A Letter To Myself, On Mother’s Day

A lot can happen in a year. A year can bring pain and disappointment, frustration and despair. It can also bring new seasons of life, tremendous healing, unprecedented clarity, and overwhelming gratitude. It’s amazing how pain and healing can exist so simultaneously. On this day, more than ever, I am acutely aware of the beauty in the contrast. For me, today is, and I suspect will always be, a bittersweet symphony of the strange mix of grief and joy. But the joy is there, and for that I am incredibly grateful. In light of this, I would like to write a Mother’s Day letter to myself, on this day, last year…a letter of hope and comfort and of the beauty to come. I pray it encourages someone else for whom this day is also bittersweet.

To Chelsea on Mother’s Day, May 11, 2014:

Today will be a day of pain. That is not what you wanted, not what you expected, but that is what it will be. Today, you will wake up on your first Mother’s Day, delighted with your secret of the child growing in your womb, and find your delight melting into despair. You will wake and know instantly that something is not right. After lying still for a few moments, you will begin to feel severe cramping in your abdomen, but the pain of it won’t compare to the fear that fills your heart. You will go to the bathroom, and as the bleeding begins, you will realize your baby is dying, and part of you with her. You will call for Husband, and watch the desperate way he tries to find another answer, any answer, except for the one you are being given. “Maybe that’s not it,” he’ll say. “Maybe this is normal.” But you will know. Your body is betraying you, betraying your baby. “Call your Mom! She’s a nurse…maybe she can tell you what to do,” he will plead. You will hold each other and cry as you explain to him through heaving sobs that there’s nothing to be done. There is no stopping the inevitable.  You will be filled with so many thoughts at once, but two resonate most loudly. It is Mother’s Day. And it is Sunday.

The cruel irony of both of these truths will take your breath away. How can you be losing the one thing you have prayed for, begged for, hoped for, on the day meant to honor you for gaining it? And how can it be on a day when you know your husband must go and lead the people of God in worship, unable to stay with you and hold your heart together, unable to grieve freely and mourn the loss that is as much his as yours? You will both send out desperate texts to those closest to you, begging for prayer, knowing that without it, you will not survive this day. You will call your mother, and she will weep with you and lament being too far away to help. She will ask you if there is anyone you can call to come be with you. And in the first of many waves of God’s mercy to wash over you today, you will realize that there is someone you can call. In fact, there is only one person to call. She is a nurse, she is a friend, and she has walked the infertility journey with you from the beginning. She will understand. And you will know, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that God put her in your life for moments like these, as a tangible instrument of His grace in your life.

She will drop everything to come be with you. As you realize that help is on the way, your focus will turn to your husband, who is preparing to lead worship like he is heading into battle. There is a somber sense of inevitability and sadness in every action as he gets dressed. Unlike other Sundays, he does not warm up his voice. Singing does not feel consistent with the heaviness of this day. Tears flow freely between the two of you, with few words. As he leaves, you will be filled with heartbreak as you imagine him having to sing praise and lead worship in the midst of such devastation. For awhile, you will forget your own pain and feel so consumed with concern for your husband that all you will be able to do is cry out to God on his behalf.

Your friend will arrive, and she will allow you to grieve in every way you need to. You will cycle through sorrow, numbness, anger, and fatigue many times throughout the day. Your phone will blow up with texts of love and support from so many. One will say, The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord. In your heart will rise up anger and peace, the first of many contrasts you will feel over the next few hours, days, and months. Blessed be the name of the Lord. You will repeat this as a mantra to yourself many times, hoping your heart will catch up with its truth.

The morning will drag on painfully, slowly. As your closest friends find out, each will reach out in a different way to surround you with love and grace and support. One will come and change your messy sheets so you don’t have to see the evidence of death. She will wash them, and clean your house, and bring all your favorite foods for when your appetite returns. Her husband will come and take your dogs away for the day, even though they aren’t “dog people”. Another friend will come and describe to you what happened at church. The beauty of the story will initiate the long road to healing in your heart.

She will describe to you how the church body was told by your pastor of your loss, and how they flooded the stage to lay hands on your husband and pray for his heart. She will tell you how tears flowed freely, as the body of Christ grieved with you. She will describe the terrible beauty in hearing songs like “Desert Song” and “Sovereign” sung by the heartwrecked worship team, with people clinging to the lyrics like lifelines. She will tell you how broken and beautiful and strong your husband was as he lived out his calling, leading people in worship, into battle. She will tell of a church body unified in sacrificial love for two of its parts, and she will remind you that the enemy has lost a great battle that day. Then your little circle of friends, your sisters, will pray with you and over you. They will literally carry you through this day, holding you together through the power of One who knows all too well the pain of a child dying.

Eventually, your husband will return and your friends will leave, giving you time alone together to mourn. You will both weep, and sleep, and pray, and cope. You will cling to each other tighter than ever before, bound by an intense grief that has changed you forever. A few days later, the grief will still be ever-present, but there will be other things too: sweet comfort, shaky peace, and tentative hope. The suffering has been and will continue to be great, but so will the grace. Jesus will love you tangibly, fiercely, intimately, through the people of God and the loved ones He has placed in your life. Cards, texts, cookies, gifts, and other symbols of love will be brought to your house over the following weeks. Each will touch you and remind you that you are not alone. You will feel your heart break and mend in every way many times over. You will realize with poignant clarity how terribly weak you have become, even as you recognize that His Spirit is stronger than ever within you.

As more weeks pass, the healing will continue, and you will start to feel like yourself again. This will bring with it gratitude and guilt, the contrast of feeling thankful for your growth, yet guilty that your times of sorrow and grief have become less frequent. There will be grace for this too, as the Spirit of God faithfully ministers His Word to you and reminds you that Jesus bore your grief and carried your sorrow long ago. In an exercise to commemorate and honor your lost baby, you will give her a name, the only name that means anything in this season of life:  Hope.

The following months will bring blessings that will be greater than you could ever have imagined. Four months after your devastating loss, you and your husband will be matched with a precious little boy and little girl who will become your children through the miracle of adoption. You will experience emotions you never knew you were capable of as you begin the daunting task of parenting two little strangers from a distance. You will experience frustration at new heights as the process of bringing them home is delayed time and again. To have three children separated from you, one by death and two by distance and political red tape, will be more than you can bear. But Jesus, and His people, will continue to bear your grief and hold you up, as they did on this first day  of devastation. You will learn what it means to not only accept your weakness, but to embrace it, as the strength of God shines more brightly when you do so.

Today will be a day of pain. It will be a day of crippling grief. It will be the death of a dream, a death of Hope. But this day of devastation will give birth to something more beautiful than you could have ever imagined. It will produce a newfound and utterly necessary dependence on Jesus. It will create a deeper bond between you and your beloved husband. It will clothe you with empathy and compassion and understanding. It will make you a better friend, a better wife, and a better mother.  On your second Mother’s Day, next year in 2015, you will remember the depth of this valley you walk through now. But through the memories of darkness will break breathtaking beams of glorious light, as you remember how God’s love was greater than pain, greater than death. You will feel the grace and love and faithfulness of God as His people surround you with love yet again, and as you talk on the phone to your sweet children in Florida, knowing that the waiting for them will come to an end soon. You will feel joy mixed with your sorrow, and you will savor the bittersweet privilege of being called to this journey of transforming ashes into beauty. You will rejoice in the knowledge that your Hope is in heaven with Jesus, and that truth will be enough to sustain you in every season.

With Abundant and Amazing Grace,

Chelsea on Mother’s Day, May 10, 2015

Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends. I Cor. 13:7-8a

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From Grief To Gratitude

There are a handful of half-finished posts waiting in my draft box for me to finish. Free time is rare these days, and I seem to find myself continually stuck between the best of intentions and the ability to carry them out. I tend to be a perfectionist, so I cannot simply type a post and publish it…I have to chew on it, edit it approximately 17 times, start over, edit some more, ponder my ability as a writer, ponder my reasons for blogging, ponder life as we know it, and then finally publish. This is actually fairly self-defeating when one considers that blogs were primarily invented to allow organic, free, uninhibited, creative flow of ideas to be dispersed into the world wide web with minimal planning and forethought, but alas, my perfectionist side tends to win.

Not so today, however. Sometimes the emotions of a situation, of a day, of a lifetime all come crashing down and my only instinct is to react and project them into the blogosphere, waiting for some kind of relief or vindication or at the very least, some empathy. The truth is that I know many people would share my disappointment, anger, frustration, hurt, confusion, yearning, and a number of other emotions that are all a byproduct of this extended waiting for our children. I know that within this whole process, we have been wronged, and more importantly, our children have been wronged. Injustice has become a theme in both our country and within our own personal process, and I could point fingers and present my case and “win” my argument as to where the guilt should fall. The temptation to spew all of my emotional reaction onto this page, free of edits, free of cautious inhibitions is great…but even as I write this, saner heads prevail. The foundational layer of truth deep down in my heart reminds me that none of that would change or fix anything. The fact remains that our children are still not placed with us. The fact remains that casting blame as to whose fault that is will not bring them here. The fact remains that God is sovereign, and nothing happens on this planet without His permission. In the end, blaming resolves nothing, produces no fruit, provides no relief. Venting, ranting, expelling the negative emotions through words on a blog page…will not diffuse these emotions, but will likely only pour gasoline on the embers.

So instead, I will choose to be grateful. It may sound trite, but I have found that when my heart is unsettled, dissatisfied, and lacking contentment, often the only relief comes when I practice intentional gratitude. I would like to share with you a number of things that I am grateful for regarding our children and this adoption process. Perhaps this will not completely “cure” me of the negative emotions swirling around in my head and heart, but it’s a step in the right direction.

I am thankful for:

  • A match with an amazing sibling group
  • A husband who is as passionate about adoption as I am
  • A son who adores me
  • A daughter who is full of life and vigor and spunk
  • An amazing foster mom who loves and provides for our children so well
  • An agency who advocates for us
  • A new house that has plenty of room for all of us
  • Two fur babies that cuddle with me when I’m lonely for my other babies
  • How quickly the kids have bonded with us
  • Cheap flights to Florida
  • A church family that surrounds us with unbelievable emotional, spiritual, and even financial support
  • Our extended families who have welcomed our kids with open arms and loving hearts
  • Medical insurance that allows our baby girl to receive all the services she needs
  • The fact that two people call me Mommy
  • Skype and Facetime, which make the distance less painful
  • The fact that our son is super interested and curious about Jesus, the Bible, and church
  • The fact that our daughter has gone from an all-pureed diet to about 15 different solid foods in less than a year
  • The fact that our daughter is building her vocabulary and becoming more verbal
  • The fact that our son chooses to see past his sister’s disabilities
  • The sweet bond our kids have with each other
  • The way our son loves to pray to Jesus
  • The way our daughter loves to sing to Jesus
  • Hillsong DVDs and CDs that bring the Gospel to our kids every day without them even realizing it
  • Little Caesar’s being so close to our house to accommodate baby girl’s constant pizza demands
  • How friendly our son is to everyone he meets
  • The fact that our son writes the Bible verses we have taught him on his homework
  • The way our daughter lights up around her Daddy
  • Other families that have adopted before us and become resources
  • The truth that there is more than one way to build a family
  • My own adoption into the family of God that allows me to love the way He loves

Husband and I covet your prayers as we continue to wait and trust the Lord’s timing in all of this. Pray that we will not become caught up in bitterness, or the pain of injustice, or the drudgery and disappointment of prolonged waiting. Pray that we can continue to practice intentional gratitude. After all, we have so much to be thankful for.

When the Waiting Hurts

I should be cleaning my house right now. To say it looks like a tornado went through it would be putting it mildly. It is my first day without kids in three weeks, and I go back to work tomorrow. I really should be cleaning. But I’m not. I’m in bed. Sick. Perhaps one day, all the nights of caring for a sick child will turn my immune system into a strong fortress, but this early on in motherhood, my body just wasn’t ready to fight all the new germs. So I’m in bed at 2pm on a Tuesday. I really should could get up, but my computer was on the floor right next to me, and after going through the list of all the things I could do besides getting more sleep, writing was the only thing that sounded even minutely appealing. At least at the end of the post, I can fool myself into feeling a small sense of accomplishment. But I will likely go back to sleep after that. I will tell myself that my body needs rest and recuperation, not only from this illness, but from 21 days that were jam-packed with fighting illness, holiday traditions, fun activities, LOTS of traveling, and figuring out how to be parents to two children that are still getting to know and trust us.

I do need rest. But the real truth of why I’m still in bed is summed up in this text I just sent my husband:

I just can’t face the thought of getting back to life without them. I can’t stomach up the courage to unpack their stuff or go in their rooms. So it feels better to hide in here, where I can avoid my grief.

Sounds healthy, huh? Maybe not, but there it is, raw and real. It’s hard to understand this sadness and longing, even for me. As the flood of tears continues to fall, I keep telling myself, Stop it! Quit being a baby! They are away from you, but they are not dead. Grow up! This is not something to cry over. What would people think of you crying like this?…  But then I have to kick that bossy, ugly, society-influenced voice out of my head and remind myself of the one thing I learned most from my miscarriage: nobody else gets to decide how you grieve, OR what you grieve for. And right now, I’m grieving. After my husband picked me up from the airport yesterday, he went to let our dogs out and came back to find me curled up in our daughter’s room, my face smothered in her blankie, bawling like a baby. I know this is only temporary, and that in a few months, they will be back here for good. But right now, their absence hovers all over this house, loud and aching and painful. When I go into the bathroom, their little bath toys are all over the floor, and the pink Hello Kitty and orange Angry Birds toothbrushes are in the jar next to mine, and I cry. When I make my way to the living room, there are two little hot pink sweater boots that were kicked off on the couch (she hates wearing shoes), and a half eaten sucker stuck to the coffee table, and I cry. In the kitchen are sippy cups on the drying rack, prune juice and pizza in the fridge, and scribbled crayon drawings taped everywhere, and I cry some more. Don’t get me started on their bedrooms. As a teenage girl would say, I can’t even.

The only room that feels safe is my little bedroom, where I can hide under the covers, away from the lingering reminders of the two skinny little goobers that have stolen my heart forever. I can hide, and I can sleep. But even here I’m not safe. Because I don’t need all the visible reminders to make me think of them. Who am I kidding? They are all I think about. They are in every thought, their names are breathed out in every prayer, and they somehow find their way into even my dreams. There is no escaping them. And even as I cry and grieve and ache to hold them again, I wouldn’t avoid the pain if I could. Because this pain reminds me that the deepest longings of my heart for so very long are finally coming into fruition: I am a mother. My babies are not with me. One is with Jesus; two are in Florida. But physical location doesn’t change familial position. I am their mother; they are my children.

And as I tearfully ponder these things, I feel I am finally beginning to understand, in a smaller way, the implications of what it means to be adopted as sons of God. I am convicted, as I realize how rarely I long for heaven the way I long for these children to be back in my arms. Do I long to be in the arms of my Father the way I ache to hold my son and daughter?

This time of separation from my children is so temporary. I already know the ending. The ending is that we will all be together, one family. In adoption, we often use the term Forever Family. This is because these children need a reassurance that they can have a sense of permanence, a feeling of rootedness, a deep trust that no one is going to abandon them ever again. “Forever” is a word that we use to help them understand that.

But there is really only one true forever, and it’s not here on earth. The hard truth is that I will leave my children one day. My body will stay, and my spirit will go to be with the One that my heart was created to long for. I pray every day that my son and daughter one day join me in this forever family. I am so thankful for adoption, not simply because it means that my empty arms will be filled, but for the greater reason that goes well beyond ourselves and our own little family. The beauty of adoption is that my sweet son and daughter will grow up hearing about Jesus. They will be fed with the Word, they will gather with the body of believers, and they will be prayed for daily. What a precious gift. Remembering this makes the waiting more bearable, and the truth of God’s Word provides great comfort:

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. (Romans 8:18-25)

So I will patiently wait…not only now, to be reunited with my children, but for that wondrous day of redemption, when we are with our gracious Father and our forever family at last.

I will wait, and I will cry. And that’s okay.
Because one day, there will be no more tears.