Thursday, January 29, 2009

Hand Me the Duct Tape!

We are taking a long weekend to go on a break with the kids, so we drove across the border to visit my cousins.

My third son, yup, the one who would rather live in heaven than obey. Yes, the one who bit his brother and pulled his tooth into an interesting diagonal position. (It never fell completely out like we expected, but sort of solidified into a diagonal.)...

Well, that son...

He has a history at border crossings. So much of one that we drill him for the half hour as we approach the border. "Remember now, no talking! Just yes or no answers, nothing more. You may say your name if asked, nothing more. Do NOT volunteer information! Just be quiet for five minutes, ok?"

This is the son, who when we were asked the obligatory, "Do you have any weapons?" question and we had replied negatively, piped up from the back seat, "Oh yes, we do!"

The border guard's eyes widened, and he continued, "Remember, we have the arrows! Remember, the one I put through my lip!" (Yes, he did. Nice hole - right through... hours from medical care.) Thankfully, he had the scar to prove it, and happily showed this to the border guard who either assumed we were too stupid to be harmless or criminally insane for carrying arrows with this child!

This is the son, who when his daddy got pulled over for a check on a holiday night after almost running a red light, cheerfully informed the police officer, "My daddy always runs red lights!"

Short of duct taping his mouth shut when dealing with authorities, I don't know what to do with him..... just wondering how to cross a border with a duct taped child... might attract some attention...

So today, we ran through the whole routine. "Remember, no talking. No talking at all. Just yes or no if they ask if we are your parents. Nothing more."

"Sure mom."

"Did you hear me? Do you understand?"

"Of, course!"

I'm sure he did, for thirty seconds.

A guard came over and was inspecting cars before we got to the booth. He opened the side door of the van. Hardly before it was opened, Number Three reached down, opened his lunch box by his feet, showed the guard, and said, "I had to hurry before you got here, but I did it!"

The guard looked slightly bewildered and stunned by the sudden barrage of information coming from this eight-year-old before he even asked a question. "You did what?"

"I finished it, because I know I can't bring it across the border, so I had to hurry, but I ate it all."

At this the guard began to smile.

"Because I had my apple still in my lunch cut up in pieces because of my tooth, and I forgot to eat it, but I remembered, so I ate it really fast before you got here!"

Thankfully, this guard had a sense of humor and began to really smile. He said he likes this kid - he confesses even before he could ask! So he asked the only thing that came to his mind. "What happened to your tooth?"

Now, that brought dead silence from Number Three. But my daughter filled in the gap. "He tried to bite his brother!"

And Number Two added, "So I pulled my arm away fast. And his tooth went that way."

"And it bleeded!"

At that, the guard gave us one last pitying look, and closed the door. Whatever we had in that van, he wasn't going to investigate any farther!

My Five Minutes of Accomplishment

I did it! I did it! I've always wanted to do it, and yesterday, I did!

I finished ALL the laundry. All of it. Even cleaned the bedrooms, looked in the bottom of closets and under beds, dug the sock out from beside the washing machine, emptied the pile jammed in behind the winter boots in the hall closet - all of it!

I even folded it all, and put it all away! Wow!

(If you do not have four kids in wet and cold weather, you may not realize what an accomplishment this is.)

I was so happy! I did it! I sat back and enjoyed the thought. My husband even brought me a cup of tea to celebrate with. Then it was bedtime. I went up, took off my jeans and shirt, folded them on the chair by my bed. Then I took off my underwear and socks, and walked in to the bathroom to deposit them in the hamper.... I dumped them in, and there it was.... more laundry!

The great accomplishment lasted only five minutes.... oh, well... It was nice while it lasted.

I Hate Deadlines!

I do. I'm working hard to meet mine, but I am failing. Getting close, though...

Yesterday, I decided to go for quality over speed. They'll be about a week late, but they will be better done.

I get tired of writing after awhile, and writing all business writing, nothing for fun. Ok, sure, it is good to actually get my work done, but...

Silence on my blog, silence in letters to friends... I'm still here - just staring down a deadline, that is all.

I am going to rebel just a little tonight. But then it is back to work.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Her Story - The Things People Said

After an hour of sobbing alone across the foot of my bed, my husband came home and wrapped his body around mine. We lay together and cried. Here is where the confusion of what we absorbed or didn't absorb of what the doctor said set in. My husband was still hoping that next week the news would be different. He cried, but he did not yet let himself grieve because he still clung to hope. I knew more than he did. I knew how far along this baby was, and I knew that there had to be a heartbeat. It was not just too early. Yet, despite the confusion, we cried together.

Then the inevitable comes. The phone calls. The news must be told. I phoned my parents first, still slightly unintelligible through the tears and told them, "the baby died." Their instant reaction was, "not Bunny?!" (Son #1 will not let me use that nickname for him in public anymore - but it still makes a good threat - if you don't come when I call you at school, I will holler as loud as I can, "Bunny! I said come!)

No, not him. He's fine. The baby, the one not born yet.

"Oh, what a relief! We were so worried."

Ok. I get it. People say odd things when confronted with shocking news and the sheer fact of being stunned is some excuse for stupid things we say. Yet it was only the beginning of learning that people react differently to the death of a baby not yet born.

We went that week to our small group Bible study. At the time, we were in Europe and there was not a group near us that met in English, so we went every week to a small group of primarily American soldiers for Bible study. My one chance to speak in English. It was a good group for us, since they were also young couples and also having babies.

It is so hard to walk into a room in maternity clothes, meet friends you have not seen for a few months with a dead baby. There is no way to stop it or prepare. As soon as people saw me, from across the room their eyes lit up with surprise and excitement, and they began to move toward me with smiles. A round belly simply attracts women.

I cringed. Do I have to say it? Do I have to say it again and again?

Exclamations of happiness, greetings, kisses. "Oh, I didn't know!" "Wow, when is it due?"

It isn't. The baby is dead.

Silence. Dead silence in the room, growing like a wave from near me to the far corner where two people laughed heartily at their own conversation before someone poked them to silence, too.

I wished the ground would have opened and swallowed me. Facing the news reflected back in the shock and sorrow on so many faces was overwhelming. I wanted to hide. Tears, some hugs. If only we could have stopped there...

But no. People feel they must say something. It is built into us all... silence is awkward and we search for words to fill it. To make ourselves feel better.

To give them grace, it was mostly a room filled with young soldiers, young wives. Only two of us even had a baby at the time. They simply did not know what to say.

But that did not stop them.

"Oh, I'm sorry."

This is a good one, but no one stopped there.

"Don't worry, you can have another."

Another?! Another what? This is my baby, not a puppy that I bought. Is she replaceable?!

"At least it wasn't your son."

No. It was my daughter.

"Just be happy the baby wasn't born yet,; that would have been much harder."
Haven't I just spent the last few days sobbing out to God that I wanted to hold her, even just once?

"Maybe there would have been something wrong with the baby. Maybe this is best."

Best? As if I wouldn't have wanted my child if there was something wrong with her?

"Try to be glad. They would have been so close together; it would have been hard."

So, what? This is more convenient?

Never was I so happy for a study to start, and never was I so happy to get out of there! Each "comforting" word felt like a barb into my very heart. Can't anyone just be quiet?! I haven't even been able to come up with something to say - not after hours of melted tears in front of a God who is holding me through this.

I've found no reason.

I've found no answers.

I've found no comfort.

I've found no blessing.

I've found nothing that makes it ok.

All I've found is raw pain. And a God who holds me through it all.

Don't give me your thirty second answers. Don't tell me reasons, blessings, worse things. Don't even tell me that your aunt, cousin, neighbor, friend, sister went through this. My own pain is overwhelming me like suffocating in sludge, unable to even attempt to swim. I can't handle anyone else's too. Crushing pain, numbing pain, sharp pain, all running through me. I look out my eyes like a foreigner looks out at a new country. I don't even know who I am anymore.

Don't give me your thirty second answers. Instead, give me your silence. Come and sit with me in the bewildering mists of questions that float around the three words that took my baby away. Come sit, be silent, and let me lean on you, let me feel the warmth of your body as I lean against you so that I know I, too, have not been swallowed by the cold mists, but am still alive. Sit and question with me in the silence.

Don't give me your thirty second answers. Give me a hug. Take my seven month old son and tickle him. Giggle at him, and throw him in the air. Show him the world still laughs. The poor guy has seen nothing but silence and tears, and he is too young to understand why. Give me a cup of hot chocolate without asking me what I want to drink. Get one for yourself, and sit down and drink with me. Tell me you love me. I need to hear those words. The enemy whispers so loudly to me that God took my baby because He didn't love me, because I wasn't good enough. Be His words, be His love, and tell me you love me.

You have no answers. I know that. I don't either. I don't need answers. I need love.

But they were young, and not yet used to death. And there are always those few who know how to be there. My friend who said to simply come over. Come over every day, any day, come with no warning, no plans, just come. I am at home and you have a spot on my couch just for you. When I came, she did nothing different. We cleared breakfast dishes, did laundry, cooked lunch, cleaned the bathroom. She waited with me the day before the next doctor's appointment. We waited together. I did not have to face my days alone if I did not want to, and yet I did not have to face plans and activities. Just quiet routines at her house, where the sun shone in more than at mine, and the double stroller did not sit empty in the corner of the nursery.

It was this friend I called a few weeks later when I needed someone on a very difficult day to face. She came.

Work - Piled Up and Waiting

Yup, I do some of that, too.

The end of the month is approaching quickly and with it, a deadline. Yikes! I am supposed to have ten lessons written. I'm finishing up number five, so still a long ways to go. Ok, ok, I'll agree, I am a bit of a procrastinator....

It is just that writing these lessons, which are written in a drama with stories thrown in in monologues, are a bit more complicated. Each one is over ten pages of writing. Work that I should have been doing a few months ago. Only a few months ago, we were not doing well. I thought I could keep working even through the stress, but I couldn't. I would stare at the page, and my mind looked as blank as it. Thinking of cheerful, lighthearted conversation between the women in the dramas was impossible when my heart was so heavy.

I'm thankful to be where I am today. There are still heavy moments in life when we have some deeper conversations about issues and work things out, but all in all, there are far more happy moments than sad. More laughter than tears. And the other day when I sat down behind my computer, words began to flow.

It is just that I need words like a river in spring run off to be able to meet my deadline.

I also need discipline - one of those thing which is not my favorite items nor one that I am necessarily the best at!

So, pray for me.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

History in the Making

Not that I want to make my blog all about the things kids say, but...

I forced my eight year old to watch part of the inauguration today. Told him it is history in the making, and he will be glad later on that he saw it. It is the first black president.

He gave me an odd look. "He's not black!"

His brother agreed. "He is only half and half. He is like me."

"Ok," I said, "but his wife is black, so it is still history - the first black person to be in the White House." Trying to get him to be quiet and pay attention.

He did pay attention, rapt attention. He wanted to see the President's wife. He waited and waited. Then she got out of the car.

Disappointment tinged his voice, "Mom! She's not black, either! She is just brown, too."

Monday, January 19, 2009

The Best Excuse Yet

There is something unique about son #3. There just is. I hope that it will grow into a good thing, but right now, it is just something unique.

In school, they are memorizing sections of Ephesians. This week, number 3's assignment is Ephesians 6:1-3. "Obey your parents so that it might go well with you and you may live long in the land the Lord gives you."

He paused. Tipped his little head. Thought.

Then -

"hmmpf. I think I would rather live in heaven anyway!"

Only During Service - A Quick Punishment

The service had ended, and besides the minor scuffle in getting to the juice and cookies first - you know, the one in which my son tackled a girl to the ground... if it helps, it was to defend his sister's right to be first - besides that, church had gone well.

Then came my middle son up to me quietly. "Mom, I think my brother is hurt".


"Well, I think he hurt his tooth, and it is bleeding."

By this time, number three had arrived in tears, mouth bleeding, and shaking from fright.

What happened?

Well... the gist of the story eventually came out. Number three had tried to bite number two (Why?!) and number two had pulled his arm away very quickly (naturally!), and it had half pulled out number three's tooth.

Just punishment, I thought. He is way too old to bite.

Quick examination - it's a baby tooth, no big loss.

"But moommmm! It didn't want to come out yet."

Nope. I guess not. It is now, though. Think about it for the next few weeks until your new one grows in. You bite - you lose.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Her Story - Three Small Words

Do you ever wish that God issued a weather report for our days?

Warning - showers expected, have an umbrella.
Relax - bright sunny skies, enjoy yourself.
Watch Out - a sudden storm is blowing in, be prepared for disaster.

I've wondered this as I've watched different tragedies strike. On the day where several people were killed on a normal Sunday morning in service, what was going on that morning in heaven? Did God watch them get up, stress over getting kids dressed in time, brush their teeth, put on their make up? What was going though His mind? Did He whisper to them that morning? Did He surround them with a sense of His real presence? Or was it a normal morning? Did He sit quietly watching, saying to Himself, "Little one, today you don't know it, but today you will be here with me"?

I wish life came with a daily forecast. I wish He gave us a heads up on our days.

He doesn't, though. For reasons He knows, He lets life hit us full force without warning. When we least expect it.

That day I went in for a check-up was a day like that. Looking back, I know that God had His hand on the day. It was unusual for my husband to take off work to go to a routine first visit with the doctor. But that day, he was with me.

That last moment, standing around the desk laughing and talking. So happy. So unaware.

Then the doctor came out, and in we went. Up on the table for the initial check, and the doctor's confirmation, "yep, you're definitely pregnant again." Smiles all around. He measured my tummy, everything looking good. Asked about how far I was, and I told him what I thought, four and a half months, almost five. All good.

"Perhaps we will do an ultrasound to get a better idea right off the bat."

We eagerly watched the screen as the picture popped up. The doctor was silent as he moved the wand around one way and the other. I was a nurse, so I had seen many ultrasounds. Immediately, something looked wrong to me. The picture was moving too fast that I didn't know exactly what.

I wondered perhaps if I had my dates wrong or something. Maybe that is why it is harder to get a good picture. Maybe I am only four months, not almost five... maybe... But that is not what was missing.

The silence in the room should have clued me in... silence from my doctor and silence from the machine...

After a few more minutes with the only noise in the room being the ticking of the clock and the babbling of my baby boy, the doctor looked up and said the three words which changed my world.

"There's no heartbeat."

The silence should have told me. That was what was unusual. No ba-boom, ba-boom loudly filling the room with a fast tempo like trotting horses. Nothing. On the monitor, no flickering little white dot that is a tiny heart doing its thing. Nothing.

No heartbeat.

It took a minute for that news to sink in, past all the high of minutes ago, past all my dreams of two babies in the stroller, past the roundness of my tummy sticking up on the examining table.... no heartbeat...

My mind tried to scream at me. Do we need a heartbeat? Can't we fix it? Make it better, please ... Other things you can live with - no foot, no kidney, not enough amniotic fluid..... This was so final, so sudden. No heartbeat?

How can that be?! Just five minutes ago, we were rubbing my tummy, talking to my baby. No heartbeat? I think I lay on that table with tears pouring out the sides of my eyes and dribbling down into my ears for about ten minutes before I could even say to myself, "my baby is dead." Dead?! How can she be dead? She hasn't lived yet. I haven't held her yet! I needed to hold her. I just needed to hold her once. Oh, God, how can my baby be dead?

I sat in the car later, curled around my belly, one hand instinctively resting on the bump. A protective gesture - but how could I protect? She died. I didn't keep her safe. And how did she die without me even knowing? When did she die? Had she died and I just had gone on with my day unaware? She can't be dead. I can rest my hand on a round, tight tummy.

We drove home in shock. I am sure that the doctor said more to us, but I have no clue as to what. He did ask us to come back next week for another visit. This in itself became a bit of a difficulty since my husband somehow thought that we would come back next week to see if anything had changed. I don't know if it was his denial or the fact that he might not have put two and two together with how far I was, and he simply thought that maybe by next week, the heart would start beating. So for the duration of that week, I grieved, and he hoped.

We sat silent. Tears poured out of me like steady downpour on a quiet day. No sobbing yet, no crying, just tears without end. When we got home, my husband carried our now fast asleep son up to his crib, and went next door to work to tell them what happened and that he would be home all day. I went to my bed, threw myself down, and began to cry.

I cried. I cried screaming wails. But, my son slept in the next room, so I tried to keep my mouth closed and scream silently in whimpers. Durng the pain of my childhood, I had learned to cry without sound, so I did that now. I cried so hard that one of my eardrums burst. The pain registered only for minutes, and I continued to sob. Eventually, my husband came back from his work and wrapped his body around mine and we cried together.

Yet, in that hour or so before he came back, someone else came into that bedroom. As I lay collapsed across the foot of my bed, pouring out my very heart in tears, there came a stillness. Later on, I tried to explain that moment. The best I could do was to say it was as if God came down and picked me up and carried me to that very still place next to His heart and sat with me in the silence there. In those very special moments, I saw that God, too, was crying over my daughter's death. He mourned, too. He knew my hurt and my pain and was touched by it.

It was that deep closeness at that time which gave me the strength to live the next few days as I did. I saw God's heart, and in that glimpse, I realized that all the accusations and questions that would want to come in my mind to hurl at Him were not based in truth. "Why didn't You save her?" "Don't You care?" "Why would you do this if You love me?" Even the basic, unanswerable yearing "why?" had no answer, and no basis in accusation. He was not uncaring.

In the silence, God let me see His heart. As I lay there in exhausted tears, I determined one thing. I will not question God about this. I will not accuse Him. I sat in the stillness, and it was as if He put His hand under my chin, raised my eyes to look into His, and He asked me, "Do you know Me?" I did. I knew God. I believed many things about Him. I determined that minute to continue to believe those same things and I determined not to question His right to make decisions.

That day, as I lay wrung out from tears which would not stop, I told God the things I knew. "I know that You know what You are doing. I know that Your way is perfect. And I know that You love me." The next day, I added one more "I know" to my list which I repeated over and over to myself. "I know You know how much I hurt." My pain did not simply not factor into His decisions - He knew my heart and the pain that so crushed it that taking a breath was difficult.

At the same time as I knew God had a right to make decisions and He knew that He was doing, I had the deep knowledge that He knew my pain. He was not untouched by it. In the days to come, when I went out of my bedroom and faced the world, I faced many different reactions and different comments by people trying to mean well. In those difficult days, it was the ability to come running back to this place - this place of stillness, just God and me - that let me get through it all. Here was where I came to cry, to sit, to pour out my feelings before a God who Himself cried at my daughter's death.

In a real way, God hid me there, in that still place, and He protected me there. Outside was the storm and the chaos, the questions and the details, but there was that place of stillness where God hid me from all of that. Safe. He hid me in the stillness wrapped around His presence and sat with me. It was, at the same time, the worst time in my life and the best. It was a time where God met me like He never had before. And yet, it was the hardest time of my life. The very roundness of my belly mocked me as I walked or sat and rested my hand on it. How, in the very safety of my womb, could my daughter die?

I cried out my tears to God. Again and again, I lifted my face up and told Him, "I just wanted to see her. I wanted to twist a curl of her hair around my finger. I wanted to put a dress on her with pretty lace. I wanted to know what she looked like. I wanted to see her, to smell her, to cuddle her - just once, just only once. I needed to hold her."

God heard me. He was not finished with His ways of carrying me through that time. But for that day - the day that went from sunny calm to blinding storm - He brought me to a still place and hid me there. It did not protect me from the pain, but it didn't leave me alone with it, either.

God does not give us a weather report in advance, but He is a storm shelter in the middle of disaster - a very present help in time of trouble.

And... oh how I still miss her! My arms still ache to hold her, a solid longing ache which never disappears. Tonight, I kissed my little daughter good night when I tucked her in, and my eyes filled with tears for her big sister who I never got to kiss.

I still miss you, daughter of mine.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Her Story - A Normal Check-up

After a few months in the States with my family, I flew back home with my baby. Back to my husband - oh, how much we had missed him!

The flight was interesting since I was still recovering from that awful flu and was pretty weak. Halfway across the Atlantic, I gave up. I couldn't find any more strength to rock a fussy baby. I was wiped! I put him in his carseat, fastened him in, and lay back in my seat. I knew he was crying, but I also knew that if left alone in a carseat, he would only last about ten minutes before he was out.

Yet, ten minutes of a howling baby is tough on people strapped down in close quarters in a metal tube. Not surprisingly, the flight attendant came by. What she did next surprised us. After taking one look at me and determining that I was exhausted; she fairly sternly, although politely, scolded the young man sitting on the other side of the carseat for not taking care of his baby when his wife is obviously worn out!

The poor guy! He looked up slightly bewildered and said, "umm... the only baby I have is a ten month old German Shepherd at home." (He was really nice about it, actually, considering he was sitting next to a crying baby!)

So the flight attendant asked me what they could do. I told her that I am still weak after being sick for a week, I'm pregnant again, and I am getting dizzy standing up rocking him. Thankfully, my son was never a shy type, so she asked if she could take him. She did, and about an hour later, she brought him back to me laughing. He had been up front to visit in the cockpit and had been playing with the pilots and having a ball. Just six months old, and already in love with anything that moved!

Finally, finally, the plane was home, and I was back in my husband's arms. He laughed at my tummy, now round with another baby, and put me in bed to sleep.

Within a week, I had an appointment with my OB. That morning, I had gotten up and pulled out my maternity clothes again, surprised at how early I needed them. With my son, I hadn't worn maternity clothes until well into the seventh month, but with this one, I was a few days short of five months and already pulling on my waist of my normal clothes.

I put on my favorite of my maternity tops and went out to drive the half hour to the doctor. A happy greeting with all the doctor's assistants as they drooled over my son and assumed I was in for a check up. Exclamations of surprise, and then delight, when I said that we were actually here for round two with the next baby. Wow! The babies will be so close, ten months apart. What fun!

The secrets hidden inside the womb.... unknown by us all.

We stood around the reception desk talking and laughing, and none of us knew. It was the last thoughtless, carefree moment I had in any pregnancy. Within a few minutes, I would hear those three words which changed everything on that rainy morning.

An hour later, I sat in tears alone in the car while my husband got gas, and tried to close my eyes and take myself mentally back to those minutes we stood by the desk with receptionists rubbing my belly and laughing. My hand rested on my belly now, an unconscious gesture, but one which was unable to protect or comfort the tiny baby girl inside. I couldn't even pull up a memory of how my world was a short hour before. Now, there were only tears, and tears I had to keep quiet so I would not frighten the little boy who babbled and laughed in his carseat behind me.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Her Story - A Surprise Appearance

We got married, and sure enough, a few months later, we were expecting. I told my husband who was initially in shock and then spent the rest of the day telling everyone he knew and some who he didn't.

I phoned my parents, and since this was their first grandchild, my mom couldn't believe it. (She did have a few kids, so she should know how this works!). My dad was thrilled. Nine months later, some of my family flew out to Europe to wait for this new arrival. We waited. We waited. And then we waited some more.

Do you know how hard it is to have group of people staring at your tummy and hinting that their ticket runs out pretty soon? If I even moaned slightly, the entire house jumped and watched my belly like a chicken was going to hatch out of it any minute. I was ready to kick them all out - along with the baby who had determined to never show up.

Eventually, two and a half weeks late, my tiny son made his appearance into the world. He was perfect. Minuscule. Hungry. He ate like a vacuum cleaner on attack mode.

About two months after his appearance, I started to feel strange. I was not getting back to normal. In fact, I felt pregnant. We had guests visiting, a mother of three teens who also was a nurse. I told her that I suspect I am expecting again. She just smiled and said I wasn't used to my body's changes, that's all.

I was used to my body. So used to it, in fact, that I already knew.

A month later, I flew back home for my brother's wedding. The day after I arrived, I bought a pregnancy test and confirmed what I already knew. Another baby would be born before its brother's first birthday.

I told my husband, and after a few moments of shocked surprise, he was excited. The two babies would be good friends. I told my family, and they were less thrilled. There was almost no response from them. It bothered me slightly, but I assumed that their minds must be taken up with the wedding plans. Maybe they didn't quite believe me. It was so soon.

So many times over the years, my mind goes back over the events of the next few months, wondering. Was it this, was it that? Was it the day I decided I was fed up with not having caffeine and had two cokes? Was it flying? Was it because an tense member of the wedding party shoved me angrily out of the way and I fell? Was it because my little brother didn't come home one night when we had traveled together to see old friends, and I stayed up all night pacing and worrying? Was it because of being tired after waiting for my brother, that I got a really bad flu from the kids where we were staying? Was it because I was exhausted staying up caring for my baby who also got the flu? Was it because for several days, I couldn't keep food in, but had to keep nursing since he would not take a bottle?

One event during that time stands out. When I took my son eventually to my old family doctor since he was so sick, I mentioned to the doctor that I was also pregnant. He looked up quickly, and said, "uh oh" in a worried voice. He changed the subject when I asked what he meant. Did he know something I didn't? Was this particular flu bad for unborn babies?

Questions and more questions. In the immediate crisis after she died, I had to learn to put down the questions. God knew the answers to them, and He chose not to tell us. I choose to trust. The questions still come, but I choose to set them down again unanswered.

It has become enough for me that He knows, and I can rest in that. I chose to believe the things I knew in my head about God, and one of those is that His way is perfect, even when it is not easy.

Her Story - a prolouge

When I was a teenager, I babysat for a family with two lovely girls and one little boy. The boy had the most unusual nickname "Buzzy". When I was in their home, I noticed the photo of one baby girl on the mother's nightstand.

Interesting, I thought. Which baby would rank the right to be there alone?

I asked the girls who that baby was. "Oh, that is Sarah."

Sarah? None of them are named Sarah. Who is she?

Sarah was their sister. She died of SIDS when she was only a few months old. Buzzy was born after Sarah, and he was put on a monitor to watch his breathing. He stopped breathing so many times that they nicknamed him "Buzzy" after the monitor's buzz which woke them so often.

Several years later, in nursing school, I picked the topic of SIDS for a pediatrics presentation. Besides the few basic facts and research into preventing SIDS, there was little to present from a nursing standpoint. When babies come in after SIDS, they are dead. There is little we can do.

I decided I would make this report more personal, and I phoned up this mother and asked if I might interview her about their experiences during and after Sarah's death. She very graciously agreed and I learned much of the suffering and accusations that families can go through after an infant suddenly dies. I did well on the presentation.

My only one thought through that was, "wow! I could never live through the death of one of my babies." If I had one prayer going into motherhood, it was that - don't let me have to live through this.

God does not always answer prayers the way we would like. I learned that the hard way. I also learned that in the times we think we will not survive, He will step in and carry us through it in ways we never thought.

Today, when I look back at the death of my daughter, I look back to a time of immense pain, but also to a time of immense comfort.

(no this is not a photo of her - we never got one)

Mommy, it hurted!

I sat in the doctor's office today. A routine allergy shot. A nuisance in a full week. Or a calm half hour on my own - depends how I look at it. Some days, the room is full of cheerful conversation between us "regulars". Other days, it is quiet - people reading books, dozing, nursing cups of coffee.

Today was a quiet day. No sounds. No restless kids. No chatting patients. Silence reigned in the office. Three quiet women and one young mother with a sleeping newborn sitting. Then from the offices, came a little girl. She couldn't have been more than two years old, tiny and petite. Every detail on her was fine and small, like a painted porcelain doll on a shelf. She turned towards the mother with the baby with a troubled face, "Mommy, it hurted!" Tears rested in her eyes, but not one had trickled down her face. We had not even heard one noise from the back rooms. She must have had her allergy tests - involving many little pokes and red itching.

Her mom looked up at the dad and down at the little girl. She stood there while both parents whispered to her that she had done well and they were proud. She stood brave and quiet with no tears initially, but as she moved closer to her mom, her bottom lip began to quiver and one lonely tear snaked down her cheek. The mom leaned over to put her head on her daughter, her hands full of the new baby. As soon as the mom touched her, more tears followed down the path of the first. It was all over, but the crying did not come until there was comfort again.

Still the girl was so well-composed for a tiny tike. She then crawled up in the chair beside the mom while the dad fussed over her quietly whispering to her, producing the inevitable chocolate bar that had been promised as a treat, and gently putting on her boots and mitts. The dad did an amazing job with her - to walk her through that doctor's visit on his own. He impressed us all.

But she sat in the chair beside her mom while her boots were being tied and looked up once more at her mommy. "But it really did hurt, mommy."

In the waiting room, we all watched. We all smiled at her. We all wanted to reach over and give her the hug her mother couldn't with her arms full of baby. This tiny specimin of humanity trying to be so brave.... she was adorable.

As they walked out the door, I thought "that is exactly how I feel." For the last few weeks, I've been scolding myself for not feeling more happy. Why do I feel like crying at odd moments? It is all over. The worst is over, and things are so much better. I should be happy. The hurt is done. But I feel like crying still so often. My lip quivers when I look up at God, and I still am saying, "that really hurt!"

What I noticed today was that none of us in that room felt like scolding the little girl. There was no negative reaction to her at all. It would have been a crazy response! We all, unanimously, wanted to comfort her, to scoop her up and hug her - "you've been so brave. It's all over. You did good. I know it hurt. I'm proud of you."

Yet I scold myself for those very same words. "It hurted."

It was just a little lesson in God's love. He is not sitting there telling me to "get over it" and "get on with life" or to "feel happy now, it's over". He is sitting there waiting to comfort me for the hurt. It was tough. It hurt. It is over now, and I made it through, and it is ok to cry.

I think, too, one of the difficulties in being a mother is that when you go through rough times like this last year has been for me, you have to focus so much on your kids - are they alright, are you strong enough for them, are you doing all you can, are you protecting them? It leaves little time to process your own feelings. Now my feelings come. Now because I am safe. Because I can relax.

And when I walk in with my lip quivering and tears swimming in my eyes, God is ready to scoop me up and hold me.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Her Story

I knew that one day I would want to tell her story.

Yet it is so hard to put words to it. Difficult to begin. Difficult to write. Difficult to end. Is there really ever any end? I have a patient who is in her early nineties. She forgets everything from the now, even if she ate supper or not while I am still clearing her dishes! There is one thing she doesn't forget. She tells me regularly. About her third son. He lived only nine months. Together, we pause in sadness and remember him. She wipes a tear off her wrinkled face and invariably says, "but he is in heaven, and I guess I will see him soon." She sighs, "It's been a long time."

So tell me, when does it end? The day we bury a body? The day we remember a year gone by without her? The day we forget to remember one day? When we have another child? When we have grandchildren? How about great-grandchildren? Or when we are 92 and pause at the nurse's station to talk of our child we lost?

Maybe it only ends when we walk into heaven, eyes finally opened for the first time, meet God face to face, and then (how do you say "then" or "after" in a place with no time?) look around and go running, running to gather them up in our arms finally, at last - oh, how I missed you! Does it end then? Maybe not. Maybe it only begins. I am still waiting for the beginning with my baby. The ending started before the beginning. Death before life. It is not supposed to be this way.

This is why I can not write this story. The tears come and block my view.

Book #6 - To An Angel Who Is New

I walked by this book the first time through the store, too. I'm not impressed with people who talk to angels or think we become angels.

I'll tell you why I picked it up the second time. The back says it is the letters of a man talking to his wife.... you mean men TALK?!?

So I picked it up.

It is an interesting book. Another one about someone dying. No, I am not typically morbid. I do often see death, though, so I do not shy away from it as quickly perhaps as others. I do not mind reading how others face death because I often stand beside people while they watch one they love die. I appreciate learning from people who are brave enough to write honestly.

This book is written honestly. The author is in the Netherlands and writes with the simple directness of the Dutch. The basic story is that there is a horrible accident and he and his wife and two daughters are badly injured. His wife ends up in one hospital and he and the girls in another. The book is the account of him telling his wife day by day what is going on. He tells of the pain, the decisions, the suffering, the beauty, the hope, the crushing realization of hope shattered. He comments on friend's actions, helpful and unhelpful.

It really is a touching story.

It made me sad. Sad because it is the story of people facing awful suffering without God. They use words like "hope" and "luck" and "destiny". They gather people together to "focus their good thoughts and try to radiate their good energy" and talk about her "moving toward the light, whichever direction that light may be". There is a deep sadness I felt as I read their attempts to deal with pain with only a general idea that there must be a light and a heaven, but without knowing God.

It encouraged me. Strange that it would, but it did. It reminded me that I do not grieve like this. I do not face life like this. I have a God whose name I know. He knows my name. I can talk to Him. I don't face things alone with a general hope and a sad acceptance of fate. I am a daughter of the King, and I can talk to Him.

I gave me a renewed desire to reach out to others. To see people suffer with so little to hang on to. I wanted to call into the book, "Wait, stop, listen - He's listening. You can talk to Him. He has a name, a heart, a purpose. He is not a general light, but a God who suffered a broken body Himself so you can know Him."

But mostly, deeply, deeply grateful that whatever I face, I face with God. My God who is daily, minute by minute, involved in my life in ways too small and infinite for me to even know. God is involved. He is. We do not grieve like those who have no hope. We do not face life without a Comforter. This book reminded me of God' deep love for me and His very presence in trouble in my life - not by its example, but by its omission. We do not face life like they had to.

And that reminder gave me hope and comfort. It filled my heart with thankfulness.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Only During Service - Help, am I losing my babies?

A new thing happened today. My kids were well-behaved! They sat fairly still, they stood, they sat, they didn't poke each other too much - well, my second boy came over to complain that my oldest boy was "breathing near him".... um, he's sitting near you, where do you expect him to breathe?! "Oops, sorry, I'm just going to step out to take a few breaths?"

My oldest - uh, oh... he's growing. His voice is changing. He stood so tall and sang so loud and well today. I was shocked. I complimented him, telling him his teacher would be proud of him. (His teacher also leads worship in chapel and is always after his kids to sing loud like they mean it!) He ducked and smiled. Later he told me that he has to sing loud now because if he sings quieter, his voice cracks, but if he sings loud, it doesn't.

Oh my. He was so tiny just yesterday. We had to put the socks on the outside of his newborn sleepers because he was too tiny, and only with socks on would the legs even stay anywhere near where they were supposed to be. He was barely six pounds when born - so tiny that he hardly hurt when he was born. I remember thinking, "What do people make such a fuss about birthing for?" (don't ever ask yourself that - you just might learn with the next birth!)

Book Review #5

The Christmas List - by Pete Nelson

This one is an odd one to categorize. Fiction. I think. It is the type of book that has you turning the cover over and over to read about the author to see if perhaps it was a true story. You want it to be true. Perhaps it is. I really don't know.

Christian fiction? That would be a bit of a stretch. Only if your idea of Christian is "do good things and go to church once in awhile".

Romantic fiction? Not really. There is the obligatory "fall in love and marry" in it - twice in fact. But it is not exactly a romance.

It is a good book. An extremely well-written story, yet one which doesn't read like a story. It sounds real. Real issues, real family, real people. And a warm story in the middle of it all.

Good book. Just not exactly one that you listen to the theology in, although the total sum of theology is pretty basic - man is good, and if we do good things, that is good.

Nice read, though. Cute story. Can move you to tears at times (not that I am a crying type!) simply because it sounds real.

Don't go on Amazon and read reviews on it, though. They spoil the book by telling the secret on their review. I hate it when people do that!

(I am putting a two book limit in place. Once you've picked your two, I'll throw them in the mail. For those of you too shy to ask - I really mean it that I am giving them away! Living a large part of my life where there were no new books means I know what it is like, and I want to pass these on. Just ask!)

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Book Review #4

Stuck in the Middle
by Virginia Smith

This is the first book in a series of three. To be honest, I passed it over my first time through the bookstore. The cover looked a little too "teenage romance" for me. The back didn't really grab me, either, but on my second trip in, I picked it up.

This one is an easy read, a basic Christian romance fiction that lets you escape into another world for a few hours. Not any spectacular writing or deep themes. No suffering or answering deep questions.

Despite my low expectations, I was surprised by it. It is actually a decent book for its type. Instead of being set in a historical era as is typical with these, it is set in today, in a normal setting. No unbelievable events happen to make this story exciting and catch your attention, but the story itself is well-written.

Instead of the typical "boy meets girl, and one is not a believer, and they fall in love and the one gets saved and they live happily ever after" story line (which, by the way, is a huge problem to me with a book. Why is that fine in novels and bad in real life?), this book has a different version. In this book, the story between the characters is a deeper question. Less of basic salvation, and more on people's view of God, and God calling them to something deeper, out of their normal church experience. I appreciated the fresh take on it.

All that to say this book of which I had really low expectation ranked rather high in its class - what I would label "mindless Christian novels" (I know, I know, I am rather rude in my description, but what would you call this genre of book? The ones we read just to relax, not to learn, not to grow, but just to have a break?) Good thought, good dialog, and low on sappiness. No crazy plots, no over the top romance, just a normal life, normal family and an interesting story with some good Christian thoughts on the side.

It is yours for the asking.

It's a Boy! (And she IS a girl)

The ground could have opened up and swallowed me and I wouldn't have been any less shocked.

My daughter woke up New Year's day and began to play with her doll. My husband had taken the clothes off it when he was cleaning her room, and I had washed them. I sent her to put them back on the doll.

This doll has sat untouched in the corner of her room for four years. She played with it briefly only when she was 18 months old. It did play a part in one of the more tense situations we had on the field, so I had hung on to it, but it only sat at the bottom of the closet.

She went up to her room, dressed the baby, and then proceeded to wrap it in a blanket and sing to it. Then she carried it around and informed everyone that they could only whisper since the baby was going to sleep. She burped it, fed it, and cared for it all day. By evening, she had decided that the doll's birthday was tomorrow, and carefully whispered in our ears not to tell him, but that she would have his party tomorrow. At night, I had to kiss the baby good night.

For the last two days, she has faithfully cared for the baby doll. She wants me to make clothes for him, since all her doll clothes are dresses and "boys do not wear dresses". You could sweep me off the floor, I am so shocked. She is really a girl.

Now, to be honest, she did put the baby carefully to sleep and run off to grab guns at a friend's house and chase their girl through the house shooting wildly.... but, she does have three brothers!

Today, she picked up another doll and has decided that her baby has a sister, and it is her birthday today. I guess I need to sew another baby blanket from scraps for a birthday gift for today, but hey, I'm happy to do it!

This one doll's former adventure was a sudden plunge into cold fear. It started out as a simple trip, simple enough, into a country near ours where it is always tense, but if you have a good cover and nothing forbidden on you, it was not too unsafe. Only this was a quick trip for two reasons - to say goodbye before we moved here and to carry in "stuff". The trip's "stuff" was more delicate and a larger quantity than other trips since we had to pass on things we were not taking with us.

We flew that time. Much faster and easier. Safer, too. Except that when you fly, they inspect bags both getting on and getting off the plane. I left my boys, but brought my daughter since it didn't cost any more to fly with her. My husband was detained with some paperwork in the airport, and I stayed near the bags, so he was nowhere near enough to see the crisis develop. As our bags went through the long process to go on the plane, they X-rayed them. Then they stopped the X-ray machine. I stood there watching our bags go back and forth in the machine while two guards discussed them. I knew that if they opened those two bags, our chances were not good.

Please, Lord, no.

Running through my mind, over and over again, was one constant refrain, "Why did I bring my daughter? Why? Why didn't I leave her safe at home?" Lord, no. Not with my baby here. I stood there knowing I had to look nonchalant and bored, so I jiggled my daughter who would not even have the decency to start to scream so I could indignantly insist that they were taking too long and she needed feeding. So I just jiggled her and began to squeeze the doll's feet and hands. This doll had four different sounds it made: a giggle, a cry, "mama", and "dada". We cycled through them several times quickly while I nonchalantly watched guards discussing my bags. I kept squeezing the doll's foot for the giggle like my life depended on it.

After an endlessly long few seconds, one guard looked up and called to his supervisor at the other end of the baggage area. Oh, no! My prayers changed from, "please, Lord, no." to "Let me get my baby out of here, please, just keep her safe." The supervisor wasn't looking, so the guard called again. Just then, an employee of the airline we were going to fly (a small charter) walked by the X-ray machines on his way to the bags, glanced at the machine and the worried guards, shrugged, and said, "it's just school books".

The guard's faces cleared immediately. They looked at each other and repeated, "oh, books", and hit the green button on the X-ray machine again, and the bags slid off into the loading area.
(It wasn't even books at all this time, that is what made the comment funny.) Just then my husband came up smiling with his paperwork done, and said, "all set! Let's go."

All I could do was smile. I couldn't even tell him how close we came until we had landed and gone through another check and were safely in our coworker's home. I gave that doll's foot a few more squeezes on my way out to the plane to calm my nerves and followed out into the blazing sun on the tarmac.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Happy New Year!

Bells rang, whistles blew, people yelled and hugged, too much food eaten, tired kids going home. New Year has arrived.

Hoping, trusting for a good one.

Tonight, the sore throat I have been nursing for a few days has suddenly worsened. Yuck. Supposed to go visit people tomorrow, and I'm losing my voice, and my chest is tight and sore.

My daughter was so happy. "Finally, for the first time, I made it! I'm still awake!"

So, happy New Year to all!