Sunday, April 1, 2018

I Left Three Behind at the Grave

March 27th

On this date 8 years ago, I left my little girl's tiny and perfect-but-without-breath 7 pound 9 ounce 21 inch body behind in a grave in a cemetery in Virginia.

I was thinking today that what made that day even more heart-wrenching was that I left not just one behind at that grave, but three...

I walked away from who I was before Lily. I walked away from who I might have been. So many facets of my being were utterly uprooted and transformed as a result of her death (and life).

And I walked away from her daddy, from him ever being in my life again. As I shared in a poem I wrote a few years ago:
"When her perfect heart stopped beating
The pulse of our love ceased too
I didn't just lose our little flower
I lost the both of you"

There were many endings on March 27th, 2010.

But what I have found in the years since that I couldn't see then is that on that same day, there were also many beginnings...

The beginning of Lily's legacy.

The beginning of an earthly ministry, born out of loss, and of course lots of love, for the glory of my King.

The beginning of the Lord weaving healing, restoration, and redemption so beautifully and unexpectedly, in such a way that would make me love Him more through the anguish of goodbyes and agony of regret.

On that early Spring day, I didn't see how Spring would one day inhabit my soul again. Like the sun causes flowers to bloom in Spring, the Son shined on this Rose's heart and caused it to bloom once more. In the midst of so many losses, He Himself was and is my gain.

"Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert." -Isaiah 43:19 💕🌸 🌹

This post left me:

Taking Her Home and a Letter

March 26th

8 years ago today, Lily was taken over state lines from North Carolina where she was born to my home state of Virginia where she would forever remain on this Earth. I sat in the car beside the little white box that held the outer shell where the most precious soul once lived. The Jewel "Lullaby" album softly played in the background as I put pen to paper and scripted a letter to my beautiful girl that I read at her Celebration of Life Service that evening. Family and friends gathered together in her honor, where people read things they wrote, songs were played, and tears were shed. ❤️

This is that letter that I shared:

Dear Lily,

My little love. My constant companion. My precious flower. You whispered "goodbye" before I had a chance to say "hello." I'm left with a bruised heart and shaken dreams. Empty arms desperate to be filled with you. When I heard those words, those dreadful words, that your heart was no longer beating, it was like I was suffocating. I keep having to remind myself to breathe...Why is it so hard to breathe?! 

I couldn't cry at first...I was just shocked. My world was shattered, crumbling around me. Somehow the physical pain didn't seem to matter much anymore. You went straight from my womb to the arms of Jesus. Why did you have to go? Doesn't He know I need you here? Doesn't He know that you're my world? And yet life goes on. I still hear laughter. The moon still rises and the sun still sets. But, I won't forget. Even when I smile, thoughts of you are always dancing in the back of my mind. Shouldn't the whole world just stop? Mine has. How does the wind still blow? Doesn't it know you aren't here?

Oh, the plans I had for your life. All the things I wanted to show you and teach you. I longed for the day you would finally fill all those clothes that are just for you. I waited and waited to see that beautiful, toothless smile I'd imagined so many times before. The way your eyes would sparkle. I would rock you for hours and softly sing sweet lullabies in your ear. I can't help thinking of all that could have been. All that was meant to be. You should be at home in your Moses basket now, not in that little white box.

What will life be like when what should have been your firsts come? Your first 'mama,' your first grin, your first giggle when you’d see me coming to get you out of your crib in the morning, your first tooth, the first time you'd crawl…and walk. Your first Christmas and how your eyes would light up with all the beautiful lights and decorations. Your first birthday and how you'd get cake all over your special birthday dress. Your first trip to the beach and mountains. As the months pass, I will wonder how you might have looked...growing so fast. Would your hair be curly? Who would you look like? Would you be talking yet? Walking yet? All that could have been...should have been. Yet, it will never be. This ache in my heart will remain because I'll never get to see all these firsts...and seconds and thirds. I'll never get to see my baby girl turn into a beautiful lady. I'll never get to hold her baby. Parents should never have to bury their children. That's not how it should be. It seems so unnatural.

My little blessing from Heaven, blue skies turned to gray when you slipped away. A piece of my heart left with you. Sometimes it feels like people are already forgetting you. But, I won't forget. So, don't feel like you're missing out on all the fun. Because wherever I go, there you'll be too.

My sweet, sweet Baby...You have changed me forever. You have left a footprint on many hearts. Someone so tiny has accomplished so much! More than a lot of people do in a long lifetime. How precious you are to God! And to me! In a matter of months, I went from looking at you as a burden to loving you more than I ever thought I could love anyone. My world was built around you. Now, I can't imagine the rest of my life without you by my side.

I miss every little thing about you and everything that reminds me of you. I don't want to forget a thing. Feeling you kicking in the middle of the night, joking about you, talking to you, calling you by your nicknames (Spud, my little flower, Lily Kat, Lilliputian, Lilykins, L.O. (Little One), Lily Kate), hearing your sweet heartbeat, seeing your chubby cheeks on the ultrasound screen, and being so amazed as I saw God form you inside of me. My belly grew as my love for you grew. I even miss waking up a thousand times every night for nine months to go to the bathroom and waddling around like a penguin. It's funny how all these things that used to annoy me are now the things I long to experience again. Just the comfort of knowing you were inside me - living, growing, thriving...In the safest place you could be. You were always with me...always protected.

God's hand was on you while you were in my womb. He saved you and you saved me. Thank you. I want the world to know how wonderful you are! The beautiful legacy you leave behind will never be forgotten. YOU will never be forgotten, precious Lily. My love, you are so pure, so precious, so tiny, so perfect. When I held you in my arms I had a taste of something truly divine. Such a sweet spirit. When I looked into your face, I saw the face of my Jesus. I glimpsed Eternity. I am so blessed to have known you. You will never have to know this world marred with pain and sin. You will forever be pure and innocent. I am proud to call you my child. Proud that God would choose me to carry you! A princess.

For now, I will have to hold onto the memories of you. The bittersweet memories of your little button nose, your little fingers and toes. How perfect you were. Every last detail of you just right. I will cherish these memories forever. For now, I'll have to hold onto the little keepsakes - the journal I wrote for you, your precious footprints and handprints, and pictures. They are not enough, but will have to do...For now. Because I know one day I will meet you at the gates of Heaven. Will you wait for me there? On that day, my Jesus will place you in my arms and I will finally be able to hold you, sing to you, smell your sweet baby smell, and look into your lovely blue eyes. Until then, I know He'll take good care of you. Until then, I will cling to the One who holds the world in His hands. Thank you for changing my life. I will never forget you little one, my precious angel who was simply too beautiful for Earth

Love, Mommy

This post left me:

Friday, March 16, 2018

Her 8th Birthday

It was 8 years ago today that I gave birth to my beautiful baby girl. 7 pounds 9 ounces and 21 inches.

I didn't give birth to life, but I did give birth to love. A lifetime of love overwhelmed my heart and oozed out in those few hours that I held the precious form that had held her life.

All the months of pregnancy are spent dreaming and planning, culminating in this magical moment of birth. This past Christmas, I read something I shared in my pregnancy journal on Christmas Day 2009. I wrote about the dreams I had for Lily's life... things like how I wanted her to learn to play an instrument from a young age and to love music. I talked about looking forward to being there to help her open her presents the following Christmas. I was thinking about how when you lose a baby, you lose all the hopes and dreams for their life too... even things like the dream of her playing an instrument or the thought of what these simple moments might be like.

But since I read what I wrote again all these years later, I have been thinking about what a GIFT it was to have been able to dream for my baby. The dreams I held for her life have at times felt like they'd crush me because they will never be fulfilled. But I am so thankful for a change of perspective in the years since. Having had the gift of Lily for the months I had her, having dreamed of and for her, loving her with uninhibited devotion, dreaming for her with unhindered delight and with the belief that she'd be coming home with me.... all of that was a GIFT.

And on this day of her birth, I celebrate all those dreams. I celebrate the months I had her. I celebrate the beauty of her and the joy of what her life brought mine.

Those who have not lost a baby might wonder why we would celebrate the day of birth for a baby who didn't live to see one birthday... not even her actual birth day. On Lily's day of birth each year, I am amazed as I recall the full and purposeful life she did indeed live.

A few years ago my aunt gave me a copy of a National Geographic documentary on development and life in the womb. This week I watched it again and it felt almost as if I was watching a home video of Lily's life unfolding. If you want to be astounded by the glory of God and how He intricately knits together baby's in their mother's wombs and if you want a fresh appreciation for the miracle and sanctity of life, then I recommend watching this documentary.

According to what I learned in the documentary, in the 250+ days of pregnancy, Lily could taste, hear, smell, touch, and learn. She was made up of trillions of cells. She could smile, recognize my voice, and even dream! At the moment of conception, her individual unique set of DNA was created, a human signature that never existed before and will never be repeated. Did you know it takes 20-25,000 genes to make a human?! The genes she inherited already predetermined her looks and much of her character, whether she'd be stubborn, intelligent, a thrill seeker, or good at music. She got hiccups and grew dainty eyelashes and tiny fingernails. She heard the competing sounds of our heartbeats, her constant companions. She heard conversations, loud noises, and music. Her brain began creating memories, with her absorbing my voice and recognizing and responding to it. Newborn baby cries apparently already contain some of the rhythms and patterns of their mother's speech! The music she heard over and over (like the Jewel "Lullaby" CD) could even be remembered by her. Her mouth was full of tastebuds and she could already taste and smell the foods I ate through tasting the amniotic fluid surrounding her.

Is there any way to describe the preciousness? The intricacy. The purpose. The beautiful existence of Lily's life in the womb and the lives of all children.

This is a poem I wrote about Lily's full life:

Her secret world
In mama's womb
Safe and sheltered

Sacred, beautiful, awe
Formed by the Almighty
Hidden from all eyes

Though unseen -
Sounds heard...
Music that brings dance...
Voices familiar...
Mama's heart thumping...
Food tasted...
Love felt...

Not a breath
Yet an intricate, extravagant
Purposeful life

Days don't equal worth
Nor accomplishment
But the fingerprint of God

The documentary shares how mothers made the eggs that would one day become their babies when they themselves were nestled in the womb! They are kept in storage through childhood, adolescence and into adulthood, ready to one day burst into life. I have heard this before and it leaves me astounded and amazed each time I do, but this time I was overwhelmed with the beauty of the thought that I have literally carried Lily with me in some way or another for my entire life. As I was growing in my mother's womb, my eggs developed, the eggs that would one day become Lily. And then when she was growing in my womb. After that, some of her cells have literally remained in my body and will forever! Now her heart still beats with each beat of my own and her legacy resides somewhere inside of my own, with our stories and purposes so closely woven together. So as you can see, Lily has always been with me and she always will be.

When you lose a baby, you don't just lose an idea of a person or a potential possibility of a future. You lose a very real would-have-been life and future, full of all the many small and large things that comprise a life. You lose knowing what their hobbies and interests would be, the things that would make them laugh, what college they would have attended, who they would have married, who their children would have been... these things just scratch the surface. The person who is lost before birth is the same person at the core of their being who would've been in 5, 10, 20, 50+ years. All that was needed was time, development, nurturing, and love. Of course we as humans are shaped by our experiences too, yet a massive part of who we are is determined and crafted by our Creator before we are even born. The way we will look as we age is already determined, our personalities, the things we will enjoy and prefer... all of these things are wrapped up in the tiny precious package that is a newborn baby. When this precious life is lost, it's not just an idea that is lost, but the package that was ready to be opened, that suddenly never will be. The contents that were already there are somehow lost, leaving the family with an empty feeling of being somehow gipped and deprived. This package was in your lap ready to be finally opened after shaking it and longing to discover it for 9 months in eager anticipation, then suddenly death steals it back. That's a little bit of what losing a baby feels like.

8 years have now passed since Lily was born and with each year grows the fear of her being forgotten. I have been feeling it especially this birthday. I was reminded of an article I read a few months ago on the Revive Our Hearts blog:

"God has cared for us meticulously from before birth. Psalm 139:13 says, "For You formed my inward parts; You knitted me together in my mother's womb." While our mothers slept, God knit together the intricate patterns of our eyes, ears, noses, mouths, and skin..."

While I was reading an article that had nothing to do with baby loss, these words caused tears to well up in my eyes thinking deeply of my sweet baby girl. Pondering how God created her every perfectly formed detail. Remembering that it is He who crafted her life and legacy. While I slept, He knit her together. Those precious little eyelashes and nails growing out were made by His fingerprint. My body was but a vessel used to house His masterpiece. While I was sleeping... unaware and uninvolved. He showed me that I am to rest in knowing her legacy is the same as her very form... crafted by Him, even while I am unaware and uninvolved. It's not up to me to knit together her legacy any more than it was up to me to knit her together within me. I am merely the vessel. My body was what He used to bring forth her body and now my heart and words are the vessel to bring forth her legacy... even while I sleep... even while she sleeps.

In 8 years of missing and loving Lily I have learned that here's a certain kind of exquisite beauty in enduring love. Love that can't see or touch, yet not only remains, but deepens. Deepens despite the separation of time and even death. When others judge and see someone "not moving on," I see a mother's lasting, enduring, abiding, persisting, continuing, permanent devotion and eternal LOVE. She didn't disappear. She isn't erased. She's just there and I'm here. But I love her just the same and anticipate the time I'll see her again. What kind of mother forgets? What kind of mother has a love that grows cold? Remember that next time judgement crosses your heart towards a bereaved mother and ask yourself not to speak the message that life isn't valuable anymore after death. Allow mothers to treasure life even in death, in many ways even more because of death. God speaks so much about dignity through love after death. Absence is felt because value is first recognized.

A friend of mine said something so beautiful to me recently and I wish I could remember exactly how he phrased it, but it stood out to me and brought me much comfort. He said when I get to Heaven, my tears will dry up and Lily and I will no longer be separated. Not only that, but I will no longer even remember the separation! The pain that the remembrance of these years without her would bring will even be forgotten and washed away.

Revelation 21:4 strengthens the Christian's heart in saying, "He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away."

This month I have been a part of a special grief project an art student is doing. One of the questions she asked me is if me/my family holds and perceptions, ideas or imaginations of Lily's personality and what she would've been like.

Lily Katherine is a beautiful mystery. There is so much about her that I wonder... Who would she be? What/who would she look like? What interests would she have? What would her voice sound like? And her laugh? What color would her eyes be? Blue I think. That question haunts me. At times, these things can hurt to think about. If she were here, if I'd delivered her shortly before she was born, before her little heart stopped for no apparent reason, there wouldn't be this giant question-mark on everything her life could have held.

Lily was my little mini-me, strikingly resembling her mommy at birth. At each age she'd be, I am comforted by picturing her looking and acting like I did at that very age. I picture her as the perfect blend of girly-girl and tomboy, seeking adventure and heartily playing outdoors, while also loving to twirl around the living room like a ballet dancer and endlessly playing with her American Girl dolls. I picture her as sweet and gentle as the flower she's named after, while at the same time feisty and courageous. I picture her as hilarious and full of exuberant laughter. I picture her as a lover of babies and cats, and with a soft heart for Jesus, who I'd pray would be her first love always.

My family pictures her this way: "Wild, tough, with a loud voice, a girl who loves to run around barefoot outside and beat up boys, curly hair, hobbit feet (she had big hands and feet like her daddy lol), a button nose, sweet, very compassionate, opinionated, sassy, ambitious, a leader, a southern girl, motherly to her younger siblings and cousins, nurturing."

In many ways, I think we picture Lily in many ways like I was as a girl/still am. After all, she looked so much like me and was the same length and only one ounce less than me at birth! However, she would have also been very different from me... and it's those questions that haunt and hurt. She also would have had many faults, as all humans do, and since she's not here, it's easy to picture her as this perfect and idealized child. In reality, she would have driven us nuts sometimes, but even that is a gift because it indicates life. Even the whiny and bratty sides of kiddos are a treasure when viewed through the right lenses.

Our hearts know each other, reaching across realms, unaltered by the separation of the grave. We are tied together in Christ and nothing separates those found in His love. We may have never locked eyes, never had a conversation back and forth, but our mother-daughter connection is so much more than that. How could it not be? Her bones and flesh grew inside the form that is my bones and flesh. I felt her life. With each gentle or not-so-gentle movement inside of me, with each sound of her heartbeat of dance on the ultrasound machine, it was as if she was telling me all the words she'd never get to say.

I cherish you, my sweet daughter of Heaven... I cherish all you were to me while your heart beat here and all you are to me still.

Here is Lily's song

Thank you to everyone who still cares to read and hear about my baby...

Here are the blog posts I've written over the years, both on Lily's birthdays, as well as the posts about how we've celebrated her birthdays:
This post left me:

Thursday, March 15, 2018

He Holds All My March 16's

This is something I wrote last year on Lily's Birthday Eve. It remains true today. I updated it to reflect the 8-year-mark.


As I lay here trying to get my thoughts to shut off enough to get some sleep, my mind goes back to this night 8 years ago.

I clearly remember being in that space between awake and slumber and feeling an overwhelming sense of peace. I knew it was from God. I had been feeling nervous about giving birth and wondering how I could handle the physical pain. Never could I have imagined that in the coming hours, physical pain would be the least of my concerns.

As I drifted off to sleep that night, unsure of what was to come, the Lord already knew how it would all unfold. He knew that in just a couple hours, I'd awaken to contractions. He knew that in just a few hours, I'd learn what He already knew from the foundation of the world... that my little girl would slip away. That she wasn't meant to grow up on Earth.

I look back and am encouraged as I remember the peace and comfort that washed over me that night. And on this same night 8 years later, I am strengthened because that same peace and comfort is meeting me right where I am. The God who saw me that night could see me on this night. He holds my heart and my little girl. He holds all my March 16s in His hands.

This post left me:

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Spud Day

Lily Katherine was due 8 years ago today on March 14th, 2010 (National Potato Chip Day), so one of her nicknames is "Spud." 😌 ❤️ 

Ironically, the food I ate nonstop during my pregnancy were hash browns (I like to think God has a funny sense of humor). I craved them daily and enjoyed them homemade, as well as at all different restaurants. It's only appropriate that we've made eating them a tradition each year on this day, in honor of our little Spud. My favorite way to eat them is with some soft and some crispy. And with ketchup. Delicious!

My friend Naomi wrote Lily's name and nickname in a potato field on Prince Edward Island in the Summer of 2014 because she remembered what it means to me. Wasn't that so cute and thoughtful?

Though Lily was not born on March 14th, it was the day she was due, the date I associated with her my entire pregnancy. I shared that date when people asked how far along I was. So naturally, I still think of her on this date. I thought it sounded like such a pretty day to be due. I always liked even numbers better than odd.

I love having special days/memories/cute stories like this to share with others...because the fact is, I hardly got to make any memories at all with my first-born babe. And things like this remind me that she was real! She was truly here. March helps remind me and others around me that I didn't just lose an idea of a person, but a real, living, important, special precious daughter.

I know due dates mean different things for people who have lost babies. For me, the due date is a special, happy memory because I was still carrying Lily and was oblivious to the fact that she was already gone.

My family now calls this day "Spud Day." :) And my friend Christine called Lily a tater tot, which is adorable!

Look at this sweet 0-3 month baby shirt that my "little" cousin Anna made me for Lily when I was pregnant. It's now in Lily's memory chest. Her initials are on the front. :)

If you like hash browns, today is a great day to eat them in honor of little Lily. I'd love to know if you do. ♥ 

This post left me:

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Blissfully Unaware

This photo was taken 8 years ago today, the day before my due date. The last picture of me carrying Lily Kat. I can hardly believe I was so big! 💖

It was taken at my friend's baby shower. I met this friend where we were both taking classes at a local pregnancy center. She was due a couple months after I was and now has her healthy daughter here, as well as another daughter. 

I remember being so proud to show off my Lily-belly. It was exciting to say that I was due the very next day! Of course my belly brought lots of attention. I remember how I was glad that I had been able to attend my friend's shower and that Lily hadn't been born yet. 

I remember the sciatica pain and the feeling of floating. It is a sad thing to look back and realize my little girl was already gone when this picture was taken and I had no idea. I was blissfully unaware as to what the next few days would hold and how they would be unlike anything I ever could have imagined.

I remember how that night my sister, her friend, and I ate dinner at Pizza Hut. I loved having the cheese personal pan pizzas during my pregnancy. I remember sitting there, just so full of peace and excitement, thinking of my daughter and knowing I would get to meet her soon. 

This post left me:

Dignity Through Love after Death

There's a certain kind of exquisite beauty in enduring love.

Love that can't see or touch, yet not only remains, but deepens.

Deepens despite the separation of time and even death.

When others judge and see someone "not moving on," I see a mother's lasting, enduring, abiding, persisting, continuing, permanent devotion and eternal LOVE.

She didn't disappear. She isn't erased. She's just there and I'm here. But I love her just the same and anticipate the time I'll see her again.

What kind of mother forgets? What kind of mother has a love that grows cold?

Remember that next time judgement crosses your heart towards a bereaved mother and ask yourself not to speak the message that life isn't valuable anymore after death.

Allow mothers to treasure life even in death, in many ways even more because of death. God speaks so much about dignity through love after death. Absence is felt because value is first recognized. 💕

This post left me:
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