Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Loss, Again.

Monday, June 19

We found out we were expecting our third sweet baby on Mother's Day, and we buried that baby next to his or her brother, Levi, yesterday...Father's Day (as if Father's Day wasn't already going to be difficult enough this year).  We're plain wrung out, my friends.  Wrung.out.

Oh, Judah Ellis, you were and are dearly loved...our little ray of sunshine that broke through the dark clouds.  I looked for a name that would work for either gender and be a testimony to the objective truth about God, regardless of how we feel in our grief over losing our baby.  Although the name "Judah" is most frequently used for boys, I feel it is a great girl name as well.  But most importantly, it means "praise, thanksgiving."  God is deserving of infinite praise, worthy of our giving Him thanks, even when terrible, unimaginable things happen to us in this fallen, broken world.  Actually, it's probably most important and most glorifying to our Savior when we hurt so badly we can't imagine going on living, breathing, and yet we choose to thank Him, praise Him.  This is when the rubber meets the road, and we lift up the "sacrifice of praise."  Yes, my friends...right now, it is a sacrifice, an offering out of an aching, confused, angry, bleeding heart.  It hurts to offer it.  It's the "hard eucharisteo" (giving thanks) that Ann Voskamp talks about in her book, One Thousand Gifts.  I don't want to offer it most of the time.  Most of the time, I want to (and do) scream out of my frustration, pouring out my angst and pain before my Father, my Father whom I know could have prevented Levi and Judah's early deaths....and yet, He did not.  We're struggling, wrestling with our Sovereign God, whom we begged daily for protection over little Judah.  But, in spite of how it looks, in spite of how we feel, we know for sure that God is good, worthy of praise.  He is our Father, who sent His only son, Jesus Christ, to save us, to redeem us, to give us hope, to set us free, to overcome this broken, fallen world so that we may live...and not just now, but forever.

Which brings me to the baby's middle name:  Ellis.  "Ellis" means "my God is the Lord."  The truth is that it is easy to say Jesus is Lord of my life in the easy, happy times.  He gives me what I desire, and I do my best to follow where He leads.  Win, win.  But when it gets hard...really, incredibly, indescribably hard to accept God's Lordship is when you are taken down a long, painful road of suffering.  When you lose two precious babies to death...  Can I still accept His Lordship then?  His authority over my life?  Do I really want Him to be in control after what He has allowed to happen to us?  After reaching out in faith, conceiving Judah, and fearing every moment of every day that I would lose him or her, and submitting those fears time after time, choosing to trust in His unfailing love...only to begin to bleed....and yet still holding onto hope that surely He would have mercy and rescue us, rescue my baby....only to have my tiny rays of hope crushed in the ER waiting room bathroom...  Where are you, God, and why would you allow this?  Again?  For a couple of weeks, I was unable to bend the knee, to accept His Lordship and sovereignty in my life and in the life of my babies.  I can't even say that I am fully there yet.  But, my sweet child is with Him now, and I know Judah Ellis would grab me by the shoulders and say, "Mama, bend the knee.  Accept that Jesus is Lord, even though you lost me.  He is worthy.  He knows all, never makes a mistake, never forgets you, never stops loving you, always cares for you, always hears your cries, always knows the end of the story where He brings you home to be with us forever.  Don't lose heart, Mama.  He's not gonna let you go."  So, for Judah Ellis, I choose to bend the knee.  Jesus, you are Lord.  I don't understand your ways and I am in so much pain and confusion as to why you would let this happen, but still...you are Lord, Lord of my life, Lord of my babies' lives, Lord of the entire universe.  My mind can't grasp the plan you have for me, but I know from Scripture, from the stripped down, blown to shreds, kernel of my soul, that you are my Lord.  I frankly am a hot mess who wants my babies back, who has identified with Job's cry to God wishing he had never even been born, who doesn't shower or cook or clean because the grief is just too heavy, too consuming, who is often a despondent, anxious, depressed nightmare of a person, who aches almost constantly, is envious of others' easier lives, is sinful, ugly, lonely, and scared to death of the future.  Yet, Father, You love me, You understand me.  And You.are.my.Lord.  Author of my story, Master of my fate.

Judah Ellis, Levi Bear, as we walked away from your graves yesterday, I felt that I was leaving pieces of me behind in the cold, wet ground.  My innocence, my optimism, my joy in pregnancy, my hope and overwhelming desire for more children, my naivete, my strength of will, my babies...my precious babies...my years and years of raising and enjoying you.  I'm not sure how it all works up there, but can you go pester Jesus and ask him to fill these gaping holes?  to be strong in my weakness?  to return to me the things that were left behind that he wants me to have?

After we lost Levi, I had a bunch of tests done to rule out lots of things as a possible cause for his death.  Other than the umbilical cord knot, the only test to come back abnormal was a genetic mutation of my MTHFR gene.  My doctor assured me that this didn't have anything to do with his death and, worst case scenario, would necessitate more B vitamins in pregnancy.  Other than that, she said it was very common and relatively harmless.  So, I didn't really look into it.  I always take a B-Complex supplement on top of my prenatals anyway.  But after losing Judah, I did more research on the mutation.  Basically, it is very serious.  It is a relatively new thing to be studied, and there isn't a whole lot of solid research out there.  The medical community disagrees as to the effect of this mutation on pregnancy and health in general, as well as the recommended treatment.  There is no established standard of treatment in the medical community for this...It's basically a "this seems to help" wait-and-see, hold-your-breath-until-that-baby-is-born kind of thing.  People with the MTHFR mutation have an inability to convert synthetic B vitamins into usable form, so there is a higher risk of babies having neural tube defects like anencephaly and spinal bifida, and a host of other issues associated with folate deficiency.  Also, there is evidence of MTHFR mutations causing blood clots in the placenta, baby, and in the mother's body, with higher risk of placental abruption, miscarriage, stillbirth, deep vein thrombosis, and pulmonary embolism.  Sounds lovely, right?  Ugh.  Some doctors don't acknowledge the MTHFR mutation as something needing treatment, others do and treat with seemingly ineffective methods, and others treat it as a very serious, high-risk condition warranting loads of extra monitoring throughout pregnancy as well as aggressive treatment, Lovenox injections daily (blood anticoagulant), baby aspirin, and special B vitamins that are already in their usable form.

Lord, have mercy.  Seriously.

I am absolutely scared to death anyway after losing a babies at 20 and then 7 weeks.  And now, I find that I am a mutant [literally] with higher risk of losing more.  Since I did that research, I've felt like I've suffered another loss...a loss of hope for everything to go just fine next time around....a loss of will to keep trying, to keep trusting.  I know many women feel strongly that they are supposed to have children and they are unable to for one reason or another....So is that strong, overwhelming, even godly desire in us worthy evidence that we are supposed to keep trying to have more children?  I've had people tell me that we should give up, surrender that desire, and be content with what we have.  We are so thankful for Griffin, and if we knew that we weren't supposed to have more children, we would absolutely learn to be content with just him.  But we don't know that.  In fact, we feel the opposite of that.  So, it's not a question of contentment.  It's a question of what God is leading us to do.  What is He asking of us?  I've also had a very few people encourage me to keep pressing on toward the desires God has placed in our hearts...to not give up hope that He has placed them there for a reason.  I've had people say that my strong will is something that God needs to break to get me to submit and accept His purposes for my life.  And I've had a very few that have encouraged me that my strength of will is a God-given blessing, for He knew the losses I would have to suffer, and perhaps...perhaps He gave me this strong will to enable me to keep pressing on, to keep trying, to keep pursuing the biblical desire of my heart to have more children.  After all, is it our job as parents of strong-willed children to break them of their will to force them to submit?...to stamp it out of them day and night until they are pulverized and able to be molded?  Or is it our job to teach our children how to slip the saddle and bridle on that strong will, to train their will to obey when they say "whoa" and run like the wind when they dig the spurs in?  To get them to the place where their will lies smashed and dead within them so they become like zombies or to guide them to a relationship with Jesus where they learn to love the good, to set their wills on pursuit of the good?  Does God want to pulverize my will to get me to obey Him or gently teach me how to bridle my will by loving and romancing me?

I will leave you with a couple things that I have recently learned.  Perhaps they will be helpful to you down the road when you encounter loss in others or in yourself.

-God being with you and comforting you does NOT negate or cancel out suffering and pain.  I had a misconception about Christians and suffering before I went through all of this.  I guess I thought that God's promise to comfort you in your suffering and never leave you meant that Christian suffering wasn't full-on suffering...Christian pain wasn't the full measure of pain that could be felt.  So, when I looked at Christians who were suffering, I thought they had a certain roof on their pain-o-meter, that God would cut it off at a certain point and spare them the full measure.  Did He do this even for his very own beloved Son?  Did the crown of thorns not hurt Jesus as badly as Joe-shmoe?  Or for Paul, were his sufferings less-than because of his faith?  Did he not feel the full measure of the pain in his life?  I think that would sort of rule Jesus, Paul, and all of God's people out of having any authority, understanding, or empathy when it comes to suffering.  We, as believers, participate in the suffering of Christ through our suffering.  Is that just a pseudo-suffering, a numbed suffering?  I doubt it.  Is the Christian battling cancer not going to feel the full amount of pain that the non-Christian would?  I think so.  Otherwise, Christians wouldn't understand suffering at all or have any platform from which to speak to others out of their suffering.  For some reason, God, in His wisdom, has chosen suffering to be a means to grow the church and to strengthen His people.  Anyway, the point is that Christians suffer the full measure of pain that anyone else does in their situation.  The difference is that, as they writhe in agony and cry out between sobs, they know that they are not alone.  God doles out the pain in measures, is there to soothe their wounds, bind up their broken hearts.  The heart breaks....allllllll the way.  But He binds it up.  It's not that Christians don't suffer the full and complete measure...it's that ever with-ness of Jesus, that shield from being broken beyond repair, the hands that hold the shattered pieces of your heart, that hope of redemption, of heaven, of Jesus setting everything right in the end.

-Suffering loss is not just missing your loved one.  Grief affects every single area of your life and is incapacitating.  You can't think right, remember anything, plan ahead, or just do the simplest of tasks like normal.  It's like you are operating on 20% of your normal capacity....like if you didn't sleep 2 nights in a row.  Physically, grief is completely exhausting.  I currently wake up exhausted, usually take a 2 hour nap during Griffin's nap time, sleep all night, and yet spend every single moment of the day in dizzying fatigue.  I'm thankful I'm not struggling with insomnia like I have in the past, though.  Spiritually, grief causes a giant battleground in your soul, wrestling with your beliefs, truths about God, truths about the world, the whys, the feelings that crop up when God allows terrible things to happen to you, to your babies.  The anguish spiritually is enough to distract me from normal activities almost all day long some days.  Because of how diminished your capacity becomes in the wake of loss, all the balls you used to be able to juggle come falling down around you, crashing to the ground.  Financial responsibility/control, keeping an eye on your health (food, exercise, etc.), household responsibilities like meal planning, grocery shopping, cleaning, cooking, etc., having the will to fight the battles that need to be fought with a 2 year old, keeping up with daily, mindless things like showering, remembering to brush your teeth, putting actual outfits on instead of wearing the sweatpants and tshirt you wore to bed....it all gets infinitely more difficult to do to the point where you lose your will to even try.  After Levi, this eventually improved, and by the time I learned of Judah's existence, I was finally getting some of my routine, my will, my ability to get things done back.  I confess that I'm back to the absolute bottom right now after losing Judah.  Losing Judah absolutely knocked the wind out of my sails.  I feel like I got a major punch in the gut and am still sitting here stunned, trying to pull in my first gasp of air.  Y'all it is ug.ly.  Ugly.  Embarrassing.  Sad.  Frustrating.  I was finally starting to gain some little momentum in getting back on track in life and looking ahead to digging in with potty training, taking a stand with Griffin's picky eating, making plans for lifestyle improvements, gym membership, tackling the epic disaster of the guest bedroom [aka. catch-all room], etc.  Instead, I lack all motivation for even the smallest tasks.  I feel completely incapacitated again.  So, as if the loss itself weren't bad enough, it also robs you of health and wellness in most other areas of your life.  Of course, I can imagine that I have some responsibility...I don't think I can place 100% of the blame on my losses.  I've always struggled with self-discipline and routine, but never, ever to this degree.  Quite frankly, I feel that I am failing as a mother, as a wife, as a friend, as a member of my church, as a family member.  I can't say that I don't have any responsibility in that, but I can say that I am broken and severely handicapped from our losses.

Please, please pray for us.  I know many of you have been in prayer for us since losing Levi, and again since learning of my pregnancy with Judah.  I know I asked many of you almost 3 weeks ago to pray for our sweet, little baby...to beg the Lord to sustain his/her life.  I can't understand why the Lord chose not to protect us from more loss, chose not to answer all of our cries by protecting and preserving our baby's earthly life.  But, it comes down to His Lordship.  We don't understand, but He does.  We don't see how prayer makes a difference so much of the time, but He does...and He tells us to pray.  So, please pray for us.  We need healing, direction and wisdom for the future, a gentle return to some normalcy, motivation for life, and protection from the enemy of our souls, whom I can feel prowling around and preying on me as I am most vulnerable, luring me into anxiety, depression, false thoughts, false views of God, jealousy, complacency, drowning and suffocating me with overwhelming fatigue mentally and physically.  Please pray that God would protect and deliver us from these things.  Please pray that He would usher us out of this long season of darkness and pain and into a new, brighter, lovelier season of light and happiness.  We need a break.  But I thought that before we lost Levi, then again after we lost Levi...  So I guess I don't know what we need anymore.  But it seems to my finite mind that we need a break.  A week after we lost Judah, when I was still weak from miscarrying, Griffin came down with hand, foot, and mouth disease, which I think I came down with some bizarre adult version or something.  For a week, we were just good for nothing, laying around, but then we weren't able to go out and about at all because of how contagious it is.  We had to wait until Griffin's sores were healed over.  So, between that and being down to one car again, I have gotten out maybe three times total since we miscarried Judah (counting running errands).  So y'all, I'm losing it.  On top of all that, we're struggling in so many other areas of our lives right now and it just seems like we have no respite, no relief....like we just cannot catch a break.  Please, please pray.

Psalm 13 is on my mind almost all day lately.  Oh, how well it articulates the groans of my soul:

How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?
    How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I wrestle with my thoughts 
    and every day have sorrow in my heart?
    How long will my enemy triumph over me?
Look on me and answer, O Lord my God.
    Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death, 
and my enemy will say, “I have overcome him, 
    and my foes will rejoice when I fall.
But I trust in your unfailing love; 
    my heart rejoices in your salvation. 
I will sing the Lord’s praise,
    for he has been good to me.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

My Mother's Day Gift

How different I thought Mother's Day would be this year, 30 weeks pregnant and living in Michigan.  How much has changed in such a short time.  But I am thankful to be a mother, raising one here on earth and carrying one in heaven in my heart.  The lyrics to a song come to mind, "I will carry you while your heart beats here, long beyond the empty cradle, through the coming years.  I will carry you, all my life, and I will praise the One who has chosen me to carry you."  Although I didn't get to mother Levi in the traditional sense, I surely have and will continue to carry the weight of being his mother, of being the mother to a baby born into heaven.
I got some pictures with my sweet boy...He seems to have changed from a toddler to a little boy in the past few months.
 3 years ago, on Mother's Day, we announced that we were expecting Griffin.

 Little did we know that we would have a new baby to announce this Mother's Day!!
That's right, my friends...  The Lord has seen fit to bless us with new life, and we are so thankful.  On Mother's Day afternoon, I was about to head out to the craft store when I got the crazy idea that maybe the Lord had a special gift for me this Mother's Day.  So, I took a pregnancy test, having no symptoms, and no suspicion of actually being pregnant.  After 30 seconds or so, it looked negative, and off I went to head to the store.  On another whim, I brought the test with me [yes, I know...super weird], but in my defense...the test said to wait 5 minutes before reading the result.  I set the still negative looking test in the cup holder [remind me to clean my cup holder hah] and drove off.  I got a way down the street when I glanced down, and to my shock...A FAINT LINE!  Of course, I called Oliver...no answer.  I think I called him 20 times while I made my trip to Michael's.  Finally, he answered and we both cherished the thought together and planned to have me take another test when I got home.  Sure enough...another faint line!  We shared the news with our moms that day, and began facing head-on the fears.  Being pregnant again, I now know what it feels like to lose, and I, again, have so much to lose.  I am petitioning God like constantly for protection over this baby and for the blessing of being able to raise him or her.  After looking through the pictures we had taken of Griffin and I earlier in the day, I was struck with the urge to include all my children in a Mother's Day picture.  So, here we are...Mama, Griffin, Levi, and the pee stick hahah...ahem...positive test:
 Thank you, Lord, for the blessing of new life, the shafts of hope that are beginning to break through the clouds, the comfort and peace that you have poured into my aching heart.  Thank you for your immeasurably sweet, unexpected gift to me on Mother's Day.  I know that I am not promised a healthy, living baby in 8 months, but I am, only by the work of the Holy Spirit, hopeful.  
 A week later, we visited Levi's grave for the first time since his burial.  
 We cleared off his stepping stone grave marker, and spent some time sitting there under the weeping willows.

He is buried under these weeping willow boughs.
 As I sat there at my baby boy's grave with a new baby growing inside me, I am beginning to see the beauty God is bringing forth out of the ashes of our loss.  This little one would have never existed without Levi having died.  But the reality that I knew intellectually, I now know in my heart:  This baby does not, cannot, and should not replace Levi in any way, nor can he or she fill the void left by our loss.  That, in some ways, will always remain and will yet be filled in other ways only by the fullness of Christ in me.  But I have believed since the day we lost him that a future baby would be a path to healing for me.  I know it will be a very long, very tough 8 months, working through and facing so many giant fears, so much recent trauma, but it is the road that God has set before me.  I will not be alone.  In addition, I know that I will have the prayer support of so many.  I believe in the power, the real, tangible, felt power of prayer now more than ever.  Please be in prayer for us.  We are still grieving and yet we are celebrating.  We're trying to heal and yet already facing many fears...ultrasounds, looking for the heartbeat, etc etc.  I debated whether or not to share our news right away, but we want you all to be with us is this journey, sharing in our joy and hope, and also lifting up the health and safety of our baby and our fears and anxieties throughout this process.  I have some decisions to make right off the bat, like where I will get my prenatal care and deliver.  After the trauma of losing Levi, I am kind of desiring more close monitoring (not that even the closest monitoring could have prevented what happened to Levi) and a NICU right down the hallway if something were to go wrong during birth, but I love my midwife, the prenatal care she gives.  This is a very hard decision for me, and I need wisdom, discernment in what will be best for me and the baby this time around.
I thought I was going to be 30 weeks pregnant on Mother's Day.  Instead, I was 4 weeks pregnant!  As I write this, my sweet, new baby is almost 6 weeks, the size of a lentil, and his/her heart is likely already beating...A beating heart within me again...[sigh]  Thank you, Lord.  May you help baby's heart to continue beating for years and years beyond mine.  
A sweet friend of the family recently sent this cross to us for Levi.  She made one like this for Griffin as well, hand painted and all.  I cried when I opened it...Isn't it beautiful?  I love the symbolism of the seasons.  And I love that she made a cross for him too.  It is so sad to me that he will in this life forever be left out of being included in our family in so many ways, but he will always be a child of ours to us.  So, I love when people include him.  On the back is written Jeremiah 1:5, "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you."  How beautiful.  And I know the Lord knows our new baby too, just as intimately as he knows you and I, even as he is forming him/her in the womb.  I will leave you with one final picture.  My last post was about Griffin comforting me by bringing me my "Levi Bear" teddy bear.  About a week ago, as I was putting Griffin down for bed, he asked for "beebee bayuh mama bed", aka baby bear in mama's bed, and he has wanted to sleep with him ever since.  I love this picture of Griffin snuggling Levi the Teddy Bear during reading time before bed.  Oh how I wish I could take pictures of Griffin with his arm around his baby brother Levi.  In 8 months, Lord willing, I will be able to take my first sibling pictures.  Please, Father.

Thursday, May 10, 2012


Today was one of those days where you stub your toe a jillion times, drop everything, cry uncontrollably, get summoned to jury duty, have your phone start calling random numbers whilst sitting untouched on the table, make several, unintentional, enormous messes, have one computer glitch after another, can't seem to get anything done, almost get hit in a parking lot, forget the one thing you went to the store for and have to go back but are then 3 pennies short, grab more food at the grocery store than you have money in your account to pay for and have to leave half of it sitting on the conveyor belt [sorry sweet Walmart lady...I am so ashamed], and YES....that ALL happened today.  ALL.  Total, complete frustration, folks.  Total, complete frustration.

But in the midst of me making a crazy, crying, hot mess of myself, my sweet little boy comes to see about the crying in the bathroom.  He has always been so very concerned with the emotions of people around him, especially me.  He sees me there, head buried in hands, and quietly goes and gets a stuffed turtle out of his room to give me.  I thank him, but the tears still stream.  And he goes off again, this time into my room to bring me the teddy bear a sweet friend made for me at Build-a-Bear and named "Levi Bear."  I sleep with him every night in the crook of my otherwise empty arm.  Griffin knows that teddy bear is special to me, so he brings me my bear and hugs me long, looking tenderly up at my face every now and then.  I wish I could always hold it together for him, but then again, I want him to know that it is okay to feel, to express, to be open, to share the struggles of life with God, family and friends.  Sometimes I'm so sad that my little 2 year old has to be saddled with a grieving mother, like he's too little to be the one doing the comforting.  But he hands me Levi the teddy bear, and hugs, and says, "Mama cweye [cry].  Beebee bayuh [baby bear].  Beebee Weeveye [baby Levi].  Beebee."  [sigh]  This is sweetness itself.  Only God knows how much he understands/can comprehend of all this, but he does know that when I cry, I'm sad over baby Levi.  He does know that he can comfort me, and he has attempted this in so many ways.  Now, he usually hugs/cuddles and brings me the teddy bear.  But he used to try to do funny things that would make me laugh, bring me books and his favorite toys that he would like to be comforted with if he were upset, talk to me about "Cars," his current favorite movie obsession, and try to convince me to "put shoes on", "door open, outside", "coop duht" [scoop dirt].  I wish so badly he didn't have to be going through this too, having to try to comfort his crying mother.  Perhaps the Lord is molding him even now to grow to be a man of great compassion.  I hope so.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

He Bottles Our Tears

I have read some things lately that have hit so close to home and have been so very moving that I just have to share.

First off, a dear friend of ours (I will call him "K") wrote an epitaph for our Levi.  I can't explain how precious that is to us, how much we treasure things people create for or in memory/honor of our boy.  It says, "He mattered.  He matters.  He will always matter."  I asked our friend if I could share his creation on our blog, and he gave the ok.  So here it is:

"Epitaph For A Baby Boy

is all that’s left down here a prayer
miscarried words and stillbirth replies
is all that’s left down here a virgin
pair of wasted lungs and the wasted
air that nourishes a mother’s cries—o god what a world you’ve made"


[sigh]  Where is the kleenex when you need it?  How many boxes have I bought this past couple months?  

And then there were these 3 posts by the lovely Ann Voskamp (author of One Thousand Gifts).  If you have not read One Thousand Gifts, order it today and get started.  I am so, so serious.  It is the one book, besides the Bible, that I can actually say has been life-changing.  This past summer, as I have mentioned before, I struggled intensely with a very dark, scary, and debilitating season of anxiety.  I was diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, had so many panic attacks that it wouldn't even be worth trying to count, went to the doctor and through counseling, took lots of supplements, and struggled for months under the giant weight of unexplained almost constant panic.  One of the major helps in that difficult season was meditating on verses concerning trust in the Lord, fear, anxiousness, etc. in the Word.  The other was reading Ann Voskamp's One Thousand Gifts.  Since reading her book, I've been subscribed to her daily posts via email, and these 3 posts have touched me so deeply:

   highlight:  The scars can be beauty marks.” I tell this one little girl, a girl just beginning down her road. “The scars can carve you to be more like Christ.”
Beauty always bears scars because of Love.
highlights:  So we hang out the clothes as we try to hang on, and we stir the pot as all the pain spills, and we still sow though in tears, and let go of every seed, burying hopes and hurts in faith, and out of loss, new life will unfurl, our tears watering rows.
God is with us. And it’s His tender with-ness that binds up the wounds.
And Psalm 126:5-6
"Those who sow in tears
shall reap with shouts of joy!
He who goes out weeping,
bearing the seed for sowing,
shall come home with shouts of joy,
bringing his sheaves with him."

highlight (albeit the majority of the post...):  
"'You have recorded my troubles.
You have kept a list of my tears.
Aren’t they in your records?'
Today is recorded in the heavens and its pains are written with the wet of tears of God who “hurts with the hurt of my people.” (Jeremiah 8:21)
For our God does not primarily catalogue the endless stream of sins.
He is God, not a tabloid informant out for dirt, for the flame sensationalist ugly. I forget this.
And there are unspoken parts of me that think He makes no records at all but forgets me, the blind, deaf and dumb God.
But I touch the paper where He’s left the trail of His heart.
He is love, the tender Physician God who keeps tab of the every ache, a doting Father who soul-fissures when His child cries, the God who keeps the ledgers of every pain, every scrape, every brimming, falling, searing tear.
God does not slumber for He cannot cease to bear testimony to our hurt.
God keeps a list.
It’s the wildest Love that drives the Father to record His child’s every lament.
We never ache without God attending, and He can’t stand to see a tear fall to the floor. God cups our grief and puts our tears in His bottle” (Ps. 56:8)."
[sigh]  Found the tissues.  The ESV translation of Psalm 56:8 is:
 "You have kept count of my tossings;
put my tears in your bottle.
Are they not in your book?"
A lot of times, in my imperfect perception, I feel as though God just uses my pain for His glory and isn't concerned with the suffering it causes, the weeping, the inner angst, longing, turmoil.  A lot of times I think He is only concerned with getting the job done, like some eternal pragmatist.  But the truth, whether I feel it now or not, is that He is not only bearing witness to my pain, but He is even keeping record of my every tear, waiting for the day when He can wipe them all away.  Oh Jesus, come quickly.  

I stumbled across this blog post that I wrote this past August 28th, the day I turned 27.  The Lord was just pulling me out of the darkness of my anxiety issues, and I was looking ahead toward getting pregnant and walking away from the torment, the pit of fear that had been the past 4 months.  

I'm 27 today, and it's hard to believe how quickly 26 sped by me.  I'm pretty sure I only acknowledged I was 26 a handful of times before I turned 27!  This past year has been the most difficult yet, and I believe this may be the first birthday where not a single picture was taken to remember the day.  But I can tell you this:  God is good to me and so, so faithful through every trial.  I am so thankful for the life and many blessing He has given me, and I believe I can now honestly say that I am also thankful for the tough times/seasons my 27th year of life held.  God is transforming me, molding me, helping my clouded eyes to see and my blocked up ears to hear the things He has for me.  As painful as this process can be at times, isn't that the best birthday gift of all?  I belong to Christ, and I am being made more and more into his likeness.  What a gift.  I've struggled with dread and fear for the future a lot this year, wondering what suffering, what pain, what challenges it will hold for my family and I.  What does 27 hold for me?  But I've had to let go of this fear, cast it upon the Lord, and ask for His peace today Natural, unmedicated birth taught me a lot of things, and it continues to teach me things to this day.  One thing you absolutely must do during labor, especially during pushing, is to take it one contraction at a time.  You must live completely in the present moment and not allow your mind to add up the sum of your suffering though the labor.  If you allow yourself to feel the cumulative effect of the pain and suffering of the entire labor process, you will drive yourself to utter defeat.  Life is quite a bit like labor; there will be pain and suffering.  There will be burdens, tears, and darkness.  But we must live in this moment...nowtoday...not tomorrow, the next 5, 10, 50 years.  We can't allow ourselves to attempt to view the cumulative effect of suffering in our lives.  We cannot try to imagine what things we will have to endure.  Allowing our minds to linger there will drive us to defeat.  Someone pretty wise once said that "each day has enough trouble of its own," and we need not worry about what the future will bring.  What really and truly matters is that the Lord loves me, cares for me, and will be with me through any and every situation I come up against.  He has promised His children His peace and joy in the best of times and in the very worst of times.  The Lord is helping me to trade the worry and fear for truth and love; despair and defeat for joy and peace; discontentment and hopelessness for rejoicing and thankfulness.  As I turn 27 today, I honestly feel like my mind has undergone a renewal, and I am so very thankful.

I had no idea how intensely this new-found heart attitude would be tested, driven to its absolute limits and beyond.  I wonder at the bolded sentence I wrote back on that day; I didn't know what was ahead, but was the Lord preparing me?  How I wish things could have turned out differently for 27...welcoming a new, living, healthy baby into the family, adjusting life as a family of 4, sleepless nights and new milestones, first Thanksgiving and Christmas, matching pajama sets for brothers, sibling pictures, thousands and thousands of pictures of my new boy...  Clearly, I am meant to learn this lesson for good, to have it etched in the very core of my being...Trust God.  Let go of the fear, and Trust Him.  Give Him thanks in EVERYthing.  But couldn't I have learned it another way?  I suppose I must even trust Him that this, this suffering the loss of my baby, is the way...Not the reason, but the proper response.  I'm not there yet, but I am trying.

Levi's Story, Part 1

I began writing Levi's story at the beginning of this month, one month after we lost him.  I was only able to write up until my midwife couldn't find his heartbeat, and I find myself still unable to complete the story.  It is just too difficult to put into words the details of that day, and the next.  One day, Lord willing, I will finish writing his story, but until then, here is the story of Levi's short life:

"April 1, 2012

It has been one month since my little Levi’s precious body was born into this world, lifeless and emptied of his sweet soul.  One month.  One month.  One agonizingly painful and endlessly long month.  I’ve avoided writing much until now, mainly because it’s simply too difficult to mentally relive the darkest days of my life, but it’s time now to start recording the details, processing as I write.  The plan is to tell his story and then share what I’ve been learning as I journey this new and unfamiliar road of grieving such a loss as this; however, my mind is quite jumbled, and my thoughts are far from linear.  So forgive the rambling, circular thoughts, and rabbit trails that I know this will contain.

That second faint, pink line…the little, tiny line that would change our lives forever in a way we never expected was both heartwarming and almost terrifying.  I was pregnant a second time with new life, a baby.  A BABY!  I was overwhelmed with the reality that we were to have another newborn in 9 months, even though we had been expecting such news.  It was awe-inspiring to think that there was really a baby in there, and my mind reeled trying to imagine starting from the beginning again with a new little person.  Was I capable of the demands, the love, the energy he or she required?  “God, I choose to trust you.  I choose to trust you.”  I had repeated this many times in the dark months of the past summer as I struggled through some pretty major anxiety issues, and there I was, using a lesson I had so recently had etched into my soul.  I crawled into bed with Oliver and showed him that little pink line.  He put his hand on my belly, and we smiled together.  So much joy.

We shared the news with my sister first.  She was visiting at the time from Illinois.  I looked back on the calendar and saw that this sweet little baby was likely conceived on November 1st.  I thought what a nice date it was to begin life:  11-1-11.  So…perfect.  We waited until Thanksgiving day to share the news with the rest of our family.  I was 6 weeks at the time, but we saw no reason to delay.  After all, what could be a more fitting day to share the news?  We were so thankful, and even if something terrible were to happen, we wanted people to know and be there to support us.  We kept the news secret until we got Griffin dressed in the morning in his brand new “Big Brother” t-shirt.  This was how we shared with our friends as well.  It was so fun to just let everyone discover the shirt and watch their faces as they put the pieces together.   It was so…perfect.

I quickly was feeling very pregnant with more intense symptoms than I had experienced with Griffin.  Constant dizziness, nausea, and exhaustion were the most physically intense, but I began to struggle once again with anxiety and depression.  Honestly, those early weeks are very much a blur of laying on the couch, battling the common physical and less common emotional issues and yet trying to take care of Griffin.  We watched a LOT of TV, which I felt guilty for at the time.  Looking back, I’m just so thankful that TV existed so I could cope!  The worst of the guilt came with the depression symptoms I was having.  I was finding it difficult to function at all, had no motivation, and was having a hard time feeling engaged with the pregnancy, with my baby.  What a terrible feeling that was!  I even called my midwife to share the news but also to ask for advice concerning my disconnected feeling.  She said that it’s very normal to feel that with the second (or more) pregnancy, with the demands of the pregnancy plus needing to care for your other child/children.  Her advice was to spend a little time each day with my hand on my belly, intentionally talking to the baby, telling him about my day and telling him of our love for him.  I remember talking to him through tears, sharing my struggles with him, asking him to forgive me, and reminding him that I loved him so much, that he was so very wanted and anticipated.  Later, I would discover the possible reason for my depression:  My midwife had the lab check my vitamin D3 levels when my initial bloodwork was done for the pregnancy.  Sure enough, there was a deficiency that could itself have been the cause of the depression.  Once I began supplementing, I no longer had any problems with it!

The day after Thanksgiving, I had a little spotting, and it scared me to death.  I prayed and begged the Lord and researched and called my midwife.  And then I waited to see what would happen.  Nothing.  No cramping, no more blood, and after a week of taking it easy, I left those fears behind me.

I remember also battling back fear of going through labor again in those early weeks.  It seems so absurd now, seeing as how I would give just about anything to go through labor with Levi and birth him healthy into the world, but I had to work through being a bit traumatized from my labor with Griffin.  A lot of my fear stemmed out of the life phase we were in as well.  Around 9 or 10 weeks, we began thinking we may need to move up to Michigan, where I would have to choose between a home birth or the hospital.  I felt so uncomfortable with either choice, and I longed so badly to be able to birth at the birthing center with Lisa, my midwife, again.  It wasn’t only the birthing choices I felt uncomfortable with/unsettled about; I also just did not feel at peace with moving to Michigan at all.  I struggled with this for months.  We were a week and half from moving, boxes packed, moving truck rented, etc. when we lost Levi. 

I was around 8 weeks along when we put up our tree and 10-11 weeks at Christmas with the family.   That week leading up to Christmas was when I thought I felt him move for the first time.  It was so early, but I just knew it was him.  I remember my sister-in-law and I talking about this early movement, as she was also pregnant, 5 weeks further along than me.  We turned 11 and 16 weeks on the same day during that Christmas break, and I thought how perfect the timing was for us.  We so enjoyed having Griffin and his cousin, Henry, only 6 months apart, and now we would have babies only 1 month apart!  How….perfect.

At 10 weeks, I was so very bloated that I looked about 5 months pregnant.  Even though my baby bump was mainly bloating, I treasured having that glorious bump again.  It had been far too long!  There are so many things I love about pregnancy, but my baby bump is up there on my favorites list.  It is such a beautiful, miraculous thing to have a little life created and growing inside of you.  This week on my pregnancy update emails, I discovered my little one was the size of a kumquat.  Hah.  I thought that was such a funny comparison…Who eats kumquats, let alone even knows what one is?  The only reason I knew was because, in middle school, a friend and I decided we needed to go buy one of every fruit at the grocery store so we could try them all.  I guess we figured we were checking things off our life to-do list.  Who knows.  Anyway, I started calling the baby “little kumquat.”  This isn’t the nickname that would stick, however.  That would come a little later from his big brother.

Around the 12 week mark, I had my first prenatal appointment with my midwife.  We were so excited to hear our new baby’s heartbeat for the first time, but I was also struggling.  We hadn’t yet figured out the vitamin D3 issue, so depression was still hovering, and I was nervous.  I prayed that we would be able to hear a nice, strong heartbeat so I would be able to connect more, for the reality to sink in a bit more.   My midwife reminded us that it is totally normal not to find the heartbeat, especially right away, at this stage.  But God answered our prayers, and we heard the miraculous sound of our child’s heart beating away in my womb.  He was there, he was healthy, and my heart leapt.  This was real!  And it was just as amazing and wonderful as the first time we heard Griffin heart beating.  I couldn’t help but laugh with joy, which sounded like a monster on the fetal doppler .  It was all just too wonderful.

At 13 weeks, I took belly pictures to compare with those of my belly with Griffin.  I was definitely bigger this time around!  As we exited the first trimester, we breathed a sigh of relief…The riskiest time was behind us.  With only a 1% chance of losing a baby after the first trimester, we joyfully thought, “God is going to let us keep this baby!”  Around this time, I also began to shed all those debilitating first trimester symptoms and embrace the glorious second trimester honeymoon phase. 

As our baby grew, so did my belly and my appetite!  I could have eaten basically all day and night if I let myself.  It certainly didn’t help matters that I still had to eat very slowly to keep from making myself nauseous.  So, I never really got nice and full.  I suppose it’s better to eat continuously than to have several large meals a day, especially when your pregnant.  By 16 weeks, I was feeling our little one move every day, usually at night.  I heard his heartbeat again at my 16 week appointment.  I was nervous again going into the appointment for some reason, but there was no need.  His heart was good and strong, and I was relieved.  We began to pack our boxes for the move, but that isn’t what we were excited for.  I scheduled the ultrasound for the Monday a week and a half, almost 2 weeks before the move, and we could not wait to see our baby.  We especially couldn’t wait to see if we were having a boy or a girl!  When I took the 16 week belly pictures to compare with those of my belly with Griffin, I noticed that I seemed to be carrying higher.  That along with the fact that this pregnancy had been so different from Griffin’s made me really think I was having a girl.  I suppose I also thought that having a girl would really amp up my excitement factor, getting to experience all the different “girl things.”  Looking back on that season now, I am so utterly disappointed in myself.  Although I understand where I was coming from, I now realize how ridiculously shallow it was to be placing so much importance on the gender.  At the time, I was worried that if it were a boy, I would be disappointed.  Now, I cannot even imagine being disappointed at the gender of a healthy baby…Whatever gender God knitted together in my womb was and is just perfect, perfect for the baby, perfect for our family, perfect for me. 

We packed and packed.  I worried and was concerned about our decision to move.  Each box I packed, I thought, “This is really happening?”  It just didn’t feel right.  I asked so many people about it, and finally decided it must be my hesitancy to move during pregnancy and my emotionally not wanting to move.  It seemed like the most practical and financially wise decision for our family, but I just couldn’t shake the lack of peace.  I told Oliver over and over, “I just wish we had more time here.  I feel like I need more time here, to deliver our baby here especially.” 

My belly grew and grew, and I started sleeping with my trusty pregnancy pillow to support my belly.  I treasured feeling my baby move within me.  He seemed so mellow compared to his brother.  Around 18 weeks, I felt him move from the outside for the first time.  I was waiting for an active time to get Oliver to feel him too.  That time never came, and I regret that so very much for Oliver.  I was looking forward to the baby getting bigger and feeling him move more regularly.  As I got to know my little one, I began to think that he was more of a mellow, laid-back person like his Papa.  Griffin had turned out so much like me personality-wise, and I loved the idea of having baby number two be like Oliver.  However, I always pictured this baby with brown hair, brown eyes, and olive skin like me.  I guess we pictured him to be the opposite of his brother, not because we don’t absolutely adore Griffin just the way he is, but because we were getting to know our new baby as his very own unique individual. 

 We had been telling Griffin about the “baby in Mama’s belly” for quite some time, and I began to ask him questions about the baby.  I would ask, “Is the baby in Mama’s belly a boy or a girl?”  And I would get lots of interesting answers:  “baby shark,” “baby cow,” and “baby bird” are some favorites, but the one that stuck was “baby bear.”  Griffin regularly would refer to the baby as “baby bear,” and he got this from the Eric Carle book, which I had recently found at a thrift store.   Oliver was reading this to him every night, and Griffin would fill in the names of all the animals.  So, it wasn’t long before the nickname “little kumquat” got left by the wayside and was replaced with the infinitely more fitting “baby bear.”

The Saturday before the long-awaited ultrasound, I went to my dear friend Rachel’s baby shower.  She was a trimester ahead of me, and it was so wonderful to celebrate their baby’s girl’s life and impending birth.  I rubbed my belly and looked forward to celebrating our little baby at my shower the following weekend.  My friends had put together an early shower for me on March 3rd so we could celebrate before the big move the following weekend.  How different March 3rd would end up being than we could have ever imagined.  I put off taking my 20 week belly pictures until I actually turned 20 weeks.  That day would never come.

The night before the big ultrasound, I was so restless.  I couldn’t even stand another minute before seeing our baby!  Monday morning, Oliver’s mom, my friend Rachel, and Griffin came with Oliver and I to the appointment at 10am.  I had such a gigantically full bladder that I was about to burst!!  But I wanted our baby to be pushed up high enough to get all the diagnostic pictures taken.  I asked if we could start the ultrasound with letting me guess the gender.  I thought it would be a fun way to find out.  Well, our precious little one was very squirmy at the beginning, and it appeared that there were no boy parts sticking out.  The ultrasound tech said that if she had to guess right then, she would say the baby was a girl.  She went on to take a look at all the precious little parts.  At first, we saw a profile shot of our baby with his hand up by his face, which looked like he was sucking his thumb, but he wiggled around before we could determine that for sure.  She looked at his brain, heart, kidneys, diaphram, limbs, fingers and toes, and everything looked just perfect.  Just perfect.  In the middle of it all, she went back to take a second look at the gender, and to our great surprise, there were suddenly boy parts!!  We cried tears of joy, and Oliver ran out to the little room next to ours where Griffin was watching TV with Rachel to tell him that he was going to have a little BROTHER!  The ultrasound showed me the how to tell the difference between the umbilical cord and the boy parts using the blood flow view.  If only I had known how precious the sight of that blood flow on the monitor would be.  I fell in love that day with that precious boy, my second son, our mellow little man.  The ultrasound tech printed us a few pictures of our beautiful, healthy, living baby boy, and we began a day of celebrating our new SON!  Rachel took me out to lunch at a Mexican restaurant in town called Monterey’s, and later that night Oliver, Griffin and I went out for dinner at Wild Wing CafĂ© and to Target to pick out a new outfit especially for our sweet little baby boy.

I now must delve into the most shameful part of my story.  I don’t even want to write about it because I’m so ashamed of myself, but I think it may be important to just process it.  I wish that I could say that I was happily satisfied with a healthy boy.  I was very thankful for a healthy baby, and I was even thankful that Griffin would have a close brother, a playmate and friend for life.  That brought be great joy.  But for whatever reason, I had thought I was having a girl.  So, I had to sort of be sad for the loss of that dream, at least for this baby.  I worried that I would never have a girl, and even shed a couple tears in the baby clothes section of Target, passing over all the heart-melting sundresses.  This disappointment only discolored a day’s time, but in light of what happened next, I am simply disgusted with having wasted even a moment with my son upset that he was a he and not a she.

The next day, I felt a couple especially strong kicks from my growing son.  I remember thinking about how much I was looking forward to more kicks and rolls and elbows, but I also had a momentary, fleeting wave of fear.  I wondered, “I hope that the ultrasound didn’t cause any harm to him.”  But, as I had put into practice so many times over the past year, I said “no” to the fear, pushed past it, and thought positive thoughts.  As I write this, I don’t believe the ultrasound had anything to do with what happened to Levi, but it makes me wonder when I look back on that chilling thought that day...on the eve of the darkest season of my life.

I had scheduled the ultrasound on Monday morning and my regular prenatal on that following Wednesday morning.  (My midwife doesn’t do ultrasounds in her office, so I went to the independent ultrasound place that she referred me to.)  Oliver had to work and wasn’t able to come with Griffin and I to my prenatal visit, and I knew it was going to be crazy because Griffin was so hyper.  My midwife and I chatted for a while, and I remember asking her if it was okay if I wasn’t feeling constant movement.  She assured me that it was, and that many women don’t feel regular movement until 23 weeks or more.  It was completely normal that I was only feeling him move a little each day at almost 20 weeks.   After going over all the routine stuff amidst Griffin being extremely rambunctious and disobedient, it was time for me to hop on the table to measure and listen to his heartbeat.  After a couple prenatal visits where I was nervous waiting to hear the heartbeat, this was the first time I was just plain excited to hear my healthy boy’s heart.  There was no worry, no concern it wouldn’t be there for the first time that pregnancy.  I had just seen him two days before, healthy, just the right size, and perfectly formed, so there was no doubt, no fear.  She measured; I was measuring 21.5 weeks, and I chuckled and said that I was used to measuring weeks ahead of my baby’s actual age.  There were times with Griffin where I was measuring a whole month ahead of my due date!  She got out the fetal doppler, placed it on my belly, and began scanning for a heartbeat.  And scanning.  And scanning.  And scanning.  I was distracted by Griffin flipping out over me being on the table, and I was reassuring him everything was alright while trying to keep him from messing with the light used for pap smears and vaginal exams.  And scanning.  And scanning.  And, “Is there something wrong, Lisa?  Is this normal?”  Adrenaline surged.  I felt it, coursing, my face flushing and tingling, my heart lurching, racing, pounding.  If only my heart could quiet down so I could hear his.  “I think I might be hearing an echo every now and then.  Sometimes, they wiggle way down, and it can be hard to get a clear sound.”  “Wait!  That must be him…It’s fast like his.”  “No, honey.  That’s you.  Let me have Alex come in and try with her doppler.”  I began to feel very faint, and got up to move around a bit."

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Creative Outlet

I would be 27 weeks today, finishing up the last week of my second trimester and looking a lot like this:
Me at 27 weeks with Griffin
 And this:
28 weeks with Griffin
But instead, I'm empty and frustrated and missing my baby.  This just plain stinks.  I was just arriving at the super fun part of pregnancy...feeling movement all the time, showing more, feeling better, enjoying all the perks of looking pregnant.  And just as I felt sure that everything was going to be okay, it wasn't.  

There are some pretty terrible "extras" that come along with losing a baby in the womb or shortly thereafter.  First off, I still had my baby in my womb when he died, and I had to figure out the best way to birth him.  So, that likely translates into the majority of two days in the hospital at the very least.  IVs, drugs, tests, waiting, waiting, waiting, questions, hospital gowns, waiting, waiting, waiting.  Then, there is the physical recovery from delivering your baby whom you will never know on this earth, the physical recovery from pregnancy, the crazy hormonal changes, postpartum craziness, and everything.  And do all this whilst you grieve the loss of your precious child please.  Oh, and plan a memorial and figure out a burial "situation" on top of all that.  Down the road a bit, there is the aching and yearning, not only for the baby I lost, but for another...not to replace Levi, but to grow our family as we so desire to do...to give Griffin a sibling close in age like I never had, to fill our home with more laughter, more cries, more memories, more family.  So, there's the intense longing for a baby....a baby.  Then you must face all the questions and fears...When should we start trying to conceive?  What happens if I lose the next baby too?  And the frustration...I just did the first half of pregnancy...I was planning to have my squishy, squirmy little newborn son in my arms in 3 short months.  3 months, not 12...or more...  And on top of all that, I suppose I better find the motivation and fortitude to lose the baby weight before getting pregnant again.  I hate to be so negative, but this is the reality...all the ridiculous extras that are piled on top of the typical grief of losing a loved one.

Enough ranting.  For the past month, I've really needed an outlet for all the pent up expectant, nesting energy I still have as Levi's mama.  So, without my Levi, I've turned to projects, projects, projects.  I don't remember the order I did most of these in, so in no particular order whatsover: 

We used to only use the left side of this cabinet as a pantry.  The right side we used as a "coat closet."  (We have a serious shortage of closet space in our trailer.)  Well, I decided the spaghetti sauce, canned goods, and peanut butter had fallen out onto my toes enough.  So, I moved the coats into a more appropriate space (the actual closet in our office/storage/craft/guest room), and added some shelves to the pantry.  And [sigh], isn't this so fantastic?  Look at all the S    P    A    C    E   !

We received some precious keepsakes from the hospital and from friends and family for Levi, and I had them sitting on a shelf in our living room for a while.  However, I wanted to find a "home" for his things.  He'll never have a nursery, a "big boy room", or his own shelf of toys, and I thought it would be nice to have a little Levi spot in the house.  So, I built a shadowbox for his things.  First, I bought a large, white frame on sale at Michael's.  Then, I got primed wood from Home Depot cut to make a box slightly smaller than the size of the frame.  After a couple coats of paint, I drilled holes for the shelf brackets and installed the shelf.

As for the frame, I took the backing off and folded the metal tabs meant to hold the picture and backing in place down to hold the glass in place.  (This took a bit of figuring out, because the tabs were up to high to hold the glass.  I just took a screwdriver and pressed down on the tab until it folded into an "L" shape against the glass...if that makes any sense.)  Then I attached the frame to the box using two little hinges:

After that, I installed a little magnet closure on the frame and box to keep the frame closed:

Then, all that was left was to hang it on the wall and fill it with all his precious things:

I think it turned out pretty well! 

I decided pretty early on to knit a blanket in memory of Levi.  I would likely be knitting or quilting a blanket for him by now, getting ready to wrap him up in it.  Although that will never be, I decided to do it anyway, in the hopes that God will give us another sweet baby in the not-so-distant future to put it to use.  I am a few rows from being finished with it now, and I just can't seem to actually complete it.  For some reason, all these little projects wind up making me feel the finality of losing my boy.  Each completed project, although it feels good in some ways, makes me feel one step farther from life with him in it.  I know I'm rambling here, but that's part of why I can't seem to go to bed at night until 2am...or later.  Each day coming to a close is one day further from him.  I suppose I could look at it as one day nearer to him, seeing as how he's in heaven.  But I must face the rest of my lifetime on earth without him.  Someday, I'll be saying, "It's been 20 years since I lost him."  And for some reason, that makes me so terribly sad.  I don't want 20 years without him....I want to live all the rest of my days and years with him.  Oh boy, I'm clearly in a rambling kind of mood.  Sorry.  If you read this entire post, you are quite kind.  So, the blanket....
I decided on an old pattern for the blanket called "Feather and Fan."  In case you're interested, here is the pattern written out:

Cast on a multiple of 18 st.
Row 1:  (RS) Knit
Row 2:  Purl
Row 3:  *(K2tog)3X, (YO, K1)6X, (K2tog)3X*, repeat from *
Row 4:  Knit

Isn't it pretty?  And so easy.  Really, I promise.  It looks much more complex than it is.

This pattern looks a lot more intricate and lacey with smaller weight yarn, but I wanted soft and fluffy and went with this yarn:

It is delightful.  But here is what the pattern looks like on a smaller scale using cotton yarn:

I have been so perplexed with my incredibly long, boring, very yellow hallway since we moved in almost 6 years ago.  What do you do with a gigantic wall in a hallway?  I tried putting up a collage of pictures, but even that was dwarfed by the length of the hall.  It would cost a small fortune to buy the size and number of frames and prints I would need to buy in order to make a photo collage look right and fill up the space adequately.  ANYway, I saw this idea for a giant clothespin art holder on Pinterest and thought I would give it a whirl.  I found these giant clothespins (already painted...bonus!) at Michaels for $1 a piece:

I then bought an extremely long, already primed board (or is it considered "trim" in this size?  I am clueless.)  at Home Depot.  Thank goodness the thing fit in the van!  Once I painted the board and got the spacing of the clothespins all figured out, I turned everything over and screwed the clothespins to the board through the back:

All that was left to do was to screw the entire contraption onto the wall, hang up Griffin's artwork, and enjoy!

As I've written about before, we were a week and a half from moving to Michigan when Levi died.  So, a lot of our belongings were in boxes and most of our house was in total and complete upheaval.  Since then, I've been trying to get all the boxes unpacked (we knew we needed to stay here while we grieve with and in our community) and get our house in some kind of functional order again.  While I have needed and enjoyed lots of unnecessary, superfluous projects like decorating and crafting, I cannot begin to tell you how unmotivated I am when it comes to doing necessary and important tasks.  Like feeding myself.  Or showering.  Or unpacking kitchen boxes so we have glasses to drink out of and pots to cook in...  Which leads me to cooking...ugh.  I think I've cooked 5 decent/acceptable meals since Levi died 7 weeks ago.  Bills?  What are those?  Anyway, I was pretty proud of myself for finally getting the vast majority of the boxes unpacked.  Most people move boxes into a fresh, empty space.  But when you need to unpack boxes into a lived-in disaster zone, it's another matter altogether.  First, the space that you are putting things into must be undisasterized.  [I just made that word up, in case you didn't catch it :)]  So, it's got to be cleaned (at least somewhat) and organized a bit so everything fits and whatnot.  Well, this is a lot like squeezing toothpaste out of the tube and then trying to shove it back in...It just doesn't all fit anymore.  So, I've had to be creative, get rid of stuff, and reorganize things to make it all work.  Here is an example...I don't like having cleaning products where Griffin can reach them, and they were all stacked crazily atop the dryer and in random spots throughout the house.  I found this idea on....[drumroll please].....Pinterest  (and it is so brilliant)  of using an over-the-door shoe holder for your cleaning supplies.  I'm loving it. so. much.

Other non-essential household improvement projects include painting our coffee table light, light blue.  I would have picked a different color, but I wanted it to be as close to free as possible, which meant using paint we already had in the shed.  What a ginormous task painting this table turned out to be.  Just know that if you ever paint a heavily used table, avoid white because there is simply no good way to seal the top of it really well without turning it yellow.  I tried the Polycrylic and spray acrylic that specifically advertise that they won't yellow things.  Some tips I learned the hard way through this project:
-Use a good primer.
-Sand surfaces you want very smooth with fine sandpaper between coats of paint to make it as smooth as possible.
-Wse a foam roller and foam "brushes" for a smooth finish.  (bristle brushes always leave streaks, no matter what techniques you use, and regular rollers add far too much texture...at least for a table like this)
-Use clear finishing wax on white or close to white pieces to seal to avoid yellowing and stay away  from from anything with "poly" in the name. (although this isn't ideal or very durable for surfaces like a heavily used table)
-If you are painting a table, let the paint dry for several days or even a week before applying the several coats of sealant. (I was impatient with this and am now finding that the surface of the paint is easily dented....meaning it still hasn't cured.  I'm hoping that it will harden completely over time; but since there is already a sealant on there, I'm nervous it might not...ugh)

I also decided that the curtains in our living room were too dark and depressing.  So, I made white ones out of a $9.00 sheet set from Walmart.  The fabric is ridiculously cheap and definitely not suited for sleeping on...but it's just lovely for plain, white curtains.  I also finished the bolster pillow on the trunk in the photo below.  It's very lumpy, and since I'm not sure what to do about that...I just don't really care.  Also in the below photo is a poster I designed of the lyrics to the song, "Be Still, My Soul," which we sang at Levi's memorial service.  It's also on the bookmarks we passed out at the memorial service, and it's so very meaningful to us.

Here is the design, since the glare is so bad in the pictures.  Notice my little baby boy's footprints down in the lower right:

Our good friend (and fabulous musician), Howard, led worship at Levi's memorial and did such a great job.  I put together a playlist on my iTunes in memory of Levi, but I just could not find a decent version of "Be Still, My Soul"...at least nothing that compared to Howard's version that he sang at the memorial.  So, I asked if he would record it for me, and I am so glad I did.  It will forever be precious to me, and I listen to it all. the. time.  I encourage you to take a few minutes, listen to this beautiful song, and mediate on the deeply meaningful lyrics:  Click here to listen to Howard's version of "Be Still, My Soul" [get some tissues ready too...I know I do]

I saw another idea on Pinterest that I had wanted to do once Levi was born of family handprints all in different colored paper, stacked on top of one another according to size.  I had no idea how terribly soon I would have Levi's handprint.  Oh, little one, you had so much growing left to do...  Now, no matter how many children we have, Levi's little handprint will always be the smallest (please, Lord, please).  My surgeon was able to give us Levi's hand and foot prints after he was delivered, and so I used tracing paper to trace his little fingers and toes.  I decided to to both our hands and feet in different frames.  Here is how they turned out:

Sometime a couple weeks ago, I became frustrated that I did not know how to crochet.  I'm not sure why that suddenly became an important skill to me...I mean, how many dishcloths, scarves, and blankets does a person/family really need?  But, I'm not the kind of person who backs down from a challenge.  Apparently, challenges like organizing our finances and figuring out what on earth is going on with my student loans take a back seat to things like suddenly needing to learn how to crochet.  I seemingly cannot live for much longer without a blanket like this (not a blanket I have made...just a picture I saw a while back):

So, I promptly began an 23 lesson, online "crochet school," complete with instructional videos.  It is fantastic.  If you even slightly interested (and even if you're really not), you should check it out here.  I loved every second of it, minus the initial complete befuddlement at how.on.earth. to hold/work everything at first.  After completing most of the course, I made a couple of simple, easy, quick dishcloths, which are fairly ugly but allowed me to practice a lot of different skills:

But then, it was time to tackle what I really learned to crochet for:  a granny square blanket.  But, I'm not interested in your traditional granny square.  No, I have to make things a zillion times more difficult for myself.  Instead, I wanted to use a rounder looking pattern on the inside like this:

So, I tracked this pattern down, and it is called "Sunburst Granny Square" by Priscilla Hewitt.  The pattern can be found here, in case you're interested in suddenly teaching yourself how to crochet in order to make a blanket, of all things.  ANYway, I have made 18 squares so far according to her pattern and using the needle size she specifies, but I have also started a second blanket in the same pattern but using a much larger sized needle for a bigger square and a softer blanket.  So, now I apparently think I need two granny square blankets.  My rationale is that I will want one as a throw for adults in the living room or something and one for my future babies.  Yes, plural.  Please, Lord.  So here are what my squares are shaping up to look like.  Here is my very first one:

Isn't she lovely?

See how the second row puffs up a bit?  I love that.  It's called the "puff stitch", and she explains how to do it in the pattern.  It's part of what gives this pattern so much more dimension than the granny square you typically see.

I plan to do an update soon as these pictures are already way behind where I'm at with the blanket.  I can't really explain why it's fun or what I'm getting out of it.  I suppose I'm sort of using it as an escape, sort of using it to vent my feelings, sort of using it to busy myself, sort of using it to redirect my energies to something more productive than wallowing.  But, you know, sometimes it's impossible not to be absorbed with it all day, no matter how much you pray, no matter how much you want to be okay, no matter how thankful you are for what you have or how much you rationalize things.  Today has been one of those days.  I want to warn you, I can sense that I am about to go on a very long ramble of venting.  If you don't care to hear negativity or wrong-thinking, please stop here.  My heart is very heavy, and I've cried on and off all day.  Sometimes, when I think about how life is for others, I get extremely jealous, even covetous to be honest, of how light their hearts are, how nonchalantly, easily they get to go through their pregnancies, how so many hearts have not tasted the bitterness of losing a baby, how so many's greatest concerns are things like where they're going to go out with their friends that night or what color carpet to install.  I know everyone has issues, problems, burdens, and I don't mean to demean them at all.  It's just that when you are suffering, it seems as if the vast majority of the people you know are not.  It seems that way...I'm not saying it's true.  And it feels so unfair to be the one singled out in this way.  I would never wish anything like this on anyone I know, but why does it seem like only we are struggling like this?  It feels so...lonely.  And even though I know intellectually this isn't true, I'm just venting what it feels like.  This past year has been so terribly bitter that I hardly know what to expect for our future.  On top of a crippling anxiety disorder struggle, a very difficult terrible twos season for the past 8 months, Oliver going from job to job to terrible job, and losing our baby halfway through my pregnancy, we have to be continuously, never-endingly drowing financially.  Drowning.  Constantly.  I blush to even think about the late notices and overdue bills.  It's been almost 10 years of this, and it is just getting plain old.  The burdens are so heavy and so plentiful right now that I feel myself growing despondent in the midst of it all.  Oliver has his 3rd interview for a decent job tomorrow morning, and we are praying he will get it.  Neither of us wanted to get our hopes up, but alas, somehow we still have the ability to hope...in Christ alone.  But we are so, so afraid of what will happen to our hearts if he doesn't get the job.  If God says, "No.  Suffer more." once again.  

I debated whether or not to share this because it is so deep and so...unflattering, but I think it's more important to be honest and expose these thoughts to the light rather than keep these thoughts hidden in the darkness where they are most fed, most comfortable, and most damaging.  So, here it is...and here come the tears...[sigh] I feel like a dog who has done something naughty, say peed on the carpet, and the owner comes over and yells, "Bad dog!  Bad dog!"  And to drive the point home, the owner takes the dogs nose and rubs it in the puddle of wet carpet.  Then the dog looks up at the owner, knowing she's done something terribly wrong but is not sure what.  Cowering, looking to the owner with a confused mix of fear of what he's going to do next, the dog out of instinct yet trusts the owner, yet loves him.  Okay, so I realize that sounds a lot more messed up than I intended, but there it is.  I know theologically and biblically it's a very wrong perspective on myself and on God.  I'm not saying that I believe God is a heartless, cruel, abusive despot.  I'm just saying that that is the image that keeps popping up with what has happened.  A lot of times I feel like I'm being punished or at least being forcibly sanctified, refined with fire.  And a lot of times, it feels like I'm having my nose rubbed in the harsh reality that my baby is dead with seemingly everyone being pregnant or having newborns and everything just going swimmingly well.  And I'm supposed to keep a good attitude about it as a follower of Christ and to honor God.  I'm not supposed to covet.  But I am so fallen, so twisted, so sinful, and I just cannot always maintain a proper perspective.  And when I am weak and sliding around in slippery, misleading emotions, that image of the dog and the owner pops up.  It is so embarrassing that something so ugly is burrowed so deep in my heart, but I needed to share it so it would be exposed, confessed.  Clearly, the abusive dog owner would not lay down his own life for the sake of his dog.  And clearly I am not as innocent as that dog.  

If anyone has, by some miracle, read to the end of this excruciatingly long post, I thank you.  Thank you for letting me share some of my ugliness with you.  I'm sorry this post was such a roller coaster, from lighthearted to dark and serious in a sentence or two.  I suppose that gives a pretty good picture at what a person's heart does throughout the day in grief.