Going On A Year (March 2010)

For some reason, as our babies’ birthday approaches I have been thinking a lot about one of my crazy, random memories from last year. After our loss, it took me a few weeks to go back to the nursing home for one of my afternoon visits. I was nervous about going back. They had all been so excited about the twins, feeling my tummy and asking the same questions over and over. I kind of hoped that they wouldn’t remember that I had been pregnant. Some of them did. I went to visit one of my friends, down on the lower level. As soon as she saw me she threw out her arms and enveloped me in one of her hugs. All she did was hold me very tight and cry out, “Oh, Oh!” Better than words, her cries echoed the misery in my heart.

And then she told me that she had lost a baby when she was young. With those few words she bridged the gap of generations, speaking to me mother to mother and giving me permission to grieve as long as it hurt. 50 some years had past since her tragedy and she was still hurting.

Why is it that those moments with her are still comforting to me nearly a year later? Maybe because it does still hurt – a lot. And sometimes it hurts all over again – a fresh wound where a scar is trying to form. I love that precious old woman for looking back at me, over the chasm of so many years and bearing witness to a mother’s pain – not with words that often fail but with cries and tears.

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Wednesday (March 2010)

They say New York City has reached the 60s. I am only a little bitter. When I was there we had 16 inches of snow dumped on us. I kept insisting that it wasn’t my fault but no one seemed to believe me. The low point was trudging through miles of snow between train trips to reach the Cloisters. I have wanted to see the Unicorn Tapestries for years and I was determined it was going to happen. I am pleased to report that even with wet feet and chilled insides it was still worth it. Art like this used to be the stuff of life in Britain and is now an oasis in the middle of suburban America. It fed my soul.

I also got to see my beloved roomie for the first time in years. Who can believe we’re approaching the tenth year since graduation not from high school but from college! We packed a lot of chat into a few hours and I finally laid eyes on her sweet boys.

And, in the grand tradition of our family, a whole lot of drama was introduced when my sister-in-law, Darcee, and my sister, Courtney, had their babies only a day apart from each other. Anastasia and Charlie are now of course destined for marriage. And I, the older sister, look on in amazement as they become mommies, with strains of “Sunrise, Sunset” echoing in my head.

But most of the moments in NYC were spent buried deep in John and Vangie’s underground bunker – I mean, apartment – getting to know my new niece. We admired and analyzed, wondering how to get her to sleep better and why she wasn’t eating more. And of course the answer was always that she just needed to be held and rocked a little bit longer by her Auntie Bryonie.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, we are learning the Adoption Dance. It’s called the “Hurry up and Wait.” We did the Hurry a few weeks ago and didn’t have much time to master the steps. Now we’re working on the Wait, which isn’t as fun, and is more difficult. Last night over dinner Josh clinked his glass of red against my white and said, “Here’s to Wednesday Grace.” And that’s all I get today. I’m told that’s all I need. Sometimes I believe it.

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Sunrise (February 2010)

Josh is preaching through Deuteronomy on Sunday evenings. The theme of this great book emerges over and over and over. It is God alone with whom you have to do. God alone who saves. God alone who demands total and constant devotion from His children. God alone who guides and keeps them from birth until death and beyond. And because He is God He will accomplish His purposes for His children. And because He is God His purposes are always loving and good.

In my darkest moments my wonderful husband has reminded me that it is the Lord who controls the waves of my sorrow. “This far you shall come and no farther.” God had work to do in me that could only be accomplished by pain and not one tear was outside His control and His grace.

It always seemed to me that the lifting of my darkness would be accompanied by the one thing I have desperately prayed for – pregnancy. Once that was granted His work would be done and I could move on to a happier life.

But it isn’t only pain that accomplishes His purposes. I am discovering that He has other purposes for me that are accomplished through joy. He has not given me pregnancy. In its place He has filled my heart with an insatiable desire to adopt and that desire is sweet to me. Surely He could have brought us to adoption out of desperation – a longing for children and a last ditch effort to fulfill that longing.

He didn’t. He denied our prayers and then removed the bitterness of His denial. Then, heaping blessing upon blessing, filled our hearts with the glory and beauty of adoption and set us on a completely new path. I look back on the last few weeks and it is crystal clear that my merciful Father has my heart in His hands and is accomplishing His purposes for me with joy and hope.

I love the Lord for His intimate knowledge of His children and His perfect purposes that are always exactly what we need. My tears still come and the familiar hurt often throbs when I remember what I had and what I lost. But I am learning that my heart has room for both sorrow and joy.

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2010 (January 2010)

To call our Christmas holiday a whirlwind makes the whirlwind seem like a calm oasis of peace. Normal people usually spread out the most important events of life so there is time to savor each one. Not my family! I welcomed a new niece into the world a week and a half before I gained a new sister. Oh yeah, and we celebrated Christmas too.

John and Vangie’s sweet baby girl is safely home and gaining ounces like crazy. The newlyweds are safely back from Jamaica and preparing for a move to St Louis. And Josh and I are safely returned from Tacoma, a little worse for wear, but full of happy memories. (By the way, don’t tell him I told you, but my dear hubby debuted as a rap star at a certain rehearsal dinner. Note to self: “Gangsta’s Paradise” is best left to the gangstas.)

So we are launched into 2010. I know that we’re not the only ones who are relieved to see the end of 2009. Seeing dear friends in Tacoma reminded me all over again that mine is not the only pain that was born last year. For some 2009 means good and joy and smiles. For others it will forever mean sorrow and darkness.

I have developed this little habit over the years that has, for some reason, become quite the ritual. Every year at Christmas my mom gives me a new calendar. She picks something that will give me pleasure in the year to come. One year it was pictures of Italy where Josh and I had just spent some of the happiest days of our lives. One year it was Paris, which will always represent personal discovery and much joy to me. And last year it was Scotland, our home for many wonderful months. The picture for April was a giant double rainbow over our beloved Isle of Skye.

So, I unwrap the new calendar. I take the old one off the wall. In the new one I record the birthdays and events that I want to remember, and then, with a touch of melodrama, hang it up and put the old one away. There has been, every year, a feeling of expectation as that new calendar goes up.

This year was different. The new one went up with a battle in my heart. A battle against worry and fear. As much as I would wish it, there is no guarantee that the Lord will give me what I want this year. There is no promise that desires will be fulfilled and wounds will be healed.

But there exist greater promises that have stood the test of years. Josh preached a New Year’s sermon while we were in Tacoma. He closed with what has become one of our favorite quotes, which is now echoing in my heart these January days. These are the words of King George VI, the Christmas Eve after WWII was over.

“I said to the man at the gate of the year, ‘Give me a light that I may walk safely into the unknown.’ He said to me, ‘Go out into the darkness, and put your hand into the hand of God, and it shall be to you better than the light and safer than the known.’”

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Christmas Greetings (December 2009)

Josh and I aren’t sending out Christmas cards this year. But I do want to say thank you to all you wonderful people who read this blog. I am grateful for you. Josh and I love your comments. Thank you for being a witness to our life. So many people tell me that they don’t know what to say, that they don’t know how to help us. I understand! But I have realized over these last months that what we need the most are friends who are willing to “go there.” Friends who will be witnesses to God’s work in our lives: not interpreting God’s work, but graciously witnessing it, acknowledging its heartbreak, its pain, its darkness and, somehow, still believing on our behalf. This is a precious gift.

My head is full of half-baked ideas these Advent days. I think of Jesus, the God-man, lying helpless, being cared for by his mother, and I wonder if He knew yet all the sorrow that awaited Him. When did it come? That moment of realization that He was headed toward the Cross. Did it wash over Him suddenly one day in all its stark horror, or did it come on gradually as He matured? And did He ever wonder if He would be able to continue faithful?

Josh quoted Robert Browning in a recent sermon. “Faith is perpetual unbelief kept quiet.” He was preaching on Christian courage as faith, pure and simple. Recently I remembered Jesus’ illustration of the mustard seed and I felt the truth of it keenly. That’s all I have! A mustard seed faith – and there are powerful forces of fear and unbelief that threaten to consume it. God is mighty to save. He can do great things with my mustard seed. I am grateful for Christmas and the reminder that Jesus is Emmanuel, “God with us.”

That glorious Form, that Light unsufferable and that far-beaming blaze of Majesty, Wherewith He wont at Heaven’s high counsel-table, To sit the midst of Trinal Unity. He laid aside; and here with us to be, Forsook the courts of Everlasting Day, And chose with us a darksome house of mortal clay.

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Simplicity Costs Everything (November 2009)

This morning, over coffee, I came across this from T.S. Eliot. What does it mean to be a Christian?

“A condition of complete simplicity/ (Costing not less than everything).”

I was astonished at the resounding response I felt in my heart when I read those words and it took me just a bit to figure out why I responded so powerfully.

It has been eight months since our twins entered their rest. The grief I feel over their loss seems only to increase, and, added to it, is what often feels like a crippling fear of the future. It is a strange thing to face what has not yet come and, instead of hope, feel the gnaw of dread. It saps me of strength, and, even worse, eats away at my faith. I can feel the fiery darts of the Evil One: “How will you bear what might be coming?” And, just as he wants me to, I succumb to his whispers, feeling that I will not make it and my faith will surely fail – if not today then tomorrow.

Between grief over what has happened and fear of what will happen I find myself unable to press forward in the present. My faith is weak and faltering. My resolve fails.

When I read those words this morning I knew what Eliot might have meant. Simplicity is living only and always in the moment. It is the faith that says, “I will trust God now.” It means refusing to think about the future but bringing all the force of my will to bear upon “this moment” – not next week, not tomorrow, not even an hour from now, but NOW. Faith is only this present minute. This is all I have to believe – that God is with me now. My whole existence is reduced to the smallest and simplest thing: “Yes, Lord, I believe you now.”

Or, as Another said, “Do not be anxious about tomorrow.”

“I search my heart – I search, and find no faith. Hidden he may be in its many folds – I see Him not revealed in all the world. Duty’s firm shape thins to a misty wraith. No good seems likely. To and fro I am hurled. I have to stay. Only obedience holds – I haste, I rise, I do the thing He saith.”

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The Seasons of Hillside (October 2009)

If it were up to my hubby our babies would have been buried on our church property. I think it would be wonderful to go to worship every Lord’s Day with a poignant reminder of those who now worship perfectly in Heaven.

But it didn’t seem right to violate city zoning laws so we found Hillside, a lovely, old cemetery to the north of Minneapolis. A couple in our church told us about it. They buried their little boy there less than a year before. So we have a Good Shepherd congregation in miniature – a microcosm of our church – in that beautiful spot. I love to visit all three babies when I go – a reminder that even in our little church there is grief other than my own.

It’s a strange thing that the liturgy of our lives now includes visits to a cemetery. I’ve spent a lot of time in cemeteries, but it’s always been as a casual observer, wondering who the names represent, admiring the stones. Now there is a piece of me underneath a gravestone, bearing two names that Josh and I chose. If there are flowers there it’s because we brought them. Others may notice or admire it when they walk by, but that sacred spot is mine. It represents the sorrow and loss in my life. And the hope. It’s the one place where my babies are, that bears their names. God has forever changed my reality and that tiny plot at Hillside is the only earthly proof.

In April the thaw was just beginning and all was dead and brown. Then the spring and summer came and it was lush and green. Now is my favorite time – the trees are ablaze with wonderful color. This last visit with dear friends from St Louis was after the stakes had been placed in the ground, next to each plot. Soon it will all be buried in snow and there will only be a stake to show us where our loved ones are. But underneath all that snow they will still be there and the stone will still say: “Awaiting the Resurrection.”

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All The Time (September 2009)

At Covenant College I learned to say, “God is good. All the time. All the time. God is good.” I’m not sure where it came from or how it started but it was part of our college liturgy so much so that now, whenever I hear someone say, “God is good,” I want to respond, “All the time.”

I spent the Labor Day weekend with dear friends, several of whom have also faced severe trial. We talked often about what it means to affirm that God is good. If we really do believe that He is good and that, being God, He is unchangeable, then He is good no matter what He sends. I find I have this habit of saying, “God was so gracious,” or “Wasn’t God good?” whenever things go the way I want them to. I don’t suppose it’s wrong to say such things – the Lord DOES give good gifts to His children. But, do I also say, “God was good,” when my desires are denied or when He fills my heart with pain?

I read A Grief Observed by C.S. Lewis soon after we lost our twins. He wrote it after losing his wife. It is not for the faint of heart. He wrestles with his pain with such intensity that it often took my breath away. And this idea of the goodness of God is primarily what he wrestles with. In typical Lewis fashion he states his proposition: either God is a cosmic sadist and loves to see His children suffer OR He is good and the suffering that He sends is absolutely necessary. In other words, if God is good then the pain that we endure is essential to us and there is no other way. We know, after all, that “He does not willingly afflict or grieve the children of men.” Or, as another author put it, “It is His strange work, not His natural delight.”

These thoughts have been balm for my soul – admitting that what I am currently undergoing is necessary for me. There is no point in rebelling against it. There is no other way.

But there is another side to this coin. If God, in His goodness, will continue cutting away at me, consuming my dross and refining my gold, then I have no guarantee that the pain will stop. It will only stop when the work is finished. I have never been afraid of God BECAUSE of His goodness, but I am now. I fear His goodness that will do its necessary work in me, no matter how painful it is, no matter how hard I plead for Him to stop.

Or, as Lewis so aptly put it, “What do people mean when they say, ‘I am not afraid of God because I know He is good?’ Have they never even been to a dentist?”

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I lift up my eyes to the hills (August 2009)

It’s always hard to leave a place that means everything happy and secure, and it’s increasingly difficult to leave the fellowship of my family. But, in the days since we have returned home, I have realized how much the Lord gave us with this time away. I have never before felt the peace and quiet of that place as I did. I have never taken so much pleasure in watching Josh completely unwind.

Towards the end of our vacation our eighth anniversary, my due date for our twins and my 30th birthday all passed in quick succession. Those were hard days for me and I was glad to celebrate my birthday quietly, without any pomp. I wonder what my 30s will bring. My 20s certainly didn’t play out as I expected.

The word that has been sounding in my mind over and over these last weeks is helpless. I don’t mean helpless in the sense that I am without help. I mean helpless in the sense that I have no power of my own to accomplish anything that I desire. I have this mental image in my mind of being wholly in the hand of God, weak and unable. I think of Ebenezer and Hannah when they were in the womb. They were helpless – entirely dependent on me to nurture them and give them life. And when I couldn’t do that, they died. But it really wasn’t I who gave them life and sustained them. It was only God all the time. God who gave them life and God who took it away. And I am no less helpless than they were. I cannot preserve my life. I cannot fulfill my desires. I cannot bring about joy in my heart. I cannot make myself like Jesus. I have nothing: no virtue, no power, no strength. I do not know what my future holds. And if I did know I could do nothing to change it or to bring it about. God alone gives and God alone takes away. God alone gives life and sustains it and then ends it when it is time.

These thoughts aren’t new, of course, but never before have I felt their poignancy. Never before have I felt so entirely without strength – so vulnerable – before God.

But then, if it is God alone who has the power then I know where my hope is. My hope for the preservation of my faith; my hope for strength each day and my hope for the future. All I have is prayer. That is my only weapon – my only recourse – my only source of strength. To pray with all one’s heart while humbly submitting to whatever answer God will give…I have neither courage nor humility, but both are required of me.

“As servants watch their master’s hand, or maidens by their mistress stand, So to the Lord our eyes we raise until His mercy He displays.”

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Signing Off…for just a bit (July 2009)

We’re headed to the Rockies, and the best vacation spot in the world for a whole lovely month. We are looking forward to long walks, much reading and most of all quiet. The kind of quiet that sinks way down deep into your bones and restores health and peace. There is nothing like the mountains for quiet. I love how God gives His children such beauty, making holy use of it to refresh and strengthen. That is what we’re praying and hoping for.

Meanwhile, the prevailing thought in my mind recently is that God is a sustaining God. I remember an email that a friend sent, shortly after we lost Ebenezer and Hannah. She had been through a similar tragedy, several years previous, and wrote to express sympathy and grief. The thing that has come back to me over and over, especially recently, is her comment that God would sustain me. She was quoting from Psalm 55: “Cast your burden on the Lord, and he will sustain you; he will never permit the righteous to be moved.”

At the time it didn’t seem particularly amazing. I knew in my mind that it was true. But I was only entering my new world of darkness and I knew very little about it. Now, three months later, further along this lonely and difficult road, I know for certain that God is sustaining me. I know that it is His power and His strength keeping my faith firm and my spirit from sinking. He is a sustaining God. He sends trials and pain, but He gives the strength to bear them. He bears me in His powerful arms as I struggle under this strange and new burden.

C. S. Lewis says that it is one thing to call a rope strong when it is used to tie up a box. It is something else entirely when that rope is the only thing keeping you from falling to your death. I am testing the strength of that rope. And it is holding strong. I will not fall.

“The eternal God is your dwelling place, and underneath are the everlasting arms.” (Deuteronomy 33: 27)

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