Merry Christmas

Friends and family,

Here we are again at the end of another year, and here I am again pretending to print this out and mail it in a cute envelope to your door.

Here is a brief update on each of the souls that occupies our little family of five:

Blythe Kathleen, age 5 and 9 months:

Blythe turned five this year and that seems to be the year for a lot of big things. This summer she was able to start playing T-ball, and while she's not overly competitive or fast, she had a blast. This fall she started Kindergarten at our local school and is absolutely thriving. She has a wonderful teacher, enjoys PE, chocolate milk at lunch, and learning just about anything. There is never a day that passes that she doesn't create something. I am constantly telling her to pick up her markers or scraps of paper, or tape, or glue, or....anything she can get her hands on. She adores her sisters and will quickly give up whatever she is playing with just to keep the peace. She has a great sense of humor, can make a game of anything, and has an inquisitive mind. Quality time, sweets, and horses are her love languages.

Becks Lynae: age 3 and 7 months

Becks turned three in May, and three can be a hard age for little girls, but she has grown so much this year [not really physically--she's still the smallest, cutest little thing]. Becks has a fire inside of her that just can't be extinguished, and it shows up in her excitement for something as small as walking to the mailbox, and it also shows up in her defiance over something as small as which socks I have chosen for her to wear. She is without a doubt the most compassionate of our children-- she actually burst into tears this summer when we made a trip to Silver Dollar City and saw a guy collapse from the heat. She always has a song on her lips, an expression in her big blue eyes, and really does miss Blythe during the day. She now gets to be the sole participant on Nature Days with Papa and is thoroughly enjoying that time. Turn anything into a competition and she is more likely to jump on board. More of an introvert, Becks can entertain herself for hours with a stack of books or a coloring book.  Long hugs, back scratches, unicorns, and gum are her love languages. 

And last but the loudest in our home,
Nan Louise: age 1 and 8 months

Nan turned one in April and never looked back! I don't think she understands that she is the youngest in the family; if something is happening she wants to be right in the middle of it. The only redhead in our family, she makes a name for herself in sweetness and in sourness. Her heart is tender to the word, "No," even though she hears it often. She is tall and lean, and either eats like it's the only meal she has gotten that day or shoves her plate away and refuses to touch anything. If someone is talking, her voice needs to be heard as well. She loves bath time and snack time and bed time. She is starting to repeat just about anything she hears, and in a house with three other women, she hears a lot of talking! Cheerios, her grandpas, and being outside are her love languages. 

Brent is still at the bank here in town, working as the compliance officer. He enjoys his work and especially enjoys the environment in which he gets to work, for which we are both grateful. He enjoyed our trip to Colorado with my sister and my parents, as he got to act like a kid with his brother in law, Dan, and climb and run up mountains. He is also pouring himself into some men's ministries at our church and is excited about the relationships and momentum that are building there. He still loves to run, and is adding more triathlons to his resume every year as well. He ran two 5ks, and two half marathons this year, and also competed in two triathlons [one was a sprint, and one was a little longer and his first swim in open water].  He also is one of the few people that can diffuse my craziness in such a way that I end up laughing.

 I'm still staying home with the girls. This fall I quit my part time gig at the church, but am still helping out with a few things here and there as I can. Photography and making signs has kept me very busy [this fall especially], and I am grateful to all of you who have let me use my creativity in these ways. For mother's day this year Brent gave me a ticket to a writer's conference, and I hope to start writing more over the next year. Our three girls keep my days super full, but I am often overwhelmed at the sheer magnitude of what I get to do every day as I pour into them.

Also, Brent and I are no longer "just 30" but now pushing mid-thirties and I said to him the other day that we're at that age where we start to put stock in the importance of good pillows and face products. What is happening?

This year we were able to go to Silver Dollar City a couple of times thanks to season passes from Brent's parents. We had a pet turtle, Slippy, for a few days. He/she/it was the best pet we will ever have. Brent and I made a quick trip to Nashville, just the two of us, in the Spring to help my sister and Dan pack some things and spend time with them [with only 4 instead of 7 kids]. We also got to stay in Estes Park, Colorado with my entire family thanks to some generous friends of my sister. We had several days just soaking up time together before my sister's departure. We then said goodbye to her and her family in August, as they boarded a plane to fly overseas to their new home. Shortly after they left, our hearts were broken as we learned  that I had miscarried the baby we had announced earlier that month. I wrote three posts during that time [Here, Here, and Here],  and we spent a good chunk of the fall grieving that loss but also living into the joy and peace we are promised.

And that valley makes this season even sweeter because, even though we wish we were hanging another stocking, we are learning anew the depth of the Love that came to us that first Christmas. We have learned the tender mercies of our Father who chose to send and sacrifice His own child. Our grief was raw and real, but Hosea prophecied Christ's coming and said in 5:5, "He will be our peace." Emmanuel. God with us, indeed.

The not so great news of Christmas is that we are powerless on our own. But the great, good, wonderful news? Jesus came. And that coming is a thrill of hope that the weary world can rejoice in.

 Thank you for loving us well this year. Wishing you a hope-filled Christmas to truly rest in the gift of Jesus' birth.

Merry Christmas,
Brent, Kelsey, Blythe, Becks, & Nanny Lou

Long lay the world in sin and error pining
Till He appeared and the soul felt its worth

A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn


little things

If you are just joining me, start here for some background on my recent miscarriage:

I don't plan on writing a lot more specifically about this loss, though I know it will come up in lots of cracks and crevices and in other stories. However, I did want to mention a few specific gifts and tangible things that were given to us during this time that were beautiful and simple and meant so very much during the rawest time of our grief. 

Like me, I'm sure you have known many friends or family who have experienced this type of loss. It can be hard to know how to navigate, but I would simply say: Please navigate it with them. Say something, or give them a hug if they are huggers. Because I've been in your shoes, I know what it's like to not know what to do or say. Nothing will fix it. Nothing will take away their grief. But showing up in big and small ways will shoulder some of it for them and with them, and it will be the breadcrumbs and breath that lead them back to the Bread of life and that will breathe life back into the valley of dry bones. 

That being said, I wanted to share a few specific things that were meaningful to me during this time in case you are wondering what you can do for someone else:

> Cards<
 Every trip to the mailbox ended up being sweet balm to my soul as I would receive another note or card from friends-- some very close to me and others who I may not see or talk to for years. Some wrote their own words, others simply signed a sympathy card, and that was enough. It was enough just to receive something that told me they were aware and "in" the grief with me. [Facebook messages were also good, but I'm old fashioned ;)]. 

I received a couple of different arrangements from friends and family. To put them in my kitchen and living room-- to fill a space with something beautiful-- felt refreshing.

>Gift Cards<
Friends and family sent me a handful of gift cards to my favorite places to eat. They lived out of state, but wanted to "show up" for me in a real and tangible way. Providing a couple meals for my family was very thoughtful, especially during a time that cooking is the last thing on my mind. I wasn't always hungry, but my family had to be fed. And providing me with giftcards to my favorite place [Olive Garden!] insured that I would eat too!
Also, I think an iTunes gift card would be a wonderful gesture as well. I bought an album during this time that someone had pointed me to [Ellie Holcomb's Red Sea Road], and it ministered to me in deep ways. 

>Meals/Favorite Snacks<
Similar to the above, but from friends who were near. Not only is grief a good time to show up for people in this way, but I hadn't realized or thought about the physical side of a miscarriage much. But there is pain involved. Sometimes surgery. And not having to be on my feet and making meals was a blessing in so many ways. Plus getting to have people come and drop them off and/or eat them with me was what I needed. I also had a friend just drop off some Oreos, a card, and a box of kleenexes. It was perfect.  [You know your friends, some of them may not want people at their house for long, others may want you to pull up a chair. If you don't know which they are, ask. And then leave or sit.] 

>Lullaby of Hope box<
A sweet couple that I went to college with send me a "Peace box" from the non profit, Lullaby of Hope. She volunteers for them, and I cannot explain how beautiful this package was. I just sat with it for awhile, looking through all the perfectly thought-through gifts inside. The book that was in the box, "Grieving the Child I Never Knew", has also been wonderful. Please, go to their website and check them out-- they have boxes for miscarriage, infertility, and the loss of an infant. 
Lullaby of Hope website HERE

I had a few different friends who gifted me jewelry of some kind and I love these as a way to remember this baby's life. 
One friend gave me a beautiful bracelet from The Jones Market. 

It came packaged beautifully with a print and, bonus, this jewelry is made to be tugged at and chewed on by children. 

Another found this beautiful shop on Esty [MinMac] and gifted me this necklace: 

 She also sent me this screen shot in a text, and told me it was my necklace in the seller's hand when she wrote that post. Incredible. 

I have birthstone rings that I wear for each of the girls, so I wanted to also have this baby's birthstone [due in February]. My sweet online friend, Bonnie, happens to have the perfect shop [Hey June] for what I needed. I ordered one for my mom and my mother in law as well. 

I love this necklace and have worn it daily since it came in the mail. 

>Willow Tree<
I'm sure most of you have seen Willow Tree figures, and they were such a touching and perfect gift during this time. I was given these two figurines, which were both perfect for this specific loss:


"The Guardian"

>Handmade bear<
My aunt has made a bear for each of my girls when they were babies. She is insanely talented. I couldn't even tell you the first step at making a bear... buy fur? Regardless, she gave me a bear for this baby, Jordan, as well. Maybe you don't make bears, but there is something thoughtful or meaningful like this that you could do as well? [My aunt does sell these, by the way ;)] 


I have probably forgotten something. People were just so good to me. Just check in. Say something. Send something. Show up. Know your friend. Maybe they don't want to talk about it, but your presence could be part of their healing. Maybe they don't want something sitting on their shelf to remind them, but a good meal in their belly will start turning ashes to beauty. 

Also, remember. Remember their loss for them. Remember the baby that was but never was but will always be. Just remember. And let them know on the hard days [holidays, mother's day, the due date], that you remember. 

Thank you to those of you who were present in this with me. The big and small things, the in between stuff, and the remembering have meant so much. 


What do these stones mean? part ii

"So when the people broke camp to cross the Jordan, the priests carrying the ark of the covenant went ahead of them. Now the Jordan is at flood stage all during harvest. Yet as soon as the priests who carried the ark reached the Jordan and their feet touched the water's edge, the water from upstream stopped flowing. It piled up in a heap a great distance away, at a town called Adam in the vicinity of Zarethan, while the water flowing down to the Sea of Arabah [that is, the Dead Sea] was completely cut off. So the people crossed over opposite Jericho. The priests who carried the ark of the covenant of the Lord stopped in the middle of the Jordan and stood on dry ground, while all Israel passed by until the whole nation had completed the crossing on dry ground." 
Joshua 3:14-17
A month ago I was standing at the river's edge. It was at flood stage as well. I had just miscarried our fourth child. 

Miscarriage seems too soft a term; my baby had died in my womb. And when I looked out, all I could see was water rising. The shores on the other side of grief could not be reached on my own. I kept coming back to this passage in Joshua, praying that God would stop the flow and, not just let me slop through the mud and mire and barely reach the opposing shore, but that He, in His goodness, would allow me to cross on dry ground. 

I stepped to the water's edge carrying not the ark of the covenant, but the New Covenant-- a covenant that was ushered in when my Savior rose and gave me new life. A Savior who knows all about prayers from the gut in the middle of the night that sound like "take this cup from me". I was carrying a covenant that was grounded in the hope of an empty grave. And with that new covenant in me, when my feet touched the water's edge of my grief, the water upstream stopped flowing. I was, in fact, standing on dry ground. 

Grief is a process and it comes in waves, but those waves never broke the damn that He had built around me. Every so often, even now, it comes. It sounds like rain and I can let the fear of rising water choke out the truth. This time it will surely over take me, I think. 

And then I look down. 
Dry ground. 

Just like the Israelites, I am so forgetful. And needy. They had faced a large body of water before, and God had made a way. They had wandered in the desert, and God had provided manna. And like them, when I face more water, I can forget of His previous faithfulness and His promised provision. 

And, like them, I can taste the manna He generously gives me and wish it tasted more like donuts instead of lost dreams. But the dry ground reminds me I can trust His provision; it reminds me He will make a way.   

I am writing this at a literal water's edge. Fish are splashing, water snakes are lurking, and a Blue Heron is perched awaiting its next meal. It's a small reserve of water. I can see the other side. But I couldn't get there without a boat, or without getting extremely wet and cold and filthy [not to mention, I'm no Michael Phelps]. To get an entire nation of people [about forty thousand!] to the other side? Forget it. 

But God did not forget the Israelites, even though they repeatedly forgot Him. 
And He made a way for them to enter the land promised to them. 

When I last wrote about this, I was in the thick of it. But God kept pressing this story into my heart. 

"When the whole nation had finished crossing the Jordan, the Lord said to Joshua, 'Choose twelve men from among the people, one from each tribe, and tell them to take up twelve stones from the middle of the Jordan, from right where the priests are standing, and carry them over with you and put them down at the place where you stay tonight.' 
So Joshua called together the twelve men he had appointed from the israelites, one from each tribe, and said to them, 'Go over before the ark of the Lord your God in the middle of the Jordan. Each of you is to take up a stone on his shoulder, according to the number of the tribes of Israelites, to serve as a sign among you. In the future, when your children ask you, 'What do these stones mean?' tel them that the flow of the Jordan was cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord. When it crossed the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. These stones are to be a memorial to the people of Israel forever.' "
Joshua 4:1-9

 So Brent and I started collecting stones from the bottom of the river bed that, in His sovereignty and grace, were exposed. [Many of those stones have your names on them.]

We've always kept our children's names a secret until after delivery. It's one final surprise and joy we get to share with others. We had already decided this little one, if a girl, would be named Jordan. If a boy, Jordan would be the middle name. Jordan... after the river where the miracle of dry ground was seen. Jordan... after the river where Jesus was baptized. 

The river Jordan flows into the Dead Sea, the lowest body of water on earth. I love that this is where Jesus chose to be baptized, a symbol of the old life dying and being buried, the new life being resurrected; a symbol of the very acts He would perform on our behalf later. The reason I think it's so beautiful that He chose that location is that when "the old life is buried" under the waters of the Jordan River, it carries that old life to the lowest possible point. New life has come. Resurrection indeed. 

And for those reasons, we wanted our fourth child to carry the name Jordan, to remind him or her that we serve and love a God who provides and is faithful, who buries our old life and gives us new life in Christ.  

God knew this child's story. He knew the name we would be planning, and He knew the story He would keep pointing me to in my grief. 
He knew our Jordan, and He knew He would carry us to the other side when all we could see was water. 
We wanted to do something in memory of this child, but also to remind us of our God who is always near and who tells us, "Your strength will equal your days" [Deut. 33:25]. We wanted to remember our baby we will never meet, but also to remember our God who promised He will never leave or forsake us [Deut. 31:6]. 

We decided we wanted a rock for our yard, the perfect reminder of our baby, Jordan, and our God. 

I won't go into it here, but how we found and were given the rock was another one of those provisional stories so full of the things of God. This rock also came from the bottom of a river. And now it is in our yard, beckoning us to remember our dry feet, even in our grief. 

We will always wonder what our lives with Jordan would have been like, what new rhythm our lives would have found with this baby in them. There are still a lot of unfilled in parts of the story for me. My body still feels like foreign territory. But I have to look at the manna that is straight from Heaven, even if it wasn't my first choice for a meal.  Provision in the dessert.  I have to look down at the dry ground I am standing on and remember I am walking forward into the promised land. 

What do these stones mean? 
They mean we experienced loss deeply.
They mean we love our Jordan we never fully knew, but who was known intimately while being knit in my womb. 
They mean that the God of the Old Testament is the God of today. 
They mean He is faithful and true and worthy of all our trust and praise. 

These stones mean that no matter where we walk there is always hope and we can always rejoice, for we have a God who will get us to the other side on dry ground.


breadcrumbs & breath

There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, Mine!
-Abraham Kuyper-

If you have not been updated on the loss of my pregnancy, you may want to start here.

The past three days have been met with a lot of waiting, a lot of physical pain, and a lot of out-of-our-control. I'll try and spare most details, but my body did not respond completely to the more natural methods of delivering this child's body from my womb. We waited awhile in those first initial days, needing time and space and quiet and The Word, more than we needed doctors and pills and interventions. But there comes a point in this process when it's time. Pills for a natural labor only worked enough to throw me into deep laboring contractions, but not quite enough to actually do their job. That was my first choice, for my own reasons, and there was so much purpose in that pain-- heartache, and hurt, but also meaning. But finally there came a time too, for my own safety, to move forward with surgery. God knew I needed a week, and He was orchestrating His own great gifts in it all. 

This post is not really about the medical side of this, though I will let you know, I am safe and well. Recovering. Tired. But safe and well. 
No. This post is about breadcrumbs that He leaves in the dark forests we have to walk through. 

Let me back up for a minute to paint with a broader brush: 
Last Spring I was tired. I was spent. Run dry. Relationally I felt like I was manic. 
On any given day, I was texting 20-30 people, checking in, genuinely caring, pouring out, asking, praying with. My circle had gotten so big, beyond my town, beyond my state, beyond this country! And I loved them all. So text, text, text, call. Text, text, text, email. 
I'll admit now, some of it is excessive. But time after time I take those personality tests and leadership skill tests and color tests and the results are always the same: "You're good with people! People feel comfortable sharing their stories with you!" 

I'm not saying this because I think I'm super awesome and you should be my friend, but because for some reason people DO share their stories with me, and then I think they are super awesome and I want to be their friend. We will get on a plane, and two hours later when we get off I'm telling Brent all about the lady I sat next to and how her daughter just got married and how hard that was for her in so many ways and don't-worry-I-got-her-email-because-I-want-to-check-back-in-with-her. 
Yes. I go off the rails a bit. 

And if people share food with me, coupled with their stories? 
Forget it. We're in this for life together. 

All that to say, it had all started feeling a little dry. 
I started to want to retreat more than I wanted to invest. 
Satan was attacking me at the core of who God made me. 
And then I got pregnant. And before I could process any of that, I was deep in the throes of my first trimester funk, in which I become some Jekyll and Hyde version of Kelsey-- I can't read and I don't want to be around or talk to people. The opposite of all things me. So I just set that part of my heart, that was feeling more stone-like than flesh-like, on a shelf. 

And then I was thrown into the valley of dry bones. 
And in my grief and pain and sadness and loss, God started rising an army up out of those dry bones. 

If you're unfamiliar with the story of The Valley of Dry Bones, you've got to read it in its entirety. It's nestled towards the end-ish side of the Old Testament, interestingly enough tucked away after the book of Lamentations. 
Kelsey-cliff-notes: There is this huge valley, and Ezekiel finds himself there among the ruins of dry bones. For those of you not raised around a lot of dead animals like myself [a completely different story for a completely different time], dry bones have been around awhile. Picked clean. Not just death, but somehow very beyond death. And then God shows up and starts telling Ezekiel to tell the bones to get up, put on flesh, and walk. He says He will breathe life into them so that they will know He is the Lord. And then the bones...the dry bones... they "came to life and stood up on their feet--- a vast army." [vs 10]. You can't make this stuff up. You can't make our God up. 

Later the Lord speaks and says, "I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them...I will put my Spirit back in you, and you will live..." 

As I walked out of that doctor's office on Tuesday, my heart was heavy, as if there were dry bones laying around. Some from the news I had just heard--from the heartbeat I hadn't, and others that were very, very dry from other busted things. I didn't even know they were there. 

And listen, when your heart starts to fill with dead bones, your hope can start to dry up too. 

And before my feet even found the parking lot on that day, a friend was jumping in her car to meet me at the clinic where she could do an ultrasound. Before my feet even found the parking lot on that day, God's breath started its movement into that valley in my heart. 

It came deeply, and like a tidal wave at times through His presence. So near. So True. So Permanent. 

But when the grief would come and my throat felt dry, not from my weeping but from the dust of the bones in my heart, God's breath was most evident in His people, in my people. That ever widening circle that I just wanted to and needed to invest in, started closing in on me. And each one that stepped forward, that showed up, that prayed, that said "me too", that said "whatever you need", that sent flowers, that mailed cards, that sent texts, that dropped by... each one was the breath of God. Breathing. Breathing. Breathing into my valley of dry bones. 

Friends who didn't hesitate to offer their couch, their spare-bed, and ordered pizza. 
Friends who hugged me and cried with me and prayed over me. 
Friends who reached out to Brent. 
Friends who watched our girls. 
Friends who offered to drive over 6 hours to just come sit with me, a lost art in grief. 
Friends who consistently checked in and gave me advice, encouragement, wisdom. 
Sisters who wept with us and prayed for us: one who covered the time we were asleep in prayer as she was awake half a world away.
Friends who said, "Let's go kayaking, if you're up for it, and sit on the water and talk."
A friend who said, "In sickness or in health," and has shown me he meant it with the gentle way he has sat with my soul, even in his own blistering pain. 
Friends who walked through their own grief again, just to enter into mine with me. 
Moms [and dads] who, in their own grief and exhaustion, kept showing up and watching girls and being anywhere we needed them to be. 
Friends who brought lasagna.
A boss, who has given Brent the time to be present in all of this with me. 
Friends who said, "Whatever you need," and meant "absolutely, whatever you need."
Breathing. Breathing. Breathing. 

Through others, God was breathing into the deepest recesses of my heart, gathering up dry bones, and commanding them to come alive. Out of dust, out of ashes, an army was rising. 
Yesterday we stayed with some friends while we waiting for a process that never really started Slept in their home praying for a procedure that would come today. And it was breath. 
And then today, all throughout the hospital I did not want to be in, God kept depositing breadcrumbs that kept leading me back to His faithfulness, reminding me of His goodness and the depth of His love for me. 
Breadcrumbs. Breath.
My nurse, who had the day off but called me from her personal cell phone just to see how I was and if I had any questions and asked how things were going.
Breadcrumbs. Breath. 
In a friend who just showed up, in her scrubs, not on my service but offering her hand of comfort in the operating room. A hand of comfort when I couldn't be with Brent, as I was put under anesthesia I had never experienced and was anxious about. A hand of comfort, a friend who loves Jesus, a squeeze and a rub as I cried and fell into that deep, dreamless sleep. 
Breadcrumbs. Breath.
And then, waking up and foggily looking over to see the giant smile of another nurse friend from our church, who made sure he was the one with me in the recovery room. Comfort. Who retrieved Brent as soon as possible. Who wheeled me to my car. 
Breadcrumbs. Breath. 

My friend who let us stay the night kept joking about all the people I knew, all the connections, all the "right people in the right places." 
And it's the first time I thought back to this spring. 
To the lies Satan was telling me. To the self-preservation I thought I needed to instill in my life by setting more boundaries and closing my circles. 
But here is the truth: Relational investments rarely return void. 
Instead, God takes what you pour into others, and He fills others with His very breath to breathe back in to you when dry bones start to settle in your heart. 
God puts others as these little breadcrumbs in your path, as answers to prayer you didn't even know you should pray for. 
When you fight for community when you don't feel like you need it, God will use that community to surround you when you're in the valley. He will use that community to speak to your heart.

Over the last week others, without knowing, have spoken to my valley of dust and said, "God is going to open your graves and bring you up from them." 

You know when the Samaritan woman went to the well thinking she needed water? [John 4]
And Jesus showed up and said, "Water? Psshhh. Here's some living water. Here is me." 
He is in the business of offering the exact and only thing we need. 

Often that comes in the quiet, still small voice of the wind. Of His presence. Through His word.
But so often He pours that Living Water through His vessels and into the spaces that are empty enough to be filled.

This grief will keep coming, prickly and tangled up in strange places. But so will the waves of mercy. The Living Water. The Breath and the Breadcrumbs.

"Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ....There are many parts, but one body...there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it." 1 Corinthians 12: parts of 12-26]

 Christ is our ANCHOR in the storm. Not rescuing us out of it but keeping us secure and holding us through it. And when our tether lines gets a little long and tangled with grief or unfilled in parts, He uses His body- our friends and family- to pull us back in, to shorten the tether for us and remind us our Anchor is secure. 

So if it has been you: thank you for being a breadcrumb, broken off from the Bread of Life.
Thank you for breathing the very breath of God back into this valley of dry bones. 


What do these stones mean?


This is the blog post I never wanted to write. 
But there is a passage in Psalms 107:2 that says, "Let the redeemed of the Lord tell their story..." 
And this is now forever interwoven in my story.  

Tuesday I went in for a 14 week appointment for my fourth baby. I have done so many of these appointments over the years, I knew the routine well. I chatted with the nurses and my doctor. And then she got out the fetal doppler to hear the heartbeat I had already heard and seen twice. She searched for awhile, and said she didn't want me to be overly concerned, as I had an inverted uterus and it may be difficult to find. So she decided to get the portable ultrasound machine. In that space between, I prayed, "Lord, please," but also somewhere deep, I knew to pray the more difficult prayer, "Lord, prepare." 
More cold jelly. More probing. And there on the screen was my baby. 

But there was no heartbeat. 

My own was beating heavy and thick, fast and chaotic. She was saying something about ordering an ultrasound...better machines...couldn't completely confirm... 

As I dressed I called Brent, the tears choking out. 

The waiting room was full of other expectant mothers and I couldn't make eye contact with them because I was trying to not completely fall apart. I wanted to protect them and their hope that they would get to hear the racing, microphoned beat behind the door I just left. 

It was late and I would have to come back the following day for the ultrasound to confirm. I nodded my head in half-hearted understanding and fumbled my way to the door. I immediately texted my friend who works at a pregnancy clinic and asked if she would, if I could possibly ask this big hard thing of her. She responded immediately that she would meet me there in five minutes. 

I drove a few miles, Brent praying on the phone, and within ten minutes I was on another table, staring at another black screen. It filled with a picture of my baby. And my friend, who knows the sting of loss as well, so gently and so graciously confirmed that there was no heartbeat. She printed me pictures, saying I would want them. She asked if I was ready before turning off the screen. And then she held me and cried with me. As I dressed she found her co-worker the only other soul in the empty clinic, and we huddled in a lamp-lit room and she prayed for me. 

She said the name of Jesus, and as my tears dropped on the black and white pictures in my trembling hands my heartbeat finally stopped its chaos. Jesus. There's just something about that name. 

 The next day I had a few hours to pray, and grieve, and journal, and read Truth. I opened my notebook to the very last page and the first line I wrote was, God, I want to start in the back of this notebook and write forward and watch you redeem this. I want to write from sorrow to joy. From ashes to beauty. I know you'll make a way through these waters. 

And I kept writing. And praying. And reading. My tears blotted the page, but before I had even reached page two I had written You are good four times. And on page two I started listing great joys and sweet blessings I have already seen in this pit of despair. Page two! I remember reading 1 Thessalonians 5:18 as a naive middle schooler, marking it up neatly with neon gel pens. Yes! Rejoice in ALL circumstances! But then I became an adult, and the world just seemed more busted and broken and when I would come across that verse I wondered what that would be like when walking through the valley. But there I was, page two, rejoicing in God providing me my friend at the clinic. Rejoicing in timing that I had first questioned, because bringing Blythe to Kindergarten the following morning ended up being the joy-in-the-morning we needed in the midst of our sorrow. I rejoiced in the three children I get to love here on this earth. I rejoiced in an aunt who, knowing the sting of this kind of loss, called me and gently spoke truth into my hurting heart the night we received the news. I rejoiced in all the people who were surrounding us, carrying us, praying over us, bringing us Oreos; rejoiced in the reminder that relational investments never return void. I thought of the line in "No Longer Slaves" that says, "I am surrounded by songs of deliverance," as others reached out.

"Consider it pure joy my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything" [James 1:24]. I am rejoicing through tears but with unclenched fists and the prayer that this perseverance will finish its work. 

I continued writing:
God, you welcomed this baby already. Please help me say goodbye now. I am claiming the truth that you are near the brokenhearted. Because my heart is breaking. As you help me deliver this child, I pray that you would also deliver me through this. I know you never promised me a life without pain or loss, and I have not questioned why I am here. I just thank you for being here too. 
Thank you for never leaving me. You are the God of the big picture, and just as you were faithful then, you will be faithful now. 

Oh Jesus, thank you for the Word. For your Spirit inside me at this time. Hebrews 6:19 says, "We have this HOPE as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the sanctuary behind the curtain where our forerunner Jesus was on our behalf." Spirit, I hold the hope of your presence now AND the hope of heaven then.  

My sails feel so torn right now, the wind knocked out of me... but in the midst of that, I feel you anchoring me. The sea billows are finding solace and this strange peace that I don't understand is you. Whatever my lot, thou has taught me to say it is well with my soul

When I blogged a letter to this precious baby, I wrote: "I had learned at the end of myself was this great chasm that I didn't have to leap over on my own, but that God would carry me through in beautiful, sometimes tear-filled, but always grace-filled ways. A space where I had to face my inability with God's ability every single day. And as I thought about a fourth, as I thought about you, I knew that God would meet me at the chasm again." 

And He has. I didn't think the chasm would be here. I didn't think the chasm would be so deep. But I know I don't have to leap over this on my own. He is carrying me through in grace-filled ways. 

In that same letter I wrote about the Sara Groves song that says, "I'm strangely ready for what comes next. It's hard to describe because it makes no sense, but I am strangely ready." 
I don't know if I am ready. No one thinks about delivering a lifeless baby at 14 weeks when they see that pink line. But I know that God is ready because I know He is already there in that moment. He hems me in behind and before. I know His presence will be evident, and I pray that somehow there is joy in even that moment. Joy knowing this sweet one will never know the busted ways of this world. Joy knowing Jesus was the first one this child saw. 

God does some of his best work among the lowly. Among the brokenhearted. Because in His story, the other side of death is always, always resurrection. 
And just like a song I am currently listening to says, "He is here in the healing that hasn't happened yet."  We are promised in Psalm 34:18 that "The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit." He is. So present. So near. So very, very here. And I know He is resurrecting. He is taking hold of my fragile idols and shattering them and reminding me to be satisfied, soul-deep, in Him. There is no rock like our God. [1 Samuel 2:2]

My grief, my loss, is not proof that God is absent.  "Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him" [Job 13:15].

In 1 John 5, John writes, "We accept human testimony, but God's testimony is greater because it is the testimony of God, which he has given about his son...and this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life." 

And in this story of mine I see the hand of God, and I pray that others look beyond my testimony and to the testimony of Him. Because it never fails. I know not everyone can or wants to publicly talk about their miscarriage; everyone's process is so different in this. Some don't want to talk and they need others to believe for them and pray the words they cannot pray.But I think it was a severe mercy that we had already announced this pregnancy: because He knew part of my healing would come through writing, and through pointing to His greater story in this. It's easy for me to zoom in right now on this little slice of the story. But my story is in Him. And it started with In the beginning and its theme is faithfulness. My testimony is His testimony and His testimony is redemption. His testimony is beauty from ashes. His testimony is life from death. 

Most people know the story of God parting the Red Sea. But the story I keep coming back to is in Joshua 3 & 4. Same Israelites. And God stops the flow of the Jordan River so they can cross to the other side. AND THEN, He tells them to select stones "from the middle of the Jordan" and build an altar. And Joshua told them, "In the future, when your children ask you, 'What do these stones mean?' tell them that the flow of the Jordan was cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord." 

And I keep thinking of that altar made from rocks from the BOTTOM of the Jordan River that never should have seen the light of day except through His sovereign hand of deliverance. So I am taking these rocks and trying to build an altar to remember how God met me, even here. Even now. Even in this. 

 Thank you for your prayers for Brent and for me and for our girls. For our families who also had already pictured new little feet pattering around at Christmases in the future. There will be remnants of this lost life everywhere-- when I put away the "Belly Book" I never got to finish; when the maternity pants I ordered the day before my appointment show up; when the due date comes and goes; when Nan has a birthday and is not a big sister. This has changed every single thing. And yet it has also changed nothing. And there is still a journey in all of that ahead for me. For us. This healing will be a process, and I may need to write more about it. I may not. But thank you for granting me space to do this. My prayer is that He uses this space and this story for His glory; that He will redeem this brokenness in our lives, but that the redemption can extend beyond what we could imagine. 

Someday others will say, "What do these stones mean?" and I will get to recount the story of a faithful, healing, and redeeming God. 

I've never tried videos on here, but these songs are speaking a lot of my truths right now. If they don't work just you tube Ellie Holcomb's "Red Sea Road" and "Find You Here."


The Sea

Tomorrow I send my firstborn daughter off to school. Kindergarten. And I am feeling it so deep in my gut. Here's the funny thing: I wasn't going to be this parent. I wasn't going to be the mom, holding her daughter's blanket in the middle of the day just to smell her sweet scent and remember the baby in her. I wasn't going to be the mom who wept when she dropped her child off in the tiled classroom decorated with owls and primary colors. I wasn't going to be the mom. Because... eye roll... come on, it is JUST KINDERGARTEN, right?

But I am not only THE MOM, I am here to let you know it is not "just kindergarten." It is everything and it is nothing. It is normal and it is so not normal. A big start and a huge end. It is learning new things and trusting in the investment of old learning. An embracing and a letting go.

The other night I went to peek at the girls before I crawled in bed myself-- a dangerous game of Russian Roulette [PLEASE DON'T WAKE UP WHEN THE FLOOR CREAKS!]. And there she was, my huge five year old, naked [of course] and cuddling her dolls and sleeping on her lunch bag. She looked so tall. Her hair I never thought would grow was so long. And yet when I zeroed in on her face I saw her-- my baby. Six pounds of fresh skin and body, a new soul I barely knew. Her blanket smelled like new, not like her.

One of my favorite poems is "On Turning Ten", by Billy Collins. In it he says he's "all the ages he's ever been." And as I stare at her, breathe her in, she is indeed the breathtaking newborn, the toddling one year old, the exploring two year old, the silly three year old, and the inquisitive four year old. And of course, the reality is she is also the beautiful, joyful, bursting to learn five year old before me, on the precipice of Kindergarten. She is all the ages. And I am sending all of them into that school building tomorrow.

I have never been awesome with change. I'm actually quite terrible with it. I will probably die with the same haircut I have now for this very reason. And yet, here we go: change.

I am 31. [I know! I am as shocked as you are!] And I have lived enough life to at least realize that change does not equal bad anymore than good equals staying the same. Actually, if I've learned anything it's that quite often Jesus calls us to change so that we can step out of the boat and experience far more good and abundance that we could experience inside of it. We won't know we can walk on water until we leave our comfort zones and try. 

But this change isn't solely about me [though, oh Lordy, will I grow too!]. It is about sending that little girl, in whose face I still see all the ages she's ever been, into a world that I know is quite busted and broken. I've had the immense pleasure and joy of getting to be home with her for five years, and hear this: I am my very own personal brand of bustedness. Don't we know. But I also knew she was mainly safe, what was being input, and that Jesus' name was on the tips of our tongues throughout our days. I got to be there when she failed. I got to be there when she experienced something spectacularly new and awesome. And now I have to send her out of the boat.

The other day she was singing one of her current favorites in the backseat: "You split the sea so I could walk right through it! My fears are drowned in perfect love! I'm no longer a slave to fear. I am a child of God."  And I fought back the tears that have come more easily to my eyes these days. And I remembered: Jesus is not just in our home. He is there. And Blythe is His child. And He will split the sea so she can walk right through it, even if I might prefer she never have to face the sea to begin with.

I know this next season of change will grow into our normal. But for now, please give me a minute because trust me, it is not just kindergarten. 


for my fourth

June 24, 2017

I'm sitting here sipping coffee with the windows open at the end of June. The air is cool, humidity free. A Colorado day that we are having here in northwest Missouri. This is a rare day, and so are you, a fourth child.

A couple of weeks ago I found out you were growing inside of me, a little person forming in my womb. I had a suspicion and the faded pink line confirmed and my eyes grew wide with many emotions: surprise, fear, excitement. Surprise, as we had finally said yes to a fourth in our hearts but hadn't with our feet just yet. Fear, as the number four seemed big and beyond me, and I knew others opinions may not be in our favor. And excitement, as I thought about welcoming another life into our midst.

After we had Becks, I wasn't sure I would have more. Two girls seemed so complete to me. And then we prayed, and along came Nan. And we had always said two or four, but once we had three we realized just how big that number was. Odd or even, a family of five had become our jam. Nan's pregnancy was really hard on my body. Your dad had contracted zi.ka in the middle of the pregnancy which meant some unknowns and extra ultrasounds, which fortunately resulted in nothing unusual. My pelvis had separated towards the end and it took a long time to heal and be able to walk, stand, and step normally.  Plus the transition to three kids, which was just a lot in so many big ways. I couldn't really think about a fourth for awhile. It's not even that I didn't want to think about a fourth; I didn't have the capacity to even go there. 

But slowly, like a spring garden bursting forth in the heat of the summer sun, my heart began to open to the possibility bit by bit. I had learned with Nan that God could stretch me and grow me far beyond myself. I had learned that at the end of myself was this great chasm that I didn't have to leap over on my own, but that God would carry me through in beautiful, sometimes tear-filled, but always grace-filled ways. It was a space I would have never found with only two children; a space so bursting forth with goodness and rawness and realness. It was a space where I had to embrace my inability with God's ability every single day. And as I thought about a fourth child, as I thought about you, I knew that God would meet me at that chasm again.

But just because I knew that, it didn't make me want to again. Not yet. I thought of the pain I would endure again. The possibility of my pelvis literally ripping at the seams again. I thought of less time with each of my children. I thought of more days in the infant phase. I thought of another year I would have to spend nursing. I thought of longer years until I could return to teaching. I thought of less people being willing to help out [four kids is pushing the limits of what people want to step into]. I thought of my body going through the trauma of growing another human, and delivering him/her into the world. I thought of limits on what we could do as a family.

 So I started to pray. And once I prayed I heard God clearly say, "You're not making this decision. I gave you Brent. Let him lead you." Woah. Little one, you will learn early that it is hard, hard work for me to sit back and be led sometimes.  I thought of that little word that packs a punch: submit. And while I was praying about the possibility of you and praying through my fears and excuses, God called to mind a little radio interview I had heard this past year.  I only caught a portion of it before your sisters requested "their songs",  but I remember clearly it was a husband and wife, and she said something like this: In life there are very few times I'm going to have to totally submit to a decision my husband makes, because usually we are on the same page. And making a decision with him, that I fully support, isn't submission, even though I wish it were. And in our 40 years of marriage, there have been very few times that we haven't been able to reach a decision together; where submission to trust his decision is required of me. But submission is only submission when it isn't a decision I would have necessarily arrived at on my own. That is paraphrased, but that little snippet really spoke to me, and God brought it back to my mind like a sledgehammer when I really started praying about the possibility of you.

It was a beautiful spring evening and we were out for a walk. We had parked the strollers and were letting your sisters crawl around on some steps and rocks, and I said to your dad, "I'm going to trust you to lead me in this. I trust you to seek God and make this decision for our family." And your dad took that seriously. He prayed and read scripture and prayed some more. And when he said he knew I was supposed to get pregnant, and if I couldn't get pregnant then that meant we were to adopt a fourth, I trusted him, even though my knees were knocking at every turn.

We went on a little family vacation with your dad's side of the family in late May, and I didn't know it yet but I was pregnant with you. On our drive I listened to a new song by Sara Groves called "Strangely Ready." She sings:
I'm strangely ready for what comes next
I'm strangely ready
It's hard to describe cause it makes no sense.
I'm strangely ready for what comes next.

Count it faith, I got up.
Nothing left for me yet but a longing with trust.
Was it faith? I don't know.
You just lifted and led me and I had to go.
Now I'm strangely ready.

A vision in the sky
A fire in the night
You said you'll do your part if I'll do mine
Now I'm strangely ready

 As I listened to those words I asked God that, if He were to give us another child, that I would be strangely ready. And while there is so much unknown out here on the edge, He just lifted and led me and I had to go.

I have to think of those first, quiet dream-like hospital days. Adrenaline still pumping through me, the magic dust yet to settle. A nursery staff and nurses bringing me iced water around the clock. You as a brand new bundle of fresh, soft skin. I think of getting to do that again-- hard, hard labor-work followed by that moment that is ethereal when it is as if God Himself has handed you to me.

But the reality of heading home after that? The transition back to our house and day-to-day living?  There have been times already where I nearly crumble under the weight of what that may bring. I know a lot of people, after three kids, say, "Oh, what's one more?!" But my sister said, "Well, it's one more." It will be a lot more. More diapers, more sleep lost, more pediatrician appointments, more fears, more food to cook, more schedules to manage, more carseats in the van, more school programs,  more disciplining, more, more, more. But it will also be more hugs, more laughter, more pudgy toddler hands, more first big moments, more "push me higher, mommy!", more innocent prayers around the kitchen table, more siblings to care for one another in old age, more smore sticks around a campfire, more Johnson & Johnson cheek kissing after bath time, more books read in my lap, more praying that you will know Jesus early and deeply. More, more, more.

 God said He will do His part if I do mine. And I am strangely ready for what comes next. I am strangely ready for you, my fourth child.

Your mom