The Emotional Dangers Of Decorating: Grief & Holidays

I walked into her room and asked if I could talk to her. It was one of my [many] humbled-mother moments.

Earlier, I had been getting the Christmas decorations out and situated, and in her excitement, she wanted to hand-make, and display, her own decorations throughout the house.

I drew the line firmly – maybe a little too firmly – when she brought out a string with pink, purple, and white ribbons stranded across it. Continue reading “The Emotional Dangers Of Decorating: Grief & Holidays”

Harlynn’s Gift To Mama

I’ve really been struggling.

I’m leaving for a business conference, and it’s a high-energy, intense 3-day event. The last day of the event is April 9th, and I leave a room of 1,000 of my new best friends to fly home on April 10th.

Which should have been our daughter’s 4th birthday.

I’ve been wrestling with this, as probably only other loss-parents might understand. And I’ve been wrestling with the fact that I’m wrestling with it.

It’s a little messy in my head with all this wrestling going on. Continue reading “Harlynn’s Gift To Mama”

Happy New Everything

Another year is fresh before us, full of excitement, anticipation, hope, and motivation. For what, though?

Yesterday I had to be at church early to sing. A late night in combination with a head cold and an early morning had me sounding a little like Jack Nicholson after a long drag of a cigarette. I didn’t think I could pull off a morning of singing.

I drove to church, continuously trying to clear my throat, and watching the peaceful frozen, frosty flakes of morning falling to the ground. I had arrived early, so admired the morning flurry and the strange beauty it gave the bare trees. I started praying an earnest, overflowing prayer.

I sense it, y’all. This is the year. This is the year I didn’t even know I’ve been waiting for. I have no idea what it holds, but I know I’m ready. I have to be. Happy new everything.

After rehearsal and some coffee, my voice started to turn around and I sounded like myself again. I made it through church and as Hubs took the kids home to get them fed, I detoured to the cemetery.

I wasn’t going to go. It’s a hard line to walk sometimes, wondering if I’m doing the right thing by going. If I go too long between visits, I’m pained with guilt. If I go too often, I feel like I’m a bit needy. So I try to balance my time there, to where I won’t feel anything other than like a loving mother.

I wasn’t going to start my year with the mental battle of what a visit after church would make me feel like, though. So I wasn’t going to go. But I felt this urgent need that could only be met by a cemetery visit. I made the drive down the snow-covered street, turning in through the looming iron gate, and down the path to her spot.

I sat there, silently wishing her a happy new year. “Get out of the car.” I felt my spirit nudging me. But I was wearing church shoes, and nothing at all appropriate for snow-traipsing.

“Get out of the car.”

I hesitated. Eventually, I got out of the car and walked gingerly over the snow to her spot. Her angel solar light and purple metal flower were marking her headstone beneath the snow. I stood there, unsure of why I felt such a need to go visit, then to get out of the car.

“It’s your year, Mama.”

My stomach fluttered. I know, I feel it, too. But Harlynn… We might move. Far away, even. It’s a possibility.

Tears stung my face as the wind hit them rolling down my cheeks. This was why I was supposed to come. I had to reconcile the possibilities of our future with the events of our past, and the reality of our present.

I can’t take it all with me. And that has to be okay.

I wrestled with that, standing there at her gravesite. It’s become a comfortable spot – a place where I know I’m allowed to let any overflow grief work itself out. No one can judge me if I cry while standing at her headstone.

But it’s a new season. It’s a new year. It’s a new everything.

I have to find a new way.

“Happy new year, baby girl.” I blew her a kiss before carefully making my way back to the car. I drove through the cemetery, feeling less weighty. I wished the deer a happy new year, as they bedded in the trees. I wished the turkeys a happy new year as they strutted across the lanes. I wished the squirrels a happy new year as they scampered around.

Back through the iron gates, I drove away in a state of wonder.

What does it mean? When will it happen? How will we know?

I don’t know what this year holds. I know what I want to happen. I know what could happen. I know what might not happen, or what we might have to do instead.

I don’t have a single answer, and I don’t have even the slightest semblance of a plan.

But I know the start of this year means the start of a new everything.

Whether we move away, or stay nearby… whether we pursue big dreams or baby steps… whether my business succeeds a lot or only a little… nothing this year will stay the same as it always was.

The thief comes only to kill, steal, and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. ~ John 10:10


See, I am doing a new thing!
    Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness
    and streams in the wasteland. ~ Isaiah 43:19

I’m trusting the Lord in a way I haven’t before, and in a way I can’t rightly put words to explain. He’s going to make all things new. This year especially. I feel it.

Happy new year. Happy new everything.

The Dirty Truth About PMDD

Many moons ago when I was away at college, I called my parents in the middle of the night, crying. Dad answered, obviously still half-asleep. I asked to talk to Mom and as he handed her the phone, he sleepily told her it was my sister. After I made sure she knew which child she was speaking to, I told her I hadn’t been able to sleep at night, but always wanted to sleep during the day. I was sad and crying all the time, and I didn’t know what was wrong with me. I alternated between having no appetite and eating all the things, and I just wanted to be normal again.

“Well, it sounds to me like you’re depressed. I’ll make an appointment for when you’re home at Christmas.”

Fast forward a couple of weeks, I sat in front of our family practitioner who asked me several questions and looked me over. After listening to my answers and spending some time in deep thought, he gave me a formal diagnosis of “PMDD.” Pre Menstrual Depression Dysphoria, or as I call it, Heavy hitting hormonal hell. He wrote up a prescription for an anti-depressant and that was that.

I understood it to be “just like PMS” only “a bit more extreme”. Not a big deal, I thought, but I looked forward to getting back to my old self. It took a little while, but I did notice slight changes. Everything revolved around my cycle. I was able to sleep at night again, though still slept heavily during the day. As time went on, I knew it would get better.

Except it didn’t.

Bear in mind this isn’t a post I want to write. Sharing this deep dark secret wasn’t on my agenda this week. Or ever. For some reason, however, I feel compelled to share my story.

While my sleep regulated and I was breaking into sobbing puddles far less frequently, I was – what we’ll call – “subdued in my anger”. I was mad, always, but not to the point of acting out. A followup appointment increased the dosage of the medication.

What I noticed with the medicinal increase was a decreased desire for most anything. I was waking up, doing what I had to do, and being miserable through most of it. I wasn’t crying every day, and I wasn’t shifting my appetite. I was simply existing in the subdued, angry state. Acceptable, right?

Eventually, the subdued anger grew over time and gave way to fits of rage.

I’m not talking about yelling. I’m talking about having an out-of-body-experience, watching myself fly off the rails in total fits of RAGE. One morning after my shower, I walked out to find one of our cats was chewing YET AGAIN on my clothes in the laundry basket. I don’t remember exactly what ensued afterward, but I know if I had caught her, I would have killed her.

That is not okay.

As I walked to the top of the stairs, Hubs gently cupped my shoulders and asked, “Do you think…. maybe…. it’s that time?” He meant PMS. But PMDD is PMS to the 100th power. This is something not a lot of people understand.

Irritability during PMS is one thing. I desired to roundhouse kick people in the face. For any reason. Or no reason. That’s not irritability; that’s rage. I would blow up at the smallest of things, and the more others tried to calm me down, the angrier and more defensive I became. I was more than irate, and it didn’t matter that I realized how out of control I was. There was no reigning it in.

Something had to change.

What makes PMDD worse?

In my experience, sugar is PMDD’s best friend. It feeds the crazy. When I eat foods high in sugar, and processed foods at that, my ability to manage my PMDD erodes significantly. Along those lines, fast food and fried food exacerbate PMDD’s symptoms as well. This is tricky, because the only thing I want before good ol’ Auntie Flo comes each month are foods high in sugar, the faster the better, and dropped in a vat of Canola oil is icing on the cake, so to speak.

Food is medicine. Or poison. These kinds of food absolutely feed the severity of my PMDD, and it’s to everyone’s best interests when I steer clear of them.

Also on Team PMDD, lack of movement. You’ll be hard-pressed to find people who hate exercise more than I do, but it’s an incredible detriment to me (and those I live with) when I don’t exercise. My mind stays clouded and hindered, and my body works to process what I won’t stop eating rather than to clear my mind.

Lack of sleep is a big one, too. I’ve always loved sleep. My sister has some funny stories about what it was like to try to rouse me from slumber. No one wanted that job. If I don’t get proper rest, everyone suffers, but my mind and body especially. It adds fuel to the PMDD fire, and a perfect storm begins to brew.

What makes PMDD better?

Obviously, proper diet and exercise make PMDD far easier to manage. When your body is being cared for, it cares for you in return. It may seem insignificant, but how we feed our body determines how our body treats us in return. Crap food produces crap ‘tude. Garbage in, garbage out.

Believe me when I tell you, everyone notices when I’ve been eating right. I look good, feel good, and I’m not trying to chase down any precious kitties.

Consistent, regular chiropractic care is critical to my PMDD management. When I go more than two weeks between chiropractic adjustments, it’s bad news. If I did better with my food and exercise, I’m sure I could scale back on my chiropractic visits. For now, though, they are my saving grace. I’m a strong believer in chiropractic care, and can tell you my PMDD treatment depends on it.

I also use a few essential oils to help mellow things out. I have a daily regimen I use, and definitely have my favorites. I use Young Living oils, (or as Hubs calls it, my “hippie voodoo”) and though I was skeptical at first, 18 months after starting using them, I’m a firm believer in their benefits as well.

I’ve not been on anti-depressant medication since 2008. While I didn’t stop it in the wisest way, my doctor agrees with me I don’t need it now. That may not be the case for everyone, however. Absolutely adjust your diet and exercise, and schedule some chiropractor visits (and a few sprinkles of oils here and there), but keep your doctor’s recommendations close at heart.

I’m not “cured”. It’s important to note this is a management regimen I have to stay consistent with. After delivering three babies in five years, my body started doing weird things, and for that matter, so did my brain. Being in my mid-30s, experiencing the trauma of our daughter dying, and having my body go through an intense restructuring three times in five years, all started to work against me.

Why am I writing about this now? It’s been on my mind a lot lately. I turned 36 this year, and while I’m not in the best shape of my life, I’m far more keen on the steps I need to be taking to make sure my family doesn’t suffer for having to live with me – but also, so I don’t have to suffer.

I’ve noticed this holiday season I’ve turned to more and more sugar and used gatherings and events as excuses to fall off the food wagon. As a result, PMDD is standing at attention.

I share all of this to offer encouragement. If you’re a woman, and your PMS seems a little tricker than most, I feel you. PMDD is a treacherous condition and another betrayal by our own body. I’m thankful for a doctor who recognized my situation all those years ago. I’m more thankful for having found treatment options I trust and have benefits far beyond managing my PMDD.

I’m especially thankful I didn’t kill my sweet (though naughty) cat.

I’ll be more mindful of what I’m eating, how I’m moving, and the appointments on my calendar. My mind, body, and especially my family, will thank me for it.

What If I’m Not Thankful?

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It’s the time of year when everyone is preparing to gather ’round a home cooked meal and tell, one by one, everything they’re thankful for.

For some folks, the thought of having to share thanks stirs more angst and anxiety than thankfulness.

You’ve lost a loved one. You had to bury your child. You’ve received a terminal diagnosis. You’re going through a divorce. You lost your job. Your car stopped working. Someone stole your wallet. You’re immersed in negativity. You’re stuck. Your past haunts you.

“I’m not thankful. I’m hurt. Angry. Sad. Grieving.”

What if I’m not thankful?

I resonate with those feelings. That despair. Resenting the holidays because while some were skipping around in “the most wonderful time of the year”, I was realizing more and more what wasn’t, and what would never be.

In the same breath people were telling me they were sorry for our circumstances, and either quoting scripture (to try to pipe me out of being sad) or another cliche phrase they assumed would magically make everything better.

It is true, scriptures says, “In all things, give thanks.” (1 Thess 5:18) There is an important clarification to make note of here, however.

The verse says IN all things, not FOR all things. Even when you’ve been dealt the worst possible hand in life, while you don’t have to be thankful for that circumstance or situation, the premise is – though you may have to dig really deep to find it – there is still thanksgiving to be found. No matter what situation you’re facing, there is always appreciation or joy in something else.

There are things I will never be thankful for. That doesn’t mean, however, I can’t find something else to appreciate.

If you find yourself in the throes of thanklessness and if you find yourself resenting this holiday season, I want to encourage you to take baby steps.

Maybe you’re not thankful – for so many things! – but your breakfast tasted good. Start there.

Try to find one thing, one day. Two things the second day. And don’t confuse being thankful with being happy! You don’t have to be giddy about anything to be thankful. One little step at a time.

I’m thankful potatoes were on sale.

I’m thankful for cashews.

I’m thankful I choose my own holiday traditions.

I’m thankful the sun is shining.

I’m thankful for indoor plumbing.

I’m thankful it’s almost January.

Wherever you have to start, start there.

If anyone is trying to force you to be bubbly, or over-the-top enthusiastic because they somehow deem this is what this period of life is about, be thankful you’ve got more depth than they do.

I know this time of year is challenging, to say the least, for so many people. I know while the hustle and bustle of gatherings and food and decorations has everyone else occupied, you’re trying to figure out why you have to get out of bed in the morning. No matter what you’ve been through or are wrestling through still, others have decided it’s time for you to “buck up and be thankful.”

They’ll never get it. Don’t expect them to understand. They can’t, and a lot of them won’t allow themselves to.

Be thankful for the people who do, and who are, supporting you right now, where you are. For those along for the journey while you grow, taking one step at a time.

As we head into Thanksgiving, and then into Christmas, I want you to take the pressure off yourself. If you’re not thankful for what you’ve suffered through, no one can blame you for that. And if they do – find new people.

Try, though, to find one little thing – anything – you can be thankful in. I promise you, there will be things that present themselves that may surprise you. You’ll be thankful for things no one else will realize or notice for themselves.

Work through your feelings. Work through your issues. And simultaneously, look outside of those feelings and issues to find what you can appreciate. It will bless you. Somehow. His way.

I’m pulling for you. You can count on that.

My Struggle With “Awareness”

Among it’s various purposes, causes, and fulfilling the love of fall, October is also Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month. The 15th of October, specifically, is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Day.

I, as a bereaved mother, am aware of this tragedy of life every. single. day. This isn’t a time where I’m suddenly reminded of the heartache we experienced over three years ago. This isn’t a time where my eyes are opened to new information or developments in infant loss.

This is a time where I know hundreds of thousands of families across the globe are wishing they could change their story.

awareness

Four years ago, we made the announcement social-media official, sharing Little Miss would be a big sister. We had no idea we would bury her baby sister six months later.

One in four pregnancies ends in loss. I didn’t know that until after Harlynn died. I assumed – as do so many other mothers-to-be – if you made it past the first trimester, you were good to go.

Miscarriage. Stillbirth. Trisomy 13. Trisomy 18. Anencephaly. LBWC. Preterm labor. Delivery complications. Uterine ruptures. Placental abruptions. Genetic abnormalities. Disease. Cancer. SIDS. The list is a long one, yet it’s still a list most people aren’t willing to acknowledge exists.

In 2016, continuing on from centuries before us, babies are dying. Thousands, every single year.

And yet we have a month of awareness. A month where sometimes, I feel as though we’re pitied for a time. “Let them drudge up their stories. November’s almost here…”

I struggle with the responsibility of raising awareness of pregnancy and infant loss. I don’t want to scare anyone. I don’t want to rain on anyone’s parade. I wish I still had my naivety. I wish I still thought healthy babies were a given once you were past the 13 week mark of pregnancy. More than that, I wish it were a reality rather than a naivety.

But it isn’t.

I don’t advocate simply for awareness. I don’t air my journey so anyone reading about it can simply be aware I’ve been through hell-on-earth. I don’t advocate for exposure or attention for myself.

I advocate for breaking the cycle. I advocate for praying for miracles. I advocate for doing whatever we find to do to prevent the death of babies. I advocate for research. I advocate for respect. I advocate for information and education and honesty.

Most of all, I advocate for other parents like myself, who are thrust into a world they couldn’t previously comprehend existed. I do whatever I can to ensure they get the care and compassion they need when their entire world has crumbled in an instant. I do whatever I can to make the medical community, funeral homes, social workers, coworkers, friends, family – aware of the physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual needs of these precious people who just lost their precious baby. I advocate for support and companionship.

If you understood 26,000 babies in the United States alone are stillborn – every. year. – what would that awareness spur within you? Unless you’ve walked through it, probably nothing. It’s another number. Another statistic.

Every year, however, 26,000 little hearts that were beating one moment, stop beating the next. That’s stillbirth alone. Add to it the thousands of other anomalies we lose babies from each year. It’s mind blowing. It seems impossible. Made up. Wrong.

But it isn’t.

Anyone who knows me knows our story. I’m one of the vocal ones. There are thousands of families each year who go silent in their story, however, because they don’t know how else to cope with it.

This October, and every month, I implore you to go easy on these broken hearts. If you can’t understand what these families have gone through, and will continue to go through, don’t place expectations or limitations on their journey. Be their advocates, not their adversaries.

This October, and every month, I pray you’d support pregnancy and infant loss research. I pray you’d support the ones who are trying to prevent these losses from happening, and those who know enough to call these possibilities to attention.

This October, and every month, I ask you to understand everyone you meet has a story. A journey. A struggle. Show extra kindness. Offer extra help. Be encouraging. Look through lenses trying to find ways to serve others, rather than through lenses focusing on flaws or imperfections.

This October, and always, be aware there are a lot of broken hearts in need of a gentle hand.

Three Kids, Three Parenting Styles

three parenting styles

I have three children. Two living, one waiting for us in heaven.

All three children occupy my heart to the fullest, yet I respond to each one differently.

Little Miss is my first child, and had her own traumatic entrance into the world, when I nearly died from HELLP syndrome. Six years later, she may be petite in size, but her dreams and goals fill some pretty big shoes.

Harlynn passed away before I had a chance to look into her eyes or hear her baby coos and cries. I still parent her beyond the grave, however. October being Pregnancy & Infant Loss Awareness month, her legacy continues to inspire and motivate us to continue helping the broken hearts of bereaved parents who have also had to say goodbye to their precious babies, most before ever having the chance to say hello.

Little Man, the little boy I never thought I’d have, requires attention in  his own style. If we’re not reading, playing with trains or trucks, or chasing one another, I’m able to steal some sweet snuggles from my mini-prince-charming.

This week, my different roles as a mother to these three, made print a couple of times.

First, On The Minds Of Moms ran a wonderful feature piece on Michelle’s and my journey in starting Harlynn’s Heart. You can read the article here.

Second, it was my turn to share in The Forum’s Parenting Perspectives column, and I knew exactly what I needed to share this time around. You can read that article here.

I’m one mother to three very special, very unique children. I don’t always do a perfect job, but I’m so thankful our perfect God chose me to be their Mama.

Breaking the Curse of Autumn

autumn

autumn

I’m a sunshine girl. I love sunshine, I need sunshine, I bask in sunshine, and I feel better when the sun shines.

The sun is not shining today.

However, every now and again, the cloud cover (and in today’s case, the rain), make for a sense of renewal, fresh opportunity, and even some motivation.

I can say today is one of those good gray days. I think it helped (tremendously) I was able to witness an incredible sunrise, turning the sky a beautiful purple, orange, and pink. As the clouds were moving in and before they could block the sun entirely, the sky danced with color as we started getting ready for our day.

I’ve got my curly-hair-rain-gear on (my kerchief), and after a long meeting, I’ll scurry to the kitchen to get to work on some applesauce and apple pie making. It’s September, after all, and apples are the fruit-of-the-month. It’s quite rewarding to pick them yourself, peel them, and turn them into even more deliciousness than they already are naturally. Cooking is like doing magic in the kitchen. You take ingredients and turn them into something completely different, to satisfy those greedy little bumps on your tongue and rumble in your belly. It’s a pretty amazing process.

Sometimes the autumn season is difficult for me. It’s always been my favorite. I love the smells. I love the crisp air. I love the colors. I love the decorations. I love pumpkin seeds and pumpkin pie and apple everything.

But autumn and its drastic change of season carries a weight I can’t aptly describe.  School starts. The wind shifts. The cemetery closes earlier.

Autumn also means winter is coming. I struggle with winter. I struggle with barrenness. Cold. Desolation. Grief.

We had a bizarre spring blizzard that forced us to postpone Harlynn’s funeral a day. It snowed the day she was born and every Wednesday after for a month. Snow is sometimes peaceful and comforting, but it also reminds me, so tangibly, of the worst day of our lives. And it’s about to show up and hang around for months on end.

Winter is coming.

I feel like maybe – just maybe – this year will be different. Since I finally got to process through Harlynn’s birthday in a way I needed to this spring, maybe I can handle this winter better. Maybe it won’t be as gloomy as years past. Maybe it won’t be as bitter. Maybe it won’t be as soul-chilling as I’ve known it to be.

I’m making a determination.

Right now, I’m going to enjoy autumn. I’m going to enjoy everything I can about it. The pumpkin patch. The harvest. The cinnamon. The cider. The apples coming out our ears. The colors, the football, the pies, and the turkey. Rust orange, cranberry red, and the fading green of grass. Whatever this season has to offer me, I’m going to enjoy it, and store that joy away for the months to come.

When winter hits, and there’s no avoiding it, I’m going to retreat to the storehouses where I’ve tucked away the pleasantries I need to draw upon. I’ll warm myself with memories, food, friends, and my favorite sights and smells. I’ll stress-eat on pie and roasted pumpkin seeds. I’ll knit. This year, when winter hits, I won’t have wasted my autumn dreading it’s arrival.

The sun may not be shining today, but the clouds can’t squelch the new dawn coming. Winter may be on it’s way, but it won’t dampen today.

Every season – in nature and in life – serves a purpose. I don’t like it. I don’t have to. It’s going to happen anyway. But this year…. this year will be different. I’m going to will it so.

Be glad, people of Zion, rejoice in the Lord your God, for he has given you the autumn rains because he is faithful. He sends you abundant showers, both autumn and spring rains, as before.

~Joel 2:23

Healing: The Misconception

Healing

Healing

“I just want you to reach total healing.”

His words were dripping with cautious pity. My eyes closed and I let out a heavy sigh. He doesn’t get it. He couldn’t, because he’s never experienced it.

I grow so tired of defending myself. I grow so tired of fighting for my right to feel, experience, or walk in any realm of grief.

I did my best, and gave the most considerate lashing I could conjure. He didn’t understand why I – or anyone – would show pictures of my dead baby. He didn’t understand why after three years, I still incorporate Harlynn into as many areas of our lives as I can.

Honestly, he didn’t understand “total healing”, even though he spoke his desire for me to achieve it.

I know why other loss parents struggle to speak about their experience and struggle to give voice to their children who have died. It’s exhausting to defend the heart’s right to be damaged, let alone broken. Standards and expectations, all of which are completely different depending on who harbors them, are impossible to meet or maintain by those actually walking through the grief journey.

We don’t fit in your box. We can’t. We understand life – and death – on a level we pray you never have to. And we are all but condemned for it.

For three years I’ve come alongside grieving families as they bury their children and watch the futures they dreamed about shatter before their eyes. For three years I’ve been on the receiving end of phone calls, emails, text messages, and outreaches of complete strangers looking for help. For understanding. For validation.

And I’m happy to give it. I know how hard it can be to find any in a world that expects you to dust off and forget.

There is no forgetting.

For three years I’ve leaned into a God I don’t understand, pleaded with a Father I believed would spare us from this, and for three years I’ve allowed Him to walk us through a valley I’d previously pretended never existed.

I had to learn to pray again. To sing. To trust.

And my journey is viewed as my weakness. But I’m here to tell you, there is nothing but strength and conviction in my veins. Even when I fall apart.

You see, friends, there is no healing in denial. There is no healing in avoidance. There is no healing in disallowing myself to experience every step of the journey I’ve been called to walk. I can blaze new trails if I run away and pretend this road is not part of who I am.

But that would be the opposite of healing. That would be adopting a false identity.

I am a bereaved parent. We buried our daughter after her life ended. Every day I wake up, pray up, and hold up another broken heart of another fellow bereaved parent.

And I’m still able to praise God in the storm.

That is healing. And that is a concept those who haven’t lost a child will never understand.

My ultimate healing will come the day I’m called home. The day my heart stops beating and my spirit transcends life as I know it, I will be healed by the standards of the world today. I will not cry anymore. I will not ache. I will not feel sadness.

Until that day, I will continue to trust His leading. I will continue to acknowledge sometimes I still hurt. I will continue to experience exactly what I need to at the exact moment it’s supposed to happen. I will continue to depend on the God who has carried me through every step in this path of life – no matter how small or significant.

And I will continue to defend my right to grieve messy. Three years or 30 or 300 – no matter how much time I have remaining to open my eyes this side of heaven – I will have to remind myself my healing is no one else’s declaration. No one gets to decide for me how well I’m doing.

When I was five, I got the chickenpox. When I “healed”, my scalp, back, and left eyelid were covered with scars. Thirty years later I bear the physical proof of one of the most miserable illnesses I’ve ever recovered from. I’ve got all kinds of scars from all kinds of incidents, and not one single person has ever held it against me. Until now.

I’m not ashamed of scars. In fact, they show just how hard I’ve fought.

Three years later, I’ve figured out how to keep a broken heart beating. It healed. You might not believe me, but I’ve got the scar to prove it.

Turning Pages: Why Moving Forward Is Our Only Choice

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It was another typical weekday with Little Man. After a diaper change, we walked out of his room and down the hallway. He pointed to the picture in the middle of the wall.

We have three frames in our hallway. One is a collage of family pictures from 2013, after Harlynn had died and when I was barely pregnant with Little Man. The opposite end is a large matte print of our favorite family portrait from 2015. The middle frame houses four wrapped canvas of Harlynn. It was a gift from my sister-in-law on Christmas in 2013, and one of the most meaningful we’ve ever received.

Little Man pointed as we walked by and said, “Hah-winn”.

I stopped.

Wide-eyed, I turned my gaze from his sweet little face, to his pointing finger, to the center frame.

“Yes,” I affirmed, “That’s Harlynn. Your sister in heaven.”

“Yeah.” he quipped knowingly.

As you might expect, my eyes filled with tears and as we continued our walk to the living room, I pressed his forehead against my lips in a grateful kiss. It was the first time he had ever spoken her name. It was the first time he had acknowledged he knew who she was.

He knows. He knows who she is.

We went on about our day, playing with cars and trucks on the living room floor. But oh, how my heart was filled.

It’s been my dream to make sure as many people as possible know who Harlynn is. What she means to us. Why, even after her death, she’s still a very active part of our family. But to have her baby brother speak her name filled my heart with immeasurable joy.

We’re a family of 5 minus 1, but we refuse to let the “minus” carry a negative value. We hold fast to the hope we’ll all be reunited again, and every new day brings us one day closer to that reality.

In an otherwise routine weekday moment, Little Man gave me an incredible gift. I got to hear his sister’s name uttered from his sweet little mouth.

“Hah-winn”

She may be in heaven, but she’s very much a present part of our family.

It’s further proof to me a relationship with Jesus is just as tangible. If Harlynn can be an active member of our family without being on earth, how much more so can Jesus be our active, living Savior, even if we can’t see Him?

He is closer than I realize at times. I lean in further than I thought I could when the weight of the world seems too much to bear. But instead of crumbling beneath it’s burdensome weight, I feel myself standing a little straighter, getting a little stronger, as He takes my suffering as His own.

The other night, I shared with a bereaved family on how it took me so long to be able to trust God heard my prayers. I kept Him at a safe distance, always hoping He heard what I was saying, but not truly believing He did. After all, He was the one person who could have changed our situation, and kept Harlynn alive.

Looking back now, I see it was Him who kept us cared for in every detail and every moment leading up to, and following her death. We were shaken, but we were not forsaken. He not only heard our cries and our pleas, but He responded to them mightily.

I don’t understand why Harlynn had to die. I don’t understand why any parent has to bury their baby. But I understand God loves us intensely through those dark and tumultuous moments. I understand – all these months and months later – He truly was the only one who could change our circumstance….and He did. Harlynn doesn’t get to be here on earth with us, but our lives have been all the more enriched by being her parents.

It will take many more years, I’m sure, before Little Man fully understands who Harlynn is and why her picture takes a prominent place in our hallway. But I’m banking on those several more years to share her story – with him, and others – many more times.

In the children’s book The Monster At The End Of This Book, the entire premise of the story is to prevent the pages from turning, in expectancy of the impending doom at the end. Come to find out – spoiler alert – Grover was the monster the whole time, and was getting in his own way of his story.

That’s how I felt for so long after April 9th, 2013. I didn’t want to turn the pages. I did everything I could to prevent the story from moving forward. There was no point, in my mind, of reading any further into our future.

Harlynn’s story reflects our story, and our story reflects His story. We’re still walking out the next chapters, but I’m finally at a place I feel secure in turning the pages.