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.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The Greatest Command

Today is the last day of 2014. I never anticipate how intensely a "new chapter" affects me. This year was another roller coaster, with different peaks and valleys. We welcomed Little Man into the world at the end of April. Earlier that month on Harlynn's first heavenversary, I was heavily sedated under the influence of magnesium, in an effort to stop pre-term labor. I missed everything I had wanted to do that day. This year, I left my job of five years. I left a job of eight months. I started new adventures. I wrote. A lot. And here we are, the last day of the year.

This morning's sunrise was spectacular. The deep red sky boasted a certain authority, as the sunlight bounced off the sweeping clouds. I slept horribly last night, but being up to witness the sunrise this morning was well worth foregoing the warmth of my covers.

Last night, I was wrestling with far too many thoughts, and the consequences of eating far too many sweets. I was awake for hours. In my incessant swarm of ideas, I decided the new year was not going to be full of resolutions I wouldn't keep. I'm not going to resolve to lose weight, or exercise, or read every day, or do things I otherwise will forget or not make time for. I, instead, resolve to live toward one goal: to live out the greatest command. 

There are a lot of rules in life, most of them unwritten. There are a lot of policies and procedures we're expected to follow. There are certain ways to do certain things, and certain people who are called to walk certain paths with certain steps. But really, there is only One certainty, and He has given me the greatest command.

This coming year, I will strive to love God with all my heart, all my soul, all my mind, and all my strength. I will be purposeful in my thoughts, actions, and words. I will do everything with the intention of bringing Him glory. And when I fail (for we all fall short), I will try again.

This coming year, I resolve to be all in. Heart. Soul. Mind. Strength. I will be present. I will be purposeful. I will be prayerful. I will persevere.

Obviously, I don't know - or have any control over - what the next year has in store for me. I do know, however, that I can approach it with a spirit of tenacity and confidence. 

What does 2015 have in store for you?

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Christmas Thanks

Last year, Christmas wasn't my favorite. I was distraught, angry, overwhelmed with grief, and overcome by mountains of "stuff". Christmas day marked 37 weeks we had been without Harlynn, who lost her life at 37 weeks. There were a lot of tears. I holed myself up with my husband and my daughter, and the three of us made our own memories, with our own schedule, and our own agenda. That in itself was wonderful, but it wasn't the kind of Christmas I typically would have looked forward to. Afterward, I shared some pointed thoughts on Christmases of the future, and got some pointed feedback in return. I was glad to close the books on last Christmas. I didn't care to repeat any of last year. Christmas, or otherwise.

This year was different. Dare I say, this year was wonderful.

My in-laws, God bless them, sent some amazingly creative gifts. When we put pizza boxes under our tree, we were wondering what on earth could be inside, and why pizza boxes? Brent's family opens gifts on Christmas Eve, and since we couldn't be with them this year, we did the next best thing by opening their presents Christmas Eve. The pizza boxes contained dough. Money dough. I had a moneyroni pizza. It was awesome, and adorable, and we got a good chuckle out of it. Little Miss and Little Man were given the perfect toys, and Brent and I were each given very thoughtful, meaningful gifts. (Thank you, G & P!) It was a great way to kick off the Christmas holiday.

After gift-opening, we went to Christmas Eve service with my parents. It was a wonderful service, as usual, and I love our church family. Love, love, love. I thank God every week and then some for leading us to these people and this community. When church was over, my sister, her husband, and their boys had arrived and met us back at our house. I had cooked a turkey dinner with all the fixings and we had a wonderful time together. Papa got to read The Night Before Christmas to all the grandkids. It's one of my favorite traditions. My Grandpa Fox read it to us, from that very book my dad is holding, whenever he was at our house for Christmas.

That night, I wrote my letter to Harlynn to place in her stocking. The tears stung my eyes as I wrote, but the pen wasn't as heavy as last year. The words came a little easier. The tone carried a little more hope. I love my little girl so much, and I'm so thankful to have found a way to include her every Christmas. Her stocking may hold only paper notes, but it also carries the full-on weight of a mother's love. 

Christmas morning, I was the first one up. I started making cinnamon rolls for breakfast. Our gift to my family this year was my cooking. With the job situation and our financial calamity, it was the most thoughtful, practical gift we could come up with. They were pretty surprised when I had gifts for them to open Christmas morning, but I didn't stray from my word of my gift being my cooking. Mom & Dad got an Italian themed kit. Spaghetti noodles (Dakota Wheat, of course), tomato sauce, Parmesan cheese - and homemade Italian seasoning. Sis & Bro got a Mexican themed kit. Taco shells, refried beans, salsa - and homemade taco seasoning. 

Before gift opening, though, we did our second reading tradition. Brent read Luke chapter two, the story of Christ's birth. My favorite verse from all of that is verse 19. Any mother, I think, notices that verse in the Christmas story. I ponder so many things, and I can only imagine how her heart was filled, watching her infant son being worshiped and praised, knowing he would one day, somehow, save mankind. 

We got some of the coolest, most thoughtful, meaningful, loving gifts this year. Truly. It was wonderful. This morning, Brent and I enjoyed free Starbucks courtesy of my aunt and uncle. I wore a purple scarf all day today (and yesterday), courtesy of another aunt. Dad made - M A D E - everyone gorgeous candles. And on, and on, and on I could go. 

We laughed (hard), and joked and made new memories with new inside jokes. I cooked more in two days than I've cooked probably this entire year. The kiddos had a blast playing with one another. And though it was a lot of work to cook and host and keep Little Man out of the fallen pine needles from the tree, it was a little sad to have it all come to an end.

Today, our company left. We took down the tree and put away the Christmas decorations. We organized our holiday storage, and made room for a fresh start to a new year. I did a little shopping, a little work, and a lot of cleaning. 

Tomorrow, we'll go to church. We'll come home and prepare for the week ahead. We'll enjoy having Daddy home an extra day this coming week. And we'll look back on 2014 with a sigh and a smile. 

It was a good Christmas. It was a good holiday. And it was a better year than last. Thank you, to all of you, who held us tenderly this year as we went along. Thank you for loving us, for listening to us, and for standing by us even when we (mostly, me) didn't make a shred of sense to you. Thank you for making this year gentler on our mending hearts. 

And thank you for the lattes. 

Monday, December 22, 2014

Tug Of War

It's December 22nd. There isn't a flake of snow left on the ground, it's 38*, and raining outside. In North Dakota. It's amazing. The snow is on its way, but for now, I'm soaking in the glorious view of my (dead) grass in the yard, and the visible pavement. All too soon, and for all too long, we'll be covered in a thick blanket of white. The sun will shine, the chill will be stark, and this warmth and wet will long be forgotten.

No snow. But lots of coffee.
It's also a Monday. Three days before Christmas. My family will be on their way to see us tomorrow. There are presents under the tree, meals waiting to be made, and goodies waiting to be consumed. In fact, my groceries just arrived via delivery. Hang on, I need to get the door.


Have I ever mentioned I love grocery delivery? Back to blogging.

This morning when I woke up, I still sounded ridiculous. I've got (another) some kind of sickness that has taken my normal voice hostage, and has me sounding like a pubescent Barry White. I drug myself to the kitchen (because I am not a morning person) and got some milk warming for Little Man. I sat and stared at the lights on the tree, because that's the only light I can handle first thing in the morning. I like dark and quiet. 

After Little Man ate his fill, I snuggled him despite his wriggling, and headed downstairs to get to work. Yes, I get to work in my home, in my pajamas, while simultaneously wrestling Mr. Muscles for some affection, I have a pretty sweet deal.

And that's where the tug-of-war rests. It's almost Christmas. There is a sense of holiday cheer in the air I haven't felt for a while. Anticipation. Excitement. On top of that, there's joy and gratitude for my job. The people I get to interact with and work for every week. These, then, are tangled with that old familiar ache. Harlynn is missing. 

It's exhausting, while my feelings and emotions battle it out for which will be felt most dominantly. Taking turns, they stand atop my heart and echo their victory cry above the canyons my life has carved through its veins. Every pulse, every beat, adds to the weight of the story it carries. One second, elated. The next, distraught. Though I'm sitting completely still, I feel utterly worn out. It is an internal tug-of-war.

This is Little Man's first Christmas. I'm excited to keep him from eating the ribbon and wrapping paper, as I know those will interest him more than any gift. I'm excited to see how he interacts with his cousins. His Papa and Gramma. His Auntie and Uncle. I'm excited for them to see how he drags himself from point A to point B, pausing intermittently to prop himself up on all fours and rock. 

Last night, as I rocked him to sleep, I prayed a prayer over him (and Little Miss) that would cover all of my shortcomings as their mother. I also prayed that Harlynn would forever be a part of their lives. No matter the hustle and bustle and crazy that fill our days, I don't ever want her to be an after-thought. It makes me so proud when Little Miss brings up her sister, and strikes me so solemnly at the same time.

The other day when I went to the cemetery, the fog was covering the entire city. It was the most peaceful, perfect, and pristine visit to Harlynn I had experienced to date. The deer and turkeys were in numbers I had never seen before, no doubt feeling protected by the thick blanket of gray. They moved without a sound, sojourning to find apples and corn left out for them by the groundskeepers. While I loathe the fact I have to go to a cemetery to spend time with my middle child, I rejoice I get to have moments no one else does. Another tug-of-war. I hate to love it there.

Now as I wait for Christmas to arrive, and as I'll be a willing prisoner of my kitchen, gifting my family with food and fun, my heart beats a little harder on the back-and-forth pulls of emotion. 

I pray for a gentle Christmas. I pray for many moments of merry. I pray though she won't unwrap any gifts from the tree, or wrestle with her siblings or cousins, she is still a very present part of our Christmas. Of our lives.

Merry Christmas, Harlynn.

Monday, December 15, 2014

A Christmas Letter From a Bereaved Believer

It's the time of year when cards keep the USPS in business, and families are left with the decision of whether or not to include a letter. With social media, almost everyone knows everything about us as it is. Yet, one time a year, we have a chance to share our highlights, dreams, and well wishes on a piece of festive paper, complete with our picture of smiling faces, coordinating outfits, and Christmas catch phrases.

For some of us, however, the "Merry" in our Christmas may seem a little out of reach. Some of us have been through hell-on-earth. Some of us are bereaved, broken, and bewildered. So what do we say? What do we compose for a letter no one wants to read? 

I, myself, didn't do a letter this year. What would people read that they didn't know already? We had our son, who brings light and life to our lives along with Little Miss. We miss our daughter, Harlynn, every moment of every day. That sums up our year. Our days. Every day. 

Yesterday's sermon, however, gave me pause. (Again. It's like God speaks through His Word or something. Weird.) Christmas letters are so much more than a highlight reel. They're a testimony. I could have written a letter this year...and it might have gone something like this:

Season's greetings from our family to yours.

This year was full of heartache and hope, as was the year before. There is not a season, or a month, or a week, or a day, we do not miss our baby girl. Our aching and longing for her is a permanent fixture, as if it has now joined our family as a physical member. We feel her presence, yet her void, every moment. 

Little Miss had her Christmas program at church, and while it was cute and adorable, I was struck by the fact we'll never see Harlynn perform. I'll never pick out her Christmas dress. Fix her hair in pigtails. We'll skip right over the years of her involvement and prepare Little Man for his performance debuts. The holidays especially, amid their cheer and joy, are an ever-present reminder of the moments we'll never have.

There are days when the heartache overcomes me. Days when I crumble beneath the weight of my grief. Days when the lack of understanding from others only adds to the burden of my suffering. There are days that are incredibly dark and heavy, and the feeling of missing Harlynn wraps itself around me and rests upon my shoulders. I still feel incomplete. I still feel broken. I still feel amiss.

However...there is hope. I look back on this year and I see the many blessings we received. The many ways in which we were provided for. The many comforts heaped upon us in our hours of need. Little Man arrived safely, and has been an immeasurable joy. His addition to our family has brought more love (and less sleep) than we could have predicted. Our jobs, our home, our time together as a family, our time with loved ones, the friends who have been rock-solid for us - we can't give enough thanks or praise to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine. 

God gave us clarity. Direction. Purpose. He gave us freedom to mourn. To rejoice. He gave us health. He gave us light and life. He gave us comfort. Understanding. He gave us forgiveness. Hope. Future.

He gave us the ability to see, and to recognize, His light in the midst of our tunnels. 

As this year draws to a close and we once again surge ahead to the "new" and the unknown, we will trust. We will cling. We will believe no matter what lies ahead, He holds us. In our brokenness, in our joy, and in our journey, we lean on Him with every step. 

May your Christmas be gentle, and may your hearts feel full.

Praying for and with you,

The Kleppens

Friday, December 12, 2014

When the Time is Right

Brent and I used to host gatherings in our home all the time. Actually, I should say Brent was gracious enough to tolerate my need for hosting gatherings. He was also great at last-minute-panic-cleaning, which is usually how I tended to operate. We had a 90s themed party, white elephant gift parties, birthday parties, movie nights - all sorts of gatherings. They were a riot, usually, and hosting filled my tank. It was one of my favorite things to do.

Then Harlynn died.

My love for gathering with friends was replaced by my love of personal reflection, needing space, quiet, and refuge. The thought of hosting other people made me physically uncomfortable; this was something I had never experienced before. I had a few friends ask me when I was going to host parties again. There was a time I would have thought, "never". Yet I would answer with, "When I'm ready." or "When the time is right."

I decided this year, this month, the time was right. Kind of. A little bit. Using my passive-aggressive tendencies as my shield, I decided to have a white elephant gift exchange. I knew if I hosted it during the week, beyond the first week of December, I probably wouldn't have a big turn out. Everyone is busy this time of year, and with so much else going on, it would be difficult to get people to come. I could ease my way back into this hostess persona.

How does that saying go? "If you want to make God laugh, tell him about your plans."

We have a history of having anywhere from six to eight people show for our white elephant parties. They're usually the smallest gatherings. Or at least they were. We had 16 people last night. Six. Teen. Sixteen. Our home is big enough to comfortably accommodate 10, maximum. We were very cozy in my living room.

Being a little rusty at hostessing, I felt the need to get the party underway as soon as possible. We drew numbers and were off selecting gifts. I have to tell you, I haven't laughed so hard in such a long time. My face was sore before the night was up, The next morning, my cheeks still ached. 

My biggest disappointment of the night was the fact our guests had to leave. We put Little Miss and Little Man to bed, and I sat in our living room, feet propped up, telling my husband repeatedly how much fun it was. He agreed. 

Our home may be small, but when it's full of friends, laughter, and hilarious treasures of gifts, I'm okay with being cozy. Especially since it allowed me the opportunity to see this up close and personal...

The time was right. I was able to talk about Harlynn with our friends. Her stocking hung with the rest of ours. Her special ornaments were displayed prominently on our tree. Harlynn bear was sitting in the living room with the rest of us. We had her blessing to host the party.

It took 20 months before I was ready to open my home, my heart, up to hosting again. It was the time table that was right for me.

I just want to encourage you: whatever you're going through, whatever you're facing, and whatever you struggle with, you can return to glimpses of yourself, of what you're comfortable with, when the time is right. It doesn't have to be today. It doesn't have to be this month. This year. This decade. The Lord will prompt you when the time is right. And when it is, you'll be ready. And if you're only "kind of" ready, as I was, power through. It just might surpass your expectations.

I can't wait to host another party...

"There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens." 
~ Ecclesiastes 3:1

Thursday, December 4, 2014

A Christmas Letter

Hi Harlynn,

It's the holiday season again. I've been playing Christmas music, putting up decorations, and anticipating the marathon cooking I'll be doing once your Papa, Gramma, Auntie, Uncle, and cousins arrive for Christmas. I don't love the cold, but I do love this time of year. 
I hung your stocking a few days ago. The letter I wrote last Christmas is still inside. I haven't had the courage to take it out and read where my heart was a year ago. I'll add another one this Christmas Eve as I place little love gifts in the other stockings as well. I love that I can do that for you, that it can be my gift to you. A tradition all my own. 

I've found my mind start wandering in thinking about this holiday season were you here with us. What Christmas dress you would wear. How many gifts you would try to open before Christmas morning. What you would be interested in. Your big sister wants "decorations for my room" for Christmas. Isn't she the sweetest? Your little brother, I'm sure, just wants food. That kid can eat. And eat. And then eat some more. And the drool. Oh Harlynn, you should see the mass amounts of drool he produces. It makes your mama shudder.

Tuesday, I was stopped at a stoplight, and a mommy was walking across the street with her little girl. She was adorable, all bundled up in her winter coat, her showy snow boots, hat, and mittens. She would have been about your age, and she struggled to keep up with her mommy as she crossed in front of me. I never know what will trigger it. I never know when or why the tears will fall. Watching her hold her mommy's hand, and skip hurriedly through the crosswalk, did me in. I hope her mommy hugs her extra tight tonight.

This Christmas is different from last year. Rather than being angry for all the things I'll never experience with you, I've found I'm far more hopeful. Far more appreciative. I'm so thankful I get to remember you, memorialize you, honor you, so publicly. I'm so grateful as we head into the Christmas holiday, I get to hang a stocking for you. Special ornaments on the tree. I'm so thankful you'll always be a part of our family - at Christmas, and always. 

You would love our tree. It's beautiful, and it smells so good. When it was frozen, and in our van from the lot, I thought it smelled....not great. Now that it has warmed up and it's been watered, it smells like the Christmas trees I remember as a kid. If you find yourself next to a scotch pine, give it a big whiff. I'm sure the scents in heaven are far more lovely than in our living room.

I just wanted to you to know that I miss you. Still. Always. I think of you, I speak your name, every day. This Christmas is no different. It's hard not having you here. It's hard. If the lump in my throat could do any bit of good in bringing you back, it would have happened long ago. I long for the day we can all be reunited. I long for the gift of finally being able to look into your eyes. 

Until then, I'll be down here, loving you. I'm trying to take good care of your daddy, sister, and brother. Some days are better than others. They would tell you as much. Merry Christmas, sweetheart. Tell Jesus your mama says "happy birthday". 

All my love and then some,