Greatly Loved

A name is important to one’s identity. And that’s why, in the story of our fathers and mothers, God keeps changing people’s names. After all, the people of God never considered themselves “sons of Terah” or even “sons of Abram.”  They were sons of Abraham, a name that means “the father of a multitude of nations”(Gen. 17: 5). That name seemed nonsensical at the time for this childless, homeless man. It seemed almost a mockery to call his barren old wife a “princess,” as the name “Sarah” means (Gen. 17: 15). The children of Israel, furthermore, were children of Israel. That identity reflects another name change, when the one whose name meant “deceiver,” Jacob, wrestled with God on the riverbank. God named him “Israel” because he had struggled with God and men and won (Gen. 32: 28). It sure didn’t seem as though Israel had won—on the run from his angry brother, limping away from his encounter with God. But God names things as though they are and then makes them that way (Rom. 4: 17).

Russell Moore, Adopted for Life

All of us, at some point, experience those times when it feels as if we’ve been tossed inside the trash compactor of life.  You’re already caught up in the middle of a murky mess when suddenly the walls begin to close in on you.  They grind, stone on stone, as they creep ever closer, and the feeling of panic begins to wring the very life from your heart.  Before you have a chance to think, much less respond, your world goes dark.  You can’t breathe.  Your muffled cries for help go unheard and unanswered.  Then you wake to find that what seemed like a vicious nightmare is your reality.  And you wonder, “Where were You, God?  I called for Your help, and You weren’t there!”  Often when we reflect on our life’s most turbulent trials, we are willing to acknowledge God’s involvement in the healing process.  We speak of His comfort, the peace that passes understanding.  However, finding evidence of His hand when the storm is raging on every side is sometimes a more difficult task.

When the walls crept in on me and finally crashed down around me as my tiny baby died in my arms, I felt very much alone.  I knew that God would take care of me.  I knew that He wouldn’t leave me alone.  What I didn’t know and couldn’t see at the time was that He had been taking care of me in ever so many ways through the smallest details leading up to and preparing me for those moments that He knew were coming.  And in the midst of my storm, He gave me Theadora.

Remember, “That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet” (Romeo & Juliet, II, ii, 1-2)?  While you might share Juliet’s nonchalance with names, my overly analytical mind would never allow it.  I have always taken the responsibility of bestowing a name very seriously.  You see how I worded that?  You don’t just name someone or something.  In my mind, you bestow a name because a  name is a gift–the only gift, in fact, that a recipient will carry with him for the entirety of his life.  I have always named my pets after having been given the opportunity to know them, taking into careful consideration their physical traits, personalities, anything that might lead me to the “perfect” name.  And naming my children?  What a task!

When I was expecting our first baby, I had chosen several names for girls but none for boys.  Boys’ names were complicated.  I would need a name that was cute enough for a baby boy but burly enough for a manly man.  Finally, I decided that the most appropriate test would be the way that it sounded in the frustrated voice of a parent, in that strung-together fashion of a reprimand. (You know the one–that one that really opens your eyes to the fact that you’re really in for it, whatever “it” is–when you get all three names.)  If the name passed that test, it might be a keeper. Finally, we were fairly certain that Eli Gaston (my maiden name) was our winner.  However, we told no one but my doctor because I needed to see him before I made it permanent.  I just knew that if I announced it, well-meaning friends would purchase sweet little monogrammed gifts.  But what if I changed my mind?!  (GASP!) I remember the doctor asked when she first held Eli, brand new to the outside world, for me to see, “Well, does he look like an Eli?”  I studied his head full of hair and sarcastically quipped that he actually looked more like a Samson, but I figured Eli would do just fine.

Two and a half years later, I was expecting, and the daunting task of choosing a name was again looming on my horizon.  We chose a boy name fairly quickly.  My instincts, however, aren’t always spot-on;  I was expecting a girl.  Since we gave Eli a Bible name/Family name, I wanted to do the same for this baby girl.  That meant that all of our previous girl names were out.  Back to the drawing board.  Generally speaking, girl names are easier, but not so much girl Bible names. I didn’t want to go with one of the more common names like Mary or Sarah.  I wanted something unique.  So, I began to search place names.  And soon, there it was.  Beautiful.  Paradise.  Eden.  Eden’s middle name was our struggle.  We discussed several options.  However, when I learned that Darrell’s great-grandmother was named Emily Minniebelle, I was sold.  I’ve always loved the name Amelia; we could name her Eden Emilia–poetic, musical even.  Perfect.  However, as we were waiting for the doctor to come into the labor and delivery room, (literally) minutes from her arrival, Darrell looked at me and said casually, “So we are naming her Eden Clare, right?”  Eden Clare?!  I thought we were naming her Eden Emilia!  But just a few months earlier, Darrell had informed his grandmother prior to her hip replacement surgery that we had decided to name our baby girl after her.  How does a person argue with that?  Admittedly, I still wrestled with it for a couple of days.  We didn’t complete the paperwork for her birth certificate until the day we were to be discharged from the hospital.  Finally, when I did, I reluctantly resigned the music in my heart and signed off on “Eden Clare”.  (Looking back, though, I’m so thankful that we chose this name.  It gave Mawmaw Rice such joy, and Clare really suits her spunky, fun-loving personality.)

Unexpected pregnancy number three caught me off guard in every aspect, including the naming department.  Again, we chose a boy name fairly quickly–Isaac (which means laughter, because we knew that one day, despite what seemed to be terrible timing, we would laugh about the arrival of this blessing) Austin (for his Daddy).  I even had a back-up boy’s name just in case he didn’t look like an Isaac Austin!  Of course, that meant our “he” was a “she”.  My slightly off-kilter instincts are actually non-existent.  Immediately I began delving into baby girl names.  This time, I began with Biblical place names to carry on the trend that we set with Eden.  I really loved the name Cana, but we had so many children in our congregation with hard C names–2 Kendyl’s, Corey James, Kennedy, Cameron, Chloe, Keelie, Kyle, 2 Carson’s, Kaitlin, 2 Caleb’s, 2 Caroline’s, Corrine, Carter, Kathryn; I just couldn’t add another one to that mix.  Back to work!

The next night, as Darrell was getting the kids in bed, I came across the name Arimathea.  I reflected for a moment on the beautiful story of the Joseph who made that town famous, the Joseph who paid our Lord such a great honor by preparing His body for burial and placing Him within his own tomb.  That story has always warmed my heart.  But, the name itself is also beautiful; it, too,  has a musical quality.  Too bad it was such a long name.  Then I had an epiphany.  Instead of Arimathea, we could shorten it and name her Thea!  I was so excited that I was almost giddy (probably for the first time since we had learned of the pregnancy).  I loved it, and I just knew that Darrell would love it, too!  I couldn’t wait for him to come back into our room so that I could present it to him for consideration–beautifully adorned on a fluffy, velvet pillow.

I heard Darrell’s footsteps in the hall and jumped out of bed for a quick bathroom trip before the grand presentation.  However, when I got into the bathroom, the excitement that had taken months to claw its way to the surface sank hard and fast with the appearance of the color red.  In that instant, I quickly buried the name within myself.  After all, if this pregnancy was in jeopardy, naming her would only make her more real and thus harder to relinquish.

Of course, we called the doctor immediately, and we went into the office first thing the next morning, as instructed.  Everything appeared to be fine, she said.  Hopefully I had just angered my anterior placenta when I leaned over the side of the bed while lying on my stomach.  So, we would keep an eye on things, and resume life as usual.  That afternoon, we ventured toward Lineville for Darrell’s family Christmas, and feeling a little more emboldened, I ventured out with the name.  I had been right; he did love it.  Pleased and proud, as we had never reached a conclusion on a baby name so quickly, we decided on Thea Brintsey (for Pawpaw Rice, John Brinton).  Of course, we would wait to make it official so as to be sure she looked like a Thea, but this name just felt right.

A few days passed, and the bleeding continued.  I returned to the doctor (multiple times, actually).  I was presenting some disturbing symptoms, but she couldn’t determine what the cause might be.  On the way home from one of the visits, I thought about one of the students in the class that I was teaching that year.  Her name was Teddy Grace.  When I learned her name, I asked her to tell me the story.  After all, with a name like Teddy Grace, there must be an accompanying story.  And there was.  She had been adopted as a baby.  Her mother named her Theodora Grace, which literally means gift of God’s grace.  I looked at Darrell as we drove that day and asked, “If she happens to make it, what would you think about naming her Theadora instead of Thea?  It means gift of God, and she will certainly be a gift if she’s able to pull through this.  We could even spell it with an A instead of an O and still call her Thea.”  (Here, I must insert that I have always been opposed to the idea of naming my children one thing only to call them something else, so this concept was shocking, most especially to me.)  And so we agreed–Theadora Brintsey Powell.

Of course, if you know our story, then you know its tragic end.  Our beautiful baby girl was born only days later.  She was alive, perfect.  At such a young gestational age, however, she didn’t really even stand a chance at life.  Her soul slipped away in just a brief few moments as I cradled her in my arms.

In the hospital, they asked us her name.  “We hadn’t decided,” I heard myself reply.  I loved this name.  What if I had another baby girl and wanted to name her Thea?  Besides, God had denied me this gift. Could I honestly call this nightmare a gift of God?  And what if He were to grant me another? Would my heart even allow me to name this baby?  The fear monster was still lurking in the shadows of my mind.  “Name her, and it will only hurt more!” he sneered.  

Hospital stays are a whirlwind of pokes, prods and paperwork.  Within minutes of arrival, I was flooded with all three.  Paperwork–for both a birth and death certificate.  It was surreal.  Of course, the first boxes were for her name.  I looked at Darrell, questions spilling out with the tears.  “What do you want to do?  Do we want to keep her name or save it?  We were naming her after your Pawpaw.  Would you rather not, in case we have another baby later?”  And then it hit me.  What was I thinking?!  We would never be able to give that beautiful name to another child.  If we did, it would serve as a constant reminder of the child that we lost, whose identity we had given away so flippantly to another, almost as if the first had never existed.  In that moment, my thoughts fluttered through the many things that I would never be able to give to my baby girl–not one ounce of Mommy’s milk, not one kissed ouchie, not even one all-night vigil as we both fought through with tears.  But there was one thing that I could give to her–a beautiful name, befitting of an angel.

I am reminded of a story from the book of Daniel that touched my heart as I read it months ago.  At the time, I couldn’t quite put my finger on what made the story so moving.  Today, as I reflect, I think I understand.  At the beginning of chapter 10, the reader finds Daniel mourning over his people, as he has been for three weeks.  At this point he sees a vision of a man unlike any other.  The man touches him, and Daniel begins trembling on his hands and knees.  Then he addresses Daniel directly as “man greatly loved”, a term of endearment that he uses twice in this chapter.  He assures Daniel that each and every word that he spoke in prayer was heard; as a matter of fact, this “man” was sent in response to Daniel’s prayer.  He then goes on to tell Daniel in the following chapters about the future that lies ahead for the nation of Israel–one that would be filled with tribulation but ultimately would end in victory.  It reads almost as if God knew that Daniel’s prayers would not be answered as Daniel would have liked, so He, as his loving Father, wanted Daniel to know that that didn’t mean that He hadn’t heard or that He didn’t care.  So, He sent Daniel this vision as a reminder that he was lovedgreatly loved–and his prayers were valued, even if their answer would be a resounding “no”.

In those days and weeks when her future was yet uncertain, I begged God to protect my baby girl.  I happened to be reading in the book of Job at the peak of our struggle.  I remember stumbling on Job 38:8, “Or who shut up the sea with doors, when it brake forth, as if it had issued out of the womb?” I imagined my womb being shut up with doors, as was the sea, and I begged God repeatedly throughout every day to close the door of my womb.  Please, Father!  Just close the doors!  Keep her safe!  Please!  I know that You can!  And yet…He didn’t.  Instead, He prepared me for what was to come.  It was as if He said, “The answer to this prayer is going to have to be ‘no’, Jamie.  But that doesn’t mean that I haven’t heard your prayers, that I don’t love you, or that I’m not with you through this.  And to prove it to you, I’m giving you this gift.”  And He gave me the most precious gift, the name Theadora.  God names things as though they are and then makes them that way.

A skeptic might make a good argument for coincidence; however, I know myself.  I know what would have happened if I hadn’t found her name literally moments before the trouble presented itself.  I would have seen the signs of danger, buried my head in the sand, and done whatever I had to do to “protect” my heart and the hearts of my family.  My beautiful baby girl would never have received that gift of a name from me.  But God knew that I would need that in the days, weeks, and months that would follow.  It is difficult to grieve the loss of someone whom you never knew at all.  I never knew the sparkle in her eyes, the melody of her giggles ringing through our halls, or even what precious things, unique to her, would incite that laughter.  At the same time, I knew her as intimately as any mother knows the child that is so much a part of herself.  I can’t imagine how much more difficult this grief would be if it remained nameless.  In truth, her name was not my gift to her; it was God’s gift to me.

I will be forever thankful for my Theadora, my gift of God, my proof that I–as small and insignificant as I might be in the scheme of time–even I am greatly loved.

She Filled a Whole Shelf

We received a Willow Tree piece as a gift at a wedding shower–the image of a man and woman in a wistful embrace.  I remember thinking, “Well, that’s certainly interesting.  But what will I do with it?”  (I’ve always been an overly practical person.)   Eventually, I learned that the piece was part of an entire collection, and I thought that one day it might be fun to expand my collection to commemorate the different stages of our life together.  That one piece stood alone for six years.  When I was expecting Eli, I added a second piece–a mother with child.  After he was born, a third, called “New Life” with a mother and father, sitting together, enamored with this new life placed within their hands.  As my collection grew, I became more and more thankful that my sentimentality would never allow me to toss aside a gift from the heart of another.  I knew that one day I would look back on them all and reminisce over the joys in the various stages of our life as a family.

Eli was fascinated with them from the beginning.  He would play with them when I got them down each week to dust.  (Yes, at one point in my life, my house was spotless!)  I don’t even remember how many I’ve replaced over the years.  I remember watching with a mixture of horror and amusement as the head of that new father rattled over our hardwood floor.  I did my best to mend him, but glue just didn’t hold long.

One night, as he admired them, Eli’s chubby two-year-old finger pointed to the New Life piece.  “Dat’s me in yours and Daddy’s arms.”  Then he looked at the original with the man and woman wistfully (and oh so peacefully!) embracing and said, “Dat’s before I was here.”  He was quiet for a minute.  Through his always deep brown eyes I could see the workings of his child-philosopher mind.  He began shaking his head slowly and then added, “Poor Mommy and Daddy.”  And he meant it! He knew our lives could never have been as blissfully radiant before his arrival.

Our family continued to grow, as did our collection.   I added several pieces as we welcomed Eden to the family.  Another piece joined our collection when Eli went to school.  For each child, I had a pregnancy piece, a piece to commemorate their infancy, one to represent their toddler years, and one when they graduated to “big kid” status.  Each child had a designated shelf that represented his or her life.  I hadn’t yet added a piece to commemorate my pregnancy with Thea before we lost her.  However, she does have one named “Angel’s Embrace” with a baby in the arms of a precious little angel.

One afternoon, we were dusting the pieces.  It was a much rarer occurrence at this stage in our lives than it had once been, so I guess Eli felt the need to take advantage of the opportunity.  He still loved them and bargained with Eden so that he could be in charge of dusting them instead of the pictures on the mantle.  I smiled as I watched the slightly clumsy seven-year-old hands fumble with the characters, submerging them into the same roles they’d always played in the theater of his imagination.  It brought me joy to see the three year old in his eyes again.  His demeanor changed, however, when he came to Thea’s.  I watched as he placed the angel so gingerly on Thea’s shelf, along with her keepsake box and a picture of her during one of her ultrasounds.  His somber eyes were fixed, his busy hands still at his sides.  Without turning he observed, “You know, even with such a short life, she filled a whole shelf.”

I swallowed hard and thought that no other words could better summarize our experience with her loss.  Here we stood before a beautiful antique corner shelf, lovingly restored by my father’s hand.  Each shelf represented the milestones in the lives of my children, with room to grow!  Thea’s little life was so very short, and yet her shelf was already full, as was her life. Not because of the milestones that she reached or the heights that she achieved, but because of the way that she filled every one of our hearts–individually and collectively–to bursting.  Thea’s life touched every member of our family.

At the same time, her loss ripped every one of us to shreds.  If I could choose only one thing to share with others in regard to the reality of pregnancy/infant loss it would be this: It touches everyone.  Its icy hand crushes the heart of the mother, yes, but then it moves on callously to claim its next victims.  Regardless of the stage in which the loss occurred, this baby was loved by a mother and a father.  While the mother might feel a different connection having carried the baby within and having experienced the physical changes that take place throughout a pregnancy, the father also grieves.  I have no idea how many well-meaning friends and family went to Darrell and asked him privately, “How is Jamie?”  I wonder how many of them ever thought to ask about him.  Men are strong.  They don’t often show the emotion that they are feeling.  I knew just how deep and prolonged Darrell’s grief had been when almost a year and a half removed, he had to fight for composure before an audience of 300+ people when he simply made mention of our loss. Most do not know that Darrell performed CPR on our tiniest little daughter while we awaited the arrival of the paramedics. For some reason that knowledge changes things in the minds of those who gauge his grief, although it shouldn’t.  Not even I knew until recently, though, the guilt and the questions that he has carried since.  “Did I do enough? Did I do too much? Am I the reason she is gone?” Bless him! Daddies grieve, too!

One of the hardest things that was said to me in the aftermath of Thea’s passing was in regard to Eli and Eden.  While several others hinted a little more tactfully, I will never forget the words, “They only have a hard time with this because you do.  They are only responding to you.”  And just like that, my children’s right to grieve the sister whom they loved, whom they were anxiously awaiting, whom they longed to hold, was stripped from them.  I will never forget the night we broke the news to them.  I sat, helplessly watching, while Eli so tenderly rocked the tiny crocheted wrap as if it it still held his baby sister snugly inside.  In his mind he was holding the baby he would never hold, tears pouring over his cheeks.  I listened, heartbroken, as Eden sang a lullaby to her baby sister before she fell asleep that night.  In her mind, she was singing to sleep the sister whom she would never comfort.  I hear their comments of Thea, loss, and Heaven–still, almost two years later–on an almost daily basis.  I field their questions, “Why didn’t we get to keep our baby?”  I overhear their discussions with anyone willing to listen about the sister they didn’t even get to see.  In preparation to move, I removed the scriptures that lined the walls of my closet where I had cried out to God, swallowed up in grief.  And in the process, I found a little picture placed not by my hand, but by the hand of a big sister who missed her little.  It was drawn in the fashion of preschool art.  It was a picture of what she imagines her sister would look like with the word THEA scrawled at the bottom.  I wonder if she, too, called out to God in that place in her own little way.  I know that they grieve without any prompting from me.  They have the right to grieve, and their grief deserves to be acknowledged.  It should never be brushed aside as if they are not old enough to understand it or capable of loving deeply enough to be touched by it.

Grieving is hard.  It’s ugly.  But, at times, in a strange upside-down sort of way, it is beautiful.  Watching my babies grieve has been gut wrenching.  Often just observing them squeezes the breath from my lungs. But, at the same time, I realize that they have gained an understanding of many deep things in life that is their own–not one that they have adopted simply because it is mine.  Because they know grief, they also know the comfort of the Father.  Because they know pain, they know the power of prayer.  Because they know loss, they know the joy of fulfillment.  In ways that I can’t fathom in lives so young.

One day, Eli prayed, “Dear God, thank you for Life. Thank you for all lives everywhere. Thank You for the lives that last a long, long time. And thank You for the ones that don’t even last a day. Even those lives are important because of what they mean to the people who are still alive.”  He gets it.  We all do.  And we all honor the girl who will forever fill a whole shelf in our home, but most importantly, in our hearts.

 

 

Full Fillment

Emptiness.  I will never forget those long minutes during which I stared surreally at the ultrasound monitor before me. What had been full of life–a healthy, beating heart, ten long fingers just like her brother’s, and a button nose just like her sister’s–only two short days prior to those eternal minutes was now full of emptiness. Try as I might, I could not blink back the tears that fought against that ugly word.  Of the 17,253 words I might use to describe my experience with a late-term pregnancy loss, this one pretty well sums it up in three short syllables.

If you have ever given birth, even to a healthy, full-term baby, then you are already familiar with the strange physical sensation, that of going from completely full to suddenly empty in a matter of a few short minutes.  I still remember how very odd it felt to sleep on my stomach again for the first time after Eli was born.  I have known women who have expressed emotional difficulty with the overwhelming sensation of emptiness, even with a completely normal pregnancy and delivery.  Although, with an infant to care for, their hearts and minds become otherwise engaged.

When there is no little bundle to fill your arms and your heart, what fills the void within?  Following a pregnancy loss, the emptiness seeps through the boundaries of the physical and invades mentally, emotionally, and even spiritually, and I became easy prey to its callous indifference.  I felt sure that I needed to find a way to let God fill the emptiness.  For weeks I repeated Ephesians 5:18, “…be filled with the Spirit,” and begged God daily to fill me with His Spirit.  I tried to facilitate that through daily Bible study.  But no matter how much I read, no matter how often I prayed, I could not fight the nothingness that threatened to swallow me from the inside out.

In desperation, I wondered if the only thing that would ever be able to touch the ache, much less heal it, was another baby.  That was the object of my greatest desire.  I prayed, “Lord, if I could just have another baby, I would do everything so differently.  I would appreciate every minute.  I would sacrifice ten more years of sleep, if need be, without one complaint.  Please, Father.  I need a baby to heal this hole in my heart.  I just don’t think I will ever be able to feel complete again without one.”

One night I was driving home from a devotional with the teenage girls; four-year-old Eden was strapped discontentedly in the backseat.  She was overly-tired and therefore a hidden landmine in a field of emotion.  First, she fussed because Eli had gotten a balloon when he was with the boys, and she had gotten only a boring mirror (which just happened to be her favorite color).  Then she whined because she wanted to be with her Daddy instead of with me.  Whines became cries, which quickly morphed into sobs.  She stopped for a moment to listen as I explained that it hurt my heart a little that she was so upset, and she wanted to understand why.  I simply explained, “Well, because I love you, Eden.  And I was kinda hoping that you could just be happy to be with me.”

Almost as soon as the words escaped my lips, I knew that I had been given the slightest glimpse into the heart of the Almighty.  (Isn’t it strange how our earthly relationships do that so often?)  In that moment–shamefully–I had an inkling of understanding.  “I love you, Jamie.  And I was hoping that you could just be happy to be with Me.”

That understanding, however,  was still just a tiny mustard seed in my heart.  God continued to water it as I listened to His gentle explanation.  I remember an evening when I read Psalm 145.

14 The Lord upholds all who are falling

and raises up all who are bowed down.

15 The eyes of all look to you,

and you give them their food in due season.

16 You open your hand;

you satisfy the desire of every living thing.

17 The Lord is righteous in all his ways

and kind in all his works.

18 The Lord is near to all who call on him,

to all who call on him in truth.

19 He fulfills the desire of those who fear him;

he also hears their cry and saves them. (ESV)

I read verse 19 repeatedly.  “He fulfills the desire of those who fear him.”  Initially, as I read, I focused on my intense, unabating desire for another baby and found assurance in that He would fulfill that deepest desire of my heart if I remained faithful.  I must have read it twenty times.

Have you ever noticed, though, that if you say something over and over again, it begins to sound different to your ears with each repetition?  When I was teaching in the classroom, I illustrated the importance of voice inflection in the spoken word with a simple three-word sentence: I love you.  The first time I said it, I placed emphasis on the first word: I love you.  We discussed its meaning.  If I love you (as your teacher), then you should feel really special.  Then, I changed emphasis.  I love you.  I don’t just like you, I love you.  Finally, I love you.  As a unique individual.  Each time our focus shifted, the meaning of the entire statement shifted along with it.

This was exactly what happened as I read and reread verse 19.  My focus was shifting.  Instead of reading it, “He fulfills the desire of those who fear him,” I read it this way: “He (pause to let that sink in) fulfills the desire of those who fear him.”  Immediately my thoughts began swirling.  Perhaps the blessing is not in the fulfillment of desires but instead in the fact that He is the fulfillment of those desires.  Maybe it’s not so much about God giving me what I want as it is about God becoming what I want.  When they are seeking Him, He Himself fills the void in those who are empty.  God fulfills–full fills.  He fills me until I am full.  He is All in All.

I immediately began searching for more.  I needed to know if this was the answer.  I soon discovered Lamentations 3, and it has become an almost daily reading since.  I have found that I identify with the weeping prophet.  He says in verse 8, “Though I call and cry for help, he shuts out my prayer.”  In verse 17, “My soul is bereft of peace; I have forgotten what happiness is.”  Eli’s words were a punch in the gut the day he said to me, “Mommy, it’s like you’ve forgotten how to have fun.”  He was right; happiness has been elusive.  So much so that I often felt, along with Jeremiah, “My endurance has perished; so has my hope from the LORD” (Lamentations 3:18).  I felt hopeless that the empty ache within me would ever subside.  Hopelessness is such a dreadful feeling.

This, however,  is not the conclusion of the chapter.  The prophet goes on to say in verse 21, “But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope.”  I stopped and reread: I have hope.  Hopelessness had gained hope anew.  Anxious to know exactly what it was that rekindled that flame within his heart, I found myself caught up in a melody I have sung for the majority of my life. “The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness” (vv. 22-23).  For the first time, I laid hold upon the power of those words without losing their meaning in the notes of the song.

Then, finally, a reinforcement.  “‘The LORD is my portion,’ says my soul. ‘Therefore I will hope in him’”  (Lamentations 3:24).  Maybe it’s because I’ve been on such a strange food journey over the past several years, but when I think of portions, I think of food–the amount needed to satisfy.  The LORD is just what my soul needs in order to be satisfied.  He is my portion.  He fulfills my desires because He is my desire.  And in that, there is hope.  In that, I will choose to hope.

A song by Laura Story called “Blessings” explores the idea that perhaps some of God’s greatest mercies are found in life’s greatest struggles.  It concludes in this way:

What if my greatest disappointments

Or the aching of this life

Is the revealing of a greater thirst this world can’t satisfy?

I have endured great disappointment over the past year.  I have ached in ways I never knew possible.  Perhaps through the disappointment and through the ache, I have acquired a thirst that only my Father in His infinite wisdom can satisfy.

While we might not all have experienced preterm labor and the subsequent loss of a child, I expect that each of us is or will become acquainted with the ache of emptiness in some way.  In such times, may God grant us all the strength to continually seek out one of His greatest blessings: FULFILLMENT.

Rainbow Reminders

There’s something magical about that new baby smell.  I’m convinced.  It almost gives life to your spirit when you breathe it in.  I didn’t realize it, but I’ve had the scent “bottled” for years.  Who knew?!  I spent this week sorting through the tubs and tubs of clothes that I’ve been hoarding for years for another baby.  We are moving at the end of the month, and I have been trying to decide what to do with them.  Should I move them again?  Or is it time to let go?

I think that God has been gently leading me toward an answer.  A few weeks ago I shared with the kids this blog post written by a missionary friend in Tanzania about the natives’ struggle between the heart, the means, and the energy to give.  We talked about their quality of life, and how giving is so much harder for them physically, yet comes so much more naturally.  Sweet Eden burst into tears.  She said between sobs, “They’re hungry!  It’s not fair that they don’t have enough food!  I just want to help!”  I reminded her that we’ve been praying for them for months, and prayer is powerful.  Her child eyes needed something more concrete.  She replied, “NO!  I want to DO something!”  I messaged my friend then and there and asked if there was anything we could do from across the world.  She suggested that I send a dress or two that Eden had outgrown with our mission team that would be going to Tanzania within the month.  Great idea!  Funny that you should mention clothes…  And then, just last week, another missionary spoke to our congregation about his work in the Philippines.  At the conclusion of his summary report, he listed some ways that we could help.  One of the items on the list–sending clothes for a children’s home that is run by the church.  It was almost as if God was nudging me with a friendly elbow to the ribs.  “In case you didn’t get it the first time, Jamie…” Yes, Lord, I know. I am clinging.  It’s time to let go.  I’m still learning.

So, I’ve spent the week sorting through the memories, the pain, the hope.  It’s been quite an emotional ride.  Eden’s things were the most difficult.  The process was the same: pick up an item, breathe in that scent, cry, sort, and repeat.  It was hard.  Each piece held a memory.  She wore this on her first birthday.  Or This was a gift from _______. (It’s uncanny given the complete lack of dependability in my memory lately, but I do remember almost all of them!)  Each piece stung with pain.  Some of them were articles that Thea would be wearing right now. I imagined what she might’ve looked like in them, toddling on unsteady legs in an effort to keep up with her big brother and sister.  Those were the hardest items of all.  I hugged them and sobbed.  And each piece carried hope–my hope for another baby.  My rainbow baby.  However, as I sorted each article into its designated area, I realized that I was mentally closing the greatest and hardest chapter of my life.  Not that I have no hope of another baby…just that I think I can finally say that I will be OK if God does not grant me that gift.  He has filled my life in other ways.

As I contemplated that thought, I recalled an article that I read last week, written by another loss mom.  It was entitled, “Not Everyone Gets a Rainbow.”  If you’re not a part of the baby loss community, you might be unfamiliar with the term.  I don’t think I’d heard of it before being plunged into the depths of this ocean.  A rainbow baby is the baby that follows a loss.  He or she represents the promise of life in the midst of one of your darkest storms, the filling of empty and aching arms.  The article discussed the harsh truth that some never receive a rainbow.  That thought led me to this moment in my memory that I wrote about almost a year ago.  And I realized that while I might not have a baby in my arms, God has given me a rainbow.  Maybe we all get a rainbow after all!  It might not be the rainbow we were hoping for, but it is a promise, a beautiful gift, all the same.  And just maybe God gave me that day, that moment, that gift in preparation for this very week that He knew was looming on the horizon of my future.  Today, more than ever, I am thankful for my rainbow…

Rainbow Reminders

written August, 2016

An age-old question that we rarely ask or answer honestly–how are you?  Often motivated by courtesy rather than concern, we ask it in passing without even hesitating for a response.   When asked of me, the question makes me cringe.  When I’m not feeling blessed, or great, or even good, how should I respond?  These days, my answer is typically “I’m fine,” or “I’m OK”.   Translated into overly-analytical, can-we-skip-the-small-talkese, that means, “I’m not really good, but I don’t want to say that.  And I don’t want to lie.  So, I’ll just say that I’m fine.  I’m not sick; I’m not dying; I’m here, living another day.  I guess ‘OK’ sums it up quite nicely,” spoken with a forced smile and followed by the dutiful, “How are you?” (Whew! Pressure’s on you now!)

I resonate with so many songs these days. One of them is called “When I’m with You” by Citizen Way. Following a pregnancy loss within his own family, songwriter Ben Calhoun wrote of the messy state of his inner being while fighting to keep up appearances on the outside.  He describes the relief that he feels in letting down his guard with the Lord.  To me, the most striking line in the song is his admission, “Everything’s not fine, and I’m not OK, but it’s nice to know I can come this way.”

One evening, on the way to worship, I was driving Eli and Eden as I listened to this song.  It had been a hard day, emotionally speaking.  Most Sundays were, I think because I’m more reflective than other days.  As I listened, I thought about how I was weary of being “not fine” and tired of being “not OK”.  Sometimes I wondered if I would ever feel “fine” or “OK” again.  It was a weighty matter to consider, and as I did, I felt that familiar sting of tears.

In that moment, I rounded a curve on I-459 and before my eyes, stretched across the width of the interstate, was a rainbow–one of the biggest I’d ever seen.   Immediately the tears that I’d been holding captive began to flow freely.  Just as my hope was failing and I had begun to question, “How long, O Lord?”, into my outstretched hands He placed a gentle reminder of His faithfulness.  “Eli!  Eden!  Look outside!  A RAINBOW!!!”  They were as excited as I and scrambled to basque in its beauty.  However, as quickly as it had appeared, it was gone again, our vehicle turned just slightly in the other direction, the rainbow’s vibrancy hidden behind the trees.  I sighed, disappointed.  Then I looked again as we traveled along, turning still more in the direction I had believed to be away from the rainbow, to see its other half, just as striking as the first.

Reflecting on its beauty, I remembered God’s promise with the very first rainbow sighting:

13 I have set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. 14 When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, 15 I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh. And the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. (Genesis 9:13-15)

Did He promise that there would be no more rain?  Of course not.  Did He say there would never be another flood?  Not even that.  He said that He would never again send a flood to destroy all flesh.

It reminded me of a pslam of David that I have treasured for many years, one that has gained new meaning in my life lately.  Found in Psalm 37, it’s about trusting God and His timing, and committing your way to Him.  Two of my favorite verses are 23 and 24:

23 The steps of a man are established by the LORD, when he delights in his way; 24 though he fall, he shall not be cast headlong, for the LORD upholds his hand.

I picture in my mind a parent walking hand-in-hand with a small child.  If you’ve been there, you’ll know what I’m talking about.  The two of you are walking along and the child stumbles.  Instinctively, you, as the parent, tighten your grip.  You might even pull the little hand that’s in yours toward yourself to keep the child from tumbling to the ground.  Did your child stumble?  Yes.  But did he spill headlong onto the unforgiving concrete sidewalk?  No, because you snatched his hand the instant he began to tumble.

I might stumble a dozen or more times a day, but the Lord is there, walking beside me, holding my hand.  And with each faulty step or obstacle that lurks unsuspecting along my path, He reacts, immediately and instinctively.  Though I fall, I am not cast headlong, for He upholds my hand.  It might rain in my life every now and then.  I might even endure a year-long deluge (or more…).  But my Faithful Father will not allow me to be utterly destroyed by the flood in my soul.  And He sent me the gift of His promise, wrapped in a very colorful package, as a reminder.

Just What I Need

Because her eyes light up the room and my very soul, I praise Eden often and sit back and absorb the glow of her smile. Recently it was her selfless spirit as she helped me clean. Eli helped, too, but he rushed through his part like a little whirlwind at top speed and then hurried off to play. Eden, on the other hand, stuck right by my side with every task, even when I got to the toilets! I looked at her as I scrubbed and said, “I am SOOOO thankful for you!”

She responded, “I’m just what you always wanted, right Mommy? Even when you were in Heaven. You told God what you wanted. He understand-ed and gave you me!”

I just hugged her tight, a little teary. She was right. I had told God what I wanted, and He did understand.  But I didn’t have the heart to tell her that when I told God what I wanted, first of all, I wasn’t in Heaven; and secondly, what I wanted wasn’t a girl.

When I was expecting Eden, I desperately wanted another boy, not just for superficial selfish reasons; I had reasons that would still be justifiable in any rationally-thinking mind. I prayed diligently every single day that God would give me another boy.

One night, as I prayed, I began to doze. And in the midst of that twilight period between barely awake and almost asleep, I said to Him, “Lord, please, PLEASE let this be a… Girl.” My eyes flew open, and I immediately began backtracking, fully awake in the reality of what I’d just said. “No, God, I didn’t mean that! You know that I want a boy. I NEED a boy!”  I think that in that moment, in the back of my mind, I knew that Eden would be a girl. And BOY, am I ever thankful!

I’m so very thankful for a Father who listens as we tell Him what we want; a Father who truly understands us and our desires, and then gives us so much more than we could ever think to ask for–He gives us what we need instead. How could I have known that there would ever be a time in my life when I would need two tireless, nurturing little hands to offer me tissues every single day–sometimes all throughout the day–no questions asked?  Whoever might guess that a sweet hand caressing my neck all day long (and often throughout the night) would ever be more reassuring than annoying, that there would be a day when that simple act would help me to know that everything was going to be alright? I so love my baby girl, and I wouldn’t trade my Eden for a million boys. Thank you, Lord, for loving me enough to bless my life with her sweet, quirky little spirit– JUST what I needed.

* * * * * * * * *

Only one month after I’d posted this for Eden’s birthday, we lived the perfect example.

I was in hard core meal prep mode tonight… I had my music going while I was chopping vegetables. I was listening to my Thea songs, completely in “the zone”. “I Will Carry You” came on. It’s a song inspired by the death of one group member’s third baby. Beautiful but hard. The first half of the song is from the perspective of the mother, as she lists all the things she wanted to do with and for her baby. After her list, she asks, “Who could love you like this?” Toward the end, the song transitions to God’s perspective, as He lists all the things He’s done with and for her baby in Heaven. His list mirrors hers, but it’s so much bigger and better. And then He asks, “Who could love her like this?” It’s a hard, hard line for me. Even though my brain knows that He can love my girl bigger and better than I ever could, it’s hard for my heart to accept that I will never have the opportunity to love her like that in this life. It’s the human in me, I guess. Then the song concludes with the inference that He loves the mother equally and will carry her through her loss and heartache.

So, I was contemplating this hard line as I was pulling more vegetables out of the refrigerator. I felt a little tap on my leg from behind. I sighed mentally, anticipating the onslaught of an endless barrage of questions; my initial thought was, “Oh, please just let me stay here in my thoughts for just another minute before I come back to reality.” I might have very easily responded, “Not right now. Give me just a minute.” But I’m so thankful that I didn’t! Instead I looked down into Eden’s smiling eyes. She said in reference to the song, “I love you like that, Mama.” I think my face melted right then and there. I picked her up and hugged her tight for a long minute. And I might’ve cried a little. Or a lot.

I put her down and she left the room. When she returned she had a perfectly folded paper towel to take the place of the tissues we’ve run out of. She offered it to me and said, “I’m sorry I made you cry, Mama.” I immediately corrected her and told her it was the most precious thing she could have ever said to me. She smiled and said, “Did God make me want to tell you that?”

I have no idea where that question in her little mind came from. I didn’t really know how to answer her. All I could think was, “Yes. God. Just what I needed.”

Theadora Blue

Together we stroll.  The joy is in the journey, not the destination.  We stop frequently to admire a butterfly, or listen to the whisper of secrets among the trees.  She releases my hand and runs ahead a few steps.  I watch with amusement as long, slender fingers wrap gracefully around the stem of a flower she has chosen just for me.  A dandelion, proudly wearing its white crown of wisdom.  I exclaim my gratitude, eyes bright, and hold her tiny hand in mine as I guide her to watch.  I blow.  Her giggles provide the melody, and her button nose wrinkles as she dances with the seeds that are waltzing on the breeze.  I bend to pull one seed from her golden hair, a mess of rolling curls and tangles.

 

She wraps her arms around my neck as she sings, “I love you, Mommy.”  I breathe in the moment and it fills my lungs, my being.  Her eyes flutter open to meet my own.  I gaze with eager anticipation, an opportunity for which my soul has yearned for so, so very long.  Her eyes smile up at me, a sparkling shade of blue as unique as she, one unlike anything I have ever seen.  They are breathtaking in beauty; I have not the words to describe them.  They are–magic.  I swallow hard the awe and blink back the tears that swell together within me.

 

I pull away gently from her embrace so that I might absorb every ounce, memorize every detail of this one moment in time.  Although in some ways it feels like an eternity, alas, it is but a moment–a fleeting moment.  I struggle to cling to it as I feel it slipping away. I want to keep it forever locked inside of my heart.  I want it to be more than a moment.  I want it to be always.  However, as with all such moments, it cannot be.  I must relinquish.  

 

Broken, I collapse to my knees, heaving as grief crashes over me in tumultuous waves.  That palpable word “Alone” is my sole companion.  I reach out with desperate, empty hands, hands begging to be filled, and I feel the Hand of Warmth enveloping my own.  It encircles me round, coaxing me to shift my gaze upward.  As I do, I notice a slow change in the sky above; it begins to reflect the same sparkle found in her two wondrous, smiling eyes.  I blink, my eyes refocus.  My breath catches hard as I notice–extraordinarily!–the same unique shade, of some variation or other, in every single direction that I turn.  It is then that I realize that while I might not always have the adoration of her two brilliant eyes, I will forever hold the blessing of their magic in my heart.  Indeed, I will carry it with me on this long journey of life until I am able to look into those eyes–for the first time–and tell her how fully she is loved, and how she forever changed my life.

 

*****************************

In loving memory

Theadora Brintsey Powell

January 18, 2016

 

The day that we met our Thea face to face is, without question, the defining moment of my life–the one to which every other event is connected.  There is Before Thea, and then there is After Thea, two separate lifetimes almost.  I will forevermore view the world through lenses tinted by her sweet, tiny heart.  She has changed the way that I live every day, the way that I respond to others, the way that I experience my relationship with God.   She has changed the essence of my being.  My tears now spring forth from a well deeper than I ever imagined could exist within me. My smiles–when genuine–are the most genuine smiles I’ve ever offered.

 

Sometimes I wonder if God doesn’t allow us all to experience some sort of “defining moment” at some point in our lives, with a choice as to how we will respond.  Will we surrender and cling to Him for our very survival?  Will we stand firm, fighting against His Hand–and while still standing, stand alone?  Or will we succumb to Satan, who is always lurking in the shadows, waiting to prey upon the weak among us who are struggling with life?  While terrifying, earth-shattering, and nothing I would ever voluntarily repeat, by His grace, this experience has driven me more and more into His embrace.  I would give anything to be celebrating Thea’s birthday with a (very healthy!) first birthday smash cake, balloons, and lots of photographs of bright smiles and eyes brimming with laughter instead of tears.  At the same time (and it almost feels wrong to say this), I wouldn’t trade the experience for the world.  It took me months to arrive at this conclusion, but I can finally say with confidence that a life having known and lost her is better than a life that never knew her at all.

 

I have wrestled for months with what I might say to honor my Thea Girl on her birthday.  Truly, there are no words of mine that could ever be enough.  However, music has been quite a balm for my soul over the course of the year.  There is one song, our Thea song, that expresses so well our sentiments.  We listen to it often as we think of our baby girl.  I thought I would share it in place of my woefully inadequate words.  

Never Saw Blue Like That

Shawn Colvin

Today we took a walk up the street

And picked a flower and climbed the hill

Above the lake

And secret thoughts were said aloud

We watched the faces in the clouds

Until the clouds had blown away

And were we ever somewhere else

You know it’s hard to say

And I never saw blue like that before

Across the sky

Around the world

You’ve given me all you have and more

And no one else has ever shown me how

To see the world the way I see it now

Oh, I, I never saw blue like that

I can’t believe a month ago

I was alone, I didn’t know you

I hadn’t seen or heard your name

And even now, I’m so amazed

It’s like a dream, It’s like a rainbow, it’s like the rain

And some things are the way they are

And words just can’t explain

Cause I never saw blue like that before

Across the sky

Around the world

You’ve given me all you have and more

And no one else has ever shown me how

To see the world the way I see it now

Oh, I, I never saw blue like that before

And it feels like now,

And it feels always,

And it feels like coming home

I never saw blue like that before

Across the sky

Around the world

You’ve given me all you have and more

And no one else has ever shown me how

To see the world the way I see it now

Oh, I, I never saw blue like that before

Oh, I, I never saw blue like that

*************************************************

Finally, as I close, I must leave the only two words that seem fitting for this momentous occasion:

THANK YOU.

To Theadora, our gift of God…

To the precious baby whom I held in my arms for but a brief few minutes…

To the child that I will hold in my heart for a lifetime…

To the LIFE that grew within me, that slipped away before my eyes…

To the heart that is forever a part of my own…

To the tiny fighter that encouraged her Eli “To Be Powerful”…

To the dainty muse that inspired her Eden’s songs, promoting her to “Big Sister” status…

To the daughter who taught her parents  to choose LIFE–every single moment…

To the smallest member of our family that “fills a whole shelf”…

To the soul that guided me toward a deeper, BIGGER faith…

To the spirit that was carried by angels to her Father and waits to be reunited with mine…

To the budding artist that painted our entire world with her own beautifully unique shade of blue…

For the living legacy that she leaves through me (May I ever be worthy!)…

And, to my Heavenly Father, who loves me, and cherishes her,

Who has taken care of our Baby Girl since her conception,

Who cradles her now in His arms,

And who will nurture her through eternity,

I say, “Thank you.”

Thank you for my Theadora Blue.