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.

 

See His Goodness in Today

I wrote this on June 7, 2016 and I left it in the drafts folder. 

I have left a lot of things in the drafts folder, the last two years of my life. 

I wrote because writing is like soul-breathing for me. I had to write. 

But I wrote afraid. Afraid of the vulnerability of sharing my soul. Afraid of the rejection that always comes from sharing raw. 

But I told you I was starting over. I told you I was facing my fears. 

So here it is…my words from June 7, 2016 – unedited. 

And I share them with a prayer – that you would see His goodness in your today, because friend – 

The truth of our Savior coming for us, this advent of Christ being born to save – this is not a truth contingent on your circumstances. The things that you face in your today are merely a conduit for His redemption in your life. 

Jesus has come and He is with us. Right in our today. 

I pray for eyes to see His goodness. 

——-June 7, 2016.

I stared out the car window, as we drove down the highway.

He withholds no good thing from us.

She was singing from the stereo, and I was staring out the window asking myself if I believed it to be true, that God would withhold no good thing from me.

I gave my daughter back one month ago. Thirty-one days ago, I stood in my living room holding her so tight, while tears ran unchecked down my face and I felt like my heart was being torn from my body.

He withholds no good thing from me?

At twenty-two years old, I found out accidentally that I could not have my own kids. A dream died. I miscarried our miracle baby less-than-a-year after our diagnosis. We moved to the city to be more present for a ministry we had to walk away from four years later. The family I thought, was not the family that is, and that story is still too painful to tell.

He withholds no good thing? 

 “I believe in a peace that flows deeper than pain, that broken find healing in love, pain is no measure of His faithfulness, He withholds no good thing from us.”

 

The truth is? What I know to be true in the depths of my heart, doesn’t always align with what I feel, but that doesn’t make the truth any less real.

I look into the eyes of my son, the one God literally gave to us, and I see the goodness of God.

I remember her smile and the twinkle in the eyes of our foster daughter, the one who trembled through newborn drug withdrawal for forty days, and I see the goodness of God.

My husband makes me fluffy eggs for breakfast, pours me coffee and gives me a hug, and I see the goodness of God.

I call her up and say I’m sorry to my friend, who forgives me freely, and I see the goodness of God.

I look out my dining room window and see how the morning light shines through the trees, and I see the goodness of God.

I hear the skies open – the rain falling on the roof, and I see the goodness of God.

Shutting down is sometimes a very real temptation, and that would be the true death of me. So I pray that my heart would stay open to see His goodness and all the ways He writes His love all over me.

I don’t want to miss the beauty of today.

Starting Over

I’m here again.

Me, the one with the messy bun, obsessed with coffee and colors and

selfiecleaning my house. I’ve popped in a few times, but really it’s been a long absence and five unfinished posts in the drafts file, a lot of unsure feelings and a few headaches later –

I’m here again.

Because I keep feeling this deep inner compulsion to come back and try again. Because writing is like breathing for me and not writing makes me feel a little oxygen-deprived. I wasn’t even ten yet and my mother had bought me a composition book and told me I had to write. She literally said “you have to write once a day”because I had protested about writing in that pink composition book that looked too much like school.

My mama told me that I had a gift and she gave me the tools to use it, and that’s about the best thing a mama could ever do for her child – bless and empower them in their God-given gifting.

But I never thought then – or ever – that I would be afraid of it.

That I would break because of it.

And that I would desperately want to just quit it.

But writing is like breathing for my soul and God made it that way.

My soul has brought me here again and it has brought me here because of my fears, not in spite of them, and I’m just going to say it out loud, once and for all –

I’m afraid of what people think of me.

It’s true.

I have lived in the bondage of this my whole life and I’m not about to wax intellectual on all the possible reasons why, nor give you some overconfident soap box pep talk on self-worth and image. I’m just going to tell you a story – my story – and I’m going to do it as graciously brave as I can, and it might take time and I’m sorry but – it might not always make sense to you?

And really, I’m okay with that as long as my words will only somehow breathe life into your soul and champion you in your journey.

I’m starting over, friends.img_6461

I’ve felt threatened by whispers of criticism, but I’ve been ridiculed most by the war in my own head.

I’m starting over, because I’m breaking free.

Irenaeus said, “The glory of God is man fully alive,” and  there is nothing less than His great glory that God’s archenemy covets and works tirelessly to dismantle, piece by piece.

The Apostle Paul started Romans 12, a chapter that speaks of the grace gifts given to us by God, by making an urgent appeal to the people of God. I won’t try to paraphrase his powerful petition:

“I appeal to you, therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.”

By the mercy of God, show up.

Show up and sacrifice yourself, your one whole self, and present yourself holy and acceptable to God. 

Your spiritual worship of God, is to present yourself to God.

Maybe the hardest part of this for some of us – for me – is that there is no presenting of yourself to people when all that you are and all that you have been given is for God.

The divine origin (logy, logia) of your glory and appearance (doxa) is God. You are from Him, and to Him and it is only in Him that we live and move and have our being. The glory of God is man fully alive and we are only ever fully alive when our identity is resting in Christ. You have been filled in Him. 

So show up and face whatever fear constricts your soul, and dare to live your one life now and do it boldly and fearlessly and gently and selflessly. Share you story, sing your song, and your very soul becomes a gift of His glory, a banner of hope and love and life for someone else.leafinwater

I have cared too much what others think, and lived too much for others approval, and I have only keenly learned the dismal truth that you will never be perfect enough for everyone and trying to please humanity will only bring you into a dungeon of unmet expectations.

Be strong enough, in Him, to serve not please, and you will become the you that you were meant to be.

I’m staring at this screen and I’m cringing right down to my toes.

It’s so easy to hide behind words on a screen.

I have done this – too much

And I am quite sure that is why I’m coming back afraid.

I only want to speak words that are honest to the liturgy of my life.

So I’m starting over.

I’m here again, hopeful.

Hopeful that my one small, ordinary life on  a quiet street in a small town in podunk northwestern Pennsylvania, will breathe hope and speak Jesus.

Hopeful that the stories I tell about my God and His amazing love for even me, will point someone else to a good Father who is mighty to save.

Hopeful that the things I tell you – about my life and my heart and my people – will only sing of the mercies of the Lord.

Because it is the mercy of God that we are not consumed, His compassion fails not and great is His faithfulness.

“Hope is the thing with wings that lands at the end of you and shows you how to open to possibilities so you never close again. – Emily Di

 

 

Because Everyone Understands the Language of Love

We have all gone mad.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Love is a language we all understand. 

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

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

Quit busy. It’s not worth it.

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

Because love is a language we all understand.

Why You Can Begin Again

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

I had kept smelling her and touching her.

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

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

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

Sometimes we’re left with the broken pieces.

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

No, no, no, no, no.

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

But sometimes we’re left with the broken pieces.

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

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

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

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I lost myself in my grief.

I got stuck there in my tears.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

live more fully than you ever did before. 


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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.