Tuesday, May 31, 2016

This is how it was supposed to be

Lately I find myself catching my breath. Simple moments with my 16 month old leave me falling back in my mind. We are starting to bond, like really bond. There are trains on the floor and blue shirts and dinosaurs all around. All these things are evidence that a boy lives here, grows here, sleeps here. We've begun the early stages of potty training. The other day as I took his diaper off to watch him toddle into the bathroom he started peeing, clearly not making it to the toilet in time. At first he cried, unaware of what what happening. But then I laughed and reassured him it was alright and soon he was laughing and it was such a great moment between us, mother and son. And for a brief moment I thought "this is how it was always supposed to be." This is how it was supposed to be if my first born had lived. If raising a boy was the first child I got to raise, mold and shape. 

Sometimes when its just Judah and myself those words "this is how it was supposed to be," wash over me again and again. Its as if it makes it possible to see back in time to the "what if he had lived" portion of my life. I know Judah is my third child but in so many ways he feels like the first. Caleb died, Abigail was born and everything was a thick fog of grief. I don't remember much about the first year of Abigail's life. But Judah, Judah came at at time when I was better-mentally, physically, emotionally. Its as if the lens is cleaned now and I'm seeing things, or rather raising a baby, for the first time. Everything I do with this child feels fresh and new and like he is my first. But he's not. See how confusing it still is? Because even in those blissful moments when I think "this is how it was supposed to be," its not how it is.

The fact remains that Judah is not Caleb. When I try to swap the two kids my heart instantly sinks because the more I know Judah the more I want to know Caleb. The more trains and cars and dinosaurs we buy the more I long to have them already. Some days I feel like I'm going backwards through time, not forward. I had in my mind when I was pregnant with Caleb this great expectation of what being a boy mom would be like. And the thing I'm learning is-its all true and then some! It's really as great as I thought it would be. Mother and son, son and mother-the bond between us is so close, so precious. But where does that leave my other son? I have another son, right? I still have to convince myself because the longer it gets from his birth and death the less I remember. The less tangible things I have of him. And I hate that. 

"This is how it was supposed to be." Except its not. This is how it is. I have three children. I have two sons. One I grow closer and closer with each day and the other is ?what? I don't know. That's the hard part. Its days like today and weeks like this that I feel the weight of all we were robbed of when death took Caleb from us. 

Don't really have a  nice way to wrap this up other than to say, I still miss my first born son. 

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Behold I make all things new

As we celebrate Judah's one year birthday, I can't help but remember those final weeks that led up to his birth. I've spent a year processing it all, and the one thing that it all comes back to is this scripture verse from Revelation: 

"Behold I make all things New." (Revelation 21:5)

Anyone who has ever gone through any suffering can attest that for the most part you just want it to end. But as a Catholic mom suffering after the death of her first child, I not only wanted my suffering to end, but I also wanted it to mean something. That meaning is what we call redemptive suffering. The idea that because we are one with Christ we can offer up to Him our sufferings and He can use them so that nothing is wasted; even the hard things can be seen eventually for His glory. I've spent a lot of time since Caleb died offering up my aching heart, my tears, my longing to see my firstborn, all back to God in the hopes of Him using it, somehow.

What has surprised me the most is that while I was doing this, God continued to reach out to me to take those sufferings, those hard things, and redeem them. That pretty much sums up Judah's entire pregnancy and birth - one big story of redemption. I've tried many times over the past year to put this all into words, so bear with me if it seems choppy. My intent is to show that, though we may suffer, we serve a God who uses our suffering. What's more, He wants to make our situations better. He longs to take those painful memories, that hurtful past and make it into something "new." And He did just that with the birth of our third child, Judah Thomas.

When we found out Judah was a boy, I quickly went to that dark hole of grief that I had been trying to stay out of the whole pregnancy. I knew from experience that I could birth a live baby girl, not a boy. I also knew that I wanted another boy, sometime maybe down the road, but not right now. I didn't want to "unpack" all the emotional baggage, as well as the physical things from Caleb that were collecting dust in the attic of my soul. But here we were, having a boy, and so I said to God, "Show me what you got, because its going to take a lot to get me through this." I actually believed it would take a miracle for me to birth and then bring home a live baby boy. I believed this so much that I clung to St. Jude in prayer, the patron saint of impossible causes. Everything about having another boy felt impossible. But there was this teeny, tiny voice in my head that reminded me "Nothing is impossible with God" (Luke 1:37)

Fast forwarding through most of the pregnancy, except for a few key things:

My Bible study that year had been studying the Israelite's return to Jerusalem from exile. I was reminded on a weekly basis that God not only wants us to face our past, but He also journeys with us to that hard place. As the Israelites returned to a ruined city and began to rebuild, I knew this was no accident that He had me study this particular story during this particular time in my life. These lines in particular comforted me throughout the pregnancy. They refer to the day when the "remnant" or what remains of Israel (the people) are watching the new foundation of the new temple being laid, in their old land. 

"Many of the priests, Levites, and family heads, the old men who had seen the former house, cried out in sorrow as they watched the foundation of the present house being laid. Many others, however, lifted up their voices in shouts of joy, and no one could distinguish the sound of joyful shouting from the sound of those who were weeping for the people raised a mighty clamor which was heard afar off." Ezra 3:12-13

I love these verses! I was living them. My heart cried with sorrow as we began to prepare to bring home another boy, all because I missed our first boy. But there was also shouts of joy as Judah's arrival got closer. And when I felt so mixed up in my heart on what to feel - sorrow or joy - I was reminded that "no one could distinguish the sound of joyful shouting from the sound of those who were weeping." I felt like these verses were directly from God to soothe my heart and continue to give me courage. 

As Judah's induction date neared my ability to remain calm was next to none. To say I was living minute-by-minute, day-by-day would be correct. Every pregnancy requires a certain amount of letting go of control (especially at the end), but pregnancy after a loss carries so much more fear when you see the control slipping away (and when you're baby had died at the very end). You live in a constant state of "what if," and you begin to doubt all your decisions about the baby's movements, the interventions, etc. I tried to hang onto my sanity each day. I could never in a million years have planned or foreseen the events of the week leading up to Judah's birth. God certainly took me up on my offer to "show me what you got," and through a series of events I can hopefully show how He indeed made "all things new," for my heart.

Monday, January 12- I have a routine non-stress test to monitor baby's movements. Up until this point in pregnancy Judah had been breeched and we had a scheduled c-section for Friday January 16th. I usually spent each 20-30 minute non-stress test listening to praise and worship music with my headphones. These tests are very stressful for any mom who has had a previous stillbirth because they have so much to do with baby's movements or lack of movements. During my "prayer" time as I liked to call it, while listening to this song, I felt God ask me,

"what do you want? A c-section or not?"

While the c-section did hold some appeal because of the control factor in it, ultimately I told Him that I would like to try to deliver another baby boy naturally and this time see my baby boy come out alive, not dead. Not 5 minutes later the nurse came in to check Judah's movement strip on the machine. She said he was not moving as much as they would like, so off to the sonogram room it was. 

The sonogram room is my worst nightmare because that is where I was told Caleb had died. I have seared in my memory the tech who was working the sonogram machine the day Caleb died. I do not like this tech, not because of anything she has ever done, but simply because of the news she told me all those years ago. I had miraculously avoided her Judah's entire pregnancy, until that Monday. As I climbed onto the sonogram table I had an inward panic attack when I saw her face and realized she would be doing the sonogram. "Please don't let this be a repeat Lord, don't let the baby be dead," was the only thing I could think. Within seconds I heard Judah's strong heartbeat and saw him moving on the screen. I looked at the sonogram lady and she was smiling and said "he flipped! He's head down ready for delivery!"

And me and the sonogram lady had a moment of pure happiness.

I'm not sure if she remembers me, but the Lord knew that I remembered her and my only memory with her was terrible. He redeemed that memory, and replaced it with one of joy. She continued on to say the baby looked healthy and great and I left the office feeling wave after wave of peace wash over me.

Tuesday January 13, 3:00am- I was in the middle of a panic attack on our way to the hospital. Because we now planned to induce within the week, I had received a steroid injection Monday afternoon to help develop baby's lungs. Unfortunately, I think a side effect of this injection was extreme anxiety which then turned into panic. I was officially convinced when we showed up to labor and delivery that the baby was dead. But, thankfully Judah was safe and sound, and we got to hear his strong heartbeat as we sat through an hour of monitoring. While there the nurse that attended to me was very sweet. At one point she said "did you use to work at Saint Mary's Grade school?" Yes, yes I did. With tears in her eyes she said that because her kids went to school there, she remembered me and my son Caleb. Her empathy and compassion were like a healing balm to my soul at that scary moment. She reassured me that this baby boy would come out alive. I felt God validate through this women that this journey had been scary ( I mean she was even choked up!), and He had not forgotten me or my firstborn son. We left the hospital at 5am with a clean bill of health for me and baby.

Wednesday January 14- I have another non-stress test and baby does great. I tell my doctor that Im freaking out and I NEED this baby to come out. Originally the doctors had wanted me to try to wait until 38 weeks or beyond to induce because of Judah being a boy and the possibility of his lungs being under-developed. Sunday would have been our scheduled induction at exactly 38 weeks but I knew I couldn't make it that long. Even though it was only 5 days away, I had a gut feeling that I needed to get this baby out. My doctor is wonderful and agreed. We scheduled an induction for 7pm the following night. All I could think was "just keep this baby alive for one more night and one more day, then its the hospital's job to keep him alive." Like I said, I was living moment by moment.

Thursday January 15- It all began to hit me as we packed the hospital bag-Thursday, Thursday, Thursday. I had done this before on a Thursday night 4 years ago, packing a hospital bag to go deliver a stillborn baby. But this Thursday was different, this was "new." Anyone who has ever dealt with grief knows all about triggers and dates lining up. We were setting ourselves up for the exact same timeline of our delivery with Caleb. I kept thinking "God really cares about details!" 

So we packed, dropped Abigail off at my mom's and then called labor and delivery. Nope, they didn't have a room yet, call back in an hour. This exact same thing happened to us with Caleb. It felt like the twilight zone as Nathan and I and my big belly wondered around our house trying to figure out what to do to pass the time until we could go to the hospital. I have such strong memories of doing this exact thing with Caleb. And then at 11 pm, the same time we got the ok with Caleb, the hospital said they had a room! 

We rushed over there, but not before stopping to do one small task-take out the recycling. If there is anything you take from this story, please remember the recycling because it blows my mind even now. When we went to deliver Caleb all those years ago on a Thursday night, we saw that everyone on our street had put their recycling cans out for the next day. In a daze we looked at each other and said "what do we do?" It was the first time I realized that the world would keep moving even though our world had stopped. In the end Nate put the recycling cans out and for the last 4 years every time (once a month) that I saw all those recycling cans lined up on our street, I felt sick to my stomach with grief. So here we were, again on recycling night (which again only happens once a month!) and so we put the cans out. In the months since Judah's birth, whenever the cans are out, I now immediately think "that's the night we went to deliver Judah," and there is happiness in my heart. God cared about that small detail that hurt my heart and lined things up exactly to redeem even that.

Thursday January 15-Saturday January 17

You can read about Judah's entire birth story here. God continued to redeem things even during the labor and delivery. We again started induction on Thursday night like with Caleb and again delivered a baby boy on Saturday morning, just like with Caleb. Thankfully, Judah was born alive and well, fulfilling the prophecy God had told me in prayer "In the dead of winter we will bring forth new life." When Caleb died it was Spring, and I felt overcome with sadness that in the heart of this life-giving season, death had stole my son. Now, however in the dead of winter God promised to do something "new," to bring life during the harshest, darkest season. 

The nurse that was on duty Friday night was named Kathy. She let me cry to her about how scared I was and knew how to handle me. The name Kathy was also the name of the nurse that cared for me after Caleb was born and ultimately carried Caleb out of my room. I still have in my mind the image of that nurse, named Kathy, leaving my room with my baby never to see him again. In a way having another nurse Kathy might just be coincidence, but I see God's fingerprints all over it as a way to redeem another hard memory. 

The nurse, Laura, that actually delivered Caleb was there on call again to deliver Judah. Instead of tears of sadness like she had when Caleb was born, this time she had shouts of joy! She energized the whole room with her positive attitude and I knew once she arrived that everything was going to be alright. At 9:52 a.m with tons and tons of light streaming in the windows, Judah Thomas Carr was born!

Lastly, in the years since Caleb's death, I had often begged God for answers. I can't tell you how many times I've wondered "how does a normal, healthy baby just up and die?" In time I've accepted that  answers wouldn't change the fact that he is gone, but I always still longed to know. Because of certain details during Judah's labor and then delivery AND thanks to our amazing doctor, we were able to gain some clues as to why Caleb died. Again, if you want the whole story read the link to the birth story above, but the gist of it is that God gave us answers after four long years of not knowing much.

In the hours, days and weeks after Judah was born there was lots of talk about Caleb and Judah and my two boys and this link they had because of Judah showing us reasons why Caleb died. It was beautiful and unexpected, and I still cry over it when I think about how good God's timing is. I never expected to walk out of the hospital last January with a live baby boy AND answers to a four year long mystery, but we did. I guess God's got more than I give him credit for and He did indeed show me up.

"Once again she conceived and bore a son. This time, she said, 'I will give thankful praise to God and thus named him Judah.'" (Genesis 29:35)
So, on this one year anniversary of Judah's birth, I want to again say thank you to God. We named Judah the name we did because Judah means thanksgiving and praise. Thanksgiving and praise were the only way through our darkness, and now Judah is one and there is so much light. A part of myself has come back to me in this past year since Judah's birth, a part that has been gone or missing since Caleb died. God has brought redemption to so many things through this son of ours. Most of that redemption has come by walking back through so many painful memories so that He could redeem them. 

If you are in a hard season, a hard life, please know that God can and does use our suffering. He can "make all things new." I can't tell you when or how, but I know if you ask Him, He will come and help lighten those painful memories. I will always carry the scars from Caleb's death around, but God has softened them and given me new memories of joy.

"And the ransomed of the Lord shall return,

and come to Zion with singing;

everlasting joy shall be upon their heads;
they shall obtain joy and gladness,
and sorrow and sighing shall flee away." (Isaiah 35:10)

Monday, December 7, 2015

Friday, December 4, 2015

This time of year

As I sang along to the Christmas music on the radio while driving today, all of a sudden I caught my breathe. I thought to myself "you like this again, you like this season," and that felt good. And then from nowhere, instantly, came crushing guilt. Im not in the depths of grief anymore and for that I feel guilty. Guilty because I can bring to mind in seconds what it felt like in those first months and years after Caleb died. The first Halloween through New Years was awful and just thinking about it makes me sick. 

And so I don't think about it, I move on, month by month, year by year. And before I know it-here we are at year 5. This will be the 5th Christmas without him. So much has changed, and time has healed so many things. I no longer hide from the mailman bringing those happy Christmas cards with smiling families and live children. The music this time of year lifts me up and I find myself wanting more of it. The thought of family gatherings seems fun and not burdensome. And the hardest one-every time I see things that say "baby's first Christmas," I smile. SMILE. Not throw up, but smile. Because its Judah's first Christmas here and he's a baby and so I think of him and smile (and maybe, just maybe buy it!). For the shortest amount of time I allow myself to feel happy that I've come this far. However, the guilt is right there and feels crushing. 

Because what I hear in my head is: 

You are forgetting him

You don't love him

If you can be this happy maybe you were never really sad over his death

Maybe he never really died

Maybe he was never here

Maybe he never existed

Maybe you're crazy and just made the whole thing up

Now before you call the hospital and have me committed, know that these thoughts are normal (at least according to my counselor). And what these thoughts are-all of them-are lies. LIES. But thats the thing with lies, when they come one after another over and over again it gets hard to tell them from the truth. Hard to recognize where they end and begin. 

Oh Advent and Christmas season. I've missed you and Im glad you are bringing me joy again. But what do I do with the guilt and the lies that also come? I turn to the Lord and His word. Today's psalm was from Psalm 27 and its a favorite. I'll leave you with the verses that Ive been praying all day to fight the lies in my head :

Teach me your way, Lord;
lead me in a straight path
because of my oppressors.
Do not turn me over to the desire of my foes,
for false witnesses rise up against me,
spouting malicious accusations.

I remain confident of this:
I will see the goodness of the Lord
in the land of the living.
Wait for the Lord;
be strong and take heart
and wait for the Lord.

I do believe that I shall see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. As we wait for the Lord to come this season, may we continue to be strong and take heart.

Friday, October 23, 2015

The Bus Project Part II

Well we did! We sold our "second" car and are now a one car family. Since taking the leap here are some things that have happened:

- Our insurance went down $460 a year

-No more paying for license renewal fees

-Parking the mini van in the center of our garage- plenty of room on both sides now for the car seat carrier to fit!

- Money we made and put in savings from selling the car

Just a few positives, but I think the biggest one is how much having just one car fits our family right now. Since Nate started taking the bus, the kids and I usually walk him to the bus stop each morning and back again in the evening. This is a total of 2 miles a day for me (there and back in morning-there and back in afternoon). That's exercise that I don't even have to try to fit it!

When Nate drove to work, he would park the car and then come right into the chaos of the dinner scramble. Now, we have time to debrief from our day while the children are strapped into the stroller! It's been so great to have that 10-15 minutes in the morning and evening to go over our day and connect before things get crazy.

I'm glad we took the plunge-so far we haven't had any negatives to having just one car!!

Monday, September 28, 2015

You Live Here

First, thank you for your prayers for our retreat. It was the best one to date, mostly I think because we have had so much practice by now. Couples came and shared their grief with us and we hopefully lead them closer to Christ. 

I walked away from the weekend still feeling a little heavy, a little overwhelmed. September has brought in a flood of pregnancy loss outreach/educational events. In the last month I have:

-Attended a new support group, met other women, shared and listened to more heartbreaking stories
-Planned and led our own pregnancy loss retreat for couples
-Done two radio interviews sharing Caleb's story
-Spoke at a local parish to their Elizabeth Ministry Group to help them develop a pregnancy loss ministry
-Spoke over the phone with another parish across the county trying to help them start up a pregnancy loss ministry

And thats just formal stuff, not to mention the every day here and there of speaking with someone over email or Facebook that has had a loss. Recommending books or other resources to friends trying to help thier friends suffering a loss. And as I was praying this morning and "complaining" to the Lord about how hard it is to live in two worlds-the land of the living and the land of the dead- He spoke these words in the my heart "You Live Here."

I knew instantly what He meant. Four years ago when I felt Him calling us to start this ministry I had a vision (not like I actually saw it, more just in my imagination if that makes sense?) of Nathan and I moving out to a far off place. One that was very dark and very rocky. I felt the Lord ask me then "Will you stay here and build a town?" And I screamed "Yes!" Because at the time, that is what my heart longed for- a community of bereaved believers. Somewhere I could rest in my grief and be understood. And so in my mind Nathan and I built our home there-in the darkness of grief. We leaned into grief in our own lives and in a metaphorical sense we started to "build a home" in the land of the dead and dying. We started tilling the land to see if there was anything that could come from our brokenness.

About 1 year ago I felt the Lord telling me in prayer to look up. In my "vision" of creating this place or community for the lost we had been working hard to cultivate the land, so to speak,  to grow something out of our own brokenness. We had kept "our hand to the plow"  that we hadn't noticed the people, more like refugees, flooding in. And so when He said "look up" I had this vision of hundreds of people coming to our little "city for the broken." This was about the time that we had real life breakthrough in our ministry and were able to take our retreat to Chicago and go on national radio. For the first time I saw this ministry actually growing beyond our own parish and town and again I cried "yes Lord!" because that is what my heart longed for.

And now 4.5 years into this grief, my heart still longs for this city of the broken, but I just don't want to live there. Lately I've been trying to leave and thats where I feel the "burden" the most. Trying to live a normal life and getting "annoyed" with all this grief stuff that comes flooding in. And thats why God reminded me today "You live here" As in "You live here, in the town of the broken, the lost, the lonely. Please stay, please help these people, please show them the Father." He also told me that in the land of the living He doesn't really need me all that much-He can find others for that work-but here in the land of the darkness is where I live-not visit-but LIVE. 

And I had absolute peace after He revealed this to me. I get burnt out/stressed out/stretched when I try to go back and forth between the two worlds. But knowing that my mission and mission field are here-in the land of the dead- that gives clarity and simplifies things. And once again I cried out "Yes Lord," because I knew my heart was made for this-I was made for this. 

I will leave you with this from Isaiah. Nathan and I pray this often and really see it as a road map for our ministry.

Isaiah 61

The Mission to the Afflicted

"The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me
because the Lord has anointed me.
He has sent me to bring glad tidings to the lowly,
to heal the brokenhearted,
To proclaim liberty to the captives and release to the prisoners.
To announce a year of favor from the Lord.
and a day of vindication by our God, 
to comfort all who mourn.
To place on those who mourn in Zion, a diadem instead of ashes.
To give them oil of gladness in place of mourning,
a glorious mantle instead of a listless spirit.
They will be called oaks of justice.
planted by the Lord to show his glory."

Dear Lord, please continue to make us "Oaks of Justice, planted to show your Glory" Amen!

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

The heaviness of grief ministry

"Cold is the night without you here
Just your absence ringing in my ears
Hard is the heart that feels no fear
without the bad the good disappears

Long is the road that leads me home
longer still when I walk alone
bitter is the thought of all that time
spent searching for something ill never find

take this burden away from me
and bury it before it buries me

Many are the days Ive wanted to cease
lay myself down and find some relief
heavy is the head that gets no sleep
we carry our lives around in our memories

so take away this apathy
bury it before it buries me

Steady is the hand that's come to term
with the lessons it has had to learn
Ive seen the things that I must do
Lord, this road is meant for two
So I am waiting here for you

So take my hand and set me free
Take my burdens and bury them deep
Take this burden away from me
Bury it before it buries it buries me"

This song has been playing in my head non stop for about two weeks now. I feel like it sums up not only grief, but also what grief is like now that I do a grief ministry. The stories I have heard recently from new support groups and couples registering for our retreat leave my head spinning. There is so much heartbreak and sadness in this world. I spent my holy hour this past Sunday pouring my heart out to the Lord, telling him much like the prophet Elijah "Enough oh Lord." Sometimes I wonder if I am strong enough to do this ministry, to continue to carry these stories and the hearts of these people with me. It all feels-heavy. And it often leaves me feeling unbalanced and not sure how to walk between two worlds-the land of the living and the land of the dead. And just when I wondered if God understood, or if he had really called me to this ministry I opened the book of Timothy and began reading my assigned Bible Study readings for the week.

"I am grateful to Him who has strengthened me, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he considered me trustworthy in appointing me to the ministry." 1 Timothy 1:12

As I read the words I felt God's smiling down on me saying ,"see, I did call you to this-you can do it-you were made for it." I left that hour of adoration feeling renewed and capable (or at least capable in knowing God is with me!)

This weekend will be good-I know that. Please pray for the couples seeking healing and for my husband and I as we lead them and train others to do this ministry.