With great sadness, I wanted to share this with you…

Vivienne (to Grandmom):

“You know, my mom won’t be bringing the baby home with her from the hospital.

But d’ya wanna know what’s great about it?

The baby is in Heaven… and didn’t even have to read the Bible to get there!”

Some of you knew, some of you didn’t know, that Ryan and I were so happily expecting our third child. At our 20 week ultra-sound appointment, we discovered that the baby had stopped growing at 18 weeks and was no longer alive.

And, so, I don’t really know what else to write except that we are journeying through a stillbirth.

I’ve always thought of it as one of life’s single-most terrifying words: stillbirth.

I’ve always thought of it as being a quiet, sterile experience with no pulse; no energy.

But, there we were… laboring, crying, reaching, and waiting.

And I realized I had overlooked all of the movement there would be.

All of the agony, anxiety, care, love, turmoil, shock, shifting, and growing of mother, father, nurses, doctors, grandparents, children…

All the beating hearts and falling tears and mourning groans…

The only stillness, really, is that precious little body that emerges to say, “I was really here. But I am not any more.”

And that one little person is so very, very still.

While everyone and everything  keeps moving, and pulsing, and groaning, and hurting.

***

It’s only been one day since.

But, I wanted to let you know about it because it’s very hard for me to pick up the phone or talk about it in person.

***

We’ve had incredible, overwhelming support from friends and family – even from some folks who we do not even know, but who are entering our mourning process with the perfectly placed Scripture or word.

On Tuesday morning, Ryan and I were like a mommy and daddy sheep, grazing contentedly on a mountaintop, not realizing that, the next moment, when we turned our heads, we’d be whirling headlong down a cliff, into the valley of the shadow of death, running, feet over feet just to keep up with the plunge.

But, no sooner had our feet hit the depths of the valley, when we heard the thundering…

…the thundering footsteps of dozens and dozens of people, running headlong behind us, to meet up with us there.

And to surround us. All around.

We thank God that people – like sheep – follow one another with such devotion.

So, though we are here in the valley, God Himself remains our rock, and our family and friends remain our companions, hovering all around, even as Christ is with us here.

And our baby – a sweet darling if ever there was – is in Heaven (and didn’t even have to read the Bible to get there).

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Gather your beloved family close and make a place for each one.

On Sunday, we buried Juliette Abigail Booz (Young one; Joy of the Father) in a beautiful place by the water, right here with us.

***

God opened the roses just in time for her memorial.

***

Losing Juliette is truly the most difficult experience of my life.

Yet, I can say with all of my heart that the Lord is my rock and there is no unrighteousness in Him.

Thank you for all of your prayers and overwhelming support. Surely we are carried along.

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Light in the Shadows

Amidst the mourning, there are rays of pure light. Like when I saw Ryan riding the tractor down the lane for the first time. Like when Vivienne swings tirelessly on the tire swing. Like when Lia does, well, just about anything. My life surrounded by such beloved people. After all of the loving and heartache that goes on in a lifetime, may we all savor the treasure that hides behind, “made in the image of God”.

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Things are not okay.

A dear friend is watching the girls today. I guess she saw that I just need some rest.

As soon as they drove out of the driveway, I came in with a sigh. Sat down, and asked the Holy Spirit what I should I do with my heart.

He brought to my mind the IHOP prayer room, which is open online 24/7. I clicked in the play arrow and this is what He pulled out of my heart

I’d love for you to listen, too, if you have 15 minutes. Just select 8 a.m. Monday with Jon Thurlow. Find minute 1:41 towards the end of the play bar and listen all the way through to “My Little One” at the end.

And so we embrace the heartsick longing for Jesus to make all things new.

Things as they are, are not okay.

When someone is missing.

When someone is absent…

Things are not okay right now.

Things are not okay.

No, they won’t be ’til You come back.

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Our Three Girls

Last summer, I had bought two flower fairies from a young friend who has an exquisite talent.

I could see “Vivienne” and “Lia” each in a flower fairy; and they’ve been flying in the girls’ bedroom ever since.

Here’s Vivienne’s:

and Lia’s:

When we lost Juliette, one of my first deep desires was to have a third little flower-fairy. (I guess you never know what’s going to be important in moments like this.)

So, I asked Charlotte to make one for our baby, without any suggestions about colors, etc. from me. I just trusted her artist’s heart.

So, Juliette’s flower-fairy arrived today.

And I think she’s just perfect.

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The Grave and the Cross

(Juliette’s grave)

Nothing – nothing – causes me to cling to the Cross like the grave.

It’s all too tangible now.

More than ever before,

I need Jesus Christ to return and to make all things right.

(Bear with me for the next week or so. It’s just that I have a lot of thoughts about things… and I think I’ll share some of them here.)

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(Ryan and Laura sitting by Juliette’s grave)

Father’s Day. Out of town for the weekend. Late to church.

Of course, our seats were in the front.

As we slid into place, the Assistant Pastor was calling out the names of young fathers whose wives had delivered babies this year.

One by one, the fathers came forward; big smiles; gratefully accepting their gift: a pound of yummy-flavored coffee.

When the Pastor was finished reading through his list of names, he had one more bag left.

“One bag left! Any other fathers out there whose wives delivered a baby or are expecting a baby this year?”

Ryan and I pressed into each other for support and sat, silently. We knew we just couldn’t jump up and down, waving our arms for a pound of coffee. This was a celebration of receiving children. We couldn’t bear to blanket it with our loss. But in our hearts, we cried out, “We did! We delivered a baby this year! Her name is Juliette and she is beautiful and perfect and sweet… We did…”

And there it was: in the midst of an otherwise sunny, coffee-filled Sunday: Sorrow.

Nor did my sister and her husband jump up and down, waving their arms for a pound of coffee, though they had every reason to. For, at the same time that the Lord received Juliette, He began crafting their baby. Joy!

We all just sat in silence.

Because, suddenly, what’s a pound of coffee??

When sorrow and joy mingle, their dance silences the room; their bitter-sweet union is beyond human understanding.

So, all we can do is gasp for breath under the weight of their entwined hands.

And then, if we can muster up the energy, we grasp each other’s hands, weep if we must, laugh if we may, and wonder.

***

Joy in affliction is rooted in the hope of resurrection, but our experience of suffering also deepens the root of that hope.

- John Piper

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Holding You

(Still Father’s Day. Still at church.)

After the Assistant Pastor finished up acknowledging the new fathers and giving them pounds of coffee, a woman slid into her seat directly in front of me.

In her arms, she held her 6-day-old infant.

He was so small.

He was unspeakably precious.

His tiny ruddy head reminded me of something so familiar and yet so distant…

I wanted to hold him in the worst way.

And yet, I knew he wasn’t mine to hold.

He was hers to hold.

She patted his back and shushed him as he stirred.

The tears poured from my eyes; rushing out of a deep well of sorrow.

Sometimes I can stifle tears. Not these. They would not be stopped.

And I realized, there it was again: one person’s joy; another person’s sorrow.

I am longing to hold my baby again.

And yet, it is I who am being held by my Father. I am just like a baby: helpless and newly-born into a world of sorrow.

I am longing to soothe a crying infant.

And yet, they are my tears that are being collected and comforted.

Because I just couldn’t contain my tears, God walked me out of the sanctuary and sat with me in the church’s library until I could calm down. Just like a Father would.

I realized there that, as much as it grieves my heart, it simply is not my time to hold.

It is my time to be held.

Ryan and my sister, Julie, came out after me, with caring eyes and comforting hearts. In a way, they said to the Lord, “Let us hold her for a while” just the way an experienced grandmother would offer to hold a crying baby for a young mother or father. You know how.

I guess that’s where you’ll find me these days. Being held. By Jesus. By the Father. By the Holy Spirit. By my mother. By my father. By my husband, my sisters, my daughters, my in-laws, my neighbors, my friends.

Held. Because all I want to do is to hold.

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(This song was given to us by a family at our church. Just this one song and a card with pressed pansies and wildflowers. Just this one song. How could they have known that the girls and I have played this song over and over and over again as we drive back and forth past the cornfields??)

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Maybe it’s okay…

Maybe it’s okay for a child to face the grave.

Though we live in a culture, and are – thankfully – still part of a generation where the grave is rare, our family hasn’t had the luxury of avoiding the grave this time. (Shoot, and I’d done such a good job of replacing all of the old morbid nursery rhymes with idyllic daydreams. I’d established a nice little “of course not, honey, you’ll never die” subconscious environment that, I’m now realizing isn’t the most hopeful or life-affirming approach afterall.)

Last week, Vivienne was paging through In Felicity’s World, a compliment to the American Girl books. She stopped at a photo of a baby-doll that was tucked into a baby-doll-sized coffin. She asked me what it was. The caption explained that, because 50% of children under 6-years of age died during colonial times, this was a common toy to help children face the grave. That took my breath away. Although I don’t plan on adopting such a toy or belaboring a difficult topic for our children, I did wonder if colonial children embraced their faith in Jesus Christ more readily because they saw, quite plainly, why they had to.

I wonder if we, with our very low mortality rate, have turned our eyes away from the grave so well that we do not face it until we are 60 years old and our parents pass away from old age. But if we do not face the grave until we are 60, we wait that long to face our arch enemy; to truly understand our great need for Jesus’ triumph. Perhaps, on the rare occasion when death does touch someone we know or love, it’s a good idea to bring our children with us into mourning. Then, we will stand side-by-side anticipating Christ’s promised comfort.

Seeing how well both girls have processed Juliette’s death and burial so far, seeing how triumphant their faith has become as they believe more deeply in their Savior and anticipate the day when we will be reunited, and seeing how my own faith has grown and my own eyes have been opened to the gospel with a new desperation, I think that maybe it’s okay for children to face the grave when death occurs.

I think it’s okay for children to look upon a loved one’s body that is returning to the earth, and mourn. I think it’s okay for them to cry. Or to stare, wide-eyed. Or, perhaps, to dance by that grave, as sweet Lia did for Juliette.

I think it’s okay for children to see for themselves that the grave is desperately wrong; to recognize their own need for a righteous Man to wipe their tears away and make all things new.

Perhaps their faith will grow as we hold their hands and explain the gospel to them at that grave site: that Jesus Christ gave his life so that our spirits could rise to greet Him; that He will appear in the sky, will create a new earth, and will restore all things.

And if we do that – dealing gently and honestly with them through the mourning – I think that they will not develop an obsession with death; but with life.

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How She Won My Heart

When I delivered Juliette, I wasn’t expecting to feel the same bonding that I felt with our other children.

I wasn’t expecting to feel that deep love that took root when I held our first two squirmy, crying, nursing daughters.

And yet, I did.

She lay so still in the crook of my arm, and my heart gushed with love for her.

(I shouldn’t have been surprised, because God allows the same post-delivery hormones to race through the body; the same maternal instincts to rise up in the heart; so a mommy can know and love each and every one of her babies.)

I was smitten.

I looked at her little red body, which needed so much more time to develop, and I loved her.

No, she was not much to look at; for she was not meant to be seen yet!

But I felt so pleased about who she was; I am so pleased about how far she had come.

I am proud of her.

So very proud of her.

And I want the world to see our little girl.

What a wonder! What a delight! What a beauty!

The mystery is, she did absolutely nothing to win my heart.

She didn’t have to do anything to win my heart.

But did she ever.

So I caught a glimpse – just a glimpse – of the Father’s love for us.

Suddenly, it all made sense that even when we were dead in our trespasses and sins, God’s love for us gushed forth and Christ died for us.  It all made sense that His love for me doesn’t even consider anything I might do, be, or accomplish to earn it.

He just loves me.

I have done nothing to win His heart, for His heart has won me.

(Thank you, my dear Juliette, for teaching me the gospel.)

(Oh, the inspiration that may come your way through 10 Million Miles… Become a follower today!)

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These notes are for myself to remember how much certain gifts have meant to me; to remember that, in time, that’s the way I want to give, too.

A list of the gifts that have ministered such grace to me during my mourning…

Some are well-worn beloved sentiments that work every time; others are surprising gifts that were just what I needed.

* someone listening

* someone crying with me

* anyone praying for me

* dear family and friends traveling miles to be with us

* unafraid comfort from other women who are pregnant

* flowers. Bright, beautiful, alive flowers

* playing catch with a boy at a picnic where I otherwise didn’t want to speak

* The words, “I’m so sorry…”

* The request, “Tell me about her…”

*2 blueberry bushes

* CDs of music

* cards from close friends; cards from strangers

* water balloon fights

* The words, “I love her name!”

* Meals. If ever I have been tossed upside down, this is it. Meals kept us keeping time and eating well. One of our most inspiring meals was filled to the brim with every blessing possible: a card with sentiments from each husband and wife; a vase of fragrant wild flowers; grilled chicken; tortellini salad; fruit salad; 3 types of artisan bread; and anti-oxidant popsicles for dessert. (Yes, I cried with delight.)

* a package that contained an adorable t-shirt from my favorite store in the world

* hard work

* caring people watching our children when I needed time alone

* swimming laps

* the so so many treasured words from friends and strangers who reached through cyberspace to deliver messages of hope, comfort, and sympathy.

Thank you, thank you for the gifts.

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Sorrow into Healing

(You’re going to think this is a strange thing to get all sentimental about, but it was meaningful to me as I continue to weave through the mourning process…)

The other day, Vivienne lost her earring-back in grandmom and grandpop’s car.

She told me later that she had been so upset about it that she was crying and crying. She was concerned about her ears closing up; about germs getting in and causing infection.

Grandpop pulled over to the side of the road. Grandmom searched the seats.

Vivi told me that once she replaced the earring and its back, she remembered that salt-water has a purifying effect, so she took one tear and rubbed it under her right earring; she took another tear and rubbed it under her left earring.

I told her that she was turning sorrow into healing, and she smiled at me, knowing just what I meant.

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What Due Dates Mean

Maybe you’ll remember that I posted this same photo way back in February.

At the time, I was enjoying the early weeks of my third pregnancy. I was happy and content as I felt life growing and changing inside of me. Yet, I glimpsed something profound about Lia asking to wear her bathing suit for two weeks in a row, despite the 2 feet of snow outside. This is what I wrote that day:

“Why we need each other:

…because sometimes,

in the middle of winter,

when the snow just keeps coming and coming,

one of us begs to put on a bathing suit and,

smelling of last year’s chlorine and sunblock,

reminds the rest of the family that spring is on its way;

that seasons give way to seasons;

and that today is a good one to hope.”

I loved the photo so much that it instantly became the background on my computer, and has been ever since.

So, as things would go, I find myself approaching the due date of Juliette’s expected birth. The big day that we so joyously shared with countless people for 20 whole weeks, until we said good-bye to Juliette in May. Since then, October 10, 2010 (10-10-10!) has become an ache, a sigh.

And yet, it’s the craziest thing, because I find myself with something precious to look forward to on that very same weekend: a part in a musical.

A silly, childish musical. (Snoopy!!! The Musical of all things, chock full of bright songs and cartoonish jokes.) But it has been the perfect antidote as I approach 10-10-10. Who could have guessed that my voice would feel stronger than ever, my heart more expectant than ever, and my smile easier than it has been in a long, long time?

This is God’s merciful gift: that I will be surrounded by giggling children, and caring parents – not to mention singing, dancing, and simple childhood pleasure – on the very weekend I anticipated meeting Juliette. With Ryan, Vivienne, Lia, and other family and friends by my side, it will be a sweet weekend. And, in my heart, Juliette’s due date will be commemorated with a simple, local-theater delight.

By the way, I had never shown you the front of Lia’s bathing suit that barren day in February.

I will say it again: these personal, unexpected, good gifts from our Father remind me that today is a good one to hope.

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Some time has passed since I’ve written about the stillbirth of our daughter. At the time, I wrote some serious and reflective words. And now, I feel the freedom and passion to write some not-as-serious, but kind-of-important words. You might find them insensitive or inappropriate, but I think any woman would appreciate the insight you’ll have in your back pocket after reading this post!

I have thought about this post every day for the past 8 months, because I couldn’t wait to tell you to gently help your friends who experience miscarriage or stillbirth not to color their hair immediately afterward! If she does color her hair, it might only add to her depression.

You see, I dyed my hair right after delivering our baby. And I wish I hadn’t. It turned into a nightmare that wouldn’t end.

My body felt deathly, my hair was falling out, my emotions were out of control, and my heart was broken. One day, I just wanted to feel pretty again, so I thought that high-lighting my hair would give me a little lift, ya know? Well, if I would have expressed my intentions aloud to anyone, I might have gotten some good feedback, like “DON’T DO IT!” but I boldly slathered on the medium blond mix and watched as my hair turned bright, carrot orange.

Then, I tried to correct the carrot, and gasped as my hair turned lime green.

With my thin hair, now orange-and-green-striped, I finally trudged into the salon, where the stylist looked at me with wide-eyes and explained that women should never dye their hair when they have been emotionally or hormonally stressed, because hair reacts in crazy, unpredictable ways. “Oh,” I replied glumly, as she painted on the necessary blue dye to counter-act the orange.

She was able to offer a temporary fix that washed out in a few days. (She refused to use real dye.) Nonetheless, every follicle on my head was already fried.

Not the “pretty” I was going for when I first started out.

My hair continued to fall out for a little while, but, boy-oh-boy, it held onto that red color with all of the determination in the world. Don’t get me wrong, I love red-heads! I’m just not meant to be one of them!

When I became pregnant again, my hair started thickening up and growing back. (Praise be to God! Truly!) So now, I have that little baby-hair bang that surrounds a forehead and never lays quite right. My color is gradually returning to its natural state.

But my heart is holding onto this fervent plea: if you are close enough to a woman who is enduring an emotional or hormonal crisis, figure out some amazing way to encourage her not to spontaneously color her hair. Find ways to tell her that she’s beautiful just the way she is, even as her body ages more rapidly through the stress and strain of life. Pleasant words are healing to the body and soul. A box (or two) of hair dye is not.

 

* Many thanks to those of you who really did minister countless pleasant words to me during my suffering. I am certain that you upheld me greatly! Who knows what I would have resorted to without you! You should not, in any way, feel responsible for my naivete. Or for my hair!

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Who is Like God?

I’ve never felt satisfied by the book of Job when we learn that God blessed the latter part of his life more significantly than the beginning. We all know that no amount of children or wealth would help him to forget his losses. The rest of his life – as bounteous as it may have been – was forever marked by his trials. Surely, he continued to mourn for his dead children, just as he rejoiced over his living children. The significant blessings that God poured out on him were glorious, but they did not replace or erase the significant losses.

I don’t believe that was God’s intention.

So, whenever I get to the the conclusion of that ancient story, I can’t help but return to a question that God asks Job earlier in the story. Like the chorus of a catchy tune on the radio, God’s question replays in my mind long after the dust has settled and Job is once again feasting at a table full of family and friends:

1 Then the LORD spoke to Job out of the storm. He said:

2 “Who is this that obscures my plans
with words without knowledge?
3 Brace yourself like a man;
I will question you,
and you shall answer me.

4 “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?”

Throughout the 38th and 39th chapter, God bombards Job with similar questions – demanding “Who is like Me?” “Who is like Me?”

Under such questioning, the human heart melts to putty. All Job can say (and we, too) is:

2 “I know that you can do all things;
no purpose of yours can be thwarted.
3 You asked, ‘Who is this that obscures my plans without knowledge?’
Surely I spoke of things I did not understand,
things too wonderful for me to know.

4 “You said, ‘Listen now, and I will speak;
I will question you,
and you shall answer me.’
5 My ears had heard of you
but now my eyes have seen you.
6 Therefore I despise myself
and repent in dust and ashes.”

That is the scene that keeps replaying in my mind as I think about our sweet Juliette, who awaits us in Heaven, and our sweet baby boy, who awaits us in my womb. When friends ask how I am doing as the one-year memorial comes and goes, I feel tongue-tied. One foot stands in sorrow and the other in unspeakable joy. I feel like my eyes are turned upwards, my hands are open, and I am unable to form an explanation for why life is one way and not another. The only response that comes to mind is that ancient question that God asks each of us over and over again throughout our lifetimes… “Who is like God?”

 

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