All I Want Is You

The other night while running a simple errand, the U2 song All I Want is You came on.

“But all the promises we make, from the cradle to the grave, when all I want is you.”

I barely made it out the door of the grocery store to the quiet alone place of my car to sob. This is what 8 years later feels like, still struck without warning by small reminders that open floodgates of raw pain.

On a similarly cold and snowy night 8 years ago, I was heading to a routine OB appointment. I was 4 days overdue, the only signs of labor were 6 days before when contractions got to 7 minutes apart and then trailed off. If only we had gone to the hospital then. So many if onlies. On this night, I was set on finishing packing my hospital bag to bring with us. My husband encouraged me to leave it for later as the falling snow might make us late, but I insisted, “I just feel like I might need it” I told him. I also told him earlier that day  “I feel like he is never going to come.” What a strange things to say when you’re 9 months and 4 days pregnant and this is your 3rd rodeo. He had hiccups that morning and my 2 year old boy felt my belly with his tiny pudgy hands, smiling at the small reverberations.

We drove in the snow and traffic, the usual way was backed up so we re-routed through downtown Seattle. I remember looking up through the sunroof at the beautiful quiet black night sky flanked by the city’s skyscrapers, big white flurries falling slowly down. I was marveling at the beauty of everything, alive with hope for so much goodness.  Worried we wouldn’t make it to the office in time, I called to tell them we were running late and asked if we should reschedule. The kind nurse who knew me well said they’d see me as their last patient of the day.

I wish I could have stopped time then, the anticipation of a year’s worth of body and heart building still with us and the lovely feeling of joyful anticipation. I am sure we were talking about what we still needed to do to be ready, what we would be up to the next day, Christmas preparations. I am sure we had plans and felt busy with them, no idea our world would stop, that our plans would become obsolete and our most imminent plan had died only hours, maybe minutes before. Turn around, go home, if there was ever a time to drive away from the irreversible. We carried on.

I weighed 1 lb less than the week before when I checked in. So strange. I never lose weight with my pregnancies. The doctor exam was routine, she told me everything was well, we laughed at the normalcy that my babies always come late. For good measure, though, she sent me for a non-stress test to monitor contractions and baby’s vitals. No contractions, and many attempts to find a heart beat, the nurse abruptly asked, “didn’t the doctor already do this with the doppler?”

“No?” I said as a question, and she wouldn’t make eye contact with me. So confusing. So strange. Something was off and I couldn’t make sense of it. Faulty equipment. A more experienced nurse sent in. Turn down the heartbeat monitors pumping loudly nearby. Close my curtain. Turn up the volume. Nothing. Nothing. Nothing. Finally the  the doctor was summoned. She would clear all this up.

She guided me down the hall to the ultrasound room and nonchalantly asked, “so when did you last feel him move?” If it weren’t for her steady hand under my arm I would have buckled to the ground. I could barely breath when I uttered “this morning. He had hiccups this morning….” I knew it wasn’t enough, we both pretended it was.

I tried to be strong for her, tried not to worry, I needed her to be strong for me. I sensed his hiccups were the last of him. But hey, I was busy pregnant mom with two little ones at home, I was probably distracted. The ultrasound would make it all better, would explain away all those other faulty devices and show that careless nurse she can’t scare people like that. There would be a way out of this, there is always a save, a rescue, a happy ending. My whole life of close calls, everything would work out in the end. The ultrasound would surely find that twisting, turning, flipping, flopping baby boy growing into his Fisher name all these 9 months. The ultrasound would save us.

There he was, all 8 pounds 12 ounces of him. First his familiar profile, fully formed nose, forehead and protruding baby lips, his arms, round belly and long legs…still. His body was so still. Until the ultrasound landed on his chest cavity, my doctor held it there and we all held our breath. The terrible black hollow space where his heart used to flutter made all my hopes shatter. She put a hand on my leg whispering “oh Heather, I am so sorry.” Hot tears streamed down my face as my own heart stopped and then surged with the most visceral animal ache that nearly choked me.

Scott came into the room a few minutes later, arriving as quickly as he could from an errand run during those long boring non-stress tests. I had urgently texted him “something is wrong. please come back” when the nurse turned her back, like a high school kid fearing I’d be caught using my phone during class. I wanted him to have seen the awful image too, so he could know it the way I new it, but the doctor’s words were enough. He’d rushed past a group of whispering nurses gathered outside my door who were immediately silent as he came through and knew something wasn’t right. As the pain of the terrible truth set in, the bleak marriage statistics of couples who lose a child flashed through my mind. I grabbed his hands and looked into his pain stricken face with the same fierce intention of our wedding vows. “I will be good to you in this” I promised. He looked confused and then his own tears fell as he nodded and knew we would be facing the worst storm of our lives.

My doctor asked me if I’d like to go home to get a good night’s sleep and give birth tomorrow, or would I rather go to the hospital now. There would be no sleeping for me, that sounded like the worst possible idea. I told her I had come prepared to give birth and was ready now. Through his tears Scott apologized profusely that I had to go through with this and wished he could do this for me. I felt strong and resolute. Like a soldier heading to the front lines of an impossible battle, this was my honorable duty and last opportunity to give the full strength of my body to this baby I so dearly loved.  Scott went to get my hospital bag from the car and they brought the wheelchair to take me to the hospital wing.

The birth is another story, one I have written about herehere , and here. The video of his life and our time with him is there too and it would mean so much for you to meet him and witness his life. Much as those memories are with me, 8 years later, what I am left with is the awe and wonder of God’s presence in it all, then and now. We chose a song for his funeral video by Natalie Grant called Held, because the words speak to the agony of such a situation, and because we felt so profoundly held by God and by the people He sent to love us.

In an effort to be empathic, one person told me I had permission to be mad at God. How could I possibly be mad at God when He was so evidently with us? Nowhere in the bible does He promise we will not face hard things. There were moments I was mad at the situation, and knowing what I know now about what went wrong infuriates me, but never for a moment could I be mad at the Savior who carried me. It may have been natural to say “why me?” yet the only thought that came to me was “why not me?” The words that comforted me came from the bible stories and many sermons I had heard from our pastor at Bethany Community Church, speaking to the reality that we will face hard things in life and in that He will be WITH us in those trials. In these hardest moments of my life thus far, His presence was so profoundly felt. God held us and gave us people who carried our mat, dug through the roof, and laid us at the feet of Christ where we felt His healing presence every single day. (Pastor Scott Sund, my husband, recently preached about this Jesus story, the value of relationships that bring us to God’s healing presence)

In our deepest pain and hurt God’s all encompassing power and love were evident every single day…

God’s grace is a snowstorm that made us the last appointment of the day, allowing the solace of an empty OB waiting room to be wheelchaired through to the hospital.

The Holy Spirit’s prompting is a whisper to bring my hospital bag to the appointment.

God’s provision is my mom coming to visit a few days early so that we didn’t bring our young children to the appointment with us as we usually did, and Scott was able to be with me during the birth.

Jesus’ sustenance is taking communion the Sunday before, unexpectedly crying uncontrollably at the gifts of His last supper, a cathartic foreshadowing to my grief.

God’s devotion is being alone at the hospital (Scott had quickly gone home to tell our two young children in person, to comfort them and tuck them in for the night) and my father called unexpectedly, caught off guard by the news and encouraging me with is bountiful love and devout prayers.

Jesus’ presence is dear friends with small children at home finding childcare at midnight to come cry with us and pray over us as we prepared for his birth.

God’s wisdom is an action list of another who’d recently experienced the same loss, allowing me the ability to make decisions when coherent thoughts were elusive.

The Holy Spirit’s presence is the urge to toss a journal into my bag so that I could write my lamentations as my body prepared to birth the unimaginable – writing would make me feel sane and draw me to my Savior.

God’s kindness is my own trusted doctor coming back to the spend the night at the hospital on her night off in order to be with me.

Jesus’ tenderness is my mother, mother in law and a dear friend who came to visit and lovingly held death in their arms.

The Holy Spirit’s beauty is the friend who took pictures, and the organization Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep, who sent a volunteer professional photographer to capture these moments. Those images are a treasure – to remember his nose, his toes, his tiny fingernails, the family resemblances when my heart needs more than memory.

Jesus’ healing is dear friends who prayed for us when we could barely breath, fed us good food when all manner of housekeeping was hard, took our children to play when they needed to be happy regular kids for a few hours.

God’s hands and feet were our Bethany Community Church friends who planned a funeral by drawing out the wishes of our hearts – providing childcare, creating the program, designing flower arrangements, reading scripture, singing worship songs our children could dance to, creating gifts for all to ring bells for our angel in heaven, making delicious food, forcing me to eat some, braving the snowstorm to come be with us.

The Holy Spirit’s understanding is the small group friend who continued to visit us very sad people when it had to be so hard, admitting she did not know what to say, and yet in that humility brought the truest empathy we could ask for.

Jesus’ blessing is a friend who called each night after bed time to be a witness to the heart wrenching unexpected and joyful unexplainables of each new day.

God’s faithfulness was a spouse who honored my unique grieving, invited me into the uniqueness of his own, understood my pain as no-one else could and shared the life-saving efforts to honor and cherish one another well.

God’s sovereignty is being reminded of a Master of Divinity paper assigned to me 8 years prior in my Systematic Theology class at Fuller seminary – to write a letter explaining how God could be sovereign (all powerful and all loving) to a woman who had lost just lost her child.

Jesus’ preparation was gifting me with Jerry Sitter 12 years prior as my spiritual mentor while studying Spiritual Development at Whitworth – knowing his experience of great loss from his personal stories and nearly memorizing his book A Grace Disguised: How the Soul Grows Through Loss

The Holy Spirit’s anticipation is a devotional prayer calendar in the weeks prior, buffering my heart with the words of comfort in suffering, I remember being struck by the oddity of the theme when life was so very good, but choosing to be faithful to read each day’s devotion.

God’s everlasting love is in the friend who sends pretty paper whites every year on his birthday, the MOPS mentor moms who tell me they are thinking of me and hanging his bell on the Christmas tree, the friend who brings beautiful flower arrangements like the one she made for his funeral, the texts and calls and messages from family and friends who tell us they remember our son and they love us. These small significant gestures speak volumes to the loving ways God made us to be in this world with each other.

I have not a shadow of a doubt that there were tenfold more and then some that I am not remembering or was not aware enough to notice, of God’s good gifts and graces.

And as I look at what has transpired since Fisher’s death, it is nothing short of miraculous to see the ways God has woven a beautiful grace story through our lives, in relation to this terrible tragedy. Does that make this loss good? No. Does it make God’s promise of redemption and everlasting love evident? Absolutely.

There is a trajectory of “if not for his death, we would not…” have blessing after blessing after blessing that speaks to God’s hand at work in our lives. Each and every single day the all loving, all powerful, Triune God shows up in a myriad of ways that makes it clear beyond a shadow of a doubt He was and is with us, that He will sustain us, and He will never leave us or forsake us.

On the anniversary of the night my full term baby boy went straight from the cradle to the grave, I was struck anew by the Lyrics of U2. It not only spoke to that deep longing for my baby’s life on earth, but also to my deep desire to wholeheartedly trust and pursue the God who so clearly reigns in this world…

All

I Want

Is You

 


Time to Begin Again

I must find time to write if my soul is to bear our world. This is most definitely aligned with all the things I hope for…

Today I had the chance to talk with a muslim mom of the opposing team of my son’s soccer game, to chit chat about the game and have a normal mom-to-mom conversation. Because that is what we are, normal moms with the same heart and love for our kids. Five muslim men turned from their place closer to the game and watched me. I knew in my gut that I did not need to fear them, but I worried they might not trust my intentions and my heart began to race. It is awkward being watched and makes you feel like you are in trouble or danger – a reality they likely face more often than I would wish. I chose to smile bigger, to be even kinder to the woman and she was just as kind to me, and they gave an affirming nod as they watched.

Earlier in the day I had the chance to tell some 6 and 7 year old girls that they are strong and brave and capable and good, and that they can do amazing things with their bodies and minds! My husband and I spoke words of encouragement that we pray takes root in their hearts beyond the soccer field into their whole long lives.

A young Christian man from our church came out this week and I have the privilege of being his friend and telling him that he is dearly loved just as God made him. This man is so solid in his faith and dedicated to honoring God with his life and has blessed my family with his ministry and his presence. He is a good person in this world.

On Veteran’s Day I saw a boy at the beach with his Veteran grandfather, playing by himself while watching the nine children I was with enjoying their group activity. I encouraged my children to invite him to join them and saw their humble human nervousness as they approached him. There was instant relief and joy shared between them when he said yes. His smile was beaming and he jumped right into the action without missing a beat.

Earlier in the week I was blessed to listen to my children describe their diverse friends by the content of their character and not by the color of their skin. This old lady self who is still learning and advocating hard for change, clarified by naming the skin color to get clear on the kid. I realized my own deep flaws and surged with love for the world my kids are living into.

On the night of the election I had a long talk with a friend who shared the story of having been raped. She confessed the intense fear, guilt and shame made her feel like a crazy person. I got to be a witness to her story, validate and normalize her intense emotional pain as a human response to trauma, and assure her she is not crazy. We each shared gratitude at how beautiful it is that God’s grace sees us as good and infinitely loved and we talked about some ways she could seek some professional healing and relief.

I cannot tell you about the confidential concerns of my clients, but I will tell you that they are hurting. Many are feeling re-traumatized that behavior and language we’ve fought hard to eradicate has been displayed, condoned and acted out with bravado across our country. There were way too many tears this week – wailing, hard, choking for a breath tears that come from the depths of one’s soul crying out for goodness.

This is just this week, and I confess I am tired, so physically worn down and exhausted. And I confess that I probably have had many many more opportunities for days like this that I have missed, because I was complacent, didn’t feel the urgency that day, was too tired to respond, or was not reminded of my own traumas and discriminations that have ravaged my heart and called me to action. It is time to act. The time is now. The morals, values, human decency and goodness of our world depends on us to make brave, risky, wonderful and good steps toward making this a better world.

In all the stages of deep grief I have felt in the last week, from utter shock, bargaining hard that there must be another way, heartsick tears, and raging pissed, I have felt an undercurrent of urgency to work harder for the good, and seeing that God is so evidently in this too. The people and circumstances in my path this week are a mere glimpse of what God is doing every moment of every day to call us to act on behalf of his great love for the world, and we are so lucky to be part of the love story. This goes beyond party lines and who voted for whom. Our fate has been decided on that front, but our future must be shaped by each and every one of us, in our common, every-day, extraordinary lives, to do the right thing in the moments we are given, and the moments we seek after, because we are so privileged to live in a free country that allows us to do great things with our lives.

Let us not give up encouraging one another, share your stories where God and goodness, mercy, justice and grace show up and we get to witness it. Strength and peace!


Weaning

Ten years ago this past month I began nursing my first born baby girl, and this exact month a decade later I weaned my last baby boy.  The beginning was an awkward beautiful rite of passage to motherhood and the end an emotional compilation of natural closure and necessity.  At 17 months, my baby is completely nourished by a healthy diet of solid foods and less interested in nursing.  I needed to prepare my body a few days in advance for our service trip to Honduras with malaria medication that was not okay for nursing. I left it up to him in those last few days as he was already growing less and less interested.  I was letting this natural process unfold and not offering what I knew was so good for him, unasked – a lesson I know I will come back to over and over throughout the years.

With his little “milk” fist pump sign language, he tugged at my heart and I would willingly respond.  It was emotional for me.  My husband would send me up to the rocker that we splurged on with our first, I knew out of both his sense of practicality and to honor sentiment – to get every last bit of worth out of our most expensive new-parent purchase and for me to be able to have a special moment where I first held and soothed and fed all of our babies.

With 4 children and the smart phone era, nursing has been a fairly distractible time of practicality and efficiency.  If a kid, or three, are near, there is always someone asking something of me even as I sit bound to my babe.  Or, I have had the chance to get caught up on an e-mail or a social media hit.  About 6 months in, it dawned on me how much my nursing life had changed over in a decade.  I had begun my nursing life bound to sit.  I prayed, read or just gazed at my baby in a quiet nursery for what seemed like half of my waking (and sleeping) hours.  It was soothing and sweet, quiet, sometimes lonely, time for me to think and look and smell and see my sweet baby.  It made me sad to think of my last baby looking up at a face that wasn’t gazing back at him, and for myself to not be relishing this precious time.  I knew all too quickly, my babe-in-arms days would be on the go with the boundless energy of a toddler taking on the world, too busy experimenting to be held quiet and still.  Oh, it’s already happening –  drawers are being emptied, bookshelves cleared, little feet pitter-patting to the next exploration – and my heart just hurts over the change, always hurting for what is going away and expanding for what is to come.

I put away my phone those many months ago while I was nursing, and I sequestered myself to cozy quiet(er) places in order to choose presence, and it was worth every minute.  I memorized his eyes, the gray-blue becoming brown, eyelashes unfurling, the wisps of hair growing fluffier, and I kissed his sweet baby toes a thousand times.  We touched each others faces, his small hands memorizing me and my large fingers tracing tiny features.  I remember when my first-born discovered my eyelashes and she would ever-so-gently take her little finger and brush it back and forth across each set.  My second had a thing for hair, still does.  As I’d nurse him he would splay his fingers wide and draw his hand back and forth through long cool strands.  Even now at age 8, when we are cozy on the couch or cuddling before bed he’ll say “can I touch your hair mama?” and he’ll gently stroke his hands through as he is visibly soothed by the sensation.  And my third, her thing was ears.  If you knew her as a baby you are smiling now, because she probably played with yours too!  As I’d cozy her in to nurse, her little finger and thumb would instinctively go to my earlobe and she’d gently rub the soft skin endlessly.  I miss these moments like mad.

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I took this photo 3 days after the birth of my last baby, after a decade of burgeoning belly shots filled with hope and expectation.  I was sad to see my belly so quickly diminishing.  A strange thing to miss, I know, but it meant so much more than bothersome baby-fat to me at the time.  It represented a womb that would never be full again.  Much as I am intentional about that choice to be done with 4 kids at home, it isn’t without grief.  My postpartum belly left me in shock after my first.  I remember the big soft jiggly belly that came home from the hospital with me and thinking, “hmmm, now I don’t remember anyone telling me about THIS!  What the heck? When does THIS go away?”  By the 5th, I was extremely sad to see it going.

My kids are all here now, or there in heaven, and we are all done.  Well, we think.  But we’ve decided and are so far on the track of preventing any more.  A friend recently sought advice for her 40th birthday and after a few brainstormed trips and triumphs for a good celebration, one said “I had a baby my 40th year. That’s one way to celebrate.”  And it’s the one idea that made my heart skip a beat, “Now that sounds fun!” I thought. Truly.

But I am done.  All done.  Four was the hope and four is our limit and we are stretched to capacity all the time. (Oh, but it’s not so bad really – what’s one more? we say.)  Friends who began when we did and ended earlier are out on family adventures together – ski trips and un-baby-friendly hikes and such.  That looks fun too, I think.  Our oldest are nearing pre-teendom, are they getting what they need from us?  Can we really be there for them when there are still diapers to change and choking hazards to constantly, constantly scan for?  Will they ever get all they ever need from us?  Of course not, and I know better to think they should.  But still, my big huge aching love for each of them is vast and immeasurable and I just wish sometimes I has a clone of them for each day they’ve lived.  I cannot fathom I will never again see my first born’s first dance hip hopping back and forth to mother goose songs on her little CD player (which of course she was so brilliant to figure out on her own at age 2).  Never again will my first little guy snuggle in my arms, head-to-feet between my elbows.  Not any more will my spunky 3rd child say “hold you me?” with arms spread wide now that she knows to say it “correctly.”  And not ever again will I nourish my baby from my body, giving life and sustenance, comfort, bonding, immunity, health, closeness and connection in the very closest way, ever, again.  This feels hard.  But this feels right.  And in some moments feels good.

Time marches forward and I dream of the day I can pursue a Ph.D. or publish a book, take ALL of my kids skiing, or walking, and know all will be safe without a hand from me.  But I pray they will always reach back to hold this hand far beyond when they will need it to stand.  I pray we will have woven our hearts together similar to the miraculous ways God knit them together in my womb.  This will take work on our part to see and know them as they need to be seen and known.  I will do my best at that commission and consider it my greatest work.

I strive for meaning and purpose in my life and faith, ask God regularly what He has for me to do in this world and who He wants me to be.  I know I am meant to be a mother, above all else.  I work at my career with a full sense of calling, but the work of my womb has been my magnum opus.  The work my body did nearly without need for the mind and will I so intentionally put to every other task of my life, has been the most beautiful work I can behold.  To have created and carried these eternal souls.  What a gift.

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Leaving for Honduras

Agros Fisher

Five years ago, in the days after the loss of our baby boy Fisher, we began our partnership with Agros.  While I labored to deliver my full term son who’d lost his heartbeat, I was extremely thirsty.  I was unable to drink water because I’d chosen an epidural to numb the physical pain of labor and could only have ice chips.  I was profoundly grateful for those ice chips, and for the hope of unlimited water to come.  When the reality of his death would be with us, I would have water to drink, to quench me through the unbearable pain of losing my baby. When circumstances are searingly painful, the elements of daily life things that bring comfort are rendered less mundane, seen for what they are, God’s generous undeserved miracles and graces.

Undeserved, because as I labored in thirst I thought of what it would be like to be laboring to give birth, to give birth to death even, to be in pain and wanting only a simple drink of water for some relief and have no access to good clean water.  My thirst was temporary, and I knew that, and it was the hope of relief that comforted me.  Who was I?  Who was I to be born into privilege, birthing in the comfort and safety of this nice hospital room, in a comfortable bed, where limitless water would be waiting for me, would quench me, clean me, clean my precious baby’s body in a mere ritual after birth, baptizing the body his soul had already departed.

The funeral was being planned.  Dear friends guided me through a remembrance ceremony that I could still barely comprehend was happening, and some asked, how can we give?  In lieu of flowers, what can we do?  Because everyone wants to do something to make something feel better that’s impossible to better.  I get that.  I wanted that too.  Water.  I remembered my thirst, my Fisher, how his life was meant to reflect the biblical message of becoming a Fisher of people, how women in other places were birthing without good water, and grieving without good water and I wanted my baby’s life to bring that hope to people.

So our dear friend Emily, who works with Agros, made that happen.  She set up the process to bring water to a village in Honduras through the generosity of our loved ones.  A few months later we became full financial partners with Agros.  Alongside a group of wonderful families with young kids who wanted to make a difference in the world, we began supporting the mission of helping people break the cycles of poverty and live a sustainable life, with the vision of not just giving, but of knowing the families we were supporting.

Today we leave for our first visit.  We go with our two oldest kids and a group of wonderful families and Emily.  We get to go and be with the people we have prayed for and loved from afar for all these 5 years.  As my son would have been growing into his boyhood, these people have been growing crops and growing hopes and growing out of a life without the basic human comforts that every person deserves.

I leave with a lump in my throat, for the babies I leave at home, praying for their safety and ours (please join me in that) and for the baby’s life I will remember again in the faces of people who’s lives have been impacted by a life that was hoped for.  There is danger in this country, corruption, crime, hard stories, pain and so much poverty.  These stories are in every country, closer to home than we know, but Honduras is a place to hold up in our collective prayers for change.  Agros has a vision for those suffering the most, and here we go.

All things, slipping through our hands, hoped for.  Only by God’s graces do we have these miracles of the lives I do get to have and hold, of the chance to be with people whom God loves as dearly as I love my baby in heaven, of a drink of water.  This is His good work, and who are we to be His hands, His womb, His water in a broken beautiful world?  God be with us.

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.  Hebrews 11:1


It’s Cancer

Today we got the news that the diagnosis is cancer, for someone I dearly love. How do you think of much else? You do of course, because you have to. I have to do dishes and change diapers and feed hungry bellies and clean up spills before anyone slips and do bath times and drive places and care for the people I work with and send payments and remember to ask about homework and hug and kiss and hold and smile, (because yes there’s still love and even joy) and this is all the minimum to get by because I know I can’t overachieve right now, but really I just want to crawl into a hole and sleep it off for a week or so.

I’m so exhausted from the burden of not knowing. Not knowing is one of the hardest things. These past few weeks of wondering the worst, crying over what could be, pulling it together hoping for the best, trying not to overthink it, or over-google it and always it’s under the surface. So when someone speaks unkindly, or the children I birthed to be friends fight, or I just can’t get the recipe right, I lose it and just want to say “it’s cancer. It’s cancer that’s making me feel like a crazy person right now.” But those words feel too heavy.

So at least now we know, and the not-knowing-waiting is over so that we can now move into the knowing, but not really knowing, phase of treatment. The hardest part of all is their tears, the tempered strength, inconceivable acceptance, and heightened tenderness. We speak truth and weighty words more freely. No time for idle chit chat. This is cancer.


Vigilance

I make my rounds each night holding my breath hoping they’ll breath theirs strong. Say last prayers with a kiss, grateful for warm cheeks meeting my lips, rising ribs beneath my palm. I brush gentle upon their foreheads, soft across hair, wondering why loving is so full I could burst with gratitude and so hard I could wilt. There’s nothing I wouldn’t do to give all to these little lives, everything I’m capable of, for a life lived better than my own. Daily it dawns on me fresh how incapable I am of everything I hope to be as I strive to guide them toward what I can only glimpse they’re meant to be and it’s all a precarious too precious road.

I want them to thrive, to be kind, to know God’s love and people’s love and self love in easy ways that are hard for me to grasp. So much more than potential and success of this worlds contriving, I hope for good hearts, beautiful spirits, character that does what is noble and right. So much more than goodness for pleasing’s sake, I hope for wholeness living abandoned to what one’s been created for; ability to embrace fault and flaw within and without, see space for grace, inside and out, and the potential that shadows cast for seeing with more depth and feelings more real.

If I love so deeply then why do I live so imperfectly? If I long to be the best I can for them, why do they see my worst? When I read and study and teach and yearn to know right strategies, research, narratives, and antectodes, why then do I still lose my temper over sibling squabbles and spilled milk? When I know it is all par for the course and atleast 5 positive ways to handle it better than I do. I have patience, and good skills, and a heart so full to be sure, but shards of glass sometimes cause me to crack, laying bare how we are all so very broken.

I was having tea with a dear beloved nurturing mom friend while our children played at our feet, literally crawling under table and chairs. She watched her mature son’s rambunctious play cause a fragile dish, gifted, from another country, fall from the table to bits. As he hung his head in shame she said, “No, son” and made sure their eyes met, “it’s not things that matter it’s people. It was just a cup.” Her words were gentle and sure. I was moved because she was brave to speak what makes my heart sing. So why do I still sometimes shatter when things shatter and shatter the ones I love most when I’m tired or lonely or feeling unlovable? Having been a witness to her strength of composure and grace, I loved her even more, my own children more, and even made room for myself more to break cups on good days and bad, and hold the face of the beloved between soft cupped hands with strong seeing eyes willing to witness it all and still say, “its you, above all this mess, that matters.”

Perfectly held, however imperfectly loved, we are given these gifts of life so divine, so precarious so strong, praying against all wrong done to us and born within us, that we might not be so rambunctious as to shatter spirits, but rather strengthen souls. Let us be diligent to hold precious the cup up, beyond our own hands, to seek after sustenance overcoming ourselves, yet doing our part to will our wildness to love abandonedly better than we’ve ever known, so that those who go after us might better represent He who went before us.

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A Different Lament

It seems it is gaining in popularity these days to complain about how hard it is to have kids.  And I get it.  It is hard.  Really hard.  Half of my half-written blog posts (because I never have time to finish them with all these kids) are about how hard it is.  But I am kind of getting tired of yet another big lament that describes the borderline abusive “real thoughts” of the struggling parent –  it is really starting to get to me.

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Don’t get me wrong, I am all for honesty and, if you know me well, I am not one to be peachy-keen all the time about life.  I can complain with the best of them and I think it is important to have the ability to vent when we need to.  But you see, that’s something I don’t always want to do.  In fact, I think the harder thing is to feel the freedom to share our gratitude or a word of praise about our kids.  It would be bragging right?  Or at least that is my fear, so I don’t go there often enough – it’s always a little easier, for me at least, to connect over complaints.  But how refreshing would it be to speak about the other million moments in the day that aren’t so hard?  That are in fact so beautiful and meaningful that they truly take your breath away.  The moments that keep us going and remind us why we took on this crazy endeavor to care for and raise completely dependent, irrational, unpredictable human beings.  The moments where we well-up with tears of joy that do not in fact have to be downplayed by postpartum hormones.  Just pure full-hearted love.  I think I could use some of that to keep me going on this parenting journey as well.

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My husband’s family has a way of getting together and telling all the good stories from when everyone was a kid.  I was struck by this when we were first dating because it was a unique phenomenon to me.  There’s the polyester suit story when he was 3.  The “I know” story when he was playing piano with his aunt.  The famous football game against Central.  All good stories told with love and pride and delighting in who he was then that led to who he is now.  I love these stories.  Even though I have heard them a few dozen times myself, it is how they are told that gets to me.  My husband was loved, still is, and these stories leave no doubt.

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Couldn’t we all use a few more of our good stories floating around?  Wouldn’t that be a neat way for our kids to be known?  It would be kind of like turning the sun like a flashlight on them, just to shine some sweet warmth in their direction for the world to partake.  How neat to be so brave as to say there are things we adore about them, whether they were there to hear it or not, and not just find fault or complain.  Would it be so bad to speak more often to the gratitude we have for the precious gift of their lives and the unique ways God has made them to be in this world?  I think it could be pretty sweet – good for them and a perspective shift for me.

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A friend and mentor of mine, Cheryle, was talking about her son once and referring to him as “my Austin. I can’t believe my Austin is going off to college.” She has 5 kids and I was so struck by how adoring she sounded of her middle son that I tentatively had to ask “oh..is he your…favorite?”

“Oh, no, of-course-not!” she said with a laugh “But he is such a neat kid…” and she went on to unabashedly tell me more about what made him special and why she was going to miss him.  I just loved that.  I basked in the glow of her love for him, for all of her kids over the course of our friendship, and it has absolutely influenced the way I parent my own.

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I get that parenting it hard.  Let’s be honest about that for sure.  I am just wondering if there is room, safety, and enough grace to speak to the good parts too, more often?  I know I personally need to do a better job of taking notice some days and would love to feel the freedom to speak to it, as a form of discipline almost, in the day-to-day chit chat with friends.  I am not calling for a shallow brag-fest, or the social media shout out, but a deep-hearted, soul-baring gratitude between friends that, while inherently acknowledging how difficult it is, admits there is also something to be said for all that is so very good.


My Valentine

In 1998, the man who I’d come to adore more than any other, ever, had been traveling to every state in the U.S. on a post-senior year writing trip.  He drove an unreliable Volkswagen vanagon he called “Great White Hope.”  I was completing a busy senior year of study, forgiveness research, work and Young Life ministry at Whitworth University. We were navigating a very committed long-distance relationship in pre-cell phone, early e-mail days, and it was tough. We really missed each other.

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He was set to be home in March.  But on Valentine’s Day he showed up on my front doorstep with roses in his hands. I was completely shocked and overjoyed!

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Thank you Scott Sund for continuing to be a man of vision, who follows the call God puts on your heart, and always returns to our love. Who am I, to be so lucky, to be your wife and share this life adventure with you? Happy 15th Valentine’s Day together!

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Four

Fisher, you would be 4 today. And boy do I wish I could have given you a piggy back ride and felt your big boy weight on my back, watched you build and destroy block towers with your little sister, heard your laugh while we played a pre-school version of talking charades. It would have been good to slurp chicken noodle soup together and read you your favorite stories before nap time. But oh to cuddle you, hold your live warmth in my arms and kiss your soft cheeks. I would do anything to know what your voice sounds like, what you daydream about, what makes you smile and what makes you sad. I’d do my best to make it all better. I wish I could feel all better. It still hurts so much. So very much.

Your big brother sewed you a sweet snowman flannel bag today. Your biggest sis drew you a picture of our family. Harps asked all about heaven and said she loves her baby Fisher like she loves baby Schuyler. We all wrote our words of love to you and hoped the wind would carry them. Their big love for you both warms and tears at my heart.

Wish I had more time to write the whole of what has been on my soul, but your baby brother calls to me to be fed, and as with most areas of life right now there just isn’t the time to write and reflect if I am to be present for these moments now. There is so much more to tell you, so much more to say – in my prayers, in my heart, to scream at the top of my lungs in the lonely places. I love you son. Happy Birthday – someday we’ll celebrate real big okay? You’re irreplaceable.


Real Life

butterflies-cute-jar-junel-nature-Favim.com-142556I fell to sleep at 2:00 a.m. last night after being pretty shaken up by the recent death of a dear mentor from my past, Don Rhymer, who encouraged me as a Young Life staff person in my newlywed days.  Married for 29 years and father to 3 really neat kids, he was truly an example of a man who lived a good life of strong faith and great relationships. He was one of those people I said goodbye to in California and hoped to spend time with again in future days.  He was a good man.  You can read his story here http://radiatedon.com. (warning, he has a great sense of humor, you’ll laugh through tears at his writing)

Eyes swollen from crying, I was woken again just before 4:00 as my 2 year old wanted me to come cuddle with her.  My baby chimed in wanting to be nursed, so he and I crawled into bed with her and I tried to sleep while she tossed and turned and he suckled. At 4:25, she started to choke and spew throw-up into the air, all over me and the baby and I leapt into action, babe still attached, calling to my husband for back-up.  Just one of many crazy days of parenting.

Still, it is a pretty great life I have.  I don’t say that as a trite response to hardship, nor to brag, nor because it is perfect.  It is far from perfect.  I am sleep deprived and a little spacey at best, impatient and crabby at my worst.  I take a shower an average of a few times a week, and I am usually wearing a shirt with day old spit-up (I know, gross huh?).  I figure with mountains of laundry, why make more?  We have some business concerns that feel pretty daunting.  My marriage, sayeth the marriage and family therapist, is not at it’s best.  We are in that post-baby, well post stressful-summer –  heck let’s just be real honest and say post-becoming-a-pastor’s-family (there should be a term for that) – season of busy life where we are looking across at the person we most cherish and adore and thinking “Hey, you look familiar? Do I know you? We should hang out sometime.”  Who has any time?

Especially those crazy folk like us who keep having all these kids.  And speaking of kids, on a regular basis we worry about them, that one or more of our children is doomed for jail, the psych-ward or the streets. Obviously I exaggerate, but you know what I mean parents out there.  I could go on with a myriad of worries, imperfections, faults and failures, but what I am overwhelmed with right now is what a great life I have.  I don’t say that without the awareness that there are those who suffer, really truly suffer from very hard things, and my concerns really are very small in comparison.  But probably because my life is so far from perfect, there are divine moments where huge gratitude over something very small overtakes me, and it keeps me going.

It happened when I was holding my fussing baby today, doing what I could to help him fall to sleep.  My two year old was just lulled to napping down the hall.  My baby’s cries softened with each of my bounces.  His sweet face burying into the space between my arm and ribcage to try and block out the world. Eyes roll back, then closing, and the big sigh of sleep breathing taking over.  Isn’t naptime the best? I am standing in the quiet of my room and glance over at the big comfy white chair near the window, where I rarely have time to sit these days, and then over to the row of books beside it.  The one on the end is my favorite, Great With Child by Debra Rienstra.  On the cover a glowing belly bulges from under a soft shirt.  Her posture is laid back, relaxed, contemplative in it’s pose. My heart warms at the idea of sitting in that chair for a few moments to read it – once both my little ones are napping, just before the big kids get home from school, when the laundry is done, the meals are cooked, the clothes mended, the children listened to, played with, kissed and held and loved, and well, probably never, or at least maybe not for 5 years or so.  It would be pure indulgence!

And it is just the possibility of that moment that fills me with gratitude.  Because really I could sit and read, and sometimes I do, when everyone is all tucked in for the night and I am feeling rebellious enough to leave some of the work of all this for tomorrow.  It is not often, but that’s okay, because this will not always be and I try hard to remember what I know so well.  That nearly 9 year old down the hall used to be this small and I strain to remember the details to answer her request for stories of when she was little.  I wish we could go visit those long days of being a first time mom, when the road ahead seemed so long and full of unknowns.  I know these days pass by quickly and my ache to capture them is akin to gathering the scent of summer in a glass jar to carry me through winter.  Impossible.  I had two full journals and a detailed baby book written to my daughter by the time she turned one.  This little guy’s baby book stares blankly at me by my bedside table.  How do I start, when I know it will end?  I take pictures, thousands of them, and they sit frozen on my phone and computer.  What is it now, 20 cumulative years of photo memory books for each year of my children’s lives to complete?  Huh, maybe I should let that one go.  But that kind of makes my heart hurt and my lungs get tight.  They will grow up too fast, and cliche beyond cliches, I know I will miss these precious days.

And so I look with a big heart of hope at that favorite book of mine, knowing one day I will have time to read it again, and if the day is not today, it is for damn good reason. Because the endless mundane and meaningless laundry means my kids have lived a good day and will be clothed tomorrow.  The meals that come together without too much creativity these days, means their bodies are nourished to grow and be healthy.  The listening and the mending and the kissing of owies and the reading of stories and the cleaning up throw-up and the work work work of it all is so very worth the opportunity to nurture these most precious souls for a season. When my house is empty and quiet for years to come, creating those photo books won’t mean I am ignoring a little voice or risking more sleep deprivation.  I am not sure I will be able to bear it then, taking in all that has passed, so for today, I try to breath deep into my imperfect life and take in the scent of a very good season.

Don, it would be a gift to know you were hanging out with my Fisher in heaven.  He would be almost four now and I am sure he’d get a kick out of being your buddy.  I wish all my kids could have met you.