Thursday, October 29, 2015


When Mark and I were young in marriage, we had no trouble agreeing that we both would be happy with two children.  We had a strong, adventurous son for our first, experienced a miscarriage when we started planning for our second, and then were elated to bring a gorgeous, healthy baby girl into the world.  The perfect pair, a matched boy/girl set; we had what we wanted.  Then, somewhere down the line, up to our ankles in parenthood, we started itching for another, and joyfully welcomed our second daughter.  Our next baby, we agreed, would be adopted, and we started that journey, which took a sharp right turn and brought us through fostering, and unexpectedly, but joyfully welcoming another biological baby of our own.  We agreed that she would be our last.  That's the thing though, our best laid plans are ever moldable by a God whose plans are better.  Giving our youngest daughter back to Jesus was the most heartbreaking and life-changing moment in our lives so far.  It caused a shift in our paradigm, an about-face in our priorities.  We realized that in the ranking of importance in our lives, our children are one of the most precious pieces of our story, and our hearts are drawn to gather them around us in a big, loud, challenging, loving, fulfilling clan of family togetherness. From that point, we were no longer daunted by the thought of a big family (well, let's be real, MARK was no longer daunted; I grew up in a family of 9, he is an only child, it was more of an adjustment for him). We decided by way of biological children, and adoption, we definitely want to grow.

It's funny how everyone else knows what's best for us, right?  At the mere mentioning of having more children, we've had friends and family who immediately tried to discourage us.  We should be grateful we've made it with the healthy kids we have, we shouldn't risk putting my body through any danger, we should not put our children through anymore big changes, or take on the financial responsibility in such an expensive world.  I hear ya, and I try to see where you're coming from because surely this is you just trying to protect us. I love that someone said it's ok that people don't understand your journey, it's not their journey to understand. I don't have the answers, and I know it seems scary, or even crazy, but I'm trusting God to do it. I truly believe He is the one that has placed this desire in our hearts, and if He called us, He will equip us.  I'm resting in that.  I don't have to know how or when, I just have to believe He has our best at heart.

After some of the responses we have been met with when we have shared our enthusiasm to grow our family, we decided to simply sit back, keep our plan in the hands of the One who knows it best, and let Him quietly take it from there.

With the physical challenges I have faced over the past few years, we had come to a place of accepting that our future children will come from adoption, and not from me.  That was a hard place to reach, not because we don't want adoption, because we absolutely, wholeheartedly want that to be part of the story, but it's a big chapter to finish, and I was still filled with desire to carry another baby of our own.  I spent months wrestling, in fact praying that God would take this desire from me, because it was so painful to hope for something that would never be.  I did not understand why He would let me have such strong desire, but not allow it to be fulfilled.  It was a dark and powerful struggle to come to a place where I could completely submit that, hand over my desire, and trust the outcome would be gentle to my aching heart.  It brought freedom though, and excitement for how He is going to work.

This summer wound down with our minds refocused on the legwork of adoption. We started drawing up plans and timelines and praying for the fatherless that we hope will someday be part of our quiver-full.  Imagine our surprise then, when against all the odds that had been given us, we were staring at the very realness of another little one... of our own

Coming in 2016

As we drove to Kansas to throw a baby shower for my little sister, who was expecting in a few months, I squealed with delight at the thought of finally getting to share a pregnant picture with someone so close to me, something I had dreamed of.  We would get to raise our babies being the same age for most of every year; we were so tickled.  Even Mark, who is usually slower to give to giddiness, was openly excited and marveling at this miraculous blessing that had been given to us. 

Pregnant Together
I am terrible at keeping surprises, and t was difficult for me to wait until we thought it appropriate to share with the other kids.  They eagerly shared our enthusiasm and excitement. You can watch that hilarious conversation here:

We began to shift our thoughts to planning for the big changes we would find in 2016, with Mark retiring from the Air Force at the beginning of the year, and then welcoming the little one we affectionately began referring to as "Sixlet."

Being pleased that I actually felt better during early pregnancy than I had in a very long time, I was a bit alarmed one day when my hot flashes came back with a vengeance, and I started cramping. I already had an appointment with my OB the next day though, and she eagerly assured me everything looked great, and shared excitement that this truly was a special gift.  I was happy for the good report, but something still didn't sit right, and I couldn't shake a feeling of unease.  I whispered prayers through the moments of my day, praying protection and health over our little one. 

The deep of that night woke me with excruciating pain in in my back and legs.  Terrified, I ran to the bathroom, but besides the pain, nothing seemed unusual.   I was awake most of the rest of the night, unable to lie still or get comfortable... moving from room to room trying to relax the pain away.

The next morning, Mark was away early, in a mandatory course preparing him for retirement.  It was in the early hustle of breakfast and packing backpacks that the crimson slashed through the hopes of my future.  Somehow the kids knew.  They read the shadows of my eyes and the sigh of my spirit on the drive to school, and one of the oldest asked the brave, unanswered question... did our baby die?  My heart knew, but I kissed them away and told them to pray, and reminded them that no matter what, Jesus would walk with us. 

The only communication I could have with Mark was by text that day; he couldn't escape his class, and for the second time, I sat alone in a cold room staring at a dark ultrasound, void of the flicker of life.  While I waited to be taken back to my room, they sat me in a hallway outside the ultrasound rooms.  I sat in paralyzed agony, watching woman after woman stroll to the exam rooms, plump, ripe, life-bellies cupped beneath pregnant hands.  I bitterly scowled inside, already hurling the questions that I knew I probably wouldn't get answers to on this side of eternity.

Hours huffed by, as it seemed everyone was avoiding being the one to tell me what I already knew.  I grew restless and frustrated, and by the time there was nothing left to do but tell me, there was no comfort, no apology, just facts, and all I wanted to do was run.  I texted Mark the words that spilled his glass half-full, and drove mindlessly into a gray afternoon to gather up my little people and begin a life without Sixlet.

I was having an impossible time sorting out my emotions, knowing that if I dwelt in anger, bitterness would take me places I didn't want to go, but finding it very hard to accept that another loss, another shattered dream was part of a great, good plan for my life,  Knowing I had to take a stand against letting this destroy me, I sat alone in my car and loudly starting repeating, "I trust You.  I know You are good.  I know there is a reason beyond my understanding.  I trust You." I hoped the enemy could hear me, but not see my heart, because in fact I was preaching to my own battered soul, trying to convince myself.  That's when the song "Blessings," by Laura Story came on the radio, and I turned the corner to see a brilliant, color blocked rainbow streaked across the gray horizon.

Watching precious life bleed away, tiny footprints slid from safety, never to grow bigger, is a soul-stopping grief, but my God has not forgotten me. He has promised not to abandon me, and to give me the future I hope for.  It's inexplicably hard, and some days, I hear the lie that it's only fitting that my story end with loss, but I refuse to believe that. If this is the journey I have been called to, then I am going to walk it out, and I choose to believe that what He has for me is greater than any of the pain.

It was so hard to tell our little people that the little brother or sister they had been waiting for had gone straight to Heaven.  There was much sadness and questions we couldn't answer, but we did what we do, we celebrated.  We worked together to make cake and special balloons and thanked Jesus for holding our hearts, for holding our babies, for making us stronger than ever through our weakness.  We celebrated for the reunion to come, because friends, it is going to be amazing.

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Monday, October 26, 2015

Intentionally Intentional

In high school, I kept a journal of sorts; mostly because I enjoyed decorating the cover. I had been deeply hurt by someone close to me in my younger years when they discovered a journal in which I had scrawled my deepest thoughts and frustrations.  I was humiliated and disgraced for having written those things down, so after that I didn't write down much of what I was thinking.  I took time to write inspiring quotes I came across, Bible verses I wanted to remember, hilarious things my friends' said, but the one thing I regularly took time to write was a list of goals.  I would draw out columns and write my goal, how I planned to accomplish it, and then a blank column to write about my success of the goal. They related to grades, friendships, sports... nothing life-altering, but kept me on track.  I am a list girl, and there is something so satisfying to me about making check marks.  Like seriously, yes, I add extra things to my list that I've already done, just to cross them off.

One day, sitting in science class, another teacher happened to see me doodling in my journal, and asked if he could take a look at what I was doing.  After flipping through the pages, he said something that has stuck with me into adulthood.  He told me to always keep writing down my goals; that people who write their goals are the people who achieve them,

In a life of keeping up with kids, jobs, extracurricular activities, a home, church, writing, and a medical conditional of the energy-sucking, strength-gobbling, painful, discouraging variety, it is easy to find myself caught in a tumble-dry cycle of surviving the day to day ordinary that must be done to keep the wheel turning.  I remember in the aftershock of losing Ellie, thinking I never again wanted to rush my children to bed, turn down a request to read them a book, or make them wait to tell me something. I never wanted to miss a moment and risk having regret... but then, at that time I didn't know life would continue to throw big, life-changing waves in my course. I didn't know I would face days of having nothing left to give.

 In these days of new and refining challenges, I am finding it more important than ever to intentionally create moments that etch lasting, joyful memories in the hearts of my little people... in a way, a "list of goals," to make sure I am taking the time to stop and pause these instants that are but a breath, and yet, such a lifetime.

This summer we decided to starts making a bucket list for each season.  There are always a number of things that we eagerly look forward to with the changing of the weather, and so we sit and brainstorm a mess of ideas, our hearts pounding and our mouths racing as we blurt out all the "must-do's" that we can dream into being, and somehow plop them into an organized  guide to help us remember to slip these extraordinary moments into our ordinary days.

Summer Bucket 2015
Were there days I messed it up?  Days I was too tired or too weak or too scheduled to follow through with what we thought our day would look like? You bet.  But we didn't quit.  We kept pecking away at that list, even to the very hems of the Autumn weather, and eventually each idea that sprayed across excited lips became a time and a place, a memory that took shape and engraved all sights and smells and emotions across the planks of our remembrance.

Let's remember to be intentional.  Make a list, set a goal! Don't wait until tragedy to start living like you mean it.  Make moments, make memories, make an impact.  Even something as simple as chasing down the ice cream truck is taking back space in a heart that needs it. Take back those spaces, push out the fear, and the struggle, and the pain, and replace it with a moment of delight.  Those memories? They're forever.

And now... a little photo dump of our summer....

My biggest, picking from the garden!

Sunscreen all around!

Egg Yolk Tattoos

PJ's all day!  Which may have been.... staying in bed all day?

Camp out!

Beach face?

Homemade pizza!

Ok, hugging a wookie wasn't exactly on the list, but you have to admit that's one for the books ;)

Next up....FALL!!!!! What's on your bucket list?!

Please leave me a comment, it lets me know you're listening!

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Showing Up

In the haze of my aging and windblown mind, there has always been a particular message I heard in a church years ago that has come crisply back to the forefront of my thoughts.  It was a guest preacher, and he spoke about endurance.  He told of his wife in the ending years of her father's life, how each time she got "the call" she would pack up and drive through the day or night to be there, to sit at the bedside and bring presence and comfort to her sick father in what were surely his final hours.  The thing was, this happened again... and again, and each time, instead of hesitating, or complaining, or doubting that he was really so ill, she would pack up and drive.  She was in for the long haul, unselfishly dedicated to endure for the love of her father, to be there when he needed her most.

For years this has challenged me, boldly questioned me--- Am I selfless enough, brave enough to be the one to Just Show Up?

As I read through Jill's challenge to write my own "Just Show Up" story, there was no delay in the sweet faces that came to my mind as I pondered who it is that has run with endurance to come along side me in the painful, most desperate moments of my story.

I first met Lily and Colleen when Isabella was about 3 years old.  Although she was growing strong and healthy after a precarious start to her life, we had noticed she seemed to fall often, and wanted to make sure we weren't missing something. Her pediatrician agreed she needed to be evaluated, and as happens often in the military healthcare system, we were given a referral to be seen off base by a pediatric physical therapist.  We were immediately impressed with Lily's skill and wisdom.  She watched Bella moving around for 5 minutes and knew right away what was going on and what needed to be done.  She also recognized a sensory processing disorder and was able to get Bella into occupational therapy with one of her therapy partners, Colleen.  The small, house-like building where the smiles of these two women greeted us weekly began to feel like home, and at the same time Bella grew stronger and we saw her start overcoming some of the challenges brought about by her 30 week delivery.


Water therapy with Lily

During this same time, we learned we were expecting our fourth child, and our Tuesday therapy visits came accompanied with a growing belly to count the weeks. One of the first questions in the door was always how me and the baby were doing, and then a pleased smile as my pregnancy progressed smoothly week by week.  Then, one cold day in March, I missed our appointment.  That morning Mark showed up with Bella instead, and as Lily came to the waiting room to get her, she teased with Mark, "Where is Hannah, that baby didn't try to come early did she?"  I'm told Lily was taken aback, feeling badly when he admitted that yes, in spite of everything having gone well so far, I had emergently delivered our youngest daughter at only 29 weeks gestation.  At the time though, we were feeling confident; she was well taken care of in the familiar ambiance of the NICU, and we expected a similar, long, but positive outcome through another journey with a premature baby.

As hours faded to days, and Ellianna's stay in the NICU became punctuated with hard news and complications, Lily and Colleen became more than our therapists, and their familiar faces and kind spirits grew friendship beyond the purpose for which they had first come into our lives.  We looked forward to seeing each other, kept in touch by text throughout the weeks, and sneaked in coffee dates when we could.  When we learned that Ellianna would have cerebral palsy, Lily knew what we didn't, and pushed to have her enrolled to start physical therapy as soon as she was discharged from the hospital.  This teeny, tiny, 4 pound little girl, showing up to flex her muscles on the big red inflatable ball.  Who knew? Lily and Colleen also jumped in to help with her feeding difficulties, and Colleen was even willing to drive out to our home to get her started in occupational therapy so she didn't have to be submitted to the noise and chaos outside the house so many times a week.

These two women were so steadfastly in our corner, fighting for the best for our little girl, and encouraging us through the frightening unknowns ahead.  I remember Lily saying perhaps Bella wasn't even the reason for our meeting, but  that we would already have this in place when our littlest miracle came along needing it so badly.


As Ellianna's brain bleed turned to hydrocephalus and surgery and shunts, I wanted to keep her home in the protection of my arms, comforting her pain and keeping her from more.  Lily knew better though, and she urged us forward, pushing Ellie to her limits to help her grow strength and gain weight, and even though my heart broke watching the tears of the struggle, I knew Lily pushed because she loved, and she wanted so much more for my little girl.

Our last hospital admission, when things were the darkest, bleakest bad... it seems silly, but I suppose I needed things to distract my mind, and I remember calling Lily's office to tell her Ellianna was in the hospital and we wouldn't be able to make it to therapy.  In hindsight, I'm sure we could have no-showed and no one would have blamed us, but there I was, trying to keep a calm voice as the receptionist told me Lily was with a client and couldn't come to the phone.  When she asked to take a message, I must have been out of my mind, because I think I said something like, "Just tell her we won't be at therapy because Ellie is in the hospital and the doctors don't know if she is going to make it."  I guess that seemed normal in the numbed hysteria of my mind, but I was told to please hold, and 10 seconds later Lily's voice was on the other end of the line.  My explanation was jumbled, and probably less than a sentence long, but that's all it took and Lily was saying "I'm coming up there," and the line went dead.

This woman, assigned to us for her livelihood, to straighten crooked ankles and weak hips, dropped everything, walked out on whoever she was with and showed up in a way that may have saved my life.  I'm not sure how she got there so quickly (knowing what I know of Lily now, I probably don't want to know), and I don't know who she walked out on, though I hope they understood.  She burst into our tiny room in the Pediatric ICU and she stood there in the middle of a situation most people would not want to imagine, let alone wade right into.  She was there when someone came in and told us the CT scan showed 50-60% of our daughter's brain was already destroyed.  Instead of fear or "I'm sorry's," she turned to us and said, "Don't let that discourage you, there are plenty of people who live with half a brain and live well.  Don't let them make you afraid."  So I tried not to.  I knew if anyone knew this, it would be Lily, and she was the one from the beginning who knew what our little girl would need to fight and overcome, and had given her the means to do that.  Lily left that day with a hug that spoke more than words could, and the promise of continued prayers.  I don't know that either of us believed yet that we would be saying goodbye.

As reality gave voice to my internal fears, and we watched Ellianna slip from this life to claim her true royalty, I sent a simple text to Lily, telling her Ellie was gone.  I don't remember if I got a response, but what I do remember is that just as quickly as she had come before, she was there again. Walking into the palpable pain of a room split by this life and the next, Lily and Colleen were standing on that sacred ground with us, tear-stained cheeks and weary eyes.  I didn't know what to do or say, maybe nobody did, but presence was enough.  I stood up, my lifeless daughter wrapped in a blanket in my arms, and I held her out to Colleen.  I cringed at remembering this, because really, she hardly knew me at the time, and here I just thrust a most uncomfortable situation right at her... but she leaned right in.  She took my daughter in her arms, this stinging, beautiful, scarred, and perfect reminder of the common thread of our lives, and she looked on her with every love a mother wishes for her child.  She didn't complain or turn away from the discomfort of it, but she opened her arms wide, and in that moment these two women made a choice to embrace my hard story, to become characters in a heart breaking plot from which many others ran. I do not remember any of the words spoken there that day, maybe there weren't any, but it doesn't matter because what I do remember is that they were there, and that was all my soul could and needed to hear that day.

In the days to follow, as I avoided people and places and questions and awkwardness, our hour-long, twice a week therapy appointments dropped to half an hour once a week, and it was still a safe place to land. There were days, and still are, that I have to push myself because walking in to see the tiny room we used to nurse in, and the big red ball Ellie used to perch on is just so fresh and raw and I feel as if my million pieces will fall apart again, never to be gathered.  But these women, they see that in me; they read the gray or the green of my eyes and they know my heart without pressing me for words.

Colby, on the same big ball Ellie used at therapy

I wish I could say that was the only big trial, and the last few years have been a smooth sail of strengthening friendship, but what I can tell you is that again and again...and again, Lily and Colleen have shown up, both in the happiest celebrations and the devastating losses of life.  They have always given me the freedom to grieve, question, cuss, or withdraw without so much as a judgmental word.  They have never pressed me with advice or timelines or ultimatums, but have supported me wherever I'm at.  They cheer me on even when my dreams seem crazy, and pray me through the days I don't believe I will make it through one more blow.  Lily and Colleen have chosen to see deeper into my story, to see that it is not just a story of loss, but one of healing, of beauty, and sustaining grace that can only come from the One who wrote my story.  They choose to remain in the cast of people throughout the chapters of my life, without expectation, without apprehension, but simply to Just Show Up.

Colleen and Colby

Lily working with Colby

OT with Colleen

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