Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Beauty from Pain

It's strange, the memories that stick with you in photo-perfect clarity.

I can hardly remember my wedding day.  A couple of flashes, but mostly a blur or a blank.

The birth of my firstborn ... in all honesty, I was blacked out for most of it.  My husband and nurses say I interacted with calm clarity, but for all I remember, I may as well have been unconscious the whole time.

But my dear little one who sparked to life and flitted away in just a matter of weeks ... the one I named "Shea" in my heart ... him, and the excruciating week during which I fought to keep him ... this I remember all too clearly.

It was not a good time for us as a family.  Things had already begun to unravel in life outside the home.  My husband had begun to taste the bitterness that often accompanies vocational ministry in full measure.  He was breaking, fighting depression ... and subsequently, so was I.

I had already begun to have flitting fears about our son, or "Red," as he had been nicknamed for the first couple of years of his life.  He had started to show signs of being "different" from his peers.  On the one hand, he was very social, and very smart.  He loved people and seemed to run on two speeds: fast-forward, and stop (albeit very briefly).  But he was all too content to let us do all the talking for him.  He barely responded to his name ... we thought if we gave him a younger sibling, it might encourage him to talk and cure his insatiable need for a playmate.

We needed a flicker of hope.  Oh, how we needed it!  And for a moment, hope came.

It was mid-June, 2008.  Mind you, I never suffered morning sickness with E, so I was a little startled by the onset of nausea.  But I welcomed it.  Suddenly we weren't just trudging along anymore.  There was something to stride towards, another life to welcome!  We waited a couple of weeks, then took the test (I like to be at least two months along before I even bother with the test).  Not that I needed to--E had already walked up to my belly, patted and kissed it, and said "hi."  Apparently someone has inherited his great-grandfather's gift ... but that's another story.  Of course it was positive, and we went out to celebrate.

Two days later, the bleeding started.  Nothing major, but since I never even spotted with E, I called me nurse.  She assured me that it was probably just an implantation bleed, but told me to monitor it and get back to her if it got heavier or didn't clear up in a day.
It didn't get heavier ... but it didn't really clear up, either.  It was off and on.  Every time I thought it was over, it started again.  The mental torture was ... well, torturous.  What's going on?  I wasn't cramping, but I knew something wasn't right.  I called the nurse again.  She decided to have me come in to have my HcB levels measured.  The call that evening was inconclusive.  "Well, it seems like good news.  Currently, your levels aren't exactly high, but they're not low enough for concern, either.  We'll have you come in again tomorrow for comparison."

The next day wasn't any better.  In fact, it was just weirder.  "I honestly don't know what to tell you.  Your levels should be going up.  They're not.  But if you're miscarrying, they should be going down -- by half, in fact.  The problem is, your levels haven't changed at all.  We'd like you to come in for an ultrasound."  That evening we asked for prayer from our small care group.  Most responded with warmth and concern, but one person's word's seared themselves permanently in my memory: "Well, it's not like you're that pregnant."  That comment still stings ...

Day 3.  The ultrasound was also inconclusive.  "Looks like you're due around Feb 5th.Your baby should have a heartbeat ... but you're early enough that it might not.  Otherwise, everything looks perfect -- textbook, in fact.  We'll do another in about a week.  By then we should know for certain.  For now, we'll do another blood draw." 
The call that afternoon yielded identical results: no change.  Neither up nor down.  I was told to stay off my
feet.  Even in this nightmare, I had to chuckle to myself.  Yeah, right.  You've clearly never met my toddler. 

Fortunately, a friend was willing to watch my son that evening.  My husband, meanwhile, had youth group that night ... so I was left alone with God, my thoughts, and the spirit of my child whom I believe was still clinging to a tentative thread of life.  I spent three hours crying out to my Heavenly Father, Please, please, don't let him be taken!  I don't know if I'll survive!  One by one, the Spirit quickened Scriptures to my heart.  "If this cup cannot be taken away until I drink it, then Your will be done." Matthew 26:42 ... "Though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him." Job 13:15 ...
I knew what He was asking of me.  My baby was going to die, and I had to trust His love for both me and my child despite the outcome.  Still, I begged and sobbed.  I knew peace would not come until it was over.

Day 4.  I walked around in a sort of a haze.  Waiting.  I talked to my baby.  I told him about his daddy, his brother, his God and the future that awaited him in the courts of the King.  I cuddled E, who for once in his life slowed down.  He wouldn't let me out of his sight, following me with wise, ancient, concerned eyes ... cuddling constantly.  It was almost a relief when the cramping started that night.

Still, He ministered to me.  I remember the distinct moment when I felt my child's spirit pass out of my body and into His arms.  It was late at night ... E cried out in his sleep.  I jumped out of bed and rushed to his crib, welcoming the distraction from the immense emptiness I felt spreading from my womb to my heart.  My little 21-month-old clung to my neck, sobbing like his heart would break.  He knew.  After he passed back into the peace of sleep, I slipped back into bed next to my fitfully resting, utterly exhausted spouse.  The week had not been kind to him either, shouldering two jobs as our senior pastor was away.  "Happy Anniversary, Honey," I whispered as I studied his face.  It was a bitter way to observe four years of marriage.  Still, my Messiah was there, soothing me with His presence.  I fell into a deep healing sleep.

The next morning, I rose and went about my day.  Suddenly I fully and deeply understood David's response to the death of his and Bathsheba's firstborn.  God had made His decision.  I couldn't afford to fall apart now - an already dark season in our lives had grown downright black, and my husband and son needed me.  Besides, there was damage control to be done.  Against my better instincts, my husband had announced our pregnancy to our church right away; this upcoming Sunday the painful and awkward task of telling the well-wishers (who had just gotten word of our pregnancy via the grapevine) that our baby was gone.

I was amazed at the women who came out of the woodwork with their miscarriage stories.  So many buried stories of anguish, somehow rendered taboo until you were part of the "club"!  I was ... stunned.  Speechless.  Why do we treat these tragedies as shameful?

Although it seemed a moot point, we attended the ultrasound the next week.  If nothing else, we'd make sure I was healing properly.  Again, an eerie moment: the tech sat back and shook his head.  "You've healed perfectly.  If I didn't have the [file] evidence right in front of me, I'd say you had never been pregnant!"  I wasn't sure whether to be comforted or insulted.  To his credit, the poor man was clearly flabbergasted.  When I met with my doctor later that afternoon, she addressed the burning question before I had a chance to ask it:  "It clearly wasn't you.  It appears your body sustained the pregnancy long after the fetus failed."  She must have seen me tense at the term she used for my precious little one, for she changed her verbage with her next words: "In all likelihood, the baby probably had a fatal chromosomal imbalance.  I'm so sorry."

My heart tells me my baby was a boy.  I silently named him "Shea," or magnificent.  I know he was conceived for a purpose.  God never creates life just to take it away.  My son serves in the courts of the King of Kings: this was his purpose.  When people ask me where my comfort comes from, I am forced to give them a frame of reference first.  It's easier when talking to those who already have older children.  How many times have you begged God for your child's salvation?   Wrestled with his stubborn will knowing that far more lay at stake than whether or not he submitted to your authority?

Shea is my child for whom I never have to worry.  His eternity is secure and he awaits me in our Father's arms.  A lifetime is a twinkling compared to the eternity we will spend together.  This is my comfort.  And for whatever reason, God wanted us--my husband and I--to be the "stuff" from which He molded this particular Temple servant.


I don't think we ever stop grieving a lost child, even one whose life was so brief.  However, God wove so much from Shea's brief chapter.  His death was a turning point for our relationship with God.  My husband began making some very hard decisions as a direct result of his death.  It was as if ... the circumstances surrounding his passing were a mirror in which we were forced to look at our life as it was ... compared to how God wanted it to be.

It was time to go on Walkabout.  We left the church we were serving pursuing one opportunity ... and in the process of candidating, more was revealed of the damage that had festered in our hearts.  Walkabout continued ... finally, two years journey from Shea's spark of life, things seem to falling into place.  We have healed of wounds that we didn't even know existed ... and my husband's transformation in particular has been extraordinary.

Oh, and lest I forget (how could I?) ... God filled my womb again.  Our daughter was born five days after my birthday (mirroring her brother's birth five days after his daddy's) in 2009.  The initial ultrasound left us dumbstruck: the estimated conception date was February 5, 2009--the very day Shea was due to be born.

Lilypie Angel and Memorial tickers

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Book Review: A Year of Absence

This posting requires a bit of a prologue.  Last year, my husband and I candidated to be missionaries with Cadence International, a non-denominational organization that supports and ministers to our men and women in uniform serving overseas.  Upon my arrival, this powerful little book was given to me in the hopes that it would better equip me to minister to the wives enduring separation from their husbands during deployment.

As it turns out, we were not invited to join Cadence's ministry at this time; they wanted us to heal from old wounds and mature as a family first.  However, God began to make it all too clear that He still wanted us (or more pointedly, my husband) in direct ministry to the military.  As he drew near to completing his application process to join the Navy Chaplain Corps, I found my eyesdrawn to this title (which had been sitting on my bookshelf for nearly a year).  It suddenly hit me that God may want me to read it for a much more personal reason.

In A Year of Absence, Jessica Redmond diligently and compassionately compiles the stories of six women enduring 15 months of deployment as their husbands held the front in Iraq in 2003.  From the young officer's bride to the seasoned wife of the NCO, the women Redmond captures in ink encompass a broad spectrum of life stages and backgrounds as they support each other in the close-knit Army community of Baumholder, Germany.

At first I was a little thrown by the chronological telling of the major events in these courageous women's lives; six stories can be a tad difficult to follow when broken up so frequently.  However, the raw retelling of their deepest heartaches and fears grabbed me by the throat and simply wouldn't let me go.  I held my breath as Jen desperately tried to align help to take care of her daughter before she underwent invasive surgery.  I sobbed with Teresa when her dearest friend received a knock from "two class-A uniforms" just three months before their husbands were due to come home.  I fretted with Katrina over how the separation would affect her very young children -- would they remember their father?  Would they receive his homecoming well?

Redmond's transcription of their thoughts and words is both frank and engaging.  Almost immediately I realized I was getting a glimpse into what could be my own life in the not-too-distant future.  This is definitely a "must-read" for any woman who is either about to enter into the military community or anyone who wants a better understanding of what life is like for military dependents.

Redmond, Jessica (2005).  A Year of Absence: Six women's stories of courage, hope, and love.  Elva Resa Publishing: Saint Paul, MN.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Curves ahead ...

OK, so I've got so many ideas spinning in my head of late that I've realized I need to divide and conquer.  I'm afraid you're going to see many of my archived posts "disappear"; meanwhile, I'll be starting two new blogs in addition to this one.  "Breathe Deeply" is going to go on a diet: no more food, no more diapers.  I need to get back to my theme of "breathing through life."  And, as my husband is in the process of applying for commission into the Navy Chaplain Corps, this blog will probably become all the more relevant.  I'll be sharing with you the journey we take as a family; along with my heart for the modern day "Hospitalers": the knights who's sworn duty is to care for the spiritual well being of the knights and soldiers of the Crown.  Book reviews, inspirational moments, and homeschooling topics will also fall under this blog.

Those of you who have visited my blog to glean from my dietary adventure, do not despair!  I intend to start another blog on "Vintage Eating."  Or should I call it the "Urban Farm Kitchen"?  How 'bout "Lessons from Hobbits"?  Under one title or another, I will be addressing: 1) healthy eating (what is advisable versus what is unnecessary on a tight budget) and 2) urban farming.

As for cloth diapering/natural parenting ... I've decided there are enough blogs out there on this topic.  However, I still have a love for natural textiles and traditional family living.  So, blog #3.  This one will probably also have a Tolkien-esque theme to it's title because my imagination is utterly caught up in Middle Earth.  Yes, I hope to begin experimenting with costume reconstruction from select wardrobe elements of my favorite film trilogy.  However, I am highly annoyed with all the "replicas" I've seen rendered from synthetic fabrics.  My hope is (over the next few years) alter some patterns with muslin and cheap suedecloth and then begin recreating some of the "drabber" outfits (at least to start) with natural and historically accurate textiles and a functional purpose.  All you equestrians our there looking for costumes that are "rider-friendly," my efforts are with you in mind!  And yes, I will probably be addressing the practical side of traditional baby care in this blog as well.

So, to those who have been faithfully sloshing through my clumsy initial attempts at blogging: thank you!  I hope you enjoy what I will hopefully be building over the next months!