With hope.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

"May this be your experience; may you feel that the Hand which inflicts the wound supplies the balm, and that He who has emptied your heart has filled the void with Himself."                    - Hudson Taylor, missionary to China  
If I'd written my own life story a hundred different times in a hundred different ways, I never would have included this chapter: Our Second Miscarriage.
Back in January, Shawn and I were elated to read an instantly positive pregnancy test. Pregnancy symptoms set in quickly and we couldn't wait to hold our third sweet baby in September.

Fast forward a few weeks. Our first ultrasound would happen at 8 and a half weeks. I'd been anxious about the appointment for a few days, but couldn't put my finger on why. Looking back, my once-strong pregnancy symptoms had waned a bit: I had no nausea, my energy had returned, and other than my jeans feeling a little snug, I didn't feel pregnant. Still, I'd had such easy pregnancies with Liam and Lanie that I didn't think it was necessarily a bad sign.

Our doctor began the ultrasound and almost immediately, he said gently, "I'm feeling anxious about this." He could instantly see that something wasn't right. The baby that was supposed to have a heartbeat by this point didn't, and was measuring much tinier than it should have at 8 and a half weeks.

We left the ultrasound room with heavy hearts and sat down in his office with choices we had to face. Had I gotten the dates wrong? Maybe I wasn't as far into the pregnancy as I thought I was. I was pretty confident that I was, in fact, 8 and a half weeks pregnant, but couldn't be 100% sure. So instead of making any hasty decisions, we opted to wait 9 more days and have a followup ultrasound then. Still, we didn't leave the office with much hope. We were 99% sure of what the next ultrasound would show: a baby we would never get to hold on this side of eternity.

That afternoon, I headed to Shelley Lake alone. I walked and prayed and wept. As I grieved, all I could hear was, "I am your shield, your very great reward." The thought alone was so comforting. The Lord is my shield, protecting me in what felt like walking into inevitable devastation. When Lanie was born so fast and furious, I didn't have an option for any pain relief but had to face intense pain head-on, and I felt this same way. I looked ahead and the only option - losing my very wanted and very loved baby - seemed so painful and grim. But God would be there, even there. And secondly, God is my very great reward. A baby is not. Even if He never chooses to bless us with another baby, He is reward enough.

This verse kept playing in my head, breathing comfort and hope into my hurting heart. I initially thought it was a line out of a psalm. But when I looked it up, I found it in Genesis 15, promised by God to Abram just before Abram objects, "But Sovereign Lord, what can you give me since I remain childless and the one who will inherit my estate is Eliezer of Damascus?" God then makes a covenant with him to give him a son - his own flesh and blood. Whoa. Only God. That He chose to give me that specific verse was so powerful. While I didn't take it to mean that this child was necessarily going to live, I swelled with hope for the future.

When Thursday's ultrasound rolled around (two weeks ago today), an army of prayer warriors were on their knees for us. My mom was able to fly in to be with us no matter what happened. We prayed for a miracle: that we would see a flickering heartbeat across the screen. We also prayed for comfort in the midst of the grief that was even more likely. We even prayed that if I was to miscarry, my body would begin the process naturally so I could avoid any medical interventions. We felt peace walking into the ultrasound room and peace even as we heard the verdict: no growth, no heartbeat.

Initially, I had resisted a D&C surgery because of the risks involved. But with our doctor's advice, because of the amount of support tissue and the fact that my body showed no signs of miscarrying naturally, we chose the D&C and scheduled it for Friday morning. I had been walking around for over a week feeling like a ticking time bomb. I'd go to work for a 12-hour shift and think, "Am I going to lose the baby today?" It felt unsettling.
We should've spent Friday, March 4, celebrating 10 weeks of pregnancy. Instead, I spent it under anesthesia as our doctor skillfully removed every trace of our baby's shell. Ultimately, it felt like such a merciful option. I've been recovering surprisingly well, and it felt as if I was given a new start without days upon days of bleeding and cramping (as I experienced with my last miscarriage).

Two beautiful things - truly, beauty from ashes - have come from this that I can see so far.

First, the church has become so radiant to us. Our believing friends have willingly climbed into the trenches with us, dropping off flowers and cards or just sitting with us in our sadness. My friend Whit sent the most beautiful necklace with four links representing the four babies the Lord has blessed us with: two alive on earth, and two alive in Heaven. I have hardly taken it off. Another friend wrote out Scriptures on notecards that I read as I waited to be taken back into surgery, filling my mind with truth about the loving God that I serve even in the face of such sadness. Our amazing OB doctor, who goes to our church, has walked each step with us with genuine compassion. My mom rearranged her schedule to be a support to us and our kids so we didn't have to worry about their care. We had meals delivered for over a week. We feel so lavishly loved.

Second, the Lord has taken us deeper in our walks with him. This closeness is something I wouldn't even trade a baby for. At the recommendation of a friend, I listened to Audrey Assad's newest album, Inheritance just before the surgery. It's a mix of old and new hymns and was so powerful to prepare my heart for the loss of another baby. It has helped my heart stay open to Jesus' voice in the midst of pain.

I know that the topic of miscarriage can make people squirm. It even feels a little uncomfortable writing about it, not knowing who in the world will read this post today or in years to come. But I wanted to bring our story into the light with the hope that it may encourage even one person. There is no guilt or shame in losing a baby. I believe with every ounce of me that we will see our babies in Heaven one day, and until then, they'll be whole and safe at Jesus' feet. We grieve for them, yes. But we grieve with hope. I can't begin to understand why He would take this very precious, very loved child so soon. But we trust Him. We hope in Him. And we anticipate the ways He will heal and redeem.

Attention Apex friends...

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Costco. We've never lived so dangerously close to one as we currently do: from our door to Costco's front doors, it's 2.2 miles. Because of this, we end up there with our kids at least once a week. Sometimes it's just for gas. Other times it's to stock up on produce. And often, it's to let Liam run the aisles when it's too cold to play outside. We even buy our Christmas tree there. It's like our neighborhood all-in-one spot.

Here are some of our favorite Costco things... 

The gas - If all we bought at Costco was gas, it would be well worth a yearly membership for us. It's always cheaper than other gas stations, clean, well-lit, and the attendants are friendly.

The produce - Amazingly, Costco is the largest organic grocer in the country. But besides that, we love buying produce in bulk - from berries to oranges to sweet potatoes.

The best photos - We've printed all of our family photos at Costco for years with the best results. I just order them online and pick them up later that same day.

Kirkland brand - From olive oil to dried fruit to paper towels, we haven't found a Kirkland brand  (Costco's house brand) item we didn't like. And if we did, their return policy is pretty amazing.
Costco recently started carrying the Honest Co brand, which is one of our favorites
We're excited that today, a brand new Costco has opened just a few miles from Raleigh in Apex, North Carolina. In the next couple weeks, I'll be hosting a giveaway here for local readers for a Costco gift basket, so keep your eyes peeled for that. In the meantime, there's a special offer available for new Costco members at Apex: new Executive Members will receive a $20 Costco Cash Card, and new Gold Star and Business Members will receive a $10 Costco Cash Card.

Do you have a Costco in your neighborhood? What's your favorite thing to buy there?

This post is in collaboration with Costco, a store we've loved for years. All of the ideas expressed are my own.

Books of 2016 (so far).

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Since I turned 30 this year, I made a huge goal: to read 30 books. Yes, 30.

Here are the five I've read so far with a mini-review of each. (Spoiler alert: I'd recommend every single one.)

Desperate: Hope for the Mom Who Needs to Breathe by Sarah Mae and Sally Clarkson
☆  This book was wildly encouraging to me. I've picked up so many Christian parenting books recently that I've later put back down because, inevitably, there's an entire chapter of the importance of women not working outside the home. Because we don't have a choice about me working right now (and honestly, I love it!), it becomes pretty discouraging. This book was so freeing: mothers are built in so many different ways and can glorify God in their unique style of mothering. There's no formula to making great kids. Out of the many motherhood books I've read, this one stands near the top. Perfect, specifically, for mothers who have babies and toddlers and feel overwhelmed.

Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper
  This is a fiction novel that's written for elementary- or middle school-aged kids, but is equally enjoyable and possibly even more meaningful for adults (hence the 2,000+ 5-star reviews on Amazon). I loved every bit of the story. The main character, Melody, is a brilliant-minded little girl who has a set of disabilities that limits her ability to communicate. The story takes twists and turns that are unpredictable, and you finish the book wanting to advocate for those in your life who may not be able to speak up for themselves. I think this should be required reading for every 5th grader. Seriously. (It will be in my house.)

Three Little Words: A Memoir by Ashley Rhodes-Coulter
★  Whoa. This book opened my eyes to the realities of our foster care system and the kids who get lost in the mix. I finished the last page and wanted to sign up as a foster parent right away. (We may wait a while, but it's definitely in our plans for someday.) Well-written. Inspiring. I absolutely loved it - and read all 293 pages in one day.

Choosing to SEE: A Journey of Struggle and Hope by Mary Beth Chapman
☆  Growing up in the same community with the Chapman family, I knew this story pretty well. The Chapmans lost their daughter, Maria, in a tragic accident in their driveway. This is the story of how her mother, Mary Beth, has processed that grief - and the incredible ways the Lord has redeemed their story already. It's also the story of the beginning of Show Hope, which gives grants to help fund adoptions. I had the privilege of attending Maria's funeral, but reading the behind-the-scenes story was so powerful. Beautifully written.

As Soon As I Fell: A Memoir by Kay Bruner
★  This brutally honest account of a missionary and what she went through physically, emotionally, and spiritually while serving the Lord in the Solomon Islands was eye-opening. So often in ministry, mental and emotional health is overlooked to the detriment of those serving. In this case, it definitely was. Kay writes her story with clarity and passion and hope. Recommend specifically for anyone considering serving overseas in ministry.
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