Thursday, December 18, 2008

My favorite ornament this year

I smiled when I opened it....sent from a dear friend who knew the perfect ornament for my tree this year. Alaina's favorite shoes to wear were her red sparkles. It didn't matter if they matched, usually they didn't...she didn't care. Those were the shoes she was buried in. They didn't match her little dress with pink flowers but I knew this is how she would've wanted it. I just can't type it without tears....buried. It's an ugly word, just like gravestone, funeral, death. I hate, yes, HATE those words. Days like today are hard. Days when I'm so busy with the kids and we are literally gone ALL day...then I get home and have a minute to "think" and it hits me all over again. The brief moments during the day when I'm alone, the grief is so raw and heavy. Physically it feels like a heaviness on my chest. In the midst, I am reminded of the season and what we celebrate and I have hope to continue on. Deep down in the fiber of my being if I believe I'll see her again one day I have a whole new view of heaven. The thought of her running to me, when I can touch her again and hold her...I pray that this is part of eternity. And I know there's nothing here that is her's OUR loss and pain and struggle, not hers. Her creator is everything she needs now and truly HE is what we need to make it. I can have joy this Christmas because He continues to be the Atchisons Wonderful Counselor, our Mighty God, our Everlasting Father, our Prince of Peace. I don't know what heaven will be like, I just know what I WANT it to be. I've got to trust the Lord for that too...that it will be as He has planned...perfect. Billy is constantly asking me "Do you think she'll still be a four year old when we get to heaven, will she know us, why can't God just "talk" to us, etc." I don't have the answers but I do know that God holds all these things and it will be ok...just like the christian life is that cycle of repent and believe, repent and believe, it's also surrender and trust, surrender and trust. And by His grace that is what I choose to do every day. Would I change my circumstance if I could, YES!! but that's not what He is calling me to do..that's not an option. He IS calling me to surrender and trust and so I will.

We're going....we're going to Butler the day after Christmas. I have peace about it, not that I think it won't be hard...I think it's unrealistic to think it will be an easy, laid back trip, but it's time. Time to face it, time to "push through" the memories of that day in July and get to enjoy the great place that it is. I hate the term "moving on." I won't call it that. To me, moving on suggests that we're leaving her behind and forgetting somehow. Let's just say we will "keep going." We'll keep living. We'll continue to talk about her and enjoy who she is in our lives. My Mom and Elley were making a little gum drop tree and Elley said "I wish Laina could see it." I love that she will say things like this. I love that she remembers her sister and can express it this way. I love any way that she is remembered....the memories you've shared with me, the angel ornament that says "in memory of Alaina, Dec. 2008".... thank you for remembering with me. Her life is something to celebrate and I need help to do it. This time last year, to me, she was the star of the Christmas didn't have to convince her to scowl like a redneck, she just knew what to do. She was so fun like that.

Merry Christmas friends,

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Happy Birthday Holden!

We had some good birthday fun this past weekend. Holden had three little boys and one big boy (my nephew Clemson) spend the night Friday night for his 7th birthday. (oh my goodness, is he really seven?) My parents had the girls and I'm so thankful since little girls don't really gel with light sabers (sp?), swords, guns, tackling, etc. The weekend was a huge success....seriously, all I had to do was feed them. Billy and Clemson organized the football and basketball and they did every "boy" thing imaginable. They all went to bed at 11:30 pm :) I never heard a sound after that until about 8:15 the next morning as they were raring to go again. It brought me joy to see Holden having so much fun.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

The Daily Battle

Thank you for all your kind cards/thoughts/prayers for me during Thanksgiving and leading up to Christmas. Yes, it was and will be hard without Alaina but I think I've realized it can't be any HARDER than just our daily life. The empty seat at the table and in the car, the missing laughter and chatter of another little girl, the missing name on a card that says Dear Billy, Hope, Holden, Elley and Mary Helen, the little girl that's not in the pictures....all the daily things.

Thanksgiving was really good. We had a great time in Indiana with my brother and sister-in-law. The biggest thing I expected to be hard was the memory of Alaina in their house. The day we got there, when I had a minute alone upstairs I just tried to take a deep breath and look around and remember her in certain spots she loved. I smiled when I pictured her on the horse and playing with the barbie house. The lump in my throat was there but I was fighting to see her laughing and full of life in my memory. I'm always fighting. Fighting to keep going and not withdraw, fighting to keep my joy, fighting with the enemy with what he seeks to "steal, kill and destroy."

How is this battle fought? Daily, by confessing by utter and complete dependence on Jesus...saying His name out loud and praying for grace in the moment. That's the simple answer.

Remembering is great at times and awful at times. I love the house I grew up in. I can vividly remember riding through the yard in the golf cart and playing fast food "drive through" at my bedroom window and bank drive through with my Dad's big calculator, pulling friends around on a piece of carpet tied to the back of the golf cart, going far back into the woods to where I couldn't see the house anymore, putting on shows in my closet and busting the glitter baton in my bedroom as I pretended to spank a student in my "class." And now I get to watch my children play the same things I did and it's so special. They LOVE going there. I haven't been back since Alaina died. I just haven't been ready to face it, but I want to. I WILL go there.... but now I have some memories there that will cause me to "fight" when I go. Fight to remember all the great days Alaina had of her favorite places to be. This is one of my biggest daily battles. The flashbacks, the morning I found her and the events that followed that day. I remember watching my Dad carry Mary Helen around while the paramedics were with Alaina, where I was when my Dad came out and said she was gone, where I sat when I called Billy and had to tell him over the phone that Alaina had died, the policeman's faces, the day my world was changed. But the day that God was holding me and never leaving and the day I knew he was now the holder of my oldest daughter. So, by God's grace I will not lose this battle. I know the ending already and it gives me hope to press on.

I'm missing Chicago these past few days. When we were coming home from Indiana I wanted to turn towards Illinois on the interstate. It's snowing there and I so miss that! I miss our church and friends but I think the biggest thing is I miss what we had there. That's where I "hear" Alaina's voice. I want to go back to that place of no pain like this present pain. I think back on our hardest days there and would take them anyday over losing her. If I have hard days with one of the kids now and we're in the middle of a meltdown I think "I wish I was doing this with Alaina." I wish she was the one being disciplined. I wish she was HERE! I think about our last year with her and how precious it was. She was so strong-willed at times. I remember one night when our small group was together in Illinois we were sharing prayer requests and I asked for prayer as I was parenting her. "Sometimes I wonder what she's thinking as she's laying in bed each night. Does she even feel loved by us or does she just feel like we're "on her" all the time....just always correcting and disciplining." We remained consistent with her and I(we) just tried my best to balance discipline and grace and assure her every night how much I loved her. If you've been reading this blog from the beginning you probably remember reading about my hard day with her at the children's museum in Indiana....I think it was one of my first few posts. The day I cried in the bathroom stall because I was so frustrated with her. Well, it was so neat to see her grow and mature from there. She really turned some corners the last year. Instead of her response being "no!" it started to be "ok, Mama! or ok Daddy!" Instead of doing the opposite of what we said she began to obey quickly and I was SO thankful. Looking back I remember her becoming extremely affectionate even the last few weeks of her life. She would initiate the hug or the kiss or the "Mama...I love you." I get mad when I can't clearly "hear" that sweet voice in my head. I get it mixed up with Elley's voice now.

So we got a Christmas tree today and I picked up her stocking and held it. I was dreading that. Her ornaments are on the tree...she is part of this family and so deeply loved.

Romans 8:32 "He who did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all- how will He not also, along with Him, graciously give us all things?

This post is picture overload. There's the slide show and then our family pictures that we had done a few days ago.

Here's the link to the family pictures...we made it through and even smiled in the process! :) That's what you do when you're trying to fight the battle.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008


It pains me to post without pictures. Why am I weird like that? I think I just realized why I need there to be pictures. ok, the pictures represent something. It's that I want you to "see" that we're going to be ok. I want you to see us smiling and "living" life even though our days are SO hard without her. This all came full circle for me this past weekend. Billy and I were driving to Troy's homecomimg and I said "So you're good for our pictures on Monday, right?" To which he replies "No, I can't do it." "You're kidding, right?" "No, I really can't, I had something come up with work that I have to do, I just got the email last night."

I could feel the lump in my throat. Now let me set the scene for you a little better. Some dear friends we've made here in Cullman offered to pay for us to have our first family picture whenever we were ready. I decided now was the time and we could hopefully use one for our Christmas card. Some of you may be thinking it's too hard for us to even do a card this year, but honestly, the thought of NOT doing one is even sadder to me. So I've realized that this year's card symbolizes so much more than just our picture. It's a symbol of hope for me. It means that we're going to "live" in the midst of this hurt and these tears. It's taking the next step on this journey. It's letting our friends and family see that we can smile and we're going to make it!!!!!! To see that we still believe in God's goodness. Does that make sense?

So all that to say, I had our outfits picked, the photographer scheduled to come to our house, etc. and Billy says he can't do it. He says (before realizing how important this is to me) "It's just a picture, we can reschedule." So after my anger boils on the inside for a while I say through my tears...."It's NOT just a picture...not this year!!!" We had a great talk about it and after listening to me he completely understood. So you can be sad when you see our picture but I also pray it will be a symbol of hope when you look at it.... and that it will remind you to pray. You know how the new year is always exciting...fresh starts, new goals, etc. I think of 2009 and I feel weary at the thought of moving forward without Lew. But God will give grace for those days too. Again, it goes back to surrender and trust.

Maybe the next post will be just one big slide show of pictures. We've been camping, done Halloween(even Billy and I dressed up this year) and went to Troy's Homecoming this past weekend. All very fun. It was good to laugh.

Or, maybe the next post will just be for you to listen to my playlist of songs. Sometimes I'm amazed at how the words seem to say EXACTLY how I feel. So if you ever wonder how I'm doing, just listen to the words.

Oh, one more thing. Last night I was reading back through cards that people have sent and came across these notes and it made me smile.....

"We can only say that our lives were blessed and enriched by knowing that sweet little sunbeam, Alaina. She of the bold spirit and cheerful countenance....of the extra-large hairbows and southern-style dresses...of the curious eyes and quick smile."..... I couldn't have described her any better than this!

"Time moves for everyone around you- but likely not for you. And I reckon that your broken hearts are hurting more now than even a week ago. God is faithful. When you are in the "I can't do this, God" desolate pit, Jesus will be there. My prayer for you will continue to be that God's grace flowing not just over you, but into the fissures of your broken hearts- will be a comforting reality."

God is answering your prayers! He gives us grace daily to keep walking, to keep pressing on.

Until next time(WITH PICTURES)
Hope :)

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Yes Lord

I'm in a blogging mood tonight. So often I don't have the emotional energy to come and type but sometimes I get these energy bursts and it's good for me to "get it all out." "It" being all the things( feelings, emotions, thoughts) that have been swirling around in my mind and life the past few weeks. The bottom line...I'm struggling. I would venture to say that losing a child has got to be the hardest thing anyone could endure and I'm truly broken for anyone trying to do it without Jesus.

Habakkuk 3:17-19

"Though the fig tree should not blossom nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, YET I WILL rejoice in the Lord; I will take JOY in the God of my salvation. God, the Lord, is my strength; He makes my feet like the deers, He makes me tread on high places."

So my trip to Chicago. Hard and good at the same time. I'm glad I went but the reminders of my Lew were everywhere, staring at me, causing me to weep many times. The friends houses she played in, the restaurants we went to, our route we took to Children's day out...all of it just hard to take. I cried as the plane landed in Chicago and I cried when it took off to come back to Alabama. It was like saying goodbye to her all over again, I guess because that's where her life was. I couldn't go back to my house there..not this trip. Maybe next time.

At the women's conference Nancy Leigh DeMoss shared Romans 11:33...

"Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God. How unsearchable his judgements, and his paths beyond tracing out! Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor? Who has ever given to God that God should repay him? For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen."

This is it for me.....that out of all this pain.....that we would begin to go deeper in our understanding of the riches that are ours in Christ. The depth of his riches, the depth of his wisdom and knowledge....we only scratch the surface in this life because he is beyond tracing out! Nothing is too big or too hard for Him, no pain is too great. And it's all for His glory.

When I'm in the grocery store or any public place where a song is playing, after I leave(even it it's several hours later) I always catch myself humming the song that I heard...random songs that I may not have heard for years. Songs really do stick in your head. The first song on my Playlist has been in my head the past few days and I'm amazed again at how God even uses the little things. The chorus...."At the cross I bow my knee, where your blood was shed for me, there's no greater love than this....You have overcome the grave, your glory fills the highest place, what can separate me now?

At the cross I bow my knee.....I have walked around the house singing this without even realizing the words. My flesh doesn't want to bow or bend..I don't like this path.... actually, I hate it. When I got home from Chicago there was another laundry basket of Alaina's things to go through...her dresses, shoes, even her little bag of bible school candy....and there was a gravestone that needed to be picked out...Am I really doing this? Please don't ask me to. Everyday is a surrender. Everyday is submitting to this plan. It is a painful, slow surrender but my heart wants to be there. I could never do it without Jesus because there wouldn't be a cross to come to. This cross causes me to say, even if only in a crying whisper, "OK Lord." This was one of the challenges from our conference. "Are you willing to say, Yes, Lord?" Yes Lord, I'll follow you no matter what. Yes Lord, I will obey. Yes Lord, I'll go through more of Alain's things, I'll pick out her gravestone, I'll love my children, I'll get out of bed. Because of the grace you've given, I will do it.

And just when I think it can't get any harder we get to a new layer. The past two days Elley has talked about Alaina so much. These are her words..."Mama, I miss Alaina....Daddy said she's never coming back. Will we ever see her again? She's never coming back? Why? I miss Alaina." These same words several times a day. My heart feels like it's going to explode. Yes Lord, I'll have this conversation. Yes Lord, I will bend my knee. I'm thankful Elley wants to talk about her sister and is maybe truly grieving for the first time.

So, like the Habakkuk verse in my life...Though these awful, painful things, I will rejoice in the Lord and find my joy in him. No, I can't rejoice in losing Lew but I will rejoice in who God is and how he has carried me this far.

Wendy,(if you're reading this) I had to look back at all the great cards you've sent to find these words. I love this song....Thank you for reminding me.

"Take my hand, precious Lord, lead me on, let me stand. I am tired, I am weak, I am worn. Through the storm, through the night, lead me on to the light. Take my hand, precious Lord, lead me home."

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

From North Carolina to Chicago

My time away with Billy was really great. Thank you for praying. I really didn't worry about the kids and was able to relax and rest. We did have some drama just before leaving. Holden put his arm through a small window(broke the glass) and had to have 10 stitches. The worst part of it all was seeing how terrified he was about going to the hospital again. He thought it was going to be like the last time when he had the spinal tap. We prayed in the car (after Billy had to carry him because he refused to walk out of sheer panic) and he slowly calmed down. He didn't even cry through the shots...he was very brave. AND he has a very fun Dad who can dance in the ER and sing and make him laugh. I get to be entertained too and a little embarrassed :)

So after the storm, the calm. North Carolina was beautiful. The leaves were changing colors and the scenery was so peaceful. We slept late, ate good food, Billy fly fished, I shopped a little and we both became hooked on Veronica Mars!! Yes, we found a way to have tv....there wasn't one in the cabin. A friend let us borrow season 1 and it rocks. We watched it on Billy's computer.

Ok so this Thursday I'm heading to Chicago by myself. I'm excited about the trip but knowing it will bring up some new emotions as this is my first trip back since losing Alaina. It'll be my first time to see certain friends and go back to NPC(church). Illinois is really where Alaina grew up. We moved there when she was one. So I know I'll see all her little friends and picture her running and laughing with them. Please pray that I'll just "be." If I walk in the church and sob, it's ok, if I feel awkward, it's ok, if I don't know how to face people, it's ok. I do feel very loved there but it's just kind of a hard step to take. Also, I'm going to a womens conference while I'm there and am excited for what God has to teach me.

Thank you praying/blogging friends!

*******On a fun note....go and see my sweetie girls. We just had their pictures taken this past Saturday. Go to and click on "enter portraits." Then click "proofing." Our password is Atchison.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Finding our way

First time for my small group to meet....first time someone asks how many children I have.....First day of women's bible study(this morning). All of of a sudden I realize I am being asked to introduce myself. My heart is pounding as it's almost my turn. I'm thinking "ok, I'm going to be in this bible study with these women for a while and it's a pretty small group, so here goes"...."I'll be real honest, I hate introducing myself lately!" and the crying begins....I just am never sure what to say. I just can't bring myself to say I have three children. She's not here but she'll always be our little girl. We have four children. It's ok to say it. I don't always need to explain it. I went on to ask the ladies not feel awkward around me or think they shouldn't bring up Alaina. Well I guess I shouldn't tell people how to feel...I hate it when people tell me what to do or how I'm probably going to feel. I've been in the awkward place before of not knowing what to say/do and I need to remember that. It's just sometimes more hurtful/awkward when she isn't mentioned. I love to talk/think about her. I really can do it a lot without crying but sometimes it just hits me when I don't expect this morning when I had to say my name and tell about myself. At our small group we were asked to share prayer how in the world can I share anything else???? We need prayer...lots of prayer as we're trying to "figure out life" without our little girl. It's a humbling place to be when you burst into tears in front of a large group of people...some you've met that night for the first time. But, I won't have it any other way. I long to be real and honest and not just say "please pray for us as we're in a new town and for Billy's new job." Let's just dive right in. I don't have time to stay on the surface.

I can't describe how much I miss Alaina. All our kids are super fun but she just had a unique way about her. So, so special! It hurts deeper than you could imagine. I think it's possibly the worst pain you could ever experience. But I hope you read our story and are amazed by God...not by how we're "handling" this but how awesome and wonderful our God is. If not for Him we couldn't handle it...we couldn't go another day. God brought me to this verse yesterday...

"Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what He had promised." Romans 4:20-21

Please pray for our next few days. My parents will have our kids in Butler and Billy and I are headed to North Carolina for some time away. Pray that I will not worry about them while I'm gone. I want to enjoy the time with Billy and rest. Just pray that God would guard my heart and mind.

"To God be the glory, great things he hath done,
so loved he the world that he gave us his son,
who yielded his life an atonement for sin,
and opened the life gate that all may go in.
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord,
let the earth hear his voice,
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord,
let the people rejoice.
Oh come to the Father through Jesus the Son,
and give him the glory, great things he hath done."

Friday, September 12, 2008

How could I NOT trust Him?

Ok, it has been almost one month since my last post....Hello again! :) I feel like I'm barely keeping up with all we have going on. It's not that the kids are in 100 activities..we've got Holden and El's school and soccer and church...pretty basic. But nevertheless, we're busy as is all of America.

Ok, let me think what these slide show pictures are...I just love pictures because they show our life. This is the main reason I love to scrapbook, because our life is in those books. This slide show captures a little of what we've been up to. We made it to the zoo.... my sister and brother-in-law and nieces came for a visit over memorial day weekend and the kids put together a lemonade stand..... I think that's the whole slide show. Oh, the Elley in her nightgown picture is when my good friend Alysia came for the weekend from Chicago. We had a great visit.

Last week, my parents came for the week and held down the fort so that I could go to Orange Beach with Billy for a work trip he had. Before I give the details of that can I just say that my parents are awesome. Really, I am so blessed. They would walk to the the ends of the earth for me...and in many ways they have! I just read a quote that said "that is how I first felt confident that my life was under the care and protection of a kind and compassionate father." This sums up my Dad, kind and compassionate.... and gentle and loving and Godly. Seriously, one of the greatest men I know. Growing up under the care of my parents, I agree with this author that it was never a question in my mind that there was a perfect and loving and good Heavenly Father. After all, I knew what a wonderful earthly father my Dad had been and could only imagine a perfect Heavenly Daddy. To say I'm thankful just doesn't even begin to express how I feel about my parents.

So it was great to get away to the beach although Billy and I didn't get to spend a lot of time just the two of us because of his conference. We're headed to the mountains at the end of September for some time away not work related, a belated anniversary trip. The beach was great. You know how the beach is, you step foot on the sand and it automatically causes you to take a deep breath. There is something so breathtaking about God's handiwork. This trip I burst into tears the minute I got on the beach. Overwhelmed with sadness but also with amazement over God's great love for me. A song I've listened to lately says "How could I not trust my King?" I love this chorus because it's so where I am. How could I not trust Jesus? What else is there, really?!? What else could I turn to that would satisfy? Nothing that is eternal....NOTHING!!! So I just run to Him. I fall on Him. I cry to Him. I wrestle with my thoughts "God, can't our life just please be like it was before? Can't you just let me have my daughter here? Please God." He brings me back always to the truth that this is His plan and He will redeem even this great pain for my good and His glory. I really do believe that even though I don't want to. It's just not what I want. I want easy. I want that easy button to push and then I don't have to struggle or experience such intense pain.

I grieve not only for Alaina but for the laid back part of my personality. I was never one to go to the worst case scenario in my mind. Worry and fear were never huge struggles. Now it's an everyday battle. Mary Helen gets a fever and I can't even talk to my Dad on the phone, I have to give the phone to Wendy and let her tell him how much Tylenol to give her. I no longer enjoy going in the kids room at night to check on them...there's always that nervous pit in my stomach before I see they're breathing. If they sleep late in the morning I don't want to go in their room for fear of what I could find. It's AWFUL!! I can't explain how I hate it. The enemy is always there to whisper in my ear. He really is "a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour. The thief comes to steal, kill an destroy." BUT, "I have come that you may have LIFE." I do have life and peace and joy in the midst of this battle with fear and unbelief. I'm sure it will get easier but this will probably be a lifelong struggle...a constant surrender every time one of my children gets sick and every time I hear that horrible ambulance siren.

Even though it sometimes feels like it, I know that I'm not the first person to lose a child or go through something so painful. I'm so much more aware of other's suffering. It's everywhere, everywhere I turn...disease and pain and death. I don't enjoy watching the news at all!! So again, how could I NOT trust Him in the midst of living in such a fallen and sinful world?

Holden and Elley seem to be doing ok, although I can tell Holden is constantly processing Alaina's death. He drew a picture of the cemetery and he pointed out "the green fuzzy chairs" we sat in. He hugged me and patted my back and asked "why did everyone hug that way at the funeral?" He remembers so many details, things I never thought would make an impression on him. Thus another battle for me. I lie down and everything is replayed in my mind. The morning I found Alaina, the funeral and days surrounding it...the whole bad dream that I want to forget but can't. I am utterly dependent on Jesus and so helpless at times. I am constantly replacing the awful images with the amazing four years we had with Lew.

Billy is having a "better" week but please continue to pray. I feel very overwhelmed at times about how to "be there" for Billy and the children. I have to lay down the weight I feel of them all needing me as I'm dealing with my own pain.

I'll end with some quotes from a little book I've read....they say it better than I can.

"Grief from whatever source, is a long and painful journey. And, I found, it is full of frightful choices. The urge to retreat into a cocoon-like existence is great, and depression is slipped into so easily. The allure of escaping into busyness or pleasurable fancies also raised its ugly head.

Alongside all of this temptation that would take us further and further from healing lies the sometimes obscure choice of acceptance. Obscure because this path leads into the pain and makes no promise of a quick cure. Instead, it opens the wound to its very depth and applies the healing balm of God's very special grace from the inside out." Verdell Davis, Riches Stored in Secret Places

"Discouragement is a large cloud that like all clouds, obscures the warmth and joy of the sun. In the case of spiritual discouragement, the Son of God, the Lord Jesus, is eclipsed in our lives. Discouragement is Satan's device to thwart the work of God in our lives. Discouragement blinds our eyes to the mercy of God and makes us perceive only the unfavorable circumstances. There is only one way to dispel discouragement, and it is not in our own strength or ingenuity. The Bible says, "Wait on the Lord: be of good courage, and he shall strengthen thine heart:wait, I say on the Lord" (Psalm 27:14) Billy Graham

"No matter what the circumstances, God always has the last word. Always. And it is a word of triumph. There is no death! What joy! For those of us left on earth puzzling it out, ultimately after weeping through the night, we notice that the shades lighten slowly, and sunlight eventually pours in, making the dust motes dance, and making the room habitable once again. The peace of God passes understanding." Leslie Williams

I especially love this one....

"Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh. (Luke 6:21) The courage to laugh ultimately rests with our belief in the faithfulness of God. During our grief we will not likely laugh for the right reasons, unless we feel assured that God has a stake in our lives and will come through for us. So then, it becomes our belief behind our laughter that makes the laughter a healing force. God himself has engendered our laughter, and he becomes the divine enabler of our joy.

Robert A. Williams...Journey Through Grief

"Because of the Lord's great love we are NOT consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness." Lam 3:22,24

Because of who He is I am not consumed even though at times I feel like it. He brings me back to what is true. Corrie Ten Boom said "We must go everywhere. We must tell everyone that no pit is so deep that He is not deeper still. They will believe us because we were here." Whatever is going on in our lives, He is able. Nothing is beyond His redemption. The challenge is to believe this truth even though our emotions scream the opposite. In spite of my weakness and unbelief, He IS faithful, He IS good, He IS Sovereign, He IS God. I've been to the "deep pit" and He has proven himself faithful.

I thank God for all of you, for your letters and cards filled with kind words and reminding me of God's truth, your messages on my answering machine, your comments on this blog....your taking time to simply listen......Thank you for loving me!

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

That's why I need Jesus....along the road

These pictures are of Holden and Elley's first day of school , El Bell's birthday(sorry, she doesn't like to wear clothes) and our day at the water park. These make me smile because I see joy in my children and Beeney (Mary Blake). I love to see them laughing and it reminds me that I can laugh and have fun too.

How am I doing? It's such a hard question to answer. At this moment, I want to yell at the computer because it won't cooperate.
Let's see, the things I don't expect to be hard really are hard and sometimes I feel like the grief is like a punch in the stomach. I have to take a deep breath. Then, the things that I build up in my head to be hard sometimes aren't.

For example, I got everything ready to take Elley to her little preschool open house and we jumped in the car, just the two of us, and I immediately started sobbing. I cried the whole way to church. Looking back at El and seeing her all alone in the back seat without her sister and best friend to talk to and laugh with and say "we're going to our new school." She just seemed so lonely. She was very quiet the whole way and although she can't verbalize it as much I know she feels the loss. So I'm praying as I drive "ok Lord, I can't go in like this....I can't even form a sentence....maybe Caroline will be there already and she can take Elley in for me and take her supplies. If you want me to go in then you've got to calm me down. If not, then I'm really fine going home and we don't have to do this today." I sat in the parking lot and slowly the tears stopped, we went through those doors, and it was fine. The ache is hard to carry in moments like those and I just pray, "Lord I'm giving this to you, I can't do this, I can't hold up under this burden....please carry this for me." And just when I think it seems unbearable, I realize that I'm still walking.

I get out of bed every day. I enjoy my kids. I laugh, cry, stare, wrestle with fear, try to love my husband well through this, worry, pray, try to explain how I'm doing, ask God for wisdom to help my children deal with this and want to take the pain away for them, feel very overwhelmed, wonder what we're going to eat for dinner......

One minute I'm so thankful for the four years we had with Lew and the next I'm asking "Really God, is this our story? Really, are you asking/telling us that we must walk through this? Really!!??" Give me grace to say "Not my will, but yours be done." But, oh God, I so want her here with us...But, oh yeh, that's right, she's better than she has ever been, she isn't going through what we are. In heaven, there is no more night! Thank you Jesus. Thank you that one day, we will see you face to face and there will be no more distractions. There will be no more fear or worry or SIN or death or struggle....I've read the back of the book and thank you that this is not all there is.

I struggle with right perspective. In everything there are two ways to look at it. I pray constantly for grace to choose His way. Grace to say "You give and take away, but my heart will choose to say, Lord blessed be your name." By your grace....not by willing myself to choose it or mustering up anything in myself but all through Him. Thinking about Alaina dying in my parents house, the house I grew up in and now having to face it every time we go there. One friends perspective on this.... " How wonderful that she died in that house, the place that she loved to go, the place where all she knew was love and the fun and laughter that happened there." I thought to myself, "that is precious and THAT is how I'm going to choose to see it." I'm not saying it won't be hard going there but it so helps to think of the life she loved in that house. When we celebrated Elley's birthday this weekend and she was so thrilled over her big girl barbie cake my heart goes to "Lew would be loving this....she would think this cake is the most awesome thing ever, she would be as excited as Elley." But, I choose to be excited for Elley and enjoy the moment with her even though there is such sadness in my heart. I'm reminded that Lew is at the best celebration of her much better than a barbie cake and birthday.

You've heard me say before but don't you see how the loss is felt everywhere. It follows me around and I yell at it to leave me alone but it's stubborn and won't leave and it's a daily battle. A daily surrender to my flesh, a surrender of MY will. God causes me to lay it let go and stop holding on to anything here. This is really where I want to be....obedient to whatever he has for us, to be about the things of live gospel centered. Of course, I want to do this with Alaina here but that's just not God's plan.

AND, all of this on top of my own daily sin. It's only God guarding my mouth that I haven't yelled at people. (ok, these are all random and not related to each other) In my head I'm yelling(at whoever) "Enough of all your judgemental crap, I mean attitude :) .... Did you really just tell me I will be charged the aftercare fee for school when I'm three minutes late to get Holden?" Seriously, I wanted to say, "that's just what I needed you to say to me this afternoon since I just buried my daughter this summer. I'm doing the best I can to get him to and from school!!!!! How about some extra grace here????" See, this is where my thoughts go. And I say this just one day after telling Billy "you don't just yell out to people that our daughter just died, they will thing we are total freaks." No sooner do I tell him this do I feel the urge to yell it at the lady at school....just because I didn't that day doesn't mean I won't ever....I just don't know what will come out. It's a hard place to be. Sometimes I want to say in any given conversation "Um, I know your mouth is moving and words are coming out, but I'm just tired. I'm going to walk away now." I'm just so judgemental. In my heart I am so judgemental of moms who I feel are too uptight or controlling and I'm sure they're judging me for being too laid back. I think my way is the right way. It's MY pride. Not sure how all this relates, I'm kinda rambling. I guess what I'm trying to say is there is nothing I hate worse than a judgemental attitude, a prideful spirit( which I have) or feeling the need to "have it all together." I guess several years ago I realized NOBODY has it "all together" and if I ever start to think they do then I so don't understand sin and the gospel. In reality those that seem on the surface to be "Mr. or Mrs. together" are the ones who are probably the most "messed up." :) We all have our junk, our pride and weaknesses. Especially as women we are so driven by what other moms think of our kids and are we going to get the mom of the year award.....This is why we need JESUS. He knows how broken and sinful we truly are and loves us in spite of our deepest struggle. Did I just sound like a preacher? Preach it sista :)

One of my favorite songs at NPC...not sure of the name but the chorus was
"Not the righteous, not the righteous....sinners Jesus came to call."

"None but Jesus, none but Jesus, can do helpless sinners good."

Please pray for Billy. He's struggling just like I am and we're working through it together, but I ask that you pray for him specifically this week.
Until next time,

Friday, August 8, 2008

A Word From Daddy...

A Word From Daddy,

Many of you have asked if I would share my thoughts on this blog (ok, not many but a few, really just two and one of those was my mom.) So for all two of you that may read this… here you go... Honestly, I don’t see how Hope does this blog stuff. She’s so good at articulating how she is feeling / I find it very difficult to summarize what’s going on in my heart. Every time I try to write something I just sit here and get frustrated – I’m just not that good at writing out my thoughts. I think it’s also hard for me to let the entire world have access to my heart – therefore, this will not be a normal activity for me.

I had driven all day from Butler, AL to Chicago on Tuesday, July 1st to finalize a moving company to move our family from Chicago to Cullman, AL. I got in about 2:00am that night. I awoke to a cell phone call from my good friend Dick Albaugh. He just said, “Hey, you at home? Ok, I’ve got to call you back.” (I later found out that phone call was to make sure that I had made it home before Hope told me about Alaina) A few minutes later the phone rang again. It was my wife and it was to become the conversation I’ve replayed in my mind a thousand times: “It’s not good Billy, it’s not good… Alaina died this morning”, Wait, I didn't hear her correctly, "What?" "Alaina died." I fell to my knees and we both wept like never before. The pain is hard to describe, other than to say I’ve never hurt like that before.

Within minutes close friend were showing up at my house in Chicago. My wife had called my friends first (before she called me) and asked them to head my way to be with me right after she informed me of the news. To this day, it boggles my mind how Hope had the whereabouts to think to call my friends before calling me. Within 30 minutes of giving CPR to her daughter she was thinking of others. She was thinking for me and wanted to make sure that I had support as I received this horrible news. (Hope, thank you for showing me love in such a remarkable way. My words don’t give my appreciation justice.) Those friends, who came by my side, thank you. I don’t remember anything said during that hour, but I do remember that you were there with me and helped carry my burden with your love, compassion and tears. Shortly there after my new company called and informed me that they, through a vendor partner, had a private jet on its way to a close airport to pick me up and fly me home to be with my family. Thank you for that. When I saw Hope for the first time my heart sank even further and we embraced like never before. Both of us had lost something we loved with our entire soul. I’ve never felt so helpless in my life when it came to comforting my wife. This was something that I couldn’t fix.

The first several days I would wake myself crying. However, through this entire ordeal I’ve never felt compelled to ask “why”. I don’t think there is an answer for such questions this side of heaven, at least no answer that would satisfy. Going down that path would just leave me frustrated, angry and bitter at God and life itself. I have a much better appreciation of studying the characteristics of God like never before. You see, Hope and I have believed for some time now that God is truly in control of all things. All things happen for his glory and ultimately for my good. I’m not sure how I would help someone through something like this after the fact. I think we are handling this horrible situation in a healthy way because of what we’ve believed for years about God… That He is good, no matter what, all the time. Because of his grace we have continued to believe these truths about God, and that’s why we are doing ok and are going to be ok in the long run. I’ve also thought much about the “Victorious Christian Life” that the Christian world likes to throw around and treat God as if he has Santa Clause qualities – giving you what you want, when you want it, and life without pain, death or sorrow. Well, I firmly believe we are living the Victorious Christian Life right now. The victorious Christian life is not a life free of troubles… It’s about allowing Christ to walk with you (and some times carry you) through those quandaries. He is with us now and I too hear the train daily.

I am tired. If I’m an 8 cylinder engine I feel like I’m only operating 2 cylinders right now, but the engine is at full red line (8,000 rpm). (For you women – that means maxed out). I’m not able to think clearly and get overwhelmed and frustrated at the simplest of task; i.e... It took me eight hours to put together a simple filing cabinet last week!!!
We basically went through the perfect storm when it comes to stress levels:
Selling a house (in the worst market in 20 years and losing all your equity)
Finding new housing
Leaving a great church
Finding a new church
Leaving close friends/relationships
Having to make new friends
Leaving a job that I enjoyed
Starting and learning a new job
Family being separated for three months due to new job
New schools for our kids
New friends for our kids
The death of our daughter, Alaina
And Holden and Elley losing their best friend

I’m sure all the psychology books would recommend some type of institution for someone who has experienced these things with-in the time frame we have. However, God is holding us together – through his word and through his people, the Church. I believe things would be much more difficult if the people of Naperville, Eastern Shore and Christ Covenant Presbyterian Churches had not acted as they have. (FBC of Butler and FBC of Orange park for our parents.) These churches and other friends have been a great example to me of ministering to someone in need. At some point I hope to personally thank everyone for all you have done. However, right now, the thought of writing thank you notes is somewhat overwhelming with everything else going on. For right now… just know that I am thankful for all you have given to me and my family.

As far as my new job goes: Territory Manager for Sunbelt Fire in North Alabama: I love it. The fire industry has some top quality guys and the people I’ve met thus far will be friends for life. I truly believe this is where God wants me and hope that Sunbelt Fire will keep me around for a while. Sunbelt, thank you for all you have done.

I love Cullman and our new church and look forward to the many new relationships that God has in store for me.

Click Here to Listen to Alaina's Funeral:

If you would like to listen to Alaina’s funeral please click on the link above. It was the most memorable worship time of my life and we want to thank all those who were involved and attended. The recorded music does not come close to effectively reflecting how wonderful the singing was due to the quality of the recording (Keith and Karen - you guys were great - thank you). This link also has a copy of the handout given at the funeral.

This is my last post for a while… I’m exhausted from writing. Mom, I hope you enjoyed this.

P.S. Dr. A, you won’t ever lock up these guns; they don’t make locks that big!

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

He is faithful...along the road

"God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling. There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High. God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved; God will help her when morning dawns." Psalm 46:1-5

This is one of the many verses I've found as I've opened new cans of formula and boxes of diapers for Mary Helen. It is incredible to me that even when I don't have the energy to pick up my bible, God puts the Word in front of me some other way. Jennifer W. (I think this was you), THANK YOU for encouraging me in this way. She put a notecard with scripture in every can of formula and every box of diapers...Thank you friends for the diapers and formula too! God is faithful when I am at my lowest. See, He is the same yesterday, today and forever. He is still the same Good and loving heavenly Father....the One who is powerful enough to carry us during the most devastating time of our life.

ok, so a little over a month ago I did what I've ONLY always read or heard about. I planned my child's funeral....I sat in our car behind the hurse and thought "Is this really happening? Is this really me?" "Are we really going to bury her?" Just before the car pulled away I looked up and saw my new pastor and his wife Allison standing close to our car. Billy rolled down the window and they walked over and leaned in and Allison said "We're ready to love you!" Ok, I had met her once, the one Sunday I visited Christ Covenant. God so used her in that moment to encourage me. It's like he was saying "See, I am the same God in Cullman Alabama....I will provide for your every me."

Looking back, it was ALWAYS God's strength, God's grace, God's mercy, God's peace that allowed me to walk through those awful days....and it continues to be His faithfulness every single day as it is still SO hard. And, God used His body, the church, to rally around us. I will never forget Lori, Wendy and Slade sitting at my parents kitchen table with us and helping plan Alaina's funeral. They helped us think when we couldn't think clearly. Wendy even wrote my to do lists :) What incredible friends. Karen, our pastors wife in Chicago totally took over getting us a moving Chicago friends cleaned our house for the new family to move many friends drove or flew from Chicago to be with many made plans on such short notice....friends and family who helped with Holden, Elley and Mary Helen.....the hundreds of cards and words of encouragement...the FOOD....the financial support.....the PRAYERS on our behalf.... the friends who have loved and welcomed us to Cullman....I know this isn't even everything, and I'm overwhelmed even as I type.

My days are hard yet filled with hope because of Jesus. The things that frustrated me before are much more frustrating now. Holden and Elley (and even laid back Mary Helen) are much more needy these days. We're all needy. My pride....see, I've never wanted to be the "needy" friend. Just days after the funeral we were still at my parents house and my dad and Billy weren't' there for some reason, it was just my mom and I with Holden, Elley, Mary H. and my nephew, Clemson. Elley and Mary H. were crying and Clemson and Holden were running in the hallway and slamming themselves into the door. I could feel myself about to "lose it" and of course, it was starting to get dark outside. Finally, I called to my mom as I was sobbing, to come in and help me (she was working in the yard) "I just can't do this right now!!" Like I said, the things that would normally be a little stressful are now a LOT stressful. I know that's not good English, but oh well. On the outside, I'm sure much of our life looks the same. I go to Walmart(and in my head I dare someone to be rude or short with me....I picture myself yelling "Don't you dare be mean to me, I just lost my 4 year old daughter!!") Sometimes I'm scared to think what may come out of my mouth. I feed the children, we play, we are taking care of all logistical things like school and school supplies.....all that "normal" stuff except it' s NOT normal anymore. It's painful. It hurts. It feels like sometimes your heart is going to explode.

Yet, I prayed something this week. I asked God to remind me of his goodness and love for me. There is a train track very close to our house and trains pass through all day. So, I prayed that every time I hear that train I would be reminded of God 's grace in my life, God's perfect love for me. It's faithful to "pass through" every day, several times a day and it's loud and clear and distinct. I can hear it no matter if I'm at home or in "town." It's my Father's goodness and grace no matter if I'm doing "ok" in that moment or really's His faithfulness to always remind me of who HE is.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Missing a little girl....along the road

We're moved in!!! It feels great to be settled a little. Our church family as well as old friends and others have loved us so well. My house is mostly unpacked and thanks to Wendy, Jennifer and Lori most of my pictures are on the walls and my things are in their rightful place. We had fun and laughed a lot during their three night stay. As I laughed, it's like I would think "wait a minute....I'm SO sad." But God's grace allows me to laugh and still be joyful because my hope in Jesus is sure. I look back and am truly convinced that He has carried me.

I never knew that I could physically ache over something....over a loss like this. When Lori, Wendy and Jennifer had some of their kids here the ache was with me as I knew Alaina would LOVE to be running and playing with all her I watched Holden and Elley see their new rooms for the first time and be totally delighted, the ache was there just knowing that Lew would be saying "Mama, it's beautiful!" Unpacking her things....the ache is there. The smells that remind me of her....and the ache is there. Seeing her pictures and just feeling like I can almost reach out and touch her....the ache is there. OH, I hate it!!! Sometimes it just won't leave. It won't just "go away." And once again, it brings me to my knees. See, sometimes it's so hard to even enjoy the joy and laughter of Elley and Holden. On one hand, it's great to see them run and splash at the park today and just love life, but on the other, Billy and I both are seeing in the midst of their playing that a piece of us is missing. Another little girl should be running and giggling. It seems so lonely without her. It wasn't supposed to BE like this!!!! I just want my life to be easy......That's what my flesh screams. But, we live in a fallen, sinful world, and in my spirit I know this is part of God's GOOD plan for us. I pray, well sometimes when I can't even pray, Jesus is interceding for me, for grace to believe the gospel.....this life is not all there is. I can't live for "this life." I just miss her so much it hurts.

Ok, for some comic relief.....I'm taking this suggestion from our new add this story. God had given us such a gift in our knew Dr. He will see our whole family. I'm not sure if he wants me to give his name, so I'll just call him "Awesome Dr." :) Ok, any Cullman people that might read probably know, but oh well, HE told me to share, so I am.

He and his wife go to our church and they're the kind of people you meet for the first time and think to yourself "I want them to be my friend" kind of great. They had us over for dinner this week and we so enjoyed their company. Awesome Dr. has been so great to truly go above and beyond for us and I really don't think He thinks we're weird. His exact words to us were (if we ever have ANY concerns about our children) "You just put it on me any time." And I know he means it. He has also done SO much for us to find out more information about Lew's sickness....more about that later because it's all still in process. We will never forget how he has served us in this unique way. ANYWAY, so I'm in his office today with Mary Helen for her six month checkup (yes, she's really 7 months but we're just now getting around to taking her ). Ok, this part is not really part of the story but it does give some background of my time leading up to the appointment.

First, I don't really know where I'm going because my GPS was not cooperating. I was very frustrated. See, things that would frustrate me under normal circumstances totally frustrate me WAY more these days. I drove around the hospital parking lot SEVERAL times looking for awesome Dr.s office. After about the fourth time, and saying "God, please give me a break here," I finally found it. Of course, Mary Helen had a dirty diaper. I get to the room, waiting for Awesome Dr. to see her and I change her diaper. As I'm washing my hands I had her on my hip with no diaper on and she (tt'd) all over me. The room totally smelled like poop and urine.

In walks Awesome Dr. OK, this is the funny part. I guess maybe my most embarrassing moment.....but I laughed until my stomach hurt. He proceeds to ask me a long string of questions about Mary Helen...."Is she rolling over? Eating cereal/baby food? reaching for objects? sleeping well ? and so on. Then he continues, "Did she have any problems at birth? Was she born at 40 weeks? Did she have a regular birth? " I told him that I had a C-section and she was around 38 and a half weeks....she was my fourth C-section.

THEN, he continues by asking, "Now does Billly have his guns locked up?" And I say "No, I had my tubes tied." OK, he totally meant Billy's actual shot guns and rifles that he hunts with !!!!!!! Do you get what I thought he meant????? ( like male body parts "locked up") I am a total freak aren't I. He pushes back in his chair and is laughing out loud, then I realize what I THOUGHT he meant and I know my face was as red as the wall but I was laughing so hard it hurt....we both were for several minutes. He said " that's the best I've heard in a long time!" He even told the nurses :)

He also said, "I read your blog last night and you need to add this story for some comic relief." I decided he was right. I hope it makes you laugh. This one is going down in history for me.

It's so good to laugh. I get tired of being sad. Just another reminder to me of God's grace in my life....that I can ache from the pain but can also ache in a fun way from laughing so hard.

I'll end with this....a poem from my recent women's bible study "Tapestry"

My life is but a weaving
Between my Lord and me.
I cannot choose the colors
He works so steadily.

Oft' times He weaves in sorrow
And I, in foolish pride,
Forget He sees the upper
And I, the underside.

The dark threads are as needed
In the Weaver's skillful hand,
As the threads of gold and silver
In the pattern He has planned.

Not till the loom is silent
And shuttles cease to fly,
Will God unroll the canvas
And explain the reason why.

He IS my Master Weaver and He causes me to trust.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Grace, peace and truth......along the road

Jesus has "carried" me the past few days. The deep sadness is always there but I can laugh and we've said over and over I can grieve with hope. Before Billy and I had any children, actually when I was pregnant with Holden, we made a decision. We prayed that our children wouldn't become the center of our world. We were a family, the two of us, and any children we had would be joining our family, not become the center where everything revolved around them. See, Christ is my hope. My hope and purpose can't be in my children though I love them more than I can explain. This gospel of grace is more precious to me than it has ever been. We'll never fully fathom the depth of God's love for us (in this life) but He does give us a picture.....He explains it in His word.....that God would give his ONLY Son to be the substitute for ALL the yuck in our hearts. Ok, I couldn't do it. There's no way I would. BUT, I'm not GOD!!! The punishment that brought US peace was upon HIM. The conversation Jesus has with God just before the crucifixion....."Can there be another way?" I would've said, Yes!!! We'll get another plan....there can be another way. And Jesus said, "Not my will, but YOUR will be done."

This is how I feel. God, can't there be another way? Is this really your plan? And ONLY by his grace can I say.....not my will (not what Hope wants) but YOUR will be done. I prayed last night......"God, whatever you have for us, let it be.......whatever." Cause me to live this life with an open hand.....not closing my fists and holding tightly to anything. I want to continue to stress this......THIS is what God can do. He is loving yet powerful enough to sustain my frail and weak self and this same strength is yours if you know Him. This same peace is in your heart and life if you're a believer. HE is the strength and the power and the peace and the truth and the grace and the hope. God is! It all points to HIM. Get to know this God that is just as mighty in your life.

So we're figuring out our "new normal." I told Billy last night that I feel like we've had our legs or arms amputated. We can still function, but just have to figure out how to do it without a major part of our body. Things move just looks and feels different no matter what you do. You make a little progress everyday but it's slow and steady. It's a long, hard and painful road to travel, especially without your arms.

I spent Thursday night and Friday at the beach with two of my "heart" friends. It was such a gift just to be with them......just to "be." They left and Billy joined me Friday night. We sat on the beach, taking in all the beauty and calm. It has been very restoring. AND, I've been sleeping better, THANK YOU for praying specifically. God has taken a lot of the fear that the night time brings. I'm sure it will come back around but God is bigger than fear or worry or doubt or you fill in the blank.

So, we are headed to Cullman on Sunday and the moving truck gets there Tuesday. I've already pictured myself with these new women at our church.....they don't know me, I don't know them. I've imagined me saying to them "Ok, I just lost my daughter and need you to be my friend. I'm usually an initiator but I'm not exactly my normal self so you may need to initiate to me. I may be the biggest drain in your life for at least the next year but, so be it." :) Oh, my pride! See, I don't want them to think I'm a crazy woman. What if they never see that I am just laid back and fun? :)

It may be a little while before I can post again since we're moving this week but I'll be back eventually. I'm excited to get moved in and settled.

Take care friends!

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Our Lew

Several of you have asked how we got the nickname "Lew." It started as "Laina Lucy" then "Laina Lew" .......then "Lew" :)

These pictures are some of the last ones I took of her....we were in Florida just a few weeks ago.
Thank you for praying friends!!!!!!!!!!!! I need it now more than ever.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Part 2....Hospital stay with Holden

Isaiah 42:16......"I will lead the blind by ways they have not known, along unfamiliar paths I will guide them; I will turn the darkness into light before them and make the rough places smooth. These are the things I will do; I will not forsake them."

It's amazing to me that before the foundation of the world God knew this verse would bring encouragement to even me. "I will lead Hope by ways she has not known, I will guide Hope, I will turn darkness into light before Hope. These are the things I will do for Hope; I will not forsake her"

Do you see it? These are the things HE will do. It's not about what I can do. He's the point. He has all the power, He is the strong one. "Because HE lives I can face tomorrow, because HE lives all fear is gone, because I know HE holds the future, life is worth the loving just because HE lives"

I didn't post was just a hard day and I didn't have the energy but His mercies are new every morning. I really hate the night time. When it starts to get dark is usually when fear creeps in and it seems to be the worst part of the day. I Do NOt! want to live in fear. Fear paralyzes. It reminds me of snow skiing a few years ago. I finally was able to learn how because we were in Colorado and I wasn't pregnant :) I thought I was ready to leave the bunny slope and try the first real run. As we got higher and higher I could feel the fear coming. We got off the ski lift and I started down the mountain only to realize I couldn't see over each hump. I felt so out of control, like I was going to ski straight into the trees. I didn't think I could stop myself. So, I just decided to sit down on the mountain and not go any further. I was literally gripped with fear. Billy was awesome (as always :) he tried to gently "coach" me but I would have nothing of it. We started walking down the mountain but you can imagine how that was trying to walk in those awful boots. Ok, I can laugh about it now......the ski patrol had to come and get me and take me down the mountain. And you know what, once I let him have control there was no more fear. I had complete confidence that he could get me safely down the mountain, and riding down on that sled thing was the most fun I had all day.

And so it is with God....Even though the fear seems so great and I feel paralyzed at times, I know that He is Able.....He is able to carry me when I can't possibly keep going, He can bring peace and joy when I wonder if it will ever fully be in my life again....He is able to love me in spite of my sin and selfish heart that is full of yuck....and He is able to take the fear that grips my heart as I think of possibly losing another child like we did this past weekend.

So I'm finally back around to Holden. The pediatric Dr. got there and said they wanted to keep Holden for at least 48 hours to watch him and wait for the blood work to come back. Billy broke down for the first time(at the hospital). I had an upset stomach the entire hospital stay....the worst I've ever had. You know that nervous pit in your stomach that won't go away. And of course on top of that we were/are so emotionally spent. The Dr. decided to not continue trying to do the spinal tap unless Holden got worse during the night. God put me back together enough to be able to go see Holden.(I know it always seems I'm saying I feel the need to be strong in front of Holden but, don't worry, he has seen me cry often. We encourage him to talk about Alaina and to never feel like he is going to upset us by what he says. I just didn't want to make him anymore nervous than he already was in that hospital room!!!) He wanted me to tell The Three Billygoats. He still had tears on his face. We were finally given a room and then the waiting really began. That first night was one of the hardest nights of my life....probably second only to the first night we lost Alaina.

They had Holden hooked to some kind of oxygen monitor that constantly showed numbers going up and down. I stared at that box so much that night. My heart beat faster every time the I V started beeping (and this was all night because it beeped every time Holden bent his arm). I didn't fall asleep until the sun started coming up. Holden's fever got up to 103 something. They were able to get the fever down after some medicine. The Dr. started antibiotics through his I V. He was able to sleep that first night. The next morning he was improving but we were still very afraid. Then, he asked me what I knew he was probably thinking....."Am I gonna die????"

I said, "I don't think so, baby. I think you're going to be just fine." I was begging God, saying over and over, "please don't take him, please don't take him!" Throughout the next day he continued to get better and I was feeling the prayers on our behalf. The second morning the Dr. came to see us again and the tests came back all negative. The Dr. said he laid awake staring at the ceiling that night thinking about whether or not he should give me, Billy MaryH. and Elley an antibiotic.

We don't have much information about Alaina. We do know that she had viral meningitis but most people don't die from this. Many have it and never even know it. She should've been sick for several days. They are testing to see if she had some kind of underlying something we didn't know about......but we weren't even sure it she had viral or bacterial when we were in the hospital with Holden. It was very frustrating because we knew this could help the Dr. know how to treat. BUT AGAIN, God is the ONE who is ultimately in control no matter how much we think we know or how much we DON'T know.

We were able to come home Sunday after the Dr. came to our room and said all the tests were negative and he could see Holden's improvement.

Now we're thankful beyond words for Holden's quick recovery, but also hit once again with the hard and painful reality that we've lost Alaina.

I'll end with a quote I keep in my bible.....

"God is too wise not to know all about us and what
is really best for us to be and to have.
And He is too good not to desire our highest good
and too powerful, desiring not to effect it.
If then what He has appointed for us does not
seem to us the best--or even to be good--
our true course is to remember that He sees further than we do--
and that we shall understand Him in time when His plans
have unfolded themselves. Meanwhile, casting all our care
upon Him since He careth for us."

Henry Parry Liddon

Sunday, July 13, 2008

We're pressing on.....along the road

Before I tell the whole story of the past few days let be just say that Holden is doing great!!!

Now let me back up and fill you in. This past Wednesday Billy took Holden and Clemson(my nephew) to Jackson Mississippi to a fire training conference thing. I know that's not the name of it but you get the point. Billy and I decided it would be good for the three of them to get away and just try to have some fun together. They had a great time, and spent their time hanging out with the Sunbelt team (Billy's work) and learning all about what firefighters do. For those of you that don't know, Billy just took a new job selling fire trucks and fire equipment. They came home Friday and were exhausted. Holden came in a laid on the bed and I could tell how tired he was. He felt warm but I just thought it was because he was asleep in the car and maybe the vent wasn't blowing on him in the back seat. About an hour later, he was still lying around and I thought that was sort of odd considering his usual energy level. I felt his forehead again and he was still just as warm so we took his temp and it was 102. I, of course was concerned and then he said his head hurt. ( bad headache is one of the classic signs of Meningitis) As soon as he said it I felt sick.....physically and emotionally sick (again!) Billy said "let's take him to Meridian right now." So we headed to the ER.
Honestly the car ride was a blur to me but can tell you that I was struggling with God. In my head I'm thinking "No, NO, this is not happening. We just buried Alaina Monday.....God, why is this happening? You KNOW how fragile we are right now....I Can't do this!!! I can't let him go now. Ok, if I say I'm willing to let him go then maybe you won't take him. If I say I can't let him go then you will take him." I couldn't pray, I could barely talk out loud. We called ahead to the ER and they got us in pretty quickly. You could tell that by the time we got to see the Dr. that everyone around new our situation. They were all staring at me. I was outside Holden's room crying because I didn't want to scare him any more than he already was. I know they all thought I was a crazy woman. Ok, I was a shower...hadn't brushed my teeth ALL day (that I can remember)....just looked like I had rolled out of bed. I told the two different Dr.s " We're not freaks, ok. We're not just overprotective parents.....we just lost our daughter last week."
The first Dr. we saw wanted to do a spinal tap as well as other blood work and test his urine. We were told we would be there at least 48 hours. I was wondering how in the world I was going to make it that long without knowing what was wrong. I wasn't in the room while they did the I V and I couldn't be anywhere nearby for the spinal. I knew I would fall apart...well I already was falling apart so I guess they probably would've just admitted ME.
Side note: As I was telling the Pediatric Dr. our whole story/history he listened and made notes and asked questions. Then, when I was done he asked me how Holden was taking it and then suggested that maybe we should get counseling sometime down the road. I wanted to say "Um, what I need right now is for you to hook me up and sedate me!!"
Anyway, as I was sitting in the waiting area I continued to struggle with God. I kept thinking of Job (in the bible) and how God took his whole family. I also thought about a book I'm reading where a woman loses two babies at different times. As I'm agonizing by myself I was reminded of a truth that Jill Hooper shared when she was the speaker at our women's retreat. (Jill, if you ever read this I hope it's ok I shared :) As she struggled with breast cancer she would always read about other women who died from this disease and it caused much fear. One day, she realized "that's not MY story." Her story could look very different....GOD was in control of it. GOD was writing her story. Whether she lived or died, it would be HER story and no one else's. God reminded me of this in those moments. So I started saying out loud..."That's not my story! Job's life is not my story!" I don't have to fear just because this has happened to other people. I was hit with the reality that I already knew in the back of my head....we could loose another child. I can't hold onto them. I have NO control....I must trust(but I don't want to, I CAN'T just by willing myself to) God, I can't even pray, I can't think anymore.....If you take Holden will I still say you are good? Will I be able to say "you give and take away, blessed be your name?" Is this going to be my story?
All I can say is only by His grace would I ever be able to continue saying it. As I think about it happening(losing another) I don't think I could but that's the thing about grace...we can't borrow it for tomorrow. It's for today and God always provides it for tomorrow. We can't fathom how we could possibly keep going. "Trust in the Lord with all your heart and LEAN NOT ON YOUR OWN UNDERSTANDING." In my limited understanding I don't see how I could continue to trust....but when I consider who HE IS, I know there's hope no matter what.
Well, I'm exhausted so I can't keep writing tonight.....I'll try and post part two of the story tomorrow.
OH, and I read every one of your comments.....they are very life giving to me, so Thank you!! Thank you for being prayer warriors FOR US!
I'll write about all the (rest) of the details of our hospital stay with Holden........for now, he is doing much better. We are so thankful. That's an understatement. You know the beginning and the end, I just need to finish the middle tomorrow. Does that even make sense? I'm half asleep!

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Let me start at the beginning

I am finding it to be very good for me to "journal." My thoughts are racing and my heart is so full of things I want to share. I pray that what comes out is only what God wants shared. I know there's really no such thing as "too good to be true" with God but so many times over the years I've thought this. Then, I would say to God, "This is bad theology the way I'm thinking. It's too good to be true that you sent your son to die for me, a sinner." This fact alone is too wonderful for me to comprehend....and not just this but also that I have a purpose to my life. I'm not just here to live, get married, have children and die. I can know God personally and He can transform my whole world. And the BEST part is that I get to spend eternity with Him where there is no pain, no sadness, no loss. But still, I thought my life was too good. My parents are awesome, I have wonderful friends, I couldn't ask for a better husband, I've been blessed with four children that are all happy and healthy. I've never struggled with believing God is good because He has never allowed anything in my life to cause me to doubt Him, well nothing really "big" anyway. I've mostly had to trust God in the lives of my friends, as I've watched them struggle with really big things. Struggling marriages, loss of a newborn, raising kids(I have struggled along with them on this one,) feeling lonely, depression, etc.
Some of you have already read that I've struggled with fear the past few months. God has been preparing me for this loss. Over and over in my head I would think, "What would I do if I lost Billy or one of the children?" Every time I would go back to trusting a God who has perfect love for me. I didn't really pray, "God, please never let this happen," because I believe God ordains everything! I would always think that God would give me the grace to make it no matter how painful. I can remember in our Chicago house when we put everybody to bed at night I would just want to protect the children. God just let me keep them where they are, safe and content in their beds and nothing can harm them. I knew I wasn't in control even though I wanted to be.
I'm not making this up.....I promise! The night before Alaina died I went to sleep thinking about my life. We had been planning a reunion with some of my college friends and I was saying to God...."When all of us get together, what am I going to share? One has lost a baby, one has lost her Dad as a teenager and gone through infertility, one has gone through a major hurricane and one just buried her brother. What's my struggle to share???? Am I just there to comfort them, having never gone through anything hard compared to them???
The next morning I found my daughter....she was gone. I still have the horrible images in my head. You can pray about that for me. I can still hear my mom screaming in the background. I still feel physically sick just thinking about that morning. On Tuesday Alaina came in my room at around 5:00 am and said "Mama I threw up in my bed." I went in her room and saw that she had but is wasn't much because she had an empty stomach. I gave her a bath and made her a place on the couch to rest. I just thought she had a stomach several she has had before. All the classic symptoms...weak, can't keep anything down, tired. She slept a lot that day but was awake some. I remember vividly that she got up from the recliner to hide from my Dad when he came home. She covered herself with a blanket on the couch and giggled when he found her. At one point she wanted to watch The Wizard of OZ and when I got her settled in the bed she was asleep before the movie even started. I just thought she was really worn out from our crazy schedule on top of being sick. She tried a Popsicle and some juice and water but couldn't keep it down. I decided around 6:00pm not to give her anything else to eat or drink. She slept in the recliner until around 9:00 when I went to bed and put her in the bed with me. She moved and talked in her sleep. I got up around 3:00am and couldn't sleep so I got on the couch and eventually fell asleep. I heard Mary Helen crying the next morning. She was in a pack n play in Alaina's room. I walked in the room and Alaina wasn't on the bed and I had a flash of panic in my head. I looked on the other side of the bed and she had fallen off. I reached down to get her and knew something felt different. She didn't feel right. I won't give anymore details but I will tell you that I immediately started CPR. In my head I kept thinking she was already gone, but maybe I was wrong. Maybe I could save her life. The paramedics got there quickly and they were with her maybe 15 minutes or so. I was outside holding onto my mom and dad (Billy wasn't here.) I prayed for a miracle but could just sense what they would come out and tell us. My dad came out and his words were "No baby, she's gone." Never have I known such intense pain....physical, emotional, mental. It's physically hard to type right now.
What makes it even harder is that we had no time to prepare.....even if we had taken her to the Dr. and they had told us it was Meningitis and there was nothing they could least I would've had a day to think about it. But God is God and I am not. He is the one that makes those decisions. You know all the places your mind goes, though. What if I had only?
So today, this is where God finds me. Desperate, sad, broken, empty, hitting rock bottom. Sobbing as today I look through the pool bag to get Holden some goggles and see Lew's pink goggles. Picturing her learning to swim this summer and how proud she was. Looking up and seeing Holden standing in the door watching me cry with such a pitiful look on his face. Seeing Elley wearing some of Alaina's clothes(they had so many matching things), watching her walk around in Alaina'a sandals. The sting is everywhere. You can't escape it, you can't bury it, it's staring you in the face. You must walk through it. But how?????? It's a one word answer....GOD. It's the gospel of grace. That's why I want to press on. My hope is in him. My hope is in spending eternity with Him. Maybe I'm wrong, but I don't think people in heaven can see us down here. If they could they would see how sad we are and it would make them sad. And just as the song at the funeral said "then all hurt and pain will cease and we will be with Him forever and in His presence we will live." I would go nuts if I thought for one minute that she was sad, lonely or looking for me. I know my God sees me, though. He is carrying my burden because it's too much for me. The reality is my Lew is better than she has ever been. She is with her heavenly Daddy and has never known such joy! This makes me smile. This brings some joy back to me. This makes me long for heaven. Jesus, Thank You!!! Thank you that you made this possible. Because of this gospel of grace, I will make it!!!!!

Where do I even begin?

I am taking a step of faith by opening up my heart to you in hopes that God will use our journey to draw you to himself. I don't know how God will use it through a sinner like me, but I trust that He will. Well, I know that everyone he uses is a sinner, so I'm no different :) Several of my friends know that I was hesitant to list our blog address for EVERYONE at the funeral. I trust that if you're taking the time to read this that you truly want to know. Obviously my posts will look very different now. Well, some things won't be different, that's the hard part. We'll continue to take lots of pictures, go to the pool, have school things, have play will just all be without her. It's very lonely without her. You'd think with three other children it wouldn't seem so lonely, but it does. I promise to be "real." It's my desire to be real and honest. Give me grace if my thoughts don't make sense and especially my punctuation/wording... all that mess.

Several months ago Billy was struggling with some things at work and I kept saying "This is where the rubber meets the road for us. This is when our faith truly makes a difference in how we live. Do we really believe what we say we believe? Do we believe God ordains EVERYTHING? If we do, then when we go through "hard" things it looks different for us compared to a non-believer."

This is exactly what we're facing now with the loss of our little girl. If not for the hope of the gospel being REAL and TRUE I think, well, I know that I would be completely consumed with sadness. I almost can't even cry anymore, it's almost not real that she's gone. In a lot of ways it's like Alaina and Elley were twins. They did everything together. Elley loves all the things Alaina loved. So we are surrounded with sweet, precious memories, very hard to think about without crying memories. Billy, my Dad and I took Clemson(nephew), Holden and Alaina to a creek today. You know exactly what I was doing the whole time. Yep, I was picturing Alaina with them splashing, laughing and excited. I walked down the dirt road crying, not because I didn't want my Dad or Billy to see me, but because I don't want Elley and Holden to see their mom crying ALL the time. You can pray for this. Of course, they are not as devastated as we are. I know they still probably think Alaina will be coming home in a few weeks...she's just on a little trip. It's so confusing for them. I don't think they realize they will never play with their sister again in this life. How do you process this when you're 2 and 6???? Yet another thing I must trust Jesus about.

I've always been a people pleaser in that I don't want anyone upset with me and I, of course, want them to like me. I hate any kind of conflict. For probably the first time in my life I Don't care what people think. Don't get me wrong, I care as long as it relates to the GOSPEL. Otherwise I feel so FREE. This is something huge in my life......a process God has been working on for the past three years especially. I'm not nearly as concerned with what people think of my kids, how they are "behaving," whether they think I'm a good mother/wife/cook/housekeeper, etc, etc. Losing Alaina will help me be a better mother. I am free to not worry about stupid things, insignificant things like them watching 30 more minutes of TV or obeying the first time EVERY time I tell them to do something.

I ONLY want to be consumed with my Jesus....not with sadness. I long to "live my life for an audience of ONE." (Tammy Murden quote). My security, self worth, EVERYTHING must ultimately come from Him and not anyone or anything else. This road we are traveling now is a constant reminder of my old way of thinking. For so many years, I lived the christian life viewing it like a mountain. You just keep climbing to the top getting higher and higher, becoming a "better" christian until one day you pretty much "arrive." It was such a legalistic way to live. I used to think, "Oh, they're a strong christian, a mature believer, they don't struggle with the things I do, they've mastered things like trusting God and being disciplined." Now, the longer I walk with Him, I see more and more how sinful I truly am. The christian life is a continuous cycle of Repent and believe.....repent and believe the gospel. Over and over again. I must believe the gospel now more than ever before, I do believe it!

I hope you don't look at me. What I mean is that I want you to look at Jesus. I'm telling you, anything I am doing "right" is only from Him. In and of myself I'm pretty sure I wouldn't want to keep going. My strength is all by His grace, the funeral was all by His grace, making it through one day is all by His grace. His free grace and love, and mercy, and kindness, and faithfulness and compassion. He is the great "I AM." I picture it as Him saying "I AM....whatever you need. Fill in the blank." Grief is so complex. Society either thinks you're weird if you are sad for a LONG time or you're being fake because you seem "over it" too quickly. I don't think I have to be strong or "hold it together." I feel no pressure. I feel free to just be. I'm not running to Jesus, he's running to me, my high priest is interceding for me when I don't even have the words to pray. He's holding me when I can't "hold on." He's carrying me when I don't want to walk.

ok, all these words are not just for you. It's for me, too. This is the closest thing to a journal I'll probably ever have. To Him alone be the glory!!!!!

Final note: we learned on Monday that Lew (my little nickname forAlaina) had some form of Meningitis. I'll post more details on that later.