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 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.

 

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A long journey

It feels like we’ve been living at doctor appointments the past year and a half now.  My 2.5 year old knows how to get from the parking lot to the right places in the hospital.  When she plays pretend at home, she can tell you if she is being Dr.Waldrep (OB) where she will get out the stethoscope and listen to baby’s heartbeat in my belly or Dr. Kerr (blood doctor) where she will check my blood pressure and draw blood from my arm.  This has been a long journey.

Dr. EmersonUntil recently, I’ve tried to mainly focus on the present with this pregnancy.  To be thankful each day for the growing life in my womb and my body’s ability to nurture and provide.

But over the past month, we’ve started to look at the future more.  We’ve talked about what we want the time in the hospital to look like.  I’ve imagined actually making it to week 40.  While this is a good thing, it has also served as a reminder of how much we can lose.  Even as I look towards the finish line, even as I consider how perfectly healthy this pregnancy has been, it’s hard for me to imagine a baby coming home.

Two weeks ago, I had four different friends approach me in a five day period and tell me that they had a vivid dream of me holding a baby, this baby.  It’s almost as if God was giving them hope for me and encouraging me to keep being hopeful as well.  I wouldn’t say I’m currently a pessimist and believe something bad will happen this time.  I’m simply all to aware that everything could go wrong in the blink of an eye.

Monday I went in to the labor and delivery department for my pre-admission appointment.  I walked past the newborn nursery for the first time since we lost Maizie.  I had to turn my eyes away as I thought about my baby girl.  I walked into a nurse’s office around the corner and had to talk through my medical history – prior pregnancies and deliveries.  We spent a lot of time on Maizie and the effects of that loss on my body.  Sitting there feet from the nursery where I thought she would have been made the pain sear all over again.  Fear started to creep in as we discussed my bleeding.

“Are you planning to breastfeed?” the nurse asked.  “Yes, I want to actually use the milk that comes in this time,” I thought while remembering the milk that was never used with Maizie, while giving her the verbal answer, “Hopefully yes.”

I started to worry about being a patient again and thought about the medical trauma both my body and soul have endured.  I left that office and went to an appointment with my blood Dr, to test my clotting factors and begin making our plan for this next delivery.  How do we prevent bleeding?  I’ve never worried about my bleeding disorder before (although it’s been a constant source of angst for my mother – you should have seen the way she opposed me playing contact sports as a kid), but thanks to December 6th I now understand that blood loss could take my life.

I’m still hopeful that everything will be fine: healthy baby, healthy mommy.  I’m hoping all the fear, worry, and sadness will truly be swallowed up in the joy of victory.  I can see it happening.  A new set of memories will begin to be more present in my mind.  It is this current in-between stage where the past feels more real than the present or the future.  This season where I look with a degree of envy towards people who feel free enough to monogram things and talk with certainty of a baby’s arrival.

I am looking forward to the hopeful newness of this next child.  I so desperately want to meet them alive.  But, I need to continue to be honest with myself about the mix of things I feel.  Our family’s hope has always been to freely grieve the loss so that we are as free as possible to continue to move forward.  I don’t want to give pain, fear, or worry power to reign over me in the darkness.  When they stay hidden in my thoughts, they run with fury in my mind all day long.  This week I’ve sought to identify the specifics, to be sad over their presence because of my past experience, and to continue to move forward in thankfulness for my present, and to hope for our future.  It’s a very delicate dance, all amplified by hormones ;-).

Romans 8 came to mind today as I was trying to process the roller coaster this week has been.

“For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now” (Romans 8:22).

“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18).

“For in this hope we are saved.  Now hope that is seen is not hope.  For who hopes for what he sees?  But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.” (Romans 8:24-25).

I get that groaning.  I get that longing.  I want complete redemption.  The redemption of my broken body.  The redemption of my pain.  The redemption of Maizie’s death.  I feel the pain of it all presently.  But even in this pain, I know there is a glory that will be revealed.  The birth of a healthy baby will be a taste of it, but that is not the redemption nor the glory.  My deepest hope is for the moment in eternity when all things will be made new.  That is what I’m really waiting for.  That is where my confidence truly lies.  As I’ve waited for a healthy baby to land in my arms the past year and a half, I’m learning what it looks like to wait with hope and patience.

 

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