Friday, December 24, 2010

Because of Christmas...

Because of Christmas…
...we have Easter.

...we have a Savior.

...we know that there is life after death.

...we have assurance that we will be with Jesus when we die.

...we know we will see our loved ones in the Lord again.

...we know they are in His presence right now, worshiping and enjoying LIFE.
...we can look forward to being reunited with our children someday.
...we do not grieve "as do the rest who have no hope" (1 Thess. 4:13).
In the words of Steven Curtis Chapman:
God, I know, it's all of this and so much more
But God, You know, that this is what I'm aching for

God, you know, I just can't see beyond the door...
I know there's more to Christmas than this, but this year...this week...tonight, this truth is a balm to my soul.  May it be to yours as well.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Christmas is hard

Let's face it - Christmas is just plain hard when you have lost a baby, or when you are unsuccessfully trying to have one.  All of the elements are there to push your buttons - pictures of children everywhere, pictures of families (usually with two or more kids), stories for children, Christmas pageants featuring children, memories of childhood traditions that you wanted to share with your children in heaven.  Plus the Christmas story itself - two miraculous pregnancies, an infertile older couple (Zechariah and Elizabeth) given the child of their dreams, a pregnant teenager (Mary), a birth, a baby --  it's hard to get through Christmas when you're jealous of Mary!

I was glad, then, to read what a friend posted on the Hannah's Prayer forums that I belong to.  She had received a Stepping Stones newsletter in the mail and posted an article about Christmas.

Here is a portion of what blessed me:
Rather than focusing on toddlers kneeling in wonder before the manger, let me focus on the birth of our Lord and kneel in wonder at His feet.

Instead of the ache of my empty arms, let me feel the magnetism and strength of His open arms as He says, "Come until me all ye that labor and are heavy laden and I will give your rest."

When I see pictures of the baby Jesus, broaden my thinking beyond the maternal desire to feel the soft skin of that baby's tiny hands, and enable me to feel the nail prints in the rugged palms of my Savior.
They also have some suggestions in "Christmas: Keeping the Holiday Without Getting Hurt."  Here is one that I found helpful as a parent of babies in heaven.
Recognize and accept your feelings of loss and grief over what might have been.  These are legitimate emotions...This may be a good time to commite yourself to the Twenty Minute Rule.  When you feel sad, discouraged, or angry, allow yourself to deal with it for 20 minutes - but no more.  Cry...share your frustration with your spouse, or call a friend...
If your loss is fresh, I don't think you need to stick to the "Twenty Minute Rule"...but the idea is sound.  Know that your feelings are legitimate, and they tend to be sharper at the holidays.  But God can also use the holidays to encourage our hearts and comfort us.  Give yourself permission to continue grieving, but also look for ways to enjoy (not just endure) the season, even if it's not in the traditional ways.

Click here to read the entire publication.  These portions were reprinted by permission from Stepping Stones, a newsletter for infertile couples published by Bethany Christian Services. For more information go to http://www.ssministry.net/

May the remainder of this advent season not be a time of dread, but of peace and yes, even joy.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Empty nest

I recently made a new friend, Bethany F., on Hannah's Prayer.  She posted this about her little girl Sarita Joy, and with her permission, I am sharing it with you.  It was a great encouragement to me to think about my task in parenting my sweet babies in heaven.  I hope it will be to you, as well.
In the weeks and months since Sarita Joy blessed our lives, I have journaled on and off. I would like to share with you one of the things I wrote.

A friend of mine who lost her first child a few weeks before we did wrote a letter to me. She called herself and her husband, “empty nesters.” I think it is a perfect metaphor. One of the ultimate goals of parenting is to have a child who is able to live responsibly on her own. A parent's task is complete when a child no longer relies on mom and dad for her daily needs. Indeed, some children have to be pushed out of their nest to find out that they have wings.

For most parents, children fly away from their nest when they are 18 or older. After a long labor our little Sarita came into the world suddenly and sharply. One hour later, her journey complete, she spread her wings and flew into glories that I cannot begin to imagine.

Mark and I expected to have the blessed task of raising her to fear Jehovah God. To care for her every physical need as an infant, to fold her little hands and teach her to say “Lord bless...”, to feed and clothe her. We planned to teach her Bible stories, to sing Psalms with her, to send her to a Christian school and catechism. Mark looked forward to teaching our beautiful daughter to watch out for boys (!) and someday to see her fly away on the arm of a Godly man in marriage.

Instead, we accomplished our calling to our daughter in one week. With love and tears, Mark and I have laid her body in the grave in the hope of a glorious resurrection. Our task when we had Sarita was to care for her and pray for her while she was within the womb, and we prayed every morning and night for our baby's health and strength. More importantly, our deepest prayer was that our baby would live holy and love our heavenly Father. We fulfilled our task and she has flown away. Soared to the clouds, to Jesus' presence and all the saints.

Our calling fulfilled, our Sarita flown to the arms of the Bridegroom. Our nest empty. Our child safe.
Thank you, Bethany, for that beautiful picture of the glories our children experience. 

Praying for the hearts of all who read this and are missing their children in heaven.

Love,
Kristi

Monday, December 6, 2010

Entrusted

I’ve just finished reading “Choosing to SEE” by Mary Beth Chapman. Mary Beth is the wife of singer Steven Curtis Chapman, and the mother of six, including three adopted daughters from China. One of them, five-year-old Maria, died in May of 2008 after being hit by a car driven by her 17-year-old brother. As you might expect, the book is a powerful testimony, not only of how God met the Chapman family in their grief, but how Mary Beth has struggled throughout her life to allow God to write her story, both the happy chapters and the sad ones. It is a powerful and honest book that I highly recommend.

But that’s not the main thing I wanted to share. What hit me the most powerfully was not in the book itself, but on the dedication page. This is what Mary Beth wrote to her son Will Franklin, who was driving the car that hit his sister.

“You have been entrusted with an incredible pain! I’m so sorry. I wish as your mom I could take it away, but I know God has a plan for you to steward this story well and to minister to others through your suffering. You are my hero, as well as Maria’s…she loved you so much, as do I!”
Wow. That is profound, and I want each of us to hear those words as if they were spoken to us.

You have been entrusted with an incredible pain. There is no pain like losing a child, and many of us have circumstances that make that pain even more difficult to bear. Consider, though, that this pain was entrusted to us. What will we do with it? Will it destroy us? Or will we master it and use it?

I know God has a plan for you to steward this story well and to minister to others through your suffering. God has a plan. He is sovereign. He also loves you more than you can possibly imagine. And He alone can help you use your story to minister to others, to “comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God” (2 Cor. 1:4). If you are just beginning this journey, you may find that hard to believe. But please hang in there…and wait to see how God moves in your life.

I’m so sorry. I wish…I could take it away. There is not a day that goes by that I don’t wish that my body hadn’t failed both me and Naomi…that Kyria had lived…that Jordan were still growing within me. There are plenty of days when I just don’t care how many people God blesses through this ministry or how perfect heaven is, I just want my babies back. And it’s okay to feel that way. I feel that for each mama and daddy I meet with a baby in heaven. I’m so sorry…I wish I could change things…but I am absolutely convinced of two things. God is loving. And God is sovereign. And tragic losses do not change who and what He is.

So…my prayer for all of us is that we would trust the One writing our story, even when it is painful, and SEE how He wants us to steward our stories well to minister to others – and in the process, to heal and know His joy and peace again.

In Him,

Kristi

P.S.  If you would like to share how God has used your story to minister to others, please e-mail me or share it in a comment here.  You are my hero, as well as your child's!  God bless you!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

First Christmas

I hear that on the Earth below
This is a special season
With lights and songs and gifts and such,
And Jesus is the reason!

In the place I would have lived
Are strings of light that blink and shine,
But you should see the light up here
That glows from Jesus all the time!

In the place I would have lived
Carols play, and special songs,
But you should hear the music that
The angels sing here all day long!

In the place I would have lived,
Gifts are giv’n on Christmas Day,
But you should feel the joy we feel
Because God’s gift is here to stay!

In the place I would have lived,
Tears have flowed because I’m gone.
My family wishes I were there
To see and hear and feel it all.

But in this place where I now live,
It’s Christmas all day, all year long,
And the sights and sounds I’d see with them
Are pure, unblemished by all wrong.

So on this day that would have been
My first Christmas on the Earth,
Mama, Daddy, you need to know
I’m celebrating Jesus’ birth!

When you sing songs to worship Him,
I’m singing with the angels, too.
I’m never closer than when we all
Praise Him for our life anew.

I know that life began for me
Sooner than you thought it would.
I know your hearts are hurting now,
And you would change things if you could.

But in this place, where you’ll come, too,
We’ll be together, forever.
And there will be no more good-byes
When we celebrate Christmas in heaven – together!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Thanksgiving Thoughts

Thanksgiving has always been one of my favorite holidays.  All of my favorite parts - family, good food, and a focus on God - without the commercialism that has infected Christmas and even Easter.  One of the only God-honoring holidays that we still call by name on our school calendar ("Thanksgiving Break"). 

Now, though, Thanksgiving is bittersweet.  Last year, Thanksgiving came just a week after my D&C where Kyria's tiny body was removed from mine.  We gather with family, but it is with the keen sense that we are missing three little someones who left this earth far too soon.  This year, I'm starkly aware of my flat stomach that is not seven months pregnant as it would be if Jordan had lived.  That we don't have a one-year-old or a six-month-old, as we would if Naomi or Kyria had survived.

Sometimes, people want to help me feel better, more thankful.  When they do, they often begin with "at least..."  "At least you have your daughter...at least you're healthy this year...at least you know you can get pregnant..."  Yes, I'm thankful for those things, but they don't remove the hurt in my heart for my children in heaven.  Nor should they.  The human heart is capable of great extremes - fear and excitement, hurt and peace, sadness and joy.  Gratitude and sorrow.  Missing my children doesn't mean I don't love the family that I have.  Rather, it's a testimony to that love that is so precious that I wanted to express it to our children.

But there's another love that I need to focus on this Thanksgiving - God's eternal love.  The greatest blessing in my life is knowing God as my Father because of Jesus' death and resurrection.  Because of that, I know there is much more to life than the here and now.  Because of that, I know that my "good-bye" to my children is temporary.  Because of that, I know that "our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all" (2 Cor. 4:17, NIV).  Not "at least", but "the most!"  As hard as the empty chairs are around my table, how much sadder it must make our heavenly Father to have empty places in the Book of Life, where names could be written if only people would trust in Jesus. 

And so - my challenge to me and to you - when we think about our missing children this Thanksgiving, let's also think about God's "missing" children and consider how we can share the good news of eternal life in Jesus with others, and so help fill God's house with family from every tribe, tongue, people, and nation.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Even though

One of the emotions I struggled with the most after we lost Naomi was fear.  The unthinkable had happened.  I had lost my baby.  Not only that, but God had allowed it.  Who would I lose next?  I was fearful for my husband, my parents, and especially my one-year-old daughter.  I cringed when she went down a slide, when she played on the swings, when she climbed on a chair.  I went into her room at night to make sure she was still breathing.  I was hypervigilant, reasoning that if I wasn't, I could lose her, too.  I couldn't trust God to keep my loved ones safe.  After all, He had let me down.  Either He wasn't watching or didn't care...so I would do His job for him.

One weekend during this period of time, my husband was preparing his sermon on Psalm 46, and God used the words to touch my heart:

God is our refuge and strength
A very present help in trouble
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should
And though the mountains slip into the heart of the sea
Though its waters roar and foam
Though the mountains quake at its swelling pride....
The Lord of hosts is with us;
The God of Jacob is our stronghold. (v. 1-3, 7; NASB)

Could I learn how to do that again?  Could I trust God to be my stronghold?  I tried putting my situation into the verse - I will not fear, even though I lost my baby; even though I almost died myself; even though I was still recovering from abdominal surgery, even though....  Wow, that was hard.  How could I not fear in light of all that God allowed to happen to me?  Some stronghold!

Then I read the end of the Psalm. 

He makes wars to cease to the ends of the earth;
He breaks the bow and cuts the spear in two;
He burns the chariots with fire.
"Cease striving and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations.  I will be exalted in the earth."
The Lord of hosts is with us;
The God of Jacob is our stronghold. (v. 9-11, NASB)

Someday, God will make the wars end.  He will bring peace to the earth.  He will put an end to suffering and miscarriage and ectopic pregnancy and stillbirth and early infant death.  Not yet, but someday.  But in the now, he is with us.  He is our stronghold in a world where everything can go wrong.  He is our refuge and strength in the even though when our circumstances mock our belief in a strong and loving God.

It has taken me a long time to walk in the truth of what that Psalm teaches, and there are some days where my grief is too close and I can't see the big picture.  But I am learning the even though of following God, and, ever-so-gradually, how to cease striving and know - and trust - that He is God.

Monday, November 8, 2010

When you lose a baby....

When someone loses a baby, it's common for people around them to minimize the loss, at least in their minds, by comparing it to a later loss.  At least it was early in the pregnancy...at least it wasn't a late loss...it would be so much harder if it was such-and-such an age.

What people don't always realize is that when we lose a baby, no matter what age in the womb, we lose a unique person, and we lose the child, the teenager, the adult that person would have been.

I lost Jordan in May at four weeks' gestation.  "Barely pregnant" people might say.  But when I lost Jordan...
  • I lost the full-term baby I would have delivered next February.
  • I lost a toddler who will never need me to kiss a scraped knee.
  • I lost a five-year-old who will never start kindergarten.
  • I lost a teen-ager who will never make me cringe by learning to drive my car.
  • I lost a high school graduate whom I won't help pack for college.
  • I lost a young adult whom I will never plan a wedding for.
  • I lost a lifetime of memories that will never be made. 
Hence, my sadness.  The loss of a precious individual, a unique mix of my husband and me,whom I will not know this side of heaven.  If you, too, have had a very early loss like mine, know that you are allowed to grieve, that it is normal to grieve.  You many sometimes wonder if it was a dream, if you really were pregnant.  You were, and your baby lives on in the presence of a holy, loving God.  But it's normal and human and motherly to wish your baby were still with you now, and to shed many precious tears for the life that would have been.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Remembering Kyria Hope

This week marked the one-year anniversary of learning that our third baby's heart had stopped beating.  Our miracle baby, the one we conceived six months after the worst heartbreak of our lives.  The one who restored our hope in the possibility of more children.  We had seen her heartbeat twice on ultrasounds - and supposedly seeing a heartbeat means the risk of miscarriage drops.  But risk means nothing when it is your baby's heart that has stopped beating.  And the realization that our children in heaven (two at that point) outnumbered our children on earth was heartbreaking for me.
I was eight weeks along at the ultrasound where we learned our sweet Kyria had gone to heaven.  We had seen her heartbeat a week before, but she measured six and a half weeks at that point.  She measured one day more on the day of our appointment.  So we figured she died sometime during my seventh week of pregnancy.

When you have an early loss, it's hard to know what days to remember later.  Is it the day your baby died?  The day you learned about your baby's death?  The day you actually miscarried? Or the day you had a medical procedure that emptied your womb? And how do you talk about a baby whose gender is unknown?  Maybe all of these unknowns are why there's so much ambiguity connected with early pregnancy losses.  We are missing so many of those things that are normally a comfort when we lose someone special -- pictures, memories, a body, even something as basic as the pronouns we need to refer to our children.

We chose to give our baby a girl's name, Kyria Hope, and I think I remember her pretty much the entire month of October (when she probably died) and November (when we said good-bye).  If she had lived, she would have been born around our eighth anniversary and would now be nearly five months old.  The "if only" of another, phantom world.  Instead, we are living this reality, and we remember her with both tears and smiles, and look forward to being reunited with her someday in heaven.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Do you dare to believe?

There's a song I've heard a lot on our Christian radio station lately -- "Before the Morning" by Ben Glover and Josh Wilson.  One of the lines is, "Do you dare, do you dare to believe, that you still have a reason to sing?"  Do I?  Do I dare to believe that God is good and worthy of praise, even when my heart breaks?  Even when my plans don't turn out the way I want?  What is my reason to sing?  Is it only my happiness, or is it because I serve an amazing Savior?  I pray that my answer will always be that God deserves praise, period.  Our worship may be mingled with tears, but someday even those will be wiped away.

Friday, October 15, 2010

National Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day

Today is National Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day. Did you know that 1 in 4 women experience miscarriage, stillbirth, or an infant loss? This is often a taboo subject and those that experience loss are expected to move on, or not discuss their pain. Today I say a prayer for all of the families that have experienced this loss and remember all of the little lives that have gone on to Heaven so soon.

Today I'm remembering our babies Naomi Faith, Kyria Hope, and Jordan Gabriel.  Feel free to add your babies' names to the comments below.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Memorial Highlight - To Write Their Names in the Sand

I want to let you know about a special memorial for babies in heaven called "To Write Their Names in the Sand" at http://www.namesinthesand.blogspot.com/.  The website states, "To Write Their Names In The Sand is a memorial site for children. It was founded on August 19th 2008, 19 months after [Sam and Carly Dudley's] son Christian was stillborn.  Since August 2008 we have written over 8040 childrens names in the sand." 

The way the website works is that every few weeks or so, they open their page for name requests.  Parents can submit names of their babies in heaven, and Carly will write the name in the sand at a beach not far from their home in Australia, and will then take a picture of it and post it on their website along with the child's name and any other information the family wants written.  All of this is free.  You can also purchase a high resolution .jpg file for $20 (Australian dollars).

It looks like the next time they will take name requests will be around Friday, October 23.  Carly has a number of other projects aimed at supporting parents of babies in heaven on their grief journey, including a line of sympathy cards specifically for parents who have lost a baby.  It's a beautiful site and a lovely way to create a memorial to your children.  We have two of our babies' names written there, and it made me cry happy tears to see my children's names for everyone to see.  Hope you find this encouraging!

Thursday, October 7, 2010

A month for us to remember

It seems like every cause out there has its own month these days.  Take October, for instance.  October is the Awareness Month for Breast Cancer, Down Syndrome, Domestic Violence, AIDS, Hispanic Heritage, Jazz, Child Abuse, and Cyber Security, among others.  But this is also our month, for parents of babies in heaven.  October is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month.  It was so named by President Reagan in 1988, and since 2001, both Congress and State governors have regularly recognized October 15 as Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day.  The official "ribbon" for PAIL Awareness Month is pink on one side and blue on the other.  October 15th is often marked with remembrance walks, memorial services, and candlelighting in memory of the babies who left this earth far too soon.  You can find out information about activities in your area at http://www.october15th.com/.  If you live in Columbia, come to the Heart and Hands Forever Memorial Walk at Riverfront Park this Sunday.  If there are no events near you, consider having your own candlelight ceremony, as a couple, or with friends and family, and know that thousands of other parents are lighting candles and remembering their babies with you.  You are not alone!

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Life in Exile


I've heard the words hundreds of times. "I know the plans I have for you," declares the Lord, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future" (Jer. 29:11). Words often spoken with the intention of instilling hope, but so often they bring back that ugly bitterness in my heart. What hope? What future, when the child I planned to raise is gone?? When I don't know if I'll ever get pregnant again?  I have been harmed – physically, emotionally, spiritually. What kinds of plans are these, God?

Sometimes, though, I forget that these words were spoken to a people who had as little reason to hope as I feel I do. The Israelites were in exile in Babylon. They were a conquered people; their city and temple had been destroyed; they were far from home, and decades away from the Lord restoring them to their land.  The older ones would not live to see that day.  What hope, what future could they have? And yet, God gave them a task while they were in exile: Build houses. Settle down. Increase in number; do not decrease; seek the peace and prosperity of the city where you are exiled. In other words, live. Don't put life on hold, waiting to return to the Promised Land.

When I lost my daughter Naomi, I felt like I was going into exile. I had been in the pregnancy "club" where women talk about birth and labor and nurseries and baby showers, where the doctor's office was full of pregnancy magazines. When I went back for a check-up after our loss, they scheduled me at a time for gynecology appointments, not pregnant women. The waiting room was the same, but I noticed – the magazines were gone. In their place were women's magazines that didn't scream "baby" on the cover. And while I'm sure they did that to save women the heartache of the reminder of what they'd lost, to me it was a stark reminder that I had switched club memberships, from expectant mother to mother of a baby in heaven.

I'd been exiled from the Promised Land. I felt conquered, defeated, without hope.

And yet – God had a task for me, too. To "increase, not decrease" – by committing myself to continue growing spiritually, emotionally, and relationally. Would my time in exile end with a less mature woman than I had been at the beginning? Or would I use this time to grow? "Build houses" – I needed to commit to building the family and marriage that I have been given. Marriages have the potential to suffer terribly after the loss of a child. Would mine become a statistic, or would it come through stronger? "Seek the peace and prosperity" of my city of exile. I do not like the city of Pregnancy Loss. I don't think anyone who lives here does. But while I'm here, I can seek the peace and prosperity of those who live here with me – through prayer, encouragement, and a shoulder to cry on.  I can build friendships with others who have been exiled here with me and help bring them back to the Promised Land – not the Land of Pregnancy, necessarily, but the Land of Hope and the Future, where we seek and find the One who does have plans for us and who longs to hold us in his comforting arms. And by seeking their "peace", I find peace, too, both within myself and with God.

Are you in exile, too?  Join us in fulfilling God's purposes - even here.

Monday, September 6, 2010

How many children do you have?

This question can take many forms.  If you are pregnant after a loss, "Is this your first?"  If you had children before your loss, "Are you going to have more children?"  It's an innocent question, and a very natural one.  I don't think the one asking it ever imagines the sting it can cause.  How I answer depends on where my heart is that day.

"I have one daughter."  The one who lives in my home and delights me everyday with her giggles, smiles, and hugs.  The answer I give when I don't want to go into a lot of details.

"I have four children."  The one I get to raise and her three younger siblings in heaven.   One girl-for-sure, and two who were lost too soon to know, although we gave one a girl's name and one a name that could go either way.  The ones who I cry for on the anniversaries of their losses and on their due dates.  This is the unspoken answer of my heart, even when I give answer number 1.

"I have one on earth and three in heaven."  This is the answer I give when my heart feels strong enough to handle the questions and compassionate looks that are sure to follow.  When I do, I am often surprised at what the other person shares of their own heartaches and losses.  There are so many of us who are members of the same "club" and when we find each other, it is a moment that is both sorrowful and sweet.

I was recently reminded that there is no "right" or "wrong" way to respond to this.  The answer we give to this question is for our sakes, not our dear children.  Their feelings are not hurt by how we respond, as they are happy and content worshiping before God's throne.  And how you answer does not diminish their importance or value -- in your heart or in God's eyes.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Introducing Naomi's Circle

Naomi's Circle is an online support group for parents of babies in heaven.  It's particularly for those in the greater Columbia, South Carolina, area, but anyone is welcome.  Our group is hosted by BigTent.com and you can join or access it from the links on this page.

This blog will serve as way to share thoughts and resources about the loss of a baby at any stage of pregnancy.  So many people don't know how to respond to someone who has lost a baby in pregnancy, especially when it is earlier.  So we'll talk about that and the range of emotions that come with it. 

I'm writing as someone who has walked this road three times since March 9, 2009, when our daughter Naomi went to be with the Lord at 18 weeks' gestation.  The journey God has brought us on since then is one I would not have chosen, but looking back I can clearly see His hand at work and how He is bringing something beautiful out of our pain.  May He do the same for others walking the road of pregnancy loss.  Looking forward to connecting with others here.