To read the story of our precious Harlynn Renae, start here and follow the "next" links at the end of each post. Thank you for coming and sharing with us in this journey.

Monday, December 30, 2013

I Hereby Resolve...

2013 is almost over. And while part of me doesn't want it to end, part of me sighs heavy relief at the same time. It's been the hardest, most tumultuous year of my entire life. I pray I don't have another like it. 

With every new year comes resolutions. Resolutions to be aspired after, tried, and most often broken. I don't remember if I even made any resolutions for 2013, but if I did, they never came in to play. 

I want to do it differently in 2014. I want to set goals for myself. I want to be purposeful. I want to follow through on doing things that will help me heal, grow, and challenge myself. I've said previously that I've been finding a lot of help and hope in listening to Faith Radio. I have take-aways from every show, every day. It's been incredibly challenging and encouraging to listen, remember, and apply new principles and ideas. Along that same vein, the sermon in church on Sunday was especially encouraging and challenging. One of the statements made was to "resolve to seek righteousness." Wow. I've made the resolutions before to read the Bible more, (what is "more" anyway? More than never?), pray more, etc. But to resolve to seek righteousness? Who would have thought? The pastor did. And thank goodness, because it was a powerful message and thought. I'm going to do it. I'm also going to resolve to read my Bible more. But not just "more". I'm going to resolve to read it daily. And to retain and focus on what I'm reading. I'm going to resolve to seek righteousness, and I'm going to start by being in my Bible, purposefully, every single day.

There are other changes, challenges, and pursuits I want to make in 2014 as well, but I'm not going to spell out every single one. I've most likely lost your attention by now anyway.

One thing I will say is - 2014 will be the year of ministering to the hearts that are broken like mine. I've read so many blogs about perinatal loss, grief, etc. and I want to be a resource for people as well. I know those have helped me so much, and there are so many truths those people spoke to me. So many of those truths I wanted to be the exception to. I wanted it to not be true for me. Yet...that wasn't the case. They speak of what they know, and what they know is they've been in my shoes. They know where the road leads and what challenges and heartaches are along the way. And now I know too, and want to also encourage and share with the loss-world. If I can bring a glimmer of hope and encouragement to any grieving mother or father after the loss of their baby, I would be honored to have that part in their journey.  And this is a journey I understand. A journey I get. I'm not the same I once was, and others soon forget that. I live it, though. I understand what it's like to be expected to be the same Val I was before losing Harlynn. But I'm not her anymore. 

A dear woman, and new friend, said during a speech once that after she suffered a serious brain injury, since she looked the same on the outside, people assumed she was fine. Some were even annoyed or put-off when she would display awkward behavior - after suffering a BRAIN INJURY! But since her outside was the same, they assumed the inside was too. She made the point of "not judging a book by it's cover." Her cover was the same. Her story wasn't. Her speech resonated with me to the very core of my being. My cover looks the same. My story, however, is not.

So to those people who have the same cover, but their story is you parents who had to part with your precious babies....2014 is the first year of many I'm devoting to you. To helping you, to hurting alongside you, and to honoring the little ones you love. I resolve to do this. I commit to it. To you.

2014, the new year, won't be a clean slate. I have scars and wounds still healing from this year. Just because a calendar turns, doesn't mean everything from the previous year goes away. Harlynn will be a part of this family for always. She'll be a part of my life every year. Losing her has taught me numerous lessons I dare not forget or dismiss. But even though I will forever carry the events and heartache of this year with me, I do have hope that next year will be brighter. I do have hope that I'll continue to grow in love and learning from everything we've been through. I do have hope that Harlynn will bring big things to be in 2014. 

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Clearing (or further clogging) the Air

Remember when I posted My Most Controversial Post Ever? Boy, was I wrong. Apparently my most controversial post was the one about my future Christmas plans. I have heard some people I love were hurt by it, which was certainly not my intent. 

Please consider and remember the following when reading this, my follow-up post (and any post I publish): Eight months ago, I buried my daughter. My perspective on nearly everything changed as a result. You don't understand. Be thankful you don't. Be thankful you won't. The only way to understand is to experience it. Something I wouldn't wish upon anyone. That said, it would be so nice if people understood. 

I got an email from someone rather close to me. I'm going to paraphrase their email to protect their identity. I'm also going to paste, near verbatim, my response with some omissions, again, to protect the identity of the sender. I'm publishing it because I think it is a prime example of the chasm of misunderstanding I experience. I'm not asking anyone to understand. I'm not asking anyone to agree with me, even. But I will ask that you do not consider your perspective an adequate substitute for my reality. My Christmas post was not about anyone or anything other than us. If you took offense, there was certainly none intended. If you cross me off your list, I get it. I understand. I'm not going to apologize for what I said, though. This isn't about where anyone thinks I should be in my life. This is about where I am. Right now. This season. This is about how I'm handling it. This is about what's best for me and my household. No one outside of this household knows what that is better than we do.

I could have been clearer, for sure. I see how the view on my points could easily have been skewed. So while there are some things one can explain until blue in the face, people still won't understand. That may be the case here, but I'm going to try anyway. 

Here goes.

(Paraphrase: perhaps we're reading too much into your post.) Most likely. As is to be expected. I've received lots of positive feedback. I don't want anyone to make more of it than it is. You and I (and apparently whomever you've been talking with) aren't going to see eye to eye on this. And that's fine. But know my intentions aren't to hurt anyone. I was generalizing. We got some very meaningful gifts this year as well, and I appreciate them greatly. So do Brent and Haley. There's a bigger picture, though, and I don't want it to be our picture in the future.
(Paraphrase: It appears you are excluding people from your life and preferring isolation.)
I absolutely prefer isolation. It's how I'm able to cope with the year I've had. If I don't have to deal with people, it's one less obstacle for me to have to perform for. Isolation is easier for me. My grief is compounded by the grief those close to me are experiencing as well. It's too much for me. It's not anyone's fault, it's just the way it is. I don't expect you to understand, or anyone to understand. Will I be in this same place every year? Hopefully not. But it's where I'm at right now.
(Paraphrase: You're negating every gift you've ever been given and you've hurt everyone who loves you most by stating you only want certain things and will take other things back. Borderline extortion.)
That's a bit dramatic. Negating every gift we've ever received? Come on now. That's reading words that aren't there or implied. Again - what is this about? Is this about approval of others and ourselves based on what we give or receive? My whole point is - we have too much stuff. Just stuff. I got a gift this year I'm not even sure what it is. I don't know how to use it or wear it or whatever I'm supposed to do with it. I don't think the person who gave it to me loves me any less - but it is now a useless item added to our inventory of stuff. Are gifts the only expression of love one can give? Why do they give the gift? Because it's Christmas and that's what you do? Or because they thought long and hard about what to get? There's a difference. I'm not picking apart who gave what, and what we liked and didn't, I'm saying Christmas has become less about the people involved and more about the products. That's backwards. The wise men gave offerings. We give bargains. If it's something we need (let's say someone gets me a big skillet or a griddle for instance, since I had to throw both out recently) that's one thing. If someone gets me a melon baller, I'm going to take it back. We don't eat melons. I certainly don't ball them. We don't need one more thing we won't use sitting in my kitchen. You have to acknowledge there's a big difference.
(Paraphrase: this blog post inadvertently advertises you as being that which you say you don't want to be: entitled, expectant and greedy.)
Well....this is a big difference in perspective. I'll just agree to disagree with you here. I don't expect anything. If you don't know what to get me, don't get me anything. That's all I'm saying. I'd rather have nothing than have something that means nothing. Something that was given for the sake of saying I was given something. There is far too much emphasis being put on the gift rather than on the giver or the receiver. That's bogus. 

This was a decision Brent and I came to after we couldn't walk through our living room without stepping on something or around something or through something. We don't want to be overrun with stuff. I can't help that people have or will take it personally, but I can help in defending that it wasn't a blog directed at anyone or as a result of any one thing.

Friday, December 27, 2013

A Christmas Revolution

This past Christmas was just what how we needed. If I could celebrate every holiday with just my tiny family, in the comfort of my own home - no travel, no entertaining, no wondering how soon we can leave, no worrying about weather patterns - I would do it. Brent told me he wouldn't let me do that every year, but if he would, it would be done. It was so peaceful, so relaxing, and so....just what I needed. I loved it. Especially as this year is so tender for us, not having Harlynn, I couldn't have asked for a nicer method of holiday celebration. No chaos, no schedules, no fuss - just us. Just us and the best prime rib I've ever made.

After the mass clean up of wrapping paper, plastic, boxes, bags, etc. and seeing the sea of toys and gifts clutter our floor, however, Brent and I both agreed on one thing: Christmas is out of control. 

Going forward, my family and I are revolutionizing the way we celebrate Christmas. If it truly is about Christ and his birth, life, and ultimate sacrifice for us (and we believe it is) then why - why, why, why - do so many people spend so much time forking over money for things that won't be used, appreciated, or given a second thought to? Why are people putting life and limb on the line to rush through mobs of people to get something that will be completely useless in time? Why has bargain hunting become more important than the person the gift is for?

As Brent and I stood in the canyon of toys and books and gifts for Haley (which we were prime contributors to), we realized that now we have to go through her belongings and get rid of things, just to make room for the new stuff. Christmas became a chore for us in an instant. We wouldn't think of taking the joy away from her or our future child(ren) of unwrapping presents on Christmas morning. However, we do want to instill in her and her siblings what it means to give. Give sacrificially, obediently, and with careful thought and care.

Haley showed tremendous thought in her gift choosing this year. I was throwing out idea after idea for her on what to get her daddy for Christmas. After being rejected continuously I asked her, "Well what do you want to get him, then?" She answered, "Keep thinking. I probably won't like the next thing you say, though." It forced me to put a lot of thought from her perspective into what she would think would be meaningful to her daddy. As they both are die-hard NDSU Bison football fans (as die-hard as a three year old princess can be), I finally suggested she buy him some Bison attire, which she enthusiastically agreed to. When she went shopping with her daddy, she very carefully picked out two necklace/earring sets for me. She loves to wear my necklaces and loves to play dress up, and when she sees her mommy "dress up" as well, she floats high on the clouds of femininity (of which I rarely make an appearance). She loved it, and I loved getting them from her. It was so special.

My husband asked me what I wanted for Christmas. I told him I wanted new tires on the van (since we had already forked out several hundred dollars and replaced them, that was good enough for me) and the traction control fixed. The tires were already taken care of, but he ordered a part to fix the traction control. I was serious, he listened, and now I'm going to get what I asked for - a fully operational vehicle. I love him tremendously for listening and taking me seriously. I love him for so much more, and while that gift may seem fruitless to many of you, it was exactly what I wanted. He also bought me a wedding ring that won't eat my finger (I've been through two that leave my finger a mangled mess because of my skin's reaction to the metals, but this one should do the trick). Careful thought. Calculation. Meaningful gifts. It's funny to me - Brent hates buying gifts for me. He calls me "the least materialistic person in the world." I have grown up a lot. I'm sure relatives wouldn't use that phrase to describe me ten years ago. It's true, though. I don't really want anything. Every time he asks me, I think of something that needs repaired, or painted, or some sort of chore or good deed. Those are the things, however, that mean the most to me. Comfort and security. Those can't be wrapped up.

Have you ever received a gift and wondered if the person even remembered your name, because obviously they had no clue what your personal tastes were? Even I am guilty of giving something just for the sake of making sure someone gets something, and it loses meaning. It loses purpose. It becomes exactly what we don't want it to become: an empty, materialistic act. I don't want Haley or her siblings growing up thinking they are obligated to give gifts because that's just what you do. I don't want them spending money on something just to make sure money has been spent. I don't want them to go through the motions, thinking they're making other people feel good, when in reality, a high percentage of gifts given and received mean absolutely nothing. 

Brent and I had a long discussion about it the evening of Christmas and the morning after. We were in harmonious agreement, and therefore I know it is the right thing for us to do. For us. This may not be for you, and that's okay. It is for us. It's what we'll do going forward. In our discussion, Brent and I came to the following conclusion: we will return purchased, material gifts from whence they came. We don't need store-bought, factory-made items. We have close to no use for most of them, and probably little to no desire for them (though he may bend if it relates to his Xbox, however). It spurs materialism and we no longer want that to be our focus. We want to remain focused on Christ, on Christmas, on what it means to us, and on the best gift anyone could ever receive: salvation.

We prefer and will gladly accept homemade/handmade items. The time and effort that go into these items make them priceless. They're my favorite gifts to receive. To see what someone took the time to choose, make, and design especially for our family is so fun. I love getting those gifts! I love making those gifts, too. My favorite gifts to give are things I've made. Whether it be knitting, baking, coloring, gluing, (or custom ordering from somewhere like Etsy - confession time) - whatever the craft - I pour my heart and soul into those gifts. And I love knowing people pour their heart and soul into making them too.

We will also gladly accept money. I'm not being funny here, either. Eventually we'll need to replace more tires, or a roof, or a water heater, or clothes our little ones have outgrown. I know some people think there's no fun in giving money instead of a gift, but I am being completely honest here. It means so much to Brent and me when we receive it. We wouldn't have it otherwise, and you have no idea how those monetary gifts get us through times that we'd otherwise be hard-pressed to wade through. Money is a practical and loving gift because it helps take care of us. I can tell you countless stories of how we wouldn't have been able to pay a bill, put gas in our vehicle, or even buy groceries, were it not for coming across the monetary gift from another person. Again, comfort and security are worthwhile gifts in my book.

The same gifts we'll accept are the same we'll be giving. We'll be making our gifts (or letting someone on Etsy make them), giving careful thought and prayer over the person they're for. We'll be giving money whenever we're able to. We know how much it has helped and will help us, and we know how much it will mean to someone at some point down the road.

Whatever we give our children, (most likely a combination of practical homemade and a few store bought toys to maintain their interest), we will be expecting them to give as well. Our children will have to give in order to receive. If they want to open their presents, they'll need to give of themselves first. Give to the homeless. Give to someone in need. Give something powerfully meaningful to someone who needs it. Serve others. Appreciate what you have by giving to those who don't. That will be our rule. That will be our standard. Love others. God so loved the world He sent His son. We will so love the world because it emulates the gospel message. It personifies the meaning of Christmas.

I don't want our children to grow up with, and I certainly don't want Brent and me to model having, an attitude of expectation, entitlement, or greed. I think this revolution on Christmas is one step in the right direction for thwarting that.

So. Family, friends, loved ones - this is our Christmas wish. This is our new leaf. This is how we will celebrate Christmas forevermore. This is how we will celebrate the One who was a gift to us.

The handmade Unicorn Hoodie Haley received! Complete with tail!

Monday, December 23, 2013

Christmas Mumbles

"Are you all ready for Christmas?"

It must be the question to ask because I hear it from several people, several times a day. I smile and say yes, but really I'm thinking, "Ready for it to be over."

I remembered tonight how last year and the year prior Haley used to sing "Jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle bells" from her room when we'd put her to bed at night. It was that or "Pa rum pum pum pum. Pa rum pum pum pum. Pa rum pum pum pum. My druuuuum."  Brent and I would smile at each other and giggle and just think how sweet it was to have her so excited for Christmas.

This year she's especially excited (and for good reason, because 90% of what's housed beneath the boughs of our tree has her name on it) and I'm doing what I can to make sure it's a memorable Christmas for her - and at the same time, I'm wishing it would hurry up and be done with.

It's not because I feel sorry for myself. It's not even because I don't want to think about what it would have or could have been like with Harlynn here. Though I'm sure those are all contributing factors. Mostly, as I reflect on the year we've had, I realize that that so many people, so many people, have hurting hearts this holiday as well. So many people feel as I do. Wanting the world to go away, wanting to be left alone, wanting to just be. So many people have an empty spot at their table. A stocking that will go unfilled. A piece of their heart broken. So many people will be tired of the well-intentioned acts of others who just don't get it. 

I miss the days of innocence. Days where I assumed everyone was in love with Christmas as much as we were. Days when I believed a Christmas carol would lift an already spirited mood, and a Santa hat would add cheer to any outfit. Days when I didn't understand that there could be hurt this time of year. How could there be? It's Christmas. Oh how naive I was. And how I envy that ignorance.

Tomorrow we'll frost cookies, and tuck Haley to bed snug with her sheer excitement of what morning will bring. She requested pancakes over cinnamon rolls for Christmas morning breakfast (which is fine with me because they're a bit simpler and we can eat them sooner) and we'll dig in to stockings and gifts. I know - I know - that my heart will swell as she rips each gift open with more eagerness than the last. I know as I sip my decaf coffee, I'll be thankful for the day, and for the special intimate time with my husband and daughter. 

But... part of my Christmas cheer slipped away that late April night when we learned Harlynn's heart had stopped beating. Then again upon realizing 37 weeks since delivering her (at 37 weeks) falls upon Christmas day. A new chapter begins the next day of being without her longer than with her. A chapter I don't want to have to turn the page on. 

However, I've found some encouragement in listening to talk radio (Faith Radio) the past couple of months. I thought about Mary, when she was approached by the angel and told she would birth the Savior of the world. How must she have felt? What must she have thought? What fear did she feel to mother the Christ? "Breath of Heaven, hold me together, be forever near me, breath of Heaven..." Oh how that song has become my song the last eight months.  

In Luke when the shepherds visit Jesus as He lay in the manger, it says, "But Mary treasured these things and pondered them in her heart." What that says to me, as a mother, is so much more than those words might say to you.  When things happen, good or bad, to our children, our heart wants to hold on to them for always. We always want to remember. Always cherish. Always draw upon how we felt love for our child in a particular moment. Mary felt that for Jesus. I feel it for my kids. All three of them. She was just a girl that the Lord favored. I'm just a broad the Lord has extended His grace and love upon. Her child saved the world from sin. My daughter gave me purpose to help the brokenhearted. 

This Christmas isn't about what I don't have. Nor will any Christmas be about that. Rather, I have to choose and remember my choice, to focus on what I do have. I have a husband the Lord led me to and kept me with. I have a daughter who is pretty much the most adorable thing ever (when she isn't disobeying or throwing a fit...and admittedly, even then sometimes). I have a daughter waiting for me in Heaven. And I have a Savior who was born and died to give me the fighting chance to be with her there. Who loves me enough to carry me through this season. And always. I have a baby waiting to meet us in a few months, fluttering now and again within me now.

Jesus' birth is worth celebrating. Certainly his life is reason for mine. I have to remember this. I have to hold on to this. Christmas won't go by any faster. It won't be any less traumatic. Yet, in spite of my grief, it will be a celebration worth having. It will be a teachable event for my family. It will confirm our purpose and our hope. 

I may not have a holly jolly Christmas, but I will have a heart that holds on to the meaning of this sacred day. Of what it means for my family. For me personally. And even while we miss Harlynn and simultaneously await her younger sibling, we'll celebrate the birth of our Savior. The breath of Heaven.

Prev: December

Thursday, December 19, 2013

My Most Controversial Post Ever.

I'm going to tell you up front: stick with me. It's a winding path to a point, but I will, eventually, make my point. 

Lately, food hasn't sounded the greatest to me. I force myself to eat, and whatever I can tolerate. Not that food makes me ill or nauseated (anymore) but nothing sounds appetizing. Nothing sounds good. Nothing. My favorites are repulsive most times, and my go-tos are now my run-froms. Tonight, after my family ate their dinner while I sat alone, away from them and the smell of their food, I knew I had to force myself to eat something. Yogurt with grape-nuts sounded tolerable. As I made my way to the kitchen, however, and saw our ever-ripening bananas on the counter, I thought I should make a fruit smoothie. 

I opened the fridge to retrieve our milk. It was nearly empty. This is bad. Very bad. Every morning, I have to have at least one, ice-cold, glass of milk. If I don't, everything is wrong with the world. It's the only must-have I need in this pregnancy. Ice-cold milk in the morning. If I used the last of it now, for a fruit smoothie that finally sounded really good while scrounging for what to eat along with it, I wouldn't have my milk in the morning.  Holding the gallon container, I peeked into the living room where Brent was sitting.

I put on my best "pretty please?" face and asked, "Babe? How much do you love me right now?" He looked over, saw me holding the milk carton, and let out a sigh. Moments later he had his shoes, coat, and hat on, and ventured out in to the freezing (well below-zero) snow and cold to get another gallon of milk. Because he loves me that much. And as I poured the milk into our blender, my heart swelled once again because I married a man I don't deserve. I married a man who treks out in the snow to buy his wife, who can't bring herself to even cook for him these days, a gallon of milk. And he will also be putting gas in the car for me. Be honest with yourself right now, and let your heart swoon a little for this man. But not too much, because he is spoken for, after all. 

Now, Brent and I don't always see eye-to-eye on everything. Sometimes we disagree amicably and sometimes we disagree vehemently. (Those times are called "intense fellowship".) We've been together nearly thirteen years and while there are issues we've been able to meet in the middle on, there are some neither of us will give up ground for. And this is my husband, whom I love with every piece of me, and who goes out in the freezing cold for no reason other than to buy his wife milk and put gas in her car. I mean for that alone I should just agree with him whatever the case, right? But I don't. And even though I don't agree with him on some issues, he loves me anyway. In spite of our differences.

I have friends (whoa, shocker, but some people actually like me) who differ from me in almost every possible way you can imagine. Political views. Religious views. Humanitarian views. Child-rearing. Work-ethic. Etcetera. But get a load of this - we're still friends. Because their views differing from mine don't define who I am. They don't cancel out my faith or opinions. Their differing views don't counter the fact that they are beautiful people who I'm always thrilled to spend time with. I can have tremendous differences, and still be in a compatible, enjoyable relationship with them. I love these people. And I'm going to go out on a limb here and say they like me at least a little bit.

You see where this is going.  And I'm not going to sit here and say, "I don't care what you believe...." because the reality is, I do. I do care. And I pray and hold out hope that everyone would come to know Jesus as Lord, life is precious, mushrooms are disgusting, and Joe Montana is the greatest quarterback to ever live. But you know what? If you don't, and if you adamantly disagree with me on any or all of those points, I'm not going to degrade you as a person. I'm not going to call you a bigot or a hypocrite or a scumbag or any sort of name at all. I'm not going to yell. I'm not going to insult you. I'm not even going to verbally scoff in disbelief that you could possibly have a different set of beliefs or morals than I do. I might raise my eyebrows - but I can't help that. Sometimes, I wear my thoughts on my face. Forgive me. At the end of the day, though, you're an individual, and so am I. And the very fact that seems to have torn the world apart in some instances, is also the very fact that can mend it together in an instant.

I'm not going to tell a diesel mechanic how to fix a vehicle. I don't know anything about it, nor have I ever been a diesel mechanic. I'm not going to tell a drug addict how they can kick their habit. I've never been addicted to drugs, and I know not of what I'd speak. That said, I don't understand why those who aren't, or never have been Christians, feel it necessary or even acceptable to tell Christians how they should act, feel, believe, and live. It doesn't make an ounce of sense to me.

Regardless of your beliefs, regardless of your political views, personal background, or even your love of mushrooms - I'm not here to draw attention to any of it. I'm not here to call you out on any of it. I'm not here to tell you you're wrong. So please give me, and others, that same respect. Agree to disagree. If you can't conduct yourselves maturely and feel the need to arguably defend your positions in life by throwing others under the bus of "you're an idiot because you don't see things the way I do", then I can't be your friend. Which is okay, because if that's how you behave, you won't have much fun being my friend anyway. 

Now that I've given my little sermon, I'm going to go have a bowl of cereal with the fresh milk Brent brought back from the edge of civilization. And on the off-chance you disagree that a bowl of cereal is a good choice for my dinner, I'm just going to say: love me anyway. If you can't love me, respect the fact that you and I are both adults, capable of forming our own opinions, and just shake your head in disbelief. It is possible to protest with politeness.

Saturday, December 14, 2013


This morning brought big flakes of lightly falling snow. The same kind of snow that fell the day after we buried Harlynn. It stormed and snowed the Wednesday I delivered her. The day I held her lifeless body in my arms for the first and last time. It snowed every Wednesday after that for the next four weeks, but I specifically remember the snowfall the day after we buried her. Peaceful, heavy, flitting snow.  As I watched it from my living room window this morning, favorite coffee cup in hand, perched upon my favorite corner of the sofa, I had the feeling of simultaneous peace and sorrow. That snowfall was a reminder of what wasn't. Of what will never be. But just as the snow covers the ground it falls on, then eventually melts and goes away, is the peace and sorrow that cover me. 

December has been so very hard on me. Much harder than I anticipated, which isn't saying much, because I didn't anticipate it to be any harder than any other day or month since losing her. I've found myself so very tired. Tired of having been expected these last eight months to conduct myself sanely, maturely, gracefully, and not being given the freedom to cry when and how I feel like it. Why? Because it might make those around me uncomfortable. Too many a time I've choked back tears and kept myself from crying because the rest of the world doesn't want to face my pain. Or because I myself can't handle when others join in my suffering. I need moments to be, just me and my grief.  I'm tired of the people who promised they would always be there, and are now nowhere to be found. Tired of the people who offer me empty words or sentiments, even if they are trying to help. Tired of figuring out how to celebrate in the midst of sorrow. So very tired. And here it is, almost Christmas, without the baby I was pregnant with last Christmas.

In that tiredness I find I'm angry. At everything and nothing. Everyone and no one in particular. I don't want to talk to anyone, I don't want to do anything, I don't want to go anywhere. In that same vein, I get frustrated when no one will talk to me, when there's nothing to do, and when there's nowhere to go. It's a lose-lose. So instead, I just get angry.

It's been eight months. Often times I hear how well I'm doing, how strong I am - but those people don't see me during days like yesterday. Days where the tears don't stop coming, no matter how hard I try to pull myself together. They don't see the nights I wake up from horrible dreams. They don't see me crumpled next to Haley's bedside as I pray fervently for protection from everything over her. They don't see my anger. And that's fine - it's not a show I want available on display. It's not anything I want others to get a glimpse of. And maybe I am strong. Maybe I am doing well. But even so, I need to have the freedom, the right, to fall apart. To be not okay. 

And this has been my December. The struggle to find a balance, if such a thing exists, between the reality of what I feel now, and the peace and comfort I long for. I do get doses of each. Yesterday it came in a radio show I so desperately needed to hear. Today it came in Haley snuggling on me, telling me she was so cozy in her mama's lap. Some moments it comes as I feel little flutters from the new little one in my womb. 

I don't want you to feel sorry for me. And I hope and pray that no one ever thinks I post these inner dialogues in the hopes of garnering pity. It simply is what it is. Nothing can change that. 

As Christmas draws closer, and as it begins a period of life where we'll be longer without Harlynn than we were with her, my heart is given completely to those who are missing their loved ones this year. Especially those who never got to bring their babies home. Just because it's Christmas and the "jolly" is being crammed down our throats, there is still suffering I'm mindful of. There are still hurting hearts out there. There are still people who need to be ministered to. There are people who are struggling to find anything worth celebrating.

To those hearts who are broken, maybe even more than my own, I pray you come to know that reason for celebration. I pray you come to know that there is a God who gives strength to the weary. Hope to the hopeless. Peace to the brokenhearted. Peace to people like you and me. Were it not for Him, I wouldn't be here, eight months on, having anything worth living for. But I do - I have so much. And even on the days when my anger and grief cloud my thankfulness, even on the days when I want the whole world to know how unjust it all is, I have a Spirit interceding for me. I have a place being prepared for me. Yes, it may be hard, even impossible at times, to see, but His goodness and His glory are ever abounding. Through everything. Everything. Even this. Especially this.

As I struggle through this December, and maybe as you are struggling as well, I offer up a prayer that we'll be reminded often and obviously, there is a love that outweighs the ache of our hearts. A love that covers us for no other reason than we exist. Even in all our pitiful misery and angst, we are loved.

God, help me remember.

~Harlynn's Stocking~

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

To My Unborn Child

Dear little one,

You are so very loved. And such a blessing. And we can't wait to meet you. Our prayer - our fervent, desperate prayer - is that we get to meet you, keep you, bring you home with us, and introduce you to the crazy that is your family. 

You see, eight months ago today, I delivered your older sister, Harlynn. She passed away before we ever had the chance to hold her. We still held her, loved on her, kissed her, but she was gone. The past eight months have sent us - your mommy, daddy, and big sister Haley - on a journey we never could have anticipated. It has been more than a roller coaster. A roller coaster straps you in, throws you for a few loops, then stops and you get off. There is no end to this ride. The ride just changes over time. There are still loops. There are peaks and valleys. There are whirlwinds of despair and confusion, and there are lulls of peace and hope. And the ride continues forever.

I knew in my heart we were supposed to try for you. I thought for sure it would take a while for you to begin your existence. It turns out I thought wrong. You came into existence right away. 

I want you to know a few things. One: you are a blessing to us. We love you for you, and are excited to learn about who you are, who you'll be, and what makes you you.  Two: there will never be another you. You are unique, knit together by the Maker of all.  Three: we want you to know, believe, and understand, that though the circumstances that brought you to us were completely unexpected, you were prayed for and anticipated from the beginning of time. Your arrival fills us with such hope and joy.

Your sister Harlynn will always mean so much to us. We will do whatever we can, whenever we can, for as long as we can, to remember her and celebrate the time she was here with us. We want you to know about her, speak of her, and remember her with us. She isn't here, but she will always be a part of our family's life. Her stocking will hang every year, though it will remain unfilled. Her birthday will not pass by without acknowledgement and ceremony. Her name will be a permanent fixture in our family. And we know she would have been as good a big sister to you as Haley will be. We trust and believe she knows in her heavenly heart how much she is loved by us, and we trust and believe she loves each of us - especially you.

It's been a difficult eight months. Half of this time I've been pregnant with you. I don't think I'm good at managing emotions, and though I can't really express everything I've felt, these last four months especially, I don't ever want you to feel like you were an afterthought, that you were dreaded, or that we only want you because your sister is gone.

The truth is, we've always wanted you. We are scared, yes, but not because of your existence. We're scared because we want to do whatever we can to make sure you're healthy, happy, and whole - and we don't know how to do anything different to make that a guarantee. We're scared we will fail you somehow. We want to be the best parents we can be - to you, to Haley, and even to Harlynn. 

I've been feeling you move some lately, and it gives me such peace. Haley asks about you all the time. She talks to you, hugs you, and keeps waiting for you to talk back to her. I know you'll agree she's the best big sister a little sibling could ask for. 

So while we navigate these waters, I ask for your patience, your grace, and ultimately your forgiveness. We'll do things wrong, we'll panic unnecessarily, we'll be overly protective of you. Regardless, though, we want to bless you as you have blessed us.

I guess if there's one thing I want you to take from this rambling, it's this: we love you. We love you. We love you.

You have the love of your daddy, sister, and me. You have the love of your sister from the other side of heaven. And most importantly, you have the love of our Lord who has gifted you to us for a determined amount of time. I only hope and pray His determined time is as long or longer than my own for you.

Next: December
Prev: It's The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year

Sunday, December 1, 2013

It's The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year

....says the song.

But for me, this time, this year, I quietly and respectfully wonder if it really isn't. Granted, we're being faced with three cold fronts, dropping inches upon inches of snow, and high temperatures not reaching a single digit above zero. But aside from the's the season that has me befuddled. 

I can focus one million or more times on what would have, could have, should have been this Christmas. The pink "Baby's First Christmas" stocking that would have been hung. The teething rings and soft blocks that would have been wrapped under the tree. The family pictures taken as Harlynn would have tried to eat the wrapping paper. Washing my hands between cooking the traditional prime rib dinner and changing a nasty diaper. Sending a Christmas letter announcing our baby's birth rather than her death. But focusing on it or not, it won't change our Christmas. It won't change our holidays. It won't bring her back.

Yesterday my husband brought in the numerous bins of Christmas decorations and wrapping materials that had been in storage. Normally we keep them in our house, but for the brief while our house was listed for sale, we kept a bunch of items in storage. I lifted the lids and took a quick inventory of our items. One more container, the last one, held all of the items I've used to decorate around the home for the last dozen or so years. Items for my table tops, shelves, and any out-of-child's-reach available surface. Everything inside the container was broken. Shattered. Piece after piece I pulled out broken Santas, snowmen, framed seasonal picture - all of it was in pieces.  Reaching in to retrieve one of the shards, I stuck my thumb, and it began to bleed.

I wasn't sure whether to laugh or cry - certainly none of it seemed humorous. Haley saw everything broken and started to (pretend) cry because I had told her we would decorate together. I didn't know what to do. These are the only decorations I've used for years. Over a decade, some of them. A few of them, of course, had sentimental value.  I was mad. I was mad at my husband for not being careful with handling the container. I was mad at myself for not packing the items better - even though I had packed them the same way for years and never lost a single one. I was mad that I had cut my thumb. I was mad at Christmas. I was mad at everything. Everyone.

And I quietly cried.

Over a few ceramic pieces of glittery nonsense? No. I cried because it was so symbolic of my life at this point. I can't keep anything whole. Not my bleeding hand, not my family, not my daughter Harlynn - the only thing I have to show are these gaping wounds that flare up with pain at the most unexpected and incoherent times. I have fragments of everything that was supposed to be. Jagged, broken pieces.

I decided an impromptu shopping trip was in order. I got Haley ready and as I put her in her car seat she whined, "You poked me and hurt my tummy."  I snapped back, "Accidents happen. I wasn't trying to hurt you."  Then I stopped. I realized it wasn't Brent's fault those things broke. It wasn't my fault. It was just another thing that happened. Because crappy things happen. I couldn't be mad. I apologized to Haley and settled in as we drove away and braved the crowds to browse Hobby Lobby in an attempt to replace what had been lost. Nothing appealed to me. Nothing looked like what I wanted. We left after purchasing nothing.

Once back home, I felt the flutters. Little life moving around inside me. This baby, who I'm scared to get too close to, I also love with all my being. This tiny little baby brought my focus to where it ought to be. I smiled. Flutter after flutter I felt reassurance. I felt peace. I felt hopeful. I find it no coincidence that our peace lily, that has only ever bloomed in early spring, suddenly burst forth a blossom this week.

No, our Christmas isn't anything like what we expected it to be: void of the coos and giggles of our baby Harlynn. We weren't planning on hanging a stocking that will never be filled. We weren't planning on any of this.  But regardless of the fragments of what we know could have been, I have every ounce of faith that those broken pieces - every tiny one of them - are being held in the hands of the only one who understands our simultaneous joy and suffering. Held in the hands of the very one who holds our Harlynn. Held in the hands of the one who formed this precious life growing within me now. Held in the hands of the one we praise at Christmas, and always.

I Peter 5:10-11 "And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen."

~Our Family of Five, Represented in one picture~

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Our Thanksgiving

We decided a long while ago this year we were going to do holidays just the three of us. We're focusing on our little family, what we've survived, and how it's brought us closer together in ways we never anticipated. As we carve the turkey and say our prayers, we're thankful for Harlynn. We're thankful we had the chance to know her, love her, and that we continue to have the opportunity to share her story and help others. We're thankful for the people who have loved and supported us through this, thankful for the new friends we've made, and are thankful for the lessons we've learned.

We've also learned the hard way that life throws challenges, sufferings, and unexpected events at us. All of us. When nothing goes the way we expect it to, we feel beaten up. Run down. Totally, and completely, helpless.

That's been our year. It started with a "beautiful" pregnancy. We then lost our baby. And now, as we close out 2013, we're faced with the winds of change once again.

One of the first questions Brent asked me in the hospital room after we lost Harlynn was, "Do we dare do this again?" I dismissed his question. I couldn't answer him. I was incapable of letting my mind go there. 

Our first daughter entered the world in her own dramatic rite. I nearly died, sick with severe HELLP syndrome, and she was born via emergency cesarean at 32 weeks. She weighed 2 lbs, 12 oz, and was in the NICU for 30 days. We praise God daily that she's here with us, yet we still have not forgotten the experience, or the trauma it introduced us to.

Our second daughter was expected to be completely healthy. Her heart stopped beating in my womb. Two pregnancies. Two unpredicted, unexpected outcomes.

Do we dare do this again?

It was a couple of weeks later, that Brent's question was really eating at me. I didn't want to put him through this again. He nearly lost his wife once. This time he lost his daughter. I couldn't bear the responsibility - whether warranted or not - of putting him through something like this once again. I certainly couldn't bear putting Haley through losing a sibling again. 

I sat him down in the living room, and we had a hard, but open discussion about growing our family. I was okay with not. Fear resided in every ounce of my being when it came to the mere thought of being pregnant again. There are no guarantees. The words my husband spoke, however, resonated such peace with me. He said, "We had pretty realistic expectations this time. But next time, we know all of the possibilities. Chances are, though, it will end better rather than worse."

That conversation changed everything. The chance of us attempting this again were on the table. I struggled, though. I knew if I voiced my confusion or thoughts, people would try to "help" me by saying things like, "You shouldn't even be thinking about that now." But I couldn't help it. I thought about it all the time. Do we dare?

The reality is, no child will replace Harlynn. She will always be our second child, we will always remember her, and we will always consider her a part of our family. Always. The question, then, was - do we go on to have a third?

And I suppose so. September 17th, 2013, I got the second line on an at-home test. Positive. Pregnant.  I was excited. Then I was terrified. Then I was a whole gamut of emotions I didn't even know I could feel simultaneously.

I know fear is not of God. Yet I am fearful. 

Yes, I am pregnant. God has given me peace about the pregnancy itself. I know this baby is healthy and vibrant now. I know it will continue to be so throughout the pregnancy. It's the end of the pregnancy - the delivery and beyond - that has me terrified. Will this baby survive? If this baby survives birth, will it survive beyond? Will I have to bury another child? 

We've been careful about who we tell and when it's appropriate to share our news. Mostly, I didn't want to be penalized. "She's already pregnant again? That didn't take long..." or, "How could they even think to do this again?" or even the polar opposite, "Oh good. Maybe now she can move past her grief over losing Harlynn." The fact is, I can't care what your reaction is. I have my own stuff to sort through in this.

So, what now? The truth is, being pregnant after any loss - a miscarriage, a stillbirth, losing a child - is terrifying.  You are gripped with fear. The what-if's race through your mind as a whirlwind. I have no innocence. I know too much. There are too many things I am aware of that "could" happen.

Talk about the miracle of life: it's a miracle any one of us is here.

My doctors have been wonderful. They've let me cry, they've hugged me tight, they've assured me they can and will do whatever it takes to bring me and baby to the end in total health. But they know, and I know, there are no guarantees. 

I'm due the end of May. We covet your prayers in this. However, the fact of the matter remains: No matter what happens, no matter the outcome, our lives and our souls rest in God's hands. He will carry us through a happy ending, or a sad one, and we will rely on Him for our strength.

Next: It's The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year
Prev: A Visit

Monday, November 25, 2013

Marriage Matters

I might be obsessed with blogging about marriage and how important it is to make it the partnership it could be. I suppose, though, of all things I could obsess about - this isn't so bad.

I woo and schmooze over how amazing Brent is as a husband and father. Just tonight he gave himself a Hello Kitty tattoo because his daughter asked him to. That alone should make your heart melt for him too. (But keep your melty heart hands off, people.)  And even though he sometimes does things that make me want to pull my own hair out for fun (like clean his glasses with my face cloth, spread dishes over the counter/stove instead of putting them in the dishwasher or even stacking them, and a host of other quirks) I will continue to fawn over him as my husband, and as one of God's best creations ever.

It works like this: when wives are crazy about their husbands, their husbands don't think their wives are crazy.

When Brent and I had been married for about seven years (insert seven-year-itch jokes here), we were in some troublesome waters. I would lie in bed and night and think about who would get the house, and how we would share custody of our cats, when we split up. Because it was obvious we were going to split up. Things were bad. Really bad.

Then I read a little book called "Love & Respect". I do believe I'm still married today because of that book - and a heap-load of dependence upon God.

I'm not saying husbands are perfect. I'm not saying men aren't jerks. I'm especially not saying women should bend over backwards and put up with harmful treatment. What I am saying is: a little respect goes a long way.

I cringe when I see some women (especially in the church!) berate, degrade, and mock their husbands. The very men they expect to carry them through their own trials and pamper them when they have a bad day, they are all too eagerly dragging through the mud. It breaks my heart. I used to be there...I used to do that... and I nearly destroyed my marriage as a result.

I heard a challenge on the radio today, and I'd like you to join in with me. Spend the next 30 days not uttering a single criticism of your spouse. And....(yes, there's more)...tell them one thing per day you're thankful for about them. It's very fitting with Thanksgiving around the corner, I think. 

Your marriage matters. This is a person you fell in love with and couldn't imagine spending the rest of your life without. This is a person you stood beside and vowed to care for and honor. This is a person who loves you like crazy. (And loves you when you ARE crazy.)

I'll never forget those words Brent spoke to me one morning as we made the bed, not talking to each other, in the midst of our discord after I started reading and implementing that book. He stood up, looked at me, and said, "Whatever you're's working."  And that was that. My heart started beating faster and I knew... I realized... I had been doing it wrong for far too long.

So - spouses - make sure your spouse knows they matter. And make sure they know they matter more than the stuff about them that drives you nuts.

And Brent - you are my knight in shining armor. You are my hero. You are my soulmate. You can clean your glasses on my face cloth any day if it means you'll stick around with me. I love you, Brent Ryan. Mushy mushy gushy goo.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

A Visit

Today at lunch, I made the all too familiar drive to the cemetery. I pulled in through the gated entry, turned down the long road that led to the infant section, and parked at the curve. I let out a sigh as I flipped up the collar of my jacket, and got out to walk to Harlynn's spot. Her spot is somewhat sheltered, so even though it was roaring-windy today,  it was just a strong breeze as I stood above her stone marker. I stared and I stared. Today was one of those days - and I've been having so many lately - where my brain cannot comprehend how it's possible my daughter died. She's underground. She was full of life, growing inside of me, and in an instant, everything we hoped and dreamed for Haley's little sister, was gone. I stood there, staring, until the chill of the wind got the better of me and I began to shiver. I told her the same thing I always tell her when I turn to leave her spot, "I love you, little girl. Every moment of every day."  

I got back in my warm vehicle and sat to watch her spot. Lately with the temperatures, I get out to make sure her place is orderly, and then I'll sit in my car a while and talk to her from the cold, and safe from having my words carried in the wind to anyone who might be nearby. On the radio, was a preacher giving a sermon about leaning on God through pain and suffering. As I settled back into my seat, he made the comment, "I've spent far too many times delivering messages at the head of tiny caskets." I heard it, I choked on it, and I began to cry. 

How is it possible?  How is this possible?!  I have to go to the cemetery to visit my daughter. It doesn't seem real, even now, even seven months on. It doesn't seem real.  I began to think of all the things that would never be. I would never see her first steps. Never hear her first words. Never have her bring me random treasures that she finds in her toy box. How is this possible?

When it was time, I drove out of the cemetery, back to work. I hadn't eaten, so I pulled in to Dairy Queen to get a hot dog while I tried to dry my eyes and pull myself together. The wind was really blowing out in the industrial open. I pulled up to retrieve my order and a lone leaf blew right in my window, looped around once, and landed squarely in my lap. "Look what I found, mommy!"

I heard it. I heard those words. I stared down at this leaf that had flown into my lap - cracked, battered, and torn. It would be something a little girl would be proud to discover. It would be something that I would say, "Oh, wow! Look at this leaf, what a great find!" as it was handed to me. It would have been. was.

I left it on my lap, and pulled ahead to the parking lot after retrieving my food. I turned it over my in my hand a few times, as I half-smiled. I almost couldn't part with it, but I carefully reached and put it back out the window. It went straight up. Straight up, and disappeared. 

Call me crazy - some of you probably do - but I'm taking it as a moment I would have never had otherwise. I may never get to spend the rest of my life getting to know Harlynn or what she'd like or take interest in, or play, or sound like....but I do believe I get glimpses of those would-have-been moments now and again. I do believe today was one of those glimpses.

I miss my daughter, terribly. As blessed as I am and have been in these months surviving without her, I miss her still. Anything I can hold on to as a tangible experience with Harlynn, I'll grasp at any opportunity.

It's a beautiful leaf, baby girl. You did such a good job. Thank you for finding it for Mommy.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Watching Over Me

I've just put laundry away, which is my least favorite household chore. I love washing and drying, and even folding. I'm very particular about how things are folded, and I become easily agitated if Brent folds something differently than I would have. Putting it away, however, is brutal. I would much rather live out of laundry baskets full of neatly folded clothes. I have always been this way. Brent can't stand it. So because I love him, once in a while I put my clothes away. Tonight was one of those once in a whiles.

While doing so, I was listening to The Canadian Tenors (who I've recently discovered dropped "Canadian" from their name...?). There was a song I've heard a dozen or more times, but when I heard it tonight, it really struck me. The song is "Watching Over Me."  Before I post it here, allow me to explain where I stand on a few things.

I've written before about lies believers believe. In addition to those, I also don't believe Harlynn is an "angel". Not in the biblical sense. I believe she is an angel of sorts in my eyes - she was and always will be perfect, innocent, and my little angel. But I do not believe she is a literal angel in heaven. She may even have wings, but I believe the Bible is very specific about angels, humans, and the souls resting in eternity, and I believe there is a distinct difference.  

I hope that makes sense.

I'm not sure if Harlynn ever gets a window from Heaven. I'm not sure if she knows what we look like, how often we go to talk to her at her resting place, or if she'll ever see us seated 'round our dinner table. I believe in my heart of hearts, however, that she somehow knows who we are, how much love we have for her, and that she looks forward as much as we do to the day we can be united in joy.

All that said for probably no point at all. But I wanted you to know it before I posted the song. I'm not sure why it struck me tonight - but it gave me such peace. Not just because the song is beautiful, but because I do believe there will always be an inexplicable connection between the life that goes on around us, and how it represents my love and relationship with Harlynn. The beauty of the sunsets, the song of a bird, the warmth of the sun upon my face - sometimes these simple things that happen all the time - make me feel incredibly close to my daughter.

I'm not asking you to understand it. I'm only asking you take me at my word for what it means to me.

It just so happens the first video I found of the song was put together by another set of loss parents. The song spoke to them as well.

The pure, the bright, the beautiful that stirred our hearts in you
The whisper of a wordless prayers; the streams of love and truth
A longing after something lost
The spirit's yearning cry
Striving after the better hopes; these things can never die

There will always be the shining sun
There will always be the rising of the sea
There will always be an angel watching over me
There will always be an angel watching over me

A timid hand stretched forth to aide a brother in his need
A kindly word in grief's dark hour that proves a friend indeed
So shall a light that cannot fade leave on thee from on high
And angel voices say to thee, these things shall never die

There will always be the shining sun
There will always be the rising of the sea
There will always be an angel watching over me
There will always be an angel watching over me

There will always be the shining sun
There will always be the ocean's rise and fall
There will always be an angel watching over me
There will always be an angel watching over all

Next: A Visit
Prev: Seven Months

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

No More Bubbly

I realize some of you may lose some...or all...respect for me for even sharing the details I am about to. I can assure you, this isn't a story I want to publish. It brings me nothing but embarrassment. Yet, for the last few days, I have felt convicted to share. And even though I don't want to, I'm going to. So if your perception of me changes, I hope our relationship doesn't.

Almost five years ago, I had my very last alcoholic drink. I wasn't an alcoholic. In fact, I was a social drinker. A lively party friend. A fun drinker. I drank once in a while, sometimes not even once a month, when we were with friends. Or family. But when I drank...dear gracious. I drank. And drank. I had no off button. And a guaranteed way to make me drink more was to tell me I should stop drinking.

I am a binge drinker.

Nearly five years ago, I drove to Wyoming to sing at my best friend's vow-renewal ceremony. There was a marvelous reception afterwards, which was more or less a class reunion. I danced with the little kids. I danced with my friends. I danced by myself. And in between cutting a rug, I drank Morgan and Diets. Lots of them. We closed down the bar and I was in no condition to drive the eight blocks to my parents' house. I hitched a ride. From the bride and groom.

So here it was, one of the most special nights of my friends' life, and I sat in the back seat of their truck. Drunk. They took me to my parents' house and we sat outside talking for a while. Suddenly, I had to pee. Badly.

I excused myself from their truck and fumbled at  the front door, trying to get the key in the knob. I dropped the keys. I picked them up and hurriedly tried to unlock the door. I couldn't hold it anymore. There, at 28 years of age, on a freezing cold night, I peed on my parents' doorstep.

And it froze.

Once I finally made it inside, I apparently dropped my coat off on the kitchen floor, went downstairs, took a fifteen second shower, changed into sweats, and went back outside - not closing the door all the way behind me - to the truck. 

While spending even more time ruining my best friend's magical evening, I cried some emotional tears over the state of my marriage, world peace, and other booze-infused woes. Finally, at 5:00 in the morning, they dropped me off, said goodnight, and went home to try to catch a few hours of sleep before catching an early morning flight to spend a renewal honeymoon.

I woke up far too early, before 8:00, and called my husband. I told him what had transpired the night before. His sympathetic "Oh, honey...." prompted me to tell him, "Babe...I have to quit drinking." He knew it. I knew it. It was time.

I walked upstairs and pretended to be anything other than hungover. The first words out of Dad's mouth were, "What's with the frozen puddle on the doorstep? What'd you do, pee?" I was mortified. And why on earth would that be the first thing he would assume? I made something up. I told him I upchucked all the water I had chugged before leaving the bar. Mom came in. "Valerie, you had us worried sick. And what is the frozen puddle on the doorstep? Pee?" If I ever felt three inches was at that moment. I lied again.

The rest of the day I was sick. Hungover. And contemplative. Here I had driven 700+ miles to be a part of my friend's special day, and made it all about me and my drunken stupor. I, once again, lost total control of my willpower and responsibility, and as a result, sacrificed my dignity. Again. I reflected on the other times I had let myself get carried away. Never did I end up proud of myself. Never were the pictures taken any bit flattering. Never did I wake up the next day and think, "You know what? I made the world a better place by being completely drunk last night. Good on you, Val. Good on you." No. All quite the contrary. I was always ashamed, always embarrassed, and always questioning my own character. 

The last drink I had was sometime shortly before 2:00 a.m. on March 1st, 2009. The very last drink. I haven't had a drop since. 

And here's the kicker. I didn't just stop drinking because I brought embarrassment upon myself. I didn't just stop drinking because I was tired of the headaches and the nausea. I didn't just stop drinking because every picture taken of me while drunk looked like I was about to trip over my drooping eyelids. I quit drinking because none of the behavior I exhibited while drunk was anything I wanted to leave as my legacy. I quit drinking because I realized I couldn't drink responsibly in social settings. 

I quit drinking because I couldn't be the God-honoring woman I desperately desired to be, especially while under the influence of alcohol. 

Now let me be absolutely clear; I do not condemn the consumption of alcohol, nor do I think you're wrong or bad if you drink. So many of you are so responsible, and that is highly commendable. I, however, wasn't one of those people. I had a problem. I let alcohol get the better of me  more often than not. So this post isn't about drinking, or alcohol, or me passing judgement on anyone who participates in said activities. It's about me, and why I quit drinking. Please don't read more into it than that.

And for the record, I came clean months later to my parents and told them their suspicions had been correct. Totally weird for them to even think of or consider, but correct.

I get asked a lot if I'll ever drink again. As if this is some hiatus from imbibing to prove my willpower and self-control are more powerful than I gave myself credit for, and once the proof is out there, I can just pick up and drink again. The answer to the question is no. I won't ever drink again. Would I be able to control myself? Most likely. But it isn't part of my life anymore. And it doesn't need to be. And I'm okay with that.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Seven Months

Seven months ago today, at 12:16 a.m., I pushed one last time and felt the wave of pressure leave my abdomen as the nurse wrapped Harlynn in a blanket to place her in my arms. Her still, perfect body, conformed to my heaving chest as I sobbed over her. Desperate for the things I would never have with her, I wrapped my finger with her hand, pleading it would somehow wake her from her eternal slumber. Those moments, that day, replay themselves continuously. So much I remember, and so much I've forgotten.

It isn't any easier, now that it's been seven months. The fact is, it makes it somewhat harder. Hard to fathom that seven months have passed by without her here. How can time not have frozen, even for a moment? How can seven months have flown by? How can the world have kept spinning as if burying her in it's earthen ground didn't slow even part of a rotation? Seven months. Seven months.

I just can't seem to wrap my mind around it. I remember so much of those days, the hospital, coming home - it doesn't seem possible that they took place all those months ago. Weeks, maybe. But months? So much has changed and so much continues to change. Every day I think about what she'd be doing, what she'd look like, how many times Haley would try to blame her for something. 

Last Sunday we went to visit our dear friends who just had a baby girl. Haley was covering their daughter with kisses and hugs. She wanted to hold her, cuddle her, and not leave her side. It was adorable. And it was heartbreaking. She should have had this. She should have been able to do this with her sister. When it was time to go, Brent asked Haley if she was ready to leave. As she crouched by the bouncer with little baby L sitting in it, she shook her head no and said, "I'm not ready. I don't want to go."  I didn't blame her. The entire time she knew I was pregnant with Harlynn, all she talked about was giving kisses and hugs and helping feed the baby, and give her baths. And here, before her, she had that opportunity. She didn't want to leave. 

I can't express to you how it made me feel, because you wouldn't understand. Some of you would try to "reason" with me on why I shouldn't feel that way. So to avoid me getting completely upset with you, I'll just tell you - you wouldn't understand. But it was devastating. And comforting. And once again, my heart swelled with pride for the beautiful little girl my Haley Laine has become. It isn't fair she lost her sister, nor will it ever be. But she was loving on her vicariously through baby L. I know it. I could see it. She is such a good big sister.

Now, as we enter the holiday season, I'm thinking of ways to make memory after memory with Haley, and including Harlynn in each of them. We'll bake cookies and frost them with purple frosting. We'll fill a shoe box for Operation Christmas Child with things Haley would have wanted to give her sister. We'll get an ornament, Harlynn's ornament, to display front and center on our tree. We'll talk about all of the reasons Haley is still an amazing big sister, and all of the ways she'll continue to be one. We'll read the Christmas story from Luke, and wonder what Harlynn is seeing in Heaven as she fellowships in person with the Lord.

And on Christmas day, the day that marks 37 weeks since losing her - the day that represents us being without her for as long as we were with her - I imagine another day of simultaneous heartache and joy. 

I realize my sentiments may seem the same. That I may sound as if I'm on repeat when I talk about missing our daughter. But what I express is all I'm able to understand. I have to process through it, no matter how long it takes or how many times I have to say it. And each of you are innocent bystanders I've taken along for the ride.

So as today marks seven months without Harlynn, I have to give pause. I remember her powerful karate kicks. Her hiccups. The doll we were going to give her. The spoiled little sister she would have been. And I have to give thanks - that if anyone were able to know her, love her, remember her - that it was us. That it was our family. 

We love you, little girl. Every moment, of every day.

Next: Watching Over Me
Prev: Thanksgiving

Saturday, November 9, 2013


I remember a time when Thanksgiving was one of my favorite holidays. Family would gather, laughter would fill the home, food and memories would be shared in abundance, and the adults would soon pass out on the furniture from their food comas while us little ones played together or watched parades and other nonsense on television. Thanksgiving was about reflection, gratitude, and the one thing no one can ever take from you (no matter how hard we may try to get them to sometimes) - family.

I remember how it never seemed like a holiday unless there were tons of people around. Aunts, Uncles, Cousins, Grandparents, Friends, Strangers - it didn't matter who. Everyone was loved, or at least tolerated, and everyone enjoyed themselves. It was family. It was being together. It was sharing in Thanksgiving. It was being grateful to live in a country that recognized the importance of such a thing. Thanksgiving was a sacred day. A wholesome day. A special day.

And now...I can't say those values have survived the generations. I can't say people look forward to gathering around a table, offering up a prayer of thanks, and looking forward to counting how many times Grandpa snores from the rocking chair.

Thanksgiving has become a holiday second to Black Friday. Second so much, that now stores are opening on Thanksgiving day to offer the latest and greatest in deals and material junk that won't work six months from now, or will have torn or somehow malfunctioned. Items that will sit on a shelf, forgotten, for years to come, or end up in next Spring's garage sale pile. Yet people are crowding, stampeding, and toppling over one another to get their hands on these....things.

The turkey doesn't even have time to cool before some are lining up outside the doors of stores to rush in and spend more money and time in a mad rush of insanity. Who would have ever thought people could die from shopping? Yet it's happened, every year most recently. No regard for one another, only the goal of getting what they want in mind, and sacrificing courtesy, character, and compassion in order to obtain it.

It's sick. It's backwards. It's sad.

This year we'll be celebrating Thanksgiving as a family of three plus one, remembering our precious Harlynn and being thankful for each other and our time with her. We'll be thanking God for bringing us through the most tumultuous year of our lives, and for not forsaking or abandoning us in our grief. We'll watch parades, play games, and eat until we pass out on the sofa from our food comas and wake when Haley pokes us in the face out of curiosity. 

We'll be staying indoors and not wandering out to public places. We'll continue to keep, and teach, the sacredness of family time and holiday meaning. We'll focus on each other instead of deals or gifts or plastic, fabricated items.

And we'll be thankful. Even if I catch the oven on fire like I did the first time I ever cooked a turkey...

Next: Seven Months
Prev: Little Miss Haley

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Little Miss Haley...

Haley Laine...I couldn't let tonight go by without penning how you filled my heart with joy and guilt and love and fear all in one fell swoop tonight. You, my special girl, made my heart melt into a puddle of mush. I want to tell you - I'm so proud of you. You're three, but you're so smart. So intuitive. So sweet. So innocent. And all the kisses in the world aren't enough to give you.

We've had a great few last days together. We've had tickle fests, dance-offs, you've helped me in the kitchen, you've given some good snuggles, and when you weren't whining or in time out, you have been an amazing three year old. I love your giggles, I love your sneaky grin, and I love it when you exclaim, "That's a great idea!"

I love it when you ask me if I can sleep with you. I love it when you don't want me to leave. I love it when you cling to me and tell me to stay. I love it when you ask if you can come with me. I love how excited you get to tell me all about your day. I love when you squeal and run to me. I love it when you ask me to turn up the radio because you want to sing along.

And through all of these activities, I always wonder, always question, always doubt, that I'm doing a good job as your mommy. I always fret you're feeling a little left out when I cry about missing Harlynn. Or when I tell you that you can't help me make your peanut butter and jelly sandwich because it's just quicker if Mommy does it. I always wonder, if given the choice, you'd want to spend time with me over Mr. Rogers or Reading Rainbow reruns. 

When I took you trick-or-treating on Halloween, you were so well-behaved. (Save for the time you helped yourself into the single man's living room as he stepped away to grab some candy...we talked about just walking into stranger's homes...)  We were surrounded by children who were not so behaved, and I found myself repeatedly thanking God he had given us such a mild-mannered little girl. When you didn't want to go to one house because it was too spooky, I was so proud of you for telling me instead of just going along with it because everyone else was. And when I told you that you had to wait until the next day to have candy because it was so late, yes you were upset, but you were so mature about it. You're three, and I have to keep reminding myself of that. Because you're such a stinkin' good kid, Haley. You really, really are.

So tonight, as Daddy and I were putting you to bed, you hugged my arm as I sat next to you, looked me straight in the eye and said, "When I grow up, I want to be just like you, Mommy."

It took me a second for what you had said to register. Surely you couldn't be serious. For all of my faults and shortcomings, you must have said something else. You want to cook just like me? Knit just like me? really said you wanted to be just like me.  And that's when my heart flooded with an entire spectrum of emotion.

I pray you don't have to learn things the hard way as I did. I pray your stubbornness only comes in to play to help you, and not to hinder you. I pray you have more patience and self-control than I do. I pray you learn to trust God a lot sooner than I did. I pray you understand what a personal relationship with him is before you're in your 20s. I pray you aren't as critical or as paranoid as I am. But I pray you hold fast in your faith in whatever circumstance life throws at you. I pray you find a man as wonderful as your daddy, and you know in your heart to hold on to him. I pray you sing at the top of your lungs, and love a-million-and-one songs. I pray you bake a pie from a pumpkin. I pray you learn how to make a mean meatloaf. And I pray you love your child or children as much as I love mine. 

And I do, sweetie. I love you more than you'll ever know. And I love that God blessed me with a little window into your head and heart tonight with those sweet, innocent words you spoke. 

And I pray I don't disappoint you. You grow up to be just like Haley Laine. And if you have a trait or two of mine, I'll consider my mothering a job-well-done.

Prev: 10.26.13