Everyone else is moving forward in their lives and I am hanging on for dear life trying to function. I meet new people who ask me how many kids I have and I tell them one, because it’s just too complicated otherwise, but that feels like such a betrayal.

My friends talk about their babies and I am left to listen and wish that I could share about all the ways my baby girl is growing.

I look into my son’s charming, kind eyes and feel sad for him that he does not have his sister he loved so much. LeoandNevaeh

I feel lost in my own skin, like I don’t know what to do, how to be, or even who I am. If I were really honest, I would tell you that I feel like someone cut my heart out and sent it away.

This is the very real truth about where I am.

And if I could tell you one thing, from this place I find myself today? I would tell you to color the walls with love.

Say yes to serving your neighbor when it’s inconvenient for you. Pick up the phone and call that friend it’s been so long since you chatted. Give more, keep less. Love the least of these. Let your heart bond with that little baby, whether you have him for one month or eighteen years.  Brush your daughter’s hair extra long and sing with your little boy extra loud. Bring brownies to the old man down the road and smile at every single person that you meet. Be a friend to everyone. Meet no strangers and have no enemies. Look at no man with condemnation, but extend a hand of grace to serve,

Pick up your paintbrush – whatever yours looks like – and paint. Make a picture, tell a story, and leave a legacy.

Everywhere you go.

And we will not be the perfect or the put-togethers, but we will  persevere.

Because we are partakers of the grace of Jesus Christ, and He who began a good work in us, will bring it to completion. 

Stop waiting for enough time, enough money, and enough resources and go embrace the sufficient grace to be brave enough to color the walls with love.

 

Why We Love

My phone tells me it’s 2:59 am.

Slowly, I crawl out of bed and pad softly to the bathroom.

I feel wide awake when I come back, so I sit on the edge of the bed and stare at the floor.

I stare at the floor and feel the heavy emptiness of grief.

She is gone and she is all I can think about.

I pick up her fleecy soft elephant blanket, the first blanket we wrapped around her tiny newborn body and the blanket I’ve been sleeping with since she left us.

Tears slide silently down my cheeks and I sit hunched over in the dark silence of night.DSCN3361

I keep telling Ryan that I just want her back. “How do I move on?” I ask this a hundred times a day, or more.

“I don’t know,” he always says and as far as I’m concerned there are too many I-don’t-knows in this story.

Mother’s Day comes then, and I watch the sun rise through my bedroom window, just missing her.

My Cub runs around the bed and right up to my face, nose-to-nose: “Heeeey, mom.” His face splits into a big smile and I find myself smiling right back.

“Can I have a huggle?” I say, and he grins wider.

“Shore!” He replies and wraps his little arms around my neck.

I am so glad to be his mom.

For the first time in four days, I leave the house. We drive down to the high school and I start a new journey ~ running.

I am not a runner, but I’m going to do this running thing and come July, I’m going to run that fundraiser 5K for Grady’s Decision, a ministry devoted to helping NICU families. I’m going to run it for our girl who ran a 40-day marathon of her own in the NICU.

So I run the track and then let Ryan do some running of his own. Leo, our Cub, takes off after his dad. He wants to be just like his Daddy, and our boy runs for almost 3/4 of a mile, without a break, smiling all the way.

I almost laugh for the sheer delight on his face and the joy he has brought our lives.

We go for ice cream then and I eat a free Mother’s Day sundae. When we start to drive home, I ask Ryan if we can please just drive around. “I’m not ready to go home yet,” I say. So we aimlessly drive the countryside and I stare silently out the window and think no coherent thought but grief.

Mother’s Day came and Mother’s Day went, and Monday morning there is a knock on my door and a stranger on my porch.

I am trying to clean away my sadness, background music playing far too loudly and I am just a sight to be seen, but I push open the front door and the man smiles and hands me the most beautiful bouquet of flowers I have ever seen. When I open the card it reads, “To Mommy Renee”, and I can’t even read the rest of the note for the tears that fill my eyes and spill over.

1 John 4:19 says, “We love, because He first loved us.”

When we said yes to Vaeh, we knew she would not be with us forever. As much as we miss her now and as much as we want her to always be with us, saying yes to her little life – yes we will care for her and provide for her and love her as our own – was always simply just about loving her…because of Him, who loved us first and gave us life.

And part of loving Vaeh and being family with her, is loving Vaeh’s mommy and being family with her. We love, because He first loved us.

My heart was never more splintered or shattered than it was the day I watched her drive down the road without me. The day one of the most beautiful chapters of my life ended. The day I walked back through the blue door of my little townhouse and hyperventilated grief till I fell asleep exhausted.  DSCN3368

I have no idea how to begin again.

I have no words.

I don’t know how to pray. My heart longs to have her back in my arms, here, in our home. And yet, I love her mama too and I believe that her mama is beginning again. I saw it on the day she had to leave her newborn girl, in her eyes spilling over with her own mother grief, how she loves her baby. I was there when she gave birth, holding her hand and cheering her on, and there was something about sharing that sacred moment, that knitted my heart with hers, a sisterhood of sorts.

This whole wide world is twisted over with grief and bent over with sadness, and I just ache.

And the flowers come, with the note from my little girl. And her Grandma tells me that they all want us to stay in her life. And her mommy calls me on Mother’s Day and leaves me a message to have a happy day.

I feel it in the air, how the page is turning, how the chapter has ended but the story continues, and maybe all this is the true miracle of His kingdom coming today, how the mercies of God are new every morning, and how great is His faithfulness.

WHY You Can Face Tomorrow

The man with the long silver hair leaned over and speaking low and husky he said, “I dunno, but I think she” jabbing his  thumb in my direction, “I think she is gonna have a real hard time when she has to give that baby back to you.”

Just this weekend, I walked into the lobby of the state prison, carrying our baby girl in the car seat, and the bottle and Ziplock bag with diapers and my wallet and the money for the vending machines. I knew I would probably get news, but it didn’t sink in until she was sitting there next to me in the hard plastic, red chairs in one overcrowded and chaotic visiting room, and she said: “I got a bed date!” with such joy and relief her eyes shone.

Her eyes shone while a heavy lump formed in my throat. “Oh, you did?!” I croaked, trying to muster up some feelings of excitement.

May 5.

Just two-and-a-half weeks to be a family.

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We talked about her plans and as soon as it felt appropriate, I excused myself to go to the bathroom. I stood at the bathroom sink and took deep breaths and stared into the mirror, the same mirror I’d stared into with happy disbelief the day we heard that we would get to adopt our son.

I knew this day would come. I knew it the very moment we said yes, we’ll take the baby girl and I knew that any other outcome was a very, very slight possibility.

But nothing can prepare you for the day you get your timeframe. Nothing. All the pep talks and self-help advice and prayers swirl down the drain, the moment you hear the news that you have this many days.

And whether it’s stage four cancer or giving back your foster child, your timeframe is never long enough.

My mind went blank and my stomach felt pinched tight, like someone had punched me and I just couldn’t get my breath. When the man in the visiting room jabbed his thumb at me and said that business about me having a real hard time, all I could do was just nod and smile sadly.

I hold my girl tighter and longer and kiss her little cheeks more than ever. I want to freeze time. And someone tell me, how do you cram a lifetime of love and being a family into two-and-a-half weeks?

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There are moments I feel so mad, because this world is really stupid and smashed up and splintering and doggone it, why do the children always pay?

And I ask God, how can you, how CAN you let this happen and what in tarnation was all of this for?

And shoot, but there aren’t ANY nicely packaged up answers for bleeding hearts.

But there IS JESUS, and I am telling YOU, YOU – whoever YOU are, I am telling you today, through my tears and from my shattered heart, that JESUS is MORE than enough.

I don’t know what your timeframe is or your heartbreak or your God-forsaken, this-can’t-be-happening-to-me nightmare – but I know that there is a REAL and LIVING God who has numbered the hairs on your head, who came for the broken and the shattered and the messed-up, and said: “I am come that they may have life, AND that they may have life more abundantly.”

And when I stare through my tears, into the face of my baby girl, I know it deep in the fiber of my one heart, one soul and one being – that the Good Shepherd who cares for His sheep will take care of my little lamb.

When I start to worry over statistics that project sadness over my little girl’s life, I tell the Enemy, “No. No, no, no.” Because I believe that there is one GREATER than he that is in the world and you can tell me all the numbers and percentages and I will tell you that the God of this world is BIGGER than your numbers and percentages.

And I will choose to stare the odds in the face, because I believe that Jesus came to give us abundant life and I believe that no matter where you are or what you face, JESUS SAVES.

So when that fateful day comes, that day my heart will burst wide open into a thousand pieces, I will lay my hands on my little girl and I will say two things.

Baby Vaeh, you are beautiful. You are strong. And you are so, so loved.

And?

Baby Vaeh, no matter what you face – Jesus came for you.

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And you, friend. So close your eyes and take a deep breath and begin again.

You can, because Jesus saves.

 

Why You CAN Say Yes

I started skiing when I was five. At five, I learned how to buckle bindings on ski boots and how to strap your feet to two narrow boards so you could fly down a snow-covered mountain.

Skiing was the sport of choice for my family in the winter. We lived just five minutes away from a small ski mountain and we weren’t rich, but there was always money for a family pass. (That was back in the day where a family pass was a family pass, no limitations on how many people could be in your family before you had to start paying extra fees.)

We’d pack ourselves up in our big old van, around three to four times a week and it was never enough for us. We’d eat supper before we went and we only ever stopped long enough to go to the bathroom. We didn’t want to waste time in the lodge when we could be screaming down the hills.

*above pictures taken by my sister, Hannah Pratt

When I was ten years old, I met my first black diamond. My siblings had told me a black diamond was a really steep hill and said I probably couldn’t do it. That was enough for me. “Oh yes I can,” I insisted and so we made our way to that black diamond called the Fearless Leader and I stubbornly started after my sister and brother.

Halfway down and they had gone over a knoll in the trail and I couldn’t see them anymore, and all of a sudden my knees felt weak. I was terrified. The hill just felt like it was getting steeper and steeper the further down I went.

So I sat down. Plopped down on my butt, right in the middle of the trail and screamed for my sister and shouted into the wind that I couldn’t do it. Finally, I took off my skis, slung them over my shoulder and started walking.

That’s right. I started walking. (Have you ever walked for long in a pair of ski boots? Enough said.) I walked straight down that black diamond hill and met a worried and furious sister and brother at the bottom: “You scared us so bad! What have you been doing? We are never taking you on a black diamond again!”

That was fine by me, because I never wanted to go on a black diamond again.

Later that day, it was my oldest brother Brian’s turn to ski with me. Skiing with a big bunch of siblings like I had, meant the older ones all took turns skiing different levels with the younger ones.

“I think we should do the Fearless Leader,” he said.

“I can’t!” I protested, “that one is just too steep.”

“Renee,” he said, “you’ve done the Giant. There is hardly any difference between the Giant trail and the Fearless Leader. I think you can do it. Listen, I’m going to take you to that trail and we’re going to do it. I’ll ski slow and you just follow me close, all the way down the hill. Just do what I do.”

I felt so scared when we got to the top of that hill, but before I could protest again, my brother’s skis had crested the top of the hill and I didn’t want to be left behind, so before I knew it, mine had too.

We skied slow and calculated until we got about halfway down the hill and I remember telling my brother, “We can ski faster than this you know.” He had grinned and I had grinned back, before we cut loose and careened down what remained of the Fearless Leader.

It became my favorite trail.   

It was two am on a Thursday morning when I remembered this story, how excited I was to conquer that trail. I did every black diamond on the mountain that day, plus one double black, and skiing only became more of a thrilling adventure.

I didn’t realize then that a whole lot more had been conquered than a snow-covered ski path. But at two am on a Thursday morning, rocking my baby girl in my rocking chair, I remembered this story and I saw the victory for what it really was. I had faced a paralyzing fear and I had won.

I had also been led.

Rocking away, I had been sitting there thinking that I could never foster another child again. I had been thinking about how each child has wildly and beautifully destroyed my heart and how it just wasn’t in me to keep going.

The responsible thing would be to stop upending my life anyways.

Eighteen years later and I was plopping my butt down in the middle of the trail again.

It’s enough. I have done my reasonable service.

Yes, I actually thought those words.

And even as I thought them I knew better.

When I had told my friend Paula how we got our phone call about Vaeh in December – just before Leo’s adoption –  and how I struggled after we said yes, because I worried that we had been rash, I told her that I had asked God to please show me that we had made the right decision.

You see, we had made a pledge to not enter into another fostering-type situation, until our son Leo’s adoption was finalized. When we said “yes, we would take this baby girl due in February”, we knew the adoption was coming, but didn’t actually have it officially completed.

The day after our big yes, I worried and I prayed all morning and I asked God to show me that we had not just made an emotional choice. We got home just after lunch, I got the mail and there it was – our adoption papers stating that it would be finalized in six days.

It was like God was saying, “you’re good, you’re good”… “I’ve got your back.”

So when I told my friend Paula this, she said: “And there will be times in this journey with your girl, that you will need to go back to that reassurance, to be reminded that you are doing what you are supposed to be doing.”

Two in the morning and I’m sitting there rocking and setting my heart down in the middle of the trail, saying enough, when this story, almost twenty-years old, about skis and ski mountains and facing your fear, comes flooding back.

I was led down that hill same as I am being led up this one.

I can face my fear like I did on that trail, or I can let that fear stop me in my tracks and keep me from the joy. Paralyze my heart.

Fear always paralyzes one thing and keeps you from something else.

The next day, I hold her a little bit longer when she’s done eating. I talk to her longer. I wonder at her longer. She stares up at me with big eyes while I tell her she’s the sweetest pea in our pod. She blinks and keeps staring, and I gently tap her cheek and talk soft.

Her eyes light up and twinkle as her face breaks into the biggest smile.

I melt.

There were 40 long NICU days and tremors and screams and long days and aching, tired bodies and emotional stress and complete and utter chaos at home, there is a heart destroyed with love for the boy with the brown fedora and the girl with the long eyelashes, there is sacrifice and frustration and impatience and anger and repentance, there are questions and confusion about what it means to be Jesus to the biological mommies and what loving them should be, and there is opinions about what should happen and what shouldn’t happen and about who deserves what and who doesn’t deserve what – and at the end of the day, or two o’clock in the morning, yeah —

I pretty much want to throw in the towel and say, “that’s it, no more”, but the moment I think it, I feel something bigger rising up in me and snuffing out that fear.

Love.

The love of God has compelled us to say yes, first to Leo and now to Vaeh, and I don’t know yet, but maybe it will move us on to say yes again.

And who am I to say enough, when I am held and constrained by a love that went all lengths to receive me?

Greater love there has never been.

So you can say YES…one big unreserved YES…to whatever crazy, impossible thing God calls you to do.

And He will lead you down that trail or up that mountain, and snuff out your worst fear, and you will make it, because you are extravagantly LOVED.

I don’t know what the future holds for our family and a part of me wants to beg God to never ask us to do anything like this again. But then… I look into the faces of my beautiful children and I see it there, in the twinkle of our little stars – the beauty of our best yes.

By Faith, You Can Take the Next Step

She was three weeks old on Friday. Three weeks old and eight pounds of round-cheeked, big-eyed cuteness. Three weeks old and I want her to slow down on that gaining weight, getting big stuff. I’m counting down the days and dreaming of the day her face will get kissed with winter sunshine.

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When she was born, I thought we had a 50/50 chance (it was probably more like 90/10) we’d be home in a week and I hoped real big. And then they admitted her to the NICU, where she could safely fight out her withdrawal, and I was sure it would be just two-three weeks.

And then two days before her 3-week birthday, she got her highest score ever, sweating real hard, crying real loud, shaking too much. And they said, “she needs relief” and her dose went back up – not down – and my heart panicked.

“I can’t do this anymore,” I told God and I waited for Him to speak, to reassure me, to calm my heart like He’s done so many times before.

Silence.

“I can’t do this anymore,” I told Him again, my heart beating fast and my body feeling weak and my mind so tired.

Silence.

Sometimes when you feel like you need God the most, He doesn’t speak.

Know what I mean?

I felt that this week.

I cried. “People don’t get it, God. They don’t get how hard, hard, hard this is. My whole life has completely stopped. I just want to do laundry again and clean up Leo’s messes and make my family supper and greet Ryan when he gets home from work. I just want to bring my baby girl home and put a ribbon in her hair and give her a bath in the bathtub and rock her in my rocking chair and cover her with her pink elephant blanket and put her “Wild About Daddy” outfit on her and be a family with her.”

I cried and I talked it all out.

The fear – that Vaeh would suffer from developmental delays, that she’d be in the NICU for another month, that Leo would feel like I abandoned him and never forgive me.

The anger – sometimes at Vaeh’s mom, for letting this happen to her daughter, sometimes at people who don’t seem to care about her – to care that she is my daughter regardless of our different bloodlines, at unfairness and injustice and brokenness.

The weariness – of driving, driving, driving, of living so many hours in one tiny corner of one big room in one brick hospital, of eating cafeteria or take-out food, of sleeping in strange beds, of beeping monitors and false alarms and clumsy chords and security badges and locked doors, of trying to be brave.

The exhaustion – of trying to balance being a mama to Leo and a wife to Ryan and an advocate for Vaeh’s mama, and a friend and a sister and a daughter and a fierce mama for Vaeh, of trying to figure out when to be what and how to be what and what it all means.

I cried and I talked it all out and when I got all done, there was no sign from God or word from the Lord or blessed reassurance.

There was nothing but deafening silence.

I know you’ve been there before too. I know you’ve lived in a hard place and you’ve cried out from your hard place, hoping and longing that in your moment of desperation, a verse would come, a song, a message – something – anything – to make you feel heard and noticed and reassured.

 I bet you’ve been there before, sitting in that hard place, wishing for a ray of hope, waiting and waiting and the only thing happening is nothing.  

And when that nothing happens? When you don’t get miraculously healed from cancer, or miraculously discharged from the NICU, or miraculously saved from a broken relationship – you have a choice to make and it is one of the most important choices you will ever make.

You can believe God or you can not believe God, and what you choose will set your course for the next moment and the next choice and the next time, and there’s no middle ground here.

Job asked God a lot of questions and when God finally spoke into the silence, He said, “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?”

It was kind of like God was saying, “Job, I made you. Why do you ask me where I am, Job? I never left you. And Job? Job, nothing happens that I don’t see. I am the Creator. I have not forgotten you.”

We’re human and we want something tangible, and when God is silent, sometimes we wonder if He’s even real.You can believe God or you can not believe God, and the difference all comes down to faith

And whether or not you believe or not believe, will not only change your course for the next moment and the next choice and the next time, it will change the entire direction of your life.

“By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible.”

By faith, I know that God has brought me here. I struggle to know and to see how it will all end. Will Vaeh be healed? Will we get to bring her home? How long will we have her? How long will we know her? Will Vaeh be delayed and struggle for the rest of her life? Will she grow up and thrive, healthy and secure and loved? Will we have the chance to be a family?

In my humanity, I want answers and I want answers now.

And then there was Abel whom God commended as righteous for offering up his first fruits, and Enoch whom God commended for pleasing Him, and Abraham who obeyed God and went on a journey not knowing where he was going,  and Sarah who believed in God’s power for the impossible.

Hebrews says that it was by faith.

Hebrews says that it was by faith and that they died in faithnot having received the things that were promised, and the faith chapter eleven in Hebrews ends with saying this: And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better for us,that apart from us they should not be made perfect.”

I wrestle with my faith and I wrestle in my faith and in my flailing humanity, I don’t quite get it.

But I know that the choice to believe God or not believe God will be the catalyst in my life for how I live, how I walk and how I see.

So I’m taking the next step, and the next, weary, exhausted and sometimes fearful, because I want to die in faith and have it be counted for righteousness.

You too? I know we cannot do it alone.

So let’s do this faith walk, you and I, and let’s do it together.

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