Broken Body, Brave Soul

At the very moment I am writing this, three years ago, my baby’s heart stopped beating. I had the great privilege of holding her in my arms as she was set free from her broken body – leaving me with a piece of her brave soul.

This day is hard. It will never pass without a recognition of her absence in our lives. The ache in my heart for that girl will be a part of me until the day I hold her in heaven. Like my brown eyes and my stubborn spirit, it is now just a part of who I am.

But Emmy’s story is made up of so much more than sadness and pain. Woven into even the most difficult moments are feelings of hope and joy and peace. The death of a child will change you forever. But it is up to you how.

There have absolutely been moments of emotional turmoil and relational tensions and heartache that seemed to heavy to carry. But we have learned how to cope. How to dig deeper into our faith than I ever thought possible. How to lean in to the discomfort and look in to realize what we do have right in front of us.

It has lead to the sweetest family traditions. And an astonishing understanding of life and loss and heaven in a little girl who truly knows and deeply loves a sister she cannot see. The things about her sister and about heaven that come out of that girl’s mouth are inconceivable for a three-year-old. Some day, when I’m brave enough, I will share.

For now, I’ll just share these. Our day celebrating Emmy…

Helping dad dig the hole for Emmy’s new tree!

“Stamping” the bottom of the hole with dad before the tree went in.

Emmy’s original tree, a Spring Snow Crabapple, is on the right. It was planted with our extended family at her 1 year memorial ceremony. The tree on the left is the one we planted today. Lexi wanted a tree for her sister that would get purple blooms in the spring, so we went with the Oklahoma Redbud. Can’t wait to see them both blooming next year!

Talks about sissy. They happen on a regular basis, but especially on the day we celebrate her going to heaven.

Sending sissy messages to heaven on balloons. This year Lexi also decided to send her a sucker (it took three balloons to make sure it would actually float!)

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Best.Day.Ever.

Today was one of those days. A hashtag worthy day. Truly, it will go down in my mommy memory bank as one of the #bestdaysever.

My heart felt light (albeit slightly sad, in a very resonant way), our family felt in sync, and we stepped away from all of the life junk to celebrate our beautiful little girl’s 3rd year on earth. And when I say beautiful, I don’t speak of her physical attributes (although according to statistics…she won the genetic lottery). What I mean is her bold spirit, her courageous heart and her kind soul. She is truly a beautiful little human. And today, my heart almost couldn’t handle the fact that God made me her mama.

We don’t really “spoil” on birthdays, holidays or special occasions. We lean more toward practical gifts than extravagant ones, and appreciate that a bag of suckers will get our girl just as excited as an expensive toy. But today…on her last birthday as the only child under our roof…we made it all about her.

We hit the mall to look at the fountains and ride the carousel.

Right now it’s the closest thing she has to a horse, so she’ll take it!

Yes, she tried to jump in. Yes, her daddy stopped her.

We stopped at our favorite donut shop in the world (sorry, Chicago) where we sang, colored and let her play the piano.

This is a major life decision when you’re three…

When she woke up this morning, she asked where her cake was. When she figured out we were going out for donuts instead, this is the grin we got.

Dominating her Blueberry Opal!

We let her pick out another tree for Emmy’s Place because she declared this spring that she wanted her sister to have a tree that bloomed purple (we will plant it tomorrow).

She picked the Oklahoma Redbud. Can’t wait to see it bloom next spring!!

All three of my girls. One in heaven, one in my arms and one on the way!

She got to eat all she wanted at the Pizza Hut buffet for lunch.

You would think we hadn’t had donuts just an hour before…

And then devoured all of the watermelon she could handle on the back porch after nap (if you know her Uncle Dale at all, you know this particular trait proves that she’s a Hummel).

We’re still working on our snack manners…like, we don’t put our fork on our feet.

Her Uncle Dale would be so proud.

And we ended the day with one of our very favorite things…a walk on the dirt road. And I don’t mean a 5 minute summer stroll. When we go out on the dirt road…we mean it. I don’t know the distance we go, but we are usually out close to an hour. Wondering, picking flowers, playing in the dirt and watching the dogs swim in the pond.

Her daddy said, “I hope she walks the dirt road like this her whole life.” All the feels.

“I’m digging up rocks. Aunt Susie taught me to do this.”

Hitching a ride. Didn’t last long.

I did not want this day to end. Honestly, I don’t want this season to end. But I know it will, and I know I will love the next season just as much and for just as many reasons. But right now, tonight…I want to freeze these moments and live in them just a little bit longer.

Love you most, Lexi Rae. Happy 3rd birthday!

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Why We *Heart* Chicago

This time last week, we were en route to the city that will always hold a piece of our hearts. For me – if Emmy “is” anywhere this side of heaven – it’s Chicago. And of all the things that little girl brought into our family, the tradition of this trip has to be one of my favorites.

For me, Chicago feels strangely like home. It’s where we spent weeks planning for and protecting the two little lives God had entrusted us with. It’s where we watched those two little lives come into this world, one of them only for a day . It’s the only place on earth we were ever physically a family of four.  For us, it’s a place that holds the very best and the very worst life has to offer – but each year that we make this trip, we’re adding to the “very best” category. And that feels so good.

I’m not sure why I’ve never written about these trips before – if for nothing else at least as a way to look back. So now, I’m packaging three years into one.

On each trip we try to do something new, with our adventures based loosely off the book Max Explores Chicago that we bought (and started) while we were “living” there. But, we also have our traditions within the tradition…our mainstay stops…the ones that are gut wrenching and soul shaking, but also peace providing. The people and the places and the things that take us back to the way we were before we were broken in this way – before we knew life as bereaved parents.

We always visit the hospital where the girls were born and Lurie Children’s Hospital where Emmy lived the duration of her short life under the most incredible medical care we could have hoped for. There is something about just being in that place that makes me feel so close to her. It could just be the memories. It could be my imagination. Or it could be a God thing. Whatever it is…she’s there.

Lurie Children's Hospital 2016

Lurie Children’s Hospital 2016

Lurie Children's Hospital 2017

Lurie Children’s Hospital 2017

Lurie Children's Hospital 2018

Lurie Children’s Hospital 2018

Lurie Children's Hospital - Aquarium 2017

Lurie Children’s Hospital – Aquarium 2017

Lurie Children's Hospital - Aquarium 2018

Lurie Children’s Hospital – Aquarium 2018

And of course, right around the corner from the hospital is our favorite donut shop, Stan’s (Chicago was really into the donut thing when we were there)

Stan's Donuts 2016

Stan’s Donuts 2016

Stan's Donuts 2017

Stan’s Donuts 2017

Stan's Donuts 2018

Stan’s Donuts 2018

Nom, Nom, Nom

Nom, Nom, Nom

We typically try to hit a Cubs game, because that’s something we did with the girls (and it may be the only thing that keeps daddy tagging along)

Cubs Game 2016

Cubs Game 2016

Cubs Game 2018 (BOB)

Cubs Game 2018 (Oh hey there, BOB!)

And there is always, always time set aside for a visit with our favorite neonatologist on earth, Dr. Meghan. My attachment to her my seem unusual, as she was the first doctor too look me in the eyes and tell me the likelihood of “Baby A” surviving was slim to none. Up to that point, it was like no one had been brave enough to say it out loud. It broke me. But in some ways, I needed to be broken. She encouraged us to start thinking about the best thing for “Baby B” as not to jeopardize her wellbeing. But then she learned their names. And she heard our story. And as the days turned into weeks and we made it further into the pregnancy than anyone thought we would, she and her team began fighting for both of our girls. They provided options and information and most of all – hope. And in the end, she carried the devastation of loosing Emmy right along with us. To this day, she shows love and compassion to both of our girls and has become so much more than just a doctor.

Visiting Dr. Meghan 2016

Starbucks with Dr. Meghan 2016

Playing with Dr. Meghan 2018

Playing in the park with Dr. Meghan 2018

A daddy/daughter snapshot always makes the “best of” list. On these trips I do tend to make some space for myself to just be alone and breathe. It’s what I need, but it also gives these two some unique opportunities to bond in ways they might not otherwise. It’s truly a win-win for us.

Lexi & Daddy Cubs Game 2016

Lexi & Daddy Cubs Game 2016

Lexi & Daddy Post-Cubs Game 2016

Lexi & Daddy Post-Cubs Game 2016

Lexi & Daddy Do-Rite Donuts 2017

Lexi & Daddy Do-Rite Donuts 2017

Lexi & Daddy Navy Pier 2017

Lexi & Daddy Navy Pier 2017

Lexi & Daddy Cubs Game 2018

Lexi & Daddy Cubs Game 2018

And of course, there is lots of family bonding time and some prime opportunities for family selfies, too…

Family at Cubs Game 2016

Cubs Game 2016

Family at the Navy Pier Centennial Wheel 2017

Navy Pier Centennial Wheel 2017 (clearly Lexi is impressed…)

Family at Gino's East (favorite Pizza in Chicago) 2018

Gino’s East 2018 (Favorite Pizza in Chicago!)

And our trip always ends in the same same way (in the best way) with everyone exhausted, but our family cup overflowing until we can do it all again in the next year…

Snoozing on the way to the airport 2016

Snoozing on the way to the airport 2016

Snoozing on the way to the airport 2017

Snoozing on the way to the airport 2017

(You will just have to trust me that this was her exact position on the way to the airport this year as well…I am literally kicking myself for not snapping that shot!)

So, as they say…This Is Us. It’s us allowing ourselves to experience and re-experience the best and worst parts of our story. It’s us allowing ourselves the grace and the space away from everyday life to remember. It’s just…us.

Thanks for continuing to give me grace in sharing our story, as I continue learning how to give that grace back…

Jen

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You don’t have to live like this.

Yesterday morning I woke up in what I would call a “funk”. It was a beautiful Saturday morning, and I had nothing specific on my agenda for the day. Still…I felt incredibly overwhelmed. Emotionally depleted. Anxious, even. Over nothing in particular, but everything in general.

I hate to admit…these aren’t entirely unusual emotions for me. And if I’m not careful, I can let these “feelings” go to far. So far that they can become debilitating. They consume me, and then overflow onto the people around me. Not all of the people, to be fair…I can hide it from the general public. But those who know me and whom I love dearly…they become the indirect victims of my emotional angst. If I catch myself slipping into it soon enough, I can sometimes prevent that from happening. Other times, not so much.

Thankfully, I have a husband who not only recognizes this piece of me, but also over the years has learned what I need to pull myself out of it. He doesn’t press for answers. He doesn’t push for action. He lets me breath. He gives me grace. These things may sound small, but in reality they. are. everything.

Yesterday morning, that looked like giving me a solo trip into town to run some errands (i.e., an excuse to drive 25 miles for a Starbucks iced latte) while he managed things at home. On the drive, I started one of the audiobooks that’s been sitting in my “to listen to” queue for a while – Present Over Perfect. I ran my errands, trying to soak in some much needed rays of Vitamin D and convince myself that today is a good day. I only half-heartedly listened to the words coming through my speakers. Until I heard this:

“You don’t have to damage your body, and your soul and the people you love most in order to get done what you think you have to get done. You don’t have to live like this.”
[Present over Perfect]

I stopped – hit the 30 second rewind button – listened again. And then again. I let the words soak into my soul and penetrate my weary heart.

I do not have to do all. of. the. things.

It’s like I just needed permission. But from who? Myself? My husband? The author of this book? I’m still not sure.

I write these things for the same reasons I write most things on this blog – not because I have it all figured out or because I have some magical answer. But because, one, it is extremely therapeutic for me to put my thoughts into words. And two, I know I am not the only one out there feeling and facing these things. And sometimes, all we need to know is that there is someone else is in the trenches with us. And friend, there is always someone in the trenches with you. His name is Jesus.

Sometimes, I forget. I forget that the creator of the universe also created me. I forget that while He made me flawed and imperfect and deficient in so many ways, that’s ok – because He also created me perfectly for His purpose. He created me in His image. And I need to be reminded of these words from my creator:

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.   – 2 Corinthians 12:9

Maybe you need reminded of those words today, too. Maybe you need someone to tell you it’s ok. It’s ok to slow down. To take a deep breath. To throw that “to do” list out the window and instead spend some time just being and loving and living. It’s ok.

In fact, sometimes…it’s necessary.

With Grace,

Jen

The Cost, Conflict & Consideration of Joy

Photo by Wrenn Bird Photography.

Last week, we finally shared our big news “socially” – we are expecting baby girl #3. We are truly overjoyed. Overjoyed that He has answered the resounding prayer of our hearts. Overjoyed that Lexi will know that having a sister doesn’t always mean loving someone we can’t wrap our arms around. But it took us (me) quite a while to share this joy with the world. Not because I didn’t feel it – but because sharing it felt so, so heavy. I am no longer oblivious to the impact of this blessing beyond myself. I am [un]fortunately aware of how my own experiences might affect others. And that changes everything. It’s hard to explain, but let me try…

This joy hasn’t come without cost. Infertility after having children is a difficult space to live in. Pregnancy after loss is no walk in the park, either. We are so grateful for those who have walked with us through all of these things. The faithful friends and family who have allowed us to share difficult thoughts and express difficult feelings – our sounding boards and our prayer warriors. We would not be in this place without you.

This joy hasn’t come without conflict. Conflict in our marriage, conflict within ourselves, and conflict with God. It is hard not to question. Everything. It is easy to talk the talk, but walking the walk is a different story. We stumbled – several times. We doubted – each other, ourselves and Him. We yelled, we cried and once or twice we probably asked ourselves it was all worth it. But now…now we know.

And above all, this joy does not come without consideration. Consideration for my sisters who have and are walking this journey of infertility and loss with me, but have not yet received the answer they are so desperately praying for. Consideration for the mamas who have carried little souls they will not know this side of Heaven. I can no longer be joyful without consideration. To those women – I pray that you know you are not unseen and you are never alone. I see you, but more importantly GOD sees you. Hold on to the hope that He is not saying “never” He is just saying “not yet.” I will continue to pray for you in the waiting.

It took me many, many weeks to be ready to share this joy – with the cost, the conflict and the consideration that came with it. My husband and my family gave me the grace to wait. Because you don’t always have to understand to empathize.

Jesus, thank you for giving us more than we deserve. Thank you for allowing us to walk in the depths of sorrow so we may fully appreciate the joy of our blessings. Please help us to understand that your timing is perfect. Your plan is flawless. And your love is limitless. Let us always walk in your will, trust in your timing and submit to your sovereignty. Amen. 

With Grace,

Jen

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