Thursday, January 22, 2015

Closer Than a Brother

I'm kinda glad Christmas is behind us. As much as I've always enjoyed the holidays with my family, this year, I dreaded it.
We couldn't put up Ben's stocking. It seemed awkward to hang something that no one would be opening. But we did hang up all of his ornaments. All of the handmade handprints, pictures and crafts that Ben had made during his first four Christmases. I'm not saying it was easy. But we did it anyway.
Initially, I thought about not putting up a Christmas tree. People would understand. Our pain was just so fresh. Even the thought of enjoying the twinkling nights in the evening after the kids went to bed, reminiscing God's goodness to us during that past year, was just too painful. But Andy and I both knew that we had to. For Jack, for Megan. We needed our kids to know that we celebrate Christmas because of Who was born, not who died. Our tree was extremely ordinary. I didn't put as much effort into fanning the branches and making sure the ornaments were evenly distributed. But it was up. And that felt like a big accomplishment.
In anticipation of the holidays, I tried to stay honest with the Lord about where I was, how I was feeling. I wish grief followed a linear path, one where you were always moving forward, upward, in a positive direction. But anyone that has lost a loved one knows that's just not true. Our grief journey has resembled a rollercoaster more than anything. In one moment, we are full of faith and gratitude in knowing where Ben is and that he does not yearn for us. Grateful that there is no concept of time in heaven and when we do join our son, it will be as if mere moments have passed since we saw him last. But in the next moment, we see an old picture, see Megan unknowingly mimic Ben's goofy face, or see Jack thoughtfully looking through a picture album with him and his twin in it. And we just lose it. We feel angry at times. Hurt. Betrayed. We shake our fists at God as we send up choice words, and our hearts ache as we search for answers. Why? Why, Lord? Why did You allow this to happen? We pity ourselves, our loss, shed lots of tears. And then we move on. Because as hurtful as it feels, that is simply a place we visit. We cannot live there. We visit temporarily and then we have to come back home.
As I finished wrapping the last of the presents, I was honest with God. This holiday was going to be tough without Ben. Thanksgiving was tough, but I knew this one was going to be harder. Christmas with the added frustration of reflecting on the year and everything that happened. With my mixed bag of emotions, I had no idea how my grief would hit me at different times. I needed something from God. A sign. Something tangible. Something to know - beyond a shadow of a doubt - that God was with me. That He cared about me. Even in the midst of Him controlling the universe and making night turn into day. I needed to know. And so I told Him. But I also promised that I'd keep my eyes open. That I'd be searching for whatever He decided to give. And that I would be happy knowing that He cared enough to follow through.
And do you know what? He did.
I'm used to seeing bright red cardinals in our backyard and hearing their beautiful short chirps. Even the two blue jays who always seem to come in pairs. And I feel so comforted by their presence. Especially on tough days. But for Christmas, God got creative.
On Christmas Eve, we were celebrating with my family at my parent's house. It was unseasonably warm and so Jack went outside to play with his cousins before we had dinner. After a few minutes, they all ran into the house, saying, "Jack is in the newspaper! Jack is in the newspaper!" Huh? What newspaper? Perhaps they stumbled across one of the papers that my mom had saved with Ben's picture. They must have seen one of those. I couldn't even imagine what they were talking about.
Sure enough, the boys carried the tattered-looking copy of The Buffalo News into the house. The edges were torn, the page was ripped and it was very dirty. It almost looked as if it had survived a fire. This was obviously not a paper that had been set aside. You couldn't even see the whole article. But in the sliver you could see, was Jack's picture. On a screen. Giving the 'eulogy' at Ben's funeral.
"Where did you find this?" we asked the boys. My mom kept a file folder with any articles about Ben. None of us even remembered seeing this in the newspaper. As we gazed across my parent's lawn and near the place where the boys said they found it, we saw nothing but clean grass. No debris. No other newspapers.
Wow. That was my sign. Thank you, Lord. Even on Christmas. In a completely unexpected landscape, I had my sign. God was there. And Ben was with Him too.
As we were driving to another family gathering after finding the newspaper, Jack asked me from the backseat, "Mom? Do you remember how I was in that newspaper we found at Nana and Papa's house? The one at Ben's funeral?" I had absolutely no idea what was going through his head. Was he going to comment about Ben's death? The funeral? Talk about how much he missed his best friend? Tell us how sad it makes him feel to be the only boy? My mind went a million miles an hour in just a few short seconds, trying to anticipate what my inquisitive firstborn was going to say next. "Um, does that mean I'm like... famous?"
Ummm, yes. Yes, Jack. You are.
People ask a lot how Jack is doing. How he's coping with his loss. Anyone that spends time with Jack would never know that he lost his brother just a few months ago. He's confident... perhaps a little too confident. He asks questions. He remembers. He says exactly what he's thinking. He giggles. He talks with his hands when he's teaching us a new fact about an animal. He hides when he sees Andy's car pull in the driveway so he can jump out and tackle him when he gets close enough. He's learning to read and write. He loves figuring out how things work. He wanted a magician book for Christmas because he thought that magic was real. He fights with Megan (who, surprisingly enough, provokes him about 75% of the time,) but protects and loves Kate like crazy because "she's just the best sister ever." I sometimes feel like he's an eight-year-old living in a five-year-old's body.
Watching "Wild Kratts" with his littlest "not so little" sister
Just in case you've ever wondered what the 97th percentile looked like (Onesie was made by Inspired Buffalo)
Andy and I talk about how losing Ben when we did might have been the "best worst-case scenario." They were young. They were playmates, but not confidants. We feel like it would be a very different animal if this happened when they were teenagers. Jack misses Ben how a little boy would miss a best friend who moved far away. He misses not having him to play with. Trust me, we miss him for that reason, too. Jack has had to relearn - or really learn for the first time - how to play by himself. My whole focus during the boys' first few years of life was teaching them how to work together. Resolve conflicts. Getting them to stop biting each other when they were upset and before they had words. Mothers of twins, can I get an AMEN?! How to share their toys, take turns. Andy wrestled with them to teach them to work together toward a common goal and how to play fair. But Jack is making great strides. It's a process. And he's getting a little better every day. He'll always be a twin. His birth certificate is proof of his identity.
He talks about Ben as if he's still here. Not out of a desire to ignore the truth, but it's as if he truly feels his existence, living alongside him. All of the artwork that comes home from school has six members of our family listed, even the one that had the title of "People living in my house." Six. Including Ben. I won't mention the time he drew only five, leaving out his sister Megan. I have really high hopes of the two of them getting along someday. Really.
Trying to get the two of them close enough to be in the same picture can be a challenge... because of the two-and-a-half year old. Megan idolizes Jack, which basically means he can't do very much without a little shadow. Poor Jack.
But Jack's logic about Ben's presence is truly beautiful. "God is with me wherever I go. Ben is with God. Therefore, Ben is with me wherever I go."
In the past few weeks, it seems that Jack is truly on fire for the Lord. The faith that that five-year-old has is just amazing. And so it his love for God. "Mom." he'll say, as if it was its own sentence. "Guess who's the strongest person on earth? God. And Mom. Guess who could do anything He wanted? Like even make our house disappear? God." He'll often tell me and Andy how much he loves us, how even before he was born, he wanted a mom and dad named Andy and Mindy and "God gave me exactly what I wanted!" That little boy definitely has his daddy's charm. Those of you who know Andy personally are nodding your heads right now. "But do you know the only person I love more than you and Dad? GOD!"
That boy's definitely got his priorities straight.
Another milestone I wasn't looking forward to: a Christmas family photo. A family of six: five people, minus one, plus one. But we did it.
Last week, we were talking about some of the things we know about heaven when he said, "Mom. When Jesus died, He went to heaven. That's His home. Isn't that so cool? Heaven is His home! I have like a million questions I want to ask Him. I wonder what kinds of stuff He can do, like what kinds of tricks and stuff. That's the first thing I'm going to ask Him. Jesus is just so awesome."
I'm grateful for the pictures we keep around our house. We have so many beautiful memories. I'm grateful that I was home to capture so many regular moments with my boys together. With all of us, just enjoying life. Such a wonderful comfort those will continue to be in years to come.
Andy and I have been trying to not just live out the gospel in front of our children, but memorize verses from the gospel with them, too. Having those words of truth in my head have sustained me through some of the darkest moments in my life and I'm truly grateful for the effort my parents made in providing that. In an effort to support our healthy brainwashing (hehe,) I bought a Christian children's CD my friend recommended. It's called "Hide 'Em in Your Heart," a collection of verses set to music by Steve Green. I have one volume in my kitchen CD player and the other in my van. We just love it! Every time a new song comes on, Jack says, "THIS is my favorite. No, THIS is my favorite!" And I can't even tell you how good it makes me feel to hear my two-year-old singing scriptures when she's playing with her dolls, singing them to sleep. These are the truths that they will carry with them forever.
Megan loves her dolly. The more homely they look, they better. I try and encourage her to leave the house with a cuter doll, one with hair. "No! 'Dat's NOT my baby!" At least we found a way to keep clothes on her favorite doll sometimes - matching outfits!
Anyway, one day we were driving to karate and Jack asked me to start the song again. The song highlighted Proverbs 18:24: There is a friend who sticks closer than a brother. In typical five-year-old fashion, Jack thought it was downright hilarious that they joked about using the word "stinks" rather than "sticks." But that continued into a wonderful conversation about our Lord. Jack was close with Ben. But God is a friend who sticks even closer than brother... even a twin brother! A friend Who's promised never to leave us, never to forsake us. And not only is He wherever we go, but He is perfect. And good. And He can be trusted. I've always loved the truth behind that verse, but it holds a meaning even more special now.
There's no greater legacy I can leave for my kids than to know I did my part to communicate God's truth to them. His love. His faithfulness. Even though I try my very best, I will fail them. I will make mistakes. Someday - I don't know when - my body will give out and I will join my God in heaven. I'm only human. But God. God is a friend that sticks closer than a brother. And He will never us. I need my kids to know that truth, beyond a shadow of a doubt. I can't give them anything more valuable.
I'd hate to admit that I'm sorta dreading what's ahead, wishing away pieces of my life away. Seemed like I was always doing that in college, working to get beyond that next exam, that next paper, that next semester. But I'm really dreading these next few months. The continuation of the season of firsts, but this time, it's commemorating the time he was sick. The date when Ben got his first headache is just days away. When our whole world crumbled and it all started downhill. I'm dreading it. The dates of his brain surgery, days of chemo, radiation, coming home, all leading up to the first time we won't celebrate both boys' birthdays... and then Ben's Heaven Day. I'm dreading it. I get a stomachache just thinking about it.
But just as we've dared to continue living over these past few months, just as we've dared to hope for tomorrow, we will continue on. With one foot in front of the other. One step at a time. Because as hard as it's been for us to lose Ben - a brother, a son, a grandson, a nephew, cousin, friend - I don't want my kids to lose a mom, too. I don't want Andy to lose his wife.
God still has a plan for us here on earth. And so until that day when He calls us home, until that day when we are reunited with Benjamin, until that day where all of our questions are answered... we will enjoy the blessings He has left for us on earth.
'Cause even on our worst days, we can still say: God has been very good to us. Much much more than we deserve.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

I Choose JOY

I can't promise that I won't cry this Christmas.
That I won't secretly wish there'd be two little boys running into our room in the morning, excited to see if Santa had been here. That my heart won't sink to see our kids open their gifts and knowing that their brother isn't physically next to them. To know that I won't have a picture of all four in front of the Christmas tree. I can't promise that my eyes won't well up with tears when I look at the beauty of the lights, the handmade ornaments, and pictures of sweet Ben from this time last year. I can't promise that I won't get sick, imagining how special things would be if we were all together on this side of heaven. I cannot make any promises.
But I can promise you one thing: I'm going to enjoy it as much as I can.

All of my kids have had Angel Kisses, those red spots below their nose. But at three months old, Kate's seem to be holding on the longest. So very special.

We still have so much to celebrate.
I want to soak in the squeals from Jack and Megan as they open each thoughtfully-purchased gift. To enjoy Kate's smiles and coos as we praise God for His goodness in blessing us with her little life. To match their dimples to the ones on Ben's face, and reflect how much he loved his siblings. To feel God's loving arms wrapped around us in the moments where we have to look away in order to shield our tears. I want to live our lives as a celebration of Ben's life. His legacy. I want to celebrate God's continued grace and mercy on our family. Even in the midst of tragedy, God has been there.
Though we have great pain, we also have great joy. And joy is not a feeling, it is a decision.
So today, I choose JOY.
Christmastime must be especially magical in heaven.
Merry Christmas, from our family to yours!
Love, the Sauers
all six of us

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Another Day Closer to Heaven

They say "time heals all wounds."

"They" are wrong.

Time doesn't heal. Time passes. Sometimes too fast, sometimes in slow-motion. But it does not heal.

I thought it would get easier. In some ways, perhaps it has. I don't feel Ben's absence every single moment of the day. I don't weep in sadness every hour, nor do I talk about him every time he comes to my mind. But I do feel a piece of my heart has been ripped out. A limb has been pulled from my body. Although it hurts at times, I am still functional. I still have the use of my other limbs, I still have a lot of life left in me. But I can never be what I had been. I will never be 'healed.'

Time hasn't healed our wounds. If anything, our pain has gotten deeper. Harder. With each passing day, we miss Ben more and more. Each new milestone reminds us that we are a "family of five, minus one, plus one." We lost one of our family members: a handsome, goofy little guy whose long eyelashes and dimples still make me go weak in the knees. The nights are hardest. And yet, the morning always comes. We still have three other kids here on earth. One of which that requires me for absolutely everything - around the clock. I can't give up. I have to soldier on. Be grateful for what I have, live for today and plan for tomorrow. Because I have no other choice.

After Ben died, Andy couldn't wrestle with Jack without feeling sadness over his absence. He could still see those fervent looks of determination as Ben would run up to tackle Andy and save his brother, yelling, "Twin power!" I still accidentally grab five forks for the dinner table. I still do a double-take when I see Jack wearing blue, his new favorite color, in honor of his only brother. Megan confuses the colors pink and purple, just like Ben did. And her goofy faces mirror his perfectly. Even the "Oooo-OOOO-oooo-OOOO-oooo" sound she makes when she's being goofy matches her brother's inflections to a tee. She reminds us of Ben in so many ways. And it is both beautiful and painful.
We grieve. We hurt. And yet we cannot wallow in self-pity. We are not the first to go through a tragedy of this magnitude, nor will we be the last. Andy and I talk a lot about Ben and how these past few months have changed us. We remember the vacation we took as a family last August, when he wasn't sick. We cry over the horrific ten days we spent in the hospital, painful memories that we wish we could forget. We are grateful for the decisions we made to have Ben at home until the very end and marvel that the whole thing happened at all. We extend grace to each other to go through our own grieving journey at our own pace. And yet self-pity is just not an option.

God has a purpose for us.
Jack and Meg playing with MagnaTiles, a family favorite

At this stage in our grief, we feel like we are in a sort of twilight zone. We are very aware of our loss. That Ben is gone. And yet, I wouldn't think twice if I saw Benjamin jump off the bus right behind his brother. There's a part of us that has felt Ben's presence over the past six months. And that if he were to come back, we wouldn't have missed a step. Perhaps that's largely because his twin has continued to do all of the things we had imagined they'd both be doing. But there are parts of us that still can't believe that this happened. That one of our kids is with Jesus. That he's just gone. Ben - such a good-natured, loving, healthy boy - is no longer here. I'm not sure that's ever really going to sink in.

And yet, time marches on.
This fall has brought many new changes to our family, but the most exciting has been the birth of Katherine Hope. What a sweet sweet baby. Good-natured, content, and very very loved. I knew that Megan would love her little sister because of her sensitive nature and love of baby dolls. But I honestly hadn't expected Jack to be so smitten. Such a protective big brother. He's convinced that she recognizes his voice and smiles or makes noises when he's around. There is absolutely no reason for us to correct him, though, because it appears to be true. "She really loves me," he tells me. I do believe you're right, Jack. The way she stares into his eyes makes me wonder if she really did meet Ben in heaven before making her big debut seven weeks ago. Kind of a deja-vu thing. And it's just beautiful. Kate has those light red marks on her face that disappear after the first few months. The doctors call them "angel kisses." Even though all of my kids have had them, somehow Katherine's "angel kisses" feel much more special. Megan's newest thing is to ask Kate questions, sometimes by holding up flash cards. "What's this, Kate? A sheep? A sheep? You're right! Good job, Kate! Good job!" and giving her an emphatic thumbs-up. Meanwhile, our seven-week-old is just gazing at her big sister with those deep stares, and kicking her legs in delight. I had no idea our baby was so intelligent! hehehe

We want to build again. Find our new normal, whatever that might mean. Try to enjoy what we have been given. To feel real joy in the moment: gratitude for the three kids the Lord has entrusted to us here on earth.
Jonathan Andrew, 5.5 years old
Megan Joy, 2.5 years old 
Katherine Hope, 7 weeks old
As we rebuild, it also helps to remember. I'm glad that we've always had a lot of pictures of the kids around the house. And that we haven't made any plans to take anything down yet. That's been a big part of our healing as well as for them. I kept the picture boards from the funeral for a while, but grew frustrated when they all started falling apart with the kids' frequent viewings. Instead, I made a photo book for Jack with the photos, entitled, "Me and My Twin." I watched him enjoy the book again tonight, pointing and laughing at the situations in each picture. "Awe, remember this? That crab was HUGE!" and "Ha! That was a really fun day!" I wanted to cry. Knowing what he lost and will never regain. But I also had to smile. What a wonderful collection of memories to have. Such a blessing that boy was to our family!

Nighttime is the hardest for me. Probably because I'm less distracted, the house is quiet, and I'm left alone to my thoughts. After I've allowed myself to look at old pictures, cry, and vent with my husband, I always end with, "It's another day closer to heaven." The fact that I know my son is there, that I have been guaranteed a spot next to my Jesus, and that my family will be joining me... I can think of nothing more comforting. I can't bring him back. But I can be encouraged about where he is.

When I tuck the kids in at night, I've always prayed for each of our family members by name. After Ben died, it seemed silly for us to pray for someone who was so much better off. And yet, I just couldn't leave him out of our prayers completely. Never mentioning his name would be more painful than forgetting him. And so after I pray for each of us, we also thank God for being the One to take care of Ben in heaven. Even those few words remind me not to try and pity Ben. As much as we miss him, we can only envy his current state. He is with Jesus. What more could I want for my son? For anyone in my family?
The truth is, life here on earth is scary. Unpredictable. Short. Just a quick scroll through your Facebook page and you know that is true. There is so much hardship out there. People doing terrible things to others, people getting sick, people dying, people searching for Hope and meaning. In the Bible, the only guarantee that Jesus gave us about this life is that there would be trouble. But He also reminds us that in the end, He wins! Our bodies will eventually give out. They were not made to last forever. But our souls will have a home with our Savior if we accept His invitation! We need to spend time doing things that will have an eternal value. We need to spend time getting to know our God and align our thoughts with His.

I would be lying if I didn't admit that I'm scared. I am petrified! I wish I could say that Andy and I will always be here to protect our kids. That's not true. Our bodies are mortal. They were not made to last forever. Do you want to know the best thing we can offer our kids? It's the knowledge - that deep, personal, heartfelt knowledge - that they have a God who stays.

Our pastor talked about this truth a few weeks ago. And it struck a chord with me and Andy. We had been nervous about the future, our health, our overall welfare. How would we ever recover if something happened to our other three kids? How would they recover if something happened to us? We knew better than to assume our family had somehow become exempt from any pain we might encounter in the future. Andy and I had been having nightmares, nightmares that illustrated some of the worst-case scenarios that could separate us from Jack, Meg, and Kate. Fear was becoming our god. And we hated it.

But then Pastor Jerry reminded us of the fact that we serve a God who stays. Who never leaves. And we realized: that is the guarantee we want to give our kids. Because that is the only guarantee we can offer!

The God of Abraham, Moses, the apostle Paul. The God of our ancestors, our parents, the God who lived inside of Ben. That same God has always been there and will never leave. Ever. And He is the same yesterday, today, and forever. I want Jack to feel His presence. To know His hope. To feel His peace. That even though he lost his twin, he will remember that God had never ever left him. I want Jack to know that the Lord cares for him with a deep, selfless love. And that He is the only One that will see him both take his last breath on earth and the first one in heaven. I want him to realize that we live differently because we have HOPE. That's what I need him to know. What I need all my kids to know.
Our knight, Cinderella and cowgirl
A good knight will do anything to protect his princess
So until that day when God calls us home, we will continue caring for our little family as diligently as we are able. We will get up each morning and look for ways to celebrate His goodness. Because even though we are walking through life without a limb, with a piece of our hearts missing, we still have work to do. And so we will continue to walk in a state of grief and joy, a world where the two feelings peacefully coexist.

One day at a time.

Because it's another day closer to heaven.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Kate's One Month Birthday

Kate is such a wonderfully content baby. We are so grateful for God's goodness in entrusting her to us.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Wrapped in Love

Katherine Hope, wrapped in Ben's blanket. I'm not sure I could have constructed anything more beautiful. And meaningful. Thank you, Bethany Chase Photography.

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.