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.

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.