Thursday, July 28, 2016

Celebrating Ethan: Days #341-347

As we approach Ethan's birthday, I decided to post a photo to Instagram each day along with a glimpse of the things that have been on my heart. Join us as we celebrate Ethan's first birthday with the hashtag #celebratingethan. 

Day # 341: The Countdown //
Sweet Ethan, it's hard to believe that you'd be turning 1 in only 25 days. The closer we get to your birthday, the stronger my longing for you grows. Yet, as heavy as my heart has been, I would do it all again. I think back on this horrible, wonderful, challenging, amazing year, I wouldn't trade it for the world. You have brought so much richness and growth into our lives. Your tiny little hands have left a huge imprint on our hearts. You are so very loved.

Day # 342: The Beginning // 
Ethan was a surprise. A huge, wonderful, unexpected surprise. He was such a surprise that I got a little mad at Chris when he suggested that I take a pregnancy test, after my "flu" just wouldn't go away. "I'm NOT pregnant," I insisted, with an eye roll. "We KNOW I can't be pregnant." Nearly three years of blood tests, doctors appointments, and unexplained infertility had convinced me that it was impossible. But I took the test to prove that I wasn't pregnant.

I was wrong. 

I cherished each day of my pregnancy with Ethan. We had wanted him so badly for so long. I knew that each day I had him in my womb was a day that I was never promised. I felt the magnitude of the years of longing, and I felt the weight of my sisters who still faced infertility. I knew this child wasn't promised. And I savored every queasy morning, every ache, every extra pound, every craving, and every tiny baby flutter (which soon grew into enthusiastic kicks). We're still so thankful for that time. It was a longing that we knew may never be fulfilled, and we do not take one day for granted.

Day #343: Soaking it in// 
There is another side of loss that I didn't expect. Sure, there is the crushing side. The obvious side that knocks the wind out of you and sends you crashing to the ground. The side that feels so heavy, so confusing, so isolating. 

But then there is the other side. The side filled with such beauty. Such light. Such hope. 
It's as if the dirty glasses that you once viewed the world through have been removed, and all of the colors are suddenly more vivid. The dark colors, the light colors, the suffering of the world, the beauty of creation--they all are suddenly so clear, so intense, so vivid. 
When you've seen the storm, the rainbow is that much brighter. When you've shivered in the cold, the hearth is that much more comforting. After a long night, the sunrise is that much more breathtaking. 

As we watched our child slip into eternity, I was faced with the reality of our mortality. In this past year, I have spent so much time thinking about death, about heaven, about eternity, about the purpose of it all. Ive wrestled and searched and have begun to come to grips with the reality of my own mortality, and the reality of heaven and hell--we are all dying and we don't know how much more time we will have. Each and every day is a gift. Each and every day is an opportunity to have an impact. Each and every day is one step closer to eternity. Each and every day, our purpose is to share Jesus and live for him. 
It wasn't until I saw the darkness that I realized how incredible the light is. It wasn't until I suffered that I realized just how broken the world is, yet how incredible the promise we have in Christ is. It was there that my heart gained a new understanding for the beauty of Christ's sacrifice, the overwhelming need for the gospel, and the beauty of the promise of His return. 

I'm not saying that loss isn't hard. Oh my--it's the hardest, most horrible form of suffering I've ever faced and I wouldn't wish it on anyone. But there is a beauty that lives side by side with pain. A newfound appreciation for what is good, and true, and lovely. Brighter colors. More joy. Renewed hope. 

Day # 344: One in a Million// 
It wasn't until after Ethan was born that we learned that he had a rare chromosomal condition called Trisomy 9 (Full). The condition is extremely rare. One website I found on the topic of Mosaic Trisomy 9 and Trisomy 9p even said, "Full Trisomy 9 does not exist." Well let me tell you, I have an official report from Ethan's doctor stating the diagnosis- FULL Trisomy 9.

A little overview of what we learned:

1. Full Trisomy 9 is always fatal. 
2. Babies will Full Trisomy 9 are almost always miscarried in the first trimester.
3. Trisomy 9 is so rare that the California Prenatal Screen Program and the NIPT blood tests do not even screen for it.
4. The doctor who delivered Ethan had never seen a baby with Full Trisomy 9...before Ethan that is.
5. Ethan's condition was "randomly occurring" and was not genetically passed down.

As the specialist (who also seemed surprised that our son had Full Tri 9) began to explain the process of conception and the formation of the 23 chromosome pairs, Chris and I were both blown away by the complexity of life. If one tiny thing goes wrong, we die. Every single tiny cell must properly split, attach, form, etc. in order for a healthy human being to be produced. If you ask me, it seems as if there are more things that could go wrong than could go right. Yet somehow, hundreds of babies are born every day.

The second thing that I realized is that Ethan was a one-in-a-million miracle. The rarity of Ethan's condition was confirmed over and over. Doctors seemed so surprised that Ethan, a baby with Full Trisomy 9, made it to the third trimester and was born live. 

There are many more answered prayers, than unanswered ones. 
We were told, "This was a baby that probably should've been miscarried"..but he didn't. "These babies aren't born alive"...but he was. 

We begged and pleaded with God for a child, and he answered. 

We prayed from day one that God would use Ethan's life to bring people to know Jesus, and he answered. 

We prayed that God would protect Ethan in the womb, and he answered. 

We prayed that God would give me a smooth delivery, and he did. 

We prayed that God would give us the opportunity to meet our son, and he did. Not only that, but he gave us 93 minutes with him. With a one-in-a-million baby that "should have" naturally miscarried. 

We prayed that God would allow Ethan to come home with us, and he said no. One "no" in a sea of yeses. One "no", that provided Ethan with much more than we could have ever offered him. 

Ethan will not come to us, but we will one day go to him. 
God knit Ethan perfectly together for a purpose. His eyes saw him; every one of those 93 minutes were written in his book. 

Day #345: The Name// 
Chris and I had two baby names that we loved. Ironically, both were girl names. I jokingly say that I knew we were going to have a boy because girl names were the only names that we could both agree on.

One evening, Chris and I were driving home after date night in Laguna Beach. We had been reading from lists of baby names all week, trying to find one that felt right. "Ethan," Chris said. "Ethan...Daniel...Ethan Daniel." I liked it. I really liked it.

We decided to wait before deciding on an official name, but this one was in the running. 
A week later we found out that sweet baby had serious health concerns. As I prayed, I kept thinking of our child as "Ethan".

Each time I prayed, I almost called him Ethan. I stopped myself each time because we had not named him yet. I shared this with Chris, who said that he felt the same way. Ethan was the name that we both continually thought of as we referred to our son. We decided to wait to make a final decision. In my mind, I knew. He was going to be Ethan.

One night, Chris called our pastor to give him an update and to ask him to pray for us. Our pastor prayed for us and said that he would add our request to the church prayer list. He asked for his name.

Chris and I both knew. "His name is Ethan."

Day #336: Ethan's Room // 
There was so much joy in preparing for Ethan's arrival. Painting the walls, receiving the package that held his crib, making decorations for his room, assembling furniture and putting everything in its proper place. We knew that there was a possibility that Ethan may not come home to this room, but we had hope that he would. No one ever expects an empty crib. No one expects to make returns. 

Almost a year later, the room is still "Ethan's room". The decorations have been placed nearly into a box of treasures, along with the clothes that I just couldn't bear to part with. Now, the room only holds a dresser, a crib, and the most comfortable glider I've ever sat in. Sometimes I go inside and rock in the glider. It once brought me such heartache, but now, most days, it feels peaceful to go there. In reality, Ethan is in a "room" beyond my imagination. But here on earth, this room carries so many memories of him.

Day #347: A father's love // 

He gladly came to every doctor appointment. He bought books and read stories to Ethan before we went to bed. He felt the first kicks. He talked to him every day, while Ethan kicked in gleeful response.

He was the first one to hold him. To kiss him. To hold his tiny hand while the doctors worked frantically to stabilize him. To root for him and cheer for him and tell him he loved him. 

In a culture that often forgets the fathers, I see him. He loves Ethan just as much as I do. He has been my best friend through the good, the bad, and the ugly. And I am so thankful.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

The Lies we Tell Ourselves, and Truths to Counteract Them

Earlier this week, I hosted a Facebook Live video on On Coming Alive titled "Lies We Tell Ourselves, and Truths to Counteract Them". The topic had been on my heart since the OCA team and I first began to discuss ideas for Facebook Live earlier this summer. It's so common and so very important to address. 

Nearly a year ago, I was thrust into a community of some of the most broken and incredibly beautiful hearts that I've ever met. Yet despite how beautiful, compassionate, selfless, and incredibly wise these new friends are, many of them often tell themselves a variety of lies. I've done it. You've probably done it. We all do it. We are our own worst critics and we can easily fall into a cycle of verbal self-abuse. 

In talking with my community and in examining my own thoughts I noticed several common lies that grieving hearts tell themselves. 

“I’m broken beyond repair.”
"This is my fault. I’m to blame."
"I'm unlovable and I'm a burden to others."
"I have to be strong."
"I have it all together. I’m okay. I won’t let this hurt me.”

Friends, we need to stop lying to ourselves and talking down to ourselves. Myself included. It can be so easy for these lies to become more than just a thought and to burrow themselves deep into the crevices of our heart. The more we repeat these lies to ourselves, the more we begin to accept these lies as truth. And, in time, we can convince ourselves to the point where we can no longer determine what is true. 

These thoughts are natural. There is no shame in struggling with these thoughts. The problem is when we begin to dwell on and accept these thoughts as fact. 

Let's tackle these. 

I’m broken beyond repair.

We are hurt and we are broken. It’s a fact. There is no shame in that. But in our weakness, and in our brokenness, we are not worthless nor are we beyond repair. We were formed by God, intricately knit together in our mother’s womb. We are fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:13-15).

Our scars, our story, our hurts can become something beautiful. No person living on this earth is beyond the reach of God’s redemptive grace. If you know Jesus, when God looks at you, He sees someone that has been justified and cleaned.

1 Corinthians 6:11 says, “And that is what some of you were. (Talking about sinners.) But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” If you know Jesus (and if you don’t, it’s not too late), when God looks at you He does not see a liar, a murderer, a worthless person. He sees someone who has been washed and justified. He sees Jesus.

This is my fault. I’m to blame.

There have been times when I’ve looked back and wondered what I could have done to save Ethan. What if I had gone to the hospital sooner? What if I had made it to L.A., where my doctor planned for me to deliver? What if I had exercised less? What if I had exercised more? What if I had eaten more of this, less of that?

It can be easy to fall into the deep hole of “what if” questions, and to let the guilt begin to gnaw away at you.

Our world is broken and full of pain. It can be crushing at times. You may be broken and you may have made plenty of mistakes, but you never asked for this. This world is inherently broken. God knows that the world is broken. He knows that it is hard. He never promised us an easy life. In fact, Jesus promises us that we will face trials. But he reminds us to take heart because he has overcome the pain and the sorrow of the world. This pain is temporary.

One story that has brought me comfort when I have started to feel heavy with unnecessary guilt is the story of a blind man in John 9. Jesus and his disciples were walking when they say a man who had been born blind. The disciples asked, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” And Jesus said to them, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.” The man didn’t do anything to be born blind. His blindness was a result of an imperfect world—and his circumstance became an opportunity for God to be glorified and for others to believe and become children of God, and have the opportunity to spend eternity in Heaven.

I’m unlovable.

Okay, let’s stop for a minute. I can debunk this lie right now. Every time I meet another hurting heart, especially one that has lost a child, there has been an instant connection. It’s as if our hearts understand one another and the compassion for one another is instant. If you are hurting, I care. I know. I wish I could cry with you and tell you just how much I think about all of you…all of us.

Sometimes it’s hard to feel loved when you’ve become isolated. When people don’t know how to talk to you anymore. Or, when people do talk to you, but their words feel cold and insensitive. Through this past year I’ve come to find that, 99% of the time, these insensitive comments are actually love that has gotten lost in translation. People are so uncomfortable with seeing you uncomfortable that they don’t know what to say—the discomfort stems from a place of love and concern.

Most importantly, God loves you. He sent his son Jesus to die for you. He knows this world is broken. He’s coming back for His children. God collects your tears. (Psalm 56:8) If you have Christ, you are a conqueror. Nothing will separate you from the love of Christ! (Romans 8:37-39)

I have to be strong.

Ugh. I’m so bad at this. I hate feeling like a burden. I have been so guilty of trying to hold it together in front of certain people, because I feel like they don’t really want to know what’s really going on. It’s not that I don’t want to appear weak—I know that I’m weak. I know that I’m imperfect. I know that grief has exposed a lot of my flaws. I’m completely owning that. But what I have a difficult time with is feeling like a burden to those around me.

But the truth is, we don’t have to be strong. We need one another. We need to carry one another’s burdens.

I think that this struggle often stems from insecurities about the last lie—of being unlovable. Of feeling like people wouldn’t want to have to “deal with you”. Of feeling like you're weighing everyone else down. 

We don’t have to be strong. We need one another.

My favorite scripture is II Corinthians 12:9- “My grace is sufficient for you. My power is made perfect in your weakness.” When we quit trying to be strong, we give God the chance to shine.

I have it all together. I’m okay. This won’t hurt me.

This happens when we stuff our feelings down and try to forget them. At times I have to step away from everything so that it doesn’t feel so overwhelming. Some days, I need to step out of routine, listen to upbeat music, go to the beach, get some fresh air, and pretend like everything is normal. Those activities have been healthy for me. It’s good to care for your heart. But on the same token, we also need to be careful that we do not ignore our feelings. Sometimes we need to ride the wave. It’s okay if you have hard days. It’s okay to break down. It’s impossible to be perfect. Tears are healing.

I’m no expert at any of these things. I’m learning, right there alongside you. I truly believe each of these truths, but I’ve had to go back and reread them for myself multiple times this week. We need to remain rooted in the truth, no matter how hard the winds of despair blow at us.

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” John 15:5

Friday, July 1, 2016

Running with a limp

People often ask how I'm doing. I wish that were an easy question to answer. I try so hard to think of a simple answer, but there just isn't one. Grief is so complicated.

I liken it to a terrible injury.

Imagine you get into a traumatic accident. You are taken to the hospital, where you rushed into emergency surgery in an attempt to save your life. After hours of surgery, the prognosis seems quite good. However, the doctors were forced to replace a few of your shattered bones with metal rods.

For the first few weeks the pain is unbearable. The most simple tasks send radiating pain throughout your entire body.

As time goes on, you are able to do more. You attend physical therapy sessions and slowly learn to perform the tasks that once came so easily to you. Soon, you are walking again.

Eventually, the day comes when you are able to run again. You may even go on to run a marathon. Time has made your body stronger, despite your injury.

But no matter how many marathons you may go on to run, you will still ache. After all, you lost bones. You nearly lost your life.

On some days, the ache will creep back in. Perhaps you landed on your leg wrong, or maybe the pain was caused by a simple change in the weather. On some days you are crushed with the realization that you can't do some of the things that you used to do. Sometimes you can predict when the ache will come and other days the pain blindsides you.

The dull ache will always be there and on some days will feel like a sharp pain. Sure, you may dance. You may go on to run 100 marathons. You may compete in the Olympics. But it won't be without the ache until you reach heaven.

And that's okay.

I was never promised a pain free life. I was never promised to have it easy. I could have absolutely nothing on this earth, but if I have Jesus, I have everything. When I step into eternity, nothing else will matter.

That is not to say that it doesn't hurt. Or that it doesn't ache. I simply mean that I am running again, in both the literal and figurative sense. I am able to function. I am doing the things I once enjoyed.

But I am changed to the core. In some ways I'm the same girl that I've always been, yet on the other hand I'm a completely different person than I was a year ago.  I will be "missing bones" and living with a limp until the day that I breathe my last breath on this earth.

But I'm still moving forward. I'm still running with a limp and clinging on to hope.