My Divine Privilege, Part 1

We got called about taking a set of twins the week my husband’s father was dying from cancer.

We were driving to the hospital in Pittsburgh and I stared at my husband in disbelief.

“You’ve got to be kidding me,” I said.

We were still in the hospital a week later, when we got another phone call about a severely abused infant.

“Why is this happening now?” I asked Ryan, “And why is this always so hard?”

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My first baby would have turned eight-years-old in December.

Emphasis on would have.

My body has held life and birthed death.

I don’t dwell on my loss, but there are random times I remember and I wonder what life would have been like, if…

Emphasis on would have.

me2I remember staying home that Mother’s Day and feeling angry.

In the midst of intense doctoring and being told that my chances of having kids was pretty slim and the odds were stacked against me, I got pregnant.

Before we had much of a chance to tell everyone, and four days before the world celebrated motherhood with a national holiday, I went to work.

Like any normal day I went to work, except it wasn’t really a normal day, because it was the day I lost my baby.

May 5.

The same day we kissed our Vaeh good-bye, six years later.

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Sandwiched between those heartbreaks, God gave us a son. Born on a warm summer day the sun shone bright, this little man with a head full of dark hair, weighing seven pounds and one ounce, was born.

He was fatherless and his mom was serving a sentence in state prison. She held him her entire three-day hospital stay and then they shackled her hands and feet once again, to take her back to jail.

I’m not sure why, because it’s not really protocol, but they let us in the room before she left the hospital.

She was wearing a brown jumpsuit and her hair was pulled back in a simple ponytail. Her hands were shaking as she fixed the hospital blanket he was swaddled in. She was tracing the shape of his face and tears were silently pouring down her face.

I watched a tear slide down the ridge of her nose and hang there, until it dropped on his little face. She wiped it away and a small cry came from her lips, “I’m so sorry.” She said softly. “I’m so sorry. Please don’t forget me.” Then she looked up at me and said, “Hi, you…you can take him” in a shaky voice.

I could barely see through my tears. The prison guards and nurse in the room looked like they were fighting back tears too. I wasn’t supposed to touch her, but I wrapped my arms around her in a big hug and I told her that I loved her and I made her a promise.

“He will know who you are.” 

She handed me the sleeping little bundle and the guards turned her wheelchair and pushed her out.

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I sat in the backseat of our car that day, and sobbed on the phone with my mom and sister. “How can I feel so much happiness and sadness at the same time?” I said.

For sixteen months we lived in a giant question mark, wondering if we would have to give him back. He was just a few months old when I wrote these words on this blog in 2013 –

When God places a child in your arms, it is a Divine placement, a Divine privilege, and the gift of motherhood- regardless of the method of placement.

The truth is that it doesn’t really matter how Leo came to be in our home. Though he is not born of my flesh, he is born of my heart, and while he is here, he is here by the divine  placement of a sovereign God.

Becoming a mom isn’t giving birth to a baby.

I can’t tell you how many tears I have cried because “I just want to be a mom and have a family.”

Becoming a mom isn’t having your baby forever.

Quantity of time doesn’t make a mom a mom, kind of like quantity of time isn’t what determines viability of life.

I believe in life at conception and –

I believe that motherhood is not so much a position you hold as it is a love you embody.

Because when God places a child in your arms – it is a divine placement, a divine privilege and the gift of motherhood.

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And then two years and two months after I printed those words on this blog, it was written in legal ink and my Cub, boy of my own heart, took our last name, forever.

He’s five-and-a-half now and he knows he’s adopted, because I made a promise in that hospital room, and –

because we celebrate his adoption. 

It’s hard and I won’t lie.

Adoption is hard. Fostering babies is hard. Giving a baby back almost killed me.

It’s hard and I won’t lie.

My idea of motherhood looked a lot different than infertility, miscarriage, fostering, adoption and losing a child.

It’s hard and I won’t lie –

it’s broken and it’s not how I imagined it. brokenjarBut this story is not something I want to hide.

We all have shards of brokenness and sharp edges, and I know it’s easier to hide those stories than share those stories, but –

and this is the part you need to remember:

when you can’t speak of your brokenness, how will you tell of His redemption?

img_6423“You made my dream come true,” I tell my Cub almost every day. “You made me a mom.”

There have been questions and there will be more.

And I’m okay with that, because I know that it doesn’t matter how Leo came to be in our home. He is here, with us, by the divine placement of a sovereign God.

My strong-willed and sensitive, brown-eyed, adventure seeking boy.

My divine privilege.

Give Me a Sign of Your Goodness

I climbed out of bed with red, tear-stained cheeks and matted hair, the first day I put on my tennis shoes to run.

Mother’s Day 2016.

“You’re going to run?” I could tell he was trying to be positive, but I could also hear the disbelief in his question.

“Yes.”

“You’ve been in bed for four days, do you think you should get up and run right away?” He asked me so carefully.

“Yes,” was all I said and he said nothing else.

We all got in the car and drove the two minutes to the high school track.

I ran around it a little more than one time, huffing, puffing – basically hyperventilating.

When I stopped, bent over and gasping for air, he said: “That was great, but you don’t have to run you know.”

“I – am – going – to -run,” I said between deep breaths. “I am going to do this.”

He looked straight back at me and nodded, “Okay. If that’s the case, you’ll have to pace yourself. You can’t do it all at once. But I’ll be right here – with you.”

 

And he was.

Both of my guys did it with me. They gave me time to run. Sometimes they came with me, to cheer me on and tell me I could do one more lap. Sometimes they ran with me.

And ten weeks after hyperventilating over a quarter of a mile, I ran four miles. I ran my heart out and as I slowed to a stop, tears poured down my face.

Just a few short months before, I had danced in my living room with the sweetest little girl I’ve ever known. We had music playing and I’d just started dancing when this song came on –

Tell your heart to beat again
Close your eyes and breathe it in
Let the shadows fall away
Step into the light of grace
Yesterday’s a closing door
You don’t live there anymore
Say goodbye to where you’ve been
And tell your heart to beat again

My two-and-a-half year old had stared at me while I danced with my baby girl and tears poured shamelessly down my cheeks. ‘What’s wrong, mama?” He’d asked with serious brown eyes, and I had just shook my head and smiled, speechless.

Because what else do you do when you know that a door is closing, that time is slipping through your fingers, that there’s nothing you can do but say good-bye?

As I slowed to a stop that night, while the app on my phone told me I’d ran a little over four miles, the very same song played through my earbuds –

Beginning
Just let that word wash over you
It’s alright now
Love’s healing hands have pulled you through
So get back up, take step one
Leave the darkness, feel the sun
‘Cause your story’s far from over
And your journey’s just begun
Tell your heart to beat again

 

Two days later, I ran my first 5K race and placed in the top ten for my category.

One step at a time, I was leaving the darkness behind – telling my heart to beat again.

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There were days I stayed in bed until the sun was too high.

Days I felt like crying but my tears were dried up.

Prayers I begged God to take me home so I didn’t have to feel anymore.

Self-induced loneliness because being with people was far too vulnerable. I felt like I had to be brave when I was with people, because people don’t know what to do with grief, but I didn’t feel brave.

Days I felt so much like a train wreck, I wished a train would come wreck me.

Darkness.

Struggling with feeling like the people I loved most would be better off without me, because I was such a living mess of raw emotion.

Feeling like a stranger in my own skin.

constant wrestling match with knowing how to answer people when they asked, “how are you?” because if I answered how I really felt, it would probably just make things awkward.

I ran out all my frustration. I ran through my pain. I ran while I prayed. And God met me on the track, over and over and over again.

My prayers weren’t profound. Over and over again, I prayed one thing.

“God, give me eyes to see.”

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I have seen the hand of God.

Not once or twice, but over and over and over again.

I know His goodness.

In Psalm 86:11-13, David cries out to the Lord –

Teach me your way,(S) Lord,
    that I may rely on your faithfulness;(T)
give me an undivided(U) heart,
    that I may fear(V) your name.
12 I will praise you, Lord my God, with all my heart;(W)
    I will glorify your name forever.
13 For great is your love toward me;
    you have delivered me(X) from the depths,
    from the realm of the dead.(Y)

David knew the faithfulness and love of God, but still He ends Psalm 86 by saying,

Give me a sign of your goodness.

David had enemies and his enemies were attacking him.

David needed a rescue.

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And who hasn’t been in that kind of darkness before –

needing a rescue?

A rescue from the broken shards of our one broken life.

In one of the darkest seasons of my life, I prayed for eyes to see, not because it seemed holy, or profound, or even because it gave me comfort –

I prayed for eyes to see because I didn’t know what else to pray.

The thread I clung to was thin, but I hung on with that meager prayer because I didn’t just believe that God was good –

I knew that God was good. 

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And then one day, I posted this picture on Facebook and an almost-stranger messaged me and asked if she could run with me.

She was brave enough to ask and I was brave enough to say yes. 

I’m not sure if we ran as much as we talked, but we became friends.

Jess is the kind of friend who rescues you when your car battery dies in the car wash. Or when you need a last minute babysitter. The kind of friend who shows up at your house, when you’re sick, with your favorite coffee. A 3 am, real-is-where-its-at, I’ll-love-you-in-your-ugly kind of friend.

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That summer I prayed for eyes to see? For three months straight? Because I needed a rescue?

God kept laying MOPS on my heart.

I pushed that thought away so many times with a gazillion excuses. I don’t know anybody. They’ll think I’m crazy. I’m busy enough. I don’t think I need more friends. Seriously, MOPS is not going to fix my problems. 

Finally I gave in.

Two years before, I had met this random lady on the beach who had invited me to the local MOPS group, so I knew there was one – but I didn’t know her or where she had told me that MOPS met.

So I googled it begrudgingly and found MOPS took place right up the street. (Of course.)

I begged my sister to come with me (which turned out to be no help for my insecurities, since she showed up late) and went to MOPS armed with cautious indifference and a list of reasons why this was all not going to work well for us.

Then this lady stood up and she was talking about the theme of the year and what we were going to be digging into, and I’m not sure I was really listening until she said –

“This is going to be the year we look up and see.”

And I didn’t know why, but I knew that I was right where God wanted me to be.

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Alli was one of my first MOPS friends. She let me into her own painful story of losing a child and it was like an instant camradery between us, even though our stories are so different. I don’t like crying in front of people, but for some reason I could always cry with Alli and not feel silly. She validated my feelings in ways that no one else had and made me feel normal.

Jessica would have never friended me on Facebook and asked to run with me, if we hadn’t briefly met at MOPS when I commented on her yellow rain boots.

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There’s more women too. I can’t name them all. Beautiful people with hearts that are even more beautiful, who love Jesus and who loved me through one of my hardest paths.

MOPS did not fix my problems or heal my broken heart, but it did shine a light in a darkness I was desperate to escape.

God uses unconventional means and normal people who live transparently and believe me when I tell you that –

God hears every single one of your desperately-spoken, hanging-by-a-thin-thread prayers.

Be brave enough to ask.

Give me a sign of your goodness. 

Put your running shoes on, girl.

Beginning
Just let that word wash over you
It’s alright now
Love’s healing hands have pulled you through
So get back up, take step one
Leave the darkness, feel the sun
‘Cause your story’s far from over
And your journey’s just begun
Tell your heart to beat again

God is in the rescuing-business.

GOD RESTORES

He walked out the back door, carrying a little brown basket.

“I’m going to go swing with Ryan, okay Mom?”

Ryan was the miniature doll he borrowed from Grandma’s house; the doll that was tumbling around in the brown basket he carried, my little Cub, as he ran across the backyard to the swing set.

A wave of sadness swept over me as he carefully placed Ryan in the swing. He was asking the plastic doll how high he wanted to go and gently pushing the swing.

It’s not fair, I thought as I watched him. He would make the best big brother.

Why does it have to be so hard? 

Impossible for us to get pregnant.

So hard for us to grow our family.

Why?

I was standing there, watching my son with pity. Would he always be an only child? Never know what it was like to grow up with siblings? I turned to go back to the sink full of dishes and I saw those two words scrawled across my blackboard.

GOD RESTORES.

God the Restorer. Our Restorer.

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To restore means to “renovate – so as to return to its original condition”. 

To bring back.

Return.

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I was barely 22 years old when I received two diagnoses that would forever change my life. I remember walking out of that appointment, feeling like I was walking through a milky haze.

This isn’t me. This isn’t me. This isn’t me.

They were the only three words I could think, even after my tears had dried up.

I wanted to refuse it. Refuse that it was possible that I would never have my own babies. Refuse that it was possible that I would have to worry about bone density and menopausal symptoms and hormonal issues that women shouldn’t have to think about until they’re late forties or early fifties.

Refuse that this was going to be my journey.

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Brokenness.

We are all fractured by life.

We are different and we are all the same.

All of us needing to be brought back.

Brought back and restored.

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When I was a kid, Psalm 23 was one of the first passages of Scripture that I memorized.

The Lord is my Shepherd

I shall not want

He maketh me to lie down in green pastures 

He leadeth me beside the still waters.

He restoreth my soul

I learned those words in the King James Version, with all the idiosyncrasies of Old English, because that was the version of my Bible – the same worn copy I still read from.

I shall not want, because He restoreth my soul.

It never said that we wouldn’t want because we wouldn’t face need.

We do not want, because we have what we need.

And what we need is not the absence of brokenness, but the power of a restoring God. 

We do not want, because the Lord is our Shepherd.

We do not want, because our God is a restoring God.

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For nine years, I have prayed that God would defy the medical impossibilities and give us a biological child.

For nine years, I have been in want.

For nine years, I have had all that I needed.

And goodness and mercy have followed me, all the days of my nine years –

in thousands of ways that He has blessed and given and restored.

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Five years of sweet wild turbulence, raising this boy.

He has denied my petition.

But, He has restored.

And I would take His restoration over an answer to the prayers that I have cried, a million times over and over again.

IMG_5490 His restoration to our brokenness will not always feel or seem fair.

We can ask why until the stars fall, and it’s okay.

But in the end, trust this –

GOD RESTORES.

 

On Cultivating Faithfulness

“If one more person says, ‘If anyone could do it, you can’, I’m going to scream.”

She was furiously scrubbing her laminate kitchen floor.

I stood in the doorway, silent.

“I know,” I finally said slowly, “Me too. I mean, I have never been through what you have been through, but even in the things I face in life, I get that all the time. “You’re so strong”, “You have what it takes”…it’s so frustrating.”

“Exxxaaaactly,” She leaned back on her knees and slowly stood. “It’s kind of another way of saying that we don’t need anyone or anything. It’s invalidating.”

It’s kind of like saying you don’t even need God.

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God knows what you can handle. God will only give you what you can handle.

We grow up hearing these things, until we wake up one morning and we are wrecked by life.

So we question –

because if we live from that theology, we are reduced to questioning even God Himself. 

If God will only give us what we can handle, is there even a God? {Because this is too much to handle.} 

My friend woke up one morning and her son died in his sleep.

How do you go on from that and live?

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In the aftermath of such heart-rending anguish, well-meaning people told her crazy things like, “God knew you could handle this if anyone could. You are strong.”

We have got to stop.

No one is strong enough to “handle” that.

No one.

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Years later, we said yes to the life of a newborn baby girl who had to fight through the drug addiction of her biological mama.

I held her every day that she stayed in the hospital NICU. I whispered “I love you” in her ears, I prayed that God would let me absorb all the pain that wracked her little five pound body, and I promised her that I would fight for her.

Our hearts were completely captivated with her wide eyes, round face and demanding personality. We loved her as our own. We sung her through hours of screaming and walked her through hours of tremoring. We got up with her at night. We welcomed her as our own.

Then we kissed her good-bye.

And I fell to the floor and screamed.

My heart bled for the pain.

None of our story made sense. I hurt because it was over and it had just begun. I hurt more because she wouldn’t “get it” and I knew that with every ounce of my being.

Babies are resilient, yes.

But babies are little humans with the capacity to feel every emotion that we are capable of feeling.

I couldn’t see through my tears and my fists pounded the kitchen counter and all I said was “no”.

My husband pulled me close and told me we would make it.

And I groaned. And I cried, “But will she? Will she?” And I remember looking at him, wildly swiping at my tears, and saying this – “I know that she will feel abandoned. I know that. It kills me.”

He half-carried me to bed, where I stayed for four days. There were moments I felt like I couldn’t breathe and moments I sat hunched over the toilet, gagging.

I threw up nothing but my one aching heart.

Everything hurt.

And I shrunk into a shell of grief.

img_6423Some people will tell you that God won’t give you too much to bear and they will try to be nice and encourage you by telling you untruths like – “you are strong enough”.

But you can hurt so deep that you wish you could close your eyes and never wake up, because you are truthfully not strong enough.

Don’t believe the lies.

You are not strong enough.

Good enough.

Smart enough.

Talented enough.

You are not enough.

And believing you are…and telling yourself that you are…is prison disguised as release.

Jesus came to set the captive free.

You. Me. All of us.

He came to save us – not just from sin and brokenness – but also from ourselves.

What would happen, I wonder, if we stopped struggling with our self-imposed expectations of “being enough” and instead – instead

cultivated faithfulness?IMG_5716 I wish I could tell you that I “handled” my grief well. I wish I could tell you that I was “strong enough”.

I can’t.

I didn’t.

I wasn’t.

But I hung on desperately.

And maybe that’s what faithfulness looks like sometimes. Resiliently hanging on, even when your whole life feels like it’s falling apart.

MtKatahdin1The spring before our son Leo was born, my faith in God’s goodness to me was tested in a way that shaped my view of God for me.

We had started the process of connecting with his birth mom and begun preparing for this little nameless baby boy – to be born in just a few short months. An August baby. It had happened so fast and so unexpectedly and I remember feeling so alive inside my heart, like I was living in a dreamy haze.

I was going to be a mom.

On my way, flying across the country, to visit my best friend and serve in another friend’s wedding, I wrote in my journal about a fear that shadowed my heart.

I was afraid that something was going to happen.

I felt this certainty that something would come up.

But I wrote this – “God, you wouldn’t let that happen though. Right?”

IMG_1861A few days later, thousands of miles away from my husband, I received the phone call that circumstances had changed.

We would not be placed with that baby boy.

Hope tells you to believe in spite of the risks, and when the risks became your reality, hope can feel foolish and unwise, like a waste.

And I wrestled. I dug in my heels and I grabbed hold and I said, “Show me.” 

Show me, God. What is it that you want from me, in this place?

Dashed hopes can make you feel an awful lot like you’re living in a wasteland.

And it’s there, in one of those fifteen scrawled-in books I’ve written the raw of my one heart and stored in my hope chest.

“You say you are good. But you don’t feel good to me.”

Honestly, it’s like if one kid offered a lollipop to another kid, waving the prospect in his face and then ripped off the wrapper and ate it himself. We would say that was mean, right?

But isn’t that just what happened? Didn’t God just wave this prospect in my face and then rip it away again?

I did not get an answer for why it happened, but it was impressed very deeply on my heart that I needed to just believe that God is who He says that He is.

It was like He was saying to me – “Renee? Believe who I say that I am. I am a good God and my plan for you is good.”

It was like He was saying to me – “Cultivate faithfulness.”

Hold on to what you know to be true.

And what we know to be true, is that Jesus, the Son of God, laid down his life for us and took the complete brokenness of all mankind on HimselfBecause He is good, for our good.

Two weeks later I received a phone call. Did we still want to be placed with this baby?

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Two-and-a-half years later, this happened –

lawyer dayMaybe knowing why doesn’t matter, you know?

Life doesn’t and won’t often make sense.

You aren’t enough for that and you don’t have to be.

Because God is.

He is enough for your one shattered heart –

your messed-up predicament –

your broken dreams –

your busy life –

your deepest grief –

your imperfect family –

your darkest night –

and every hopeless thought you have ever had.

He is enough and He came so that you didn’t have to try to be anymore.

And this is why you can lean in and be fearless –

not because there isn’t brokenness,

but because there is faithfulness.

Psalm 37:3-5 New American Standard Bible (NASB)

Trust in the Lord and do good;
Dwell in the land and [a]cultivate faithfulness.
Delight yourself in the Lord;
And He will give you the desires of your heart.
Commit your way to the Lord,
Trust also in Him, and He will do it.

 

Trust. Do Good. Dwell.

and cultivate faithfulness. 

We overcome because we cultivate faithfulness to God and His word, regardless of our life circumstances.

And when the storms of life come, we might be shaken –

But we will not be moved.

Why You Should GO FIRST

September 1st and the sun shone bright and warm when I walked through those clear glass doors with my three-year-old son in tow.

What am I doing? My heart thrummed in my chest. This is stupid. I don’t need a “mom group”. 

Mom group. Insert <gag>.

Her hair was cut in a cute brown bob that framed her face and she was wearing yellow shorts. Her face was bright and her eyes were warm. “I’m so glad you’re here,” she said, as I fumbled my way into the church, “I’m Dez. Let me tell you about MOPS.”

Stacy walked me to the classroom for Leo’s age group and Kristin reassured me when I left my kid with people I didn’t know – for the first time ever. “They’re so great back here,” She said. “They will call you if he needs you. He’s going to have fun and make friends! I know it’s hard. Do you want to sit with me?”

What am I doing here

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I poured myself coffee and I sat down with a table of women I didn’t know. The morning flew by, I got Leo from his classroom and I went home, feeling more hope in my heart than I had in a long time. I wrote,

“Today there was MOPS and new friends, meeting up with 35 strangers and being met by 35 kind and genuine smiles and being encouraged by a whole lot of authenticity and talk of this one, next year, being a year to LOOK UP and SEE.”

 The six months leading up to that sunny September 1st, I had been begging God to open my eyes wide to see.

And when the woman with shoulder-length brown hair and quiet eyes got up and talked about seeing, I had my answer.

I knew it down deep why I was there.

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There was a man in the Bible who was born blind so that the power of God could be seen. “I am the light of the world,” Jesus said, and he spit on the ground and made mud to cover the man’s eyes.  “Go wash it off,” he said, and the man came back seeing.

Jesus restored the blind man’s sight by smearing mud over his eyes.

Sometimes God uses the unexpected to work redemption in our lives. 

When I walked into that mom group, I needed to see again. There were things in my heart crying out for redemption.

There were forsaken places in my journey and spaces in my heart.

And the journey through the wilderness that landed me at a moms group full of strangers, has only made me more convinced that Satan wants us to feel abandoned. Forsaken. Alone.

“Be watchful,” 1 Peter 5:8 says, “…the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour”, and Peter continues, “Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world.”

Knowing.

Knowing what?

That you are not alone.

CBS News reported that 72% of Americans experience loneliness and 33% say they feel lonely once a week.

floweratpophamIt’s late. The house is quiet, minus the soft, persistent tick of the bedroom clock. The smoke alarm in the basement beeps and I remember that we need to buy new batteries for it.

Be watchful.

Keep your eyes wide open.

The Enemy of your soul wants nothing more than to destroy you.

Be watchful and stand firm.

Stand firm in the knowledge that you are not alone.

And you resist. 

These words are profound to me.

Everywhere I go, I hear it, I see it, I feel it – this deep yearning for authenticity, transparency and connection.

Because at the root of every jealous thought or misunderstanding, argument or rejection –

is really just a yearning to be loved.

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And this is why you should go first and say hello.

“Hi, I’m Renee, and…”

And your transparency might just be the key –

the key that lets another caged heart find freedom.

That says, “me too”“you’re not alone”. 

And together –

we resist the wily snares of the devil and step deeper into the water of His love.

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When I walked into Meadville MOPS on a sunny, September Thursday, expecting to never want to go back – I left with a glimmer of hope that I never expected.

Together.

Together is why you you should go first.

Because underneath all the layers of politeness and pleasantries and behind every mask?

There’s really just a yearning to be loved and to belong.

Find your tribe and love them well, for better or for worse, and you will stand firm and resist.

And you will see.

Make-Over Monday: Three Tips to Save You Time {cooking, cleaning & laundry}

Hello, Monday.

{We are so ready for you and this new week!}

Busy has become the new brag and there are some fascinating articles and statistics out there, talking about all the reasons why.

But regardless of where you fall in the spin of “busy, busy”, like me, you probably spend a lot of time doing a few  basic necessaries that can take up a lot of time – like laundry, cleaning & cooking food.

So here are my three tips guaranteed to save you time.

This is how I start every Monday and it sets my pace for every week.

  1. Do one load of laundry every day. I literally can’t believe I am saying that, because I used to turn my nose up at the very thought. I thought having one or two “laundry days” was the only way to do it. But seriously. Throwing a load of laundry into my washing machine – almost  e.v.er.y.   s.i.n.g.l.e. day – has saved me SO much time. No more days of being tied to my washer and dryer or being overwhelmed by baskets (or couches) overflowing with laundry.  Sometimes I do two loads (if I need to wash some bedding or towels, for example), but just doing one load a day – start to finish – has saved me time AND overwhelm. There is something incredibly EMPOWERING to consistently have empty or almost-empty laundry baskets. 

2.   Make a menu. Don’t you dare roll your eyes at me.  The last several months I have struggled with kitchen creativity and cooking frustration and it all started (again…because yes, I have been there many times before) when I started slacking off on meal-planning. {I also spend (and waste) more $$ on take-out and groceries when I don’t have a plan. Go figure, right?} Meal planning does not have to hem you in and keep you from being spontaneous, contrary to some popular opinions that I’ve heard. No menu ever needs to be “do or die”, unless you make it that way. But planning a menu – weekly, biweekly, monthly, or however else you decide to – will save you time. I’ve messed around with meal planning and not meal planning to know this, um, basically for a ??fact??.

In fifteen minutes or less, I literally mapped out meals and a grocery list for two weeks. Boom. I have the choice to deviate from my menu if I want too, BUT I know that for the next two weeks at least, I have all the food I need on-hand for specific, homemade meals that will nourish my family. Stress be-gone. Plus, I just earned myself some extra time messing around trying to decide what to make and wondering if I have the ingredients that I need.

3. Clean first. First – decide what you like to regularly be cleaned in your house. What is it that drives you crazy or distracts you until it’s done? Some people spazz-out over their floors needing regularly washed, while other people *need* a clean bathroom. I don’t know what your thing is, but whatever it is, clean first.

Seriously. Most people don’t like cleaning and the people I know that do – still prefer it crossed off their to-do list. I have found that I get so much MORE accomplished and have more time to spare – through my whole week –  when I clean first.

Cleaning first, maintaining laundrymeal-planning  eliminates potential stress and frames my week for greater productivity and more time freedom – to work from home, serve in ministry, make better memories with my people and do more of what I love.

Make over your Monday and you might just make over your life.

Happy Monday ~ Happy Week.

 

Saying Good-Bye

We all have ideas about how things in life should go.

We make plans, schedule appointments, we set goals, and every single person has expectations for others and life and how things should work, and nobody can really deny that if they’re honest.

And having an idea about how something should go is nice and all that, but you can have amazing ideas that collide with reality and fall flat or catapult into disaster.

It wasn’t my idea to have a family the way we have. When we got married that hot and sunny August Saturday, infertility and vials of blood work and health problems and miscarriage and unanswered questions and fostering the babies of women who had more than their fair share of hard knocks in life didn’t exist on our list of ideas about starting a family and what that would look like.

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I might have run the other direction if I would have known.

And I would have missed what it felt like to have my brown-eyed Cub smile and look up at me after a long day sick with a bad cold and say, “I love you, Mama.”

I would have missed losing all that sleep on those eternal nights when he was cutting multiple teeth and I would have missed how it felt to have his chubby little fist curl tight around my finger.

I would have missed the tears of toddler tantrums and the days that felt like failures I wanted blotted out, and I would have missed the joy of seeing his eyes sparkle and hearing the childish delight in his laughter.

I would have missed the fingerprints on the windowpanes of my front door and I would have missed the scribbles on the hallway wall and the poop smears in pants and

I would have missed the child wonder.

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And then, our journey took a turn we never imagined.

We said yes to a little girl that was coming.

A little girl with a drug addiction already raging in her unborn body.

That was never our idea.

I remember laying in bed one night, staring at the ceiling and wondering what she would be like and how it would feel to be a mama to a girl. I felt this heavy pause in my heart and I told my husband that I felt a little scared.

“I think this is going to be really hard.” I whispered into the dark.

He was silent, like he could feel it too. “Yes…maybe,” He said slowly, “But I think this what we are supposed to do.”

And I know that if we would have known, I would have run in the other direction.

And I would have missed the strength of a peace inside myself that didn’t come from within myself, when her body shaking all over would shudder with deep breaths and relax against me – me just rocking and singing and praying.

I would have missed the joy of of her first smile, at two weeks old, an image framed forever in my heart.

I would have missed the daily hours commuting and feeling starved for a real home-cooked meal and I would have missed how her eyes would follow me as I moved around her and how she would listen when I talked.

I would have missed her screams and cries and high demands and the exhaustion of it all, but I would have missed how she would stop crying and listen, every single time I sang to her about the angels watching over her. No other song could soothe her like that one, and I would have missed the comfort that washed over us both, singing it over and over again, for a whole hour.

I would have missed what felt like endless evenings of restless cries for hours straight, and I would have missed how the Cub got to lay on the floor next to her and tell her his stories. I would have missed the delight of watching them interact – her listening with big, admiring eyes, his wild gestures and childish stories holding her momentarily spellbound.

I would have missed the witness of her healing, how the tormented question in her eyes vanished into the sparkle of a shine that would have made any mama-heart indescribably glad. Nevaeh_snuggles

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I would have missed the anguish of saying good-bye to our life together, but I would have missed the gift of ever having a life together.

May 5 is the anniversary of our chapter closing, one year ago.

My heart is constantly pondering what we have missed and remembering all that we had, as the forget-me-nots bloom early and the late-spring breezes whisper warm.

And it’s been the hardest year of my heart, of my life.

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I hold her special blanket just a little bit longer and I let my heart feel and then I stand.

It’s time to say good-bye.

It was never my idea to let my child go so soon. It wasn’t my idea to say good-bye.

But if I stay here I know, I will miss life and joy and wonder and miracles.

So I whisper that final good-bye in my heart, to the sweetest pea that ever was in our pod, and I know I just let the most beautiful butterfly leave her cocoon –

to soar.

Carried by the wind, the very breath of God.

 

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.

 

 

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.