Monday, May 22, 2017

It Is Well With My Soul

My Sweet Girl, 

It's been just over 7 years since I found out I was pregnant with you.  And 7 years ago this week, you & I went to a woman's retreat together with our church where I was to share my testimony under the topic of Hope, with the verse Romans 5:5 - Hope does not disappoint us....

You & I stood up there and I talked, as I usually do, for much longer than I intended about the amazing story of Redemption that God had given me when He came for me... both over 2000 years ago and when He invaded my life shortly after I had your big sister.  I shared things most don't dare about my past and the darkest depths of my heart, only so I could reveal how amazingly God's grace had changed me and covered my sin...and when I finished 45 minutes later, you couldn't have heard a pin drop over only tears falling as people either wept with me or as they were encouraged in a situation in their own life through my story... but as I sat down, there was the loudest roll of thunder out of nowhere that caused a mixture of awe and laughter.  God was SO in it.  When that session was over, I went to my group of close friends and shared with them that I was pregnant again.  The days were simple... exciting... uncomplicated... for a little while.

I don't know how much you truly know or are aware of the things that have happened since then.  I don't know how many of the times 'you show up' in my day are actually caused by you.  I tend to think it's God meeting me in that way and that He speaks my language and that maybe you get to watch and sometimes giggle as you see the joy that knowing you has brought me in the middle of the sadness that losing you has caused.  But there is just so much I don't know about you.  That's the hard part.

I wanted to write to you because if you were here and I had the things going on in my mind that I do today, I would share it with you.  I would probably tell you at the counter in the kitchen or hanging out on the couch in the living room... but I'll settle for here until I get there....

It's been a long 7 years.  I have felt more pain than I knew possible on this earth since I lost you.  I had no idea I could physically ache so bad over missing you.  Your life and death consumed me.  And I'm ok with that because in that, God changed me.  But it was often messy and I regularly felt like I failed you.  See, I had this idea that if I was honest with everyone I cared about throughout my grief journey, that I would come to the end of the 'hard part' and our relationships would have gotten stronger and I would have no hard feelings left over.  What I discovered, the very hard way, is that most people don't truly want to know how they hurt you, and so often, I caused more harm than good because I was regularly more hurt by the responses I received.  People wrote me off and then the one thing I thought would help keep the relationships I cared about, actually did the opposite.  Most of those relationships are healed now, but I absolutely hate that I hurt people in my journey with you - and that means that when people think of you, they will think of my inability to love well in the middle of it.  I'm so sorry for that Rachel.  I'm sorry to them, and to God, but I'm really sorry to you.  I set out to make your story beautiful and I got in my own way sometimes.

I did so many big things for you, fueled by my pain - I had a vision for a playground and told you when you were with me, I was going to build you one - and I did.  Over 100 people came together and helped erect that beautiful ark in memory of you and people who loved you from near and far sent money to fund it and local companies donated time and supplies and we gifted it to your church family at Grace.  They loved you so much and loved us so well through that valley.  Kids play on it all the time.  I think you know that....  I think you also know that your story got the name of Jesus on the front page of the Foster's Daily Democrat multiple times.  Your story brought people so much hope.  And not because of who you were necessarily, but because of Who Jesus was to us in our saying goodbye to you.  Truly, God has used you, Rachel.  

We held big 5K's... which required more work than I can fit into a letter and I'm amazed looking back I could even pull off since I was also pregnant for most of them... and then donated the money to other charities in your name.  As things went along, one thing led to another and more fundraising and tons more effort later, I had a 501(c)3 called Baby Rachel's Legacy, in your memory.  It was amazing - but if I'm honest, it was nothing I truly set out for or necessarily wanted.  I just wanted to be able to do things for others and in order to get donations, which people will only give if they can get a write-off, you have to be tax-exempt.... and so I was.  I suppose it only makes sense.  I do the same things for your siblings - when something gets in the way of a goal involving them, I get through it. I guess this is the part of my personality that Nana always hoped I would use for good one day... the determined little girl who always fought for what I wanted... 

So, to get to what I've been wanting to really talk to you about - over the past year or so, I've been praying about what direction I should go with your legacy.  It's a lot of pressure to have your legacy be my responsibility.  Technically, you wouldn't have one at all if I didn't share your story, my love for you, my pain in losing you, and my healing along the way.  I know God gave you to me because He knew I would do that.  And it's been humbling, amazing, overwhelming, painful and beautiful to see all the ways in which He has reached across the world and back with my vulnerability.  

Somehow though, I feel the winds changing and if there is one thing I have learned along this road with you, my precious little girl, it's that I have to bend with the wind. 

I have taken small steps - I closed your PO Box just after your last birthday in December... that was not an easy thing but I believe it was the beginning of testing out the waters of the new ocean I was about to swim in.  The one I've had my eye on for a while but have been afraid to jump into.  The truth is, most the time it was empty now.  It used to be full all the time - for years I got mail there regularly and it was SO good for my heart.  People have truly been much too good to me.  This was the first year that on your birthday, there was no mail there.  None.  And I'm okay with that too.  I had more mail in that box than I ever would have expected and it always came just when I needed it, but God knows, I don't need it anymore.  I love getting mail for you, but my heart doesn't hurt if I don't.  That healing is a gift and I'm going to open it and take it home!!  

But then somehow, after closing the PO Box, I started getting way more mail at our home - all applications for headstone assistance.  And I noticed that not only was I not able to keep up with it from a business stand point, I wasn't able to keep up with it with the energy in my heart and mind.  Constantly reading stories about how babies died was wearing me down. And so one day as I stood looking at a stack of applications that I had been procrastinating on, I heard myself say out loud "I don't want to do this anymore." and I heard God whisper to my heart "You don't have to."  And so began the process of closing our nonprofit - which I am not currently referring to as "Baby Rachel's Legacy" because I am NOT closing your legacy - I should have never named a business your 'legacy' because it isn't.  

I have been contemplating the question - What do I want Rachel's Legacy to be?  And Is the nonprofit accomplishing that?  A legacy is so much more than being a 501(c)3 and giving people money.  I have always wanted your legacy - what people think of when they remember you - to be one of what you taught me - learning to dance in the rain, to love deeper and for life to be more meaningful. To not waste time with the ones you love.  To have more love than can fit into a minute of life.  To hope in Jesus and the promise of heaven when life has more pain than one can bear.  And I love helping people - but honestly, I think my blog helps people in a way that money towards a stone - or even a care package - never could.  So that is probably time better spent, if I spend any at all, and I'm not sure if I will unless God tells me to share something.  There is already so much here and people are still reading it, even the very first posts.

I've been thinking that I'm going to start having a cookout each year to celebrate you.  We have the space now and loving my family and friends is much more my style than trying to round up support for another fundraiser!  I'm SO TIRED of that! LOL!!  I want food and fun and just conversation - normal conversation that doesn't involve dead babies.  Not that I won't talk about YOU, but YOU ARE ALIVE and that's what I want to focus on.  I don't even need to tell people we are celebrating you when we invite them - I'm thinking the people who love you most do that often all by themselves.  That's your legacy.... and you are so loved. 

Now, onto what happened to me this weekend... I went to that same woman's retreat you & I went to.  It was one of the only 2 times I've ever been in 12 years where I was not either pregnant or there with a nursing baby! (although I did have to pump for your baby sister!)  The theme was "Living Hope" this year!  I got to sit next to Jill for sessions and worship and I was able to apologize to a couple more people who I didn't love well in my pain and I just felt like God truly is bringing my life without you full circle.  Like he is truly healing depths in my heart I didn't know could be reached... and I cried.  A lot.  But I cried with a smile.  And for the first time since you left, I sang "It Is Well with My Soul" and truly meant it with everything in me that I am okay that you are not here.  I am full of joy for you that you are with the Lord and that this earth can't hold you.  You have the better part and I am so thankful for that.  

I keep thinking about the verse that God gave me the first week after your diagnosis -

And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ - and that is from the book of Philippians 1:6 (the book of Joy)...

The number 7 is symbolic of completion in the Bible too.  Seems 'ironic' doesn't it, that he would lead me to this place in year 7?  After baby # 7... Eden Joy...  4 boys 3 girls... ♥ 43 ♥  God speaks my language!

I am far from complete - but you are - and I know my missing you will never end on this side of heaven.  But, I know God will meet me in any sadness I feel as a result of letting this go.  I also know that it's not you and I don't have to let you go.  You are with us everywhere because you are with Jesus and He is in us.  Nothing can separate us.  Death has no victory!

I plan to take whatever that sadness may be and pour it into your siblings, who are growing up way too fast and your Daddy who I love more than life itself.  I believe that I have truly made it through 6 long years of hard work with this thing we call grief - and now God, our Father is telling me to prepare to rest on year 7...  Rest in His promises... Rest in how valuable you are to Him and to me... Rest in His faithfulness and mercy and grace and strength... And rest in the truth that the family I have needs me more than any other person I might help through this nonprofit... Not that anything I have done in the past was bad or wrong - God was leading me then too!  And that is just the beauty of it... if you were here, you would need different things at different ages and I love that God is giving me the closest thing to that experience as possible without you here.

I have begun the paperwork and the only thing I can compare the feeling to is when we sold our last house - it's emotional handing over the keys to something you have poured your heart and soul into for so many years, but after closing at the table as the seller, you sit at another one and close as a buyer and get a new set of keys to something you love even more....  and I'm so excited to see what God does and how he weaves you into it all, which I KNOW He will do, after I turn these keys in.

Rachel Alice, I am so glad I'm your Mama.  I am so thankful for every tear, every disappointment and every ounce of pain that forced me to lean on God.  I know Him better because of you.  I remember the days I had with you like they were yesterday and I promise that my days and our home will never be absent of you.  I could never forget you and I will not stop sharing about you, saying your name, or loving you.  As a matter of fact, I talk about you so comfortably now that some people don't realize you aren't here with us.  I like it that way.  

I love you pretty girl.  You are forever my child.

Love & Hope, 

This is a song that we sang this weekend that really ministered to my heart - especially the part that says "while I'm waiting, I'm not waiting, I know heaven lives in me."   I love that.

Whether now or then
Death is not my end
I know Heaven waits for me
Though the road seems long
I'll never walk alone
And I got all I need to sing

I know You love me
I know You found me
I know You saved me
And Your grace will never fail me

And while I'm waiting
I'm not waiting
I know Heaven lives in me

Should I suffer long
This is not my home
I know Heaven waits for me

And though the night is dark
Heaven owns my heart
And I got all I need to sing

I know You love me
I know You found me
I know You saved me
And Your grace will never fail me

And while I'm waiting
I'm not waiting
I know Heaven lives in me

So I will sing like I will there
In the fearless light of glory
Where the darkness cannot find me
And Your face is all I see

Oh I will sing like a man
With no sickness in my body
Like no prison walls can hold me
I will sing like I am free

'Cause I know You love me

I know You found me
I know You saved me
And Your grace will never fail me

And while I'm waiting
I'm not waiting
I know Heaven lives in me

I know You love me
I know You found me
I know You saved me
And Your grace will never fail me

And while I'm waiting
I'm not waiting
I know Heaven lives in me

I'll sing Holy, Holy
My heart, cries Holy
As it is, in Heaven
It is in me

We'll sing Holy, Holy
The earth, cries Holy
As it is, in Heaven
So let it be

Friday, April 21, 2017

Long Saturday

So, I guess that's a record...4 months without writing.  I have sort of resorted to smaller Facebook posts to journal my continued journey without Rachel since spare time is something I have nothing of these days.  I'm okay with it, I suppose it's a natural progression of life moving on - even if some days my heart is planted back in 2010.

It's been a wild 6 weeks - Matt had to leave state for a work trip and I planned on staying home with the kids for most of it, with a visit or two in between.  And then that Monday morning he left.  And I missed him the very second he walked out the door.  We got news that there was a big storm coming that next day - 2 feet of snow expected.  Isaiah had an appointment at the cardiologist for a heart issue he's been having and while we were there, I discovered Asa had conjunctivitis, so by the time I got done with the cardiologist and the urgent care... and then the pharmacy - it was 5pm... but being who I am, I started packing and at 9:20pm, we got in the truck and headed out for the 3 hour drive to where my man was. 

We spent the next 4 weeks in a hotel room together, doing our school work and taking field trips while Matt worked and then getting to eat dinner with him before he was falling asleep sitting up after a 12.5 hour shift each day - but there was nowhere else I'd rather be than next to him. (and missing multiple big snow storms while we walked around in 60 degree weather!)

We ended up coming home a week before him and on Good Friday, he was allowed to leave a few days early because we got news that his Memere wasn't doing well.  He got home that night after 10pm and the next day, we drove 3 hours north to visit his Memere for what would turn out to be the last time we would see her here on earth.  I'm so thankful for him that we were able to make that trip.

On Good Friday, I had wanted to visit Rachel like we usually do and I just couldn't make it happen.  The kids and I went to the service at church that night and although Ezra distracted me from a lot of it, I was so thankful to be there and to have 6 of my kids here with me and to know that my 7th is safe in heaven because of that very day.  I decided we'd go visit Rachel Sunday instead.

Matt's grandparents have been married for 72 years.  They lived in the same house for most of their lives and it wasn't too long ago that his Memere ended up needing more care than his Pepere could give and was moved into a nursing home.  Pepere visited all the time of course, even trying to break her out of there at one point, which was a great story...  it wasn't too much longer and he was moved into the same home and the two of them ended up in rooms next to each other with a bathroom in the middle that they shared. 

I know nobody ever wants to live in a nursing home, but if I make it to my 90's and Matt & I can go together, it would be okay.  I've found that most everything in life is okay if I have him with me, holding my hand.  Marriage is a true gift from God and his grandparent's lifetime of love through good and bad, joy and sorrow, sickness and in health, until death separated them is something I think most of us admire and would love to know ourselves. 

Last Saturday - the day between Good Friday and Easter - we were visiting them and his Memere was not responding, although I know she knew we were there.  At one point it was just me and them in the room and his Pepere got down on his knees on that hard floor and held her hand.  He told her over and over how beautiful she was and how much he loved her.  I'm telling you, my heart was both in awe and breaking at the same time.  I cried standing there watching him just love on his bride.  So much went through my mind.... how hard it must be for him, and for their kids - how on earth you say goodbye to someone you've spent your entire life with... how painful life can be even when it's long and happy... how amazing their story is... how much I hope Matt & I get that much time together... and how fast time goes by. 

But the one thought that I just couldn't shake is that the day before we remembered Jesus' death on the cross - and the day after, we would celebrate his resurrection... the day He overcame death and conquered the grave... the hope of eternity and that heaven is REAL...  But in between those two amazing days, there was Saturday.

Back in Jesus' day, his followers were heartbroken on Saturday.  They didn't know that the next day, He would rise from the dead.  They had just watched him die and were shattered by the pain, I'm sure.  We are blessed with knowing the ending to the story, but that doesn't mean the pages between the beginning and the end won't bring us to our knees.

I remember going to visit Rachel in the funeral home on the way home from the hospital and, even though I had just had a major surgery, I dropped to my knees at the sight of her on that couch, and told her how pretty she was and how much I loved her over and over and over....

And there I stood, watching his Pepere do the same thing with his bride of 72 years and all I could do was cry and pray... 

Because Friday had come and gone and Sunday wasn't here yet...  It was still Saturday and Saturday hurts sometimes.  Even when you know that Sunday is coming. 

I leaned over to say goodbye to Memere and I whispered "When you get there, give Rachel a hug for me, ok?"  and I know that happened. And one day, when my long Saturday here on earth is over, I will do the same. 

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

I Had to Let It Go...

Christmas Eve, I was standing in my bedroom gathering the filled stockings to bring downstairs when it hit me....

I didn't bring Rachel her stocking.

It felt like I got punched in the gut.  My eyes shut with the pain and I stood there trying to breathe through it for a minute, knowing if I started to cry, I might never stop.

I thought for a minute about the options.  I could run down to the cemetery and get it hung just so my heart felt better... so I hadn't neglected my tradition with my girl... so I didn't feel like I had forgotten her...

But where is her stocking at this point in our house renovations, anyway?! 

I had to let it go.

I came down and hung up the stockings on this beautiful entryway decor Matt built me.  He was very gracious to make my Pin on Pinterest a part of our home for me... but you know I wanted 7 hooks.  I wanted Rachel to have one like she did at our old house - obviously not for her to use, but for my heart to know she was acknowledged.  We ended up deciding while designing it that there wasn't enough space to add a 7th hook in the hallway's space... and because we have no mantle, I cleared the coats off of the entryway hooks to use those.  It seemed the perfect solution until it hit me....

I have nowhere to hang her stocking here.
I ended up hanging it with Eden's.  That works for now...

My eyes welled up.  I looked around for other solutions.  Mine and Matt's didn't fit there either... but that doesn't sting.  Rachel is one of our children.... she should have a stocking hanging... I always use her stocking or Easter basket as a place to put the candy we all share - kind of like treats from heaven... but I'm the only one who seems to even notice or care.  Everyone else has their stocking and candy... or basket... or hook....

But what will I do, set up my home constantly for a 7th kid who isn't here?

I had to let it go.

Christmas morning was a beautiful gift with this precious family God gave me.  Memories of last year when Eden was born and those first newborn grunts and figuring each other out flooded my mind and heart.  I'm so thankful for her.  Her birthday on Christmas Eve was hard because we were so busy getting ready for Christmas that I didn't get to slow down with her like I wanted... but I can make changes for next year...  Rachel though... I never got the chance to try again for her.  I never got the chance to re-do anything I wasn't happy with.  I don't have the opportunity to show her in a different way... be more creative... take a different picture...

I had to... still have to... let it go.  Constantly have to let it go.  Repeatedly let it go.

And it's not easy, although I do it more gracefully than I used to - if not letting other people in on how hard it is is considered 'graceful'....

After all the excitement from Christmas morning settled, we got ready, I put a daisy pin in my hair, and we headed to the cemetery.  We got hot chocolate on the way... and Asa decided it was too hot, pulled the cover off and dumped it all over his lap.  We pulled over and yanked him out of the car to get the heat of it off his skin.  I had an old bag of clothes someone had given us in the trunk and was able to find him clothes... but in the bag, the reason it was going to the Goodwill... it was a bunch of girls clothes I forgot were in there.  They came months ago, mixed in with boy clothes someone gave us - and just happened to be a size 6.  So there we were on the side of the road... on the way to the cemetery for our 7th Christmas in a row... and I'm going through girls size 6 clothes.  And as I put them on Asa just so we could make it to the cemetery and not have to go back home, my heart hurt... yet I knew it was a gift of provision for me (both the clothes being there and that Asa didn't noticed they were girls so he didn't refuse putting them on!)

And so I climbed back in the truck, brushed it off and let it go....

We arrived at Rachel's grave much later than we wanted.  But as we put the truck in park, Des said "Hey, it's 4:30!"  And it was... which was a kiss from heaven, yet meant it was dark.  And dark enough for me to immediately notice her Christmas lights were not working.  Her tree was tipped over... her decor I put on top of her stone had fallen off... which meant so did the solar light battery that was now upside down in the snow.... the beautiful vase my friend Nicole had left on Rachel's birthday was sitting in frozen water and broke the second I touched it... once again, a result of my failing to get to her and keep her grave like I used to.

Matt helped me get it all picked up.  I hung her Hope stocking - not the one I usually hang on Christmas Eve, but the one I meant to hang ON HER BIRTHDAY that was still in my truck because I forgot and never made it back... and things were back in place... it looked orderly again...

But it was so dark.

I hate her grave being dark.  

For years, I have done everything I can to make sure the darkness of the night doesn't take over that sacred space of earth.  Solar lights in all shapes and sizes have helped my heart keep her name visable.  And yet, this year, I have failed at that.  I know Hope is still there.  But this year, the rest of the world felt to be spinning at a pace that the cemetery couldn't keep up with...  rephrase that... that I couldn't keep up with.  The cemetery was full of people leaving things for those they have loved and lost....

Maybe I should have gotten a wreath on a headstone hook like she did...

Or brought down a live Christmas tree like he did...

Or left my shepherd's hook up, despite the new cemetery rules, like they did...

Or maybe I should have come and taken care of my baby's grave like I always have.  I closed my eyes and cried.  And I guess I needed that because Matt stood next to me as I cried for quite a while in the cold, dark cemetery on Christmas.  He didn't say anything except one sentence... "Sometimes it's hard to remember..."

I have no idea what he meant because I waited for him to finish his thought, but he never did and I was crying too hard to ask.  Maybe he meant it's 'hard'... as in not easy on the heart to remember.  Or maybe he the emphasis was on 'to remember' as in it's easy to forget.  Or maybe he didn't even know what he meant - maybe he was talking about the details of her birthday, all we went through... or maybe he was just as disappointed with how her grave looked.  He's been used to me always keeping it presentable and nice.  It's never felt like that there.  Maybe he even just meant it's hard to remember what you were about to say....

It's just all so complicated.  Life, love, loss.  Grieving while living.  Living while dying.  Dying before you live.  How much colder, darker, and more windy it is in the middle of a cemetery.

How can I feel so healed and have that be part of my pain?  It seems only a conundrum of those who have to walk through life without a child.  It's just not supposed to be this way.

We drove away from her dark grave and brought the kids on a hunt for Christmas lights.  And while I oohed and ahhhed with them, it felt so wrong... to be surrounded by so many lights... the music... the Christmas cheer - while my baby girl is in that cold, dark cemetery...  but I know there is Hope.  And I know It doesn't disappoint...

And so I had to let it go...

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Light and Life

6 years ago, I had to leave my little girl at the cemetery.  That night was one of the longest, hardest nights of my entire life.  I did lots of things to keep myself busy, like write in her funeral book as if it were her baby book... but eventually it was just me and her blanket, sitting on the couch - and I literally had to fight the urge to go dig her up.

It was excruciating.

Today I wanted to go visit her and bring her a couple of things I forgot on her birthday.  One thing after another kept me from getting there.  I was disappointed, but decided that I'd do something here for her instead.

A couple of days ago, I got a message from the mom who we got the blankets and hot chocolate for.  She wanted to know if we had a tree already.  I told her yes, but it's a fake tree we were given in our old house - and because of cost and space, we used it, but didn't really love it.  We had talked about how next year we wanted to get a real one - but God had other plans!  The next morning, she pulled into our driveway and gave us a beautiful real Evergreen....

I love Christmas trees and what they represent - the ever-living tree.  It's the only one that stays alive through the winter.  The rest lose their leaves until spring, but not the Christmas tree... This is what makes it the perfect tree to put up to celebrate Jesus.  He is alive!

Today I asked Matt to bring it in while I ran some errands and then I planned to set it up tonight.  And no sooner did I get home and eat and the electricity went out.  Matt had brought Des to dance so me and Eden and the boys lit some candles and snuggled on the couch together and talked.  We made animals out of hand shadows on the wall.  Isaiah kept saying how he loved that losing electricity helped us to "have some down time."  I didn't know he needed it so much - and I didn't know I did either.  But it was awesome.  We finally decided we should get the kids to bed since it was after 9pm and got them all tucked in.  The *very* minute we said goodnight, the lights came on!

I came down and started putting lights on the real tree.  The smell brought me back to my childhood - and even to the days before Rachel.  I had not remembered that we always had a real tree, even in 2010, until the year after Rachel died in 2011 when a friend gave us this fake one.

As a kid, my mom used to send me with other people to pick out (well anything I needed to buy...I was horrible to shop with) Christmas trees.  Because when I say they had to be 'perfect' I mean to tell you it took me hours.  If a tree had even a hole in the spot that would be in the back, NOPE!  Put it back.  If it was at all lopsided, forget it.  Too fat, uh uh.  Too skinny, blah!  I've let go of *some* of that OCD since then. :o) Well, this tree is one I would have picked as a kid.  And it reaches right up to our ceiling.  The tip of the star is touching it.

At first I was just going to get the lights on and let the kids transfer the ornaments in the morning.  But I kept going.  I realized this was exactly what I needed this year - imagine that - God knew!  I put everything except our new ornaments from this year on and will let them do that in the morning, but it looks so pretty... so bright... so alive!  And the smell through my house is proof that it is.

It took me quite a while with a few interruptions from kids waking up.  I finished it and picked up my phone to take a picture and it was 12:03.  You seriously cannot make this stuff up.

This Christmas tree is yet another symbol of my healing process... and another love note from God to remind me that she is ALIVE.  She is forever living.  Evergreen with Jesus.   I may have had to walk away from her body in the cemetery 6 years ago - but she was more alive then ever before as I did. Her light shines bright for all to see.  The aroma of her life has remained.

This Christmas is the first one that hasn't hurt as it approaches since she left... and it so happens that I once again have a real tree in the house as it does... ?  I don't believe it's a coincidence.  Especially since I didn't go out searching or expecting to get a tree.

As we walk through these next couple of weeks and remember Rachel while celebrating her little sister's birthday and our Savior's birthday... as we connect with family and friends - I will breathe deep the scent of life in this tree and memorize the glow of light off it's branches, and let it serve as a reminder of the light and life that is here because of Rachel and that is in heaven with her each moment we're apart.

I will thank God for my Christmas baby(ies) and His.

our old tree on the left. - Rachel's 1st Christmas tree is on her hope chest to the right

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Happy 6th Birthday, Rachel ♥

The night before Rachel's birthday this year was very similar to the one in 2010 - I got no sleep.  I was up late anyway, getting myself prepared for the day to follow - I made caramel brownies and after the clock turned midnight, Matt & I lit a candle and shared a treat, thinking about our girl.
As I lit the candle, I looked at the time - 12:03 ♥

But then Eden and Asa both weren't feeling well and between the two of them, we were up constantly.  At one point when Eden was up nursing for the 5th or 6th time between 2-6am, Matt said "This is ridiculous."  Without thinking twice,  I responded, "At least she's not dead."

And so began our 6th birthday without Rachel Alice...  She's still not here.  She's still missed.  She's still changing my perspective in every day - in a million ways.  She still gives me a reason to dance in the rain.

Later, I woke up and quickly looked at the clock to make sure I didn't stay in bed so late as to mess up my plans for her day.  It was before 8am, so I hopped out of bed and starting getting ready.  Our first stop was to be the Christmas Dove to pick out ornaments for the kids.  In years past, we have had the tradition of setting up our tree and Rachel's tree, as well as turning on our Christmas lights for the season but last year I felt like the entire day was hurried and stressful so I changed things this year.  We set up our tree the weekend of Thanksgiving and the lights during the week before her birthday.  And I got her tree decorated and ready to go the night before.

I woke up to a gift from Matt on the counter.  The card had a dandelion on it and said "It was a good day" and on the inside it read, "Because of YOU"  Ironically, I decided not to read the card until that night because I was trying to avoid crying so by the time I read it, I knew we had a good day this year, too... but his words of affirmation and thanks for all I did to celebrate Rachel and share her with the world was really good for my heart.  He told me he thought the "Hello Sunshine" art would be good for Eden's room, but had lots of Rachel things on it. ♥

We piled into the truck and stopped to get hot chocolate on the way to the Christmas dove.

Matt mentioned it was a nice day, which prompted me to look at the temperature.  Should we be surprised?!  #Godspeaksmylanguage !!
A friend also sent me a pic of her thermometer at 43 degrees in NC - not too often NH and NC have the same temp!

Our time at the Christmas Dove was amazing... It put my heart in the Christmas spirit, allowed the kids to be personally involved and excited about Rachel's birthday plans, gave me the ability to pick something specific to where my heart is with Rachel right now, as well as celebrate the time I have with her siblings and Daddy.  I mean, it was perfect.  My friend Claire works there and helped me with some decisions and personalized them for us - and then bought them for us as a gift!  Not only did each of the kids get to pick an ornament, but Matt & I got a new home one and one for Rachel and then we got a sled for Eden and Ezra since they weren't with us when a blog reader bought the rest of them sleds in 2010.  We also got a "1st Christmas" for Eden and dated it for last year since she was born on Christmas Eve, this is her 2nd Christmas!  We picked a glittery dove that says "In our hearts forever" for Rachel.  The dove reminds us of the dove that carried the fig leaf to the ark to show land was near - the hope and celebration of the end of the storm... and also our first year getting our ornaments on her birthday at the Christmas Dove!

Each year I give my kids a new, personalized ornament, usually one I made and write on myself.  But I get them all matching ones because that's what *I* like.  This is so awesome because when we look at the ornaments years from now, we will remember what each of them liked in 2016.  This is definitely going to be our new tradition for Rachel's birthday - it was so full of meaning, yet simple.

We left there and went to Rachel's grave.  I wish I could put into words what it feels like driving into that cemetery year after year - but there are not words to suffice.  When the Bible talks about 'groaning that words cannot express', I think that would come close.  It's just not right.  It feels so wrong to drive into a cemetery on my child's birthday.

The first thing I noticed is that, once again, all the leaves have gathered at her stone.  There isn't another stone near her that catches leaves like this - it makes me smile thinking of her jumping in leaves.  I don't think there are dead leaves in heaven, but just like a dandelion gone to seed, a pile of leaves is one of those things that kids just love by default.  I'm sure they'd make her smile too.

and of course, right next to the leaves... a pretty dandelion ♥

We set up her tree, which looks so pretty.  We had to simplify this year because of the cemetery's new rules, but I'm actually feeling good about it.  We sang Happy Birthday and shared some of the caramel brownies I had made the night before.

It might sound morbid, but when we take photos here, I can't help but think how our names are on this stone too and that one day, our bodies will be beneath this ground.  I hope it brings my children comfort as they miss us to know they spent so much time with us here - and have the photos to prove it.  I love them more than life itself. 

My big girl... she's taller than me now!

We stopped and had lunch and then came home to eat her cake.  I had not planned a cake and was happily surprised to see my mom had bought this special cake for Rachel.  She had it made gluten and dairy free for us.  She told me the woman who made it looked at my blog to get the detail ideas and it was PERFECT in every way!
The ballerina with daisies in her hair, the anchor, the 3 rainbows.. all of it.  and it was yummy :)

The kids wanted to get "trick" candles that couldn't be blown out.  So we blew on them and they lit up again... I felt like it was so much like Rachel.  Her light can't be blown out.  While the kids gathered around and laughed, trying to blow it out, I stood back and watched on, ever mindful of another message from God on this special day.  
After cake, I actually went out by myself to use a massage gift certificate that a friend had given me for Rachel's 4th birthday that I had not used yet!  It was 110 minutes!  I've never had a massage that long before and it was nice.  Kind of odd being out doing regular things on her birthday though.  I stopped at Old Navy to make a return on the way home from there.  Suddenly standing in line I had an intense urge to go to her grave, feeling like I hadn't been yet that day. It was like what I was doing was too 'normal' to be on Rachel's birthday.  I got home and Matt & I went out for a late dinner.  It was a busy, yet not stressful day.  Just what I needed.  I always get just what I need.

That night, driving home from dinner, the lights in town had been turned on.  I heard they turn them on the first Friday of December each year - so on the same year I couldn't set up my lights at home and turn them on for her birthday like I have for years, the downtown area of our new town lit up for me.  And yes, it felt like it was just for me. :) 

I had gone to the Post Office a few days earlier to close the PO Box for our nonprofit.  The costs keep going up and we don't get enough mail there to make it worth paying for.  I was standing in line waiting to talk to the teller when I glanced at the cards and thought maybe I'd get one for Rachel.  I don't usually do that, but the first card I picked up, was this card that I planned to write in and leave at her grave... it never happened and now I'm wondering if the card was from me to her - or from her to me.  
it was the hot chocolate that caught my eye...
It says " Whether all is calm or all is crazy, you're there..."

"Adding a bit of heavenly peace to my world"

I was blessed by the messages, calls, flowers, and facebook posts (starting after midnight!) reminding me that she isn't forgotten and showering this Mama's heart with love.  This year was different... in many ways... but I felt like it was a good day, for what the day represents.  It was over much too fast and the days that follow it are always difficult as I remember that week in 2010 when I realized the depths of pain I was going to be carrying the rest of my life.  But the day did feel peace-filled.  It felt right.  It felt like my family was *in it* with me.  It was the first time that Matt put so much thought into it and one of the few times he's vocalized that he recognizes all that I went through, yet managed to accomplish with Rachel's life and thanked me for it.  I don't seek after thanks, but I'm not gonna lie, some days it is really nice to hear.  That pregnancy of waiting for my little girl to die and the pain it has left in my soul is the absolute hardest thing I've endured in my entire life.  And it's not over, but God is healing me a little at a time.  I know complete healing will only come with heaven, but I'm very thankful for the places in my heart that have been mended.

I'm thankful for Rachel.  I am thankful for who her short life has made me.  I'm thankful for the big family we have, that we might have not welcomed if she had been able to stay here, for how her death shaped my beliefs and perspective.  I'm thankful that I have been so used by God in the process of what some might view as only tragic, HE made it beautiful and purposeful and I got to be a part of that.  It's truly special and I feel honored.  I hate the pain, but my reward has been great.

Thank You, Father for Christmas babies.... Jesus... Rachel... Eden Joy...

On the way to the cemetery I heard a song that was just perfect.  I'm going to end on this....

When I can't find the words to say how much it hurts
You are the healing in my heart
When all that I can see are broken memories
You are the light that's in the dark

You are the song
You are the song I'm singing
You are the air
You are the air I'm breathing
You are the hope
You are the hope I needed
Oh oh
You are

And when my circumstance leaves me with empty hands
You are the provider of my needs
When all my dirtiness has left me helpless
You are the rain that washes me

You are the song
You are the song I'm singing
You are the air
You are the air I'm breathing
You are the hope
You are the hope I needed
Oh oh

You are the song
You are the song I'm singing
You are the air
You are the air I'm breathing
You are the hope
You are the hope I needed
Oh oh

If I had no voice
If I had no tongue
I would dance for you like the rising sun
And when that day comes and I see your face
I will shout your endless glorious praise

If I had no voice
If I had no tongue
I would dance for you like the rising sun
And when that day comes and I see your face
I will shout your endless glorious praise

You are the song
You are the song I'm singing
You are the air
You are the air I'm breathing
You are the hope
You are the hope I needed

Oh oh

(You are the song) you are the song
You are the song I'm singing
(You are the air) you are the air
You are the air I'm breathing
(You are the hope) you are the hope
You are the hope I needed
I'm singing Oh oh

Friday, December 2, 2016

Safe in His Hands

24 hours left until the day changes to another December 3.

My heart is breaking all over again and for some reason, I'm surprised.

I'm struggling with the changes... a  new house means a different holiday set up - and a different way to represent Rachel in our Christmas decorations.  Since the ordeal with the house is still in full swing, there is still half of it we can't use so we are still in a huge transition, on top of being in a new house.  We haven't even been able to unpack everything yet. :(  I opened a Christmas box to find all these red bows I bought last year on clearance to decorate our fence this year.  I always put the lights, garland and bows up and turn them on on Rachel's birthday.... well, we don't have a fence anymore... and my heart was crushed.

I found a way to improvise and used my long set of stairs to put the lights and bows on and I will decorate her little tree I put down in my garden tomorrow... I feel ok about it.  I think it's Rachel worthy ♥ But it is hard to have so many ongoing and unsettled changes at the same time as her birthday.
Photo courtesy of Asa :) 

Isaiah helping me with the lights

I am trying to plan out what I want to do for her 6th birthday and my mind goes in a million directions.  I want simple, but meaningful.  Huge for my heart but little for our pockets.  Ordinary like my other kids get, while unique like she is.  And I have a couple of ideas, but am so nervous that my family is not going to be into it - or will forget its about Rachel... or lose sight of how much this hurts and what it means to me.

And once again, it just feels like a huge burden on my weary shoulders.  I'm told I don't carry it alone, but you wouldn't know it by the weight of it.  It takes my breath away multiple times a day, like a stack of bricks hitting my chest.  And in a strange way, I'm just as afraid for her day to end as I am for it to arrive.  It feels so much like when I was waiting for her birthday. Before I know it, the 3rd will come to an end again and we'll be onto the next celebration - her little sister's birthday and then Christmas - and my heart will still be on the 3rd, but I've come to know that the 3rd is not a day everyone else's world stopped.  And still won't.  It's mine.  It's my broken cart on the amusement ride.  I want them to shut the whole ride down and tell everyone to get off and eat fried dough with me, but it's not going to happen - they all have carts that are working just fine.

Everywhere I turn, there are signs for things going on on Dec. 3.  It's because it lands on a Saturday this year and it's killing me.  I never expected a Saturday birthday would be harder, but it IS.  Every Christmas time kick off activity is happening this Saturday... If you want to make a wreath, decorate cookies, meet Santa or attend a community fundraiser - Saturday is your day.  When what I want is for the world to stop and let me go at a slow, introverted, thought-filled pace.... and I already know it's not going to happen.

I have a feeling this December is going to define the tightrope of joy and sorrow like never before.

This is the first year since she died that I feel excited about Christmas.  This could be in part because a friend of a friend asked if she could be our Santa this year and is getting each of the kids 4 gifts that she is going to wrap and bring to me labeled!  So all we have to do is stuff the stockings.  Taking away the stress of all of that work is a huge relief to me right now.  So I think that plays into it.  But it's also just part of where I'm at in my missing Rachel... she truly has become part of me in a different way this past year.  I am not convinced words will do it justice, so I won't try to explain it, but I'll just say that I feel so much peace around thoughts of her as a general rule.  I truly have a piece of me in heaven and a piece of heaven in me.  It's a gift.  She is a gift.

But in the middle of starting to feel exited, I have these thoughts - feelings - emotions - memories... that are kicking my butt and I'm just so sad all of a sudden.  I'm pretty confident I will get past it and enjoy Christmas.  I will love watching Eden Joy turn one on Christmas Eve... I will do all the traditions I always do with my living kids and do my best to include my Rachel... I am just praying that God will do something to make it more than a survival test, but that He will encourage me in the ways He does best through these next couple of weeks.  I am so fragile right now.  But I'm safe in His hands.

My friend Darla sent me this video last year for Rachel's birthday week and it just came to mind as I wrote those last words.

I am safe in His hands.

And He has me.  He has this.  He won't let me go.

A Kiss from Heaven

I've had a fairly 'easy' year of 'grieving' or whatever you call this stage of grief. I don't feel like I actively grieve anymore - so it's kind of catching me off guard how sad I am this week.

I've cried. A lot. At random times and mid-sentence when I don't see it coming. I'm not used to that anymore. I was, but now I'm not. And it is no fun. It feels alienating and uncomfortable. It makes me want to hide away. To wear sunglasses to conceal the puffy eyes I'm carrying around. It makes talking about surface topics with people who don't know or care almost impossible. I'm trying to wear a smile and keep sharing it. Especially since I know I'm not the only one feeling this way as Christmas draws near. So many people hurt this time of year. It's hard to miss people you love at Christmas time. I suppose having a Christmas baby die only accentuated that truth for me.

I knew last year before December was over that this year I was going to slow way down with Rachel's nonprofit and turn in towards my family and be more intimate with Rachel's special days. It's a good thing I wanted that, because something tells me that with everything going on with our house since August, we wouldn't have been able to do anything like I usually do. But as her birthday gets closer, my heart has been hurting, so unsure of what I will want or not want and what will be ok or not ok when Saturday rolls around. As usual, God put something on my heart pretty heavily just in perfect timing....

There is a local mom who lost a girl to SIDS 15 years ago. Her family has been without heat because her furnace is broken and landlord hasn't fixed it yet - so I asked the board for Rachel's Legacy if they thought it was appropriate to buy them heated blankets for Rachel's b-day and they said yes! So today we went and bought heated blankets and some hot chocolate and mini marshmallows and brought them over to them. I explained to her that this is not something I could afford to do on my own, but that our board of directors thought that it was the perfect idea to give them a gift, as a fellow baby loss mom, that would keep them warm. I added the hot chocolate because you know how I feel about that. ♥ Thank you to everyone who has supported our ministry because it's YOU who actually gave this family this gift today - but you also gave me a gift in being able to deliver it and do something in memory of Rachel. Thank you ♥♥♥

We stood in the cold rain and talked about our daughters. It's amazing to me how I can cry with someone who is technically a stranger to me and feel so understood. She listened, she shared. I did the same. And then we hugged - and there is something about a hug from a mom who has lost a child.... There is something special and strong and full of grace and mercy and unconditional love in a hug from a baby loss Mama... It's different and sincere and deep... all of it from the conversation - to the tears - to the hug. And boy, did I need that today.

I realized how beautifully different my Rachel Alice has made me. Because I am all of that in a hug, too - and am better than I was before her in so many ways. Many ways in which some would say I'm weaker or less stable, but I know in the ways that matter to God, I have grown. It's been a long, lonely and painful journey these past 6 years and 4 months since her diagnosis. I was surrounded by hundreds of people, but so, so alone in it.

I got home and saw a message from this mom saying "thank you so much" and I responded with only a big heart and it said "Sent at 1:43pm" And in that moment, I felt a special, strong, full of grace and mercy and unconditional love, kiss from heaven on my heart. God always allows me to see that she somehow knows. I don't know how or in what way or what time is like there, but I feel pretty confident in saying she knows.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Looking Back

Here we are again - the week before Rachel's birthday.

So many memories come flooding back this time of year... all of the pain, the fear, the heartache... the millions of ways my heart broke in those long 4 months between her diagnosis and her death - and especially the realization of exactly how clueless I was about how hard it was about to get.  Who could imagine it would be worse than being pregnant with a baby who was going to die?  I couldn't.  And I know dozens of people who clearly had the same struggle imagining it because they didn't stick around long after she died - the unanticipated heaviness was nothing they were interested in carrying for long.  Why would they be?  If I didn't have to, I wouldn't want to either.  Heck, I wish I could walk away from it.

I remember odd things from those days - like sitting in a big comfy office chair my mom had just bought me to help with my back pain.  I remember pulling it up to the Thanksgiving dinner table and dropping my camera in the gravy when I asked Des to take a picture of me and Matt.  I remember laying on the couch and listening to a sermon and then finding the Shaun the Sheep show for the first time, while I watched my belly move all around and being so thankful for her every move.

The gravy didn't break the camera :)

I remember the constant Doctor appointments, the way it hurt to do anything and everything - both physically and emotionally.  I remember being so scared, and yet feeling God getting me so ready.  And so much more...

What I don't remember is anything Matt & I did that contributed to keeping our marriage together.  I don't remember taking care of my other 3 kids' basic needs.  I don't remember doing any of the things I had done before, enjoying a single conversation, or taking a shower that I didn't cry more tears than the drops of water that washed over me.  But somehow, God held us all together.  Somehow we still smiled.

I shared a lot of beauty in my pain.  I promised her I would.  I told of the wondrous things God had done.  I promised Him I would.  I made a lot of hard decisions, that some still hold against me.  I promised myself, when I got her diagnosis, that I would take care of me and my house before worrying about anyone else.  I tried like crazy to make this extraordinarily painfully brutal situation something other than a picture of pain. I tried to paint Rachel in a beautiful light that people weren't afraid of.  I tried to take every ounce of pain and allow Him to use it for my good and His glory.  I tried to not hurt others along the way as I attempted to protect myself and relationships in my life that I wanted to last.  And I tried so hard to make it so nobody would ever forget her.

Looking back, I hope I managed - but I'm not convinced I did.

Looking back, I can't tell if my feelings are accurate - and it feels so far away I have certain memories that stand out and a whole lot that are lost in the time between then and now.

Looking back, I wish I could take the calmness that surrounds my heart in my pain of missing Rachel in these days, and live in that in those days.

Looking back, I wish I would have said less and prayed more.  Explained myself less.  Cared about people's opinions less.  Been able to give more.  I just couldn't.  I did my best, and it wasn't good enough for so many - and often not good enough for my own expectations of myself.  And it was so painful.  In so many ways.

Looking back, I wonder if this blog was really the best idea.  I was so excited over the number of people who read my words, cared about my journey, supported me with each new goal I set for Rachel's Legacy... and maybe I wouldn't have survived this pain without that excitement and purpose to distract me.  I don't know.  But I sometimes wonder how much I traded for what I got.  This blog came with a ton of sacrifice.  It took away my privacy, my ability to protect Rachel from the world, and it opened my heart up for criticism I wasn't really able to withstand in those days. Sometimes I can't take it in these days.

This is the first year since 2010, that I don't have a celebration going on for Rachel's birthday.  It's kind of scary for me.  I am so afraid of not having something worthy of her memory to do for her day and feeling like a failure. Last year though, I did a big gift (baby shower) for someone else in her memory and that was awesome, but on her actual birthday, I still opened an empty PO Box - and it hurt.  I pulled up to nothing on her grave, and it hurt. (But Elisha and Bella did come to visit while we were there!!)  The phone remained quiet and it hurt.  Family forgot - or didn't find it necessary to try to remember - and it hurt.  I worked hard all day on setting up lights and our tree, only to feel like Matt & the kids we only thinking about Christmas and I felt alone in my missing her - and it hurt.  It still hurt.  It always does.

I've been looking for a month, trying to figure out what we could do for her day that will feel right for my heart.  And I just don't know.  And it is only a week away.  I can't even believe it's only a week away.  How has it really been 6 years?  How do *I* not have something planned?  Am I going to like that, or regret it?  Should I hurry up and figure something out?  Or wake up that day and go with the flow?  Something tells me I should have a plan, yet I have no idea what that should be.  I feel that same awkward feeling of not knowing how to do this every year - just like I do when I bring a new baby home.  I have had enough babies, one would think I'd have it down, but still each one brings me back to being so unsure of my ability - because each one is different.

Looking back, that's the only thing that has stayed consistent... I still don't know how to do this.

And the only thing that is consistent in response to that is that God is enough.

At her funeral