what i would have told myself

What is the deal with anniversaries?  We are wired in such a time-oriented way it almost drives me crazy at this point.  In our situation–fortunately or unfortunately–it feels like anniversary season.  If I could will the whole thing away I would, but it doesn’t work like that.  There are enough days that are hard just out of the blue that the whole anticipation of anniversaries seems maddening.  The truth is, the whole month of June has felt yucky and difficult and created a fair amount of tension in the house in its underlying way.  June was terrible last year.  I’m not focused on July 5, as we are already at the one year mark in many ways.  The days that Reece was back in the hospital last June were heartbreaking.  He was in such rough shape and yet so willingly did all we asked.  June 18 was a hard day realizing that it is the day Reece coded in the hospital and his body gave out.  Only moments of difference in timing on the doctors’ part and we would have had June 18 as his official day he passed.  The two and a half weeks between those two dates last year were full of tense, desperate decisions and emotional, grief-stricken mess.  I pray in my heart that Reece’s experience during that time period was much more peaceful.  July 5 is one day where as hard as it was, there was also relief.  It marked the end of suffering for Reece and the beginning of something so miraculous I can’t express the joy I feel for him and his achievement.  I’ve come to realize that those two weeks in the PICU were for us as his parents to come to terms with reality and really probably not for him at all.  He just had to be patient with us.  By the time we get to July 5 this year, there might actually be some relief as well.  I’ve been wrong about this stuff before, so we’ll have to wait and see.

We’ve had some people ask us and other family members how we feel coming up to the one year mark.  Time doesn’t really extend to this situation.  It just is.  My life feels divided into three parts: before Reece, with Reece, after Reece passed.  The days have been short; the year has been long.  It doesn’t feel related to time, probably because we have no break from it.  For most people, Reece probably pops into their minds every so often, and for us, it is the reverse.  It’s rare if he isn’t on our minds.

As I was readying myself for the day a few weeks back, I thought, “What would I tell myself a year ago if I could talk to that woman?”  Initially, I came up dry.  I’m not any sort of expert in anything we went through or continue to go through, but grief is so unpredictable.  What could I have possibly told myself about this year when I already expected it would be unpredictable?  It seems that I was as prepared as I possibly could have been.  Additionally, we didn’t exactly go into the grief process naïve.  In many ways, it was shocking that Reece passed away (I believe it is always shocking to lose a child–whether the child is terminally ill or passes away in a sudden accident.  It must feel shocking to most people.), but we had been through enough “stuff” that–again, either fortunately or unfortunately–we had developed coping mechanisms and were prepared in some way to go through this.  Truth be told, one year of intense grief is probably not enough time to gain many learnings…it is still too fresh.  But that morning, in my stubborn refusal to examine the topic further, I told myself there is nothing I would say to myself a year earlier to better prepare me for what I was going to walk into.

Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve realized that this isn’t entirely accurate.  It’s true–grief is unpredictable and follows no pattern.  Most people will tell you that.  I feel grossly inadequate to tell anyone how to prepare for grief.  You can’t prepare for it; you just have to live through it.  However, I think what I would tell myself is that my love for Reece is not the same thing as my grief for Reece.  It has taken me the entire year to come to this conclusion.  I have been stuck in traps that made me feel like if I somehow wasn’t feeling sadness over him in regard to his passing, that it meant I somehow didn’t care.  It’s a lie that I bought into early on, in the doldrums of this past year.   It just isn’t true.  My sadness and mourning is in regard to not having him with me.  But loving him is totally different–I loved him here and I love him now.  The problem with not differentiating the two is that thinking they are same thing prevents oneself from living life.  I recently was reading up on the life of the poet, John Keats.  He passed away in his mid-twenties from Tuberculosis and shortly before his death he said,  “I have an habitual feeling of my real life having past, and that I am leading a posthumous existence.”  (See www.Wikipedia.org/wiki/john_keats, May 30, 2013 )  When I read this it spoke to me about how life feels under the oppression of constant grief.  It leaves no room for active living.  When one believes grief is actually love, grief is never allowed to leave and so you know you are here, but it doesn’t feel like life is being lived.  It’s been a long process to understand this, but I feel it is key in my understanding where grief fits into the bigger picture of life.  Grief isn’t Reece and it isn’t love.  Grief is grief.  It has its own separate place in life.  Since separating the two in my mind, I have been better able to appreciate and experience the depth and breadth of my love for Reece and how it continues to grow and evolve, even in his physical absence.

The other thing I’d tell myself is that I should expect grief to be a solitary experience in my life.  Terry is the closest person to having a shared experience in life and yet he and I often share similar feelings, but at different times and manifesting our emotions and reactions in very different ways.  There are no partners in grief.  The only solace I have found is through seeking the Truth.  God is the only place where I can take my multitude of painful memories and find relief from them.  I don’t mean to discount people I love and who love us and support us.  That support is important, too.  But no one can walk you through it and understand it other than God Himself.  I’ve had many people comment to me over the last year about Terry and my strength in faith–how strong and faith-filled we have been.  I appreciate those thoughts, but find the statements generally confusing and misguided.  The reality for me is, it took such an extreme event for me to get to some of these places of faith and such a sorrowful place without much hope otherwise, that it highlights how much I truly have lacked faith in other areas of my life and how much I have yet to grow and actually do something with it all.  I still have much to learn.  I am astounded by people who have a deep faith without such extreme trial.  My faith has grown, yes, but it has only taken such dramatic leaps after being trapped at a dead-end.  It’s certainly not my own doing, but should be rightly credited to the Lord.  Only after facing such extreme trial have I been able to begin to grasp the breadth and depth of gifts like hope, faith, and love; hope beyond the things I desire to have and beyond the constraints of my human mind and expectations, faith greater than the gratitude I feel when things go the way I want them to go, and love that infiltrates every hard place in life and every crack in between.  The entire experience has left me yearning for much more than this life has to offer.

One thing that I have been struggling with immensely this year and especially this past month is not being a perfect mom for Reece.  I never entered parenting with the expectation of perfection.  Yet I find myself often in the lie and trap that if I could go back, I would give him everything his heart desired and do nothing but dote on him constantly.  Yet I know, as it plays out every day in my home, I could not possibly be perfect for him.  Yes, that is the lie–that I could have somehow been God to him–our only perfect Parent.  Still, the memories of my own limitations, especially last year when he was in our home, have haunted me.  I wish I had had more energy after giving birth.  With Scarlett born, I was the parent up with her in the night and Terry was the parent up with Reece.  Reece wanted me to be with him and I just couldn’t do it, because I was nursing Scarlett and just trying to be rested enough to deal with the demands he had during the day with clinic and home care.  As I have stated–it was a mess.  All the painful memories of watching him endure physical therapy and the tears he shed–and it was very difficult for him to cry actual tears after chemotherapy–but the tears over us making him do things that he was so tired out from doing–procedures, pokes, medicines…even forcing him to play just to rebuild his strength.  Most of the time it is his lack of protesting and his willingness that break my heart even further.  I would never have handled it with such bravery.  He had every right to be upset with things, but was mostly willing and calm and I just want to scream out on his behalf.  Had I only known that his body was actually shutting down I would have curled up right along with him in his blankets and spent those last days just snuggling with him.  Yes, there are many rabbit trails to go down and it has been torture.  And yet I still come back to God being sovereign.  He knew and He was perfect for Reece.  If only I could understand it here in an effort to feel relief and endure these years without him.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again–Reece deserved to be healed to Heaven and to be with the Lord.  I find solace in knowing that he knows now why all of that happened and that we did those things in an effort to help him, not harm him.

Last week, these very thoughts washed over me one evening as Terry and I were getting Britta ready for bed.  I got lost in them and found myself weepy and stuck in that place for a while.  The next day I attended bible study.  I’m doing Beth Moore’s Deuteronomy study on the Law of Love.  During her lecture she said something and I know it was meant for me to hear that morning.  She said (and I’m paraphrasing a bit) that the key to being a successful mother… “is not a list of 45 things, it’s one thing: love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and strength.” (Deuteronomy 6:5)  I love that redirect I received.  I don’t need to be a perfect mom, but in order to succeed, I need to love God, because that is the foundation for everything else.  Perhaps some moms can do it without God; try as I might, I know that I fall short.  It was soothing to hear and felt as though it was permission to begin to let go of the oppressive lie that I somehow could have done so much better.  I know I did my best.  And like I used to tell Reece, “Your best is good enough, Bud.”

I could go on, but the last thing I’m going to mention is about the blog.  So often I stumble upon blogs that cover fun topics like cooking or photography and think about how enjoyable it must be to write about such topics.  I suppose I could find something else to write about; something that I’m less passionate about, but that feels good to everyone when they read it.  Truthfully, that isn’t my calling.  I’m not sure that blogging, in general, is my calling.  When I was updating people on Reece, there were some posts in the middle where I revealed my personal feelings.  I didn’t think twice about it, because there was too much going on for me to care what others thought–I was numb to the judgment of others.  As the year has gone on and I’ve written this blog that contains my feelings and mental processing, I have felt vulnerable at times to share things.  After all, I could choose to never write another post.  No one demands that I write anything down.  Nevertheless, I have felt that even though my posts are sporadic, there is purpose for me in writing them.  If nothing else, there is purpose in keeping myself open and fresh with being honest about our life circumstances, my faith and how they both play out in my life.  I really can’t function in life without the component of faith.  Perhaps the reason I’ve needed to keep writing is to keep me ready to move on to another writing project or perhaps I’ll feel it needs to just come to an end if I wake up one day and it feels right.  I think if I could go back to a year from now, I’d tell myself to not feel apologetic over the blog–that it’s about a heavy topic.  It’s my own self consciousness creeping in–perhaps a sign of leveling off from crisis-mode.  After all, this is neither a ministry for me, nor a hobby.  It’s my life.

I’ve been privy to various people’s life circumstances this year.  Some people I know and others I do not.  People have sought me out for various reasons, usually related to health crises, as they know I can on some level relate.  The only thing I can think to share to anyone, regardless of circumstance is this–the Lord is near.  It sounds so tame when you think about it.  But upon further contemplation, it is one of the most tangibly powerful facts I have come to appreciate this year.  It is referenced all over the Bible and recently has been something I have meditated on in the following verses:

“‘Be strong, all you people of the land,’ declares the Lord, ‘and work.  For I am with you,’ declares the Lord Almighty.  ‘This is what I covenanted with you when you came out of Egypt.  And my Spirit remains among you.  Do not fear.'”  (Haggai 2:4b-5)

yes siree, we make small babies!

It’s been interesting to be pregnant.  Although, when is it not?  And I, the Type A, competitive person that I am, have always mentally had a rank/seniority mentality on pregnancy.  If you see another pregnant lady and she is farther along than you, she gets the “win” of respect.  However, if she is less far along in her pregnancy, but onto a higher number of pregnancies than you (e.g. she is on her third and you are on your second), she pulls rank and thus gets props for being farther into parenting.  It is really dumb and, up until this post, never been revealed.  Needless to say, I am enjoying pulling rank lately.  Is this your first?  Nope, fourth.  Apparently, I am easily amused.  But after that part is over, I prefer to not get into more details than that.  Pregnancy is a public thing and I am at a loss for knowing where we fit in as parents.  Certainly, we are having our fourth child, but we never had much time with Reece, Britta, and Scarlett together.  We both agree that we manage three kids and that many days, Reece requires the most energy.  Still, we don’t know the management of three both physically and mentally.  It feels a little strange–we don’t fit in anywhere other than the chiseled out, unique place we have landed.

Moving right along, if you read along with Like Olive Shoots or you know our family, then you know that we have a history with IUGR (intrauterine growth restricted) babies.  We had our 19-week ultrasound a month ago and, while most measurements were spot on, the head-to-abdomen ratio was 1/100 of a point out of normal range.  The head is smaller proportionally to the abdomen.  It is the trademark of our babies!  (And wow, has it been helpful come labor and delivery time!)  However, it was enough to send us back in today to get a repeat measurement.  This being our fourth time around, we knew to expect this and assumed we would be heavily monitored throughout the pregnancy anyway.  I went in for the ultrasound today expecting things to be pretty normal.  I was hoping that, for once, things would be straightforward.  I guess they are normal for us, because in consistent fashion, the baby’s abdomen has now fallen to the <5%.  Again, we are not overly worried, nor is our doctor, but it means that higher monitoring will occur.  The good news is that the baby is proportional, meaning that the head, abdomen, and femur (leg) measurements are all consistent.  Baby was measuring spot on the due date last month.  Now, all three measurements are consistently nearly a week and a half behind.  I had to remind Terry that Scarlett was already two to three weeks behind at this point.  This is usually what happens.  The 20 week ultrasound goes normally and then we start falling behind.  Reece was the only one of our three to have real threats to his health with the many things that were happening.  All of his complications have been considered random and neither of our girls experienced those same anomalies, despite their small sizes.  Hence, most of the size issues have to do with genetics.  (Ahem–I’ll give that credit to Terry who was also a tiny baby; I can not claim the same for myself!)  Reece dropped way off the charts right before the last month of pregnancy (measuring five weeks behind!), weighing in at 4 lbs., 2 oz.  Britta was never technically IUGR and remains our family “bruiser” at 6 lbs., 7 oz., although she tracked two weeks behind during the pregnancy.  This is comical, because she is tiny now.  She is our smallest of three small children.  At over three years old, her 2T shorts fit her perfectly this summer! She weighs 26 lbs. with all her clothing on and if she hasn’t yet gone to the bathroom!   Scarlett was our most consistently growth-restricted throughout the pregnancy and was born at 5 lbs., 13 oz.  Post birth weight, she is our biggest baby, although still not even to the 50% on most measurements.  In retrospect, while I ate well and did everything in a textbook, healthy manner with her (including exercise restrictions my last 8 weeks), I know the stress of last year probably didn’t help anything with her growth.  In summary, we have small kids and this fourth baby is no exception.

We found out last month that we are having a boy!  It’s exciting and complicated, but we are thrilled to meet him!  As it was with both girls, I only know the children I have, so it is hard to imagine yet another version of Terry and me.  With Britta, I could only picture Reece and with Scarlett, I could only imagine Britta as our girl.  So now, it is hard to think of another boy being in our family and having it not be Reece.  But he has a whole lot of cool cars, trucks, and trains waiting for him to play with!  Actually, I spend very little time thinking of that.  It feels vulnerable to start imagining him being with us, so I try to focus one day at a time.  If something should happen, I don’t want to have to erase the things I have envisioned for him.  It’s hard to do, but I guess that’s the way I’m coping with it.  Regardless, we are excited to be having another baby and this, very likely, will be our last.  I’m trying to savor this last pregnancy, but I sure could use a glass of wine these days.

my year in genesis

We finished our year of BSF on Tuesday and we reflected on what we had learned through studying Genesis.  I will admit, I was a little hesitant about studying Genesis and it was mostly due to not really wanting to learn anything further this year.  I was “learned out” from a practical application standpoint, but decided that it would be good to be studying The Word with other women again and indeed it would be good for the girls to go to the children’s program.   When I left partway through Acts last year, most of my answers to the study questions were theoretical to me.  I had lived a pretty cushy life and while I had some challenging things happen, nothing had been so big that I couldn’t muscle my way through it.  Coming back to study, after living through the isolating, pain-filled, God-dependent ordeal we had lived through was entirely different.  I mean, where was I to start?  It seemed so many questions needed several pages to answer and depending on the day, I simply did not want to go there.  I’ll admit, about halfway through the year I thought about not continuing, but it really didn’t make sense to quit and I knew if I didn’t face some of these challenges now, I’d face them in the future and have to work through them all over again.  I reminded myself again that I could not deny the girls the opportunity to attend and learn from the loving, caring women who faithfully teach them the lessons every week.  And ultimately, I knew I had to do something “normal” in regard to social interactions.  I decided to stay.  So reflecting back over the year was an important exercise for me; to see where I came from and where I am now.  Here are my big takeaways from a year in the Book of Genesis:

God is purposeful and good. 

He made everything purposefully.  We are purposeful beings.  We have ups and downs and they mean something to Him.  Because they mean something to Him, it then changes the way that I view it.  I can rest when I know that He has purpose for what we endure and the hardships we face.  Nothing feels worse than to go through something difficult and feel like it happened for no reason.  This is NOT the case with God.  When things feel senseless and meaningless, I can rest in knowing that He will use it all and it will ultimately be good, because He is good.   According to Google, “good” means something that is morally right; righteous (noun) or to be desired or approved of (adjective). How many times have we prayed that meal blessing at our table, “God is great; God is good.  And we thank Him for our food,” and not really let the words sink in?  I realize that when watching the news it is hard to believe that things will be used for God’s purposes or that any good could come from them.  The world is full of things happening that seem senseless and terrible. I don’t desire the circumstances Reece lived through or that others endure, but I know in my soul that it will be well.  It’s a matter of trust in God that He is faithful to what He has promised.

As we studied the life of Joseph–who was sold (by his brothers, no less) into slavery, believed dead by his family, and thrown into prison for being (falsely) accused of attacking a woman, he ultimately became a powerful man in Egypt and he trusted in God and His plan.  Told near the end of Genesis, the story of his life is more than the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat–it is worth your time to read it.  But here’s my other deal with it.  I’m so thankful that Joseph had things happen later in his life where he could see some, I repeat some resolution here on Earth.  He could see how his turmoil resulted in something great.  However, there are many people who never see that resolution here.  It doesn’t mean that the same promise of God doesn’t hold true or that He is only good when He demonstrates the resolution here.  It just means it will be resolved and revealed in Heaven.  I don’t think of Reece as losing a battle or not being healed.  False.  He is perfectly healed.  Being delivered into Heaven isn’t a consolation prize for not receiving healing here.  Terry and I agreed even on the day he passed away that we would not ask for him to be back here, even in his healthiest, normal state.  If we truly embrace the promise that Heaven is our home, I can’t ask for him to come back here.  I remind myself often that Reece is doing something today that far exceeds what his day or any of our days would look like here.  It’s awesome to think about!  Nevertheless, I don’t get to understand how that all plays out for probably quite sometime.  I didn’t get the chance to see it resolved here, but resolution for him did happen and I will understand it all one day.  Likewise, God knew we would suffer the loss of Reece.  This will not be resolved for us here.  We expect that we will suffer this until our own bodies give way; we will endure lifelong suffering.  But my soul is at peace here when I know deeply that it has purpose and that God is good in it.  He made the earth and everything in it and declared it good.  He is good.  He is good even when it doesn’t turn out the way we want it to turn out.  This year, in particular, I needed to see that He is purposeful and good.

My walk with God won’t be easy. 

I knew this to be true already, but it was powerful to read about the lives of the Patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac, Jacob) and Joseph and to see how while God chose these men to establish His people, they struggled in life.  They made poor decisions, they endured hardships, they wrestled with God (Jacob, literally), they struggled to trust God, yet God was faithful to them.  He showed his love for them through it all.  While I already knew life here would be tough, it was oddly reassuring to read through it this year and realize that these struggles have been going on since Creation and will always be while we are here.  It doesn’t mean that God is necessarily punishing us (although at times, it might).  It means I am guaranteed suffering here, but that shouldn’t be falsely interpreted as God not caring for me or loving me.  God’s love isn’t solely demonstrated by what He spares us from, but also includes what He helps us endure.  Since the beginning of time, God has persevered with people by His love and mercy–The Fall, The Flood, The Patriarchs, slavery, the death of Jesus, and so much more up to the present day.  It really gets back to my first takeaway.  Even when life feels raw, when we suffer, when we are hurt, when we make bad choices and suffer the consequences, God cares and He is faithful to us.  I needed to see that come through the lives of the men in Genesis.

I should preface this next part by saying it has been an ongoing process to discern what is laid on my soul by God/stirred through the Holy Spirit, what is produced in my mind as a fear or protective, innate response to something, and what is just my mind wandering.  It’s one thing to look backwards and sort through things to see God’s hand, but I have been paying attention to try to understand, at present, what the Lord is trying to communicate to me.  I will never know God’s plan for me or my family in full until I get to Heaven and God reveals as much as I need to know.

With this in mind, I had something laid on my heart a few weeks back that has been aided by my learning in Genesis and that I feel God specifically pointed out to me one day.  Scarlett, our third child, has always been a mystery to me.  She is the one child of our four that seemed to come out of nowhere.  I love her so much, so this does not reflect any sort of negativity towards her.  However, we were quite surprised to find out that we were pregnant with her about six weeks prior to Reece’s blood work.  As the pregnancy continued on, it limited my ability to help with Reece (picking him up, doing overnights at the hospital, etc.).  I felt frustrated with my lack of ability to do things with him and often had to tell him I couldn’t do what he wanted.  I felt torn between Reece’s many needs and Scarlett’s baby needs after she was born.  I felt somewhat resentful that pregnancy should be a happy time and instead my pregnancy with her was full of stress and tears.  I have felt anger over having to tell Reece “no” to anything at all in his last months with us.  There were many times I felt I had to choose between the two kids and it felt so wrong given the serious nature of the situation.  Also, I struggled with knowing that Scarlett’s birth and Reece’s passing were only 9 weeks apart…forever associating the two in that way.

In addition, while I don’t regularly struggle with this line of thinking, it is difficult to not feel at times like Reece suffered for something we did.  In my pursuit to try to make sense of Reece’s failing health, many things have run through my mind and certainly one of them is that we are somehow punished by this circumstance.  The Bible discusses punishments–even punishments for sins committed generations before.  I don’t get mentally stuck there, but it of course has come up in conversation.  However, as we continued to study Genesis, it highlighted how blessed people have been with children.  Certainly, we know we are blessed with all four of our children.  Children have been a source of blessing back to the Creation.

Keeping all of this in mind, I had this moment of peace and understanding one morning that touched me so deeply, I believe it is from the Lord.  It occurred to me that Scarlett was given purely as a gift of life at a time of earthly death.  This might seem obvious and when I read it, it seems obvious, too.  But on a deeper level, I thought about it in terms of such a contrast of blessing with both the beginning of life here for one child and life in Heaven for another.  I feel like Scarlett was, among many other things, a way for me to understand that God’s purpose for us is parenting.  He continued to show His love in such a powerful and joy-filled way through the obvious blessing of her.  The joy over (well, all three children at the time) Scarlett and Reece are so vastly different, but bringing life into this world at such a time is, to me, a sign of God’s faithfulness to us.  It really overwhelms me to think about it.  It doesn’t mean we will be spared from other suffering or loss, it just means to me that God is faithful to us.  He would be faithful without having given us Scarlett, but He chose that for us, just like He chose to take Reece away.  He didn’t have to give us a child to show His faithfulness, but He reassured me that He indeed has chosen a path of parenting for us and that we are blessed with this path.  I don’t believe He is punishing us for something we are doing or something we did.  It seems affirming in our decision to parent as though He is saying, “I’m going to take one child from you physically, but I am going to entrust you with another, so you understand that I trust you with these children and that I love you.  This is about my plan for Reece and your lives, but it isn’t about your punishment.  You need to trust Me.”  (He didn’t audibly say that, but that is what the message felt like to me.)  He blessed us in the middle of it all.  So many of the blessings felt like they had to be wrung out of that circumstance, but Scarlett was poured out over us.  He didn’t have to do that for us.  Now, what seemed so frustrating in the midst of it all has turned into a completely different realization. It doesn’t change our longing for Reece.  However, He knew our desires before we even knew them ourselves and worked it out for our good, so while in the midst of our suffering we can also literally see our blessings.

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”  Romans 8:28

a body never forgets

There hasn’t been a ton of time for blogging lately, mostly because I tend to blog on Thursdays when I am out of the house for a while sans children.  As time has passed this year, it seems my Thursdays fill up pretty quickly…it turns out that coffee with a friend is actually relaxing when you aren’t chasing little ones!  As of late, my Thursdays are booked with PT appointments to manage an old running injury from grad school.  This is only the third time in 11 years it has reared its ugly head, but–wow–is it painful!  It is actually an SI joint injury I managed to achieve during my ridiculously-obsessed-with-running years in the early 2000’s.  It isn’t related to pregnancy, but the last two times I have had to go to PT I have been pregnant…the pregnant part only makes it worse.  I’m hopeful that I’ll be back running and active in a couple of weeks, but it has made life interesting, considering I have a one-year-old that demands I carry her most places.

This injury is timely in light of one of our recent bible study questions, “How are you suffering the consequences of a former sin?”  When I got to this question, I immediately thought of my body–both physical and mental.  I could point out many things that I “carry” with me that have been a result of some form of sin–things that ail me either physically or in my own thinking and memories.  I really hadn’t considered this injury as a result of sin before this week, but the reality is, it likely is.  I got it at a time when I was glorifying myself and body over everything else.  I obsessed over my weight and I planned everything around when and how I would work out.  It is no wonder that an injury occurred.  Yes, I have been able to manage it so well that I am unaware of it for the most part.  I’ve reworked my running gait, changed my posture, changed my exercise habits, and have mostly been healed of the obsession–the root of the problem.  But every few years it manages to resurface and keep me humble.  I think without some of these ailments, I would forget how I have been dealt with mercifully–I would become self-reliant in an even bigger way.  I need to be reminded that sins have consequences.  Paul speaks of his own circumstance with a thorn in his flesh:

“Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me.  Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me.  But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.”                            2 Corinthians 12:7b-9

As I further thought about the question from BSF, I reflected on Reece.  I don’t believe our bodies ever truly heal here.  I think of Reece’s body and how the biggest concern going into transplant was not all the germs that could come into his body, but rather what already lived there.  All the Work-up Week testing that was done included a history of what he had already been exposed to, as it resided in his blood already.  Even those tests had limits as to what they could tell us in regard to exposures.  It demonstrates that not only do our bodies record our own sin (like my injury), but also they record the world’s sin (like the common viruses we acquire and build up immunities to).  It’s pretty humbling. I don’t for a second think of Reece’s diagnosis as a result of his own sin.  I think his MDS was a result of a fallen, imperfect world.  In a child, I view it as more of the weight of the world’s sin, versus the result of things he chose for himself.  But Reece’s life on earth became–as most of us will eventually become–a casualty of sin.  Sin outweighs us, outnumbers us, outsmarts us…here; on our own.  Some of us will have to deal with decades of it and others, like Reece, will endure a short, but powerful few years.  At some point, our healing will have to come from our Maker.  A sub-standard, human, bandaged effort–albeit sophisticated in many regards–will not be enough.  But the reality is, until we are healed into Heaven, our bodies and minds do not forget what they have endured.

Likewise, our minds are subjected to ailments, including damage from what we have lived through; they also keep a record of hardships.  We routinely refer to mental wounds as “baggage” or “issues”.  Speaking of which, I was feeling pretty mentally damaged myself a few weeks back.  I hit a low spot as I was overwhelmed with the pregnancy, our girls, and the reality of Reece.  Terry and I had gone out on a lovely date night, but as dinner wore on, we inevitably started discussing Reece.  At first, we talked about happy things.  But then it turned to some of the memories from about a year ago and it ended the night on a somber note.  I just kept thinking about our life and how we would manage it all.  Like I said–I felt like damaged goods–unrecoverable.  Thankfully, the sun rises and the sun sets and there is a new day on the horizon.  As I have gotten a little distance, I realize that every time I look at the obvious hardships of losing Reece, it becomes completely defeating.  Outside of God, the grave nature overwhelms me every single time.  It’s only in the context of Eternity that my mind is freed, that I can feel hope in the larger purpose and encouragement in the ultimate healing that comes from knowing Christ and being forgiven of the mess of sin that devours our lives here.  There is no remission in Heaven; it’s the only place we can truly declare ourselves cured.

In this context, I can understand why we don’t ever rid ourselves of our past while we are here.  I need some reminders that I have messed up, that I continue to mess up, and that I’ll be messing up for the rest of my days.  But instead of thinking about it in terms of “just bad luck” or “overuse” or “baggage”, I am reminded this week that my own ailments are part of a much larger picture for my life.  They serve as reminders to myself, as lessons for myself and those around me, and as opportunities to examine my own self and how I conduct myself while I’m here.  I can’t rely on myself to be perfect, because I’m a proven failure at it.  I’ve got the bumps and bruises to show for it.

“If I’m thinking of the person I’m going to marry, I won’t be an easy target for seduction. Likewise, when I’ve meditated on Heaven, sin becomes terribly unappealing. Our high tolerance for sin testifies to our failure to prepare for Heaven. ‘Everyone who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure.’ (1 John 3:3, NASB).

~Randy Alcorn, “Heaven”

sometimes, i just have to ask, “why?”

We spent another weekend at Faith’s Lodge last weekend; it’s an absolutely lovely place of retreat for bereaved parents and families grieving the passing of a child.  It can be as free or as structured as you want it to be.  It is serene and inviting and there is just such comfort in being around a group of people who understand what it’s like to lose a child on earth and who can connect with you on a different level than most people.  No matter how different the background stories, there is a shared understanding of loss and the life that is led afterward.  We went there last fall for a family weekend and decided to come this year during a parents-only weekend as the timing worked better for the year and because Britta and Scarlett are not yet at a place of grieving.  Bringing them along lends itself to more chasing of them and less connecting with the purpose of being here.

It was great to be at the Lodge and I definitely think we will return in the future.  However, another mother there said it best, “I couldn’t do this all the time.”  I could not agree more.  It’s no problem to talk about Reece, but when you are able to go that deep, it can be a challenging task to resurface from it.  It was a good assessment of the realistic picture of where I am at with everything.  I operate on a pretty normal level, but there are things that have been left untouched in my own sorting process–maybe they’ll be addressed in my lifetime and maybe they won’t.  But as we spent time in deeper discussions about life and death, these untouched topics were uncovered and I recognized for the first time in a long time how deeply painful they are.

As we left Sunday morning, I found myself tearful, inconsolably and uncontrollably at times.  I couldn’t quite place what was going on.  The weekend had been positive and not a tearful one for me.  As the day passed I realized there were two main reasons for the intense emotions I felt.  One is that taking on the emotional situations of everyone and understanding what led them to visit there probably built up and boiled over.  When you spend time meeting and enjoying each other’s company you inevitably end up thinking, “These people are great, yet how is our common point the loss of a child?”  I’ve yet to meet a family who has lost a child and not had it come as a surprise—even parents of terminally ill children.  You never plan for it and you can never be prepared for it.  For me, I know that God prepared me in certain ways when I look back at so many things—He prepared me mentally for me to understand that this was part of the plan.  No one, however, can feel prepared and ready for the day-to-day challenges.

This past weekend was the first time I really let myself entertain the thought of “Why us?”  As I’ve said before, those types of questions become defeating places to live in.  Getting lost in the “why” prevents life from being lived.  But you know what?  Sometimes, the question has to be asked.  Why is this the cup we are drinking?  Yes, I know it’s for a bigger purpose and, yes, there are times when people will share how their lives have changed because of knowing Reece and his story.  I absolutely cherish what people share with me in regard to Reece and his impact here.  But that still doesn’t bring him back.  It still doesn’t make it easier to be here without him.  Sometimes, I just have to ask why this happened to us.  Sometimes, when I think about how many times I will likely lay my head down on the pillow to go to sleep or how many birthdays we will celebrate without him or how many times I will have to find a silver lining, it becomes overwhelming.  Sometimes the silver lining is only a sliver of silver and sometimes, I get weary of the thought that that’s all it will be here.  I know–we aren’t made for this Earth and God has a plan and Reece is healed and this life is but a breath in the scheme of eternity.  I know.  These are amazing things, truly.  But sometimes, when I think about right now and the intensity of everything, it just doesn’t seem like enough.

The second thing that has been tripping me up are all the parenting moments I wish I had done differently.  I hate that I wasn’t perfect for Reece.  I can’t even write it without tearing up.  I HATE that I wasn’t perfect for him.  There, I said it.  By all accounts, I consider myself a loving, caring, responsible mother.  Reece and I are very close.  We still are close.  But in light of him not being here, I don’t get to have the conversation with him when he is an adult to discuss all the things I wish I would have handled better—all the things he went through as our first child where I probably lost my temper too easily or I expected him to behave when he was being appropriate for his age–maybe even better behaved–in the first place.  We don’t get to discuss all the intense and difficult things he endured and we endured as a family, with him throughout his illness.  The irony is that he understands that better now than he would have here.  He understands it better than we ever will here.  He knows my parenting faults better than I do.  He knows how his life will be used.  He wouldn’t know that if he was here; not the way he does now.  So, in reality, I need those conversations.  I need that here, as a human, trapped here without him.  I need that as Reece’s mom.  I need him to somehow need to have the conversation with me–for my sake.  In reality, I could be needing resolution on this for another 50 or 60 years here.

As we drove home and I was thinking about these things, I realized that a numbness that I felt about things since Reece passed away had either returned or perhaps never left me in the first place.  I have an indifference to try to make these things better on my own.  It isn’t that I’m a glutton for punishment, it’s that it is a waste of my energy to do so.  Both of these things that cause me so much pain are things that either God will have to release me from here or I will be dealing with for the rest of my time here.  I realize and accept that there is no person here that will say something to me to make it better or for me to view it in a different light.  I don’t want to go to some therapist to do some exercise about loving myself more as a parent or to tell me, “It’s perfectly normal to ask ‘why’ in situations like this.”  Blah.  Not interested.  It’s my burden to carry.  The only release will come from God himself–either here or in Heaven.  It’s part of our life’s deal.

On Sunday night, I re-read a passage that I can’t ever remember reading before Reece passed away.  I know I sound like a broken record, but I have turned to it numerous times since he passed.  I underlined it one of the first times I read it, as it stood out to me in how real it was.  The words were so real–like it could have happened in this day and age.  As I’ve read it more and more, I had confusion about why I continued to turn to it.  I turned to it again on Sunday and it sort of made sense in light of how I was feeling.

“The Spirit then lifted me up and took me away, and I went in bitterness and in the anger of my spirit, with the strong hand of the Lord on me. 15 I came to the exiles who lived at Tel Aviv near the Kebar River. And there, where they were living, I sat among them for seven days—overwhelmed.”  Ezekiel 3:14-15

Some Bible versions say “deeply distressed”, but my version says “overwhelmed” which is what initially caught my eye.  The entire chapter discusses how Ezekiel was being called by God to talk to the Israelites, whether they listened to him or not.  It was not going to be an easy task for him.  My study Bible discusses how Ezekiel was angry with the Israelites and bitter with them for their defiance, not with the Lord.  I personally view it as Ezekiel being overwhelmed with what the Lord was calling him to do.  Often times, I feel overwhelmed with what God is calling us to do.  I appreciate that this passage speaks to the human capacity to feel bitter, angry, and overwhelmed, even when what makes us feel that way could be completely in line with the Lord’s will.  Maybe it’s ok to feel that, because God will still use us, despite our emotions.  It seems strange when I reflect on the passage to say this, but it encourages me to know that other people haven’t always felt like willing participants in God’s plan.  Despite our humanness, He uses it all for something bigger.