Monday, December 30, 2013

New Year

This post is probably going to go several different directions, so please bear with me.

2012 was the worst year for our family. We buried a son, and with him many hopes and dreams of what could be. I was very depressed for the last half of the year, and living with me was no easy task. As the year closed, I was thankful to survive and looked forward to the hope of a new start. I truly believed God would give us a baby in 2013. I found a Pinterest post about a Blessings Jar and decided our family should start one for the new year. I used an old Gatorade jar and we began filling it with little slips of paper, counting our blessings.

I've taken several pictures throughout the year, but this is the only one I can find right now. As you can see, it's almost full! We can't wait to open it up tomorrow night and literally count our blessings! I'm going to play the old hymn, and we're going to write them down in a notebook so we can look back over the years at the ways God has blessed us. I will admit we weren't perfect at keeping up with the jar. There were many months when it was literally lost in the chaos, and many times we would write five or more blessings at once. If you decide to incorporate a Blessings Jar in your life, take comfort in knowing there is no right or wrong way to do it. Have fun!

So 2013 didn't turn out the way I'd hoped, we don't have a baby and there is no indication our family will be growing anytime soon. I'm not going to say I'm okay with that, because in my heart I still want another baby. But I know God's timing is best. Everything works out for His glory. A few months ago I made a visual reminder of this truth. The women's ministry at my church takes trips to Pottery Hollow, a place where you can paint pottery. The first time I went I made a plate for Hope with a Bible verse that has her name in it and has encouraged me through the years. The second time I really wanted to make something for myself. I chose a coffee mug (to drink my morning tea in) and searched my Pinterest boards for the right quote. I finally settled on this one:

"Faith in God includes faith in His timing"
When I showed my small group leader, Amy, what I was making, she practically jumped with excitement. "And just think, every day while you're drinking your tea and having your quiet time, you can have this as a reminder that God isn't finished with you!" Amy is amazing. I made it in early November (or late October...can't remember which) and as the pictures show, it's already begun to chip. There's a huge chunk of paint off the handle, and there were a few nicks in it when I got it. I wasn't really disappointed though. I knew I wanted to write a blog post about the potter and the clay, and I figured that would fit perfectly. I drink out of it almost every day, and it has been so encouraging to have a constant reminder that God's timing is perfect. 

So, what does 2014 hold? Shaun already has a promotion, so hopefully the bills and the paychecks will balance out. Hope will start her last year of elementary school in the fall. As for me, well, God knows. I plan on reading more books, and continuing my personal Bible studies. I'm hopeful we can watch less TV and eat healthier. Beyond that, I don't know what the future holds, but I know who's holding it. 

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Hey Look, I Found a Rainbow

Not what you were expecting? Well, it wasn't what I was expecting, either. I saw this new magnet on Grandma Jo's fridge, and I had to smile. God DOES keep His promises! 

Isaiah 41:10 NIV
So do not fear, for I am with you;
do not be dismayed, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you;
I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.

I was searching for a verse this morning, and I think it's worded differently in another version than the two I have, so I was getting frustrated when I couldn't find the wording I want in the NIV or ESV. As I was searching my eyes caught this verse, and I think it is almost better suited for what I wanted to say today.

When we lost William, my world fell apart. I lived in a shadow for months. Looking back, it was the grace of God that allowed me to function and keep putting one foot in front of the other. There were days (early on) when I was thankful breathing is natural, because if I needed to remember it I would probably be dead. Or I would just give up. They say there is nothing worse than burying a child. Thankfully this was the closes I've come, but I'm confident "they" are right. 

Everyone, and I mean EVERYONE I know who suffered a late miscarriage was able to conceive within the first four months following. They all kept telling me how confident they were we would have another baby, how they wouldn't have this child if they hadn't lost that one, and how everything would work out. I want to thank those people for taking a devastating situation and making it so much worse. I know they had the best intentions. I know they were just trying to comfort me. What they didn't understand was I only had two desires growing up: To have a large family and to have kids closer in age than my sister and me (eight and a half years). With each month, my chances of having both those dreams dwindled. While I'm hopeful that God will allow us to conceive and carry another baby to term, only HE knows how our story will end. I know the doctors insist there is nothing wrong and we should be able to have another child with no troubles, but even they don't know when it will happen.

26 In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. 27 And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.
28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who[i] have been called according to his purpose. 29 For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. 30 And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified. (Romans 8:26-30)

The Spirit carried me through last year. Many times I prayed "God, I just don't have the words. Please listen to my heart." I was so broken. In the weeks before we learned of my pregnancy with William I posted Romans 8:28 on our bathroom mirror.  When I couldn't stand not being pregnant, I prayed that verse asking God to work my situation. When I finally tested positive, I was sure it was God saying "YES! Here's the baby you've been praying for." Little did I know a few months later those verses would be read over my son's grave. 

Infertility is a difficult experience. Even now my husband and I disagree with what to call our situation. Webster defines it as "not able to reproduce, not able to reproduce children, animals, etc." I have a child, so according to Shaun I'm not infertile. What I've tried to explain to him is that my experience is similar to secondary infertility, but still not the same. There isn't a word for what I struggle with. I would define it as "difficulty carrying a second baby to term." There's nothing that fits that description. We can conceive! For whatever reason we just haven't been able to bring home a baby yet. 

I heard more heartwarming adoption stories yesterday, and while I hope we will one day adopt, I really think we're called to wait right now. I worked weekly with babies in 2013, and now in 2014 I will be stepping back and not working as often. I'm a little nervous about not having a weekly "baby fix", but I am confident now God is calling me to wait in rest. I've been working while I wait, and I'm great at that, but sometimes we need to just draw close to Him and wait. I hope 2014 will bring a new baby into our home. I hope I can watch my husband father a son or daughter. I hope I can give my in-laws the grandchild they desire. Above all else, I hope I can continue to praise God while I'm waiting. I hope when my flesh fails, the Spirit carries me through. 

Merry Christmas

Christmas is my favorite holiday. I love celebrating my savior's birth. I've struggled with feeling the 'Christmas spirit' this year. I wasn't as weepy over William's due date as I was I was last year, but it was still a hard day. We haven't decorated or enjoyed most of our traditions, and that has made it difficult to feel 'Christmassy'.
I spent many years juggling work schedules and family parties. This is the first year in recent memory when we haven't had to do that. I never understood why people would be relieved to work on any holiday, as it just caused stress for us. This year I am thankful to be together, but I can see how any holiday can be heartbreaking.

Right now I'm sitting next to a bassinet purchased for William. Only two things were bought for him; one is a nursing cover I kept hoping we can use it someday, and the other is this bassinet Shaun's grandma bought and stored for us. She lives an hour and a half away, so this is only the second time I've seen it. Last year it brought me to tears and I hated to be near it. Today I was surprised and relieved to see it in the same corner. I was surprised she kept it. I'm so thankful it's here as a reminder William was important, and it's symbolic of the hope we have that one day it will hold our child. 

We've enjoyed making memories with our new Christmas Angel. I've read favorite stories with the child I watch, and Hope has read some new ones with me. Did this Christmas turn out the way I'd hoped or planned? Absolutely not. But I'm thankful for another holiday to spend with those I love. I'm thankful for another chance to celebrate my savior. I'm thankful for a child who knows the true meaning of Christmas, and doesn't expect piles of presents.
Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 13, 2013

Wait for the Lord

I have never been a patient person, though God has given me many opportunities to grow in that area. When I was little I just wanted a little sister to play with, I waited eight years for her and another two before she wanted to play with me. Of course by that time I didn't want to play with her. Years later God blessed me with a step-brother and step-sister, and eventually a half sister. I never had the inseparable bond many of my friends experienced with their siblings, but I can honestly say we all love and respect each other now.

When my (first) little sister was a toddler I often lamented "Patience is a virtue that you don't have!" I knew I was just as guilty of impatience, but it was so much more fun to accuse her. Big sisters can be mean. Looking back, that's one of the reasons I wanted my kids close in age; I knew it took years and horrible experiences for us to bond well, and I wanted better for my kids. Maybe God's plan is better than mine.

A few weeks ago a dear friend said her daily devotion was on the subject of waiting, and she thought I would like to read it. I told her I'm always eager to hear more on  this topic, as it's been a great struggle for me. Last night she handed me a photocopy of the devotion. I read it this morning, and I have to share some of it with you.

From Charles Spurgeon:
For example, Jacob had to wait all night for a blessing from the Lord, for God "wrestled with him till daybreak" (Gen. 32:23). Jesus did not immediately answer the plea of the woman of Syrian Phoenicia "whose little daughter was possessed by an evil spirit" (Mark 7:25). "Three times [Paul] pleaded with the Lord to take .... away" his "thorn in [the] flesh" (2 Cor. 12:7-8), but never received any assurance it would happen. Instead, he was given the promise from the Lord: "My grace is sufficient for you" (v. 9).
If you have been knocking at God's gate of mercy but have not received an answer, do you believe I can tell you why the all-powerful Creator has not opened the door and let you enter? I cannot, for our Father has reasons for keeping us waiting that are all His own. Sometimes it is to demonstrate His power and sovereignty so people will know Jehovah has a right to give and withhold. Yet more often than not it is for our benefit. Perhaps you have been kept waiting in order that your desires would become more passionate. God knows His delay will enliven and increase your desire, and that if He keeps you waiting, you will see your needs more clearly and will seek an answer more earnestly, and that ultimately you will value His mercy even more having waited for it. 

There is so much more in this little devotion I would love to write, but there just isn't time. What struck me this morning is these are three examples I've rarely seen referenced when talking about waiting. Sarah and Abraham are commended for waiting for Isaac. Hannah is praised for waiting for Samuel. These are amazing stories, and I have been encouraged by each from time to time, but sometimes knowing both waits ended with a baby is heartbreaking to a woman waiting for children she may never have. 

Why is God keeping us waiting? Part of me believes it's to help us take our eyes off the things of this world and focus on Him. I struggle with that so much, I fear my eyes will never fully focus on my God. Sometimes I think it's to give us the patience we will need with an infant and a pre-teen in the house. More than likely it's a reason we will never know until we see Him face to face. I hope that while I wait I can direct others to Him. I hope that I can encourage and uplift the people around me, reminding them there is more than this life. As I wait, I look for examples of God's blessings, and encouragement from others who have waited.

One example God showed me this week came from a family our church is sending to be missionaries in Africa. I just started to get to know them in 2012, about two years before they were finally able to make the move to Chad. This Sunday God used the husband to speak to me. I realized while listening to more of their story I need to quit focusing on a pregnancy or baby. I need to quit trying to figure out God' plan. He's God, He's big enough to worry about it. I've tried hard in the last two years to think of every solution, hoping that once I thought of everything God would have to go with one of them. Now I see that's just silly. God will do what He wants, and He knows more than I could ever hope to. His solution is perfect, and still probably very different from what I have "planned". I'm stepping out on faith, saying God's way is the ONLY way. My expression of faith right now is to rest in God, drawing close to Him. I am called now to wait patiently and quietly. If you know me at all, you know this is a greater challenge for me than dealing with a room full of screaming toddlers. Please pray for me, for I don't know how I'm going to learn to wait and rest. I am going to rest on the words of David: 

I am still confident of this: I will see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living. Wait for the LORD; be strong and take heart and wait for the LORD.
Psalm 27:13-14

Saturday, December 7, 2013

What to Say

I know, I know. It's been over a year, I should accept the miscarriage and move on. Most of me has, and yet... I still want my story to end with a baby. A baby I carry or a baby we adopt, I don't care which. I'm really trying to quit looking for a baby as the end result, but it's so hard. So, if you know a woman who's suffered a miscarriage or stillbirth, here are some things you can say or do to comfort, even years later.

1) Say her baby's name. Write it, type it, say it. Every mom wants to see her child's name in print. Most of us only see them on tombstones or sympathy cards. People don't talk about the baby, because they don't know what to say. Just give her a hug and say "I saw this and it made me think of you and (insert baby's name)..." and tell her your story. Send cards or messages on due dates and angel dates, even years later. The pain lessens, but it never goes away.

2) Encourage her to share. Some women will tell you every detail, others won't talk much at all. Most fall somewhere in between. Let her know you're always there to listen, and then ACT on it! If she messages you in the middle of the night, make it a priority to respond right after your morning cup of coffee. She needs to know you mean it when you say she can talk to you. It's hard to determine who you can reach out to, and it takes a lot of courage to start a conversation.

3) Give her a hug. You may not know if she needs it or not, but human touch is always a wonderful thing. If she's crying, offer a shoulder to cry on. Understand the tears don't stop. They may not come every day, but there will always be a giant hole in her heart. There will always be something that triggers her tears.

4) With her consent, strike up conversations with her husband or kids about the miscarriage. My princess always has something to share. It's not something we bring up, because I don't want her to feel pressure to feel any certain way, but there are days when she just wants to cuddle and cry. I know if someone asked her about William, she would jump at the opportunity to talk about him. Shaun desperately wanted a man to talk to after our loss, but men aren't always open to talking. Have your husband take him to shoot pool or play golf, something to get out of the house and relax for a bit. Take her kids on outings with your family. Let them know they're loved.

5) Understand that it will take time to heal, and everyone's journey is unique. Just because your great aunt got pregnant immediately following a loss doesn't mean your friend will. For a woman who's struggling with carrying a baby to term, these stories can do more harm than good. I know so many people told me their positive stories afterwards, I was certain we would conceive right away. Now seventeen months later we still don't have a baby, and there's no indication that I'll conceive anytime soon.

6) Know that miscarriage is a mysterious thing. Doctors don't want to bring it up during visits, because they don't want to worry patients. Many families don't have an autopsy performed, and even when they do it won't necessarily explain why it happened. We know William had a Chromosome 13 defect, but we don't know if that caused his death. We won't ever know for sure. Also, it doesn't matter if she was eight weeks or thirty-eight weeks, she loved her baby. The pain is the same.

7) Also know that with every subsequent pregnancy her first thought will be "Will I lose this one too?" It's not that she's not excited, but she now knows how easy it is to lose a baby you barely know. Some women will delay announcing a pregnancy because of this, others (like me) will use it as a reason to announce right away, maybe even before a doctor confirms it.

8) You're pregnant? Congratulations! She wants to be happy for you, and she may be, but she's also fighting jealousy. You already have two (or three, or more) kids you didn't plan/want. You may have planned each and love them dearly, but still....why is it so easy for you when it's such a struggle for her? While I know you want to update everyone on every kick, every sickness, every pound gained, understand these posts will be hard for her to follow. She may out of loyalty, or she may distance herself from you for a time. Don't be offended. Just try to understand she's a mess of emotions. Whatever you do, DO NOT complain in front of her. She would swap every grave, every tear, every painful memory for weight gain, memory loss, nausea or any other annoying pregnancy symptom.

9) Tell her she's an awesome mom, even if she only has children in heaven. Point out how she's changed her diet, exercised more, or done anything to make her body ready to conceive and carry a baby. If she has a child or two, point out the amazing things she does with them. We all should encourage each other, but moms struggling with fertility desperately need it.

10) Pray for her, and tell her. Tell her how far you've seen her come since her first loss. Tell her how inspiring she is. She won't believe it the first time, but after a while she'll begin to see. Send notes of encouragement, years after her loss. Every mom I know still thinks about the babies they lost, sometimes decades later. The pain never goes away. It may lessen, but it will always be there.

I hope all these make sense. It's hard to reach out to someone after a miscarriage, and we often think we should stop after a while. These are just my opinions, based on my experiences and observations. Thanks for reading!

Monday, December 2, 2013

Dandelion December

Dandelions have always been my favorite flower. I know most people consider them weeds, but they will always be flowers in my heart. By the start of November I was sure I'd seen the last of these little flowers this year. The frost would hit soon, and anything left would perish. I remember being pleasantly surprised to see one or two here or there throughout the month, but I didn't think much of it at the time.

Yesterday one of my dear friends shared her testimony in church. You can read her story here. As I was watching the video about their heartache, Satan started his attacks. "Look at that perfect family. See, if you had started the adoption process immediately after losing William you could have your baby by now." I shut him down just as quickly "This is THEIR story, not mine. God has a plan for each of us, and ours is to wait." It's not been easy, but I've found it easier to speak truth as time goes on. I know we're waiting for God to move. I know that His plan is perfect. That's all that matters.

So what does all this have to do with dandelions? I'm getting there, I promise. I walked home after church yesterday (yes, I walked in December! It was that nice of a day!). As I was walking home I spotted a full dandelion seed ball.

At first I stepped over it and kept walking, then I realized what I just saw. A dandelion in December! Not just a dandelion, but dandelion seeds! Seeds are the beginning of life. Seeds are the promise of hope, that something new will be born. I excitedly ran back and scooped it up. I snapped a quick picture (bottom) and brought it home. As I continued walking, I counted four more dandelions! These were the cute little yellow flowers. I picked one and brought it home, reminded that God keeps his promises. I put both in our remote control holder (top), but the yellow one was missing this morning. Honestly, I don't care. I'm just glad I saw the seeds. I'm hoping to find a spot to keep it this winter, as a visual reminder that God keeps his promises, and there is always a chance for new life. Given how delicate it is I know it probably won't last the whole time, but I'll enjoy it each day it does. 

Praise Him

When I was little one of my favorite songs was "God is Love"

Praise Him, praise Him
All ye little children
God is love, God is love
Praise Him, praise Him
All ye little children
God is love, God is love

I invited everyone I knew to church, and I prayed daily for my friends and neighbors. I specifically remember having the chicken pox and being bored our of my mind (happened frequently as an only child...) and having a tea party for Jesus. I invited Him to my room and played just like he was there with my invisible friends. I never thought anything bad would happen, or I would ever not want to praise Him.

Many years and heartache later, I still praise Him. There are many times when it's hard, but there's many times when it's rewarding. I'm supposed to be journaling the "God Spots", the times when God reveals himself me through little answers to prayer. Unfortunately journaling is one of those things I love to do but don't always make time for. So tonight I'm going to share with you some ways God has answered prayer recently.

My husband, Shaun, has worked at the same gas station since right after our marriage. He quickly worked his way up to assistant manager, but was stuck in that position for several years. While we appreciated the paycheck, we struggled to make ends meet. There were times when I took two jobs or jobs far away from home just to make sure we had enough. When he couldn't get time off after William's death, I was ready to demand he quit. I was sure there had to be a better job out there. As usual, he calmed me down and assured me he was doing the right thing by staying. It was hard, but I trusted him. Earlier this year we learned there could be an opportunity for promotion as soon as next year. Imagine our surprise when the opportunity presented itself weeks (rather than months) later! We prayed through the application and interview process, and God answered! Shaun not only got the promotion, he also received a hefty pay raise. We are still incredibly thankful, and in shock. God is good!

I always hoped my home would be a safe haven for people who didn't have anywhere else to go. Not necessarily strangers, because I know that can be dangerous, but maybe friends or family who are struggling. Last week our community was hit by a tornado. It destroyed several homes and businesses, and with my babysitting job I wasn't sure how much I could help. I went to the ministry our church has and spent some time sorting through clothes and other donations. Then one of the moms said she wanted to go help with cleanup, but needed someone to watch her kids. Woohoo! Something I could do! For three days last week I had two extra little boys in my home. We had fun playing sword fights, building pretend fires, and they even built their own guns and played army! I've always said I wouldn't know what to do with boys, but it turns out I have more ideas than I knew. They're not as difficult as I feared. God has routinely placed boys of various ages in my life in recent years, and I don't think I'd be lost if he blessed us with a little boy to raise. Once again, it was nice to see how God can use our little home to bless others. It felt good to help someone help someone. He didn't answer my prayer when I wanted or exactly how I wanted, but He did listen, and he did answer.