God is holding on

I sat nursing Holden in the living room a few nights ago and I could hear JR singing to Emerson as he put her to bed.  It was a moment that thankfulness completely washed over me.  I love this little family and feel honored to call them mine.

During the weeks leading up to Holden’s birth, I felt an increase in worry.  We were approaching the moment we’d been waiting for a long time, when we would hopefully hold our next child in our arms.  That moment would either come or it wouldn’t and there was nothing I could do to control it.  I played one song on repeat consistently after hearing it at church, “King of My Heart” by Sarah McMillan.  There are two lines sung multiple times which struck something deep in my soul: “You are good” and “You’re never gonna let me down.”

These two lines are true.  They are true even on our darkest days.  Tears may fill my eyes as I think back on the pain of the past year, but I know those two things are true.  God was no less good last year on December 6 when we found out Maizie had died than He was on November 13 when Holden was born.  His goodness has never been in question.  His character is not determined by my circumstance.  God was good even in the darkness.  He showed us His goodness in His provision for us.  He surrounded us with community.  He preserved my life.  He kept us nourished.  He listened.  He comforted.  He healed some broken places and relationships.  He kept our eternity secure.  He forgave my sin and selfishness. He protected our marriage.  He remained in control.  He gave us many blessings we’ve done nothing to earn.  He opened my womb quickly.  Ultimately, He has shown us His goodness in the way He has loved us all when we have been far from Him and sent His Son as a payment to bring us back to Him. He is always good.

As I faced our due date, God’s goodness is what I wanted to remember.  This is what I preached to myself.  God is good.  In any possible outcome, He is good.  He never lets me down.  He has promised us much in scripture – He will make those things happen.  I can’t expect Him to be my personal genie, giving me a perfect life.  Suffering is not Him letting me down.  In fact, He tells me I will face it in John 16.

It was this song that I wanted played on repeat the last portion of my labor and for delivery (Sorry to the others in the room that had to hear it on repeat for 40 minutes, luckily its a 6 minute version).  The last lines I love are “When the night is holding on to me, God is holding on.”  As I think about the past year, nothing has been more true.  Part of the reason I loved the name Holden was because of this lyric.  His name stands as a reminder that even when the darkness, the pain, the waiting, the suffering are holding on tight and seeking to destroy me, God is holding on to me even tighter.  His grip on me is secure.  It will never let me down, even when I feel almost unable to hold onto Him.

Holden Ryan SmithFor the past three weeks we have celebrated this new life joining our family.  We could not be more delighted with Holden or in love with him.  Emerson constantly wants to hold him or touch him.  We love him.  I’m soaking up every snuggle because this season goes by in the blink of an eye.

Emerson meeting HoldenWe decorated our Christmas tree the weekend after Thanksgiving.  About halfway through the process, I found myself crying.  Holden was napping.  Emerson was helping.  The ornaments representing memories and trips and people were going up on the tree.  It felt like something was missing, someone was missing.  The seven month old little girl was missing.  Her ornament was missing.  The pain stung.  I could picture her developmental stage so clearly because of her due date’s proximity to Emerson’s birthday.  As I was pregnant with Maizie, this Christmas was the furthest thing into the future I had truly imagined with her.  That night I ordered an ornament for her, with her name so that we would always remember.

Maizie ornamentToday marks one year since we discovered that she was no longer with us.  It’s been a hard week as this date has approached.  We continue to live in the sacred dance of joy and grief.  Last night as I rocked Holden, so completely thankful for who he is, his health, and his placement in our family, I cried longing to rock the one I never held.  I don’t have the words to fully explain the dance of these two things.  All I can say is that joy and sorrow are not mutually exclusive.  They are currently co-existing in my heart in a full and deep way.  While we are so smitten with our little man, there are moments where we remember the loss with a new intensity after being reminded of what it’s like to nurture an infant.

God is good today on December 6, 2017, as I snuggle a healthy little boy whom I completely adore.  God was still good on December 6, 2016, as I saw a sonogram lacking a beating heart.  God has never let me down.  When the darkness holds on to me, God is holding on.


A Place to Sleep

We’re staring down the home stretch of this pregnancy to a due date.  Over the past few weeks, I’ve finally let myself do some of the things.  We organized some closets.  We ordered some size one diapers (I grow big babies).  My mom graciously washed newborn clothes and bottles and we put them in their place.  I’m starting to believe this may actually happen.  This baby may be born healthy and strong.  It may even come home.

FDED7223-92A4-4B24-989B-40B209C6C3F0We’re more minimalist than I thought I would be as a parent.  No perfectly decorated nursery for Emerson or this next child.  Our plan for this one is a pack and play in the office till sleeping through the night is a thing.  Then, both children will share.  I’ve gone back and forth feeling guilty about this.  Should my children have perfectly decorated rooms?  Shouldn’t I have a picture to post of that?

I’ve started to think about some of the newborn things.  Schedules.  Breast feeding.  Pumping.  How to juggle two children.  Laundry.  Bottle washing.  All the things.  I’ve started to ask a few questions of others about what the next few months may look like.  I’m in a few mom Facebook groups that I’ve started to pay more attention to recently as I watch discussions about naps and feedings.  I’ve read about the exhaustion and frustration.

We had set aside today to have some fun with Emerson and to do some good cleaning of our house.  Nothing says I’m 38 weeks pregnant with an object the size of a watermelon in my belly like scrubbing a toilet.  Well we had set aside today to only focus on some cleaning.

F8AAA42C-46F4-4DB2-AE64-B6C600CD25D0Late yesterday I received a message from a pregnant teenager saying she needed a place to live, 11 weeks pregnant and very unsure of what her future holds.  Then Donte needed our help today too.  He’s been out of a 3-month-jail-stay for a probation violation (maybe more about that in the future) for less than 48 hours and is already running out of options.  Smith and Smith Social Services was open for business.  I was researching pregnancy housing one minute and editing our list of resources for Donte to call the next.  JR was on the phone with him planning a route on public transportation for them to meet so Donte could borrow a computer to do some research.

IMG_2159I think about these three people – my “first” boy Donte, this pregnant teenager, and her unborn child – they aren’t sure where they are going to sleep in the near future.  While we were a little distracted at times today, I explained to Emerson that we were helping Donte find a bed in which to sleep.

“A big bed?” She asked.  She’s very fascinated with the idea of a big bed right now.  She had one for three days in June and then was demoted for bad behavior on my birthday.

“Yes, honey a very big bed.  Donte is taller than the door.  He used to sleep in the bed in your room.”

Then we prayed for Donte to find a safe bed.

It’s easy to fall into the middle-class motherhood trap, where the things matter so much.  I’ve caught myself being tempted by those things in recent days.  But today my heart broke for three people who are worried about something much more basic – where to sleep, what to eat, where to live.

When JR went back to pick up our computer from Donte, I sent him with a packed dinner of anything I could find in our fridge.  Our 6-foot-8-man-boy had only eaten once in 48 hours.

Being a parent is not an easy task, I’m very aware of that.  I’m also aware that its a tremendous gift.    I’m writing tonight to remind myself in a few weeks that when I’m tempted to be overwhelmed by the daily things (the laundry, the spit up, the crying, the lack of sleep) and when I’m tempted to focus on complaining about how hard it is, that all this baby really needs is a safe place to sleep, some food to eat, and some love.  With Jesus in me, I can do all of that.

It’s a broken world we’re bringing a child into.  Today was a painful reminder of that. There are so many “kids” out there who haven’t been given what we hope to give our children.  It’s not as it should be.

One of our favorite children books is “God made light.”  The line that currently makes me teary says, “And on the day you were born God said ‘Let there be light.'” 

With that truth, I hope to bring our next child into the world.  Baby, we want you to be the kind of person that will work to push back darkness in the world.  The kind of person that will love Jesus and be light to those living in brokenness.  We want you to grow up to be an adult who will care for women in crisis pregnancy situations and minority men who have fallen into the broken criminal justice cycle and other people like them.  In the meantime, your mama is going to try her hardest to not sweat the less important stuff (your appearance, your performance, your nursery, nor your schedule).  Hope to see you soon.  If you want to come tonight, that’d be great because the house is perfectly clean and that like never happens.

A Change in the Darkness

Yesterday we decided to spend some family time at the arboretum to enjoy the pumpkins.  I found myself a little miserable, partly because of the 90 degree heat in October while 35 weeks pregnant; but, also because I remembered last year we took a family picture at this same place during this month to announce our previous pregnancy.  When I logged in to Facebook later that day, it actually told me on the home screen as part of my memories that I had posted Maizie’s announcement exactly one year prior.  I remember being so excited to finally be “in the clear” of miscarriage and share our news publicly with the world.

maizie announcementToday is pregnancy and infant loss day.  I wish that wasn’t a thing.

The past year has been a complete roller coaster.  From December to June, I lived in a dark valley.  The loss of our daughter and some other hard things on top of that put me in a place where I have never dwelt before.  These events weren’t the first time I’d experienced loss or suffering either, but they sent me further into sorrow than I had ever known before.  From the moment we found out Maizie’s little body was not made for this world and she wouldn’t join us outside the womb, I think we did a lot of things right as far as grief goes – also realize we did some things crazy, but grief.  We let people in to care for us (Thank you Jesus for the meal train for 2.5 months).  We started going to counseling both as a couple and separately.  I made spending some sort of time in prayer/scripture a non-negotiable even on days when I was just flat out mad at God.  We gave ourselves freedom to feel all the feelings; we didn’t try to press them down or cover them up.  Even with all these things, at times the darkness and pain of the loss were overwhelming, especially to me.

But June marked a change in the darkness and that was not the month we became pregnant with this third child, that happened in February.  It was not a new pregnancy that lifted the darkness. Read: please don’t tell anyone going through this type of loss that the next healthy child will make it better or help them get over their loss.  I want both of the babies that were due in 2017 to be in my arms.  I will forever want both of them.  What I want to focus on sharing today are some of the ways God worked in my life to break the darkness. The situation has not changed: Maizie is still gone.  There is still sadness, complicated feelings, and fearful thoughts; but, the sense of total despair is gone.

In June, I started on a consistent work out regimen.  I had been walking and doing some weights beginning once my body physically recovered from the time in the hospital; but, between the grief and then becoming pregnant again, (and all the vomit that comes with it for me) I hadn’t pushed myself very hard.  I started attending Barre3 classes 3-4 times a week and it is consistently one of the most life giving hours of my day.  It is hard, especially with a pregnant body that keeps getting heavier.  God and I have had some good conversations in those hard places.  He’s reminded me that He carries me through hard things.  He empowers me to do things I can’t do on my own strength.  As I physically hold my body in a position, I’ve been reminded that He holds me when I feel my strength failing.  I’ve used the hour to breathe, to pray, to repeat scripture or memorize new verses on index cards.  I’ve watched my body be able to do hard things and I’ve been reminded that God can and will get me through hard things too.  Not to mention, the people there are wonderful, the childcare is only $5 for an hour, and endorphins are just a good thing.  One thing I’ve learned here is next time I face grief (I know there will be a next time, because bad things happen), I will be getting my butt to some sort of gym consistently.

Only God could have known who I would need in my life during this time.  He perfectly placed a handful of friends into my social circle over the previous 3 years in Dallas who all have walked through late pregnancy or early infant loss.  Some of these friends I walked along side during this hard season for them and some I only came to know months or years after their loss.  But this group of women have been a life line for me.

They have been able to graciously and lovingly tell me truth with the knowledge of what it looks like to walk this road.  They are able to tell me when I’m not being crazy (or when I am) in a way that others do not understand.  They have shown me what it looks like to walk in hope and faith, while being all too aware of what the worst-case scenario truly looks like.  When fear arrived a few weeks ago, God placed three of these friends randomly in my path the very next day (all three of whom have gone on to have perfectly healthy babies following their loss).  I told them about what had happened and what my thoughts were, all of them were able to say they’d felt the exact same thing.  Each time, we cried together and acknowledged the loss we feel.  We were able to talk about the difference between living in fear (which is not of the Lord) and having fearful thoughts come in that we have to acknowledge as real possibilities.  They shared that they too will never be confident a baby is going to arrive until it is safely nestled in their arms.  We share faith in a God who we know will be near to us, loving toward us, and for our eternal good in any situation.  I am forever thankful that God put these soul sisters into my life before I had any clue the way I would need them.  There is something so comforting about a friend who can look you in the eye and say “me too.”  If you don’t have those people as you walk through something hard, find them.  Other people have not walked your road, but they have walked a similar road; find a few who can be your guide a few steps ahead of you on the journey.

Lastly after a six-week leave from my job with YoungLives, I returned in time for the most difficult part of the year: signing girls up for camp.  This job is hard – emotionally and physically draining, leading a team of volunteers, dealing with girls from traumatic pasts – I often describe it as herding cats trying to get this motley crew to all move in the same direction.  My start back was hard, a lot of things had gone wrong or hadn’t been dealt with during my leave.  I came to the conclusion that either 1) Satan had a big target on my back and was trying to take me out in every area of my life or 2) God had been telling me softly it was time to transition out of the role and now was screaming it.  JR concluded it was far more likely to be the first option and that I needed to fight.  At that point, I was sick of fighting.  Tired of fighting my way out of the pit of despair.  Tired of fighting for relationships.  Tired of fighting to be a functioning human while so sad.  Tired of fighting to still be a mom and a wife.  I was ready to quit.  JR reminded me if there was one thing I was passionate about fighting for it was Jesus and these teenage mamas so I needed to fight for them.

It was terribly hard, but as I fought for these girls, I saw my fight return in other areas of my life.  God and I went on battle together for their butts to get on a plane to camp and for their souls.  I saw him work in mysteriously small creative ways to open doors to get girls to camp.  I’ve got lots of good stories about this if you’re ever bored, or a YL leader needing some encouragement to knock on every door to get a teen to camp.  As I saw Him fight through me for these girls, I remembered that He had been fighting for me all this time too.  I saw the way He creatively pursued them and it opened my eyes to some of the small ways He had been pursuing me.  He spoke to me that there is a bigger purpose for my life and that He put me in this role with design.  While fighting for these girls, God gave me the will to fight again in every area of my life.  He was with me in the battle.  He is with me in the battle.

Along this journey, we’ve needed some time and space.  There was a season to take a break from work and spend some time on myself and my family.  There was also a time to put my big girl pants on, pray a lot, and start fighting with God again to push back other peoples’ darkness.  I’m thankful God used JR and YoungLives to get my feet really moving again.  Sometimes it takes putting the focus on someone else and their need to realize you aren’t the only broken and grieving one.

YoungLives Carolina PointAs I sit here today on pregnancy and infant loss day, there are some parts of this journey for which I am thankful.  Now, I’d still wish the pain away in a second and prefer to be snuggling a six-month old; but I am beginning to catch glimmers of how God has been truly good even during the darkest of days.  For those still sitting in the deepest darkness, God’s light will shine.  Until it begins to break through, my heart truly aches with yours.