Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Another Caption Contest!

it's time for another caption contest!
Today, we found ourselves with a photo op...
and Paxton's expression just makes me laugh :)
That's my boy!

(and yes... the laundry was clean!)

Here's the deal: 
If I have at least 10 caption entries (from 10 different people) by 10:00 pm on Thursday (approximately 48 hours from now), I will then post a poll with the entries and allow voting. The caption with the most votes will receive a prize... I've not decided for sure what the prize will be, but I will come up with something!

Happy Captioning!!
(Though I'm sure it won't be an issue, any caption that may be considered as disrespectful will be promptly removed)

Saturday, August 27, 2011

The New Normal

There is no word for this. There is no word for this beautifully excruciating state of being, in which a parent has been separated from her child by death. There is no term to express the existence of a parent on earth while her child lives in Heaven. Why is that?
                A person who has lost a spouse is a widow or widower. A child who has lost her parents is an orphan. They have terms to describe the change that took place in that moment of loss. They have terms to label their “new normal.”
                I don’t.
                I’ve thought quite a bit about the phrase “new normal,” as I have heard it referenced many times since we began this journey last December. I look back at what was once normal and it seems … young. In a way, it was like graduating from grade school and going directly into college. It’s a whole new level… a whole new normal. What was true then is still true now, but it’s so much deeper and more expansive. While I knew such a loss was possible, I had no way of fully knowing the impact of it until I experienced it for myself. I had no way of knowing the unique mixture of joy and sorrow, and peace in pain. It’s more than just being sad and missing someone.
                The new normal is ever-changing. Who I was before is being continually re-defined. I don’t think there’s really a point when it is possible to say, “ok, I’ve moved on, I’m good now.” When a rock is thrown into a lake, the ripples continue after the initial impact. Maybe I should say, rather, when a rain drop hits a lake…
                The new normal is an odd mix of anticipation and sorrow, with renewed purpose and utter exhaustion. The new normal is being surprised when tears suddenly spring up in my eyes at the most random reminders that she’s no longer with us on earth, yet feeling joy that she was my baby girl. As painful as it has been, I can’t make myself wish for the old normal. The old normal didn’t include my babies, and in the old normal, I hadn’t caught a glimpse of Heaven.
            There should be a word for this.
            If I were to choose or create a word to label this new normal, I’d want it to reflect how the experience is never truly over, but it is ever-changing and developing. I’d want it to reflect how a parent’s way of relating to others morphs into something different and the view of the world and its priorities shifts significantly. I’d want it to be clear that, although a sense of humor may still be present, there is a continual, unspoken somber air that clings to the parent of a child in Heaven. We’ve glimpsed the other side…. And the other side seems more real than this one.
            A term to describe a parent who has lost a child would need to incorporate the idea of a challenge, a journey, and being broken. It would reflect a new character and a new' way of relating to life.
            I think of the story of Naomi and her daughter-in-law, Ruth. After losing her husband and sons, Naomi returned to her former home. When the women there saw her, they said, “Can this be Naomi?”  

“20 “Don’t call me Naomi,” she told them. “Call me Mara, because the Almighty has made my life very bitter. 21 I went away full, but the LORD has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi? The LORD has afflicted me; the Almighty has brought misfortune upon me.”” (Ruth 1:20-21)

Naomi, whose name meant “pleasant,” told them to no longer call her Naomi. She was different. She preferred to be called by a name that meant bitter. “Bittersweet” is a term I’ve found myself using frequently over the past months. We know God is working, even through the painful parts of the experience. I’m not sure how to take Naomi’s response. I hope she eventually found the joy in the sorrow, though I don’t get the impression from that brief passage that she had yet. I hope that when she saw her faithful daughter-in-law, and as she held her grandson, Obed, she felt the sweet that went along with the bitter.
            Regardless of whether or not Naomi found the sweet with the bitter, it is evident that she was a changed woman. Loss does that. Painful life experiences open our eyes to deeper truths about our existence.  According to Paul, our sufferings produce perseverance, or the ability to keep on keeping on. (“ 3 Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4 perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5 And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.” Romans 5:3-5)
            “We also glory in our sufferings.” Glory… as in magnificence, splendor, wonder, etc. … in our sufferings. The sufferings are part of the journey. It’s easy to become bitter at the sufferings… but then we miss out on the glory of them. Sufferings lead to perseverance, which leads to character, which leads to HOPE. Thank God, we have that hope (‘cause wow, what a mess I’d be without it). I have hope because I know the story isn’t over. My identity is not bitterness alone.
            Though I’m no longer who I once was, I’m not entirely bitter. There is some sweet in the mix. I’d rather have had my daughter with anencephaly than not at all. God gave us so much through her, and it has been bittersweet. I’m not a Mara… I’m a Mara-Naomi.

**edit: I think I should start using the term Maranomi to describe this... go to www.facebook.com/AfterTheRainn to discuss what the term might mean to you!

Available on Amazon in Paperback and Kindle versions. Click the book cover to check it out!

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Couldn't see the forest for the trees...

It seems like it never fails that when I’m running behind, I end up behind the slowest vehicles on the road. One morning recently, it was a logging truck. It’s always tempting to complain when that happens, but I try to remind myself that in ALL things, God works for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28). So far, it helps to keep me calm when it seems there’s always a car in the other lane when passing may have been possible (or at least calmer than I would be otherwise).
            On the way to work that day, I wondered if maybe God was protecting me from something by slowing me down, so I tried to just relax and be ok with getting there when I could get there. I eventually arrived and of course, the day went on just fine.
            That evening, as I left work, I ended up behind yet another slow-moving logging truck. Seriously? What are the odds?? I wondered if God had something else for me to see. I certainly couldn’t see very far in front of me. Talk about not being able to see the forest for the trees! I did my best to accept the slower pace and let my mind wander.
            Accepting a slower pace isn’t always easy to do. In fact, it’s rarely easy to do; especially when there’s somewhere you really want to be. As I followed the logs, I thought of where I was headed. I know the road pretty well and knew my destination, but not being able to see the view unobstructed changed my perception a bit. It’s easy to get impatient when something is blocking the path. It’s harder to anticipate the curves.
            This year has had so many twists and turns. A friend described it well the other day when she labeled it as “intense.” The pain has been intense, and so has the joy: all at the same time. We’re still facing twists and turns. Even so, I keep feeling like we’re on the verge of something wonderfully big, but we’re stuck behind a logging truck. I can’t see around it and it’s hard to not become impatient. I keep hoping the destination is just around the next curve, but it seems like I still have a long way to go.
            I’m comforted in knowing that even though I can’t see what’s just past the logging truck, God knows because He has plans for us. He’s allowed us to face trials along the way so we’ll be prepared to face whatever’s coming up. If we were allowed to rush along at our own pace, we may miss out on some key ingredient to the bigger picture. Maybe being forced to slow down is God’s way of getting us to stop and fully experience our surroundings before moving on. After all, He sees what’s coming when we can’t… and He knows what we’re going to need in order to face whatever it is. If we could see the whole road at once, we’d be more likely to give up from the start and miss out on what’s at the next intersection. Eventually, we or the logging truck will turn and the view will again be clear… and that’s just what happened that day too.

Jeremiah 29:11
New International Version (NIV)
11 For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.

James 1:2-5
New International Version (NIV)
Trials and Temptations
 2 Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. 4 Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. 5 If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Under the Weather

         On the way home from work the other day, I was under the weather. Literally. As I was leaving the office, the National Broadcast System reported that a Severe Thunderstorm Warning had been issued. The wind nearly blew the door out of my hand as I walked onto the porch, and the sky was dark. The atmosphere was ominous. As I pulled onto the highway headed home, I could see a patch of bright blue sky with big fluffy white clouds in the distance; it was such a stark contrast to the grey sky overhead. A few huge raindrops hit my windshield and I thought of the sheer power of God. He has control over even the wind and rain… and we are powerless over it. The sky was so incredible it was distracting. It was beautiful. At one point (after making sure no one was behind me), I had to pause to snap a quick picture of the sky with my phone.  As I continued toward home, the edge of the storm clouds appeared to be staying just beyond my reach.
          Anyone who has been following my blog has surely noticed a trend at this point. Since our daughter was born, I’ve had a strong connection/interest/fascination/whatever-you-want-to-call-it with the rain and storms. There are just so many analogies of God’s truth in them!! This time, I was thinking about the clouds themselves. The clouds above me looked like a dark blanket suspended just above the earth. I tried to imagine the top of the clouds and how bright they would be, even then, because of the light of the sun. I couldn’t see the clouds from that perspective because of my earth-bound point of view, but I could picture it in my mind. I thought back to the many trips I’ve taken by plane, and how I’ve always thought it seemed like I should be able to just step out onto the big sea of clouds. While in the air, I never thought about how dark those same clouds may look from the ground as they block the light of the sun from the earth.
            So, I found myself staring in awe at the sky, and thought of how symbolic my drive home really was. This year so far has been covered by the darkest cloud I’ve ever seen. I can see the patch of bright, sunny sky on the horizon, but right now, it often seems just out of reach. I know it’s there and I haven’t forgotten about it or given up on it, but I’m just not quite there.
            There were a few spots on the way home where the bright patch of sky was hidden by the tree line and the road seemed especially dark. Even though I couldn’t SEE the blue sky ahead though, I knew it was still there, and I’d occasionally catch little glimpses before it came fully into view once again.
            Even during our darkest times lately, I’ve chosen to trust that the light from Christ the Son still exists. There are times when circumstances block the light from being visible, but I KNOW it’s still there. I know there will be a day that the atmosphere doesn’t seem quite so dark and ominous and we’ll once again soak in the light. I have hope. 
           In the meantime, I’ll cherish every ray of light I can catch and keep my eyes on the horizon where I see those big white, fluffy clouds waiting for me. When I can’t see those clouds, I’ll just have to remind myself that even though I’m under the weather, God’s still on top of it, and trust that the clouds are just as fluffy and white on the upside. The clouds that look dark from the ground looking up are just as beautiful in the light. 

Hebrews 11
Faith in Action
 1 Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. 2 This is what the ancients were commended for.
 3 By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.

Saturday, August 6, 2011


     It's that time of summer, when I hear a sporadic *thump*....... *thump*........................*thump* out on our wooden back deck. The apples are ripe. I'm glad the bees aren't out in full force like they were the summer we moved in a couple of years ago (has it already been that long??). It seems like I barely have time to think these days, and I when I do think, my thoughts are all over the place. I think about Carys: missing her, remembering her, looking forward to seeing her in Heaven, and fulfilling her purpose on earth. I think about Paxton, about how to provide for him to the best of my ability and do everything I can to meet the needs that he has, now and as he gets older (not to mention thinking about how much I enjoy his sweet little grins and the way he giggles in his sleep among other traits). I think about how my To Do list is much longer than the days allow, about the future of my career, and about the possible publisher for my first book (they've got the manuscript and I'm waiting for feedback!!). I think about the anencephaly support groups and working on having ribbons custom made to raise awareness about anencephaly, the youth group at church that has not been very active (and the fact that as their youth pastor, I need to be on top of that), the house that's not put together as well as I'd like for it to be, and my yard that is desperate need of attention... which brings me back to the apples. 
"Yeah... I need to get out there and pick apples, they're just going to waste... oh, but first I need to......."
"Oh yeah, I still need to get out there.... but Paxton's hungry now..."
     Get the idea? My brain's going in so many directions I just feel like a basketcase at times. Most times these days, but anyway. 
     This afternoon, my parents came over to get some apples and mom took some of the fallen apples home for the horses. I picked some apples too and ended up with a sink full. In the kitchen, where I look around and see all the things that need to be done and all the organization that needs to happen... while the baby has an especially fussy evening. The big pile of apples in the sink just looked daunting. I started peeling and cutting the apples to make apple butter in the crock pot and had to stop a couple of times when Paxton decided he wanted attention. He finally settled down and I kept peeling. After a while, my hand started feeling like a blister was developing (wow, it's been a long time since I've done any kind of "real" manual labor haha). I was already tired of looking at the apples and my dear hubby suggested that I just not keep them all... and I considered taking that advice. But the stubborn streak showed itself. I don't like to waste things, and I had a sink full of apples.... and it wasn't like I couldn't finish the apples, I just didn't feel like it.
     So, I kept peeling and cutting. My mind wandered as I cut around the imperfections in my wild apples and I thought of a movie clip where the mom was using damaged fruit as an analogy as she cut them up and commented about them making the best pies. Isn't that the truth. The worst situations sometimes do turn out to be the sweetest. I kept peeling and cutting. I thought of the sink faucet that needed to be fixed, and the pantry that needed to be organized, and the baby's clothes drawer that needed to be sorted... and I kept peeling and cutting. 
     Even when I got to a single layer of apples in the sink, I thought about just stopping there.... but again, it wasn't that I wasn't capable of finishing, I just didn't feel like it. My thoughts turned to the pregnancy and Carys' diagnosis. It was absolutely the most difficult thing I've ever faced. I felt like giving up. Continuing the day to day routines was hard at times. I wondered if I was capable of going through it... but somehow, God gave me the strength to keep going as long as I kept trying. I didn't feel like it, but I knew it was important. Somehow finishing the apples seemed more important to me then. I thought of how many amazing things have come from our beautiful, painful experience with Carys going on to Heaven without us. If I'd given up, I wouldn't have experienced the beautiful like I did; only the painful. If I'd taken the specialist up on his obligatory offer for "selective termination," I wouldn't have learned all the lessons Carys had to teach us and I wouldn't have had the opportunity to spend the time with her that we did. I wouldn't have been able to cherish every kick and hiccup. I wouldn't have heard her sweet little noises. She may not have had the same impact on the world around her if I'd given up. I know that we made the right decision for Carys and us. It was one of the hardest things I could imagine, but at the same time, I wouldn't trade what little bit of time I had with my daughter for anything. 
     Before long, I was down to the last two tiny apples. My hand was sore, but it didn't matter as much... it was worth it to finish what I started. The funny thing is, I know I could have just gone out to buy apple butter once I used the jar I've already got in the pantry, but that's not the point. Some of the best things in this life are the things that don't come easy. Besides, now I get to smell the apples cooking, and I can't think of many scents that are more comforting than that!!

Who knew peeling apples could be so therapeutic?? :)

Monday, August 1, 2011

A Touch of Heaven

I had a good long chat with my friend Rhea the other night. We talked a lot about Heaven, and how her mom is probably enjoying some quality time with my baby girl (she was so excited about Aaron and me getting married after watching us grow up together in the church). Talking about Heaven always helps me feel more at peace when I’m having a rough time, and some days are pretty rough. I miss my daughter.

Nothing will ever convince me that we didn’t touch Heaven the day our babies were born. It seems like no matter how much I try to explain that, I can’t really do it justice with words. What we felt that day was not of this world. We felt just a portion of the incredible peace that fills Heaven.

We talked a lot about faith, and read some from Hebrews 11 (the “Faith Hall of Fame”). “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (verse 1). It seems that many people confuse faith with believing God will heal anyone we ask Him to heal. I will admit, there was a time I hoped and asked… even begged for God to “heal” Carys. After her diagnosis, I even prayed that our story would be the miracle of God making Carys whole. Even at the time, though, I knew it might not be His will. At the next appointment, I wouldn’t have been surprised in the least if He had answered that prayer and allowed us to see a perfectly formed, round little skull for both babies- but He didn’t. That was the answer to my prayer. It wasn’t the answer I wanted, but I accepted it as the final answer He gave. I could picture Him, with sadness in His eyes (knowing our pain), telling me, “No, my daughter, I have something different planned for Carys. Something very special. I didn’t make a mistake in how I formed her, she’s perfect for my plan.”

I stopped asking Him to make her whole.

Every time I wanted to ask, it was as if I heard a gentle reminder, “She was formed very intentionally, just the way she is…” And so, the “theme” verse for my babies came about. “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations” (Jeremiah 1:5).
During the next few months, as they continued to grow and squirm, God frequently reminded me that He has plans for us. For ALL of us. Plans to give us hope and a future (Jeremiah 29:11). THAT is where the faith came in. Believing He had the capability of making Carys whole was easy. After all, He’s the one who formed her in the first place. Believing that He would turn the indescribable pain we were experiencing into something beautiful was a little harder to grasp. I knew He would… but it’s not as easy.

Regardless, I began to see Carys’ impact from a very early point in the pregnancy. After her diagnosis, she got people’s attention. She made a way for me to share my faith with others. I KNOW beyond a shadow of a doubt that God loves me. Carys opened the door for me to share that with others (and remember, her name means love). In such a short time here, she left a huge legacy. She gave us a platform to share about God’s amazing love.

As wonderful as all of that is, one of the most valuable gifts God gave us through Carys came the day she and Paxton were born. The peace (and remember that Paxton’s name means peace). That indescribable, unearthly, enveloping peace. Even when Carys left this world, the peace stayed. THAT is a gift from God. Without that peace, I wouldn’t have been capable of coping with that day, or enjoying the brief time we had with her. Without that peace, I wouldn’t have made it through the funeral arrangements, or selecting burial plots… or the funeral. But God knew that, so He allowed us to experience that Heavenly peace.

I’ve wondered many times if we’d be able to know what was going on from Heaven. I’d wonder how we could keep from being sad if we knew. My thinking on that topic has changed (as has my thinking on many topics). Regardless of what we are capable of seeing from Heaven, how could we possibly feel anything of pain or sadness when we are in the very presence of God Himself? The Source of Peace. I can imagine we’ll be so overwhelmed by peace and love (WHO God is) that we will not have the capability of experiencing any form of sadness or loneliness, or anger, or pain. We’ll be so wrapped in God’s incredible, selfless love, that it won’t be possible for us to experience anything else. I’ve never been a shouter… but that just about makes me want to shout! We’ve known such pain here, I very much look forward to having our hurts wiped away.

I look forward to soaking in the love, peace, and joy that emanates from our Heavenly Father. I look forward to seeing the light that radiates from Him reflecting off the jewels in the walls of the New Jerusalem… what a rainbow that will be!!! I look forward to seeing the loved ones I knew who have finished the race ahead of me. I look forward to meeting my ancestors. I look forward to an eternity of peace, love, and joy. I look forward to having my family reunited and wrapping my arms around my baby girl.

Heaven is so real, and so close. There are times in life that it is so close you can feel it. Trust me, I know from experience. I wouldn’t wish the pain we’ve experienced on anyone…. But the joy. Oh, the joy that comes with touching Heaven… THAT, I wish I could share with the world.

Have YOU ever touched Heaven? Is death scary for you? It doesn’t have to be! Have faith that God's word is true.

John 14
Jesus Comforts His Disciples

1 “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God[a]; believe also in me. 2 My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. 4 You know the way to the place where I am going.”