Saturday, December 31, 2011

Blessings Abound

Tonight we will all stand watch as the final seconds of this year slip into the next.  365 fresh new days packed full of promise.  As I anticipate the clean slate of a brand new year, I do not want to discount the many blessings that have graced my life in 2011.  Blessings that make ordinary days  remarkable.  This year I got to:

Continue my education
Welcome a precious baby girl into our family
Splash our walls with some of my favorite colors
Dig my toes into the warm sand of the beach
Visit with close friends
Gather a successful garden harvest
Have a weekend away with the love of my life
Grow my faith
Conquor challenges I never thought possible
Savor special date nights with each of my children
Wipe tears and share smiles

Most of all I got to experience all 365 days being held by a God that was there in every mundane task, every impossible hurdle, every hurt, and every joy.  I was provided for, I was protected, and I was loved.  And I can't wait to see what's in store for the next ThRee siXty fiVe!!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Christmas, unraveled.

Christmas will be different this year.

I tried to get my Christmas shopping done quickly because I felt so panicked everytime I had to go out.  Seems everywhere I went I was ambushed.  Racks of little Christmas dresses and matching shoes seemed to mock me and stockings embroidered "Baby's First Christmas" left me feeling punched in the gut. 

There is just such an emptiness, and it feels like in all the cheerful anticipation and bustling, my precious little girl has been forgotten.

People seem to put a time limit on grief, and it seems the older your child is, the more time that is allotted.  I don't understand this, because there is tremendous grief whether you lost a child that was 10, or a baby that left straight from your womb.  We don't have Christmas memories to grieve, but we grieve the Christmas memories we will never create. 

Christmas has come although we hoped to wake finding it had already passed this year.  We are thankful to be surrounded by family and are holding our littles ones tighter than ever and breathing prayers of thanks to have them here to share in the joy and the pain. 

Every time I hear "oh hear the angel voices"... my eyes fill with tears because I know my little girl's voice has joined that angelic choir this year.  I am clinging to the promise that one day I will join her and get to hear that beautiful music for myself...

Until then... I am wrestling this pain and determined that I will choose hope in whatever pit I may find myself standing.

When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.
                                                                        -Horatio G. Spafford

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Letters to Ellie

My Sweet Ellianna Grace,

We never imagined we would not have you here for your very first Christmas.  It saddens our hearts to see your stocking hanging empty, and to know there will be no rushing in to scoop you out of your crib on Christmas morning. 

I try to imagine what is must be like in Heaven... are the angels bustling around preparing for a big celebration?  Are there Christmas carols and sounds of bells?  Is everyone still whispering about the little baby Jesus and what He did for us all those years ago?

I hope that you are held close by your new friends, and that your brother is lovingly showing you the way around.

As we gather to celebrate a Celestial Birthday, you will see a space among us... a space where you will never be far from our thoughts... a tiny purple Christmas tree adorned with sweet memories of you.  There will be tears in your absence, and there will be joy when we think of you dancing near that sea of glass.. a gift no one can top with wrapping and bow.

We will be giving thanks for the blessing of 4 1/2 months here graced with your presence, and for the ways we have grown and the things we have learned. 

Missing you dearly, loving you deeply, and waiting for the day I will hold you again.

All My Love,
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Sunday, December 11, 2011

A Bit of Cheer

We wanted to share something special with you that has been a blessing to us this month...

A few weeks ago we found two large boxes on our doorstep.  We dragged them inside, eager to see who they were from.  Inside was a letter addressed to us from Amanda the Panda.  It said this was a Holiday Cheer box, sent to us because a guardian angel had contacted them on our behalf.  Amanda the Panda is an organization that reaches out to families who have lost a loved one.  Inside the boxes were twenty-five wrapped gifts, one for each day until Christmas, to bring a smile on days that undoubtedly will be some of the most difficult. 

The first gift was for all of us.  An Amaryllis bulb.  A beautiful red flower with a single lonely stalk that with a little loving care will bloom year after year.  We tenderly tucked the bulb into its pot of soil and are anticipating the beauty of Ellianna's Amaryllis when it blooms in a few weeks. 

Every morning after our advent devotion, the kids dash to see whose turn it is to open the gift for that day.  Smiles and cheers erupt, and for a moment there is a sparkle on faces that have been worn by frequent tears. 

People shrug and say children are resilient, they will be fine.  I disagree.  Children are wounded just as much as adults.  We spend many nights holding tiny hands, rocking small bodies wracked with tears and heartache as they try to mend the pain of their sister being torn from their lives.  It is a long and very painful road, which makes moments of joy and laughter mean all the more to us.  We are deeply grateful to all the people that had a part in bringing us some much needed cheer and something to look forward to on some of the hardest of days.

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Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Rolling With the Punches

"Be still, there is a healer
His love is deeper than the sea
His mercy, it is unfailing
His arms are a fortress for the weak."

~Chris Tomlin

I love this song.  Words that remind us of One who is greater than our troubles, a refuge we can run to.  I have to admit though, some doubt has made me challenge these words the last few weeks.

In the midst of keeping up with busy schedules, work, school, and travels and holidays on the horizon, we were thrown for a loop.  I started having some health problems.  Exams and test results came back concerning, and after seeing a specialist I was told I could be having a blood clotting problem, or it could be cancer. 

What?!?  Even as much as I have been learning about having faith, I was shouting at Heaven.  Surely, I thought, God would not do this to us right now.  We are still picking up the pieces from losing our daughter.  My husband and kids need me to be there for them right now.  He wouldn't let us get kicked when we're down, right?!  He promises not to give us more than we can handle.  I'm not sure I believed that right then. 

As the day neared for a procedure to take biopsies, I was wrestling.  I could see the fear in Mark's eyes, and all I could do was avoid talking about it, trying to ignore what we might need to face.  I was washed with guilt... surely my friend who lost her daughter didn't think she would also have to say goodbye to her husband and raise her remaining children in the thick of so much grief... and here I am complaining.  God never said we would go through something hard and then get a free pass from any more heartache.  In fact, He said in this world we WILL have trouble... but the promise in that is He has overcome the world.  That is a powerful promise, but still difficult for me to cling to when I felt so much fear.

As I felt myself begin to doze under the anesthesia, my only prayer was "God, please."

The news is outstanding.... NO cancer, NO clotting.  It is so much easier for me to praise right now than it was for me to trust.  But God promises to use even a LITTLE faith, so I guess He's not done with me yet:) 

We are breathing a huge sigh of relief and trying to teach ourselves that no matter what comes our way, we are more than conquerors.  We will continue to forge a path through the wreckage, one step at a time.

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Monday, November 21, 2011

That Ellie-Shaped Hole

Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year's... One thing these special days have always had in common for us is family.  A time to be together with the ones you love the most; to enjoy each other's company, and share in each other's joy.  Only this year, these days will reverberate echos of sadness as we try not to keep staring at the empty chair among us. 

Frankly, I would be content to just fast-forward through the holidays this year.  Better yet, rewind to this time last year when Ellianna was snuggled safe and secure inside my womb... before she felt any pain, and before we knew the pain of losing her.  How about a re-do?  I'm sure I could fight harder for her this time.  Unfortunately, that is not a reality.  I must try to find peace in knowing her pain is gone and she is whole once more.

What will it be like to have Thanksgiving dinner uninterupted by the needs of our 8 month old?  Will we be able to hold back the tears at the sight of a lone, empty stocking hanging between ours?  As we count down to a brand new year, will we be able to look past the agony of knowing she will not be here to celebrate her birthday?  Most of all, will there come a day when it no longer feels like our hearts are shattered beyond repair?  Because we choose hope and we know faith, the answer is yes.  Healing will come.  For this season though, the pain is immeasurable.  It's hard to feel joy and it's hard to give cheer.  We are clinging to each other, taking one day at a time... bracing ourselves against the storm.  Aching from the deepest places within us to not see our beautiful little girl in that empty chair.

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Sunday, October 30, 2011

The Love of my Life

This week Mark and I are celebrating our 10th wedding anniversary. A whole Decade. Wow.
Are there people who thought we would never make it? Most certainly. Were there times that nearly broke us apart? You betcha. But the thing is, when God looks on something and says it is good, IT IS GOOD. We have been continually molded and shaped and taught how to love each other and rise above the hurdles that are thrown in our path. In spite of every attempt the enemy has made, God's hand has faithfully been on our lives, pointing to the beautiful purpose that He is fufilling through our love.
So 10 years later through the raw grit of life, I have a greater love and understanding of the man that I chose to spend every day of my life with...
10 Things I Love About Mark...
1) He still kisses me goodnight, even when he *thinks* I am sleeping.
2) He is not afraid to show his tears.
3) He always makes time for our children.
4) He kills all the spiders.
5) He supports me and helps me reach my goals.
6) He is "better than me" at driving the babysitters home.
7) He makes sure our girls know they are beautiful-- inside and out.
8) He is SO patient.
9) He is a darn good cook.
10) He is the glue that has held us together through some of the hardest days of our lives.
Celebrate with us. God has chosen something impossible and made it something beautiful, and we hope that we will be a reflection of that promise of healing to anyone who sees us.
Happy Anniversary Buddy!!!

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Good Things

In all the hurt and uncertainty... good things are happening.... This week marks the first steps in some important journeys for our family...
Please remember us in your prayers this week... pray we will stay focused and working as a team... that we will make it to all of our appointments with as little stress as possible... that we will be protected from negative thoughts... that we will be rested. That God will do great things in us and through us. We believe...

Friday, October 7, 2011

From the Mouths of Babes

"From the mouths of infants and children, You have created praise."
Matthew 21:16
Morning time holds a special time of prayer for the kids and I.    It began as me praying for them each morning while they listened. Now it soothes my heart to see how they are learning to pray and growing in their own understanding of who God is. They are so simple and honest... many of us adults can learn from the humble prayers of a child. How often we get concerned whether we are using the right words or making our prayers sound good, and yet it is the words of the children we know are close to the heart of God. I want to share some of the things these precious little souls are praying for... and hope they make your heart smile like mine.
"Please hold Ellianna in Your lap in Heaven and keep her safe" -Jacob
"Please help Mommy not be afraid" -Baylie
"Help me to have a happy heart today" -Bella
"Please help those Angel Guards keep Satan out of Heaven" -Jacob
"Please let Ellie see your rainbow horse" -Baylie
"Help me do my best and not listen to lies" -Jacob
"I hope Ellie is having fun with you in Heaven" -Bella
"Help our friend to believe in You" -Baylie
These simple and heartfelt conversations show me the trust and faith that is molding their lives and giving them hope... and it encourages me to hold tight to my own.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Empty Space

Two months have gone by since we gave our little girl back to Heaven… a blink in the face of eternity, but it feels like so much longer in the lonely expanse of the days spent without her. Some days I am able to smile as her sisters talk about her coloring up in Heaven, or when I feel relief that I don’t have to protect her from anything. Most days though, I’m just sad. I feel jealous when I’m around other families who are smooching on tiny cheeks or rubbing rounded bellies that are about to burst with fresh new life. Then I feel guilty for feeling that way and wish that I had more grace to bestow.

I feel alone and left behind. The rest of the world has moved on, and I am still swallowed by a sea of grief. No one can possibly feel what I still feel when I walk down the hallway and see her bedroom untouched, her tiny diapers still in a neat stack.

No one knows how I swallow tears when I buckle the other kids in our van, which seems too big now with that empty seat. No one thinks how every time I see the precious pictures of her on our wall that there won’t be any new ones to add. She was here, and there are pieces of her everywhere. Pieces that stir such emotion, it’s enough to break a soul. The first days after she died, I felt numb. Numb allowed me to keep going, to get through what needed to be done. Now I find myself wishing for that numbness instead of this shattering pain.
When my 3 children walk side by side I see a space… a hole where my littlest girl will never skip along beside them. When other people see us, they must not understand why we have anything to be sad about. They tell us how lucky we are to have the children we do…. They say how nice it must be to just have one child at home during the day… they say she was lucky to have lived as long as she did. I am not at a place where I can see the glass half full yet. Although I am happy to know Ellianna is whole and well and living in glory, I still miss her and yearn for her here… and I will, until I go Home.

It must be terribly awkward for people. People do not like to see pain. They want to know we are ok, that we are moving forward, and that we won’t break into tears in the middle of a conversation. That’s the thing about grief… it’s not something that goes away in a month, 6 months, a year… we are in it for the long haul. At Christmas when there is an empty stocking, we will be sad. 5 years from now when she is not starting Kindergarten, we will be sad. When there is no prom, no high school graduation, no wedding…we will still feel the pain and sadness of losing Ellianna. Many people are afraid of that; afraid to see us hurting… so they distance themselves, afraid to say or do the wrong thing. Well the wrong thing is to ignore it. We still need to know you’re here for us just as much as the day that she died. We need to know that you’re not too nervous to be around us, that you understand when we cancel because we have been hit by a new wave of grief, that you’re willing to talk about her, to say her name, to let us know that you have not forgotten.

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Friday, September 9, 2011

Lean In To It

"How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and every day have sorrow in my heart?" Psalm 13:2

The grief of losing a child is immeasurable. It is a weight that lays over me like a heavy heavy blanket. Having other children I have learned, multiplies that grief because I am also grieving for the hearts of my living children. I am broken by the hole of losing my daughter and also bearing the burden of her three siblings who have lost a little sister. I am watching my 3 year old play that her baby dolls are dying and being buried... I am sitting with a 6 year old who wants to know why Jesus didn't let Ellie come back like in the book "Heaven is for Real"... and explaining to a 9 year old that just because we didn't get the answer we wanted, God is still sovereign. I am watching a 5 year old just a whisper away from death, and wondering if I still believe in miracles.

I know how this story ends, but that does not stop the enemy from planting doubts.

Mark and I started attending a Grief Share group this week. We had some challenges getting there, and almost didn't make it, but we sure know now that there is something special in store for us. We met a young couple whose baby girl was born at the same hospital the day Ellianna died, and their baby girl, Lily Grace, died ten days later. What an amazing source of comfort it is to have someone who almost literally stood in our shoes. God places the right people in our lives at just the right time. It has been frustrating to us to feel like we are stuck while everyone else has moved on with life... our group is a place where we can be in that spot with others who are walking the journey right along with us. If you are grieving, or need to grieve a loss that you haven't yet, find a Grief Share near you... it is a powerful resource for an impossible hurdle...

Someone told us grief is something you have to go THROUGH. You can't go over it, you can't go around it, you have to go through LEAN into it. Like an ocean wave. That is what we are doing. Sometimes the waves are gentle, sometimes they knock us off our feet, but we are in a journey we can't avoid.

Please don't stop praying for us...

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Sunday, August 14, 2011

Smashing Eggs

These past few weeks have been a roller coaster. It is hard in the depths of grief to see the rest of the world move on, and yet I know each day brings me that much closer to being reunited with my little girl.

The time came for Mark to go back to work and for Jacob and Baylie to start school. I knew that would be one of the hardest times for me. It is hard to have days so quiet when I am used to them being consumed by Ellianna's needs. I have spent much time sitting in the rocking chair in her room-my sanctuary- spilling my heart and my tears. Bella has been a perfect little companion. She just follows me around and watches whatever I am doing...her company is comforting. So far we have not accomplished anything big, but have made it to the gym every day and checked off a few projects around the house. We have out of town company this week and again a few weeks from now, so it will probably be Fall before things are really mostly normal for us.

Anger has taken a place in my sadness. I have had many days lately when I am so angry that Ellianna is gone. Angry that I couldn't fix it, angry that God didn't stop it, angry that I am watching my children cry because they miss their sister. Each day I am reminded of something I will never get to do with Ellie... never make her lunches for school, never put her hair in pigtails, never see her lose her first tooth, never watch her eat birthday cake... it makes me so ANGRY. I talked with the kids about being angry. I told them I was feeling mad and they said they were too... we talked about how it's ok to be mad about it. At the suggestion of a friend, we had a therapuetic egg-smashing session in the bath tub. The kids were a little shocked at first (probably that I was letting them do this!) but they joined right in and together we threw and smashed our anger out and watched it dribble down the drain. I saw a lot more smiles after that.
I did not really feel like celebrating on my birthday. I felt sad that it was the first special celebration that Ellianna was not here for. Mark and the kids made it special though and we all wrote letters to Ellie on balloons and sent them soaring up to the sky from her grave. It was really meaningful to all of us to feel like we could put our thoughts into something tangible.
Joy will come. We don't know when it will come, but we are confident that there is a Healer of broken hearts, and ours are His to heal.

"Those who have been ransomed by the Lord will return.
They will enter Jerusalem singing,
crowned with everlasting JOY.
Sorrow and mourning will disappear,
and they will be filled with JOY and gladness. I, yes I, am the one who comforts you."
Isaiah 51:11-12

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Monday, July 25, 2011

Saying Goodbye

The Sunday after Ellianna died I had no intentions of going to church, but I couldn't bear to let Jacob, Baylie, and Bella be taken without me...what if they needed me?! So I went through the motions to get us there. I held myself together right up until the music started for worship. The tears wouldn't stop. In the depths of my hurt I couldn't even offer any praise. The only line I found the strength to utter was "My hiding place is You." God was there all along---our worship leader told the crowd to sing it out again, but this time to sing it for the people around them that were at a place where they couldn't. I knew that was me. All around me hands lifted high, holding us up, not even knowing who we were or what we were going through. Our ever-present help in times of trouble.

Wednesday night was Ellie's visitation. Mark and I went early to have some time alone with her. Hard doesn't even begin to describe it. She was so beautiful in her tiny white dress, a purple flower perched above her fluffy mohawk. She looked just like she was sleeping. I had been wearing the Piglet necklace Mark had gotten her at Disneyland... we wanted it to stay with her, so I took it off and fastened it around her neck. So sweet. The other kids arrived with Mark's parents and we led them into the room to see their sister. All three of them crumpled into tears as soon as they saw her. Just when I thought my heart couldn't break any more, it did. It was a hard night. Each new person that came brought more memories and emotions. We were so thankful to be surrounded by so many family and friends.

Thursday came though we willed it not to. Her service was beautiful. Just the tribute we wanted, with heartfelt music and sharing from close friends and family. As we followed her tiny casket outside I realized this was the last time she would be in our church. The ride to the cemetery was long and peaceful. The kids shared smiles about getting to ride in a limo...their laughter a balm to our bleeding hearts. Her graveside service was brief, and then we stayed behind to watch her be lowered into her final resting place. The great depth of her grave was terrifying to the kids, especially Jacob, but somehow it made me feel she was safe. The day continued with a reception time to visit with friends and family...

This past Sunday was our first day to just be a family again with our relatives and friends having traveled back home. Although the stillness seemed to bring more reality to missing her, it was also a time of peace and reflection. I got her room back in order and placed her flowers in many rooms of the house. I sat in her rocking chair and rocked...and just missed her.

So many have passed on words of encouragement, and as I have told them, even with our faith the hurt does not lessen. We will have a time of grieving where even though we have hope, we will have an ache and an emptiness that cannot be soothed. Ellianna's death doesn't have to be God's will. If everything was God's will, there would be no reason for us to have free will. We believe He is grieving with us. I'm sure there will be many stages we go through, and for us, the right thing to do is to embrace each one.

Each day holds special memories, sweet smiles, and painful reminders...each night, hollow emptiness and vivid dreams.... Through each tear we have seen promises of tomorrows and healing of yesterdays. One foot in front of the other, our journey continues.

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Sunday, July 17, 2011

The Day The World Went Wrong

It is hard to know where to start; my heart is so heavy...

Several weeks ago, I felt like I heard a difficult question in my heart. "Would I be willing to give Ellianna back to Heaven if it meant salvation for someone else?" Struggling to understand if this was even God, or if I had just made it up, I replied with an angered "NO." Why would God even ask that of me? Ellianna already seemed to have crossed the scariest bridges and we had seen such healing in her.

Last Tuesday, Ellianna was fussy in the evening. She cried like something hurt her and she was not very interested in eating. She already had a check-up scheduled the next day, so I gave her some Tylenol and found she settled if she could stay snuggled against me. She slept restfully in my arms through the night, waking only briefly. The next morning she was frighteningly pale and refused to nurse and hardly sipped from a bottle. She screamed whenever we moved her. I felt panicked. Ellianna's weight check was scheduled for 1:00 in the afternoon. We were expecting them to tell us she needed a feeding tube again because she just wasn't gaining weight.   Worried about why she seemed so sick, we called to see if they would get her in sooner, but they said that was the only time they could see her. I had planned to spend some time with a friend that day, and since Ellie was calm and comforted laying on Mark's chest on the couch, I headed out for a few hours before coming back to take her to the doctor.

By the time we got to the doctor, there was no denying something was WRONG, and I wasn't going to let them just send us away again. I didn't even have to plead though. When the doctor came in to see her, Ellianna was just lying there, hardly moving, constanly whimpering this pitiful, guteral groan. I was in tears. "Something is wrong, this isn't her. Please DO something."  We were sent right to the emergency room.  I didn't even wait for the ambulance.  I told her doctor, "I can have her there before the ambulance even gets here to pick us up."

Half an hour later we were settled in the emergency room. Once again, nurses were poking and poking, trying to get an iv, and finally giving up and putting in a feeding tube because "this poor baby just needs something to eat!" I bit my tongue, holding back the verbal lashing I wanted to unleash on these professionals who seemed so blind.

The pedicatric neurosurgeon was out of town...again. Finally an adult neurosurgeon came to examine her, and it took him about 5 seconds to see that there was a problem with her shunt. It wasn't working. By this time, Ellianna was dfficult to awaken. She was just sleeping in my arms.  The surgeon told us he would have to do the surgery to fix her shunt, but they needed to stablize her first.

Finally in the PICU they were able to get an iv started and get her some fluids to prepare her for surgery. I sat as still as I could, holding Ellie. She whimpered every time I moved her at all. It broke my heart to know she was in so much pain. I sang to her, every song I could remember... hymns I learned as a child, and the song my mom always sang to me. I kissed her soft cheeks and told her it was going to be ok; that they were going to fix it and she would feel better soon.

 Mark came with the girls to see her before surgery.  We both almost came unglued when they came in and said they had to poke her AGAIN for more blood because they must have mixed up her blood with someone else's. "That couldn't have been hers," the doctor said, "she's not that sick." Big surprise when the next set of blood tests came back with the same terrifying results. Nurses were scrambling to start another blood transfusion before they started the surgery. 

Since Jacob was at camp, it was Mark, Baylie, Bella, and I that walked Ellianna down to surgery. I remember this looooong tiled hallway...the four of us holding hands as we walked...and I looked back and thought, "I bet this whole hallway could be filled with all the people praying for us right now."

Mark sat with the girls while I walked Ellianna back to surgery. In the holding area she was crying and I couldn't hold her. She was posturing and my medical background screamed the knowledge of what that meant. I needed to be hysterical, but as the first tear fell, the nurse who was waiting with us grabbed my shoulders. "No," he said, "She needs you. You're stronger than that. You've got this." And then they took her. The tall metal bars of her crib and all the pumps and equipment surrounding my sweet little symbol of grace.

Once we got news that the surgery went fine, Mark took the girls home for some sleep and I went back to the PICU to wait for them to bring Ellianna back to her room. She remained sedated and on a breathing tube, but in a way it made me feel better that she was peaceful. Now, I thought, we heal. 

She looked better. The shunt had been fixed, she was pink again from the blood she had received, and her vital signs were more stable. The surgeon said the fluid in her brain had looked cloudy so it was sent off to be tested.

Within the hour the results came back saying she had the most serious kind of infection and she was to be taken back to the operating room to remove both of her shunts and put in an external drain to wait for the infection to clear. Mark was already tucking the girls in at home and was hardly able to move because of his recent back injury. He had to stay at home and wait for any updates. A couple good friends came by and stayed up through the night with me.

Back from surgery the second time, Ellianna was kept sedated.

Early the next morning I could tell the doctors were concerned about something. When the neurosurgeon said "This is serious, and it may be that she won't survive, " I was stunned and Mark made arrangements to hurry back to the hospital.

We stood with great friends as they told us that her CT scan showed 50-60% of her brain had already been destroyed. We were just in disbelief. I cried with her physical therapist who came by to see her. I told her about what I thought God had asked of me. I told her I felt like as soon as I said "yes" to God, she would be gone, and I was not going to do it.

  It was not long after that report that the horrible reality started sinking in. We watched in horror as her heart rate slowly dropped lower and lower.  Early on in the NICU, her heart rate would drop and all she needed was a little stimulation and that number would jump right back up.  "Rub her!"  I shouted at Mark.  But this wasn't the same.  Beeping and dinging and running feet,  and CPR was begun. Mark and I stood helpless in each others' arms, watching her slip away. That's when I felt it. An overwhelming peace. A peace in saying "ok, You can take her." I didn't want that peace though. I wanted to scream!  I hated that I felt that way. But it stayed.

After a few minutes, her heart beat came back and she stabilized. We sat in shock and disbelief. Then it happened again. More CPR, more helpless watching and crying, and then her heartbeat was back again. At this point the doctor told us---even if they kept bringing her back, there was really no chance of neurological function. We had to decide what to do next. No parent should ever have to make that decision. Through our tears we knew we just wanted her to go in peace in our arms, without anymore trauma to her tiny body. They took everything off except the breathing tube, wrapped her in a blanket, and placed her in our arms.

We cried tears from the deepest places within us. Mark said "I'm sorry I never got to take you out for lunch on your birthday" and he did "Twinkle Star", a bedtime tradition in our house. I told her how much we loved her and asked her to send butterflies for Baylie. We could tell she was gone, and asked that her breathing tube be taken too, so we could hold just her and see her precious, most beautiful face. I have never had emotion more raw or so deep. My chest felt physically crushed.

I started to feel frightened by watching her change.  Her nurses took her back to her bed and made impressions of her hands and feet for us. They let me bathe her and my tears would not stop as I gave her her last bath and combed her sweet smelling hair into one last mohawk. By this time she looked more peaceful. Like a delicate porcelain doll, and boy did she look just like her daddy with all of the tubes and stickers removed from her sweet little face! We held her again, as long as we could until they came to take her to the funeral home. Setting her down broke the last piece of my heart and we sobbed as they took her away.

I have more to share about the days that have followed since then, but for now I am so drained from these exhausting emotions. Please stay with us, share in our grief, smile in our memories, and hold us up as we make it through this most impossible of weeks. We are thankful for so many people who are surrounding us in our time of heartache.

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Sunday, July 10, 2011

Holding On (for dear life)

As Mark and I looked into adoption, we were drawn to children with disabilities. We felt we were strong enough and well-equipped to meet the needs of a child who might be passed over by others. Although we filled out our check list for a variety of special needs, I felt especially drawn to downs syndrome and cerebral palsy. I guess it was my pride that made me so sure I could handle these things...

Once again, God had plans...

I haven't detailed all of the things we have been through with our 4 month old, Ellianna. In short, after bleeding in her brain due to premature delivery, she has had 3 brain surgeries and now has a permanent shunt from brain to belly to help her regulate the pressure inside her head. As these complications arose, we were told she was at high risk for disabilities, especially cerebral palsy. We were told we needed to get her into therapy as soon as possible to improve her outcome.

I have a confession...

When I first tried to accept that our daughter could be disabled I was very angry. I thought how dare we be given this burden when we had already said we were willing to accept and love a child that had been abandoned because of this. I felt extremely guilty. It was one thing to adopt a child that has challenges, but to give birth to my own that was this way made me feel I had caused this harsh imperfection. Trying to grasp all of this and turn it into something good seemed impossible and I felt like I was sinking. That is probably very shocking for some of you to hear, but there it is, the sin in my heart.

Since her most recent surgery, we were told our sweet little Ellianna has many signs of cerebral palsy. So, ok. Here we go. I still have some unsettling thoughts about it, but I am trying to embrace this new chapter. God is showing us the trials of OUR OWN little baby having special needs... teaching us perhaps how much harder it is to love and care for one chosen by adoption? I don't know, but I do know we are right where He wants us, so I am trying my best to be ready for whatever He has to show us. Life over the past many weeks has been a whirlwind that has left me little time to contemplate. We hope we are at the tail end of surgeries for awhile and will have as long a break as possible until the next time she sees the inside of an operating room. Our days are filled with trips to physical therapy, occupational therapy, neurosurgeon, pediatrician, and now weight checks and food therapy. I feel like I have to hang on or be thrown off. I have to remind myself to be still and to take the time to enjoy the small moments.

Here we are; at this bend in the road. Wondering what's around the next corner. A little hopeful, a lot fearful, but clinging to faith. There are still days I'm frustrated and days I question my strength. There are days I pass the section of little girls shoes and burst into a storm of sadness and tears wondering if I will ever get to pick out sweet little shoes for Ellie, or if she will even walk. I keep repeating the verse a special friend gave me: "He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus." (Philippians 1:6) This continually reminds me that this little angel was brought into our lives for a higher purpose.

Please stay with us as we embark on this journey. Celebrate the victories with us, and hold us up in the battles. We would be nothing without our army behind us.
Her most recent surgery, still healing.

All girled up---4 months old

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Thursday, May 26, 2011

In HIS time

The Fruit of the Spirit that I lack the most is PATIENCE. I like to know what needs to happen and get it done.

God has been been speaking to me about this the past few days as it relates to adopting. I know that He has called my heart to adopt, but I have not stepped back before now to look for His timing. The very same week we decided to adopt, we found out I was pregnant with Ellianna. This is going to sound terrible, but I was a bit frustrated at first. I knew that most agencies will not process your adoption while you are expecting, and require you to wait until your youngest is a certain age. I decided though that we would just wait until the baby was the required 3 months old this summer, and then get the ball moving again with our home study. It was earlier this week when I started thinking again about what the next step is, that a song popped into my head that I have not heard in years. "In His time....In His time...He makes all things beautiful in His time...". I had to stop and think. I realized that I have been pushing ahead; making checklists and deadlines without even considering what HIS timing may be. There have been way too many things in my path that have been saying to slow down. I feel convicted...stopped in my busy tracks...I need to focus on what is here now. God has given us challenges to work through with our son, hurdles to cross with our infant daughter, a marriage that can always use special attention. I am not fond of waiting... but God knows all my inner workings and knows I need the practice. So here we are... time to strengthen what He has given us and wait on the things to come.

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Monday, May 23, 2011

Catching Up

LIFE got in the way of blogging. So here is a little update on life…
Little Ellianna is 2 and a half months old now. She tipped the scales at 6 pounds today!

The past 2 months have been a roller coaster of ups and downs. We finally got Ellie home after battling brain bleeds, digestive problems, and trouble feeding. She had 3 blood transfusions while in the hospital and surgery to place a shunt to drain the excess fluid from her brain. She fought hard and even gave a little attitude. 2 days after celebrating Easter, after 8 weeks in the NICU, we tucked her tiny little self into a car seat for the first time and drove her home to begin the rest of her life.
We all kept pinching ourselves for the first few days, basking in the surrealness of having her home. The older 3 are mesmerized by her. She sleeps a lot. Moments of quiet are punctuated by the shrill squeal of her monitor alerting us that she is not breathing or her heart rate is too low. She still will not nurse much, but she takes a bottle like a champ. Most of all, she is perfect. Beautiful, soft, delicate. A CAPTIVATING reminder of what an awesome Creator we serve.
This past week she had surgery again. She needs to have a permanent VP shunt put in to help her brain function. Unfortunately, there is still too much blood in her brain to do this. They went in on Wednesday to provide a temporary fix for now. We are expecting in 3 or 4 weeks she will need surgery again, hopefully to install the permanent shunt.
The first surgery was terrifying. She was so tiny, so fragile. They had to resuscitate her…then she was not waking up… a whole nother day on the ventilator…scared she might never wake up. She held on though. The second surgery was smoother. No complications and she woke right up. Being more alert this time meant she had more pain, but her cries were strangely comforting.
Today I was thinking… this journey has been hard… I have been scared and at times angry. God has provided for us all along the way. He has kept her safe and allowed us to keep His precious gift. I know that is not the case for every parent. Mommies and Daddies have had to kiss their sweet babies goodbye. They have gone home with empty arms and aching hearts. It humbles me to realize how GRACIOUS He has been through all of this. I want to savor each precious moment with Ellianna.
I was reading through my friend Linda’s blog today; she has been posting about Ellianna and asking her friends to pray. There is note after note of people….families, parents, children…on their knees for our sweet baby girl. People we have never met or even spoken to. People whose names we do not even know. The tears flowed. I am so humbled and touched and awed at what God is doing for us. Makes it seem silly that my faith is so small.
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Wednesday, March 9, 2011

And Then There Were Six...

I guess I spoke too soon as I confidently joked "well this is how far along I was when Bella's water broke, so I guess it's all a piece of cake from here!" After being anxious throughout this pregnancy, I felt a bit of relief as I passed 28 weeks, confident the frequent exams and injections I was receiving were proving helpful in ensuring this baby stayed inside until she was well done. The events of March 2nd would tell a different story...

Over the past few weeks, I had been experiencing bouts of strong contractions, but making sure I was well hydrated or relaxing in a hot bath always seemed enough to calm them for another day or two. When my day started in the grip of contractions on Wednesday, I hardly thought anything of it, increasing my water intake and taking several relaxing baths throughout the day. The second half of the day they were much more noticeable, and I began timing them to see why it felt like they were coming so often. 3 minutes apart. On the dot. I have tried not to get too worked up about pregnancy symptoms or quirks, because I don't want to be the crazy woman who calls her doctor every other day because she's paranoid after a traumatic experience. So I took a deep breath, called my dear friend Jami to see what her plans were the rest of the day, and texted Mark, hinting I might need to get checked at some point, but not to worry. I tried to carry on with my routine.

When the time came to run the kids around for their evening activities, I had an overnight bag packed and had sent a more strongly worded text to Mark, trying to figure out when he would be able to break free from work. When I could hardly walk through contractions while picking Baylie up from cheerleading, I begged Jami to please come over and called my OB office to find out where the best place for me to go would be. I then sent Mark a text demanding he come home. I was trying to console Jacob and Baylie and convince them I would make it up to them that they were going to miss AWANA, when my water broke. This, although frightening, I had dealt with before. What I was not prepared for was to see that instead of being clear, there was meconium, a sign that the baby was in distress. That was the end of me feeling calm. I was panicked and hysterical inside, but forcing myself to stay pleasant so the kids wouldn't be scared. I knew something wasn't right.

Fortunately, Jami and Mark arrived at about the same time. He didn't even ditch his work clothes, just hustled me into the car and we set out for the hospital.

Things were kind of slow at first as the nurses got vitals, hooked up monitors, and tried to track down records. It was confirmed I was in active labor and my water was definitely broken. I was given steroids for the baby's lungs and then talked about seeing if labor could be stopped to give her a little more time. That plan was immediately aborted as little Ellianna's heart rate began dropping and I suddenly started hemorrhaging. The doctor announced, "we need to have this baby now, by c-section." After that, my room was a flurry of nurses and doctors rushing about to get me ready for surgery. It was scary to see the urgency on everyone's faces.

In the operating room, it felt like such a long time before they finally got Ellianna out. It was not delicate, I remember feeling like I was gonna fall off the table, but was so thankful to not be able feel as much as I did with Isabella's c-section. The chatter between the doctors and nurses was pretty unnerving. They didn't hide their shock very well when they discoved what was going on inside. The placenta had torn completely away from my uterus, leaving Ellianna without her lifeline. Ellianna made her way into the world, still in the amniotic sac, which had to be pulled away from her. She had been delivered within a small window of precious time. One of the NICU members held her tiny delicate body up for me to see before they rushed her off. She looked so little!!!

I got to visit the NICU on the way to my room and got my first good look at my newest baby girl, Ellianna Grace, born at 8:10pm, weighing 3 pounds 5 ounces, and 16 inches long. She was all snuggled into her isolette, all kinds of tubes and wires helping her along.

So at 29 weeks, I have already traded in my baby bump for a precious baby girl. This will be a long road for her, with ups and downs along the way, but we will be there for every bit of it. We are blessed that she arrived safely and pray for her continued healing and strengthening. Can't wait to bring her home!!!

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Thursday, January 27, 2011

Baby Steps

The first of our adoption documents have started trickling in. I am giddy with excitement! The growing packet of papers is a tangible reminder that bit by bit, we are getting there.

We have been watching the list of waiting children that our adoption agency posts, and are awestruck as we gaze at each hopeful expression that longs for a family. It's both exciting as well as intimidating that one day, we will welcome one of those tiny faces into our home. It also makes me feel small and helpless to see how many there are, just waiting... longing...wondering if someone will make them their own. It's my prayer that one by one these precious lives with by united with families that will fill their lonely hearts with love and acceptance. It begins with one...

We have been reading through the descriptions of the special needs that many of these boys are burdened with. We talk about what kinds of needs we feel we are capable of handling. While we are blessed with the motivation and resources to provide for even the most serious disabilities, we also believe it's important to always consider how each challenge or health risk would affect our other four. We want to put the safety and comfort of all our children at the forefront of our decisions.

Another exciting development is God's provision of a bigger vehicle for us. We were able to trade in my sardine can of a car for a spacious Honda minivan, which in spite of being, well, a minivan (which I swore I could never be persuaded to drive) is so roomy and comfortable, the kids are convinced we bought them a limo! It's a relief to have them all able to sit without touching each other, as well as have a safe place for a new baby, in addition to still being able to save room for more. God is so good to us. He provides in ways we never imagined.

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Wednesday, January 19, 2011


Praying, seeking, asking, discussing. Searching for answers that seem so big, and yet may be so simple. This is someone's life we're talking about. Uprooting a little child from all they've ever known to start them over a world away in what we believe will be a life that will offer them much love and hope. That's a pretty big deal. It's a position we want to know God wants us in, and know we are going about it in the way He has for us. We see Him daily in the little things; that's how we know His hand is in the big things too.

Mark and I talk. We plan, we dream, we wonder, we read. We see so many choices and pathways out there in regards to adoption, and we know we must wade through it all and come out the other side with a reasonable plan. God has been whispering to our hearts...   

 We want to adopt an older child, past the infant stage, and are going to submit a package for special needs, which could range from anything such as skin discolorations, or major heart or limb defects. God has enabled us to provide, and we are choosing to trust Him to show us what needs we can best meet.

Life is a mysterious and thrilling adventure for us that has brought us to many challenges we are humbled to say we have made it through. Each new step brings us closer together as we revel in the excitement of what we have been ordained for.