The Empty Seat and Who Will Fill It (Counting Rainbows)

On May 1st, my birthday, we stopped at the local Dunn Bros coffee shop for my birthday frappe and headed west on the interstate toward Des Moines. We were meeting my sister and brother-in-law, whom I hadn’t seen for nearly a year. I snapped a picture of my mocha frappe between answering “happy birthday” texts from friends, and posted the image on Instagram – cool blended coffee with a backdrop of my dashboard and the road ahead. I tucked my phone in my purse and looked up as we rounded a bend, where a rainbow stretched before us over the interstate. I think I knew it then, but I didn’t want to be too hopeful.

“Not February,” I told Garth weeks later when it was clear I wasn’t pregnant yet.

“Not February,” I prayed to God, then tried to control the outcome anyway.

February, that black spot on the calendar. The due date that brought no baby, the death of a friend, that second miscarriage that was still so new. Yet, God insists on redemption. He emphatically insists on lavishing us with good things, even in trials, if we will trust him.

“In this world you will have trouble,” Jesus tells his disciples (John 16:33). And we do. Not to punish us but as a consequence of living in a fallen world. We see all around us brokenness. Chromosomes multiply too rapidly to sustain new life, hearts fail, hurricanes wipe out whole corners of already impoverished islands. And if we focus on it all we find ourselves in one season after another of grief.

“But take heart,” Jesus continues, “I have overcome the world.”

He promises that we will be in his very presence, that we will have joy, and that nothing can take that from us. Redemption. Hope. What more could we ask for?

And yet.

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We’re adding to the family.

“Never again,” I said to Garth in that hard, sleepless season of infant reflux and anxiety, depression, insomnia. “I won’t survive a second baby like this.”

I’ll tell you something about miracles: Not only can God open wombs but he can change hearts and circumstances. I can tell you it is nothing short of a miracle that I survived that season of such intense loneliness. And it is another miracle that not only am I pregnant, but that this child was prayed for, wanted, desired.

And our firstborn – that hard baby – she’s a strong-willed yet loving and intuitive toddler. The day I told Garth I was pregnant, she came to me, fingers in mouth and mumbling under her breath. She wanted a hug. She curled into me and then leaned back on my lap and pointed at my belly. She’s so excited about “our baby.” Her level of comprehension surprises me every day.

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She doesn’t even need practice, she’s ready.

Right now, when I look to the future, I see so much to fear. Will I feel lonely again? Will this baby be hard? Will Garth get a job that can provide for us straight out of grad school? Will I have anxiety or post-partum depression again? Will this baby continue developing normally? What trials await us?

But God didn’t give us a spirit of fear but of “power and love and self-control” (2 Timothy 1:7, ESV). He pushed back the darkness to reveal the light, and nothing – nothing – can undo his work. Whatever trials lie ahead for me in this broken world has already been undone and restored in his kingdom. I trust that.

I can look back at how he’s worked redemption and restoration in my life up to now, and I know his work is ongoing. It isn’t over yet.

And now I’ll get to look at two living evidences of that grace. I’ll have two rainbow babies to remind me of God’s promises and how he brings us to them.

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Room for two. We look forward to filling this seat next summer.

Strobaby dos will be joining our family this next February!

A special thanks to Studio 124 Photography and Design in Austin, MN, who graciously provided the images for this post.

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Reconstruction: A Season of Waiting and Rebuilding

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about calling, wondering what it is God has called me to. I keep asking myself if I’m too afraid to move or if God really has commanded rest. What I keep reminding myself is that I can’t go wrong, God will have his way.

I’ve been envisioning myself on a plateau lately, which I suppose is a bit cliche. As I turned down a job opportunity last month, I told my friend that I feel ready to take a leap of faith. And if God said jump, I was going to jump. But he didn’t say, “Go” he said, “Wait.” And so I here I sit on my plateau, I guess I should learn to enjoy the view.

But I’m not on a mountain plateau, I’m in a second-story apartment, overlooking seemingly endless construction that has been here as long as we have.

I suppose the imagery there is more fitting and significant.

Construction is inconvenient. It’s loud and takes up a lot of space. It closes roads and frustrates drivers. And it is slow work. The vision isn’t enough to call the work complete. It requires many hours, manpower, patience, kicked up dust, expertise, labor. And first it requires destruction of what was there before. The original structure has to be torn down or gutted, or if you’re starting fresh from the ground, it requires zoning and digging to get started. And it isn’t ever pretty.

My daughter, though, she loves to watch the construction. At the age of 18 months she was learning the names of diggers, bulldozers, cement mixers, cranes, dumpsters, and flatbeds. The sight of men on a roof are common occurrence to her. She’s fascinated by the piles of dirt, the sound of a drill, how a forklift carries loads across the landscape, the men who walk alongside large machinery, guiding it. Many times she has taken me outside just to cross the street, sit across from the site, and watch the work. Watching with her is just one way I’ve learned to slow down.

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Our view from the second floor. It almost looks complete from here.

And me, I’m under construction myself, reconstructing the very core of who I am. I’m constantly seeking some more interesting work to put my hands to, yet the work God and I are doing here and now is not finished. It’s not mine to declare finished, either.

In the past year I’ve learned that I need to take responsibility in, well, a lot of things. If I’m feeling lonely, I need to reach out. If I want friends, I need to pursue others. I had spent so much time blaming the church for not taking care of me that I forgot to invest myself into relationships. To do unto others as I’d have them do to me. To take care of what God has given me. Stewardship. It’s scary and sometimes messy, but I’m finding community is our tangible Jesus. And I need to be actively invested in community in order to be part of it.

If I’m feeling unaccomplished in this season God has me now, it’s my own fault. So what if he has called me to be just a mother? What if the work he calls me to next requires abilities I’m learning now? Then my work as “just a mother,” “just a housewife” is important, isn’t it? We’re reinforcing the structure for something here, and I can’t rush through it. It has to be sound.

Also, no one is “just a mother.” Mothers are world changers through their children, and part of what makes motherhood sanctifying is also what it opens our eyes to. Suddenly, I see patterns in my life that need breaking, and by extension patterns in society that need healing. I have swallowed up study after study about sleep, health, the causes of anxiety, all in the name of being a good mom and passing on what I’ve learned. That is no small work. It’s not something I would have done without this slow and lonely season of early motherhood, either.

I don’t have any inkling as to what comes next. What I do know is what God has been whispering to me for two years now, what I’ve found both comfort and complexity in, what I have yet to actually do. And that is to heed his call, to be obedient in whatever that may be. For now, that call is to be still. To let the master craftsman do his work in me.

To trust the one who knows what comes next. Who is preparing the way for me.

Obedience. Stillness. Rest.

It’s dusk now, and the moon is vibrantly reflecting the sun. The construction crew went home hours ago, leaving behind sleeping machines and so much dust. They’ll be back at it early in the morning, early as the sun, accomplishing their tasks at an almost indiscernible speed–drilling, soldering, digging, hauling, building. And tomorrow they will go home again, tired and satisfied that they have accomplished progress, valuing the slow work.

On Choosing Joy

On the one hand, I’m grieving. On the other, I’m in a good season. 

When I’m with other moms and the topic shifts to pregnancy, I want to join in, because been there. But especially if there’s a pregnant woman in on the conversation, it’s also a reminder that I am not currently pregnant. The conversations I want to enjoy and the people I want to be happy for have become bitter reminders. It’s hard. But I know I’m not alone. 

I’m choosing to appreciate the good in this season. I love my family, even with its missing pieces. My heart is broken and full all at once. I’m loving the parts of this moment in time there are to love, because if I don’t I know I will look back and wish I did. We have no idea what joy or heartache the future holds. The choice is mine–I choose joy.

On the one hand, I want to rush through this season and run away. On the other, there is so much here for me. 

Two

At the beginning of the week, we celebrated miss Belle turning two. We dressed her up in clothes she picked herself, went to church, let her try her first ice cream (yay egg-free ice cream at Coldstone!), and went for a walk since the day-before-spring weather was so nice.

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It was a good day.

Our rainbow baby, a testimony of God’s grace.

Last month, I wrote about February being both a celebration of the month I started dating my husband and a reminder of the due date that never came. A few weeks after writing that post, I found out I was pregnant(!). I was shocked and excited, expecting this whole thing to take longer like it did last time. But the symptoms kept coming, the tests showed positive, my belly started showing signs of making room.

We started planning how we’d tell our families, as our daughter turned two, that we would soon have TWO babies. There was a whole lot of preparation going on in just a week.

And then I felt a complete shift in hormones, and on that Saturday found a friend to stay with my napping toddler while we went to the ER to confirm a second miscarriage.

From two kids to two angel babies, as if it never happened at all.

And instead of announcing another baby to our families, we had to deliver news of another miscarriage.

February continues to be a tragic month. An empty due date, a friend’s husband buried, and now another miscarriage. I thought this baby would redeem February, but it will continue to be a blunder on the calendar.

Except for that anniversary. Except for my sunshine child who proves that even answered prayer is such a hard blessing.

This time has been easier. Not that miscarriage is easy, it is such a lonely thing. I know now so many women who have been through it. I know that 2, 9, 11 miscarriages do not mean you will never have another baby. And even if it did, the family we have now is enough. I know that God’s timing is so mysteriously perfect, his heart grieves our losses with us even as he receives them, his work is made complete in us in the fire. We have experienced such grace in those who shared joy with us in news of the pregnancy, and who prayed with us, for us in our grief. I can say, somehow, we really are doing ok. I don’t feel like I should be ok, but I am.

Friends, keep praying, God hears you.

So now, once again, we pray for a second rainbow baby. I watch my daughter care for her dolls as if they were real–putting them down for naps, comforting silent cries, and changing doll diapers like a pro. She’s so sweet to them my heart can’t take it. I want to give her a sibling.

But I know this longing won’t make being a mom of two any easier. Post-partum depression scared me into waiting this long to even try for another baby. I had to see myself get better. And now I need to let go of my perception of control. Obviously, this is not mine to control. Every aspect of this motherhood thing has proven that.

Even my worst days, though, have their own spots of light. When my daughter grabs my hand in the middle of dinner and bows her head, repeating, “Thank you, Lord, thank youuuu…” I know she doesn’t only see the ways I mess up. I hope the good is what stands out to her the most. And I hope that, if she’s turning out okay, we can make more spots of light in this world too.

If you think of us, pray with us. God hears you.

Image credit: Silver Blue via Flickr

On Grief and Grace

For the past month I keep thinking, “My baby is almost three.” It crops up all different times of day, recurring without warning, causing me to pause.

One problem, my baby is almost two. The one I have here with me, anyway.

This weekend, my first baby, the one I carried in me for eight weeks before miscarrying, would have turned three.

Henley, baby, I never met you but I miss you.

I have to stop myself sometimes from wondering what life would be like if that baby had lived. I don’t even get to justify the thought that if it weren’t for my miscarriage, I wouldn’t have Clarabelle. My body has the propensity to bounce back fairly quickly. Just one month after miscarriage, within three months of giving birth. And I know I am blessed in my fertility, I know that from my own miscarriage and from watching friends experience infertility. I am so blessed. But the February due date and Clarabelle’s birthday will always be reminders to me that I could have had both, biologically speaking. They would have been 13 months apart and life would be interesting and complicated, but it could have been possible for them to both exist in my life.

But that’s not the way they both exist in my life.

I can’t focus on the way things could have been because that’s not the way things are. The reality is, I have Clarabelle, and I have a three-year-old in my heart whom I will not know here on earth.

For the first time in three years, I am not overwhelmed with grief at this empty birth date. It is not with bitterness I approach this weekend, but with thankfulness and even joy, tear-tinged with sadness as it might be.

Grief, in different ways, has some joy and gratefulness about it, doesn’t it? When I learned that I had miscarried, I was sad, but I also remember this unusual feeling of peace. My anxieties had eased. We had lost our baby, but I knew. The time of fearing the worst was over. The worst had happened, and that was all there was to it. Yes, I wanted desperately for things to be different. But I knew there was no better thing than going to be with Jesus. I was a little jealous of my baby getting to go there before me. I was a little jealous of Jesus that he got to hold that baby when my arms would remain empty. But I get to look forward to a joyful reunion and a beautiful face–as if we ever needed more to look forward to when we get to heaven. God is gracious in the most unexpected ways.

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Sidenote: While looking on my phone for a potential image, I found this photo, taken on this day 3 years ago. Thank you, Lord, for the beautiful, healing sunshine.

Speaking of God’s graciousness, this weekend is also the 9th anniversary of when Garth and I were snowed in at Luther College, the first night we stayed up all night talking (an all too regular past time of ours–you’d think we’d learn). That was the weekend that started this whole crazy thing. Without Garth, I would have been spared a whole lot of heartache, but I would have missed out on a whole lot of goodness, too. So this weekend we honor grief and we celebrate.

So to quote the words I sing to my daughter each night before tucking her into bed, regardless of what happened that day, “God is so good. He’s so good to me.”

What I’m Up To

It’s a new year, but what does that mean, really? Here in Iowa along the Mississippi River it’s still winter, still the middle of the school year, and I’m still the same me I was two weeks ago. I keep considering my resolutions or my “one word” to inspire me for the year, but in doing that I’m also confronted with the way there’s always time later. Goals are good, but mine are ever-changing. What’s a new year when my plans are uprooted in the middle of July?

My goals this year:

  • Write more often (as in more than once every other week. Twice a week? At least?)
  • Read at least a few pages from an actual book every day
  • Set goals for starting my nonprofit (like are we doing that this year or next year?)
  • Give a little more grace to everyone, myself included
  • Be content with just being me (more on that in an entirely different post later)

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    Me at my me-est, courtesy of my sis-in-law (who is totally gorgeous in this photo) on New Year’s Eve.

Yes, my goals are mostly to just actually set concrete goals. And they mostly involve getting better at writing. I keep sitting down to write, and words elude me. I’m not blank. Words string through my mind all day long, a constant monologue interrupted only by conversation or the 8 pm episode of whatever we’re currently streaming on Netflix. But when I sit down? Words jumble to the front of my mind, all trying to come out at once.

My draft count on WordPress alone is currently 17. That’s 17 blog posts started and probably hardly looked at again. I’d love to say that I at least have notebooks filled with shitty writing, but I don’t even have that. I’m stuck between a desire to engage, build a platform, gain a following, and this nagging idea that it’s all just shouting into a void and hoping for a reply that may never come. Because who cares? But if anyone does care why do we care? And is it important?

I’ve also been struggling with what to write. What is my purpose? Where do I draw the line? How do I protect the people I love–my relationships with them–while still telling the truth? These are serious questions, and if you have your own operating theory and ethic for writing, please share that with me. I’m very interested in knowing what you have to say.

The facts are these: I desire to write. I love it. I want to get better (hence the goal of reading more). Also, I mostly suck at writing. Who doesn’t? Natalie Goldberg has been my guide in that understanding recently, as I reread her book Writing Down the Bones. For that reason, and the conflict of conscience I outlined above, writing has involved a lot of fear for me lately. However, I’m convinced that most writers start out with 70-90% crappy writing, what we get to see is the 10% that comes out good. My job right now is to write, write, write. That may not include sharing. I’m not sorry for it. The payoff will come later.

I know I won’t live forever, which is good, it gives me a sense of urgency. But I’m okay with later.

I’m also learning how to live with anxiety, raise a child, be a good wife and functioning member of my community. For me, right now, those take precedence. But I’m finding the balance.

Balance will come, right? As long as I keep working at it and praying for it, I know it will.

Balance is relative anyway.

For now, I’m just trying to make out the target. I’m a little aimless right now, but I know even now I’m still working toward a goal. “The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps,” says Proverbs 16:9. I have an idea in my head of where I’m going, and the Lord goes before me, he’s already done all the work, I just have to follow the path carved out for me.

And, without trying to sound fatalistic here, I kind of have no choice. All I can do is put one foot in front of the other, keep going, and as I go I’ll gain clarity. I’m believing that today, this year. For you and for me.

Christmas Eve

I’m remembering this time last year – praying that the new reflux medication would be the last, trudging through post partum depression and the depths of severe anxiety. I remember worrying about baby calorie intake and watching the clock for naps, anger that bubbled up every time my mom mentioned that she never had to see a Gastroenterologist, just generally not feeling like myself. Did last Christmas even have any joy?

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Photo credit: Twinkle Toes by PV KS via Flickr

This year, I’m finding it hard to believe that it’s really Christmas Eve. Today doesn’t feel like Christmastime. I’m thinking of grieving friends, our sin-drenched world, how completely unfair it seems and yet how completely undeserving we are.

I’m remembering 5 days of consistent contractions with no progress. A season of waiting. Of holding onto the promise but not seeing it come to fruition. I’m thinking back to a virgin on a donkey, riding long through the desert with no place to stay, probably not without signs of imminent birth.

I’m thinking of a world waiting in labor pains.

If internet memes are any indication, we can all agree that 2016 has not been a welcome friend. Yet, letting go is hard too. What will the next year bring?

Looking back at photos and videos from one year ago today, Christmas Eve 2015, it’s hard to believe I was in such a dark and fearful place. I see myself laughing as my 9 month old daughter learns to shake her head “no.” I see that emaciated little face filled with curiosity and wonder as my dad knocks ornaments on ribbon so they swing like pendulums in the window. When my sister asks, “Do you like them?” she squeals.

Was it ever really so bad?

One ordinary night, over 2,000 years ago, shepherds were met by angels singing, “Glory to God,” and they left to find the promised baby, lying in a manger. He had yet to do anything really, but that night God came down to dwell among men.

God with us.

God for us.

They didn’t know then how the promises of God would look in the end. All they had was this little baby, marked by a star, the prophesied Messiah. King. Savior of the world.

Love came down. Love is with us. Love sustains us.

This year, I remember the promises. I hold them close like the most precious gift, close like the newborn baby, in awe and wonder at how heavy and emotional blessings can be. And the light that indwells it all, if only we look again.