100 Steps

One hundred steps is not very far, I found out. It sounds like a long way at first, but for me, it made want to take another 100 and another 100 to keep discovering what might be around the corner. This week’s Illuminate assignment was to take 100 steps and then to compose an image right from that very spot. I started from my front door. With the boys on their scooters and me counting my steps. Every 100 I would stop and look for beauty.

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This looking for beauty right where you find yourself? It causes me to dig deeper for the gratitude. As we walked through our neighborhood I found unbidden thoughts of missing pushing a stroller, the first season since moving into this home that I will not be doing so. Instead, I carry my camera, a way to see differently…to see that I have been given life this day. It is a gift from God, the air I breath, the bright sun that finally has come to warm up our frozen ground. And at the end of our walk I found this little statue of a girl with butterfly wings sitting in a front yard and I am reminded of the beauty of my daughter’s life and the love that has filled my heart in a deeper way than ever before. I am thankful to the Lord for the gift of life, her life and the lives of my boys and for all those I love, but most of all for the gift of eternal life Jesus has given me. This is what I am grateful for. This is what I celebrate, even through tears of this missing her.

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Light and Shadows of these days…

the people living in darkness
    have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of the shadow of death
    a light has dawned

DSC02563Morning light and vibrant colors…

DSC02578Long shadows…

DSC02605Light warming our backs…

DSC02625Beneath this shadow lies my little girl’s earthly shell…

DSC02632Light still shines as the evening comes…

Week two of Illuminate is focused on light. I have long been fascinated by the interplay of light and both the color illuminated as well as the shadows created by it. As I’ve reflected on light and darkness in this season I was drawn to create these images of shadows framed by the bright colors of these butterflies that remind me of Naomi. While the weather here has remained cold we’ve had a number of days with strong sun and deep blue skies. The thing about shadows is that the brighter the light, the darker the shadows cast by objects in it’s path. The journey of the past year has been a mess of deep shadows laced with the light of God’s love so strong and bright, bringing me back to life. It’s a slow, complicated dance of shadows and light. I keep reminding myself to look for the light behind the shadows.

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To My Naomi Ruth

Dear Naomi.
You’ve been gone from us for eight and a half months now, my dear girl. Every single day I miss you. I remember so clearly the day you were born, a little warrior princess, already fighting the fight of your life against a congenital heart defect that threatened your very existence even in the womb. Naomi, I can’t tell you how thankful I am that you were born, that you were alive, that at 32 weeks pregnant we found out you were in trouble and we were able to begin to help you live your life…the life, the days that were intended for you. Because you had a purpose in our lives and in the lives of many many others.

When you were born, Naomi, you couldn’t breathe on your own. You came out of me like a champ, the normal way babies do, but the moment that life line between us was cut you were in serious trouble. Your heart plumbing was all mixed up and you just couldn’t get enough blood into your lungs to get that oxygen to circulate through your body. There was a crowd of people waiting for you, people who have dedicated their lives to helping little ones like you. And I placed you into their skilled hands before I even took you into mine because I believed that they could give you a fighting chance. That first night, they did give you a chance to fight another day. When things looked like they were worse than we’d hoped for, brave men and women opened your tiny little chest and pinched off one ittty bitty little artery so that the life blood in your heart might begin to move in the life sustaining ways you needed. That night we almost lost you but you fought through.

You amazed me with your strength and I think I truly thought that as harrowing as every step of your battle for life was, you were going to pull through, you were going to come home. I remember so vividly the day you first opened your eyes and really looked at me. Your deep brown eyes were clear and I knew you saw me and I saw you. It was like looking through a window into your soul…that precious soul so recently come into this world. It took my breath away and though I had yet to hold you, I knew we had a bond deeper even than physical touch ever would be.

You were on a heart lung bypass for thirteen days. You had open heart surgery at 2 and a half weeks old. You were making progress. We were hopeful. And then, ever so slowly, infection set in, unseen and unresponsive to every treatment. Slowly you began to slip away from us. Your little eyes were so swollen and eventually, try as you might, you could not open them. We loved you. We sang and read and talked to you. And we held you in our arms, careful of the tubes and wires that we held out hope would help you come back to us. But you were only ours to hold here in this life for a few short weeks.

On a bright, sunny day toward the end of June we told you it was okay to go, to go home to be with Jesus. I held you until your heart beat it’s last and you left my arms for Jesus’. In those sacred moments the veil between this world and the next shimmered thin as you left this earth, our warrior princess, to be healed in the arms of Jesus.

My sweet baby girl, how I long to see you again. How I long for that day when we will be re-united. But as much as the missing you hurts and at times it feels like more than I can bear, I know that the days we will one day have together will far eclipse these days of sorrow. And even in this sorrow the love that you have brought into my heart is something I would not trade even to avoid the burden of this grief of loosing you. God is giving me strength, even when I feel like I have none, to keep living, loving, seeing beauty, in the here and now. It all looks different now than before I met you, Naomi-girl. My world looks different because it is colored by my love for you just as much as it is colored by my grief over loosing you. My prayer is that this living I am doing will honor and celebrate your life for as many days as I continue to walk this earth, in honesty, in love, in sorrow, in joy, in all the many colors of life.

All my love,

Momma

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This post and the self-portrait images above are part of the work I’m doing in the Illuminate e-course. I found that the words came much more quickly than the images which is why I am looking forward to challenging myself in this course!

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Walking With You: Mirror, Mirror ~ the comparison trap

My post for this week is up here. Sorry for the split blogger personality thing I’m doing these days! Some day I’ll figure out where I’m going to write and stay there…maybe.

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Walking with You: Overcoming Grief ~ Embracing Joy

One area so many mothers struggle with is guilt, especially those who experience the loss of a baby/child. We want to address this struggle in this post. It will help mothers quietly battling guilt for living life and experiencing joy to know they are not alone. Other moms silently battle this as well. Whether it is the startling first time you really laugh after losing your child, or whether you have experienced the healing balm of joy for years, share your thoughts on this week’s post.

Hmmm…this is a hard one for me in that it really hits home. And I’ve decided to post this here on my more private blog as I don’t think I could really share it all over at the family blog where I had been writing. Not many of my IRL friends and family know about this one.  There are some things I’m just not ready to to share with a wider audience.

So, guilt, um, yeah. Where do I start? I actually think that this experience of Naomi’s death has opened my eyes to the ways I have let guilt motivate so much of what I do in my life, even before she was born. So in a way, I feel like one of the gifts she has given me is the opportunity to break free from some of the guilt that I had been living under, like the guilt of not meeting others’ expectations, guilt in perceived failures in relationships, guilt over my body not looking the way it “should” because I’m not taking care of it the best. These are just a few of the areas of guilt, not related directly to Naomi, that my grief has brought into focus. For I discovered that in the early months when I was physically still recovering from the intensity of our eight week hospital stay, recovering from birth, fighting multiple illnesses, and trying to figure out how to navigate the waters of grief, feeling guilty about a lot of the things I used to feel guilt about brought me into a deeper, darker hole and was a waste of energy! I found that in many areas I was holding myself to an unrealistic goal and then heaping guilt on myself for not meeting those goals. My desire for healing was deeper than my drive to meet expectations of others or myself and so I realized I had to learn how to care for myself and be gentle to myself. I had a few close friends/family who over and over reminded me to be gentle with myself. That was one of the best pieces of advice I received in the months after Naomi died.

As far a guilt specifically surrounding Naomi’s death, I certainly have struggled with it and it is not something I feel I have overcome yet. There is a part of me that wonders if we unnecessarily prolonged her life. She had some very intensive interventions. There was a period of time where it was hard for me to find any joy in reflecting on her life because of how difficult it was for her, how much suffering she had to go through…and while medically they tried to regulate her pain, I have no way of knowing how much she suffered and felt. Watching my baby cry silently on the ventilator is one of the (many) horrible experiences I saw her go through and her body was so broken by the time she finally passed. But ultimately I keep going back to the fact that we made the best decisions we could at the time with the information we had and with much prayer. One of my prayers was that we would not be in a position where we had to make a medical decision to directly end her life, but that God would allow her to go to Him when it was time. And I am grateful that I feel that prayer was answered. She made it clear at a certain point that the end was near. So all we could do was hold her and love her, which we did, until the end.

I also still struggle with guilt over the fact that my body bore a child with such a severe defect. I know in my head this is not my fault, but I still struggle with it in my darker moments. And this feeling can often snowball into guilt over how I’m grieving, how I’m not moving through my grief quickly enough or in the right way, or how I am still so weak. Those feelings haven’t come as strongly lately, but I don’t think I’ve completely overcome them yet either. I think they’ve been more back-burnered for the time.

For quite some time I didn’t know how I could every feel deep true joy again. I still feel like I have to choose to believe that because God is the source of all joy I can and will experience it again. There have been moments of joy, many of them, over these last months, but often it is a joy that makes my heart ache because I know a deep sorrow and that sorrow illuminates the joy in a way it never has before. So I think joy feels differently now than it did before Naomi left. I think that maybe what I’ve been longing to regain wasn’t joy but instead innocence, the innocence and naivete that getting pregnant usually means bringing home a healthy baby with lots and lots of happiness. And that is an innocence I will never have again even if one day we try again for another baby. I would say that I am still looking for joy, I’m choosing to count the gifts God gives to me daily. But it is a battle and sometimes I struggle with why this life has to be so hard and what my purpose is for living here on this earth. I know that part of my purpose is to be momma to two little boys, who many days are the source of the joy that is in my life. Some days, though, I wish we could all just go to heaven and be together, complete, as a family.

I wish I had a way to end this that would bring a happy conclusion to it all, but I don’t. I do trust, though, that God is with me and that He is teaching me how to dance again, a different sort of dance, a dance of joy and sorrow. I will close with the Psalm that Kelly quoted in her blog this week that has really spoken to my heart.

Psalm 126

When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion,
    we were like those who dreamed.
Our mouths were filled with laughter,
    our tongues with songs of joy.
Then it was said among the nations,
    “The Lord has done great things for them.”
The Lord has done great things for us,
    and we are filled with joy.

Restore our fortunes, Lord,
    like streams in the Negev.
Those who sow with tears
    will reap with songs of joy.
Those who go out weeping,
    carrying seed to sow,
will return with songs of joy,
    carrying sheaves with them.

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