Our Story-Choosing Joy After Grief

I was the kind of kid who knew what she wanted out of life. Big House, husband, amazing marriage, four kids-two girls and twin boys specifically. As I grew so did my dreams…a house full of kids, those whom my own brought home from school, from church, from the neighborhood was among the top of those dreams.

I would lay in bed at night, or watch the clouds in the day and imagine what my life might look like.

I was sort of a dreamy kid.

God had other plans too. When I was 12 He called me to urban ministry. This was so foreign to my grown-up-in-the-middle-of-Maine young ears. But I listened. And it sounded exciting.

My parents and I drove the three and a half hours to Eastern Nazarene College in the fall of 1994. We landed there, on the south shore of Boston, three blocks from Quincy Bay and unloaded my worldly goods. At just barely 18 years old, I was excited to take advantage of every opportunity college and Boston offered.

And I was scared out of my head. An introvert by nature and never having been too far away from home and my entire extended family, I was now alone, treading my own path.

When I couldn’t find the ketchup that first night in the cafeteria I wasn’t sure I could make it through four years of college.

Quickly, though I began to meet the other girls on my dorm’s first floor. We began spending time together, attending classes together, church, meals, Boston on Friday nights. I also met this guy named Jeremy. He was a really nice guy.

He told me a few years later than he thought I was pretty cute at that first meeting. He would have liked to date me. We didn’t, though. Instead we spent time with our now growing group of mutual friends and got to know each other.

And I may or may not have dated a couple of his friends.

Fast forward a few years….Jeremy and I, graduated from college in 1998 and 1999 (he was a double major/five year plan) and moved to Pennsylvania. We were both ministering part time at our local church. I was also the Program Director for a denomination sponsored Urban Ministry Center. I ran summer camps, after-school programs and oversaw the other ministries and interns our ministry took on. Jeremy was teaching elementary music at a large, private Christian School in Souderton, PA.

Life was happening exactly as I’d planned.

When we decided to start our family, it was a no brainer to me. I still wanted four children and thought that since everything else in life had happened as I’d expected it to, this new beginning would be very much the same. We would birth our first child and subsequently three more.

I became pregnant in the fall of 2000. We happily began planning and buying and dreaming of our new baby. Jeremy wanted to celebrate Christmas alone, just the two of us, before children entered our world, so we arranged to stay at a Bed and Breakfast in Gettysburg, PA over the Christmas Holiday.

We loved our little solo Christmas vacation. And loved the idea that there was a little life growing inside me.

6 weeks later I still hadn’t been sick like I thought most newly pregnant moms should be. After two days of cramping and bleeding I had miscarried our first baby. Our hearts were broken.

This wasn’t supposed to happen this way.

At one point Jeremy told me that we could still have a baby by the years end if we tried again rather soon.

That spring we were pregnant again. And with twins. My heart’s desire was to birth and raise twins. I was sick from morning until evening, still running a summer camp in an un-air-conditioned gym with 60 kids and a staff of interns. But I was having twins. And my heart was overflowing.

After months of excitement, months of watching my belly grow, months of wretching into the toilet and reveling in the joy of what was to come life came crashing down.

A routine ultrasound at 19 12/ weeks of pregnancy told us one of our babies had died.

We were just going to find out if they were boys or girls. Instead one of them had died and no one could tell us the outcome of the other little life that now hung in the balance inside my womb.

We were 19 1/2 weeks pregnant with one now deceased baby and one very much alive baby who’s next second of life was up for anyone’s guess. It was so uncertain.

All of life now became entirely uncertain.

Our baby had died of Twin Twin Transfusion Syndrome. We didn’t know if the other would live or not.

This was not supposed to happen.

I was placed on bed-rest until further notice and for as long as I would remain pregnant with our living twin I would also be pregnant with our deceased baby. Because they were identical twins and shared everything in my womb we could not remove the deceased twin without also taking the life of our other baby.

Abortion was medically an option. But it was not an option for us.

Through a series of prayers, miracles and events God made himself evident.

He protected our baby and on December 23, 2001 Anna was born.

A perfectly healthy, beautiful baby girl.

When Anna was 18 months old, we unexpectedly became pregnant again. At this point we had decided that a large family wouldn’t be ours to have. God had given us our baby girl and we were head over heels in love with her and loved watching her grow.  This unexpected pregnancy lasted just two weeks longer than our first. We miscarried again at 8 weeks.

There is no making sense of lost dreams, hopes that seem shattered at will, desires that are purely good in nature yet never cross the finish line when there is absolutely nothing you can do about it.

This part of my heart had unraveled all too quickly.

I had resigned myself to the idea that I wouldn’t have four children, and if that was the plan God had written for me it was going to be okay.

December of 2003 I announced to the ladies at our church that I was three months pregnant and the baby looked healthy.

They were thrilled for us and quickly passed around the black and white ultrasound pictures. Each one congratulatory and motherly with every word.

A friend came up to me as I walked home and said, “There were a group of us praying you’d have another baby.”

This one, our fifth baby was born healthy and vibrant and has been a blessing to our family.

———————-

Why do we adventure? Why do we seek opportunity? Why do we take advantage of every moment? Why do we cut out cable, drive old cars and shop thrift?

Because we have experienced sorrow. We have lost life that we held in our hearts.

I have carried life and death in my womb.

We know what it is to lose a child and want to make the most of every day.

We live on a simple budget. Our family togetherness takes precedent over material desires.

We want our girls to know successes and failures, to find joy in another, to seek the thrill of adventure. We don’t want to look back on our day, our week, our years and long for opportunities that have already passed by.

We want our girls to have an amazing childhood.

We want them to see as much of the world as we are able to show them.

We want them to confidently be as comfortable in the woods and hiking boots as they are in heels and pearls. We want them to have an innate desire to learn, and never, ever stop learning. Sometimes we can be a little intense.

When you experience loss. When one you loved so dearly, whether you were able to hold them in your arms or heart is no longer yours to hold it does something to you.

It changes you.

It changed me.

It made me realize my daily blessings, those moments that could easily sneak under the radar.

We want our girls to learn that life’s most important things aren’t things, but they are people. We want them to value life-all of life- family, neighbors, people around the world they haven’t or may never meet, the created world found in animals and plants and stars.

We don’t want to miss an opportunity.

So we spend our money and time on making memories. On building a solid foundation in our girls’ hearts. On home-educating. On doing ministry together. On working hard and playing harder. On celebrating life every. single. day.

We really, honestly do life together-in this community that God has placed us in.

Loss has driven us in way I couldn’t have imagined fifteen years ago.  Loss can make you continue in a way of mourning, or it can drive you to realizing the blessings you still have after loss. And that those blessings are worth your energy.

We have chosen joy.

We have chosen intentional living.

We have chosen our response to sorrow.

It has made us who we are.

This life we live is amazing. Adventurous. Joy filled. Amazing.

smokies selfie

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