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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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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Grief Share Week 13 – Community in Christ

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” – John 16:33

We did not have a funeral for Emmy, so on the one year anniversary of her passing we had a small family ceremony. It. Was. Perfect. We placed a memorial bench on the farm Inscribed with a portion of Psalm 139, planted a tree in her memory and started the tradition of a balloon release where we write messages on balloons to send to her in heaven.

We’ve reached the end of GriefShare. I’ve spent 13 weeks looking back all so I can look forward again. To rise up, we have to dig in. Even when it hurts.

In the book of Isaiah, God promises “beauty for ashes” and over the last 3 months, that’s exactly what I’ve seen. I have watched God transform a room full of broken, hurting, even angry women into a beautiful testament of His grace and love.

We’ve learned new ways to think, new ways to cope and new ways to move forward in the wake of immense grief. We’ve learned that while our personal stories of loss are unique, they do not have to be isolating. We’ve learned that we are not alone.

Each week, we’ve carried each other through hard conversations and difficult realities. We’ve passed the tissues when the well of tears threatened to break the dam. And we’ve laughed — freely — knowing there was no judgement or preconception or implication linked to that laugh. A community of broken humans came together as strangers, and left as sisters in Christ.

And friends, isn’t that exactly what Jesus calls us to do?

“Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” – Galatians 6:2

I am grateful for each of the women who was brave enough to walk through the door and take a seat at the table. I am grateful for the loss and heartache that wove the fabric of our lives together. And I am grateful, so grateful that Christ redeems the brokenhearted.

Thank you to each of you who have walked through this experience with me. Today — hug your babies, hug your husbands, hug your mamas and daddies. Because we never know how many hugs we have left with the people we love.

Want to find a GriefShare group near you? Click HERE!

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Grief Share Week 12 – So, What about Heaven?

Our GriefShare topic this week was something I have struggled with probably more than anything since Emmy died — and it may come as a surprise to many what it is.

Heaven.

Yes, I have struggled with heaven.

Not the overall concept or whether or not it is “real” (I 100% believe that it is). But rather, the details (or lack there of) that I can really hold on to as a mourning mama.

While there is scripture “Re” the likes of Heaven, we are offered surprisingly little concerning the specifics. And I’m not just talking the aesthetics and atmosphere — what it looks like, feels like, sounds like. But more so what life is like there.

Here are some of the questions that have tumbled around in my head and heart the past two-and-a-half years…maybe you can relate?

  • How do I know my baby is in heaven? This may sound ridiculous, but guys. There is no scripture that says “when babies die they go to heaven.” There is no text, no spoken word from God, no solid proof. I do believe my baby is with Jesus. But you can’t blame me for wanting a little assurance.
  • Can she hear/see/feel me from heaven? Does she know she is missed every day? Does she know the words I pray for my own heart, for her sister, for her daddy? Does she hear me when I tell God how much I miss and love her? Can she comprehend how much I ache for her, even though I know she’s in a better place? Does she know???
  • What will she look like when I get to see her again? What age will she be? Will she know me? Will I be able to hold her, kiss her face, look into her eyes and for the first time know their color? One of the things I long despreately to know is what my girl would look like. I hope one day to look on her beautiful face and know.
  • Does she really watch over her sister? Yes, we say that she does. We tell others and ourselves that Lexi has the best guardian angel. But is that really how it works?

I could honestly go on and on with the things I have wondered about my baby in heaven. And I assume I am not alone in my curiosity.

At first I wanted to sit here and proclaim with conviction that God does not owe me any answers (and he doesn’t). But in reality, He has already given me every answer I need. Note: I didn’t say every answer I want — rather every answer I need.

“Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” – Hebrews 11:1

Is that not all I need to know?

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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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