The Purple Dress

 

I remember early on peeking into the boy’s room, and wondering where we would fit the new baby? The crib was still up, Elijah hadn’t quite made the transition to a big boy bed yet. We wondered how we should make the new sleeping arrangements work. Is it time to move some of them to the bedroom in the basement? Then I moved on and surveyed our bedroom and decided we would need a basinet for the foot of the bed for the first few months. And then I started thinking about our van… it would be tight, but the van still had one more seat in it that had not yet been filled.

Mentally I started creating space for our little one. The little one that one day we planned on bringing home.

The minute you see those two pink lines on the test, you start creating space for that little one. I think the first space created is usually a mental one, as you start processing the new information. Depending on where you are at in life, there can be a whole range of emotions. There can be sheer joy, disbelief, fear, anger, relief, trepidation, worry, laughter, thankfulness…  the list goes on. But from the moment you find out, whether you like it or not, you can’t help but start the path of creating space.

After receiving Ava’s diagnosis, on multiple occasion’s I would walk into the boy’s room, see the crib that she would probably never sleep in… and I would cry.

The space that I had started dreaming about, and planned on creating for her, the doctors told me she would most likely never use it.

In the day’s following Ava’s passing, everything that came into my house seemed to be purple. There was a memory box from the hospital that had a little gown and a few things that were purple. The flowers that came, the little notebooks and the different special things people sent us, the majority of them were purple. It was a special gift from God, I knew my daughter’s color was purple.

Following a loss there are certain things that hit you, and they make you so angry… irrationally angry. Like when I started my search for the urn to hold her remains. This wasn’t the space I should be making. Instead of preparing the bedroom for her to sleep in, I was looking for an urn for her ashes. It felt so unfair and made me so angry.

Another thing that broke my heart and filled me with anger, was not getting to buy my first little girl a dress. I have bought adorable sweaters, jeans, and hats for my boys. There have beenso many boy clothes that I have bought and gone through over the years, and don’t get me wrong I am more than thankful for my little men. I wouldn’t change them for a second! But I was pregnant with my baby girl and I didn’t get to buy her a dress. It hurt…

At some point I decided, I would buy her a dress. I can add it to her memory box even if she is already gone. I wanted to do this for her… for me…

I went to target, hunting for that purple dress. Everything that came in surrounding her was purple, her dress also needed to be purple. After picking up a few necessities, I headed for the baby section. I started looking for that dress, I found pink dress, after pink dress and a few other colors as well. But no purple…

This thought hit me like a ton of brinks in the middle of the baby section at Target…

“Of course, there are no purple dresses! There is no place for her here, she’s gone.”

All of a sudden, I felt like I couldn’t breath, my vision seemed foggy, everything became completely overwhelming and I had to get OUT of Target. I couldn’t stay in this place. The emotions, the fear and the panic, were waging attacks against which I had no defense but to flee. And so I fled.

It’s a wonder I didn’t just abandon my cart… or crumple to the floor till someone found me… Somehow, I got checked out with my toilet paper and who knows what else. Then I was in the solace of my car where the tears came hard and fast once again. Where I waited for my heart to slow, and my brain to clear so I could drive home.

I talked to Daniel about what happened at Target. I told him about my wanting to buy our little girl a dress, even though she would never where it. He wanted to do that with me as well. The next week we went to the mall together to keep looking for the dress. We couldn’t find one there either, purple must have not been the color that was “in” during that season.

We sat down over dinner and lamented over the daughter we will never get to know this side of heaven. We lamented the dresses that we would never get to buy. And we talked about what we wanted to do for her memorial. The nature of some conversations are so incredibly hard to wade into, but in the end bring balm to your open wounds.

I ended up ordering Ava’s purple dress and my dress for her memorial online. What can I say? The internet has everything.

I brought her dress up at bedtime to show the boys. Caleb looked up at me with a smile “I can just picture her running around up here in that dress mom. “ And with that statement, suddenly all of this hunting for a dress was absolutely worth it. We were all picturing our little blond girl running around the upstairs in that dress.

One of the hardest truths surrounding losing a baby, is that the space you created, the space you made and pictured them in, will never be filled. The crib will remain empty, the drawers as well, that space at the dinner table remains void.

But this whole idea of creating space brought me to these verses.

 

John 14:1-4
“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me.  In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way to where I am going.”
Revelation 21:3-5
And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”
And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”

 

The realization that I would no longer need to create space for my daughter hurt, it was hard.

But we are all finite, someday I will no longer be here either, and my things will be cleared out, passed on, given away, thrown away. I won’t need them. This place will no longer be my home. I will be mourned, missed remembered and eventually forgotten. I’m going to be gone. My place here isn’t for forever.

And while that can seem scary or sad, I’m perfectly content with it. Content to wait, and content to leave. For there is someone who has gone before me, who promises that He is creating space for me, that He has prepared a place for me. That He has a forever home for me, for all who believe in Jesus. And this home is so important. For even though we don’t deserve to be a part of a home that is so perfect there is no sin and death, we have one waiting for us. It is just on the other side of the grave for those who believe in Jesus. Because let’s face it, we cannot deny that on our own, we are sinful, and we drag around our sin and our mess with us. And yet, because of his great love for us, Jesus paid for our sin and our mess on the cross, so that we can be completely forgiven, so that He can clothe us in His perfection. So that we can join Him in His home that he is preparing for us. The space that he has made for us.

Isn’t it a wonder that our perfect, gracious, and huge God promises us that He cares about us so much, that He has prepared for us a place in heaven? That He goes before us and assures us of the space that he has made for us. He loves us, and he walks up into that bedroom we’ll live in someday and smiles about how he can’t wait for us to fill that space for eternity.

This home will never wear out. We will never have to say goodbye, and there will always be space for us. We will never worry about being gone and forgotten.

When I am remined that I never got to bring Ava “home” to the space we dreamed of for her.

This also brings me to the place of thanking God that there was a place He prepared for Her to come Home to forever.

I picture her running free in her purple dress in the perfect care of our Savior, Jesus.

What a loving faithful God we serve.

 

 

 

 

Bedtime Questions

Mommy, why does the bible call me a sheep?

I kiss soft cheeks good night and tuck little feet under covers, the room dimly lit by the glow of the light coming from the hallway. In this place I hear deep questions uttered from the mouths of my boys.

“Mommy, why does the bible call me a sheep?”

I see light come to his eyes with the next questions. “Does this mean that sheep are really special? They are really smart right?” The confounded look he had with the very first question was replaced with a knowing smile, he thought he had figured it out! ‘Sheep must be a worthy, special, intelligent, animal, right?!?’

I breath a deep sigh as I think about how I will answer this question, for this question is deeper than he realizes.

But first! Before, we get to the picturesque moment of sweet boys tucked comfortably in their beds, you need the bigger picture, you need the context, and for this we need to back up 15 to 20min.

This place is chaos, peace is a stranger here. This place contains the bickering over who brushes their teeth first, or if someone got more dessert. It’s a two year old disappearing to who knows where because he loves being found. It’s yelling at them to stop jumping on the beds. It’s children’s feet pounding on the hardwood, belly laughing while they run with no clothes on. The night sky may be cloudy, but there are plenty of moons out, running through the upstairs of the house.It’s tired parents trying to wrangle children who have found a second wind the minute the word bedtime is spoken. The level of crazy varies from night to night. But it’s usually there to some degree.

However after the crazy, the “quiet” turns their minds to talking about everything, from  farts, to questions like “Why are there homeless people? Why can’t we give them houses and food, so they don’t have to be homeless anymore?”

After teeth are brushed, pajamas are on, and they are in the right bed… my brain is tired. Deep thinking is not convenient.  The couch and a bowl of my favorite ice cream is calling my name. Idleness is what I crave when the house gets quiets.

But as I have come to realize, you never know when God is going to call you to attention, it’s most often not what we expect or when we consider it convenient.

I clear my head, and as I look at my son, I chuckle. “Ok, Let’s talk about sheep…. and no, they are not super smart…”

Sheep… Let me share these couple tidbits I found on the internet!

If a sheep rolls over onto its back, it may not be able to get up without assistance, according to the Sheep101 website. A fallen sheep is called a “cast” sheep. They can become distressed and if they are not rolled back into a normal position within a short period of time they will die. When back on their feet, they may need to be supported for a few minutes to ensure they are steady.

  • Live Science.com

 

(What? For real??)

 

Sheep are frequently thought of as unintelligent animals. Their flocking behavior and quickness to flee and panic can make shepherding a difficult endeavor for the uninitiated.

  • Wikipedia

 

OK, so there are more nice things to say about the usefulness of sheep on the internet as well. But these made me laugh, and they also talk about the nature of sheep and how they respond to certain things.

We see here that sheep are not considered smart animals. They can’t defend themselves against their predator’s, they are prone to wander, quick to flee in a panic, and when flipped on their back they get completely stuck in their predicament until help comes… or death…

They need a shepherd to make sure they are protected, to stay with the herd, to be led to pastures that have enough food and a place with water.

If I was going to be compared to an animal, a sheep wouldn’t be my first choice.

I understand why my boys are confused with the Sunday school song “I just want to be a sheep… baa baa baa..”

They would much rather be a cheetah, a horse, a wolf, maybe a dog… but a sheep?? The wheels in their brain spin trying to figure out why God would ever compare them to a sheep?!

Oh, how even in our young minds we cling to the understanding that we have done something to be special! That we are “awesome” enough to be worthy of God’s love and attention.

Let’s take a look at one of the scripture passages that got this whole conversation started in the first place.

 

John 10:7-18

Therefore Jesus said again, “Very truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who have come before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep have not listened to them. I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture.  The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.

“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.

“I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me— just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd.  The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.”

 

When we take a closer look here, it has nothing to do with the sheep and their awesome skills.

The focus isn’t on who the sheep are.

The focus is on the relationship between the sheep and the shepherd, and on the character of the Shepherd.

The focus is on how much the Shepherd loves the sheep and the lengths that He will go to care for them, and to bring those home that are not in His sheep pen yet.

The focus is on the Good Shepherd’s voice, and how the sheep know his voice.

And so, though the Bible calls us sheep, these helpless, stubborn and ridiculous animals, it does not leave us without a Shepherd.

We have a shepherd that sees us with our faults, our flaws. He sees us with our hearts that are so prone to wander from the good pastures in search of someplace ‘better’. He sees us when we get stuck in the muck of life and become overwhelmed and start to panic.

He sees us in the wilderness of certain death, and he hunts us down and carries us home.

He doesn’t hunt us down because of our special behavior in the wilderness, he doesn’t come running for us because we deserve it, or because we have won His approval.

He comes running for us because He is the Good Shepherd, because He chose to love us with this crazy love. With a love that dies for underserving sinners like me.

He has brought me, the underserving sinner into His pasture. He calls me His own, and leads me to life and not just life, but a life of abundant love and grace and mercy and care.

Just because He loves me.

We know His voice. The reason we know the Good Shepherds voice, is all because of Jesus, who laid down His life for us, the sheep. When He died on that cross and took our punishment, He gave us life. Jesus is the gate that we enter through into His pasture by grace. Because of Jesus we can now be called children of God, and children know their Fathers voice.

So… at bedtime when I am tired, when the timing seems inconvenient, and I don’t think I will be able to find the right words. Here God invites me to share of His goodness, His grace with my children. Even here in this conversation I continue to see how the Good Shepherd pursues us, He is always at work, bringing in His lost ones, tending to us and loving us, His sheep.

We are special.

Not special because we are so awesome. But because God has made us so.

 

 

You Didn’t Hold Up Your End of the Deal…


 

I was walking around the pond that is near our house, praying. I often find myself wandering around this pond praying. In all honesty it’s an interesting place to pray. It’s beautiful. There are willow trees, flowers, an old church, and an old barn. They stock the pond with fish in the summer and many neighbors come to do catch and release fishing. It’s beautiful and relaxing. But it also has a darker side. It is known that witchcraft is practiced in the graveyard that shares a fence with the park that houses the pond. I’m told there are sacrifices that have been thrown into the pond on occasion. And while there is much light and beauty, there are times when the spiritual darkness feels heavy. Which just reminds me to pray all the more. And in doing so, every so often I find myself having conversations with God, wrestling through the things that weigh heavy on my heart at this park.

 

At different times these past months I have felt discouraged, or maybe just beaten down. Where I’m just moving forward because I know I need to. At times, I’m just going through the motions. I didn’t want to have any hard conversations with God. I didn’t want to do any more wrestling over the hard questions that deep down were still nagging. 

 

I would rally around who I know God to be and who I am in Christ. “You are God. I will trust you, I will move forward.” But still the rallying cry of my soul would toggle between trust and disappointment.

 

I had done so much wrestling already.  I was feeling weary and just wanted to not keep dredging up emotions, questions and thoughts. 

 

And while I mean all the words that I have written in the past about hope, trust and joy, for me there have been so many emotions, questions and thoughts to work through during this process. I will feel good and at peace about one thing, and then another question or emotion floats to the surface and here I am again with something else to ponder, pray about, and work through. 

 

Two years ago, I thought we were done growing our family. Through a series of events God was firmly telling me otherwise. Then I seriously wrestled, “5 boys are a lot God! People can’t stop commenting on how crazy we are already, and sometimes I don’t blame them!” (this is another story) But I eventually yielded to God, and his call in that. Sure enough, not long after that I became pregnant with Ava. Beautiful Ava. I knew she was a part of God’s plan and I had made peace with the fact that I would have another child. I was excited. 

 

And then Ava died. 

 

God didn’t hold up His end of the bargain. 

 

Or so that’s what it felt like. 

 

But He is God and I am not. He has full view of my story and of Ava’s story. I knew this. I knew that I served a good God that loved me. Even still, the next thought of my wrestling journey surfaced. God You got it wrong this time, You let me down. I made good on my end of the deal. What happened?” 

 

There I sat at the pond. Finally, ready to talk. Willing to start opening those doors of conversation, hashing out my frustration. I wasn’t even sure where my frustration was rooted at first. Just that it was there. 

 

I realized two things. 

 

I was struggling again with how deep God’s love is for me. He had let me down in my expectations of what I thought things were going to look like. 

 

And I had forgotten how amazing the grace of God is. While, yielding, and trusting God in growing my family may be an act of worship pleasing to God through Christ,I had strings attached to my yielding. I had expectations on how God was going to work here. 

 

There is a reason we need to hear the gospel over and over again. There is a reason we so often need to preach forgiveness and grace over one another. We need to keep telling each other how great God’s love is for each one of us. Hearing how much God loves us, isn’t just for children, it’s for all of us. 

 

The gospel changes not just our eternal home. It infiltrates every aspect of how we live our lives. It changes the lens of how we view just about everything. 

 

And yet, so often we put the lens down. We set it aside so that we can view things from our preferred perspective. And we forget the wholeness of the gospel and its message of hope and reconciliation.

 

And so, I needed to hear it again. I needed the lens of the gospel put over my eyes again. I needed God to remind me how deep His love is for me once again. For he does not change. The truth of the gospel does not change.

 

He is God, and he loved me when he carried me through the dark days of my teenage years and overwhelmed me with his love. He was God, and he loved me when he took my little baby home. And he is God, and he loves me, even though I question his plan. 

 

And he is God, and he loves me, even when I sit on that park bench and think: God you didn’t hold up your end of the bargain.

 

That thought, even though I am loath to admit it, is steeped in my pride, in my works, in what I can do for God. 

 

When that thought is exposed at its base level, my pride is undeniable. I realize that I have cheapened God’s grace. And once again need to be reminded of the work that was already done on the cross. 

 

It’s not about me doing the right thing so God can do what I believe, what I want, His plan to be. There is no resting in who God is there. I can’t barter with God. No matter how many good decisions I throw at him, or how many times I’ve submitted to his call in my life, it doesn’t convince God to suddenly see things my way and cause things to work out the way that I had pictured. My works do not earn my desires.

 

For on their own, my works are nothing but sin-soaked rags. My pride a magnifying glass on the darkness of my heart. My attempts at manipulation pointing out that the sin in the world is just a reflection of the sin in me. 

 

There is no way to make beautiful the effects of sin. Living in a broken world just, plain sucks sometimes. I’m not going to give you any platitude’s like “everything happens for a reason” or “this will just make you stronger.” There is a long list of platitudes. Some have truth, some will just hurt. Because the effects of sin are many, and some of it far too ugly to ever understand. And I won’t know why God chose to intervene miraculously in Elijah’s birth and allowed Ava to have T18 which most often means a very short life. 

 

There was nothing I can claim that I offered up in Elijah’s birth. I didn’t have any great wrestling and then yielding to God in having Elijah, we just didn’t feel done. I didn’t pour over him in prayers marked with tears and anguish. I complained at the end of my pregnancy, I was so ready for him to make an appearance. I did nothing on my own merit to warrant the miracle God did that day. 

 

With Ava I can point to what I did! I said yes God! I prayed and prayed and prayed. My family and friends, my Christian community rallied around us in prayer and support. I trusted you God! And yet no miracle this time, that resulted in a healthy life this side of heaven. 

 

I cannot manipulate my God. I cannot have enough faith to bend Him to my will. It is only through Christ that anything I do is pleasing to God. And with that realization I remember that famous prayer in the garden of gethsemane, Matthew 26:39 “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet, not as I will, but as you will.” Jesus went before me, He knows. I cannot put forth work with strings attached no matter the situation. Not my will, but your will Lord.  And with His yielding His will to the Heavenly Father Christ defeated sin and death once and for all. He made these conversations of wrestling with God possible. He made it possible to yearn for our heavenly home and have a hope and a purpose for this world. 

 

God does not need to explain to me why He took Ava home. I can rest in Christ and His plan. He will continue to keep me grounded as I walk forward in this crazy journey called life. 

 

So here I sit, going to His word once again. To those familiar and worn pages. And I drink from the well that never runs dry. I am reminded, and I remember. I remember who I am in Christ. I remember what He has done for me. I remember His hand pulling me out of the pit. I remember the rock that I’m standing on. The one who went before me. There is not a situation He doesn’t understand or have great compassion for. Oh, how He loves me. And there is nothing, nothing I can put forward on my own. There is only rest at the foot of the cross for the work that has been done already.

He most assuredly has held up His end of the deal. I only need look to the cross.

Am I Loved?

 

 

Life is funny sometimes. You know how those same struggles keep resurfacing? They don’t often look the same as when they first come up. It takes a while to get to the bottom of what is really bothering you and then you realize, “Oh, here it is again, that same thing, just in a different package this time…”

Am I loved?

This question likes to show up for me in different packages, storms and struggles.

I decided that I should turn back the clock a bit as I pondered writing about this question. I should go back to my very first memorable struggle with God, faith and the gospel.

When I was in high school I struggled with a lot of inner turmoil. Especially early in high school. I wasn’t the person I wanted to be. I wanted to be the fun, funny, loud, confident girl who wasn’t afraid to be herself. Maybe some of that was wanting to get noticed by the cute boys… but a bigger part was being envious of the girls around me that were like that. They just seemed like they were more free, had more fun and made more friends. “They must love who they are, because they aren’t afraid to show it… Right??” At least that’s what I thought.

Here I am, quiet, shy, blending in, and not feeling quite sure where I fit all the time. Sometimes thinking “God I think you made a mistake… couldn’t you have put a little more of this or that in me?? I could really use a little more natural confidence and a little less anxiety”

I remember wanting to show up late to everything to make sure that my best friends were at church before I was, then I could plug into my group right away. I didn’t have to stand there by myself in the back feeling awkward until my friends showed up. It didn’t matter that this isn’t what would usually happen.  Or if it did, is it really that bad to stand in the back for a few minutes by yourself? What looks like a little bit of peace to me now, then felt more like that moment when you are speaking on stage and you realize you don’t know what to do with your hands!!  Do I stuff them in my pockets? Do I talk with my hands??

Back then I wished I could stuff my whole self in my pocket and come out when it didn’t feel awkward anymore.

Side note, my whole starting to show up late to everything makes me laugh now. Because when Daniel and I got married we had the – he wants to be “on time”(early) I want to be late(actually late) fight! Yes, I wantedto be late. It wasn’t a time management thing, it was purely a me thing. And I would drive him nuts!! But seeing as wanting to be late was simply rooted in my insecurities, eventually I let that go. And we are usually early. Now if we are late, it is definitely a time management thing, more rooted in getting 5 kids out the door!

I wish I could say something different about those early high school years. But the truth is I really didn’t like who I was, (some moments I still don’t like who I am.) However, during this time, I spiraled, I fed the negative thoughts. I didn’t bring them to Jesus, I believed them. I let them take root. It turned into this negative, self-loathing talk in my head.

Eventually the way all this mental self-negativity manifested itself, (because I’m telling you, it’s going to come out somewhere!) was an eating disorder. I started struggling with anorexia. I was on a quest for perfection with a distorted image of the truth.

I grew up in church, I grew up knowing Jesus. I grew up knowing that Jesus loves me.

I got it. I mean I could understand God loving all of humanity. But it felt like this big overarching love.  It didn’t feel personal.

I know God loves me. But does He really love ME?

 I wanted to be perfect, I wanted to pull myself up from my boot straps and change who I was! If I could just try harder, stick to the plan…except, there was no perfect plan. I always ran into self-disappointment and frustration. I always came up wanting.

“How can God love someone who doesn’t even like themselves?”

During this time darker thoughts, and questions swirled.  “Can a person get so tiny they disappear?” “Can a person be so small, that the hurt is seen on the outside?” “Can you be loud through silence?”

So much hurt, so much pain we deal with in our hearts where people can’t see.

Here in the middle of my pain and frustration, this was where God reached down once again with His hand of redemption and truth.

None of us like to be faced with our brokenness. None of us want to realize that we are by nature broken. That all the efforts put forth have gained no traction. Or can be taken away by the shifting of the winds of life.

It’s hard when truth hits you in the gut. When you realize that the walls and defenses that you have propped yourself up with, to deal with the pain, are just making it worse. Those props were not real defenses for your inmost being. They were actually blinders keeping you in the dark and knives that are cutting you up where you are vulnerable. It’s hard to let go of those sins that you have been nursing in the dark for so long.

I had finally come to the end of myself and saw my brokenness.

I had been trapped in a mindset that told me God couldn’t love me because of who I was, and how I felt about myself. My understanding of how God felt about me revolved around me and my actions.

But God broke me. And through the light, the truth, of the gospel he illuminated the truth. He showed me that what I did and how I felt about myself had no impact on his love for me. Though I may loathe myself, he would never loathe me. He loved me with a love I could not fully, and still do not fully, understand.

God shined this truth in multiple ways, that all culminated in the blinders I had set in place finally falling off.

It was like a huge spotlight that shined a powerful focusing beam on the truth of the sin that I had been harboring. All the lies I was believing about myself, were seen for what they were- Lies. When I could finally see this sin in the light of the gospel, I saw how ugly and dark it was. The difference between how I saw myself vs how God sees me.

The gospel obliterated the lie that I needed to be perfect. That I could pull myself up by my bootstraps and get it all together. That I needed to love myself or like myself to be loved personally, intimately by God. I already was loved, from the beginning.

The truth of the gospel and how good this news about God’s love and Jesus taking all of my sin and shame finally hit me. It overwhelmed me, it changed me, but most of all it freed me.

I am truly loved.

I dove into the Psalms that summer of high school. God brought me there, He spoke to me in the deep places of my heart.

Particularly Psalm 139.  (Wanted to make this shorter or to pull out highlights from this Psalm. But the whole of the scripture passage here spoke volumes, and I just couldn’t shorten it.)

Psalm 139
You have searched me, Lord,
and you know me.
You know when I sit and when I rise;
you perceive my thoughts from afar.
You discern my going out and my lying down;
you are familiar with all my ways.
Before a word is on my tongue
you, Lord, know it completely.
You hem me in behind and before,
and you lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
too lofty for me to attain.
Where can I go from your Spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
if I settle on the far side of the sea,
10 even there your hand will guide me,
your right hand will hold me fast.
11 If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me
and the light become night around me,”
12 even the darkness will not be dark to you;
the night will shine like the day,
for darkness is as light to you.
13 For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.
15 My frame was not hidden from you
when I was made in the secret place,
when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
16 Your eyes saw my unformed body;
all the days ordained for me were written in your book
before one of them came to be.
17 How precious to me are your thoughts,[a] God!
How vast is the sum of them!
18 Were I to count them,
they would outnumber the grains of sand—
when I awake, I am still with you.

 

“Really?  This is how God sees me?!? How much He cares for me!?!”

This is not an impersonal love, it’s not the overarching God loves all humanity kind of love I had pictured in my head.

God does love all of humanity, but his general love is also an individual love. He love’s each one of us personally.  This is a God that sees each detail of my life so much clearer than ever I can.

This is a God that is consistently urging husbands to love their wives in the way that he loves each of us. He instructs fathers to love their children the way that he loves us, his disobedient, rebellious kids, bent on self-destruction.

I can’t think of a love more personal than what I feel for my spouse and my children. God knows our hearts, He knows what we cherish most. And that is what His love is compared to.

Except his love is not flawed. It’s perfect. It’s even deeper, wider and more full of mercy than my imperfect love for my husband and children ever could be.

He truly loves me!He loves each one of us. He didn’t make a mistake when He made me. He intentionally made me, and then pursued me with His love. He still pursues me with His love.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Big First

I had a big first recently!

 

 

Yes, this is my first tattoo! I know, I know it’s huge for my first one. But I love it!

I have thought about getting one for a while. But the timing was never right. You’re really not supposed to get them when you’re pregnant. Basically, I have either been, pregnant or poor… one precedes the other. And round and round it goes! Haha!

However, the timing was right this spring. After I had Ava, Daniel and I talked about getting tattoos in Ava’s memory. I loved the idea.

Daniel knows how picky I am. Apparently I’m “bougie” … Side note, I learned this new word from my young adults. I’m told it means you like ‘nice’ things. Or ‘fancy’ things. I mean let’s be real I only have a few areas this applies… ok… maybe more that I would like to admit. But a really good tattoo artist was definitely on my list!

That put Daniel on the hunt for a good one, preferably one that does Japanese art well. You see, years ago, back when Daniel first started getting tattoos, I started to think about what kind of tattoo I would want. I settled on a Japanese Phoenix. I just thought they looked so cool, and I loved the coloring and the art.

And then Ava just confirmed that choice. You see, Ava’s name means both ‘bird’ and ‘life’, so getting the Japanese phoenix seemed like a perfect fit.

This was just one more of many things, that fell into place that have deep meaning to us surrounding Ava.

The Japanese phoenix, the tattoo that I had been dreaming about getting for so long.

To our surprise, one of the best tattoo artists in the area has a shop walking distance from our house. I had seen this place numerous times, it’s right across the street from my bagel place! (For those of you not from this area, EVERYONE has ‘their’ pizza place, and ‘their’ bagel place.)

Walking into this guy’s shop… man… maybe it was all the young guys with their beards, or maybe all the tattoos and the laid back attitude. Whatever it was, I felt like I walked into a place in Seattle. It transported me back to hanging out with all the guys in the music scene, when Daniel was in his band. It was pretty awesome.

The shop, the taste of nostalgia, it all just helped Daniel get bit by the bug again and he is more than excited to get going on the rest of his sleeve.

Before I go any further, I feel like I should answer the question that is on most of your minds. Or at least the most common one I get asked. Especially since I have a pretty high pain tolerance.

“Does it hurt?”

Yes, yes it does! Ok, ok! It’s not like childbirth or anything. I got it on my shoulder which is a less painful area. I was expecting it to be an annoying pain. But it was more than that, and it depends on how long the session is too. I think if I had been done in an hour and a half or something it would have been easier. But as the hours tick on… you start to feel pretty raw. However, it’s totally worth it!

I gotta say, it was really fun to go with Daniel and get these matching tattoos.  I’m biased, but I think they turned out beautiful. 😉

 

 

 

Holy Week

 

Holy week, The coming of Easter

Holy week is upon us! Holy week wasn’t such a big deal to me as a child. In fact, I don’t ever remember calling it that until much later in life.

When I was a child this meant the coming of spring, promise of candy in my Easter basket and of course a new Easter dress.

Now that I’m a pastor’s wife this week has a whole new meaning! Those of you that are very involved in ministries at your churches know what I’m talking about. 😉

Holy week for us consists of our final Lenten Wednesday prayer dinner, followed by our Good Friday, and of course Easter on Sunday.

It’s a wonderful season. Full of so much meaning. This week we remember the events leading up to God’s ultimate sacrifice on the cross for the redemption of our sins. We celebrate Jesus breaking the chains of death that once held us all.

During our lent dinners, I am reminded of the fellowship and community we are blessed to have as a church. And not just our church! I’m reminded of the Christian Church around the world that meets with one another and encourages each other in all of their very different settings.

During the week of Christ’s death, Jesus celebrated Passover with the disciples. They broke bread and shared deep community with each other. This is when Jesus blessed us with, when he instituted, the sacrament of communion, The Lord’s Supper. Promising that when we eat the bread and drink from the cup, we remember him, we profess faith in him, and that his body and blood have made full satisfaction for all of our sins. What a blessing to break bread together at the Lord’s table, in Christian community.

On Friday evening, it’s our Good Friday service. This is one of Daniel’s favorite services, if not his favorite service of the year.

Last year we took the wooden cross and walked around the neighborhood and up the main street, praying and remembering the long walk Jesus had carrying the cross.

I love the symbolism, of this walk. The weight of what Christ carried for us. And the desire to be a reflection of the light of Jesus’ love to the community around us. After the walk, we have a somber service, where at the end we nail our sins to the cross, because in fact:

Our sins are nailed to the cross. And they are left there. They are no more.

Sunday Morning.

Easter.

We rejoice in Christ’s victory over sin and death. I have thought more about death these past 5 months or so than I ever have in my life. This morning I was reading John chapter 11. This is the story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead. And here I just want to share you with verses 11-15.

John 11:11-15 
11 After saying these things, he said to them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I go to awaken him.” 12 The disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will recover.” 13 Now Jesus had spoken of his death, but they thought that he meant taking rest in sleep. 14 Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus has died, 15 and for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.”

 

Verse 11 really hit me today. Jesus says that Lazarus has fallen asleep and he is going to awaken him. Most of the time when I’m waking someone up, I’m waking up my kids for school. Right now, it’s not too hard… I mean Asher can be a little tough. He’s not a fan of mornings! But when my kids are sleeping and I have to wake them up it’s a natural normal ‘easy’ thing.

For us death is final. Death means that a person is no longer in our lives. Death means that life with that person is over. It’s hard, it sucks, and it hurts. That fact is also reflected in John chapter 11. This is also the chapter where we read before Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, that ‘Jesus wept.’ Jesus understands our grief and suffering over death. But the fact that Jesus is in fact God is so apparent to me in verse 11. Referring to death as ‘sleep’. Why?

Because Jesus knows exactly what awaits us on the other side. And physical death is most definitely not the end for us. Death doesn’t get the victory. That belongs to Christ alone.

 

In 1 Corinthians 15:55-57 we read
 “Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?”
The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

 

Death has no power over Jesus, and it has no hold on those that have acknowledged Christ as their Savior.

We celebrate His victory on Easter! We are victorious is Christ.

Holy week.

What a week. What a time for us to step back, take some time and remember the amazing events that transpired. That have shaped and changed the Church, the Christian faith, and my life.

If you all think about us this week, pray!! It is an incredibly busy week for our family and the church.

Thank you and God bless!

 

Emotions… So many layers

 

Spring is coming. I can feel it. There’s an anticipation deep in my bones.

I can see spring is coming by the way people start driving. The way kids suddenly have more fidgety energy, and declare they NEED to get out. The way teenage boys and girls playfully yell at each other from their cars or across the street. And little purple and white flowers have started peeking out from the ground.

I’m looking forward to spring. I’m looking forward to taking the kids to the park, going on long walks, going to the zoo. Watching the boys play baseball. I’m looking forward to opening the windows and feeling the breeze through the house.

There is a busyness that comes with this season. I love to be busy. I love to go out and do “all the things”. I love people, activities and the sunshine. Daniel often has to remind me to slow down.

Don’t get me wrong I need down time, and I love cuddling up on the couch with a cup of coffee for a quiet afternoon. I love sitting in the back yard with a good book or just watching the kids and dog run freely, while they squeal…eh… screech around the yard.

For a while here I have craved the distraction of spring.

We watched the Pixar movie ‘Inside Out’ the other day. We hadn’t seen it in a while. But man… that movie… all the adults were crying!! The next day Daniel and I were talking about the movie and how it really hits a lot of deep issues regarding our feelings, and how we deal with them. As I was introspectively thinking about my own feelings, I looked over at Daniel and said “Man… I think I just like to have ‘Joy’ running my console all the time…” He just looked back at me, laughed and nodded in agreement.

Nothing makes you realize you can’t have ‘Joy’ running the console all the time like experiencing loss. Experiencing loss has made me feel many layers of emotions. Sometimes these layers of emotions have made it incredibly hard to pick out how I’m actually doing, or what I’m actually feeling.

I’ve had so many conversations with friends in the past year about how important it is to feel your emotions and work through them. Taking the time to do this is a good thing! We have an emotional God. We are made in his image. We are going to experience the full range of emotions. He doesn’t expect us to be ‘happy’ all the time. That’s just not how He made us!

And here I am facing my own advice. Isn’t that just how it works!?! I really just want to stuff it down, burry it and ignore it…but I know I need let all the painful, and complicated emotions roll in and wash over me.

The bright sun and warm winds of Spring are carrying me away from the Winter of loss.

Honestly it’s a really good thing for me that this all happened in the winter. There is so much less distraction, especially in January and February. It’s given me more time to face the rolling emptions.  More time to sit with God. More time to talk with family and friends. More time to talk with the kids. More time to talk with my husband. More time to face my thoughts.

The rain, the sleet and gray days of winter have reflected my mood. It’s a strange feeling, to look out your window and appreciate the weather and its reflection of your grief, the tears in the rain, like the tears in my heart.

As much as I love to encourage and be upbeat. I can’t have ‘joy’ running the ship all the time. I have experienced deep loss, and I need to feel that. Later in time when I am sitting with people in their loss, I want to remember how my heart felt. I need to remember the physical pain. The pit in my stomach and the looming fear of the unknown. I need to let God use all these things to make me look more like Jesus. To bring me close to Him. And also, so I can minister to others who are experiencing deep hurt. So that I can remember the pain and remember the healing on the other side. And allow the time it takes, for me and for others, to heal.

The time table of healing isn’t something we can hurry up and ‘get through’. As they say, “you can’t rush art!” And there is an art to grieving. It leaves a mark on your soul. It leaves a different reflection for each of us. It looks different for every person and experience. Our own expression, our own fingerprint, of loss.

Dealing with these rolling emotions during the cold months has allowed me more time to sit and process.

It’s a dance, to sit in the moments and feel the hurt, pain and sorrow, and then know when it needs to be time to get up and push through. It’s not a cut and dry process. It’s a back and forth  dance.

In the movie Inside Out the characters learn the importance of the range of emotions, and that experiences are often colored with multiple emotions. It’s not unusual to experience joy and sorrow simultaneously. Often our memories of different times bring up a range of feelings.

As things start to feel easier again, I’m learning to not feel guilty on the days when I feel joy and want to tackle the world. And I’m learning to have grace for myself on the days where the layers of feelings vary, and are complicated.

I don’t have to be happy all the time!! Sigh of relief… There is freedom in letting go.

And you know, if I feel like dancing in my kitchen, I am going to kick aside those thoughts of “you shouldn’t be feeling happy yet”, and I am going to dance in my kitchen!

I am looking forward to the warmth of spring. I am having more good days. More joy coming out again.

In a lot of ways sitting in the warmth of the sun reminds me of basking in the warmth of God’s love. I think I’ve felt this way about it since I was a child. And in this season as the weather changes there is a new depth to this feeling.

I am thankful for the different creative ways God uses to wrap His arms around us.

 

Psalm 31:7-8
I will rejoice and be glad in your steadfast love,
because you have seen my affliction;
you have known the distress of my soul,
and you have not delivered me into the hand of the enemy;
you have set my feet in a broad place.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Letter to Ava

 

I shared this letter at Ava’s memorial. Now I’m sharing it here with you.

 

Dear Ava,

My Ava Hope. My first little girl.

You were only with me for 20 weeks, or in other words, 4 and a half months. But you impacted our lives on such a deep level. Honestly it’s still hard to understand the depth. But we all feel the absence of your presence and we miss you.

My list of experiences with you are much too short. But I will still treasure them. I treasure the times I saw you flipping and wiggling all around in the ultrasounds. I’ll treasure feeling you move. I craved pop tarts and halal guys, very weird… but those things will always remind me of you. I’ll treasure all the trips I took with you, trips to the zoo, New York city, Niagara falls, and just being pregnant with you through the regular routine’s of our life. We even flew out to Washington with your brother Elijah. You were right there with me for my first big speaking engagement. It’s fitting that I was speaking on encouraging women in the Lord. My prayer is that your story will bring encouragement and hope to many women throughout my life.

There are so many things that I hoped to experience with you. I wish we had been able to gaze into each others eyes and meet face to face for the first time.

I wish that you would have flooded our very blue world with pink and purple. Even before we found out you were a girl we were teasing your brothers about the possibility of all the girl toys that would invade their playroom and the girl shows that would be on the tv. They would act so upset! But the truth is they were all wishing it would be true. You see they had prayed for you dear Ava, they had prayed for a baby sister. They were excited about you the second they found out mommy was expecting another baby.

I wish that you would have given me sleepless nights, times for priceless moments with just me and you, quiet moments with me nursing you and rocking you while you fall back to sleep.

I wish that I could have bathed and dressed you. I wish that I could have hugged you and wiped away your tears.

I wish that I could have fought with you over all of the things…

I wish that I could have watched the wonder in your eyes as you discovered your world.

I wish that I could have known your personality and the way you laugh.

I wish that I could have known the fear and pride that parents talk about when they watch their little girl turn into a woman.

I wish that I could have watched your daddy with His little girl. I know you would have brought out a new tender side of him.

I wish that I could have watched him walk you down the aisle someday…

I wish that I could have told you about Jesus and how much He loves you. But that is something you now understand better than your mommy. And that makes me smile and again brings me hope.

There are a thousand things that I long to have experienced with you, and hoped for you.

It’s funny because I will always picture what things would have been like with you in a perfect world. Because from the very beginning things were imperfect.

I will always picture you whole and perfect here. And I will always romanticize what our relationship would have looked like and how you would have fit into our family and who you would have grown up to be.

I know things would never have been as perfect as I picture them.

But in so many ways imagining the perfect relationship is so fitting for us. Because someday when I meet you there on the other side of death, our relationship will be perfect. It will be more perfect than any romanticized version of us I could have imagined. With Jesus, with the Lord where there is no more sin. No more darkness. We will be both be perfect and I will enjoy getting to know you and being with you forever.

Ava Hope-   I love your name little girl. Ava means bird, and it also means life.

Living Hope-   Your name is a reminder of the living hope we have because of Jesus. Just thinking about your name brings me comfort.

There is sorrow in this life, but with the Lord there is a greater hope little one. And I am clinging to that.

I am clinging to the foundational truth of God’s word and the hope that it gives me.

I love you Ava Hope. And I will miss you until we meet again someday.

 

Your Mommy

 

 

 

 

 

 

Weak

Weak…

This is not a word that we like to use when describing ourselves. It’s not a word that lifts me up and brings me encouragement. It’s not a word that propels me forward through the day. In fact, if you really reach down to the bottom of how I would prefer to associate that word, I would rather use it to label other things, situations or sometimes even people.

Using the word weak to describe something outside myself, well, it can give me a false sense of feeling stronger in the face of my own weakness.

Weak…  I’ve felt weak a lot in the past months. I mean don’t get me wrong I’ve been aware of so many of my struggles and weaknesses forever. But the past months have just taken a big fat, squeaky, bright highlighter to them. The glare is blinding. They cannot be ignored.

When I found out about having our 6thbaby I felt weak. How am I going to be enough for all these children? How am I going to do this?

When I found out about Ava’s diagnosis. After the shock abated a little bit, and the reality of the situation started to settle in, I wanted nothing more than to get off this train. Get back to where I planned on having a healthy baby in the spring. I wanted to stop sitting in the unknowns.

“Can I go back in time? Can I just start this whole thing over and hope for a different outcome?”

Of course, the answer to this is no.

This is my precious baby girl. This is where I am. With her. Our weaknesses exposed together. I can do nothing on my own to fix this.

I felt so weak.

I felt weak as fear would creep in at unexpected times during the day and then also at expected times like when I went to the doctor’s appointments.

I felt weak in the face of one of my biggest fears…losing a baby, a child. And in turn preparing and attending Ava’s memorial.

I felt weak when I didn’t want to get out of bed some mornings, some afternoons….some days.

I felt weak at the thought of having to go through my normal routines, when I felt like my world had stopped. I felt weak when I needed my world to stop…at least for a while.

The reality of facing my weaknesses at such a raw and real level has been hard… gut wrenchingly hard…

and Beautiful

Here in my utter weakness and brokenness there is Good News. Here, there is gospel that shines bright and lifts me up.

As the simple, elementary, yet oh so true, children’s song ‘Jesus loves me’ says:

“When I am weak, He is strong.”

I am weak, but my God is Strong!

When I felt fear and inadequacy at having a 6thchild. When I knew I couldn’t be enough, I was reminded that God is enough. He is strong. And He will give me what I need for the days ahead. And often this doesn’t mean it all falls on me. I have an amazing husband who parents alongside me. And other people in our family’s life that also love on my children, encourage me as a mom and a wife.

When I struggled with fear and wanting to give up after Ava’s diagnosis, God reminded me that she is His child first and foremost. And he has entrusted me to carry and take care of her. And through that truth He gave me peace, a peace that doesn’t make sense.

And He gave me joy. Joy that I do get to carry her right now. And joy in being reminded that He carries me. It’s hard to convey how it feels to be ‘carried’ by the Lord in a place of such deep hardship. All I can say about that right now is, it is true.

As I expressed in my last post(Ava Hope), God was with me every step of my terrifying and hard trip to the doctor’s office and hospital. He was with me through her delivery and goodbye.

When faced with the reality of losing a baby, the phrase “hurts like hell” is accurate. However, with the Lord I am not filled with suffocating despair.

I grieve with hope.

In facing one of my biggest fears God has never been absent. Some days I didn’t do much but grieve in my bed. And that’s ok, it was healthy and needed. I may still have some of those days. But God has given me new strength and mercies each morning, to face the day in the capacity that was needed. Some days the pain wasn’t so much, and some days it felt like more than I could bare. But God gave me what I needed for each of them. This is still ongoing and true.

Now let me add a “Life is real in the Stenberg house” story here:

I finally had enough courage to sit down and rip off whatever band aid I had plastered on. I was ready to write Ava a letter. Obviously she is gone, but I needed it.

So here I am, I’m writing, I’m crying,… I look like a mess. Facing this hurts in a healthy way, it feels good to do this. In the middle of writing the letter, I hear a knock on the door. It’s an older man and a young guy. I peek out the window and see their truck. These guys have been working on getting our furnace fixed. Not too long ago they ordered a part and told us it wouldn’t be showing up for a couple more weeks….It came early.

I open the door say hello, and let them in. Those poor guys. They couldn’t have been more uncomfortable after taking a look at my face. They sheepishly explained that the part to the furnace came in faster than expected and they were here to replace it. “We will be done quickly” they said.  And they were, they ducked out of my house so fast after they were done! I thought about giving them a simple explanation, but really, I couldn’t come up with anything that would make things less awkward! I am just left to laugh about it now.

OK back to the letter and memorial.

While getting ready for the memorial we had so much help and support. We are so thankful for all the people that made a very hard day, as easy as it could be. It takes a village and ours loved on us that day and the days surrounding. It was a good day and good day in our process of healing.

Daniel sang and played a special song at the memorial and he also gave the message. I shared the letter I wrote to Ava.

We did not know if we were going to be able to make it through what we had planned. In fact, we had a backup plan in the event of an emotional meltdown! I didn’t know how I was going to get up there and share my letter without falling apart. I felt so very weak and afraid of facing that day.

But when I am weak, He is strong.

God’s peace and strength carried us up there, God’s peace and strength transcended all the difficulties, fears and the tears that threatened to take over. Because there were tears, but they didn’t take over. God’s peace and strength carried us through the service through the day.

I wish I could explain to you the feeling of being upheld by God that day, sharing about my girl and the hope we have in the midst of sorrow because of our Lord and Savior. But there are really no words to convey what it feels like when God is carrying you.

God’s message of His love shined that day.

And God’s peace and strength are still carrying us through.

I am no “super Christian”.

I have no “super faith”.

This process has been so hard and messy.

But God is rich in His mercy, grace and provision for all of His children that have faith in Jesus.

This is good news for all of us! Because He desires all of us to be His children.

He desires to carry all of us, and to be a stronghold in times of hardship, hurt and fear.

Whatever the situation now or to come. Take heart because God is enough.

 When we are weak, He is Strong.

 

2 Corinthians 12:9-10
And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. 10 Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.
 

 

Ava Hope

 

 

 

I’m finally ready to sit down and write, finally ready to walk through those days surrounding actually losing Ava. It’s one thing to walk through them over and over in your mind. It’s something very different to actually sit down and type them out.

To relive it.

About a week or so before I lost Ava, I was finally starting to feel her move. I had felt her earlier, but it’s hard to tell, when baby is so tiny, if those fluttering movements are baby, or just gas! But now I could actually tell that she was moving and kicking. It was a bitter sweet place to be at the time. Even though I loved feeling her move, it would often bring tears to my eyes knowing that I would most likely have to say goodbye. Yet, as I look back now, I really only remember the sweetness of feeling her alive like that, and those memories are ones I cherish.

That Friday before she was gone, I had “a bee in my bonnet”. I wanted to get some things in order that had been on my “to do” list but hadn’t taken priority. I saw that Ikea was having their winter sale, so Daniel, myself, and the two youngest boys headed off for the maze of Swedish furniture, with a side of temptation. We found what we were looking for and this enabled me to get our spare bedroom set up with an actual bed and good sheets, and comforter. There were also some other organizational items that I was able to set up as well. Anything to make life easier, right?

Then over the next few days we started getting our lives back in order after the craziness of Christmas. On Tuesday night Daniel and I finished getting the guest bedroom in order. Little did I know what a blessing it would be to have that done that night.

Now I knew for sure I had felt Ava move on Friday evening, but by the end of Saturday I wasn’t sure I had felt her move at all that day. And then Sunday came and went, again I wasn’t sure I had felt her move that day either. She was small, and smaller still due to her T18, so it was hard to tell if she had just shifted to a place where it was harder to feel her movement or if she was gone. I had a doctor’s appointment scheduled for that Wednesday, so I knew I would find out for sure by then. But at this point God was just instilling peace in my heart, and I was feeling fairly optimistic. On Monday night, I did tell Daniel I couldn’t be sure if I had felt her move since Friday. He made sure he could come with me to my doctor’s appointment.

I honestly didn’t know what to expect going into that day. I went over questions to ask the doctor, like: “should I transfer to a hospital that deals with high risk babies?” And so on… There are a lot of unknowns and questions to go over with T18.

At my doctor’s here in NJ, instead of just listening for the heartbeat they actually have a little ultrasound machine in the room. It’s not as detailed, or precise, as the ones at the hospital, but you can still see your little one on the screen.

Even going into it knowing she could be gone, nothing prepares you for the silence.

The doctor ran the wand over my belly and I looked at our little one and she was so still. She was probably my most active baby in my ultrasounds, more so than any of the boys. So, seeing her there so still, I knew she was gone. The doctor, I think tried to shield us from it for the minutes she was looking for baby’s heart.

But we knew.

She then ushered us into her office and we discussed, through tears “what now?” She told us she was sending us to the Maternal Fetal department at the hospital to have another ultrasound to confirm that our little one was gone.

That day we were planning to find out Ava’s gender regardless of the outcome. We had the doctor write it down in an envelope. Then made what felt like a long trip to the van, and Daniel and I opened it together…. ‘Female’ it read.

Ava Hope.

That’s when the flood of tears came for both of us. The ugly cry you just can’t stop even if you wanted too. But we didn’t want to. There was a wonderful and horrible release of emotions in that moment. Finally getting to truly mourn the child we loved, the little girl we had wanted and prayed for. The time of hoping we would meet her had past, and we could truly mourn her at last.

I think we both had felt in our hearts at some point during my pregnancy that she was a girl. But the full weight of everything hit so hard. How do you prepare for the freight train of loss?

We then drove to the hospital and went for the second ultrasound, where they confirmed that she was, indeed, gone and had been gone for a few days. The reality of “Yes, the last time I felt her move was that Friday.”

Now, I had to check in to the maternity area. I looked at my still baby on the screen while laying on that bed and just felt overwhelmed. I can’t do this, I can’t check in and go deliver my stillborn little girl.

But God’s presence is never absent.

When I despair, the Lord reminds me that He is indeed right there. He knew what we would be encountering that day, He knew the overwhelming emotions that would come, and the difficulty I was feeling at facing the next 24 hours, or even in the next 10 minutes.

That still small voice was whispering to me “One step at a time, literally just focus on one physical step at a time.” I am not alone, the Lord is my strength, the Lord is carrying me.

I delivered Her at 1:15 am on January 10, 2019.

She would have been 21 weeks that day. I won’t go into the details of the actual delivery. It was very much just like a normal vaginal delivery, that I’ve had with my other boys. Except it was easier.  In some ways, it was really nice that is was easier, and in other ways it will always break my heart that it was easier.

The nurses took her and cleaned her up then brought her to me in her blankets. It was beautiful to hold my, light as a feather, little girl in my arms. She was 8 ½ inches long and weighed 8 ounces. She was so light because she was only 20 weeks but also from the T18 she was small. I wasn’t sure what was heavier, my little girl, or the blankets she rested in.

We got to hold her, take some pictures, and talk to her even though it was obvious she was already whole with the Lord.

It was a blessing to say goodbye in a tangible way.

The newborn photographer does pictures for free for babies that are stillborn or that die shortly after birth. She came in and took some photos for us. The social worker came in and talked to us about funeral homes and the process of paperwork and our different options on what we would like to do with her body. Those are things you never want to have to go over for your baby. But I’m so thankful the social worker was so helpful and sensitive to our situation.

In fact, all the staff we encountered at the hospital was wonderful and caring. They even had a memory box for our little Ava. So many things I would have had put together at a later date, I didn’t have to worry about because the hospital had it covered.

I delivered Ava at a Catholic hospital, where they offer to have a pastor come and visit you in these hard situations. Pastoral care was not something we lacked. Pastor Warren visited us both days I was in the hospital, and brought some encouragement and Bible verses at the behest of President Larson. Pastor Aage also visited us, and we had offers from other pastor friends to stop by, but we just weren’t in the hospital long enough for everyone to visit us.

I remember the nurse asking “Well, I know your husbands a pastor and you have had two pastors come and visit you, but I have to let you know that we have a pastor here who can also come and see you…” I chuckled.  “Thank you, Um, I think I’m good.” I am surrounded by pastoral encouragement. And I state that in the most thankful way possible.

It’s been such a blessing to have so many wonderful people surround us with their encouragement, support and prayers during this time. We are so very thankful for God’s hand of encouragement through all of you.

I think the hardest thing I had to do through the whole thing was call the nurse to take Ava’s body, after we had said goodbye. I feel like I sat on the bed forever knowing it was time and working up the courage to really let go physically. Death takes over so quickly, it was time to let her body go.

I left the hospital that afternoon. It’s so hard to be at the hospital without a baby. So many things were reminding me of all the healthy children I had given birth to in rooms just like that one. So many things reminding of me of what would be like in a perfect world with Ava. But our world is not perfect, it’s broken from sin…and so I went home with no baby in my arms.

Though life may have long moments of sorrow, there is still joy.

I went home and got to hug my other “babies”( boys actually) that are still with us. Man does Elijah give the best hugs. Nothing starts mending a broken heart like a one year old squeezing your neck and slobbering your cheek.

Emily, Daniel’s sister, came to stay with us for about two weeks and help. The guest bedroom and house were ready since we had gotten things in order without even realizing how much it would help in the coming week. Emily was a huge help with everything, and it was so nice to have someone to love on the boys. Daniel and I didn’t have much left right after getting home. We didn’t have much left for weeks after getting home.

I’m glad Daniel got those weeks. Our church family was so supportive, letting him grieve at home without the having the burden of work. Pastor Aage was so gracious in covering the pulpit for those weeks. Andrew Little and the crew organizing Jr. High Winter Weekend were a blessing, in releasing Daniel from his speaking engagement on one of those weekends. We needed time to grieve as a family, and we were given it.

It takes a village, and our village took care of us so well. Between the food that was dropped off, the prayers that were felt, the flowers that were delivered, and the love that was poured all over us, we felt loved and cared for, and we are so appreciative of our friends and family across this continent, and our friends and family right here in Bergenfield.

There is so much still to write. But for now, I will leave it with just her delivery story.

As I said before I do not grieve without hope. Ava Hope is healed and whole now. We are the ones left to be healed.

And the Lord is healing us. We have good days and bad days. But God’s presence is here and carrying us through it all.

 

Psalm 30:11-12

You have turned for me my mourning into dancing;
you have loosed my sackcloth
and clothed me with gladness,

that my glory may sing your praise and not be silent.
O Lord my God, I will give thanks to you forever!