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

 

Parallels

PARALLELS

Parallels. They are everywhere I turn right now. So much about life right now seems to have something deeply rooted.

I’m having a hard time grasping it all and wrapping my heart around what was and is and is to come. My mind is like an overripe fruit that can no longer hold anything in.

The problem is forming sentences. My thoughts and feelings jump all over the place and I feel…tired.

It’s May. This month marks two years since our Audrey came into the world and lived her 81 days. Her life continues to bless me daily. Two years passed far too quickly.

Our little family has been full of life more than usual over the past two months. After a decade away, we have returned to our hometown of Stillwater, OK. Chris and I grew up here. When a wonderful work opportunity for Chris came knocking, we prepared to leave what was our home for 10 years as we became adults and parents.

It’s surreal sometimes, being back in the place that formed and shaped us. So many important people are here and just being near them feels like home. We left behind a group of people who are an extension of our hearts. This was and continues to be hard. Our 81 days with Audrey were beautiful because of so many of these people, our village, stepping in and fueling us. It was bittersweet to sell the home where our baby Cooper became a boy, and the place that housed our emotions during Audrey’s life. There is something almost healing about a fresh start at this particular time. As we prepare for another little girl to join our family, she has a place of her very own. Her room really is hers. She won’t live in what was intended for Audrey. This feels right.

And yet? The parallels continue. This pregnancy has been complicated. The baby is perfectly healthy as far as we can know at this point. This alone is overwhelming. It’s such an incredible thing for a baby to be born healthy, never ever to be taken for granted. At the very same time, thinking of her health can bring on a strange ache about Audrey. It’s hard for me to even put into words.

Almost one month ago, I had stents placed in both ureters because the ureters had collapsed due to my growing uterus, which caused urine to back up severely in my kidneys. Recovery from that surgery has been slow and often incredibly painful. We learned early on that my placenta was very low lying, also known as Placenta Previa. I was hopeful it would resolve itself. It did not. In fact, the placenta continues to be too low and puts me at risk for bleeding should any little thing disrupt the placenta. Additionally, the placenta has grown through my uterus and has potentially attached to my bladder. This is a rare condition known as Placenta Percreta, it is dangerous to mother and baby during delivery because of potential heavy bleeding and hemorrhaging. My team of doctors includes a high risk specialist, a urologist and an OB. Together, they have determined that the best course of action with the lowest risk is to perform a full Hysterectomy at the time of C-Section delivery, taking her at 34 weeks. The urology team will be present and ready to repair the bladder if needed. Doing a hysterectomy reduces the risk of heavy bleeding because they won’t try to separate the placenta. The bladder concern complicates things and we are prayerful that perhaps it hasn’t actually attached, but is just touching.

Delivering the baby six weeks early comes with preparing for a NICU stay. The “party line” is the expect her to be there the full six weeks, but she could come home after 1-2 weeks if she is healthy. Please oh please, God.

This delivery will take us back to the same hospital in Oklahoma City where Audrey was born. She’ll go straight to the NICU where Audrey lived for weeks. And just like Audrey, she isn’t due until June but will celebrate her birthday in May.

I’m working to keep it all in perspective and sometimes it is a lot to take in. Our baby girl is healthy, it is my body that is complicating things. By God’s grace, I have felt pretty calm about it all considering the risks.

I had a box of Audrey’s tiny preemie clothes that I kept for nostalgia, never imagining that we would need them again two years later. Coincidence? Nah…

As I type, these items of clothing, small enough to dress a baby doll, are washing clean. They, too, are getting a fresh start. However, their memory cannot be washed away. And who knows, it may be hard to see Audrey’s baby sister wearing her clothes. I’ll take it all as it comes.

Chris has put together yet another crib, this makes three. So far, only one of our children has slept in the crib their daddy brought to life. Oh, how desperately I want to see this baby girl sleeping soundly in this crib.

May 20th is when our little egg will hatch. I try and try to imagine what the day will look like and, like every other unknown in our lives, I simply cannot.

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Walk by faith, Rachel,” I can almost hear Him whisper, “Remember this. Remember what Audrey taught you. Her gift was and is perspective.

Will my heart grow enough to make room for all three of my children? Will this baby push Audrey to the side? Will Cooper struggle to understand seeing yet another baby sister in the NICU?

Every once in a while, I use Audrey’s name accidentally when referencing this baby and it hurts because I get so mad at myself for it. The closer we get to meeting our Emma, it seems I am mourning Audrey in a new way. My heart is uncomfortably thrilled and broken at the very same time.

In 19 days, another baby will leave my body and become a part of the world. This time, my uterus will go too. I’ll never feel a baby slide an elbow or kick a heel from the inside, nor will I watch my belly dance involuntarily in the wee hours of the morning. My childbearing days are limited to 19.

What a humbling gift it is that I have been able to do this three times. They haven’t been perfect, glowy or easy but they have been. That alone is a miracle.

This song, Small Bump, came on as I typed away, and reminded me of the sweetness of this baby to come. She dances away and I pause to notice and remember the feeling…

As of today, we have all worked together and made incredible progress on funding the Wings for Audrey endowment. $91,150, can you even believe it? They said to expect it to take 3-5 years, but I believe it is going to happen this year. September will mark two years since we started fundraising and it would be amazing if by then, we all celebrated together!

You’ve continued to be there for us. Thank you for helping us keep Audrey’s story alive…for sharing her story. And if you think of it, we would be humbled and grateful for your prayers on May 20th.

Now and always, R

 

 

Spot Color

It was about this exact same time, just two years ago, that I sat in front of my blank computer screen…cursor blinking.

I decided to begin typing about the story of our Audrey as she lived just a few inches below my beating heart. On that day, never could I have imagined all that would unfold.

And now, today, I am once again typing away while a different baby girl curls around my womb.

Recently, I spent the morning working at one of my favorite coffee spots. It was a cloudy and stormy day, no sunshine to be found. I thought about how that is just like grief sometimes. A low-set gloom darkens everything. There aren’t any shadows. It’s simply and eerily monochromatic. But, light continues to shine just above the clouds. The sun is there, patiently and unconditionally waiting for you to rise up and allow its warmth to find your skin.

I blinked back to present moment and saw a beautiful mama walking in with her daughter that looked not-quite-two. She seemed about the age Audrey would be now. I watched them interact, all smiles and sweetness…like it was a commercial. Little one was donning a navy raincoat with bunnies all over it and there, like a ray of sunshine through the clouds, it noticed it. Her lovey. Tucked right inside her jacket, with just a head and two floppy ears peeping out, was a bunny zipped up tight and protected by this sweet girl.

In the same moment, I grinned sincerely while a lump swelled in my throat.

It never goes away. It never stops. And goodness, am I grateful. I will miss her, until I no longer have to and I, too, get Heaven.

I heard someone recently say they were tickled pink. I thought about what an appropriate description of emotion…color.

So much of my life is centered around color as a designer. Color can make or destroy a design…it matters more than most realize.

I started thinking about how we are tickled pink and green with envy…so, what exactly is the color of grief? The truth is, every person you ask may have a different opinion. Why? Because grief itself isn’t a single emotion….it’s all kinds.

Grief is red. It’s angry and mad. It’s wanting to punch a wall or scream into a pillow.

Grief is blue. It’s sad. It is tears that have no end and a heart that aches because a piece is broken.

Grief is grey. It’s neutral and slow. It’s the inability to feel one way or another or to make plans.

And grief is black. Its the darkest of dark. It’s broken and still. It can feel empty, alone and terrifying.

When we grieve, we’re all those colors and more. Grief is complicated and intimate. But, of all the life lessons I have been gifted, one that is so important is that grief bonds us.

We learn a lot about the people in our lives during hard times. You will learn the most, however, about yourself. Who are you when the worst happens?

Grief is incredibly revealing.

 

CIRCUMSTANCE

What color are you today? Are you tickled pink? Tell your best friend! Are you deep blue? Reach out and let someone in.

Love + Hugs, R

 

 

 

 

 

The Empty Crib: A Letter to the Mama

Dear sweet mama,

Cherish that very word…mama, mom, mommy. Losing your child doesn’t take away that beautifully, courageously earned title. You are and will forever be your child’s mother.

It’s unfair isn’t it? You baked this bun in your oven, you went through the stages of pregnancy, you delivered this child into the world. How is it that now, after all of that, your baby isn’t nestled sweetly in your arms?

We’ve all heard the same phrases. “It’s better this way”, “This is God’s plan”, “Your baby is better now”, “Everything happens for a reason”, etc. These may all be true, that doesn’t make them easy to hear.

I wish so badly you didn’t have to know this feeling – the one that is fully enveloping you now. But whatever you are feeling, feel it. Feel all the feels because nothing good comes from avoidance or stuffing.

At times you may feel lost, desperately seeking a compass to guide you on this unimaginable journey. It may be hard for you to make and keep plans. Your day may start with a fresh face, complete with mascara, and end with all of it washed away by tears.

Hang in there.

Hang tight because if you allow it, beauty will rise from ashes. In different ways, shapes and forms, this will change you…it already has. If you let it, this can mold you into a better version of yourself.

How will you live on to honor the life of your child? Open your heart and be ready to accept the challenge.

Why isn’t there an instruction manual for this? Something to tell us how to feel, when to feel it and for how long. Perhaps it really is because each story is so unique, just like our little ones gone too soon.

You may feel as though no one you know fully understands what you are going through…no one gets it completely. That’s true. In the empty moments, the darkest and deepest ones…seek the One who does.

“Holy Spirit, you are welcome here,

Come flood this place and fill the atmosphere.

Your glory God is what my heart longs for,

To be overcome by your presence, Lord.”

Did you catch that? Come flood this place and fill the atmosphere. Ask Him to fill the void of your great loss. This will not and cannot be filled by family, friends, busyness, substances or even another child.

You may not understand His ways now or ever fully, but you choose to trust and keep the faith. Ask God to reveal purpose and meaning through the life and death of your child. Listen for it.

Discover what brings you comfort; coffee with a friend, journaling your thoughts, volunteering, exercising, cooking, etc. Avoid that guilty feeling for having time to do these things. I know it’s hard. Having this extra time is a direct result of the absence of your baby. So choose wisely and make it count.

Breath will escape you when you least expect it. You will see or hear something that overwhelms you and the hole in your heart seems to ache. Maybe your body is still fighting to produce milk and it maddens you that it just won’t stop without pain or inevitable mastitis. A baby gift shows up from some loving person who hasn’t yet heard that your baby passed. Every time you pass by the nursery in your home, you want it gone…but at the very same time, you don’t want that painful finality. It’s a week after the memorial service and the flowers are all starting to die…a reminder of one more thing in your life that you can’t force to stay alive.

TheEmptyCrib

Some days, the hits will come one after another. Then, you will go several days without tears. You may not wear a cast or be in a wheelchair, but a piece of you feels broken. Doctors heal broken bodies. Who heals the broken hearted?

God does.

Let time do its job. Healing is a process that has no timeline. Each heart takes an undefined amount of time to learn to beat in a new rhythm.

Sweet mama…I see you. You are fighting a courageous battle. Hold your head high, lift your chin up toward the Heaven where your child now waits for you.

Fight for your life, fight for the good and fight well.

Written for you with honor and respect.

 

Heaven’s New Joy

Dedicated to my grandmother, Barbara Cooper Lane.

Last week, the world lost a precious soul, Lisa Jo Cooper.

Her passing was sudden and unexpected. She is my Grandmother’s youngest child and little sister to my mother and uncle.

As her life was celebrated this week, the word joy was surely said one hundred times or more. Lisa was special from day one. She had more needs than most but really she needed very little.

When I thought of her entrance to Heaven, I tried hard to imagine what it must have been like. Throughout her life, she made the very most of her disabled body. I pray her body is perfect and agile in every way. While she was 51 on the day of her passing, I can’t help but wonder if that is the age in which she’ll live eternally. She always embodied such a childlike spirit, it makes me think she will be forever young.

I’ve watched my Grandmother continue to raise her all these years. Lisa wasn’t a burden, she was gift and treated as such.

Since I was little, I remember Lisa going ga-ga over babies. She just wanted to hold them and tickle under their little arms. She would make her best baby sounds and pretty much nailed it every time.

Audrey didn’t live long enough to meet her Great-Aunt Lisa, but now I realize that is because she would meet her in Heaven.

I imagine my aunt holding my baby…

Both bodies are healed and free of ailment.

Both had special needs.

Both were especially needed by all who knew them.

I watched my Grandmother intensely during Lisa’s celebration of life. I wish she didn’t have to know the feeling of outliving her own daughter.

On different levels, we now share this.

My Grandmother and I both carried and delivered baby girls who lived lives with needs beyond what we even knew we could handle. We both would have given anything to heal our girls. However, neither of us would change a thing about them.

And now, she and I both have sent our daughters to Heaven. Perhaps they were needed more there. They fulfilled their purposes here on earth and together they can live in Heaven and remind us daily to keep the faith…to long for Heaven.

My brother, Justin, exquisitely delivered the service – truly a gift to her family. He reminded us that for believers, death is not to be feared. Death is the beginning of a beautiful eternity. While it is always harder on the ones left behind, we gain perspective and get to use that with our remaining days. Another funeral service I attended recently was for a baby boy who lived a matter of hours after he was born. The man who spoke reminded us that, “…we can grieve deeply while continuing to hope.”

So to you, my dear Grandmother, your baby girl lived life and lived it well. A part of you is now missing from this earth, for this we grieve. And now…she gets Heaven.

Hope for Heaven, today and always.

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Love & Hugs, R

 

b l o o m

“12 years ago this Christmas eve, my wife’s brother went into the hospital. January 16th, he went home. But not his earthly home. For months, my wife cried herself to sleep. Their incredible parents experienced something no parent ever should. Time doesn’t heal all wounds, time with God’s presence heals all wounds. So many lives were impacted by this man, his life and his passing. I’ve never known another death to make more of an impact…

…I asked my wife now, 12 years later, ‘If you had to lose all the good, but you had your brother back, would you have him back?”

The entire congregation sat in silence as we awaited the answer she gave our pastor.

“Without hesitation, she says, ‘I’d never want to go through that again, I’d never choose it again. But under no circumstances would I want him back after all the good that I saw God do through it.’ The very worst nightmare in her life, she wouldn’t change because she saw how God used it.”

This was the Sunday before Christmas, one I won’t soon forget. It knocked me off balance. It caught me off guard. The title of the sermon was actually called “When God Seems Uncooperative”. (Click to watch)

You see, I was recovering from an apparent sinus infection, it was tempting to skip church that morning and opt for my cozy, warm bed. But something was tugging at me to pull it together and be there.

By the end, I could hardly hold it together. For some reason, on this day, each point he made hit incredibly close to my heart.

I felt overwhelmed and understood. This wise man literally put into words so many of the things we felt and thought throughout Audrey’s short life. I have learned to seek the joy in her life…her story. I wouldn’t choose it again, but He used her in such beautiful ways.

I wept in the church lobby, completely embraced by my loving husband. We didn’t even have to speak. And then, I just couldn’t turn it off. It had been so long since I cried for her…I didn’t think that was still in me. I have felt so balanced and have moved into a place of peace, but this day reminded me that it never, ever goes away. Nor would I want it to. She was real, she was alive in my belly and, miraculously, in my arms. She will always be our daughter.

I couldn’t stay in the house, I would have crawled into bed with my Audrey Bunny and just cried. So, I decided to be productive and left for Target. I should have known this trip would be different. It was everything I never expected and everything I absolutely needed. I started in by filling my cart with produce, moving to the inside aisles that the Devil himself put there. The bread, cereal, crackers…the most delicious of the groceries! Not two aisles in, I turned and my dear Amy met my eyes and once again, I found myself in the loving embrace of someone I love while tears fell. Of course, she just got it…because she misses Audrey too. While I was a complete mess, Audrey’s nurse and someone who has become precious to me, Kim, turned the corner with her husband and brand new baby boy! We chatted, I met these two important gentlemen in her life, hugged and went about our shopping trips. I nearly entered the baking aisle (judge not, I beg you) when I looked to my left and Sarah was strolling toward me. I told her about this day and she listened to each messy detail and helped bring such a calm over me, in a way that only she can.

It was no accident that these women were there at such a time, perfectly placed. The sermon, seeing the girls, talking to Chris, to my parents and to Carrie…it all just beautifully reminded me that she still lives in all of us. These moments may not come as often as the years pass, but just like the scar where they separated her from me, she is always there.

And I know my emotions were heightened for one reason in particular.

An itty bitty baby girl is blooming within me. 

BabyGirl

A new life has begun…her own story is unfolding. As we wait, hope and expect this baby, I find myself trying to balance out…well, everything.

We wait to learn more about her as her body grows and reveals itself to us and to doctors.

We hope that she will develop in a healthy manner, and thus far, she has.

We expect her to arrive in June.

Sometimes it is hard to think of Audrey and her baby sister at the same time. Sometimes I feel undeserving. Sometimes I feel guilty. Sometimes I feel scared. Sometimes I feel elated. Sometimes I feel hopeful. Sometimes I feel overwhelmed with joy.

But I always feel blessed. I always feel love.

I want so badly to shout out that having this baby doesn’t mean that Audrey wasn’t enough. Or when people ask if I have any other kids other than the one I’m growing, I want them to know that this is my third child.

When Cooper asked innocently and logically, “Mama, will we get to keep this one?” You can imagine…I felt all the feels.

I hope so buddy. Can you help us pray that this baby is healthy and will come home with us?

Because how do you reassure a boy who had a baby sister die that this one won’t? He’ll be almost six when she arrives and I just know he will be incredibly helpful, independent and protective.

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Each of my three children has a story written of their own. No matter how long each one is, it is important. It is valuable. From my healthy, happy five-year-old, and my princess in Heaven, to the rainbow baby taking up residence in my womb…I’m so adoringly in love with them all. I get to tell Cooper this every day, perhaps I should say it more. I don’t get to show or tell Audrey how deep my love is for her anymore. And I’m desperately begging God that the new baby will grow up to know my love.

So we begin 2016 in bloom.  

In other news, I wanted to take a moment to share an incredible update about Wings for Audrey.

In January of 2015, the fund was at $45,672.

Today, exactly one year later…I am humbled to type this number…

$89,170

Wrap your brain around that for a moment. Think of how many people have made this a priority in their lives to be so close to the finish line in just 16 short months.

It’s close. It’s so close, the Foundation is ready to start finalizing the paperwork and solidify how exactly the program will work. We are thinking and praying about this often. Ultimately, we want this to make a difference and an impact all in honor of Audrey. And it will. We need just over $10,000 to make it a reality. And it’s coming…I just know it.

Thank you, from the very depths of my heart, for reading this. It means you care, and for that, I’m humbled and grateful. You’ve been there, on the other side of your screen, through so much. You are helping keep Audrey’s story alive, and this is priceless.

Until I write again…love + hugs,

R

This Is My Fight Song

FightSong

First, press play below. Listen and read the lyrics:

I hear her say it over and over again, “This is my fight song, take back my life song, prove I’m alright song…”

Her anthem becomes my own.

I only wish I had heard this song one year ago. A year ago, when I felt as though I was wandering, pondering and starting to lose my grip.

Now. Now I really do “feel a fire in my bones“. I am alright. Now I am strong. And so much of that is because of the strength I found through the desperate weakness I felt when growing a sick baby then watching her fight through life. We chose life for our daughter yet I couldn’t protect her. Such a helpless feeling as a parent.

I wanted her to fight, I wanted her to live. But that’s just it, I wanted it. Selfishly, I wanted to keep my daughter snuggled in my arms, but the most loving thing I ever did was let her go.

I continue to struggle with the guilt of living longer than my own daughter and moving forward in life. I “should” all over myself frequently. I lost pieces myself as I grieved the loss of Audrey, but the raw desperation I had for closeness with God is something I cherish. She made me be strong and He carried me through.

I watched a video of a couple who buried two baby girls within 18 months of each other. A gut-wrenching story really. But this woman, who loved God fiercely, journaled a conversation with Him one day and said, “If losing them means I get more of you, God, then I am okay.”

I mean…to think of what it must have taken her to get to that point of trust is humbling. Even as I type her words, goosebumps trickle along my arms. Am I “okay” with the death of Audrey?

Audrey was “like a small boat in the ocean, sending big waves into motion“. She changed things. Perspective is a beautiful and healthy thing, and something I make a priority now more than ever.

I’m so happy for her that she no longer suffers. I’m happy that Cooper still mentions her by name from time to time. I’m happy that she lived longer than most thought she might. I’m happy I got to snuggle her nose-to-nose. I’m happy that I got to fill my arms with her while Cooper sat by my side, loving her so. I’m happy that I got to watch my husband fall in love with his daughter. I’m happy that doctors and nurses learned from her. I’m happy that mothers who knew her cherish moments more because of her.

I’m happy that Audrey was.

Our little family is healthy and happy and I praise God for this. Every day is a fight for life. All of us who get to live another day, should fight for it. Life is a beautiful gift. Fight. For. It.

A dear friend sent her young husband home to Jesus very recently. As much as I like compiling words into run-on sentences, I find it nearly impossible to find the right ones to describe her loss. It gives me deep perspective, humility and gratitude. I so badly want her to fight, to take back her life…to prove that she will be alright. And she will, in time. She will once again find her footing as she learns life without him.

Everyone has their own battle. Perhaps it is how we choose to fight that determines who we will be on the other side.

May we all fight well in this beautiful thing called life. 

Love + Hugs,

R