Tuesday, April 11, 2017

in her shoes

 
Her hair was still damp from the shower she rushed through earlier in the day. I caught the faint scent of shampoo as I hugged her tight. The nutrition staff brings a tray in because she's a breastfeeding mama. She gives the tray a once over and decides she's just not that hungry. No surprise. Most mamas aren't very hungry when they wear her shoes. 

Today is a Tuesday. Oh, these precious Tuesdays. Her baby is exactly two weeks younger than Luke; she was also born on a Tuesday. 

The ride there had been a long one, longer for her than for me; I know because I'd been in her shoes not too very long ago. The heavy shoes of a mama desperately wanting answers and traveling to the one place we were told we may get them.

I took her a basket of things four days into their stay. The day after her baby's brain surgery. None of the stuff really mattered, but that's what southern women do, isn't it? We give folks stuff. Food, mostly. There's a purpose for the stuff though, it gives us a reason to make ourselves present. I always felt better when people showed up and even better than that when they brought Jesus. 

We couldn't take the basket to the baby's room because you can't take food into the PICU. There are some strict rules to follow back there. I left it in the waiting room with my moral support and braved the same hallway I traveled the night I walked to the room where nurses worked desperately to save the little life of My Sweet Luke.

My shoes were impossibly heavy that night. 

She's wearing the heavy shoes now. 

This isn't easy for me by any stretch of the word. But the Holy Spirit nudged me on, reminding me that what she's going through at this moment is much, much more difficult. 

The real point of my visit was to hug her and to remind her that others have worn the shoes she's been wearing. Others are wearing them right now; just take a quick little walk down the hallway to see. The basket of stuff I bring is just stuff; the Love, the Hope is the real purpose.

I couldn't bear to let her walk this path under her own strength. I had to let her know that others have taken those impossible steps. And, above all, that the only way this mama gets through it is with Jesus. I know she knows, but the presence of others helped me. So I go to help her. 

When I saw her eyes and heard her voice, I knew immediately that she isn't carrying it alone. She's got the strength of God in her, just like her beautiful baby girl. And a husband beside her who, I could tell immediately, has enough love for his two ladies to send them to the moon and back. If only a daddy's love could shrink a brain tumor...

What a beautiful family...

Then I start talking. I feel like I need to say something but oftentimes words are useless,  so I call on the only words that actually brought real comfort when my deepest pain was new. 

First I tell her what one of my role models in high school said on Facebook when I wrote about Luke's last day, "God handpicks the people who will make the biggest impact on His Kingdom." 

God, I hope that's true. I meant to think that, but it comes out of my mouth before I can catch it. 

Her eyes tear up, and I hope it's not more heartbreak. That's the opposite of my goal here. 

Then I tell her what Luke 2:19 and and 2:51 say about Mary's heart. "She treasured up all these things..." I tell her the same thing a wonderful woman that used to teach with me wrote in a letter about those verses. Mary was a real woman, a real mother, and God did not take that lightly. He let those verses into His Word twice to let us know that He cares deeply for a Mother's Heart. He has a higher purpose for all of this, and He would never let any of this heartache touch a mother's heart unless it was for His higher purpose. He allows it. And when he allows this type of heartache, you have a choice. He's either good or He's not. You trust Him or you don't. 

I can already see what her choice is. 

This mama is strong. Those heavy shoes are no match for her God; you can tell by looking at her that Jesus is carrying her.

And that sweet baby? She looks just like her mama. 

I'll bet she's just as strong, too. 













Tuesday, April 4, 2017

I Choose Jesus



 

The afternoon sun was hot on my face in the Target parking lot as she talked about the "real Christian" girl she knows. I know my face must've contorted when she said it or she wouldn't have felt the need to explain herself. 

She said, "You know. A 'real' Christian, like you. You know how you read your bible every day and witness to people and stuff?" 

My heart broke. 

It doesn't work that way. We don't live on a scale. 

Thank Jesus. 

No really, thank Jesus. 

That thought, the one that made her feel 'less than' when she compared herself to me or the girl she works with, that was nothing but conviction telling her what she already knows. She should read her bible more. She should pray more. She should go to church more. But not because it'll push her up a few notches on this fictitious Christian scale. She should want to do those things to draw near to her Savior. Trust me, that relationship is a beautiful thing when you can no longer trust your own strength to carry you. 

I know why we don't do those things sometimes. I'm guilty of it, too. We don't like feeling convicted, and conviction has a way of slapping you in the face when you open The Good Book or hit your knees in prayer. 

I had just finished explaining to this beautiful soul why I started Luke's Legacy, essentially witnessing to her, and she wanted to share another woman's story. As she started, the devil whispered a little lie into her ear that she isn't a "real" Christian because her works don't measure up to mine.

I wish I could tell you that I said, "Not today, Satan!" and straightened her thinking out right then and there. I'll be honest though, I was surprised (and okay-fine, a little flattered) so much by her statement that I missed an opportunity to tell her that my works don't make me the follower of Christ that I am. And they certainly won't get me to heaven. If I said otherwise, it would make me no better than the Pharisees that crucified Jesus. 

What she sees are fruits of the Spirit that resides in me, but they are certainly not the way to get to Heaven. Nope, there's only one Way. 

That's Jesus. 

Thank You, Jesus. 

What she sees are the products of my walk with The Lord. Evidence. Nothing more.

Now, is there evidence in your life? If not, maybe you should ask yourself if you're really saved. That's not up to me to decide, or anyone else for that matter. 

That's between you and Jesus. 

I can tell you this though. There isn't a scale that ranks Christians in order of their authenticity. There's either Salvation or not. 

Grace or not. 

Hope or not. 

Victory or not. 

Jesus or not. 

I choose Jesus.   

John 14:6-7 NIV
[6] Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. [7] If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.” …

Sunday, January 29, 2017

this side of heaven



 
Today I designed the headstone for my baby's grave. Truly something I had no intention or desire to ever do. 

But here I am doing it, nonetheless. 

He would be one month old. I should be taking picture after picture of him sitting in an oversized teddy bear with a one month sticker attached to his skinny belly. But I'm not. I'm sitting here designing the cold granite stone that will mark where we laid his tiny body to rest. No monthly sticker pictures. No first birthday party. No skinned knees. No tee-ball glove. No Luke. Psalm 139:16 says that Luke's days were short and that God knew it from the moment his name was written in the Book of Life. He knew there would be never any of the milestones that mark a life well lived. But to me there were. From the moment I saw the word "pregnant" on the test, I was patiently awaiting the privilege of watching my sweet baby grow up. 

And that was all snatched away. That's what hurts. 

Every morning I wake up and find myself drowning in my deepest fear. The loss of a child. Until now, I had always secretly thanked God it wasn't me every time I heard of a mother burying her child. Please don't misunderstand. My heart hurt deeply for those mommies; I lifted them up high and often in prayer. But I always selfishly rejoiced in the fleeting fact that my baby was 'safe' in my arms. And I know that there are mommies reading this now who have thanked God that they're not in my shoes. I don't blame you, and I pray you never have to carry the heaviness of empty arms. 

It's not the fact that he died that hurts so deeply. Thankfully, I know where he is; he's safe in the arms of God. Scripture makes it abundantly clear where infants spend eternity if they die. But it's all of the time that we will spend on this side of heaven without him that hurts my heart. It's the hole I feel each time it dawns on me that we will never have another picture with our entire family in it. It's the way I'm going to have to answer the questions that will inevitably follow "how many children do you have?" for the rest of my life. It's the overwhelming feeling of both emptiness and heaviness that I cannot begin to describe. It's the fact that every time I laugh I feel guilty because I have a deceased child, but every time I cry I feel guilty because I have a living child.

We didn't know we'd only get four days to hold him on this side of heaven. We didn't know that one of those days would be filled with needle pokes, a lumbar puncture, and a helicopter ride. We didn't know that the last picture we took was truly the last. We didn't know that the seventeen second video we took in the delivery room would be the only one ever taken. We didn't know there would never be skinned knees, training wheels, or graduation days. 


We didn't know. 

But God did, and there is deep reaching peace in that knowledge. Honestly though, the peace doesn't replace the hurt. I still hurt. I still feel empty even with all of the Scripture floating around in my head. 

I’ve been told countless times since Luke’s passing that I am strong, inspiring, amazing, or really any other word that people may believe will lift some of the burden I carry as I travel this crooked path through grief. I may even lead them to believe that I am those words when I post on social media or share Proverbs31 devotionals. 


But do you want to know the whole truth? 


I am none of those things. 


I never have been. I certainly am not any of those things now in the midst of what I pray every day is the most difficult thing we will ever have to face. 


On my ‘good days,’ you see me praise God and share the ways that He reminds me of His presence, not because I want to show how strong I am but because I want to show how amazing He is. I share those posts because I have to remind myself constantly of the good ahead, and I think maybe that the accountability that I’ll have by sharing it so publicly will help me as I carry on with life. From the Facebook perspective, you would probably think that I am doing remarkably well for a woman who stood and watched while doctors tried and failed to save the life of her newborn baby boy just a little over a month ago. Yes, there are some moments I am at complete peace with the fact that God has a plan and He knows how this awful situation for us can bring about Eternal Glory for Him. During this fleeting moments that I do feel that peace, I can actually feel joy when I hear how our testimony and Luke’s story has inspired someone to grow in their walk with God. Oh! My baby made a difference in this world after all. 


But I feel a duty to share this truth with you. Other momentshonestly most moments, I am a wreck. The vastness of all the days on this side of heaven settles on me and I cannot even manage to breathe. I mean, I am just a complete mess of bad emotionsAnger, Guilt, and Fear creep up so quickly that they overtake me before I can even try to stomp them back down. More often than not, I am so much of a mess that I can’t even form the words I want to yell at God, so I just sit in my sorrow and sob. I moan at the ceiling and pound my fists into the couch cushions. I don’t tell you this to make you feel sorry for me. I tell you this so you will understand that my ‘good days’ are not some magic trick performed by Jesus, me, or anyone else. My ‘good days’ are a choice that I have to make every single morning…every single moment…over and over and over again; I am just stronger and more obedient in some moments than I am in others. And truthfully, the reason I don't cry sometimes is just because I'm not strong enough to let myself be that weak. I'm scared that if I surrender and let myself fall apart that I'll never be able to put myself back together again. 


On the difficult days where the weak moments outnumber the 'good,' I don’t actually receive with open hands. I bring my bad emotions crinkled up in my shaking fists and throw them down at Jesus’s feet yelling for him to help me understand. Why did my baby have to die? What did I do to deserve this? I know it's not right. I may not deserve losing my child, but I don't deserve God's Grace either yet He gave it to me by sacrificing His One and Only Son. I see the irony, but I'm sometimes anger still wells I in me. Is yelling at God the best thing to do? I don’t know. I actually think it's not okay to yell at God, but I can’t help it. And I feel like God would prefer I meet Him exactly where I am rather than to turn my back on Him altogether. He knows my heart anyway, so I just bring it all to Him. There are times that I don’t have words at all, so I just sit still and wait. For what? I don’t know, but I wait. Sometimes I get just the push I need to face the day, sometimes I get nothing.


Really, I just want to know why. I get that it’s not for me to understand, but that doesn’t stop me from wanting to know. I pray that God would speak to me as clearly as he spoke to Abraham. I want him to come sit on my bed and explain the beautiful out of my brokenness. Deep in my soul I understand that there is nothing on this side of Heaven that can possibly ease the hurt in our hearts. I truly believe Heaven is the only thing that can really put our pieces back together, but a chit chat with my Creator would certainly help ease the pain and fear in the rest of my days on earth. I guess that's the point in faith though, I don't need the clarity that I so desperately long for if I truly have faith that God is working things out.


I understand that people have learned things about faith and obedience from the way we have chosen to cope with Luke’s death, but that doesn’t comfort me. Angie Smith’s husband explains it so well in her book, I Will Carry You, when he writes, 


…the last thing I wanted to hear was, But you know, God is in control.” or, Think of how he’s going to be glorified through this. I know these things are true, but I don’t want to hear someone say such things in the midst of losing my daughter. Look at all the lives that have come to Him through Audrey’s loss. I’m aware of that, and I’m grateful because it gives weight to her life, but to be perfectly honest, I would rather He use some other means to save them and give me my daughter back. (Emphasis added.)

 

And, you know what? I feel terribly selfish and maybe even a little convicted as I type these words but I agree! I agree so much with what he says! I know my baby went to heaven and that I will see him again. I know that he will never know pain, heartbreak, or fear. I know that people may be led to Christ through our testimony, but my selfish heart would so much rather have him in my arms than to have this testimony that is so ‘inspiring.' 


I don't know the answers to so many of my questions. 


I may never know on this side of heaven. 


But faith tells me that I will know one day, and I'm holding on to that truth with every piece of my heart. 


Just don't think I'm floating through this grief on the Peace of God every single day. I'm not the picture of strength. 


So be gentle and be gracious. 

Saturday, January 7, 2017

the God who takes away


Today was difficult.

I thought coping was only a verb defined as "dealing effectively with something difficult." Coping in that respect is hard enough, but there's another type of coping for us to contend with now. Today I learned that it's a noun, too. It's the short stone wall that borders most graves in a cemetery. I learned that fact while attempting to design a headstone for our sweet Luke. 

He died two weeks ago today, but the sting of it is still sharp. I walk around feeling like I'm marked by my grief. Like it's written on my forehead. MY BABY DIED. Then somehow at the same time I feel like everyone has forgotten Luke but me. Everyone else's world doesn't stop just because yours did. Everyone else doesn't feel the gaping hole in your heart. Everyone else doesn't have to help a two year old understand why we couldn't "keep" his little brother. Everyone else doesn't spend every waking moment playing out "what ifs" and "why Gods" in their mind.

Nope. That's just you, sweetie. 

Except it's not. 

I've received book after book in the last two weeks. Some I bought, some were sent. The aim is the same. They're all books to help me understand. They're full of stories of other families who have faced similar trials, and I'm reminded that we're not alone. Other mamas have gaping holes in their hearts. Other mamas' worlds have stopped while the rest of society hurries around them. Other mamas have had to try and explain some of life's greatest hardships to children too young to carry the burden. Other mamas are left questioning everything on this side of heaven. Regardless of the book or the story, I've noticed a common thread among these women and families. 

Your faith is strengthened much, much more when you are faced with the God who takes away. 

It's pretty easy to praise the God who gives. He's approachable, right? You picture this big, huggable granddad type of God smiling down at you as you get caught up in the joy of whatever it is He's given to you. 

But he's also forgettable. 

Like I said, you get caught up in the joy of what you've been given. Maybe you begin to think that He didn't give it to you, but you earned it all by yourself. For instance, people call pregnancies and babies "accidents" all the time. I can tell you from experience, there is no accident about the miracle of conception or the delivery of a healthy baby. It's a gift from God. Every. Single. Time. So when God gives you a miracle it is easy to either praise Him or to foolishly pretend that it was some work of your own or others' that allowed it to happen.

Would the miracle of saving Luke in the final minutes of his life have been more effective in building His Kingdom? I don't know, but my best guess is 'no.' If it would've then God would've performed that exact miracle. But he didn't. Yes, it would've been amazing, and it would've made for an awesome testimony. But it would've also made way for an easy faith among the people who were called to Christ through that testimony. Do you know the phrase 'easy come, easy go'? I don't think God wants to grow His Kingdom through an easy faith among believers. I think God wants hard-won faith to be the foundation on which his Kingdom stands.

When the hospitalist first told us that Luke was a "sick, sick baby" my first thought was, "And my Jesus is the same now as He was the day I delivered him." I truly believed into the depths of my soul that "sick, sick" or not, the same God who performed the miracles that allowed me to deliver a healthy Luke would also allow me to bring him home, healthy again, in the next few days. I never once allowed myself to think that any moment may be his last. I cried a lot of tears on the day he died but none of those tears were over fear that he'd die. 

Until he did. 

I cried because he was cold. I cried because he wouldn't eat. I cried because he was too sleepy to react to literally anything the nurses or doctors did to him. I cried because my baby was being readmitted to the hospital. I cried because my four day old newborn would have to undergo a lumbar puncture. I cried because they were doing things to my baby that I couldn't be in the room for. I cried because I wouldn't be able to spend Christmas Eve and Christmas morning with both of my boys after all. I cried because he had a metabolic defect and I wouldn't be able to nurse him like I'd planned. I cried because he had to be airlifted to Birmingham. I cried because he had to have dialysis. I cried because he had to be put on a ventilator. I cried because he had to have surgery. I cried because he looked so swollen from all of the fluids. I cried because he had spit bubbles around the vent tube in his mouth, and I couldn't wipe them off. I didn't shed a tear for fear of his dying until there was no other option.

Because, in reality, all I had ever known was The God Who Gives. But when Luke was called Home, I came face to face with a side of God that I had truly never known, The God Who Takes Away. I am now at the plot twist of my story, the point where my faith is put to the test, and it's my turn to show how to praise Him when life doesn't quite turn out like you'd planned. I have long been the one sending encouraging bible verses and thoughtful gifts to others who found themselves in the "deep waters," and my faith seemed strong then. But that was when God was taking away from everybody else, when the bad things happened to other people. Is my faith as strong when I find myself in those same deep waters? I'm going to be bold here and say, "yes." 

Because if the answer to my "why" is "to bring glory to Him," then I will not let my child die in vain. I will spend the rest of my days praising the Lord who gives and takes away. 








Wednesday, January 4, 2017

when Jesus tells you my story



 
When I open my eyes in the morning, there's this moment where my mind believes all is right. Then reality settles on me and I feel like I may suffocate. 

My belly is empty, my arms are empty, your bed is empty. You're still gone. 

Your brother fills our bed and hearts as best as he can in your absence, but there will always be a missing piece. For him, for your daddy, and for me. 

I know I have to get up, get dressed, and get through yet another day. I know I have a little boy who depends on me, my smile, my faith, and my love. I know your daddy needs his wife back. Her smile, her laugh, her confidence, and her sunshine.

So many days I just want to stay there in bed. Let the weight of my brokenness bear down with all its might, crush me into dust, so I can be with you. There have been times the Enemy sneaks his way into my thoughts and whispers things. Things that make my faith shudder. Things that my worldly self can't help but think but my faith knows aren't of God. The Enemy knows when to strike and he strikes at my weakest moments, in the early light of morning when the uncertainties of the day taunt me. 

"God cares? How can a loving God take your baby?"

"This isn't fair. People abort healthy babies every day, and God still allowed your child to die." 

"God can't be perfect, because this has to be an awful mistake." 

People tell me I'm strong. People have said I'm amazing. People have told me that I am inspiring. I wish those words helped, but they make me feel like a fraud. I am far from any of those things. If these people could see me in the mornings, if they could hear my early thoughts, they would know that I am so very weak. So overwhelmed. 
So broken. 

I have this image. You're a little boy, with strawberry-blonde hair, climbing into the lap of Jesus. You spend your days in Love and Light, but still you want to know about your earthly mommy. 

So Jesus tells you my story. 

And when I have moments where I feel like the weight of it all is going to suffocate me, when the Enemy sneaks his way into my thoughts, I choose Joy. Because I am going to live my life in such a way that you can both be proud of me when Jesus tells you the story of my life. 

choose to be thankful for the short time we were blessed to have you, rather than bitter because our selfish hearts wanted more. 

choose to be fearless and walk by Faith, rather than fearful of what else this world may hold. 

choose Joy.

choose Victory. 

choose Grace. 

So when people see me, mother of two with only one child to hold, I pray they understand that it's not me that's strong. It's Christ in me that's strong. 

And when people see me, mommy with an 'inspiring' faith in the face of unimaginable heartache, I pray they would also have a faith in Jesus so strong that it could carry them through the difficult parts of their own stories. 

And when people see me, a woman who chooses to let Jesus's light shine through every crack in her broken heart, I pray they will, too, choose to be a beacon for His Light in this dark world

2 Corinthians 12:9-10
[9] 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. [10] That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

Reader, 

If you were 'inspired' by my letter to my sweet Luke, please be so inspired that you take action in some way. In any way. Do not let this inspiration stop at words. If you don't know Christ, choose Victory. Call to Him and He will save you. If you don't know how, ask me. If I can't help you, I know who can. 
If you do know Christ, be the Light. Choose Joy and choose Grace. Choose to give and receive Grace every day. And choose to share Christ with those around you, so that when Jesus tells your story He can do it with a smile on His face.