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.

forget me not

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.

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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