The Hurt and the Healer

One of the biggest struggles I have faced in this trial is not being able to pray for the outcome I want. What I want is for Madelyn to be here. I want to watch her grow up, to care for her, to be her mommy. To be able to do all the things I was so looking forward to doing with a little girl. I want Madelyn to be alive. But, this is not an option now. In the past, when I’ve faced a struggle, there has always been an outcome to pray for. Part of the reason I’ve always been able to stay so positive is because of this. I always knew that in hard times, I could pray for what I was hoping for. For instance, praying a job interview would go well, healing from a sickness, traveling mercies, or protection from storms. In all these prayers, there was always an outcome that I was hopeful for.

Even if things don’t always go our way, isn’t there always hope that at some point they will? At some point, you will get the answer you have been praying for? But what do you do when the outcome has already happened? What do you do when you don’t know what to pray? This is something I am trying to sort through. I can’t pray that Madelyn would be healed, saved from death, or that she would come back to me. These are no longer possible outcomes. So, I can only pray that God’s strength would sustain me. As I walk around in a fog most days, I pray for strength just to make it to the next task. I am still alive, but there is a part of me that has died that will never be the same. I can only pray for God’s mercy to help me through, one day at a time. I’m not coming to God with a request. For me, prayer these days is a place simply where the hurt and the healer collide. MercyMe describes it so well:

So here I am, what’s left of me

Where Glory meets my suffering

I’m alive, even though a part of me has died

You take my heart and breathe it back to life

I fall into Your arms open wide

When the hurt and the healer collide

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His Power is Made Perfect in Weakness

In the past few weeks I’ve experienced a tornado of emotions. I’ve been angry and full of joy; afraid and at peace; sad and uplifted. Trying to find any sort of “normal” is not possible right now. Even going to the store is hard. Everything reminds me of Madelyn, or when I was pregnant with her. Were there this many pregnant women and babies around me before this happened? Probably, but I definitely didn’t notice as much. Now, I notice everything.

One question that comes up in my head over and over is: “What do I do now?” My life has been flipped upside down. How do you keep moving after such a tragedy? I wish I had the answer to that, but I don’t. I have clung tightly to my husband, and loved on my boys. Our sweet boys. I am so thankful for them. After going through something so traumatic, what a blessing it was to come home to a house that was so full of joy, life, and laughter. And my amazing husband. Every day, I make a point to love and cherish him as best I can. For these reasons, I get up in the morning and I keep putting one foot in front of the other. Somehow, I am able to keep going. One day at a time.

I’ve had several sweet friends comment on the strength I have.   All I can think is, “how have I deceived everyone? I am the exact opposite of strong.” The honest truth is that I am weak. So very, very weak. But, when I feel that I am alone in my pain, I am reminded: Jesus was stripped, beaten, and crucified for this. For this specific pain. My pain. He endured suffering and torture. As heaven looked away, he cried, aloud, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Jesus knows pain. He knows what it is like to feel alone in suffering. And what’s more, he suffered for me. He was strong in His pain so that I don’t have to be strong in mine. It is HIS strength that others see, not mine.   It’s not about ME, it’s about HIM.

There are moments all throughout the day that I don’t want this. I don’t want to have to go through it. I want my baby girl back and I want things to be as they were. I don’t want to feel this weak and endure this pain. But, then I remember, “His power is made perfect in weakness.” And I think, “wait, Lord, are you telling me that I will know you MORE because of this? That in my pain you will be glorified, more than you ever would have been before? That others will know you more, because of sweet Madelyn?” And He whispers, “yes, child.”

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Butterfly Blessings

At our hospital, the symbol for a stillborn baby is a butterfly.  Instead of pink or blue feet, they place a butterfly sticker outside your door.  So, everyone entering our room was aware of what had happened.  After Madelyn was born, Matt and I received wonderful gifts from the hospital staff, and many had butterflies on them.  A beautiful quilt with pink butterflies on it was one of my favorites.  When my nurses were making copies of Madelyn’s hand and footprints, we placed some on the quilt.  What a sweet way to cherish the most beautiful hands and feet I’ve ever seen.  We were also given a memory box with several special things, and the box had a butterfly on top.  I knew upon leaving the hospital that butterflies would be very special to me from then on.

A few days after we got home, I was sitting at the kitchen table with my boys.  Our kitchen window was open to let the sunshine in.  All of a sudden, Caleb said, “Mama, I just saw a butterfly.”  Now, this might seem like an ordinary thing to say.  After all, it is springtime.  But, I do not recall him saying this to me before.  Now, we’ve probably talked about butterflies.  Certainly last spring we had conversations about them.  But I can’t recall a time, to my knowledge, that Caleb has pointed one out.  Much less, to point one out while inside, sitting at our kitchen table.  I instantly got chills, and knew God was speaking to me.  Madelyn was ok.  In fact, she was more than ok.  She was happy.  She was with Jesus.  Caleb proceeded to tell me that the butterfly was purple and pink, and described where he saw it flew.  I listened in awe as I heard Our Heavenly Father speaking through my little boy.

The next day, a dear friend came over for a visit.  As she was leaving, she went to grab her purse from the kitchen.  She called out to me, “Jen, do you know what recipe is on display on your cookbook?”  Now, a few days before, I had finally decided to throw out the Thanksgiving magazine that had been placed on top of the cookbook that was resting, open, on the book stand in our kitchen.  That tells you how often I open up a cookbook and cook!  I love telling this part of the story, for the humor involved.  I had walked past that magazine countless times since November and thought that it was time to throw it out, but never did.  Finally, the other day, I had taken it and put it in our recycle bin.  I didn’t even think to look at the recipe on display underneath.  So, when I went to look, my breath was taken away when I saw the recipe: Lemon Butterfly Cupcakes.  Again, God was saying, “she is ok, Jennifer.  She is with me.”

Later that day, I was searching in my purse for something, when my hand ran across something.  Instantly, I knew what it was.  I couldn’t remember who gave it to me, or when.  It’s been a long time.  Just like the magazine, I kept thinking to take it out, but never did.  Inside my purse was a flowerpot decoration.  It has a hook on it and you can attach it to the side of a flowerpot.  What was the decoration?  A butterfly.  I closed my eyes and thought, “ok, Lord.  I’m listening.  I hear you.  Thank you.”

When I tell this story, I make sure to include my certainty that Madelyn had a hand in these sweet blessings.  I like to think of her sitting with Jesus and saying, “Jesus, I want to help my mommy feel better.”  To which Jesus replies, “me too, sweet child.”  I like to think that together, they came up with these sweet ways to touch my heart.  I’ve never had an experience where I was certain God was speaking.  I’ve felt His nudges, promptings, and comfort, and I’ve felt his guidance throughout my life.  But never have I had such a clear sign from Him.  Thank you, Lord, for butterflies.  Thank you for this sweetness you’ve given me.  Every time I see a butterfly, I will think of Madelyn.  What a wonderful gift.

“And after the fire came a gentle whisper…”

~1 Kings 19: 12

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Perspective

As time goes on, I have become more and more aware that I now have a different perspective on so many things.  A few days before Madelyn’s funeral, I was gathering things that I wanted placed in her casket.  I had a few special pictures printed to place in frames for her.  When I picked up the pictures, the man handed them to me, and cheerfully said, “having a good day?”  I politely smiled and said yes, and walked away, struggling to hold back tears.  Words mean so much to me now.  Little things are hard, such as a simple response to what should be a simple question.  I thought about how many times I have had the following exchange with someone: “How are you?” “Good, how are you?”  “Fine.”  And then we both smile and go on our ways.  I thought about how many people I’ve done this with that may have been going through a deep struggle, but had to hide it so that they wouldn’t cry.  How often I’ve gone about my day and been so busy that I didn’t notice what may have been going on around me.  Going through such a tragedy has made me more aware of those around me, and also more careful with my words.  I am thankful for that perspective.

I loved my husband before, but I LOVE him now.  Going through this has brought a new closeness that I cannot adequately put into words.  Experiencing loss; true, heart wrenching loss, has brought a new layer of love that we have for each other that is a blessing from the Lord.  It is a gift Madelyn has given us.  An appreciation for each other that we would not have otherwise.  Little things no longer matter.  The day after we lost Madelyn, and it may have even been that day, I looked at my husband and said, “I don’t ever want to argue again.”  And I meant it.  I refuse to ever be angry with him.  Ever.  And I mean it.  Life is too short.  It’s one thing to say this, but another to truly believe it.  I am so thankful for a man who has held me when I’ve cried so hard I can’t breathe.  Who has prayed with me when I don’t know what else to do.  Who has pointed me to God’s word when I feel lost.  Who has reminded me of His promises time and time again when I’m missing our little girl so much I can’t think.  I’m so thankful for him.  And I’m thankful for Madelyn, who has taught me to love him better.

You can’t predict what will happen, and tomorrow is not guaranteed.  This was not our plan.  This was the exact opposite of our plan.  But, God’s perspective is different from ours.  God takes ashes and despair and gives us beauty and joy.  He gives us a heart of praise, even in the darkest times.  And, to truly appreciate beauty, you have to know what ashes look like.  I am thankful for this perspective.

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Empty Arms

In this most difficult of times, what amazing support our family has had.  We have been flooded with messages, calls, and cards from friends and family letting us know we are being thought of and prayed for.  It has meant so much to us to know that so many people care for us and love Madelyn.  I do believe that the peace I have felt over the past week has been a result of prayer.  If you have prayed for our family, or for me, I want to extend the deepest gratitude.  It is most definitely heard and needed.

Even still, today was my due date, and my arms are empty.  My baby girl should be in them.  I should be able to hold her, kiss her, be up with her all hours of the night.  We were ready to meet her, and I was due any day.  But, my baby girl is not in my arms.  I can’t hold her, kiss her, or be up with her all hours of the night.  I would give anything just to hear her cry.  To have her hand grab hold of my finger.  I spent today in the company of two sweet souls who cried with me, laughed with me, and were a true comfort to me.  One gave me much encouragement in my walk with the Lord through this time.  The unthinkable has happened, and I need Him.  More than ever.  Another friend has walked this very same road, and to be able to share and grieve with someone who can relate is a very comforting thing.  Just what I needed today.

I decided to visit Madelyn’s gravesite for the first time today.  Because it was my due date, and I have the overwhelming feeling that she should be here, I just wanted to be near her.  It is actually a very peaceful place.  There are trees and benches, and I can tell it is going to be a very lovely resting place for me.  I sat on the cold bench, with the wind blowing, staring at her gravesite.  I prayed, and sat in silence.  With two young boys, I remember like it was yesterday the long nights, the cries, the wondering, “will they ever sleep?  Will I ever sleep?”  Now, I long for that.  I long for anything but the silence of a quiet gravesite.  As much sadness as this brings me, I continue to feel the Lord’s presence.  He is with me in this.  I have to continue clinging to Him. I also know that Madelyn is with me.  She is watching over me and is my guardian angel.  That brings me an incredible amount of peace.  My arms are empty now, but I have hope.  That hope tells me I will see her again.  I will hold her again.  That brings me peace, too.

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Madelyn Grace

The day after we came home from the hospital, there was a quiet moment when I was filled with sorrow.  I was not sure what I could do to make it better.  The only thing I wanted to do was hold my daughter.  I decided to write a letter to her.  I’m so glad I did, because it allowed me to talk to her.  I cried the entire time, but it felt so good to share her birth story and reflect on the good.  I share this letter because it shares her.  She existed, she is not forgotten, and will never be.  I will never let her memory fade.  She is a part of our family and will be with us always.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Dear Sweet Madelyn Grace,

It’s only been a few days since your passing, and there has not been a moment that has gone by that your mommy and daddy have not thought about and loved you. What a beautiful baby girl you were. I can still feel you and smell you. You had blonde curly hair like your mommy, and just like your brother, Caleb. After two brothers who have blue eyes like their mommy, you had your daddy’s beautiful hazel eyes. You had the sweetest long fingers and toes, and the most beautiful mouth. One of your feet had an arch in it, and one was flat. You had so many parts that made you so special. You were a little angel. When they handed you to me, you were warm and pink, with so much life still in you. I held you for the longest time, and we were able to call daddy and he was able to see you right after you were born. I held you and held you in my arms. The nurses gave you a bath and talked to you so sweetly. You loved getting your head washed, just like all little babies do. The nurses helped me dress you in the sweetest pink dress, pink polka dot hat, and sweet little diaper. They swaddled you in your blanket with the grey and pink birds mommy brought from home, and handed you back to me. I held you for hours. When daddy arrived, he held you close and kissed your head over and over. He couldn’t stop marveling at your sweet little hands and feet. When I told him you had his eyes, it was the most precious moment watching him cry and hold you close, repeating, “you have my eyes.” Your daddy held you for hours and hours. When it came time to say goodbye to you, mommy held you close and kissed your head one last time. We will never forget that special time with you, sweet baby. It will remain a precious memory in our hearts forever. We take comfort in knowing that you are at peace, laughing and playing and sitting on the knee of Jesus. We can’t wait to see you one day, and hug you, run our fingers through your blonde, curly hair, look into those big, hazel eyes, and tell you how much we love you. Until then, there will not be a day that goes by that we will not love and miss you.

Love,

Mommy

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