Sunday, December 30, 2007

What now?

Wow, I feel like so much has happened since I last wrote. Since we began this blog back in August, I have never taken such a long break from writing, but it has certainly not been due to a lack of anything going on in our lives. Quite the contrary, so much has happened I have not found free moments to stop and put down in words what is in my heart. Usually at night as I lie in bed, when my mind reflects back on everything that has happened, I think of all the things that I want to share and I attempt to store them away in some corner for safe keeping until I find a chance to revisit those thoughts and put them into words. But over the past few days as I've considered the many things I would like to write about, a question presented itself and began nagging at the corner of my mind. The more I put off writing, the more the question nudged itself to the forefront of my thoughts and discouraged me from actually sitting down to begin typing away on my little macbook. The question I was faced with was this: Why would people, especially those who don't even know me, want to continue reading my thoughts? After all, the namesake of this blog is gone. There was a purpose and a reason for writing as long as she was with me, but what about now?

I've turned this over and over in my head over the past few days, trying to understand why people continue to visit this little corner of the internet. I'm overwhelmingly grateful for the love and support we have been shown by the people who have become a part of our lives by traveling this journey with us, but now that it's over, I find myself considering "what do I have to offer that anyone else would want or need?" I don't know if I have a complete answer to that question quite yet, but maybe I have the beginnings of an answer.

In all likelihood, the vast majority of people who have come here to read over the past months will never lose a baby to Trisomy 18 or any other fatal condition. In fact, most will never even experience the loss of a child at any age. Yet over and over again, people have written and expressed that what we have gone through has meant something to them. At first this surprised me, but the more I thought it over, the more I realized how much that concept made sense after all. Why? Because there is something universal in suffering. No matter how vastly varied the details of two people's difficult circumstances might be, there are always going to be aspects of universality in the experiences. For example, if we are honest, we will have to admit that we don't understand God. Who has not cried out "Why, God?!" when faced with the unavoidable reality of suffering in this world? Who has not experienced the excruciating pain that comes with being seemingly at the mercy of suffering without any power to alleviate it?

It is this common bond that must play a role in drawing us together, even when the hardships we endure share very few similarities. This is why the magnificent stories of the Old Testament are more than just beautiful pieces of literature. They are alive and powerful in their ability to change lives, to speak to hearts, to unveil some aspect of God's love, justice, power, and wisdom even though thousands of years and hundreds of cultures separate us from those people who lived so long ago. In God's unfathomable wisdom, He knew that the stories He penned through the hands of His servants like Moses, David, Samuel and others would have life changing power for people in every generation throughout history. His faithfulness to Noah, Abraham, and Joseph has molded, encouraged and strengthened my own faith and helped me to face Poppy's sickness with more of an eternal perspective. The great thing about the people in the Bible is that as I read, I can see the big picture. I can see how God orchestrated the events of different people's lives in order to achieve His plan and purpose. I can see that even what couldn't have made sense to the individuals at the time, makes perfect sense in the light of God's overarching design.

So, what do I have to offer to anyone who stops by to read? Only this: the story of God's faithfulness to me. Even though Poppy is gone, that story will never end. I don't fully understand it, but I am so humbled that God could use what He has shown me to help somebody else regardless of shared circumstances. It thrills me to know that the journey God has brought us through might play some small part in a journey someone else is walking, about to walk, or has already walked. When I stop and think about it, all I can say is "wow." God's plan is bigger than me. End of story. I'm never going to fully "get it" but each new little part I see just makes me love Him more. Will I keep writing? I guess the answer to that is, for now, yes. I have no idea what the future holds or how long I feel adding to this site will be what I need to be doing. But today, the answer is that I still want to write. I still need to share the story as it continues to unfold of how God used and will keep using the little baby He gave us.

All of that to say, over the past 10 days since I last wrote, my experiences have been full. Christmas brought with it the usual busyness, but it also brought a greater awareness of what is truly important than I have ever experienced before in my life. I still don't know if I could ever actually choose to go through what we did, but I do know that I wouldn't trade the things that came along with it for anything in the world. I wouldn't go back to the comparatively care-free way of living I had just one short year ago because if I did, what I would be giving up would be so much more valuable than what I would gain.

In closing, I want to share a few verses from Romans 11 that have meant so much to me. This passage says "Oh, the depth of the riches both of wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who became His counselor? Or who has first given to Him that it might be paid back to him again? For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen."

Friday, December 21, 2007

Choice

I've heard a lot in my life about choices-how to make good ones, ways to avoid bad ones, and the consequences of both. Most of the time when I think of making choices, I think along the lines of decisions I make to control some aspect of my life. There is action and initiative on my part to either do or not to do something that will in some way, big or small, effect the direction of my life. Yet what I've seen time and again over the past 5 months is that I've had very few "traditional" choices to make.

Instead, we are getting the chance to explore a new dimension to the concept of choice: not the choice to do anything that will change the outcome of what we are going through but the choice of how to respond to the many things that are out of our hands. Control freak or not, it can be an extremely frustrating place to be simply because it has the tendency to leave you feeling utterly helpless. There is something innate in me, and just about all red-blooded humans for that matter, that desires to "do" and to "act" in attempt to make things better. What Poppy has taught me is that many times this just isn't possible. The only "active" role I've had is to pray, a role that initially seemed very inactive, but as my eyes have gradually been opened, I now see as absolutely vital. But, my point is that I found out via real-life experience that many choices are ripped from my hands, leaving me only with decisions to make as to what my response will be to God, to life, to my family, and to myself.

Not long after Poppy died I was talking with my mom about the brevity of her life. Three short hours from the time she took her first breath to the time she took her last. Up to the point she was born, I only had the experiences of those who had gone before me to look at to ascertain any kind of expectation of what was to come, all the while knowing that no one else's experience would in any way dictate what would happen to us. I knew one couple who had lost their daughter after 9 months, one who had a 10 month daughter still living, one who had a boy who lived 3 months, one who had their baby for 8 days, and another who held their daughter for 11 hours before letting her go to Jesus. As I talked with my mom, I thought, "Now I can add myself to that list as one who had their daughter for 3 hours." My time was shorter than anyone else I had personally encountered, which made me wonder if that would scare the others I know who are still to come after me. When this thought crossed my mind it bothered me so badly. I hated that anyone would look on the time we had and feel fear for themselves or pity for us.

Of course if I had been given a choice in the matter, I would have Poppy here with me today, healthy and growing and getting ready to experience her first Christmas. But the hard truth is that God does not allow me or anyone else that choice. I do not have my baby today because He allowed for her to be taken home early, and if someone else out there is holding a healthy baby, it is not because of any choice they made but because God allowed that precious child to have sustained life. That being considered, I can explain why I am choosing not to be disappointed with the time God gave us with Poppy.

I knew going into this that for whatever reason I was not going to get to keep my daughter on this earth with me. I also knew that I had zero control over the amount of time she was given to stay. All of this got me to thinking "Why does God allow some of these babies to be still born, some to live minutes, some to live hours, and other days, months, and sometimes even years?" The only answer I could ever come to was simply: I DON'T KNOW. Just as in every other aspect of Poppy's disease, I can't explain or understand God's plans or purpose. Because of this, I knew I had to decide to trust the fact that God knows what I need better than I know myself. He can see the full picture when sometimes I can't make out even the faintest detail. That's why I decided before I went into her birth that regardless of the time, I would thank God for allowing us exactly what we needed. Then, as December 1st came and went, I knew in my heart that He had. For some reason, 3 hours was exactly what we needed and what God wanted for Poppy Joy Luce.

I have no idea why His plan for us wasn't to hold her for 2 days or 1 month or 2 years. I guess I could drive myself crazy trying to second guess God and question His plan for us, but if I did that, why start with His timing in taking her? Why not just go back to the fact that He gave us a daughter who had this disease in the first place? Once I walk down this road, where does it stop? At what point am I going to be satisfied with God's sovereignty in the things I don't understand? If I'm not willing to accept one aspect, why should I be willing to accept another?

This is where I made the biggest choice of this entire season of my life: the choice to accept that which I don't understand, to hold to the fact that God loves me and He has a plan for me, to praise Him even when I'm hurting and I don't feel like it. I've also made the choice to find the best in what we were given. For example, I see that in many ways I was spared tremendous pain in the brevity of her life. I never had to watch her struggle, or be hesitant to fall asleep out of fear of missing something. I never had to wake up day after day and wonder if this would be her last day. I didn't have to watch Marianna grow attached to her little sister and then have to explain why she was all of the sudden absent from our life. On the other hand, if we had been given more time, I would have found just as many positives in that.

I'm not saying that I walk around with a little Orphan Annie mentality or that I prefer to hide behind a pair of securely fastened rose-colored lenses. I'm simply saying that of the choices I've been given, I choose to do everything in my power to promote life. I don't want her memory to reap bitterness in my heart. How dishonoring that would be of her life to allow bitterness to be the outcome of her time with us in my own life! Instead, I want Poppy's legacy to result in greater joy and a more complete understanding of God than I've ever had before. I choose to trust Him with our future from here on out even when I continue not to understand. I choose to look at the news I received from the doctor this week that I will not be able to consider getting pregnant for 18 months because of the type of incision I had as something that He will use for good even though it's not what I want for myself.

Choice. It's a lot more involved than I used to think, but maybe the choices I've been allowed to make over the past months aren't so small and ineffectual after all.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Poppy Angel


I've learned a lot about myself lately, and some of the things I have discovered have come as quite a surprise. For example, I have always thought of myself as someone who wears my emotions on my sleeve, so to speak. Faking feelings is a technique I have never mastered, so if I'm happy I smile, if I'm upset I let you know it, and if I'm fired up about something I just can't keep it in. I even go so far as to "act out" on my face what I'm watching on a movie or what someone might be describing to me in conversation without even knowing it. This is why it came as a shocker to me when I was driving home yesterday and this mini-revelation hit me: I don't like crying in public. More specifically, I don't like grieving in public.

This newly found knowledge came about yesterday after Nathan and I went to pick up our car from the shop. As I was driving the other car home I realized that it was the first time I had been alone since Poppy was born, and I had not been on the road for more than two minutes before I was flooded with sweet memories that instantly brought tears to my eyes. It's not that I had been suppressing all of those thoughts for the past 14 days, but somehow, not being alone had retarded my ability to really think through things and soak it all in. The drive home was less than 15 minutes, but even in that short amount of time I was able to stop and remember. I remembered what it was like to enter that operating room, not having any idea what the next hour would hold, feeling like I should be terrified, but yet realizing that all fear had been driven out of my presence. I couldn't see them with my physical eyes, but I knew angels were there, surrounding me, protecting me. I remember being able to laugh as I was on the operating table waiting for Poppy to be born. I remember the second she was lifted out, holding my breath as I waited to hear whether she would cry. She did cry a soft and gentle whimper, and then about two minutes later after begging God to let her breathe, she did. From that moment on, she never had trouble drawing another breath until she took her last one. I remember crying tears of joy as Nathan went over to watch as they cleaned her and wrapped her up, and as I cried, the anesthesiologist stood over me, wiping my eyes and patting my shoulders. What I remember most is being overwhelmed with love and surrounded by a greater peace than I have ever felt. I don't understand it looking back, but I remember it, and I will cling to those memories. Remembering is filled with sweetness and sorrow; it hurts and heals at the same time. And even though it made me cry, and will no doubt continue making me cry, it is necessary and good to do it.

Remembering is something that comes (or at least should come) very naturally this time of year. Christmas is upon us, and as I listened to the pastor read the beautiful passage about Christ from Isaiah 53 this morning, I was reminded once again of Jesus and His magnificent plan that started with a baby and ended with a cross. This year as I think about Christmas, I approach it with a new perspective born of the recent experience of both grief and joy. Poppy has left me forever changed, and how grateful I am for that! Now as I think about Jesus, I think more about the pain of God the Father- the pain that comes from letting go. God sent Jesus here to earth knowing the pain, sorrow and rejection He would face. He sent Him with the knowledge that His time on earth would end in the most unimaginable pain of all, as Jesus took the sins of each and ever person, past and future, upon Himself. As I think on that sacrifice, I am filled with a new awe and love for my Father. How could I have released Poppy if not for knowing that she was leaving this broken world behind for a place of perfection that my mind cannot yet comprehend? The fact that God did all of that and more out of love for me doesn't fully register in its magnitude, and it is this love that gives me confidence that if God was willing to make the ultimate sacrifice for me, will He not also be more than faithful to take care of me now?

This is why I am not dreading Christmas. I know it will have some difficult moments, but Christmas represents the reason why I have hope, and because of this I will celebrate this year as I never have before. Before she was born, I searched for a Christmas ornament for Poppy. I wanted one that was special, but I didn't necessarily know what that I meant so I was hoping that something would just strike me as perfect. A couple months ago that happened. I was out at a Christmas festival and I saw this hand-painted ornament that had a little angel girl holding a present. When I saw it, I knew that was it. It was so happy; it seemed like something we would want to put up year after year in her memory. Now, I feel it is even more fitting because she truly is my Christmas angel and my gift. This year I will remember Poppy, and as I remember I will do my best to picture her as she is now, rejoicing with the One who has given us the reason to celebrate.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

the best words I've heard lately

I am living in the aftermath. The adrenaline has faded, the events are over, and I'm now in the process of re-entering "normal" life. There are many moments of this journey that I have not looked forward to, and this re-creation of a new normal was at the top of that list. However, even though I realize I'm only a few days into it, I am doing well, and just like everything else we have faced, God is taking care of me. It's hard, but I'm making it.

I was telling Nathan last night that there is a profound weirdness in walking around in a store, knowing that I just had a baby last week, yet realizing that not a single person I pass by has any idea. When Marianna was born, I could hardly walk through a store without getting stopped by half a dozen people who wanted to look at her, comment on her, and ask how I was feeling. The absence of all of that is tough. I haven't yet broken down in the middle of Target or dissolved into tears as I've tried to finish my Christmas shopping, but the reminder of the loss is with me nonetheless. It hurts when I dwell on it, and I know that I could become consumed if I allowed my focus to linger each moment on what things would look like if she were still here, so I have chosen not to allow myself to go there.

My desire is not to suppress my grief, because I believe that grieving Poppy's loss is an absolute necessity for a healthy healing process. But at the same time I know that I can choose to submerge myself in something very unhealthy if my grief becomes something I begin to cling to, refusing to give it over to God to allow Him to take away the hurt in His time. Just as some people hold on to bitterness, anger, and addiction even with the knowledge that it is consuming their souls, I know some hang on to sorrow like a pit bull, refusing to pry open their jaws to allow it to leave. I guess it's just plain old fear that puts that desire into each and every heart that has experienced loss. There is fear that if the sorrow leaves, the memory will leave as well. That if healing is allowed to take place, it will in some way diminish the value of the loss. I know these are lies that Satan plants into each of our hearts, and I am praying, asking God not to let this false reasoning take root in my heart. This is where I am right now.

Because of my surgery, I am not able to lift Marianna or drive for another week, so Nathan is staying home with me this week to help. I am so grateful to have his physical presence for another few days. He has been a rock for me the entire time since we have known, but most especially over the past 10 days. I continue to be blown away by him. I want to share with you the words that he spoke at Poppy's memorial service; they touched me deeply and I hope they will do the same for you.

Friday, December 7, 2007

so thankful


I'm at home, sitting in my pajamas after having finished the last of the official elements of Poppy's funeral just hours ago, trying to keep my eyes open as I type. I know I need a nap, but there is so much I want to share and my mind will be busy until I get it all out. Wednesday, Thursday and today have each held a special and unique part of celebrating our little girl and the amazing way God has worked through her short but powerful life. As expected, each day has unwrapped a multitude of emotions, yet what has surprised me is the fact that while physically tired, the events of the passed three days have actually served to lift me up spiritually and emotionally. Adrenaline undoubtedly has something to do with it, but I am convinced that the source of this spiritual and emotional renewing runs much deeper. God has breathed His peace and strength into us in way unlike anything we have experienced thus far on this journey. Nathan said it last night at her memorial service, and I will echo it now: God has been sufficient.

The three-pronged remembrance and celebration began with a visitation on Wednesday night. I honestly had no idea what to expect; I really didn't know how I would handle walking into the funeral home and speaking with the people who came to share their condolences. What I did know was that it very important to me that everyone who came be given a chance to experience Poppy and her life in the most tangible way possible. Family and friends helped me prepare a beautiful memory board, frame my favorite pictures, and arrange her blanket, hat, dress, and bracelet so that everyone who walked through the room could see the physical tokens of Poppy's brief life. I looked forward to being able to show off all of these things, but I knew that along with all of these happy mementos, there would also be another reminder that I was much less ready to see. I just kept asking myself, how do you prepare to see the casket that holds your baby? The answer for me was simply that you don't. Nathan and I didn't spend time trying to psyche ourselves up, or on the opposite extreme, prepare to be emotionally overwrought. We just held hands and walked into the room. What met us was not what I had anticipated. While the tears rolled down my face, I was simply blown away by the beauty that surrounded her tiny casket. The flowers were all were designed to replicate a garden in bloom. Tiny rosebuds, lilies, gerber daisies, and a host of other "happy" flowers graced the most beautiful greenery I have ever seen. Most of the baskets and arrangements contained lovely statues of angels and crosses, keepsakes that I'll be able to look at long after the flowers have faded. But most spectacular were the poppies that the florist had miraculously found on the international market in China. They shone above all the others in their delicacy and beauty, and the small miracle of being able to have poppies in Memphis, TN in December was a reminder of the beautiful miracle they were honoring.

From that moment on, the evening was a time of comfort. Nathan and I cannot express enough our gratitude to all the many people who came out just to let us know that they had been praying for us and that they were sorry for our loss. Many people expressed that they didn't have words, but the look in their eyes and the fact that they had driven all the way out to tell us that, said more than enough. We walked out lighter in spirit than we walked in. We couldn't have asked for more than that.

Then last night we were able to join with several hundred other people at our church for what I can only describe as the most beautiful memorial I could have ever envisioned for our little Poppy. We have had months to plan what we wanted, and when it was all said and done, it was more. Our heart's desire was to express our thanks to God for what He chose to do through this baby, and with the help of our friends and family, we were able to do this through songs, worship, scripture, video, and our testimony. To illustrate the fact that we saw the journey we have been on as something we have travelled collectively with so many precious family, friends, acquaintances, and even people we have never met, we asked twelve family members and friends to read the passages that have meant the most to us over the past four months. After that, we sang four songs that held particular significance to us, culminating with "Great is Thy Faithfulness." Nathan and I also were able to share from our hearts what an overwhelming honor and privilege it was for us to be chosen to be the parents of this special child. I want to stop and say how crazy, lovingly, and overwhelmingly proud I am of my husband. His words last night are something I wish each and every one of you could hear because what he sad was the sweetest, most priceless tribute he could have paid to Poppy and even more importantly, to Jesus. Without doubt, he was the highlight of the service to me. We also were blessed to have Nathan's brother put together a video and picture collage to music, which of course was more powerful than words in its ability to portray her amazing life. The service culminated with Nathan's other brother playing a viola solo to "It is Well with My Soul." In summary, it was simply perfect.

Finally, this morning our family gathered at the graveside and spent some of the most precious time yet as we shared what this journey has meant to each of us. We sang "O, Victory in Jesus," my Papa's favorite song, and it was so fitting. Nathan and I and each of our family members laid a poppy on her casket, and we said goodbye. Again, as we drove away, Nathan and I looked at each other and knew before we said it what each was thinking: It was perfect. Nothing could have been taken away and nothing added to make it any more perfect than it was.

Now, as I sit and reflect, all I can say is that everything that needed to be said, has been said. Everything I would have wanted for these three days was granted. The beauty in the combination of tears, joy, thankfulness and hope is unsurpassed by anything I have yet experienced. All I can say is thank you. Thank you to each person who has followed our journey on this blog. Thank you to each and every one of you who came out to the visitation or the memorial service to show your love and support for us. Thank you to the amazing servant-friends who have brought food, taken care of the babies, helped us prepare for the service, and so much more. Thank you to each person who participated in her memorial service last night, helping to make it the unforgettable night that it was. Thank you to our family members who have gone over and beyond in every way to be there for us and help lighten our load. Thank you most of all to Jesus for giving us the gift of these three perfect days of remembering His faithfulness that shone so brightly through our beautiful little girl, Poppy Joy.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Wednesday


Today is Wednesday. This was the day we had planned to spend in preparation for Poppy’s birth, but instead Nathan and I find ourselves getting ready for a busy day of planning for her visitation tonight and the memorial service that will follow tomorrow. The vast disparity between the day I envisioned and the reality we are living in is jarring. It’s still so hard to believe that it’s over. I know the journey isn’t complete, but her precious life that we have anticipated for so many months has already played out its time on this earth.

I was thinking again this morning on her time here with us. So many things about it were lacking: I never had the opportunity to change her diaper, to feed her, or to give her a bath. I didn't ever get the chance to hold her as she drifted off to sleep and then watch as her chest rose and fell with each deep breath. There wasn't time to hold both of my girls together-to cuddle them together and sing some of Marianna's favorite songs. In fact, if I thought about it for awhile, I could probably come up with a list a thousand items long of things that I wish I could have experienced with Poppy, yet I know there isn’t a lot of good that comes from dwelling on what is not to be. I don’t want to travel down that path and live in the world of what wasn’t, because in the end, that road does not bring the things I want. Not that I'm saying I know exactly what I want right now, because I don't. I'm confused, and my mind feels muddled and bogged down in many respects. I can't tell you what I want next week or next month to hold because right now I can't see past today. Yet, despite my current state of comparative mental upheaval, there are still some things that I know that I long for. I want life, joy, and hope. These things are what Jesus wants for me, so I know it is always going to be right to pursue them. But in order for these things to become a reality, I must make a choice. I must choose to remember what was—the unbelievable blessing of the three hours that were given to us. I know with everything in me that the time that was given was a gift. Something inside me is convinced that her body was not physically meant to survive for one minute outside of my womb, yet God graciously breathed supernatural breath into her tiny body to allow the things we had prayed and cried out for to be granted to us.

I want to focus on the list of things that I was able to do with my beautiful little Poppy. I was able to hold her and tell her how much I loved her. Nathan and I got the chance to pour out our hearts to her in the operating room, telling her that she was the answer to our prayers, and that she was a living, breathing sign of God’s faithfulness to us. I was able to smile and be the proud parent as our closest friends and family gathered around her, lifting her up in prayer and blanketing her with overwhelming love. I experienced the purest joy from getting to see my first little miracle hold the second one in her arms and kiss her. Finally, I had the unique opportunity to hold Poppy in my arms as she left this earth and went to heaven. Not many mothers get the chance to know that that their babies went straight from their arms to the arms of Jesus. It’s hard to imagine a more beautiful picture, and it is one I will treasure my entire life.

These are the things I want to cling to over the next days, weeks, and months. I know it’s okay to be sad about the loss, but I never want to forget the unbelievable blessing, joy, and privilege we received from God in getting to be Poppy’s parents. Someone wrote and said that they looked up Poppy’s name in a book they have, and the verse that was next to her name was from Isaiah 35:2. It says, "It shall blossom abundantly and rejoice, even with joy and singing...They shall see the glory of the Lord, the excellency of our God." I don't have words for a better tribute for her life.

Tonight we will have a visitation, followed by her memorial service tomorrow. I won’t say that I am looking forward to it, but I will say that I am excited about the service because I believe it is our opportunity to express our thanks to God for the beautiful work He did through His daughter Poppy. Please be in prayer for us as we walk through this uncharted territory. Pray that the days ahead will be a time of rejoicing, remembrance, and thanks. We love each of you so dearly. Thank you for your faithfulness to us.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Entering the darkness



My dear, dear friends, I have put off writing since Poppy’s birth because my heart is so full and near to bursting in so many areas that I don’t really know where to begin. I long to share with you what has taken place over the last 48 hours, but how can I use words to paint any kind of picture that would come close to giving the reality justice? Nothing in my life up to this point is comparable to the past two days that God has carried us through. Indescribable happiness, joy, and fulfillment have been inextricably woven with grief, sadness, and loss. These intense emotions don’t seem to be compatible, yet they have existed side by side in our hearts throughout our stay in the hospital.

Poppy’s life is like a dream in so many ways. Her three hours here on this earth were so full yet so short! She was the answer to every single prayer that was cried out on her behalf. She was the fulfillment of a promise—a miracle in every way. Never have I seen God’s faithfulness shine more vividly than it did for those precious three hours Poppy was with us. I want you to know that her time here with us was not marred by a single second of sadness. All fear and uncertainty about her future was driven from my heart and mind from the second she began breathing on her own outside of my womb. I knew that she was sick, and I knew we still had no idea how long she would be with us, yet none of that mattered once we had her in our arms. All I could do was thank Jesus for her and enjoy her. I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed her during those hours. I felt like my heart would explode with love and happiness and joy as I held her or watched other people hold her and love her. Looking back, I would not change one thing because every second we spent with her was so full of life and hope. Darkness was driven from that little room, and while there were certainly tears, all stemmed from joy and thankfulness over the precious miracle that was living and breathing right there with us. To sum it all up, her time with us was perfect.

Just as beautiful as the way she came into the world was the way she left it. I freely admit that her death was something I feared. I have never seen anyone die, much less my own child, and I couldn’t comprehend how I would be able to live through those moments. But once again, just as it has been each step of the way, God provided for us and gave us strength the moment we needed it. All of our friends had just left the room, and someone returned Poppy to my arms. I looked down at her, and in that instant I knew she was gone. Her beautiful eyes, which were opened almost her entire life, were vacant and still. It was not until that moment that grief entered our hearts. Nathan and I, surrounded by our parents and siblings, spent 45 minutes with her as her heart beat slowly faded away. It was bittersweet in every way. My tears flowed as the reality that we were saying goodbye settled over us like a blanket. My heart began to ache with loss as I looked over each of her tiny features and tried to memorize every detail and engrave it into my mind. At the same time, even in the midst of that sorrow, we were overwhelmed with peace. Poppy’s exit from this world was the very essence of peace. She didn’t struggle or experience any kind of pain; she simply took one final breath and went home.

In the hours that followed, the time we had spent with her didn’t seem real. I felt almost like I was replaying scenes from a movie that I had just been to see rather than scenes from my own life. But while it was strange, it was also a very sweet time. I was surrounded by a pervasive calm throughout the rest of Saturday and most of Sunday, and I believe that was a direct result of the countless prayers that you have been lifting up for us. The sense of safety we experienced as we were surrounded by the love and comfort of our friends and family was beautiful. I know that God has set His angels around us to give us a hedge of protection from the violence of the emotions that Satan would like to defeat us with. To be even more specific, I feel like He gave us about 36 hours under the protective blanket of emotional numbness before He allowed us to begin to experience the full weight of her death.

It wasn’t until last night that I felt the corner of that covering being lifted, allowing Nathan and me to begin the grieving process. In the quietness of our room, after all of the many visitors had left for the night, we climbed into the hospital bed together and wept as we clicked through the beautiful pictures that captured almost every moment of Poppy’s life. A physical pain began stabbing in my heart as I processed the reality of the loss. I looked down at my stomach and hated the fact that I no longer had her with me. I miss her; there’s just no other way to say it. I know that her body was not made for this earth, yet it’s still impossible for me not to miss her and want to hold her again. It makes me smile through my tears to think about her being with Jesus, and knowing she is whole and perfect and experiencing even more love than she knew here brings me comfort. But for myself, and for Nathan and Marianna, and all of the rest of our family and friends, I grieve the loss of her presence. I grieve what is not to be, while at the same time rejoicing over what was.

Something that Papa said many times has stayed with me over the past few months. He said “Do not doubt in the darkness what God has shown you in the light.” God has poured out His truth on us over the past months, and I want to cling to that even when it doesn’t seem nearly as clear as it once did. This is a season of darkness, but His love, compassion, and truth is just as real as it has ever been. God allows darkness, and He will bring us out in His own timing, but until then He will keep us safe. He will set me on that rock that is higher than myself.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Saturday, December 1, 2007

A Million Thank You's and One Goodbye



Our dear, precious Poppy was born at 10:26 AM and she weighed 5 pounds, 11 ounces. In the first few minutes after her birth, I waited anxiously by Angie's side as the neonatologist and her nurses stood over Poppy and discussed her. We later learned that the doctor was a little uneasy because Poppy's heart rate was low and she was having trouble breathing. However, while we were still in the operating room and the OB was stitching Angie back together, Poppy started doing very well—she was coloring up and her heart rate increased. Angie and I had a terrific time being with her during the operation, although Angie couldn't hold her herself until we were being transported back to the room, which was around 11:30.

In the room, our family came in and Poppy continued to improve until the neonatologist estimated that we might have a day or more with her. (It was at this point that she expressed that she had been concerned about Poppy in the OR.) My favorite moment while we were with our family was when Marianna offered her outstretched hands with palms up and said, "I want to hold Poppy!" She did a great job with her big-sistering duties and our terrific photographer took lots of wonderful pictures of Poppy with different aunts, uncles, grandfathers, grandmothers, great-grandmother and the like.

After the family time, we had a slew of dear friends who were here to see Poppy, so we let them into the room en masse to see Poppy and spend some great time with us in celebration of our sweet baby. Angie proudly held our beautiful daughter while everyone ooed and awed over her. Thank all of you who came in and thank you all who would've been here if you could've! It meant so much to me to see so many of you with us as my amazing wife got to share Poppy with you all!

As many of you know, we have prayed months for two specific request: one, that God would allow Poppy to be born live and two, that all of you would be able to share her with us. The Lord answered both of these requests in a vivid, unimaginably beautiful way, to our hearts' desires and beyond our wildest dreams. Within minutes of the last friend leaving the room, Poppy stopped breathing. We shared some sweet time with our immediate family as the NICU nurse came in and out every 15-20 minutes to check Poppy's heart rate: first 60 beats per minute, then 30, then 8, then...

Thanks be to God for His unspeakable gift! II Corinthians 9:15

Poppy Joy spent three precious hours in this world, this cruel place that her body was never meant to know. As Angie and I spent Poppy's last few minutes alone with her, my sweet wife commented that she could picture Poppy in Heaven with Jesus, saying, "Don't cry for me, Mommy and Daddy." While our pain remains, Poppy is healed and she now knows what we long for.

To those of you who have read, commented, prayed, gifted, cooked, visited and ministered to us in a thousand ways, we will never be able to properly thank you. Still, thank you! To our precious families, thank you! To our sweet daughter, who changed our lives before we ever kissed her dear face, thank you! And most of all, to our dear Savior Jesus, who has wholly and solely given strength and peace in the past months and who will continue to energize us in the difficult days ahead, thank You!

Goodbye, Poppy. We love you so much!

IT'S TIME!

Poppy will be born today. The nurse came in just minutes ago and delivered the news that I will have a c-section at 10 this morning. I feel like I need to say that over and over to make myself really believe it, because it certainly isn’t sinking in. As I write, I am sitting in the hospital bed, counting down the hours until I will hold her, and to say this is surreal would be the understatement of my life. We are really here, and the next 24 hours will undoubtedly change my life forever. Right now, all I can say is that words fall short.

I woke up this morning at 12:30 with steady contractions, and after debating with myself for an hour and a half as to whether the definition of “in labor” applied to my circumstances, I decided to err on the side of caution and come into the hospital. We arrived at 3 and I was put on the monitor shortly after. My contractions have been coming 5-7 minutes apart since I got here, leading the doctor on call to go ahead and make the decision to deliver our baby today. The plan that we have been waiting so long to understand is slowly starting to unfold. We now know the first bit of the story—Poppy’s birthday will be December 1st.

I know I don’t need to say how much we need your prayers. I feel like more than any other time in my life, I need Jesus today. Please pray that He will take care of us. We are at Methodist Germantown, and if you would like to come up at some point today and pray for this baby, we would welcome anyone who can. Thank you for your love, support and prayers for us throughout this pregnancy. We will keep you updated.

Friday, November 30, 2007

One day at a time

Yesterday turned out to be a bit of a roller coaster. I was scheduled to go in for my final ultrasound and doctors appointment in the afternoon, and the timing was perfect because I started my day off with some fairly consistent contractions. I felt good knowing that I would be able to go in and have them check everything out and tell me what we needed to do. I went ahead and did some hospital packing, preparing for the small chance that that I wouldn't return home from the appointment, and then I headed out to my car to leave for my appointment. I turned the key, turned it again, and again, and nothing. My car wouldn't start. After going through a few attempts at a quick fix, including pouring a bottle of Pepsi over the battery and trying my hand at jumper cables, I took my mom's car and headed off with just enough time to make it to the first appointment. Stress levels were higher than normal walking in, and then the news that met us what not what I was hoping to hear. There was nothing surprising about Poppy's measurements, as they were virtually the same as last time, but what did alarm me was the fact that her heart rate had dropped almost 20 beats from our last appointment. For some reason, I've had it ingrained in my head that if her heart rate started declining, it was time to get her out. By the time I walked into the doctor's office, I was ready to ask him to go ahead and deliver her immediately and not take any chances on her heart continuing to slow down. However, while in the appointment they took her heart rate three more times, and all three times showed a faster rate. My doctor explained that the variation was not only normal, it was actually a good sign! I admit that it took some time for this to sink in and for me to feel truly convinced. My hope is to make it to the 6th, but far more important than that is having the chance to hold her while she is still with us. Yesterday, I felt blinded to everything else but that one thought.

Yet, before I went in to talk to my doctor I stopped and prayed that God would give Dr. Sullivant wisdom to know exactly what to do. I was in such an emotional state that nothing but sending me to the hospital felt like the right thing, but the doctor told me with no equivocation that she was fine and that she needed to stay this one extra week if at all possible to give her little body the extra days to prepare for life outside of me. I asked about the contractions, and he told me that if I go into labor, I should go to the hospital. That was a little too logical for someone in my supercharged emotional condition, but now having slept a night on it, I am feeling good about his decision and grateful to God for using him as a tool to keep Poppy inside until it is His perfect timing for her to be born.

But, the contractions, while not increasing in intensity, are continuing to come at fairly frequent intervals. It certainly gives a new meaning to walking this journey one day at a time. It is shocking to realize that each day from here on out could be the day we meet Poppy. Somehow I became so consumed with our little timeline and the countdown to December 6th, that this new reality threw me for a loop. Nathan reminded me yesterday that nothing about this pregnancy has been according to our plan or what we expected, so who knows why I am surprised that the end should be the same. What has been clear is that even though this road has held many unexpected twists and turns for us, none of it has been a surprise to God. The same continues to be true.

I am asking God to provide me with a new peace. One that will allow me accept the timing of her delivery no matter when it is. I am also asking Him to send his angels to surround us and protect us from physical and spiritual attacks. Psalm 34:7 says "The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear Him, and rescues them." I claim that promise! The other night someone also shared a blessing from Psalm 61 that I am clinging to. It says "Hear my cry O God; Give heed to my prayer. From the end of the earth I call to You when my heart is faint; Lead me to the rock that is higher than I." Right now I feel as if the waters could come crashing over our heads at any second. I just don't have what it takes to swim and make it on my own. I need Him to place me on that rock that is higher than the waters. He will be the one to keep us from being dragged under by the current because He offers the only safe place to stand.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

her name

Over the past months, I’ve had many nights when I’ve woken up for seemingly no reason with someone on my mind. I believe these “angel nudges” are God sent to wake me up and pray for someone at that specific time. Usually I find that after I have prayed, I drift back to sleep almost immediately. Last night, however, I experienced a slightly different twist on this familiar scenario. Instead of a gentle nudging, it was the sound of the dog’s turbo propeller ear shaking that jarred me from my sound sleep at about 2:30. Evidently something was stuck in her ear, because after nearly 15 non-stop minutes of this attempted self-remedy, she had still not settled down to sleep. I eventually had Nathan lock her out of the room, but not before I was wide-awake and past the point of no return. At this point, I realized I had two options: I could try to fight the wakefulness by counting backwards from 500, or I could just surrender to it and tell God I was alert and listening. I opted for the latter.

My mind immediately turned to Poppy, as it usually does, and I found myself thinking back specifically to when Nathan and I sat on our couch together back in July and decided to settle on her name. As I replayed the story in my mind, I felt God encouraging me to share with you exactly how we came to the name Poppy Joy. At the time, we had known for less than 24 hours that there were problems with our baby. The shock, the rush of emotions, the process of trying to absorb the reality of the situation, all of it was overwhelming. Yet, as we were sitting together, just beginning to dip our toes into the crazy rushing waters that awaited, I realized that in order to help fully embrace the fact that our baby was indeed alive and still just as much our little girl (you might remember that we had just been told the day before that she was most likely dead) we needed to decide on a name. I feel terribly guilty admitting it now, but to be completely honest, I didn’t initially want to even consider using any of the names that we had come up with prior to going into the ultrasound. In my warped state, I didn’t want to “waste” a name that I loved on baby that wasn’t going to live. This almost makes me cry to think about now, but it is just a reminder of how far God has brought me!

I began throwing out new names that came to the top of my head. Names that were pretty but that had no significance to me whatsoever. All of them fell flat. Then out of the blue, Nathan said “What about Poppy?” This is shocking for several reasons. First of all, Nathan has almost zero opinion when it comes to baby names. I run everything by him, and almost without fail his answer is “sure, that sounds good.” I can get virtually no direction beyond that under normal circumstances. The second reason that this was odd is because Poppy is a name that I had decided years ago was my “ultimate” name. The very first time I heard it, something inside of me latched on and never let go. I just loved it without being able to explain why. It is also a nickname that I had for my Papa when I was a little girl, which added an extra dimension of nostalgia to it. However, when I began tossing it around as an idea when I was pregnant with Marianna, I received just about 100% negative feedback, so I let it fade away. But for some reason, when Nathan said that, I knew immediately that this was going to be her name. It was like God immediately spoke to my heart and said “Angie, you are right. You can’t use those other names you were considering. But for an entirely different reason than the one you were thinking. They are not special enough for this baby I am giving to you.” Poppy is a name that I knew was special before I knew why, and God reminded Nathan of it at just the perfect time. A few hours later we settled on Joy for her middle name with a two-fold purpose. Joy is my middle name, and I wanted to share it with this baby as a symbol that even if God does take her early, she is no less important than any other future children God might bless us with. It was also just a small step of faith to vocalize and acknowledge that we knew that her life would indeed bring joy. How true that has been already!

The name God gave us for her has been almost like a promise. Her life has already brought unbelievable beauty and joy to my life and hopefully the lives of others. I was reminded last night that there is absolutely no strength or inner fortitude intrinsic in my own character that has allowed me to get to this place and be able to say that. Without God’s overwhelmingly real presence and constancy in my life, I would be lost. Frustrated, bitter, depressed, overwhelmed, angry… any of these emotions would take over if I tried to do this on my own. But Jesus has been real. My only part in this has been in allowing Him to carry me. He has done it for the past 127 days since we found out the news, and He will carry us the remaining 7 to her birth, and then indefinitely on from there. I read a few verses from Romans 12 the other day that are speaking to me during these final days of waiting. This passage says

“Oh the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who became His counselor? Or who has first given to Him that it might be paid back to Him again? For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever, Amen.”

We don’t know what lies ahead, but that is okay. His ways are beyond my ability to comprehend. No one gives Him wisdom or counsel. Everything is already His. It is in these perfect Hands that I can place the future of my baby and know she will be safe.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

10 days and counting

I feel like the countdown is definitely on. We have ten days left before we walk through the doors of the hospital without having any idea whether we will ever walk out those same doors with our little girl. The unknown is daunting, even overwhelming, yet as I consider that the moment when I will be able to hold Poppy is almost close enough to touch, I am excited. When we learned the news back in July, I had no idea if we would ever make it to this point. But here we are, right on the brink of finding out what the reality of Trisomy 18 is going to look like in our life. I’d be lying if I told you I wasn’t scared, but somehow, at the same time I know that I am not living in fear. I have wanted to get here desperately, just to be able to see her, and hold her, and share her as long as God gives her to us, and I am so grateful to have been brought this far.

The remaining days already look as though they will fly by at a whirlwind pace. I was remarking to Nathan this morning that the only evening we have at home without any other obligations is tomorrow. A sense of unreality surrounds me as I consider that the last “normal” uneventful night as just the three of us will be over by the time Tuesday rolls around. I realize that it is overwhelmingly likely that it will be just the three of us again at some point in the future, but even then it will be different. Even if Poppy is not physically with us in the weeks, months, and years to come, I know she is going to leave an imprint on us that will never allow us to go back to the days before she was born.

All of this settles in more firmly with each passing day. The light-heartedness I have felt so often over the past months is being replaced with a heaviness that stems from the awareness of what is to come. It is not oppressive, but it is a real, almost tangible feeling. The tears that have come so inconsistently in the past are now at hand often. This morning in church was just one of those times as I found myself crying at different moments throughout the worship service, not out of bitterness or despair, but from the depth of what these words mean to me right now. The most poignant of all the words I sung from my heart this morning come from the song “In Christ Alone.” I love the entire song, but today this verse in particular spoke the words of my heart more eloquently than I could on my own. It says

In Christ alone my hope is found;
He is my light, my strength, my song;
This cornerstone, this solid ground,
Firm through the fiercest drought and storm.
What heights of love, what depths of peace,
When fears are stilled, when strivings cease!
My comforter, my all in all—
Here in the love of Christ I stand.


Thank you for praying for us this week. I go in for my last doctor’s appointment and ultrasound on Thursday, and barring anything unexpected, we will go in the following Thursday for the delivery. We know we don't walk these final days with our own strength, so thank you for asking God on our behalf to provide us with what we need to make it through.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Thanksgiving

Today as I was about to leave the doctor’s office, my doctor told me that there is a lot to be thankful for this year. I was glad he said it. I feel like some people would shy away from saying something like that to us this year because of what is going on with Poppy, but I’m happy he understood what I am feeling and was willing to express that to me in words. To be completely honest, I have nothing but thankfulness to God pouring out of me as we approach tomorrow, and really, I’m a little surprised by that myself. The only explanation I can give is that I feel like God’s goodness has been lavished on me in a unique but undeniable way during the past months, with the result that, even in the midst of preparing for Him to allow Poppy to be taken away, I have been given a new perspective on just how much He has given me.

As I was thinking about Thanksgiving this morning, I sat down to read the story tucked away in II Chronicles 20 about King Jehoshaphat and the battle that God won for him against incredible odds. Thanksgiving and praise are synonymous in so many ways, and I can’t think of a more powerful Biblical example of the power of praise than this amazing story. To give a little context, King Jehoshaphat was facing an impending attack from numerous surrounding neighbors, and no pun intended, he didn’t have a fighting chance. Upon hearing the bad news the Bible says, “Jehoshaphat was afraid and turned his attention to seek the Lord.” I love that verse because it shows us immediately that Jehoshaphat wasn’t superhuman—he experienced the very natural first reaction of fear—yet he responded instantly by fixing his eyes on God. He goes on to gather all of the people together to fast and call upon God and ask for deliverance. He prays to God in front of all the assembled people, and he concludes by saying, “We are powerless before this great multitude that are coming against us; and we know not what to do, but our eyes are on You.” With their focus in the right place, the people of Judah march out the next day, not with spears or swords or any other weapons of war, but led by a group of worshippers who were singing and praising God exclaiming, “Give thanks to the Lord, for His lovingkindness is everlasting.” In the face of what logistically was going to be a complete slaughter, the people of King Jehoshaphat praised God with all their hearts. Jehoshphat told them before they went out to “put your trust in the Lord your God and you will be established.” He believed it even before He saw how God was planning on bringing about the miraculous deliverance. By the time the people of God reached the battlefield, all that awaited them were the corpses of the enemy.

This story strikes so many chords with me it’s hard to know where to begin. Right now we are on the brink of facing something that is over our heads and beyond our ability to control. The temptation to give into fear and despair is intense. But I know that God intends this to be a victory for Nathan and me in every aspect of the word. We really have no idea what to do, so just as Jehoshaphat prayed, our eyes are turned only to God. I know beyond any doubt that whatever “victory” is to be won is going to come from God and God alone. He may use a number of different instruments to bring about His purpose, but it will be His work. That is why I’m not really hoping in medical science or technology or anything else that the sophisticated hospital staff has to offer. I hope God will work through them and give them wisdom, but I don’t have any confidence that their efforts are going to save my child. I don’t even know if she will be saved at all. But what I do know is that God has promised that if I trust Him, I will be established. To me, that means that whatever the future holds, I will not be destroyed. I have zero doubt that it’s going to be hard and I will feel the winds beat me mercilessly, but this promise of hope from II Chronicles tells me that no matter how hard the winds pound at me, I will not be blown away. My roots will hold because God will not let what He has established be torn down.

So what does this all mean? I think it means that never in my life have I had a better reason to approach this Thanksgiving with overflowing praise to God. Tomorrow represents both Thanksgiving and the two-week marker of time remaining before Poppy’s birthday on December 6th, and in light of this, the story of Jehoshaphat shows me that what I am called to do is lock my eyes on Him and choose to praise Him for as this passage says “His lovingkindess is everlasting!”

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Pictures and Puffs




There is an incredible organization called Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep that provides free photography to anyone giving birth to a terminally ill child. Photographers nation wide are invited to join the group and donate their time and talents to providing this amazing service to families going through the heartache of anticipating the loss of a child. Lisa, the coordinator for the Memphis area, has agreed to be there for us on December 6th when Poppy is born, and she also offered to come out to our house yesterday to give Nathan, Marianna and me the chance to have our picture made with Poppy just a few weeks before her birthday. I am thrilled with how they turned out, and I wanted to share a few of these with you. I know these will be treasures to us for the rest of our life.

On a different note, I want to share something that’s been on my mind the past few days. Anyone who has ever gone through something difficult, painful, and heart wrenching knows that our need for God is more eye-openingly apparent at those times than any other. There’s nothing revolutionary or profound about that, but it dawned on me at some point this weekend that while the need becomes undeniably obvious during the storms of life, it doesn’t actually increase. I don’t think I’ve ever really gotten that before. I’ve pondered over this a little, and I’ve come to the conclusion that I have been living under the unconscious assumption that I needed God more right now as we walk through these deep waters than I do when life is not shadowed by crisis. For some reason, the faulty reasoning of this rationale suddenly struck home. After all, how can my need for God grow if I am totally helpless without Him? I think it is only arrogance—even if it is unconscious arrogance—that allowed me to live with that mentality. Operating under the idea that our need for God is less when the road is smooth and more when the road gets bumpy is so absurd because that assumes that we have what it takes to make it on our own strength under "normal circumstances." Yet, this is what I’ve done. I’ve lived weeks and months at a time, not exactly ignoring God, but certainly not living with realization of my profound need for Him.

I’m glad I see that need more clearly now than I ever have before. I hope that the longer I live and the closer I grow to Him, the more my realization of my need will increase. I feel silly thinking about how often I have handled the “small” or “trivial” problems of my life in my own power. What a waste! However, I know that I will inevitably do this again, because I realize that I fall back into old patterns so easily. This is a lesson I will no doubt be re-learning my entire life. But I do hope that I will move forward from this point on in light of the fact that I need God’s strength, wisdom, and power in my life every single day—not just the ones that pour rain!

This weekend as we were eating with several of our friends, one of the babies in the group was over to the side in her high chair, contentedly gobbling down some Gerber puffs. For those of you unfamiliar with this relatively new food item, this is a snack similar to Cheerios, but with more of a melt in your mouth appeal to them. Anyway, we were all eating when suddenly Savannah began to choke on the puff. After just a few seconds, we realized she was fine (I think it would be virtually impossible for a puff to lodge in a throat for more than a few seconds before dissolving), but it had taken us off guard because puffs seem to be the ultimate in easily digestible foods. After witnessing this little episode, it struck me that there is a spiritual correlation to my own life.

I’ve been wondering over the past months why God doesn’t reveal larger chunks of His plan. I know I see such a limited portion of the big picture, and this leaves me frustrated at times. But seeing Savannah struggle over the puff made me think that maybe the reason God doesn’t give me more substantial things to “chew” on is because I sometimes struggle on the little “puffs” He does give me. The fact is, God is so far above my ability to comprehend, that even the distilled bits of revelation and insight He gives can be too much to fully digest without a little gagging or choking. In addition to that, I was reminded just this morning that sometimes, like in the case of the apostle Paul, God chooses not to let us see the whole picture just so that we have to depend on Him and trust Him by faith. Whatever the case, I’m thankful for what Jesus has shown me through this experience and for what He will continue to show me as we travel the remainder of this journey, but at the same time I accept the fact that I will not ever fully understand it all. Some of the secret things are simply not for me to know. But He has given this promise found in Isaiah 45:2-3. "I will go before you and make the rough places smooth; I will shatter the doors of bronze and cut through the iron bars. I will give you the treasures of darkness and hidden wealth of secret places, so that you may know that it is I, the Lord, the God of Israel, who calls you by your name." God will clear our path and He will show us as much as we need to see as we forge ahead to the remaining 17 days before Poppy's birth and the days that will follow. He has called us by name, and I want to answer,"Yes!" to whatever lies ahead.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

A Big Day


By the time yesterday finally drew to a close, I was left with no coherent thoughts or emotions. I didn’t have words to express the day or the energy to try and think it all through. Since we’ve started down this road I have not experienced such a day of physical, mental, and emotional overload. Crammed into my waking hours were more emotions that I can probably list, and while all were certainly not all negative, nearly every one of them was supercharged. As strange as how the sum total of all the colors in the spectrum creates white, the combination of all of these emotions had the effect of leaving me, ironically, unable to express any emotion at all.

November 14 is inherently an emotional day for me, not only because it is Marianna’s birthday, but also because it represents the most emotional day of my life. When Nathan and I went in to deliver Marianna two years ago, it was under anything but “normal” circumstances. My grandfather had been battling pneumonia in the hospital for just over a week, and the prognosis was getting bleaker every day. On Sunday, November 13 the doctors came in and told our family to begin preparing for the funeral, and at that moment, I realized what I had to do. In the midst of the greatest sadness of my life, we made the decision to have Marianna induced the following day so that I would be able to make the funeral, if Papa’s time was indeed as close as the doctors were predicting. I went in late that afternoon to Papa’s bedside and told him goodbye and begged God that he would still be there when Marianna was born. I cried and I grieved. And then the next morning I dried my tears and forced myself to commit the day to happiness as we celebrated Marianna’s birth. She was born by 4:45 in the afternoon, and after family had the chance to see and hold her, we sent them with the video footage of Marianna to Papa’s bedside so that they could show him his first great-granddaughter. Less than twelve hours after her birth, Papa went home to be with Jesus.

This is what I mean by “inherently emotional.” I simply can’t approach her birthday without a flood of emotions running over me from that surreal time in my life. These are the thoughts I awoke with yesterday as we prepared for the big appointment and the big celebration with Marianna. Our appointment was early, but as is typical with my doctor’s office, we didn’t actually leave until 1 p.m. The appointment brought both encouragement and disappointment. It is always a thrill to be able to see Poppy and hear her heartbeat. I don’t take it for granted that she is alive and growing, and seeing the evidence of that on ultrasound monitor is something I am extremely thankful for. However, we also learned that Poppy’s head has continued to grow and is now officially “off the charts.” This led to my doctor explaining that he will have no choice but to perform a vertical c-section. With this news came the diagnosis I had expected but dreaded hearing: this kind of incision will never allow me to have a child by any other way than c-section, and it will require us to wait one full year for it to heal before we can consider having another child.

As I drove home from the appointment, I searched my heart to try and sort out everything I was experiencing. Frustration came to the top of the list. Isn’t it enough that her condition is going to take her away from us? Does it also have to affect our future children as well? Disappointment also ranked fairly high. I wanted so badly to see a miracle on that screen. I wanted to see that God had stayed the accumulation of fluid and allowed her body to grow at the same rate. Instead, her head continued to grow while her body’s growth significantly waned.

I immediately began searching my mind for a person from the Bible to relate to, and almost instantly Joseph’s story came to me. If ever there was someone who could say “Isn’t enough, enough?” it’s got to be him. His brothers sold him into slavery, he was falsely accused and punished for maintaining righteousness, and he was forgotten and left abandoned in an Egyptian prison. This is a bad story gone worse without any question, and if anyone had reason to be disappointed over lost dreams, frustrated over unjust circumstances, and embittered over the seeming abandonment of God, it is him. And yet Joseph remained faithful, even before he saw the amazing plan God had in store for him. What an encouragement to me!! I am so grateful that God chose amazing people like Joseph and allowed them to go through unthinkable hardships, knowing the profound impact they would have in the lives of Christians for hundreds of years to come. I believe God knew even at the moment Joseph was sitting in prison that someday his faith and endurance would spur me to greater faith and endurance as well. God’s provision to me through His word and His people is something that will never run dry.

For the first time yesterday I prayed a prayer that Job uttered as he was in the midst of his darkest night. He cried out “Thou He slay me, yet I will trust Him,” and after finding out the additional bad news, I echoed this in my heart. As the pressures and concerns with Poppy build, and as we approach her birth in just three weeks, I know I will continue praying this. Even when it seems like what is happening is adding insult to injury, I know in my heart that I will trust Him. The Lord has promised good to me. I may not see it clearly now, but I can see it by faith. I will cling to this as the countdown continues.

Thank you for your prayers and for the many happy birthday wishes to Marianna. I believe she had a truly special day, and it brought Nathan and me much happiness in the midst of everything else going on to be able to celebrate with her.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Tomorrow

I wanted to ask everyone to be praying for us especially tomorrow at 10:30 as we go in for one of our last doctor's appointments. This particular visit has quite a bit hinging on it. I will go in first for an ultrasound, where they will be looking specifically to see how Poppy's head has grown over the past five weeks. They will also be looking to see if she has turned or if she remains in a breech position. These two bits of information will play a key role in my doctor's decision about when to perform the c-section. He is currently leaning strongly toward December 6th, but he told me he wouldn't finalize that until tomorrow.

I ask that you pray specifically that Poppy's head has not continued to grow at the same quick pace, that the growth of the rest of her body has stayed strong, and that my doctor will be given wisdom in making the decisions he has promised to make. I am not nervous about what tomorrow holds, but I am very anxious to find out exactly what news it will bring. I realize that everytime I step through the doors of the doctor's office, anything is possible, so I am praying that God will give me strength for whatever we are about to face.

Tomorrow is also Marianna's 2nd birthday, and I want it to be a happy day for her! I hope whatever news we receive tomorrow will not in any way take away from our ability to be able to celebrate wholeheartedly with her throughout the rest of the day. She is so excited about both her birthday and Poppy's arrival. It makes me so happy to see her joy spilling out when she talks to Poppy and describes to us how she is going to hold her and kiss her when she comes. At the same time, there is always a nagging, sinking feeling in my heart when I consider what the future may hold. We haven't tried to tell her of Poppy's sickness in any way. I don't really think she can comprehend it, and even if she could I wouldn't want to put any kind of damper on her happiness about being a big sister. Please pray for her that God will guard her young and precious heart in a special way from the grief that is to come.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

The Horse and His Boy

I think C.S. Lewis is amazing. I love how broad his writings are, from children’s fiction, to adult science fiction, to non-fiction works on the Christian faith. I have never read any work of his that I didn’t like, but I have a special fondness in my heart for his Narnia series. My mom began reading those to me when I must have been no older than three, and I have read the entire Chronicles many times over in the years since. I don’t remember when I fist realized that the books were actually much more than children’s stories—they have a depth that I have found many times to be quite profound! I’m not to the point of thinking of them as works of philosophy, but I certainly take the stance that any adult can glean some amazing things from the simplicity of the Narnia stories.

I can’t choose a favorite, but one that has been on my mind much as of late is The Horse and His Boy. In this book, Shasta, a boy who from the time he was orphaned as an infant has endured a most unfortunate life, is on a journey to discover who he really is. The story centers around him escaping from his evil adopted father and setting off for the land of Narnia. From the very first night his journey begins, he faces adversity. Lions chase him the first night, jackals threaten to attack a few nights later as he sleeps among tombs, he endures heat and thirst as he makes and arduous trek through the desert, and finally, he is chased by lions once again when he is almost in sight of his goal. To top all of this off, once he finally reaches safety, he is told that he must continue on after no rest to warn others of impending danger. It is at this point that all of the misery of his life and his recent circumstances settle down on him and begins to do something I can completely sympathize with: He starts to feel profoundly sorry for himself. This is when the story gets good, because it is as he is sitting their soaking in his sorrow and crying unashamedly, that he encounters Aslan.

The great lion is invisible to him at first, and Shasta simply hears a large “something” walking beside him. After experiencing a gamut of terrified emotions, Shasta finally works up the courage to speak, and when he does, Aslan is ready to answer. The first thing the Lion says to him after reassuring Shasta that he is not a ghost is, “Tell me your sorrows.” He doesn’t have to ask twice as Shasta is more than ready to unload the long list of “unfair” circumstances in his life that have left him as he deems himself “the most unfortunate boy in the world.” The lion replies, “I do not call you unfortunate,” to which Shasta quickly questions him by asking him if it is not unfortunate to encounter so many lions in one journey. The lion’s answer is my favorite part of the book. He says, “There was only one lion. I was the lion. I was the lion who forced you to join with Aravis. I was the cat who comforted you among the houses of the dead. I was the lion who drove the jackals from you as you slept. I was the lion who gave the Horses the new strength of fear for the last mile so that you should reach King Lune in time. And I was the lion you do not remember who pushed the boat in which you lay, a child near death, so that it came to shore where a man sat, wakeful at midnight, to receive you.” It is not until this moment that Shasta is able to see how even in the midst of the terrible situations he had found himself in throughout his journey, the lion had been there, orchestrating the events for an ultimate good.

I can’t say that I have had one moment of revelation like the one Shasta experienced where the total picture has become clear all at once, but I have already had so many moments in this journey where God has shown me that what I thought was unfair, unfortunate or unjust was part of His bigger plan. I can tell you that I have felt like listing out my troubles on many occasions. Sometimes along the way I have asked Jesus, “Why can’t I just have a “normal” pregnancy? Why does this come so easily for so many others, but not for me? Why do I have to go through the emotional and physical strains of pregnancy without getting to experience a lifetime of the pay off of having a child?” The list can go on, and it doesn’t take long for a pity party to spring up and become all consuming. This is why I love this passage so much. First of all, it reminds me that just as Aslan wanted to hear Shasta’s troubles, Jesus is patient and listening when I cry out to him of my troubles. He is not put off or annoyed when I express my emotions to Him because He, more than anyone else, understands and His patience with me is limitless. At the same time, He also gently helps to nudge me from my pity by revealing Himself to me. It’s not always clear at the time, but I know that God gives glimpses into His provision so that I can see with concrete clarity how He is faithfully carrying me even when I feel like I am alone. When Shasta was at his lowest point, Aslan came to him and opened his eyes to the reality of the provision and love he had been pouring out on him from the very beginning. Jesus does the same with us. He is not put-off by my honesty, but He desires for me not to live in emotions that will lead to bitterness and self-consumed pity. He doesn’t owe it to me to allow me to see how He is working, but so often He shows me anyway. His grace is unmerited, and I am so grateful for it.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Dangerous Ground

I’m afraid of disappointment. I don’t think that is unique to me in any way, shape, or form, but it is true. I hate the thought of wanting something desperately and then having to face the terrible aftermath of dashed expectations when what I want does not become a reality. This is why hope can be so dangerous and potentially devastating.

I tried to think back, and I have decided that my first memory of encountering “hope deferred” is from when I was three years old. I had wanted a premie cabbage patch doll with everything in me, and then for some occasion (I can’t even remember now) I got one. It was wonderful. I remember being so proud of her and treasuring her above all other toys. The only problem was that my mom, shortly after giving me the doll, heard something crazy about cabbage patch kids becoming demon possessed—I’m not kidding!—and whatever she read advised her to remove all such potential hazards from the home. This meant that just days after receiving what I had most hoped for, the little premie was taken from me and tossed in the garbage. I can still remember the disappointment I felt because of that over 22 years later! As I was thinking about this, it crossed my mind that if I had never received the cabbage patch doll in the first place, I no doubt would have zero recollection of having ever been disappointed. So, what does that mean? I think the closer we get to the realization of what we hope for, the more devastating it is to have it ripped away.

From that initial encounter with disappointment at the tender age of three, I have gone on to experience many other instances of hope going unfulfilled, some serious and some very, very trivial. Most recently, I have traveled the painful road of miscarriage and the loss of my grandfather. In both cases, I prayed fervently and hoped with everything in me for a different outcome, but God’s answer was “No.” While incredibly disappointing, looking back I do not regret for a second hoping for a different outcome in both of these situations. Lord Tennyson said it’s better to have loved and lost than to never loved at all, and I think the same can be said for hope.

Yet, as I sit and write, I am faced with a situation where hope is something that I long to hold on to, but at the same time I am frightened to reach out and take hold of it. The closer we get to Poppy’s birthday, the more I realize how much I do want to get to that day. This hit home yesterday in a fresh way when I heard the news that a couple who has been traveling the Trisomy 18 road along with us lost their little boy at 36 weeks. It’s something that I have known in my head to be a possibility, but in my heart I have held out hope all along that we would make it to her birth. Hearing this news devastated me for them, and it made me remember all over again that I can’t take one single day with Poppy for granted! For some time, one of my prayers is for God to take Poppy home in his perfect timing, not mine, since He alone knows the beautiful plan He has for her life. But yesterday I had to ask myself, if God took her now, would I truly be okay with that?

I have been reading some verses on hope, and as I was going through them, I noticed that almost all are referring to the future certainty those who know Jesus have of spending eternity with Him. Romans 5 says, “hope cannot disappoint.” Psalm 71:5 says, “For you are my hope; O Lord God you are my confidence.” Any “hope” that I have in anything other than Jesus is always going to have the possibility of disappointment, but hope in Jesus is the safest thing in the world because it is something that we await with absolute certainty. I can safely hope in the fact that Jesus is faithful and that He will provide for us and meet our every need. So, I will do this. I will hold on to this hope with all my heart. At the same time, I will continue to hope and pray for specifics. I will pray that I get to hold Poppy alive on this earth. I will pray that she gets to spend some time here with all of those who love her. If God chooses to say “No” then He will get me through like He has in the past. But the possibility of disappointment isn’t going to stop me from asking God for big things. I know He loves me, and because of this I know I can trust my heart with Him. He will not allow me to suffer more disappointment than He can help me to bear.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

the latest

Well, the countdown continues. Yesterday I went to my regular doctor, and today Nathan and I both got the chance to meet with the neonatologist who will be in charge of Poppy at the hospital where we will deliver. Our idea of what a "good" appointment is has had to change to fit the circumstances, but that being considered, I would say both appointments went well because they gave us a better idea about what to expect when Poppy arrives. Yesterday when I went to see my doctor the focal point of the conversation was the size of Poppy's head. It makes me smile when I think about it, because in addition to having hydrocephaly, Poppy just didn't have small head genes going for her. Ever since I can remember, my head has been squarely on the large side of the spectrum. It's humorous, but I'm really not kidding! Some sunglasses don't fit without having to strain against their screws, and I've never been able to wear a base ball hat that didn't have an adjustable strap in the back. I'm sorry Poppy! Anyway, because of the size of her head, my doctor explained that he might have to do a different type of a c-section that would involve a vertical as opposed to a horizontal incision. This would be necessary in order for him to be able to safely deliver her head if it does in fact continue to grow at the same rate it has up to this point. He told me that we will do another ultrasound on November 14 to determine if the growth has continued, and at that time he wil make his decision about the type of c-section that will be necessary, as well as a final ruling on the delivery date. He is leaning toward delivering her on December 6th, and if that stands, that means 5 weeks from today we should have her! Dr. Sullivant explained that having a vertical incision isn't the end of the world, but it does require longer to heal. Because of that, I ask that you continue to pray that God will slow the growth of her head, while at the same time allowing the rest of her little body to continue developing at the same rate.

The meeting with the neonatologist provided us with a clearer picture of what to expect during our stay in the hospital. Dr. Jenkins confirmed that there is no way to know how Poppy will do until she actually arrives. It is possible that upon delivery she will not respond in any way, and in that case, we requested that he stimulate her (although not artificially through a respirator) to allow us to spend some time with her before she goes home. However, if she is born and is able to breathe, he told us to expect anywhere from a day to a couple of months with her. He explained that the goal of the NICU in cases like this is to make her as comfortable as possible and to stay away from any kind of invasive procedure that would cause her pain. He did however recommend that if she lives long enough for us to take her home that we first take her to Le Bonheur (a local children's hospital) where a feeding tube could be placed into her stomach and a shunt be placed in her spinal cord to help drain off the fluid from her brain. If this does indeed happen, it would require a 1-2 day stay in the children's hospital approximately 3-5 days after she is born. Overall, this meeting left us feeling better as it helped to clear up as many of the "unknowns" as is possible in a situation like this. Of course I realize that every detail rests in God's hands, but I still want us to do everything possible to be equipped with as much information as we can going into her birth. I feel like the more we get out of the way now, the more we will be able to focus just on Poppy when she arrives. That is my priority-enjoying every single second God gives us with her on this earth.

There is a song that has been much on my heart over the past couple of months, as I have felt the words become a reality in my life. The song is titled "More than You'll Ever Know" by Watermark, and it is a tribute to the faithful people in our lives who lift us up in prayer through difficult times. The chorus and the refrain say:

Cause you've been more than a friend to me
You fight off my enemies
Cause you have spoken the truth over my life.
And you'll never know what it means to me
Just to know you've been on your knees for me
How you've blessed my life! More than you'll ever know.

You had faith when I had none
You prayed God would give me a brand new song
When I didn't think I could find the strength to sing
And all the while I've been hoping that I'll do the kind of praying for you
That you've done for me. That's the way it ought to be.

You have carried me, You have taken up a burden that wasn't your own
May that blessing return to you a hundred fold!

I didn't write these lyrics, but they speak the words of my heart for those of you who have taken it upon yourselves to lift us up so faithfully in prayer! We are forever indebted, and it is my prayer that I will be able to do the same for many, many people in the future. This is how God wants us to function. Not as individuals fighting on our own, but as a body, caring for each member when it is hurt. I can't tell you how much your words, prayers, and encouragement have meant to Nathan and me so far, and I know it will only continue as we quickly approach Poppy's birthday!

Monday, October 29, 2007

A Break from Reality

I have found myself over the past few days feeling a new level of disconnect from what is going on than I have previously experienced. This is a facet of the Trisomy 18 journey that I am unprepared for because it is so unexpected. It just seems natural that the longer we live with it, the more it should sink in. The only problem is that the exact opposite is happening. It seems to me that Poppy's disease (Nathan looked it up, and it is in fact classified as a disease) is becoming more surreal than concrete. I can't explain it; it just seems to be the way it is.

I find that I am feeling so normal and that everything feels so much like my last pregnancy, that I am almost having to make a conscious effort to remind myself that this is not the case! I don't mean that I ever truly forget the reality, but it is certainly becoming easier to ignore it. This worries me because I feel like this is a sign that I am digressing instead of progressing toward being as prepared as we can possibly be when Poppy comes. It's shocking to me that right now, as we are looking at delivering in less than 6 weeks, I am feeling less emotionally connected to what is going on than ever before. It's almost like I am in a burn out stage. We have known that Poppy is sick for 13 weeks now, and I guess it's possible that I'm simply worn out with all of the emotions involved. I have been praying all along that God would give us strength and peace during this intermediate waiting period, and I know with all my heart that He has, but peace is something very different from disconnect. I want to feel calm but not numb!

As I sat down this morning to pray, I told God all of this, and then I asked that He would renew me spiritually and emotionally. I then picked up the Bible to the spot where Nathan had left it open on the coffee table, and I began reading out of Luke 10. In that chapter Jesus gives an illustration about a persistent man who keeps pounding on his neighbors door until the neighbor becomes so tired of the knocking that he gives him what he needs. This isn't where a passage I would normally think of as inspirational (it certainly doesn't have that "you shall renew your strength and rise up on wings as eagles" ring to it), but this morning it was exactly what I needed to hear! I think I have just become tired with the waiting, and as a result, I have let a numbness sink in. Instead, what I need to do is persistently and relentlessly take this to Jesus and ask Him to pour out his blessings, mercy, and wisdom on us right now. Poppy will be here so soon, and I want with everything in me to use the remaining weeks as best as I can.