God With Us

What is “Advent” anyways? I remember as a little girl, we had the advent wreath with purple, pink and white candles on our kitchen table and read about Jesus after dinner. It was a teaching tool in a lot of ways about what Christmas was really all about. But now as an adult, I can get confused at what Advent really means.

In secular terms, Webster defines advent as “a coming into being or use.” In faith terms, Webster defines Advent (capitalized), as “the period beginning four Sundays before Christmas and observed by some Christians as a season of prayer and fasting.”

I don’t claim to be an expert on the theology of Advent. But I certainly think that carving out time to reflect on how and why Jesus entered earth is time worth taking. Really, I think this season of Advent is all about centering our hearts and minds on Jesus.

So, I thought I’d take some time here to reflect on the infant birth of Jesus in the wake of the earthly loss of our baby girl. In Matthew 1:23 NIV we read,  “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”). I love how God defines for us in His Word, what “Immanuel” means. He spells it out for us in plain terms with a definition. It’s like the Lord is saying, “Get this! Don’t miss out! I am sending my One and Only Son to dwell among you and save you!” God prophesied about the coming of Jesus long before in Isaiah 7:14 NIV: “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.” Oh, the harmony of the Scriptures.

Reflecting on Jesus’ birth, I think about how much Pete and I planned for the birth of our child, the advent of her so to speak. We planned and hoped but of course, we did not know what the future held and ultimately, held zero control. We never got pregnant with the thought that Charlotte would die at 36 weeks and 4 days. Yet, to think that our omnipotent God anticipated and chose for Jesus to be born here on earth as a baby with the task to glorify the Father by conquering death for all through His Son dying on the cross and resurrecting three days later seriously baffles me. 

Jesus gets death better than anyone. But Jesus also gets life better than anyone!

What sacrificial love. What unfathomable compassion of the Father. This is unsparing love. Somehow, this comforts me. A very dear lady recently shared with me, “May the love of the Infant Jesus fill your hearts and home.” Yes, King Jesus is with me, my Immanuel, in my heart, my home, and Jesus is with my daughter.

Empty

This evening after work, Pete and I were tidying up the house. There were some random boxes that had been sitting at the top of the steps for awhile now and we finally decided to get to it today. How is it that the attic feels like miles away? It seems like so much work to pull down the attic ladder and lug boxes up there. That’s funny to me.

Anyways, I ventured up the narrow pull-down stairs and Peter carefully handed me all the bins. I had gone up there totally without thinking of the piles of baby things that were in black bags up there. It really hadn’t crossed my mind until I got my bearings up there and out of my peripheral vision, I spotted the sea of bags. The sight of them knocked the wind out of me. Honestly, it was like I couldn’t breathe. And I was surprised by how this all affected me. It caught me off guard and I didn’t feel ready for yet another wave of sadness.

When we packed up Charlotte’s nursery over a month ago now, Peter and I placed all the organized bags of baby things in the back of the attic. The bags are back a ways, tucked back if you will. Each bag is labeled and all the items are categorized but at the end of the day, it’s still a pile of trash bags. I hate it. It feels like such a waste to me. But Peter reminds me that those pretty things will go to lots of good use one day and I know he’s right. I just hate it right now.

I contemplated if I’d go over to the grouping of bags or not. It felt a little more safe to look at it all from afar but given I was already up in our attic, I thought I might as well fully embrace it. I went back and forth in my mind. Finally, I chose to walk over there. I shimmied myself over the ductwork and found myself stuck in the middle of all the baby things we had thought would be somewhere very different right now.

I started to sob. The tears wouldn’t stop. And then I found myself on my knees. I brushed my hand over the plastic bags, trying to feel what was inside each. I wanted to feel something. I wanted to be reminded that this loss was real. Life is going on but the loss of our daughter, Charlotte, is as real as ever – it’s not going anywhere.

When I was on the ground on my knees in my attic, I kept thinking how we had so much stuff yet didn’t have her. The lacking is so painful. It hurts. My arms feel so EMPTY. I feel burdened with this emptiness. While up there, I muttered in my tears, “This is so wrong!”  I prayed to Jesus for His comfort. I told Him how much pain I was feeling. And He reminded me that He allows me to feel and it’s okay. He was with me.

I then moped down the attic stairs and told Peter how desperately sad I was. He held me. And lovingly listened. I then read Tear Soup by Pat Schwiebert & Chuck Deklyen. A sweet friend had recently mailed me this book. I had read this book before; however, I never read it through my bereaved perspective. It’s such a reassuring read. I cried as I read about crying. It was kind of comical. But not, too. Grief is like that – such a mixed bag. As I read the book, these little confetti hearts fell out of the pages. This friend of mine had placed little paper heart cut-outs. It was so touching and thoughtful to me.

Like my friend, Megan, had told me when we met up for the first time after Charlotte died, Jesus loves me! I was telling Megan how much I love Charlotte and saying how much I know God loves Charlotte too and then she said, “And God loves you!” That really struck me. God loves me? Really? Yes – REALLY!

Sometimes, the fact that Jesus loves me sounds so rudimentary. It’s like I get use to it. But the glorious truth that God loves me and loves you is the most powerful statement out there! Jesus, keep washing that truth over me. Thank You that You love me, that You love Peter, that You love Charlotte – that You love the world. Those little hearts kept reminding me how much Jesus loves me and is for me. There’s nothing like it.

 

 

 

Seasons

During my time off from work, I started taking Annie to a park near our place. It’s this huge, open chunk of the forest by a gorgeous reservoir in the middle of suburbia. I love it there. It’s become one of my happy places.

One of my favorite parts of going there is letting Annie off leash. Our backyard is great but it’s not like she can just run and run there. At the park, she weaves through the trees and travels deep into the woods but I can always hear the jingle of her collar. She gets to gallivant through the twists and turns of the woods, chasing squirrels and exploring the terrain. I love that for her. It’s like what dogs were made to do. Run free! There’s just something about watching her through the camouflaging of the greenery with the sun peeking through the shade of leaves that makes me glad. I think it’s because I feel like she is doing what she was made to do (in addition to love on us, of course, which she also does so well).

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For us humans, I feel like worshipping God is what we were made for. Countless times in the Bible, God exhorts His people to praise Him, to bring Him glory. Sometimes, when walking through the woods, these church bells start to play. It’s the craziest thing. I don’t know where they come from, but the hymns travel over the water and resound through the trees. It’s happened twice now and each time, I stop and just lift my hands. It’s me and the Lord in His awesome creation and He plays me a song. He’s so big, so loving.

But, I don’t mean only worshipping God through song but also through our everyday living. I remember at the end of Charlotte’s memorial, I was talking to someone very dear to me and to Charlotte. She told me she grew up in the Presbyterian Church, as did I. She reminded me of the Westminister Shorter Catechism; this states that the chief end of man is to glory God and enjoy Him forever. Now, that’s worship. Then, she continued in saying that Charlotte did this! She brought and keeps bringing God glory. That comforts me.

Let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad;
    let the sea resound, and all that is in it.
Let the fields be jubilant, and everything in them;
    let all the trees of the forest sing for joy.
Let all creation rejoice before the Lord, for he comes,
    he comes to judge the earth.
He will judge the world in righteousness
    and the peoples in his faithfulness. Psalm 96:11-13

 When I walk the trails with Annie, sometimes I think, sometimes I don’t. Other times, I’ll pray, and sometimes, I won’t. Sometimes my mind wonders, other times, it doesn’t. This one morning, it did. I was thinking about what it’s like to grieve my daughter, really grieve her. The journey feels daunting. Life feels long. I started thinking about how when I first started walking these unknown trails with Annie, the trek seemed quite long. Not knowing the path ahead made the time feel longer, almost drag. I was a bit nervous even of getting lost. But, as I kept coming to the park and I kept walking the trails, getting more familiar with them, the time went by much faster. I identified landmarks along the way that helped me feel more comfortable. Occasionally, when I would venture into new offshoots of the trail, I’d get uneasy. But then, I’d keep going and what was unknown eventually became known.
I think grief is a little bit like this. Analogies help me make some sense of this whole process. Grief is such a journey and has its own seasons. Seasons are inevitable. You know each of the four seasons is going to eventually come, right? However, you don’t know the intensity or necessarily the duration of each season. Similarly, grief is predictably unpredictable. I know I’m going to have times of being sad, other times of being angry, sometimes confused, fearful, and sometimes, fine -and all in one day. But I also know that as I keep bringing every season into the strong and reassuring arms of Jesus, the grief doesn’t go away but it becomes redeemed. Jesus speaks His life to me and reminds me that Charlotte is safe, and more alive and well than I’ll ever be before encountering my Savior.
I was thinking about all of this while crunching over the leaves in the park another afternoon with Annie. As the leaves were starting to change and I was watching them fall to the ground, I thought, too, how seasons are not only inevitable, they are also sensory and visual. Those yellow and brown leaves weren’t there a few days before. I now was having to bundle up a bit more for the walk. When winter comes along, I’ll see the snow and feel the tip of my nose get all chilly and red. When the anniversary of her death comes, and it will, Peter and I will feel a whole new set of emotions, I’m sure. When other kids come, and I trust they will, we’ll miss Charlotte in a different way. Holidays, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day and the list in my head goes on and on…
Not to get ahead of myself too much here, but I am realizing how change is not an option on this side of heaven. But, I pray that by walking through the trails and trials of the loss of our little girl, we will be changed to look more like Jesus. Walking is intentional, one foot in front of the other, literally one step and one day at a time. Those sayings seemed more cliche to me until now. Oddly enough, I was watching TV one morning before I went back to work and this car commercial came on and said something like, “What good is change if it doesn’t make you better.” I was like, wow, that’s so true. Jesus, keep changing and making me and Peter more like You.
Not only in grief, but through every season of life, I’m continuing to see how much we need buddies to walk the paths with. As silly as it may seem, I like that my sweet pup walks with me. I also like when my husband joins me for a walk or run through the park. I’m seeing too that there are times I have to walk through grieving alone, wrestling it out with just me and God, leaning on Him, trusting Him. And that’s the thing, He’s always there with me. Jesus always walks beside His kids. Thank you, Jesus, for never leaving my side. You are always good, always faithful, always there.

 

Our New Normal

When people ask me how I’m doing, the only word I can seem to find is: “Okay.” It’s not that what happened to our daughter is okay. It is wrong. It’s not like our life will ever be the same. And how could it be? I don’t ever want to be the same after losing a part of myself. But, Peter and I really are doing okay. The Lord has never left our side.

A week after Charlotte died, I remember this specific conversation Peter and I had. Peter had taken that week off. Like I said in a previous blog, it was a sacred week for the two of us. We slept in, cried, ran errands, did house projects, prayed. While talking, he said, “This past week has been the hardest week of my life.” I thought that was the end of his sentence but he proceeded with the smile of a father, concluding, “But it’s also been the proudest week of my life.”

Dichotomy has been a word I keep thinking about. Peter was pained yet proud. There are moments of extreme grief mixed with confident hope. One minute I am crying and the next, singing. It’s funny like that. My mom and I were talking about this sentiment and I said, “Grief is weird.” It really is. I don’t mean that insensitively. I simply mean grief is unpredictable and raw. It is one day at a time, a lifelong journey I am sure. Like Megan said to my mother-in-law at Charlotte’s memorial, “This will be a journey for them.” It is and that’s comforting and heart-wrenching all at once.

Because of the living power of Jesus, I am far from hopeless! I am a broken, wrecked woman. But He is my great reward. As Paul explains, God brings beauty from ashes:

“We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves.

We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair. We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed” ( 2 Corinthians 4:7-9 NLT ).

Peter and I have such assurance in Jesus. We know now more then ever that we don’t know what tomorrow holds. But we know Jesus holds it all.

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A reassuring sunrise that Peter captured the morning Charlotte was delivered. 8.23.2016

As my Poppa Knabe said to me and Peter on the phone the morning of Charlotte’s memorial, “The sun will come up again. You know where she is and she is safe.  We have hope, faith, & trust. But it’s just hard to do.”

Six-Week Follow Up

Today was my six-week follow up appointment with Dr. Denney. I pushed myself to walk through those hospital doors. Frankly, it sucked. But there is something about doing hard things throughout this experience. A loving lady at our small group, after hearing our news, kindly said, “We have this saying in our house: We can do hard.” As believers in the One who conquered the grave, we can do hard! There is an odd, rewarding aspect of checking off a challenging task.

Pete and I have talked about this, especially as it related to when we went into the funeral home after having Charlotte’s earthly body cremated. The pain was wrenching. I can’t even put it into words. But there was something healing about going through that experience together. In faith, when I choose to fully walk through my grief, though I did not choose this path, there is healing.

At today’s appointment, Dr. Denney was therapeutic for me. She told me that at this point, it is unlikely that we will ever know how/why Charlotte died, at least medically. Everything was coming back negative. The placenta pathology didn’t show anything, there was no known issue with the cord and the preliminary report of sweet Charlotte’s autopsy was answerless. Dr. Denney expressed how she longed to give me some sort of answer but that she will walk this journey with me. Despite the agony of the unknown, there is peace from people simply being with us through this.

For me, the most comforting people to talk to are those who don’t try and say something neat and tidy but rather just be with me and welcome any emotion I bring to the table. When I hear, “I am just so sorry. There are no words. I am here,” I feel loved. And that’s what my doctor did for me today. She was Jesus for me today.

Though my time with Dr. Denney went well, I was obviously devastated. Unintentionally, some people at the hospital had said things like, “How’s your baby?” Not to mention, just being back at the hospital was hard for me. So, I left there in tears. Talking about Charlotte medically and in the place I delivered her, stirs me up. By the time I reached the parking lot attendant, my eyes must have been beet red because she said to me, “Honey, you look sad. What’s wrong?” I couldn’t get anything out except, “I’m just sad.” And then this complete stranger said with assurance, “Just pray.” Her courage and vulnerability to recognize my tears and not simply take my money and open the gate in monotony struck me. God uses all things to minister to His children.

I called Peter and he came home from work early to be with me. I loved that. For the first time since Charlotte passed away, I felt the urge to go through all of the things we had collected since leaving the hospital (her blankets, ultrasounds, footprints, handprints, pictures of her after she was born, countless cards …). Out of love, Peter kindly said, “You sure you want to do that now, Han?” I replied, “Yep, I’m sure.” So, I carefully took each piece out and laid them all out on our bed. I cried holding the blanket they wrapped her in. I re-read some cards and God comforted me in new ways.

One card that fell through to my attention was in a blank envelope. Curious, I opened it and it was from Megan. Megan is married to one of Peter’s co-workers. They lost their daughter, Emily, in a very similar way to how we lost our Charlotte. God gave me Megan. She and her husband came to Charlotte’s memorial and she has sent me such sweet texts and grabbed coffee with me. She’s just been with me. It’s like Peter and I are now apart of this super sucky club that we never imagined being a part of. But in all of it, He keeps showing us that we are known and that He is with us always.

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The stack of cards we’ve received. I’ve kept each one. They mean the world.

I read Megan’s card again. In it, she shared that after Emily died, a dear friend told her and her husband “that she knows no words can take away our tears and she wouldn’t want to because our tears are our outward expression of our extreme love for our daughter.” In my tears today, Jesus knew I needed to read Megan’s letter. He also knew I needed to read about this revelation of Hope:

Revelation 21:3-5 NIV
And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”

September 15th

Today was the day the doctors told me my Charlotte was “suppose” to be born. But that didn’t happen. This day was meant to be different. Instead, today is the 23rd day after I delivered my sweet Charlotte, who had already been born into heaven, immediately into the presence of God. So, today, Pete worked from home, I rearranged a bookshelf, made lunch, ran errands, cleaned up the house, read sympathy cards, received a bouquet of flowers from kind co-workers, and cried…a lot. These co-workers from my previous job knew the situation but were unaware that the 15th was Charlotte’s due date. No detail is too insignificant for my God. He sent me flowers that day.

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After awhile, I gathered up my favorites of all the bouquets. I thought they all looked pretty together.

Sometimes I wrestle with the “what ifs” and “would have beens.” I don’t think it’s healthy to go there too much but I know it can be apart of the grieving process. Charlotte never got to nurse from me, she never got to hear me read her books, she never got that. But really, I am the one who misses out. She gets to be fed by glorious Jesus; He holds her, speaks life to her and somehow, I just have to believe that He raises her. I don’t know for sure what age or maturity my daughter will be when I get to hold her and part of me cares but part of me doesn’t. I just want to hold her. I just want to hold her. I just want to hold her. Jesus, hold her for me until I get there, okay? Please. I trust You already are.

Tonight, we also went to a Bible study potluck with a friend of ours. We only knew him. During the prayer requests, I struggled to know if I should speak up. Pete nudged me and told me if I wanted to say something, I could. So, I did. And it felt kind of awkward to be the “trump card” prayer request. I’m not used to that and I wasn’t sure what to make of all of it. But, I shared that we recently lost our child and that we needed prayer. They were all in shock and so kind.

One of the group members asked if we had any “immediate needs,” such as financial costs, food and so on. I explained that our freezer was full and that God fully met our financial needs. All I could think of was for prayer. Prayer is our immediate need. And I just keep thinking about that – immediate need. Prayer should always be my immediate need. Whether we are venturing through the crushing loss of our daughter or trudging through the ordinary and mundane days –prayer is my immediate need even if I don’t recognize that.

And really, what is prayer. Well, it’s praise, supplication, thanks, stillness, listening, confession, repenting…and all of that boils down to being WITH GOD. I can be really bad at prayer. Through losing my firstborn child, I have realized this more fully. But really, in my weakness, I have seen God be strong. My prayers are weeps, mutterings, fits of yelling, thanks, and I just have this deep sense that the Holy Spirit is making supplications on our behalf. I just know it. Romans 8:26-28 NLT has never ringed so true for me: “And the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness. For example, we don’t know what God wants us to pray for. But the Holy Spirit prays for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in words. And the Father who knows all hearts knows what the Spirit is saying, for the Spirit pleads for us believers in harmony with God’s own will. And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.” With that, I will rest.

Our Week

The Saturday following Charlotte’s memorial on Friday, August 26th, our family headed out. Peter and I felt as ready as we could to be just us. I think our family recognized that readiness in us, too. Our family time had been so good. But now, it was time for the two of us to face our still childless home. It was time.

So, it was just us again (and of course, Annie, our golden retriever). Gosh, I seriously cannot fathom our home without Annie in it; it would be unbearably quiet and lifeless. I mean, my fish are nice, but they just don’t cut it. They can’t cuddle with you or nudge you when you’re crying.

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Sweet Annie.

That saying, “And then there were two” kept popping into my mind. I’m so thankful that in every season of our lives, Peter’s always got my back. He’s my biggest fan. My cushion. My kleenex. My rock. My best friend. He’s it. Whether we have a house full of kids one day or not, it’ll always be us. I love that and I find comfort there. My marriage is first for me.

That week was so hard and so good, all in one. We slept in. We cried. We talked; other times, we were quiet. We were just together. We also did a lot of house projects and consequently, we made countless errands to Lowe’s and Home Depot (so many that the folks working there would recognize us). We had this unasked-for time to do home improvements that we’d been wanting to get to but hadn’t quite yet. Peter hung shelves in the kitchen; he also built shelves in our garage. We painted cabinets and rearranged furniture. I kept the house tidy.

The toughest home project we did was conquer the nursery. It was that Tuesday when we both felt it was time to do that. Walking by that hollow space was heart-wrenching. I’d had enough of it. It helped me when I realized that the nursery we had prepared for her was never hers. She never slept there. She never wore the clothes hanging in the closet. I never nursed her on the pretty rocker in there. The space wasn’t hers. Her nursery was way better.

We gathered up all the cute things and placed them in bags by category. Bath. Blankets. Clothes. Toys. Gear. And so on. We labeled each bag and then lugged them up into our attic. There were a lot of bags. You can have so much “stuff” and still feel like you have nothing at all.

Words are hard to come by during this grief process. Words just don’t cut it, oftentimes. Like, what do we call “the nursery,” now? We struggled with that. How do we label that space? Peter was thinking about it and said, “Why don’t we call it the elephant room?” That struck me and I loved that. See, the theme for her nursery was elephants. It was kind of selfish because I love elephants! But I didn’t think she’d mind. So now, we call that space, “the elephant room.” For now, it fits.

That week, I remember sitting on the steps in Peter’s workshop. I was just sitting there, not saying much. My husband doesn’t always say a whole lot, but when he does, you better listen up because it’s good stuff. To paraphrase, he said, “I keep thinking of the word, ’empty.’ You know, we’ve been spending a lot of time trying to make all these spaces in our home functional. But no matter what we do, it’s empty.” I listened and ached for him and said, “Yeah, babe. It will never be quite right.”

But through all of our pain and nagging questions, we have hope because:

After you have suffered a little while, our God, who is full of kindness through Christ, will give you his eternal glory. He personally will come and pick you up, and set you firmly in place, and make you stronger than ever. 1 Peter 5:10 TLB