My Mess; My Message

There is a small but important part of my story that I have chosen to share beyond my inner circle. It started as a letter to my daughter living in my womb. It became a way to be a vessel for a little girl who could teach us all a thing or two. When her body left this earth, her story was unfinished. And so I wrote and shared and wrote even more.

I credit my survival of many dark hours to the following:

Faith//I never understood what it truly meant to have faith until life became uncomfortable. 30 years of undeserving comfort built my foundation, but never before had I felt I needed God. It was more like a partnership. I would focus on making the “right” decisions and He would bless them…Oh, if only I could go back and have a little chat with my younger self.

People//I learned a lot about people. I’ve learned it’s easier for most people to celebrate than grieve. Somehow, we were surrounded by an astounding number of family and friends who are the definition of showing up. They showed up over and over and over again. They know the story of Audrey by heart because they were there. And in countless ways, even after she was gone, they have continued to selflessly show up.

Writing//It became many things. An outlet. My therapy. A connection. An escape. It provided a space for me to gather all the incessant thoughts and release them from my fatigued mind. I was surprised by how effective it was. The thoughts and feelings were liberated and set free into the abyss of the World Wide Web so I could keep moving.

Something started to change recently. It wasn’t as distinct as a paradigm shift; it was subtle and bothersome.

I had so much to say. I became overwhelmed and ultimately stuck. It wasn’t Writer’s Block because, of course, I’m not a writer. The harder I tried the more my wheels just kept sinking and spinning.

Frustrated, exhausted and full of tension, I felt like a mess.

I had a fleeting thought that maybe it was time to meet with a professional. But even thinking it to myself made me cringe.

A shameful voice inside me uttered, “You don’t need help. You need to get it together. What’s it going to take for you to be content? No one wants to listen to you whine.”

I see you, Satan.

The truth is, I didn’t even know where to start. I didn’t know anyone who had done anything beyond premarital counseling. I felt a sense of shame saying to a friend, “So, I’m thinking about seeing someone for counseling, know anyone good?” 

It’s a little more awkward than asking their recommendation for a hair stylist or pediatrician, is it just me?

Then one day, by no accident, a door opened for me to discuss all of this with someone I trust. What I learned is that this person took the same step and now sees counseling as an important part of life maintenance. I slowly opened up to a few other people and learned that I was in good company. I began to gain confidence in the idea.

It took me some time to finally make the call. But I did.

The day of the appointment left me feeling nervous and anxious. The idea of telling this person my life story sounded exhausting. But I valued that she would be an unbiased, new pair of ears. I feared the label. I didn’t want to be defined as this or that. I wondered if going would make me feel crazy.

I parked my car and took a deep breath. “Just be open”, I thought, “be willing.”

What I learned in the first 55-minute appointment was that I wish I had done this earlier.

But I wasn’t ready earlier. I didn’t think I needed it earlier. I was ready when I was ready.

There seems to be this invisible fence that surrounds “counseling”. I walked along the perimeter, thinking that crossing over was a bad thing. I believed that needing or even wanting to be counseled by someone wiser than me meant that I had failed.

I can’t figure out the hush. I’m often reminded that humans unite in their pain. There is a difference between sharing and complaining. I’m interested in suffering well together. Not everyone is, I appreciate that.

We get haircuts, we bathe, we exercise, we read, we get annual check-ups, we go to the dentist…we maintain our lives. I didn’t understand this before, but what do we do to maintain our minds?

For me, I’m crossing that invisible fence. I’m fighting against the stigma. My brother reminded me just today, “Let your mess become your message.” Writing is a part of me now. I can’t turn it off. But it is one-sided. And, as forthright as I am, I’ll always remain somewhat guarded and protective. I don’t have to do that with my new friend.

I always loved my guidance counselors growing up, I’m eager to have one now, as an adult.

Brushstroke Melody

BrushstrokeMelody

The day before felt like we were playing a dark game of hopscotch on a minefield. That was Friday. It was the day we spent hours absorbing the laundry list of imperfections about our daughter growing inside me. I was a sponge over-filled with horrific realities and sad truths just begging to be washed clean of it all.

Saturday was the hazy aftermath.

We felt all the emotions and none at all. We were both overwhelmed and completely numb.

It was grey both literally and figuratively. The clouds looked lower than I had ever remembered. It seemed appropriate. Heaven was hanging it’s head right along with us.

I spent the majority of that particular day curled up on one side of the couch. Chris asked what I wanted. He knew the answer but was looking for what I needed in that moment.

“An escape,” I said plainly. And so we watched movie after movie….after movie.

Eventually we emerged from our theatrical cocoon and even the dark, grey skies burned our red and swollen eyes. We traveled to pick up Cooper from his grandparents’ house.

It was during that silent, hour-long drive that I received a text from my Carrie. It didn’t say anything; it was a link to a song.

It was “Oceans” by Hillsong United. Popular now, but had only just been released at the time. That was my first listen.

Chris and I looked at each other. We didn’t have to speak.

If you haven’t heard the song, I encourage you to. If you have, I don’t have to say much more for you to understand.

From that point forward, it was Audrey’s song. And it was everywhere we turned.

One acutely difficult day when I was pregnant and waiting with Audrey, I turned to my dad for encouragement.

I was struggling. I was scared of the unknown. No, I wasn’t scared, I was terrified. He was quiet for a period of time. And then he simply said, “Have you not been listening to the song.”

That was a pivotal moment for me. Not just in the journey with Audrey, but in my life…my faith.

You see, I had spent 30 years hearing the words but not listening.

I heard someone recently talk about “training for your trial”. What an incredible idea. It’s less about waiting for the other shoe to drop and more about your faith becoming real and deep and intimate. All of this so when you must go trough life’s tribulations, you are deeply rooted and strongly grounded. You are ready.

So, I listened again. And again and again and again.

Oh…I thought.

It was a fight or flight situation for me personally. I could have flown the coop and given up on God. Why? Because it kind of felt like He let me down. Scratch that, not kind of, it did feel like He let me down.

I dug my heels in and fought for my faith.

Perhaps I had to fight a little harder because I hadn’t trained for my trial well in my trio of decades. Either way, I knew God was in this and even when I was angry, He could take it. Either way, I knew that I wanted Him to carry me through it when I was too weak to take the steps alone.

Fast-forward to the day family and friends gathered to celebrate the life Audrey lived and to say a final earthly goodbye. That same, precious Carrie honored us by singing Oceans to our baby girl. Sarah played violin. Chris drummed beautifully along.

I can hardly type these words without pausing for a tear-break as I think back on the moment. Full-circle. The words of that gorgeous song flooded our hearts on the first day of the journey and again on the last.

And now, three years later, a gift found it’s way to me for my 33rd birthday.

It’s Oceans.

Literally.

IMG_7838

An artist named Lindsay Sherbondy, whom I am inspired by daily, painted the song. The waves crashing. The hope. The darkness. The light. It’s all there in the brushstrokes.

My parents gifted me with Audrey’s song as art. I’ve never loved a painting more sweetly. I’ve never felt a piece of art more deeply.

It’s my fight song. What is yours?

IMG_7843

To the Last Drop

I’ll never forget the day I looked in our freezer and decided it was time.

It was quite literally overflowing with breast milk. Milk my body had produced for the baby no longer living.

There was this process of “undoing” around our home after Audrey passed. It started with diapers. I gave these away to people in my life with baby girls who could use them right away. Slowly, it became too much to walk by a closed door to a fully furnished nursery. The crib came down and still to this day, provides a sound place for our beautiful niece to sleep.

The offers from family and friends to help do these unfathomable tasks after she passed were endless and sincere. But I knew there would be a healing that would come with physically and emotionally taking care of putting her things to rest. Little by little, as my heart and mind could allow, I came to terms with our reality and intentionally gave new life to the things she would not need.

The very last was the milk…hundreds of ounces of it. It took up residence in our freezer. In my mind, it not longer held purpose, yet it was packed full of meaning.

Meaning…and nutrients.

ToTheLastDrop

Does it sound strange for me to say that throwing it away seemed disrespectful? When she was alive, it was just as important to Audrey, or really more so, as diapers, clothing and even a crib. And I made it for her. I worked hard to produce this for her. To simply dispose of the frozen milk wasn’t right.

I was desperate for Audrey’s life to have purpose. And so her milk would too.

I contacted several professionals to discuss my options and thankfully, our neighbor and friend was an OB/GYN who guided me in the steps to donate the milk to another baby in need.

Within minutes, or maybe it was seconds, of posting the offer of milk, nine different women requested it. I considered, “How in the world do I choose?”

I remember thinking about God. I wondered if He ever thought, “How do I choose?” What were the criteria for babies who got Heaven early? As per usual, my mind spun into a series of wondering and overthinking. I may never get an answer to that question and that’s just okay. I have found peace in the simplicity of trust.

My sister-in-love and I still giggle about the day the recipients came to pick up the milk. I won’t go into detail but let’s just say it wasn’t quite the picturesque moment I had imagined. A situation I thought would be crowded with tears was just that…only they were the laughing kind.

It was the first time I really laughed after Audrey was gone. I needed that. I’ll never regret choosing to donate what was intended for my daughter. Or was it?

I had milk and no baby. She had a baby and no milk. Simple.

Once the milk was gone, I opened the freezer door. It seemed darker somehow. The emptiness mirrored my heart in that particular moment.

But then I realized, I got my freezer back. Ounce by ounce, it had eventually become overtaken by milk. There was no more room for anything else and only once it was all gone did I recognize this.

This was symbolic to me. When Audrey died, there were hours and days that I felt like a hollow shell. She overwhelmed my emotions, my thoughts, my everything really. When she and her things were gone, I realized just how much space she held. A lot. I’m okay with that. I don’t regret that.

And when it came time to fill the void she left, I remembered Daniel 3:18, “…but if not, He is still good.”

He.  

Love + Hugs, R

 

Which Hunt

Have you ever caught yourself measuring time based on a big event in your life? Perhaps it was an accident, or a “Got Ya” date, a major promotion at work or a death.

We’re approaching three years since Audrey was born. When I speak of her, it feels strange to say she was born almost three years ago. I guess in part because that seems so long ago, and yet, at the same time, shocking that it has passed too quickly.

My personal journey as her mother is three years old also. I’m basically a toddler. I can walk well, talk in complete sentences and ask for help when I need it.

I also have those toddler-like days when I cry for no reason, I can’t put into words what exactly I’m feeling and I’m overtired.

My journey is still young and moldable. Most weeks I see, read or hear something that I put into the Audrey part of my brain. You might think it slowly turns off or that having a six-year-old and a nine-month-old would crowd that…it doesn’t.

Cooper randomly brings her up or mentions her name. I won’t avoid that. And Emma? The simple being of her causes me to overthink and feel a little too much most days. Her existence is fascinating to me and further deepens my faith. Sometimes it confuses me but that is when I choose to trust that she is meant to be here and Audrey is meant to be there.

Being chosen as Audrey’s mother sent me on a “Which Hunt”. I imagine, no I hope, I’ll be on it for the better part of the rest of my life.

Whatever the situation is, big or small, important or mundane, I know that only I have the power over my emotions. No one or no thing can MAKE me feel a certain way.

whichhunt

So I ask myself, “Which way will I handle this.”

I’m hunting for my which.

Whiching well doesn’t always come easily to me, I’m a feeler. I feel all over the place. I tend to feel then think, therefore I should a lot too.

I fail often. I get it wrong. I lose perspective and lose sight.

But sometimes I win. I get it right. I dig both heels into the foundation that has been laid through the life and death of my second born and I see the light.

My Which Hunt is ever evolving. Let’s just say this particular season of life as a family with two young children provides endless opportunities to choose wisely. The moments when I react instead of respond are all too common. At times, I fall prey to taking the path of least resistance. It’s easier at first but more often than not, I regret it. In my relationship with adults, I typically have more time to gather my thoughts. As a parent, that time is cut in half (or less). I’m helping shape and mold future adults here, I need more time to choose the best which!

That’s when I pray, a lot, for wisdom and discernment. That works in all aspects of my life, not just as a parent.

Our daughter lived and then she died. Black and white, but not simple. Her life and death were sprinkled with clear which’s and difficult which’s. Some of the decisions we were faced with are almost unbearable to think about now, but we did it, we made it through.

I’m still growing and maturing on this journey. One day, I’ll wake up and it will be thirty years since Audrey. What will life look like by then? Only God knows. But I pray I will still say our Audrey reminds me to which wisely.

Love + Hugs, R

What About The Dad?

whataboutthedad

To The Daddy,

Our child is 50% you and 100% us.

Instead of carrying her in your womb, you carry the weight of our world on your shoulders.

You may not have felt her kick from the inside out, but you aren’t exempt from the pain of her loss.

I see you.

I see you forced into the role of “The Rock”. You are expected to be the solid counterpart to my emotional tendencies.

I see you wiping away my tears and wonder if you ever need a good cry.chrisaudrey

I see you leave for work each day. Throughout it all, you have continued to build a life for our family without question or complaint.

When was the last time I checked your pulse? Maybe she has also been on your mind.

You lost her too, after all. She wrapped her tiny hand around your ring finger. She calmed when you held her near your heart.

She knew the love of her daddy…what a beautiful thing it is, the bond between a father and his child.

When we chose each other, little did we know this would be part of our story. And yet she is, forevermore.

In Japan, broken objects are often repaired with gold. The flaw is seen as a unique piece of the object’s history, which adds to its beauty. Isn’t that remarkable? I imagine our marriage as a well-made vase. The great loss of our child could have slowly caused a crack and eventually broken us apart. Instead, she’s our gold. She makes us stronger.

Never once have you ever thought, “What about me”? That’s not who you are. But I have for you. Because it isn’t about me. It isn’t about me and our child. It’s about us. All of us.

So, what about Dad?20140608-122731-44851875.jpg

They feel it too. They need to be remembered and thought of. They have off days and quiet days and just-plain-angry days.

Give them the opportunity to talk about it, don’t assume they won’t or don’t want to. Give them the opportunity to get away from it. Time with friends or enjoying their favorite hobby can help relieve stress.

Don’t take it out on the Daddy. It’s easy to do. They are close and nearby. The truth is, sometimes those we adore the most are in the line of fire.

When family and friends offer to help, keep him in mind. What are some ways people can help him too? Ask someone to mow the lawn. Ask his friends to take him for a guy’s night. If a meal train is going, suggest some of his favorite meals.

It’s easy for him to get lost in the shuffle of errands, picking-and-putting, taking care of this and that, bill paying, and more. He keeps moving. Help him pause every once in a while.

Acknowledge the Dad.

Love the Dad.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Two Years Gone

If only I could borrow miss Audrey for one more day, just to snuggle her close. I promise I’d give her right back…well, maybe.
 
It was on this day, two short but full years ago, that our daughter Audrey spent her last day here on earth with us. What I wouldn’t give for one more day with her. But like Diamond Rio so poignantly says, one more day would only keep me wishing for more. After all, we got 81.
 
Last week, Cooper asked me if Emma is Audrey.
IMG_5448
 
I’ve thought about that precious question a lot. It’s confusing for him. Who am I kidding, it’s confusing for me. No, Emma is not Audrey. Yes, she is a baby sister. Yes, she sure looks a lot like Audrey. To him, perhaps a subtle nuance at this point. But, they are two different people. Two different stories. Two different purposes. Some day he’ll understand that better.
 
I had a tender day recently. My whole body hurt for Audrey. I just missed her. I was sad about her and that hole in my heart pulsed painfully. Oddly, it seemed comforting. I was almost relieved that having Emma didn’t cover up that pain. It confirmed there is no replacement for Audrey.
 
I will be forever grateful that I chose to document our daughter’s life through writing. It became my therapy, a cathartic outlet for me. I may over share at times but never will I regret including the tiniest of details about our daughter we lost too soon. I reread this link today that I wrote about her last day.
 
 
It is a bit hard to read but only because it makes me want to jump back in time for the day. I wouldn’t change a thing, I would simply redo it…in slow motion.
 
Today my throat might have a lump that may not go away, but that’s okay. I’m incredibly proud of her and her story. Here and there, it continues to impact people and as long as I can, I will sing her song.
 
Audrey, today is for you, as you dance in Heaven with your body perfected. We’ll miss you until the day we get to say hello again.
 
Hold your littles and not-so-littles a bit tighter today, friends!

The Gift That Love Gave

It is finished. Today the news came in. We received word that all of our hard work, dedication, generosity, selflessness and sacrifices have literally paid off. Gift

The goal was to raise $100,000 within five years. The reality is that we have exceeded our goal as of today, a short and unexpected 21 months after we began.

$100,075

It was a lofty goal, one that was made humbly yet confidently. I have a newfound respect for those who dedicate their lives to the art and craft of fundraising. Every single dollar matters. Each penny represents someone who cares enough to give it away.

I’m overwhelmed by it today. All of it. 

I’m celebrating today because Audrey’s life made a difference. I’m celebrating because her 81 days will now benefit little ones at The Children’s Hospital for years and years to come. I’m celebrating because Audrey was. 

I’m mourning today because I miss her. I’ll never forget how she felt in my arms, or how her tiny body fit so perfectly in her daddy’s embrace. I’m mourning because my baby died. That never changes. I’m mourning because Audrey isn’t. 

I’m grateful today because of each person who loved Audrey enough to make this happen. I’m grateful I was chosen to be Audrey’s mama. I’m grateful for perspective that keeps me grounded. I’m grateful she has Heaven and Heaven has her. I’m grateful because Audrey lives. 

Wings for Audrey came at a great price. Far greater than $100,000.

$100,000 cannot bring her back, nor would any dollar amount have saved her life. What it will do is leave a lasting legacy honoring a small but mighty girl.

God lent us Audrey for 81 days. We got to borrow her while He taught us all a few things about this life we’re all living. We get to do better now and so…we should.

The fundraising may be complete, but now is when the fun begins!

To kick it all off, we are working on plans for a Wings for Audrey Gift Presentation Ceremony at Children’s Hospital in Oklahoma City. You, Audrey’s prayer warriors and biggest fans, will be invited to join.

This gift isn’t from Chris and I, it is from all of us…our parents, immediate and extended families, close friends and acquaintances, present and past colleagues, friends of friends, people we don’t know personally, small businesses and large corporations and yes, you anonymous givers. We will all present it as one.

The date and time are to be determined. Stay tuned for more information.

We are in the last stages of finalizing the details of how Wings for Audrey will work. We will outline the program during the Gift Presentation and then update you here as well. Aren’t you excited to see how your donations make a difference each year to come?

I desperately wish a sentence existed that could adequately express how deep our gratitude runs. It’s impossible. A simple thank-you will have to suffice.

T H A N K   Y O U!

We’ll keep you posted very soon with details regarding the Gift Presentation Ceremony.

Love + Hugs,

R