Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Welcoming Katherine Hope

Katherine Hope was born on September 12th at 8:02am. She was born 8lbs, 15oz, and 20.75" tall.

Kate's name means "pure."
Pure Hope.
There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under the heavens:
a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,
a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,
a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace...
He has made everything beautiful in its time.
Ecclesiastes 3:1-11

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Jack's First Day

They say that a picture is worth a thousand words. Then here is a whole chapter book for you.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Another Season of Change

After Ben went to heaven, I thought that this blog was finished. But then I felt God tugging at my heart, saying that He was still working out Ben's story. And so I agreed that I would continue to write about our journey, as I had both inspiration and opportunity.
Well, being more than 37 weeks with Baby Girl in utero, caring for my family, and enjoying the fullness of the summer with our family and friends, it has proven to be very difficult for those two elements to meet.
On any given day, I have had the same four thoughts:
  1. I miss my son.
  2. I wish this never happened to our family.
  3. But God is sovereign.
  4. And God is good.
But as we begin the month of September, I can feel another big season of change blowing through our family. Our oldest begins kindergarten and we prepare to meet the newest little Sauer. Two huge changes whose effects send big ripples through every aspect of our lives. Andy and I talk about how surreal our lives feel recently. Are these things really happening? Is Ben really gone? Are we really parents of a school-aged child? Are we really going to have another baby? We're very aware of the reality of these changes. And yet, it just feels so surreal.

Jack starts kindergarten tomorrow. Our oldest. And though it is very different than how we had always planned, he will be going alone. Except Ben will be with him.

Meg and Jack before his supply drop-off night last week. This kid is sooo excited for kindergarten! (And he has never worn more blue in his life!)

You see, Jack's new favorite color is blue. He chooses it for everything. A balloon, a toy, a cup, anything. "Because I love Ben!" he'll tell us. The other day while driving, we drove by a red convertible. He told me that he would buy a blue convertible when he is a dad. Then he asked what color Megan would get. "I want PINK!" she answered. "But don't you love Ben?" he asked his sister. "Because if you loved Ben, you would get blue." After a few minutes of crying, she finally relented to her persistent brother that she would get blue. Because she also loved Ben.

His sneakers are blue. Any outfit he picked out is blue. His lunchbag is blue. I bought his backpack and jacket when he wasn't with me, though. They're green. And black. I knew I couldn't handle the emotion of seeing a big blue blob coming up the driveway. Maybe someday. But not yet. He will still wear Ben's old blue Crocs when he can't find his own. And it still makes me think twice to see them laying on the family room floor. Ben always wore blue - ever since he was born.
Yeah, I think it's just going to take some time.

There are two other sets of twins in his class this year. I've introduced him to one set at the playground. "They're twins, just like you," I told him. "My twin's name is Ben," he told them. "And he's in heaven." Even Jack knows that he is still a twin. He will always be a twin. It says so on his birth certificate. It's just that his twin is watching out for him from above. He doesn't always get really sad when he talks about his brother, though he does talk about how much he misses his favorite playmate. It's just that every memory includes his twin.

Megan has been sleeping in Ben's old bed, next to Jack. It's been good for both of them, I think. This means that Megan's old bedroom is now conveniently the baby's nursery. Little has to be done in order to change it over. But as convenient as that is, it also makes me incredibly sad. Andy and I were actually looking forward to the inconvenience of seeing how we would accommodate four kids in two small bedrooms.

People have told me that the journey of grief comes and goes in waves. And I'm finding that to be true. There are days when I am so grateful that Ben is already Home. With his Jesus. And then there are days - or even moments - when I just want to crumble to the floor in sadness, missing my kind-hearted mediator and goofball, faced with the depth of our loss - Jack's twin - and the reality that I won't be able to have all four of my kids all together at the same time.
And I just hate it.

The distance between my brain and my heart feels very distant at times. The things I know in my head to be true are the words of faith that I rehearse daily. But then I have real emotions, feelings, that remind me of how much we lost. And both speak loudly.
I am so grateful that Ben is not in pain anymore... but I hate the fact that I have to be grateful that my completely healthy son is not in pain!
I'm so glad that God was able to use one little boy for so much good, to draw people to Him... but why couldn't He have chosen someone else?
God has always been so good to me and we have always tried to be faithful to His word... then why would He allow MY son to be taken and others given a physical healing?

And the battle continues.
Thankfully, I have a long history with my God who has never failed me. Even when I tried to abandon my faith along this journey, He wouldn't let me. His hold on my life is too strong. And so I continue speaking words of faith into my life. Giving myself opportunities to cry. To grieve. To mourn. And then reminding myself that I serve a God that cries right along with me. He knows exactly how I feel. After all, His Son died too.

But while there is great grief, there is also great joy.

I got a glimpse at our baby girl today, 37+ weeks in utero. And she's just perfect. Somehow, in the midst of caring for our family, healing our hearts, God has been working another miracle inside of me. It won't be long before we will be able to meet the newest addition to our family. She will - in no way - replace Benjamin. No one could ever do that. But we are filled with joy at the prospect of new life!

Baby Girl at 37 weeks and 4 days, in utero. So very grateful for God's protection over this little one.

After we found out it was going to be a girl, Ben would say, "Mom! You're going to have two boys and two girls!" Even the memory of him holding two fingers in each hand brings me to tears. He was so excited about having another little sister! He was always the one to be more gentle with Megan. Patient. The teacher. What a hole he has left in our family. I absolutely hate that I won't get to see him hold her, stroke her hair, and wrap his arms in protection around her just as he did as a three-year-old with his other sister.
But it has been beautiful to see how excited both Jack and Megan are about the baby, even before she makes her earthly debut. Megan comes up to my belly and says, "Hi baby sister! Hi! How doing? Good? Good!" I really have to try and get it on video. It's pretty much the cutest thing you'd ever hear. Jack taps my belly (to get her attention of course) and says, "Can you hear me? It's Jack! I'm your big brother! Kick my hand if you can hear me!" I don't remember him being this interested with Meg. He was younger, of course. But it's just beautiful hearing their sweet innocent words in support of our newest addition.

Grateful I didn't go into labor on Labor Day!

She's not even here yet, but I can tell you this: this baby girl is soooo loved.
So many changes in such a short time.
With Jack beginning his school adventure tomorrow morning, it brings me a lot of comfort to know that he is in good hands. That he is excited. Ready. It's the same school I attended as a child, the same exact (blue) kindergarten classroom. And you can even see the room from my front door! Some friends have asked if I'll be one of those moms peeking through his classroom window, making sure he's doing alright throughout the day. C'mon, that is just not my style. I'm a lot more classy than that. 
I'll be using binoculars from my front window.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Where My Feet are Planted

People have been asking how we're doing. How we've been getting through each day.
My short answer: one moment at a time.
My long answer: We're soaking in every minute with our kids, their laughs, their giggles, their questions. We're spending time with friends. Investing time with family. Feeling our active Baby Girl kick in utero, wondering what she'll be like and completely stunned that she'll be here in six weeks or less. We're talking, laughing, crying, remembering, celebrating, and grieving. Experiencing every emotion possible, all at the same time.

It's been almost three months since Ben entered heaven. And we've spent that time trying to find out what life without him on earth looks like.
Jack talks about his brother multiple times a day. He'll point to one of the hundreds of pictures that line our walls and say, "I wish it were... THIS day!" And he'll go on to explain the adventure they were experiencing in that particular moment. Catching a frog, making a slingshot out of the water hose in the backyard, making s'mores and spider-dogs while camping two years ago. And each of his memories is just beautiful. How else would you expect a five-year-old to remember his twin, the only person he spent more time with than his own mother? Every single one of his memories is tied to Ben. It was a relationship we had worked hard to foster since birth. Ben's absence means a whole new learning curve for his brother who is now learning life as a singleton. And so it seems that Jack's timeline of life is now divided into three sections: When Ben was alive, When Ben was sick, and After Ben died.
Oh, how it breaks my heart.

Jack drew a picture of our family, all six of us. Including his new Baby Sister, still 33 weeks in utero.
There are days when Andy and I are especially weepy, crying much of the day and into the night. And then there are a string of several days where the tears don't come. I don't know that we feel any further from God on any given day. We just hurt. And grieve. And try to move on.
We're different people than we were seven months ago. We feel more deeply. We love more passionately. We hurt more severely.
Oh, how I wish we never had to walk this road. How I wish that God would have allowed us to have Ben - the healthy Ben - for a long long time. What I wouldn't give to have my whole family together again.
Throughout these past few months, I've had a lot of tough moments. Moments that made me cry until my eyes burned. Moments where I missed our old life with Ben so much that I wanted to throw up. Moments that made me so angry where I just wanted to give it all up and just hide in a corner. But in thinking about our horrific journey over the past few months, one moment stands out as my worst. And it lasted much longer than a few moments.
My lowest low was just before we came home from the hospital with Ben. Our compliant four-year-old had emerged from life-threatening brain surgery with flying colors, just days after discovering the source of his headaches, and we waited a pain-stakingly four days for them to determine what kind of tumor we were dealing with. Up until that point, I was full of faith. Scared, but hopeful. There's no way God would take our son, I thought. He needs us to trust Him. Just like God tested Abraham. He wouldn't ask us to sacrifice our own son. He will carry us through. I just know He's going to heal Ben. We knew our God was capable of a complete physical healing, but we were also aware of His sovereignty. God was in no way obligated to intervene. But we weren't allowing our imaginations to go there. Not unless we had to.
And then we had to.
The neurosurgeon said Ben's tumor was Stage IV Glioblastoma. Cancerous. Aggressive. The most aggressive of the aggressive tumors, just shy of the line where doctors would have deemed him 'untreatable.' Ben had a 3% chance of survival with this cancer that normally showed itself in a man of his fifties. But it also had a 100% reoccurrence rate. We would undergo an extensive treatment plan, but even in the best case scenario, that would only give us a little more time with him on earth. It would not heal him.
It was a death sentence.
The tears of anguish Andy and I cried in the hallway of Children's Hospital that night tasted even bitter than the thousands of others we had shed over those past few days. Without a miracle, we had a pretty good idea of the road that faced us. Even after looking into several homeopathic options and running them by our doctors, we were being sent home in order to watch our son die.
That, my friends, was my lowest point.
I was at the bottom of the pit. In darkness. Completely confused and angry at my God for allowing this to happen. We had always tried to be so faithful. How is something like this even possible? Our story had begun to spread and people felt invested in seeing how God was going to carry us through. Was this some sort of reward for being a faithful follower? Was it possible that we were just too grateful, too proud, of everything He had blessed us with?
That's when it's especially important to know where you stand. To have chosen a solid foundation where you keep your feet planted. Because without it, we would have surely drowned.
It was during this time where I was especially grateful to have memorized scripture in the past.
I'm telling you, there is no one in the world that can pull you out of a pit that deep. No word of encouragement from a friend of stranger that would shed light on your situation. No self-help book in the world that can talk you off the cliff. It's that silent voice of God, speaking to you in the midst of the darkness. Those quiet words of faith that you memorized as a child that speak against the words of doubt, worry, and fear. Those words of truth you've cling to all your life. That you knew to be true because you had seen them in action for many years as you've walked with God.
When I was in high school, I kept a small notebook of some of my favorite verses. I still have it. Throughout different points in my life, I've taken it out and scrolled through until I found one that encouraged me and then committed it to memory. Not only did that simple practice help get me through some challenging times, but it also helped keep me focused. In times of doubt, those were the words that were brought to my mind.
This past weekend, our pastor talked about having a Life Verse. A verse (or collection of verses) from the Bible that you've chosen to define you. To outline your faith and give you structure for your life. And the one I've always identified with was Jeremiah 29:11.
"For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord,
“plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give
you hope and a future."
Those horrific few months where I had to watch my baby struggle were some of the worst moments of my entire life. Largely because I couldn't see where truths outlined in that verse fit in anymore. I had always been able to see God's hand in my life. Even when things didn't go exactly according to my plan, they always turned out even better than I could have expected. We prayed for God's protection, His blessings, His favor. And He had always proven to be a merciful and gracious God. But this situation seemed to throw all of that out the window. God wants what's best for me? How is this good? How is this positive? How was this going to benefit me? How could this possibly give my family a hope and a future?
Honestly, I still don't have the answers to those questions. I'm doubtful that I ever will. I do see glimpses of how God used our story for good. And that brings me a lot of comfort. But it doesn't take the pain away. They are, however, the closest thing to "answers" as I can muster.
And yet, in the midst of it all, I hold to the truths I've memorized:
  • God is good. All the time. (1 Timothy 4:4,5)
  • Only good and perfect gifts come from Him. (James 1:17)
  • He loves us more than anything. So much so, that He sent His only son to die so we could be saved. (John 3:16)
  • He will make everything perfect, in His time. (Ecclesiastes 3:11)
  • Everything will eventually work out for His glory. (Romans 8:28)
As much as I may have wanted to abandon my faith over the past few months - and Lord knows, I tried - I couldn't. Because God has always been so real to me. My faith has always been my stronghold. Andy was the one who had to remind me when we were in the thick of things: "Mindy, we can't do this on our own. We need the Lord." Oh, he was so right. The truths listed in these scriptures weren't just words on a page. They were breathing breath into my lungs. My silent strength. Even when I struggled to see their validity, I felt them to be true. Just as they always had been. I could never abandon my God because He had never abandoned me.
It still makes me cry to see Ben's picture. To remember how much joy he added to our family, to Jack and Megan... and knowing he won't be here on earth to be a big brother to our newest daughter next month... to know that Jack will be entering kindergarten alone... to know we will be experiencing a whole new "season of firsts" without him. I absolutely hate it.
But as much as it pains me to think of Jack having lost his brother, the possibility of Jack and Megan losing their mom too hurts me even more. I refuse to allow grief to swallow me up and steal my identity. To steal my joy. I refuse to allow my pain to influence and lessen my kids' quality of life. I absolutely refuse.
And so I continue to read scripture. Spend time with my husband and comfort him in his grief. Remind myself of God's sovereignty and take comfort in the fact that God did use Ben's story for good, even though Satan meant for it to destroy us. Read books, care for my growing belly, and spend time with Godly people who encourage me to be myself. To cry, weep, mourn, and remember. To look positively into the future while also being mindful of the past and how far God has carried us. Because as "final" as death feels, I know that it is merely the beginning. And there is coming a day where we will be reunited with our dear son, where God will wipe away our tears, and He will escort us into our forever home, saying, "Well done, my good and faithful servant."
I'm not gonna lie. As much as I know that God still has a plan for me on earth, I am really looking forward to heaven. A quarter of my heart is already there.
And because for the very first time, I'll be Home.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Thoughts from a Modern-Day Psalmist

Psalm 13

For the director of music. A psalm of David.

How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?
    How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
    and day after day have sorrow in my heart?
    How long will my enemy triumph over me?
Look on me and answer, Lord my God.
    Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death,
and my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,
    and my foes will rejoice when I fall.
But I trust in your unfailing love;
    my heart rejoices in your salvation.
I will sing the Lord’s praise,
    for he has been good to me.
One of our pastors used this text in his sermon today. And on Ben's second-month heaven anniversary, I felt every word.
It seems unusual to have passages in the Bible - much less entire chapters or books - dedicated to people complaining to (or about) God. Frustrated when things don't go their way or when it feels like He has somehow remained quiet in our pain. Especially when we know how capable He is of turning things around completely. It almost feels unspiritual. As if we should only be pointed to examples where people blindly accepted God's master plan, even when they didn't understand. 
But I know that I am not alone in saying how comforted I am by many words of the psalmists, who have been given the opportunity to voice their pain, to question God's plan, but always end their rant in praise. The Bible is FULL of stories where people struggled with what God appeared to be doing. It's as if we needed those stories included in God's holy book to reassure us that it's okay to be human.
You see, none of us live absolutely perfect lives. Not a single one. There's not a single human in this world that could exclaim that everything has always gone as planned and that God has always provided everything they wanted, at the moment they wanted it. At least they couldn't do it with a clear conscience. It just doesn't happen.
The only thing we are guaranteed is that in this world, we will have trouble. We will get sick. We will have pain. We will struggle. But Jesus continues in that same verse to say, "But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)
Perhaps that's why passages like this one in Psalm 13 bring me comfort. It doesn't end with pain and suffering. Death doesn't have the final say. God does. Not only is He the ultimate encourager and comforter, but in conquering death, He literally overcame the world!
We have HOPE!
Shortly after Bed died, I had breakfast with a long-time family friend and pastor. All along our journey, she empathized with our pain and her heart also cried out to God for Ben's physical healing. Her oldest grandson was just two months older than my boys and we had great memories of the three boys playing together last summer. She said that the news of Ben's aggressive diagnosis frustrated her and was one of the very few times in her life where she was literally mad at God.
I knew exactly what she was saying. I had had those feelings, too. I have been a Christian my whole life. I always felt His blessing on my life and so it was somewhat easy to trust Him. And yet, the moment when things started to look bleak, when it looked as though I could lose my son, I was ready to just throw in the towel and give it all up. I was very angry. And I definitely let God know.
But then she went on to say how beautiful it was that somehow, God had been using our gifts to tell the world about His goodness and even the joy that can be found in the midst of so much difficulty. If we were willing to acknowledge Him. "You're a modern-day psalmist, Mindy," she told me. "We read your cries to God and we feel your pain. And yet, you're reminding us to come back to Jesus. Because He's the only one that can heal our wounds."
A modern-day psalmist. Yes.
I am just as imperfect as the men who wrote those psalms. I get angry with God and question His motives. I wrestle with my emotions just as much as the psalmists struggle to see God in the midst of their afflictions. David, the writer of this psalm and many others, was far from perfect. He fell in love with a married woman, got her pregnant, had her husband killed in battle to make his death look like an accident, and God STILL used him to reach many people for Christ. Because God is not looking for perfect people. He's not looking for people who don't struggle, whose feelings don't fluctuate on a daily basis. He just wants us. As we are. To be honest with our humanness so God can do the rest. When we're willing to be used by Him, there is just no telling what He can accomplish.
Like David, I like to think of myself now as a psalmist. A regular imperfect person who's used a platform to complain, vent, scream, and yell my frustrations to my God. But because I've been walking with God for a while, I am far too aware of His goodness and grace to just stop there. Even as I acknowledge my wounds, I have so many good things around me to point back to His never-ending faithfulness and generosity.
As our pastor reminded us, "Faith isn't the absence of questions. It's knowing who to ask."
That's why I won't allow my psalm to end when my rant ends. I can't help but come back to God's sovereignty and power. To be reminded of His mercies that He provides every morning. To celebrate the life of my four kids: in heaven, on earth, and in utero, and just be in awe of His goodness. He is still God. And He is good.

God, even though I am so angry that this had to have happened... even though I hate the pain that my family had to suffer in losing my child... even though I hate knowing that I will never see that beautiful boy on this side of heaven again... I am so grateful that You allowed us to care for him, even for a short time. I am grateful for the ways you remind us of the mark he has left on our family. And I am very grateful that you are a God whose mercies are brand-new every single morning. I will continue to praise You in the midst of my pain. Because You have always been so very good to us.
I am so grateful to serve a God who is big enough to handle our questions. Our frustrations. Our bouts of disbelief and sadness. This world is full of so much sadness: friends move away, people die, kids get sick. And we, as Christians, are nowhere near exempt. The fact that we grieve, mourn, and hurt only mean that we are human. And we should take comfort in the fact that that is precisely how God designed us. But we also need to be reminded that that's only the first part of the story.
God is still God. And He is good.
The pastor ended the sermon with this:
"God has a perfect track record. He has never let a single person down. And He's not going to start with you."

Saturday, July 5, 2014

When God Winks

A friend of mine gave me a book called "When God Winks at You" shortly after Ben died. It's filled with stories of amazing coincidence, showing us the subtle and not-so-subtle ways God uses to show us that He's caring for us.

It was a relatively quick read and it gave me words to be able to communicate when I experienced one of those divine appointments. The huge frog and snake Jack found the morning after his brother died: a God-wink. The sparrow that he found when our heads were spinning just a few days later: another God-wink. Examples where the God of the universe proved to us - in very tangible and meaningful ways - that we were not alone.

God has continued to show Himself in unexpected ways along our path through grief. But the most recent happened almost two weeks ago while more than eight hundred miles away from home.

Andy and I took our kids to Myrtle Beach last week for a family vacation. We knew it would be tough. This was Ben's favorite spot and he begged for us to fly on an airplane to go earlier this spring, but we went to Florida instead because the weather would have been more tropical in March. We last ventured there in August and it was - by far - our best family vacation yet. We knew it would be emotional, staying in the same place, swimming in the same pool, frequenting the same restaurants and attractions. But we decided that it could also be a time of healing for us. Andy drove straight through the night and we arrived last Monday, the 23rd.

Immediately after we arrived, Jack wanted to go to the beach. So after we got settled and had something to eat, we brought our new shovels and nets to enjoy the warm breeze and the gentle waves of the Atlantic while our kids rolled in the sand and searched for critters.

Two of our earthly blessings on the dock of our favorite beach
Jack fishing for anything that was willing to jump inside his net
Megan Joy, truly a ray of sunshine
Meanwhile, Andy and I sobbed.

We were expecting it to be emotional. Not physically painful.

After we put the kids to bed, we wept. Andy cried himself to sleep and I went on the back patio to let it out and not wake up the kids. I wanted to throw up. My stomach hurt. My heart ached. It felt like someone had punched me in the gut. Repeatedly. And I desperately wanted to go home. This was just way too painful.

You know, maybe this was just too early for us, I thought. Maybe it was just too much, too soon. We could literally see Ben run alongside his brother in the waves. Jack still fit into the same swimming trunks he had worn in August. Physically, he doesn't look that different than when we visited less than a year ago. Megan rolled in the sand and made funny faces as the waves crashed on her little body. And she looked sooo much like her brother. This was just way too difficult.

If I hadn't just gotten out of a car after fifteen hours of straight driving (and on the eve of my third trimester,) it would have been easy for me to convince Andy to leave. He felt the same way. But Jack and Megan were having so much fun. Jack had been counting down ever since we told him we were leaving, just nine days before. This mommy knew I couldn't have handled more questions of 'How much longer till we go to the beach?' than that. We couldn't let them down. We would have to stick it out.

As with most things in life, I'm so glad we did. The first two days were the hardest. We cried at almost anything. Especially when Jack would excitedly ask us, "Remember when me and Ben used to do THIS?" We continued to cry as we needed, whenever we missed our son more than we could contain.

But even in the midst of our storm, God was there. More than eight hundred miles away from home, and God chose to show Himself in the smallest and most meaningful ways. To give us hope. And peace.

The biggest fish we caught was grabbed by Megan! She was ecstatic.
The second day we were there, we saw a cardinal. He was beautiful. His high-pitched little chirps got our attention first when we were swimming in the pool. And then we'd spot him: on the fence, in the tree, on the bench. Just a few feet from us. Such a lovely sight.

On the bench inside the pool
Now, I've been to this same exact same vacation spot just south of Myrtle Beach about a dozen times. It had been my family's favorite getaway since I was in high school and I had spent many summers there enjoying the simplicity of the pool and the beach even before I met Andy. Once we were married, we went there for our first summer vacation and then we took the boys when they were eighteen months old. Then we were there this past August and then again this June.

And this is the FIRST cardinal I have ever seen there. Ever.

Coincidence? Perhaps. But I seriously disagree.

That cardinal visited us every single day during our visit. It was as if it were trying to make sure we were paying attention to it, the way it flew around us and screeched his loud chirp. Right away, we knew that it was a sign from God, a sign that He was with us. That Ben would not be forgotten. A God-wink. The third day, we started saying, "Thanks, Ben," whenever we saw our new friend. Jack would excitedly jump out of the pool as if he were trying to catch him. It became something we looked forward to everyday.

I believe that God sent that cardinal to that exact spot just for us. We all did.

When we returned home, sun-kissed and rejuvenated, I uploaded several pictures onto Facebook to share with my friends. Another mom of twins commented on the photo/story of the cardinal saying that one of her friends posted this a while back. And it gave me chills.

"A cardinal is representative of a loved one who has passed. When you see one, it means they are visiting you. They usually show up when you most need them or miss them. They also make an appearance during times of celebration as well as despair to let you know they will always be with you. Look for them, they'll appear."

Now, I don't really get into folklore or myths or old-wives tales. But c'mon, now. That is just beautiful.

A God-wink.

An opportunity that God used to remind us of His grace. Hope. And security.

The wounds we carry are deep. As someone said, we loved much and so we grieve much. Over the past few days, I have sobbed unexpectedly after taking off Ben's Toy Story bed sheets to replace them with new girly ladybug bed sheets for Meg (who's been sleeping in his bed, next to her brother.) I cried to see Megan wearing the lanyard with the kids' photo IDs from the town pool last summer. And just today, I sobbed uncontrollably after receiving our new insurance cards with only four family members listed; it was just another harsh reminder of Ben's absence. I honestly thought that it would get easier. That I would somehow cry less or feel less of our loss over time. But that has just not been the case. If anything, it has gotten harder. More difficult as we experience the consequences of our loss in our everyday activities and celebrations. In my head, I am grateful to know that Ben is not in pain and that he is enjoying the fullness of God's presence in the glory of heaven. But in my heart, I miss my son. I miss his influence in our family. And I don't suppose that will ever go away.
As I was enjoying a quiet moment on the beach, I wrote Ben's name and then Megan came up and put a sand crab inside the heart above his name. It was as it should be.

But even in our grief, there is much joy. I have now rounded the corner of the third trimester and our (seemingly very healthy) baby girl should be here in about ten weeks, just after our oldest begins kindergarten. Jack is enjoying his new summer activities and Megan is just exploding into such a vivacious and fun-loving young lady right before our eyes. Yesterday, I asked her if she liked fireworks. "No, I not like fireworks," she responded. "Dey scare me. I yike worms, though!" How is she only two? Jack's simple child-like faith daily encourages my own.

Where there is sorrow, there is also joy. Where there is grief, there is also much happiness. Andy and I have discovered depths of God's grace we never would have cared to know if we hadn't needed to rely on it as much as we do. As difficult as it may feel at times, God is there.

Our family at the Medieval Times. We were cheering for the yellow knight who not only won that evening, but he also awarded Megan as the Queen of the Tournament (who apparently, wore the appropriate color!) Needless to say, it was a pretty special evening for our family.
I hate that this has happened to us. I hate what my son had to go through. I hate that my kids will grow up without Ben right beside them. I hate the pain that our extended family and friends have had to experience right along with us. But as little as I understand, as much as my heart aches every day, I am confident to serve a loving God that swoops me into His arms on a daily basis. Who lets me cry, vent, and scream. And then wipes away my tears and gives me the grace to continue forward. One foot in front of the other, one step at a time.

I wish I could say that I'm over it. I'm recovered. I'm fully healed and at peace. But I'd be lying.

I will always carry this wound, this invisible wound. All of us will. But I am so grateful that I'm not doing this alone. And even though I can't touch my Heavenly Father, I know He is there. Even though I haven't heard Him speak audibly, He has spoken to me in so many ways. Even though I can't prove that these stories aren't just mere circumstances of fate and coincidence, I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that He is real. That He is God. That He is sovereign. And that He will continue to look for ways to tangibly remind me of His goodness.

To God be all the glory.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

The Invisible Wound

On June 25, 1992, my oldest sister and I took a bike ride with our friends. Coming home the local diner, we rode down a reeeeeeeally steep hill before turning onto our road. In retrospect, it really wasn't all that steep, but as a ten-year-old, fifteen degrees on a bike felt like a step down from Mount Everest. My sister was leading the pack from the front and I was carrying the caboose. As I watched her start to round the corner, I saw her hit a big newspaper box at the end of a driveway and somersault over the top of it. She looked as limp as a rag-doll. Twenty two years later, I can still see it. And it happens in slow-motion.
I panicked. I was already coming down fast. So as I turned the corner, I pressed both brakes on my handlebars, bringing my bike to an immediate halt. Immediately. As in, it stopped right in the middle of the road, sending me sailing over the top of my bike and into the street.
I remember crawling over to my big sister, who was unconscious just a few feet away from me. One of our friends rode back to our house to get help while everyone else was crowded around my sister. Those few seconds felt like hours. Was she still breathing? Would she be alright? We all saw her flip over that box. And we were all scared to death.
One of the neighbors came out of her house when she heard the commotion and tried to ask my sister questions. She regained consciousness, but still hadn't the foggiest idea what had happened. She had no idea how she had gotten there.
I scraped my left wrist, but hadn't realized the extent of my injuries until my mom came and picked us up a few minutes later. It felt more comfortable for me to support my left arm with my opposite hand. All of our attention was on my sister. She would need a scan to be sure she was alright, to be sure she didn't have any internal bleeding. I was afraid my parents - who were always hesitant to let us go for rides without them - would ban us from ever leaving the house again. Maybe we were going down the hill too fast. Perhaps we were being negligent. I was silent as we drove to the hospital, except for the parts where I tried to remind my sister of exactly what had happened. After several times, I started to doubt it myself.
My sister's diagnosis: a concussion. She would be fine. Thankfully. It could have been so much worse. Me, on the other hand? I had a broken arm. I would need my arm set back in place (which was probably more painful than the initial break) and then heal for a few weeks with a cast up to my elbow, just three days into the summer. Bummer.
As the summer progressed, people would often ask me what had happened. How did I break my arm? How long would I be unable to get it wet? Could they sign it? But no one even knew that my sister had been part of that same bike accident until I told them the story. It wasn't that her injury was less serious than mine - on the contrary - it was just that her wound was invisible. Mine was highlighted by an obnoxious cast that even got strangers' attention. That's why I was the recipient of so much more initial sympathy.
She had an invisible wound.
I've thought about that story quite a bit over the past few days as we continue to grieve our son's death. I've often heard it said that losing a child is a lot like having an invisible wound. No one can tell by just looking at you, the amount of pain that you have - and continue - to suffer. No one can sense the amount of time you have spent crying over your loss, questioning why God didn't choose to heal Him, and yet praising Him for the wonderful time He had allowed us to have with such a wonderful little boy. It's an invisible wound, much like my sister's from our accident.
I can think of several people in my community that have lost loved ones in the past few years. Tragic circumstances. The kind that just makes your heart sink. A baby who drowned in a backyard pool. A little boy who was hit by a car in his driveway. An otherwise healthy teenager with an undetected blood clot in his lung. All of these precious children died, leaving behind a hurting family, grieving under some of the most tragic circumstances you could imagine. Years later, they still hurt. They still grieve their loss.
But if you put each of those mothers in a line-up amongst other women, you would never be able to determine who was who. Because there is nothing physical on them that demonstrates their loss. Because they chose to go on, to wear a smile even when they would be justified to stay home and cry every day. Because they chose to continue to find good in the everyday. To find ways to celebrate their children's lives, taken too soon. For themselves, for their families, for the loved ones they will see again in heaven.
They, like me, wear an invisible wound. It may not be visible to the naked eye, but given the opportunity, they can share the depth of their wounds and show evidence of their scars. And even in the midst of their own pain, they can give comfort to others.
Mine is an invisible wound. But given the vast number of people that had followed Ben's story, that had been touched by those long eye lashes and dimples of our Benjamin David, I don't feel like it's entirely invisible.
I run into so many people every day who had fallen in love with Ben. When I'm getting bloodwork, at the playground, in the bathroom at Walmart. And each time, women want me to know what a difference Ben's story had made in their lives. That his life was not in vain. Initially, they may apologize for making me upset. For reminding me of my loss. For reminding me of my pain. But honestly, I can't thank them enough.
I feel fortunate to have such a great community of people who are willing to surround us during this time. To acknowledge my invisible wound. To acknowledge the events of the past few months and not dismiss his life as if he never existed. Because that would be even more painful. Having so many people around me has helped with my healing. It helps comfort me in times when I feel sad. When I get discouraged at the possibility of finding joy again. When I worry that I will never be able to look at pictures with him in them without bursting out in tears. Because those people are reminding me that my invisible wound is real. That it hurts. But that it will be okay.
Broken bones heal. People recover from concussions. The invisible wounds sustained by a loved one's death, however, will always be present. But thankfully, the memories can never be erased.

When my dad signed my cast, all he wrote was "Romans 8:28." As a ten-year-old, it seemed kinda funny for a guy that I would have expected to draw a silly picture of himself or write something witty. Something to make me smile. But I probably wouldn't have remembered that if he had. Instead, I committed that verse to memory:

"And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose."

And more than twenty years later, I am still finding that to be true.