Dear Emmy,

Yesterday afternoon, I posted this picture for the world to see:

I shared it because it filled my heart with joy. We were all at church, and as I looked down our row I thought to myself, “We are so abundantly blessed.” Papa was holding Lexi, your daddy was holding KK, Auntie was holding Lakyn and the older girls were proudly performing every song the worship team played.  My heart was truly overflowing. I was so, unbelievably happy.

Later in the day, I was feeding Lakyn while listening to the older girls playing downstairs. Sister fell asleep in my arms, and instead of laying her down, I decided to just pause and enjoy the moment. But in the stillness and solitude, the sadness washed over me….

That picture should have six little girls in it.

And just like that my joyful, happy heart was shattered.

We should have needed on more seat when we sat down at church.

 Nana should have had one more little girl shaking sprinkles on the Christmas cookies.

 There should have been five sleeping bags on the floor at bedtime.

 There should be presents under the tree with your name on them.

 When people look at our crew and say, “That sure is a lot of little girls!” …what they don’t know is there is another one missing.

 3 Gillespie girls. 3 Hummel girls. Even playing field.

There should be six.

Sometimes A lot of times, grief hits me this way – in the happiest moments. Probably because it’s those moments I most feel your absence. I feel the hole that is left in our family with you not here, and I wonder if anyone else feels it, too.

Tonight, as we have every Christmas Eve since you died, we will light a candle in the center of the table that will burn in your memory. Your stocking will hang in its spot above the fireplace. A crystal angel that your Papa gave me our first Christmas without you will sparkle with the lights on the tree.

We do our best, sweet girl, to make you a part of who we are as a family. We are a family of 5. A family of 12. Without you…we are not full us.

On these days, I feel your absence in the depths of my soul. My heart aches for you. But when the sadness threatens to consume me, I remember how lucky I am that you were mine at all. I remind myself that God knit you together perfectly and wrote your story flawlessly. And even though you are not here, He is still writing.

He is the master author of each of our lives, and in the final chapter there is a common thread: death. But that is not the end. Because on the first Christmas, He gave the world a baby. A baby born humbly, who grew into a faultless man – God’s son, who died so the rest of us might live. So that even if when someone we love goes before us, we can hold to the hope of a heavenly reunion.

This Christmas, while I wish you were here to decorate cookies, sing in church, unwrap presents, and add one more little girl to our family photos, I will remember that God is uniquely using your story to write mine. That He gave you life with a plan and purpose – just like His own son. God gave His son’s life so that you and I would not be separated by death. And in the waiting, I never want to lose sight of that promise.

So for now, know that I miss you. And when I look at that photo, I know there are six little girls in our family. And one day, we will all be together again.

Miss you most,

Your Mama

This is Thirty-Two

Yesterday was a good day. Yesterday was a HARD day. Yesterday, I turned 32.

Yesterday — My sweet husband had to work, so I kissed him goodbye in a sleep-deprived stupor long before the sun came up. He got home just in time to jump in on the nightly bedtime routine and fall back into bed completely spent. I missed him. Not because it was my birthday, but because it was an ordinary day. And ordinary days are better with him by my side.

Yesterday — I spent the majority of the day at home alone caring for my 5-day-old baby (formal introduction coming soon). Which means all of the good things (like sleepy snuggles and afternoon snoozes) and all of the hard things (like an explosive baby blow-out all over the bed, which then meant the sheets needed washed).

Sweet baby snuggles.

Yesterday — I was essentially isolated from my older daughter (for the third day in a row) because she was diagnosed with hand, foot and mouth earlier in the week. Explaining to a 3-year-old why she can’t stay at home with her mommy and daddy or give her newborn sister hugs & kisses is nothing short of brutal. My heart hurt for her this week in ways I didn’t know it could.

Yesterday — I was separated from my family who is in town because…well…a 5-day-old baby and a toddler with HF&M. And, my poor parents who took the brunt of caring for said toddler came down with their own case of the ick. So…no birthday hugs for this girl.

Yesterday — I ached. Physically, mentally and emotionally ached. Everywhere. Partly childbirth recovery. Partly sleep deprivation. But mostly a hectic, stressful week that looked absolutely noting like I had imagined our first week home with baby would look.

But yesterday — it  was so good. Because all of these really hard things….they are rooted in good things. Really good things.

Coffee and diamonds.

Like my husband — who kissed me goodbye before the sun kissed the morning sky (after the kind of sleepless night you have with a newborn). Yes, he was gone on my birthday. On what would have been our very first Saturday at home together as a family. But…he is providing for our family with a career in an industry he loves. His passion provides his paycheck, and that’s pretty rare. Also…he made sure that I felt not only loved  on my birthday, but also known. I woke up to a fresh pot of coffee, the sweetest card and a beautiful ring — baby band #3. Did I mention the coffee? Because he knew this mama would need a whole lot of #coffeeandjesus to get through the day. That’s love.

And this newborn baby — whoa. I started my day, also before the sun came up, feeding her from my own body (which was then demanded of me again and again throughout the day). I answered every cry and met every need. I cleaned up poop and spit-up and spilled milk. Because I am her mother. And that is a miracle that’s not lost on me. And through tired eyes, I got to watch the night turn into day and then the day turn back into night with her snuggled soundly on my chest. Holymoly I am #blessed.

And my Lexi girl — she had a long, hard week. Probably the hardest of all of us. Monday she woke up and her baby sister came into this world and everything changed just like that. Add on the awful discomfort of hand, foot and mouth and several days that she couldn’t be around her mama and sister…it was enough to make any person break, let alone a 3-year-old. But she is tough. So, so tough. I saw her resilient spirit more clearly this week than I ever have before. And it made me exponentially proud to be her mama.

And then there’s my family — Y’all. There are not enough good words in the world to describe them. Last weekend they loved, supported and comforted me through three days of agonizing pre-labor. They were there to welcome our sweet girl into this world and handle all-of-the-things I couldn’t. And my parents pretty much earned their Sainthood taking care of Lexi full-time so we could keep everyone at home as healthy as possible. Their love is supernatural and sacrificial. And even though our first week at home was not what I’d hoped…I am beyond words grateful for the incredible support and love that surrounded me each day. How lucky am I to bring my daughters into a family like that?

Every discomfort, every ache, every tear this week was so worth it. Because sometimes, the most beautiful things grow and flourish in the most difficult places.

So this is thirty-two. It’s not a birthday I will remember because there were extravagant gifts or a spectacular party. It wasn’t glamorous and there are no Instagram-worthy photos to commemorate the day. But it’s a day I will never forget, because it so perfectly embodied the hard stuff and the good stuff of this every-day life I get to live. And the humans I get to love through it all. And those things are far better than gifts and cake and parties any day of the week.

With Grace,

Jen

The First Cup

The past few weeks (or months) have been particularly…challenging. We’ve entered into a very vulnerable season in our marriage…and in our family as a whole. We’ve chosen to face issues that would have been easier to ignore. We’ve wrestled with old demons and new guilt. We’ve had to choose – daily – between our selfish desires and sacrificial love. And sacrificial love, when you are already running on empty, is a difficult thing to choose.

I say all of this as a preface to “the thing” I really want to talk about. The thing that, I believe, has transformed not just our marriage but who we are and how we’re living our lives as a whole. We’ve started giving our first to God.

For me – it’s my first cup of coffee. When my feet hit the floor each morning, I head out to our back porch with my cup. As it is emptied, I am filled. Whether it’s listening to songs of worship, praying intentionally, or just allowing myself to be with God – He gets me before I let any of life’s chaos in for the day. This seemingly minor shift in my daily routine has been truly transformative. When I start my day being filled by Him, there is more of me to give to others – including my husband. I’ve heard many times over “you can’t pour from an empty cup” and I am seeing this daily in the most powerful ways.

My husband, who graciously preps the coffee and sets the alarm for us each night, has chosen a different route. He spends the first half hour or so of his day on a walk with our dogs and his thoughts – giving God his first mile. He sets off before the sun comes up on a path behind our house we call the dirt road. It is one of our family’s most sacred places to be together, and for him, it now holds even greater meaning and purpose. It’s where he has the space to just be before giving to everyone else who needs a piece of him throughout the day.

 

When the alarm goes off (much earlier than it used to) we say our “good mornings” and head our separate ways. We both know – for the sake of ourselves and one another – that we need to be filled up before we can pour out. So before I get him or he gets me, God gets us both.

This small step has been the catalyst for us changing the trajectory of our marriage. We are all soooo busy, right? It’s society’s badge of honor. But it’s bogus. Yes – our lives are full. We both have full-time jobs, we have the show barn full of pigs, families that count on us (ahem, Kade) to help feed/prep for shows that now go on year-round, the daily grind to upkeep a farm, a toddler we’re constantly trying to keep up with…oh yes, and I am 38+ weeks pregnant so there’s the physical and emotional prep for a new baby as well. So then, when are we supposed to find the time for our relationship with each other and with God?! Unfortunately, for far too long, we were letting the latter two slip. Because there just wasn’t time. We bought into the lie that we were too busy. There were too many things that needed done. Too many people we still hadn’t gotten to that day. What we didn’t realize was the two things getting the least effort and attention were the fundamentals….the foundation for everything else in our lives. Our foundation was cracking…and the rest was starting to crumble with it.

So we tried something new. And it is changing everything.

The first cup, the first mile, or the first five as you drive – what this time “looks like” is far less important than how It feels and what it does for your soul. Maybe you do something like this already – I’d love to hear about it! Maybe you’re reading this desperate for a solution to your own struggles – I hope you give this a try. Wherever you are, I pray for you the gift of Romans 15:13:

”May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”

With Grace,

Jen

Washed By The Water

Yesterday was a kind of big deal day…

After many months of consideration on his part (and many years of prayer on mine), my sweet husband decided to publicly declare his love for and commitment to Jesus through water baptism.

I’ve prayed over this decision for him the entirely of our marriage. Early on, there were a couple of things I knew for sure – I so desperately wanted my husband to get to this place in his faith, but I also wanted him to get here by his own free will (read as, not deciding to get baptized because I wanted him to and it would make me happy).

Watching the man I love walk to this place of submission to the Lord has been one of the most humbling experiences of my life. I am beyond words proud of him. I am eternally grateful for his strength (and my patience) to let the story unfold exactly as God had it written. After all, He is the perfect author of life.

As our motorcycle riding, cowboy boot wearing preacher said – there is nothing magic in the water. There will be peaks and valleys in his faith (and mine) over the course of our lives and our marriage. Yesterday was definitely a peak. But even when the storm comes, we are washed by the water – and the blood of Jesus Christ.

 

With Grace,

Jen

Grief Share Week 11 – Superficial to Sacrificial

This week in GriefShare, we dug further into the things we learn and experience through the grieving process — how it affects our identity, our relationships, and learning to accept that our grief may be “imperfect.”

I did have struggles, and in turn growth, in all of these areas. Did how I see and identify myself change? Yes, definitely. Did my relationships with loved ones change? In certain ways, they did. Did the way I interact with other humans change? I hope, for the better.

But for me, one relationship in particular was profoundly altered — my relationship with God. Through my grief, my faith went from being superficial to sacrificial.

From the very first moment the doctors told us there was something “wrong” with one of our babies, God was at work.

Through the course of an extremely difficult pregnancy with countless tests, scans and potential diagnoses — He was teaching me to trust.

Through the doubt, fear and uncertainty — He was teaching me to believe.

And through it all — He was teaching me to depend fully on Him.

Not on myself. Not on the doctors. Not on medicine. On Him alone.

And I can honestly say that by the time we got to lay our eyes on those sweet baby girls for the first time, He had prepared my heart and soul for His plan.

That does not mean it was easy. It does not mean I didn’t wish for a different outcome or feel my heart literally shattering inside of my chest. But I trusted — I believed — I depended fully on His grace.

I do not think God took our baby to teach a lesson or to prove a point. I do not believe that is the kind of God I serve. I do believe He had a greater calling for my life than I was fulfilling. I do believe He saw my superficial faith and knew there was more in me. I do believe he called me to be a bereaved mother, and through that transform from superficial to sacrificial. It might not have been the only way…but it is the way He chose.

There are still some days I do not want to be this person. More than once I have asked, “Why me?” But when I am truly honest with myself, I know that my life, my love and my faith are stronger through my loss.

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